Saturday, August 1, 2015

Homemade Grapes!

This year one of the three grape vines that H had planted produced a lot of grapes. We are totally excited with the bumper crop and can't wait for it to fully mature.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Special Visitor

This is the visitor mentioned in yesterday's post. Last Monday on May 4th I was sitting on the sofa looking out into the backyard when I saw a movement. Lo and behold, a grey heron has visited us! How did it even know of the 4 little goldfish living peacefully in our pond? Maybe it didn't come fishing at all.. I am not sure. It was one beautiful bird! The photos don't do justice. It had a little tassel hanging on the back as seen here. I had to quickly snap some pics through the patio glass so it could only be so clear. Here are two minutes worth of pictures captured in my camera through the glass.

Just Landed

Checking out the fish
Looks like a good catch!

Wait! Maybe not.

Someone is looking at me

Hello, I have come in peace.

Hi there

I am going to take leave now.

I just had to call my son to show this to him The sound and the movement probably alerted the bird and it flew away. It was just great to see this beautiful bird right in our backyard by the pond. My daughter missed it since she was sleeping but she and H were happy to see the pics. Thanks for the visit beautiful bird. I shall go on thinking this indeed was a very special visit since such a bird hasn't come this way before or since.

Monday, May 11, 2015

This Mother's Day

This is the beautiful poster that awaited me at the airport on this saddest of all mother's days. My molu made it for me. I love it. I can't describe it but the colors are very vibrant and I love how she arranged the whole design! She was holding it up for me to see as I was coming down the escalator. The three of them were waiting for me. I was coming back after a quick and upsetting four day trip to India to attend my mother's funeral. My sweet mom who loved plants and flowers and animals alike and whose kitchen always had food for the hungry regardless of where they came from... If she didn't go to heaven I am not sure who will in this day and age. My sister said she had a dream of my mom's soul traveling with the light towards heaven. It may sound like blabber but it gives me infinite peace to hear this from her. I believe the visitor I had the other day in our backyard was my mom coming to say goodbye to me. Never had I seen such a majestic bird (grey heron) anywhere here before. Will post pictures from that visit in the next post.

My mom is old enough for people to think, yes it is her time to go, she has lived a full life with all her ten children living fulfilling lives themselves. But then you don't know my mom. She is ageless. Although we had celebrated her 80th birthday nine years ago the implications of her being that old never struck me. I still went ahead and brought her over to stay with us for three months in the summer of 2009. She made that journey at 83 all by herself, of course with assistance from the airlines. It is also the year my girl started kindergarten with her blessings. Spending that one-on-one time endeared her all the more to my babies who were crying uncontrollably when they heard the news. That time we had her, they were competing to be her favorite. My kannan always ready to help her move around, my molu always remembering her medicines and making sure she takes it on time. Mom always appreciated that time with them afterwards. She was happy to give them the forbidden tea when I was not around :-) She was with us for a year after my firstborn arrived in 2000. He was already born and I had returned home from the hospital. My tummy was still big and I remember her kissing my tummy thinking he was in there and exclaiming in delight and surprise when she saw a baby on the bed! I remember her watching the presidential elections with avid interest that year. The same interest that got me the national merit scholarship and help me get to the top in general knowledge quiz competitions at school level. She is the one who taught me basic lessons of English even though she had not gone past the old 7th form. She is the one who made math my favorite subject. She had the best handwriting in the world. I loved looking at the neatly written math problems that she would set for me to do as extra work. My dad was the school headmaster but it was she who made sure all her children were educated and was not stuck anywhere in their lives. When I found Social Studies a little tough she got my older sister to help me through it and it became a favorite subject too. I remember this now as I help my girl who is finding Social Studies not so social just like I did. I know she will get over it just as I did too. The sweetest time for my mom was perhaps the six months she and I spent together here when I was single and brought her over (again by herself) just for the fun of having her with me. I know she enjoyed that time which was only a few years from when we lost our dad. She loved wearing the colorful saris that we insisted she wear for this trip and pioneered the art of cooking puttu in a steamer! We spent a lot of time singing her favorite songs and doing shopping. When I came home from work, it was great to see her sweet face waiting eagerly for me with news of the birds she saw from the window that day. She was the one who started the chain of events that led me to meet my husband. She had wanted her last child to be happily married too, no matter how happy I was to be working and independent. My mom was not only smart but also brave. She was down to earth and shy and humble and loving and sweet but utterly fearless. None of us children are as brave as her whether it is in talking to people or facing snakes. Yes, even snakes never fazed her. Living in eco-friendly Kerala that still has an abundance of snake population, it is difficult not to have encountered at least one especially in those days. The ten acres around our charming childhood home built by our maternal grandfather following ancient carpentry rules on the side of a hill is filled with my mom's presence. She has roamed that land endlessly. Every tree and plant was touched and cared for personally by those hands. The peppercorn vines that climb so coyly around the tree produced ample crop for her.  When she decided to try her hand in producing bananas in a little plot on the land, she excelled in it. Anything she put a mind to it flourished. When she saw that the vanilla bean creepers she had planted will not pollinate on their own, she found out how to do it and got people to hand pollinate it for her and got them to produce. The little plot of untouched forest that rose out of the various plants and trees and crops she planted in spare time, down the side of the well that draws the sweetest water, is filled with all kinds of birds and butterflies. I am glad my brother loves this stretch of land and is striving to keep it pristine as much as he can. I saw two species of butterflies as big as the monarchs there the other day.

