They are not even that big!

I spent the better part of Sunday trying to plan our summer vacation.  It started out as a fun exercise, looking at all the pretty pictures of hotels and beaches, picking room types that were outrageously expensive and dreaming a little, then crashing to reality and trying to pick places that were in our budget and met our needs. We had simple needs, or so I thought.  We wanted a trip that involved one flight, restaurants that could understand and deal with our food allergies, and resorts that were family friendly.  There were two basic signs that I looked for in determining if a resort was family friendly; that there was a mention of a “kids club” or play facilities on the website, and that you could actually add children to the room to get a price quote.  That narrowed the field considerably, but I still had a list of 20 or so possible places.

At this point I did what I always do when I am researching something.  I built a spreadsheet.  It listed all of the pertinent details, and might have had pro and con columns.  The research was slow, as almost all of the hotels used the same archaic software to generate their room quotes. Every time I changed one variable (like room type or meal options) it required that I re-enter many of the other variables. I was planning a family vacation that involved a beach, so I pushed through. Then I noticed that I had to keep changing the number of lils in my room from two to one to get a quote.  When I left it at two, I would get one of two errors; either “there are no rooms available that match your search criteria” or “you must book two rooms for your needs”.  It happened so often that I had to keep checking to make sure that I had not messed up and kept looking in the same hotel.

This seemed an odd quirk at first, but when approximately 90% of the family friendly hotels came back with this result, I began to get upset. At first I thought that I might get a better result if I talked to the hotel, but the ones that I reached stuck to the line that the rooms could not accommodate us, so we either upgraded to a larger room, or we got two (sometimes not even adjoining rooms).  I could understand if I was trying to book a room for a group that included older children or adults, but mine are little. They don’t take up a lot of space, they can’t stay on their own, and we are going on a family vacation FFS.  Even if I thought it was a good idea to leave them alone, it would not have gone well.  In reality, we would have either split the family or all slept in one room any way, likely in the same bed!

Perseverance and some great recommendations from friends paid off, and we picked a resort that will allow us all to stay in the same room, without charging a premium.  The others, which included both big chains and small independent hotels, won’t get any of our money, especially not the extra money that they were trying to extort from us! I wonder if they would have been more flexible if we weren’t calling in the low season, and they could have filled those two rooms with two families of four.

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Expelled from day camp

We have very limited experience with day camps for the lils, and although the first experience was not entirely positive , I was willing to try again.  A large part of this is that I am at a loss for cool excursions for the lils to do that don’t involve long car rides, that Willy is travelling a bunch this month, and that many of their friends are gone on extended trips for the summer.  While we all love each other, we need to see other people every once in a while!

As luck would have it, there is a series of camps that are running in the community hall in our neighbourhood, so I enrolled both lils this week.  The camps started this morning, and we arrived at the appointed time to be greeted by a room that was not quite ready, and a leader that had not arrived.  She arrived and met each parent, but things had not gotten started when I left twenty minutes later.  I was leery about how things would go, so popped in at lunch time, and it appeared that all was well.

When I picked the lils up, they were happy, but both spoke of a little boy who was bugging them.  They were excited about their day, but there were little things, like Goose’s butterfly was crumpled thrown out by this boy, he threw sand on Woo… I took most of this with a grain of salt, until Woo told me that he was punched a few times, including the face.  Sure enough, he had a lump under his eye and possibly the starts of a shiner.  He said he told the leader and that she told the boy to stop it, but I wasn’t happy… so I went back over to talk to her.

The leader was aware of the problems, and let me know that she had tried to talk to me as I was leaving, but I took the lils out early and intercepted the group as they were returning from the park, so she didn’t have a chance.  She realized that the boy in question, who was only three was a problem; disruptive, hitting, not listening. She was always having to discipline him, so she called his mom and asked that she remove him from the class, so he won’t be back tomorrow.  While I would normally like to see the boy be given a chance to change his behaviour – it is a one week camp so that wasn’t going to happen. So he was asked to leave, and the selfish mama in me is glad that my lils won’t be bothered by him any more.





