Monday, 31 March 2014

A Horrific Evening of Nightmares Come True

This is an old blog post I wrote two years ago when R and I lived on an island in the Philippines for a few months. (Yes, we have lived an interesting life.)

Yeah, that's us


Are you sure you are ready for this?

I’m not sure I am. Perhaps it is too soon.

Last night R and I were home alone, working on different things. As I sat on my bed with my bible, the blades of the fan suddenly stopped whirring. Uh oh… another blackout. It was dusk, but we weren’t too worried because we had an emergency light supplied by the priest, and a cool head lamp which made us look like the lamp in Pixar animations. R managed to cook a yummy dinner of eggplant, tomato and spices left to us by S. We ate in the kitchen with the flashlights. All was well. The calm before the storm. 

After dinner, R showered, and I settled down to one of the few things I could do in the dark- listening to an awesome talk by Dr. Peter Kreeft on ‘Arguments for the Existence of God’. Eight minutes into the talk, I heard R outside our bedroom. Her voice was a little stressed out.

“There’s a giant spider out here.”

“Yeah, it can’t be THAT big,” I thought. “Some people just have a phobia of spiders.”

“Do you want me to come rescue you?” I asked lazily. 

“Maybe… come give me some moral support…?”

 As I was getting up, she shouted, “Oh no! It’s going inside!”

In the shadowy half light from her flashlight outside, I saw a huge dark creature climb into our room through the window.

“AAAAHHH!” I screamed. “It’s in, it’s in! I see it!!” I desperately tried to switch on the headlamp, but I couldn’t seem to find the switch, and I was filled with all the terror natural to anyone trapped in a dark room with a giant arachnid. Finally I got the light on, and R burst in with her light… and then I saw it. Crouched in the corner of the room was A GIANT SCARY BEYOND IMAGINATION SPIDER! It was huge!

“That is HUGE!” I squeaked.

“What do we do?” R’s voice was shaking.

 “I don’t know. I need a weapon!”

I desperately looked over the room for anything that could serve as a weapon.The only vaguely possible thing I could find was a pillow, yeah, real deadly weapon. R managed to find a shoe.

“AAAHH! I don’t know if I can do this!”

“Me neither,” I screamed/laughed back.

“It’s in the corner. If I hit it, I won’t get it!”

“But we can’t let it get any closer to our beds!”

R, usually so calm and collected, danced back and forth, shoe in hand. “I can’t do this… Okay, I’m going to do it, but I need you to look and see if I get it. I can’t look!”

Finally she lunged for it, and missed, which was the cue for both of us to scream (like girls). Thankfully, it scuttled toward the doorway instead of the beds, and R attacked again, and got it. Now it gets REALLY creepy. One of the reasons it seemed so huge was because it was carrying an egg sac. Cue creepy, evil, psychopathic-killer-about-to-get-you music.

Yes, as she hit it, she hit the egg sac, and millions of little spiders burst out and began scurrying in every direction. This is when the screaming got serious. But in the midst of the horror of it all, R responded with action.

“POISON! We need POISON!” She rushed off, while I dragged her mattress back and began to kill baby spiders with her shoe. It was a spider massacre. Our entire neighbourhood was pitch-black because of the blackout, and at this opportune moment, we heard voices emerge from the darkness.

“R? Sue? Are you alright?” Without leaving my grisly job, I answered, “Yes, we’re okay. Who is that?” It turned out to be one of the school employees who lived two houses away from us. Yes, apparently the entire neighbourhood had heard our screams of terror. After we reassured her that we were okay, she and the other voices retreated. We heard them talking and laughing with some other neighbours down the street. “Spiders... ha ha ha.” That’s one way to get to know the neighbours, right?

R brought out our only supply of poison-Repel100 and sprayed the remaining baby spiders, then wiped down the entire area with Lysol. Shuddering, she climbed up onto my bunk bed, and we spent the next hour in a lecture room with Dr. Peter Kreeft listening to an interesting talk on the argument from design, the argument from desire, Pascal’s wager, and trying hard NOT to think about egg sacs.