My oldest brother told us a story of that well. The dowser who was called to find a spot to dig the well asked my mom to touch a spot on his body with her finger. This was 60-65 years ago. My naturally shy mom did not really want to touch the person anywhere but since he asked she touched his forehead with her finger. The man right away said that the water will be found only after drilling through rock formations because she touched the toughest part of the body. And it came to be true. The well had to be dug deep enough and through rocks until water was found! But because it comes filtered through all the rocks, this water is ultra pure and water is still drawn from it to drink. My brother realizes the purity of this water and has decided not to add a pumping system to it since the oils from the mechanical system will certainly corrupt the water. To this day we always have enough drinking water and more from the well. During the rainy season water will come all the way up to the top which is an awesome sight.  I thank God everyday for letting me be born in this charming place as the child of my parents and also the grandchild of my maternal grandfather who is the most awesome person that I have met to this date. It was the most enchanting childhood that anyone could ask for. I thank God especially for having given me the most loving, brave and sweet mother in the world. Like Samson's hair that gave him strength, it is the knowledge of my mom's constant prayers for all of us that kept me up in the trials and tribulations of this world. I know she will continue to watch over us in heaven. The rain that poured down suddenly with thunder and lightning while the three of us sisters left our motherless home for the first time is proof enough for me. The last few years of her life was colored by the dementia she had. Yet she was struck with it only towards the last 3-4 months of her life. Her sheer love of life let her live it fully despite the illness. It is in a way luck that we were not aware of the extent to which this debilitated her since that allowed her and us to lead a normal life almost to the end. She went as she wished just like how her dad - our grandfather - died. She was especially lively and walked all the way to the front of the house on her own and ate well that last day. My sisters had visited her in the days leading to her last day. My brother said she woke up in the morning (evening of May 5 for us here) and slowly shuffled to the bed next to hers. Then since she started sleeping again sitting down, they lead her back to her own bed. Here she slept when the home-nurse heard a slight hiccup and by the time she called my brother it was all over. No fuss just like how she wanted it to be. I hope I will have the same blessing when it is my time. Now she is finally in heaven with my grandparents and my dad in peace.

