First Raksha Bandan!

Let me start by saying that growing up we never really celebrated the Hindu holidays much. I remember once we went to temple for Holi which was a lot of fun, and one trip to India for Diwali, which was fabulous, lighting firecrackers every night. Some of them I’ve only learned about when my Indian family and friends start wishing each other a happy something-or-other on Facebook, and I’m sent to Google it and figure out what it is I’m supposed to be celebrating. (Case in point: Dussehra, which I only learned of a year or two ago.)

So when, a few days earlier, my new and very cool cousin Shefali posted something about asking what traditions people do for Raksha Bandan, I thought it would be a good place for our family to start celebrating some of these traditions. Raksha Bandan, for those of you who don’t know (or haven’t already gone to Google) is a day to celebrate the bond between sister and brother. In my Googling, I learned that it is to celebrate the chaste bond between brother and sister, so sometimes girls will tie a rakhi (bracelet) onto a boy that they think is getting too interested. It’s like a ritualized friendzoning.

Of course, I didn’t really know how to celebrate other than to tie a bracelet, so back to the internets. I did call my mom the day of, but no one answered the phone. Most of them agreed that you have the sister perform a puja (prayer) to the brother and then tie a bracelet on to him. He is then supposed to say that he will protect her and give her a gift.

Rakhi in India range from simple to very, very elaborate, even with some using gold and diamonds.  We opted for the simpler route and I thought it would be more meaningful if the kids made bracelets for each other. One of the advantages of being a mercurial crafter is that you have a lot of random supplies around the house from well-intentioned crafting excursions. From the time that I thought I was going to start making friendship bracelets again and also thought I’d take up embroidery (um, yeah), I had quite a bit of embroidery floss around.

I had the girl make a simple braided bracelet with beads, and the boy made a simple knotted bracelet also with some beads (from that time I thought I’d start making my own jewelery).  I figured, it’s 2014 and it seemed to make sense that the brother and sister do puja for each other and give each other bracelets instead of just sisters to brothers. (sorry for the lack of good pictures in this post-I was too involved with actually participating to focus on taking good images.)

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On the day of Raksha Bandan, Eric pulled out the puja set that my parents had given me some time ago. I started by lighting the oil lamp, which I learned is supposed to use clarified butter. I didn’t have any on hand so just used vegetable oil. I quickly learned that this burns through fast and had to use tweezers to remove the wicks before they set off the smoke alarms. Then, I needed some incense (“to provide a pleasing aroma for the deity,” says the internet)  but we didn’t have any. I leaned over our backyard fence and asked our cigarette-smoking neighbors if they had any, and they did! It takes a village, no?

The puja tray looked a little bare, so I put Ganapati on it for good measure. I figure, what can go wrong if he is watching on? The Girl insisted that he wear his “necklace,” which is the strand of pearls that Eric and I wore around our heads when we got married and that usually live draped around Ganapati on our mantelpiece. Why not?

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Then we went outside for the ceremony. First the girl and boy did puja for each other and tied bracelets on each other, saying that they would love and protect each other.

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Two of their friends were over and so they participated as well, with the the girl tying a simple cord onto their wrists. It was all very sweet and I’d like to think that it was why they played so nicely for the rest of the evening.

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It was really, really lovely to do and to see them with each other, even if the kids didn’t take it quite as seriously as I would have liked. It’s made me think that we should be more intentional about celebrating other Hindu holidays as well. Maybe Diwali this year? Or I’ll get really into things and figure out what Dussehra is and how I’m supposed to celebrate it.

Nebraska/askarbeN

This summer we spent 5 days in Nebraska. I’ve apparently been in Nebraska before, as Eric insists that we drove through and even stayed in the state on our drive out from Michigan, but I have no memory of it.

One of our friends, Chris, grew up in Nebraska and his mother lives on 5 acres out somewhere in the middle. His family goes every year to visit and also for his boys to run around in the woods and creek and make things out of found objects, like time from summers past.  So different from city summers which are spent, for us, with pools and parks and the occasional camp.  We don’t have sheets of corrugated aluminum and bricks lying around our woodshed for kids to create forts out of.

