The Scorpios

Lilypie Kids Birthday tickers

Monday, October 20, 2014

And It is Coming

Drum Rolls.....


By Yours Truly



Sunday, October 19, 2014

Health is Wealth

I am participating in the happy hours contest for dabur chyawanprash.

Truly said, a healthy child is a joy to behold and exactly opposite is the truth when a child falls sick.

Especially the first five years is the most testing period for parents because that is the time children contract diseases, fall sick and in the process even develop immunity.
Which is why vaccinations are done mostly during the first five years with a few that follow through at the age of ten.

Since I have twins, the problem that I face is both children fall sick one after the other. Both good and bad because then I can handle them together and manage with one doctor visit only.

Of course there are times when the other does not contract the disease and that means I spend time worrying about the fact the other should not contract it especially if it is some trouble some problem like hand foot and mouth disease that Tejas once got.

Nevertheless, it is important that we bear utmost caution with children especially during the first five years when immunity is low.

- ensure that children wash hands properly and often especially before eating.
- inculcate clean habits especially once they start their bum washing on their own.
- ensure that they learn to wash fruits before eating
- make sure they do not lick the packet or bottles of any snack item as they ae stored often in not so clean conditions in the store,
-wipe all dust off any snack pack before giving to the children
- deworming them on doctor's orders every six months.
- give them some immunity building food. My brother would eat dabur chyawanprash and that did wonders for them. So does pepper, tulsi, honey etc for building immunity against cough and cold I am told.
- ensure they participate in one me physical activity like playing sport, swimming etc to build strength
- make sure to give balanced diet because that is the first step to build immunity and strength.
-at the same time, making sure they expose themselves to the elements and not be too much mollycoddled also build immunity. Many parents swaddled the child in woollens at the slightest feel of chill weather, especially in chennai. My kids' doctor advices to remove the sweater even though they are having fever and asks to allow the body to breathe.
- allowing circulation of clean air every day in the home and the bedroom also helps in bringing in freshness in the home and keeping it disease and dust free.
- have greenery around so that it maximises cleanable and pure air.
- make sure change bedclothes very often and dust them everyday.
- vacuum occasionally to remove dust mites.
-especially in cases of small children, make sure their soiled clothes are washed separately so that no cross contamination happen.

Ultimately of course it is not easy to always keep disease at bay but we can do as much as possible to reduce the severity and frequency of the same.

Gharwali Diwali

Seeing the lovely video on gharwalidiwali from Pepsi / Kurkure, brought back many sweet memories of Diwali.

And aside, I loved the add. Brought et ears to my eyes.

Diwali is precious to me for many reasons. Honestly while I always loved the entire ceremony of Diwali, it became much more precious festival to me because my children were born on a Diwali morning, amidst the crack and pop of various crackers as Chennai celebrated Diwali on the exact moment when my kids came screaming and perplexed, into this world.

My oldest memory of Diwali is that my mom would make a model of a home, typically the one where we lived, out of a cardboard box.
She would wallpaper it with white sheets and paint the various structures like doors, balconies, windows. She even put transparent polythene for window glass and tiny curtains for the same. Even detailing of door knows was done using chocolate foil. Totally best out of waste.

She even made a garage with corrugated roofing using biscuit tin sheet.

She and Dad would then put a bulb inside and connect the same to a plug point and lo and behold,

our home had electricity.

We children would decorate the same with our dolls, cars, make mini garden, place a flower pot for giving a tree effect and make mini scenes using our toys.

We would do Pooja in the gharaunda as we call it and then ought the lamps, candles and fairy lights all over the house.

Then there would be the goodies that were made and we compulsorily had yam curry and poori for dinner.

Diwali was a time when our extended family would meet up and therefore there was a lot of merry making in general.

In fact today, I don't leave my home for Diwali as I do like to deck up the home, light a lot of lights, variety of lamps, and decorate using flowers and floating lamps in the urli. I totally enjoy the entire ceremony that entails Diwali and of course I have the believe that this day brings prosperity and is therefore symbolic that the family stays together. And considering that my children's birthday fall around Diwali, I often have my parents here with me.

I have bought a little house made of wood from Kolkata and that is my gharaunda that I use for the puja. The children decorate their toys and cars and make a merry scene around it.

We also distribute sweets to some neighbours and light crackers together in the complex. At least we are not alone during Diwali.

