Mar 9, 2018

Post laptopitis and a makeover project...

January 29th was an ordinary Monday in all other respects at Karthi. After the weekend merrymaking, I was as usual torn between selecting an extended rest on the couch or whirling around Karthi putting to it rights after the weekend mayhem. I had no inkling of the disaster that was to befall me. 

In the end, I chose to celebrate the fledgling week by alternating between bouts of cleaning and sitting still. In one leg of the sitting still part, I fired up my trusty laptop of 7 years, did some work on it and left it on the blink a while later to get my lunch. After lunch I came back to my hibernating computer, sat down and pressed the switch...

Nothing happened. The screen didn't erupt happily to life on my touch. No friendly lights gleamed. I quickly attached the power cord and tried all resuscitation methods that my laptop technician relayed to me over the phone. No good. That is when I started to realize that something very serious had happened...

To cut a long story short, my laptop is still not completely fine. It was resuscitated and returned to me after more than a month minus a battery for the backing up of files. It needs another extended stay in the hospital for a complete recovery and I'm waiting for the technician to arrange a surrogate laptop for me to use till my own is returned to robust health. 

But the first two months of the year have not passed by uneventfully. Today I will share with you a project that had been niggling at me for several months. It was concerning this bookshelf in our master bedroom:

I have no idea how old this bookshelf is. From 3rd grade to the 5th, it had been part of my room in Saudi. Later, it sat in my sister's room for a long time. When our parents came to Thiruvananthapuram, they left it here at Karthi. My father had got the old plywood panel covering changed, put in new glass sliding panels and had the interior painted. But the glass didn't slide smoothly, it was a headache to open and close them and they were tough to keep clean of smudges and dust. So over the years, I was unable to close them properly and the interior got progressively dirty.

Things being so, I just stashed in some things that weren't in frequent use and had to spend considerable time and effort in retrieving them. It was tough to keep it organized and clean. Besides, it was the first thing that met my eyes on waking up and the last when I went to sleep, so it was kind of an eyesore too. 

One day I just paused by it and checked one end of the glass channel that didn't quite meet at one corner. To my surprise, it came off from the wood, trailing threads of tacky glue. I ran to my tool box, found a chisel and in no time had pried off the channel on the left side!!! I sat down to think and found that an open bookshelf would be much more easier to maintain and organize than this sliding glass affair. 

So in the second week of the new year, I bought some white enamel paint (since my painting adventure last year, I consider myself a veteran house painter) and happily dismantled the glass channels and panel without any damage.

It was a challenge taking out the glass panels and the top and bottom channels. I didn't know how to take the glass out of the channels without removing them altogether. So after a bit of sliding and prying that saw me sweating as much in stress as in exertion, they came out without breaking and I immediately packed them up and put them away for safekeeping. 

Two coats of paint later, the bookshelf gleamed back at me... Of course, the edges are a bit ragged and the paint has got out of the lines a bit, but they don't bother me.

And here it is now... organized and easy to clean, no longer an eyesore and completely usable.

So that is another project under my belt. Each time I look at it, I smile in satisfaction! Which reminds me, I have not shown you my living room makeover yet. Will post it soon!!!

Jan 12, 2018

Movie Review: Mayanadi

Mayanadi, Ashiq Abu's latest directorial venture comes after a gap of two years. His work is not always to my taste. I loved Salt n' Pepper. 22F Kottayam was okay. Didn't like his later ventures till Rani Padmini which I liked enough to watch more than once. So I was a bit skeptical about what was touted as a "newgen romance", but decided that for the sake of keeping an open mind, I would go and watch the movie. 

Let me tell you straight away - I liked the movie. Liked - not loved and I don't think that it is awesome to the nth degree. It is the "love" or "friendship" story of two very flawed people - Mathan (Tovino Thomas) and Aparna (Aiswarya Lakshmi). The two form an attachment while in college. They break up due to trust issues. Mathan goes on to become a bit of a conman till he gets into real trouble. But he has always kept his love for Aparna alive. So he asks her to run away with him to the Gulf.

