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First Encounter with Snow

I've been back to my home state of Minnesota since September 16th. It's great to be home, despite the sucky job market.

This weekend we got our first snowfall of the season. Sharan has been enjoying her encounters with snow. Here's a photo of her first walk through snow:


I have to add that I knitted that hat myself. It's made out of super-soft baby Alpaca wool.

I also got some videos, including this one teaching her how to throw snowballs. This one was taken just today, in her second foray into snow:

Children sure do make snow a lot more fun. (-:

Gallstone Be Gone

Well, the time has come for me and my daughter to head home in Minnesota. We are scheduled to arrive the 16th of September, and I'm looking forward to it overall. It's unfortunate my husband cannot join us just yet, but hopefully it won't be too long before he has the opportunity.

We made a rather last-minute decision to have my gallbladder removed before I leave, since I don't know when I'll get health insurance in the U.S., and the overall cost of the surgery is roughly the same as the mere deductible would be from the insurance company, depending on what policy we get. Plus there would have been a risk that I'd have a major gallstone attack before having the opportunity to get it removed, and I didn't wish to risk a $50,000 medical bill. $700 is much better than $50K.

I had the surgery last Saturday, and my recovery overall is going very well. I'm able to do most things now, and once the stitches are removed, I think I'll be able to carry my daughter again too (still to be confirmed by the doctor, of course). The only restriction will be not to carry heavy stuff for 3 months.

Right after the surgery, the doctor gave the gallstone to my husband in a container. Maybe this was supposed to be proof that there really, truly was a gallstone. It's around the size of a medium marble, maybe a bit bigger. My daughter likes to use it like a rattle, at least until I took it from her.

My daughter had a rough time of it. She's very dependent on me, probably because I've been a stay-at-home mom up to now and have done the majority of her care. Still, she used to be okay with taking bottled milk from family members, so I don't know why she now refuses to take it from anyone. We couldn't even get her to drink milk at the hospital. She did eat some food, but not very much. My husband's family just kept trying to feed her different things, including pizza and garlic bread, some of her favorites. In the end, they brought her to the hospital at 2am and left her with us along with her diaper bag, as she wouldn't stop crying. We had a private room, so she didn't disturb anyone else. She would only drink juice and refused all milk until we returned home the following day, where she happily drank it in her usual place.

That's been me lately. I should sign off now, as my right hand is hurting. The catheter I.V. with an antibiotic drip had backed up into my vein (called "phlebitis"), and it's been hurting ever since. I hope it's better before I leave for the U.S.
Normally, I try very hard to be "objective," or at least reasonably neutral, regarding my posts on India. To be fully honest, I will have to confess publicly that, while India is a fascinating place in many ways, I do prefer living "back home" in the U.S., and am making plans to move back some time between September and November with my daughter, and later to be joined by my husband (if he so wishes, of course! LOL)

I will have to say that an incident that happened today has outlined *one* of the reasons why I simply can never call India home. That is the way that many Indians treat stray dogs.

India is rife with stray dogs. Millions of them. It's a huge problem, and although the government has laws to control the population through spaying the females, seldom does it follow through. So the stray population remains huge, to the detriment of both the stray dogs and humans (India has a huge rabies problem, partly due to so many unvaccinated stray dogs). Often it ends up being some private citizens who choose to spay and vaccinate animals, maybe to make their area a "rabies-free zone," and sometimes because they've grown fond enough of particular strays who show up for food daily and hang around the colony.

However, while I've heard of a few Indians adopting strays as pets, it's mostly from other parts of India (certainly not Chandigarh), and it's not nearly as common as in Western countries, such as the United States, where I am from.

For the most part, Indian stray dogs are considered dirty animals, not suitable as pets. While some are reasonably kind to them, at least enough to throw stale chapattis for them to eat, the majority of people will try to hit, kick, and throw stones at them. All, and I do mean ALL, of the children in our colony are afraid of dogs. They've even shown fear towards a neighbor's Dachshund puppy. Yes, they are fascinated with puppies, but they are A) not socialized enough with dogs to be comfortable around them, and B) have seen too much cruelty and fear from adults to interact well with them. This fear has even started rubbing off on my daughter, Sharan, who never used to show any fear towards dogs at all. I used to have to steer her away from strange strays, because she wanted to pet them all. But now, while she's still interested in dogs, she is much more cautious when approaching, and is hesitant to pet them. And when she does pet one, she quickly jump back, as though afraid.

