Newest Spurts: rioting against risotto and dealing with lint

August 4, 2017

By Ekta R. Garg

Enjoy these Spurts from the last two weeks, readers!

Lately the kids have been bugging me to let them help more with chores. I don’t know whether it’s because my children are strange or because this is that sweet spot most people talk about with their kids. You know, after the tedium of diapers and stopping to examine every single bug on the sidewalk but before the nightmare of slamming doors and being told how awful we are as parents.

Regardless, I’m making the most of it.

One day last week Eleven wouldn’t let the idea go, so I told her to take the clothes out of the washer and put them in the dryer. I explained the trick of giving each item of clothing a little shake before tossing it into the dryer to help it dry that much faster. Then I told her about the lint trap and how it needed to be checked.

“Do you know what lint is?” I asked, realizing its dishwater grayness can sometimes freak people out.

“Oh, yeah,” she replied immediately. “I’ve seen enough episodes of Full House. Danny Tanner, lint—I know all about it.”

Who said 1990s sitcoms were all froth and no substance?


Earlier this week we arrived at the YMCA for camp, and the kids started climbing out of the car. Eleven grabbed her snack bag and water bottle. Nine grabbed her snack bag and made for the door.

“Water bottle,” Eleven called out.

“Just bring it,” I told her. “I know it’s her responsibility to remember it, but as a big sister it’s your responsibility to help out your little sister when you can.”

She didn’t say anything as we walked toward the sliding door entrance of the building.

“Of course, eventually the younger siblings learn to take care of their own things,” I said. “Then us older siblings keep doing things for them anyway, just to annoy them.”

“Anything that annoys her is good,” Eleven quipped.

“You know that the younger ones usually want to annoy their older siblings too,” I said.

“I know.”

Good. As long as we’re square on that. Don’t want anyone telling me later that they weren’t warned.


Like many parents who own the duty of meal planning, sometimes I get stuck for new ideas. Occasionally I have random items left in my fridge from other meals and want to try something new with them. Earlier this week the item was orange marmalade, not a favorite by a long stretch in our house, and I decided to tackle a couple of Rachael Ray’s recipes.

Rachael and I—or, her shows and I, at least—go way back, all the way to the earliest days of my marriage, and I own several of her cookbooks. I’ve made many dishes from the books to varying degrees of success. Sometimes it’s as much about trying a new technique as anything else.

The orange marmalade made its way into an orange-balsamic glaze for some turkey breasts, and Rachael suggested a lemon risotto to go with it. I’d never made risotto before, although I’ve watched her and other TV chefs do it, so I figured this was a good chance to try something new. Broaden my own skills, as it were. I added a side of steamed green beans and decided to call it a meal.

The turkey came together really well. The green beans came in a steam-ready bag from the store, so they came out fast. The risotto took the longest, which surprised me. I knew it would take a while, but Rachael called it at about 18 minutes. I found myself standing there for almost 45, still stirring and waiting for all the liquid to absorb (although I did bump up the quantity in her recipe, so that’s why it took so long.)

When we sat down to eat, I got a thumbs up on the green beans and the turkey. The risotto? Not so much.

“It’s okay,” Nine said, trying to hide just how much she really didn’t like it.

“Yeah, it’s okay,” Eleven said.

Maybe there wasn’t enough lemon zest? I don’t know. My husband asked me how I made it, and I described the process of adding liquid a little at a time and stirring it and waiting for it to evaporate before adding the next ladle of liquid.

Eleven looked down at her plate and back at me. “Well, now I feel bad.”

I shook my head. “Don’t. That’s how we learn, right? We try new things, and some of them go well and some don’t.”

Neither of the girls said much about the meal after that, but I could see in their faces that they appreciated how much time and effort had gone into making it. I hope they can see this as a positive experience. Sometimes you only learn by doing; just reading about it or watching others doesn’t cut it.