So we piled into our minivan and headed East.  My two kids, his two kids, Eric, Chris, and myself.  Chris’ wife was off on a retreat and couldn’t join us. I’ve driven across areas of the Midwest before, once when crossing the continent to go from San Diego to Michigan, and once again when we drove from Michigan to Denver ten years ago. I’d just returned from a month in Ecuador and had missed the last 10 or so episodes of “24,” and a friend had taped them for me.  Every night when we decamped to a hotel, I’d pull out the VCR and watch a few episodes. I can get a little obsessed like that.

The most amazing thing about driving across the midwest to me has and still is the big sky. No buildings, no mountains, just sky as far as you can see in a 180 degree horizon. For miles and miles and miles. And grasses, and some trees, and then more of those.  I don’t know how the early pioneers didn’t get bored at some time.  Maybe that’s why so many of them stopped in Kansas or Nebraska when they headed out.  It was like, enough is enough.

big sky nebraska

big sky nebraska

We arrived in Franklin, Nebraska in the evening, and the kids immediatlely set out to finding random things in the yard and shed and began trying to make a tractor out of them.  At some point we heard a loud clanging and figured we should remove the large hammers from the play space, but otherwise let them play unhindered.

running girl

running girl

The next day we headed out to Red Cloud, Nebraska, to visit some of Chris’ other relatives.  His aunt used to be a teacher in a one-room school house and several years ago, her husband bought her an old one as a present and she had it refurbished and now gives tours.

one room schoolhouse

one room schoolhouse

Her first order of action was to gather all the kids around the flagpole and ask them, “Do you know the Pledge of Alllegiance?” in a tone that one would use to ask something like, “Do you know how to walk?”  All four children looked at her blankly. “Don’t you say it before class?” she tried again.  Crickets. Utterly horrified at the state of education these days, she instructed the kids to put their hands over their hearts (which also wasn’t really done that successfuly) and led them in the chant.

pledge

pledge

The siding is original and you can see the signatures and other writing on the  wall from times past.  I love seeing things like this when people try to say that kids used to be much better behaved-I mean, it’s just another version of graffiti, right?

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Inside was the communal cups and washbasin (aka dysentery transmission module) and then the little classroom itself. It was remarkable to see something completely from another era and get a piece of life back then.

washbasin & cups for washing and drinking

washbasin & cups for washing and drinking

Are you ready to recite?

Are you ready to recite?

We then went to the town center of Red Cloud  and did a tour given by the Willa Cather historical society, as it was her home and many of the characters in her books were based on real people and houses.  In preparation for the trip I had just read “My Antonia” and it was unbelievable to see places and houses that she described in the book.

We visited the old bank

door handle of bank

door handle of bank

inspection notices from the safe

inspection notices from the safe

and then her home. Eric commented that it’s a weird sort of hagiography to preserve living residences for people like authors, instead of knowing them through their work. I disagree-I think that seeing where someone lived and understanding their enviroment gives you a different perspective on their works, and helps you to picture who they were, where they came from, and what was happening in the books.

The day before and after this we actually just spent wandering around creeks and railroads and campfires and getting good and muddy, at least for the kids.

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backyard campfire

backyard campfire

Saturday we headed for Omaha, given that the real reason that Eric was even excited about this trip was to see the Flaming Lips in Omaha. Something I’ve been thinking about ever since this trip is the experience of being brown in rural America.  These were small, small towns we were in.  Everyone knows everyone and if aren’t from there, regardless of skin color, people stare at you, as even Eric can attest to.  Somehow, though, it felt different for me-more aggressive, unfriendly, and unwelcoming.  (This excludes, of course, all the people in Chris’ family who we met who were just lovely, wonderful people. I’m just talking about walking around.) In Denver, especially near where we live, I’m pretty used to going to restaurants and being the only non-white people there. Something I didn’t appreciate before this trip, though, is that Denver is cosmopolitan enough that I’m not unusual, or at least no one seems to stare at me. It was so uncomfortable in small town Nebraska to just be walking around. Maybe I’m making this up, but I don’t think so.

