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Posts from — February 2013

Book Review: The Accidental Apprentice by Vikas Swarup

Title: The Accidental Apprentice
Author: Vikas Swarup
Paperback: 448 pages
Publisher: Simon & Schuster (January 31st 2013)
Genre: Mystery
Read: Paperback
Stars: ***/5
Buy On: Amazon | FlipKart
Summary: (Goodreads)
Life pivots on a few key moments. This is one of them.

Sapna Sinha works in an electronics store in downtown Delhi. She hates her job, but she is ambitious and determined to succeed, and she knows without the money she brings in, her family won’t be able to survive. Little does she know it but her life is about to change forever.

As she leaves the shop on her lunch break one day, she is approached by a man who claims to be CEO of one of India’s biggest companies. He tells her he is looking for an heir for his business empire. And that he has decided it should be her.

There are just seven tests she must pass. And then the biggest lottery ticket of all time will be hers.

My Review:

Note: Thanks to the guys at MySmartPrice for offering me this book to review 🙂

Cover: Decent…

Paper and font: Smell-Worthy! And font is easy on the eyes.

Readability, language: : The font size and print is great with just the right tint of ivory to make it an easy, fun read.

Why did I choose this book: Missed the first, couldn’t miss this one ;P

Like a lot of other people I have seen Slumdog Millionaire the movie but have not read Q&A, the book it was based on. Somehow after the movie I never got down to reading the book even though Che recommended it and said it was way better than the movie. So, when I came across Vikas Swarup’s new book The Accidental Apprentice I figured I better read it before it becomes a movie.

Sinha is a middle class salesgirl working hard to make ends meet. Being the bread winner of the family she tries hard to fulfill her mothers needs and sisters demands without losing her sanity. Then one day she meets Mr. Vinay Mohan Acharya who wants to make her his company’s CEO, the only condition is that she pass 7 life tests. Initially Sapna shrugs him off, after all who approaches a random stranger and makes this kind of offer. But life’s cruelly dealt hand has Sapna go back to him within days to give his tests a try and the rest is the story. 😀

The Accidental Apprentice has a host of characters that are recognisable from our daily lives. The hard working elder sister, the pretty petty younger sister, the next door sweetheart, the quaint quirky neighbour Aunt, and last but not the least the business brothers who remind me of the Ambanis. I found myself smiling, egging on, rejoicing and sympathising with most characters through the book.

Set in Delhi, it’s only fitting that there is a hunger strike with flavours of Anna Hazare that goes viral on social media, among other situations Sapna finds herself in, as Swarup talks about some of the current issues and news in India as the life tests promised unravel.

I enjoyed the pace and speed of the book. It reads easy and fast with being difficult to put down. I was constantly wondering what would come next and was regularly surprised through the book.

Suitable for YA and upwards, it’s a must read. An adventure and thriller combined, it’s a fun one time read that surprises at many a moment.

Buy On: Amazon | FlipKart

February 28, 2013   No Comments

How To Make Buttermilk Sambar

*** I am following Meenakshi Ammal’s recipes, however I’m using shortcuts like the cooker, etc. and adding some of my own twist to the recipes. What you see here are my recipes inspired by M. Ammal’s and in no way is Ms. Ammal responsible for its outcome should you choose to try it. Though she was responsible for the brilliant outcome of my dish, so, a big thank you Ms. Ammal for writing Samaithu Par.***

On Pongal day I was looking to make a nice simple traditional meal that wasn’t the usual sambar rice. Flipping pages I noticed the recipe of buttermilk sambar. As I glanced though it I thought it would be a more kuzhambu, but it wasn’t. It did seem like a sambar recipe, so decided to try it. It surprised me by tasting really good; when you think buttermilk sambar, you don’t think it’d be this tasty. (Sorry about the picture, I forgot to click before eating and that’s what the leftovers looked like 😀 )

Buttermilk Sambar

Ingredients –
(Serves 4)
3/4th cup red gram dhal
1 cup sour buttermilk
1/2 teaspoon mustard
1/4 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
4-6 red chillies pinched into two (based in spiciness)
4 green chillies
1/2 inch piece ginger or 1/2 teaspoon ginger paste
few curry leaves
some coriander leaves
gingelly oil 3 teaspoons
salt to taste
3 medium size potatoes for seasonings*

*seasonings – I used potato but you could also use drumstick, brinjal, lady’s finger, chow chow and ash-gourds. Most other vegetables don’t go well with curd/buttermilk. Make sure to either boil or fry the vegetables before you add them to the sambar.

Method –

1. Boil the dhal in a cooker with a pinch of salt until it’s very soft. You can boil the potatoes along with the dhal.

2. Heat oil in a vessel. When the oil is hot add mustard, fenugreek, red chillies and green chillies. Add ginger and curry leaves when mustard starts to splutter and green chillies are scalded.

