Monday, December 21, 2015

India calling

Let me start this post with some stats. Of my life so far, I've spent half in India and half in Singapore. I'm in a fairly good position to somewhat understand, praise --- and bitch about --- both. My child, however, had not been to India at all. Because of her lung issues and our frequent midnight hospital runs in her early years, we'd been advised not to rush her first India trip. So we didn't. In fact, the last time we were in India was 2009.

But recently, we started feeling that it was time she saw the place where her parents were born and where a gazillion of her relatives live. People who had only seen her in photos and videos and on Skype were asking to meet her in person. My sister was flying down from the U.S. with her family. There really was no better time. So with much nervousness and excitement, we booked a trip to India and here we are, currently in Bangalore, which is our first stop of many.

I was very curious about the things she would say when she first experienced the complicated wonder that India is, and so I decided to tabulate all her India-related statements.

2 minutes after boarding the plane...
Xena - Mama, are we already in India?
Me - No baby, we are in the aeroplane.
Xena - First it will take off, then fly, then land, and then we will be in India?
Me - Yes.
Xena - Yayyyy we are going to India!

At Bangalore airport... (her first words in India)
Xena - India is cold! India is cold!

At the Bangalore airport toilet (which was mind-blowingly clean, btw)...
Xena - Mama, are you going to wash your hands with the tap water?
Me - Yes.
Xena - But we can't drink tap water in India, right?
Me - Right.
Xena - Because tap water in India has germs, right?
Me - Right.
Xena - Mama, please don't touch me after washing your hands. Otherwise the germs will be on me!

Just outside the airport...
Xena - Mama, I love this winter. I want this winter in Singapore.
Me (deep sigh) - Me too, baby, me too.

In the taxi from the airport...
Xena - Mama, are you sure this is India?
Me - Yes, I am.
Xena - But this doesn't look like India.
Me - You've never been to India. How do you know?
Xena - You're right, Mama. I think this is India.
Me - Good.
Xena - Mama, I love this country!

Stuck in traffic...
Xena - Mama, I smell smoke.
Me - *Long explanation on how air pollution occurs yada yada yada*
Xena - Now I smell poop.
Me - ....

At Viv's aunt's place...
Xena - What is this?
Me - It's a bucket.
Xena - I'm going to bathe with water in a bucket?
Me - Yes.
Xena - Why?
Me - Because that's how many people bathe in India. It also saves water, you know?
After bath...
Xena - Mama, I love it. Can I bathe with a bucket every day?

After a standing dinner at Food Street...
Xena - Mama, tomorrow can we eat in a place that has tables and chairs?

Last but not the least...
Xena - Mama... is that... a cow... on the road?!

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Ice, ice, baby!

"Mama, when will I become 100 cm tall?" Xena asked me for the 9398235734th time.

"Soon, soon," I'd tell her. "Just eat your food and drink your milk and you will soon grow taller."

"Mama, when I'm 100 cm tall, where can we go?" (She knows that there are height limits on certain activities.)

"Erm, maybe we can go ice-skating!" I said.

That excited her to no end. She told every person she knew that she was going ice-skating once she was 100 cm tall. Neighbours, teachers, friends, everyone. If she had her way, she'd have stopped complete strangers on the road and told them. I was quite glad to see this because I'm a big fan of delayed gratification in kids. It's so much better if they can wait for a reward and work towards it.

So, for many many weeks, she'd keep asking me to check her height and one day, we saw the magic number.

100 cm.

It was time for me to fulfil my promise. I chose a weekday so that the skating rink wouldn't be too crowded, and called to check if the rink was kid-friendly. It was, and so we set off to Kallang Ice World!

They had these frames for kids to hold on to, but because there was no sign to say that they were for kids, many adult beginners snapped them up. In spite of the mara-mari for the frames, we managed to get our hands on one.

All set to skate!

At first, Xena was extremely cautious and just stood there, holding on to the frame. I told her that was fine, and she could look at how others were doing. She did that for a while and I went for a couple of spins.

Then she started taking tiny steps forward and soon, she was moving at a decent pace. After a while, I stood behind her, put my arms under her armpits, locking her between the frame and myself and skated as fast as I could. She loved it so much, she started giggling incessantly, much to the amusement of our fellow skaters. But it was tiring for me and slightly painful for my back to bend like that, so we took frequent breaks. And photos. 

My little poser

There were some other kids skating too. Most had frames but there was one little girl who was doing quite well without a frame. Xena asked me if that girl was skating for the first time too. Her mom, who was watching her from the viewing area, turned to us and told us that it was her 10th time. Xena asked me if she'd be skating like that on her 10th time too and I nodded. Then she asked me to ask the kid's mother what the kid's age and height was! Of course, I didn't ask the height, but we did find out that she was 6 years old. I think Xena can't wait to be 6 now!

As she was able to move slightly faster now, I asked her if she wanted to try skating without the frame. She looked horrified at the thought. Then I asked her if she just wanted to try standing without the frame. She agreed reluctantly, but was pleasantly surprised when she could do it. She even tried to take 2-3 steps without it.

Look ma, no frame!

We also saw many people slip and fall, and the concern on her face whenever that happened was heart-warming. I told her that that's how we learn to skate. We fall, we pick ourselves up, and then we go again. (In fact, I can't think of a better place than an ice-skating rink to teach this to kids.)

"Mama, did you fall when you skated for the first time?"

"Yes, I did."

"How many times?"


"Did you fall on your bum-bum?" She asked and burst into giggles. Sigh, that b-word and the hilarity that kids associate with it! I try to keep a straight face so I don't encourage all the bum-talk, but sometimes it's impossible.

When she was done, she recounted the whole thing to her dad.

"Dada, do you know that I could stand without the frame? Do you know that I didn't fall at all? Do you know that when Mama skated for the first time, she fell on her BUM-BUM? HAHAHAHAHA!"


Thursday, November 26, 2015

About time

Would you believe me if I told you that the number of blog readers who have asked me to share my time-management tips and tricks is in the double digits?

10, to be precise.

The most recent email on this from blog reader V has convinced me that I really should write a post on how I get the zillion things in my life done. I'm finally in a zone where I'm not questioning myself "Am I doing enough?" I know I am doing enough and happily so. I'm not overwhelmed with the stuff I do. I'm in my comfort zone. So a post on this would be handy if I start to slack some day and ask myself the "Am I doing enough?" question all over again. 

Not knowing where to start, I asked Viv what he thought I do differently, and his reply was, "You plan well. And you go through with it. You have a very precise idea about how much time and effort each task takes."

True, that. I do believe that if you can own your time, you can own your life.

So here they are, some simple tips and tricks on time-management. I am aware that these might actually might be too simple and obvious, and something you've always thought of, but perhaps never got to doing. Hope they help you as much as they've helped me. 