I am not so fond of crackers and neither are my children too brave about lighting them. I sincerely hope they will one day think of making their Diwali more meaningful instead if spending money on crackers which do nothing for the environment.
However I do not want to impose that on them and I wait for them to think about the same and become ambassadors of green Diwali and focus more on fun and togetherness and of course lots of eating, especially the kaju barfi that they love immensely.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Outdoor play

My yowoto column on outdoor play, benefits of outdoor play and what to take care of when children are playing outside.

Sent from my iPad

Friday, October 03, 2014

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Acres Wild...There is Order in Wilderness, Exotic in the Ordinary

Considering that the last vacation was an action packed Singapore trip and also considering that the children love animals, unstructured play and generally hanging around with friends, we decided to take a completely laid back, unstructured, open planned holiday at none other than the place that is the epitome of organised wilderness and farm experience....Acres Wild.

Since this was to be a holiday where we don't have to do anything and the idea was to let the children have fun, we decided to combine the stay with our family friends so that the children spend their vacation together.

First Step

Booking the rooms

The website of acres wild is easy to locate on google.
More importantly the site is easy to browse and the room availability is colour coded so that one gets a fair idea of the dates when one could plan a holiday.
Moreover, the owners are easy to contact both on phone and by email and extremely honest about the levels of activity that one could expect at the farm. No tall claims are made and what I appreciated the most that they correctly advice the number of days one needs to stay to enjoy what the farm has to offer.

We were booked in Haloumi cottage which is situated on the top most level of the 22 acres land of Acres Wild and is a two bedroom, living room and kitchen unit.

We paid the tariff in advance and filled the online booking form to ensure that the rooms remain booked with us since the demand is extremely high. Which gives me hope. Not everyone is looking
for a commercial holiday location.

Reaching Acres Wild
We were booked for three nights and checking out on the fourth day. To ensure that we arrived in the morning of day 1, we started the previous afternoon from Chennai by road.
After a 5 hour drive, we stayed overnight at Salem, (LRN Residency) which surprisingly turned out to have big room and big bath with hot water on demand in the taps.

The next morning we started at 7.30 am and reached Acres Wild Coonoor by 11.45 am. Since we had restricted out food to avoid travel sickness and messing up the cars, we see famished. Mansoor (Khan) the host was generous enough to suggest we help ourselves to some freshly toasted bread until lunch got served and promised us an early lunch.

The farm is located very near to Coonoor bus stop and easily located through google map. A winding narrow road off the main road just after the lorry stand leads to a three way forked path. We took the concrete path, past the Mandir, masjid built close to one another and followed the signs and took a few more turns until we were guided to stop. That was where the owners lived and adjacent to that was the coolest place in the farm, the restaurant, sit out, library and games room with a very clean toilet I must add.

What did we do?
Day 1
Mansoor gave us an overview of the farm. Helped by Munna the go to guy and Mary the go to lady
who also makes cheese, we checked in after a hearty feast of bread, butter and home made guava jam. Either it is the hills or because the bread was really tasty, we felt that we have never eaten such yummy bread butter jam before, so much we hogged.

We also checked out the books, a delightful collection of Enid Blytons was what I spotted first.
The kids loved carrot and football table and were eager to try their hand at the pool table but it was for the best that we did not want them to touch it.

And of course we checked out the wifi! You don't believe that we would disconnect completely right!

Our cottage was at the top most level past another cottage. There was one more cottage that was downhill and was visible from the top.

Haloumi cottage at night
The rooms were lovely, more than what we could wish for. There was a kitchenette with induction study over and tea service, a fireplace, enough sofas and dining set and separate geysers even though the farm is powered by solar heater for bath water. I am glad the back up was available because I have had experiences in cold places where we had to struggle for hot water and this was the biggest luxury that I could ask for.

We were given extra bed and there was a supply of quilts and pillows and more towels than we needed and home made soap in the bathrooms.

The decor was in very traditional wood and the room had bay windrows which we opened in the morning and watched the mist curl inside the room. My only grouse, I wish the lights were brighter. The reason being that misty evenings forces one to stay indoors and if the lights a bright and warm, it feels secure and pleasant.

We also had a private gazebo that overlooked the mountains and gave us a bird's eye view of the rest of the farm.

We followed Mary to the cheese room that was located a few steps away and observed the huge
containers with milk waiting to turn to cheese. Mary added the culture and took us for a tour of the place including the cheese room with a tantalising display of arrays of various types of cheese.

Steps in Cheese making

We did a mini nature walk looking at lantana blooms, smelling the lemon leaves and a few more bright and colorful exotic looking wild flowers.

Cows were ranging free which is not unusual in India but the fact that they were allowed all over the property even up to the steps that led to the main house was amazing.