3. Sort the curry leaves quickly and add the buttermilk.

4. Add the seasonings. If you are using potatoes though, don’t add them just yet.

5. Drain the water from the dhal and add it to the buttermilk in the vessel. Mash the cooked dhal partially.

6. When the buttermilk boils add the dhal mash and salt to taste, mix well and let it come to a boil again while occasionally stirring.

7. Let it boil for a couple of moments, then remove from fire.

8. Chop some coriander and keep aside for garnishing.

9. Peel boiled potatoes and chop into medium sized cubes. You can also cut them smaller or larger based on what you prefer.

10. Deep fry the potatoes until they are golden brown. Crisp on the outside and soft on the inside. Keep aside.

11. Garnish the buttermilk sambar with potatoes and coriander before serving.

Have you made buttermilk sambar before? Have a different recipe or any tips for me?

February 26, 2013   No Comments

Book Review: A Degree In Death by Ruby Gupta

Title: A Degree In Death
Author: Ruby Gupta
Paperback: 280 pages
Publisher: Alchemy Publishers (2012)
Genre: Mystery
Read: Paperback
Stars: ***/5
Buy On: FlipKart
Summary: (Goodreads)
The midnight murder of a student in the sleepy town of Dehradun rouses everyone with suspicion and alarm. Violence is incomprehensible in this institute located at the foothills of the Himalayas. With no clues or suspects, the police are unable to catch the killer.

Professor Shantanu Bose, an eminent nano-expert and Dean of Research and Development is deeply troubled at this havoc caused to his institute. Determined to bring back the peaceful academic environment of the campus, he begins his own investigation.

Fear increases as another dead body turns up. Soon the professor finds himself in grave danger. Yet, he persists with his inquiry; and discovers that the truth is more startling than what anyone could have imagined…

My Review:

Note: Thanks to the guys at MySmartPrice for offering me this book to review 🙂

Cover: So so!

Paper and font: The font was eye-friendly but the paper is ordinary. Nothing great.

Readability, language: : The language is easy in the mind and the book reads fast.

Why did I choose this book: I had found the blurb interesting and since I’ve been to Dehradun the location had me interested too.

MIST is an engineering college in Dehradun where life is rolling along as normal with the usual skirmishes of students and teachers. That is until there is a sucide in the boys hostel. On investigation it is revealed that the boy hadn’t committed suicide, he had been murdered. While the management is scrambling to maintain order among students and reduce bad publicity, Professor Shantanu Bose who considers himself a bit of a detective starts to investigate the murder. Soon more deaths follow and it becomes imperative to find the culprit soon.

Professor Shantanu reminded me of Bomkesh Bakshi, a detective I grew up watching on TV. A simple man who has an objective and logical mind-set, Professor Shantanu follows each lead in the case trying to fill in the blanks and complete the big picture. He is helped by students and faculty who also believe they have the answer to the case.

There is the usual mix of people who are scared and don’t want to have anything to do with the murders and there are also those who believe they will be the ones to solve the case and catch the murderer. But as they get closer to the answer they get eliminated and the answer continues to elude the Professor.

Set in Dehradun, a quite retirement town, the furor caused by the murder is understandable. The city is shocked and shaken as the murders continue. Gupta captures the essence of the city and its landscapes well and I could see it all in my minds-eye as the story unfolded.

A lot of research has gone into the book as Gupta talks about Tibet, the Dalai Lama and Tibetans taking refuge in Dehradun. I got a better understanding of the political and world situation in regard to Tibet as I read the book.

The layout of the book could have been better though, the paragraphs flowed into each other and the breaks between situations and locations was not distinct. I had a lot of confusing moments in the book as I tried to figure where one act ended and the next started.

If you are into mysteries and thrillers this is definitely a good book to read.

Buy On: FlipKart

February 21, 2013   No Comments

How to Make Sambar Without Sambar Powder

*** I am following Meenakshi Ammal’s recipes, however I’m using shortcuts like the cooker, etc. and adding some of my own twist to the recipes. What you see here are my recipes inspired by M. Ammal’s and in no way is Ms. Ammal responsible for its outcome should you choose to try it. Though she was responsible for the brilliant outcome of my dish, so, a big thank you Ms. Ammal for writing Samaithu Par.***

I wanted to make sambar but the only sambar powders I have at home are the ready made ones we don’t like much and I didn’t have the time to make a new batch of powder so I was looking for a sambar that didn’t need sambhar powder.

Seasoned Sambar

Ingredients –
(Serves 4)
3/4 cup red gram dhal
1 lime size ball of tamarind
2 carrots sliced*
5 french beans chopped in inch size pieces
6 red chillies pinched into two
1/4 teaspoon fenugeek seeds
1/2 teaspoon mustard
one pinch asafoetida
2 green chillies
1/4 teaspoon turmeric powder
2 teaspoons gingelly oil
curry leaves
coriander leaves
salt to taste

*Seasonings – Instead of carrot and beans, you can also use – brinjal, drumstick, lady’s finger, chow chow, pumpkin, runner beans, etc.

