Category Archives: In-Law Visit to the US (2011)

Mamu and Daddy’s Departure…

P’s family is getting ready to leave. They originally planned to depart on September 26th, but Mamu really wanted to get home to start organizing the house for Dashain, and they moved their tickets up to Sunday night (Sept 18th).

They have been with us for twelve weeks.

Wow, I had to recount because I couldn’t believe it when I first counted. That time went super fast.

I was nervous before they came. I hadn’t had bad experiences with them before, but the idea of having my new in-laws live with me full time for such a long time felt daunting, or at least a bit overwhelming. But all went really well. I actually feel a lot closer to them than I did before, particularly Mamu, whom I get a big kick out of and really enjoy.

The last time P’s family visited us it was for five weeks back in 2008. P, myself, P’s brother, P’s cousin MK and P’s cousin’s boyfriend MS dropped them (Mamu, Daddy and MK’s mother J Phupu) off at the airport. We sat together for a while, and eventually it was time for them to go through the security gates. Mamu and J Phupu were crying, but Mamu was an absolute wreck. She was sobbing and was almost too upset to coherently find her way through the security line, and Daddy had to lead her along. When they reached KTM P’s dad called to inform us of their safe arrival, and said Mamu and J Phupu cried most of the plane ride home.

After such a dramatic departure last time, you might wonder if Mamu will equal, if not surpass, her level of anguish after staying with us for twelve weeks.

But I don’t think so. Perhaps Mamu will shed a tear or two, but I don’t think there will be too many frowns or too much sadness this time around.

Because…

We will be following them to Kathmandu next Friday.

Surprise!

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Microwavable Popcorn and Tofu Edamame Nuggets

Sometimes P’s mom completely cracks me up. She comes up with things I just don’t expect.

Like when I asked her, “Is there anything else you need from the store before you go back to Nepal?” she went to the cupboard and pulled out a box of microwavable popcorn, “This, good gift, I think.” She said. I had made a few bowls of microwavable popcorn when we were watching a movie one night, and I think she really liked the taste. She said her sister has a microwave in Kathmandu, so this would be a unique gift for her.

“You show me how to make?” she asked, and we ran through the process of opening the plastic wrap, looking for the words “This side UP!” on the package so she knew how to place it in the microwave, and talked about microwave timings (and the possible need to experiment with microwave timings due to different microwaves and altitude).

“Yes, good gift for sister.” She said after the demonstration, then added with another smile, “and I could visit to eat also.”

When I asked her if there were any foods she tried in the US that she wanted to try again before she left she answered, “Joe’s Trader bhatmas [soybeans]one we try.”

As you remember from Sneaky Mamu, P’s parents really like taste testing things at the Trader Joe’s grocery store. However the first time they went to one in Philadelphia they were scolded for taste testing too many times. So when they came to our Trader Joe’s in Massachusetts they were nervous to take more than one sample. Mamu came up with a loop hole to the “only one sample” rule when the food that was on offer that day wasn’t vegetarian. She surmised we, as vegetarians, could “sneak” extra portions for P and Daddy since the server wouldn’t know that we wouldn’t eat our share.

A week or two later we went to Trader Joe’s again, and Mamu was already excited in the car about what she might taste test, and was hoping it wouldn’t be a meat sample. When we got to the store she was pretty quick to start checking out the taste test stall. She asked me, “Vegetarian?” and I asked the server, and was giving the 100% vegetarian go ahead—it was a new product, tofu edamame nuggets dipped in sweet chili sauce. Mamu loved them immediately. I commented that they were good and asked if I could take a second and the server said yes. This delighted Mamu, but by the time she went for a second helping the nuggets were finished and the new round was still cooking. I chatted with the server for a bit while we waited for the next round, Mamu winking at me conspiratorially, hoping for her illicit second taste. We took a package home for dinner.

These were a good find. A healthy and tasty alternative for little kids who might want a chicken nugget— mental note for a few years down the line.

Mamu checks out the server station for potential vegetarian fare...

Tofu edamame nuggets... she shoots, she scores!

