Thursday, December 17, 2009

Horses, Monkeys and Puppies - Oh My!

We went to Matheran, a small "hill station" outside of Mumbai. It's about a few hours drive and a pretty mountain vacation spot for Mumbaites who need a respite from the heat of the city. To maintain the rustic charm of the town, no cars are permitted. People get around on horseback, hand-pulled rickshaws or plain old walking. Though one has to be alert where one steps due to all the horses! And, by the end of the day, everyone's shoes and clothes are covered in red dust. There is a train that goes up the mountain, but apparently it's quite slow and people can just walk next to it.

The mountains are made of red dirt and rocks. There was one lookout point we dubbed "Mars" because of the large red boulders. I rode on a horse years ago in high school. That's been it. So, getting on a horse now was a bit precarious for me, and walking on the rough roads made it a bit jarring experience. It took me some time to have faith in the horse and the guy leading the horse. And, having to turn off my imagination. There was one part where Annika's horse faltered a bit because he heard a noise. However, she wasn't scared at all and understood her horse was only 2 years old. She forgave him. We got quite comfortable with the horses quickly, especially Annika who wanted to ride it without a lead.

Monkeys are all over the place. We stayed at the Lord's resort, which had separate buildings for the rooms. During the day, windows and doors must be kept locked because monkeys know how to creep into the rooms. They're jumping on the roof in the morning! One morning, we were sitting under the tree having our tea, and a monkey snuck behind us. He made himself comfortable and sat on the table to eat the toast. He snatched some sugar packets and opened them under the tree. (Great, a monkey on a sugar high!). We all sat still because these guys are quite aggressive. The hotel staff is all equipped with slingshots (yes, super technology here!) They sling rocks at the monkeys, and the monkeys run from the sight of them. So the staff will hang around the poolside and tables. The kids loved the slingshots so much, they got their own.

Now the puppy story. My brother-in-law, nephew and I went for a walk in the late evening. We saw a small white puppy on the side and we stopped to pet it. First of all, there are lots of stray dogs everywhere and we usually just stay away from them. But, this puppy looked about 1 month old and was so adorable. We stopped to pet. My six-year-old nephew thought getting permission "to pet him" was the same as permission to "make him a pet". He planned how we should take him home and coddled him like his parents have never seen him do. We stopped at a small store and bought biscuits and borrowed warm milk from the store owner. We called everyone else out and at 11pm, we were standing on the street outside the hotel feeding the puppy biscuits dipped in milk. The kids named him Biscuit and Tiger. Annika pointed out he was shivering and I should give up my shawl. (No.) We convinced the kids to leave him on the side and that's where he belonged. He was gone in the morning. We know that puppy has not received this much love in his entire life and probably will never again.

The next morning the kids wanted to go out and look for a new puppy of the day. However, the hotel owner had a cocker spaniel Rusty, which entertained them. Rusty was helpful in keeping away the monkeys.

I loved the simplicity of the life we experienced for 3 days. It reminded me of going to my father's small town Rajpipla when I was young. You're allowed to get dirty. You're allowed to run around at night. You're allowed to interact with animals and random people. Our overprotective American parental instincts were going haywire!! Also, it's amazing to see these kids fight over slingshots. We're not talking about Wii or Playstation or whatever. Just a wooden slingshot with cheap rubber tied around it.

Oh, by the way, monkeys don't come out at night. Only the bats do.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Absolutely Mumbai

If I had to describe Mumbai in simple terms, it's not the "Maximum City", but the "Extreme City". There's nothing in moderation as it rises from poverty to luxury, from pollution to green consciousness, as well as my own emotional roller coaster. The other night, my husband and I took a cab into downtown area by the Gateway of India. We always do this. It's a touristy spot, but it's fun and always reminds us that we've arrived in this city.

Delight: Seeing all the sidewalk stalls and picking up silk scarves for $1.50 each (easily $25 in US). The earrings and jewelry made my mouth drop.

Disappointment: my husband pulling me away.

Anger: Walking into the Taj Hotel and remembering how one year ago terrorists walked through its halls gunning down people as they wished. "26/11" is still on everyone's minds when you walk through the metal detectors and security.

Awe: Seeing Tulsi Pipe Road wall where people painted and expressed their pride and strength in the city in the Wall Project. It's not just one block of wall - it's a serious wall of length with intricate work. It raises street art and graffiti to the next level of community expression and pride. This is the voice of Mumbai - not anyone else's. By the way, I love the murals all over Philadelphia and it changes the way the city is perceived.

Pride: Speaking of art, we went into Jehangir Art gallery and strolled through Art Plaza. We love the Indian artists and we always pick up a few pieces. The Indian art market has been on the rise. Not only are the new artists getting recognized, but digging out the old artists from 1920's at Phillips Antiques. My husband priced the two 6" wooden sculptures of pink raging beasts that would guard a doorway at a mere 1.2 million rupees. We just don't have the space for it, you know.

Gut-wrenching pain: walking past a child sitting on the sidewalk with her arm extended, too weak to raise her head. How many children will go to sleep hungry tonight and wake up hungry - no one knows. We dropped a coin in her hand and we walked in silence.

Homesickness: Going into Cafe Mondegar. My husband was surprised I wanted to go there for coffee since it's a fairly dark pub/cafe. However, I heard the Black Eyed Peas and felt terribly homesick. We had a really good espresso and latte while listening to Def Leppard.

Knowing You're Not at Home: (Don't know what the opposite of homesick is): Looking out the window at Cafe Mondegar and seeing 5-6 motorcycles lined up for McDelivery for McDonalds. Yes, for those times when you need your Maharaja Mac or McVeggie in 30 minutes or less. I can't tell you enough about how much I love the delivery services in this country. You want ice cream or bottle of gin, you just make a phone call and someone brings it over.

Frustration: We needed to take an air conditioned bus back home. Sounds simple? We walked at least 20-30 min in circles trying to find the bus stop, calling family, asking strangers, policemen, and bus people. You just have to "know" these things. Fortunately, we finally found the stop and as we were walking towards it, the bus came. We ran for it!

Life Threatening Perilious Adventures: Also known as "crossing the street". (New post to come on that!!)

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

India Diaries 2009

Live from Mumbai!
Last time we were in India in 2007, I maintained a log of our trip and experiences (see "India" on my links on the right). We're here this month and again, I'm waking up at 4:30 am with nothing to do, and the urge to write.

The last trip was memorable because it was my daughter's first trip to India. Everything was new and unexpected. Now, we're going 2 years later and she's 8 now. This trip is about rediscovery. She's looking for those things she remembers from someone's beaded curtain to the bathroom where she floated boats with her grandfather.

I'm happy that we found an art studio nearby that offers arts and crafts for children. Since we'll be here for a few weeks, we'll have Annika take some workshops. We asked specifically for a class with girls her age so she'll have a chance to make friends.

For me, India is always about people. I wrote about this before where as someone who grew up with feet firmly planted in the US, I always felt that for me, India was a good place to visit, not live. I'm here now and still pretty sure I could not live in Mumbai. I'm not a city person at all. I need my rolling hills of Pennsylvania and the ability to drive to Target needed.

However, the other night I landed my brother-in-law gave me a hug and said "Welcome home!" That's a powerful statement for me. I'm daughter of immigrants and grew up with dual identities. I've long since reconciled who I am, so I don't want to go into the cliches that pepper Indian-American literature. However, I distinctly remember the moment when I decided I was American, and knew I wasn't an Indian. Yet I always describe myself as Indian-American because I'm not one or the other. It's gratifying to have to an "official" welcome such as this.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Follow up on Recent Blogs

Kumon You're Killing Me: We're done. I told them we were going away in Dec and we'll come back in January. I was relieved the owner didn't try to convince me to take homework with us on vacation; she simply asked me to call her.

The benefits of not doing Kumon:
- we get back 30 to 45 minutes every evening

- restore peace and tranquility in our family

- chance to explore more creative methods of learning basic math skills. There are some great websites and I've found some fun workbooks.

- know that any other math workbook that I put in front of my daughter's nose will be welcomed because she's faced the worst.

The benefit of doing Kumon:
- she is a quicker with doing math calculations in her head. However, it's the result of consistent practice.

Separating Fantasy from Reality: So, we had the talk. She asked me while we were at the mall. I told her there was no Santa Claus.
"Oh, so it's you?"


"OHhhhh.. so I can tell YOU what I want for Christmas and don't have to wait?"


"OHHHhhh..Great! I want a DS!! a Wii!! Wait.. did you eat the cookies too?"