Method –

1. Cook the dhal in a cooker with a pinch of salt, turmeric powder and 1 teaspoon gingelly oil until soft.

2. Soak tamarind in warm water. Strain the pulp.

3. Heat the rest of the oil in a vessel and fry the mustard, fenugreek, curry leaves and red chillies until brown but not burned.

4. Add the asafoetida and green chillies. (If you like green chilly spice make a slit in the chillies.) Add a few bruised curry leaves.

5. Add carrots and beans and sort before adding tamarind water to the fried spices.

6. Add salt.

7. When vegetables are cooked, mash the dhal and add it into the vessel. Mix well and bring to a boil.

8. Boil for a few minutes and remove from fire.

9. Garnish with coriander leaves and serve.

Do you know any other recipes to make sambar without sambar powder?

February 19, 2013   No Comments

Book Review: Black Hills By Nora Roberts

Title: Black Hills
Author: Nora Roberts
Paperback: 472 pages
Publisher: Putnam (July 7th 2009)
Genre: Romance
Read: Paperback
Stars: ***/5
Buy On: Amazon | FlipKart
Summary: (Goodreads)
A summer at his grandparents’ South Dakota ranch is not eleven-year-old Cooper Sullivan’s idea of a good time. But things are a bit more bearable now that he’s discovered the neighbor girl, Lil Chance, and her homemade batting cage. Even horseback riding isn’t as awful as Coop thought it would be. Each year, with Coop’s annual summer visit, their friendship deepens from innocent games to stolen kisses, but there is one shared experience that will forever haunt them: the terrifying discovery of a hiker’s body.

As the seasons change and the years roll, Lil stays steadfast to her aspiration of becoming a wildlife biologist and protecting her family land, while Coop struggles with his father’s demand that he attend law school and join the family firm. Twelve years after they last walked together hand in hand, fate has brought them back to the Black Hills when the people and things they hold most dear need them most.

Lil and Coop both know the natural dangers that lurk in the wild landscape of the Black Hills. Now they must work together to unearth a killer of twisted and unnatural instincts who has singled them out as prey.

My Review:

I’ve been reading a lot of Indian authors lately hence thought I’d take a break and read a Nora Roberts. Looking around at the library I came across one of her recent books – Black Hills. The premise sounded interesting, and it was about the big cats so I picked it up. The story is about Lillian and Cooper who become friends as children and grow up together over the years. Teenage love blossoms but slides away as they both follow their dreams and part ways. Years later, Cooper finds his way back to his grandparents farm and his life in South Dakota while Lillian has fulfilled her dream of setting up a refuge for wild animals where she cares and rehabilitates them. The plot thickens as animals get killed and people go missing in the hills. Pretty soon it becomes clear that Lillian is the target and all of this is being done to threaten her.

The characters were believable enough but nothing really stood out for me about them. There is of course the hero and heroine – Cooper and Lillian. But aside from them there are a lot of other characters – Joe and Jenna (Lillian’s parents), Sam and Lucy (Coopers Grandparents), Farley, Tansy, Brad, Matt, Eric and a few others who are friends of Coop and Lil or work with them. Not to forget the villian – Ethan Howe. There are moments when you can immediately associate with the characters but its off and on through the book.

It was the setting of the book that drew me to it and that has been done well. Roberts describes the hills, it’s trails, the farms and the land well and I could see it all in my minds eye as the book progressed. I’ve never been to South Dakota but if the book is true it must be beautiful. Roberts has done a good job of describing forests and the trails through it.

Lillian is in love with the cougar who she sees as her spirit guide and the book has lots of anecdotes and information about the various big cats. I did learn a few things about them and the differences between them too. From the cat perspective the book does seem well researched. The book also raises questions about how natural a refuge can be, after-all an enclosure is a cage even though it is a large natural enclosure. But then again nothing can replace the wild and in a refuge you can only do so much. Roberts talks about all that the animals need to keep them safe and healthy and why sometimes enclosures are needed to be able to do that.

The best bit of the book for me (if you haven’t realised it already) were the animals. But that was also its drawback, as everything else seemed lost in it. The story plays out well almost until the last 50-100 pages. The villian is depicted well and you keep wondering about the showdown at the end. Towards the latter half of the book you can almost guess the end but when it does come it’s quick and short.

If I had to change one thing in the book, I’d make the showdown longer and more dramatic. As it is, it’s almost as if the witer after 400 pages got tired and just tied it all up to finish the book. The end was disappointing!

Considering the language I’d say this is a book for young adults and above but worth only one read. Definitely not worth a re-read.

