A Lesson on Hope

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The little testament of hope

This picture right here aptly represents what our outlook to life should be. Just look at this picture of a plant that I had given up for dead in my balcony – this beautiful purple shoot has pushed itself out of the soil with this green green leaf at its tip waiting to unfurl like a lush flag. Until it had poked its green head out of the soil, I had thought this plant was dead and gone. But there has been so much happening under the soil, don’t you think? The roots have been taking hold of the foreign soil, making the base strong and permanent; the shoot – against all odds -has pushed stubbornly through the hard soil and has come up with this proof of life – a leaf ready to unfurl. Ah, the miracles of nature. It lays out lessons on hope to the keen observer.

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I had brought this plant from my trip to Bangalore in January, with very slight expectations of it growing in Chennai’s weather and with the varying degrees of sunlight that my modest balcony receives. This plant was said to have medicinal properties and was graciously given to us by Sanjay’s aunt from her teeming with life garden, who advocated eating a leaf a day to combat diabetes. Imagine that! The leaf had a lovely sour taste and was not hard to eat, so I brought it to Chennai.

The plant promptly dried up as expected but we continued to water it regularly. There were no visible signs whatsoever that the plant would grow back, but we still watered it. After six weeks of no-show, of lulling us into believing that it was dead, this beautiful purple shoot pokes its head out of the soil! Oh the joy I felt to see .. of life.

I immediately got hit by an analogy of how some of our dreams may take time to unfurl or to come true even though we invest our energies into it. The key to knowing if it is worth the trouble or not is not let go of one’s belief in it, but to persevere and nourish the dream. This happens to be true in my case. I have been busy trying to get a room in our flat ready for Airbnb and have invested money and time in getting the place tip-top to receive guests. It was so thrilling – this start of a new dream. I loved the idea of starting something like this and couldn’t wait to usher my first guest in. Only, it did not happen that way.

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Here are some snaps of the room. It is a nice cosy one which accommodates two guests. We got the walls and windows cleaned, painted, the bathrooms uplifted, and spent a lot of time in sprucing up the room as it needed a lot of work. The room was advertised on Airbnb and we waited, and waited. For two months we waited before our first guest came in. On hindsight it looks like less time, but at that time I started having a lot of doubts about the prudence of this decision. Nothing seemed to happen. We tweaked the prices and the description a bit and waited some more. Meanwhile formalities from Airbnb was completed and a couple of our annual trips made, I didn’t realize then that my dream was taking hold, spreading its roots and absorbing nourishment from the love and care we were showering on it. The shoot was coming up.

Now with a couple of bookings done and people hosted with great vigour, I am starting to understand the similarity to that sturdy shoot pushing its way out of the soil. With the right amount of attention and work, I think any dream is ours to fulfill. Isn’t it right? More often than not, after investing time and energy, we feel like giving up when things don’t work out. But nature tells us to be patient… to believe, to give time for it to mature. When the time is right it would take off surely. The trick is to protect it, nurture it and never give up on it even when there is a no-show.

Of course, like our Night Jasmine plant which has dried up to nothing after giving us so many many portions of medicinal tea, sometimes we may need to let some dreams go. Those that have been milked for what it’s worth and whose benefits have been enjoyed by all. It is prudent to let that go, the way I had to let my Parijat/ Night Jasmine plant go.

But for now, with summer extracting the very essence out of all these plants, there is growth everywhere. Small, tiny leaves tremble in the summer breeze waiting for the nourishment to reach them from below and with the right mix of elements the magic occurs…a promise has been born.

 

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Five Children’s Books (0-2 years) your Child will Love

The saying goes that a Child who reads will become an adult who thinks, and since that has worked pretty well with the child’s parents (ahem!) I was determined to get Sucrose into reading books. But the journey didn’t start off like I expected. There were parents who were reading to their three month old child, and I was not doing that. Sucrose used to turn her head away distracted every time I tried reading a story for her. She didn’t seem interested when I read out stories even when she was as old as 8 months. It didn’t help matters that my husband Sanjay and my mother were master story tellers and would have her in rapt attention through out. I was happy she was lapping it up, but with books it was a slow journey. I really started buying books only after her first birthday and even then they were mostly to complement the books she received for her first birthday. In a way, I was thankful for all the books she received for her birthday as it took off the guessing from which book to buy for her and it did give me a chance to see what interested her.

Keeping that thought, here is a list of five books which kept her attention immensely to this day. I haven’t included My First Words or Parts of the body or Touch and Feel books, and have only concentrated on story books for children.

