Tuesday, January 14, 2020

It's Time for Jeopardy!

“Oh! Oh! It’s 7 pm. I need to go now,” he would excitedly say, abruptly cutting our phone conversation short.

“Wait, I didn’t finish. I have to tell you something.”

“OK, tell me quick. It’s time for Jeopardy!”

So that’s how the conversations would end. If you needed to call my father, you’d have to call before or after he finished Jeopardy! If you called after, you would get a delightful recap of the show.

“Did you see the final Jeopardy question? Oh, you didn’t? I thought you would know it because it was about American Literature.” As an immigrant from India who came to the US 50 years ago, he was comfortable with majority of the British writers and Hollywood movies, but on Shakespeare and American popular culture, he would defer to me. If there were topics that were unfamiliar and intriguing, he would make a note and search online later to research.

"Oh, I learned something about about Roosevelts," and he would explain what he found on Wikipedia. 

This show has been a part of our lives for years. Back in early 90’s, my roommate and I had a 7:30 evening class; we needed to leave by 7:15 to be on time. There were way too many days when we waited to hear final Jeopardy question before leaving, thus being late for class.

Jeopardy! has a way of making the audience feel smart, especially when one out performs the contestants, who are so impressive until they mess up. Personally, I have a happy dance I do when I get the Final Jeopardy answer correct and the contestants do not. When watching the show with my daughter, I always challenge her to answer specific categories related to her current schoolwork. She rolls her eyes at me, and may not have an idea. But the moment she does gets a question right, her self-esteem shoots up!

My father watched Jeopardy! religiously, more so after he retired. I suppose that when one retires, there’s a need for schedule and structure. So, the whole day can be spent on random activities and phone calls to friends, but come 7 pm, there’s an appointment to be kept. My father was always the happiest at home, as master of his own domain – and remote control. By the way, Dad was a Ken Jennings fan and had followed his streak passionately, and scolded me for games I missed. 

Since 2000, my father was in and out of hospitals due to various cardiac health situations. He would often be hospitalized for days or a week or two. Of course, visiting hours hit in the evening, so we knew someone would be watching the show with him. We'd turn on the hospital TV and fuss with the angle and remote control volumes.

In June 2018, he was hospitalized for pneumonia, but it turned out to be kidney failure. We would be with him around the clock, as he moved on to dialysis. To help flush his kidneys, he was on low liquids. We held his hands as he feebly asked for water, which we could not give. Time moved slowly throughout the day as doctors and nurses came in and out, measuring and testing, and giving vague answers if any.

That 7 pm time slot was magical, a comfortable expectation of what we would experience. Alex is a reliable friend showing up, and reminding us the rest of the world was still normal. In his weakened state, he couldn’t follow along with the show. Was his hearing aid turned on? We tried to be cheerful and tried to ask him the questions in case he knew. The dialysis bed had a small TV on the side. So, it worked as a bit of distraction, as the machines droned rhythmically next to him, cleaning out his blood stream.

On August 20th, he passed away from multiple organ failure. It’s been difficult for the family and every friend who knew my father and his jovial spirit. My mother is living alone, and she said she watches the show every night too. This was their ritual she needs to uphold. One evening, she saw the lights flicker in the family room when Jeopardy! was on. She knew he was watching too.

When 7 pm rolls around, all of  us watch it as a way to get closer to my father. For about 30 minutes, we're remembering my father's excitement for trivia and his never-ending quest for knowledge.

Sunday, December 08, 2019

Self-Care with Netflix

When Netflix launched April 1998, we did try the DVD by mail service. But we accidentally mailed the wrong DVD back to them, which they promptly returned to us. We supported our local video stores until they disappeared and turned into a kiosk at the grocery store.

As Netflix expanded, the world buzzed about “House of Cards” and “Orange is the New Black.” Fortunately, we were able to procure the DVDs from the library. “We’re good and why don’t need Netflix since we barely watch cable TV, and my daughter will be glued to it even more.”

On November 25, 2016, they announced the reboot of the “Gilmore Girls.” That’s when I said “We need Netflix. NOW.” I had fallen in love Lorelei and Rory on reruns for the past year, unwinding after work with any random episode to escape into Stars Hollow. Let’s try it out and see if it’s worth it. Yes, we fell into the chasm of scrolling through choices and finding all the things we “always wanted to watch.”