P.S. Due to an overactive imagination, reading Charlotte’s web as a child had given R an extreme phobia of spider’s egg sacs. Truly a nightmare come true. 

Monday, 24 March 2014

My Grandmother's Birthday Party

Really, Sue? Really? You disappear from your blog for two weeks, and then write about your grandmother's birthday party?

Well, I asked Facebook for blog suggestions, and all I got was

1. People hate what they think is the Catholic church and
2. Your grandma's birthday party

(And later, my friend S and my mum asking for posts featuring THEM. Be careful what you wish for.)

So of course I chose the deeper, more challenging, more spiritually impacting option. Or not.

I realized yesterday that my family is kind of strange.

No offence, family (My grandmother and her siblings)

This realization hit me as my extended family, cousins, aunts, uncles sat around my grandparents' living room celebrating my grandmother's 81st birthday, and  as usual we started singing... and my cousin's new(ish) husband, D, was playing the guitar.

"Let's sing 'Why Can't My Goose'!" I said. "Yes, yes, 'Why Can't My Goose'," agreed everyone, as we looked expectantly at D, who looked confusedly back at us. I mean, who DOESN'T know that old favourite, 'Why Can't My Goose', which works best when sung in rounds, at every family gathering? This one-

Why can't my goose
Sing as well as thy goose
When I paid for my goose
Twice as much as thine?

All these years, this seemed like a normal and natural part of a family gathering. And then I heard it through my cousin-in-law's ears.

This realization was reinforced when my mom and her two sisters broke into a song, that was deceptively cheerful (with some la la las we were expected to join in) until we heard something about stilettos (knife, not shoe version) and then

With a mighty swipe I will dislocate his bally jaw! 
I'll find this bullfighter, I will, and when I catch the bounder, the blighter I'll kill.

followed by

'He shall die! He shall die! He shall die tiddly-I-ti-ti-ti-ti-ti-ti!'

I kid you not.

You want to hear this song, don't you?

Here you go:

You're welcome.

We had to quickly distract them before they embarked on the long macabre playlist of 'Hang Down Your Head, Tom Dooley' and 'Sweeney Todd the Barber'. Yeah, we sang these songs before Johnny Depp made macabre cool.

And then there's the old favourite: 'The Orchestra' or 'The Instrument Song'. We have enough singers in our family for this to not only work well, but for everyone to enjoy it... every time. Basically groups of people sing different parts like

'The violins are ringing with joyful singing
The violins are ringing with joyful song'

'The clarinet, the clarinet 
Goes doodle doodle doodle doodle det. 
The clarinet, the clarinet 
Goes doodle doodle doodle dat.'

'The horn, the horn, whose song is forlorn
The horn, the horn, whose song is forlorn.'

And then everyone sings their parts together. Does this sound vaguely familiar to you? Well, maybe you are a Meg Ryan chick flick fan, and you saw it in 'You've Got Mail'!

I promise you we sounded better than that.

Where did this stuff come from? For how many generations has my family been singing these songs? Are there any other families who do the same? And are any of them Indian Catholics?

Let us ponder these great questions of life.

Monday, 10 March 2014

7QT Monday: The So-Late-That-I'm-Early Edition

So it turns out Jen leaves her Seven Quick Takes Friday links open till Monday, which works perfectly for me, since I write on Mondays. Also, since I just wrote an article for something else, I don't have enough left to write a full-length REAL blog post, so seven quick takes it will be. (You know they won't really be quick, right?)


I turned 28 last week! As usual I had been thinking about it for so long before it really happened, that I almost thought I was turning 29. So here's a newsflash for those early 20-somethings who are wondering what it feels like to be so close to the big 3-0. It actually feels pretty much the same. Well, maybe there's more maturity mixed up in there, but not enough to prevent me from having a few teenage-y moments every now and again- obsessing/laughing hysterically late into the night, saying/doing awkward things, dancing in public, hiding from people and ignoring phone calls when the Introvert emerges, and other such un-adultlike behaviours.