Anyway, last night we did our final Indian grocery store/TJ shopping excursion before P’s parents depart this Sunday evening. As we turned into the parking lot, Mamu was already abuzz in the back seat, explaining to our Nepali neighbor who came along for the shopping trip that he could taste test in the store… “Only once, unless you try [to sneak more, wink wink]” (sorry had to add that in, even though she didn’t articulate it, I had a feeling she was thinking it.)

I asked her, “Mamu, are you going to try for 2 taste tests today?”

“Maybe!”

We headed into the store looking for the tofu edamame nuggets that Mamu wanted to try again before she left for home, Mamu was quick to bee-line for the taste tester station. Yesterday they had crackers with jam and cheese.

“Vegetarian?” she asked me. “Yep,” I answered, and handed her a paper plate with the cheese/cracker. Then I went in search of the nuggets which took me a while to track down since only a few packets were left.

A few minutes later I bumped into Mamu, and she seemed really excited. “I eat twice!” she declared, “once you give, and another man give chocolate. He say, ‘you want’ and I say ‘yes’ and he give. What kind chocolate, I don’t know, but he give extra!”

“Mamu, you had two taste tests!” I said, and her face lit up,

“I did!” and she gave me a big thumbs up, which struck me as such an American thing to do. It cracked me up, I was standing in the aisle of the grocery store giggling. Then Mamu started giggling, and we were both giggling like kids.

Mamu was very proud of her double taste test.

We had her tofu edamame nuggets with sweet chili sauce as a side dish for dinner.

And tonight I’ll take her to the regular grocery store to find a nice big packet of microwavable popcorn.

Let’s Teej Again, Like We Did Last Summer…

Other Teej Posts: Teej (2009), It’s Time Again for Teej (2010), Panchami and the Bhutanese Refugees (2010)

Today is my first married Teej and my first Teej with my mother-in-law.

I first learned about the holiday when P and I moved from New York to Massachusetts in 2007. I’ve taken part in the festival every year since, generally by wearing red and fasting for 24 hours, and usually by dressing up in a sari and going to the local temple with several female friends (AS, S-di) at some point during the day.

This year Mamu is with us, so I am letting her dictate how we should celebrate the occasion. Last night she explained that I should wake up early, take a shower so that I am “pure,” then I should dress in red clothing and wear my bangles and green and gold wedding tilhari, then we would worship Shiva and Parvati.

“And fast all day?” I asked.

“Eh, fasting too difficult.” Mamu said. “You have to work, not so strict. Eat pure foods. Milk, potato, sweets, fruits. No salt, no rice.”

“But Mamu that seems like too easy of a fast.” I told her. “No salt and no rice is easy if I get to eat sweets and fruits all day.”

“In Nepal it used to be harder.” Daddy explained, “No food, no water. But now the rules are not so strict. No need to fast all day. Sweets and fruits are fine.”

“But potatoes? Eating boiled potatoes hardly feels like a fast.” I insisted.

“It’s okay.” They said, “Eat, eat.”

If one thing is true above all else, I’ll never starve as a member of the P family.

So this morning I set my alarm for 6am… and snoozed it until about 6:40. By the time I was conscious enough to roll out of bed and stumble into the shower Mamu had already beaten me there. So I laid down for a few more minutes and listened to the water, waiting for her to finish.

Then I showered, and dressed up in a red kurta top that Mamu and Daddy picked out yesterday. I selected ten of my red and gold glass wedding bangles, putting five on each arm, and slipped my green wedding pote with golden tilhari over my head. When I went out to the living room Mamu and Daddy were already sitting on the couch waiting.

“Come, come,” Mamu said, “Wash hands to purify, then we go to worship Shiva.” At the sink she asked me, “Where’s your tikka? No tikka?”

“Should I put?” I asked.

“Tikka put on. Small tikka. Very pretty.” She insisted. So I went to my bedroom and fished out a packet of small sparkly tikkas from my jewelry box and stuck it between my eyebrows. While I was at it I asked P to put a small dot of orange sindoor at the part in my hair.