The beauty if the hills is that even the wild flowers look so bright, pretty and colourful and the lantana especially took me back to my childhood in Ranchi where they were rampant and wild crowding every other plant in the garden.

We plucked fresh baby guavas from the tree, which was a first for the children, tasted the rosemary
and went back to the restaurant for lunch which was a delightful spread of chicken, fresh cabbage, greens, rotis, rice, daal and halwa for the sweet dish.

I believe that the reason that our stomachs stayed in perfect condition all these days was that we never ate outside, but insisted that we would take all three meals in Acres Wild. So great was the lure of freshly cooked home food. And if there is a cook you would like to kiss, I would recommend she is the one!

After lunch, we lazed outside the restaurant and soaked up the sun that was helpfully shining and explored Mansoor's garden. I loved the anise plant and shamelessly ate a lot of anise on the sly both fresh ones and the ones that had dried up on the plant! My secret was out when he recommended that the kids taste that and they declared that they had already tasted them!

fresh green anise extremely full flavoured

It became a good nature trail for the children in total.

And here are these lovely flowers the petals of which look like that of the rose.

We took a hike down to the fish pond and came back huffing and puffing. The children pestered the
host to give them the bucket of fish food and we delegated the job of chaperoning them, to the dads. The kids fed the fish and Ojas put one foot in the water and I spent a couple of days drying his shoes out in the flirting sun, using newspapers and silica packs!

After that the children joined Mansoor as he was making wheat bread. They had a merry time kneading the dough and putting them in the mould for raising.

And then it was time for milking the (cash) cows (4.30pm) and we didn't want the children to miss them. The cow shed was a few metres away from Haloumi and we trekked up the steps and towards the cow shed and were waiting there even before the milkmen came. The children tried their hand at milking the cows. The outer limit for the cow's patience is 10 minutes we were told and after that we would get a kick in our sorry butts! We interviewed the milkmen on various aspects like output, nature of the cows, which calf belonged to which cow and which cow was the most gentle and which was the most short tempered. Took lots of pictures with the cows and refrained from putting them up
on FB fearing unwarranted comments comparing our and the cows' sizes!

this loving cow is not her mother!

The children were fascinated with the tripod shaped sticks that the cowherd was using and they ensured they got one each from the forest which they hid in the property for posterity before leaving from there.

We met puppy the dog and Spotty another very friendly dog that belonged to the cook.

Stepped back to the restaurant to eat more bread!

And did you think that by now the kids would have forgotten the bread! No way. They skipped back to the host's kitchen and watched the bread bake and then were told that the same would be served in the restaurant the following day.

Using their tripod sticks, the kids reached up to the tea bushes that were plentiful and plucked lots of leaves. They also did some plant and flower spotting and collected lovely wild flowers.

We ended the day as the mist came curling with a dinner of chicken 65, okra, rajma and dessert of besan halwa.

The best part of the restaurant is that it invites endless conversation, lingering there long after food is done and lots of whooping and playing by the children.

And in this whole confusion, we missed the cutting of the cheese and the other processes.

Day 2

The rains of the previous night gave me a lot of tension but it was delightfully bright and sunny the next morning.

tea flower ...slightly powdery smell, heliotrope, green accents, reminiscent of jasmine and orange blossom 
After a breakfast of poha and again lots of bread, including the bread that they had baked the previous evening, we stepped out to visit the town.
We decided to visit the Sims park. We loved the dahlias, the pink cosmos and the humbug out trees and birds of various kinds like sparrows, bulbul etc.

who says boys don't do pink...cosmos flowers


After that we went to the tea factory. The children scattered the tea leaves for drying and generally
experienced the various stages of tea. I could smell the raw leafy smell of the tea even till the last stage and I wonder when the transition takes place.

We picked up the baskets and an apron and the children had the experience of plucking and gathering tea leaves.

We bought lots of spices and I especially loved the asafoetida with its sharp aroma.
Of course we were back right on time for a lunch of chicken and tasty vegetables. The reason I love the hills is that the food tastes fresh and awesome.

And do you know, I even managed to do a super quick shopping at Fab India in Coonoor before heading back to the farm!

We had a long siesta and post that we sat in the gazebo and the children danced to songs and we also played some quizzes to pass the time until dinner was served.

That night we had chicken biriyani and okra and boiled potatoes served with homegrown fennel leaves and cheese. Yummy!

