Friday, June 20, 2008

My little summer adventure:Pea Soup Swim

[This post appeared first on my blog:]

Talking about summer activities....

I swam in the Hudson River this Sunday afternoon, and actually enjoyed it. And yes, I jumped - wasn't pushed! It started as a bit of a lark, something I thought I would back out of once I had achieved my exercise goals. The quest to qualify was initially my goal (88 lengths in our pool!) ...and then I qualified. Once that was done, I couldn't let myself down. I had to do it!Anyway, the first indication that something may be amiss was when I received an email and then a call from the organizers of the Park to Park swim that said that they'd changed the course of the race. No longer was it going to be with the direction of the current (from 144 to 166 street), but out from 166 to the center of the river, then downtown against the current and back to the starting point.
Not one of the 227 swimmers who gather that Sunday morning seems fazed by this change - some were clearly biatheletes, people who had done these swims many times before and there to win, and others were like me, just in it for fun. For me, the question was, would I actually dive in. I did (see youtube video of the start)! Not just that, I survived and valiantly battled the currents for 25 minutes, at which point I flipped on my back and tried the back stroke (from pure exhaustion) and was shocked when an NYPD motor boat passed by and one of the guys said - "you're going all are!" I grabbed a nearby Kayak and looked around - and saw swimmers being ferried back to shore. I had put off giving up, since I didn't want to be the first one giving up, or have my kids see my give up. Now that I knew that completing the swim was a futile exercise, I was ok with being rescued! The cheery kayak'er (who struggled mightily with the currents himself) and the lovely NYPD blokes got me and a bunch of others back to the rocks and we clambered back.Apart from my family posse (dad, mom, hubby and kids), some of our friends came to cheer me on. I'm not sure what they thought - that I was demented, possibly, but maybe also kinda brave...? Either way, they proved their mettle by actually hugging and kissing me, Hudson water and all. The parents deserve special mention, since they had trekked out to umpteen rifle shooting competitions before in my avatar as rifle champ, but this was the first time they saw me in a new, and dangerous, element. Mamma slept a couple of hours that evening, as she worked out her stress and the exhaustion of the long walk through Washinton Sqare park! And of course, a special thanks (and many Hudson-smelling hugs) to the extremely supportive guy by my side!!

So, you ask, what's with the title of this post? Just 'cause I remember thinking as I dived into the river that it looked and felt a little like Pea Soup! The resemblance ends there - I drank a couple of quarts of the stuff as I swam across the current and kept getting hit in the face by the swells as I came up for air. Boy, was I happy I got all those shots (Hep A, Typhoid and Tetanus, in case you're wondering.) Still, I'm sharing a Pea Soup recipe that I've played with in the past, since a recipe or food reference is the price of entry on my recipes blog (where I first posted this!!)

Pea Soup a la Hudson!

One and a half cups of green peas (split peas soak and hence cook faster)
Four cups chicken (or veggie) broth
Half a small onion, diced
One medium carrot, diced
Quarter teaspoon lime juice
One garlic cloveHalf a stalk of celery
Salt and pepper to taste
  • A pinch of turmeric and garam masala for the extra punch
  • Soak the peas in the broth overnight (in the fridge, or the broth will turn)
  • Cook the peas and broth till the peas start to show they are cooking, which should take around 20 minutes
  • Toss in the diced garlic, onion, carrot and celery and cook with the turmeric and garam masala
  • Pick out some of the vegetable pieces when they get tender, to add some character to the soup at the end
  • Puree the cooked peas and vegetables to a smooth consistency (you may need to add some broth, in case it gets too thick)
  • Mix in the reserved vegetables and serve, and mix in the lime juice at this stage
  • Optional: Dribble some cream to decorate the soup as you serve in bowls. You can also add in cubed ham with the vegetables, which is quite conventional. You might also garnish with a sprig of mint, if you want to mix it up a bit!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Chilling out during Summer holidays

This year we are feeling blessed. For two reasons, one simply because Delhi summer was too shortlived and we believe that monsoon has arrived this early (a first time in 108 years) Second reason is even more important one, my sonny R does not have to do any summer homework this year.