“Good,” Mamu said, and we walked to her bedroom where she had a small altar set up on the dresser. She had folded the Nepali calendar she brought with her from Kathmandu so that a picture of Shiva and Parvati was facing upward. In front of the picture she had a cucumber, a banana and an apple on a plate. She lit two incense and said, “Today we pray for the long lives of our husbands,” and motioned for me to pick up the plate of fruit/veg. I circled it in front of the gods’ picture and then she gave me the incense she had been holding. She folded her hands in Namaste and whispered a quick prayer. After I circled the incense she took them back and stuck them in the cucumber in front of Shiva to finish burning. She then motioned for me to touch both the heads of Shiva and Parvati, and then touch my own forehead with my right hand, then motioned for me to touch the two images of Ganesh and again touch my forehead.

“Okay, finished.” She said, “You want boiled potato?”

She took me to the kitchen where she had two small boiled potatoes on a plate ready for me. I felt like I was cheating. I kind of like fasting. I don’t have many opportunities to do it and I like having a reason to abstain from food—it’s like a personal challenge, and it makes you think about what it is like for the people in the world who have to go without. It teaches you discipline, and gives you some clarity. I have great respect for people who fast for Ramadan. One day of fasting hardly seems like a sacrifice.

I guiltily took one of the small potatoes and took a small bite.

“How many?” Mamu asked, “Two? Three?”

“One is okay.” I told her. “Potatoes are heavy.”

“But I have many!” She said, lifting the lid off the pressure cooker to reveal another four or five floating in the water.

I compromised, “I’ll eat one now, and take two small potatoes for lunch.”

“And sweets?” she asked. At the Indian grocery store last night she had picked up two boxes of sweets—barfi and jelabi, and a canister of rosgolla. She thrusted three barfi into my hands.

“I’ll eat one now and take one for dessert.” I said.

“No… two. You want another? Three?”

“Okay, I’ll take two.” I packed a small lunch box with two small boiled potatoes, two milk barfi, and an apple. So much for “fasting.”

“No salt today.” Mamu instructed. “Only pure foods—ghee, milk, fruit, sweets, and potato.”

So now I am sitting in my office with tikka, sindoor, tilhari, red kurta, and glass bangles. In my own office it doesn’t matter so much… I’ve dressed “international” before, and it is more accepted by our student population (being that they too are international), but I have to meet with a domestic student today that the university administration asked me to take off campus for a serious issue tomorrow morning, so I am a little shy about meeting her all “Nepali-fied” and having her think I’m “weird.” I also have to host the campus religious diversity center open house—which I guess dressed in Hindu festival attire I won’t be too out of place, but I prefer my bubble of cultural diversity when dressed in this way.

The plan for the rest of the day is that once I get home from work I’ll dress up in a new maroon silk sari that Mamu brought me from Nepal specifically for Teej and go to the temple where P and I got married with Mamu and S-di.

So happy long life to my family, and happy Teej to anyone else celebrating today. Hopefully your MILs and/or significant others are helping you cheat with sweets as well today ;)

“Hot, Fresh, Sweet”

This post is dedicated to our DEAR FRIEND D who said last night, “I know what C’s blog post will be about tomorrow…  I even know the title” and who was sad that a few posts ago I referred to him as “our neighbor D” and thus felt demoted in relationship status.

As many of you probably know, Hurricane Irene blew through New England on Sunday. It also happened to be my birthday. We spent much of the weekend sitting around the apartment with Mamu and Daddy talking about what a hurricane is, and how they are different/similar from/to other weather events. I think they were both a little nervous and a little excited—they were curious to see what a “hurricane” was like, but worried that something would maybe happen to them. Mamu would stand near the window watching the trees bend and say, “Hurricane is coming…”

We had some gusty winds, but never lost power (although it seems a lot of other people around us did), and didn’t have the same flooding problems as other places an hour or two drive north or west of us. By evening the weather calmed enough for us to even go out for a little birthday dinner and cake.

After Irene blew through the weather cooled off, so I thought I would experiment with some “American autumn” inspired food. Always on the lookout for foods that I love, that I could try and introduce to Mamu and Daddy, during our pre-Irene grocery shopping I snuck a bag of brussels sprouts and a butternut squash into our cart.