Buy On: Amazon | FlipKart

February 14, 2013   No Comments

How To Make Drumstick Mysore Rasam

*** I am following Meenakshi Ammal’s recipes, however I’m using shortcuts like the cooker, etc. and adding some of my own twist to the recipes. What you see here are my recipes inspired by M. Ammal’s and in no way is Ms. Ammal responsible for its outcome should you choose to try it. Though she was responsible for the brilliant outcome of my dish, so, a big thank you Ms. Ammal for writing Samaithu Par.***

I big drawback I stumbled upon was that Part one of Samaithu Par does not have a recipe to make rasam powder. This recipe is in book two and most recipes in book one for rasam need rasam powder. So I had to find a rasam that did not need rasam powder. Hence Mysore Rasam and to add the twist – drumstick.

Drumstick Mysore Rasam

Ingredients –
(Serves 4 cups)
1/2 cup red gram dhal
1 lime size ball of tamarind
2 cups water
2-3 drumsticks
a pinch of asafoetida
salt to taste
curry leaves
coriander leaves
1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds
2 teaspoon bengal gram dhal
8 red chillies pinched into two
5-6 raw peppers (green or dried)
1 teaspoon mustard
1 teaspoon ghee
2 teaspoon gingelly oil

Method –

1. Wash and cut drumsticks into long pieces and cook along with the dhal and a pinch of salt in a cooker until soft.

2. Soak tamarind in warm water. Strain out pulp.

3. Heat the oil and fry coriander seeds, bengal gram and 6 red chillies. Remove from oil and powder fine along with pepper.

4. Remove drumsticks from dhal and scrape out the pulp from the boiled drumsticks and keep aside.

5. Drain water from dhal and keep aside. Mash the dhal.

6. In a vessel add the tamarind pulp to two cups of water. Add asafoetida, salt to taste, the drumstick pulp and a few bruised curry leaves. Allow the mixture to boil.

7. Add mashed dhal to boiling tamarind water and stir well. When it boils again add the dhal water.

8. Bring to a boil again and after a couple of minutes remove from fire.

9. Add the chilli and coriander powder and mix well.

10. To the oil remaining from the first time, add ghee and fry mustard, 2 red chillies and curry leaves.

11. Pour over the rasam to garnish along with chopped coriander leaves.

Note: I hadn’t mashed the drumstick and also had used just one. You need more than one to have a prominent flavour and mashing the pulp will help.

What is the major difference between the usual rasam and the Mysore rasam? I don’t see a big difference… Do you know?

February 12, 2013   3 Comments

Home Remedies for Fleas on Dogs

Thanks to the tick problem I had (or rather the dogs had) and the research I did to find home remedies I came across alot of remedies for fleas too. Actually a lot more on fleas than ticks. I don’t have a flea problem right now and I live in an apartment but we won’t be here forever and with a yard may come problems so I thought I’d put them together here for future reference.

Please note that I haven’t tried any of the below solutions for fleas and don’t vouch for any as of now. If and when I use them, I’ll update the post. All these remedies are not my invention and have been collated from the internet. I don’t take any responsibilty for their correctness or safety.

I have categorised the tips into methods used on dogs, doggy areas, house and yard. Hope you find it helpful.

Tips and Tricks for Fleas

Dogs –

  1. Mix approximately 2 tablespoons of neem oil and 4 tablespoons of Apple Cider Vinegar in 500ml water. Shake well and long to emulsify the oil. Spray dogs with the mix to deter/kill fleas. You can also spray the walls, carpets and curtains with the mixture so there is no place for fleas to hide. There may be a strong smell of neem in the room after use but airing out the room should sort that out.
  2. Shampoo your dog with any shampoo (dog or human) and lather well. Let the shampoo stay on the dog for 5 mins. The water and shampoo suffocates the fleas and kills any visible fleas. Repeat 2 times a week if fleas are very bad until they are gone because this method does not kill flea eggs.
  3. Alot of people seem to be recommending a dish detergent called Dawn. Not sure what the Indian equivalent is. However if detergent is used you’ll need to use a moisturizer afterwards to replenish the skin.
  4. Baby oil is a natural anti-bug application that can also be used on humans for same purpose. Rub LITTLE baby oil all over the coat, mainly center and back. Its great for the skin too if done in small quantities (too much would burn them in the sun).
  5. Lavender is a natural insect repellent & killer. You could use a lavender scented spray or lavender oil and water mixture to keep fleas away.
  6. You need 8 oz apple cider vinegar, 4 oz warm water, 1/2 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp baking soda. Mix dry ingredients first, then slowly add to the wet as the vinegar and baking soda will react slightly. Spay on the dog but be careful not to get it in the dogs eyes. You can also spray the dog’s area and bedding.
  7. Add as much apple cider vinegar to pets water as you can without them noticing the taste. It makes the dogs body slightly acidic and the fleas don’t like it.
  8. In a small spray bottle mix 2 capfuls of tea tree oil, 2 capfuls of lemongrass oil and fill it with water. Spay the dogs with it. The Fleas should die almost immediately.
  9. Cut 2 lemons in to 4ths and boil in a pan with about 3 -4 cups of water for 30 min. Let cool, then strain. Use a clean sponge to lightly cover your dog in the lemon juice. Do this every 12 hours.
  10. Several lemons boiled in water with a few teaspoons of salt. Once cooled, add vinegar to this and sprayed dogs coats as solidly as they allow, then leave to dry before bathing. Use the peels of the lemons from the presoak to put under their bedding to help keep the fleas out.
  11. You can dip(or sponge) your dog in a Permethrin-10 mixture. This is found on Amazon for about $8.00. One application will last about 3-4 weeks. Will keep fleas and ticks off the animal.

