Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Diwali Rangoli

An Om made with Burning Bush leaves

One of my favorite childhood memories of Diwali is making rangoli, colorful patterns, with my family members.  Since it isn’t always easy to get access to the vibrant colored powders that are used to make rangoli, and they can be messy and you don't always know what is in them, we like using different materials for our rangoli.

1.)    Nature – Find colorful leaves, sticks and stones to use.  Depending on when Diwali is, it can be difficult to find leaves if it is already winter but make do with what you can find.

2.)    Colored rice.  I dye my rice with India Tree Natural Food Coloring, which is 100% plant based and free of petrochemicals, (available in stores like Whole Foods or online at Amazon and other retailers), or pressure cooker/steamer water from vegetables like carrots and beets.  Just mix a couple drops of the dye into a bowl of uncooked rice until you get the desired tint.

3.)    Lentils.  Lentils already come in a vast array of colors and the best part is, you can wash, soak and eat them when Diwali is over.  This is a zero-waste craft.
Ganpati made from lentils
 4.)    Bangles.  Mix and match bangles with other bangles or lentils, rice, sequins, etc. to make the pattern of your choice.

5.)    Glass beads.  Those decorative beads sitting in vases are great for rangoli as well.
Note: Always put choking hazards high up, out of the reach of pets and children.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Felt Lakshmi

Using 100% wool felt, and cotton, I made the Goddess Lakshmi for my son.  I purchase my felt from Weir Dolls &Crafts. 

I never learned to sew, unless what I learned as a preschooler in Montessori counts.  This looks complicated but it isn't that difficult to put together and a child isn't going to mind if your stitches are crooked or backwards or just plain wrong.  If you don't want to purchase wool felt you can try using eco-felt but it is a much less forgiving fabric that can tear a lot easier than wool felt.

1.) I cut out the patterns shown above.  I had a lot of wool felt scraps that I needed to up, so you don't have to follow the patterns exactly, especially when it comes to the jewelry and sari embellishments.
2.) I sewed the eyes, mouth and bindi onto the front layer of the face using a double thread.
3.) The body, (red sari), and head and limbs are in duplicate.  I sewed those together using a blanket stitch.  For sturdier and easier construction, you can also just cut the shape of a torso with four arms and a head attached to it already out of a flesh colored felt, (and sew the sari on after), but I didn't have enough brown felt to do that.
4.) I sewed the hair on, making sure to only attach it to the back layer of the head so the stitches wouldn't show on her face.
5.) I sewed the remainder of the clothes and jewelry on.
6.) I sewed the three lotuses on.
7.) I had drawn the lotus petals on with a ball point pen and just went over it with a running stitch to make sure the lines wouldn't fade like ink on felt does over use, and the felt Lakshmi was done.

If you have an older child, it can be a fun craft to do together as well for Diwali or any occasion.  And as an added benefit, why not challenge the Indian ideals of fair skin by making your goddess whatever skin tone you want her to be?

Keep checking back for more Felt tutorials on Wading With Soup including Ram, Ravan, Lakshman, Sita, Hanuman, Krishna, Shiva, Parvati, Kartikeya, Ganpati, an India play mat with animals, and American and Indian play food.  Here is a sneak peek at what's to come:
Shankar, Ravan and Ram

Kartikeya, Parvati and Ganpati

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Lack of a Desi Filter

When in India, you drink filtered water.  There’s no way around it.  Unless, of course, you want to contract Amebiasis.  Not familiar with it?  I am.  It’s caused by a parasite found in unclean water.  What makes the water unclean?  It’s laced with fecal matter.  The, literally, “crappy” parasite lives in your intestines until treated, and it apparently really misses its ancestral home, because it makes you go to the bathroom.  A lot.

Lesson learned.  Filtration just makes everything better.

Wouldn’t it be nice if Desis liked their small talk the way they liked their water?  Unfortunately for all of us, that rarely seems to be the case.  Somewhere in Desi DNA, the gene for a verbal filter got lost.

I remember countless cringe-worthy, pubescent moments in India thanks to inquisitive distant relatives, old family friends, and total strangers.