Attempt #1: On Saturday I decided to pair the sautéed (in olive oil, garlic, salt and fresh ground pepper) Brussels sprouts—or “baby banda” (cabbage) as I called them—with the vegetable curry that Mamu made. P and I were practically fighting over the sprouts… but I saw Daddy push a few around his plate, and eventually toss the two or three half pieces that he couldn’t manage to eat into the garbage before washing his plate. I guess the “baby bandas” were a “fail”–my guess is that they were still too “raw” (crunchy) for their taste, but overcooked brussel sprouts are really bad and bitter, so “what to do?

Attempt #2: Again Mamu had some taarkari left over from lunch, and made a pot of rice, but I decided to whip up a quick butternut squash bisque. I sliced up the butternut—

“Is it a pharsi? [pumpkin]” Daddy asked.

“It’s in the pharsi family, it’s a butternut squash” I explained.

When I sliced open the round bottom part of the butternut and scooped out the seeds with a spoon Daddy said, “It is a pharsi! Look at the seeds!”

“Yes,” I responded, “pharsi family different type.”

—then sautéed some sliced onions, garlic, salt and pepper, added the butternut, and then a few cups of water and some veggie bullion. I let it boil, covered, for about ten minutes until the butternut was soft, and then poured the whole soup into the blender and pureed. Lastly I heated the pureed soup with a bit of whole milk mixed in for creaminess, and then brought it to the dinner table in a serving bowl.

I turned back to the kitchen to grab bowls for everyone but before I returned to the table Mamu and Daddy had already ladled my “pharsi soup” on to their heaping piles of rice—“like daal!” Mamu exclaimed.

“Whatever gets you excited about it” I thought.

I returned the bowls to the kitchen, keeping one for D and myself, since we both elected to eat my soup like soup.

While we ate I asked Mamu if she liked the dish. She smacked her lips and declared, “I like… hot, fresh, sweet!”

D started giggling… “I know what C’s blog post will be about tomorrow” he said, “I even know what the title will be!”

Mamu, Daddy and P had a few more spoons of “pharsi soup—like daal” on their rice while I finished up my large bowl.

Finally an American culinary win!

I’ll take it, “like daal” or not!

A Weekend With My Dad

This weekend we took P’s parents to my home town, about a five hour drive from our New England abode. My dad, who spends most of his time in Vermont these days, was back at the old house for the week, and was able to host us on Saturday night.

There were a few reasons I wanted to take them to my home town. First I wanted to show P’s parents where I grew up. We currently live in a city, and P grew up in a city, but I’m a country girl at heart. I grew up in a wooded area, climbing trees and going on adventures in the woods with my dog. We spent a lot of time outside, riding our bikes, swimming, picking wild blackberries and raspberries and eating them off the bush, planting vegetable gardens (and eating cherry tomatoes and small cucumbers off the vine as well!) If was a pretty fun childhood.

I also wanted to bring them to visit my dad because I wanted my dad to have the opportunity to bond with P’s parents a little.

My parents are divorced, something that P told his parents early on (and for a little while reinforced P’s mom’s view that—“See Americans will divorce you!”). They have met my mom a few times (in 2005 my mom came to P’s graduation and met his dad, in 2008 they stayed at her house in Virginia for a weekend, and my mom stayed with us a few days before the wedding) and they like her a lot. She is very entertaining (bordering on showy sometimes), but she is a great person to have when there is awkward silence, because she fills the silence with idle chatter (or embarrassing stories, which was the case during the wedding weekend). She is very extroverted, and animated, and easy to get to know because she lays it all out there for everyone right away.

One reason that my parents are divorced is because they are very different people. My dad is opposite to her in nearly every way—where she is loud and boisterous; he is quiet and reserved; where she likes to hustle and bustle, be close to the action and the city; my dad is happy to sit on his own, do things at his own pace, and live in the wilderness apart from others; where she is carefree, extroverted, and easy to know; my dad is difficult to know, introverted, and relatively serious (unless you get to know him well, then his dry sense of humor comes out).

P’s parents know very few divorced people (practically none). My theory is that they probably assume that in a divorce situation one partner was essentially “good” and one was essentially “bad.” Now my parents’ divorce is very complicated (much too complicated to begin sorting out in a blog post) and there are good and bad things on both sides, but the basic assumption that one person was totally wrong and “bad” and the other was totally right and “good” doesn’t fit this situation in the slightest. However that was the schema that made the most sense to P’s parents. Although they never outright said anything, since they met my mother first, and she is so bubbly and entertaining, right away they assumed my mother was the “good one” (I could tell by the way they would ask about her, but never my dad). I tried to explain to them in 2008 that the divorce was complicated, and they were only seeing one side (my mom’s side), but I think it was difficult for them to understand.