The other thing that struck me was the food. Whenever we ate at home the food was delicious-Chris’ mom is a wonderful cook and eats very healthy and largely vegetarian, which was great. Anytime we went out though, the options were entirely cheese/fried/meat. Even the salads all had meat or cheese dripping on top of them.  The healthiest place we could find to eat out was Subway. When we finally got near Omaha, we found a little Vietnamese place that was utterly delicious and fresh and wow! a green vegetable. How can people eat healthy if there isn’t any way to do so?

At any rate, I never thought I’d be saying this, but it was a relief to get to Omaha and not feel like we were in a small town anymore. There is a weird inclusivity in being ignored, or at least not feeling like you’re an exotic zoo creature. We stayed with Chris’ cousin, Travis and his family, who were all wonderful people. I hope we get to spend time with them all again!

That night we went to the Maha festival at the Askarben amphitheatre.  “What is ‘Askarben’?” asked Eric at one point.  It’s written on everything, much the way that everything here is named, “Mile High” something or other. Travis looked at us and said, “Well, it’s ‘Nebraska’ spelled backwards!” and then started laughing at the ridiculousness of it.  I mean, really? Let’s not make this a nationwide trend.

The festival was great! I’m usually not a music festival type of person, but this was awesome. It’s not commercial at all, it’s entirely run by volunteers, they had tons of community involvement and other tents and such with displays. First up was Bob Mould, who Eric was excited to see as he knew Husker Dü, who I don’t know at all. Then he started playing all these songs I knew by Sugar! Took me back to the early 90s and listening to “Helpless” over and over again in my dorm room my freshman year at college. Then came Matt and Kim who played very little actual music but were so entertaining and fun that I was smiling the entire time.

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matt & kim

Last, but most for Eric, was the Flaming Lips, who did their usual megalomaniac Flaming Lips show. Eric insists that plebians like myself “Just don’t get them,” and dear readers, I have to say that I’m fine with that. Just fine.

lips, doing their lippy thing

lips, doing their lippy thing

The next day was a long 7 hours home, listening to books in the car, playing games, giving into ipads, and finally getting back to Denver, where we were all happy to be home.

Camp & Stitches

(This trip actually happened the last week of June…)

The title of this post sounds like a hipster housewares store in Brooklyn. Anyway.

This summer we went up to the Estes Park YMCA for a week and stayed in one of their cabins.  If you live in Colorado (or even if you don’t) it’s a great place to stay for a visit. We’ve never stayed in the lodges, the reviews aren’t so great on those, but the cabins are simple and spartan and just great for a little time away without feeling like you’re really roughing it. Every time we drive in and pass the yurts  and tepees Eric says something like, “Wouldn’t it be so great to stay in those one time?” Personally, I prefer to be closer to warm running water and doors between me and the bears.  (Side note-according to the rangers, there are only about 35 bears in all of RMNP! They say that they have names for them all and know their behavior.)

The first night we camped so it’d be easier to get the kids to their daycamp in the morning.

snacking by the fire

snacking by the fire

It was so pretty I thought we could get a nice picture of us and the girl.

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so much for that

And look! Eric singlehandedly increased the bear population to 36!

The kids were in camp all week, which left Eric and I time to do fun grownup things like hiking, and road biking, and mountain biking, and drinking beer at lunchtime.

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So many beautiful wildflowers (and some invasives) along the path

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Wednesday evening, I was sitting outside the cabin reading a book and had just gone in to start dinner when I heard the girl yell “Brother hurt himself!” I went outside and found the boy at the bottom of a tree, with blood streaming down his shirt and face.  He was screaming, too, which immediately calmed me down.  My general feeling is if my kids are screaming in pain, well, they’re not a) dead or b)unconscious, so whatever it is is probably fixable.  He was able to get up and walk over to the cabin (ruled out broken legs, arms, good).  His chin was split open and he was complaining of not being able to open his jaw. A branch had broken in a tree he’d been climbing and he’d tumbled 7 feet or so to the ground.