An elderly relative once asked me how my movements were.  They were good, I thought.  I wasn’t the most athletic person in the world but I got around.  Despite my lack of upper body strength, I think I even passed most of the Presidential Fitness Test.  But before I could respond, someone whispered to me that the movements he was referring to were my bowel movements.  Awesome.

I’ve been asked at a very young age if I had gotten my periods yet.  What?  There was going to be more than one?  This did not sound good.

I’ve been told my nose was too big, my hair too curly, my posture, incorrect.

And if I ever had an upset stomach while in the motherland, my diarrhea became everbody’s business.  It was bad enough my name rhymed with the word, (well, that and gonorrhea), now anyone I shared even a couple genes with was acutely aware that I had the Runs thanks to that cilantro and ketchup “pizza” I had just eaten.  As I would sit there popping Hajmolas, Hawabans and other digestive tablets, laced with the aroma of flatulence, the working theory being to fight fire with fire, everyone and their mother would be busy openly discussing my very private matters.  And new visitors to the house were quickly updated with the situation. 

“Do you like India?  How is your trip so far?” 
“She has diarrhea.” 

“Do you remember me?” 
“She has diarrhea.”

“What time is it?”
“Supriya has diarrhea!”

I wish this lack of subtlety got refined on the flight to America but, unfortunately, this just wasn’t the case.  No aspect of life is too personal to be discussed openly by Desis who have just immigrated to the States or by those who have lived here for decades.

I’ve been asked by an uncle I had only met once, “Don’t you feel that you’re bringing your parents shame by not becoming a doctor?”  I’ve been called across the dance floor, mid-song, at an engagement party by an auntie I hadn’t seen in months.  She smiled, beckoning me towards her with her finger.  When I fought my way through hordes of Indians doing the Macarena, (or was it the Dougie?), and got to her side, she shouted above the music, “I saw the movie you worked on.”  I beamed, proud of my first credit on a film.  “Oh, thank you--”  “-It was awful,” she finished. 

Although I’ve never been able to tell anyone that the cars they helped design were ugly, or that the legal briefs they wrote were faulty, or that their bedside manner in the hospital was terrible, I’ve been told dozens of times what the structural issues are with films I’ve worked on, how the character arcs could be improved, and what plot points should have been included in the script.  I guess all those years of studying engineering, law and medicine made these people authorities in screenwriting.

I put up with the constant, uninvited assessments, thinking these intrusive opinions would be less readily available as I aged but I was mistaken.

After I turned 30 I was congratulated by a relative on my pregnancy.  Was I pregnant?  If I was, it was with pizza.  But because my weight was no longer in the high 90s like it was in the late 1990s, more than one person wished me all the best for my “pregnancy.”

When I finally was pregnant with a human child and not a bellyful of cheesy bread, I was told I must be due any day now.  I really hoped that wasn’t the case since I was only in the beginning of my second trimester.  When I got to my third trimester, I was asked by Indians I had never met before, “Are you sure you’re not having twins?”  Yes, yes I am.  Because that’s what ultrasounds are for.

Post-pregnancy, when I greeted an uncle with “hi,” he responded with the standard salutation: “You really need to lose that weight soon.”  And to top it all, three months after I gave birth, a Desi maternity store employee asked me when I was due.

As a 2nd generation Desi, I am totally aghast when these kinds of comments are made.  But I’d be lying if I didn’t confess that a part of me wishes I could be that blunt and open with strangers.  There’s a strange kind of confidence in this, no matter how socially unacceptable it is.

In the end, as embarrassing and appalling as it is to be asked these questions, the bluntness does offer a sense of comfort, a sense of familiarity, and dare I say, a sense of family, even if you are meeting someone for the first time when they ask about your menstrual cycle.  So I guess everyone can drink the unfiltered Kool-Aid every now and then.  I mean, what’s the worst that can happen? 

Oh right, diarrhea.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

DIY Halloween Toys

Here are some easy Halloween toys to make for your kids.

Ghost- This takes about five minutes to make.  Cut an old white sock just below the heel, making the cut a little wavy for the bottom of the ghost.  Stuff the ghost with the other half of the sock and sew it shut.  Then add eyes and a mouth, (I used old wool felt scraps), and you’re done!

