Thursday, February 8, 2018

If you give a snake some sambar

If you give a snake some sambar,
he will want some rice to go with it.

When you look around the kitchen for boiled rice,
you'll realize you need to pressure cook some.

When you start to keep rice in the cooker,
he will spot a caterpillar on your flowers.

When he slithers and tries to slurp up the caterpillar, 
the caterpillar will become a beautiful butterfly.

The butterfly will flit about and spot the moth on your window
and the snake will greedily eye both the winged creatures.

The winged creatures will fly up, up and away
and the snake will be crestfallen, defeated.

He will spot a crispy chip on the floor
and taste the crunchy, salty goodness.

He will wish for some spicy sour dip
to go with the salty chip.

You will feel kind and generous towards the patient snake
and give him some delicious sambar.

and if you give a snake some sambar...

- Bedtime "mouth story" for the girls tonight. The silliest stories evoke the loudest laughs. They rolled off the bed, hysterical. 

This is sambar.
This is the story style.

Friday, February 2, 2018

How to Explore Tide Pools during a Super Moon

Last week's supermoon + blue moon + blood moon + lunar eclipse phenomenon reminded me of my recent tide pool experience.

Here's how I went about exploring tide pools during that supermoon:

1. Learn about supermoons and tidepools

2. Find the nearest tidepool
3. Wear appropriate footwear
4. Name underwater flora and fauna

1. Learn about supermoons and tidepools

supermoon is a full moon or a new moon that approximately coincides with the closest distance that the Moon reaches to Earth in its elliptic orbit, resulting in a slightly larger-than-usual apparent size of the lunar disk as seen from Earth. The technical name is the perigee syzygy (to be pronounced without imbibing alcohol) of the Earth–Moon–Sun system or more simply full (or new) Moon at perigee. Source: Wikipedia

Supermoon or Why The Natural World is Wonderful
Source credit here

I like to think of it as the moon being so close to earth that it's gloriously huge and awesome, something that was likely used as an excuse for a human sacrifice or husband-beating ritual or some such totally normal act.

Tidepools or rock pools are shallow pools of seawater that form on the rocky intertidal shore. Many of these pools exist as separate bodies of water only at low tide. To get the most out of a visit to the tidepools, plan to go during a low tide – the lowest low water level for a particular day. Low tides occur twice a day, but the lowest low tides tend to occur around the full moon and the new moon each month. The connection between supermoons and tidepools is that when there is a supermoon, there is a super low tide.

2. Find the nearest tidepool 

Supermoons also cause these crazy tidepools in which the ocean's tide becomes super low and the entire ocean recedes for 1-1.5 miles. To find an upcoming low tidepool in California, check out Friends of Fitzgerald Marine Reserve 

During the previous supermoon, the nearest tidepool to us in the San Francisco Bay Area was the Pacific Ocean in Half Moon Bay. Half Moon Bay is a bay of the Pacific on the coast of San Mateo County in California, South of San Francisco. The bay is approximately semi-circular, hence the name half moon, with sea access to the south. 

We learned about this tidepool event via a totally random group email forwarded to me by an enthusiastic mom:

Greetings Everybody

Let's Go Negative Tidepooling next Sunday in Half Moon Bay!

Tides will be an unusually low -1.4 feet on Sunday December xx at Pillar Point.  That's the world famous Maverick's Surfing Spot!

So the famous surfing spot will be WALKABLE from about 2pm to sunset at 5pm.

For about 3 or 4 hours, the tides go out, and we will be able to walk
the astounding reef about half a mile into the Pacific.

This is a rare daytime weekend opportunity to see tons of sea life
trapped in the reef rocks by the retreating tides.  Animals and
algae/kelp are EVERYWHERE!  You will see lots of tiny crabs, moon snails, urchins, anemone, etc etc etc.

Walking is SLIPPERY!!!  So wear your best water-proof boots.  Also, bring a walking stick if you have one.  Or a broom stick usually works just as well.

We drove to Half Moon Bay and then hiked to Pillar Point Harbor,
where the ocean had begun receding and would continue to recede for another 3-4 hours

Walking on the ocean floor

Low tide for 1-2 miles into the ocean. This is the ocean floor

3. Wear appropriate footwear

Wear shoes or boots that allow you to walk around in ankle deep muck and slushy water

A and I wore our waterproof Merrell hiking shoes. The kids wore their hiking sandals, which in retrospect wasn't the best idea. They felt comfortable and confident walking over slippery, moss-covered rocks so that was good. But they must have felt cold, since it was around 15 Fahrenheit (around negative 9 Celcius) though they denied feeling anything but excitement. 