Coincidentally, it was November 2016. Remember if anything else happen then? Oh yes, the whole world turned upside down due to an incomprehensible election. Like many Americans, I’ve been consumed by the news - the decline in morality, disappointment in the lack of integrity of elected officials. I’ve cried for children in cages and children who hid under desks. I listened to public radio journalists who tried to hold onto professionalism as they relayed the absurd and vulgar Tweets. We marched every January, hoping for the best.

That winter was a very dark time for the world, and it became even darker personally as we had a loss in the family. My husband was traveling quite a bit and I was dealing with changes at work. I ended up turning to Netflix for diversion. I discovered different shows that helped me feel less alone or give a different perspective. This escapism has continued for another 3 years now.

For reference, I do not ‘binge’ on a series to complete all at once. I try to stretch it out as much as I can. The most I’ve done is 3 episodes in a row. If I like it, it’s a chocolate bar and I take a bite at a time to make it last as long as I can. So here’s a run down of the shows that gave me solace in a time of confusion.

Mad Men

This was first on my list of “always wanted to watch,” due to the reviews, the glamour of the era and personally, advertising was my dream career path. I never wanted to start in the middle of the series. Now it was completely on Netflix, I thought I’d give it a go. I escaped to 1950s America and then followed the team into the 1960s and 1970s through the 7 seasons.

There was one episode with a backdrop of the Cuban Missile Crisis and the characters contemplated the possibility of imminent nuclear war. If we forward to 21st century, this paralleled our own fear with current administration egging North Korea to continue nuclear missile tests.

Why is it “self-care”: It is a total escape into the past where people were jerks to each other’s face and did not hide behind social media. We could feel better about the sexism, crime and pollution in NYC now that we fast forward 50 years and have laws to protect workplace harassment. And of course, Jon Hamm as Don Draper – the most attractive, complex and enigmatic character on television. This America felt more familiar, even though I never knew it this personally.

I don’t know why but this show is my happy place. It’s smart, it’s witty and relevant, and then just silly.. The minute I turn this show on, I start cracking up. Maybe I’m still in 8th grade like Kimmie, but her optimism and enthusiasm are perfect escape. Tina Fey is a goddess of quick wit. Sometimes the joke just flies by so quickly, you know you were just hit by it, but can’t even explain to someone else.

Why is it “self-care”: Moments to laugh hysterically and surprise Jon Hamm appearances.

The Great British Baking Show 

When I come from work, I relax with an episode of this show. There’s companionship and politeness. There’s chocolate and Italian meringues. No one yells at anyone saying “you’re fired” or insulting anyone’s cooking style. Usually if the person has done a bad job, they know it. They don’t need a judge to humiliate them. Instead the other contestants and the hosts come around and give everyone a hug. Plus there’s the whole British baking language – remember that when they bake “biscuits” it’s really cookies and not doughy Southern style biscuits.

Why is it “self-care”: When we’re not in the tent, the camera takes close ups of a surreal green countryside and all the bits of nature. Then the desserts and bakes come together in beautiful displays that are so impressive and you’d love to indulge. By the end of the season, everyone is your friend and you’re crying when they have to go home.

Note - this appears on PBS too.

The Kindness Diaries

I’ve written a blog and then some about the Kindness Diaries. It marries travel shows with human interest stories. Leon Logothesis is charming and amiable.

Why is it “self-care”: this is a reminder that people are good in real life. We need to step away from the horrible stories we see online and just remember that one on one, people are still good and will try to help someone when they can.

Queer Eye

I love them. I watched the original series years ago, and was skeptical about the new cast taking this over. However, they’ve done a superb job and you can see their own metamorphosis from first season to becoming international ambassadors of positive energy and being true to oneself. 

Why is it “self-care” : we start with a struggling ‘hero’ and we learn to empathize with them. We understand their challenges and might have felt that way. By the end of the episode everyone has transformed and QE team is amazing and supportive. It feels good for the person who has struggled alone to have someone who is on their side and focused only on them.

And, cue the waterworks at the end of certain episodes. Yes, they do deserve this – they opened themselves up to change and the universe will help – even if it is 5 great guys. By the way, I think their home makeovers are SO much better than the Fixer Uppers and other HGTV shows. When those shows reveal at the end, you know exactly what the style will look like (shiplap, anyone?) Does everyone really want a farmhouse style? The beauty of the QE renovations, it's like they know what the Hero of the episode dreams about and honors that. That's a true makeover.

