For Treya, this past Saturday, brought a bit of familiarity to her ever changing world, as we celebrated Diwali - the festival of lights, one of the only holidays she knows. With a nod of confidence while saying Diwali, you knew she understood completely what we were discussing as the girls eagerly helped me prepare for our Indian feast. During the week preceding we busied ourselves discovering how to make home made paneer and pickled cucumbers and decorated our house for the big event.
We teach that the holiday is a day to symbolically open our hearts, removing all obstacles, so that good things and prosperity might come our way. We celebrate our friends and family and all the joys life has offered us, through the lighting of candles and lanterns throughout the house. Much in the same way that we leave cookies for Santa, we adorned our front door with rangoli, bells and lanterns and just on the table inside, we decorated a puja thali to help lure the luck of Lakshmi in. Our puja thali, or offering plate, is a brass plate with two painted peacocks in the middle that we purchased on our first trip to India to meet Devi. Placed on it was a bell, a bowl of rice to symbolize prosperity, a bowl of Indian coins to represent life’s riches, bright gold foil wrapped candy, incense, a small diya and the two mirrored katoris (tiny bowls) presented to us at Treya’s adoption ceremony, that were filled with flower petals. All were arranged by the girls (over and over again) until a design they thought looked pretty was agreed upon.
Devi was adamant that they wear their Rajastani dresses from Treya’s ceremony, which fit them both much better than 10 months ago when they received them and she requested one thick braid straight down the back, “like the Indian girls like me wear, mom.” Complete with bangles, bindi’s and the necklaces they received from Trey’s ayahs, they were ready to receive our guests. As each person arrived, they chose a light in our house to light and as the night grew darker, we found ourselves aglow in the flicker of candle light.
Once again trying my hand at Indian cooking, I chose a non-traditional Diwali feast, selecting dishes that I thought I could pull off, preparing a meal for our group, 14 people strong. We had spiced nuts, papadams and samosas with mint and mango chutneys to start, while sipping champagne topped with a splash of pomegranate juice; the kids with mango lassis. Manning the grill, oven, stove top and electric skillet, I frantically stirred simmered, roasted and unfortunately overcooked one dish, but for the most part I was pleased with the result. Our menu included tandoori prawns, chicken & paneer tikka masala, aloo gobi, a curried pea and almond salad, saffron rice, pickled cucumbers, raita, and naan bread. Pumpkin cakes and Kahlua Cardamon Kulfi with chai tea lattes made up the dessert. For anyone interested, most of the recipes were from Aarti Sequeira, the winner of season 6 of the Food Network Star and host of Aarti Party. They were easy to follow and fun to prepare.
I can’t put into words, the joy and gratitude that I have for my family and friends, who have so willingly accepted this culture that captivated Pat and I long algo, but which is all new to them. The unfamiliar foods, and the customs that we are making tradition for our girls, have been embraced from the start, making the hosting part extraordinarily fun for me. Devi proudly explained what everything was, what about the food she loves and why we do things a certain way, as if she has always lived in India and all this comes natural to her. Treya is a silly girl, but becomes more than serious when food is involved. I love the look of determination she gets as she trembles with the strain of her mouth, opened to it’s widest point, making way for a heaping spoon full of food to enter, then continuing to struggle to close her lips enough to begin chewing.
Last year at Diwali, we focused on moving our own major obstacle as we anxiously awaited our NOC and guardianship of dear Treya. This year we know of so many with that same or similar struggle that we decided to try to help move others’ obstacles in our festival of lights celebration. The girls and I wrote the names of all the Indian children who have been matched with a family but who are still in various stages of the court process and the names of all the families that have not yet been matched with a child, on a sky lantern. In all, 14 names were added: Indra, Bindu, Karuna, Baby C, Varsha, Urmilla, Neha, the Welsers, the Leschke’s, the Jacob’s, the Crook’s, the Cooper’s, the Baxter’s, the Brice Family and a heart for anyone I may have forgotten. We had all the guests assemble on our deck and we explained the significance of each name and our wish for them. The lantern was ignited, and when fully inflated was set adrift into the dark sky. Everyone cheered and clapped as the lantern was caught by a gust of wind and sailed over the Puget Sound. We silently watched it float away until it was completely out of sight. We ended the evening with a rousing explosion of snaps from pull-string poppers followed with hugs and Happy Diwali wishes.
When I put Devi to bed, she asked me, “Mommy, how will I know if Lakshmi comes to our house to bring us prosperity?” I explained that she really does not come into our house, but rather the idea of her exists in our hearts and minds to help remind us to have good behavior because good behavior always leads to good things.” Satisfied, she snuggled down to sleep. Ironically, the next day when we returned to our car after an outing, a pile of loose change was on the ground outside my car door. Devi said, “Mommy, mommy, Lakshmi brought you prosperity!” On that note, Happy Diwali everyone.