Wednesday, October 28, 2015

To Bharatpur & Back Again: Part 1 - The Taj Mahal

Unlike a lot of other families, we don’t get to take longish vacations, but this year Vijay and I resolved we’d go on a few mini-breaks with the kids. During the summer holidays, we went to the Garden Valley Resort in Nighlaat, which was quite a delightful experience I meant to blog about but didn’t, and then we took a day trip to Jaipur and Chowki Dhaani which also the kids really loved.

Last week, we decided to make use of the Dussehra holidays to go to Agra. The kids hadn’t seen the Taj Mahal, and actually neither had Vijay – I only vaguely remembered going there as a kid. We then decided to combine it with a trip to the Bharatpur bird sanctuary – we discovered this was a decent season to see the migratory birds. I also remembered a cousin rhapsodizing about the Wildlife SOS bear sanctuary and thought we’d try and fit this one in.

The kids were so delighted that they spent several days drawing up multi-coloured Taj Mahals. Pickle’s was something else - and I couldn’t quite believe he’d made it himself – very unlike his other scrawled drawings.

We set out at 10 a.m. on the first day, much later than we’d initially planned – the drive from Gurgaon to Agra took about 4 or 4.5 hours. The trip was relatively smooth because we had our driver Kamal along in our trusty Innova. Smooth enough for Vijay, who chose to sit in front to ‘navigate’ and simply stretched out his legs and enjoyed the rode while I struggled in the back with three wriggly kids. Only when he turned around and saw my murderous face, the husband decided to come to the back for half hour, but was soon up front again, this time stating that he needed to play DJ because he had connected up his iPhone to the car’s music system but the speakers needed adjustment and so on.

He was then tempted to drive the car because the road was just so wide and empty. We whizzed along with him occasionally driving faster than he was supposed to, and yet slower than many cars around us. I reminded him to be careful – we had small kids in the car.

Papad piped up ‘100 miles Daddy!’
‘Oh, yes, beta – we were doing more than that also!’ Came Vijay’s cheery reply.
Our son repeated ‘100 miles!’
‘Yes, yes…more also!’

I waited until this exchange was repeated 3 more times, with little Papad getting increasingly frustrated each time. When I noted he was on the verge of tears but Vijay was still being thick, I informed him ‘He’s talking about the SONG, Vijay.’

‘Eh? Oh! Sorry, sorry, Beta.’ Vijay immediately went back to the passenger seat much to the relief of Kamal and me and everyone else in the car, and started to play DJ to settle our whimpering son. Our car was soon filled with the sound of Not a Shirrt on my baaack, Not a Penny to my name…Lord I can’t Go back Home This-Away, which my kids sang along to with great gusto, especially Papad.

We reached Agra and just then my mother called Vijay, saying she knew someone there who could accompany us to the Taj. We protested saying we would surely find it ourselves, it was kind of famous, but she was adamant. It turned out to have been a very good decision to request Praveen-Ji, an official of the Government of India to accompany us because basically as his guests, we got to beat the loooong lines of people standing outside waiting to get in.

The Taj was very, very beautiful – breathtakingly so, almost as good as Pickle’s Drawing. Peanut took the best shot. I don't know how she managed it, but it was wayyy better than all my attempts. 

To my surprise, the kids actually enjoyed the whole thing, looking around, feeling the stones, marvelling at the snatches of the story that they overheard from the guide we’d hired for the purpose. It helped that we also took a Camel cart ride ( very very smelly) on the way in, and a Horse Cart ride (not smelly, much better) on the way out.

I took a shot as the sun was setting of this thingy right next to the Taj. I thought it wasn't that bad, but it's pretty sad that this was the best I could do. Still, here it is. 

It was actually very crowded, but according to Praveen-ji, the traffic is actually about four times more on the weekends, which I was very startled by. I was glad we were there on a Wednesday. The kids were allowed to buy little Taj souvenirs which they claimed they would all use in their class for Show & Tell. In typical Indian style, the asking price was Rs.150. I paid Rs.40 for one, and Vijay managed to haggle the other two down from another vendor to Rs.25 each.

And then we bade goodbye to the Taj and Praveen-ji, who was quite unhappy that we didn’t take up his offer for a Papadi Chaat nearby, and then we were off to Bharatpur. It was about 7.30 p.m., an hour or so later that we reached the Surya Villas hotel – a fairly large property, done up in old-world style with a big courtyard area and all – it was nothing as fancy as the Baagh where Vijay and I had stayed a couple of years earlier, but we hoped it would turn out to be good value for money. A bunch of foreigners were enjoying a puppet show when we passed the courtyard and there was a swimming pool nearby with a DJ, which I personally thought spoiled a bit of the old-world charm. We ran into the owner, a courteous man, and his warmth helped make the place seem a little better. The rooms were pretty decent, and we were given a mattress for the kids. Of course, they all immediately jumped on the bed and left the mattress for me and Vijay. Fair enough. Not. 