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Spot’s Story Collection

Spot Books – One of my dear friends had gifted a set of Spot books for Sucrose’s first birthday which were just perfect for her. This is a classic, written by Eric Hill and is colourfully illustrated with just a line in each page to read out to your baby. Initially, I had used those books only for show and tell. I would point out Spot’s friends hippo, dinosaur, monkey and other characters like the inquisitive cat, bird, his family and such to Sucrose, in addition to the many things happening on the page. This exercise helped improve her vocabulary and formed the basis for future reading. These books bring to focus Spot’s family members and friends. Since your darling would be having a similar experience as a baby, she would be able to associate with the characters shown in the book. This is a good buy. Available on Amazon India as individual books.

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The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle

The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle – This was the first one that made me realize the potential of a brilliant book on a child. Sucrose took to it like fish to water. The fantastic journey of the caterpillar through the seven days of the week, cut -outs in the book to show how the caterpillar ate through food in its hungry quest, the colourful illustrations – everything made this her most favourite book in her 1st year. I used to mimic getting  a stomach ache as I read out the large fare the caterpillar ate on Saturday and she used to love it, making me read the list of foods again and again and laughing when I acted as if I got a stomach ache myself. Eric Carle has written this book with a great understanding of children that age. And that brings me to the next book in the list, written by him.

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Brown Bear, Brown Bear by Bill Martin Jr/ Eric Carle

Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Eric Carle – This book has whole page illustrations of single animals and birds in vivid colours. I love this book as a reader too. It is simple, rhyming and colourful. It is very cleverly designed to help children learn colours and names of animals and birds. Mine did it very easily and soon she started ‘reading’ out the whole story simply by seeing the pictures in the book. I have taken video of the way Sucrose reads the story and I am darned proud of her!

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Dear Zoo by Rod Campbell

Dear Zoo by Rod Campbell – When Sucrose started Montessori, the school encouraged reading in children and so they happened to have a library going on with parents sending five books each. As per Montessori rules, the books should not be those of animals talking or doing what animals or birds wouldn’t do – so I couldn’t send the Spot books or Polly Penguin or the many Pepper books. As a result, we received books that were merely sent to fill up the token 5 books in a bag. Many were on Good manners, parts of the body and such. And then, we got a pack of books from one of her friends which had Dear Zoo by Rod Campbell in it. This was a flap book which told the story of a child sending animals back to the zoo because they were unsuitable as a pet. This book was a delight. It led to many interesting reading with the lil one opening the flap to see which animal was going to visit. I particularly liked the words used to describe the animals – too big, too tall, too fierce…and so on. This one was a keeper. I have since bought My Presents by Rod Campbell. And she likes it too.

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Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown

Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown – After The Very Hungry Caterpillar, this was one book that was real value for money and an absolutely wonderful book for babies and toddlers. To this day, Sucrose asks me to read out the rhyming story of the bunny who says good night to all things in his room. Not only does this book have references to my favourite poem – The Cow Jumped over the moon, it also introduces the child to numbers in the form of words like – a pair of mittens, three little bears sitting on chairs etc. Also Sucrose loves the part where I would go, “and a quiet old lady who was whispering hush”, I would linger and repeat the word “hush” softer and softer just for emphasis. What I first thought as a publishing mistake, actually turned out to be a deliberate inclusion in the book, for as we turn the pages and as bunny says good night to the room and the light and the cats, the pages become darker and darker until at the last page, the colours are dim just like bunny’s room, The lights are off, the quiet old lady is gone and the kittens are sleeping peacefully curled up on a rocking chair while the mouse sits on the window sill watching the stars. I would recommend this wonderful book written by Margaret Wise Brown with illustrations by Clement Hurd which sits right next to our bed side table, to any parent who loves to read a good night story to her darling pet.

This list of course does not include the very many Parts of the Body, My first colours or 50 words to know or the touch and feel books. I have listed only story books which have held her attention during her first and second year as a baby. She still likes them but the dynamics has changed. She sometimes ‘reads’ these books herself, stringing a story from the pictures and illustrations, but what hasn’t changed is the timelessness of these books.

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Don’t forget to drop in a line about books you read out to your little moppet. It will help improve the list and bring clarity to the choices available in the market.

Snack Ideas for Toddlers

When Ana kutti started Montessori school at the age of two, I tried doing a quick search on the internet for snack ideas and the search ended equally quickly as I browsed through articles after articles of snacks made from bread, poha, pasta or chappathi. I realized with disappointment that there was precious little is available online on what a two year old can take in her snack box.

Ana kutti is finishing a year in her Montessori school now and in addition to having a light breakfast, she has her snack in school around 10:30 a.m. Mostly her snack box is empty when I check. The things she doesn’t like are sweet corn, fried idlis, pasta, chappathi and the like. Except sometimes when I truly have to rack my brains for something to put in her box, I have managed with a combination of fruits and a carbohydrate/ protein snack.

