Category Archives: Me

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 trouble with reading

It is the middle of August. That means it is time for me to freak out about school planning and get all anxious and crazy. The anxiety and craziness came way early this year.  At the beginning of July I had a complete and total homeschooling mom breakdown. From time to time I do second guess my homeschooling decision and wonder if the kids would be happier in school and then I remember why we are doing this and go back to being really happy with our choices. This time my melt down was far worse. Within 2 days I went from my typical second guessing to actually calling the school district to find out how to enroll my kids in school and calling the department of special ed to get Ulka evaluated. I was a mess and spent most of those two days in tears. Andy calmly looked on and let me go through my craziness without saying much. He knew that I would come around back to where my heart really lies.

The forms came from the school and I sat down to fill them out and got completely overwhelmed by that process. SO MANY FORMS. Wow. Who knew it was so complicated to enroll your child in school? Then, I saw my more sane and stable friend Sarah who so patiently listened and nodded and agreed. When I saw her two days later, she talked me off the ledge and reminded me of all the benefits and pluses of homeschooling and offered encouragement and support and suggestions.

So, the back story. Ulka has really been “struggling” with reading. By this I mean that she isn’t reading where she “should be” if she were in traditional school. As a homeschooling mom it is sometimes hard to gauge the children’s progress and I fall prey to all the school standards that I am so desperately trying to avoid. I looked up reading  by grade level, researched how to determine fluency, measured her reading in words per minute and basically made myself and Ulka crazy. I convinced myself that if there is a problem it would be best to find out sooner than later so I decided to have her evaluated by the board of ed. Every single homeschooler that I talked to said clearly “DO NOT DO THAT”.

I know that every child learns at her own pace and I knew that in my heart I was not convinced that Ulka had a “problem”, but that she is just taking her own time. I didn’t get her evaluated and am so thankful that I didn’t.  She has been practicing a lot recently and has made some good progress. I know that schools have to have standards to measure students progress. There are certainly kids who really have a need for intervention and it is great that those resources are available to them. But some kids are just ‘late bloomers’.

Some kids potty train at 2 and some at 4 . Everyone tells the frustrated mother not to worry, that she will do it when she is ready and that she won’t be in diapers when she goes to school. Some kids learn to ride without training wheels when they are 3 and some not until they are 8. If a child is still riding with training  wheels at 7 nobody freaks out and says that there must be some sort of problem and that the kid should be evaluated for a physical problem. It is similar with reading. Ishaan read Tom Sawyer in the summer between 2nd and 3rd grade and Ulka is still sounding out words. But she will get there, I know she will.

So now onto the fun of planning the school year. I have lots of fun ideas, trips and projects in the works and am looking forward to this year. More on school planning later. Now I have to go and do it!

Blackberry Jam

I can finally cross ‘making jam’ off my summer bucket list. Every summer I swear that it will be the year I make jam. We go berry picking, I look up recipes, I’m all ready, and then I get cold feet. I don’t know what it is about making jam that intimidates me, but whatever it is, I overcame it this year and made blackberry jam.

We went strawberry picking early in the summer but the picking was slim and we didn’t get enough to make jam so instead we had a huge strawberry shortcake for dinner. Yes, once a summer we allow ourselves to have strawberry shortcake and nothing else for dinner.

Then later we went raspberry picking and came home with plenty of berries for jam, but they all ended up in little bellies by the handful and in cereal and yogurt.

So, onto blackberries.

There is a huge blackberry patch over at Andy’s parents house. Rather it is a huge patch of stinging nettle, but if you trample down and make paths through the nettle you can discover a bounty of blackberries.

We went early in the morning on four different mornings and harvest blackberries before it got too hot and until we’d had it with the stinging nettle. (If only Ishaan had been around to tell me which plant soothes nettle- I think it might be Jewel Weed but I’m not sure. ) We finally had enough berries for jam.

On advice from my experienced jam making friend Sarah, I used Pomona’s Pectin.

