Category Archives: Holidays and Festivals

Diwali

I grew up in a small town in upstate NY which had a surprising number of Indian families given the population and diversity of the town. My family was friends with all the other Indian families and we got together often. As a community our biggest celebration was for Diwali. We would rent out a church basement or town hall somewhere and throw a big bash with lots of food and fun and all the kids could just run around like crazy way past our bedtime. Someone would always make a trip across the border into Canada and buy a mountain of sparklers to add to the festivities. Since fireworks were out of the questions we had to make do with sparklers.

Some families were more religious than others, but there was always a Pooja at some point during the night. I didn’t really understand it (we were one of the non-religious families) but I did love to gather around the deity and hear the singing and feel the reverence of the moment and bask in the tradition of it.

Sometimes the kids did a talent show or put on a play. We weren’t terribly organized but one year we rehearsed and rehearsed a play about Akbar and Birbal. I don’t recall now which story we were acting out, but I do remember that my part was that of a very strict palace guard. My older brother was Birbal and was to try to gain access to the palace I was guarding. I mentioned that we weren’t terribly organized. My brother only told my mom a few minutes before we were leaving that he needed a beard for the play. The best my mom could do was to cut up a piece of fake fur she had used for doll hair and tie a rubber band around it to keep it on. Considering the time and materials she had available,  she did a pretty amazing job. However when my brother came around the corner with this piece of fake fur on his face I just about wet my pants. I forgot all of my lines and just stood there laughing hysterically.

Needless to say, those Diwali celebrations of decades ago had a big influence on me. I try to celebrate Diwali with my family in whatever small way we can. Sometimes we just cook an Indian meal and light a few candles, sometimes we have friends over, and sometimes it just goes by unnoticed. This year I wanted to do something special but Diwali was so close to Ulka’s birthday and I just couldn’t do it all. So on Diwali itself we didn’t do anything, but when we went to my parents for Thanksgiving we celebrated with my parents and my sister-in-law and my nephews. Unfortunately my brother (aka bearded Birbal) had to go back home for work.

I have always loved the idea of doing a Rangoli for Diwali. I had never done one before but they are so beautiful and I have always thought it would be fun to try. It is an interesting idea- spending so much time creating a lovely piece of art work that will just blow away or wash away in the next rain. Rangoli is made with powdered chalk and I was able to buy it in wonderful colors in the Indian grocery store near us.

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When I told my dad about it he seemed very excited. He had never done it before either, but as a boy people would come to his house in India and make beautiful Rangoli designs outside the door.

We started in the afternoon and by the time we finished up it was just getting dark. Andy and I looked at hundreds of patterns and examples on-line and Andy sketched out something similar to what we had seen online.

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The outside lines are all done in white chalk and then filled in with color. It was pretty amazing watching Andy let the chalk dust slip through his fingers making an incredible pattern as if he had been doing it all his life.

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Once he had outlined the whole pattern in white we all filled in with color. We decided which colors would go where before we started. All the kids helped and everyone had a great time.

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We finished up just as it got dark. It was right outside the dining room window so we could see the candles flickering all through the amazing meal we all helped to prepare.

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After dinner we lit sparklers which the kids thought were pretty amazing, especially the little ones. All in all it was a wonderful Diwali celebration- one that will be remembered for a long time.

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The Egg Dye Failure

Several years ago I started a family tradition of making hot cross buns on Good Friday. I think I have used a different recipe every year, but this years’ were my favorite so I need to record the recipe somewhere. I found it on a blog that I enjoy called The Pioneer Woman. Here is the link to her hot cross buns. We made plenty to share with our neighbors and also our friends who we were visiting that day.

 

Our family loves to dye Easter eggs and for a while now I have been curious about making natural dyes.  I have wanted to try this as much for the sake of experimentation and learning something new as for limiting our use of artificial colors and dyes.  I know people have had good success making natural dyes and their eggs look beautiful. I did a bit of research to find out what to use and how to do it. There are a ton of  resources online for doing this.

I boiled red cabbage which made a lovely deep blue color, but when I added vinegar it immediately turned an incredible pink.

I boiled spinach for green, and chili powder for orange. I though if I got good results with these, I would try some others the next day. Now, I am not a patient person, so I kept checking the eggs every 5 minutes and nothing was happening. I let them soak in their pots of natural dye for hours and when I finally took them out this is what I got- brace yourself……

 

So, it was a little bit disappointing and also kind of funny. My eggs clearly looked nothing like those lovely deep colored Easter eggs I saw on various websites. Obviously I did something wrong. I’ll probably try again next year, but fortunately  my friend Sarah had gone ahead and mixed up dyes using food coloring.  Lovely bright colors which made lovely Easter eggs.

