Category: Tweens

All Four Stars – A Book Review

All Four Stars – A Book Review

All Four Stars by Tara Dairman

Here’s a scrumptiously wonderful book every tween is going to love. All Four Stars is the story of Gladys Gatsby, an eleven-year-old who is passionate about cooking. Her parents, on the other hand, are not. They are both working and don’t have the time or inclination to cook. The family lives on terrible takeaways.

However, Gladys cooks up complicated delicacies in secret, when her parents are away at work. All is well until one day when her parents walk in just as she accidentally sets fire to the kitchen curtains while making Creme Brûlée. As a result of that singularly bad piece of luck, she’s banned from further cooking experiments and her allowance is taken away.

Then, through a quirk of fate, she lands an assignment as a food critic in a frontline newspaper. The catch is – getting to that restaurant which is a train-ride away from the suburb where Gladys lives. Confiding in her parents and asking for help is out of the question. So how does she do it?

This is a story delicious enough to sate the most demanding of gourmands.

It’s a perfect read-aloud book
Each night after dinner, we’d sit with this one, the children and I, reading it aloud. The descriptions of food made H hungry while N started dreaming of a career as a food critic.

What I liked
The descriptions of food were absolutely delectable. The good ones (that she had at Parm’s house or out at restaurants) were mouth-watering but it’s the bad ones that H and N enjoyed most because they were hilariously funny.

I loved that Gladys sampled and enjoyed all kinds of food – African, Malaysian and Indian too. She has an Indian friend and the rather foreign descriptions of familiar Indian foods like chhole and raita and palak paneer had the children completely thrilled.

If you’ve read any of my earlier reviews you’ll know I love a book with great side-characters. All Four Stars had many of them – Sandy, Gladys’ friend and neighbour, Parm, her Indian friend, Charissa the most popular girl at school, the kind Mr Eng who runs a cosy grocery and patisserie and Mrs Anderson, Sandy’s adorable mom. Although some of them are rather stereotypical they all manage to do something to redeem themselves, to break the stereotype. That, I was grateful for.

There are bits on friendship – on making and keeping friends – on shared secrets and making plans which the children completely loved.

If I have one complaint it would be that the author didn’t do justice to the parents. They come across as uni-dimensional, too taken up with their work, barely bothered about their daughter and rather unkind. They did get better towards the end of the book, though, so that was something.

We talked about
Whether the punishment Gladys got was fair/unfair.
Could Gladys have done things differently? Perhaps, taken the help of other sympathetic adults.

What we did
– We read up all kinds of cuisines that Gladys talks of.
– We pored (and salivated) endlessly over food pictures.
– We made up a game of trying to describe a food to someone who had never known Indian cuisine.
– And we tried baking.

This book came to us through Enchantico – a delightful book-activity box we subscribed to. Read my review of the box here. It came with a cookie recipe, premixed flour as well as cookie cutters.

With all that help we had to try our hand at baking. The first batch came out near perfect. But then we got caught up in something and ended up burning down the next one and had to rush around dousing the flames in the oven.

So you see, there really is never any guarantee with cookies but the book – that’s a sure shot winner.

 

Linking up with the Write Tribe Problogger October 2017 Blogging Challenge #writebravely #writetribeproblogger

A happy sidekick

A happy sidekick

This past weekend I was demoted from my undisputed seat as the main villain to a very contented sidekick. But I’m getting ahead of myself – let me explain.

The children’s exams are in progress – they go on for three whole weeks. During all of that time, I transform into the main villain (or vamp, if you like to nitpick) of their lives.

With the long weekend, The Husband came home and rather unsuspectingly,  offered to help them with their Math, which he is quite good at.

Since he’s out most of the time he has no clue that being good at something and teaching that same something to two reluctant and distracted tweens who have much else going on in their lives and who do not have ‘exams’ in the top 10 or even 20 places of their priority list, are two very different things.

