Category Archives: MY STORIES

Modeling: the new family business

You might remember that my mother-in-law has done some modeling work in the past. While were visiting India recently, the photographer that she works with stopped by the house… he was looking for some kids and a grandmother to model for his shoot the following day.  He took one look at Miss A and her two older cousins and offered them the job.

We actually debated on whether or not they should do it.  We thought it would be fun, but we only had a limited number of days with family and this photo shoot would take the whole day!  We finally decided to let them do it, not because of the money they would get paid, but because the photographer agreed to take a formal family photo for us.  Getting a nice “frame-worthy” family photo was on my list of priorities while we were in India, so this was a great opportunity – getting a professional photographer to do it for free?  Sign me up!!

I was curious to see how an Indian photo shoot would be.  I am a graphic designer and have worked for a couple of different magazines in North America, so I have seen my fair share of photo shoots.  We had to drive over an hour to get to the location.  The photo shoot was to advertise new apartments that are for sale. I was very impressed with how the shoot was handled.  There were many assistants, an older man who was playing the role of the grandfather, my MIL who was the grandmother, and two other children who were models, in addition to Miss A and her two older cousins.  Miss A was the youngest by far!  The photographer had a list of shots he wanted to get… they included the kids playing and posing on the bed in the bedroom (pictured above), a birthday scene, a balcony scene with the grandparents, a shopping scene (pictured at left) and some outdoor shots.  He kept things moving very quickly so there was very little “down time.”  The photographer’s assistants had all of the props well organized.  They also provided lunch for the whole crew.

Miss A wasn’t in all of the scenes, because of her age, but they used her as the one who cut the cake for the birthday scene,  she did well until they started spraying foam confetti EVERYWHERE  and the photographer was shouting “Give me MORE!” (referring to the confetti).  It scared Miss A so badly, she burst into tears… although he kept shooting!  After she recovered from that, she got to sit in the shopping cart – where they got some cute shots of her.  All together it was a fun day!

I was also very impressed with the apartment complex we were shooting.  This is beautiful new construction and very high-end living!  They have a grocery store at the bottom, which you can see is stocked very well.  The grounds were also beautiful.  I could live there for sure!  Too bad we didn’t get a discount on an apartment for doing the photo shoot!

Since I’m sure you’re wondering….the kids got paid Rs. 2500 each (around $55) and the adults got paid Rs. 5000 (around $110).  Not too bad, I suppose?  It was Miss A’s first paycheck – in Rupees!  And I got my family photo – which I LOVE and can’t wait to pick out the perfect frame, I already have the perfect spot reserved on my wall!

*The photos above are not the professional photos, these were snapped with my iPhone while I observed the shoot.  The family photo is the one provided to us by the photographer.  Please do not copy or reproduce any of the images posted on this blog.

International Celebrities

Surprise, Surprise!  While we were in India on our recent trip we woke up one fine morning to THIS in the morning issue of The Hindu newspaper!  Actually my mother-in-law woke ME up at 6 in the morning to show it to me!  I know it was breaking news and all, but I could have waited another hour or so to see it…
We had attended a deaf rally the day before.  (Although we almost didn’t make it, the three of us were traveling to the rally with a cousin’s family and we had a flat tire on the way there!)  My MIL works as an English teacher at a local deaf college, and they were thrilled to have our whole family attend the “International Day of the Deaf” rally.  I suppose we were the “International” part, which is why our picture showed up the next day.  I have to say it isn’t the most flattering picture, because they stopped us and asked us to smile and show the sign for “I Love You,” but they had us facing directly into the sun, so I was squinting!  
We had a good laugh, especially because they cut my husband out of the pic, and only his hand is visible.  When Miss A saw it, we asked her who was in the pic, and she said her name and pointed to herself, then she said “Momma” and pointed to me, then she said “Da-da” and pointed to my husband’s hand!  At which point, everyone cracked up.    
We also showed up in a local Telugu paper, they were kinder, because all three of us were there, although in their photo my husband was in the middle of Miss A and myself.  
What do you think, were we “news worthy” or just a spectacle?!  (I tend to think the latter…)

Indian Street Food: Enjoying Fresh Coconut

Miss A had a fabulous time in India!  It was still pretty hot while we were there.  To get some relief from the heat, and to keep hydrated we stopped several times for fresh coconut water right on the street.  If you’ve never experienced this before, you pay around Rs. 12 (depending on the location!) for the lady to use a machete to whack the top off of a young coconut.  Then she inserts a straw.  You drink all the coconut water and then give it back to the lady.  She will then use the machete to whack the coconut in half lengthwise.  Then she will use some of the shell to loosen the meat of the coconut from both halves.  She’ll put all the meat into one half of the coconut and give it back to you to eat the tasty young coconut meat.