So the day before my birthday, I celebrated with just my family. After dinner, we were doing our usual family birthday tradition of everyone honouring and praying for the birthday girl. My 4 yo niece was a little over-tired, and therefore going a little nuts. She bounced from person to person, giggled crazily over nothing and would interrupt the 'honorings' with "Deear Jesus, thank you for (giggle, giggle, giggle)". Then she looked at my mum and said "I juss can't stop laughing, Nana! I juss can't stop laughing!" Everyone was a little exasperated, but also amused. A moment later, she snapped the hairband she was playing with in half.

There was a tense moment. My mum said "NOW you'll stop laughing!" The rest of us started laughing. I promise we weren't trying to be mean, it was just irresistible. My niece's smile was wiped off her face, and there were almost tears. Suddenly I heard a tense voice break the silence. "I FORGIVE YOU, EVA!" said her 6 yo sister.

Turns out it was HER hairband that had been broken. We made sure her unprompted act of forgiveness was suitable rewarded ('The angels are rejoicing in heaven!' etc) I love that that was her first response, hard as it was.


I read/told my first Hindi story last week! Yeah, my Hindi has been getting so much better over the past few months, mostly because I've actually been using it. So I used a Hindi bible story to read to the kids. It was the story of the Prodigal son. It went pretty well... I used that wonderful maxim to get through the hard parts- 'Fake it till you make it!' ;-) Context clues helped too. I did realize the following Saturday that I maaay not have been clear enough about the point of the story, when I asked them what they learned from the story and they said, "Never leave your parents' house" and "You must obey your parents". They're probably used to that being the moral of every story.


Have I obsessed before on this blog about how mad the whole 'fairness' thing in India makes me?

How do I know this a real 'thing'?

  • We have commercials, not just for 'Fair and Lovely', but also for 'Fair and Handsome' whitening creams endorsed by some of the big names in Bollywood.
  • Almost all Indian movies and commercials feature actors and actresses who are probably fairer that 95% of India's population.
  • I have met girls (and guys) who 'KNOW' they are unattractive because of their dark skin.
  • The words 'fair' and 'attractive' are used interchangeably.
  • Girls wear long sleeved coats, gloves and even socks when they are in the sun to prevent that uglifying process of getting tanned.
  • To say 'You're looking much darker' to someone is the equivalent of saying 'You're looking much uglier'
  • I've heard EDUCATED people who should know better affirm this worldview. Prejudices run deep.
  • Whenever you look at people's wedding albums, the bride is usually layered in powder (I think?) and her complexion makes her almost unrecognizable. I suppose she just wants to look 'beautiful' for her big day.
  • People have told me sympathetically "You're not THAT dark."

And my most recent observation that brought this all on-

I was looking at people's Bitstrips avatars on Facebook a couple of weeks ago (which is basically an app in which you create a cartoon version of yourself) and I realized that people's issues were showing through. In order to create your avatar, you have to go through a process of defining your face shape, nose type, hair style, and... skin colour. Yes, I know it's hard to define, I had to stare in a mirror while trying to figure out all the details. Mine came out pretty similar to me. But then I looked at everybody else's and I realized most of my India FB friends had made themselves significantly fairer than they really were. Deliberately? Or is that the way they subconsciously want to be seen?

Brown is GOOD, people! (Yeah, real quick take there.)


Okay, three actually quick takes- I really liked this blog post about what works in a blog.

Seven Things I Love About Your Blog

P.S. She's opinionated. Just like me.


Do you have a favourite word? I just found out that I've been pronouncing my favourite word wrong all these years.

So it's meLLIFluous. Not melliFLUous.

Sigh. It comes from reading a lot, and not hearing the same words in actual conversations.

Did you even know people had favourite words? And least favourite words? Well, I had a favourite word (that I couldn't pronounce) but had no idea that people actually THOUGHT about their least favourite words until my team played a getting to know each other game, and it turned out that not only do two of my team members HAVE least favourite words... they have the SAME least favourite word.