Summer holiday homework, is all but a child's job. As kids in grade 4 or 5, you are expected to do a 'reading' of one of the Charlie series books of Roald Dahl, or may be Ruskin Bond and then do a book review, along with summarising the key characters. Then the same has to be put together in a project format with drawings, pictures etc etc.

Ha ha .... this was just the English. For Hindi you could be expected to write a short story, a funny 10 line poem, some ' chutkulen', etc, do some drawings to give every thing a book look with one's individuality.

Maths, Science, Social Studies and French to follow....

Summer months are always high load months for me in office. Over and above we load our weekends with zillion of mundane chores. With a topping of holiday homework, the usual holiday sundae taste yummy.

This year it has been a complete bliss from that end.But ambitious mom like me thought this is the time for forward moving.... I sound so much like a proffesional investor... forward trading, hedging, ....

My boy somehow has managed to survive my occasional attacks by doing things in spurts. He is learning fast to handle a Mom caught between, a 20 hr (8hrs in office+ 3-4 hrs of spillover during the other timebands trying to cope with my colleagues in UK, on one hand to Singapore on other.

Never the less we make a great team together, waiting for some day, where all the pain we take turns into a miracle called success.

When my boy was as young as 3 or 4 yrs of age, he used to find it very difficult to accept Dad being away on projects and therefore back home only once for a week of flyback after every 4 weeks.

I used to tell him a story which continues even today. It was about a bird family. Where the Mama and Papa bird are equally strong, intelligent and hard working. So they fly far from their parents home to a huge tall tree and make a nest. One day a small wonder of a little birdie is born to them. They are very happy with the little one.But they know now they need a bigger nest, more food for 3 of them...and Mama bird has to take care of the little birdie so she can not fly far nor stay away from nest for long. Therefore Papa bird has to fly to a far away country and come back occasionally with lot more food and straws to make a larger nest some day.

Now the birdie is strong enough, and knows how to fly, but is not adult yet. The bird family needs even more food and straws for a bigger nest. Papa bird works hard and travels from one country to another. Mama bird works hard, but does not travel to another country. Little birdie comes back from school and stays with other little ones in day care so that Mama feels safe and can concentrate on work. They all are happy working hard, so that twice a year all three can fly to a far away land and have a great holiday.

Little Birdies these days are smart and intelligent. They are focused and they know for every comfort there is a price,... and no alternative for hard work.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Summer Plans?

If you live in any of india's big cities, you will find yourself inundated with ads and newspaper inserts advertising summer camps and activity centers for kids. And you will find many of them full to the brim of kids, all learning to do colouring or to sing songs or whatever. Whatever happened to the carefree schedule-free days of summer?

I don't know whether it's purely a function of working moms, because several of my son's classmates who have stay-at-home moms are also enrolled in these classes. Last year, after we got back from a 2 week vacation, we enrolled Chubbocks into a thrice-a-week three hours summer camp, because my mom was away in the US and I didn't want him drifting around with nothing to do. Yet I'm a bit upset that I did it because I think it's so important for kids to learn the art of simply being as well as amusing themselves.

As a mom, while I don't believe in 'quality time', I do believe in benign neglect. I think it does kids a world of good to just hang out in the same space as their parents, not necessarily being read to/ taught/ 'spoken to'/ made to do anything in particular which is meant to mark the time the parent spent with the kid as something special. When I look back at my own childhood, what I see is a string of days or a blurred period of time where we all hung out, chatted, fought, played, cried and laughed together. The undue emphasis on quality time just leads kids to think the world revolves around them and they never learn to just coexist in the same space as other people, without the warm shininess of a spotlight.

This summer, though I knew I wouldn't have too much time off, I didn't want to enrol Chubbocks into any classes, especially those that taught him anything. I think school is good enough for most things he wants or needs to learn. So we just put him into a dance class that's an hour twice a week, as some of his friends from school were joining up as well and that was that.

