The Un-Changing Idli

An article written for our church newsletter.

I can recall the exact texture and flavor of my mother-in-law’s perfectly made idlis*. Idlis are typically a breakfast food. Their ground rice and lentil batter is fermented and then steamed into a white, spongy, and puck-like morsel. We use idlis to sop up sambar*, a savory vegetable-lentil soup, and spicy coconut chutney. My mouth waters as I type, for I adore idlis. Despite some valiant efforts on my part, I have not come even close to mastering the art of idli-making in Holland, MI. My near constant craving goes unanswered.

Idli with dishes of Sambar and Coconut Chutney

Idli with dishes of Sambar and Coconut Chutney

I am rejoicing a little bit right now, however, because idlis my mother-in-law’s idlis are on the horizon.  We have purchased the tickets that will fly us back to India this June.  June 17 is the day.  Finally Leila and Reuben and Mommy will eat idlis in south India, and we will smile.  (Daddy does not actually care for idlis, silly guy, but he will eat them anyway because that is just what you do in India.  And, really, everything taste good with some coconut chutney.)

The latest look of the Ministry Center

The latest look of the Ministry Center

I am rejoicing. I am also wondering. Like the majority of you I have only seen pictures and heard stories about the new Ministry Center going up in India. I have been in awe of the process, the size, and certainly the possibilities that the new space offers. But the thing is, I remember enjoying my idlis around the ever-too-small table (for the number of people present) in the screened in porch area of JP’s previous family home, a familiar space now long gone. It may have been scrunched around that table, but it was always delicious. It always seemed breezy and idyllic. It was good to rub elbows and develop relationships there, at that table. I’m wondering what the new dining area will feel like, yes, but  just this morning I started to wonder if and where such a dining area exists in the new building.

Katy eating a special Rice Meal when pregnant with Leila-- seated at The Table, screened porch windows behind

Katy eating a special Rice Meal when pregnant with Leila– seated at The Table, screened porch windows behind

Things are going to be different. I am pretty certain that the idlis will taste exactly the same even while many things will be radically different this time around. There will be adjustments to the new building. New staff members have some on board since I last visited WCOI. JP and I have a new nephew!  My own children have grown and changed very much since we last walked the landscape of our second home.

I trust that we are made for change, for growth and maturity, for new contexts, and new adventures.  I could not live this life otherwise.  And I trust that the idlis will taste the same and the dining room table will still fit enough people, making home timeless even in the midst of change.

Pronunciation Hints:

idli… id-lee

sambar… saam-bar

Sundararajan… soon-da-ra-ra-jin

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Down South BINGO

Rice Heaven

My friend Tom really loves rice.  His affection for rice was the reason I told my mother-in-law, on my first trip to India, that I had a friend who would love to sit at her table.  South Indians can eat a lot of rice.  There are many varieties of rice, for a whole assortment of everyday and fancy feast preparations.  Sometimes rice is eaten three times a day, and sometimes a meal includes three hearty servings of rice.  I myself have always enjoyed rice, but definitely had to develop my rice stomach during my first few trips!  I have found that eating this much rice can be as difficult for visitors as eating Indian spices.  But, I never worried about this with Tom.  Regardless of how much rice we consumed, it was a real treat to host Tom for three weeks this January.  We certainly ate well, but beyond the good food, I was reminded of just how special it is to see India through the eyes of someone traveling here for the first time.

Tom, who loves rice, but also coffee.

While Tom was in town, we were able to travel down south for the dual purpose of visiting family and seeing Kanyakumari, the southernmost tip of India, and one of our favorite tourist destinations.  Many Indians make their way to this spot to take a ‘holy dip’ in the waters where the Arabian Sea, the Bay of Bengal, and the Indian Ocean meet up.  It is a place of beauty, wonder, and myth.  Approaching the beach area you find a chaotic jumble of vendors hawking dried fruits and nuts, watches, bags, seashells and little bags of sand that can only be found in this area, plus a multitude of unnecessary plastic items all for the bargin price of 5 rupees.  People also love to watch the Kanyakumari sunsets, and then rise early the next morning for the sunrise.  (The hotel where we stay gives each room a wake up call at 5:30am, assuming we’re there, if only in part, to observe the sun’s rising.  Too bad for our wee babe who we’re working hard at getting to sleep through his 5:15am startle.  As if we travel-savvy folks don’t carry our own alarm clocks!!)