Aparna, on the other hand, never got to complete her studies and is a struggling actress. She auditions as much as she can, models for ads and moonlights as an MC for lavish weddings and such. She has to support her mother and brother. The family is not a close one. She knows she cannot trust Mathan since he broke that trust once before. But she also cannot say no when he tries to get back into her good graces.

As a story it is a change from the routine and cliched fare of filmy romance. And it is picturized beautifully. The actors deliver superb performances and are very easy on the eyes. There is no denying that logic and common sense have been sacrificed at the altar of dramatic tension and elicitation of tragedy. But it is watchable and engrossing. The ironic comedy scenes are superb. My knowledge of Tamil is pretty basic and I would have loved to have some subtitles.

This is what I felt in the movie theater. But after I came out, one of my friends pointed out to me that the picture has been touted as the epitome of women empowerment. Say what??? Walking alone in the streets of Kochi after midnight, stringing along a guy who loves you and just using him for sex and moral support and keeping mum when a good friend is carried away by her overbearing brother so that you can snag her job - these are supposed to be what women need to feel empowered??? I am sorry, I must have missed a memo somewhere... 

IMHO, that is just kowtowing to the male-defined model of achieving "success" at any cost and using emotionally vulnerable people just for physical satisfaction. Is the adoption of that historical male prerogative the definition of feminine empowerment? Sorry, I beg to differ. May be the makers of the movie want to spread this "empowered attitude" in society so that they have more misguided girls to pick from???

Having said that, the movie is eminently watchable and refreshing. Just don't take your kids to watch.

Jan 11, 2018

My New Year Gift to You!

Happy New Year, dear readers!

Oh I know it's almost half way through the first month of the year... Things get way unsettled from mid-Dec to mid-Jan here at Karthi. We have been fortunate enough that a prediction hasn't come true, but Ockhi happened and showed us that even if there is a warning system in place and information had been handed to government agencies, it didn't percolate down to the people who really needed the warning. There are still 300+ souls whose fate is unknown. Let us continue to contribute what we can to ease the suffering of the loved ones that the departed and the lost have left behind.

Back in the summer of 2013, my kids made an amazing discovery - they learned that cakes can be baked at home! Blame the summer camp that they attended at DH's workplace. And although they saw and helped in the baking process at the camp, did they want to be bakers themselves? No sirree, they colluded with their father to buy a microwave and made ME do all the hard work! 

Even though baking is one 'craft' that I didn't adopt on my own, it has become dear to my heart. It satisfies the creative, the eternal student and the gourmand in me. And it gets me raving accolades from my family! Frequent baking makes for expanding waistlines, so I bake cakes only for birthdays, bake sales at the kids' school and for guests.

Last year I was bold enough to try baking a cake without a recipe!!! I know, sacrilegious, isn't it? The amounts have to be just right to make the chemistry that is almost alchemy work for the novice. I got news that two of my cousins were coming to visit. Karthi's snack box was empty and they weren't staying for lunch. So I decided to bake a quick chocolate cake. I didn't even have to break out my hand mixer! My cousins didn't mind being guinea pigs - in fact they asked for more! Then I knew I was on to a good thing! And indeed I had the occasion to bake it twice afterwards and they both came out very good. So here goes:

Quick and Easy Microwave Chocolate Cake 

Dry ingredients:

All-purpose flour - 1 cup
Cocoa powder - 1/2 cup
Baking powder - 1/2 tsp
Baking soda - 1/2 tsp

Wet ingredients:

Vegetable oil - 1 cup (I found peanut oil the best. Coconut oil makes for a heavy cake) 
Sugar - 1 cup
Milk -  1 cup
Eggs - 2, lightly beaten
Vanilla essence - 1 tsp

Whisk together sugar and oil till sugar is somewhat dissolved. Add milk and mix well. Sieve dry ingredients together and add to the mixture while whisking. Pour in the beaten eggs while whisking. Add the vanilla essence.

Pour batter into greased baking mold and nuke at 80% power for 12 minutes. Check whether done with a toothpick or skewer.  It's yummy and moist served either hot or cold.

This cake is not overly sweet - it suits our tastes perfectly. The batter may look runny, but that is how it is supposed to look. 