It is a low-sugar pectin, which I found out allows you to make jam using less sugar than a no-pectin jam. There was a simple and straight forward recipe in the pectin packet and I just used that for the first batch. I borrowed a food mill to mash up the berries because wild blackberries have that hard center bit that I didn’t want in the jam. However I didn’t want the jam to be a uniform texture, so I added a few spoonfuls of the seed/pulp mixture that was left in the mill.

mashed berry goodness

left over seeds and middle bits

It’s a messy process

For the second batch I made a Blackberry Mint with Bourbon jam. I didn’t follow the recipe exactly because this recipe didn’t call for pectin. I had to just guess at the amount of sugar to use. Wow, I think this just might be my favorite jam ever!

Well it was jam fever at our house for a few days. The kids and I went blueberry picking at the nearby orchard and farm and came home with many pounds of blueberries. We played around with two kinds of jam. First we made a blueberry lemon with lots of fresh lemon juice and zest. Super yummy! Then I had an idea to make blueberry with ginger and vanilla. I used a good amount of ginger and when I tasted it I thought it was right so added vanilla. I guess I added too much vanilla and it sort of overpowers the nice ginger quality. It is not bad but not as delicious as I was hoping.

So now I have many lovely jars of jam sitting prettily on a shelf. We have opened two jars already but it is hard not to ration it and think of it as being totally precious and to be used sparingly. After all it is just jam and I made it so we could enjoy it!

Healing Lessons

The title of this post might be very similar to my last post, Healing Herb Garden, but this is a  different sort of post. It is not about school or gardening or anything else that you might find useful. It is a mini revelation of sorts. We all have them from time to time and these days mine usually involve some sort of wake up call, reminding me about who I want to be as a mother.

A few days ago Ila, our five-year old, fell off a little exercise  trampoline at our neighbor’s house. We were busy getting ready for a yard sale and frankly didn’t have the time or energy to console an over-reacting child. There were a whole lot of tears and a good bit of screaming, but that is just kind of what Ila does when she is hurt. And besides, it was not a serious fall.  But the crying didn’t stop so I took her inside. When I sat her on the table and gave her my full attention I could tell immediately that this was not just Ila over reacting. Her cry was different and something wasn’t right. She said that her shoulder hurt and when I looked it was clearly not ok- even I could tell that her bones on one side didn’t look the same as the other side. The on-call pediatrician could tell just by looking that she had fractured her collar-bone.

It was a low point for me. Not because she broke her collar-bone, but because of how I reacted to her. Lately I’ve been snapping at the kids and yelling too much. I am out of energy and patience most days and just generally feeling unmotivated as a homeschooling mom. The school year is wearing on me and I am yearning for beautiful weather when we can just be outside all day.

Over the last few days Ila has needed, and deserved, extra help kindness patience and love and I give it readily. My sweetness with Ila has overflowed to the other kids too and our days are just more gentle. I am trying to be the kind of mom I want to and strive to be.  Don’t get me wrong, we are not living in some sort of dreamy existence. There is still yelling and fighting and frustration but Ila’s injury, though not terribly serious, helped to put things back into perspective for me. It reminded me of how resilient kids are but also of how fragile their spirits can be and that I need to take care of them and be gentle with them all the time, not just when they are hurt.

Mondays revisited

You might remember my post a few weeks ago with a desperate plea for suggestions on how to make our Monday school days less painful, and even a little bit fun! Thank you to all of you who responded with great ideas. My hope is that this blog isn’t simply a way for me to post pictures of my kids and “our perfect life”, but to be part of a supportive community that shares ideas, so thank you!

Last Monday I was sort of off the hook because it was Ila’s birthday and we had a day off school.  Yesterday was my first Monday with my new approach. I have decided to not even attempt to sit down at the table for school first thing.  I asked that the kids be completely ready: dressed, breakfasted, beds made and rooms tidied, and chores done by the time I got home at 8:30.  To my surprise they were actually ready so I took them out to Five Rivers Nature Center. We go there often so it is a place they are all very familiar with.

It was chilly and I wanted all the kids, including Kairav to walk the whole time, so we chose the short 1/2 mile Beaver Trail, which is loop around a pond, and then headed into the education center to watch the birds and look at the owl and the turtles.

We headed home around 10:00 to start the “school” day. I had laid out all of their materials before we left so the transition would be smooth. They had a quick snack  and got down to work with no complaining.

I think the fresh air and running around was a great way for everyone, myself included, to start the week.  We had a great Monday which I think will set us up for a good school week. The kids are excited to have a good week and keep reminding each other about staying focused so that I don’t yell. Even the little ones amused themselves and stayed (mostly) out of trouble.