 

Andy also loves to dye Easter eggs, so our family did another round of egg dying on Saturday morning using good old PAAS pellets.

Andy is kind of an expert over achieving egg dyer, so it fun to watch him. He is also ridiculously good at blowing out  eggs – when you poke each end of the egg with a pin and blow out all the innards so you have just the whole shell that you can dye and keep out as decorations. I had planned on making an egg dish for Easter brunch so we already had a plan for all those egg insides.

I washed off all the gunk from the failed naturally dyed eggs and we re-dyed those and they came out great too.

I know some of you have dyed eggs using natural dyes, so if you have any tips for me for next year, please do share them!

Earthling turns 5!

Five years ago our, Ila (meaning Earth), our tiniest package arrived. Three weeks early and a little pipsqueak.

She is still our little pipsqueak but she has a lot of heart and a lot of person in that little body!

Birthday anticipation and excitement was in full force last night at bedtime. I told her the birthday poem that I love so much and say to all the children on the eve of their birthday. I’m not sure where it comes from originally but it is one my friend, a Waldorf teacher, sent me years ago.

When I have said my evening prayer,
And my clothes are folded on the chair,
And mother switches off the light,
I’ll still be …… years old tonight.

But, from the very break of day,
Before the children rise and play.
Before the darkness turns to gold
Tomorrow, I’ll be …… years old.

… Kisses when I wake,
…, Candles on my cake!

I stayed up too late last night finishing up her birthday garland, which will become our spring garland when her birthday passes. I enjoyed making our heart garland so much I decided to try a flower one.

Ulka ran out and cut 5 daffodils and a hyacinth from the garden and we set the table for birthday breakfast- her choice, Daddy pancakes.

After pancakes was present time. We usually have the kids wait until after supper and cake to open gifts, but we decided to let her open them this morning. Ishaan made her an awesome necklace. He cut out little house shapes and drilled holes in them so he could thread them onto a thin wire. One each little house he wood burned one letter of her name and made into a necklace

A few weeks ago Ulka went up to my moms for a few days. While she was there she made a doll quilt of Ila’s doll Lulu. It is pretty amazing. She sewed the squares together,machine quilted it and then sewed the binding by hand. My mom was there looking over her shoulder, but she did it all by herself. Ila loves it.

Andy needed me to take Ila out for a couple of hours so that he could finish up a project that he has been working on. More than happy to oblige, I took Ila out on a big birthday date. Now, anyone who knows Ila knows that she is “passionate” about hair. If you have long hair and you come over, watch out. Ila will persuade you to let her comb and style it for you. Ila doesn’t have long hair and so wishes that she did, but it is so thin and brittle that it just doesn’t grow long.  I decided to surprise her with a trip to a hair salon. I have always cut her hair for her so I thought it would be a special treat. She was a little nervous at first, but I think in the end she enjoyed it (at least I hope she did).

Ta Dah!! The after shot. It was a bit to  little girl pageant-y for me with it all styled, but it’s a super cute cut that I think will look great once we let it do its own thing. Ila loved how puffy and shiny it was.

We went out for lunch at the local diner and I let her order anything she wanted. Mostly she was excited that she could have orange juice and hardly ate anything!

When we finally got home, Andy told her she had one more present waiting for her. While we were out, he (nearly) finished her new bedroom. Her room was damaged when 4 trees fell on it during the tropical storm last year. She has been sleeping in Ishaan and Ulka’s room since then. The renovation project is a very long story that will get its own entry soon.  Ila was so thrilled with her new room and just couldn’t stop saying thank you. It was worth every ounce of effort that went into it. It is an amazing room though- I would love it too. Tomorrow Kairav will join her in there, but for tonight it is just hers.

Mimi, Andy’s grandmother came over for supper and cake. I do the baking and Andy does the decorating. I think we are a good team- when I decorate it looks like a 4-year-old has done it.

Good night my little Ila. Sleep soundly in your new room. We are so happy you are here filling our lives with your sunshine.

A Week in the Life – Day Two

Today was Andy’s birthday so I got up early enough to make scones for breakfast before the morning routine and busyness began. Sitting down to a family breakfast is always a great way to start the day. I wish we did this more often than we do. Our mornings are busy and it usually only happens about once a week.