Only four months ago you will not believe she could get this sick so fast. She was always energetic and so full of life that I could not believe it when I saw her in April when the four of us went to visit her. I booked the tickets on a whim, not really because I thought she was ill but because I thought I just wanted to see her with all four of us. But after I booked the tickets things got serious and it is a blessing that we made that trip while she was still alive. Another brother also came at the same time so we could all spend time together with our Ammachy. The sweet smile that welcomed us even from inside memories that were clouded will stay on as the cooling touch on our burning hearts. Only now I realize that 89 is really a long life for anyone. Being the youngest of ten children she was always young enough for me. I know each of her children will have their own memories based on their own time with her. She stayed 60 till the last four months which is also why it is difficult to believe that she left so fast.. The number of people who came to pay respects for her in death were many. Even more heartening to hear was how so many were touched by her energy and liveliness at that age. She always made it a point to help people who needed it almost to a fault. This was an overwhelmingly huge need of hers to always do something to help others. Nothing swayed her once she determined a person needed help and how he or she should be helped. In her time her kitchen always had food for the hungry and her home always had clothing for the needy. May her shining example live with us and propel us to do as well.

My mom did the embroidery in the picture below. Her was voice was always sweet when singing.  I secretly hold dear the memory of when she called me 'my ammini' when I was growing up. In the evenings when I sense that she is not in the house I will go searching for her. This was her own time spent feeding the cows with special treats herself or going off to the land and walking around endlessly. I will call her in the longest voice and I could hear the response from far below and she will always come up. We will sit and talk and soon the normal needs of the household will catch up. She loved that I loved to read. She loved that we all liked to study. She and I used to sing omanathinkal kidave together when she was here. Mom and memories are one and the same. So long as I have memories she will live there. Only a tiny portion can be put down anywhere. May was a favorite month of hers. It is the month of Mother Mary, Queen of May. My mom passed away in such a spot of time this month that was the most convenient for me to make the quick trip to bid her the final farewell. It also made it possible for my oldest brother who is here to make that trip in a similar fashion. All ten of her children could be with her at this time which has happened only once before at her 80th birthday celebrations. I hope to live as you taught us through your example. To be resilient and to never give up, to be kind, patient and forgiving and most importantly to be giving. My mom, I love you now and forever.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Aramasobha - Glory of The Garden

There's this amarchitrakatha comic named 'The Magic Grove' about a girl called Vidyutprabha who married the king because she was so pretty and also had this blessing where a whole garden/grove moved with her. This garden provided her and the animals and birds she loved with water, shade, plenty of food and protection. The king loved her and named her 'Aramasobha'. 'Aramam' for grove and 'sobha' for glory. It is a beautiful story and difficult not to like. I am no Aramasobha but I do have a small garden that stays in the same place I stay! I can always come back to it and with a husband who is back to tending flowers, it is pure pleasure in spring time to be out and about in the backyard. We missed the boat on veggie planting this year but the flowers are making up for it. They shine like little queens in the sunshine and I wanted them to be appreciated in a picture post that tells more stories than words.

A New Selection - Clematis, creeper

Good Old Hibiscus
Dipladenia : Another creeper
Lantana: Konginipoo  in Malayalam- constant 
companion on my walks to the elementary school.
Don't they add charm anywhere?
My girl's cactus plant
Aptly named Black Beauty
Black Beauties!
Even if they are not so black they are still beauties

New addition. So pretty!
My marigolds
More of  'em

From a tree in the  front that was there when
we bought the house. Don't know the name

The marigolds are a dream come true just like for SS from soulsearchingdays. Marigolds were so omnipresent during my childhood that the first bloom took me back some right away! They didn't bloom thick and dense as I had hoped but there is always a next time.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Quick Soup For The Cold

We had this soup when Hcousins made it. It is much colder here than I can remember this time of the year and I thought to fight it with the warm soup. Measurements are not absolute. All depends on the taste that you want in your soup.