In addition to starting the morning differently, I also spent about 1.5 hours at the library on Sunday afternoon laying out the whole week. If I start the week off with a solid, yet flexible, plan everything goes much better. I know exactly what I want to cover and have realistic expectations of the kids.  I decided to have a week of some inside reading and writing work, but a lot of outside hands on stuff.  The kids haven’t had a break week since Christmas, and I think we are all feeling a little bit burned out and ready for a break- which comes next week!

So this week we started the farming and gardening block with both Ishaan and Ulka. Ishaan will do a more detailed study of seed development, plant and flower structures, and pollination and both kids will keep a gardening journal and help with the planning and preparing of the garden. We started some seeds inside yesterday. Today we will turn the compost and start getting the garden ready for planting the greens and peas.

I am hopeful that this new way of entering into the school week will continue to work well for us. I feel bad that it took me so long to recognize that Monday mornings were a problem, but at least now I know and we can try to fix it.

Happy Spring to all of you.  Go plant a garden- in your yard, on your fire escape, on your window sill- where ever you can!

Oh, cram!

We try to live as simply as we can in our hectic world. We really do. However, like everything else, our ability to accomplish this simplicity living seems to be seasonal. We are currently in a season of failing miserably at living simply.

 

I feel like everyday is a rush of school, running around, cleaning, cooking and working and we are missing the simple joys of the day.  By evening I am exhausted and just glad the day is finally over and hopeful that the next day will be easier, but the next day hasn’t been turning out that way.  Lately I have been overwhelmed by the number of tutoring students that I have. With the hours I spend with the students, prepping, and getting to and from the library I have had to carve out about 15 hours a week.  I just don’t have 15 hours a week to spare, so something has had to give. There must be something I am letting slide or not getting done.  At first it wasn’t obvious, but then I realized that what I am not doing is pausing for a moment to look around me and actually see things. Really seeing what my kids are doing, learning, and making. Seeing how Kairav is changing every day. Seeing how much Andy has been pitching in around the house to make it possible for me and pausing to say thanks to him. Pausing to have a quiet moment to thank God for all that is good in my life. I’ve been cramming every moment of every day full of doing doing doing that I’m missing all of it.

On top of it all, I just realized that Ishaan has to take the NYS 4th grade tests this year. I was under the delusion that he had to take them in 5th grade. So now, we are cramming for that too. I always promised myself that I wouldn’t stress out about these tests and that I would never  “teach to the tests”. But here I am stressing out and teaching to the tests. We are doing this test prep on top of all his other, more interesting school work, so the school days have become significantly longer.

I am confident that Ishaan is learning as much as he should be and that school is going well for us, but I feel all this pressure for him to do well on these pointless tests. Pressure from people in my life who question our decision to homeschool, pressure from the school district, and pressure from myself to prove to all of those others that we are doing a good job and that Ishaan is a bright kid and a good student. I wish so much that I wasn’t this way, but I am.

Lent starts today and it seems like the perfect opportunity to give up some of this rushing around to pause and be thankful. I know that is not going to happen right now though and I’m not going to pretend that it is. Last year Andy and I gave up Netflix for Lent. We don’t have a TV but watch our fair share of Netflix nonsense.  Giving it up “forced” us to spend that hour in the evening with each other- talking, playing Sequence, and just being together in a more meaningful way than staring at the computer screen together. When Andy first proposed that we do it again this year I was annoyed. My days are crazy and having a beer or a glass of wine, knitting, and turning off my brain is what I think I need at the end of the day. I realized though, that right now in this crazy season of cramming what I really need to do at the end of the day is pause, give thanks, and just be.

 

A (new) New Year

I look forward to a new year with eager anticipation. A new leaf, a fresh start, a new beginning- it all seems so hopeful to me. All the bad behaviors and habits from the past year somehow get erased, we get to go back to go. But this year didn’t start off like that for me, and  maybe I am finally catching on and realizing that it is idealistic and unrealistic to think that miraculously, overnight everything is going to be new and different and somehow better. The kids still misbehave, I still yell too much, the house still gets messy, and I still love sweets.