This afternoon Eleven, Nine, and I got into the car to drive to the other side of the neighborhood to drop Nine off at a friend’s house. As we made our way, I spotted a turtle plodding its way down the street. I slowed down so the kids could see it.

“Mamma, we have to move it to the side of the road!” Nine, our resident animal lover, said.

“How are we going to do that?” I asked.

“Yeah, how?” Eleven asked.

“We have to pick it up!” Nine said.

“What if it bites you?” Eleven asked.

“I’ll hold it far away from me. Please, Mamma, we don’t want cars to hit it.”

I have to admit, even as I slowed the car down, stopped it, and put it in Reverse, a thousand conflicting thoughts ran through my mind. The desire for the greater good—“Helping animals helps the environment!” “Be kind to all creatures!” “Show compassion to those less fortunate than us!”—battled with the common-sense approach that infiltrates a parent’s life—“The turtle could have diseases!” “People driving down the street will get mad at us for blocking the road!” “What if the turtle bits off your leg?”

Well…maybe not common sense all the time.

As soon as I put the car in Park, though, Nine unbuckled her seat belt and opened the car door. To her credit, she didn’t make a beeline to the turtle right away. She eyeballed the street to make sure no one was driving like a crazy person. By this time one car had come to a stop behind me, and an oncoming car had stopped to see what we were up to.

I opened my own door and got halfway out. Nine made her way to the turtle, which had started to figure out that all was not right with its world. It had already pulled three legs into its shell, and by the time Nine approached it the fourth leg and its head had tucked inside its mobile home too. I exchanged a look with the lady behind me, and she smiled back.

Nine turned back to me. “Can you help me?”

She must have seen my own hesitation, because she turned right back around, picked up the shell a little gingerly, and walked it across the street. She placed it in the grass in front of a home and trotted back to the car. As soon as she got in, I hit the button for the sliding door to shut.

“Make sure you scrub your hands really well when you get to A.’s house,” I said.

“I will,” she said, and even without looking at her I could hear the smile.

We spend many hours watching documentaries of fascinating places and creatures. I’m glad that Nine got the chance to exercise her love for animals today.



Latest Chart: How a tape deck got us on the Titanic

July 28, 2017

By Ekta R. Garg

Who knew that a cassette player could inspire a discussion about the Titanic?

At the start of the summer, I bought a cassette player for my studio. You know, the kind with the little black handle and the CD player built into the top. Of course, this tape deck also comes with a jack where you can plug in an mP3 player, but I can ignore it and still play my music retro style.

I finally got around to addressing the tape player. Eleven has been bugging me all week to let her help with household chores more, so I invited her to go into the basement with me to grab the box of tapes I knew I’d stashed down there when we first moved in last year.

“Why do you need tape?” she asked, when I told her I was going down to get one.

“Not tape,” I said, “A tape. As in, a cassette.”

“I have tape in my room,” Nine said, trailing along.

“Not that kind of tape,” I said, although I caught the grin that told me she was being facetious.

I pulled out the box and Eleven offered to carry it upstairs for me, even though it was a little heavy. At the last minute, I looked in the plastic tub with CDs and decided to grab one to check the quality of the CD player. I pondered my choices for a few minutes then pulled out the soundtrack for the movie Titanic.

“Oh, no,” Nine said, “not that. Why do you want to listen to something so sad?”

My girls, of course, have never listened to the soundtrack of the film. They may have heard it in passing, but they’ve never opened the CD case in anticipation of the dulcet tones of what the ship meant with Leo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet falling in love on it. For me, however, the Titanic CD holds many fond memories.

Even though I really wanted to play the CD, at the last minute I couldn’t resist the allure of the tape deck and pulled out a cassette instead. One of the best things about technology from the 1980s and 1990s is that it’s pretty straightforward. Even today, you just open it up and plug it in. That’s pretty much it. Nothing fancy to program; no novel-length instructions to read.

After listening to one of my most favorite Hindi songs (Kay Sera Sera from the Anil Kapoor-Madhuri Dixit film Pukar, in case you’re wondering,) talk turned back to the Titanic and how its story related to the movie.