"Now..there's no Easter Bunny?"


"What about the leprachauns? Did you put the sprinkles?" (When she was in pre-K, she wrote a welcome note to the leprauchan for St Patrick's Day and the teacher put sprinkles on it. So, I really didn't put the sprinkles.)

Now she believes there is no Santa Claus or Bunny, but leprachauns are real.

I also told her not to tell little friends of ours, and let them believe. There's a bit of relief.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Separating Fantasy from Reality

Last year, I posted this blog about my daughter questioning Santa Claus. She's still not convinced, and I heard her ask my husband the other day if Santa was real or if it was just us. He bypassed her question. She's 8 and a half now and this is the age where it's going to come together. I was about this age when my bubble was burst by friends across the street. She had asked last year because Anna on the bus (whose brother is 2-3 years older) said so. My response was, "What do you think?" and she said, "Yes, he's real."

We're at a tricky period of peer influences where her friend F is announcing "princesses are for babies". I know some girls quickly got bored of princesses at 3 or 4, but for my girl, this is a lifestyle. Her whole raison d'etre is to live the royal life, but she's appalled to carry Disney Princess paraphenalia in public. We resort to Hello Kitty now. I've told her that she's allowed to play with dolls as long as she wants. I was actually playing dolls until I was 10-11 years old; I would read books and act out the stories, fashion objects and scraps into houses and wardrobe changes. I definitely felt like doll play challenged my imagination.

Returning to my Santa Claus dilemma, I sought the classic response from the 1897 editorial known as "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus." Reading this now, I found it so poignant and so beautiful. It hits the deeper meaning of all these stories we tell our children. There are parents who don't propogate these stories, and tell the children like it is. Like Francis Church said, "You may tear apart the baby's rattle and see what makes the noise inside," but then we lose the charm of the rattle and it becomes a mere noisemaker. I will share this article with her and hopefully she'll recognize what Santa represents, if he is not real.

Honestly, if she gives up Santa this year, I'll be happy. I've been exhausted holding up pretenses as we shuttle between my house, my house and India, where did he leave gifts, and the whole cookie thing. I even got caught mid-year. I said to a sales person, "Oh, I had gotten her this last Christmas" and she piped up, "No you didn't give it to me. Santa gave it."

Oh. I forgot.

And, the fact that Virginia's father asked her to write to the newspaper proves that parents don't have the answers.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Choir Boats

This book fell unexpectedly into my lap. I wouldn't have picked this book off the shelf since I don't particularly read fantasy genre books. While I loved Harry Potter, I could not get through Tolkien. I decided to read this book based on the website of the author, Daniel Rabuzzi. The site had a strong presence of fairy tales and fine literature, as well as fantasy, so I thought there might be something for me. We have to diversify our reading repetoire, don't we.

"The Choir Boats" is definitely a unique book as it takes place in 1812 London. So right there, my imagination is charmed. By setting the story 200 years ago, the territory is known and unfamiliar at the same time. Also, the time period brings another element to enhance the story - it forces a certain honest sense of time and technology. Our world today is interconnected - we're virtual, we're overnighting, we're tweeting, we're googling, we're just overall faster global community. So, now we're pulled into a quiet era where Atlantic trips take months.. letters get lost and change lives.. letters arrive mysteriously followed by equally mysterious people.. the world you know is the one in your backyard.

The protaganists - two practical British businessmen - are lured into this alternate realm with a key and a promise of gaining their hearts' desire. Sally and Tom, the orphaned neice and nephew, are lured by a subconscious calling that now surfaces. They discover hidden talents, and achieve recognition and acclaim for these unknown skills when they enter Yount. To get your head around Yount, there are special portals to access it, such as the Bermuda Triangle. There's no moon on Yount. Some of its people want to merge with the karket-soomi (our world), while others are hungry for power and domination.

The writing in this book is superb. There's representation of the Yountian language and traditions - the world and culture is well-defined and tight. The language used is poetic, crisp and erudite. I saw the nod to Lord of the Rings (sailors joking about Fred and Sam who had to return a ring to a mountain) and our favorite Hogwartian Professor Dumbledore. I'm sure there were others, which I could identify had I been more aware of the genre. The characters' values and belief are set to represent their own society. However, once out of nineteenth century England, one does loosen up a bit. It's intriguing to see the feminist twist on the characters from 1800 falling into a female dominated society, and reaching to the point with females holding the powers to save others. Rabuzzi also layers the fantasy with love stories, as well as political conspiracies. It's definitely set itself apart.

This is the first book of a trilogy so there are some threads left to tease and carryforth into the next book. There is a certain steadiness to the story and I could have used a glossary at certain times (e.g., exactly how does the fulginator work).

Once you enter the world that Rabuzzi has created, you're pulled into it quite easily and end up being in it for some time; I found myself wondering about different aspects throughout the day.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Five Thousand and One Year

For the past three years, my daughter has been enrolled in an Indian Cultural/Religious program on Sundays. The organization offers instructions for 4 languages and a culture class, which covers religion and India (geography, traditions, history). I like this organization for being professional and well coordinated for a volunteer group. We never had anything like this when I grew up, and I definitely like the results I see. My daughter's language skills are still lacking, but she's got a lot of confidence about her religion and heritage. She has a lot of friends there so it's positive social experience. I've gotten to know more people and enjoy my time there on Sundays. For two years, I've helped design and compile the program brochure for the annual show. It's usually a lot of last minute changes and late nights. This year, I've decided to give more by teaching a Culture 2 class (2nd graders). There is a lead teacher who did this for two years and there is a curriculum already in place. We just have freedom to enhance it.

Our primary topics right now are the 10 incarnations of the Hindu God Vishnu. (Nutshell: Hinduism has a trinity of Brahma the Creator, Vishnu the Protector/Preserver and Shiva the Destroyer. When the earth is in turmoil, Vishnu appears.) I've been a bit panicked because I don't know all 10 incarnations myself. So, I've been cramming before classes and researching online.

So, my research has brought me to this point - in great awe. When debates regarding Darwinism and Intelligent Design arose, I paused to think of what my religion says about this. I didn't give it much thought because there are so many myths and magical events, it didn't even make sense.

Now, looking at the Avatars of Vishnu, I see more here. If ancient Indian scientists determined that evolution of humans did exist, they needed a vehicle to carry forth their theories. Blanketing it in religion probably helped give the history its durability. We have the documented stories, but we also have oral traditions. Ram and Krishna stories are told in the cradle.

The Primordial Human Evolution
"No. Incarnation: Physical — Conscious evolution

1. Matsya-avtar or Fish: Water borne life — amoebae or primeval evolution.
2. Kurmavtar or Turtle: Water/Land borne life — amphibians.
3. Varahavtar or Boar: Land borne life — mammals.
4. Narshinghavtar or Human-lion: Semi-human — primates.
5. Vamanavtar or Dwarf: Homo erectus — primitive human.
6. Parshuram or Divine Seeker: Homo sapiens — conscious human.
7. Ram or Perfect Human: Homo sapiens — God conscious human; outer awareness.
8. Krishna or Supreme Yogi: Homo sapiens — Self-conscious human; inner awareness.
9. Buddha or Consciousness: Homo sapiens — Self-Realization; inner enlightenment.
10. Kalki (Christ) or Spirit Being: Homo spiritus — God-Realization; Resurrection (en masse spiritual evolution.)

For the actual story synopsis, here's one site. It's also fascinating how certain events seem to align with Bible stories, such as the story of the flood. I'm actually excited to learn all this because it hits one of the core points of Hinduism of tolerance. Rather than denouncing separating science from religion, it's actually bridging them. There was a reason and purpose behind every evolutionary advancement.

Five thousand years later, I'm passing the same stories down to a new generation.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Book Review: Abroad at Home

Desijournal was a lively website that addressed an Indian-American audience. Its articles were about the every day immigrant concerns with the observations and ironies of American life, as well as movie and book updates. Actually, I had a few book reviews published on their site when they were thriving. Coincidentally, I get to review the heart of Desijournal now.

Though the website is now defunct, the editor Nandini Pandya was able to lasso over 30 essays and short stories into a collection, Abroad at Home. It’s definitely an atypical collection because of the variance of work included. It begins with articles profiling Indian-Americans doing remarkable work, such as an active duty female soldier, a late-life artist and a Unitarian minister. There are personal essays covering topics from relationships with religion, parenting roles, as well as interactions with American society. There are some fictional stories and "Cab Driver" stands out in my mind.