Indians even go so far as to call the strays "Pariah" dogs, if it gives you any idea about the general attitude towards them.

Today, a little 7-week-old puppy wandered into our colony. Nobody knows where this puppy came from, and I can only hope it will find its mother. The children were watching the puppy, approaching hesitantly, then running away in fear when the puppy ran up to them to play, though laughing. I followed this procession around the block, watching the kids and letting Sharan pet the puppy when we got close enough. Then at one point, the puppy approached two young laborer children (I think they're kids of someone's maid), and an "auntie," one of the elderly ladies who I used to see all the time during my "Kitty Party" days, was frantically telling them to stay away from the puppy (I think, as she was speaking in Hindi), then when the puppy trotted up to her, wagging it's tail, she KICKED it, TWICE. Like I said, this is a helpless 7-week-old puppy who lost its mamma and showed ZERO signed of aggression, and this old lady KICKED it out of fear.

I was so angry that I walked up to the puppy, picked it up (with Sharan in my other arm), yelled at the woman from abusing a helpless puppy, then walked away. The lady immediately went to the other "aunties" in the colony to complain about me, and I saw them all throw dirty looks in my direction.

Honestly, I don't care if I offended her or anybody. It was pure cruelty to kick a puppy.

And yes, I realize there is cruelty to animals all over the world. However, what disgusts me is the widespread, and CULTURALLY ACCEPTED cruelty to strays, even little puppies, in India.

To be fair, I've heard that people are not so often cruel in other parts of India. My Russian friend tells me when she was at the beach in Goa with her sons, there were some local strays who were raised by a local man, well-fed and friendly. And a couple of years ago I read an article in the local paper printing an interview with a woman, currently living in Mohali but originally from other parts of India, who was lamenting the exceptionally cruel behavior she sees towards stray dogs in the Chandigarh area. She herself has adopted 2 strays and had all the local strays spayed and vaccinated, to make it a "rabies-free zone." My husband and I have wanted to do this in our area, but we just haven't had the money up to now to do it.

A few months ago I was bitten by a 3 or 4-month old puppy in the park that had become very aggressive. I heard shortly after it had bitten someone else. Everyone was talking about it, and of course sympathetic towards me. But I will say that I had twice observed this puppy and its littermates abused by children and had chased them off. Once they were chased by lathis. This was before the puppy started biting people. If I saw children abusing them twice, then imagine how many other times the puppies were chased and abused. I will add that when I chased the kids away, there were other people in the park, and not one, NOT ONE, made any attempt to yell at the kids for their cruelty towards the stray pups.

Gee, I wonder why that puppy became so aggressive later! Must be rocket science.

And yes, I did get a series of rabies shots afterwards. And the entire litter of puppies has since been destroyed by the municipality, with no-one but me feeling bad for their short miserable lives.

Really, I'm so fed up with seeing such culturally-approved cruelty, I'm ready to go home. For good. I only wish I can take that little puppy I saw today with me. )-:

Consuming Raw Milk

It was with interest that I read a Chicago Tribune article today (though it was actually published yesterday) titled "Raw Milk: Personal Decision or Public Danger?".

I've been living here in North India for 3 years now, and many people here drink raw milk (which Indians call "fresh milk"). Every morning you see it delivered by scooter and motorcycle, transported in large steel vessels hanging over the sides of the vehicles. Many here prefer it over packaged milk. My husband insists it tastes better, and that he doesn't like the taste or smell of pasteurized, homogenized milk. Honestly, I can't tell the difference, but maybe my taste buds aren't as well-developed.

However, it's also a common practice to boil all milk (even packaged milk that's listed as pasteurized) after receiving it. Our house receives 2 liters of fresh milk daily, and it is boiled immediately after receipt, and again at night. It will also be added to tea while boiling, so it is boiled while making chai as well.