Jack-o-lanternCut the shape of a pumpkin out of an old 100% cotton men’s shirt.  (I never use men’s clothes that are wrinkle free because they are coated in PFOAs and I don’t want my children touching that).  Stuff the pumpkin with old fabric scraps and sew it shut, adding black wool felt eyes and a mouth and a brown stem.

For year-round fun, you can leave the backside of the pumpkin as is so it can be used in the play kitchen.

Witch – This one was the most time consuming of the bunch.  Cut the witch’s body out of an old cotton men’s shirt.

I really don’t know much about sewing so I just estimated the black wool felt for her clothes, hair and hat without tracing a pattern and sewed them on.  I used the navy blue and green collar of the shirt for the broom, cutting a one inch wide strip out for the broom handle and a little square for the bristles.  I folded the strip in half and sewed it together.  Then I folded the two top corners of the square down to form a triangle at the top and sewed that to the broom handle.  I cut slits into the square to make my bristles and then sewed the whole thing to the witch.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Fall Leaf Fun

Today my son and I collected fall leaves.  It is a fun way to teach your young children about seasons and let them discover their environment. 

You can dump the leaves out in a box for an easy sensory bin or just spread them in the grass or on a walkway for your kids to play with.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Decreasing Your Family's Exposure to PFOAs

What PFOAs are: PFOAs are a kind of PFC, (perfluorinated compound), a widely used group of chemicals that is in everything from cosmetics to cookware to those sheets in pizza boxes that soak up grease.  PFOA stands for perfluorooctanoic acid and makes up non-stick and waterproof coatings for several companies. 

Where PFOAs can be found: 
1.) Nonstick cookware like pots, pans, and utensils. 
2.) Nonstick bakeware like pizza trays, cookie sheets, muffin trays, brownie and cake pans, pie pans, etc.
3.) The inside of most ovens, toaster ovens, bread makers, some toasters and other appliances like space heaters and nonstick irons.
4.) Stain protection on items like rugs, carpet, furniture and mattress covers
5.) Carpet Cleaners
6.) Wrinkle free clothing
7.) Pizza box linings and the interior of popcorn bags.

The health effects of PFOAs:

1.) One of the not very well publicized effects of PFOAs is that when heated, they kill birds.  Check out the literature that came with your cookware.  I once purchased a stainless steel Faberware sauce pan that had a generic pamphlet to caring for cookware, used for all their products and they have a warning in it that when heated to a certain temperature, certain cookware can kill pet birds.

2.) Several residents of the town of Parkersburg, West Virginia, where Teflon is manufactured, sued DuPont for PFOA contamination and the health effects they suffered from water contamination.  While it was settled privately, there are accounts on scientific blogs and in articles and books such as Slow Death By Rubber Duck, where residents describe what they went through, from wildlife dying to birth defects in cattle that drank the contaminated water.

3.) The numerous PFOA related health issues for humans are generally just called "probable associations" due to limited studies.  Check out the following links for more information but if fumes from heated PFOAs can kill a bird, why cook with anything that contains them when there are so many other alternatives easily available?

How to decrease your exposure to PFOAs:

1.) Use safe, time-tested cookware like stainless steel and cast iron, and metal utensils.  Cast iron pans have a natural nonstick property when seasoned correctly with coats of oil over use and can easily be used for pancakes, eggs, dosas, etc.  To me, it's far better to spend a little more time cleaning a stainless steel pan or to eat a little extra oil in a cast iron than to ingest a little extra carcinogen.  And as an added bonus cast iron pans can add iron to the food that is cooked in them, especially when acidic foods are used.  There have been a lot of "green pans" in stores lately that are PFOA free but I have never tried them.  I'd rather use cookware that has been tested over several generations.

2.) Use safe, non-toxic stainless steel bakeware.  It won't leach aluminum or PFOAs into your baked goods the way scratched aluminum pans or nonstick pans will but is important to be aware that chances are your oven's interior is coated with Teflon or a nonstick equivalent.  There was a company called American Kitchen by Regal Ware who made stainless steel bakeware sets, made in America.  I'd purchased them for myself and family members on Amazon and other online sites but currently I cannot find anything by them online.  It looks like they may have gone out of business but you may be able to find them used. 