I was a child of the eighties, and as such grew up with a pair of roller skates.  They were “the” thing to have, and I was happy to finally get a pair at some point in my teens.  They were hand-me-downs from my sister, which meant that I had to covet them for a year or so before I got them, which made me appreciate them all the more.  They were the classic white boot/red wheel pair, and were well loved by both of us.  They certainly beat the metal wheels that I had been strapping on my sneakers to that point.

As an adult I looked to reintroduce roller skates into my life and failed.  I looked all over, but roller blades were the in thing then, and skates were nowhere to be found.  I reluctantly settled, but soon grew to love the blades.  I would frequently hope on the bike path, near my west end apartment, and head downtown and back.  It was a long ride and a good work out, with no cars to deal with.

My blading was curbed a little when I moved in with Willy.  We were living in the Market area of downtown, and access to the bike paths meant that I had to face my foe, the car.  I was a little bit of an out of control roller blader, and cars meant that the rides were scary, not enjoyable.  Then we moved back to the burbs, had two babies, and I forgot all about my blades.

When Santa brought Woo some blades for Christmas, I felt a bit of regret that I had not given in to the urge to bring my blades to India.  Woo loves his, and our community is perfect for riding around. Then yesterday, these were posted on the community news group: They are just Goose’s size, so we snapped them up for her. They came with a full set of pads, so she was ready to go instantly. The look on her face when she first tried them was priceless, pure joy.  She is so in love with them, even though she can’t actually move on them.  She has mastered standing on her toes, standing on the wheels, falling, and getting herself back up again.  It’s only a matter of time before she is rocking and rolling around. Now I want to get roller skates again.



Wordless Wednesday – Last day of school!

(contrast with - http://lilbunnyrabbitz.com/2011/10/19/wordless-wednesday-first-day-of-school/)





Keeping Lakshmi

When we let our first cook go, I was certain that we would not have another cook during our stay in India.  I was initially in love with the idea of a cook, but knew I was more in love with the idea of learning how to cook Indian dishes properly than I was with having someone cook for us. I actually like to cook, so figured that I would learn by osmosis, or, failing that, taking lessons.

Then Lakshmi fell into our lives.  We knew after one week that she was a good fit and a good cook, and that she liked us as much as we liked her.  The biggest key for us was that she made life easier.  I had oodles of extra time to play with the lils now, and that just made things a little more relaxed.  She started working for us part time in mid-April, with an agreement that she would start full time in June, when we returned from our Canadian vacation, and our friends (her other gig) left for their home in Minnesota.  We were set.

Then, while we were in Canada, Willy got a message from our friends letting us know that Lakshmi had been offered and accepted, a full time job with another family.  It was a “9-5” job, which meant that it was extremely unlikely that she would have any time to cook for us.  We were crushed.  We thought that we had it all figured out, that she was going to be spoiling us and the lils for the remainder of our stay in India.  It stung because we were all attached to her, especially the lils.  We didn’t tell them while we were in Canada, and I was dreading telling them upon our return.

The day that we arrived back in India, Lakshmi called me. I didn’t end up getting to the phone in time, but was relieved to have missed her call when I saw the call display.  I was too tired to have the conversation with her and didn’t want her to be the stereotype.  I had been warned about the helpers who stay with you until something better comes along, regardless of what you have pre-paid them for, or what your verbal agreement is.  We knew that there was an outside chance that Lakshmi would find something else, but she assured us that she wanted to work for us, and would only be looking for something much closer to our eventual departure.  We had paid her for the month of May based on that assumption and had negotiated a wage increase for her increased hours upon our return.

Monday came and Lakshmi came to the house as usual. She went to the kitchen and started cooking right away, and acted like nothing was different.  When I finally worked up the nerve to ask her about the other job, she explained that she asked them to wait until we left.  She couldn’t bear to leave us (ok, the lils), and asked them if she could work part time until we left. Happily they agreed!  Sometimes, it just works out.