As a medical person, it’s surreal when it’s your own kids or family that gets hurt.  I mean, you’re supposed to know what the right thing to do is, but it’s impossible to really be objective.  Most medical people I know downplay any injury their kid has-I’ve known parents that thought their kid was fine when they had a broken nose, or even a broken arm or something.  Part of it is that so many parents freak out when their kid has something minor that you get somewhat immune to it.  So he’s screaming, I murmur something about maybe needing stitches, which only made him scream louder ” NO STITCHES!! NO STITCHES!! CALL 911!! CALL 911!!”  Eric stared at me and said, “You’re the doctor! What do we do?”

I hesitated to have us take him to the ER, but what turned my mind was that he’d fallen into dirt and the wound needed to be cleaned. In hindsight, this was completely idiotic and he clearly needed care, but that’s what did it at the time.  On the way over he kept screaming and whimpering. The folks at the Estes Park Med Center were just wonderful-they got us in quickly and most gratefully, gave the boy some Versed.  This was fun as he kept asking what was wrong with his chin every 5 minutes. Because he couldn’t open his jaw, they did a CT of his face and found that he had a nondisplaced jaw  fracture. He ended up with eight stitches in his chin and a liquid diet.

Eight stitches!

Eight stitches!

The next morning, we bought a bunch of smoothies for him, gave him a couple ibuprofen and sent him back to day camp. I mean, he was walking around, clearly not feeling bad, and Eric and I had massages scheduled for our anniversary. The best part of this story is I ran his case by a maxillofacial surgeon at work who casually said something like, “Well, he’s 7 so it’s fine for now, but it could have damaged the growth plate. So when he starts going through puberty, watch and see if his face starts growing asymmetrically and then he might need a corrective procedure.” Fantastic.  So I’m going to start staring at his face obsessively when he turns about 11 or so and won’t stop for the next 10 years.

The last day we all went for a short hike before packing up and heading home.

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 The boy’s chin has healed up fine, as has his jaw after a few weeks of soft food.  One of saddest things was watching him use his lower teeth to scrape a carrot to eat, saying, “I just miss carrots so much.”

Overall, a great trip that I think we’ll do every year as far as we’re able! Without the ER trip this time, I hope.

Snow Mountain Ranch

What a fabulous Memorial Day weekend we had.  My high school friend Geoff and his lovely wife Karen and their twins came out to visit and we went up to Snow Mountain Ranch for the weekend.

I love that place-if you live in Colorado and haven’t been, you are missing out.  Here’s the view from our cabin:

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ah, mountains!

Not too shabby, eh?

Later that afternoon some of us went for a hike.  There’s been a lot of snow and a lot of snowmelt so it was a bit muddy, and someone slipped and got a muddy butt, which didn’t bother our intrepid explorer one bit.

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just keep hiking, just keep hiking

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what’s in the water?

The next day we rented mountain bikes and tagalongs and went for a ride!

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badass mountain biker

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actually having fun

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mountain biking with a trailer, not for the faint of heart

It just couldn’t have been better. Nights were filled with good food, good drink, and a few rounds of Cards Against Humanity. I wish I could post some of the funnier game responses, but then this wouldn’t be a family blog, now, would it? The other thing that was great was that all the kids were old enough to explore on their own.  There were many hours where they would simply head off into the woods next to the cabin and create their own secret games and just play while the adults would relax in the cabin. If it sounds too idyllic to be true, well, I can’t help that.

The next morning we went for one last hike

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The whole crew

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Walking stick in hand

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Hiking children

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Running to catch up

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Careful apple slicing

And then the trail got super super muddy (as the girl would say) and some of the hikers took off their shoes to squelch through the mud.  One of the hikers simply squelched through with her shoes on.  I’ll let you guess which one that is.

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muddy paws

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barefoot snow survival

When the trail got snowy, the barefoot hiking came to a quick end and we headed back.  By this time I had started to recite the poem, “Mud, Mud, glorius mud! Nothing quite like it for cooling the blood! So follow me, follow me, down to the hollow, where we will wallow in glorious mud!” which is from a children’s book of poems we have at home.