1. Know what you want in your life.
Take a moment to think - what do you want to do in your life? Not with your life. That is a much bigger question. In your life. What are the things you want to be doing in your life? What is important enough for you to invest your time and effort in? For me, that is Xena, my work, Skyping with parents, fitness, cooking, planning events, meeting people I want to meet, travel and hobbies. 

2. Know what you want in your kid's life.
As long as your child is a child, it is your job to decide what to fill his/her day with. I do let her have some 'boring' time at home and she comes up with the most creative and amazing stuff, but her outdoor activities are all governed by me.

What do you want in your child's life right now? What do you want his/her days to be filled with? I want to be there in Xena's life as much as I can. I want to be there in her childhood memories. I want to parent her to the best of my abilities.

One of the biggest sacrifices I have made is to quit my full-time job. After she was born, I turned  freelancer because I couldn't bear to not work, just as much as I couldn't bear to be away from Xena. It was crazy, but it worked. Now my new job still allows me to mostly work from home, but the hours are a little more regular, so I get more time to do more things with her. A lot of my planning goes into what I want her to see and do.

3. Know what to chuck out. 
Once you have points 1 and 2 in order, make a priority list. It helps you assess your time vs tasks so you can chuck out what is not important at this point.  You need to decide what is not worth it. There is no point feeling guilty forever about something you're not able to do. Either do it or chuck it. Don't mull over it.

Though I am someone who wants to do everything, I have had to make my choices. About a year ago, I got into Mandarin classes and nail art, and more recently into baking, and I had to chuck my sewing dreams. As a kid I had joined sewing classes and my teacher told me I was fab. I thought one day I would take it forward by sewing clothes for Xena, but there simply isn't time to fit it in. The fact that sometimes Xena is almost like a teenager who will only wear stuff she picked, helped to cement the decision that taking up sewing again is simply not worth it. I've made my peace with it. For now, I'm content sewing back fallen buttons and taking up hemlines of short dresses which I feel are, erm, not short enough.

Having said that, don't chuck important things like goofy time with your kid, or a fitness routine, healthy eating, or family time. For me, blogging always goes out of the window during very busy weeks, but I have the advantage of some bewdas emailing me to remind/scold me to blog. It inspires, touches and motivates me to blog. Because I love blogging and I don't want it in my 'To chuck' list.

Once you're in the groove, you will know what to say no to. My friends wanted to do something called the NaMoBloMo (i.e. every day of November you need to write a blog post about Narendra Modi... kidding!) together, but I knew that November was going to be a crazy period, with the new job and houseguests and an upcoming India trip, and I didn't want to do a shoddy job at it. I already struggle doing the April blogging challenge because of Viv's work travels. So I said no to NaMoBloMo, and I was glad I did. I would have gone mad trying to blog every day.

Speaking of chucking things, one of the most important things I've realised lately is the importance of not hanging out with people you don't want to hang out with. Often, we find ourselves with people who make us wonder why we're hanging out with them. Well, stop it then. It's not just a waste of time, it's a waste of emotions -- space in the heart. Life's short and it's totally not worth it. Get out of the rut of forced friendships. If you're always the one reaching out, and there is no response, take the hint. Stop. If the other person is not making an effort, it is a waste of your time and thoughts, when you could be in a happier place, literally and otherwise.

4. Make time for fitness.
Whenever we get busy, our fitness plans are usually the first to go out of the window. So have a plan and stick to it. I go to the gym for exactly half an hour. Not a minute less, not a minute more. I always remind myself that the key to a good workout is that it should leave you energised, not exhausted. And 30 minutes is just nice. Also, that's all I can afford, even though 30 minutes of exercise five times a week is actually the minimum recommended. So if you're not doing that, get to it. Until last year, I wasn't a regular at the gym. Housework and running after Xena gave me enough exercise anyway. But I've come to realise that fitness is not about losing weight or getting a six-pack. Fitness is, or should be, a way of life. And after toying with exercise classes, badminton and workout videos, the gym is where I'm most comfortable and get the desired results. Another good thing about the gym is that you don't need another person for company or motivation. You are your company and you are your motivation. 

5. You snooze, you lose.
There is nothing I dislike more than the snooze button. It serves no purpose. It makes a joke of the alarm, and it makes you feel horrible anyway because you didn't wake up when you wanted to. So I pretend that there is no such thing as a snooze button. When your alarm rings, you wake up. If you're really tired and need some more sleep (say on a weekend), turn it off and go back to sleep. Seriously. Don't mock the sanctity of the alarm by overriding it again and again and again with the snooze button. It's also extremely annoying if your partner wants to sleep but your snooze keeps going off every few minutes. (Ask me. I've now banned the snooze button from our household. Viv is coping well.)

6. Have a good morning.
Get up early. Have a good morning. If your morning is good and productive, the rest of your day will go great. If you wake up at noon even if it's a weekend, two things happen. One, you continue to feel tired because oversleeping causes a weird kind of lethargy. Second, you feel quite useless and wonder, "Aaj maine life mein kya kiya?"

Of course, be reasonable. If waking up at 6 am every day to do yoga is torture for you, don't do it. At least for me, waking up at 6 am any day for any reason is torture, so I don't do it. Sustainability is a big factor. Of course I can wake up at 6 am and hit the gym, but for how long? I know some people can do it very easily, but not me. I will have to do it at some point when Xena goes to primary school, but not now. I know my limitations. I go to bed by 11 pm but I set my alarm for a reasonable 7 am. That gives me sufficient sleep, and sufficient time in the morning to make a hearty breakfast for my family before I send them off. 

7. The daily routine
So this is my typical weekday routine. In fact, a lot of you have asked me for just this; the rest is just bonus footage I guess.