And as I was writing this, a memory came to me and I chuckled thinking those days are far behind me. Touch wood!

Do have a go at my new year gift. Let me know in the comments!

Dec 22, 2017

2017 is over, so soon?

I love being a homemaker. One of the reasons is that it offers a wide variety of activities that appeal to me. No two days are alike on this job. One day I might be a cleaning diva, the next day I could be a nurse, on the third day I can wow my family with baked goodies... the list is endless. 

The only problem with this is, unlike a day job where the milestones are marked with pay raises, promotions, certificates and congratulatory parties, homemaking is a mostly thankless and featureless career. When I look back, it all seems like an endless corridor of cooking, cleaning and other mundane tasks that I have traversed with my apron firmly tied on.

So this year I've decided to sit down and list the things that I have learned and accomplished in the past 12 months. I don't want to remember years just for the memorable trips we took or tragedies in the family and friends circles.

Here is my list:

Gardening: Grew my first ivy gourds or kovakkai in pots and devised a pandal using plastic netting between our well and shed. The yield wasn't spectacular, but the vine is still alive and that is a huge accomplishment for me! 

I also improvised a trellis for purple long beans and had a bountiful crop. We planted more fruit trees this year. So in addition to the jackfruit, tamarind and coconut trees we had when we bought the plot, we now have cashew, sapodilla, guava, papaya, bell fruit, passion fruit and mulberry. My plan for the next year is to nourish these properly. The pineapple that I had got to grow from the top of a store-brought fruit has finally decided to put forth a fruit after two years of merely taking up space in our backyard. Talk about bonuses!

I also managed a couple of elephant yams and finally succeeded in getting a kanthari (bird's eye chilli) to grow from seed. DH and I planted around 26 banana and plantain rhizomes in May and got help in maintaining them. They are flourishing. And here I was thinking that I barely did anything in the garden due to health issues in the latter part of the year!

This year is notable for my discovery of a miraculous addition to my gardening - cocopeat! We have clayey soil that becomes quite hard in summer months. I was looking for a way to loosen it up and happened on this product at an agro store. I've used it for all the new plantings this year and it has worked wonders. Later, my hunch was confirmed by an agricultural expert's YouTube video recommendation for loosening and aerating clayey soil!

Craft: Learned and made three crochet amigurumi. Made my first macrame pieces.

I am also learning polymer claying. My first pieces are very rudimentary and I am still learning the various techniques.

And of course there was that needlework project that is now framed and hanging right at our entrance so that the maker can boast to her heart's content...

I managed to BuJo through the year and have decided that I don't need any other planner ever again. But the recommended BuJo journals are very prohibitively pricey (Leuchtturm 1917 - Rs.3000 for a notebook!!!) and the dotted notebook I got from Amazon shed pages so badly that I was left pasting back the pages more than I was writing in it. Other replacements had pages that ghosted and even bled.

So I bought a package of cream-colored A4 premium bond paper from my favorite stationery shop and learned kettle-stitch binding from YouTube. My first attempt at trimming the pages after binding turned out like a rat chewed up its edges. Ani now uses that as a sketch book. I bound two more and got them trimmed and covered by a professional binder. Then I added elastic closures and colorful endpapers on my own... 

Here they are: my new BuJo and Craft BuJo for 2018. Hope to learn how to do the covers by myself next year. The paper quality is the best! I can even paint in them if I want to. I thumb my nose at you, expensive stationery manufacturers!!!

Cooking and baking: Baked Tres leches, Red velvet, Devil's food and Caramel cakes. Learned how to make Swiss meringue buttercream icing - think I will never go back to plain ol' buttercream unless I need an eggless cake and icing. I tried my hand at icing flowers too! Here was my best effort of the year made for the "baby" in our family who complains if I don't write his name in icing on the top of the cake! (Yep, that's my DH)

In addition to baking I tried my hand at Unniyappam (turned out soft and yummy in spite of my skipping the step of letting the batter rest awhile after mixing), Kumbilappam during the jackfruit season and a savory, tangy Bhakarwadi that was a huge hit. I tried pickling tender mangoes, but got the proportions of masala all wrong so that instead of being soft and mushy, they turned out hard as bullets and too salty after the requisite 6 months in a closed jar. Ah, some you lose!