We took a long break from school and I was excited about starting new blocks with both the kids. I had planned out what I thought were fun and exciting projects for both Ishaan and Ulka. I was looking forward to getting back into a routine and rhythm of school, chores, and activities. Boy, what a rude wake up call I got- the first week of school kicked my butt.  Everyday felt like a battle between me and the kids, and they won EVERY SINGLE time. But wait, there is a small army of them and only one of me. I guess I should be thankful that at least they were teaming up and coming together in their quest to wear me down, but 4 against 1 seems unfair.  Fortunately on Friday we went over to our favorite family’s house for the afternoon and I could vent and have someone else around to see just how awful my kids are and stand with me in solidarity.  Instead, Sarah reminded me of how great our kids are, even on the tough days. She is right, my kids are awesome and I need to remember that every moment, even when they are making me insane.

So, I’ve decided to let myself have  new, new year. A fresh start, a new leaf but with realistic expectations of both me and the kids. Today we started a new week of school and I modified my lesson plans to make them more hands-on and hopefully more interesting. Ishaan will start his mornings as he always does- with math facts, spelling words, and main lesson work. Ulka will start her morning with math, reading, and cello practice.  In the afternoon we will catch up on things we didn’t finish in the morning and do art and handwork.

Ishaan is currently doing a Fibers and Clothing block, and for obvious reasons I am really excited about it.  There are so many opportunities for really great hands on projects.  We started with leather and Ishaan is learning about the different kinds of leather and about the tanning process.  Last week he made a knife case from a leather kit he got for Christmas, and this week we will start making a pair of leather moccasins. We don’t have a kit or a pattern for these, so it will be a much more challenging project that might take much longer than I planned, but the “new-beginnings-fresh start me” says “I’m okay with that.”

Now, off I go to plan our new, new year’s celebration. I think champagne might be  in order.  So Happy New Year everyone!

Overwintering Dahlias and Release the Lasagna!

I recently heard that Dahlia bulbs can be overwintered and planted again in the spring.  This came as good news to me as I’ve always treated dahlias as annuals.  I love them, so every summer I buy new plants and put them in the ground.  Saving the bulbs or tubers seems fairly easy and will save money that I can spend on some other new flowers for the garden!

The red and pale yellowish flowers are the Dahlias I am going to try to save.

There are a couple of different ways that I’ve read about to save the tubers, some more complicated than others. My life is a little hectic at the moment, so I’m going to choose the least complicated method I can find.

Here’s what to do:

  1. Dig bulbs or tubers up after frost has blackened foliage. Carefully remove as much soil as you can.
  2. Cut the leaves off, leaving a stem about an inch or two long. Leaves and stems are not needed, as the plants are going to be dormant and not making any growth through the winter.
  3. You can either carefully wash the soil off the tubers or bulbs, or just let it dry and work it off by hand later.
  4. Leave bulbs or tubers exposed to air in a frost-free place for a couple of weeks. Any remaining stem should be dry before going into storage, otherwise rot could develop.
  5. Store in vermiculite or dry peat (available at garden centers) in paper bags or cardboard boxes in a cool, frost-free place at 40 to 50°F (5-10°C).
  6. Dahlia tubers are prone to drying up somewhat, and these should be stored in slightly moistened peat moss. Check them through the winter, and if they’ve shriveled, moisten the peat moss. Some authorities suggest plumping shriveled dahlia bulbs up in a bucket of water overnight. If you do this, let them dry thoroughly before you put them back into storage.
So right now I am up to step 4- the bulbs are sitting in the mud room and will probably stay there for a couple of weeks until I get the vermiculite- or until my parents arrive for Thanksgiving and in a fit of cleaning I toss them in the basement.
When I read about lasagna gardening it sounded like a neat, earth-friendly and easy way to maintain a healthy garden and keep the weeds down. From my basic understanding of it, you pull out all the old dead plants and the weeds and  cover the ground with cardboard.  Then you put lots of dry leaves on top of the cardboard, and finally a thick layer of mulch. Then in the spring the under layers will have decomposed and you can just plant directly without tilling the soil.  Sounds easy enough.  I have been saving cardboard and being surrounded by tall trees we have no shortage of leaves. What I am short of right now though, is time.  With this big dormer addition project going on, bedding down the flower garden, raking, and Ulka’s birthday present to make, not to mention staying on top of homeschool and everything else, I had to let something go.  A very good friend of mine, Patti, taught me a valuable lesson that I think of in times like this.  When she feels overwhelmed and has too much on her t0-do list, she “releases” projects- and just like that, they’re gone! I love this idea and need to do it more often. So, lasagna gardening, I release you. Maybe next year we will revisit the idea, but for now I am off the hook. Thank you Patti!
I did cut down all the dead mums today. When the mums are done I know that winter is almost here. They are beautiful fall blooming mums and they help get be through that summer-fall transition.
 I started out with a pair of pruning shears and the task was a little overwhelming, so I went to the garage/ tool and bike shed to see what I could find that might make my work easier.  This is what I found:
I don’t know what it is, but it is heavy and sharp and made quick work of all those mums!

