Thursday, February 25, 2010

A Terrific Site for Anyone Who Likes Children Stories

Not a lot of time to blog today, as I'm back at work on Granny's Jig. But the following site is a must-go-to for anyone who likes to read or write children's stories. Check it out, you can read them for free!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Food of South India

This is probably my last blog about India for awhile. But I would be remiss if I didn't mention South Indian food.

Until I met my husband, I didn't realize that the Indian food I was used to was North Indian, or even that there was regional cooking. True, all over India many of the same spices and herbs are used: coriander leaves, cumin, fennel, turmeric, saffron, to mention just a few. But the north specializes in breads and wheat-based pastries (think of the wonderful naan in a Tandoori kitchen or those delicious samosas.) In the South, though, rice is the staple, and most dishes use rice or a variety of lentils, or both. (I should mention in passing, though, that more and more interchange goes on, so that many North Indian snacks are popular in the south, and vice versa.)

My husband comes from a very large family, one full of fantastic cooks, so from the very first trip (I've been to India 6 times), I started hounding them for their recipes. I also have two sisters-in-law and two nieces in the states who are generous with their recipes. So now I have a huge binder (marked "Family Recipes") with well over 100 great dishes--all vegetarian.

What kinds of dishes? Well, the main dish is usually some kind of sauce over rice with a dry "curried" vegetable on the side. The term "curried" here simply means that a combination of spices have been used, and they are quite distinct from the "curry powder" that most markets carry. The sauce can be a kuttu, a sambar, or a rasam.

A kuttu is a sort of vegetable stew made from lentils (and there are different lentils to choose from) boiled with a diced vegetable, along with several seasonings which may or may not include coconut, but will certainly include dried red chilies. (South Indian food is hot!) A wide range of different vegetables can be used.

Most sambars have a tamarind base (although one sambar does have a buttermilk base instead). Sambar is also cooked with lentils and comes out like a well-seasoned gravy, swimming with vegetables, to put over your rice.

The rasams, too are cooked with lentils and spices, some with vegetables and some not. Rasam is more like a flavorful soup to go over rice as a second course. We sometimes have it as a soup. As for the vegetable side dishes, the possibilities are endless. Often vegetables are combined together, and all are seasoned to bring out the best in the vegetable.

Then there are the savories and sweets. This is where you can get into "suffer cooking". Many of the savories involve soaking rice and lentils for hours, grinding them for a long time,and letting the dough rise over night. Then portions are deep fried, sometimes with special seasonings. Or the dough/batter may simply be spooned into compartments in a special utensil and steamed as small cakes, served with a condiment, like coconut chutney.

The sweets, too, involve long periods of time at the stove. Maybe stirring a lentil flour, laden with cream or ghee (a clarified butter), until it's of a texure to melt in your mouth. Maybe soaking shredded fruit in a mixture (again with ghee or cream or milk) and stirring it forever. But, if it is done right (and my inlaws really do it right!) it's oh-so-worth the wait! There are also pastries that have been soaked in sweetened milk or a sugar syrrup. These are the kinds of things served at tiffin, with a sweetened cup of dark rich coffee--the perfect "go-with".

And so I must close for now on this wonderful interlude of my life! I have other writing to do, guest bloggers to schedule. Besides, I need to go check on my dough!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Traffic in Chennai

Traffic in Chennai deserves a post of its own. Like all major cities in India, people flocking in for opportunities have flooded the streets with traffic they were not meant to serve, despite upgrades, road widenings, and lane markings. On my first trip to India, the traffic reminded me more than anything of an immense game of "chicken", where opposing teams composed of trucks, autos, auto rickshaws, bicycles, motorcyles, taxis, all rushed toward each other at top speed, daring the other side to blink first. A friend of my husband's described it this way: "In India, we drive by intuition."

True, that's how it seems. To take a ride in India is to truly live in the present moment. After awhile, I learned to simply relax and just take it all in. Those drivers do know what they are doing! They have incredible skill and dexterity, as they veer to avoid some vehicles, swoop in front of others and miss others who are trying to do the same.

In Amercia, honking your car horn is a display of irritation--often of road rage. In India, it's crucial to survivial. It's imperative for everyone to know everyone else's intentions. Consequently, a trip through Chennai seems like listening to a cacaphonious symphony written by a crazed composer: horns, beeps, toots, blats, jangles, whistles, and bicycle bells are all accompanied by the percussive rumbles, coughs,grunts, growls, and put-a-put-puts of motors. Even with all of that, there are moments of gridlock, where no one can move. And it is not unusual to see, in the midst of assorted vehicles, an ox-drawn cart moving along, placidly. At such times, traffic just seems to magically part and flow around it, then rush on.