Because some of these essays were originally online articles, they don’t have the polished type of writing one expects in such a collection. I enjoyed the stories, but I felt they could be stronger and more honed. On the other hand, the casual openness draws the reader, as if they were friends having a discussion. Some writers take a humorous view of certain situations. After reading a few stories, I was inclined to check out the authors’ websites, such as “Heartcrossings."

By the way, there is a different dimension to this publication effort. The articles started on the internet in an interactive forum. They were pulled together into a published book, the tangible form of the stories, which one carries. And, now the website promoting the book allows readers to comment on specific works in the books. Therefore, it's come full circle. Writing and reading are not solitary activities, but connected.

While this collection focuses on Indian immigrant experience, I've always felt the US immigrant experience is shared among ethnic communities. While the traditions and languages may be different, the culture shock and ideological struggles are always there. A thread of guilt runs through immigrants who feel as if they're giving up parts of themselves to become someone new. At what point do you feel you are you home?

It's also worth mentioning that the authors portray a more mature and more recent point of view of the immigrant experience. That extends it outreach, too. It's not just Indian parents who worry about their children becoming infatuated with designer labels. And, for the non immigrants, this would give them a different perspective on the Indian consultant in the corner cubicle.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Random Acts, Surprises

I was involved with project last year, in which you give something to someone for 29 days consecutively. I had extremely positive results during that time, and I've tried to make it part of my every day practice. (A gift doesn't need to be tangible item, but could be an email forwarded that helped someone else or even a compliment. It's an act of giving.)

I was travelling this week and found two opportunities to give and received warm results. The first was in line for coffee. I was waiting for mine, and the cashier took the order of the guy behind me. They were two friends, probably out of college, with the back packs and all, and like everyone else, they were in a rush at the airport. He needed to give $.17 and he was fumbling around with change in his pocket. He actually dropped some of his change into the fruit basket on the counter. The two guys were going back and forth "Where is it? Do you have it?" One of them was counting pennies out, while other was looking in the fruit basket.

Another cashier handed me back my change, which I checked. I turned around and placed a nickel in the one guy's open palm. They were so surprised because it worked out. I asked, "Is that all?" and they said "Yes! Thank you!" They both actually gushed about it. It was just a nickel! But, it really saved them time and they could run to their gate.

My second random act was on the return flight. It was a full flight, we were told. I had an aisle seat and another man was in the window seat. Then, a man came down the aisle and said "I'm right there. Oh boy!" He was about 6' and pretty large, so I first got up and let him in. He could barely get his legs in there and looked quite squished next to the other man, who was fairly tall too. I asked him, "Would you like to switch?"

"Do you mind?" he replied.

"Not at all. We'll all be comfortable then."

So, since I'm 5'2, I could comfortably sit in the middle between them and he was able to stretch better with the aisle seat. He thanked me so many times, and I'm sure the window seat guy was happier not having elbows and knees jabbing into him too. Really, we're all just numbers to the airline. We get what they give us.

Just a reminder it only takes a small action to make a large impact. Please take some time to go the 29Gifts website and watch her video.

The art of acceptance is the art of making someone who has just done you a small favor wish that they might have done you a greater one. - Russell Lynes, editor/critic

Saturday, September 19, 2009

A lady in a man's world

I don't mind living in a man's world as long as I can be a woman in it.
- Marilyn Monroe

I'm drawn to this phrase because I love being a woman, and don't want to be a man. Though there are times I've looked upon with envy as the guys just go out for a beer with nary a thought of others, while my girlfriends and I are wrought with guilt and disaster scenarios before we leave the house. But, I'm happier being the complicated woman rather than a simple minded man (*ducks*)

In my previous career, I worked with all females. Never had any issues with female managers, and actually preferred it. I had a male intern complain to me he worried about sexism and didn't think he could advance in the female dominated environment.

Once I switched into IT, I felt the change immediately. To me, gender is more powerful than race. I walk into a conference room and do a quick scan of male to female ratio and it's always less. There may be more Asians than Caucasians, but that doesn't concern me so much.

When I first joined my current company, I was thrilled with my IT team. My technical manager was a woman with three grown children, so she knew what it was like to be a working mom. My network administrator was 5'1, 120lbs red-headed ball of steel - woe is the soul who asks for permission to change access rights! Everyone quivered before her and her word was final. There were other female developers on the team as well. There was great synergy among the smart and competent women; we did have one token male developer.

Fast forward some years and personnel has changed and borders expanded. My team is national with over 10 individuals, though I work with many more. On my technical team, we have only 2 women, and I'm the only mom. Yes, we have some fathers and grandfathers, but we all know that fathers are not equal to mothers.

Sometimes I get frustrated with the battle of bloated egos. And, it is very hard to keep up with the demands of IT as a working mother. Recently, I was guiding another developer through a lengthy process 20 minutes before my daughter's Indian dance started; my client called me en route to the performance. It's when my two worlds collide that I have a problem. Can I go out for a drink with my colleagues after work? Yes, but it has to be planned so arrangements can be made. (Though, I brought my daughter along to the last one when my former boss had come)

I was travelling this week and noticed that the business travellers on the flights were mostly men. One benefit: While I can pull my suitcase in the overhead compartment 90% of the time, if there's a tall man available for 10% of the time, I'll take his help. Second benefit: I don't take up much seat so I could squeeze into the middle comfortably between the big guys.

Chivalry came into play at a recent conference where the female attendance was low. So, if I was standing at the booth waiting, I got immediate attention. And, even some cavalier men said "Please go ahead," which was great for me.

So, just because I am in a career dominated by men, it doesn't mean I want to be a man. Still like being treated like a lady (although I have crawled under desks to plug in connections, if required).

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Eloise Today

My daughter is an Eloise fan and loves the books, animated stories and movie; a live action film was done in 2003 with Julie Andrews as, of course, the Nanny. The stories take place in the 1950's Plaza Hotel and the central character is the rambuctious and precocious Eloise who lives there. What a dream, isn't it? To have the run of a hotel - order room service, have adults wait upon you - How awesome! Eloise's self importance and sense of adventure go beyond her 6 years. And the energy she has to climb stairs and elevators is remarkable.

We were watching the film on the Disney Channel the other night and a couple of things struck me. This story could only take place in 1950's. Mom is in Paris (we're not sure where Eloise's father is), but she's quite glamorous as she was once a debutante. She leaves her with Nanny, who is obviously not doing a good job if Eloise is running amuck in the hotel. Nanny relaxes in the evening by smoking and watching boxing and horse races, while enjoying her scotch.

Could there be a real life Eloise in 2009?

- Nanny would not have passed the background check --she must have some betting circuit going on the way she's so enthusiastic about races. The smoking and drinking while on duty would have also eliminated her.

- The new licensed Nanny would be driving Eloise to various lessons and classes everyday. That child has so much energy she should be channeling into dance, gymnastics, acrobatics and acting, since she has a flair for melodrama.

- Don't forget playdates to keep up her social interaction with her peers.

- In one way, I have to wonder if renting a room at the Plaza is cheaper than paying rent, maid service and take out in NYC?

- To keep Eloise in isolation at the Plaza, her tutors came to her. She might be taking some online tutorials if she needed to today.

- The Plaza would have put a stop to Eloise's antics on day 1 because she created risky situations that may result in potential legal ramifications against the hotel.

- Not to mention, there is probably stepped up security so unauthorized people couldn't enter the laundry rooms and kitchens.

- Mom would be emailing and IM'ing and texting the child constantly. She would want to make sure she had an active presence, if she couldn't physically be there.

I understand good heroes and heroines need to have absent parents in order to come forward and have adventures (e.g., killed by Valdemort, mysteriously disappear, tragically die). Also, kids like seeing other kids be bad. Eloise set the foundation for Junie B. Jones and probably Zack & Cody.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Max at Sea

I can imagine how much fun it was to write this one!
Max at Sea: is David Eggers' short story, which colors in the pictures drawn by Maurice Sendak in "Where the Wild Things Are." And, he colors outside the lines, which makes this more delightful to read.

By the way, I had mixed emotions about WTWTA when I was in kindergarten. I loved the creatures, the island, the boat.. I hated Max. I thought he was an obnoxious boy, who didn't listen and he talked back to his mother! How rude! When I was in my 20's I sought out the book to find that line that was so offensive. He had said to his mother "I'll eat you up!" That was it. In my mind, you never said something like that to an adult. And, I was sure that animal suit was smelly too.