On the mornings that I don’t get up and go to the gym, I catch up on chores or get groceries. Today was grocery morning. If I can get myself going and get out in time to be back before Andy starts work that is a good day. Otherwise I end up taking all 4 kids in the afternoon and that is not so much fun. Today was one of those good days. I took Ila with me- she likes to go and it’s sort of like a date for us.

We stopped to see the snowdrops coming up in our garden on our way.

A bonus find at the grocery store- Organic Blackstrap Molasses on sale for 75% off! I bought 3 and went back for 3 more for me and 3 for a friend. We use a lot of molasses and a bottle is pretty expensive so this was a super find.

After a slightly truncated school morning I got right to work making Andy’s cake. I love trying new cake recipes and wanted to try this really crazy one. It is from my favorite cake book – Maida Heatter’s Cakes. Maida has never let me down. Every one of her cakes are amazing. However in her description of this one she says “it’s a big production to make, but worth every minute.” She was right on both counts. The cake took hours to make and involved making 2 meringue layers, boiled buttercream, a sponge cake, and a Kirsch syrup. It is called a Zuger Kirschtorte and it’s delicious.


Kairav spent a lot of the day cooking also. Yes, those are his underpants in his pot. That’s what he thinks of this whole potty training thing.

Tuesday is cello lesson day and we made it there just in the nick of time, smelling of cake and Indian food. Ulka has practiced hard this week and had a great lesson. I love her teacher so much, and so does Ulka. He is amazing.

Tuesday is also swimming lesson day for the girls and swim team for Ishaan. Ishaan skipped practice today so we could have birthday dinner at a reasonable time and Andy took the girls to their lessons so I could finish up dinner.

Andy’s parents came over for dinner and cake. Both were a success.

We tucked the little ones into bed and now to settle down to some bourbon and birthday down time.

Christmas


I realized that my past few posts have been pretty wordy with no photos. I also know that some of you would probably rather see photos of the kids rather than hear my ramblings. I’ve been meaning to do a Christmas post, so I’ve decided to keep it to mainly photos- they are pretty self-explanatory. We were pretty focused on Christmas morning fun and not taking pictures, so we didn’t get many and the ones we did get are only ok, but here they are.




Advent Ideas

Until a few years ago I never even knew what Advent was. I thought it was all about opening little windows on the Advent calendar and popping out a piece of chocolate. When Ishaan was in a Waldorf playgroup in Brooklyn we learned about the advent spiral, which quickly became one of our favorite of the Waldorf festivals, and that was my first experience with any Advent activity.

Ishaan at the Advent Spiral

Then a few years later we started going to an Episcopal Church in Manhattan which followed the liturgical church calendar and celebrated all the Holy Days. That is when I really started to learn what Advent is all about and we started to celebrate it as a family. I love the idea of taking a step back from all the frenzy and busyness of this time.

Weeks ago I started a draft which I called early Advent. I had planned to get lots of Advent activities and ideas posted early. There were so many little projects I wanted to have done by now. Most of them are from The Christmas Craft Book by Thomas Berger. I love this little book. It is full of sweet and lovely ideas that go from Advent through Christmas. Every year I promise that I am going to make one of the tissue paper window transparencies that I love so much and I’ve never done one. Since those are not a specifically Advent project, we still have time and I’m still hoping to get one made this year. The walnut chain and the angel mobile are going to get missed again this year. I tell myself it’s ok, because I can do them when Kairav is a bit older and will appreciate these things more and it will be new and exciting for him.

Last year I made an Advent garland that we all loved. Andy and I folded pieces of colored paper into little envelopes. I wrote out the Christmas story on 24 small pieces of card stock and tucked one, along with a small piece of chocolate and a star cut out of gold card stock, into each envelope. The kids took turns checking the envelope each morning. Ishaan would read the verse aloud and then we would stick the card stock to the back of the envelope and the star on front. Ok, it’s 3:00 am and I’m not sure this description is making any sense. Maybe I’ll just include a photo.

Anyway, by the time Christmas Eve arrived, we had a bright garland hanging across the living room doorway with the whole christmas story written out on the back. I am hoping to do it again this year, but this year we are making the envelopes out of recycled brown paper bags. I will cut out the numbers from colored paper to brighten it up a little bit.

Earlier today when I was frantically searching for Advent ideas I came across a fun paper chain idea that I think we will try. You make a paper chain of 24 loops, each with something written on it. The suggestion was to write out a verse of the Christmas story, but since we are already doing that with the garland we won’t repeat it. I thought that instead I could come up with 24 fun Christmas activities and write one on each day. Each morning we will tear off one loop of our chain and read our special Christmas activity for the day- such as make paper snowflakes, bake cookies, get the Christmas tree…. I think that will be a fun thing for the kids and will put a focus on doing things as a family during what can just end up being such a hectic time.

