Monday, August 10, 2015

A Pokemon Birthday Party for Eight Year Old

This year I had hoped to skip the birthday party thing altogether but NOOOO, the little monkey not only wanted a party, she wanted a "POKEMON" party, which I realised in a few short moments, was one of the most difficult to plan for. There is very little on the net on Pokemon parties, and even less in the market. So no party theme decor, or plates or even return gifts. 
Even worse was, she wanted a PINATA.
Pikachu Pinata:
Now pinata is not an Indian thing and is not available cheap in India. Online one can get it at exorbitant prices. However, there are tutorials on both and on the web one can follow and even if one is not crafty (I am not, believe me), and you are desperate enough to make one, you can make it quite easily. I will post a full tutorial on the pinata soon but here I am giving a brief on how to prepare a Pikachu Pinata which looks (almost like!!) Pikachu. 
  • You need- A balloon or inflatable ball, newspaper, flour and water for glue, yellow crepe paper, black red and white chart paper. Plenty of candy and knick knacks for fillers. 
  • I used a balloon, but for either Pikachu or for a Pokeball Pinata, it is better to use an inflatable beach ball or a cheap plastic inflatable ball to get a round shape and because the balloon may burst before the casing dries. 
  • The first thing is to prepare home made gum from atta/ plain flour and water. Just mix at 1:1 proportion and heat it up to mix well. Then cool it down. Change consistency if required adding more water. Make sure it comes to a glue consistency. 
  • Tear newspaper into strips. On the balloon/ ball, paste the strips lengthwise from the tied end to the round end, after dipping them in paste. Make sure the strips overlie on one another, there should be no gaps. It is a messy affair so make sure you are sitting on the floor or in a place you can clean easily and on plenty of newspapers. Put two-three layers of strips. Let it harden overnight. My balloon burst twice. The first time the strips were all wet and the casing didnt stay, but second time, it was almost dry and I just put another balloon inside and blew it up to keep the shape. 
  • Once the casing is dry just burst the balloon and take it out.Where there were gaps I put sellotape. It wont be seen so you need not be worried about looks at this point. 
  • Then I cut yellow crepe paper into strips and cut fringes. The fringes went around the casing. Then just stick eyes and mouth and ears, according to Pikachu pictures on the net. 
  • String ropes or strong string on top to hang. Our Pinata did not survive the pulling by the children and no one got to beat it up, so make sure you have at least 3 layers of paper, if not more and make the holes for the string extra strong with tape. Dont worry about looks, it wont be seen and it will be down in no time anyway.

The Invite: 

Came from an online printable. There are a few good one available on the net and this one had the means for me to print out the name and address etc directly on the laptop.
The Decor: 
was very generic. Plain or polka dotted yellow and red paper plates and glasses, and napkins. An old black bed sheet used as a table cloth and red, yellow and black balloons. I didnt want to waste too much printer ink on the banner so I bought a general colourful birthday banner. I also prepared some cut out pokemon characters from chart paper, after printing them. The little stuffed Pikachu was bought for the "Pass the Pikachu" game.

The Games: 
Count the Pokeballs: At the entrance I had a case with pokeballs which the children and to count. I made note of their number on a paper. During dinner I announced the winner (there were two who counted correctly and made an exact guess). I made the pokeballs by buying small plastic balls in the market and making the pokeball symbol on it by black permanent marker. It looks better if one does it with ping pong balls. I did not get ping pong balls. You will get tutorials to make pokeballs with ping pong balls on the net.

Colouring pages: I had put out some Pokemon colouring pages, prints I had taken from freely available printables on the net. What I didnt foresee what that some of the colouring pages would be a hit and there would quite a demand for them. So have a variety ready. This works to fill the time when all the kids are not there for the party yet. Keep crayons and colour pencils handy. For smaller children this is also a very good way to start off. They usually enjoy colouring and some of them are quite knowledgeable about Pokemon characters. Keep extra to stuff into their goody bags. Makes for cheap (free actually if you dont count the paper and the ink) return gifts.

Pin the tail on Pikachu: This is a very fun game for children of all ages. I pasted yellow chart paper on black in the shape of Pikachu and added eyes and other details. Cut out tails for all kids and wrote the names on each tail. The kids were then blindfolded and asked to pin the tail. Closest tail won and farthest tail got a consolation prize!

Pass the Pikachu: Required- a small stuff toy Pikachu. The children sat in a circle and I played music on my phone for this game. With rowdy kids one needs to keep a bit of discipline, but otherwise this game is a lot of fun for kids of all ages.