So, now there's a film adaptation of the story. I just watched the trailer to this, and I'll have to say I'm intrigued because Max does not seem like the angry boy I described above, and as designed in Eggers' story. He seems like the lost dreamer who finds acceptance. The film looks beautiful and creatures are warm and cuddly, so my daughter will definitely enjoy this.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Finding Myself When I Knew Who I Was

Through Facebook, I got in touch with a friend from high school. I always remembered what she wrote in my yearbook - she would look forward to reading me in the New York Times. Well, that didn't exactly happen (not, yet that is!). In her note to me, after all these years, she remembers me as an artist.

Most people that know me today know me only as a writer, not an artist. My whole life I described my hobbies as "reading, writing and art." Actually, I was torn between art and writing, but I felt the urge to write was stronger. About 10 years ago, I decided to focus on my writing. And, once I got that going I'll go back to art. I'll take some courses, learn the proper way to water color, understand concepts. In my cubicle, I do have one of my watercolors hanging. I painted that in 1996.

This is not to say I haven't done anything creative - loved doing craft projects around the house. However, I haven't sat down to draw or paint. Now, my daughter is quite talented in writing and art. I'm blown away by her skills, especially at this age. Seeing her passion for drawing reminds me of the way I used to be. (Side note: there is a significant art gene in my father's side of the family, as a number of artists pop up among the cousins. Unfortunately, we don't have a strong math gene, hence the Kumon classes.)

Recently, a group of us started an arts & crafts group. This would be an excuse for the girls to come together once a month, sit and chat and do something creative. (I have to thank N. for taking the initiative to do this). She got simple wooden plates from Ikea, and we painted them in rangoli style. We didn't have time to do the details, so we took it away as homework. I got a white pen and would do a row or two every night while watching TV or talking. It was just soothing and it was a lovely distraction. The funniest part for me is that I noticed I was biting my bottom lip. When I drew or painted, I would always bite my bottom lip - it would be numb and/or swollen by the time I was done! Not only is art a soulful activity, there's a physical sense to it!
Here are pictures of the plate, and I'm still adding details. However, there has to be a point where I step back and stop. I'm going to move on to making some more plates/coasters.

More than having a pretty object, I'm really pausing now to think about who I was and who I am. Why am I not painting regularly? Well, technically speaking, I barely have time to write. How would I possibly paint? Row by row, perhaps? We've all seen Randy Pausch's "Last Lecture" video, and he talks about going back to your childhood dreams. I definitely didn't imagine myself doing what I do today when I was kid (Actually, I couldn't have imagined this when I was 30!).I've wanted to be a poet since I was 8, and I'm still trying to get that going. I knew myself as an artist and it got lost in the shuffle of life. So, let's see.. maybe this is the next phase of finding yourself. Going back to when you knew who you were.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Life Lesson #1345 (Addendum)

I vowed after a fiasco last week at work that I will do what I know is right. I will not listen to others. Then, this morning, I listened to someone else and again, it back fired.

In the big picture, these two actions were small. Loopholes were found, which seemed justifiable for not doing them. Yet both of them led to bigger events. Doesn't an avalanche begin with one rock?

I have a saying posted on my monitor "Winners do what losers don't want to do." And, in these situation, I was listening to others who did not want to do something. I got this far by listening to my own voice, not others. They are not me. I am not them. I need to do what I know is right.

In our day to day activities, we'll always hit those moments when we have to decide what is right or wrong. I believe Bill Clinton said "Just because you can do something, doesn't mean you should." (I'm terrible at direct quotes). There will always be temptations and doing what you have to do is not always what you want to do. But, you're better for it in the long run.

Addendum: I found the best quote: Doing what's right is not easy.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Slate Podcasts

So, I have new friends. We haven't met, but we spend a lot of time together. I've gotten to know them well, though I can't always tell their voices apart. I laugh at their inside jokes as if I were one of them.. they remind me of people I know,but then I don't (I never tell my friends they are "churlish," as my Slate friends tell each other.)

I plug into and listen to my podcasts at work. I've written about this before, but I'm getting hooked onto Slate's political and culture gabfests. These are discussions between journalists/writers or whoever they are about the latest issues and news. They casually drop in "I read so and so's article in the Wall Street Journal about this.." I don't have time to read every single blog or article, so these are such wonderful people who filter it down for me.

I suppose this is the same type of familiarity anyone has with a celebrity, tv/radio hosts or anyone who enters your intimate space. You get a false sense of ownership and commradery.

Listening to my podcasts provides a nice relief within a hectic day. It allows me to gently escape from the stressful minutae of my world, and I'm reminded there is a world bigger than all that is on my plate.. I love the conflicting opinions and attitudes, which I can then share with my real world friends/family. Then I casually throw in the piece about the WSJ article.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Cooks Who Write and Writers Who Cook

So, it's not that I've ignored my blog readership - I just haven't had time or inspiration to blog (oh cursed the day that Facebook took over my waking hours!). After I saw "Julie & Julia" last night, I knew I had to get back on my blog.
Julie & Julia is such an easy and yummy movie to watch. Nora Ephron made the film interesting by paralleling the two stories, allowing them to dip in parts. You think they will cross over, but they don't. But, that's ok. That's real life.

The opening shot of Paris in 1950's made me melt. It seems all the elements were perfectly captured - the costumes, the culture, the buildings. And, of course, Meryl as Julia was so colorful and captivating, you were always looking forward to those sections over the darker Queens, NY sections. First of all, we are so lucky to live in the age of Meryl Streep. There's no actor who could transform into such a spectrum of characters (the only other one that comes to mind is Johnny Depp). Meryl decided she was going to make herself 6'2 and she did. Julia Child wasn't exactly the most graceful of women, and she showed that when she plunged her nose into dishes. Amy Adams' character was great, but she was "us" - the audience. The typical American stuck in a rote job and looking for an outlet, a boost. She takes the subway, she watches SNL and does other real people things. Her eggs fell and that let the audience know this was not an expert.
I saw this movie with a fellow blogger and we both cheered when Julie received her first comment. We know the excitement. We also know the uncertainty of blogging - "is anyone actually reading this? do you really care?"
I identified with her as a writer - struggling to balance everything and let writing take a lead role. I loved how she gave herself a deadline since that's my problem too. I need to know the start and end, so I can make everything happen in between.

I also identified with her as a cook, which I'm sure hit most people. We're holding our breathes hoping our dish will match the picture in the cookbook. By the way, I rarely follow a recipe exactly. I always improvise or add something else to it to make it more palettable. My husband prefers I follow it to the T else it's not Traditional (then it's Raditional, which sounds like Radical).

By the way, I had heard about Julie Powell when her book came out and loved the idea. Loretta Lynn said "You have to be first, best or different." Julia Child and Julie Powell did all three.

And, oh yeah. The food. This movie follows the tradition of food lust movies, which we all love - "Babette's Feast", "Eat Drink Man Woman." We don't have to cook anything, we don't have a kitchen to clean, we can smell and taste the food off the screen, and there are absolutely no additional calories consumed!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Addendum on Introspection

I'm in love with Jason Mraz's song "I'm Yours". This verse rings so true for me:

I've been spending way too long checking my tongue in the mirror
And bending over backwards just to try to see it clearer
But my breath fogged up the glass
And so I drew a new face and laughed
I guess what I'm be saying is there ain't no better reason
To rid yourself of vanity and just go with the seasons
It's what we aim to do
Our name is our virtue

Friday, July 10, 2009

The New 40

So, Jennifer Aniston, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Jennifer Lopez, Renee Zellweger and myself have something in common. Memorable red-carpet fashion moments? It’s possible, but that’s not it. We all turn 40 this year.

I’m not one to hide my age. At the gym, I always entered my real age into the elliptical machine; weight, you can lie about, not age. Every year that I have accrued is worth remembering. I’ve always been mistaken for being younger than I am. I’m always happy to show my ID.

At the stroke of midnight on January 1st this year, I lost it. Now I realized that 40 is here. My friends keep reminding me “Age is a number. It’s what’s in your heart.” “Oh, 40 is the new 30”.

For me, I’ve always had 40 as the definitive marker. “When I’m 40, I’m going to do..” “When I’m 40, I’ll finally be able to..” It’s here. And, I’m not ready to or haven’t done all those things. I was upset because the finish line came and I’m not ready for it. I cringed when my friends asked me about the big “4-0”. I’m on the verge of tears on the treadmill punching in my real age. Since I was 10 years old, I always upgraded myself to the next year one month prior to my birthday. Now, I was telling people, “I still have 7 more days to be in my 30’s”. My daughter gave me extra time as a gift "It's only 1pm. You're not 40 yet because it's not 9 o'clock, when you were born. You're still 39."