JP captured the sunset on his iPhone

It was just Tom and I who made the trek down for the sunrise in the morning.  Well, er, us and hundreds of other Indian tourists.  It happened to be India’s Republic day, and so we suspected the crowd was somewhat larger that day, given the holiday.  It was all we could do to keep from being jostled out of our semi-front row spot along the wall where we watched.  We sure felt that we had a prime view, though, and were glad we got there early.  One of the more interesting things I witnessed that morning was a woman taking her holy dip on the wide, smooth rocks that jutted into the crashing surf, fully clothed in her sari.  Not only did I imagine it was a frigidly cold exercise of faith in the the brisk morning wind, but one that was awfully complex as she made sure every inch of her skin was bathed in that holy water… talk about a fascinating depiction of modesty and piety mixed together.  Ha!  Maybe I shouldn’t have been watching so closely!  Anyway, I never once saw that woman react to the cold, nor the water.  There were no deep, shattering inhales or shrieks.  Just serious, intentional washing away of all those sins.

Kanyakumari Sunrise over a statue of the famous Tamil poet and saint, Thiruvalluvar.

A whole class gathered by the water (afternoon time)

The rest of our time down south, as I mentioned, was spent with family.  We visited JP’s mom’s parents, and a number of her siblings and their families.  These are people that I have grown to love and adore despite our limited time together and on-going language barrier.  They are not just JP’s family, but my family, and my children’s family.

with Ava, Esther Chithi, and Tata

These trips to visit family do bring an assortment of challenges, sometimes more strongly felt because of having added my two children into the mix.  And yet, each visit reminds me of the wonder and sweetness of this life I have fallen into.  As it became time to feed Reuben, I gathered him up from the floor where he was giddily crawling between his new menagerie of relatives.  We went into a room best described as the dining room, but the table there looked a bit out of place, as most meals at one time were (or probably still are) eaten seated on the floor.  I myself sat on the red painted floor to feed Reuben.  It was dim and slightly warm in the room. Reuben’s head became sweaty against my arm.  I looked around and saw the old heavy grinding stones in the corner, kept for posterity… and the times when the power goes out and the grinding of rice and dals still needs to happen.  I saw the spray of leaves and flowers hanging in the corner of the window, the afternoon’s yellow sun romantically softening their brittle texture.  As we drove through town I saw these same bunches of dried leaves and flowers decorating every doorway, leftover from the recent harvest festival, and at one time  hung to bring more oxygen into the home.   Slowly the voices began to filter into my consciousness.  With the exception of a few neighbors who had come by out of curiosity, and a man they call “Chicken Uncle” (because he sells chicken, duh), I knew the voices.  I didn’t have much of a guess as to what they were saying, but I knew the voices.  They were the voices of my family.  This blue wall that I back leaned upon is part of the firm foundation of my family, and not just JP’s greater family, but my small family of four.  This village, this house with blue walls, these familiar voices, they are ours.  My children know this place, and they will likely know it better than I ever will.  This India is a part of us.   Oh, it  is a rich and beautiful life, indeed.

Saris drying near the Matchstick Factory

Our time in the village also included some tours of the local industries.  This is a very dry area, and thus perfect for matchstick factories, paper  factories (mainly printing and cutting) and firework factories.  I love to see these places, watching how the products come together.  Check it out below.  I’ve just included a small sampling…

Packing boxes of matches

Fireworks drying in the sun

More fireworks in the works 😉

This guy makes fireworks for a living

At each of the factories that we visited, I learned, we were already known to them.  I didn’t have to feel like a random, oddball tourist stopping in with my camera, making the workers nervous.  Rather, the majority of the matchstick workers were related to us!  And, the guy who owns the fireworks factory came to our wedding reception.  For such a big place, it is easy to be known in India.  We like to play our Dutch BINGO in Holland, but they play the same games here.  All around the world we play these games.  After all, it is good to be known.