If time matters, or if you hope to have presentable hair on arrival, it's probably best to take a taxi. But I prefer the auto rickshaw. The auto rickshaw is a boxy little metal vehicle with two wheels in back and one in front, a vinyl top (like on old convertibles), and a windshield that wraps around the dash. Passengers in back are separated by a bar (handy for holding on) from the driver, who navigates with handlebars similar to those on a motorcycle.

The auto rickshaw, open-sided, and low to the ground, puts you in a "you are there" mode as you watch the city rush by, burning itself into your retina, leaving after images: Brightly painted mansions next to delapidated buildings; gardens and parks with coconut palms, neem trees, nettu lingam trees, flame of the forest trees, bougainvilla in all colors; women in bright saris or salwar kamiz, their silk and chiffon-like shawls flowing behind them as they walk; fruit and vegetable stalls and peddlars with blankets heaped with wares; coffee kiosks, and deep,rectangular caverns of shops; cows and goats running loose on side streets; dogs, both pet and stray, sunning themselves in front of gates; corner shrines with ornate sculptures. And over it all, a permeating heat.

I can never get enough of it when I'm there. And, when I return, for weeks afterwards, some small thing will trigger a moment of plaster compound walls, mosaic tile floors, banana trees, the scent of jasmine, and it's all there for me again.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Pongal and an Eclipse

A few days after our arrival (and a few days before the reunion) celebration of Pongal began, on January 14th. Pongal is essentially a South Indian harvest festival. In the villages it is celebrated for four days, but my relatives in the city mainly celebrate the first two days.

The day before Pongal, special pots were being sold in the market place. I saw stacks and stacks of sugarcane and turmeric everywhere. That same day, people also set out old and useless things they wanted to discard and burned them. The air was thick with smoke and an ashy smell most of the morning.

On the first day of pongal, a special rice and dhal dish (called, in fact, pongal), was cooked in one of the special clay pots I mentioned, and it had been decorated in a special way with sugar cane, bananas, and turmeric. This is a home celebration in each household -- there's no public parade, and it's essentially to give thanks for the harvest.

The second day is usually to give thanks for the cattle in the rural areas. Farmers paint the horns of their cattle in brilliant colors, decorate them with garlands, and prepare special food for them. In the cities it's a brother-sister day. Sisters give thanks for their brothers and say prayers for them, and brothers give their sisters small gifts. The first two days are the main festival in the cities. (I never did find out what happens in the villages for the last two days.)

We had spent the 1st morning of Pongal at Rajan's eldest brother's home. Later that afternoon we visited a nephew across town. Madras is such an immense city, and traffic is so thick, such a trip can be time-consuming, so we stayed overnight in order to combine it with visits to other relatives living nearby. The next morning, I was included in the sister-brother ceremony, so I've posted that in the pictures above.

Later in the morning, we visited a niece and Rajan's 3rd brother, where we enjoyed a fantastic breakfast; then we went to an artisan center where hundreds of stalls showed lovely handicrafts. (We did a lot of shopping for souvenirs to take back!)

That was also the day of the solar eclipse, and during the eclipse hours, we stayed inside our relatives' home to watch it on the news. In parts of Southern India, the complete eclipse could be seen, and the photographs onscreen were remarkable: This was an annular eclipse, and you could see the ring of fire around the perfect circle of the moon that was blotting out the sun; something I've never seen before. One can understand how old superstitions arose from phenomena like eclipses. This was truly awesome.

A little later, we headed home, but not before and polishing off another scrumptious tiffin!

Friday, February 19, 2010

More About the Trip

I have been tied up doing book reviews and getting back to my juvenile novel, but I am not finished with India, and India is not finished with me.

Everytime I go to India, I am struck by contrasts. India at present is bustling with new prosperity, even as it addresses age-old problems of poverty and over-population. In the countryside villages, the pace is slow and peaceful, but the cities offer more opportunity, so nearly every large city is impacted by a population greater than the city's original design. With the new affluence, you have marvellous new buildings next to old ones in need of repair, and much of the infrastructure is over-taxed. The traffic, alone,is a wild, musical bedlam experience that deserves a blog of its own.