Doggy Things –

  1. Dog beds can be thrown into the washer with normal soap and in the rinse cycle add in 1 cup of pure white vinegar then dry like normal.
  2. A solution of 1/2 cup white vinegar with a 1/2 cup lemon juice can be sprayed on furniture and the dog kennel making sure that you lift up the cushions and get it into the cracks because the fleas hide there. If can make a full bottle if you like just remember to use the same proportions as you fill up the bottle and don’t use water to top it off, as it just dilutes the solution.

In the House –

  1. The number one tip is vacuuming. Vacuum consistently and regularly making sure to empty out the bag every time after you are done to get rid of all the fleas you’ve caught. All corners are important as thats where ticks and fleas hide so lift all cushions and beds and go into every corner. Before putting the bag back spray it down with a fipronil spray or apple cider vinegar to kill any fleas or larvae left behind.
  2. You can use dry citrus peals, of any kind, break them up and scatter them all over the house and yard over a few day’s time. Take some more citrus peel and put into the blender, filling it with water and making a spray liquid. (You can also boil a pot of water, then turn off heat and put in a whole sliced lemon and cover it. Let sit over night to seep.) Bottle it and spray the dogs, (not good to spray cats directly), the carpet, the dogs’ bedding, and the yard where the dogs hang out. Remember to do a test area first as some dogs are allergic to citrus. The fleas hate citrus and disappear within a week. If done in the beginning of summer if should keep the house in the clear for the year.
  3. After vacuuming the house, mop the floors with a gallon warm water, 20 drops of citronella oil, 10 drops of tea tree oil, 10 drops of lemongrass oil and 5 drops of geranium oil. It seems to work on fleas, ticks and mosquitoes too and the house smells amazingly fresh. You can use this solution for mopping once a week.
  4. Take fresh sprigs of lavender, add some water and heat to a boil then cool. Put it in a spray bottle with lemon juice and spray everywhere.
  5. In a spray bottle make a solution containing 5 teaspoons salt, ¼ cup vinegar and the rest water to spray under sofa cushions. Remember to let the treated area dry before replacing the cushions. Works on fleas and other crawlers like ticks.
  6. Put out some night lights and plug them in close to the floor. Then take a bowl with warm water and a bit of dish soap (to break the surface tension of the water) and place it under the lights. The fleas get attracted to the light and jump right in to the water and drown. Plus it is safe to leave out at all times. You can also use cheap solor paneled garden lights that can be immersed in the tray of water or replace the water tray with a sticky pad (not so great with dogs around though).
  7. To remove fleas from clothes and bedding, bag the clothes and bedding in storage vacuum bags and take out all the air, then in time submerge the clothes in water and hot wash them, put them back in bags till you are sure all the fleas have gone.
  8. For the carpet take regular table salt and sprinkle a good amount all over the floor. Don’t be stingy, for a 15’/15′ bedroom you’ll need about one kg of salt. Leave it there for at least 24 hours for a heavy infestation. Then vacuum it off. Repeat it at least 3 times a month for the first 3 months and then after that once a month works great.
  9. Mix 1 cup borax, 1 cup baking soda, and 1 cup table salt. Sprinkle evenly as possible on carpet, area rugs, etc. Leave overnight and vacuum well the next day. Repeat within 30 days, then as needed. Maybe twice in warm/hot months. You can even mix a large equal batch and save in plastic container, large salt shaker, or what is best for you. Its Non toxic and best done early in flea season.
  10. Shampoo the carpet with a mix of 1/2 cup salt and 1/2 cup white vinegar in the carpet cleaner. Vinegar will neutralize any accidental urine accidents and the salt dehydrates any creepy crawler including ticks & fleas.
  11. Getting rid of fleas is a two step process: vacuuming and spraying. Use a fresh vacuum bag so that air flow will not be restricted by debris collected by earlier vacuuming. Fill a small home & garden sprayer with 1 gallon vinegar, ½ gallon water, 16 oz lemon juice and 8 oz of witch hazel. After vacuuming, spray vinegar mixture using a heavy spray (not a stream however). Spray carpets, sofas, chairs, human and pet bedding, window sills, and bare floors. If you have a bad infestation, repeat every 12 hours for two days. When fleas are barely noticeably, repeat every 3 days. After fleas are gone, repeat once every week until flea season is over. If you start treatment at beginning of flea season, you will probably not need to do this more than once a week for the whole season.
  12. Food grade Diatomaceous Earth is what you need for ticks and fleas. It is safe and is used in silos as an insect treatment for food storage. Sprinkle generously on the carpet and let it stay several days since nothing kills fleas in its cocoon and a new hatching occurs only every 3 to 5 days. Vaccum it off and repeat for bad infestations.
  13. Another remedy for indoor fleas is borax. Get a box of cheap laundry borax and sprinkle it evenly on carpet and leave for a few days then vacuum. For a bad infestation sprinkle again and leave for a few days then vacuum again, then sprinkle again and leave for a week then vacuum, and repeat until you are satisfied the fleas are gone. Borax dries out the fleas, and there’s no poison involved. It is effective on a lot of other bugs.
  14. Spay the house lightly with Ultracide IGR (found on Amazon for about $20) The IGR is a growth inhibitor which will kill fleas instantly and cause mutations in the eggs, so they won’t hatch. It lasts for nearly 120 days. Do it in the spring, once and it’s good for the year. It’s very bad to inhale, so have your family leave for a day when you do this.
  15. Boric acid is not poisonous and is mined from the Mojave Desert. It is the most economical and effective pest control on earth. It kills everything from ants to termites and everything in between! It is safe to use around children. It is used for diaper rash, eye wash and salves, etc.

