Walking Through the MA Center: Chicago Farmlands (July 2019)

This was the fourth year I attended Amma’s programs in Chicago. Once again, I spent time walking through the farmlands. This year my friend Gopika also came to Chicago; she explored the farm with me.

There were a lot of changes this year. The echinacea field is gone and new MA Center: Chicago plants are growing there. We were told part of the Center’s property is being leased out to a vegetable farmer. Another part is still being leased to a farmer who produces hay. The new focus for the MA Center: Chicago fields seems to be growing dye plants and tulasi.

Last year, there were tomato plants growing in the greenhouse. This year there were indigo, tulasi, and a few marigold plants.

The field that used to hold echinacea plants now consists of indigo and Hopi Black Dye Sunflower plants. The indigo plants will be used to make indigo colored dye and the Sunflower seeds will be used to make black dye. Yellow and orange dyes can be made from marigold flowers.

Beyond the indigo and sunflower field, there was a field of madder plants. The roots from those plants will produce a red dye.

I don’t remember what the field below contains. When I enlarge the photo, part of it looks like tulasi but there seems to be another kind of plant in the foreground. Tulasi is often called holy basil and is a sacred plant to Hindus. Tulasi is said to open the heart, cultivate devotion, boost immunity, and heal disease. 

On the far side of the above field, there was a field where both tulasi and marigold plants were growing.

Click on the photo galleries to enlarge the photos.

At the end of my visit to the fields that contained tulasi and dye plants, I walked to the orchard. There are many more fruit trees than there were the first year I attended Amma’s programs in Chicago. The trees have grown considerably since that time.

Early in our walk, Gopika and I were able to get help in plant identification from a volunteer who was working in the fields. I have many more questions though. Some year I will ask a resident to go with me!

Living and Learning in Amritapuri, India: December 19-22, 2016

Saraswati Gardens

I have been working in Saraswati Gardens for about an hour-and-a-half most days. The sun is so hot that I can’t tolerate more than that. Sometimes I work in the garden and sometimes I help with dye related projects.

I saw three newly dyed fabrics yesterday. The dye for this first fabric was made from red onions.

This color came from avocado peels and pits.


The one that surprised me the most, was this one, which was made from spinach leaves! How can green leaves produce cream color dye?


Today we harvested more turmeric roots. This big pan was overflowing with them. Some roots were small and some were quite large.




It has been so hot the last few days. Someone had a weather app that listed Amritapuri. It said the temperature was 89 degrees but that it felt like 105 degrees. That sure sounded right. Even being at the beach in the morning for Tai Chi is difficult at times. There hasn’t been much breeze even near the sea. The forecast for the next two weeks is for the same, or hotter. No rain in sight.


On Monday morning, I was surprised to discover that crosswalks had been painted in front of all of the ashram gates on the beach road. I thought maybe the ashram had done it, but when I took the rickshaw to Kuzhitura Farms the next day, I saw there were crosswalks at frequent intervals all the way down the road. I wonder if the drivers, and the pedestrians, will pay any attention to them.


Today was the dress rehearsal for the Christmas Eve play. The costumes are so beautiful. The singers, musicians, actors and dancers are doing a fantastic job, as are the people in the support roles. There is so much I would like to share but I don’t want to give anything away so my sharing will have to wait until after the play!


Dinner tonight was a real treat. The ashram gardens are producing a tremendous amount of organic spinach. It is used in the soups and in a variety of other dishes. Tonight we had it raw in a salad. Fresh spinach, plus cabbage, carrots and other things. It was so good that I felt like it had been sent from heaven. I also had some kitcheri, and later in the evening indulged and had carrot cake. Yummm.

Tai Chi

I am loving my Tai Chi classes. Doing that process for an hour-and-a-half six days a week is so helpful. At the end of the class we always do the Yang 108 form. That is my favorite part of the class. I find I am remembering more and more of it, although I still need to follow the teacher. I look forward to seeing if my work here transfers to my Seattle class.


The money situation stays the same. I discovered today that for every 2000 rupee bill ($30) I withdraw from the ATM, I get charged a $5 transaction charge by my Seattle bank. That is very frustrating, but at least I have the money I need.

Kuzhitura Farms

I will end this post with more photos from Kuzhitura Farms. Five of the eight photos are from two water retention ponds. As always, you can click on the gallery and enlarge the photos.

To see all of the posts in this Amritapuri series, click here.

Weekly Photo Challenge: New Horizon


I have spent several days at Saraswati Gardens helping in the dye area. One day last week, Padma noticed how much color was still left in the pulp after she made marigold dye. We decided to dry it out and see if something could be done with it.

The next day, the pulp still wasn’t dry so I separated into smaller pieces and placed it on cotton and silk fabrics. I thought it would dry better that way plus it gave us a chance to see what effect it would have on the cloth.

As I was distributing the pulp, I kept looking at the newspaper I had originally spread the pulp on. The color that was left on that paper was a vibrant yellow.


By the next day, the idea of using the pulp to dye more cloth was discarded as it was obvious that the color it produced was too light.

Two days ago, the dye project staff finished the first prayer flag made using dye only from Saraswati garden flowers. I think it is so beautiful.


The first flag below was colored with marigold dye, the second was from a rose dye, and the third was dye made from madder root. The dye for the yellow strip that goes along the top was made from turmeric root.


The dye used on the first flag below was made from turmeric root; the second is indigo and the third is rose.

The first flag below is another one dyed with madder root, the second and third are both from marigold dye with one being a lighter version than the other.


Since I’m learning a bit about making dye from plants this year, I have wondered whether or not I will start making dyes when I return to Seattle. Growing the flowers sounds right; being creative with them sounds right; but at the moment I don’t feel called to dye cloth.