By this time it was time to cut the cake, and the pizzas had arrived. The cake was also Pokemon themed of course.
After dinner, it was time for some active games which would have the kids up and expending their energy. So we had the Pikachu Stomp, where we filled the floor area with balloons and the kids had to stomp on them to burst them. This will not only get the children to jump around, something they do best, it is also one of the favourite games and tried and tested last year too. Get ready for a lot of noise and shouting, especially if you live in an apartment. Best to have some music and keep doors closed.
Pokemon Bowling: I have a longish corridor in the house and I also have an old toy bowling set of my daughters, which served as a perfect tool for a bowling game. Which child does not like bowling. Just to make it relevant to the theme, I printed and stuck the evil Pokemon on them. What was supposed to be two rounds of bowling, turned out to be never ending, until I had to stop them because it was getting late and the Pinata was still left.

We ended with the Pinata. As mentioned earlier, the moment it was hung up the children started pulling and pushing at it and before even one child could raise a bat, it was down and torn. When you have a pinata, be ready for the rush when it breaks. Have enough candy and dont keep anything segregated inside the pinata. Keep things anyone can grab and everyone can get some of.

Gift Bags/ Goody Bags/ Party Favors: I didnt get any paper bags in the market, so I got plastic bags and painted them with permanent marker.
In it went

  • All the candy and toys from the pinata as well as prizes from the games (fun stationery, badges, etc)
  • Some stationery, stickers, home printed and laminated bookmarks, home printed coloring pages 
  • Sketch pen sets  
  • Water bottles (frozen and spiderman, children could choose). This was of course because I didnt get any Pokemon theme bottles, but then who does not love Frozen or superheroes.

Cost in Rupees for 12 children:
Food and cake: 6000 (Pizza, drinks, chips, garlic bread, ice cream) We had adult guests too, so ordered extra food.
Return gifts and prizes: 5000
Candy and decor: 4000

Total cost: Rupees 15000 (approx, maybe a thousand or so more)

Friday, July 10, 2015

7th Birthday Pirate Princess Party Treasure Hunt: Indoor Treasure Hunt (in Apartment)

As the dreaded time to plan for another birthday party approaches (monster is turning 8 next week) I dip into my resources and realise I have not written about the Treasure Hunt I had planned on monster's 7th Princess Pirate Birthday Bash!!
And I did promise to put it out there, more so because it was ingenious (if I may say so myself), held in a small apartment (in fact, perfect for a small apartment and 8-10 guests), and the kids enjoyed and remember it to this day! (Its true, on this year's invitation, one child actually asked me if I would arrange another treasure hunt like last year. God Bless you kiddo!)
The first step to creating an indoor (or outdoor) Treasure Hunt is to determine your clue hiding places. Mine went like this:
The kids were not divided into groups since there were only 8. They were to work as one team, and the TREASURE CHEST held all their goodie bag treasure!

  • Here is the list of hiding places in order: Bookcase- fridge- cupboard- mirror image- sink- shoebox- microwave- bathroom- stairs- map to treasure chest hidden by the bed!
  • The first clue was one half (THE RIGHT SIDE which had no real graphics to speak of) of the TREASURE MAP and a Clue Card hidden inside a book on monster's book shelf. It was only one book shelf, so I left it to them to find the right book. The book shelf was a mess afterwards but it was worth it. More time spent and less time to plan other games in.

Clue 1:
"The map is incomplete, just half
  Lets see if you are that smart
  Where it is very very cold inside, is CLUE 2
  This is only just the start."

Clue 1 from BOOK SHELF led to the FRIDGE of course!

  • Inside the fridge I had kept the key to the clothes cupboard in the bedroom tied to a clue card. They had to try the key in all the locks to see which cupboard would open!
Clue 2:
"You have found the key
To the secret place
To give CLUE 3
So off you race!"

  • The CUPBOARD had the chocolate coins for their goody bags and Clue Card 3 which was a mirror image and had to be read through a MIRROR. 
Clue 3:
"Mirror on the wall
Will give to  you
The hiding place
Of your next clue"

The text below read "under the KITCHEN SINK." (Of course the clue cards were much better made. This is just the planning page and one year old at that. Do excuse the poor photo quality due to the crumpled pages.)

  • The KITCHEN SINK which also had a bag of chocolates, led to the SHOE RACK. It had a small picture puzzle.