“Isn’t it sad?” Nine wanted to know.

“Well, the story of the ship is sad, but the music is lovely,” I said. “It really sounds like what the ship would.”

Somehow that sparked a conversation that brought in elements of the movie and the actual sinking, weaving the two in a narrative that lasted for almost 20 minutes. The girls wanted to know about the story of the film, and I gave them the short version. They were intrigued by the fact that Rose, Kate Winslet’s character, was engaged to one person and falls in love with another.

“He didn’t treat her well,” I said of Rose’s fiancé.

“Yeah, well, men take advantage of their wives because they think they’re weak,” Nine said pragmatically.

I thought for a moment about answering her, but then Eleven piped up.

“What was her fiance’s name?”

I tried to remember Billy Zane’s character’s name (Cal,) but for the life of me I couldn’t at the time.

“I don’t know,” I finally said.

“Bob,” Eleven said. “He’s Bob the Builder.”

The three of us giggled, and then I went on with the story of Rose and Jack. We talked about the class difference between the two and the fact that Cal, Rose’s fiancé, survives in the end while Jack dies.

“But why?” Nine said. “You would think the bad guy would die in the end.”

“I know,” I said, “but he and Rose don’t end up together.”

I described the scene at the end where Rose hides from Cal so that she doesn’t have to leave the dock with him.

“Yes, see, Bob used to build part-time,” Eleven explained, “but being with Rose distracted him from building. When he didn’t find Rose, that’s when he started doing it full time and became…”

“Bob the Builder!” we all finished in a chorus.

I shared the excitement of the Oscar awards when Titanic came out and how the makeup department got a special nod for its work, particularly toward the end of the film when all the bodies of the dead passengers are shown just floating in the water. Our conversation continued in the car as we made our way to the Y for the kids’ half day of camp.

“But what was so special about the makeup?” Nine asked.

I explained how a body bloated by water takes on a different visage and that the makeup department most likely had to do some serious research so their work would appear realistic when the time came to shoot those scenes. That led us down a short rabbit trail about plausibility in a story, both film and written, and how an audience is willing to believe almost anything if it’s presented in a way that makes sense within the larger story world.

As we chatted, I remembered all of a sudden that a writing client of mind had written a pretty compelling novel about the Titanic to coincide with the hundredth anniversary of the ship’s sinking. I shared that story in brief with the girls as well. The more we talked, the more details of the movie, my client’s book, and the general popularity of the story of the ill-fated ship came back. It struck me, as we left the house for camp, that the movie itself is now almost 20 years old.

Because Eleven and Nine have no emotional attachment to James Cameron’s film, they were able to joke around about how Rose might have wanted to be free of all the men in her life anyway. We also had time and space for more inquisitive lines of thought as Nine wondered aloud what would have happened to Rose, Jack, and everyone else if the Titanic hadn’t sunk. Of course, the answer to that was an easy one: the movie, most likely, wouldn’t have been made.

After dropping the girls at camp, I continued to think about Titanic, the ship that inspired the movie, and my client’s book. I emailed the client later to ask about her novel, and I spent part of the day reminiscing about what the soundtrack meant to me. It’s been an interesting couple of weeks pondering the past, and today’s discussion is proof positive that while we never know what parenting will bring us on a day-to-day basis we know it’ll always surprise us.

Latest Spurts: Residual bacteria and a donkey for a best friend

July 21, 2017

By Ekta R. Garg

Two weeks ago, our family boarded a plane to embark on an adventure. We visited the beautiful, gracious country of Greece and for 10 days enjoyed the hospitality and immense historical value of one of the oldest civilizations in the world. Of course, for me, the parenting adventures didn’t stop, particularly where my younger child is concerned.

Enjoy these special vacation Spurts, readers!


One of the teens in our tour group would arrive on the bus every single morning with her hair done in an intricate style. Sometimes it was a single complicated braid; other times it was two. Occasionally she even did a braid that wrapped around the back of her head and over her shoulder.

