Monday, December 26, 2005

New Year's Revolution - 2005

Everyone has their Year in Review so here is mine:

Big Events
- Summer visit from my mother-in-law and aunt-in-law. Lots of fun, laughter and tears, unfortunately.
- Annika switching preschools and learning to make "new best friends"
- Annika's first ballet recital on June 6, 2005
- My sister moving to Florida to join her new husband in Jan.
- Using "the girls' dance practice" as an excuse to hang out with our new local friends every Friday
- Celebrations at new temple and developing a sense of community for the first time.
- Thanksgiving in Florida
- Christmas in New Jersey
- Basement Remodelling 10/2005 - ???

- Florida: Boca Raton, Miami & Ft Lauderdale with my sister and brother-in-law
- Boston: visiting and reuniting with old family friends
- Atlantic City: Just chilling

- Ira K.
- Shukan J.
- Zubair H.
- Siddharth P.
- Saira O.
- Andrew E.

- Peter Jennings: my first crush - charm, intelligence, an accent (what more could a 12 yr old want)
- Amrish Puri : notable and respected Indian actor
- Ishmail Merchant : where would Helena Bonham Carter be without this man? Truly brilliant and insightful filmmaker.
- Prince Rainier of Monaco : The prince who married a Philly girl.

Creative Acheivements
My blog!!
Connecting with old friends and making new ones! Thanks for checking my site out. I really appreciate it. (I find it incredibly fascinating to find out who is not reading my site, rather than who is.)

Auld Lang Whine
Every new year's eve, I always get a little misty. Not for the year that's gone by, but for what lies ahead. We all come together to start the year on a good note (umm..a hangover is a good note?)

I always find it incredibly exciting to think of all the possibilities that lie ahead (hence the emotion).

Lessons Learned
This year has been very trying for my family, but I think we will all grow stronger, smarter and more aware in 2006. I think one lesson has been not to take relationships with friends and family for granted. There were a lot of emotions stirred. The cream rose to the top, and others showed true colors and went under. All the better.

And, for the pessimists out there - when life hands you lemon, ask for the tequila and salt.

Happy Holidays

Wishing everyone a special holiday season - whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or the Winter Solstice this month.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

On the Job Training-Motherhood 9 - Santa, Inc.

Santa, Inc.

It's that time of year - Merry Christmas! Happy Holidays!

~My Story of Mall Santas~
I remember being 8 months pregnant at the mall during Christmas and looking at the families lined up to see Santa. I was touched -- Oh my God, next year at this time, I will have my own child to take to the mall at Christmas time. I felt warm and tingly with the Christmas spirit.

I walked around the mall and saw cranky kids in strollers, shoes flying, mothers exhausted. And, I thought - oh my God, next year at this time, I will have my own child to take to the mall at Christmas time!! OK, now I'm scared.

The first year I took her to see Santa, she cried. The Santa was very amiable, and he asked me to sit with her, so we have a nice picture of the three of us. Yeah.

Fortunately, since then, it's been great. She enjoys talking to Santa, like last year at 3:
"Where's Rudolph?" she asked.

"He's on the roof. You can hear them."


He handed her a storybook on the way out. And, she always referred to it as the book Santa gave her.

This year, someone asked her if she wrote her letter to Santa with the toys she wants. "No. I'll tell him when I see him at the mall." she said matter-of-factly.

On a side note, the Santa at our mall has always been very authentic looking. Nice face and real beard. It's been the same fellow too, so it actually nails the image of Santa - kids recognize faces and aren't necessarily fooled by the white beard.

~Waiting for Claus~
That day, she got dressed up and we went to the mall. My husband and his brother said they were going to save our spot in line while we returned something. When we came to the center, they were not there - and Santa was on break. So, we just stood in the end of the line around 5:45 pm.

In line was a mother having a breakdown while scolding her son. The boy was holding her ankles while she tried to walk away (as a punishment for misbehaving) and she just put her face in her hands. We all looked sympathetically her way. In another 10 minutes he was quietly in line holding her.

Behind me was a baby who was attracted to my head and the father would apologize. In front were picture perfect two little girls. Mine was waiting quietly as well. I asked her what she's going to ask for, and she smiled and said "It's a secret!"

The line had snaked out of the designated North Pole area and into the main throughway of the mall. People excused themselves to break the line to pass. Countless number of times I had to skirt out of the way and pull my daughter aside. It was one thing to move for teen girls, families with strollers and the general shopping public, but I had to laugh when a few mall employees were pushing dump-carts. Of course, come on through!

When people saw the line, the most common comment I heard was "Thank God those days are over for us!" Yes, that's very nice of you to mention that.

A boy came running, "Santa's back!". It was about 6pm. Now, we just had to wait for the line to move.

Then my husband waved to me -- he had secured a spot up front! Apparently, he had recognized someone in line earlier and asked him to hold our spot while he disappeared for coffee. How did I know?

Regardless, we jumped forward and got in line. This strategic move must have cut a good half hour out. We had our digital camera ready, and started fussing with A's hair.