In The Mix

water - 6-7 cups

chicken bouillon cubes - 4 to 5
Better Than Bouillon paste - 3-4 heaped tsp. (I used this)

fish fillet - 1/2 to 1 lbs washed and cubed (any white fish will do. Tilapia is a good choice)fresh ground pepper - 2-3 tsp or to taste (this must be ground/crushed fresh)
lemon juice - from 1 lemon
fresh grated ginger - from a 2" piece or more
cilantro - 2-3 sprigs chopped lightly

How To Do

Boil the water in a pot and add the bouillon cubes or paste. Stir together till well combined. Add fish pieces and boil 2-3 minutes. Check salt and add more bouillons/paste as needed for flavor. The salt comes from the bouillon so using reduced sodium version helps control the salt. Add the pepper and lemon juice. Boil once and add grated ginger. Add more ginger if you like as it can only help.  Boil some more till you can smell the ginger and pepper in the air. Add more water or other ingredients as taste demands. Add cilantro leaves, boil once and remove from heat. Serve hot, sit down, relax and enjoy as the warmth fills the cold, tired body and brings it back to life. As you drink more of the soup you should feel the gingery and peppery comfort lingering.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Welcome 2015!

Sculpture at Uffizi Gallery, Florence
We had celebrated Christmas at home mainly packing for our trip and having a quiet but busy day with church activities. Molu was invited by her voice teacher to sing the first solo that starts the Christmas Eve service at their Episcopal Church. She did a great job with this song in the church full of unfamiliar people.  Just got back from our visit to HAunt's house full of love and food. Kids were devastated as always to leave but are coping nowadays by thinking of the next time we meet. It is as cold in the bay area as it was warm in the east coast! I am still keeping our nativity set up. It emanates a warmth that I love to look upon these cold evenings.

The year went by rather quickly. Getting most of these two weeks as holidays was a much needed break from the feverish pace at work. My mom is starting to forget things as she is progressing in old age. Time to think of a visit to India to see her. Old age will catch up with all of us yet we all go through the youthful years with this thought rarely bothering us. Here is a road picture my daughter clicked for me from the car while traveling back from somewhere. I hope our lives will settle down in the end as peacefully as the sun set this day.

I also have some pictures of the cupcakes my daughter made for her class party. I am not exaggerating when I say it was all done by her including the little christmas tree on top to decorate the mini cupcakes. She used the recipe from a bakeware set we had bought for her.

She had added christmas colors to the cupcake batter which I thought looked very pretty! Of course we cannot see this once the frosting goes on top.

I made the usual appam and stew to celebrate Christmas. Took some of the fruitcake I had made with us for the visit to the east. My girl made the best tasting marshmallows with HAunt. I couldn't get pictures once they were cut into cubes and rolled in sugar. Here is a picture of the slab of goodness. 

HAunt and my girl also made cookies and icing and we all had fun decorating cookies. There is a Raphael in all of us:-)

While there we visited the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia.  It was good to see and read about all the deep feelings associated with it. Philadelphia served as this great nation's capital under two of its first presidents. George Washington & John Adams. At the suggestion of cousins who are Philly residents we gouged ourselves on philly cheese steaks(PCS) at Jim's Steak's. I had loved PCS the moment I tasted them at my university town in Fayetteville, Arkansas. But I could never get that taste back in any of the places I had tried here in Cali. This one blew me away. There is no equal to what we had here! My son was so enamored, he went for seconds despite the long line and my husband also joined him. The light fluffy bread and the tender moist beef are the secrets of this delectable dish.

When H visited China last year he had brought back a cute Budha. This morning when we woke up we saw light falling in such a way that the Budha was lighted. It was good to see the enlightened Budha first thing in the morning. 

Wish you all a wonderful year ahead with good times and cheer throughout.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Italia : Venezia

Mainland, Venice

Now that I am on a roll I just want to finish this mini travelogue as fast as I can. Venice was the last stop on our Italian trip. Having seen the Venice of the East , you'd think there is not much of a surprise here. But Venice (Venezia, as the italians call it) was a whole different experience. Built on wooden platforms supported by wooden stakes driven into the ground, this city on water has a very special ambience that is all at once charming and haunting. It is said that Venice is slowly sinking  and a lot of the people and offices are moving to the mainland. Let us hope this breathtakingly exotic floating city will not disappear that fast on us. One can feel the effect of deteriorating structures if one is able to pay any attention to such things amidst the resplendent glory.