Marching on slippery kelp - large algae seaweeds. Kelp grow in underwater kelp "forests"

Smart S, our friends' son, was geared more appropriately in gumboots

4. Name underwater flora and fauna 

I read someplace that living in a tidepool is no day at the beach and thought it was so appropriate. Each living being fights hard for its share of space, light, and water in order to exist every day.

Sea snail

Red algae, methinks.
Seemingly harmless, red algae are known to have killed thousands of abalone, mollusks and sea urchins along the California coast.

Giant Green Anemone
Anthopleura xanthogrammica 
They are primarily sedentary marine animals resembling flowers.

Back to reality, which isn't so bright, colorful or neon.

I think these are acorn barnacles.  (Anyone knows better?)
Barnacles are crustaceans and are related to crabs and lobsters. 

5. For all those names you don't quite remember, mentally resolve to visit the local aquarium so you feel better about your failing memory.

Monterey Bay Aquarium, here we come!

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Wonder and Wildfires in Yosemite

The National Parks Service calls Yosemite "Not just a great valley, but a shrine to human foresight, the strength of granite, the power of glaciers, the persistence of life, and the tranquility of the High Sierra."  I couldn't agree more.

We headed to Yosemite over Labor Day weekend 2017. Two days before our trip, we heard there were wildfires raging across Yosemite. Most people in their right minds would travel away from wildfires. A, on the other hand, thought it was the best time to avoid crowds and explore majestic Yosemite. Crazy, right? We weighed the pros and cons and decided to take one day at a time, with a promise to run out any time things got hot. You know what I mean there. We were lucky there was only some smoke in the regions we visited, but we were cautious throughout and managed to have a mindblowing time, especially because several potential visitors canceled their trip. 

Life in California means we get to explore natural beauty just a couple hours' drive away almost all year around. A and I are taking advantage of that when we can. It's crazy that we visited Yosemite a whole 10 years after moving to the U.S. We have this urge to make up for lost time...and traveled with close friends who also have kids so the kids had a blast and we had great adult company. 

If you want to combine nature, adventure, easy hikes and also get the kids to bed early (yay, me-time!) the majestic Yosemite has few competitors. The girls climbed on fallen trees, clambered up rocks, scampered like monkeys in mellow meadows, swam in shiny rivulets and embraced Yosemite with wonder and well-worn legs.


Lower Yosemite falls - water, rocks and perfect blue skies

We have a climber - S2. If it can be climbed, it will.

Sunning like lizards at the bottom of the falls. We had to precariously climb over huge rocks to get down here

Swimming impromptu in the shallow river. I carry swimsuits everywhere these days

Really shallow, you could sit in it

Thankful for our friends K and V and their sons who were companions in adventure

and she climbs on...

and on...
Soda springs? Curioser and curioser
Soda springs have natural geysers and salt water. Just like soda, it has little bubbles but salty water

Who can resist skimming pebbles on rivers?

We found a rock and decided to climb it

It was a hill, really

or perhaps a mountain

The view was absolutely stunning

and everyone had to pause and ponder

Little Miss. Meadow

The sun has set but we shall be back soon, Yosemite. 3 days were not enough. 
We shall be back in Spring, Fall and Winter to see you change your colors and breathe in your beauty many more times.

Friday, October 20, 2017

First Deepavali without Doma

We used to affectionately call my mother's mother "Doma". It was a shortened version of "doddamma", which in Kannada, is a way of addressing one's mother's older sister. Technically, I should have called her "Ajji", or grandma, but the tale goes that she was so youthful looking that no one felt it was right to call her a grandmother. 

Growing up, Doma was part and parcel of the mundane minutiae of my life. She was a strong, unwavering rock of support in my tumultuous teenage years. She was one of the many mother figures in my life, showering constant, unconditional love on me. She was a calm oasis in a fast-paced, sometimes random and mostly meaningless life. 

She passed away a few hours before I landed in Chennai this summer. I have not had the strength to write about her till now since I burst into tears thinking about how she was such a giver, never a taker, when it came to her grandchildren. She was everything to my mother, who is somehow carrying on without her. 

Today is Diwali, or Deepavali, as we South Indians like to call it. Our festival of lights. Doma was one of the people who named me "Deepa", calling me the little light of my parents' lives. I lit a lamp in front of her picture at home today, like I've been doing everyday since she left us.  

Love you forever, Doma, and thank you for your love. In your honor, I will try to live my life with dignity and respect, as you did, and treasure the little joys of every day. 

I thank my parents, aunts, uncles and cousins who took such good care of her in her last years, before she breathed her last.