And it rained. Heavily. Mansoor spent some time with us explaining the fascinating concept of his book The Third Curve which is based on the normal curve of peak oil which is the source of energy and is fast depleting. He explained that the very idea of Acres Wild is to be as Eco friendly as possible and which is why he focuses on home grown, self made and reducing the impact in the environment.
Read the book. It's interesting and written in a lucid style using colourful fonts, interesting graphs and stories that illustrate the concepts.

Day 3
We took the toy train to Ooty and the dads proceeded to Ooty by car and waited like paparazzi for us to reach the destination. (without card in the camera so we had to rely on our mobile phones for pictures.) From Coonoor to Wellington to Yetti to Lovedale to Ooty was a journey that encompassed three tunnels and beautiful landscape.

After that we went to an entertainment zone of sorts where we did a boat ride which was more like a raft ride, ate corn, did horse riding and bought the large smooth textured custard apples, which are way tastier than the smaller usual variety.

On the way back we stopped at Gateway for lunch and discovered that there was a possibility of TN bandh the following day and we had to rudely cut short our holiday. We decided to leave the same evening. Mansoor and Tina were extremely understanding and more than generous and we were truly sorry to leave ending our dream vacation.

And by the way, if you have not already guessed it, Mansoor is the Mansoor of QSQT and Jo Jeeta fame, two of my favourite movies! And you have my word, the man behind these lovely movies is extremely warm, caring, friendly and patient, considering that he was handling the children and their (boring) questions with great gentleness.

Of course we bought our cheese, cheddar, Gouda, Parmesan and Gruyere (I am told their cultures are different and that's how they make different cheese) and I am yet to discover the best way of using them.

I am hesitant to eat them raw as they taste sharper and more pungent than the usual cheese we use and I am yet to try them in my cooking.

We left for Pondicherry by 6 pm and reached there by 1 pm, exhausted and bad tempered in my case since I was forced to travel a day before and could not enjoy the night drive.

Day 4
The irritation did not stay for long because soon I remembered that this is the same Pondicherry that I love, the same place which shaped my career (MBA) and the same place where I met the husband. And this was where the water is clean, the roads are uncomplicated, the people are good natured, the mood is all laid back and the sky is clear.
I tried some constellation spotting but unfortunately the only two constellations that I spotted were Ursa Major and Cassiopeia. Well, they were not exciting enough to show to the kids and there went my plans of doing some good star gazing with them. Of course the sky is not as clear as the university area which is less lit up and therefore more conducive to star gazing.

The boys drawing Johnny at pondicherry

Day 5
Back to base, to routine and to normal life but in no way less exciting than the holidays. As I have said before, we are homebodies and love our home and cannot stay too long away!

Some Tips
Pack a few warm clothes, a sturdy pair of walking shoes, sunglasses, umbrellas.

A carry on bag to stuff the sweaters in when it gets hot as the sun beats down hard in the hills.

Avomine for adults and domstal for children, to be taken before travel on doctor's advice for prevention of travel sickness in the hills especially.

Plenty of water to drink.

Some snacks for in between as you may not want to step out from the place and since this is a home stay it does not have an active restaurant.

Breakfast is complementary and lunch and dinner is provided but you need to inform them in advance.

Exercise well before coming to this place. The last few steps as you climb up to the cottage is damning and shaming evidence of inactivity! And don't even think of taking the road. I felt a force was pulling me back and the downhill walk is even worse!

Something to do in the evenings as it could get dull at that time if you don't feel like going to the games room.

There is a tip box in the restaurant for the staff. Use that to appreciate their service.

What we Loved
Non commercial, laid back, elemental, natural, nostalgic (cow smell/ lantana/ less connectivity), conversation, mist curling from the valleys up to our cottage, no need to really lock the cottage, the kids in their element, idyllic, ordered wilderness, exotic ordinary

What I loved (and the men hated)

What we Missed

The full cheese making for us ladies
Soap making for the children

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

I Smell Something

And now this article on sense of smell!

Not because I work in the industry, but in spite of that and much before that my sense of smell and taste has always been keen.

And I also see the same has been passed on to the children especially Tejas who can smell out stuff when I am cooking.

In fact in many cases, I rely more on my sense of smell rather than sight.....dirty diapers for instance were always smelled rather than visually checked !

Or even used clothes. One never knows they are to be washed unless you smell them.

Smell indicates a food is well cooked, especially while baking.

And sometimes it helps catch a guilty person....when there is stink in the air....and everyone is blaming the other person.

In fact when I see a spice plant, I recognize it only when I smell the leaves.....else how would I know when I have never seen it before?

Tell me when your nose is your go to person in a situation?