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Sundar Narayanan's Travelog

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Always read the manual, or watch a Youtube video..

Before trying something new, even if you over rate your IQ and the job at hands seems obvious, it is better to read the instruction manual before starting the job if one is available. This goes for assembling IKEA furniture to sound systems, not to mention simple hardware items for landscaping jobs like weed block sheets!

Then there are things where no instuction manual is there.. like getting a mesh fence around plants with Galvanized wire. I vaguely remember doing this 11 years ago after a real hungry deer family of four, finished off 700 dollars worth of plants over one evening. We were new to Cupertino then and had just finished upgrading this house. We did not know about the maurading deers and their appetite for Yellow hibiscus @29.99 each! 

Very depressed, we went back to Yamagami nursery and they said "oh.. why didnt you tell us the plan was to plant these in the front yard. we would have suggested other deer resistant plants. you can only plant this in the backyard where the deer cannot come". I was frothing at the mouth after listening to that elderly woman because this information could have saved a lot of money, effort and sadness. Then she gave me a paper that had a "deer resistant" list and we bought a few plants to make sure the front yard was not a barren mess. 

Then came the drought and we stopped watering anything. Lost trees and plants. We also went through another remodel and this time there was going to be some watering, to bring back life into those dying trees that still managed to cling on. 

There were arguments about "buying plants". San had the wisdom to remind me of the heartbreak from 11 years ago. She said "you might as well throw that money straight into the garbage or feed that to the deer". Having spent all that time cleaning up the front yard, meticoulously arranging stones to precision and feeling like the reincarnation of some Inca builder, was not going to just "let it go". 

This time, Home depot. If the deer were going to get the plants, they were going to get cheap plants... ha! I would still have to face the angry lion at home if they got to the plants. A wise old man in the gardening section who was in charge of advising folks like me came up and showed me "you see these tags. they tell you if it is deer resistant or not!". I was like, me in a Home Depot. These kids in candy store analogies don't do justice to me in a Home Depot nursery. I take Jr. to home depot with me, just so she can practice rolling her eyes for her Indian dance class. Mexican beach pebbles at 15 bucks a bag? "hmm, these will look nice in that corner" will be me thinking out aloud and the kids will go "what?!"

Where were we? Yes, deer resistance.. exactly what units this resistance is measured in is beyond me, but after planting those last week and writing a nice blog about it, was surprised to find out Friday morning that resistance was futile. Touche.. yes. Deja vu.. yes. The lion at home roared in anguish and I suddenly commiserated with the deer for being deer? Yes! 

Amends had to be made and quickly. So like a guy who drinks some more in an attempt to forget the fact that he is too drunk, I went back to Home Depot and the wise man. A galvanized wire mesh of 50 feet was purchased, the old wire cutter from 11 years ago was searched and found and it was time to "protect" what was left of the plants. 

This is where the importance of instruction comes in. In what can only be described as a momentary flash of stupidity mistaken for brilliance, I put the roll of wire on the floor, kicked it with my feet to may it lie flat and started cutting the mesh. The minute I had cut a small section loose, some stress relieved itself somewhere and the rest of the wire decided to coil itself back. That would have been fine if it wasn't sprining towards me at 40 miles and hour, with the sharp cut edges coming at me like claws! By the time I managed to stand up and tried to block the mesh coming at me, my hands and legs were cut in multiple places. Both hands, both legs. This was bringing me memories of Kalidasa and my dad who would launch into sanskrit poetry when I was little and be annoyed that his son didn't just understand a language he was never taught. Turns out he was trying to reach me on the phone at the exact moment this was all happening to wish me a happy anniversary. 

My neighbor who was watching this comedy show came up and said "you know you could just stand that whole thing up as a roll and just cut it. Then it cannot roll over like that and come at you!" . After some first aid and deep breathing and recalibrating my IQ, came back to cut the rest of the mesh without further incident and finished the job!

The deer are evolving and one can never be sure.. but so far it has been two nights since the mesh was installed and the flower buds are still there! 

My hands have cuts and callouses that just started peeling off in the middle of a hot yoga class to the point where I could not grip anything with my hands without going "ouch". Right now the hands are getting some moisturizing treatment with stuff from the wife and kids cabinets. They seem to have half a dozen varieties of this stuff and I am.. let's just say, trying everything! They have not said anything or maybe have not caught on to it, because I just smell like them. 