Welcoming Duck at our Venetian rental place

Our train reached Venice around noon. The last station was at the edge of the mainland. From there we took a vaporetto or water bus to Venice. Here we changed our style a bit and all ten of us stayed in a townhouse charmingly named Ca' de l'Oca or the house of the duck. It is named after a board game of sorts like 'Ludo' or Candyland. There was a picture of it on the kitchen wall.

It was in a residential alley and so quintessentially venetian that we could feel like a resident even if for a few days. We bought groceries and gathered in the living room and went out and came back as we pleased as if in our own homes. Except for the plumbing going awry and causing a strong fishy smell it was the best way to stay at the end of the trip. HAunt even found the time to cook rice and chicken fry for us on the last day. Our first Indian food in ten days was a welcome change. She is a pediatrician but aren't we blessed that she also loves to cook?

St. Mark's Church
It rained constantly in Venice and since we were already armed with umbrellas and ponchos this couldn't stop us from going about. First in list of course was St.mark's church. It is believed that the church contains the relics of the apostle St.Mark. This apostolic connection appear to be more tenuous than the trail of St. Thomas the apostle in India. We managed to squeeze in through the valiant efforts of our cousins running ahead to find a place in the queue before the doors closed for the day. The inside was as magnificent as expected but we could see slow deterioration settling in on the edges of beauty. Culprit being the constantly seeping in salty winds. Managed to click a few pictures before we were told it is not allowed inside this church.

Piazza San Marco - St. Mark's Square

We spent time at St. Mark's square the next day which was rather sunny. Went up the green topped bell tower in the square to get an aerial view of Venice which was totally worth it. Got a few good pictures from up there too.

View from The Bell Tower

We also visited the famous glass blowers of Murano and watched the demo of a glass vase and horse being made in front of our eyes. For that horse to be made so fast before the hot glass sets and to be so stable, the glass maker needs to be an expert with a training of at least 5-6 years.

Murano glass
Glass can be so beautiful when made into jewelry and artifacts of brilliant colors and shapes! On the way to Murano, we passed  Isola di San Michele which I later learned to be a  cemetery for mostly famous people.

San Michele, Venice - seen through the rain

I was haunted by its silent brooding presence in the water with the waves constantly breaking on its fortified walls as the boat got closer. Of course there is a dome for the church even on that island which gives any architecture definition and grace.

What is a visit to Venice without a ride on the gondola? The gondolas are built narrow and long so as to navigate the narrow waterways between the buildings like in the picture here. Now it is mainly a tourist thing. They are very expensive to own, around $50,000.00 or so. Our gondolier inherited his gondola from his grandfather. We were extremely lucky to have one rain-free evening so we could actually enjoy the ride.

Grand Canal, Venice
The ride took us to the Grand Canal where we saw many famous buildings overlooking the canal. There was one that was supposedly occupied by Napoleon. That venetians travel mostly on boats is a source of amazement to me. To not feel the ground under your feet all the time must be odd? One of the places I wanted to visit, was the Doge's Palace.

As we reached this last part of our trip I was slowly being besieged by the most villainous cough and accompanying flu. That I was almost down and out by the second day in Venice was sad but I did make the most of the time there. Who has time to fall ill when such excitement beckons? It was good that we were were in a home together so I could actually rest as if I am home while others were out and about. That this pest of a cough will blow into a full fledged nightmare once we got home and will put its chokehold on me for the next few weeks was not known at the time. I am grateful that the kids didn't get it while traveling.

Ciao, Italy!

On the last day we were all scampering to clean up the villa, catch the right vaporetto to mainland and to get on our planes on time etc. It was a great trip. While we enjoyed it to the hilt and speak of it fondly to this day, it was also great to be back home in our own cozy lair and just chill. Not to mention catching up with our gentle cat, Zeus.

Hello, Zeus!