That first night at dinner I got a little annoyed with a waiter who delayed bringing our food and seemed to have eyes only for the white people, a boisterous contingent of about 12 men and women, the other guests staying at the hotel. The kids were getting so hungry and cranky that I got up with them and told the fellow that he might as well just have the food delivered to our room. On the way to the room, I met the owner’s son (and co-owner of the place) and told him in no uncertain terms what had happened, including the fellow’s reticence about joining two tables together for us ( Vijay and I finally ended up doing it), the delays and various other little misdemeanors on his part. The owner looked quite shocked and expressed his apology and said he’d speak to him.

Vijay followed me and the kids up to the room. He waited until I was a little calmer and then pointed out that it looked like that waiter was overworked and overwhelmed – he seemed to be one of the few guys managing the place. I hotly argued that he seemed to have enough time and attention for the white folks, and we’d waited a whole hour for our order with tired and hungry kids. But the more I thought about it, I had a nagging feeling that my husband was right. Maybe there was another side to the story and I could have been more patient. Maybe I’d got the fellow in trouble with his employer whereas maybe he hadn’t really meant to be neglectful. I really, truly hated it when Vijay was right. Would have to figure this out with the dude the next morning.

The food was quite all right except that the cooks had been rather liberal with the spices. Also, this was the first time ever that I'd had noodles garnished with dhania, and it was strangely good. 

The Kids passed out early enough and soon Vijay and I dropped out of sheer exhaustion too. Good thing. The next morning was to be an early trip to the famous Keoladeo Bird Sanctuary.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Peanut's First Sleepover

In madam's own words:


Hiya Everyone!!!

So this thingamabob was on Sunday 18 September. It was my best friend A's birthday. She had decided for a sleepover AND she invited me!!! Mom and Dad said I could go. But the way Mom made me pack was hilarious. You would think I was going away for a year or two. She added sanitizer followed with Odomos with an extra Underwear.

But it was my first SLEEPOVER ever. We had so much fun. First we Passing the Parcel. And guess what? I won!!! You might not think it was that Grrrrreat but it was the first time I had ever won!

Next we played the Queen game. We first put on makeup, walked like a model. That was the first round of the Queens game. The second round was the Talent Round. We all had to dance. After that was the Kitchen round. We baked Pizzas in that round. The semi final round was the Desert Round. We decorated Ice cream sundaes in our own way. And finally it was the Intelligence round. Aanya's mother asked us a lot of questions. Then Finally the results came. My other Best friend S won the style round. She got a sash for it. Talent rounds winner was my classmate A. Kitchen round was won by A's best friend Tara. Desert round was won by Sa. And Intelligence round was won by.... ME!!! My sash read; INTELLIGENCE QUEEN. 

After that we watched a new Cinderella movie. I fell asleep at 3:30 AM and woke up at 8:00 AM.

That was the coolest day ever!!!

Monday, October 5, 2015

Pickle and the Post

*Cross posted from my FB page here*

I am cleaning up my room after about a year and find an old envelope. I'm about to throw it away when Pickle, my 5 year old wanders in aimlessly.
'You want this?'
'What it is?' He asks curiously. Then, as he realizes what the object is, his face changes. His eyes almost well up in tears of gratitude as he says 'THANK you Mummy.'
He then grabs the envelope from me and runs out screaming 'Papad! I got a POST!'
Soon his twin is in the room demanding his own 'Post' which luckily, I manage to source. They start to make their own special letters.
Pickle knows exactly what he wants to make. He comes up to me and confides.
'Mama, I'm making a letter for you. It will say
I love you forever I like you for always As Long as I'm living My Mommy You'll Be.'
I'm very touched by his plagiarism. I say 'That's great, beta.'
'Can you give me a Paper?'
'Okay.' I hand him a sheet of paper.
'How do you write I love you forever?'
I can see where this is going. 'Why don't you find that book, baby, and you can copy the words from there?'
'No.' He is firm on this point. 'This is not a copy.'
'Okay. Fine.' I sigh. 'Write 'I' and then 'L-O-V-E'
Five minutes later, I'm encouraging the little boy 'Well, you wrote the spelling of Ever very nicely? ...Just that you got both the E's and the R backwards...but that's okay, that's okay...' ( Papad cackles meanly in the background as he writes his own much shorter letter to his friend Uday)
After about ten minutes and two sheets of paper and much erasing, Pickle and I have only done about half of the poem and now I'm the one who's welling up in tears.
I suggest tentatively. 'Pickle? Why don't you guys go and watch a little TV now, and you can do this later...'
Almost before I've finished, the twins are out the door, unable to believe their good luck, Pickle having immediately and unceremoniously dropped his love letter to me, like a hot potato. It flutters to the floor and lies there sadly.
I lean back onto my pillow and sigh happily. Pickle pokes his head into my room and says 'Sorry I left your door open Ma' and smiles sweetly and then slams it shut.
I close my eyes, once again, so incredibly thankful for that wonderful invention called television.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Wonderboxx: September

So the nice folks at Wonderboxx have decided to send me - or rather, my kids - more boxes for review after the last time I wrote about them. Which is very nice because overall, it's a great concept and I really like the fact that the kids have something to look forward to which doesn't involve staring at a screen all the time.