Still, India's age-old virtues are still alive and well. I have often said that the people are India's national treasure. Spiritual strength permeates the culture, along with the spirit of giving. Long ago I had to learn not to be so admiring of everything: Thinking to be friendly, I would compliment someone with "That's such a pretty...," and immediately the object would be mine! It doesn't stop there, though. If you visit an Indian home, you are served delicious treats that are truly "suffer cooking" and hovered over as if your personal care is their aim in life. And whether the gift is fruit, a flower for your hair, or turmeric for health and luck, you never leave a home empty-handed.

The ethic to give and to give back was reflected in all the ceremonies at the reunion. It's one thing to honor with speeches, but every speech was accompanied by gifts. It's one thing to clap for a wonderful performance, but every ovation was accompanied--again--by gifts. And, of course, the alumni association was simply amazing in how far they carried "giving back" to the university that nurtured each person's talents. I'm still filled with the wonder of it.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Education, the Gift That Keeps on Giving

In America, it's a given that we respect education and want students to learn, but I don't think we approach anything like the reverence for education I saw reflected over the days of this reunion. The first day was a gathering of reaquaintance and entertainment for alumni who hadn't seen each other for years, which is pretty much what you might expect from a class reunion. The second and third days were a revelation to me as to how much more this reunion involved.

We met at the alumni association's meeting hall in Chennai for an early breakfast. (7:30 a.m.!) Then we went into a main hall where the organizers of the reunion honored professors who had taught them at engineering college. The professors who live in Chennai and were able to attend were seated in the front row, and one by one they received glowing tribute, and were given flowers, a plaque, and a shawl. (The next morning, in Chidambaram, similar tribute was paid to professors who could attend, and for professors who could not be at either program due to ill health, alumni members went to their homes.) Over and over again, the former students talked about how they owed their success in life to these teachers. How much it must have meant to these professors!

After the breakfast program, we boarded three buses and set off for Annamalai University in Chidambaram. It was an all-day trip, and new and old friends chatted away, or dozed, or listened to re-caps of old musicals played on a TV screen at the front of the bus. Along the way we passed small villages and a number of rice paddies. Midway we stopped at Pondicheri, near the beach and ate lunch at a hotel restaurant. (All of this had been provided for by the alumni association.) Pondicheri has a famous ashram, but we did not have time to explore, as functions were planned for our arrival in Chidambaram, and we were pushing a deadline.

When we arrived at the university's engineering college, the dean of the engineering college was waiting and shook hands with each of us as we got off the bus. Oil lamps were lit on leaves in the center of the entrance to the compound where we were greeted by 50 young women engineering students holding oil lamps. 50 young men engineering students in the honor guard (similar to our ROTC)were smartly dressed in uniforms and red headdresses, and they stood at attention as we proceeded into the alumni quarters entry hall, while a young woman passed out roses to each of the women in our group.

As part of their homage to the university, the alumni association had transformed a series of former classrooms into a large conference hall with special lighting for future conferences, and a dedication service was planned for the following day. For now, we filed in to look at it, and then proceeded to the guest house dining hall for tea and treats, then were given the keys to our rooms.

The "rooms" each couple were given actually constituted a suite, complete with a sitting area, a large comfortable bedroom, a dressing area and bath. On a table beside the bedside was a basket of fruit, bottles of water, and a coffee pot. After depositing our bags in our rooms, we met at the buses again and were whisked off to the Chidambaram temple.

Chidambaram's great temple has four main gateways enclosing a courtyard, each one topped by an ornate goparam. The central shrine in the courtyard houses the Nataraja, or "Dancing Shiva". Depictions of the statue have been featured in numerous art books and philosophy books -- Shiva dancing the universe into existence, surrounded by a ring of flames. It's one of the most ancient shrines in India. A ceremony was still in process when we arrived, and the deity was so covered in garlands, I could only see its face and the extremities of its limbs, but I was happy to have the opportunity to see it at all. We were allowed to go around and up a step behind the shrine, where a priest blessed us and another priest gave us ashes, red powder, and a beautiful green and gilt shawl. After that, we walked around inside the courtyard until time to return to the bus. As we were departing, we heard cymbals and drums. At the entrance, I looked back and saw a procession with the deity being carried around the courtyard.

At our rooms, we freshened up and went to supper in the guest house dining halls. The founders of Annamalai University came from a region called Chettinad, a region with a special cuisine, and the current administrators brought in Chettinad cooks to do all the meals while we were there. The food was fabulous.