June was a fabulous month for me as I definitely enjoyed celebrating with different friends and family through series of events. More assuring and powerful was the love and affection I received from everyone. If I look over my shoulder, I see 40 years of wonderful people behind me, and I’m blessed to have those stepping beside me and others leading me.

I also realize now I need to adjust my goals and not put an age on it. And, practically speaking, there have been some changes from where I was in January to where I am in June. My career and personal goals have been more refined, and become more attainable. Doors that were closed are being opened. It’s up to me how and when I enter.

Also, I realize I don’t want to be 30 again. I want to be the new 40.

Now, where's my Oil of Olay eye gel?

Kumon, You're Killing Me!

When I tell you we’re doing Kumon this summer, you will have one of three reactions:
1) What took you so long? You should have had her enrolled before she started kindergarten!
2) Are you kidding? What do you want - a little robot? It’s repetition. Rinse, lather, repeat.
3) Kumon? What is that? Does it come with wasabi?

Usually the third response comes from people without children or non-Asians. Kumon is extremely popular among Asian parents because it reflects the method of teaching effective in Asian countries. Memorization and repetition is the way many people were taught. One million Asian engineers and techies can’t be wrong, right?

In our public schools, EveryDay Math is being taught. We were confused by subtraction methods this year, and asked the teacher about it. She pointed out they show children different ways to tackle a problem and one method may work better than another for the child. So many options! So many confused parents!

I resisted Kumon wave for some time because I didn’t think it was necessary to pay $100 a month for 1st grade math. If I have to sit with my daughter to make sure the work is done, we can just do worksheets. However, second grade moved quite quickly and the teacher emphasized the need for her to solidify her basic math skills. Her report card reflected this as a weak point. So I conceded. We want to make sure she stays at the right level, consistent and confident. If she gets discouraged now, it’ll be a hang up for always (actively raising my hand as someone who knows!) Plus, in 3rd grade, the standardized testing will start and she’ll need to perform well within a timed situation. She can’t daydream her way through this.

Other parents have told us how their child surpassed their peers thanks to Kumon. Others raved over the structure and discipline, which helped set the foundation.

Our friends’ daughter works at the local Kumon center as a teaching aide. This would be one positive aspect for my daughter feeling comfortable there. The deal with Kumon is that there is homework every night and center visits twice a week. There’s no vacation from it. There’s always homework, which takes about 15-20 minutes.

The reality is that it’s really tough. The homework is annoying – 4+6, 5+6, 8+6. There are 10 pages of the same problems. So, obviously she complains she’s tired of 6’s. They start the child at a lower level so they can build their confidence.

She hates Kumon. She’s whined, cried, stalled for time, offered to help me pull weeds instead. Yes, just about every trick possible. I’m trying to use some of our positive motivations from Suzuki violin. I don’t want the “Just do it because you have to do it.” I don’t want her to feel like this is a punishment.

Some things that have worked:
- chocolate cake, ice cream or a dessert at the completion
- reciting the answers aloud (she does different accents)
- using the timer on my iPhone (I would surprise her with different ringtones at intervals)
- sitting with her and doing the same problems and comparing answers
- doing the homework into different rooms, changing up the environment.

I don’t see this as a long term commitment as I’m taking one session at a time. Let’s get through the summer and maybe a month or two in the fall. Yes, she doesn't like it and I probably sound like a mean parent. But, seriously, I used to have to sit with my father at night to review fractions and math problems, all the way until high school calculus. I hated it, but I needed it. I do want her to find the drive herself to want to do it.

I’ve been greatly disappointed that I haven’t found any resources online for Kumon parents. If you have suggestions, please let me know.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Kriti Festival Follow up

I had a wonderful time at DesiLit's Kriti Festival in Chicago this weekend. It was an event that brought together prestigous writers with up and coming writers, as well as the readers who love South Asian lit. For me, it was an opportunity to meet and be inspired by the other participants. And, were it not for US Airways baggage fees and my husband's warning about buying more books, I would've snatched up every book there!

After going to a number of readings and discussions where "must read" books were mentioned, I'll highlight a few of the books I want to read. (This will serve as my wish list for later)

"Cracking India" by Bapsi Sidwa - So I lied. I read this already. But, it's one that I highly recommend in order to get a better understanding of the India-Pakistan Partition. I'll always remember the profound impact of this book because I was reading it Sept 2001. Even though I had seen the movie "Earth", I suddenly understood how Lenny's world turned upside down in one day and everyone is suspect. As a side note, Bapsi Sidwa is still elegant and poised at her age. And, you have to admire a woman of her generation who talks about reading books on her Kindle!

"The Match" and "Monkfish Moon" by Romesh Gunesekera - He read excerpts from these two books; I'm not familiar with his work, but his writing has a certain charm.

"House for Mr Biswas" by VS Naipaul - Amitava Kumar and Bapsi Sidwa both discussed Naipaul's writing and I know Shashi Tharoor has written a lot about the man. I'm moving Naipaul up a notch on my "to read" list.

"Haunting Bombay" by Shilpa Agarwal - Her story steps away from the typical stories with a twist with ghosts, encompassing the historical and legends.

"Leaving Home" by Minal Hatrajwala - This is a personal account of three generations of her family's journey out of India and into various parts of the world including Fiji, New Zealand, and the US.

"Disobedient Girl" by Ru Freeman - Her book is coming out this summer! I missed my friend Ru's reading, but know this story will bring in the flavors and energy of Sri Lanka in so many contexts.

"Love Marriage" by VV Ganeshananthan - This book also dives into Sri Lanka and focuses on families, making the war more personal and recognizable to the readers.

Poetry by Amit Chaudhuri - Amitava Kumar read some of these poems. I'm pretty sure we have some of his stories on my shelf so I have to make my way to them.

"Meatless Days" by Sara Suleri - Another book that was recommended, and I remember my friend Julie talking about Sara Suleri years ago.

"White Tiger" by Aravind Adiga - OK, I'm not sure what to do about this book. Do I read it because it's been so notable and acclaimed? But some people who have read it have issues with it, so do I read it and end up frustrated? What's the point then? Should I just go read Amitav Ghosh's critique of this book instead?

"Pickwick Papers" by Charles Dickens. Of course we should the classical British writers too.

"Ask Me About My Divorce" anthology by Seal Press. I came across this book today on the web and it includes "Sita's Eyes" by R M Hora (I googled more and confirmed it's Reenita Malhotra Hora). Seems like a powerful collection in general.

Other sites to make note of:

Writing the Lines of Our Hands

Fishouse Poetry

Sita Sings the Blues
(I didn't get to watch this fully, but when I do, y'all will hear about it! It's absolutely creative and beautifully put together!)

On a personal note, I had a great time interacting with other writers and readers. It was refreshing to meet someone and be asked "So, what do you write?" And, then maybe 10 minutes later or even 2 days later, he or she asks "By the way, what do you do for a living?"

I can't remember the last time I was in a bar discussing literature and politics or talking about book covers and writing process over dinner. I found such energy and enthusiasm for the arts. I have two action items from this event. First one is to organize and create a literary community close to home. The "real housewives and husbands" in the 'burbs like to read too! My other take away from this event is that I will focus and finish my short stories. I've been writing poetry because that's what comes to me, and I've been refining my manuscript. It's time to leap out of my comfort zone and write that South Asian vampire cowgirl story that needs to be told.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Obama’s Address in Cairo

This is truly a new page upon which history is being written.

President Obama (six months later, I still feel like it's not real) stepped into Saudi Arabia, and is not being afraid to recognize its Islamic importance as a country. His speech in Cairo is definitely an important event.

I was listening to his speech at work, and this jarred me. I found a complementary quote, which is just as profound

It's a story with a simple truth: violence is a dead end...That is not how moral authority is claimed; that is how it is surrendered
- President Obama

Moral authority is never retained by any attempt to hold on to it. It comes without seeking and is retained without effort.
- Mahatma Gandhi

I also found the closing of his speech beautiful and balanced. As a religious minority in the US, I'm always conscious of Judeo-Christian references. So, this was remarkable.

We have the power to make the world we seek, but only if we have the courage to make a new beginning, keeping in mind what has been written.

The Holy Koran tells us: "O mankind! We have created you male and a female; and we have made you into nations and tribes so that you may know one another."

The Talmud tells us: "The whole of the Torah is for the purpose of promoting peace."