7.00 am - Wake up. Feed Blueberry (or get Xena to do it.)
7.30 am - Finish making breakfast (I don't like the idea of toast and I don't like to repeat stuff in the week, so I have a roster of omelette, idli, uttapam, paratha, bread/suji upma, poha, and a filling veggie patty sandwich. Of course, Xena doesn't eat any of it, and only has a glass of milk, so I pack a snack for her.)
[From 7 to 7.30, Viv brushes his teeth, Xena's teeth and gets her dressed and ready at the dining table, before he goes to bathe.]
7.30 am - Do Xena's hair and coax her some 4353445 times to finish her milk. [Lately, Viv has just been putting a timer on his phone and that has been miraculously helping her finish her milk within minutes.]
7.45 am - Breakfast
8.15 am - Daddy and daughter leave for work/school. I head to the gym.
8.45 am - Back from the gym and quick shower
9 am / 9.30 am - Start work
12  noon - Have lunch (mostly leftovers from the night before; but sometimes I head to a random cafe near Xena's school before picking her up)
12.25 am - Leave home to pick up Xena from school
12.50 pm - Pick up Xena
1.30 pm - Shower Xena and give her milk (she has lunch at school)
2.30 pm - Put her down for a nap and start work
3.30 pm - Finish work and do some vellapanti, e.g. reading Bollywood news, Facebook, Youtube, blogging, etc.
4.00 pm - Xena wakes up
4.00 - 5.00 pm - Goofy/creative/housework/academic time (I plan an afternoon activity that Xena and I do together, e.g. baking, painting, craft work [we made our own snowflakes for our Christmas trees this year!], learning Hindi letters, listening to silly songs like Pigeon kabootar by Daler Mehendi [yes, there is such a song!], singing, reading books, laundry, folding clothes, cleaning the house [I sweep the house while she clears up stuff and tidies up her room], etc.
5.00 pm - Give Xena a fruit snack; feed Blueberry
5.30 pm - Prep for dinner (e.g. if I'm making parathas for her, I make the atta. If I'm roasting vegetables for us, I chop and marinate them.)
6.00 pm - 7.00 pm - Outdoor time (we go to a different place each day -- the playground, the library, the pool, the beach, the field, and on one of the days there is a play date... with a kid whose parents' parenting philosophy matches mine)
7.15 pm - Shower Xena
7.30 pm - Make and serve her food
7.40 pm - Viv is home and takes over feeding duties, while I start cooking our dinner
8.15 - Finish cooking our dinner
8.30 pm - Family dinner and catch-up time (yes, Xena is still eating her dinner!); no devices allowed
8.45 pm - Viv brushes Xena's teeth and puts her to bed, while I clean the kitchen
9.00 pm - Xena is asleep (hopefully)
9.30 pm - If neither of us has any office work to finish, we turn on the magic device -- the TV. (We only watch TV when she's asleep and because we've unsubscribed from all the channels, we don't find ourselves mindlessly watching something just because it's on TV. We pick and choose our movies and TV shows and we watch only those. Currently we're hooked on 'Breaking Bad'. It's beyond awesome.)
11.00 pm - Zzzzzzz

Weekends are a little different, with more tasks (Skyping, cleaning the house, ironing, grocery-shopping, etc.) but there is less eating in and more outings. 

8. Make time to clean your home.
Of course, if you have someone who cleans it for you, great. If not, spend some time cleaning it. A clean house induces a special kind of happiness and serenity. After we renovated our home, Viv and I are charged up about keeping it as clean as we possibly can, or rather keeping it as clean as having a child in the house will allow. We do a thorough clean on weekends, and we try to do it first thing on Saturday morning. Then you have a nice, clean house to invite people to or just hang out happily in. Obviously cleaning is not the most fun part of the weekend and it's extremely time-consuming, but if you push it, chances are you won't get to it, and it will hang heavy on your conscience, especially if there was nothing else productive you did in the weekend.

We even have a shared chores spreadsheet, where we list daily, weekly and month chores and we put the date when it was last done (except the dailies, of course). It's greatly helpful in keeping track. For example, when was the last time you cleaned out the inside of your fridge, or checked the expiry dates of the medicines in the medicine cabinet, or took everything out of your wardrobe to sort, throw and reorganise?

Another good way to keep your house clean is to invite people regularly. After our renovation, we held 21 housewarming parties (I cooked for all of them!) over a few months. We didn't want to have ONE big one with 3994874085 people and not be able to interact with anyone properly. So each weekend, we invited individual families, and small friend circles. That set the tone for a clean house every weekend.

One of the rules I also try to follow is to ask myself just before I leave the house -- can I come back with an unexpected guest? Is the house in good shape, or would I be ashamed to enter it with someone in tow? That motivates me to keep it as neat as possible at all times, so the weekend cleaning is faster. I'm not a super-duper-tidy person by nature, but I'm trying hard. And it helps if you have a kid because you have to do the right things to teach the right things.

9. Don't underestimate the power of 5 minutes.
Many of the tasks that never get done or don't get done as regularly literally take 5 minutes. You can find several of these 5-minute pockets throughout the day. For example, Xena likes to play with her water toys for 5 minutes before her afternoon shower. Instead of simply standing there and waiting for her to finish, I clean the washbasin or the mirrors while she tells me all about what happened at school.

Another example of the powerful 5 minutes. Once or twice a year, I organise a donation drive (clothes, books, toys, etc.) around my estate. Friends ask me how on earth I make time for community service alongside all my other stuff. Well, I simply break it down into 5-minute tasks. It takes 5 minutes to email an organisation to ask them what they need (I already have a list of organisations) and fix up delivery. It takes another 5 minutes to post a 'call for donation' for my neighbours with a specified drop-off time. It takes a few more 5-minute bands to get the stuff together. And another 5 minutes to arrange for delivery. So, overall, organising a donation drive seems like such a big task, but if you add up, it's about half an hour's work overall. One can surely spare half an hour, twice a year!

10. Get organised
An organised life is a big time-saver. Our post-renovation home is so much better organised. Not that it was a total mess (or maybe it was), but it was far from what it is now. We wanted to make our home a place we wanted to hang out in, invite friends to, and one that we felt like cleaning. I wanted a kitchen that I wanted to cook in and keep clean, a work space that made me want to work without taking 3924738297 breaks. We wanted Xena to finally have her own room -- a room that she would be proud of, that she would want to keep clean and invite friends to.

The room that used to be my workspace is now her room. It used to consist of my workstation, the ironing board, our workout equipment and every unwanted item on the planet. Not exactly an ideal working space. Now I've moved my workspace to my room. Viv designed it to be very office-like so I actually enjoy working more. My new job needs me to work about 5 hours a day -- 1 or 2 mornings a week at the office and the rest at home. And working from home needs discipline. You really need to focus and stay away from distractions such as Youtube and Facebook (not that I don't indulge, but I try to avoid it during my working hours) and also the most important one -- THE FRIDGE.

I use Google calendar extensively to plan my work and I stick to the timelines I give myself. I guess working in a strict deadline-oriented industry helps. I'm also a big lover of lists -- grocery lists, to-do-lists, list of chores, list of deadlines, list of Christmas shows in malls to take Xena to -- you name it, I have it.

In the 'new' house, everything has a place. Stuff is easy to find. Quick to clean. Nice to look at. I've picked up a lot of organising tips on the net too, such as how to fold and vertically stack socks and underwear. It's the coolest thing ever. Seriously. Takes longer than simply throwing everything into a drawer, but the look and ease of finding stuff sure makes it all worth it. 