A Seasonal Life

kiddos chillin' on the porch

This time last year, while I was pregnant with Reuben, I had a dream.  My dream involved sitting on my porch with my kids.  I imagined that once the baby was born, Leila would happily play on the porch, and I would spend endless hours nursing on the flowered swing.  I also pictured my growing baby giggling in a Bumbo seat, or swinging contentedly in his baby swing.  It has taken nearly 5 months (today’s is actually Reuben’s 5 month birthday!) for this dream to become a reality, but it is with great gobs of gladness that we have spent many a spare moment lingering on the porch lately.  Early last week “Indian Summer” rolled in, becoming the largest variable that made these idyllic moments possible.  We re-opened the windows to catch the warm breezes, and we smiled.  It was nice to have gotten beyond September’s busy-ness and found the porch to be such a hospitable place to rest our weary bodies.

A well-lived in Porch

The other thing that our slightly relaxed schedule recently allowed us to do is go apple picking.  While JP and I are very much lacking in the traditions realm of our life, one tradition that we have carefully cultivated in our seven years of marriage has been apple picking.  Each year we make our way to our local west-Michigan apple orchard, usually with a few friends in tow, and fill our bags to the brim.  It is a very favorite activity of ours- and a very yummy one too!  This year we brought our friend Kristen, and she brought her camera.  Not only did we manage to pick nearly 30 pounds of apples with a nearly three year old and an infant, but we squeezed in a family photo session too.  I’m pleased to report that none of us had a coronary in the process, and we largely enjoyed the glorious Fall day.  (And, if I know my JP, he’ll show you those pictures just as soon as we get our hands on them!!)  I’ll just show you the pie that I made!

In my family I grew up with the saying, "Apple pie without some cheese is like a kiss without a squeeze."

Not having planted a garden this year, I have lived into our Farmer’s Market with a grateful heart.  Nothing seems to taste better to me than fresh, local food.  We ate our way through the strawberries, the peas and the lettuces.  There was great rejoicing when the corn came, and we gobbled up the cherries.  We ate about a bushel of blueberries, and whole armfuls of cucumbers and peppers… not to mention those little German butter ball potatoes.  We lugged home a watermelon.  I breathed deeply of the intoxicating smell of dill on my green onions.  And, we even tasted some tomatoes recently, something I developed an aversion to during Reuben’s pregnancy.  Now, we’re moving on to the cauliflower, the winter squash, and some pumpkins.  I’ve cherished my moments with Leila at the Market this year.  She may have only gone so she could sample her little cup of Kettle Corn, and to buy her single stem flower-of-the-week, but I am grateful for my little companion, ogling the fruits and vegetables and then toting them home with me.  I made Leila wait from May until late August for the pears that she kept asking for.  It wasn’t easy for her, but I keep trying to explain that ‘good things come to those who wait.’  In this case, good things meant good flavors.

mid-summer trip to the market

Just as our Farmer’s Market season comes to a close here in Michigan, we’ll head to India.  There we’ll have a new, gorgeous abundance of local and varied produce.  You can hopefully look forward to some posts of colorful, ripe produce in the midst of your bleak mid-winter.  Not to make you jealous, of course, but to remind you of the good things that come to those who wait.

Thankful for a season here that tastes SO Good

5 Favorite Things

You’ve probably already seen some pictures from our most recent trip, but I want to share some of my own reflections.  I’d like to do that by way of five favorite things from the trip.  There are many more than five things from our travels that I could tell you about because it was truly a wonderful trip, and one of my favorites in quite some time.  It was filled to the brim with special people, exciting adventures, new flavors, and a healthy dose of God’s beautiful creation.  I’m limiting myself to five things so that we’ll eventually be able to move on to other stories in the blog.

1.