Anyhow not one to refuse a good thing when I see it, I handed over the reins to him with a heart full of gratitude.

It started off pretty well. The children were on their better behaviour and The Husband was all enthu too. However ten minutes into the lesson and N had already visited the washroom twice while H had his head stuck in the refrigerator complaining, ‘We never have anything interesting to eat’ – yeah, twice within ten minutes.

All the while the poor man sat twiddling his thumbs ready to walk them through their LCMs and HCFs, his enthusiasm waning rapidly. I could see where this was headed.

I hustled H back to the study table only to find he had no exercise book and his pen had run out of ink. Off he went looking for them.

Meanwhile, N was still in the washroom. ‘I think I have an upset stomach’, she announced when she finally stepped out, suspiciously redolent with talcum and cream, not at all looking like someone whose stomach wasn’t in perfect working order. When The Husband pointed out that she didn’t look unwell, she answered with profound wisdom that her stomach was not well on the inside. ‘It doesn’t show, you know,’ she explained.

H meanwhile had returned with a pen, which turned out to be N’s and if you have two children you’ll know where that is going. The LCM and HCF were quite forgotten as The Husband focussed on maintaining peace while clutching onto his fast evaporating patience.

I didn’t blame him one bit when the lid finally blew off. And at that exact moment I was displaced from my main villain’s seat and relegated to a sidekick’s place – a much-preferred sidekick with a very soft heart, I might add. Like a faithful sidekick, I thoroughly enjoyed adding my two bits here and there, ‘Listen to papa’, ‘Get your own pen, please’ and so on without raising my blood pressure one tiny notch.

Half an hour later, peace had descended, the children though sulking still, were getting along with their sums while The Husband begged me for a cup of tea because ‘his throat was all dry.’

I have to admit handling the children isn’t half as bad when one doesn’t have to do it himself/herself. In fact, it can be quite an enjoyable thing, funny even, if you’re watching the whole ‘performance’ from the sidelines.

 

PS: I didn’t even know I had a sadistic streak. I swear I had no clue till this weekend.

PSS: We still have another week to go, The Husband’s gone and I’m back in the main villain’s seat. Pray for me, please.

 

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Linking up with the Write Tribe Problogger October 2017 Blogging Challenge #writebravely #writetribeproblogger

 

and with Mackenzie at Reflections from Me #mg

That warm cup of tea

That warm cup of tea

A few weeks ago during the kids’ exams as we sat struggling with Math problems, I got a call from a friend/associate. He needed copies of some official documents – quite a bunch of them, actually.

If there’s anything that stresses me out more than math problems, it is paperwork. The mere sight of forms to be filled and documents to me signed sends me in all kinds of petrified panic.

As if those percentage problems weren’t bad enough I had to now, not only locate the entire bunch but also scan them/copy them and mail them. I went into a tizzy opening and closing drawers, rifling frantically through my wallet looking for IDs, bills and lease agreements. I found them all  – except one. I was sure I had it as a soft copy in my inbox but despite several searches I couldn’t locate it.

As panic kicked in well and truly I ran all kinds of searches, cursing the wretched paper work, the idea of needing soft copies, at my cleanliness drive (during which I assumed I’d deleted the said document), at my lack of computer knowledge, at the man who invented computers and at the Husband (of course, always the Husband).

And then…..

…. there appeared a cup of tea at my desktop. On a tray. Along with my evening biscuits.

“Mama,” said N, “I made tea for you.”

As I sat back on my revolving chair I felt the panic ebbing and began to feel really really stupid for over-reacting and for needing my ten-year-old to bring home the fact.

And I was grateful and a little at awed at how grown up N sounded. I was amazed at how she’d read my panic and did what she thought best to help. I realised I don’t say ‘thank you’ often enough for this daughter of mine.

After that tea, the situation didn’t seem as desperate at all. I called up the Husband (yeah the same one I’d been ranting at) and of course he had a copy of the document.  Also, as I discovered the documents weren’t even as urgent as I’d imagined in my stupid state of mind.