I mentioned to Nine how much I liked the teen’s hair, and Nine encouraged me to tell the girl.

“I will,” I said.

“Make sure you don’t procrastinate about it,” she advised.

“What does procrastinate mean?” I asked.

“It means you put off stuff until you end up having to do things in one tiny day,” she said, cupping her hands to show the small quantity of a single 24-hour period. “I mean, night takes up some time too. Why would you do that?”

And there you go. The next time I’m working on a story and my attention drifts, I know who to call to get me back on task. Even if my hair isn’t nicely braided.


Because we took this vacation as part of a tour group, many of our meals were included. That meant we didn’t have to worry about hunting for a place to have breakfast every morning. We could just trot down to the main restaurant of the hotel and sample the offerings of the buffet. The hotels would typically offer a wide array of pastries, fresh fruit, meats and cheeses, a hot bar where we could get eggs cooked to order, and juices, milk, and tea and coffee.

Needless to say, it’s unlike breakfast during our normal routine at home. I didn’t realize just how much the girls had started enjoying the full spread until one of the last mornings of our vacation. Nine looked at me and grinned over her plate of cheese wedges and a juicy nectarine.

“I don’t think I’m going to be able to get used to eating cereal for breakfast again when we go home,” she said.

I have to say, after having polite waiters remember my choice of tea in the morning, I rather enjoyed being spoiled myself.


On our last full day in Greece, we had the opportunity to visit a tiny village and walk through it. Part of the experience was meeting the mayor of the village—which comprises of 12 residents—and the mayor introduced us to many of the residents of his tiny town as well as the others that form the consortium of 96 people under his watchful eye. These residents shared fresh vegetables from their gardens with us, cooked for us, and allowed us to partake in their lives for a day.

One of the residents made a deep impression on Nine. His name was Mihalis. The donkey.

She first met him was when he “greeted” our bus. Everyone in the group got to take pictures with Mihalis, but Nine lingered after the picture session. She stroked his fur, and when she looked back at me her face cracked into a smile that made her eyes gleam.

The guide taking the pictures asked if she’d like to take a ride on the donkey later, and I said yes. I knew her face would light up again when she got to mount the saddle, and it did. But I didn’t know just how much she enjoyed the donkey’s company until about an hour or two later.

During the cheese-making and coffee sampling portion of the afternoon, Nine spotted Mihalis tied to a fence not too far away. She left the group and went back to him. As she grasped his short mane, she stroked his nose. Then she came back and asked me to follow her.

“I’m singing to him,” she said. “See, I hold him on his neck here, and I pet his nose, and I’m singing in his ear. He even twitched his ear closer to me so he could hear me.”

I wanted to laugh, not to make fun of her but because she was just so darn cute, but I didn’t.

“That’s very nice of you,” I said. “I’m sure he’s really enjoying it.”

Later, after we sat on the bus to go back to the hotel, Nine stopped by my seat and said, “Mihalis and I are besties now.”

“Great,” her dad said to me once she’d gone to her spot with the other kids in the back. “We come all the way to Greece, and she falls in love with the donkey. We could have found donkeys in Illinois.”

I guess we could have. But they wouldn’t have been Greek donkeys. And they may not have tilted their ears to listen to Nine sing.


This Monday I did six loads of laundry, but I didn’t get around to folding most of it until Tuesday. With the time difference between Europe and here, I woke up early on Tuesday—around 5:30—and puttered around the house for a little while. After drinking a big mug of tea, I went to the guest room where we had dumped all the clean clothes.

Nine, ever my early bird, followed me, chattering the whole way. I asked her if she would help with the laundry and she nodded. I told her to sit on the floor.

“Here, can you help me fold your clothes?” I asked.

“Okay,” she said, sitting not too far away. As I reached for a pair of underwear, though, she crumpled her face.

“Ew, underwear!”

“They’re clean,” I said.

“No, they’re not!” she replied.