The landscape in Mizoram (part one of our journey) was stunning.  Very steep mountainsides, and homes all along the way built on stilts so they wouldn’t fall down the mountains.  Can you picture the roadside, dropping off immediately down the mountain?  Now picture a house built right there on the roadside too, with stilts supporting the back part of the house.  We learned that the rainy season can be very, very treacherous for these homes as landslides are quite common.  Apart from the scare factor involved, it was wonderfully beautiful.  As we traveled an hour from the airport to the city where we would stay, I tried my best to see everything.  My first “favorite” thing was seeing a woman whose kitchen sink was literally outside a window on the side of her house.  While her body was inside the house, her arms were outside washing the dishes, a probable 100ft. drop off below.  I can only imagine the view!  JP does all of the dishes in our home. I wonder if I’d ever fight him for it if we lived in that house??

Rather un-treacherous tea shop we stopped at, day one

Can you imagine playing soccer here?

2.

The main purpose of our trip was the release of the Mizo New Testament (in audio, of course).  We went to a special service, highlighting the release.  I fell immediately in love with “the BESY Choir” that sang a special song in honor of the release.  Mizos Choirs are known for their beautiful abilities, and JP had told me about them more than once.  Still, I was pleasantly surprised by their singing.  Leila, bless her heart, stopped mid-wander and wiggle to stare and sway.  Here is a short video clip so that you might be able to get a sense of it.

3.

One of the most encouraging things about our recent trips to India has been the opportunity to spend time with the other local WCOI ministry directors and their families.  They join the staff here as more of the good souls doing the daily, hands-on work of this far-reaching ministry.  Our trip to Shillong (part two of our travel) blessed us with the chance to spend time with Rev. Vaiphei, his wife and two sons, as well as their librarian, and his wife and little daughter.  One of our most relaxing moments of the  whole trip was Sunday afternoon when we were welcomed into the Vaiphei’s home with a big, delicious meal, and sweet, good company.  The Vaiphei’s also have a group of paying guests, or renters, that live on their same property.  They also have chickens, a nice yellow dog, a little spotted puppy, and a very nice garden.  The time we spent with these people was of the peaceful, kind type.  I am so very grateful to know these people and share in ministry with them.

the Sunday afternoon Bunch

Leila with "Rex," the puppy

4.

Chai Wallah, Kolkata

I was not especially looking forward to spending time in Kolkata, the final leg of our three-part journey.  JP had mentioned his own dislike of the terrible traffic jams in Kolkata.  I also knew we’d be coming from cool temperatures and scenic loveliness, while Kolkata has a reputation for being hot, sticky, and often stinky.  When we arrived in Kolkata from chilly Shillong, I was pleasantly surprised by temperatures in the mid-80s (plus humidity, but who can complain?)  Our time was our own in Kolkata, and we made the best of it by visiting the museum, and by walking- or riding one of Kolkata’s many forms of transportation- through the streets and markets, looking for whatever might catch our eye.  Gladly, we never got tangled in any of the fierce traffic jams.  I found, much to my pleasure, that Kolkata is a delightfully Indian city.  It is the India that I likely pictured in my head long before I ever ventured to the subcontinent in real life.  It was good fun to see the bicycle rickshaws, and take a tonga ride (rickshaws that are pulled by hand!).  It was amazing to see the street life:  the food and drink vendors selling every tempting taste under the sun from bread & butter to juice from fruits I’ve never seen before this trip; the surprising number of people taking their bath curbside when local water pumps runs freely; street-side haircuts and shaves; Muslim perfume vendors; whole bunches of goats, some even lounging on cots; and tea vendors everywhere.

I had decided the moment that we arrived in Kolkata that my heart’s desire was to visit a local chai wallah, or street chai tea vendor.  Perhaps the best part about drinking this steaming, spicy, sweet chai is that many vendors use clay cups (also called mud pots.)  Once you’ve enjoyed your tea, you simply toss your cup to the ground where it will shatter, and be ground back into the dust (mud) of the earth.  Very environmentally conscious, these Bengalis.  I’m delighted to report that I was able to visit two chai wallahs, both of which served excellent tea.   I also happily tossed my clay cup to the ground both times, though it didn’t break either time.  Those things are remarkably solid!!  Take a look at this chai goodness…

Hot chai, ready for sipping

You must not hold the sides, or you'll burn your fingers!