Clue 4:

"Solve the puzzle if you dare
Your next clue is hidden there"

  • The SHOE RACK had temporary pirate tattoos for their goody bags and 
Clue 5:
"To get to your next clue
You have to work a bit
Cross all the 'X' and the 'U'
And see what is left"

The clue card had a word puzzle with 'X's and 'U's to be crossed out to reveal the word MICROWAVE

  • In the MICROWAVE along with bookmarks for their goodybag had a code to work out. Numbers were given to alphabets and they had to work out the word.
Clue 6:
"Use the code
Dont be slow
This is where
The waters flow"

The code spelled out BATHROOM of course, and the brighter kids got it even without working out the clue, so I should have made it a little less obvious.
  • The next clue under the BATHROOM SINK led outside the apartment to the STAIRCASE
Clue 7:
"The treasure map is still incomplete
The second half has to be found
Go OUT and look in the place
Where people walk UP AND DOWN"

This clue had no graphics since it was self explanatory!

  • The STAIRCASE banister had SECOND HALF of the TREASURE MAP tied to it

  • The kids had to read the map and reach the hiding place of the TREASURE CHEST (a simple basket with goodies inside) on one corner of the bedroom, hidden cleverly by the bed!
There, my masterpiece of planning!! Hope you enjoyed it as much as the kids. Whew!!!

Monday, May 18, 2015

Book Review: The Book of Fate

This is what I look for when I read a book from an alien culture. An insider look into the culture, the people, the politics, the daily struggles of the common man (or woman), the pawns in the hands of the politicians.
Massoumeh is the common Everywoman. All the men in her life, unfortunately are decision makers who are on a higher moral ground by dint of not just being her father, or brothers, husband or sons, but because they are representatives of the forces of "Government". While the realm itself is a force to reckon with, playing with her loved ones, playing with her life at every step, at every turn.
Westerners are appalled at the treatment the teen Massoum receives at the hands of her brothers. They perhaps do not know that in many countries, Muslim or Hindu or otherwise, girls are still property, held in the fathers house under the protection of father and brothers to be transferred to the husband on marriage. At least Massoum's father was on her side. Many girls do not have that. Honour killings are still heard of (and maybe some not heard of) in many outlying areas in this part of the world.
While she marries into a household which encourages her to study and become independent, her husband, so modern, so enlightened, is still a representative of another type of government, maybe a revolutionary with ideals, but ideals which would not change anything once they come to power. At the end Massoum feels what is true for every common person, it does not matteer who comes to power- the ground reality remains the same. And even with vaulted ideals, one group would not stop from decimating the other group. This is what massoum does not understand. Hers is the understanding of a bright young mind, unaccustomed to politics.
While the book is gripping till the end, the last few chapters is a let down. It becomes too predictable and then the conflict between mother and sons are not well etched out. At least the son who has been exposed to western cultures should have said something different. But he still says the same thing as the traditional son does. Also, why does Massoud, the sensitive, kind hearted son, not understand his mother more? It is not quite fathomable. It is as if after building all the characters for 9 tenth of the book, in the last tenth part Sainee lets go of what they stand for. Massoum however, does not disappoint. I would be more satisfied if she took the decision on her own accord, rather than be bullied into it by her sons. She ends up being the pawn even at a personal level and not just on a metaphorical level.
However, it is a book which everyone interested in different countries and cultures should read. And this cover does not suit the book... a different cover showing a landscape or rebellion or even a painting should have sufficed. Massoum is not a face, especially not this face.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