Which is 'moist'.


Lent. It's begun. It's been good so far, maybe because it began with Confession on just Day 3 of Lent (instead of scrambling to get to Confession before Good Friday). It is not an intense Lent for me, just a 'coming back to Him' in ways He has been already calling me. I also read Fr. Robert Barron's daily Lenten reflections, which are cool. Thoughtful, interesting, not too complex, and also with a clear morsel of spiritual food to chew on through the day. Sign up at

Okay, have a blessed week, peeps.

Saturday, 1 March 2014

A Day in The Life

Something about Jen's 7 in 7 challenge has been making me so hungry for blogging. As usual I haven't had enough time, or when I have had the time, I haven't had the mental energy, so I didn't join in. But reading people like Jen's and Mama H's daily posts has fired me with a desire to write write write, even if I have nothing wonderful to say.

So even though I'm exhausted after a loong day, I think I'm going to write. Jen being a famous blogger, mother of six, and author of a soon to be a bestselling book, has had many people ask her for a break up of her day. I, being no one of any particular importance, have not heard that question as much. So of course I thought I would write a blog post about it. This of course is going to be long-winded and fascinating to all who read this blog.

Disclaimer: This was one of my days last week. My days look very different from one another. I work for our church, and have a very flexible schedule. At the same time, I work together with a team of Americans who live here, so we do have a weekly schedule. So there is some method to the madness.

7.00 am Wake up and make myself a cup of tea. This is harder than it sounds, because I stayed up late the previous night working on an urgent official letter. So it was more more 'stumble out of bed and blearily make a cup of tea'. Seven hours of sleep makes a grump of me.

7.20 am People start arriving for our weekly Joy of the Gospel study. This is happening at the unearthly hour of 7.30 am so that people who have regular 9 am to 6 pm jobs can make it. P.S. Why do people always come early or late, but rarely on time? Is this just India?

7.40 – 8.30 am Reading and sharing on a section of Joy of the Gospel with five team members and about five or six guests. Surprisingly Pope Francis' words invigorate and bring so much joy that I almost forget that I am sleep deprived and low on energy. Our guests, young Catholics for whom reading encyclicals or apostolic exhortations is something new, seem to be similarly affected.

"An evangelizer must never look like someone who has just come back from a funeral! Let us recover and deepen our enthusiasm, that “delightful and comforting joy of evangelizing, even when it is in tears that we must sow… And may the world of our time, which is searching, sometimes with anguish, sometimes with hope, be enabled to receive the good news not from evangelizers who are dejected, discouraged, impatient or anxious, but from ministers of the Gospel whose lives glow with fervour, who have first received the joy of Christ."

8.30 am Banana for breakfast. Shh, don't tell my mum. I have losing weight recently, and my mum never stops reminding me that 'breakfast is the main meal of the day' and that I should 'eat an egg and two fruits something something'. I compromised by forcing a banana down. If it's so important, why is breakfast always such a repulsive concept to my stomach?

8.45 to 9.45 am Liturgy of the Hours with team and two remaining guests. Our team prays morning prayer together four days of the week, and I have come to love reading the psalms, the antiphons, and especially the psalm prayers (even though we don't usually chant because I really need for us to have a chant that is not just a dreary sounding monotone).

(Now I'm just being lazy- I could easily take a picture of my own Liturgy of the Hours book instead of stealing one from the Internet)

10 am It's my day for cooking (each team member gets one day of the week) so I go in search of eggplant. Our neighbourhood store only has three, so I walk down the street and stop at two more stores. Cooking for six (including two guys) (multiplied by two meals) is a quite a different deal than cooking for two girls who are small eaters, which was my life for the previous few months. Good practice for the big family I hope to have?