3.) Never use your oven's self-cleaning setting.  We actually bake in our oven sparingly and when we do, we open a window, even in winter.  It may not stop fumes from leaching into the food but it makes me feel better with my toddler and small dog in the house.

(While PFOA manufacturers claim their cookware is only unsafe at higher temperatures, (One manufacturer's own studies state that toxic particles start to form above 464 degrees Farenheit, and at 680 degrees Farenheit the cookware and bakeware release toxic gases including carcinogens), most pots and pans reach well over 680 degrees Farenheit when just heated on high.  It is unreasonable for companies to assume people who have all nonstick cookware will not be using the high setting on their stoves ever.*)

4.) Skip adding stain protection to your furniture when you purchase it.

5.) When we were getting new carpet in our house I spent hours over several days contacting the carpet manufacturer about PFOAs in their stainproof coating.  I was transferred over to several different representatives and managers who had no idea what I was talking about until finally one person told me they don't use it.  Although there are probably several carpet manufacturers who do not use PFOAs any more, I don't really trust the answer I was given when it came from a person who had never heard of PFOAs.  The problem with carpets when you have pets and babies is how much time they will spend on them, rolling, crawling, scooting, playing, etc.  Like your oven, be aware of what might be in your carpet.  I put comforters down in our playroom, where my son is barefoot the most, to decrease his exposure but unfortunately, it isn't always easy to keep toxins out of your house.  That is just the nature of the world we live in.

6.) Don't get your carpet cleaned with any products that use PFOAs.  There are a lot of "green carpet cleaners" out there but do your research and ask for the literature on their cleaners to decide for yourself how non-toxic they are.  Remember, there is no regulation for words like "natural" or "green" so it is easy for anyone to make these claims.

7.) Avoid waterproof or stainproof mattress pads.  For children use waterproof liners like those made by Naturepedic, which are totally free of PFOAs and only use a food grade plastic as a barrier.  They come in various sizes for crib mattresses, playpen mattresses and larger sized beds.

8.) Avoid men's clothing that say "wrinkle free" or an equivalent, as they have a nonstick coating on them.

9.) Buy irons that are not nonstick.  Avoid using space heaters and other appliances with a nonstick coating.

10.) When you order a pizza, ask them not to put the lining in the box.  Some employees may think you're crazy, and some may not be able to do it if the lining is glued into the box, but there is no harm in asking.  Ditch the microwave popcorn.  Make it yourself with kernels in a large pot on the stove.  You can experiment with your own spices and cheeses if you want flavored popcorn.

After reading all this, it can be easy to panic a little at the thought of what you've been exposing yourself or your children to.  Just remember it is impossible to totally eliminate toxins that have permeated our environment like PFOAs have, so my philosophy is to minimize my family's exposure as much as possible.  Just do your best and rest easy knowing you tried.

As a final note, PFOAs are being discontinued by 2015 by Dupont and other manufacturers.  If even the manufacturers are getting rid of it, that is something to think about, especially if you are using old or scratched nonstick cookware.  I've been meaning to update my oven for years now, as it is the only appliance that isn't stainless steel in my kitchen but I'm waiting until after 2015 to see what options will be available.

Further reading/resources:
1.) Slow Death By Rubber Duck  This is an incredible resource with more information on the health effects of common toxins in our environment.
2.) The Environmental Working Group  This site includes advice for what to do if you're stuck with Teflon cookware and cannot replace it.
3.) Teflon and Birds
4.) WiseGeek
5.) Veterinary Pet Insurance on Teflon's effects on pets
6.) The AARP on Microwave Popcorn

*(Smith, Rick & Lourie, Bruce; Slow Death By Rubber Duck, P 86).

Monday, October 14, 2013

DIY Diwali Bunting

I always save Indian wedding cards because they’re so decorative and can be repurposed into lots of fun crafts.

Today I decided to make a Diwali Bunting out of them. 

1.)  Fold the parts of the cards you want to use in half.  (Note: For this project it is best to use the invitations that are printed on cardstock and not the thinner, translucent, fibrous paper that many cards are made out of, because they are too flimsy to reliably stay on your ribbon or string).