And more..

I could keep going on and on about my other favorite shows, but these are the ones that get my spirits lifted and I might do a separate blog post about those. So, I’m grateful for the “Gilmore Girls” reboot came 

Monday, December 31, 2018

Packing Away 2018

I need to fold this year
like a blanket that's been loved, 
roughed up, spit upon, shat upon, 
soaked in tears and green bile.

It's wrapped me up and warmed me with hugs
and spotlight moments where the light shined
through the holes, where it was yanked. 
It's the blanket that's been pulled out from under around me
in the middle of the night,
leaving my legs and feet to shiver in the cold air. 
I'm surprised when someone pulls it back up for me
and I feel safe and cozy again. 
Sometimes it was up to me tug the covers up myself, 
so I could swathe others in my bed. 

Maybe I won't fold this blanket away 
so next year I can drape it around my neck like a cape. 

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Review of "The Kindness Diaries" - Netflix Series, The Book, and Not-So-Random Thoughts

If there is a travel show, we are watching it. From our comfy reclining sofa and easy access to snacks, we can freely explore the globe. Generally, a good travel show will have a goal. It may be to eat the slimiest critter in the ocean, go to the best massage in Sweden, or find the lost bones of a forgotten civilization. On Netflix, I came across “The Kindness Diaries,” which boldly claims the goal to find and cultivate kindness around the world.


What You Need To Know

Leon Logothetis is a former broker who decided to trek the world on a yellow motorcycle without any cash. He relies on strangers to give him food, shelter, and gas. And, sometimes, when the spirit moves him, he repays people with gifts that have potential to change their lives. He travels for 6 months to 20 countries and the experience is effectively recorded by his silent camera crew and in his book. 

What You Need To Do

  • Watch these episodes in order. Do not flip around to “Oh, he’s in Italy now, let’s watch that.” No. You need to go in order to witness Leon’s own growth and self-awareness. The man in Los Angeles is not the same one in Cambodia. By the time he made it to Southeast Asia, he had been beaten down and uplifted so many times. His reactions and approaches change as he learns how to navigate this social experiment in each country.
  • Wear a long sleeve shirt or keep a box of tissues, whichever you prefer. You will cry. No, it’s not a downer - it’s a good cry! You will see the happiness and joy in people and a little bit of that spirit comes into your heart and makes you cry. Unless of course, you have a stone cold heart, so this will just chip away at the ice. 
  • Do not binge on this. Yes, it is tempting watch each 20 minute episode back to back until you’re done. Yes, you are done. What will you do then? Ride your own bike around the world? Therefore, the only way to watch this is in small batch of 1-2 episodes. This is the special Willy Wonka chocolate bar with the Gold Ticket. It’s rare, sweet and you want to eat a little bit at a time, and share it with Grandpa Joe. 


What It Did For Me

I found this in February of 2017, when I was continuously absorbed with social media, consuming articles about politics and analysis about the future. It was also a particularly dark period of loss for my family, as well. This is on top of the dealing with strong personalities at work and overall physical and emotional support for family. Therefore, when I sit down to watch TV, I watch with the intent “to turn off my brain.”

I found this show and it was such a respite from all the noise. I do not want to hear anything negative or wrong -- this is what is right in the world.

My father once quipped, “You have the US, and then you have the real world.” I felt like this show brought the real world and people forward. It made the rest of our worries seem so inconsequential, when people are trying to survive day to day.

I watched the Cambodia episode twice – the second time with my family – and I cried again. There’s no randomness in meeting strangers in your path. Leon was supposed to meet the girl who brought him to her village to help someone there. 

In this time of uncertainty, this was a small reminder that we’re not just floating alone. We’re connected to each other and we can rely on others. I do believe some people come into our lives for a purpose. They serve a function for as long as they stay, which may be moments or years, and then they leave us, helping us for our next step.
A greater lesson is that we shouldn’t underestimate the value of kind word or gesture. What seems small to one person, can mean the world to another.

A few years ago I did the social experiment of 29 Gifts in 29 days. I kept a list of what I gave to others every day. It may have been physical item such as bringing food to coworkers, passing extra magazines to a friend or, it may have been intangible such as forwarding a meaningful email or a compliment. After reading inspiring stories from others, I upped my giving and organized a holiday food drive at work for local organization. However, the more you give, the more you receive. After that period, believe it or not, I won the office Super Bowl pool. Now, everyone knows I do not watch football let alone bet on it. Because I was in the spirit of giving, I doled out few dollars for the pool, and I won $200 back. Yes, a lot of people were shocked and I bought pizza with the winnings. Here's a link to another blog post about other random gifts.