One of the joys of living in India

10.30 am Start roasting eggplant for baingan bhartha (grilled eggplant). This is always fascinating, as I place the eggplant directly on the flame, until the skin is all charred and the flesh is tender. (Why do I sound like I'm talking about an animal instead of a vegetable?) Chop chillies with a plastic bag over my hand because if my skin touches the inside of a chilly, it burns for hours. I have spent some pleasant lunches with one hand stuck in a mug of water. (I am so enjoying writing these fascinating and so irrelevant pieces of information.)

11.30 am Listen to Matt Maher while cleaning coriander, and help two of my team members with Hindi-related queries. With my imperfect Hindi, it's always a pleasure to realize that I still know more than SOMEONE. (Some people like to feel important.) Resist the urge to feel like I'm wasting my time because there are other important things I should be doing. I've had some struggles with anxiety in recent months, but I have chosen to reject it (as far as I am able). I am surprisingly calmed by this repetitive and housewifely task.

12.30 pm Make chapatis, heat up leftovers, fill water from new water purifier (thank you, S), burn chapati as team member talks to me, because as I keep forgetting I CAN'T MULTITASK!

1.30 pm Lunch with team including impromptu word association game and make-up-a-story-by-each-adding-a-word game, followed by Day 6 of 33 Day Total Consecration to Mary reflection. Something new for me. Jesus is still teaching me to love His Mum, and accept her love.

2.30 to 3.30 pm Most embarrassing part of my day- read half of Nicholas Sparks ‘A Walk to Remember’, which in a moment of ditziness I put on my online library reading list. Still, I am happy with the fact that I am relaxed enough to read a book. It is a sign that my anxiety is lessening. When I am anxious, my mind is racing, my heart is racing, and I am jumping between several different tasks and accomplishing nothing. When I am at peace, I can take a break without feeling like the world is going to collapse.

3.30 to 4.30 Nap. Much needed because of the early JOG session, and previous late night. Eight and a half hours of daily sleep is what Sue needs to function normally. (I accidentally (?) typed eight and a half hours of daily prayer... the Holy Spirit?)

4.45 pm Leave on my trusty Activa for tuition class. Have many brushes with death on the streets. But that’s normal.

This is an Activa, non-Indian readers (this is also an unusually empty Indian street)

5 to 6.40 pm Tutor kids from slum. Apart from helping fifth graders with a science lesson, I struggle with patience as a six year old trouble maker does his best to drive me crazy. This involves a punishment of many written lines of ‘I will behave myself in class’ (number of lines increased when he tears out half the page that he's writing his punishment on), ‘I will not throw my pencil’ and a dramatic scene involving a missing pencil, that was 'stolen' from him and finally turns out to belong not to him, but the 'thief'. Groan.

6.50 pm Back to the house to meet team. Try to recover my composure as we leave to visit the home of a new RCIA couple. Take off with four firangs on their bicycles with me on my Activa in the lead, and another firang riding pillion, threading our way through crazy rush hour traffic. Quite the sight.

We have only met the couple briefly once, but have been invited to celebrate the Catholic fiancĂ©’s 24th birthday. It is a more traditional Tamil Catholic family, and we are served HUGE helpings of tasty biriyani, which we eat with our hands while sitting on the floor, talk to many people that we don’t know at all, and sneakily switch off the TV so we don’t have to look at gyrating Bollywood music videos. In spite of my extreme dislike phobia of awkward social situations and my general post-tuition antisocial grumpy mood, it was a good start to a new friendship. We ended with promises for future cooking lessons, sari-draping lessons and mutual Hindi-English lessons (the girl does not speak English, and our team members are trying to learn Hindi.)

10.30 pm Back home finally, check my mail and FB, read some blogs, and crash, knowing that I have to wake up early the next morning for another early meeting.

If you were reading carefully, you will have noticed one big missing piece of my schedule. Yup, my personal prayer time took a hit that day because of the early morning. NOT an excuse, because my book-reading, FB-checking and nap-taking did not suffer likewise. I got back on track after that though. Here's a brief and funny story (because this post isn't long enough). I was avoiding prayer one morning many months ago (why do I do that?), and was scrolling through my FB newsfeed, when I saw this:

Ha ha, very subtle, Lord.