Try not to think too hard about this – just go with the flow.  Of course her cart and machete aren’t sterilized.  Of course she didn’t use hand sanitizer to sanitize her hands before handling the coconut or the straws (which have been laying there in the open air all day long).  Of course her hands touch the meat of the coconut when she’s scooping it out for you.  But hey, you don’t get the chance to do this every day back home, right?  We’re pretty relaxed and happily enjoyed it and Miss A did too.  No tummy trouble for us.  I hope you’ll be just as lucky if you get the chance!

By the way…
Coconuts are an amazing food.  All parts of the coconut are so healthy for you from the coconut water (the latest health fad in the US), to the coconut meat, to coconut oil.  If you google just about any ailment and “coconut oil” you’ll come up with claims that coconut oil can heal the problem.  Seriously.  There must be some truth to it!

How about you? Have you tried any street food in India?  Are you nervous about it or do you just close your eyes and go with it?  Ever heard about the health benefits of coconuts?  Do tell!

Recap, Lessons and Tips Traveling in India

We’re home!  We had a month-long holiday and visited 4 different countries including India, France, Belgium & The Netherlands.  There is so much to catch up on!

Here’s a start:

  • We toured through 6 different cities in India with 12 family members.  Even with tons of advance planning, it was a logistical nightmare!  Husband and his older brother were both stressing to keep everything flowing smoothly.
  • Miss A was the center of attention, since it was the first time she was meeting most of our Indian family.
  • We were stopped by random people so they could take photos of Miss A.  She especially got lots of attention when she was riding in her red baby carrier backpack (pictured above). 
  • We highly recommend a baby carrier as opposed to a stroller when traveling to India.  Much more convenient.
  • We had mostly good health while traveling.  Miss A came down with something the morning we left for India.  She ran a fever for a couple of days and had a cough and runny nose, but it took care of itself within a few days and she was perfectly fine the rest of the trip.
  • Jet-lag – we knew what to expect for ourselves, but this is the first time we’ve traveled this far with a baby.  She was up from 2am – 6am several nights in a row that first week.  Wow that was ROUGH!  Then she would fall asleep in the late afternoon and the cycle would repeat itself.  Finally I made a rule that she was not allowed to sleep after 6 pm.  That did the trick. 
  • When we returned home we had reverse jet-lag.  It took almost 2 weeks to get Miss A back on a “normal” schedule.  We always find that jet-lag hits us harder on the way home.
  • Baby sippy cups: before reaching my Mother-in-law’s house, we spent a week traveling through India.  I was worried how I would safely clean Miss A’s cups. Every place we stayed had an electric tea kettle.  After washing with soap and a bottle brush (that I had brought from home), I just popped all the pieces of her cups inside and boiled for a few minutes. Worked like a charm.  But I sure was glad to get home to my dishwasher! (Well that and I let the maids take over a few times once we reached MIL’s house)
  • Milk for the baby: She’s been drinking whole milk for a while now, although at home we drink raw milk (more on that later!), but in India, especially while traveling, we used the shelf stable milk, called “tetra-packs.”  It is very different from what she’s used to, but she did ok.  Every time we got in the car, she would say “MILK.” So we carried it with us everywhere!
  • Carseat: No carseat for Miss A for almost one whole month!  MIL recently sold her car, because she really didn’t need it for just one person, so we were in taxis most of our time overseas.  Carseats aren’t the norm in India, and in fact, when you are sometimes cramming more people in a car than there are seats, it would be considered very “wasteful” to have an entire seat just for a baby!  She got used to me holding her while we were in the car, but she didn’t complain once we got home, which I was a little concerned about.  
  • My PIO card practically paid for itself… I got into all the tourist attractions for the Indian rate.  Example: Taj Mahal – ticket price for foreigners is Rs. 750, and for Indians it is Rs. 20!  Brilliant!
  • Things in India don’t cost what they used to!  We were constantly reminded of that fact.  My husband has lived in North America for over 6 years now, and our last trip to India was in 2007. Big difference.  We were most surprised at hotel prices and taxi prices (although we had been warned!)
  • When you have been hearing Hindi for 3.5 weeks straight, you will forget all the French you ever knew upon landing in Paris.  You will freeze when trying to think of how to say the number “4” and your Indian husband will upstage you (because he already knows like 5 languages, so what’s one more???) and he will proceed to order all the croissants and charm the socks off of the French people. (True story!)
  • We travelled “light” only 5 suitcases going there and 7 coming home.  Never. Ever. Again.
  • We had to catch 3 trains to get from Paris to Amsterdam.  7 suitcases. 2 backpacks. 1 baby.  Never. Ever. Again. 
  • Contrary to popular belief we did not pay excess baggage for our international flights.
  • However, when traveling domestic inside of India it would have been cheaper to buy Miss A a seat than pay for excess baggage. 
  • When your brother-in-law is a high ranking officer in the Indian Army, he can summon “men” to come and collect the excess baggage and deposit it at the final destination, saving tons of money on excess baggage.
  • Forget taking toys – an iPad does wonders to keep a baby entertained on long flights!
  • Next time we go to India, we’ll probably have baby #2, but we are taking only what we can carry in our hands or on our backs.  I am determined that next time we will travel light!
How about you?  Any recent trips to India or plans to go in the near future?  Any advice you would give someone traveling to a “Desi” country?  Special tips on traveling with a baby or small children?
I would love to hear your input!
Want to see a few photos from our recent trip?  Click here to view my Flickr photostream.