The Wonderboxx is an innovative kind of monthly box that enables kids to learn as they play - each box is based on a particular theme, and contains a carefully selected set of items, which lets kids create things with their own hands. The Wonderboxx people said they'd like to send me two boxes each month, which I thought would work great - one for the 8 year old and one for the 5 year old twins! Sounds good in theory, right? Except that naturally, the twins had a meltdown at having to share their box. Still, I braved it valiantly, telling myself that this way they will learn to share, which is always such an important thing.

The theme for the younger kids' box (The Kiddos box, meant for 3-5 year olds) for September is Super Seasons.

The twins, once they stopped crying about who would get to grab what item in the box, started to play - there was a game that involved players picking up cards and guessing items suitable for a particular season ( e.g. scarves, boots for winter versus shorts for summer) - they were not too enthralled by this and it didn't hold their attention much.

Then there was a 3D tree which Papad picked up and tried to make. I sat down with him and told him how he was supposed to glue the sides of the tree together so that we would get four sides, one for each of the seasons. He resented my approach, which was to read the instructions and try to follow them and he snatched them away and ran into his room. He emerged a while later, proudly carrying four separate sheets of A4 paper on which he had stuck different sides of the tree. He seemed very happy with this and said he would take it to Show & Tell. I was like, whatever, dude. Have it your way. The important thing was he thought of a way to use it himself, which was nice.

The Seasons box contained a bunch of other things, including an Seasons-Wardrobe where characters have to be dressed appropriately for each season; an Activity booklet and a Storybook - the Activity booklet is something that Pickle seemed to find interesting because he started colouring in it - he couldn't play the word games, which is where Peanut took over and started to fill it all up. The storybook is one which we haven't read at bedtime yet. I have fast discovered that as far as the Wonderboxx for younger kids goes, it really does require a fair bit of parental involvement. I've also discovered in the process my own short fuse and lack of patience with my own kids when we're making something and I think this is a major flaw that I should work on. I really admire playschool teachers and in fact, all teachers of small kids for their patience. They should all get double or triple of their salaries and if I were in charge of this decision, I'd do it right now.

Peanut on the other hand, is frankly delighted with her box - the theme for her box (called the Ginomo set, meant for kids over 5 years)  this month was Air & Wind.

It came with  kits to make all sorts of little projects - so far, she's read all the instructions herself and made a windmill and well thingy, a balloon-powered little car, a pretty little fan, and basically enjoyed every aspect of the box thoroughly and is already waiting for the October one. Here's what she wrote on her own blog about it -


Ok so here is the next blog as I said. So the thing is that a few months ago mom got me and Pickle Papad a wonder boxx. The truth is that we all love it. Of course any child would love it. My theme was light tales. Inside the wonder boxx there were ever so many things! I made a kilidoscope followed with a monster projecter box. There was a free torch, Tape and glue. Pickle Papad and me were delighted to here that if mom reviewed the wonder boxx then we would get 2 free each year!!! So mom said Yes and yesterday morning we got 2 new wonder boxes. Pickle papad were sharing 1 so I got the other. This wonder boxx theme was Air and Wind. I made a windmill and a magic fan plus a balloon car. I really enjoyed myself. Pickle papads theme was Seasons. They made a season tree. I am looking forward to next month cause we will get another wonder boxx soon. I don't care what theme I am going to get, cause what I really care about is the wonder boxx.

PS Mom has told me to write this so that she can copy half of  this on her wonder boxx review!!!  


The last line there in the PS - she means I had told her to write this so that it would make up half of my own review but she clearly got a little confused. Still, that helped. 

Some pictures of the stuff she made. 

The little car powered by the balloon you can see in the picture. She'd blow up the balloon, attach the pipe to the back of the car and watch in delight as the car went a little way away as the balloon slowly deflated.

The above is the windmill she created. There's a little bucket that rises up and down from the well to drive home the concept of how wind energy can be harnessed.

The above is a fan that she made. The little strings are attached to a paper pipe and the fan obediently opens and closes as you push the pipe up or down over the straw.

Oh, yeah - and as you can see below - we actually went and used the recipe in the 'Cooking With Kids' section in the newsletter that comes with the boxes, and made Peanut Butter and Chocolate and Oatmeal Cookies - I put in too much milk and therefore they didn't really set properly but the twins loved them anyway! 

Thanks Wonderboxx folks, and keep them coming. One suggestion since I know you'll be reading this - can you look at creating a box which actually helps kids learn about, label and most importantly figure out how to handle their feelings and emotions? It's a little abstract as a concept but I'm sure you guys can figure it out. If it's not already in your pipeline of product ideas, please do consider putting it there! 

And readers - you can subscribe to your Wonderboxx here.

P.S - the Wonderboxx folks have told me that there's already a box planned in the next couple of months on the theme of feelings. Mind-readers, they are, or just good at their research!