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Archive for October, 2011

Oct
31
2011
Boo From Bengal
Author: Aruna

A super-cute adaptation of an old Bengali folktale – about a barber who outwits a ghost and it’s uncle using a mirror.  The Ghost Catcher has great text, great illustrations (the barber is a perfect rendition of a Bengali intellectual) and a great message (in problem-solving) – the trifecta of a great book. 

Happy Halloween!

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Oct
27
2011
Post-Diwali Blues?
Author: Aruna

Nope, not this year.  (Well, maybe just a little – it’s hard to go back to life as usual after all that excitment!)

As we mark the final day of Diwali today, I am reflecting on some trends I noticed this holiday season.  Trends that are encouraging and give me hope that the beauty of the Diwali celebrations is finally catching on – finally being recognized and acknowledged even by non-Indians.

Yes, folks, this year Diwali was bigger, louder and as a community I think we really made some noise!

Here are some of my notes:

1.  Senate Resolution 291 – a resolution recognizing the religious and historical significance of the festival of Diwali for Hindus, Sikhs and Jains – was passed by unanimous consent in the Senate on October 21, 2011.  Full text here.

2.  We got a special Diwali Greeting by President Obama (again) this year.

3.  I noticed more of my family members and Indian friends and business colleagues took the day off from work and school on Diwali this year. 

4.  My Inbox was filled with many messages from my non-Indian friends and colleagues wishing ME and my family a Happy Diwali.  This felt wonderful.

5.  Last but not least, I noticed more people were shopping for their kids compared with last Diwali season.  Although it is my personal hope that Diwali will not become overly commercialized and remain focused on family and spirituality, I am sincerely happy that more and more families are actually celebrating Diwali with (and for) their children.

Thank you all for letting Gnaana be a part of your Navratri and Diwali celebrations.  I hope the energy and excitement we tried to create on our site, and the articles and resources we offered helped to make your holiday season extra special.

And let’s make even more noise next year!

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Oct
26
2011

Play this beautiful Lakshmi Aarti.  For lyrics, see here.

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Oct
25
2011
Happy Deepavali
Author: Gnaana

Diwali in any language is a beautiful celebration!

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Oct
25
2011
A Diwali Menu
Author: Aruna

I credit this idea to my friend Suma – who typed up a menu during the holidays last year and posted it on Facebook.  Something about having it in writing that adds to the excitement – and, for sure, a keepsake memory.  Thanks for a terrific idea Suma!

Many of the recipes are adapted from The Chota Chef – so the kids will be helping me in the kitchen.  The jalebi, laddoos and mithai are store-bought (no, I’m not that ambitious).  We’ll be doing our Diwali Dinner tonight, as tomorrow we’ll be with our family and friends.

So here’s our menu – nothing too fancy – just about all I can handle with 2 young kids.  What’s on your menu?

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Oct
24
2011

This is really cute!  So Micky and Donald try to make 400 kgs of laddoos and 200 kgs of jalebi – only to be saved by Minnie’s mithia boxes.

And it all ends with – what else – firecrackers!  Happy Diwali, kids! 

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Oct
21
2011
Craft Party!
Author: Aruna

Well, 2 parties actually. 

The first was an impromptu one we threw last Sunday at our house – a combination Diwali and Halloween Craft Party.  If anything, it forced us to hang up all our Diwali lights and decorations (and stockpile more from what we made at the party).  It was a very simple and stress-free party really – we laid out 2 huge tarps in our backyard, plopped down all our art supplies (paints, brushes, stamps, marker, glue, craft punces, etc.) and had the kids do their messy thing (and WOW, did it get messy!).  I made some chaat and chutney and catered the rest from our favourite Thai restaurant.  We played tag and Duck-Duck-Goose.  I don’t know about the kids, but it was the most fun I’ve had in a long time!

The second was this past Wednesday in my daughter’s class.  We decorated sheets of cardstock and made kandils (paper lanterns) in preparation for a big United Nation’s Day celebration at my kids’ Montessori school on Monday (which conveniently corresponds with HAF’s designated National Teach Diwali in School Day – so my kids get to come to school dressed in their Indian clothes and take part in multicultural food and presentations.  Yours truly will be making Mini Moon Momos (from The Chota Chef) and teaching garba and dandiya steps.).

I’m also in love with these glitter pumpkins thought up by Designwali – a perfect blend of Halloween and Diwali sparkle.  These are on my list for next year’s parties!

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Oct
19
2011

You’re busy – just getting adjusted to the fall schedule – and BAM, you realize Diwali starts in less than a week!  For those of us living outside of India, we often have to drum up our own excitement.  In a perfect world, if you had all the time you needed to prepare, your house would be immaculate, lit-up inside and out with diyas and string lights and you would have 10 dishes prepared to feast on after the puja.

The things you could do to prepare for such a big holiday are limitless in number.  But don’t be overwhelmed and let Diwali slip by.  Here are 10 simple things you can do over the next few days to make Diwali a special event in your home:

1. Clean!  At least just 1 room. Or even your front porch and foyer.  There is something spiritually therapeautic about clearing up dust and clutter.  If you have a cleaning service, perhaps they can make an extra visit this week.