Home: Painted a whole room and learned quite a few valuable lessons in the process. Then I read this (highly recommended) book...

... learned to repair a leaky toilet by myself (cost 20 rupees) and emboldened by the feat, went on to replace the lights on the gate post by myself (no manual required). This is in addition to the valve-changing, picture-hanging etc that I usually do. 

I also managed to give our living room a makeover this month, but more on that in another post!

Books: I managed to stick to my resolution of listing all the books I read this year and writing a short precis of each. So far, the number is 131 - therefore I have managed to bring down the average number of books that I read from 15 to around 10 a month. Definite improvement, I would say! I will share my favorites of the year in another post.

Please don't think I am boasting about the number of books that I manage to read because anyone who knows me can tell you that reading is almost as essential to me as breathing. And please don't imagine that all my reading is either high literature or philosophical reading - those are certainly there, but I love reading potboilers, well-researched romances, memoirs, travelogs, good whodunits, thrillers and humor. I am looking forward to reducing this number even more because this year the power of the left lens of my specs went from -10.00 to -10.25 dioptre, not a good thing at my age!

Writing has not been very good this year: I managed a measly 12 blog posts not including this one. Didn't do any creative writing this year. And I didn't miss it much either...hmm, that is food for thought...

Towards the end of the year, I managed to help out a friend by copy-editing his wife's doctoral thesis. It led to my now getting two paying clients for my copy-editing and rewriting services!

All in all, it has been a good year for domestic activities at Karthi! I am so grateful for the new things I've learned this year. But my greatest thanks goes to DH who works hard and manages our finances so well that I have the leisure to be a homemaker. I cannot thank him enough for that.   

Do you look back at each year? Do the years appear distinct or do they telescope into each other and become a jumbled mess?  How do you chronicle the year's events? Do comment in the form below...

Wish you all a very merry Xmas and a Happy New Year! Signing off for 2017!

Nov 30, 2017

Hampi 3

The sky is overcast. The rain drizzles, intensifies and drops off never to stop completely. Cyclone Ockhi is knocking at our doors, felling trees and flipping umbrellas. The power comes and goes.

But I am an Aquarian and am nothing if not contrary. 😀 After filling my water tank till it overflowed - will last us for two days - then charging emergency lights, making sure we have candles and charging the power bank, I am now settled with a hot cuppa. Now let me take you to sunny Hampi where we had left off seeing the grandeur of the past that has been preserved in their half-damaged glory.

We took the long route across the bridge to Anegundi, on the northern side of the Tungabhadra. It's no wonder that Hampi and the surrounding area is famous among rock-climbing and hiking enthusiasts. The place is simply littered with rocks of all shapes and sizes, as though some ancient giant kids had played with them and left them scattered all over the landscape (Why didn't their Mom insist on tidying up their toys?). In fact, the legend goes that this was the land of the Vanaras and Sugreeva, Hanuman and their friends are responsible for the giant stacks of stones.

But at least the humans who came afterwards have made good use of the space left amid the rocks...

In fact the place, if tidied up of the rocks, would look like yesteryear Kerala - with paddy, plantain and sugarcane fields interspersed with tall coconut trees. 

And some little extras thrown in Hampi style:

DH and the kids braved the steep climb up the Anjanadri to visit the Hanuman temple - which they told me was exactly 575 steps high. I wandered around the base of hill and cooled myself off with water and juice. 

The pictures they brought back looked interesting, but not enough to tempt me...

From the top...

The boys hadn't cooled off or regained their energy by the time we reached Sanapur lake and saw the coracles...

But by then we were too famished to attempt any more adventures, so we went to the largely undeveloped (read no tarred roads) "hippie area" to find a restaurant. On the way was another magnificent reminder of the great empire...

Remnants of a bridge across the mighty Tungabhadra... The river has been tamed for quite a while now. And it is she who is responsible for the greenery that greets your eyes everywhere. The locals told me that even in the worst of summers, the dam provides them with enough water for their needs. Once numbered among the natural protectors of Hampi from the northern marauders, the river still bestows her riches in the land she flows through...