“Yes, they are,” I said.

“But people’s butts have been in them.”

“They just came out of the laundry yesterday.”

“Still,” she said in an expert tone, “they have residual bacteria in them.”

Considering I’d already been up for more than two hours and it wasn’t even 8 a.m., I decided not to argue. Instead, I assigned her another laundry task and set her to splitting up clothes into different piles for ironing.

“Residual bacterial,” she stage-whispered in a dramatic way.

I just rolled my eyes.

Latest Chart: Sometimes it’s the little things

February 17, 2017

By Ekta R. Garg

A couple of weeks ago, we got an invitation to a dinner for last Friday night. Normally my husband and I are a little reluctant to accept invitations for the end of the week. After school on Fridays I take the kids straight to Eight’s cello lesson, and then we go to their art lesson and then come home.

Because the cello lesson is only a half-hour long and the art teacher lives a mile or two from the cello teacher’s house, it seems silly not to take advantage of that proximity. The result, however, is that we all come home on Friday evening a little tired and completely in weekend mode. No one really wants to go out.

We made an exception for last Friday for a few reasons, but the biggest one came from the fact that the family inviting us lived in our neighborhood.

I brought the kids home around 6 p.m., and we had an hour to get ready. I sent Ten and Eight to their rooms and went into my own closet to pick out something to wear. After several minutes of weighing my options, I pulled my outfit off the hanger and changed my clothes.

Just as I sat down in front of the mirror to do my makeup, Ten came into my room. I asked her what she thought of my outfit, and she approved with a quick nod. Eight came to me then and asked me to do her hair, and I suggested she change her top first. The three of us trooped to her room to find something suitable, and she stayed in her room while I went back to mine and the makeup vanity.

Ten wandered in after me. I knew if I didn’t give her another task, she’d spend her time fidgeting until we had to leave. I told her to go grab her comb and start combing her hair in preparation for me to braid it.

A minute or two later, Eight came into my room too.

“Go get your comb and start coming your hair,” Ten instructed her little sister.

Eight bounded off to her room and came back within 30 seconds. She went to the tall mirror in the corner of my room. Ten sat on the chaise and continued working on her own long locks.

I could see both girls from where I sat at my vanity in the bathroom. We started chatting, the three of us. Ten and Eight talked about their week in school, sharing bits and pieces that hadn’t come out before that evening. I added items to the conversation that I thought they might find interesting.

At one point, Eight grinned at herself in the mirror.

“This is kind of like an episode of Girl Meets World,” she said.

Ten chuckled and agreed. I couldn’t help smiling, although I wasn’t sure what about us getting ready for a dinner party made her think of the show. For a minute, though, I got a peek into the future and the past all at the same time.

When my family and I had to go somewhere that required a little extra dressing up, my mother, sister, and I would do exactly what I did with Ten and Eight. The three of us would hole up in a bedroom, get dressed, offer suggestions on hair, and (when my sister and I got old enough) even share makeup. We never discussed life-altering decisions or anything too heady. Most of our conversations, as with Eight and Ten that night, meandered through the most mundane topics.

It didn’t feel like a TV show, never mind what Eight said, but I can see this portion of our evening repeating itself. The girls and me getting ready, bickering about the right hairstyle or shade of lipstick. My husband coming in when we’re putting on final touches and complimenting all three of us.

Eight surprised me with her vigorous interest in it all. Of the three of us, she’s the least likely to engage in overtly girly things. She likes to look pretty, and she’s thrilled with the result when she gets dressed up, but ask her to think about what to wear and she rolls her eyes and heaves a sigh. So much effort, she seems to say with her body language.

The dinner party itself was fine, but what I appreciated most about that night was that hour before we went to our friends’ house. Sometimes parenting isn’t about the big moments, the big conversations. Sometimes it’s as much about these little moments as anything else. These evenings where we bond over something as simple as a hairstyle. These times when eyeliner can draw us all together.

These are the moments that make my heart smile.