A day of protest – Bharat Bandh

Most days I am fairly ignorant of the day to day newsworthy happenings in India. I follow a few Indian news sites, so I can tell you about the state of the rupee, which is not good right now; some of the higher profile visitors to India, like Bill Gates last week; the corruption that occurs at all levels of government; and the current struggles of several of India’s national airlines, which is quite the saga.  I do make efforts to find out more, but am frequently frustrated by the fact that I don’t follow news enough to learn more about the dynamics at work.

This Wednesday we were surprised to receive notice from the lils school that they would be closed the following day because of a country wide strike to protest a sharp increase in petrol prices.  Gas prices are set by the federal government in India and there is some variation by state due to taxation. The current prices in Bangalore are 80rs/litre ($1.51CAD) for petrol and 46rs/litre for diesel ($0.86CAD). The most recent increase was on petrol, and was a significant increase of 7rs/litre ($0.14CAD).  Our car is diesel, which has way more price stability, so we were not affected.  Many people drive petrol cars, however, so this increase was significant for many Indian families.

The idea of an organized and country wide strike is new to us.  Coming from Canada, we don’t often see protests coming in the form of an illegal strike, and I can’t say that we have ever seen one that essentially encompasses the entire country.  We have heard of other “bandh” or strikes here since our arrival, but they seemed to have little effect on life in Bangalore.  We were very surprised to hear that school had been cancelled, given that the reasons were that the bandh had been confirmed by police, and they were worried that the buses would be disrupted and that the staff would not be able to get to the school.

Willy asked around in his office, and was essentially told that we should use our judgement as to whether or not we should give our helpers the day off, but that we should not expect to see anything in Bangalore. The official line from his office was that the buildings would be open, but that staff should use their own judgement, and only go to work if they felt it was safe to do so.  In the end, Willy elected to work from home, we told our driver (who has a fairly long commute to get here) to take the day off, and we let our maid and cook, who both live nearby, decide if they wanted to come in.  Our cook decided to take the day off, and our maid elected to wait and see what the day brought.

I wanted to know what was happening, so I turned to twitter in the morning, and was surprised to see that there had been numerous disruptions and some violence in Bangalore.  In the middle of the night three of the local transit buses were burned out, and over a dozen others were damaged, which resulted in the cancellation of all public transit buses for the city. Taxis and rickshaw drivers, were seemingly exempt from the bandh, and were profiting nicely by charging triple the regular fare, for any trip. There were reports of motorists being harassed, and shop owners being intimidated into closing. By the middle of the day it was apparent that Bangalore was closed for the day, or at least until 6:00pm, the designated end time for the strike. Those that did venture out reported that the roads were empty, and driving a dream.  I wish I could have seen that.  There were similar disruptions in some pockets of India, but most of the larger cities were in not affected to the same degree as Bangalore.

In the end, life did go on.  Sheela, our maid, arrived late in the day, which allowed us to go out with friends, as planned.  The restaurant had many cancellations and was fairly empty, so staff was super attentive, and we likely got a couple of extra wine refills. We were largely unaffected.

This week, the government announced a 2rs roll back of the increase, but claimed it was unrelated to the bandh. The organizers stated that the roll back was unacceptable, but there seems to be much less protest. Many who were given the day off on Thursday were asked to make up the time on the weekend. The businesses who were forced to close lost money, as did the some of their staff (who would not have been paid) and the daily wage earners who would not have been able to find work. People were hurt, and property was damaged.  It was impressive to see how quickly life in Bangalore and other cities was turned upside down and then righted again.  I don’t know if I would ever see such a widespread and hastily organized protest in Canada.

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Not helping

Travel from Canada to India is long, no matter how you do it.  We are pretty lucky in that we only have to take two flights, but when you take into account the travel to the airport and the time spent waiting around in airports, it is almost thirty hours door to door.  I am tired and cranky at the end of it, so I can’t fault the lils if they are feeling the same when we arrive at our destination.