Fantastic chai, in process

mmm...

5.

Being a mother is top amongst my roles here in India.  Traveling can create its fair share of trials and tribulations for mother and child alike.  If I had any pre-trip concerns at all, I promise you they arose out of the motherhood corner.  I am jubilant to report that Leila had a marvelous trip.  Not only was she incredibly flexible and adaptable in the midst of constant change, but she continued to thrive and grow in exciting ways.  We’re excited to tell you that Leila spoke her first word shortly after we arrived in Mizoram.  It was so cold (compared to Bangalore) the night that we arrived in Aizawl (Mizoram) that I pulled out some socks to go with her jammies.  Leila seemed quite happy to see her socks after more than a month’s hiatus.  While I was talking with her about the chilly temps and the necessity for socks, I heard a very cute and quite voice say, “socks.”  Adorable.  This word was shortly followed by  “shoes,” which I actually thought would be her first word due to her love of shoes and perpetual attempts at saying the word.  So, Leila can now say socks and shoes, though she decides when and where she will say those beloved words.  She is also working on mama and dada in two languages.  We’re pretty patient with the talking thing because we’ve heard that kids learning two (or more) languages are a bit slower in accumulating words.

[Side note:  Interestingly, JP’s aunt has come to stay with us and speaks most often in Telugu, which is a third language now for Leila.  Leila has adopted a practice she had when first hearing a lot of Tamil, which was to open and close her mouth with no sound, in the direction of the person speaking to her.  She had stopped doing that around Tamil speakers, but now has picked it up again with her Telegu-speaking relative.]

[Another side note:  If I thought it was cold that first night in Mizoram, I was out of my mind.  If I remember correctly, it was about 65 degrees.  When we stayed our first night in Shillong, a much colder area, the high temperature in our room that night was 58 degrees.  Painfully cold, with no heat, and no rugs… and a long, long wait for lukewarm water in the morning.  Brrr!  We rented room heaters for our next two nights, which saved us!]

Back to Leila’s achievements.  Many of you know that Leila never crawled, but went straight to walking.  Many parents swear they would prefer this.  I’m not so sure.  It meant that Leila was very stationary, and sometimes very needy because she couldn’t maneuver out of a sitting position at all.  Along with that there have been other “transitional” challenges that we continue to work on.  For example, pulling up from sitting to standing is still a struggle.  Well, much to our delight, the first morning we woke up in Mizoram, Leila greeted us from a sitting position in her pack-n-play.  This was the very first time she had ever gone from lying down to sitting without assistance!  We are elated that Leila now regularly rolls around (even to her tummy, which was another neglected position) and maneuvers into sitting positions.  Yay!

While Leila has struggled with some of the gross motor skills, she has never had a problem with small or complex tasks.  Her newest and cutest skill involves a mini-water bottle from one of the airlines we flew.  Leila has learned to unscrew the cap, and drink from the bottle.  We choose to pour only two or three swallows into the bottle at a time, or else she can really drench the place, but really, she is quite skilled in the water-drinking arena.  We’re so proud!

You’ll be happy to know we have a short clip of some of Leila’s new skills and antics.  We hope you enjoy!

5pm

The 5 o’clock hour has become one of my favorites in India.  The heat of the day begins to diminish, and the sun falls softer on the skin.  Folks are getting done with work, and the pace of the day changes.  Tea time comes around, and out come the stainless steel tumblers of sweet, spicy chai.  There might be biscuits (cookies,) or samosas, or some other tasty delight.  We often gather on the patio outside JP’s home where we’ll play with the dog, munch on a snack, and pause between the work-day and whatever the evening may bring.

Leila gets a pat on the head from Big Tata

Lounging with Dad

This is also the time of day when I (along with any sundry compilation of others) take Leila out for a stroller ride.  It is one of her favorite times of day as well.  She leans back, and soaks it all in.   You never know what you’ll see when you’re out for a walk here.  Most certainly, it is never the same, and it is never dull.