After a bumpy ride, we reached the restaurant. (If you are a non-vegetarian, you have to cross the river to get anything to eat. No one cooks meat or fish South of the river. There are only vegetarian restaurants in Hampi.) We were greeted by a clowder of cats (yup, that is what a group of cats is called, I checked!) having their lunch...

Talk about inbreeding!!! Soon we relaxed to the views of the old capital across the river...


In the end, at least there was the good view, for neither the food nor the price was satisfactory. 

Nope, HE wasn't laughing, I checked! 😉😉😉 We will bid a fond goodbye to Hampi here!

I don't know if it is an effect of the cyclonic storm, but it has taken me almost two hours to complete this post because the picture uploading was too slow. Already there are reports of 80+ fishermen missing. They went out to sea yesterday evening and haven't returned. Praying for them and their families. 🙏 

Relatives and friends are calling in from time to time to see if we are okay. We are, for now. See you all again next week!

Nov 16, 2017

Yaay! She finished it!!!!

We interrupt the regularly scheduled program to bring you a story of triumph that is likely to get your heart to speed up and your eyes to tear up! 

At the heart of the story is a crafter who loves all craft and hoards supplies, but has a massive case of nonstartitis and procrastination. This May, she overhauled her craft room and in the process, unearthed an Anchor needlework kit that she had bought around... oh just 4 years ago? The autumnal colors had piqued her interest, but the kit had soon been interred in the pile that was in one of her craft cupboards. 

The crafter is inordinately fond of small projects that can be finished in a day or two. She had never been successful with a long haul that would need patient, incremental work day after day. "This time I'm gonna change that," she vowed as she had done several times before. I don't think she believed it herself because somewhere in her mother-in-law's house is a half-finished little doggie that was way more simple to stitch.

Anyway, she brought it down to her writing table and put it in a drawer, adding a pair of scissors to the kit. And as the room painting wound up, she tore open the box, and ignoring the recommended order of completing different colors, started with her favorite color red.

That was it for the first day. She found that it was easier to mark off the areas to be filled by a particular color with a pen so that she knew where to start the next day. She also, not very hopefully, decided to take a picture of each day's progress so that she could look back at it with pride one day - however far in future that would be... perhaps in the company of grandkids?

And then slowly the picture began to grow...

She set a goal of using up a particular length of thread that she was using that day, which took her roughly an hour. She tried to do it five days a week. Sometimes she succeeded, sometimes she didn't. But as a couple of months passed, she found the canvas buckling a bit - no doubt due to uneven thread tension.

Our crafty crafter checked YouTube for a solution because she couldn't put the whole work into an embroidery hoop. After a weekend visit to the local hardware shop for supplies she made this in half an hour! 

Yes, a lap frame! From PVC pipe! And she didn't let her usual process of finding a hundred obstacles in her head to make such a thing stop her. She did all the measuring, sawing and fixing herself! Making snap-on PVC attachments daunted her, so she decided to attach the project to the frame with thread. She also found black cobbler's thread a better option than ordinary sewing thread. Don't ask how she happened to have cobbler's thread in her stash...just take it for granted!

Housework, travel, fatigue and illness interfered with the progress of the project. But she left it in sight on the unused end of the dining table, shrouded in an old towel to keep away the dust. Her eyes fell on it each time she passed through and it even drew her eyes to it when she curled up with a book on the sofa.

Even though she was still taking daily photos, the work left to do often overwhelmed her. In the little places it was difficult to make out where the markings for one color ended. Sometimes the patches in the picture didn't match those on the canvas. Sometimes the colors seemed too garish for her taste - perhaps she would have liked an autumn scene in pastels? She gritted her teeth and went on...

Uh oh! She ran out of dark blue thread for the water! No doubt it was because she was ignoring the instruction to finish each patch of color, snip the thread and then start in the next patch. She just dragged the thread on to the next patch. When she looked at the thread list, she saw that she had completed more than half the colors... That was good! 

Making a note of the shade she would need to finish the dark blue patches, she left them bare and went on with the other colors...