For the most part, the lils were perfect on the way back to India. They mostly listened, mostly got along with each other, and at least one of them slept quite a bit (the other is as stubborn as his mama, and will only sleep when he is ready).  Still, it was late when we arrived in Bangalore, so we tried to be as patient as we could and let them do pretty much whatever they wanted, as long as it kept them moving in the right direction. This might have included rolling around on the floor in the airport.  They were rolling forward…

We were one of two large international flights that arrived at the same time, so there was a queue to get into the immigration room.  As we shuffled along, I mentioned to Willy that we might luck out and get pulled into the family line, that last line where the special people get processed before and faster than the others, to minimize their inconvenience.  His reply was less than enthusiastic, pointing out that there were a number of families on our flight, that we were one of the last off of our plane, and that they would likely find a way to screw that system up. If only I knew then how right he was.

We entered the immigration room and got into a long and winding line. We had made some headway as exited the plane and a number of people were still filling out their forms, but we were in the middle of this large group.  Given the two full planes, that meant that there were about 400 people ahead of us. Even though there were eighteen agents on duty, we knew this was going to be a long process.  Then it happened, one of the airport workers pulled us into the family line, a line where there were only four groups in front of us, the first of whom was already being seen.  This couldn’t take so long, could it?

We watched and waited as the officer very s-l-o-w-l-y processed the elderly lady at her counter.  I found myself wondering what she could have done to have warranted such scrutiny.  Was carrying too much cash? Had she admitted to smuggling plants into India? Was she packing heat?!?! Eventually she cleared and the first of the three families in front of us went to the counter.  Ten minutes later, we hadn’t moved, and it dawned on me that it might just have been the officer who was slowing things down.  The airport worker seemed to have realized this, and was now directing families to every line but ours.  We were caught.  All the lines close to us were more than twice as long as ours, and there were now only two groups in front of us. It wouldn’t take that much longer, would it?

The family in front consisted of an Indian father and a German mother.  They had three children, two little girls about Woo and Goose’s age, and a little boy who was about 9 months old.  He was being carried by his mama, and getting sadder and sadder as the wait dragged on, he started crying nonstop after about thirty minutes, and I can’t say that I blamed him.  I felt like crying myself.  The parents were obviously unhappy with having been put into this line, and were animatedly discussing it in a mixture of Hindi and German. They seemed to be suffering from the same paralysis that we thinking (though they would have been thinking in Hindi/German), what if we move lines and it is worse?

By the time that they were at the front of the line, the woman at the front of the line next to them indicated that they should take her place.  They hesitated ever so briefly, and in that moment someone jumped in front of them and took the open spot.  At this point the mom lost it.  She went to the agent that had been offered to her, and gave her a piece of her mind.  The complaint went unheard (possibly because it was given in a mixture of German, Hindi, and English), and the man who had jumped the queue was served.  So the woman just stood there, with her screaming child still strapped to her chest, making it extremely unpleasant for both the budder and the immigration officer.  Something I wish I would have been able to do.

By the time this all played out, we had moved lines and were one of about four passenger groups still waiting, waiting for any officer other than the initial slow one.  As luck would have it, she became free before any one near us did, but we averted our eyes and went to the next agent that came free. Her computer ended up freezing as she attempted to scan us, so we went to another officer and were finally sent through, the last four of approximately 800 that were processed in the hour that it took us to go through.  At least our bags were waiting for us at the carrousel.

I don’t understand how they could allow this to have gone on for so long, and clearly fail to in any way assist the families that were placed in that long. All through this process we wanted to say something, but did not want to irk the wrong person and end up with “special” treatment. There were clearly supervisors who checked in with each officer regularly, yet they did nothing to help her to process people at a speed would come close to what her peers were achieving.  As we left, I saw that the slow officer was sitting with what was obviously a superior.  I hoped that she was getting a reprimand, but somehow I doubt it.

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