An important part of getting organised is also fine-tuning to maximise efficiency. For example, travelling and blogging about my travels is important to me, but I feel I'm not as prompt with Hopscotch as I could be. Most of it stems from the fact that I need a couple of hours to sort through the hundreds, sometimes thousands of pictures I take. And one of the ways I'm going to fine-tune it is to take fewer pictures during my next holiday. (I don't really believe that one should just take pictures with the mind and not with the camera to truly enjoy a holiday. A good holiday is one that you can relive again and again by looking at the pictures. So I do need to take a certain number of pictures, but not so many that it becomes a hindrance when I'm blogging about the holiday.)

11. Multitask
My mom-in-law always tells me that I'm really quick in the kitchen. This is after years of practice dove-tailing and multi-tasking. For example, I don't chop all my vegetables before I start cooking. I chop only what goes in first, chillies and onions for example. While that's cooking, I quickly chop the rest. This means that the stove is up and running within a few minutes of me entering the kitchen. This means that a simple dinner is ready within half an hour, and a fancy one within an hour. I also follow a sign I saw at MOS Burger - CAYG. It means Clean As You Go. So while things are on the stove, I start cleaning up and clearing away what's not needed anymore. This makes the post-cooking clean-up a breeze as I just need to wipe the stove and countertop.

I also multi-task at the gym by turning on the TV and getting the news while I work out. Sometimes, when I'm on the treadmill, I also do a bit of work in my head, like thinking of a catchy title or a funny cartoon for the article I'm working on. Also, since I refuse to get a data plan, I have no Facebook or WhatsApp or whatever distracting me during my bus rides to pick up Xena, and that is also a very relaxing, de-stressing time for me and my thoughts.

12. Get help
And by that, I don't mean hire a helper. Viv and I are thankfully on the same wavelength on this one. We don't want a stranger living in our house, cooking our food and bringing up our kid. Thankfully, my job allows me to be home. We have tried the 'part-time helper' path, but it's didn't work out well, mainly because Virgo-man thinks (and I agree) that we do a better job. The help I'm talking about is within the family. Everyone pitches in, so you're not the only one managing the kid and the household. Viv, of course, does a lot of housework, but Xena and I are in the house for the most part, so we do quite a bit. I read somewhere that having kids is like continually having to clean up after a party you didn't attend. Well, I refuse to. Since she was a toddler, I've made her do chores and now she's pretty good at it. She can clear the dishwasher, remove dry clothes from the clothesline, put clothes into the washing machine, fold clothes, clean her room, wipe tables, etc. etc. Of course, I still have to run after her to remind her that I can't see her desk anymore and she needs to clear out the 309582875 things on it, but I'm hoping that in time, tidiness will become a lifestyle for her.

13. Plan fun
One of the questions blog reader V who emailed me recently asked was, "Do you also plan 'fun'?" The answer is a resounding 'YES'! I use Google calendar to make sure that our weekends are nicely filled up, because those are exactly the kind of days that just go up in smoke, making you wonder on Sunday night, "Where did the weekend go? What did I do?" When you look at the events for the week, they should excite you. So we invite people, go to restaurants, have picnics, hang out with friends, go cycling at the beach, etc.

During cricket season, Viv is pretty much out all weekend, but we maximise family time in the off-season weekends. Xena and I hang out all the time, but I make sure there is something that involves all three of us. When you don't have time for your family, the feeling of being very busy gets elevated, adding to the stress. If every day you can have some goofy time with your family, you feel more relaxed and less guilty about being so busy all the other times.

And of course, if time and finances permit, go on at least one vacation a year. We aim for two - a big one and a small one, if possible. Vacations are not only fun, they also break the daily monotony and clear your head. I always come back from vacations, feeling charged and actually looking forward to regular life.

14. Don't overdo it
Having said all of this, do remember not to overdo it. It's nice to accomplish a lot in a day, every day, but if you feel overwhelmed or exhausted, you're doing too much. Don't go at breakneck speed because you want to do X and Y and Z today. Think about whether it is possible to do X and Y and Z today. Listen to your body, mind and heart. Much like the post-gym gyaan, doing all the things that you want to do should make you feel energised, not exhausted.

I remember, once I had the craziest day ever. I had tons of messages and emails from people, and I was quickly skimming through it all, but there was no way I could sit down and reply. There was so much to be done. It was a mad, mad day. And then it struck me how many people I know who have entire lives like that. Don't do that to yourself. Take time to respond to people who are reaching out. A big shoutout to blog reader Bubblegum who takes time to send me the longest and loveliest emails every now and then, and it makes me slow down and push replying to her to the top of my priority list.

So there you have it, my super-long gyaan list on how to do all the things you want to do without going bonkers. If you've actually read it all the way to the end, congratulations and thank you! If you have just scrolled down all the way to check if the post ends at all in this lifetime, here's the one takeaway again -- if you can own your time, you can own your life.

Do share your tips with the other bewdas in the comments box, or drop me an email if any of these tips worked for you!

This post was selected by BlogAdda as part of their Spicy Saturday Picks.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Drama queen

The hilarity of Xena's randomness often has me in splits. 

Some of my Indian neighbours were planning to get the kids to enact the story of Ramayana at our Diwali party. It was a fab idea as it would get all the kids together, doing something fun and learning a little bit about their culture and heritage. So casting was in full progress and they wanted every kid to be in. I asked Xena what she'd like to be. She refused every single part. I even offered her the part of one of the monkeys in Rama's army, considering her experience and expertise in playing that part on a daily basis, but she said no. 

"What do you want to be then?"

"Hmm... Mama, I can be a snail. Is there a snail?"

"Err... there is no snail. There are monkeys and bears though."

"No, I want to be a snail."

"There is no snail."

"Then I don't want to be anything."

"Do you want to just watch the play?"


The director of the play, who is very fond of Xena, was surprised not to see her name in the cast. So she called me up. I told her the whole story. I'm not sure she believed me, because the next time we met her (at a birthday party), she went directly to Xena.

"Do you want to be in the play, Xena?"


I got a 'look' from said neighbour, but I motioned her to carry on the conversation. Xena, incidentally, was running around, holding approximately 25 birthday balloons (I kid you not). 

"What do you want to be?"

"I want to be a balloon seller. Is there a balloon seller in the play?"

I burst out laughing, and then put on my best "I told you so" look for my neighbour. She looked distraught. I told her it was okay. If Xena wanted to be in the audience, that was totally fine. Besides, I thought it would be better if instead of being coerced, she could watch the play and then decide if she would like to do something like that in the future. 

So rehearsals started, and there was a call for volunteers to sing the mangal gaan when Rama was born, and some other songs as well. One of the ladies asked me if I was going to volunteer since I liked to sing. Me and mangal gaan?? I burst out laughing in my head. 

I think Xena's randomness had rubbed off on me. I almost felt like asking, "Can I sing an item number instead? Do you have an item number?" 

And I kid you not, this actually played in my head. Instantly. 