She even became bold enough to use long and short stitch when the kit admonished her to use only long stitches... Take a close look at the light yellow in the sky...

Meanwhile she bought a new skein of the dark blue. But nearing the end she kept finding tiny little patches she had missed out on when using another color. So each day before threading the usual length of thread for the next day, she snipped off little lengths of other colors to fill in those patches.

And last week she suddenly realized that she was down to the last color - white! Energized by the finding, she put in unheard-of double sessions for a day or two until day before yesterday, the last white stitch was made and a frantic search for any more bare patches of canvas ensued.... Then our crafter, forgetting her advanced years and the fact that she had only recently recovered from a bout of dengue, executed a few war whoops and danced around the dining table.

It had taken her just 3 days short of six months to complete! 

She asked me not to show you the next picture, but I think it will be good for her perfectionism. As I told her repeatedly, her work is not going to be submitted for a needlework competition to need an immaculate backside...

Readers, she is cringing with embarrassment. You will be happy to know that she was so chuffed by her accomplishment that she went straight to her craft stash and pulled out a quarter-finished project that she has had... oh only since 2006...

She started on the yellow flowers and realized why she had put it away years ago - the motifs are tiny and the stitches proportionately so. It makes her go cross-eyed even in  broad daylight. So she has decided to complete the current bird, and save the rest of the Aida cloth for some other freehand project.

But true to form, she has her sights trained on some drool-worthy counted cross stitch on Amazon since Anchor doesn't make them...

and this...

Happily what with exchange rates and import duties, they are currently out of her budget. So, with a sigh she has dismantled her PVC frame and put it away for the next project. Let us look forward to the framed Perfect Paradise and the two completed birds in their own gilded frames.

The crafter's name has not been mentioned because she wishes to remain anonymous...

Nov 10, 2017

Hampi 2

Why did it take me so long to get from Hampi 1 to 2? On the way I got attacked by a teeny mosquito and got dengue fever. Thus I have attained a hat trick in fevers this year, falling prey to viral fever, chest infection and dengue all in the space of 6 months. I must say from the expert's point of view that the dengue is the worst of all - it is making itself felt even after three weeks in the form of easily tiring, getting headaches when tired and aches and pains all over. I avoid going out as much as I can to stave off fatigue and further infections.

On to happier things:

Here is a bird's eye view of the royal enclosure at Hampi

The palaces built of brick and wood were destroyed and all that are left of them are the stone foundations and whatever was made from stone. And the ornamentation left on those plinths are enough to make us salivate thinking of the palaces as they had been...

Just look at the detail...

The grounds have a huge step-well...

A cute but scary underground passage that leads to a currently roofless chamber... I am still not certain whether Ani was clinging to my hand or I was clinging to his...

 We moved on to the Zenana quarters which had slightly more enduring structures. Like this one...

...presumably an overgrown gazebo for the ladies to relax in if they found the palace too confining!...

... even the "simple" gazebo has detailing like this over the arches...

And then to take your breath away, the elephant stables...

Do note that the domes on top are all in different shapes. If they'd lavished so much care and design diversity on the quarters of their tuskers, what would their palaces have been like...

Another notable structure is the Queen's bath... though I have no idea why it should be so far away from their living quarters...

It's all dry and prosaic now, but we humans have enough imagination to return the poetry to it, don't we?

There was an "underground" Siva temple where the royal family took spiritual retreats from time to time... but the place stank so much of bat guano that Ani refused to go into it, indeed it was a gloomy place...

Didn't I tell you last time that the landscape is dotted with old, unmarked monuments? Here is something that you might miss because they are found on the way side with no markers...

These depressions in stone - no two are alike - served as ready-made plates for the soldiers' daily meals and they stretch off in two rows for 300 meters into the countryside now, who knows how many there originally used to be?

That is all for the royal grandeur of the Vijayanagara empire's capital, but if you think that is all that Hampi is, you would be mistaken. I'll take you around Hampi the next time and you can see for yourself!

Post laptopitis and a makeover project...

January 29th was an ordinary Monday in all other respects at Karthi. After the weekend merrymaking, I was as usual torn between selecting ...