Last night, I thought about the bright yellow marigold dye I saw on the newspaper when I was working with the pulp. Then another memory came to me. Many years ago, I was intrigued by handmade paper. At the time, I wanted to learn how to make it, but never did.

Maybe in my retirement, I will make paper and find ways to dye it using flower petals or roots, or maybe even leaves. Or perhaps the flowers and leaves will be used in other ways, such as in this photo of papermaking in Burma.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia

Is papermaking on my horizon? It very well could be.


Weekly Photo Challenge: New Horizon

To look at previous posts in this Amritapuri series, click here.

Living and Learning in Amritapuri, India: December 8-11, 2016


Tai Chi

We’ve had three Tai Chi classes so far. I so appreciate having the opportunity to take the daily class. In 2015, it lasted an hour; this year it is 1 ½- 1 ¾ hours. Needless to say, I’m in heaven. Being able to do Tai Chi near the beach with beauty in front and over me makes it even more wonderful.


Devotees are encouraged to do seva while they are here. Seva means selfless service, i.e. volunteer work. There is a seemingly endless number of seva opportunities at the ashram. Think about the fact that five thousand devotees live here and there may be a thousand, or more, visitors every day.

Closer to Christmas there will be 1600 Western visitors plus thousands of Indians. Imagine what it takes to feed and house them, and you will get a sense of the amount of work that needs to be done.

My seva has taken an unexpected turn. For many years, I have helped sew the costumes for the Christmas play. I have experienced an increasing amount of resistance to that job over the last few years, but have continued to do it because the work needed to be done and I wanted to support Jani who is in charge of the costumes and Chaitanya who produces the play.

A few days ago, two friends of mine invited me to join the Sanskrit class they are taking. I had stopped studying Sanskrit about eight months ago. The Indian students learn so fast, since their native languages have a lot of Sanskrit in them, so no matter how many times I take the classes, I reach a point where I am unable to understand the teacher or the students (the classes are all taught in Sanskrit).

My friends’ invitation re-ignited my desire to learn that language. I knew there was no way I could add anything to my schedule without giving something up. I was also concerned about how I would fit in the significant amount of homework the teacher gives.

As I pondered this situation, I started ripping out Velcro from old costumes. My head was lowered as I used the seam ripper on the tiny stitches. My neck started hurting and before long I had a painful headache. All of a sudden, I was flooded with, “I DO NOT want to do this work (i.e. sewing) anymore.”

My desire to stop was stronger than my desire to help Jani and Chaitanya. I told both of them what I had decided. Neither of them was upset that I was not going to help. I was filled with relief and felt so much lighter. (I generally have no trouble saying NO but this situation was an exception!)

I’m still deciding about the Sanskrit class. I have the homework for the next class and will see how long it takes me to do it. The class meets for an hour on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.

Now that I have stopped sewing, I will spend time every day working in the Saraswati Garden. I am very excited about that seva.


My schedule is becoming more settled.

6:00-7:30 Wake up, shower, clean room, do laundry, check email, check CNN, check blog, work on blog posts or other computer projects.

7:45-8:30 Breakfast

8:45 -9:20 More of the above

9:30-11:30 Tai Chi (every day but Tuesday) I consider Tai Chi to be my form of spiritual practice.

12:30- 1:00 Lunch  (On Tuesday Amma comes for meditation, question and answers and then serves lunch. That process generally goes from 11:00-2:00.)

1:00-2:00 Watch play practice

3:00ish-5:00 Saraswati Gardens (If I take the Sanskrit class I will start earlier and leave earlier on those days because it is a 20-minute walk to the class.)

5-6 Sanskrit class on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday

5:30-6:30 Meditation and Q and A with Amma at beach… on Monday and Friday

6:30-8:30 bhajans (singing)

8:30-9:00 dinner

9-10:00 check email, work on blog

10:00 or 10:30 bedtime

Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday are Amma’s public darshan days. They start around 10:00 a.m. and can go until 1 or 2 the next day; they rarely end before midnight. My goal is to give Amma prasad and/or spend some time watching her at some point during each darshan day.

Breakfast visitor

A Kingfisher bird was perched near the table where I had breakfast yesterday. I thought it was stunning. I found a photo to show you on Wikipedia.


White flowers of peace

Every time Amma leads a mediation, she asks us to visualize white flowers of peace falling onto every person, animal, and plant on earth. When she does that, I always think of all the beautiful white flowers I have seen in Amritapuri.

Saraswati garden

I love the path that leads to the Saraswati garden.

In a previous post, I mentioned that the garden staff had tried to harvest turmeric root earlier in the week but when they only found a few small roots they decided it wasn’t ready. The next day, they realized they needed to dig deeper. When they did, they found lots of roots; roots that were ready for harvesting.


Yesterday, Padma cooked and then sliced them. When I went to the garden today, I saw that she had set them in the sun to dry.

Some days I work in the garden and sometimes I help Padma with the dye project. Twice, I’ve gathered and petaled marigold flowers.

One of the items they are making in the Saraswati center are prayer flags. If I remember right, the material at the top of the photo below was dyed with marigolds, and the one on the bottom was dyed with turmeric. img_5021

The last two days, I’ve helped research ways of making paint from marigolds.

Christmas Eve play

The play preparations are well underway. There are rehearsals going on all day, from morning to late at night. (Play participants also do their sevas so they have a very full day.)

Individual scenes are being rehearsed now and then the week before Christmas they will all be put together. I have watched at least part of a rehearsal every day, and when I am in my room at night, I can still hear the singers practicing. For a few minutes tonight, I watched the cast practice one of the dances.

The backdrop for the play is being painted on the porch of the Saraswati garden so I have been able to watch that process as well. I think it is beautiful.


To look at previous posts in this Amritapuri series, click here.