2.) Use a small bowl to trace a semicircle onto one of the folded cards.

3.) Cut it out.

4.) Now use this semicircle as your pattern and trace and cut out as many divas (lamps) as you want.

5.) Then cut out your flames.  I cut mine out separately and didn’t use a pattern but if you want a more uniform look, cut out one flame and then trace it for the rest of your lamps.

6.) Glue the flames to the ends of the lamps, on the backside of the semicircle, alongside the folded edge.

7.) Once your lamps are all assembled, pick a colorful piece of string or ribbon to hang them by.  Slide the ribbon into the opening of the lamp and then glue each lamp shut around the ribbon.

8.) You’re all set!  Find a spot to hang your bunting.

You can do this annually, with each family member making their own lamp and adding it to the bunting.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Green Cleaning

Green Cleaning

 I try to be as chemical-free as possible in  my home.  Here are some of my green recommendations for cleaning products.

1.)    Dish Soap: Seventh Generation Lavendar & Mint Dish Soap.  Unlike the more famous dish soaps out there, Seventh Generation does not test on animals and doesn’t scent its products with harmful phthalates.  The mild lavender smell is barely noticeable and it is scented with actual lavender extracts, not chemicals.

2.)    Dishwasher Detergent: Again, Seventh Generation's liquid dishwasher detergent is an easily available option.  For tablets, I like Method’s Free and Clear dishwasher tablets.  Like Seventh Generation, Method is also cruelty free and they don’t use phthalates.  Seventh Generation also makes a dishwasher tablet but each pod comes individually wrapped in plastic, whereas the Method ones are all loose in a bag so it seems a little less wasteful, and I'm not a fan of whatever that encasing is melting off in my dishwasher.
3.)    Counters: I buy white vinegar gallons from Costco for cleaning, and fill a spray bottle with half filtered water and half white vinegar to clean our counters.  If you find the smell of vinegar a bit much to handle you can add essential oils to your spray bottles.  Aura Cacia essential oils are easily available online from retailers like Vitacost or in stores like Meijer's and Plum Market.
       (*Note that vinegar is not recommended for granite).
 4.)    Glass Stovetops and Sinks: For tough to remove stains and burnt-on grease I sprinkle the stain with baking soda and then spray it with white vinegar.  This is the same mixture used in science fair volcanoes and it does the trick.  The baking soda bubbles up and removes the stains.  You can wipe it up with a reusable rag, rinse, and dry for its next use.

5.)    Pots and Pans: To remove burnt stains from stainless steel pots and pans, heat some baking soda and water in the pot or pan.  When it cools, scrub the stain with a sponge and the baking soda.  For really tough stains, you may have to repeat this a couple times but it will get the stains out, (and without using toxic bleach powders that are meant to bleach your bathtub, not items that you eat out of).
6.)    Stainless Steel appliances and faucets: Instead of products targeted towards stainless steel appliances, I only use a spray bottle filled with half filtered water (to eliminate the white mineral residue that our tap water leaves on things) and half white vinegar.  I buff the appliances with a soft cloth that won’t scratch and can easily eliminate fingerprints and other smudges.  I always spot test the vinegar spray on an inconspicuous area when using it on a stainless steel appliance for the first time.

7.)    Mirrors, Glass Shower Doors, and Bathroom Counters: A spray bottle with vinegar and water does the trick.  Simply polish it off with rags that can be thrown in the washer for the next time.
      8.)    Dusting: Whenever a sock gets a hole in it, I wash it and store it in a container to be later used for dusting.  Once a week, I put the sock over my hand and dust away.  Because household dust is full of harmful PBDEs, I do not put these socks in the washer, but rather, throw them out.  It isn’t as green as reusing rags like I do for counters and mirrors but they are still being repurposed once after their original use as socks.

9.)    Laundry Detergent: Method Free & Clear works great.  Although the products recommend four pumps per load of laundry, I've found two to be just enough for our needs.  I alternate between this, Seventh Generation and Honest free and clear detergents for baby laundry too, as they are all mild, unscented, and free of the chemicals that other laundry detergents actually marketed for baby laundry contain.