On one of our recent walks, we ventured down to the end of Osborne Road where there is a little old man who sells Tender Coconuts.  For 12 rupees, he’ll whack the top off of your coconut, and you can drink the coconut water inside.  Very refreshing.  (And you’ll notice how his sign also advertises the fact that it is good for your health!)  If you prefer, you can also get a coconut that is more mature, and it will have less water and more tender coconut “meat” inside, which you can scoop out with part of the shell.  I most enjoy the coconut water, myself.

This guy has been sitting here doing good business for 32 years!

Good for my Healthy!

On Tuesday we went on a day trip to nearby Mysore, and atop our visit to Chamundi Hill, we found more Tender Coconuts for sale.  They were also good for our health!

That superstar drinking from a coconut is JP.

Leila drank her fair share too!

Hopefully a few pictures of the sun and the dreamy tender coconuts will be a balm for those of you in the chilly parts of the world!!  While we are not missing the cold, we are missing YOU!

The Same but Different.

IMG_6532This year’s trip to Crane’s was just a bit different from last year’s trip.  🙂

It was fun to go poking through the apple orchard with three people who had never been picking before.  Dan and Teresa, and Leila, along with JP and I, all had a marvelous time.  The temperature was mild and there was just a slight cloud cover, which made for good picking.  After we took advantage of the sliver-sized samples at the barn, we rumbled off toward the Honeycrisps, our apple of choice this Saturday.  Leila was perched happily in Dad’s backpack, and was more than delighted to receive her own little apple from Teresa Auntie.

IMG_6505Leila held on carefully to her apple for the rest of the picking expedition, which may have been the cutest part of the whole day.  Oddly, she never tried to eat her little apple, but immediately took a chomp out of my prize Cortland.  As you saw at the top, Leila enjoyed grazing on the apples as much as we did.

a Tiny apple for a Tiny hand

a Tiny apple for a Tiny hand

The Picking (and eating) Crew!

The Picking (and eating) Crew!

We probably all came home we several pounds too many apples, but we’re choosing to live into the adage, An apple a day keeps the doctor away, as we head into a big trip  to Iowa at the end of the week.  We’ll pack a sack of apples in the car to keep any sickness at bay, especially since Leila has just recovered from her first ear infection, and JP and I are getting over our first (and hopefully only!!) colds for the season.  Good thing we like apples.  (And what about apple pie, does anyone know if that counts too?)

My pookie pie

My pookie pie

Last year this time…

IMG_2355

JP, Katy (and Leila)!

The Chaos of Summer

This summer has been a whirlwind of sorts. Katy and I are currently looking into purchasing tickets for our next India trip. In some ways, it seems like we JUST got back to the US. Time does fly, especially when you have a precocious 10 month old dictating the pace. Added to that is, of course, our busy lives. We have had weddings to attend and be a part of. We have had numerous gatherings, almost all of which involving yummy food, with fun people. All of them were good for the heart (and stomach). Our home is beginning to resemble the home we have in India.

And oh yes! I have been learning how to swim. Tonight will be my third lesson. And if you ask the instructor, our dear friend Lori, she’ll attest that I have come a LONG way from the floundering brown bear I was the first week. Hopefully I’ll be able to swim and breathe at the same time tonight! In addition, Katy’s parents are in town, which has been an added blessing, especially for little Leila. While we all do keep busy with our lives, it is nice to be able to drop by and say hello when we want to! Lots of people… lots of love… our cups overflow!

This summer in Michigan has been cool (which is putting it mildly). Lots of rain, lots of cloud cover, and precious few sun rays. The Sundararajans, however, do not feel like we missed out on summer because we already experienced the Indian summer earlier this year. However, it is a little disappointing to not be able to walk down to the farmer’s market as often as we’d like, or maybe play with Leila in the neighborhood parks, or grill out as much as wanted to.

While this pseudo-summer has been flying by us, we find ourselves in the eye of the storm. In the next couple of weeks, life again gets busy with speaking engagements and travel. Stay tuned… this should be a fun ride!