Do you ever get panic attacks? You’ll know then, how overwhelming they are. It cannot possibly be good for the children to be witness to them. Once logical thinking returns I find myself feeling sorry for putting them through it all. It might not have anything to do with them (like in this case) however with just the three of us at home and nobody to diffuse the tension, the entire house seems to be on an edge till I cool down.

It’s not right, I know.

Unfortunately we cannot control ourselves all the time. Nor can we avoid the kids being part of the mess. So how do I teach the children to handle their stress if I cannot even handle mine? Sigh. Another one of those parenting toughies!

The only thing to do, is to learn from your slip-ups and to teach as you learn; to talk about it once you’re sane again, accept that you overreacted and discuss ways in which you could have handled it.

While I do all of that I continue to be grateful that the children are becoming sensitive to my stresses and hope they learn to extend the sensitivity to everyone around them.

Linking up with Nabanita’s #MommyTalks

Mackenzie at Reflections from Me.

Of growing children and social etiquette

Of growing children and social etiquette

We’re on our annual visit to my hometown. As we walked out of the airport we were met by our driver, who has been with us for a long time. He greeted us with a loud Namaste! and followed it up with a, “Mashaallah, bachhe kitne bade ho gaye hain.” (My Goodness, how the children have grown). To my complete surprise and his (even greater) shock the twins promptly bent down and touched his feet. (If you didn’t know this, in India that’s a way to show respect to  elders). Of course it would have been perfectly fine had it not embarrassed the poor fellow out of his wits.

It’s strange, this transformation the children undergo here each year. Back home they need to be prodded before they deliver their dutiful ‘Hello Uncle’ and ‘Good Evening Aunty’ but here the namastes come pretty quickly and they don’t think twice before diving at everyone’s feet.

I’m not complaining. I’d much rather they overdo the courtesies than forget them completely.

When we were children…
..growing up in joint family meant our house was always full of visitors. There were friends – across generations. And there were relatives – a constant stream of them – aunts, uncles, cousins. Some would come for a visit, some would stay back for a day or two while others would stay on for months or even years till they completed their treatment at the city hospital, finished a course or a training programme or, sometimes, till they found a job.

Slowly but very surely we picked up basic social etiquette
Not only were we supposed to appear with that mandatory glass of water as soon as someone arrived, we were also supposed to ask ‘Uncle’ if he wanted tea, coffee or a cold drink and then serve it too.

Our dad would say, “Don’t just dump the glass of water and run off. Sit for a while and talk.” It was terribly awkward and we had no clue what to say. But the good girls that we were, we would make the effort, however stilted. We’d answer questions, often inane ones – What class are you in? How are your studies going? and so on.

My sister and I would sit with polite smiles on our faces, making secret eye contact, asking each other if we’d sat long enough, if it was okay to leave. Over time we figured it out. We knew how formal each set of visitors was, who should be offered tea and what biscuits would go with whose coffee.

Our parents wouldn’t think twice before pulling us up if they didn’t see us doing our namastes or getting up to see off a guest to the door. They thought nothing of embarrassing us in public.

Things are different for the twins.

We barely have any formal visitors. Nobody stands on formality of any kind. As a result when we do have one the children have no clue what to do. Either they disappear after a ‘hello’ or they go about their business as usual.

I was reading this post from Rachna here and it only confirmed what I felt – that they seemed rude, unconcerned and stand offish through their acts of omission. A lot was forgiven till they were young. As they’re growing up they need to learn the courtesies beyond thank you, sorry and please.

We’ve been working on it. And I have some simple rules for them:

  • Stand up and switch off the television when a guest arrives.
  • Wish them.
  • Get them a glass of water.
  • If you know them, sit and talk for a while.
  • See them off when they leave.
  • Oh and one last one – No fighting before the guests.

Seriously! Every little thing needs to be articulated.