Following supper, we all walked over to the campus music building close by and were treated to a musical concert performed by teachers from the music college. The instruments were a flute, a violin, 2 drums, and an instrument called a nadhaswaram (which looks like a elongated lily and has a reedy sound something like a saxaphone). The music was quite hypnotic and beautiful. At times the flautist and violinist went went solo, the violin sounding like a human voice. The drummers had their moment, too, and periodically two music students rang bells when all the instruments played together. After such a long and eventful day, once we were back at our quarters, I fell immediately asleep.

Then at 6:20 next morning, a coffee team came door to door to help each of us meet the new day with a good strong cup of Indian coffee. After a quick shower, Rajan and I met the others at the buses and were taken to the main campus dorm building mess hall for breakfast. Then came the inauguration of the new seminar hall. Following that, in another hall, tribute was paid once again to former professors who could attend, and the vice chancelor and the dean gave tribute in turn to the alumni for their many contributions.

Here are just a few of those contributions: Earlier in the year, several alumni had come to the college to give workshops to current engineering students, cluing them into special problems that need addressing in today's world. They plan to come back and keep giving seminars to help today's students connect with the world they will be working in in the future. The alumni association also awarded a scholarship to be given to a female engineering student. The association donated a water treatment system to a secondary school, and an English language program to an elementary school. Members of the association planted 50 trees in front of the university to encourage ecology and they arranged for a blood donation drive.

After the morning programs were over, photographs were taken. Then we had a choice of attending one of four lectures (one for each engineering branch: mechanical, electrical, civil, chemical) or having tea and socializing some more. We chose the latter and took some pictures of our own and exchanged addresses, etc. And then too soon, the reunion was nearing its end. We returned to the guest house for a delicious lunch, and then it was time to board the buses for our departure. It was close to 3:30 by the time we were on our way, with a stop for tea in Pondichery. It was 10:05 p.m. when we reached the alumni hall in Chennai. A taxi (ordered by our sister-in-law) was waiting for us and took us home.

The three days of this reunion stand out for me as a fine testament to education and friendship. Everyone had such a great time. There were over 100 people, and everywhere I looked were smiles and laughter. And I made some new friendships I hope to keep in years to come.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Reunion -- First Day

I've been going over notes that I took on the trip, and I find we actually went to Trichy a few days before the big reunion. The day before, we had a mini reunion with some of Rajan's friends from the mechanical engineering class -- a nice opportunity for old friends to chat before the huge gathering, and time for me to meet more of his friends and another of the wives as well.

The planning committee for the overall reunion did a super job of organizing the three-day reunion.

On the first day, everyone met at Hotel Le Royal Meridien at 3:00 p.m. for a program that went on until 10:00 p.m. Tea was served, and in India, that means tiffin and delicious treats to go with the tea! Each attendee received a gift bags containing photograph books with family news updates, photos, and contact addresses for each graduate, a program of events, a memorial plaque, an artisan handcrafted multi-purpose basket, a calendar/diary with daily quotes from a famous Tamil poet, and several other goodies.

Photos of "then and now" were flashed on a screen over a stage, and several people got up to share anecdotes of their days at the engineering college. Lakshmi Devi Jagadeesan, wife of the President of the organising committee, shared two of her poems in Tamil and I read a translation of them in English. Several people sang. And then to top off the evening, a professional group, the Avigna Dance Troupe, gave an hour-long performance of dances ranging from classical, to South Indian folk, to Bollywood musical. The picture above shows one of the young dancers. Each dancer was presented with a flower to show appreciation. (Again, part of the wonderful planning of the organizers of the whole affair.)

Throughout the evening, people circulated, and I made many new friends that I hope to keep in touch with now that I'm back home. A fantastic dinner topped off the evening. If the reunion had stopped with this one day, it still would have been a wonderful affair indeed. But the wonders kept on coming over the next two days, and I'll blog more about them tomorrow.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Blessed by an Elephant

One day before the reunion, we went to Tiruchirapalli, about a five-hour car ride from Chennai. We left at 5:00 a.m., accompanied by my brother-in-law, Ranganathan, and his wife, Soundara, in a taxi we hired for the day, and returned around 9:30 the same night. I was glad we didn't take the train. Departure times would have required staying overnight at a hotel and losing extra visiting time with other family members. And the sleeper cars wouldn't have given much of a view. From a hired car you can see everything flowing by the windows: The small villages with wares in front of markets, fields with various crops and small shrines near the roadside. Engineering colleges have sprung up everywhere.