My husband was under the impression that you can safely drink raw milk that has been boiled and cooled in the refrigerator for several hours, although I'd warned him I had read that it should always be re-boiled before consumption.

Just today we brought our daughter to the pediatrician after having a high fever, and she vomited while at the doctor's office. He said it was likely from food poisoning. When I told him we drink fresh milk, and asked if it could be from that, he affirmed it was possible. He said never to drink it after having been cooled for several hours in the 'fridge, and that my husband's practice of adding refrigerated fresh milk to smoothies was dangerous. He said, "you must boil it, and re-boil it, and re-boil it." He suggested boiling the milk and quickly cooling it by pouring it between vessels before adding it to a smoothie.

If you drink raw milk, or are considering buying it, and you know a doctor from India at your health care clinic, you might want to ask him/her regarding the proper consumption of raw milk. I'm willing to bet that he/she will tell you the same as our Indian pediatrician did.

Even if you don't know such a doctor, please take my word for it (especially if you give it to your kids), and be sure to boil it every time before drinking it. You'll probably need to get used to eating cereal with warm milk, too, just like Indians do.

Bullying: Criminal Behavior

I've been keeping up on the story of Phoebe Prince in the NY Times these last few days. In case you haven't heard the story (I don't know if the TV news channels have been covering it, but I sure haven't seen a peep in the Minneapolis StarTribune), in January she recently committed suicide. It wasn't clear from the newspaper stories I read whether she'd left a letter, told someone, or her family presumed it, but her death has been attributed to the severe "bullying" she got in her new high school in South Hadley, Massachusetts, prompting officials to press charges against the 9 offending students (some charges as severe as statutory rape and assault). Phoebe and her family had recently moved there from a town in Ireland.

I don't want to go into all the details of the story, because it's easily available online, and don't want to make a book-long comment, because I'm sure it's been blogged about aplenty. But having been the target of severe "bullying" during Junior High and High School myself, and having had contemplated suicide because of this bullying, I feel strongly on this subject.

My main point is the reason I put quotation marks around the word "bullying." Having lived in the adult world for some time, I feel that the term "bullying" is part of the very problem. In the adult world, the things we call "bullying" in school are usually given different terminology: harassment, sexual harassment, stalking, assault, and robbery, to name just a few. All (or almost all, at least) are considered criminal behaviors in the adult world that can (and often are) tried in a court and include legal punishment (fines, jail time, community service).

Yet, because we have such a diminutive term for these actions when they occur in a school, legal prosecution and punishment rarely occur. Not only that, but many people still believe it's some kind of bizarre "rite of passage" for students who don't "fit in," are considered "weird," or in some other way are simply different from others. And because people shrug it off as mere "bullying," teachers and administrators don't see much reason to intervene.

I realize there has been some argument in the comments for the story regarding how much teachers and administrators actually "knew" about the bullying Ms. Prince endured, but if it was like at my schools (and I suspect it was), I'm sure they saw plenty and knew a lot. A lot of bullying happens right under their noses. Students often punched, shoved, or assaulted me in other ways right in front of teachers, and rarely did they do anything. I've seen other students attacked loudly in the middle of the hallway, and rarely did they intervene unless it caused too much of a general disturbance. In fact, during teacher-parent conferences, one teacher even talked to my mother about the harassment I received at school, and only commented "She defends herself very well." The only reply I have to this is, "WTF??" My mother never complained to administrators, either, because she came from the generation who believed that kids had to "work this out for themselves."