"My name is Sita
Ayodhya ki rani
I'm too pativrata for you
Main tere haath na aani!"

So that was that. Xena and I were happy spectators of an adorable little play. They even had an 18-month-old play the deer that Rama ran after. The poor baby was totally clueless, of course, which made it all the more cute and hilarious! 

On the way back home, Xena said to me, "Mama, can I be in the play next year?"

"Sure, you can. What do you want to be?"

"Can I be a kitten? Is there a kitten?"

"Erm no, you saw the play. There was no kitten. "

"A bunny? Or a slug?"

All right, it looks like we will have to do our own home production next year -- a spoof version of the Ramayana, full of kittens and snails and bunnies and slugs and item numbers. 

And oh, Ravana will come to kidnap Sita, disguised as a balloon-seller. 

Friday, November 20, 2015

Mehendi laga ke rakhna

In 1986, my dad got posted to Patna. It was my first tryst with all things Bihari, and the beginning of a 12-year stay in Bihar. Even now I consider myself more Bihari than anything else. It was also my first encounter with the Hindi language, and how I survived in an English-medium school where all the teachers taught all the subjects in Hindi, is beyond my comprehension.

It was in this city that I first came across this wonder of nature called mehendi. There were two entities in my neighbourhood that had a profound effect on my childhood. One was a mehendi tree (oh yes!) right next to our playground (and by playground, I mean the street, of course), and the other was 'Lalli ki mummy'. Lalli ki mummy was a prominent figure in our neighbourhood. I wonder if anyone at all knew her name. She was 'Lalli ki mummy' to everyone -- from the kids to their mothers and even to the sabziwala.

And she had a grinding stone.

We would pluck leaves from the mehendi tree and take it to her, and she would grind it and give us the paste. We would then apply it on our hands in very intricate patterns, which can be best described as 'one big circle in the centre, surrounded by four not-so-big circles'.

I was fascinated by the concept of mehendi. Soon, we figured out how to make it darker, how to make the colour last longer. But the circle design stayed. I didn't know what to do with it. Till my sister, my very artistic sister, decided to help this poor soul out. She cut open a milk packet, washed it and made a cone out of it. Our first mehendi cone! We used mehendi powder instead of leaves and soon, instead of the big circles, we were making real mehendi designs.

She got bored of it soon, having pushed me towards the path of enlightenment, but I was never bored of it. To this day. I love love love putting it on my hands, or on anyone's hands for that matter.

And I thought Xena would inherit my love for mehendi.

However, I was in for a big disappointment when I introduced mehendi to her. All of two, she looked at the mehendi on my hands, tossed her dainty little head and commented, "Dirty."

I was devastated. Dirty? DIRTY? My only daughter, MY only daughter thought mehendi was dirty?

Well, I didn't give up. Next year, I showed it to her again. She didn't call it dirty. Wooohoooo! Wait a minute. She paused, came closer and then casually said, "It's smelly..."


The next year (which is this year), things changed. Magically. I bought a cone at Mustafa a few weeks before Diwali and put mehendi on my hand. She was fascinated. "Can I have it too?" She asked. I tell you, I wept internal tears of joy.

"Sure! What design do you want?"

"A vacuum cleaner."

"A what?!"

"I want a vacuum cleaner design."

"You want a vacuum cleaner design? With mehendi?"


Okay fine. I swallowed my pride and Viv drew a prototype on paper and I followed it. It didn't look like a vacuum cleaner. More like a snake in the middle of moulting. Oh, well.

She loved it. She showed it off at school and at the playground and everywhere else. When the design faded, she asked me to make something else.

"No vacuum cleaner this time, okay?"

"Ok. I want a butterfly."

Great! Butterfly was definitely more mehendi-friendly than a vacuum cleaner. So I made a butterfly just before her nap and asked her not to take it off or wash it till the evening. She did, and the mehendi came out super dark.

"Darker than yours!" She said.

"Oh yes!"

Over the next few weeks, she had gazillions of designs all over her hands. As soon as one would fade, she would ask me to make something else.

This is what the monkey did when I told her she can't let the mehendi touch ANYTHING till it dries.

She has now mastered the art of going to sleep with mehendi on her hands.

During the Diwali week, she had mehendi on both hands, on both sides, at all times. Our days were literally full of mehendi. I volunteered to do a Diwali workshop at her preschool and all the kids queued up to get mehendi done. I had some very strange requests from the kids too -- a heart with a snowflake inside, a spider, a car, a BIG school bus, and what not.

I also put mehendi for some of my neighbours for karwa chauth. She accompanied me without complaint, and watched with fascination.

I made this on my hand for Diwali. 

She wanted the exact design on hers!

She even compared both and remarked that they're not exactly the same, but it was fine because hers was darker. Sheesh.

Here's my happy little bunny with her mehendi. 

And her mama is also one happy little bunny now. Kid finally likes mehendi. Yay!

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

The missing details

"What do you want to be when you grow up?"

"I want to be an editor like Mama." Xena says this on some days. On other days, she wants to be a bunny. On yet other days, she wants to be a kitten. We have not received her final decision yet.

However, I can see that she has been trying her hand at editing. With very mixed results. When Viv got back from the US last week, he asked, "How are my darlings?"

"You know, Daddy... Mama is unhappy and wants to marry again." She immediately reported.

No, there was no Ekta Kapoor level music/silence/shock at this 'news' of hers. Obviously, Viv knew that the situation was nowhere as scandalous as she'd made it out to be, and it was probably her editing skills at work.

"Why don't you tell him the full story?" I asked her.

So she did. This was the full story.


Xena (looking at our wedding photo album) - Mama, I don't like this photo.

Me - Why not?

Xena - See? Daddy is smiling, but you're not smiling in this one.

Me - Hmm... you're right. I do look quite unhappy in this.

Xena - So what do we do now? I don't like this photo. Because you're unhappy.

Me - I have a great idea. Maybe Daddy and I can get married again and then we will take some more photos and I'll smile happily in all of them!

Xena - Yes! That's a great idea. Let's do it when Daddy comes back.

Me - Okay!


So yes, as of now I don't think she has much of a future in editing, but she'd make a terrific clickbait writer for sure. 

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Child's play

As Xena grows older, I've been subtly trying to convey to her that it is not my job to keep her entertained all the time. (Yes, you can totally tell that I'm going to be that kind of a mom when she's a teenager.) She's a big girl now and she needs to know what to do with her 'free time' (which is pretty much all her awake time). I strongly believe that some boredom is good for kids because it makes them imaginative and creative. And I'm glad that she's reciprocating.