In Trichy (as the city is called for short) we first visited some of Ranganathan's Sanskrit students, where we ate a wonderful lunch and they all caught up on news of a pilgrimage the students had taken to Tibet. Then we went to the Rock Fort Temple, a dominant landmark in the city and home to Ganesha, the elephant-headed God.

Ganesha is my husband's favorite deity, so anytime we go to India we visit this temple in order for him to pay his respect. The temple has been carved inside a giant rock and is in two levels, the higher level rising above the city, and bearing a shrine at the top. At the lower level you enter into a gateway topped by a fabulously ornate "gopuram", a feature of South Indian temples. Then you pass through a hallway with ornate paintings on the ceiling and stalls on either side selling garlands, coconuts, turmeric for worshippers, along with small statues and carvings.

The main shrine area is vast, with a counter to one side to check in your shoes, votive candles to another side, and at the far wall, steps lead on higher to the road and the next level. In the center is the shrine, and inside sits Ganesha, covered with garlands and attended by priests. Worshippers throng the rail and sit in the aisle leading up to the enclosed room. The outside of the shrine is topped with more lovely carvings and paintings depicting religious scenes. This is the main worship area and we spent some time there before proceding up the steps to the next level, which houses another shrine and the temple elephant just inside the entrance.

The first time I visited Rock Fort, I was charmed by the notion of being tapped on the head by an elephant for a blessing, but I thought of it more as entertainment for children and tourists. Children are entertained by this, but older people take the idea seriously. Westerners often hear of the cow being considered sacred in India, but the elephant is seen as spiritual as well. At Rock Fort, the temple elephant is considered a representative of Ganesha's power, and many people feel truly they've been blessed by her tap.

Temple elephants are female, and Asian female elephants have only small stubs for tusks. The one at Rock Fort is a gentle giant named Lakshmi, and she is 17 years old. I wrote a picture book about a small girl's visit to Rock Fort, and on this visit I wanted to firm up details in case of a re-write, so I had a list of questions for the trainer, which my husband and brother-in-law helped me with. I also had a new respect for Lakshmi's "job" from the little I had learned since my last trip. Lakshmi takes her work seriously. She is used to people coming up, giving her their coin, and waiting for the tap. As we talked to the trainer, she grew restless, as if aware we were talking about her. When I gave her my coin, she was quick with her tap. Then I paused and simply looked up, regarding her.

It is quite an experience to look an elephant in the eye. For one thing, it's a beautiful eye: a deep golden color, rimmed in black; warm and expressive. For another thing, she seemed as curious about me as I was about her, as if she wondered who was this creature asking so many questions about her. For another thing, for such a huge creature, she had a sweet face. Not just because of the decorations on her trunk and ears, but because of the soft expression. Obviously she is tenderly cared for.

My brother-in-law gave me an additional ten-rupee note for the trainer who had so patiently answered my questions, but he in turn directed me to give it to Lakshmi. Once again, she took the tribute from my hand, passed it to the trainer, then blessed me. By then, it was time to move on so other people could have their moment. As we walked away, I looked back, and she had turned to follow us with her eyes. They say an elephant never forgets. I am wondering if, on a future visit, this will be so.

On this visit, we did not proceed up to the top of the rock as we have in the past. Time was short, and we had a relative we wanted to visit in nearby Sriringham before heading home. Stairs inside this second level, however, do take the worshipper past another shrine inside, on up to the top shrine and a large rock face area where you can get stunning views of the city.

But I was content to leave with the memory of Lakshmi's curious gaze following us out the doorway to the road.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Ah, India -- Where to Begin?

India exerts such a pull on me that when I return, it takes me about a month to really get out of India. From the time I step out of the airport in Chennai into the 1:45 a.m. heat, see my husband's brothers patiently waiting amidst the throng of other families meeting arrivals, then ride in the careening taxi along Chennai streets until we reach the house, where my kind sisters-in-law greet us with rich strong Indian coffee, I feel a sense of homecoming that lingers all through our visit.

This trip was busier than most. In addition to our visits with relatives, about 3 days were devoted to the reunion of my husband's graduation class from engineering college, and an earlier fourth day was set aside to meet old college friends he had not seen for years. There's no way I can cover the whole three-week trip in one blog, so I'll try to spread it into a few blogs, knowing that even that cannot do it justice.