P’s parents first met my dad in 2008 when they stayed with my mother in Virginia. He drove down from New York to attend a program for my younger sister, and my mother insisted that he attend the “P and C family meeting” at her house, on her territory. Although everyone essentially behaved themselves (no arguments, etc), it was a bit of an unfair advantage for my mom, and I’m sure my dad was uncomfortable and more awkward and happy to escape to his hotel room once the meeting concluded.

I remember we were all sitting on my mom’s back porch. My mom was filing in the silence with stories (I remember one such story where she was telling about meeting P’s cousin MK for the first time, and how MK kept having to take smoke breaks—now the family kind of knows that MK smokes, but it’s one of those “she does it in secret” and they “pretend not to know” type of deals. I was standing inside the kitchen looking through the sliding screen door motioning with my hands for her to stop the story, and she said, “Oh look, C is trying to get me to stop, ha ha, anyway—so then…”)

My dad sat there mostly in silence. I remember P’s dad looking at him, hopeful for some “father to father” chit chat, but P’s dad didn’t know what to say (I think P’s family was relying on my parents to guide conversation since P’s parents were shy of their English), and I don’t think my dad felt that comfortable speaking. Eventually I said, “Hey dad, why don’t you talk with P’s dad.” And my dad turned and said, “So, how about the weather?” and that was pretty much it for conversation.

This awkward situation probably didn’t help their vision about my dad. He looked serious, quiet, and tough looking. Prior to their 2008 visit, when they would call and talk to me, P’s dad always asked about my mother and sisters and told me to say hello to them, but never mentioned my dad. After the 2008 visit he rarely, if ever asked about my dad (but at least slightly more than before).

Likewise, at the rehearsal dinner, between my parents, my mother dominated conversation again. She is just better at it, more comfortable, she doesn’t mind if P’s parents don’t really understand what she is saying, it’s easier for her to chat then sit through silence.

At the wedding my mother was dancing up a storm—dancing with everyone, including P’s dad. My dad mostly stood with his relatives on the porch, drinking beers and catching up on stuff. It’s the age old introvert/extrovert dichotomy.

I felt my dad needed his time and space to adequately share his personality with the P family. A short weekend trip to his home seemed like a good idea.

I’m glad we did it, because I think being in my dad’s space and on my dad’s time helped a lot. My dad had the opportunity to share his hunting stories without being talked over (my mom would surely find an extended conversation about hunting boring and dull). I think P’s dad really liked the one about my dad being on a bear hunt, and having a giant grizzly bear itching it’s butt on a tree no more than eight feet away from my dad’s hunting perch. My dad decided not to shoot it (P’s dad: “You had a gun ready, pointing at the bear?”) because his friend had killed a bear the night before and they were going to split the meat, so my dad just watched this giant animal walk around, so close he could practically touch it. Or the story about crawling two miles through the grassy plains of Montana stalking elk. Or about hiking out of the northern Canadian woods in waist high snow dragging a sled with 100 pounds of freshly killed caribou meat (my dad had pictures of the caribou hunt to help visualize his story).

My dad made a “Central New York” dinner—grilled deer meat (and veggie burgers for me and Mamu), fresh local corn on the cob, salt potatoes and melted butter, and apple pie made with local apples. We sat on the screened in back porch listening to the crickets, while my dad talked about things he was familiar with or that he enjoys—like how to make maple syrup (while we ate homemade blueberry pancakes in the morning) and which trees in our backyard were maples, what New York is famous for, what vegetables are locally grown, how he built our house himself, etc (again, conversations my mother would have found totally dull, but P’s dad seemed interested to hear).

My favorite questions that P’s dad asked that night were, “Do you have lions and tigers in America?”

Dad: “No. But we have mountain lions, which are big cats out in the Western US [He went inside and came back with a hunting advertisement with a mountain lion on it to show P’s dad what it looks like and how big they can be.] We don’t have them around here.”