The haze is not letting up, so we can't do our two hours in the playground every evening, or go to the pool. This means that we are stuck indoors for hours, trying to come up with activities. We still do some things together, of course, but now I've started to leave her alone with stuff and do my chores. Viv is away in the US again (sometimes I wonder if his office has relocated and they just forgot to send me the memo) and it's been a little difficult to juggle everything, especially when I've just started an exciting new job (more about that in a later post!). I'm actually surprised that lately Xena has been so cooperative in letting me work while she keeps herself busy with her books, or toys, or random things that she makes into toys, or her pretend play, which can be so hilarious sometimes, I just have to stop my work, turn and watch ("Oh no, the fish has done pee-pee; I need to change its diaper now!").

Today, I was in the kitchen making dinner when I heard her chuckling away. Curious, I stepped out to witness an amazing sight. Sick of battery-operated toys (they are expensive and are almost always chucked away after a grand total of three uses), I'd bought her a $2-set of these plastic wheels which you can attach to one another to make random things, and she had just discovered a very cool and funny way to make them move. I got her to do it again and recorded it (and some variations).

A little bit of physics ... a lot of fun!

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Buying time

Xena - Mama, thank you for my Hello Kitty swimsuit!

Mama (very surprised at being thanked now, because I got her the swimsuit almost a year ago) - You're welcome, baby. I'm glad you like it.

Xena - I love it so much, you know!

Me - I love it too. In fact, if I could, I'd get it in my size too!

Xena - I can buy it for you! Then we can both wear it together!

Me - Oh, thank you! Do you have the money to buy it?

Xena - No...

Me - Hmm... what do we do then?

Xena - Mama, I have a great idea! You wait for me to grow up, then I'll start working, then I'll go to the bank, then I'll get some money, then I'll go to the swimsuit shop, and then I'll get you the swimsuit!

Me - Wow, that sounds like a great idea indeed! Thank you!

Xena - You're welcome.

So if you ever spot a 50-something mama and her 20-something baby wearing identical Hello Kitty swimsuits, do not judge -- there might be a heartwarming story behind it. :)

Thursday, October 08, 2015

Catch-up #9

Hello hello!

I know it's been a month to my last post, but no, I didn't fall off the edge of the earth. My thanks to the bewdas who emailed to ask me if Xena is okay. She is, and thank you again. So many things have happened in the last month that I just have to quickly catch up before more stuff happens.

Singapore had elections on 11th September and I voted... for the first time in my life! I came here before I was eligible to vote in India, so I was very excited about going to vote. It was therefore, a bit anti-climactic, when I finished casting my vote in less than a minute. I'm serious. The whole thing -- getting inside the voting venue, verification, getting the card, voting and getting out -- was all done within a minute! And I had gone prepared with a water bottle, a book, sunglasses and what not "to keep me occupied and alive in the queue". Said queue was not even there!

The haze has hit us hard again this year, and at one point, the pollution level was in the hazardous range! Since Xena falls in the sensitive group because of her lungs, I've had to keep her indoors the entire time. All outdoor activities and swim lessons have been cancelled. Up until last week, we used to put on an N95 mask on her on the way to and back from school. Sometimes I can't believe that a clean and green city like Singapore has become so helpless because of our 'padosi desh ki gatividhiyan'. Sigh.

However, this has given us opportunities to come up with new activities that make indoors just as fun. My friend had gifted Xena an elephant-shaped chalk board, so I have been teaching her to write Hindi letters on it. (She will be taking Hindi as a subject when she starts Primary school and they expect kids to know how to read and write before they join. Her preschool doesn't offer Hindi, so I'll have to teach her.) To my surprise, she's been enjoying it thoroughly, and not taking it as 'padhai' at all. Nerds of a feather flock together...

Last weekend, we took a short vacation with some friends in Chiang Mai, Thailand, and it was fabulous. I'll post the details and photos on my travel blog Hopscotch at some point (I'm still chasing everyone to send me the photos, as they are on various phones), but meanwhile, I have a sneak preview below. Yes, for half a day, we wore tribal clothing, hung out with these gentle giants (including an AH-DORABLE 1-year-old baby elephant) in their natural environment, fed them, followed them around the valley, and get this -- bathed them at a waterfall!! I don't have enough OMGs to describe the whole experience! More on Hopscotch soon!

And that's all that's been happening, folks. How are you guys? :)

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

No rhyme or reason

So birthday bwoy Viv has gone on his annual September work trip to Amsterdamn.

I spell it thus because these trips are always hell for me. It's like the moment he boards the plane, my generally compliant, lovely, well-behaved, amazing child turns into a monster I cannot recognise. She refuses to wake up in time for school, takes approx 3786873643 minutes to finish a cup of milk and then about 23846329846 more minutes trying to decide which socks to wear. And I'm in a real rush in the mornings because I need to drop her, get back, make and have breakfast, go to the gym, shower, do my freelance work, have lunch, and set off again to pick her up.

Her pre-nap milk, the early evening fruit snack, and dinner are usually a big struggle too. It's not like she gobbles her food by herself when Viv is here, but with another person to share the load with, it's not as bad. At least we know we can toss her to the other person if we're close to losing it. So when he's away, it's TOTAL WAR. It's like she knows it's just her and me for two weeks and wants to make it as 'interesting' as possible.

Tonight, I'd invited my sis-in-law Clueless for dinner (we had spicy egg curry, something she and I love and Viv doesn't, so it was the perfect menu item to have in his absence). After a particularly grueling dinner mainly because of Xena refusing to eat, it was time to brush her teeth and put her to bed. Both of us kissed her good night and were about to leave the room when she requested us for a 'song story'. I do that sometimes, just sing a story like a song and she enjoys it. But my sis-in-law, fondly nicknamed 'Tootooi' by Xena, had a better idea.

"Mama will sing one line of the story and I'll sing the next line." She said.

"Whaaaa....!" I was so not prepared for this at the end of a long, hard day.

But I agreed. 'Cos I am a poet, and I just know it.

So here's how it went. As you can see, at several points in the story, the lyrics (and we) went a little crazy. It's a mad, mad family, I tell you.