2.  Decorations:  Put up at least 1 special decoration – be it a craft you make with the kids or something festive that you can purchase.  Featured above are our very popular Diwali Origami Garlands – a simple, quick and high-impact decoration that will brighten up your room.

3.  Diyas & Lights:  You can purchase simple tea light holders (like those pictured above) for about $1 each at your local crafts store and also 50 or 100 packs of tea lights for a few dollars.  Place them on your fireplace, tables and stairways (but be strategic if there are young children in the house).  If you have string lights, wrap them up your banister or around a feature window. 

4.  A Small Present for Kids:  This doesn’t have to be elaborate – but something small that will put a smile on their faces and for them to remember Diwali by.  A new book signed and dated is one idea.

5.  Distribute Sweets:  To your neighbors and/or your kids’ classmates (see here for an idea).  This warm act of kindness is what makes Diwali special.

6.  Do Something Good:  Donate your time or money to your local temple or other preferred group.  Or have your kids donate their unused books and toys.

7.  Family Time:  On the day of Diwali – Wednesday, October 26th – make it a “family day.”  Take the day off if you can, or at least bring the kids home early.  Cook together or go out to dinner.

8.  Puja:  You can make this as short or elaborate as you like, but nothing brings Diwali into a home like the ring of a prayer bell.  Use our Step-By-Step Puja Tutorial and involve your kids.

9.  Special Meal:  Plan it out by devising a menu.  Create a beautiful table setting with diyas or candles.

10. Take Pictures!  Get dressed up, have fun with sparklers and take family pictures.

So get started – what are you waiting for?

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Oct
17
2011

Why is it so difficult to find simple, modern kurtas for boys?  The kind without all the zari and embellishments – casual enough to wear to school or a birthday party.  It’s always disappointment when I ask for “very simple, no work” cotton kurtas in Indian shops (not to mention the are-you-crazy-to-not-want-fancy-work look from the shopkeepers). 

Luckily, some boutiques seem to be carrying what I’m looking for under the guise of mandarin collar shirts.  I absolutely love this look for boys!

Pictured above, Littl by Lilit Mus top – fair trade and white print on grey.  $32.00
Crisp and refined by EGG Baby$42.00 each

Who can resist a Flora & Henri Lucien Linen Shirt?  On sale for $38.60

Staple favourites by Masala Baby – my son wears these everywhere!  $24.00 and $28.00

And just bought this – beautiful tailoring and a classic colour.  $48.00

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Oct
14
2011

Looking  for a good children’s book about Diwali?  It’s slim pickings out there, but I’ve had the chance to review several.  Sadly, most are quite terrible.  I really don’t like to write negative reviews, so I won’t name names, but here are my gripes:

          1.  As a South Indian, my pet peeve is when books try to teach that the Ramayana story is THE story of Diwali.  It is not THE story – it is A story.
          2.  Failure to get the name right:  “Diwali” is a shortened version of the correct term “Deepavali.”  If books are teaching about the holiday, this point should be mentioned.  Again as a South Indian, amongst family and friends, everyone in my family uses the term “Deepavali.’
          3.  When books try to also teach basics of Hinduism alongside the Diwali topic they become dangerously oversimplified.  One of the books I reviewed stated that “Hindus believe there are many gods.”  Which is fine I suppose as a first sentence, but a phrase like this must absolutely be qualified by a second sentence along the lines of “These gods are all seen as different manifestations of a single Supreme Being.”  I went through middle and high school with most of my classmates thinking I worshipped some polytheistic paganism due to a certain World Cultures public school textbook. Which I deeply resent.  Still.  Kids are perfectly capable of understanding the second sentence.
          4.  Failure to mention the core meaning of Diwali:  it’s not just about legends, mithai, firecrackers and diyas.  There is a beautiful meaning underlying all of it – the celebration of the inner light within us, the triumph of light over ignorance, etc.  Again, kids are perfectly capable of digesting this.

Enough about my gripes about the bad books, here are some decent ones that are worth taking a look at:

1.  Holidays Around the World: Celebrate Diwali: With Sweets, Lights, and Fireworks.  This one is published by National Geographic, so it instantly has credibility.  It’s text-heavy, but this allows children to grow into it.  The pictures are really nice. 

2.  Lights for Gita.  Not so much an instructional manual on Diwali, but a real story with a wonderful message.  Kind of sad, but the ending makes up for it.

3.  Lighting a Lamp: A Diwali Story (Festival Time).  If you’re looking for a basic for the preschool set, this one is very simple.  Some of my gripes (see above) apply here, but this is one of the better I’ve seen geared towards the youngest kids.

4.  Rama and the Demon King: An Ancient Tale from India.  I’ve recommended this before – it is just too cute.  The text is so well done that I don’t have to substitute my own version (like I do with some books I get from India).  A terrific summary of the Ramayana for kids.

5.  Krishna and Narakasura (Amar Chitra Katha).  Really the only option to illustrate the “other” Diwali story.

6.  My favourite – a DIY book idea submitted by one of our readers – Smriti from Kansas City, MO.  She used Flashcards from our Organic Bib Sets to create her own “Diwali Book”  using a small picture album.  She said in her email that she made her own cover and plans to fill the rest of the pages with family Diwali pictures, quotes and momentos.  Thanks for the snaps Smriti!

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