Of course, it has led to him moping around the house, as I feared. It's bizarre but he doesn't have any company around, despite the fact that the colony we live in is full of kids his age. That's because these days, parents just don't send their kids out to play because 'it's too hot'. I remember during my summer vacations, we were forever outside, jumping, running, shouting and playing, oblivious to the weather. We only came home for lunch and the afternoon nap and the evening too would pass in merry mayhem. The high point of a day would be a trip with parents to the India Gate lawns where we would chill on the cool grass near a fountain so some of the spray would fall on us, and have an ice cream or so ( me only the cone because I had bronchitis). There was nothing organised about our entertainment, and yet we managed very well, be it playing Blindman's Bluff or catch-catch, organising Telematch tournaments or playing hide and seek in the dim gardens that ran behind our homes. The local library was raided week after week, while old books were lent and borrowed. I made an entire set of posters of all my favourite comic book heroes - from Phantom to Mandrake to Richie Rich - to decorate my playroom, one summer.

I wonder if we as parents are becoming over-protective of our kids, in the process robbing them of the ability to think freely and learn to get along with the elements. Of course, no one wants kids to fall ill with heat stroke, but a bottle of water/ nimbu paani and a summer hat should be fine protection except during the dog-hours of noon, no? Even at birthday parties, the amusement is organised and orchestrated so that our poor kids lose the ability to come up with games for themselves. Can you imagine the well-groomed kids you see at a typical birthday party coming up with anything as subversive and creative as Calvin-Ball?

I hate the words, "I'm bored", and have banned them from our house. I can't remember being bored once, though we used to have few books or games at home and of course television didn't come into our home until we were much older. This generation of kids, with so many toys and books and games, still manages to find the time to get bored. How?

Chubbocks has managed his vacation time okay so far, between hanging out with his grandparents and writing out little notes on his doodlepad. Now we have my cousin visiting, with her kids, so that's a new source of enjoyment for Chubbocks. next year i'm planning to definitely take 3 weeks off during summer so that even if we don't go anywhere, I'm there for my kids to hang out with. And yet I'm clear that I don't want to be organising anything - camp or playdate. I want them to find their own playtimes and games, with each other or by themselves, though I'm never averse to jumping into a puddle of water.

"What is this life if full of care
We have no time to stand and stare
No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows...?

Cross-posted at

Wednesday, June 11, 2008


By Shruthi.

When we were kids, our music teacher asked us after a two-week long break, "What did you do in the break?"
"We played", we said, "We read books, we painted, we climbed trees, we went to summer camps..."
"Oh, I was hoping at least one of you would tell me that you did nothing", she said.
We stared at her open-mouthed.
"Nothing", she repeated, "As in, lying on the floor staring at the fan? Standing outside and observing the clouds? Lolling on the bed and looking at the patterns on the drapes? Or just staring at the ceiling all day? Did you do that?"
"Umm... err..." Was this a trick question? We did not know what to say.
"All that you did is important. But doing 'nothing' is also as important." She smiled. "You are too young to understand, but I'll just tell you that doing 'nothing' breeds creativity. Next time you are bored, try and do 'nothing'. And see how interesting it is."

I thought she was joking, but now I think she has a point.

Kids of today have their days full. So full that they don't have time to watch the clouds or look at the ladybird make its way across the lawn. And what is life without these little pleasures? What is learning and fun without admiring the world around you? Where is the time to let a child's little brain think and imagine and create by itself?

Perhaps we should encourage our kids to do 'nothing' this summer?!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Theme for June: Great Summer Experiences for the family

June is always a strange month -- the heat slows you down, but your social life tends to get rather crowded (picnics, trips out of town, camp plans for kids...) and it's sometimes easy to miss out on the pleasure of just vegging out in the summer. Tell us how you plan for summer - what do you do over the warm months (except for those in the antipodes!) to make sure you and the kids have a fun but inspiring time out of school. Do you opt for summer camps, in which case at what age do you start, and for how long do you go? If it's travel, what are the most child-friendly places you've been? etc.