Me - Once upon a time, there was a little rabbit.
Tootooi - *thinking*
Me - Oh I know I know! (whispering to Tootooi) Poor little rabbit had a terrible drinking habit.
Tootooi and me - *fits of laughter*
Tootooi - Ok ok, I got it. He wouldn't eat his food on time, and that was a bad habit.
Me - One night, his mommy made a pot of chicken rice.
Tootooi - *thinking*
Me - Hey! I'm giving you words that are really easy to find rhyming words for!
Tootooi - I know I know!
Me - (whispering) Well, based on my experience with Xena... He took a bite, spat it out and said, "Not nice!"
Tootooi and me - *fits of laughter*
Tootooi - He took a bite of his food and said, "Not nice."
Me - "That's fine", said mommy. "Then no dinner for you tonight."
Tootooi - She tucked him in bed and said, "Good night, sleep tight".
Me - In the middle of the night, he heard a growling sound.
Xena (looking terrified and covering her ears) - Nooo....
Me - Err... nooo... it's fine, it's not scary, it's just his tummy!!
Tootooi - No no, don't worry, the story will have a happy ending!
Xena (still looking terrified) - No, I don't want this song story.
Tootooi - He woke up in the middle of the night, and he was hungry, he found.
Me - He woke up his mommy and said, "Can I have some food?"
Tootooi - Mommy said, "You didn't have your dinner, so too bad. No good."
Me - He went back to bed, but he was very sad.
Tootooi - And after a while, she was not so mad.
Me - She got him some rice...
Tootooi - What? Rice again??
Me - Ok fine. No rice. Mama made him a sandwich and put it on a plate.
Tootooi - She brought it to the rabbit and said, "I hope this will satiate!"
Tootooi and me - *fits of laughter*
Me - Knowing Xena, the next line should be this. She found him fast asleep, rolled her eyes and said, "Great!"
Tootooi and me - *fits of laughter*
Tootooi - He sat up in bed and ate and ate and ate.
Me - *thinking*
Tootooi - And he said, "Mommy, the sandwich was great."
Me - *thinking*
Tootooi - And she said, "Next time don't eat so late."
Tootooi and me - *fits of uncontrollable laughter*

Xena - *giving us the kiddy equivalent of a dirty look and totally regretting her decision to ask for a song story*

Monday, August 24, 2015

Here's looking at you, kid.

"Mamlook Mamlook Mamlook... I can't even keep track of the number of times she says this in a day," Viv said, very amused.

It's true. I hadn't noticed it till he said it, but it's amazing how many things Xena sees/does/experiences in her day that she immediately wants to draw my attention to. And she says it so fast that "Mama, look" has just become "Mamlook" now.

I don't hear "Dadlook Dadlook Dadlook" as much though, but then as I like to tease Viv, for her to share stuff, you need to look up from the damned devices. Close all apps (well, except maybe the camera) and open your eyes. Grrr...

Long long ago, I'd read this quote somewhere - "Through the eyes of a child you will see the world just as it ought to be." But I only see the truth in it after becoming a mommy.

So I thought it would be fun to chronicle her latest 'Mamlook' moments.

"Mamlook! I can almost fit into Daddy's cricket bag!"

"Mamlook how many bananas I can carry by myself!"

"Mamlook! I'm going to jump into the ball pool!"

"Mamlook! I can pull the trolley all by myself!"

"Mamlook! I'm wearing your dress! When I'm a grown-up, can I borrow it?"

"Mamlook! The spoon and straw make a tick in my drink!"

"Mamlook how far I can kick the ball!"

"Mamlook! I'm going to eat all the muffins!"

"Mamlook! The salt and pepper shakers are doing push-ups!"

"Mamlook! The Elsa cake made my tongue blue!"

"Mamlook, I can also do what the firefighter uncle did!" (This was during a visit to the fire station.)

"Mamlook, I'm the Easter bunny!"

"Mamlook! My dupatta is dancing with me!"

"Mamlook! I'm wearing sunglasses too!"

"Mamlook how I dance!"

"Mamlook! I can balance on the rope! But if I fall down, will you catch me?"

"Mamlook! I'm ready to go to the pool!"

"Mamlook how fast I swim!" (That's her instructor. Looks a bit like Dhoni, no?)

"Mamlook, I can fit into the baby seat!" 
(Sigh. Yes, this is literally the baby seat found in mall toilets where mommies can suspend their not-yet-walking babies and pee in peace. And my 4-year-old can easily fit into one. Sigh.)

"Mamlook, I'm 'brooming' my room by myself!"

"Mamlook how I'm making Froggy blow bubbles!"

"Mamlook! I'm helping Daddy exercise!"

"Mamlook how I throw the ball!"

"Mamlook, Fluffy wants to sit on the couch with me!"

"Mamlook, this bike matches my clothes. Let's buy it."

"Mamlook how I can ride my new bike by myself!"

"Mamlook! The pigeons are running away from me!"

Friday, August 07, 2015


Viv returns from an early morning run just as Xena is waking up.
Viv - Good morning, Sweety!
Xena - Good morning, sweaty!

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

It's time to say goodBhai

"So which movie are you going to see?" My sis-in-law asked.

She was going to babysit Xena while Viv and I went on one of our really rare dates -- to the movie theatre.

Oh no. She'd asked. Now I'd have to tell her.

So I did. And I appended four of these monkeys to my answer.

I was that embarrassed.

You see, I was going for Bajrangi Bhaijaan. I was going for a Salman Khan movie. Me, the big Salman and Kareena hater, was going for a Salman and Kareena movie. In the theatre. With Viv. Achhe achhe theatres mein achhi achhi movies mein sone wala Viv.

"Lols," wrote back the sis-in-law. "I'll hold this over your head for ages."

Okay, now allow me to explain myself. A friend of mine who watched the movie sent me an excited message, telling me she loved it. But then she'd also loved Dil Dhadakne Do, which I didn't love all that much, so I was still a little cynical. So I decided to check my reliable reviewer Raja Sen's review. Here's what the opening paragraph said:
"Bajrangi Bhaijaan is an overearnest, oversimplified, sweet and frequently schlocky film, which works because of a finely picked supporting cast, some sharp lines of dialogue and, most crucially, its overall heart."
The word 'heart' caught my attention. It had been a loooong time since I watched a movie with a 'heart'. The Munnabhai series, perhaps. Add to the fact that I'd liked all of Kabir Khan's previous movies - Kabul Express, New York and even Ek Tha Tiger. So I decided not to read the review any further, and just go for it. Just me. I was sure Viv would either hate it or fall asleep, and I didn't want to risk dragging him or another friend along in case they hated it. It was a Salman Khan movie, after all. Even I, the all-forgiving Bollywood lover, can barely stand him anymore. But then over the next few days, I kept coming across positive words about the movie and I decided to risk it and invite Viv. After all, he had really liked New York too. To my surprise, he readily agreed.

And so we went, without reading any detailed reviews, and without any real big expectations. And how the movie surprised and delighted us!

No doubt, it is an oversimplified and predictable masala movie, but it is utterly engrossing. What amazed me is that there was an actual story (remember the days when movies used to have actual stories?) and that I actually cared about the characters. (Not Kareena though. I cared about her in Jab We Met, but nothing before or after that.) Gosh, where did they find that kid? Apparently, she was selected out of 5000 little girls who auditioned for the role. She's not only got a perfectly innocent and adorable face, she was able to emote so well. For someone who is practically in every frame of the movie, but has only two lines of dialogue, she was uh-mazing to say the least. Star of the movie, no less. (I just hope she doesn't grow up and do item numbers like most cute child artists end up doing. Or end up as a heroine opposite Salman in 10 years. I don't know which is worse.)