Happy Deepavali to you, Doma, I know you are smiling at us from above, singing a bhajan and asking us to be careful while we play with fireworks.

Kamali Doma and Sripathi Ajja

Timeless beauty, inside and out
Doma at my cousin's wedding

With one of her sons, my uncle

Here are some tributes from my close cousins, aunts and uncles:

When I was a kid, my colony friends used to always comment about how Doma didn’t have a single grey hair and I proudly used to say that she was my grandma and she was forever young and beautiful.

Doma is blessed with both external and inner beauty. She is one of the most caring, selfless, calm, composed, intelligent, talented and broadminded persons I have ever met.

I will definitely miss her beautiful voice, the warm sweaters that she used to knit, the big house at G.N.Chetty road where all of us cousins used to jump around and the love that she gave us. Anger and ego were two words which were definitely out of her dictionary and that’s why I believe she enjoyed a quality life.

To the person whom I have kissed the most… I will miss my Doma dearly. May her soul rest in peace.

Love and regards,
N, Doma's youngest grandson, Mumbai


Dear Doma, as we all know her, was something more special to me than ‘Great’, which is called as ‘Good’. She was jovial, kind, humble, loving, caring, smart, lively, generous, down-to-earth…and the list is endless!

One cannot forget that she faced a lot of hardships and the challenge of single parenthood gracefully, responsibly and with courage.

What moments I cherished the most are the fun times we had as children in our vacations in Doma’s T Nagar home which was also a wonderful reunion of near and dear ones. 

Also her passion for music needs no description, as she was a walking encyclopedia of classical songs. Nevertheless, as told by my Amma (Latha), I would love to share some memorable moments with dear Doma when she had celebrated her 87th birthday in Mumbai. She sang two songs on that day when Guruji Shri Raghavendra Baliga played flute. Later she was invited to Vittal Mandir where she sang her favourite song ‘Kandudhanyanadeno’. She was vibrant and energetic even in her last years and also very popular in Mumbai apart from Chennai and other places. Her enthusiasm for music knew no boundaries as she had learnt my Amma’s Marathi and Hindi bhajans as well.

My last words are ‘’Dear Doma, You are the best grandmom one could possibly have and will always live forever in our hearts and minds’’.

Tons of love,
V, Doma's older grandson, Mumbai


A few words about athe as I used to call her. I remember seeing her in a marriage hall when I was about 12-13 years and thinking wow! What a beautiful woman. Little did I know then that I'll be getting married to her son, Suresh! She was a very non-interfering lady, always there for her children and grandchildren. A generous nature and someone who led a quiet and simple life.

My love for music developed only because of her. Bye athe! You've left behind beautiful memories

S, Doma’s daughter-in-law, second son's wife, Chennai


Meera Bai – that’s the first thing that comes to my mind when I think of Doma. The peaceful image of her with her tambura singing beautifully is a memory that has stayed with meal through these years. I’ve enjoyed the many times she let me braid her long tresses ;) and the yummy snacks she always had for us. Shendigae bandha, nellikai pickle, godhi halwa and her most famous fruit salad with homemade ice cream were some of my favorites. She has and always will always be an epitome of beauty, strength and grace. I will miss her dearly but I’m glad that she went in peace.

Love you, Doma,
A, Doma’s granddaughter, second son's daughter


Amma – what I remember from my childhood days - was her love, sacrifice, dedication.

Love was for her family. She let appa go to America for 4 years when I was a child. But I could see that she let him go with love and waited for him to come back from America. She loved me – I was the only child at that time. When Rekha was the last, she became her favorite child when she found out she needed more help from the others.
She loved God. She loved singing. All her songs were devoted to God- she sang Purandara Dasa keertanais. She sang in four languages – Kannada, Tamil, Telugu and of course, Bhajans in Hindi.

Her dedication was to the family and after Appa passed away, she took care of all five of us equally. She spent her time with everyone. She never, ever complained, never has she punished any one of us. I never remember her spanking any of the children. Her love was totally unconditional, she never expected anything in return, I always remember her smiling face and if anyone made a mistake, she would smile. When I visited her last in October, she sang songs. When Vivek visited her this year in January, she sang songs with a smile smiled and never complained. When I asked her how she was, she just smiled, shook her head and said she was okay.

I will miss her and I will follow her guidelines – love, dedication and …I cannot equal – her sacrifice. We all pray that she is with Appa and all our ancestors, singing and keeping them happy.

Goodbye, Amma.