Anyway, this whole Kindness series just took the social experiment to the global level.

On Leon

So, I found the Facebook page for the series and I chimed in on a discussion. I was shocked that Leon responded to me in appreciation of my comment and said he would send me his book if I messaged him. I was an extremely giddy fan-girl when I wrote back! I've had NPR personalities respond to me, but not a Netflix one! We chatted and he sent me a copy of his book about the tour!

Yes, I know he didn’t personally mail it, but someone from the publisher distribution department who got a list to ship. Yet, I was excited! By the way, he has a high responsive rate for acknowledging comments on the page himself, which is really a good practice for public relations.

On the Book

I received "The Kindness Diaries"book and quickly read this after I had seen most of the show. This part is tricky because the book is about the travel experiences. Having seen the series, there are parts I felt I could skip and this book could just be a companion to the series. However, he moves very quickly through some of those travel stories. The benefit to the book is that that the introspection on his motivations and soul searching. The series omits his relationship with his girlfriend, while the book brings it up freely. She feels he is “running away” from her, while he’s trying to find himself. It’s intriguing how he makes the Odysseus and Penelope connection eventually.

I was happy to see him acknowledge that much of the success of this trip is due to being a white Englishman. Of course, people are open to the English accent! That is how the British conquered the world. This social experiment would not have left Los Angeles if the traveler were a dark-haired Jose or Sanjay. I also believe a woman would not have taken this much of a risk on a world tour without money. Obviously, many women travel alone, but they would probably have a backup plan for where to stay the night.

He also acknowledged the advantage of having a film crew with him, which gave him a sense of importance. I would love to see an FAQ section – where did the film crew stay, did they offer him food or gas at all, what was their experience like in the villages, what exactly is the mileage on Kindness One?

Anyway, Leon was a stockbroker before, which is a career that is driven by risk and adrenaline of uncertainty. There’s also a sense of boldness – asking what polite folk do not ask. Can I be in the show? Can you teach me karate? Can I touch your gun? Because each new situation is unpredictable, humility and flexibility is key. There’s no American arrogance around him – “I cannot sleep on that” or “I need Ranch dressing or I can’t eat.”

By the way, since this book was a gift to me, I'm going to pass it along to someone else.

On India

I made multiple attempts to engage my family to watch this show, and was able to lure them in when I was on the Turkey to India episodes. My husband, like many Indian immigrants, was dismayed at how India was portrayed. I don’t have a problem with this – it is hot, dirty, inconvenient, overwhelming. However, Indians feel it often becomes one-sided depiction and the positive aspects get lost. I mean, who wants to continually see their home depicted so negatively, that this becomes the mainstream perspective?

Anthony Bourdain says in his book “No Reservations”:
"There are two types of visitors to India: There are those who quickly find themselves frustrated, irritated, frightened of the food and water, intimated by the great masses of humanity, overwhelmed by the all-too-evident poverty, ground down by the heat and the crowds, perplexed by the behavior of Indians..."

"Others, like me, are charmed... You have to redefine words like 'beautiful,' 'magnificent,' and 'gorgeous' when you travel through India... I love India. I just don't know whether I can handle India. Whether I can wrap my tiny brain around its past, its present or its future."

Leon definitely is the latter as he writes:
"India will always feel flat in words, because it isn’t contained by language. It is written in color. It is drawn by sound. India breaks through all of the senses because India is filled with people. So many people."
He definitely embraces the culture and the people. Man, he went into the river at Varanasi!  My Indian friends would never dip anywhere outside of their Marriott hotels when they’re in India. I’m actually glad he stayed with the common people, and did not venture into the high-end bubble that exists in major cities. I’ve been to bars and malls in Mumbai that are beyond what I’ve seen in NYC and Las Vegas. However, you walk out into the streets and face stark humanity at your feet.

The most important part of traveling and entering new cultures and countries is put away judgments and criticism, and simply open hearts and minds.

What's Next?