There is still a lot more work to be done in cleaning up the front yard, but so far so good!

Learn from me! Always put the roll of galvanized wire like a cylinder standing up  and then cut. Also wear a nice thick glove and use a bolt cutter instead of a small wire cutter to avoid callousing your hands!

Most important.. it is better to fence the entire front yard instead of going through all this!


I love you.... "Rasna"

There was a time and place where an average summer morning would start with the temprature at 82F and by mid afternoon would hit 110 F. We were used to measuring it in C then in Chennai and those numbers definitely seemed smaller, and were easy to get used to. Never even think of the max temperatures.. we could see the road side tar start to melt. As kids we have scooped up semi molten tar to make small bouncy balls to use for cricket games. 

As a kid growing up in an Agraharam type environment (lets translate that to a Temple enclave), the drinks of choice for cooling down the system on hot summer evening were :

1. Water that was stored in a red clay pot with some cardamom husks in it. There was no refridgerator during our childhood days. Only when we were almost in middle school did the concept catch up. 

2. Really watered down buttermilk with some curry leaves and hing (asafoedita) thrown in aka "neermor"

3. The occasional "panagam" which was water from 1 above, but with some jaggery, cardamom, saffron etc. (sweet spices) 

Refridgerators and ice cubes became pletiful in every house all of a sudden, thanks to fridges becoming a commodity product and every family wanting it as a convenince or status symbol or both. There were two types of kids in my neighborhood. Kids who could give you "ice water" when you went to their house and kids who didnt! Let's just say that "ice water" kids were chosen to host cricket games with their street electric box as the chosen stumps... what I am trying to say is that other issues with street cricket were overlooked in favor of ice water!

That is when something dropped from the skies. It was called "Trinka"! It came in Orange, Grape and Lime flavors if memory serves me right. You got this packet of powder, had to prepare a concentrate with this powder by mixing it with a sugar syrup and then store it in the fridge. Then you could dilute that concentrate with water and ice and you had a refreshing drink. Eventually they did away with the powder and came up with a liquid concentrate bottle. 

We were Trinka's biggest fans. My mother was not a fan given the trinka concentrate I used to make took up a lot of sugar and the thing took a lot of space in the fridge. Eventually even the adults in the family were won over and it was a good "ice breaker". Trinka lowered down blood pressure levels of folks in the house on hot summer evenings. 

Then came competition. A new brand of concentrate for mixing flavored water came into market. This one had a packet of powder and a liquid that had to be mixed into a sugar syrup to make your own concentrate and it had a catchy name. RASNA! The advertising campaign for Rasna was a notch above Trinka. Cute kids were drinking Rasna and their parents were making it for them.. and they always ended the ads with kids smacking their lips and saying "I love you Rasna!"

We were and probably still are a loyal family. We don't switch brands easily. There is definitely a loyalty gene that runs in the family. So we stayed with Trinka even if its market share dropped. We would serve Trinka to folks and not exactly contradict them when they told us "thanks for the Rasna".. these were days before Coke and Pepsi were household names in the desi soft drink market. You could get Thumbs up (grape), Goldspot (orange) or Limca (lime) or the odd Goli Soda (fizz water). Then one day curiosity trumped loyalty and a packet of Rasna was obtained. It was tried and initially found to be too sour compared to Trinka. Then the young scientists in the family realized that this one needed different ratios for sugar and water and the "kosuru" water or sugar we used to add was not enough to compensate for rounding errors  in this case.

Rasna was given a second chance and this time it was a hit. By the time this happened, I was too busy studying for high school and before you know it, Mishrambu and Baba Tandai replaced Rasna. Used to come back from Banaras with bottles of Mishrambu to handle the Madras summer. We also switched to two milk based drink essenses which were bought from this store right between the LIC building and Alankar theater. One was Rose flavored and the other was Badam (almond) flavored. They were delicious and between those and Mishrambu.. Rasna was almost forgotten.

Fast forward a decade or more and we had a little Jr. craving something in summer. We were not going to give her carbonated drinks and she got tired of "Caprisun". So we went to a local Indian store and bought Rasna to give her a taste of something from my childhood. She loved it! We had five or six packets made into concentrate and that was it.

Why all this nostalgia for Rasna now?