The girl, of course, began to sing this over and over again and then began to take it quite literally.

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mud bath

Sadly, vacation was over after this.  Our friends had to head south and I had to head back to work a night shift at the hospital, which was even less fun than usual given what I’d just been doing.

I know I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again–there is something that is so wonderful about seeing your kids become friends with your old friends’ kids. It makes me feel hopeful and gives me a sense of generations and seeing the future being created now, and it’s good.

Aspen Camping

I’ve probably mentioned somewhere to most of you that I don’t camp.  Humans have evolved to have indoor plumbing, central heat, and carpets and I don’t see any reason why giving that up for “fun” makes any sense.

I may have to rescind that statement after going on an actual camping trip.  Now, we did go on a few camping trips before we had kids, and they were fun, but the last time we went camping was when the boy was 18 months old and it was an unmitigated disaster.  I know many of you camp with toddlers and purport to have a good time, but I find that the work/fun ratio was too high on the work side to make it enjoyable.  Also, he didn’t sleep so we didn’t sleep and it was miserable.

A neighbor family invited us to go camping a few weekends ago, and so we all made it up to a campground just past Kenosha pass. The timing was perfect and we were surrounded by a field of bright yellow aspens.

The first night was freezing, and the ground was hard. I woke up to bruised, cold hips. In the morning, I looked at the tent and saw that the ceiling vents were open, conveniently letting all of the heat out of the tent, which made me feel like a right moron.  We fixed it the next night and were quite toasty.

The rest of the weekend was filled with tree climbing, bike riding, fishing, campfires and exploring the wild wild woods next to the site.

Eric worked especially hard during the trip.

On our hike we even found a beaver pond, complete with dam!

It was a great time away and I *might* even be up for some camping trips in the future…as long as I can bring a fluffier air mattress with me next time.

San Francisco

We all just got back from a great trip to the San Francisco Bay Area, where I grew up and where my parents still live.  The kids had a great time with Aaji and Aba, ate tons of delicious home cooked food, and loved both the Exploratorium and the Monterey Bay Aquarium, places that I have such strong wonderful memories of I was incredibly excited to take the kids to both of them. In fact, when we went to the Aquarium, we took a picture of the boy standing in the same spot I stood in nearly 30 years ago, wearing the Aquarium shirt I bought on that trip. That one is still on my Dad’s camera, so I need to have him send it to me. I’m loving all the trips we’re doing this year and hope to keep taking the kids to more places–in some way, this is my gift to them. Some parents teach their kids music, or sports, or wilderness and nature skills.  I have none of these talents. What I DO have is a love of traveling and seeing the world and the luck of having a job that lets me take a lot of trips, and a desire for my kids to know the world outside of their own, something that I think comes directly from my Dad.

I’ve said it before but it bears repeating-I’m really so impressed with the two of them, especially considering that they’re only 4 and 6, and still soldier through these trips, largely uncomplaining. These are not easy trips-the kids are responsible for their carting own luggage through the airport (Skip Hop rolling luggage, by the way, hold enough for a 1 week of kids’ clothes and are easy for them to manage) and have to walk on their own everywhere since I don’t want to deal with a stroller. (Eric might disagree with me on that last one since the girl got her fair share of being carried, but I’d say it was 75% her own feet.) I don’t expect them to remember everything about these trips, of course, but my hope is that once you learn these skills it becomes easier to do more challenging trips in the future and more importantly, they love going places as much as I do.

A few pictures from the trip (click to enlarge)

Cold beach day

Climbing from Fort Point to the base of the Golden Gate Bridge all by myself!

Chilly girl with a funny funny turban hiking through the Marina

Pole position at the Musee Mecanique-I remember begging my parents for more quarters to play this when we’d go to Round Table Pizza

Hanging on to the Powell-Mason Cable Car

Becoming one with the puffin exhibit at the Aquarium

Spooky jellies

Stared down by the giant octopus

Getting Down the Stairs

Fast….and slow.

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