The Holy Bible tells us: "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God." (Applause.)

The people of the world can live together in peace. We know that is God's vision. Now that must be our work here on Earth.

Side note to scriptwriters: Couldn't we have thrown in something about love and peace from the Hindu scriptures? I know, I know, we were recognized during the Inaugural speech.

I was listening to Geoffrey Nunberg on NPR's Fresh Air yesterday. They were discussing the importance of words as defining eras. 1960's were war, peace, love.. 1970s were spiritual and disco. The first decade of this century will be defined by politics, and how words are transformed, distorted and used until the original meaning has been shaken out. He pointed out that Obama used words like "hope" and "change" which don't have a distinct definition - thus their endurance and power.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Kriti Festival in Chicago

If you're in the Chicago area, I hope you'll come to Kriti Festival June 11-14 at University of Illinois.

The best reason to come is to meet me!

Ok.. there will be other writers there too. For those following my side passion for writing, I'm extremely excited to be a panelist at this conference. I've attended many writing conferences over the years, and this is the first time I'll be on the other side of the table.

I'm also looking forward to meeting some extremely talented South Asian writers.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Memorial Day

The Big Parade
- 10,000 Maniacs

Detroit to D.C. night train, Capitol, parts East.
Lone young man takes a seat.
And by the rhythm of the rails, reading all his mother's mail from a city boy in a jungle town postmarked Saigon.

He'll go live his mother's dream, join the slowest parade he'll ever see. Her weight of sorrows carried long and carried far.
"Take these, Tommy, to The Wall."

Metro line to the Mall site with a tour of Japanese.
He's wandering and lost until a vet in worn fatigues takes him down to where they belong.
Near a soldier, an ex-Marine with a tattooed dagger and eagle trembling,
he bites his lip beside a widow breaking down.

She takes her Purple Heart, makes a fist, strikes The Wall.
All come to live a dream, to join the slowest parade they'll ever see.
Their weight of sorrows carried long and carried far, taken to The Wall.

It's 40 paces to the year that he was slain.
His hand's slipping down The Wall for it's slick with rain.
How would life have ever been the same if this wall had carved
in it one less name?

But for Christ's sake, he's been dead over 20 years.
He leaves the letters asking,
"Who caused my mother's tears, was it Washington or the Viet Cong?"
Slow deliberate steps are involved. He takes them away from the
black granite wall toward the other monuments so white and clean.

O, Potomac, what you've seen. Abraham had his war too, but an honest war.
Or so it's taught in school.


The most memorable line from this song is "How would life have ever been the same if this wall had carved in it one less name?"

One name has many names and faces and lives behind it. We are so connected to each other. We have a military loss in our family from almost 40 years ago, and the impact of the one death permeated the lives of family members. Critical events occurred that would not have had he survived.

We went to Washington DC last month to see the Cherry Blossom Festival. We walked towards Lincoln Memorial, passing through the World War II Memorial. We went to the Vietnam Memorial, which I've seen every time I've been there. And it's always shocking to see the sheer number of names present.

However, I got chills this time. What is the Iraqi War Memorial going to be? How many names are we going to see?

Thursday, May 07, 2009

How great is eight!

What a difference a few months makes. Annika's "Mother" phase has long since ended. The speaking in monotone with minimum lip movement is quite common, as are the enthusiastic stories.

So, she was looking in the mirror making faces, pulling her cheeks up and down. I told her, "Stop doing that."
"Because your face will get stuck that way?"
"No, because you'll stretch out your skin." (I don't like to lie and would rather teach good habits early)
"Oh, your skin will become droopy? Like yours?"
"We have a bus to catch! Let's go!"

So, it's April, sun is shining, bees are busy, blossoms in bloom and pollen is thriving. Once year, I get a big allergy attack. My eyes get swollen, possible hives.. and other things that qualify as TMI. I made it through dinner, barely through homework and then just gave up. I took a wet napkin and put it on my eyes and lay on the couch in my agony.

Annika picked up the phone and went to the fridge. "Mommy's lying down. She needs cucumbers for her eyes. We don't have cucumbers. Mommy, do you want salad?"

When my husband came home, I forced myself to lie in my darkened bedroom. My little nurse came upstairs.

"Here's your phone. In case someone calls you from work." (Please, if someone calls me, I can't even open my eyes, let alone talk!)

"Here's a bowl of carrots. Carrots are good for your eyes." Excellent logic!

We still needed to practice violin, so she played it for me. Since I couldn't open my eyes, I let her play on. I could hear where she had missed notes, but I couldn't say anything. She struggled, but she kept at it. After the concert she said she really liked it because I didn't interrupt her.

My daughter has been a fashionista since she was 2. I remember buying stacks of purple clothes because that's all she wanted to wear when she was two and I was tired of arguing. I walked into her room when she was 3 and saw her with a pair of scissors and the bag of new summer clothes. She was cutting off the tags. Dressing for school has always been a struggle as we try to find middle ground on clothes. There have been tears, tantrums and explosions.. and sometimes she gets upset too.

There was a 50's day at school and she wanted a poodle skirt. I told her we can't get a poodle skirt, but fortunately we have enough poofy skirts and dresses (thanks to a steady supply from my mom and her sisters). She looked adorable with her hair in a scarfed ponytail and pink dress that had stiff petticoats underneath.

There was a Health Day at school with dentalcare presentation and she instructed me to pack a healthy lunch. First, she asked for a salad. I convinced her a turkey sandwich was equally healthy (when do 2nd graders eat salad only for lunch?) Then, she asked what should she wear for health day. Come again? I told her to wear green because it sounded like a "healthy" look. She liked that idea and wore a green top.

She's also my personal stylist. My sister always guided me on clothes. Then, my husband guided me on shoes. And, now I have my 4' child picking out my jewelery and outfits. I've seen other shoppers smile at us, when they hear this child announcing "Oh, this would go with your blue shirt." Sometimes she's right. She told me I dress drab and boring with my darks and neutrals. I need more pink and sparkle in my life.

Yes, I look at this girl and wonder where she came from at times. In one way, the less she can be like me the better - I love her surprising individuality and enthusiasm for everything.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Sing it, Ella


Evry time
I see a puppy upon a summers day
A puppy dog at play
My heart is filled with envy
Thats because
My heart is yearning to pass the time away
Like that pup
cause Im all fed up
And tho its wrong to be
I long to be

I want to be lazy
I want to be out in the sun
With no work to be done
Under that awning
They call the sky
Stretching and yawning
And let the world go drifting by
I want to peep
Through the deep
Tangled wildwood
Counting sheep
til I sleep
Like a child would
With a great big valise full
Of books to read where its peaceful
While I'm
Killing time
Being lazy

Life is short
And getting shorter with each day that goes by
And how the time does fly
Before you know, its over
Thats why I'm
In such a hurry to pack my things and fly
To a spot
Where its nice and hot
And hear the birdies sing
While Im being

Argument for Single-Tasking

In short, I stand with those Zen masters who, when asked how they achieved enlightenment, answered, "When I walk, I just walk. When I eat, I just eat."

How much do we need to multitask? At work a few weeks ago, I found myself with 3 phones in front of me. It's become the sad norm in my office to think we can IM someone who is on a conf call. If I booked your time to be on a call, be on the call with me.

Sure it seems like we do get a lot more done, but that's because we're expected to do more.

We are losing our ability to silently focus on tasks. We're disrespecting others, as well as ourselves. My personality changes the minute I read work/project related emails on my phone. The stress creeps in and surges through my veins. And, it spews through my words to my loved ones.

Spring Resolution - Unplug more often. Pursue delayed gratification - should be more delectable.

Comedy of Life

4:13- Finished up a meeting. Commented "What a beautiful Friday afternoon! We're done. This is great. I have a dress rehearsal at 5:40 so I can leave early, pick up my daughter."

4:16 - Listened to voice mail and had urgent message from my client about an error. Checked my email and saw VP was copied on the note. Jumped into action to fix it, needed to get a hold of people in TX & OR to alerted them.

5:15 - Finally, I fired off final email explanation to my VP. Shut down everything and run to the car.

5:16 - Run back into the office to pick up directions to the rehearsal off the printer.

5:25 - Got my Starbucks coffee & kid's hot chocolate with whipped cream.

5:30 - Got my child. Was told "I'll never believe you again when you say you're going to pick me up early." (heart breaks)

5:50 - was lost going to the school and ended up high school, not junior high. Had to ask a kid for directions who ended it with the standard, "You can't miss it!" But we did.