I was also hoping to get a few books about Advent from the library, but since Advent starts tomorrow, they are naturally all checked out. The one I am most looking forward to is called The Angel and the Christmas Rabbit. It is a collection of 24 stories and they look so sweet. It is not due back in the library until 12/16, and by then it will be too late, so I may just break down and buy it. It is a book that we can use every year, so it will be a good investment.

Tomorrow is the first Sunday of Advent. I’ve written out the Year B Advent Readings, though we still have to make our Advent Wreath. In previous years we have used colored pillar candles, but this year we decided to go with more simple and natural beeswax tapers made by a local beekeeper  that I got from our farmer’s market.

Previous Advent Wreath

I need to stop getting worked up about all the things that I haven’t done for Advent and focus on the quiet and the waiting and not miss the point. There will be more years to get the projects done and it will be nice to add something new each year.

Happy Birthday Shooting Star

Happy Birthday to my sweet sweet Ulka.  She is kind and strong and sweet and fierce and can do anything she sets her mind to and will do nothing she does not want to. She laughs hard, plays hard, fights hard, loves hard and lives hard.  I love you Ulka- our meteorite

 

Friday Moment

{Friday Moment}

I love the idea of posting a single photo every Friday that captures the week, or a special moment to remember.  I’m going to try to join in this idea started bySoulemama and now done by lots of others. My life being the way it is, I might not get to posting every Friday, but I’ll do my best.

the little guy turns two!

Today was Kairav’s birthday! It is so exciting that he is two, I love two-year olds and never really bought into that whole terrible twos thing.  He is lovely, and sweet, and clever, and definitely the class clown. He makes us all laugh all the time.

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I thought that since he is the fourth and last baby  I would be nostalgic about his birthday and leaving babyhood behind, but I’m not. I am more excited than ever to watch him grow, and change, and learn all the things his siblings can do and see his personality develop into the little boy he is becoming. And, I’m REALLY looking forward to being done with diapers, forever- and it looks like the end is not far away.

We started the day with yummy pear muffins and of course Kairav’s had a candle in it and we all sang happy birthday and he beamed.  Our friends Sarah and Lucy came over- Wednesday is the day we hang out and cook and knit while the boys are at their wilderness class.  They brought Kairav a balloon and some of those squeaky paper noise makers which were a huge hit.

birthday muffin

My parents are coming down tomorrow to celebrate the big day, so we thought we would wait until then for cake and gifts, plus then we get to watch him blow out his birthday candles twice.  Today is also Diwali (more on that later), so we had a big meal with lots of candles and sweets so there was celebration all day.

As I’ve said before I love birthdays and Kairav got even more kisses and hugs and cuddles than usual and when I put him to bed I said “Goodnight baby” because he will be my baby forever.


Raksha Bandan

Although we were not a religious Hindu family, I grew up celebrating lots of Hindu cultural holidays and festivals.  Now in our family we too carry on the tradition and celebrate a couple of the Indian holidays. My favorite is the sweet and simple holiday called Raksha Bandan.  The main ceremony involves the sister tying a thread on her brother’s wrist. The thread, called a rakhi, is a symbol of the sister’s love and prayers for protection and safety for her brother.  In return the brother offers a simple gift to his sister as a symbol of his promise to protect her all of her life. I love the sentiment of this holiday.

Brothers

Sisters

The date of  Raksha Bandan is dependent on the Hindu lunisolar calendar and falls on a full moon generally in August.  Yesterday was Raksha Bandan.  (Happy Raksha Bandan to my wonderful brothers Akash and Sanjai- your rakhis should arrive tomorrow!)

Brothers and Sisters

Since Ishaan left for camp last Saturday, we celebrated last week.  Although it wasn’t the “real” day I felt like it was so timely since Ishaan would be leaving that day for 2 weeks away from us. The kids all put on their Indian clothes and the girls tied rakhis on their brothers.

Ulka tying Ishaan's rakhi

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Ulka tying Kairav's Rakhi

Ila and Ishaan

Ila and Kairav

Ila and Kairav

My cousin Namita came on Monday and she also brought rakhis for the boys- in India cousins are like brothers and even called cousin -brothers. When Ishaan returns from camp he will get one more.

There is a legend that if the rakhi stays on until Diwali it will turn to gold.  Maybe that’s how we will finance college for all these brothers and sisters!