Since I found the series, I’ve been encouraging many friends to watch this for a feel good show. I get emails that friends are crying and everything. The positive part is that even though the series is over, Leon still around. He’s also doing a number of live chats and speaking tours. I hope he does come to my town and we can be good friends.

Sunday, January 01, 2017

That's a wrap, 2016!

If you have been alive in the US, there’s never been a year that rocked the country to the core as 2016. We all hoped that Trump would be gone by Iowa Caucus and the adults could continue. Unfortunately, it was not meant to be and we went from ecstatic optimism on November 7th to dark depression on November 8th. We lost some of our greatest inspirations such as David Bowie, George Michael, and Prince. I wrote about David Bowie, who someone said was like an old boyfriend. George Michael and Prince were in the soundtrack to my high school and college years. We debated over what the heck is “Father Figure” about and my sister and I parodied “I Want Your Sex” with “I Want Your Granola.”

However, we need these bitter moments in order to value the sweet moments in our life. I want to remember 2016 for these special ones.

Year of Travel

In 2015, I flew to Kentucky for 2 days and we drove 7 hours to Cape Cod, Massachusetts. This year, I had many good opportunities. Even when I travel for business, I try to make a few hours to do personal sight-seeing so it doesn’t become only about work.

We were in Portland, OR for a week, so we went into the city a few evenings. I was able to check out Powell’s bookstore and Voodoo Donuts. On my trip to Tampa, our attempts to go to the beach didn’t work out, until a few hours before my flight. We went to Joe’s Whiskey Bar for lunch and could enjoy the blue water of Florida. I went to Salt Lake City, UT and we had to check out the Mormon Temple and buildings. Of course, the mountains around city was just beautiful. I made a second trip to Portland in December, which was too brief to enjoy anything.

Our biggest trip this year was to India for 3 weeks. We spent two weeks in Mumbai with family and we had a chance to recharge our body and spirits. It had been at least 7 years since my daughter and I had gone, so it was wonderful to reconnect with family. Our 12-year-old nephew and I found a common interest in Harry Potter and spent an evening working on spells. It was great meeting cousins from Chicago and friends from Pennsylvania who were visiting too. We tried out cool restaurants and strolled the malls as well.

Another week was spent in Leh, Ladakh, India. This deserves its own blog (coming soon), but it was a week of adventure. We overcame our fears of heights and dingy toilets, and realized altitude sickness is a real thing that doesn’t go away after 5 days. We rode camels in the desert, climbed through ancient Buddhist monasteries and slept in a cabin by a turquoise lake. 

On our way back, we stopped in Paris for 24 hours (again, blog post coming soon). We took walking tours and my favorite moment was having breakfast at a boulangerie in Place de Victor Hugo. The bread, the cafĂ©! C’est la vie merveilleuse!


If you’ve read my blogs, you’ll know I’m an enthusiastic Obama and Hillary Clinton supporter over the years. With this crazy political year, I got to participate in a few of the rallies and had amazing once-in-a-lifetime experiences. 
  • In June, Bill Clinton, Gabbie Gifford and Mark Kelly came to speak at a local school. I was excited to shake Bill’s hand over the crowd, just a touch.
  • My sister and I waited in line for 3 hours to see Hillary Clinton and Katy Perry perform. Her music ended up being in my head during the whole election and aftermath.
  • My friend and I took our daughters to Philadelphia to join 20,000 others to greet the Obamas and the Clintons, as well as Bruce Springsteen and Jon Bon Jovi.
More posts about the Election are on my other site.
On personal front, we enjoyed celebrating weddings for close friends (wait, how did we become ‘that auntie and uncle’ at the wedding?) and welcomed babies into our families.

My family has gone through a lot of medical challenges with my father’s health, and it’s one more year that we’ve been blessed to have together. I’m always inspired by my father’s spirit to keep on writing, no matter what and my mother’s strength and focus to keep everyone going. In February 2017, they will have their 50th wedding anniversary, which is unbelievable (oh yes, the 50 years was such a breeze!)

Oh yes, “The Gilmore Girls”! I spent my summer watching the series every evening after work; I found it relaxing and bit of escapism to see a daughter who was so diligent about everything (sorry, mom of teen snark). We finally got Netflix to watch "The Gilmore Girls" update. I’ve also fallen for “The Crown” and “Grace and Frankie,” they’ve become like friends.

Looking forward to a new year where my intention is to step out of my comfort zone more often and  engage with new people, as well as maintain connections with the old friends.