6:09 - walked in late to the rehearsal and my daughter's class JUST finished their dance.. but I threw her on stage to stand with her group for rest of play.Got looks from another mom for being late. Coordinator ignored me. (Note to self: improve networking skills with other moms)

6:22 - checked emails on my phone and got a note from VP thanking me for my responsiveness Client says they will deal with this on Monday. (deep breathe out)

6:25 - someone handed me the final brochure I spent last few weeks designing, and the color looks amazing, print came out well, advertisers and parents will be happy.

7:30 - bought daughter a Happy Meal. Even she knew it was a bad thing and said she felt like having carrots at home.

8:30 - had a rum and Diet Coke with lime; friend came over with his daughters so girls were playing.

9:00 - gave my husband an earful when he questioned me when I refilled my glass.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Shakespeare Day (II)

I previously blogged about my favorite Shakespeare memory of April 23rd and about Romeo & Juliet.

So, today, I was browing through my Shakespeare app on my iPhone and decided to read "Romeo & Juliet" (It was a long meeting, I figured I'd have time).

Act II, Capulet's Orchard

But, soft! what light through yonder window breaks?
It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.
Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon,
Who is already sick and pale with grief,
That thou her maid art far more fair than she:
Be not her maid, since she is envious;
Her vestal livery is but sick and green
And none but fools do wear it; cast it off.
It is my lady, O, it is my love!
O, that she knew she were!
She speaks yet she says nothing: what of that?
Her eye discourses; I will answer it.
I am too bold, 'tis not to me she speaks:
Two of the fairest stars in all the heaven,
Having some business, do entreat her eyes
To twinkle in their spheres till they return.
What if her eyes were there, they in her head?
The brightness of her cheek would shame those stars,
As daylight doth a lamp; her eyes in heaven
Would through the airy region stream so bright
That birds would sing and think it were not night.
See, how she leans her cheek upon her hand!
O, that I were a glove upon that hand,
That I might touch that cheek!

The last line highlighted is one that I came across in Bartlett's Book of Quotations when I was in high school. It seemed so majestic and pure. I suppose at that age when all I could hope for was to secure a glance from a boy, it was thrilling. The proximity of a the glove on the hand that rests upon the cheek is enough.

The first highlighted phrase is something I noticed today and it grabbed me. Here we go again with Shakespeare. How often do we hear this verse, yet it creates a pause because there's something different.

To carry the moon image further, there's another reference to it.

Lady, by yonder blessed moon I swear
That tips with silver all these fruit-tree tops--

O, swear not by the moon, the inconstant moon,
That monthly changes in her circled orb,
Lest that thy love prove likewise variable

What shall I swear by?

Do not swear at all;
Or, if thou wilt, swear by thy gracious self,
Which is the god of my idolatry,
And I'll believe thee.

To tie the references together, if Juliet is the Sun, then Romeo is Apollo.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Suzuki Lessons in Parenting

I've blogged previously about Annika and her Suzuki violin lessons. She started in kindergarten and we're still going strong two years later. She would rather chat than practice. She frustrates me with her fidgeting during the lessons. Her teacher comments how she somehow moves from one spot to another.

Inspite of all the scolding, she does "get" it. She hears a song and knows where she needs to be. She has a strong musical ear, but needs the body to work with it. Like anything, you have to practice.

So we were alternating between new song and an old song. Watching her learn the new song is tough. So, when she pauses between notes, I tell her the next note.

She says, "Mommy, don't tell me." However, I know she doesn't know this part, so I tell her.

"No, don't tell me!" she says emphatically. She places her bow on the string and tries a few notes on her own. But it's not right. She pauses.

"Ok, what is it?"

I start to tell her and she says, "No, no! I know it now."

But she still doesn't. So I show her the book and point it out since what I say is not valid. She acknowledges it and picks up her violin to try again.

She asked me not to tell her the notes, but to wait til the end of the song. However, I reminded her I need to stop her in the middle because she'll forget by the end of the song where she was.

She finally agreed to pause after ever measure and I would say aye or nay to it.

It was a frustrating lesson. My patience was short and her will was strong. We needed to come to that happy middle ground, but it took time to get there. We had further struggles with lesson as she tried to negotiate with me how much to play.
During this battle, I started thinking about the role of parent in life. I want to correct her, help her play the right "notes." On the other hand, she needs to exercise her own independence. By trying to remember the notes on her own, she'll improve her own skills and memory. However, I need to be there to catch her when she needs it. So, I had to really hold myself back and let her do it her way.

This is just a glimpse of the future, isn't it?

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Streaming Podcasts

One of my new favorite apps on my iPhone is Stitcher. It's downloaded from and it streams podcasts from so many different sites and categories.

My favorites:
The Moth is a storytelling organization and their podcasts are all types of people telling their stories. They make me laugh and have even brought me to tears because they're so heartfelt and open. If this is just the podcast, I can only imagine how riveting it must be live.

This American Life is one of my favorite NPR shows. I need to tell Ira Glass a funny, yet insignificant incident from my childhood and have it set to music as a narrative. On my local channel, it's on 10pm on Wednesdays and 12 pm Sundays (or is it 1pm?). Needless to say, I usual miss it. But now.. (Drum roll flourish).. it's on my phone! So, it's great to listen to it whenever I want.

Recently there was a great episode "Scenes from a Recession," where they spoke to real people behind the headlines - housing foreclosures, shutting down a bank and retail stores closing. I saw this episode was referenced in Newsweek as a great way to break down the financial situation into comprehensible terms.

Then, there's Meitte's Bedtime Stories. For the first two stories, I didn't absorb anything about the stories - I just listened to her speak. She's got an extremely sexy, soothing voice that embraces you as she beckons you to sit next to her as she reads short stories. I'm at work, but I'm so ready to be tucked into bed. Some of the writers are well known, while other may be new, but deserve to be read (or at least voiced with a kittenish English accent.)

Since streaming audio was banned by my office firewall, I feel as if I have a new world has opened up to me. Having this on my phone is great because I listen to these stories while I'm shopping, working outside or driving. Definitely have a new freedom to enjoy these since I'm not tied to a PC.

Monday, March 09, 2009

When Harry Became Henry

Kenneth Branagh's "Henry V" was playing at the student center at the best possible time. It was junior year, and I had switched to English as my major. I was in the obligatory Shakespeare course, focused on the tragedies and historicals. We had just finished our exams for Henry IV and Henry V where we had to identify text and write about it. So, watching this movie - we laughed loudly at the witty wordplay we now understood and quoted St Cripin's Day speech and other key parts along with the actors.

I've read and seen a number of his Shakespearean plays, but I love "Henry V" for its diverse content. When it begins, King Henry is just young Prince Harry who hangs out at the pub with the rowdy bunch, not interested in being King. His father's not sure what to make of him. He's sent to lead the English army into France. At the Battle of Agincourt, the English army is depleted and weary. Henry makes the most invigorating inspirational speech to strengthen the men's spirits. There's another act written in French between Katherine and her maid, who tries to teach her English. The final act is the most romantic scene ever as Henry woos her in clumsy French and English.

We watched this movie bring the war alive. This was 1989, and we hadn't really seen any actual blood and guts scenes on film like this before. Now we have "Braveheart", "Saving Private Ryan," and "Lord of the Rings" for comparison for battle scenes, and the slurpy sound of a sword plunging into a gut has become de rigeur for war films.

There are two absolutely memorable scene for me. The first is the St Crispin's Day speech. My God, a King comes down to his men right before a battle, and says that he who stands beside me will be my brother. Do you realize how huge that is? He says that we're all going to be legends, and and people will remember everyone's name. He refers to himself as "Harry the King," as if that's just a job to him. He reminds them of the importance of their mission and the value of their lives. He gives them hope that they will survive and grow to be old and talk about this day. (Do our leaders today do that?)

Branagh channels a truel leader as King Harry addressing his weak army; the way the music swells gives me chills to this day. Here's a site to watch the speech and read the full speech .

The second scene I love is the final scene between Katherine and Henry (Link1, Link2). He starts off being humble "Fair Katharine, and most fair, Will you vouchsafe to teach a soldier terms Such as will enter at a lady's ear And plead his love-suit to her gentle heart?" Then he starts referring to her as Kate, releasing any formality. He acknowledges the language barrier with his broken French.

I love his argument when she says no to his request for a kiss because it is not proper for a French lady. He reminds her "Dear Kate, you and I cannot be confined within the weak list of a country's fashion: we are the makers of manners, Kate." Had I dated royalty in college, would he have used this line?