I am India's Daughter and this is MY story

Today I read a blog with the same title and thought, why not continue this like a chain. Let every India's daughter have a say... good or bad. We all have experiences that count to make it the country that it is. I also read today about how an Indian student was not accepted to a research course because he comes from the "Indian rape culture". I also read today about some money exchange between Leslee Udwin, the Ford Foundation, the rapist on death row etc. I have been reading for some days stories from both sides of the coin- the people who believe the documentary is all well and those who think it is, even if in part, unfair to Indians to be portrayed thus to the world. 
Cant say I care about the ban. The ban means anyone with access to social media can watch the documentary, but the man (or woman) who, may be, needs a mirror put up in front of his/her soul, will not be able to watch it and be shamed. The victims parents deserve to have their story told. The victim deserves to be known as a symbol  of the modern Indian woman stepping out of boundaries to face the world with head held high. The growing tree cut down too soon, brutally. The ban is totally misplaced.
What is required is a balanced counter view, to say to the world that the documentary is one sided. Very one sided. The story of the friend who got beaten up, and stood by the victim till help arrived... who tried everything he could till the end, that didnt catch the world's imagination. He is an Indian Man too.
So this is my story.
I am the elder of two sisters. My grandmother, a double MA, taught me there was science behind every tradition, whether it is fasting, or not entering the puja room during ones periods. Only we make a tradition into a hard and fast rule, is what I learnt. Once one sees the base science behind it, one can make a decision about following a rule or not. My grandfather was the one who told me, an idol is a doll till it is worshipped and life is breathed into it. Again, this gave us sisters the freedom to choose to follow our own spiritual paths; even though our family is very religious, we both turned out to be black sheep in this respect. Not that all was rosy, my grandparents were huge traditionalists. But they gave us enough brain fodder to question those traditions ourselves.
My parents were not trying to bring us up like sons. And neither were they trying to bring us up like daughters. We were just children, and not once did I feel otherwise. We were taught to play sports AND to sing. To cycle AND to draw. It did not enter our minds till puberty that we were girls and should or should not behave in a certain way. We were groomed to become engineers, only neither of us wanted that.
I had cousin brothers with whom I played rough and tumble from childhood. My elder cousin taught me to ride a bike... in secret, so he wouldnt be scolded. When I fell and scraped my knee and his bike was dented, we cooked up stories and laughed about them.  My younger cousin brother knew I was better than him in writing and knew he was better than me in chess. My elder brother who joined the army is still my hero, who always told me the world was my oyster and I should never 'settle'! There was never any sense of privilege in any brother or sister as we grew up. We were all equal in each others eyes. At least I never felt otherwise. 
Growing up in a coeducation environment, I have had friends who were boys, from my childhood and I still do. Never once did I feel unequal to them. The competition was fierce during exams between close friends. If one got better marks at one subject I had to get better in another. And no, math or literature was not part of that equation. 
My college friends were as much there to smoke together in the common room, as they were to protect us returning very late at night from the college fest. My boss right now runs a company overridden by women, and has always championed equality in the workplace.
Today I have a daughter of my own and I feel hurt when I see her surroundings so full of sexism and chavinism. We strive to tell her every day that she can do whatever she puts her mind to, NOT whatever a boy can. We dont want her to realise she is a girl till she attains puberty. She should play football as well as with her barbie dolls. Maths is her favourtie subject.
Today I just work part time to take care of our child in an alien city. My husband would be happiest if I were the bread earner and he could play a more inclusive role in his daughters upbringing. By the way, he would never enter the kitchen, but he never asks me to, either. He does not wash his clothes but he does not want me washing clothes either. It is not my JOB to do the housekeeping or the laundry. Its just the roles we have assumed because his career went way better than mine. He would suck at housework, I do very well in it thank you. And in our long time together, there has been no discussions about what clothes I wear, where I go for work or to unwind, or about changing my surname. Not once, not ever.
Only when I am late, he wants me to call and tell him how i am returning, give him the taxi number and details. In school, my dad threw a fit if I returned after 9 pm. As a young woman, my male friends I would be out with, wanted every girl to inform them of the taxi or auto registration number and sometimes the drivers name. Every male friend would walk me to the bus stop and see me safely inside the metro. My boss would never allow me to go home in an unregistered cab even if it meant I would have to wait till midnight till someone was available to drop me.
Which brings me to the point of the documentary. There are people out there who we have to stay safe from. Any woman who travels by public transport would have at least one horror story to relate, as have I. They are there in every country, every city. In a male dominated society, where most men see their women being mistreated from their childhood, economic hardships mean they become hardened criminals with inhuman, twisted, abnormal mindsets. Maybe this country has hundreds of men like that.
But there are also hundreds of men who protest in the street shoulder to shoulder with their female counterparts in Delhi or Mumbai. There are those men who wear skirts to show solidarity with women in Bangalore. There are students in Kolkata who overthrow deans in protest against their friend being molested. There are those men living in slums who work double shifts to educate their daughters in English medium schools (yes, my maid's husband does). For every man who beats his wife there are five who encourage them to finish their education.
It is not that we should not weed out the scum. Shame the wrong doers, the wrong thinkers, punish them. Hang the monsters out there twice over. But for the sake of my father, brothers, male friends, husband and thousands like them in this country, dont create propaganda that says, even covertly, every man is like THIS or like THAT. This country does not need another ban. This country needs to change  mindsets, one chauvinist-misogynist at a time. This country needs to weed out the thought that a daughter is ill fate, that a woman not in the house is a threat to their manhood and power, and that requires not just education... that needs upliftment of a whole section of society from the degrading poverty they are living in.