Happy Birthday, Miss A!

So our little Miss A had a birthday!  I can hardly believe a year has come and gone!  Obviously things change a lot with a little one added to the mix…greater responsibility, less time (for things like blogging!) … but worth every second!  She is the sweetest baby and a huge joy in our lives.  We celebrated her special day with a party with about 50 of our closest friends…basically everyone we know – and that doesn’t count any family – since we live so far away from all of our relatives (well if you look closely at the photos above, you’ll see the grandparents in attendance – via twin laptops and skype!).  We’ve made great memories over these past 12 months and are looking forward to a lifetime more to come!

Our Intercultural Sleeping Dilemma

Our baby has been sleeping in our room since she was born seven months ago. We have a cradle on my side of the bed – and for the most part, she has slept there. At first, I was very adamant that I wanted her to sleep in her cradle and not in the bed with us – because I had fears of her getting suffocated in our blankets or hurt if we rolled over onto her. However, as she’s gotten bigger, I have gotten more lax, and now most mornings she ends up in between us in the bed – so we can catch an extra hour or two of sleep. It has been working pretty well, but recently she has started waking more in the night, and generally not sleeping well.
So, we decided to seek the advice of our family. When I asked my mom what she thought, she said, it sounds like she’s ready to move out of the cradle and into her own room and crib. However, when I asked my husband’s mom, she said, the baby should stay in our room – that she was too small to put in her own room! Hmmm… should I be surprised that I got complete opposite responses?
Now we have to make our own decision. She is almost too big for the cradle, so either she sleeps in the crib in her room or full time in the bed with us. Neither one of us are completely taking one side or the other. But we ended up deciding that we wanted to see if we can get her to sleep in her own room in the hopes that we will all sleep better.
Night one did not go so well…we were up several times in the night and had one crying spell for a good half-an-hour. At 4 am we finally caved in and put her in our bed in between us. She slept like a… um… uh… baby for several more hours. And when she did wake up, she cooed and played happily while we dozed in and out for a few more minutes. Well…Miss A has cast her vote loud and clear!
The next night, we decided to try “camping out” on the floor in her room. This went better… she fell asleep next to us and then we moved her into her crib. She slept for most of the night, only waking once. Then around 6 am, she woke up and we again laid her next to us for that extra hour of sleep.
There is a great debate in the USA about the pros and cons of co sleeping with your kids…. it is very common in India. Generally the kids are 3, 4, or even 5 years old before they would ever dream of them sleeping on their own. My husband doesn’t remember sleeping with his mom and dad, so he isn’t sure at what age they moved him into his own room. I was sleeping in my own crib by the time I was 2 or 3 months old. We both turned out just fine, so in the end we have to do what works best for us and Miss A. I think we’ll only figure that out by trial and error. Here’s hoping that we all have sweet dreams tonight!
What about you? Have you run into any issues/dilemmas where you have gotten complete opposite advice from two sides of your family? Anyone have any thoughts on the pros and cons of co sleeping? I’d love to hear what you have to say!

3 Month Update – How Time Flies!

Where has the last three months gone? I can hardly believe that our little one is over 3 months old already! What have we been up to lately? Well, we had my parents here for a few weeks – which was fabulous. I am so grateful that I had help for those first few weeks. I never knew a baby could generate so much laundry! And did you know that you have to feed babies? A lot. Oh, and you have to change dirty diapers. A lot. And, um, you miss out on sleep… A lot!

But I wouldn’t trade a single second of it! Our little angel, “Miss A” has been such a blessing.