knitting crazy

Making things makes me feel good. When I’m nervous or anxious or feeling stressed the best thing for me to do is to pick up my knitting needles or my felting needle- that or go for a swim but swimming isn’t always an option.
                                                                                                                                                                      I have always described myself as having crafting ADD. I go through phases of focusing on one kind of craft at a time and I get really into it.  Sometimes it is needle felting, sometimes sewing, doll making, or embroidery, and once in a while during those really dark times it is nothing at all. But no matter what else I am working on, I always have a knitting project going on and lately that’s all I have been doing. It has been a knitting frenzy for the last year or so.
                                                                                                                                                                       I learned to knit when I was six from the most amazing knitter I know- my mom. She patiently sat with me, fixed my mistakes and encouraged me by giving me new projects even if the previous ones were not finished yet.  At the very end of my first year in college I broke my leg and couldn’t do much for those first few weeks of summer vacation so I decided to knit myself a sweater. My leg healed before I had even finished the front- another project in the “finish later” basket. I don’t know what ever happened to all those unfinished projects but there  were a lot of them.  It wasn’t until after I got married that I finally got serious about knitting and I made a scarf for Andy. And then the babies started coming. First my little niece Evelyn arrived and I knit her a sweater. Actually, if you count the number of times I pulled that little cardigan out and re-knit it, I probably knit her 5 sweaters.  Then friends’ babies and my babies came and they all got sweaters and hats.  I love knitting for babies. It is so quick and rewarding and they come out so cute and tiny. My babies are not babies anymore and their sweaters are not so cute or tiny anymore, but I still love knitting for them.
                                                                                                                                                                   At the moment I am knitting a pair of socks for myself. A few years ago I made myself a pair of felted mittens, but other than those, all my knitting has been for people I love. My mom gave me a beautiful skein of wool last winter and told me that I had to use it for myself, so now that the kids’ vests are finished, I am trying to squeeze in this pair of socks before the Christmas gift-making frenzy begins.

One sock down one to go.

Lately I have been getting most of my knitting patterns on Ravelry. I love that site and can get absolutely lost in it.  I try to use only the free patterns, but I have purchased a few also.  I haven’t yet posted any of my finished projects on Ravelry but I love looking at other people’s projects so maybe one day I’ll post mine too. In the mean time you can have a look at them here.
                                                                                                                                                                 This is a bag I made for Ulka. The pattern is actually from a really great Debbie Bliss book with many patterns that I will use, so I bought the book. I used Cascade 220 for the bag and just scraps I had around for the flowers.

Ulka's bag

Here are the vests I made for the kids. I used the same pattern for Ulka, Ila, and Kairav but put a different cable pattern down the side.  For Ishaan I used a different pattern that I thought was a little more “grown up”.
 I love vests for the fall because sometimes they don’t need a full sweater but just a little wool around their chests will keep them toasty.  I am not letting myself buy any more wool until I’ve used up a large portion of my stash (ok, so the Sheep and Wool Festival doesn’t count!).  Ishaan’s vest is made from some Lamb’s Pride wool I bought years ago for a sweater for him.  Ila’s grey and cream tweed is Cascade Eco Plus, Ulka’s is Ella Rae classic wool, and Kairav’s is Great American wool which I had never used before but honestly it’s not wearing as well as I hoped.
                                                                                                                                                                      I also recently made a Wallalby sweater for Ishaan and though I love how it came out it the end, it was a bit of a bear to make and I had to really play with the sizing, but he wears it all the time so it was worth it.

Ishaan in his Wallaby

I must end this post now because you are probably getting tired of looking at my knitting projects, and I have one cold foot.