I have shied away from giving her too much bread – one, because it is made with refined flour and that with cheese or jam or peanut butter spread is a combination that will increase the acidic levels in her body. Secondly, the increased levels of salt, sugar and chemicals bread has is not funny. The same applied for pasta – there is time enough for her to indulge in such high refined flour and cheese diet. Just not now. I would have liked it if she approved of chappathi, but she found it cumbersome and dry sometimes. She loved eating idlis at home, but when I packed them to school it came back untouched. I couldn’t easily pair it with something bland and liquid without it getting messy. So it was given only at home with mild sambar or rasam on the side.

Most websites have complicated snack recipes that are hard for a two-year old to hold and eat and much less appreciate. Early years in play school or Montessori demanded a simple, mess free snack which hopefully was also nutritious. Biscuits, chocolates, fried food were not allowed in her school and I was happy about that. Eggs, the awesome, wonder food was also not encouraged due to cultural and religious preferences, but I made sure she had it at home.

Here are a few of my ideas for a simple, nutritious snack for toddlers, that are easy to handle and are light on their taste buds.

  1. Steamed nendran banana – This yellow banana or plantain variety (Musa paradisica) that is widely cultivated in Kerala has high calorie content, thereby making it a perfect snack for toddlers. Many Indian mothers feed their children this banana to improve their ward’s weight. In addition, it also has a high Vitamin C, B complex and many micro nutrient content. I steam this banana lightly (for five minutes in a double boiler) so that it gets a soft consistency, as it has a very starchy taste in its raw form unlike a regular sweet banana. Ana kutti loves this banana, which I cut into thick circles and send it in her tiffin alongwith a tiny portion of assorted dry fruits and nuts.
  2. Steamed sweet potato – Sweet potato is no stranger to anyone. This wonderful vegetable of the potato family has a delightful sweet taste that is an instant hit with kids. This vegetable is one of the few that has a high Vitamin A content and a good source of other vitamins like C, B and minerals. This vegetable is fairly easy to cook too. I scrape the skin of slightly and add 1/4 cup of water to cut pieces. After sprinkling salt, I cook it gently until it is done. I cut these pieces into smaller ones and pack half of a whole one in Anakutti’s box. It comes back clean.
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    Check out the recipe for boiled sweet potato at Pickledplum.com

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    These are typical sundals. Subbuskitchen is one of my favourite blogs for South Indian recipes
  3. Sundal or boiled grams – Sundal is a popular South Indian snack, packed to the brim with nutrients. Sundals are made from many types of grams – peas, chickpeas, kidney bean, brown chickpeas etc. Of these, Sucrose enjoys the ones I make with chickpeas and brown chickpeas. Chickpeas are very high in fiber, and that is one of the main reasons for it to be consumed by people. It helps in maintaining the satiety value and hence the urge to over eat or snack unnecessarily. chickpeas also are rich in iron, calcium, phosphate, magnesium and other minerals which are important for building bone structure. I simply boil these chickpeas with salt and add a dash of ghee before serving it to her. The chickpeas by themselves have a good taste and the ghee adds value to its nutrient content.

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    Assorted nuts and raisins. Pic:Big stock pics
  4. Mixed nuts- These are invaluable tiffin box fillers. I give Ana kutti a mixture of cashewnuts, groundnuts, fried gram, walnuts, raisins and dates. It is a known fact that nuts are valuable sources of good fat and proteins. I take care to pack only a few of these as they are hard to digest. Raisins are high in iron content and so are dates. These two also have high fiber content, so I make it a point to add this in her tiffin box along with a starchy, carbohydrate rich snack.

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    Colourful, cut fruits
  5. Fruits – Fruits are every mother’s saviour when it comes to healthy snacking. Since they are naturally sweet, attractive and juicy they figure a lot more in a toddler’s diet where other foods don’t. Some of Sucrose’s favourite fruits of which I give a few slices are – apples, pears, papaya, watermelon, grapes, kiwi, small banana (yelakki, rastali) to name a few. She loves piercing each piece with her tiny fork and savouring it at her leisure. Although she likes oranges a lot, I don’t send them to school simply because it stains her clothes and could get messy. Instead I ensure that she indulges in this citrusy delight at home.

From the above, you would notice a distinct absence of bread. I do send bread with jam and butter on an odd day, but it is not a staple snack in her tiffin box. Also, I make tiny, coin sized snack out of idli/dosa batter and grate cheese on top. This also I choose to send only when other options are not there. Sometimes of course, I send chips or fried stuff like murukkus, thattais and such, which are all quintessential South Indian snacks, but I find them reasonably better than the processed ones available in the market.

The important thing in the above mentioned ideas is that all of the above are suitable to a two – three year old child who has started play school or montessori, and who is now trying to eat independently with spoon or fork. There is no profusion of flavours, or complex masalas or spices added, nor are there any difficult cooking method involved like baking or frying. Everything is light and nutritious and fills up the child enough so that they are ready for lunch when they get home.

What do you pack for your toddler? Please do share.