In our case, we've been suffering a very hot turn of events in NYC - the kids were exhausted with the 96° F temperatures. We spent time in the park with friends, and the sprinklers and bubbles proved popular, but we're definitely planning on more days indoors!! July brings a couple of weeks in South America. I'll keep you posted on how that goes. I personally took a trip down memory lane with a visit to Oxford, and I think taking a couple of days to be with yourself in a fun, soothing environment did wonders for my spirit. The five days by myself at the reunion (where I spoke, we all hung out and chatted about life, etc.) really recharged my batteries. Try it some time -- I was lucky to have my parents visiting, so that I didn't worry about the kids at all (and hubby is great with them anyway!) I'm able to plan their summer better thanks to the breathing room I gave myself!

Share your best and worst summer experiences, lessons learned, and advice!


Monday, June 9, 2008

Bag to School

School reopens this week for most children in India. And along with the flurry of excitement that comes with entering a new class, comes the thrill of getting to school in their new finery—new uniforms, new shoes, new raincoats and umbrellas, as this is monsoon season. And of course new bags. Yes, this is going to be my topic for this column. The school bag. Whether the fancy ones with Disney and other cartoon characters embellishing their surface, or the plain canvas ones, long forgotten by the urban children but still in use in rural areas. Both with a single fact in common. Packed to capacity with books that often make the bag unbearably heavy to carry. Some children carry close to their own weight in books to school and back everyday. The average weight of a school bag in Mumbai is 9 kilos. And this is without factoring in sports kits and the like.

According to reports that come out in the newspaper, where intrepid reporters accost unsuspecting school children on their way to school, and weigh their bags, some bags weigh as much as 12 kgs. I kid you not. Have these schools not sensitised themselves to the sad fact that they are physically and psychologically making the children beasts of burden, weighed down under studies?

It is a common sight to see parents escorting their children and carrying their bags for them. And almost leaning over diagonally like human towers of Pisa with the weight. How would the child ever be able to carry the bag, one wonders? When the brat was in playschool, he was all of 20 months and he had a timetable, and books to be carried in his bag as per the timetable. Yes, it was a really horrible playschool, but nonetheless. Needless to say, the brat being the brat, half the books were tattered beyond comprehension and the remainder were a mish mash of edibles spilled and crayon work gone haywire, but the fact is that my heart broke everytime I saw him teeter across the building compound his school bag on his little back, almost as big as he was at the time.

Thankfully, his current school only has us send in a spare change of clothes, a tiffin box, and a water bottle, apart from his almanac. Making his load relatively lighter, of course.

But such schools are few and far between. Some schools have tried to alleviate the load of the child by having worksheets instead of rough books. Two sets of text books to be kept in class and at home (But that is an indulgence that the rich can afford). Sharing of textbooks by benchpartners, to reduce the load to be carried into class every single day.

But the fact remains that most children are tottering around like beasts of burden which school bags which could give a good trekking bag a run for its money, and god help you if you get side swipped by one of these. It could knock you out flat to a count of ten.

But jokes apart, what are the obvious problems heavy bags could cause? Back problems for one. Chronic back pain for another. If your child is constantly stating that he or she has a backache, pay attention. And take a good hard look at the school bag. It could be the culprit. I personally know of a case, a 13 year old girl sharing the room with the brat when he was once admitted into a pediatric ward for his febrile convulsions, a child in Standard IX who had developed nerve compression in her spine as a result of carrying a too heavy bag too long and too far, as she lived a long bus ride away from her school. Not pretty. In fact, it was very very scary.

Spine misalignment, wear and tear of ligaments, joint problems, stunted growth and much more are being cited by orthopedics as possible outcomes of consistently carrying around overtly heavy bags. Surely, our children deserve better.