This movie is sweaty, grimey, romantic, alive and explosive. And, it's Shakespeare on top of that!

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Walking in Memphis

Last week I went to Memphis, TN for work. After a couple of days of meetings and conference calls, we did have the schedule open up in the afternoon. So we ran downtown. We have to see the mighty Mississippi!
First of all, I'm fascinated by the southern culture. I've been working with people from various parts of the country lately, and more are from the South. I find the South exotic. Waiters call me "sweetheart" when they refill my glass. An application developer replies to a client's questions with "Yes, Ma'am" and "No, Sir." Baked beans and overcooked greens are side dishes. And, if something can be fried, it will be. Cows are sacred in India. Pigs are sacred in the South, but for different reasons. Their cute faces adorn many barbecue joints. The tighter and greasier the dive, the better the ribs (or so I've been told).
We had lunch at Morgan Freeman's restaurant and blues club, Ground Zero. I saw fried green tomatoes on the menu and I knew we had to go. I've never eaten anything like this before - crispy cornmeal rounds and the tomatoes just melt when you bite into them! They had "Mississippi Cavier," which was a salsa of black eyed peas.
We made our way to the Peabody Hotel. Yes, we saw the famous Peabody ducks floating in the fountain. The hotel itself was exquisite. In the days of cookie-cutter Marriots and Hiltons, it was refreshing to step into a building of classic architecture and luxury. However, let me warn you about the gift shops. What started as a simple hotel attraction with some stray ducks in the fountain has bloomed into a thriving business. Any item with a duck on it is sold in the hotel. For example, beautiful hand blown wine glasses with a colorful mallard on the stem retails for $90. So tempting, but not this time.
We stopped by the Cotton Museum and the curator had lots of stories to share about local culture and events; they filmed "The Firm" in this building. After realizing we weren't going to take the short tour of the museum, he suggested we hop on the Riverfront trolley and take a ride through Memphis.
Overall, we have a mixed impression of Memphis. FedEx seems to own the city with the huge convention center, airport, and highways. University of Memphis Pyramid Arena in the middle of the city certainly does make you say, "Hmm.." The city is certainly coming up with all the hotels being built as well as the gorgeous homes along the riverfront. The trolley took us past the National Civil Rights Museum, which was built on the site of Martin Luther King's assassination.
We crossed the river into Arkansas, just so we could say we did. We took the first exit and came back to Memphis.
We wanted to go to Graceland, but we didn't have time. Later, I learned my father felt very strongly about Graceland, and thought every American should see it because of the historical nature of it. My father also happened to witness the Peabody Ducks march.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Catching up on Movies

I've been delinquent in keeping up with my blog, so I appreciate my readers sticking with me.
What an intriguing and captivating movie. A few minutes into the movie, you forget that it's in French, you forget it's black and white, you've forgotten it's animated. All you know is Marjane and her world. It's so beautifully made and depicts the situation in Iran in 1980's so well - you feel as jolted as Marjane and her family when their lives changed.. slowly and purposefully. I was drawn to Marjane as we were similar ages, but then we were drawn to the parents who had to let go of their daughter so she may grow.

I was first apprehensive this was going to be dark and gloomy, and possibly graphic. It reveals just enough. This movie deserved all the awards and recognition it's received.
Two Days in Paris
Julie Delpy is such a force. She wrote, directed, produced and even sang on the closing credits. I loved her in "Before Sunrise" and "Before Sunset" with Ethan Hawke. Those movies did so well because the dialogue had a natural rhythm. She and Ethan Hawke both received credits as writers for the movie since they've definitely improvised or had input into their conversations.

This movie isn't a typical travelogue about two days in Paris. This movie is a complex dive into so much more. Adam Goldberg plays Jack, the American boyfriend who doesn't speak French. Julie is Marion who is fairly unstable - discussions she has with people tend to be bizarre and explosive. There's another great scene where her mother calls firemen, and Marion ends up flirting with them. Jack walks through Paris with the grace of a scruffy German Shepard among dancing spaniels who know all the steps. As if the situation with Marion didn't frustrate him enough, he gets kicked around Paris like a football. As a director, Julie tapped into the frustration one feels when thrown into another culture.

There's snappy and witty dialogue, snapshot of Parisian life and attitudes, cultural clashes as well as the clashes between men and women. This is like a French Woody Allen movie, with Paris taking the central stage where Woody had NYC.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

8th Birthday Party Ideas

I'm recovering from Annika's 8th birthday party. It went really well and she said the whole day was perfect. For reference, I thought last year's party went well but she still talked about her disappointments from it (i.e., she got way too many Hannah Montana gifts and this girl N really stole the attention during the party from her - kids followed N's lead).This time, she got to be front and center, and the loudest and the most wired. (N was not here, whew!)

But, here's what we did and what worked.

Theme: Afternoon sleepover.
Guests were instructed to wear their PJ's, bring sleeping bag and stuffed animal. Annika wore a red & gold chinese silk outfit - perfect for the occasion (red and glam!). Had extra sleeping bags out just in case someone didn't have one, which happened. We had Miley Cyrus CD playing in the background. ("it's a girls night, it's alright..")

Food: popcorn, chips, cookies, pizza, cupcake tree (instead of one cake), ice cream sundaes in waffle cups. Cranberry gingerale was a hit as was the hot chocolate & apple juice. I kept a pitcher of it and the girls curled up in front of the fireplace (i.e., electric heater) and they still wanted hot chocolate with ice cream.

This is the Generation A (A for Allergy). We made everything totally peanut/nut free, chocolate is optional and alternatives for dairy (no ice cream, but fruit popsicles). Annika has peanut allergy and she wanted to make sure that everyone was treated equally, not segregated as she has been in the past.

Games: Stuffed animal search (all the animals in a pile, few more thrown in for confusion and girls were blindfolded and had to find), sleeping bag relay, story time (tucked in sleeping bags, one girl starts a story and the next one adds to it around the room. It was nice because it gave the quiet girls a chance to speak up), stuffed animal toss (if you get it in, you move on to next level)

Decorate pillowcases - I got cases from Ross, fabric markers from Michael's. I got Fabric crayons to do iron ons, but that didn't work out so well - you have to press really hard and if you write words, you have to write them backwards! Tricky for 2nd graders!

Dress Stuffed Animals - I got these cute animals from Michael's, got baby socks, hair accessories and bear dresses from dollar store, and made some tutus at home with chiffon. Also gave them ribbons. I got these animals for them instead of a "goodie" bag filled with cheap toys. I did fill little Valentine boxes with M&M's

High School Musical II : we set the big screen projector and girls had pizza, cake, ice cream while singing along to "Fabulous"

My friend's 13 yr old daughter helped me a lot with coordinating the games, serving the food, and overall noise control. You cannot do a party like this singlehandedly. Daddy was sent on a mission to get pizza for the kids & Starbucks for Mommy.

By the way, the first 10-15 minutes, the girls literally ran around in circles screaming. They would scream for no reason - just make high pitched squeals.

Annika loved all her gifts and there was a nice variety.

Mommy had 2 glasses of Italian red wine and pizza and went to bed at 9:30.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Inspirations for Work

My horoscope said the other day that for the last few months I've been throwing myself into my work and performing feats no other "ordinary" person could do. I totally believe that. I haven't thrown myself willingly. I've had a few inspirational quotes in the back of my mind, which have motivated and helped me stay focused through two major projects.

"How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time."

These projects were enormous and at times, overwhelming. Thinking about the tasks was paralyzing. However, the only way we could get through it was one step at time. It's easier to look at what is on the plate and needs to be done immediately.

"Experience is what you get when you don't get what you want."
This is a quote by Randy Pausch that really sunk in towards the end. There was a problem that caused me to work late on New Year's Eve and even pop in on New Year's Day to resolve it. Definitely not what I wanted. However, when we were at a critical point, and I had colleagues and clients waiting for my results, I knew exactly what I needed to do - I had the experience!

"No one trips over mountains. It's the pebbles in our way. Remove the pebbles, you can climb the mountain."
There are lots of problems and set backs that occur along the way. One can't turn around or give up because there are too many pebbles in the path. This is a bit like the first one mantra, where you have to take it one step at a time. Also, it's important not to focus on the pebbles - they are pebbles after all.

"Winners do what losers don't want to."
I have had this one taped to my monitor for a number of years. It really sinks in for me. Nobody wants to do anything. Everyone would rather sit and chill out and watch YouTube all day. But, the difference is that winners know they have to move whether they want to or not.