In The Yard –

  1. Sprinkle dry washing powders around the yard to deter fleas. The kind of powder does not matter.
  2. Spread food grade “Diatomaceous Earth in all different areas of the lawn on a non-windy day, and within 48 hours you have no more ticks or fleas. Wear a mask to prevent breathing the dust while spreading. You can even fill it in an old sock and pat it around the house. You can also mix 1/2 cup of DE, with 1 tablespoon of dish washing soap, into a gallon of water. Use a pump sprayer and spray the lawn.
  3. You could use beneficial nematodes that you can get from a garden center, that eat flea larvae. You have to mix the package in water and let that sit for awhile, then pour it out in the yard, and keep wet for awhile. Best done when a large rain is expected, so you don’t have to keep wetting it. It may not show results immediately but the next flea season there should be no fleas.
  4. Buy a quart of Permethrin SFR for about $30 on Amazon. Mix 2-3 tablespoons per gallon of water in a yard sprayer and spray the grass and plants around your house. (note that this is the same spray that they use for an ‘eve and perimeter’ spray that usually costs approx. $300) you can also spray the permethrin on your house eves and windows, it will kill wasps, spiders, roaches, and basically anything that crawls. Just keep your kids and animals out of it till it dries.
  5. You can use left over tobacco ‘dust’ from a tobacco plant. All you need is a spreader (grass, fertilizer) and a vehicle/trailer to haul the dust home. You’ll have to do it about once a month, but if you start noticing the bugs again, spread more. Don’t spread it too thick, as the tobacco is ‘hot’ and will burn the grass. If you don’t spread it too thick, it fertilizes the grass. The the little creatures disappear, because it ‘burns’ them, it doesn’t necessarily kill them, but it deters them from coming into your yard. Works on most creepy crawlies.

Have you had a problem with fleas? Any recommendations and home remedies I can add to this list?

Photo credit: St. Ives Veterinary Surgery

February 7, 2013   1 Comment

Home Remedies for Ticks on Dogs

[I also came across a lot of home remedies on fleas. You can see the list here.]

In the last three years with the dogs I’ve noticed that every time there is a peak in heat there is a sudden spurt in ticks. When they live indoors this isn’t a factor to worry about as they aren’t exposed to the ticks much. They don’t pick them up as the ticks aren’t in their environment. My dogs don’t walk on the roads much, they get most of their exercise on the terrace as we have a large pack of strays outside. But they do pick them up when walked outside as we have a lot of empty grass filled plots around our apartment and that’s where the blaady ticks hangout.

The other place they pick them up is at the boarding where they live outdoors with all the other dogs. In the first week of January this year there was mild heat wave in Bangalore and as always there was the spike in ticks. Only this time it wasn’t the spidery type but the small dot type that is painful to spot and hell to get rid off. Usually they get bathed and treated before they leave the boarding but this time, we couldn’t do the usual and I had a fight on my hands.

The most common ticks found in urban India is the genus Rhipicephalus sanguineus also called brown dog tick followed by the more rural Haemaphysalis. Ticks are very difficult to identify and differentiate with the naked eye. The best method is to see their mandibles (mouths) under a microscope. I did a lot of reading to try and identify the tick we had found but it seems almost impossible with out expert help. So let me just describe them. There are two types of ticks I’ve seen until now. One is a spider looking kind with the legs kindof spread away from the body and then this one which looks like a small mustard seed with the legs almost invisible under it.

This was the first time I had seen these small guys, I usually come across the spider kind and the fipronil spray works just fine to get rid of them. Also I’ve never seen them in large numbers on the dogs. But these small guys are like dots in their larva stage (I guess) and almost impossible to see. Then when they start falling they are just a bit bigger than a mustard seed and still difficult to spot, especially on a dark coat dogs. I’ve saved a few specimens just in case it’s need for reference ever again.