Pediatricians recommend that the weight of the school bag should be no more than 10 percent of the child’s body weight. The bag should be carried on the back with two padded straps resting firmly on either shoulder to balance out the weight. And the school not make it mandatory for the child to stand with the bag during assembly.

For the parent, do check out the weight of the bag you are buying for the child when it is empty. If it is already heavy to start with, dump it, however attractive it may be. Do realize that lunch boxes, water bottles, etc are added weight for the child to carry, in addition to raincoats and umbrellas during the monsoon. Do look for lightweight options to everything. Buy 100 page notebooks for rough work rather than the heavier hardback 500 page versions. Ask if your child can get worksheets rather than books for rough work. Check if sport equipment can be kept in lockers at school.

Do weigh your child’s bag on a regular basis and check in with the school if you feel it is consistently too heavy, and if there are some items which can be reduced.

And last but not the least, do know that the government has stipulated that there is a fixed maximum weight to a school bag, which should not exceed ten percent of the child’s body weight.

The Indian Parliament introduced The Children school Bags (Limitation On weight) Bill, 2006.
The important points of this bill were that the weight of the school bag should not exceed ten percent of the child’s body weight.
Nursery and kindergarten students should carry no school bags.
Schools should provide appropriate lockers in schools for the children to use.
The schools should issue guidelines on school bags.

To quote from the bill:

It shall be the duty of the appropriate Government to ensure that the weight of
the school bag to be carried by a child of particular class shall not be more than ten per cent
of the weight of the child:
Also, as part of the bill come the following stipulations:
(a) the students should use appropriate school bag with several compartments
to balance the weight and broad padded straps for symmetrical distribution of weight
on their spine;
(b) the students should always use both straps for carrying school bags and no
student is slinging his bag over one shoulder;
(c) the students should always keep the bag down while waiting for the school
conveyance or in the school assembly;
(d) the students should bend at knees with back straight while lifting the school
(e) the students should be told how to pack their school bags so that heavy
items should be close to the body and not carry unwanted items to school.

Schools which are found to be violating this rule, and which have not provided lockers for the children to keep their belongings, will be fined and if recognized, will be derecognized on repeat offence.

The bill has explained in detail the rationale behind its being passed as pasted under:
Small children often have been seen tottering to school with heavy backpacks. The
results of this excessive weight is more serious than ever expected. Some children may
develop a permanent stoop due to the heavy pressure on their spinal cord, which would lead
to permanent damage to their physical structure and back muscles.
It is a medically proven fact that lifting heavy burdens for a long time or distance is not
good for anyone, especially children. In the tender age, bones are delicate and excessive
weight can misalign the spine leading to offensive skeletal and muscle maturity. Carrying a
heavy bag on the back often results in aches in the back and shoulders. Forward bending at
the back makes the work of breathing harder. Children carrying bags weighing more than
10 per cent of their body weight have been found to have poorer lung function.
Yet, life goes on as before for most families even after they hear their children
complaining about pain in back and neck. Growing weight of school bag and its effect on
health of the children has became a matter of grave concern for every parent School authorities
have also been expressing their concern over the issue but nothing is being done to lessen
the burden of school bags.
Along with books, children have to carry their sports and other equipment with them.
If lockers are provided to children in school, it will allow them to leave sports equipment, and
certain books and notebooks in school. Further, the school should issue common instructions
to students in advance which books will be needed and which can be left at home and
teaching the child to put down the bag when waiting at the bus stop, in the assembly, and to
use both straps of the bag, etc. Some schools have adopted a way for reducing the weight of
school bags. They don't send all the books back home. Only those books are kept in the bags
which the students are required to study at home. This has been working very well for junior
classes. Therefore, there is an urgent need to enact legislation for the whole of the country
to save the children from carrying heavy loads on their back.
Hence this Bill.

Additional links

Children being children, will be tempted to carry along their entire quota of books every day to ensure that they do not leave behind a single book by mistake. Do keep your eyes peeled to check whether they're overloading their bags more than is essential.

You owe it to their growing backs.