Although there are many changes that need to occur for this horrendous social situation to change in American schools (and don't anyone tell me that school teachers and administrators can't do anything, because here in India such behavior is quickly crushed, at least through high school), I believe that first we must re-phrase the actions that are happening in our schools. We need to stop using the term "bullying," and instead use the same terminology we do in the adult world. When we start regularly using criminal terminology for this behavior, more and more we will believe that such behavior deserves to be tried and punished (obviously, except in extreme cases, it would usually be tried in juvenile court, but it should be tried nonetheless). Once we as a society begin calling these actions for what they really are, and the threat of real punishment in juvenile court looms, more parents of these offending teenagers will take action, if only to try to prevent their kids from getting criminal records (yes, I realize most juvenile records don't continue to adult records, but a teen who lands in juvenile court too much may eventually--when he/she is old enough--be tried in an adult court, or so we hope). They will also wish to avoid the social stigma of having a "problem child." It won't work in all families, but it would help some to take action.

And for those families who refuse to help correct their teen's behavior, the school will have stronger recourse to suspend, expel, or transfer the student to another school.

Until then, and as long as we keep shrugging these criminal activities off as mere "bullying," nothing will significantly change in our schools. That is one reason why I plan to homeschool my child.

No Computer Time

Finally, I've got another chance to use the computer for a while!

Between my husband's busy schedule (most of his work is done by computer and on the phone), and, other reasons, I hardly ever get to use it these days. I generally check my e-mail on my cell phone, then snitch the computer just long enough to send a reply. Then someone is demanding it back (or my daughter needs me, of course).

Hopefully soon I'll find more opportunities to post.

Adventures in Machine Washing

SharanFeb10 186

Above is a photo of my mother-in-law's Indian-style, semi-automatic washing machine back at their home in Ambala. We stayed at their home for 2 weeks over the Diwali holidays last year. Washing machines are expensive in India, so most households that have a washing machine use this style, which is cheaper.

What is different about the semi-automatic, compared to the fully automatic machines in the U.S.?

Well, first off, as you can see, there are two openings. The one on the left is to wash or rinse the clothes. The one on the right is for the spin cycle. That's right, it can't be done all in the same tub. In addition, you have to manually set up every single cycle. Below is a rendition of a typical clothes cycle:

1) Dump clothes into left tub.
2) Put tube onto water tap and turn on water to fill with cold water. If any hot water is needed, then dump the necessary amount of hot water into the tub. That's right, the machine isn't fully hooked up to the house water system.
3) Dump detergent into tub and close top.
4) Set washing time for 15 minutes (because it doesn't go any longer than that).
5) When machine buzzes, re-set timer for another 15 minutes.
6) When machine buzzes, if it's been enough time, flip the switch that drains the water from the tub (if it hasn't been enough time, go back to Step 5).
7) Transfer sopping clothes from left tub to smaller right tub.
8) Place rubber top (shown in photo) on top of clothes.
9) Close filter top on that.
10) Set spin cycle for appropriate amount of time (I think it's up to 10 minutes).
11) Open tub.
12) Transfer clothes back to left tub.
13) Dump appropriate amount of water into tub and close top.
14) Set timer for the amount of time you wish to rinse your clothes.
15) When machine buzzes, flip switch to drain the water out.
16) Transfer sopping clothes to right tub.
17) Repeat Steps 8 - 11.
18) If one rinse is enough, take clothes out and hang to dry. (If you need a second rinse, then repeat steps 11 - 17).

Honestly, I don't think a semi-automatic is much better than hand-washing cloths. Yes, it's some better (at least you don't need to rub or hand-wring them yourself), but you need to hover over the machine for most of the cycle. It was even worse when washing cloth diapers, as they need a pre-wash cycle, and at least 3 rinse cycles. Oi!

Jun. 25th, 2009

Alpaca Direct

100% Baby Alpaca Makes a wonderful gift Sizes vary due to their handmade nature Approximately 6" tall Hand crafted in Peru

Mini Stuffed Toy Alpaca (6" Cushed)

Cute and Soft, but a bit Hard

Rochelle India 6/25/2009


4 5

Pros: Cute, Good Quality, Soft

Cons: Difficult to Wash

Best Uses: All Ages

Describe Yourself: First Time Parent, Stay At Home Parent

Overall, this is a really cute Alpaca stuffed toy. I was a tiny bit dissapointed to find it was not as plushy as most stuffed toys. It feels a bit "hard." Maybe that's because it's made from a pelt, or the stuffing used. Otherwise, it's very cute, and the fur is extremely soft. My daughter is a little young to have much interest in stuffed toys, but she does sometimes like to pick it up, shake it, and feel the soft fur.