This tick issue happening about the same time as the really bad migraines was a real uphill fight. One sure-shot method to get rid of ticks is neem oil but its a messy business and takes a fair bit of time. And with three dogs its a lot of time, so I was looking for other solutions. Here’s what I did with the dogs and at home and it has helped so far. Its been three weeks and no sign of ticks yet but I guess I’ll have to wait a couple of cycles before I’ll know for sure.

We sprayed them down with Fipronil 0.25% spray as soon as we got home. I then combed them down with a tick/flea comb and checked ears and paws carefully. Senti my 3 year old wire-dach had loads of them on his ears. I then started combing and checking twice a day for the next week, once in the morning and once in the evening, removing as many ticks as I could. We have some lavender beeswax at home and since lavender repels ticks, I rubbed the dogs down with it after combing for two days. The house also got swept twice a day with special attention to corners and cupboards. Garbage was thrown out immediately after cleaning to get rid of any ticks in the dust.

Three days later I was still seeing a fair number of ticks, so we mixed equal proportions of neem oil and coconut oil and soaked the dogs coats with it. Neem oil is quite thick so we thinned it down to ease in application. We did this on the terrace to avoid getting the house all messy and the ticks dropping inside the house. After about 15-30 minutes we took each dog separately and gave them a bath with a mix of mild olive shampoo, ketochlor and savlon lathered well. Usually neem oil is a pain to wash off but I think the mixing helped us get it off their coats easily. Some traces of oil will remain and since the oils are good for the dogs coats, we left it be. In combing it will spread out in the coat and will help in keeping the ticks off. Only after the bath were they allowed to roam the house again.

I also vacuumed the entire house making sure to go into every nook and cranny, doing one room at a time thoroughly. We have tile edging along our walls so I made sure to vacuum the edges all along the house floors too. Ticks love corners so those have to be done carefully to get them out. I then emptied the dust bag immediately, away from the house and sprayed some fipronil spray on it before putting the bag back in.

Two days later I saw a big tick again so we sprayed the dogs well with Fipronil 0.25% spray. Haven’t seen any ticks since then in a week. They are due for a another spraying down in a couple of days to match the two week tick cycle.

I have been very careful about the house too. The bed in the hall got sunned and kept away, we have only bean bags in the hall where the dogs are now. Makes it easier to clean and spot ticks. My maid has clear instructions to clean diligently but to make sure I do some extra sweeping myself. I vacuum once a week. Initially I did a mop of 2 capfuls of synthetic vinegar, 2 tablespoons of crystal salt and a capful of savlon in 3/4 bucket of water regularly. I alternated this with the regular everyday mop I was doing from before. Over time I am now doing a vinegar, salt and savlon mop only once in 5 days. The vinegar and salt is supposed to kill ticks. In the initial days I did find a number of dead ticks on the floor.

All seems good as of now but I’m being vigilant. I’ve seen infestations before and I definitely don’t want one on my dogs or in my house. I’ll keep you posted on how things go.

Here are a few tips I came across on the internet while searching for home remedies. I haven’t tried any of them so am just listing it here for future reference. I can’t vouch of any of them as of now.

  1. Mix approximately 2 tablespoons of neem oil and 4 tablespoons of Apple Cider Vinegar in 500ml water. Shake well and long to emulsify the oil. Spray dogs with the mix to deter/kill ticks and fleas. You can also spray the walls, carpets and curtains with the mixture so there is no place for ticks/fleas to hide. There may be a strong smell of neem in the room after use but airing out the room should sort that out.
  2. Use a cedar oil spray. Spray once a day if you go out into tick areas regularly. Spray them directly or on palm to rub around the face and tummy area. They should pick up less ticks.
  3. Mix 10 parts witch hazel and 1 part lemon eucalyptus oil in a spray bottle. Spray your pet and you down.It is a deterrant to ticks.
  4. Mix 10 drops of rose geranium oil, 15 drops tea tree essential oil, 15 drops lavender essential oil, 10 drops cedarwood essential oil, 10 drops lemon eucalyptus oil and 4 oz. Distilled or filtered water” in a spray bottle and spray the dogs regualrly to avoid ticks.
  5. A mix of 1 cup Avon Skin-So-Soft, 1 cup Water, 1 tablespoon Lemon Eucalyptus oil and 2-3 tablespoons Apple cider vinegar sprayed on dogs repelling ticks. It lasts only a couple hours though so you have to keep spraying.
  6. You can dip(or sponge) your dog in a Permethrin-10 mixture or a product containing Permethrin. This is found on Amazon for about $8.00. One application will last about 3-4 weeks. Will keep ticks off the animal.
  7. For horses and cattle mix 2 oz 10% Permethrin Concentrate ( available at or any tack store), 1 oz Citronella Oil ( cheap on ebay but can be found at any natural/organic store), 4 oz Apple Cider Vinegar (any grocery store), a few drops of rosemary oil and fill a 1 Quart sprayer the rest of the way up with water along with the above. Be sure to always shake sprayer before applying as this activates the Permethrin.