P’s Dad: “Do you have elephants?”

Dad: “Nope.”

P’s Dad: “Monkeys?”

Dad: “No monkeys either.”

(I liked these questions because these animals are “normal” for P’s family, but exotic for mine. For P’s family it’s kind of strange that we don’t have monkeys running around, where as my dad probably thought the question was from left field.)

They talked about the animals we do have—skunks, beaver, opossum, fox, porcupine, etc—and which were also found in Nepal.

I think P’s dad liked being in the countryside. He desperately wanted to see animals (my dad told him there were generally some turkeys and sometimes deer around. We showed him a salt lick that my dad uses to attract deer to his backyard). On the screened in back porch P’s dad said it was like being on a jungle safari in Chitwan National Park—looking down into the woods to find the rhinos from a high perch. He told me in the morning that he got up in the night to watch the “jungle” from the porch to see if he could spot any animals but sadly didn’t see anything.

I think it was a successful trip. I think they realize that I don’t have one “good parent” and one “bad parent” but two very different parents, with different interests, energy levels, and personalities.

I feel confident that once they go back to Nepal and we chat on the phone again, they will now ask about and say hello to my mom and my dad.

My dad and I taking P's family around the sights in town-- including the city harbor on the shores of Lake Ontario

P's mom and dad pose outside my childhood home

What to Do?

“What to do?” is Mamu’s unofficial catchphrase. I think it’s really cute. She uses it as a catch all statement, an exasperation, a declaration, and a filler. “Sigh, what to do?”

My favorite “What to do?” was from their 2008 visit. We took Mamu to one of the local temples (not where we got married, but a South Indian temple east of us), and she was bringing me around to the different altars telling me the names of each god. We got to one god and Mamu didn’t recognize the name so she asked one of the pandits who the god was. He said, “Shiva’s third son.”

“But Shiva have two son.” She said.

“No, Shiva has three sons.” The pandit insisted.

“No, two only.” She insisted back. The pandit shrugged his shoulders and walked away. She turned to me and said, “In Kathmandu Shiva have two son. In America Shiva have three son. What to do?”

Anyway… “What to do?” seems to be the question P and I have on our minds as of late. Now that the wedding is over, the extra relatives are gone, and wedding related tasks are finished, we don’t know “what to do?” with his parents. I’m worried that they are bored out of their minds.

P has been largely working from home, but hasn’t been getting a lot of research done, so he will have to start going back to his office soon. I leave for work every morning at 7:45 and don’t come back until 4:30. We have computers and internet, so P generally tries to find Nepali and Hindi serials online for his parents to watch, but we don’t have a proper tv for them to flip through the channels, and Mamu doesn’t understand enough English to follow American serials very closely (too much English tends to make her fall asleep).

Mamu spends some time each day cooking, and P’s parents have gladly volunteered for the job of taking our dog out for walks around the park in the morning and afternoon, but most of the day they are at home, and especially in the recent heat wave, I think they spend much of the day sleeping.

“P, what can we do with them? Do they have any hobbies? Can we get them active in a local community group? Should we teach them to use the bus system so they can go around the city? I feel bad that there is so little for them to preoccupy their time during the day. What do they generally do at home?”

“At home the day is usually spent just making it through the day—doing stuff that requires electricity during the brief time it is available, stocking up on water during the brief time that it is available, taking care of my grandfather, cleaning, washing clothes by hand, cooking, it all takes extra time, and then the day is over. Otherwise they socialize with neighbors, drink tea on the roof. That’s about it.”

During two of the heat wave days this week P dropped them off at a local mall so they could enjoy air conditioning and poke around stores while he was at work, but there are only so many days one can do this before even shopping becomes boring.

We try to take them out of town on the weekends– day trips or overnight trips to visit new places or people, but that is only two days out of seven.

About a month ago Gori Wife Life had a post asking for suggestions on how to keep her father-in-law busy during his recent visit. She had the idea of getting him involved in the activities surrounding a local mosque. That sounded like a great idea, but unfortunately the local temples are at least a 20 minute drive east or west and not easy for them to get to, plus I’m not sure how much community activity currently surrounds either.

But I’m happy to solicit for suggestions. Any help for “What to do?”