Next up - Salman Khan. I can't quite remember at what point I started disliking him, but I remember really liking him in the good old days. You know, when his body and shirt were not ripped? Remember Maine Pyar Kiya, when he was scrawny and so likeable? Remember Hum Aapke Hain Koun when he was not so scrawny, but even more likeable than before? And then remember the not-at-all-scrawny and not-at-all-likeable Salman of the 21st century? Okay, so his Bajrangi kind of reminded me of the good old days when I really really liked him. (Actually, frankly speaking, after watching HAHK I think I was head over heels in like with him.) It was just refreshing not to see him rip off his shirt, do some silly dance moves and send goons flying in every direction. Now that I think about it, there was a shirtless scene, and some silly dance moves ("Selfie le le"? Seriously?) and some goons also flew but there was none of that 'No matter what I do, it's a 100-crore movie, baby' air.

I came back and read Raja Sen's full review, and I couldn't agree more when he wrote, "This may well be a Kabir Khan film, but for all those who wished to see Salman Khan in a Raju Hirani project, consider that mission accomplished."

The Pakistan parts of the movie made me so so so nostalgic about my trip there, though it's been almost 9 years! As I was telling Viv, I totally bought how the people there were helping Bajrangi. Indians really get a lot of bhaav from the people of Pakistan. At least from my experience. During my trip, everyone was super nice and super chatty whenever they found out I was an Indian.

What I didn't like about the movie were the extremely wahiyaat songs. What on earth was Pritam doing? Original compositions maybe. The movie would have been much shorter and crisper without the musical interruptions. The only saving grace was KK's 'Tu jo mila', which was anyway meant to be a background song.

The other thing they could have done away with was the little girl saying 'Jai Shri Ram' at the end. Gaaahhhh too gimmicky. The 'mama' part was still believable, as 'mama' is indeed one of the first few words that babies say when they're getting started on talking, but 'Jai Shri Ram' was a bit too much.

And then there was Kareena. Loved her Manish Malhotra outfits, but she looked scary. I didn't know what it was, whether it was her ghostly make-up, or the way she made her eyes all round and scary whenever she was happy/scared/angry/crying, but she was hard to look at.

The rest of the cast was excellent, and I especially found the little girl's mom's performance very moving. And Nawazuddin Siddiqui as the reporter was rocking as usual. Many of you might have watched this hilarious and viral video of a Karachi reporter. Omg, they recreated the exact scene and even retained the names of the reporter and cameraman in the movie! It was hilarious!

The movie is a full on masala entertainer, but in a good way. Viv not only stayed awake throughout the entire 2.5 hours of the movie, he said he really liked it.

And me? I don't ask for too much. Give me a good story, give me characters I care about, give me some good laughs and an occasional lump in my throat, and I'm a happy happy Bolly-loving girl.

Monday, August 03, 2015

Bake-aar ki baatein

So Xena and I have been baking up a storm. It's hard to decide who is really more into it because I go to sleep thinking about what to bake the next day and she wakes up from her afternoon nap with an urgent, "Mama, let's go baaakeeee!!!" She has even got a name for the oven! Avni. (Well, it's supposed to be Oven-y, but it really does sound like the desi name Avni.) 

A big thank you to all you bewdas for being so generous in sharing your tried and tested recipes. We tried some of them with superb results. Some of you have even taken the time to email me recipes and tips for newbie bakers, and a big thank you for that! I'm going to try all of it. 

So I thought I'll share what we have been up to the last few weeks - Xena, Avni and me.

After our first venture - the very simple vanilla cake, I was still not confident to dive into really adventurous stuff, so we did some variations of the same recipe just to do it over and over again and see if it still worked. 

We tried a duo-tone cake using food colouring. All good! Viv polished them off in one evening. He was working on his laptop with the box next to him, and no one realised when it became empty! 

Next, we tried a blueberry cake and err... cakelets. Well, I don't know if they're called cakelets, but I had some moulds I wanted to use, so there. 

Xena shows off the blueberry cake. 

She even made what she called the 'blueberry cake flower'.

Then we made blueberry muffins using the recipe shared by blog reader Anphy, and it was a big hit. Thank you, Anphy!

Xena is waiting and waiting and waiting for the muffins to rise. 

The proud baker displays the goodies. 

Then we tried to make cupcakes, using the same old cake recipe. 

Of course, I was nowhere near learning to ice the cupcakes, so we just used sprinkles. Xena gobbled up two of them!

We were totally not sick of the sweet stuff yet, but just to mix things up, I tried making some savoury things. With mixed results. 

The kurkure bhindi didn't turn out to be that kurkure after all. I need to find a better recipe. 

The lasagna tasted good, but the sheets were slightly undercooked. I need to practise a little more. 

The baked vegetables were a super hit. I marinated random vegetables (pumpkin, onions, zucchini, red peppers, baby potatoes, capsicum, etc.) in a mixture of balsamic vinegar, olive oil, tabasco sauce, salt, garlic powder and pepper for an hour, and just baked them. They were so yum I can't wait to make them again. 

I had some cocoa powder in the fridge that I wanted to use up but I'm not a big fan of chocolate cake or chocolate muffins. So I googled for 'best brownie recipe' and landed on this one

I had another mould that I wanted to try out, so I divided the brownie batter into portions. 

Xena called these 'brownie buttons'. 

We quickly devoured about 5 between the two of us. The rest were gobbled up by Viv as soon as he came back from work. I made another batch later for some guests, and used them as toppings on parfait, with an M&M perched on each. Darn, I forgot to take a photo!

Though the button brownies were more fun, the actual brownie-shaped brownies were good too. We had quite a few of those with ice-cream. Talk about a sudden surge in the household caloric intake!

"Mama, look! I made a flower!" She cried out. 

My very good friend Soumya, who has been a great source of encouragement and tips, took me to Phoon Huat (also known as bakers' paradise) where I bought a lot of stuff, including tools for icing! Yes, I felt like I was ready to ice. 

I came across this buttercream frosting recipe and decided to try my hand at icing some cupcakes for my friend Maya's birthday brunch. 

I used the same old vanilla cake recipe because I loved how soft and springy the cupcakes turned out. I find most cupcakes too rich and overwhelming after the first few bites, but this recipe keeps things light and nice. 

I used this recipe to make marshmallow fondant and cut out the letters in her name to put on the cupcakes. 

I'd bought a cupcake box, so I put the cupcakes in it and started icing. Xena was really excited to see the pink flowers. 

This was taken during the birthday celebration. With the letters and the candles, the cupcakes really did look quite nice. And everyone liked the taste too. 

I feel so encouraged to carry on. :)