My husband has been a huge help. He always joked that Indian men aren’t used to babies. He said he’d never held a newborn in his life before. But let me tell you, he took to it like an old pro! Although, on the night that she was born, we got on the webcam with his family in India. They got to witness him holding the baby for the first time. Their immediate reactions? “Don’t hold the baby, give her back to Heather!” “Mind her neck!” “Don’t drop her!” We still laugh about it! He complained while I was pregnant that he wasn’t planning on changing any dirty diapers (after all, he cleans up the yard after the dog, so shouldn’t I be the one to clean up after the baby?) Well, that changed too – in fact, he changed one of her diapers (with the help of a kind hospital nurse) before I did! (I didn’t have to change one until we were home from the hospital!) He also learned how to swaddle the baby while we were in the hospital. She loves to be swaddled when she sleeps. I cannot for the life of me swaddle her so that her hands stay put. So every single night, hubby wakes up after I feed her and re-swaddles her. How is that for a devoted husband and father?

We were on our own for about one month after my parents left. Things got pretty busy when I returned to work. But I was overjoyed when my boss agreed to let me do all of my work from home from now on – it doesn’t get better than that! It took me a few weeks to get used to shuffling the household duties, the baby, work AND laundry. Did I mention that babies generate A LOT of laundry? (And I had glorious dreams of using CLOTH diapers – um, the jury’s still out on that one!)

Now my mother-in-law is here with us. She arrived from India about a month ago. She is planning on staying for about 3 months. Now, one would think that having your Indian mother-in-law staying with you for an extended stay would generate a lot of blog posts, but I have to say things have been great! She is really taking amazing care of us. She cooks wonderful Indian food for us, and takes the baby early in the morning so that we can steal an extra hour of sleep, and she rarely offers unsolicited advice. Oh sure, there are little things that annoy me, but wouldn’t that be the case with any house guest who is staying for an extended period of time?

My mother-in-law brought the cutest things from India for the baby, I can’t wait until I find time to take pictures to share here. Until then, stay tuned for more updates to come!

She’s Finally Here!

Our little girl is finally here – and I’m finally updating this blog! She weighed 6 pounds and 14 ounces and was 20.5 inches long. She is 3 weeks old today! We’ve given her a “Western” first name and an Indian middle name. We’ll call her “Miss A” here on the blog. I can’t believe how fast the time has gone by. I’m so grateful that my parents have been here to help out during these first few weeks. Do you know how much laundry a newborn can go through in just one day!?? They say that a baby changes your whole world, and I think I’m beginning to understand that – but she is the best thing that has ever happened to us. My husband is so in love with her – it is adorable to see him interacting with her. More updates coming soon…

Passport Applications

You know you’re in an international family when…..
Your daughter isn’t even born yet and you have already printed out applications for her passport and Indian P.I.O. Card (Person of Indian Origin).
I know, probably a bit OCD, but I hate the idea of not having her passport and Indian visa in hand as soon as possible. You see, two years ago, my father-in-law suddenly passed away in India, and we had to leave at the drop of a hat. Only problem? After being married at that time for 2+ years, I had finally decided to mail off my passport to get my name changed. So we got the call on a Friday night, and needed to leave on a Sunday morning in order to get to India in time for the funeral. We hadn’t checked the mail yet that day, so we rushed to the mailbox, only to find it empty. The passport had to come the next day, or I was staying home – and I really couldn’t bear the thought of sending my husband alone in that state of shock!
Want to know the coolest part of the story? A couple of weeks earlier, when we had finally quit procrastinating and decided to send off my passport application to get my name changed – something prompted me to ask my husband if we should pay the rush fee to get my passport back sooner. Honestly, other than living near the Canadian border, there was no logical reason I needed my passport. But he quickly agreed that we should pay the extra money and rush it back.
After we got the news that Friday night, I tried calling to check on the status – or at least find out the wait times… all to no avail. So, the next morning, we got to the post office at 8 am – the time when they leave to start delivering mail. We happened to catch someone near the back door and after some begging, managed to convince her to check for us – I was never so relieved in my life, than when she came back out of the post office holding that envelope with my new passport inside. What a relief! We have to admit that it was God’s hand that not only, made us send off that application and put the rush fee on it, but also got it back to us at the last possible minute.
So needless to say, I am very convinced that I need to apply for the baby’s passport without delay. (although at this point, I’m not planning to pay the rush fees!) Once her passport is in hand, we’ll send off for her P.I.O. Card. I was actually confused whether or not she would be eligible for an O.C.I. Card (Overseas Citizen of India). So I emailed the consulate – they were very helpful and replied almost immediately. It turns out that unless my husband becomes a US Citizen and he himself has an O.C.I. Card, she cannot apply until she reaches the age of 18. Good to know! If you’re not sure on the ins and outs of P.I.O. vs. O.C.I. Cards, check my earlier post, or this link.