P, Doma’s eldest son, Texas


Whenever we think of Domma, four things immediately come to mind: her laugh, her beautiful voice, her sense of adventure, and her love for her family. She had a wonderful sense of humor, and her laugh was quite infectious. She was able to find joy and humor in almost everything. One could not help but laugh with her. Her voice also comes to mind. She had an amazing voice, even in her later years, and she never minded singing for others.  It clearly made her happy to do so, undoubtedly because it was a way for her to bring joy to others.

Some of our best memories of her, however, involve our travels together. Although we were not able to see her as often as we would have liked, we were able to make the most of the time we did spend together.  She loved traveling, and we loved traveling with her. We have a number of fond memories of places we visited together here in the U.S. – our trips to the Grand Canyon, DisneyWorld, and Southern and Northern California come to mind as three of our favorites. Normally, sitting in a car for a 10-day, two thousand mile road trip would have been very boring for us when we were children. However, having Domma to keep us company made time just fly by.

Finally, one cannot think of Domma without recalling how much she loved her family. She was very proud of her family, especially her grandchildren, and she would brag about them at every opportunity. Although she would be excited to see us whenever she would visit the U.S., she would quickly start to miss her family in India. Whenever she was given money to spend on herself for her birthday, she would spend that instead on gifts for other family members. We consider ourselves fortunate to have had Domma in our lives for so many years. We will miss her terribly.        

V and V, Doma’s grandsons, oldest son's sons


I had the good fortune of growing up with Doma in the same house. She was always there to spend time, speak to, pamper me with yummy (and unhealthy) chendige and suffer me accompanying her beautiful singing with my very basic mrindangam skills. Never once said no to anything I asked of her. Strong (dealt with all the challenges of a very difficult life with class, dignity and strength), beautiful, talented, caring and soft spoken are all inadequate adjectives to describe her. With her and papa gone, my roots are diminishing but I hold onto the rich memories and values I learnt from them. She must be looking down with blessings on those she loves from her place in heaven that was guaranteed by the manner in which she lived her life. Thank you for everything, love you Doma and may your beautiful soul rest in peace.

A, Doma’s grandson, second son's son


Most of my summers growing up were spent in Chennai with doma. I have drooly memories of domas arsipuri oonde, butter chakuli and  the 11 o'clock ganjji. Yum yum. The pondy bazaar visits with doma were the highlight of my stay. Doma had babysat me very often over the years, she gave me so much of love and the only time I got scoldings was when a boy called me . Every night Sanoo and I would bug her for a bed time story she initially used to tell us stories about gods and goddesses, this lasted only till she went to America, then it was Disney all the way and She always fell asleep before completing her story. Doma was beautiful both inside and out. She had a tender heart and a pure soul. Love you doma. Am happy that you have been released from the long year of suffering.

S, Doma’s oldest granddaughter, first daughter's older daughter


Dear Kamali Chikki was a gentle, beautiful, kind and caring person. Her whole life was devoted to her family and extended family, which included all of us too. Lovely memories of my stay in Mambalam house and visits to her house. She always welcomed us with her sweet smile.  A multi talented person, she played the Dilruba, an unusual instrument I have not seen many playing. I also remember her making beautiful crepe paper flowers, and knitting. And of course her melodious voice, singing various types of music, which she continued till almost recently.

As I always say, we were all blessed to belong to our large and loving family and am grateful to the love and care given to us all then and even now. May dear Kamali Chikki rest in peace now. We will all miss her, and all of you grandchildren, will miss a sweet loving Dhoma. Om Shanthi.

J aunty, Doma's niece, Chennai


I recall Kamali Aunty as a pretty looking lady, always well dressed, kind, loving and humble.
She had a melodious voice and I remember sitting with her during her evening singing practice with her tambura, wishing even I could sing like her. My favourite song was "Chalo man ganga yamuna teer". Her voice still rings in my ears.
I have never seen her get angry even when we made a mess while playing dark room, cards, hide & seek or carrom.
She was the one who taught me crochet, I still have the crochet hankies she gifted me.
These sweet childhood memories will never fade away.
Wishing her soul rests in peace.

VK, Doma's cousin's daughter


I have countless memories of Kamili chikki from the many days we spent together throughout my growing years. She was the embodiment of patience and kindness. I used to go to her to learn devaranamas. I am a terrible singer always going off tune (appaswara) but not a single day did she lose her patience, she constantly encouraged me and made me feel that I was one of her best students. My bond with her is so unique, it is difficult to express in words. I will miss her but will cherish the time spent.

UV, Doma’s husband’s cousin's daughter


She is always our Kamali aunty, a regular to our house. My childhood memories of her, has been her fierce independence, very active and always had a lovely smile which used to spread positivity around us. She and my late father had a high regard for each other. Simpletons, who lived simple lives, generally only read about in books.

UNR, Doma’s cousin