As a quick prelude,let me just say that India is a land of contrasts: Extreme poverty flanks great wealth. Ancient temples and shrines provide a backdrop for modern hotels and restaurants. Vegetable wagons and ox-drawn carts travel alongside tour buses and oil trucks. Small kiosks display wares along the street next to bigger businesses lit with neon signs. Billboards are everywhere. In the bustling city of Chennai, everyone seems on the way to somewhere. A liveliness of spirit pervades the atmosphere. Yet, woven through it all is an abiding spirituality, an attitude of dignity, a warm friendliness, and the incredibly gracious Hindu hospitality.

I have been fortunate enough to travel many places, and I appreciate each culture I encounter. I love our home and life in Sacramento. But India permeates my heart and psyche like no other place. Right now, when I close my eyes, I see again the bright saris patterned like butterfly wings, hear the cacaphonious sypmphony of traffic and the rise and fall of Tamil voices, see the banana palms and mango trees, hear the strange repeating call of the Indian cuckoo, taste again the incredible treats cooked by my nieces and sisters-in-law, and I am transported all over again, despite the chill, pale Sacramento afternoon outside my window.

Tomorrow I'll mention our trip to the Rock Fort Temple in Tiruchirapali.

Friday, February 5, 2010

I Am Not in London, Destitute and in Need of Cash

Yesterday I had planned to blog at last about my wonderful trip to India. But my husband and I were awakened at 4:30 a.m. by a call from worried friends in Spain. They had received an e-mail that said I was in London, had lost my wallet, and needed cash. After reassuring them I was right here in Sacramento and fine, I rushed to my computer and found myself locked out of my e-mail account. From my gmail I notified everyone I could think of not to open any e-mails coing from my msn account, as it had been hacked.

Well, it wasn't hacked at all. I was scammed into giving out information the day before, and I lay out my story here for whatever reader stumbles across it as my own small "public service". The scam is a three-step deal, and here is how it works:

Step 1: I received an e-mail purportedly from the Windows Live Hotmail Team. It looked quite legit. The e-mail stated that numerous attempts had been made to register on my account and that it would be closed unless I could verify I was the proper owner. To do that, I needed to give my name, date of birth, country, and password. Yes. My password. At first I hesitated. (Reader, listen to your intuition!) But then I decided it was legitimate. After all, they weren't asking for credit card information or anything like that, right? So I provided the info and was assured my account would be continued.

Step 2: A few people were sent e-mails stating that I had failed to let them know about the conference I was attending in London. Unfortunately I had left my wallet on a bus and now I didn't have any of my money or credit cards. Could the recipient send me $2000 that I would repay as soon as I got home? No return address was given. So, once I got things sorted out with msn, I was tempted to think it was just a malicious prank. Nope. That brings us to Step 3.

Step 3: My astute niece in France wrote how sorry she was I was in trouble and while she couldn't send a lot of money, she would do what she could. She immediately received the following reply, which she forwarded to me at my gmail:

"Thanks a lot for your response and concern,But the best way for me to receverd the money is by western union money transfer you can send it to my details below through western union money transfer to my below information,I will appreciate whatever you can afford to help me with."

The address where my niece was supposed to wire the money: "121,Kensington High StZip code : W8 4PTState : LondonCountry :England." (Reader, if you are an Internet Scam Detective, please take note.)

The reply continued: "Send it today as soon as you receive this e-mail and once you have it sent,send me the money transfer control number (mtcn) with details used in sending it like below information1.) MTCN (10 DIGIT NUMBER)2.) EXACT AMOUNT TRANSFER AFTER WESTERN UNION TRANSFER FEE....3.)SENDER FULL NAME AND ADDRESS..... I awaits your reply."

I have reported this to two agencies concerned with phishing scams. But, after getting my account straightened out, running various virus checks on my computer, and spending an entire morning re-notifying people that my msn account is okay now, it occurred to me that I might help a few strangers by putting this on my blog. I am thankful that only a few letters went out before I notified msn of the problem. Once I had my account back, I was able to read the replies and no money was sent, thank goodness.

Meanwhile, the trip to India was fabulous. I can't wait to blog about it tomorrow. (Today I have errands and a dental appointment and I'm eager to get back to work on Granny's Jig.)

Yesterday did have a bright spot, however: My art club has grown. I have sixteen students now, ages 7-12, and they are all enthusiastic little artists. (When I finish telling about India, I'll probably blog about them a little. They are a wonderful group.)

Until tomorrow, ciao.