Do you have any remedies for ticks? Ways and tricks to keep them out of the house and off dogs? Please do let me know in the comments.

I also came across a lot of home remedies on fleas. You can see the list here.

Photo Credit: The Outdoor Type

February 5, 2013   7 Comments

Review + Giveaway: The Four Fountains Spa in Jayanagar, Bangalore

A couple of days before we were leaving for Tour of Nilgiris I heard from Sakina the Digital Marketing Manager at The Four Fountains Spa. She offered me an hour’s free package at the spa to experience it and review it on my blog. The deal sounded good to me but I still asked her if the offer holds in the case of a truthful review. She wanted nothing else so, of course I said yes, I’d do it. 🙂

I haven’t been to a lot of spas and know zilch about them. My first spa experience was at Angsana in UB City a few years back and I came away worse than I went in. Had a actual visible muscle lump in my shoulder for a week and I paid a bomb for it! That experience put me off spas and until we went to Thailand last year I hadn’t been near any spa. But after TfN the idea of a spa was really tempting and then Che agreed to come along so there I found myself talking to Sakina and booking a slot.

We went to the branch of the Four Fountains Spa in Jayanagar in the morning on a weekday. There was just one person waiting so we sat down and started to browse through the list of therapies they had. We weren’t waiting long before Dr. Devishri came to greet us and asked us to fill up some information forms. She followed that up by asking us questions about our life and lifestyle to assess our stress levels. Turns out I’m more stressed than Che 😀

Based on our stress levels and type of lifestyle Dr. Devishri recommended a Swedish Massage for Che and the Head-Neck-Shoulder Massage and Foot Reflexology for me. But after the battering of the sun and mountains on my face through TfN I felt a facial was due so, I added a Healing Facial to my list of treatments. 🙂

I was introduced to Arunli my masseuse who led me to my room. At the Four Fountains Spa the massages are gender specific, i.e. men will only have male masseuses and women will have female masseuses. Arunli asked me to change into disposable undergarments that were provided and locked my valuables away into a locker. Then the massage started.

I don’t remember much after this other than a feeling of bliss as Arunli worked my scalp, head, neck and shoulders. The right pressure and fluid movements had me in a zone of peace in no time. By the time she was ready to work my feet, I was ready to fall into a soft calming sleep. After a hot bath where I washed off all the oil (atleast most of it), she got started on my face slowing cleaning and rubbing away all the smudges made by the sun. My face felt my own after a long time.

An hour and a half later I walked out into the reception feeling all shiny and new. I could feel all my muscles now but in a nice way. I looked across at Che and we shared that smile that says, oh baby, that was good! I hadn’t had this good a spa experience ever. But it didn’t end here, we still had the bill for Che to come.

But before the bill Dr. Devishri sat us down and gave us individual prescription booklets where she marked specific diets, lifestyle changes and exercises she recommended for us to reduce stress in our lives. She also told us how often she thought we needed massage therapy. With the booklet we also got a guide to stress-free living. I must say I was amazed by the extra mile they were going for customers.

Finally we got the bill. And it wasn’t much. I ain’t saying its cheap but it not as expensive as most other spas. Che’s Swedish Massage with an upgrade of oil and steam for over an hour and a half cost us less than 2K. That’s cost effective and great value for money!

I definitely recommend the Four Fountains Spa if you are looking for some massage therapy.

Now here’s the bonus. You can also get a free massage, just read on for details to take part in the contest and a chance to win that free massage.

The guys at Four Fountains Spa have offered free spa vouchers to three winners here on my blog. The contest starts on 04/02/2013 and closes on 17/02/2013.
To participate all you have to do is answer a question for the first prize which is a Gift Voucher for a 1 hour full-body massage. There are also two half hour partial-body massages to be won through a raffle draw that you can enter through twitter and facebook. You can make additional entries everyday for the raffle i.e. you can make upto a total of 20 entries!

Remember you are NOT limited to one entry! 🙂

A little bit about The Four Fountains Spa. They are India’s largest chain of affordable day spas with 17 conveniently located spas across 8 cities of India where therapies include over 20 body massages, body polishes, body wraps and facials. They are currently located in Mumbai, Bangalore, Pune, Kolkata, Aurangabad, Bhopal, Goa, and Manali.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

This was my first ever contest and I think it did well. Thank you everyone who took part and helped me spread the word. 🙂 Now for the winners –
1 hour of free massage therapy was won by Greeshma CV
1/2 hour of free massage therapy won by Sushesh S Mallya
1/2 hour of free massage therapy won by Meeta Panicker
Congrats Greeshma, Sushesh and Meeta. Hope you enjoy your massages as much as I did. 🙂

To everyone who participated, better luck next time. I’ll be having more contests and giveaways soon, so don’t miss them. 🙂

February 4, 2013   4 Comments