Well, recently we have had a few hot days to put it mildly and when I came home, my hand was itching to find something other than water and ice. Have been mixing "Emergen-C" after yoga classes with cold water and ice. Hot summer day is one thing. Coming out of a 120F hot and humid room into a house that is showing 85F can be a little interesting. You never stop sweating post yoga class.  

San happened to be at the Indian store and I asked her to get a few Rasna packets. She came home to report the following conversation with the local Indian store guy

San : Where do you have Rasna?

Store kid (apparently in his 20's) : Maam, what is Rasna?

San : thought !@$%^&^%^@$^%&  and came home

at home :

Me: seriously, he asked you WHAT IS RASNA?

San : Apparenty Rasna is not a thing anymore!

Me : What is the world coming to? Okay, even if Rasna is not a thing anymore, how can a person in a desi store in his 20's not know what Rasna is?! 

Have to see if Rasna is still a thing in India these days.

In the meantime, we have to find a new concentrate that has the right ratio of sugar to orange that will not just help cool down on hot summer evenings, but bring back happy thoughts!


Ghee fried noodles

Jr. is in India. The first thing she requests from me after reaching there? Daddy, can you tell me how you make ghee fry ? 

She meant noodles and she knew I understood her request without mentioning noodles!

Was going to ask her Chitti to make it for her. They say kids will go crave for foods when they go to college. 

Mine is in India and gets to eat home cooked food from my sister in law and mom and still craves ghee fried noodles. I have done something right! (or wrong if you ask all the women in either side of the phone conversation)

So here is a videoblog.

We use Maggi noodles in the house, lead or otherwise. If lead poisoning from Maggi is happening to anyone, yours truly should be hit, having eaten Maggi at least twice a week for a good 20 years. Many patents, papers, presentations later, not to mention a moderately successful stint as hubby and daddy over the same time frame,  one can conclude that the brain is still functioning after all that Maggi! However, I dont use the masala packet that comes with Maggi and I always put Peas, carrots and Potato in the noodles. Potato is a questionable "Veggie" in our household, but it is one by my definition (for that matter, Maggi is questionable "food" in our household).

Hope the kids watch this years from now and realize that the best ingredient in the noodles was not the ghee but daddy's love.. okay.. that is asking for too much.

It is Ghee! You can make anything taste better with some Ghee!


Slowly but steadily...

What was started has to be finished and add to that the old Tamil adage "erumbu oora kallum theiyum" which translates to "as the ants keep walking even stones smoothen", the ant that is yours truly got to work.

The house is finally done on the inside except for closets. We have none. So for now we are still living out of piles of clothes on the floor and in garbage bags or suitcases. 

As for the outside of the house is concerned, we are still waiting for a sewer tube to be replaced. Don't even get me started on the changing city requirements! 10 years ago we installed this thing brand new with ABS pipe because that was the "code"! Now we did not touch anything connected to this sewer cleanout but the new "code" is PVC! So we have to change that clean out tube before we can get a final permit. That said, changing that tube means the area is going to be dug out. So no point landscaping there.

The front of the house looked like a garbage dump for the most part of the last 5 months. Finally three weeks ago we decided to have things cleaned out one garbage container at a time. Proud to present.. 

That last picture makes it look like we are getting there.. truth is we are still far away from getting this area done. 

It actually looks like this..

Also built a stone barrier on the front, after the drunk guy crashed his car at that corner! It was more strenous to get those stones put them on the cart in home depot, transfer them from cart to car, then car to make that wall. Just a lot of manual labor, but the end result was worth it. 

Can always use them as "before" pictures! Going to work on this one hour a day and see how far I can take this with some help from the little one. She has been my one true helper in all of this! 

The backyard is 90% done. Got some help from my neighbors to get the Gazebo standing and finally finished the entire assembly over the long weekend. 

Time is the key! Have the patience. Just don't have the time.

Cannot wait for retirement! Hope it comes sooner than later.


An evening of Jazz

Another year has rolled by.

Was fortunate to be back here in the US in time to see Jr.'s final annual performance as part of her school Jazz band.

Given all the other finals she has, this is one thing she really enjoys doing! I for one am glad that she has music in her life. 

Videos of the songs their ensemble group played are below..

She is definitely getting more confidence as time goes by. Hope she keeps playing.. and more importantly keeps enjoying music!