They’re getting there but it is a struggle because the opportunities to practice are so very few.

However, making a guest feel welcome goes beyond rules
It is about being warm and friendly and welcoming even to someone they might not know too well. And there really are no guidelines for that. I am hoping that at some point, their instinct will take over and as their shyness fades they’ll pick up the right way to do it. Meanwhile, the basic rules will have to do.

Linking up with Tweens,Teens & Beyond 
10 things to do with tweens during vacations

10 things to do with tweens during vacations

 

With the first excitement of vacations wearing off I find the children flitting between the pool and their tabs. It’s as if they have nothing else to do. The moment I try to restrict their screen time they come up with “What shall we do?” – the question that is the dread of all mums. If you’re a mum in the same boat as I, here’s a list to help you out.

1. Master a recipe 
Learn to make at least one dish completely on your own – a salad, a raita, french toast, no bake cookies, cake in a mug. If you find that you enjoy cooking you could work on making your own recipe book. That reminds me to get N to work on hers. She started one during the exams and never got back to it.

This Marie biscuit cake is one of the easiest ever.

2. Read books
Duh! Obviously. Most of you would be reading books, a few at least. How about trying out a short review after you’ve read it? That way you can keep a record of all the books you read and what you thought of them.

3. Make a summer holiday diary
You could write about
Things you did: Played scrabble with cousins, Made french toast, Made friends with your aunt’s pug (N is dead scared of dogs and this last one is high on her list).
Places you visited: A relative’s place, Historical monuments, the Science centre
Foods you ate: Shared mangoes with grandpa, Pain puri at the roadside stall, Kulfi  and falooda, a new flavour of ice-cream.

4. Make a family news collage
How about turning a journalist this summer? Collect ‘news’ about family members. A cousin who graduated from high school, an aunt who got a promotion, a relative who went on a holiday, your achievement in school, a dance you performed or a skill you picked up – all of that is news. If you have pictures that’s like the icing on the cake. If not, no problem. Make small write-ups on pieces of paper and stick them onto a chart paper like a collage. We made one for our apartment complex. We typed out the news items and cut them out but hand written is good too.

4. Learn a funny poem or maybe two
They’re fun to recite. Here’s one to get you started.

5. Plant a plant and learn how to take care of it
Does it need a special kind of soil? How much and how often should you water it? Google it or get an adult to help if you don’t have access to the Internet. Don’t worry if you don’t have a green thumb. I have a black one too. Go for the easy ones first. You could simply begin with a money plant in a glass or a bottle. They almost never die on you.

6. Learn the names and know how to recognise at least five new flowers/trees that you see around you
Watch out for the regulars. Can you tell a Neem tree from an Ashoka tree? Or a Banyan from a Peepal? You couldn’t possibly miss the Gulmohur or the tall Eucalyptus. Try smelling a eucalyptus leaf. Does it seem familiar?

7. Take responsibility for one household chore and make sure you do it every single day
You could try folding your sheet, making your bed, folding dried clothes, watering plants, wiping the table after lunch/dinner. Helps to have mum on your side since you’re home all day 🙂 and she’s the one in charge of doing up the cakes and the shakes.

8. Talk to your parents/grandparents and ask them how they spent their summer vacations
Can you try any of those things? How about writing out a small piece comparing their vacations and yours?

9. Make handmade gifts for friends for school reopening day.
You could try photo frames or pen holders. I loved these easy pencil toppers made from duct tape at Atop Serenity Hill. Take a look.

 

10. Make your own school labels
Even if you’re not very crafty you could have a go. Cut out plain white paper labels and border them with Washi tape. That shouldn’t be too tough. Oh and before you do this, don’t forget to ensure it is allowed in your school.

I’ll be trying out all of these with the twins over the next month and sharing what we did. So watch out for detailed ‘How Tos’. I’d love it if you shared yours too.

 

Picture credits: Pixabay and Shutterstock

 

Meet me on Instagram @obsessivemom06

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