There's not much to "report" these days, as I'm not doing much. We finally got our marriage registration process started. The Monday of the last week in May, we were able to give our 30-day notice to the Deputy Commissioner Office in Mohali (the city where we live). We had to put legal notice ads in 2 newspapers--one in India, and one in Minneapolis. The DC office provided the verbiage for the notice. My Lord, is it wordy! Plus we had to add a mug shot of each of us (no nice wedding photo, but mug shots!). The cost for each ad was about $300, which means we spent $600 total for those stupid ads. Boy, I really wish I'd known about this before coming to India. I'd have made my husband come to the U.S. to get married. Sure, it may have taken a year to obtain his fiancee visa, but we could have married and had our marriage registered within a month! His one-way ticket wouldn't have cost much more than the $600 for those two stupid ads, and he'd have met my parents by now, too. Grrrrr! One more reason I dislike living here--the horrid bureaucracy!

Like I said, I haven't been up to a whole lot. Been getting bored, really. I've been researching Alpacas and the Alpaca business a great deal. There are a couple of packages due to arrive this coming week with toys for Sharan, and in one of them is a booklet from the Alpaca Owners & Breeders Association. I even saw one on TV on Animal Planet here in India. It was in a commercial that appeared to have been shot in South America, but it was hard to tell. They are such cute creatures!

Unfortunately, I don't have any photos of an Alpaca, so I can't post one from my Flickr page, but here's a photo of a couple of llamas from the Renaissance Festival. Alpacas look much like a small llama:

Two Llamas and a Boy

These days, obtaining an alpaca farm sounds like a great way to re-settle in the U.S., especially while sitting on my rear end and clicking on web pages. LOL Running a farm might be a bit different. And Alpacas sell at prohibitive costs. A good-quality, bred, mature female ranges from $10,000 - $20,000, or more if you want a top show-winning animal. I've read that if you search a lot. you can find nice to good-quality females on sale for less than $10,000 (I've noticed a number of farms dispersing or partially-dispersing their herds due to health problems. Most new Alpaca farmers start their businesses soon before or after retirement, which might explain the high attrition rate.) But even a $5,000 female is costly, even when you can write it off on your tax returns. You still have to pay for the animal and related costs up-front before obtaining the tax credits.

Of course, that means we probably will never be able to afford such a venture. But it's a good way to pass the time.

What got me interested in Alpacas? Last Fall I bought a neat pair of Alpaca longies (knit woolen pants) for Sharan. Alpaca is one of the softest wools I've ever felt! I envied her when she wore them. LOL I have a couple of skiens of Alpaca yarn on their way to me (I'm learning how to knit), and a pattern for a stuffed bunny, along with the necessary yarn (alpaca/merino wool blend), and some other yarn. India does have yarn--a lot of it--but they don't tell you the "weight" of the yarn on the packaging, if there is packaging, nor the needed needle size, and pure wool yarn is hard to find. It's almost all blended with acrylic, and the little pure woolen yarn I found was scratchy. It was not something I would want to use, or have Sharan use. For the high quantity of yarn available here, there really is very little variety. Not like in the U.S., where you can find yarn made from just about any fabric (natural or man-made) imaginable. And like I said, for a beginner like me, it's difficult to buy because they don't list the weight.

In case you're wondering just how much time I've been spending on this Alpaca thing, well, I already have a list of breeders and their information on an Excel spreadsheet. It was too overwhelming to keep track of which breeders offered what services, and what prices their animals ranged at. That's a lot of effort for something we likely will never have the money for!

And by the way, the title of this post is related to Alpacas. How? Well, the main sound they make is a hum. Yes, folks, they hum! Isn't that cool?

I thought so, anyway.

Gazing out the window

This photo was taken at the Cafe Coffee Day at the Fortis Hospital across the street from us. That means I don't have to do without my yummy coffee foo-foo drinks! Sharan also enjoys going there, as you can see.

What's out the window?

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