As we approached the entrance, a cheery staff person said we had to buy a photo package, the lowest being $19.99. We were stunned. Does everyone waiting in line know this? She said signs are posted up front. However, how fair is this to people at the end of the line who are waiting and do not know?

We pointed out that we took pictures in the past without being obligated to buy. She duly pointed out that they were a new company managing the Santa visit.

This bothered me so much - trying to make money off a targetted and captured audience. This is like Disney selling the $8 popcorn tubs at the ice shows. Parents of kids are vulnerable lot - willing to cede to anything to avoid a public tantrum or social pressures.

~The Visit~
Annika climbed into Santa's lap for the picture. Given this is a new Santa company, I was surprised the kids didn't get a small takeaway - i.e., story book, coloring book, etc.

After he took her down, we took her hand toward us, but she ran back to talk. He leaned forward and put his hand on the small of her back, while she said something to him. I let it be a private conversation as she had wanted. Santa nodded and said something to her.

She came forward, bursting with giggles. I asked her what did you ask him.

"For a Barbie doll!" More specifically, her obsession is with the "Princess Annika" doll from "Barbie and the Magic of Pegasus" movie.

~Fa La La La La~
I suppose I have only 2-3 more years of this and I can just shush after that about the lines, the commercialism and general head ache of mall santa visits.

I having a feeling I'll be in the minority of parents who sigh wistfully, "Those days are over for us."

Monday, December 12, 2005

Movie Reviews: Kids Who Do Magic - Part 2.

Born into Brothels

I had heard Zana Briski interview on Fresh Air (NPR) a year or so ago. We watched her win an Oscar for this documentary. Everyone on SAWNET (South Asian Women’s Network) has been talking about it. So, we rented it.

The DVD sat on the corner of our TV table for a few days because I was afraid to watch it. I need to be emotionally ready to watch a movie about the poor children in Calcutta. Naturally, it will be depressing.

Instead I was amazed and touched by this film. Basically, Zana is an American who lives in a red light district of Calcutta. She gives cameras to the children of the neighborhood and teaches them about photography. What these children see through the lens has not been seen before. Normally, people shy away from photographs – illegal prostitution and drugs/alcohol sales are livelihoods for them. The children are able to freely enter this world and capture it on film.

The documentary focuses on each of the eight children. They talk freely as children do, though at times their faces show more than their words do.

One child, Avijit, was a truly gifted artist. His paintings had exquisite use of light, shadow and details. His photographs were unique and his observations were acute. At a gallery exhibit, a reporter asked “Avijit, what would you like to be when you grow up?” He paused and said “A photographer”.

That pause indicated to me that Avijit was never asked that question before. He never had an option. How could you be allowed to dream when your mother was gone, father was stoned daily and your elderly grandmother sold alcohol at home for income? Life was taken one day at a time. Tomorrow will be just as hard as today.

However, were it not for Zana, Avijit’s talent and energy would have become a “raisin in the sun.” He was on the verge of becoming angry and such frustrated intensity would only go wrong.

She helped him into a good school. And, in the follow up section, Avijit commented that going to New York is just a hollow dream. Yet, Avijit was now studying at a prestigious school in the US.

What I loved foremost about this movie is that the street children became alive. Children are the same everywhere. Watching these children run onto a beach reminded me of my daughter on the beach – running towards the waves with giggles and trepidation. On a bus ride, the children sing and dance to popular Hindi songs.

The heartbreaking component is that we spend our energies protecting our child’s innocence and building her self-esteem. These children are not given that privilege; they are cursed and berated by adults and live in a world of negative energy. All the wonderful optimism children have is stolen from them. The adults in their lives treat them this way because that is how they were treated. The biggest dream one mother had for her daughter was to become a prostitute in Mumbai rather than Calcutta. This is their circle of life.

Zana did more than give these children cameras. She gave them life. She gave them hope.

She sought boarding schools for the children in her group (they needed to be removed from that environment). She lost two of her students to prostitution; the families see the children as another source of income in the house. She desperately fought for these children – negotiating and arguing with authorities to arrange paperwork, HIV tests, and interviews.

On the DVD, there is a special feature called “Reconnecting” where Zana visits the children three years later. From 10 year olds, they have become pre-teens. One girl cried holding onto Zana. Words couldn’t express to Zana how grateful she was for what she gave her.

She took their photographs to New York. Arranged gallery exhibits in Calcutta. Eventually had their photographs and stories published into a book. “Kids with Cameras” has become a full mission and Zana has received funding to build a school and grounds for the children.

Image hosted by

Movie Reviews: Kids Who Do Magic - Part 1.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

This is the fourth movie based on the 7-part series of Harry Potter books. I had enjoyed this book – found it gripping and exciting. I remember reading the graveyard scene with Voldemort and blowing up when my husband interrupted me at an intense moment. It was a long book, but Rowling did an amazing job.

The movie was long, but it had to be to do justice to the book. It’s a darker story this time – I think maybe that’s why I did not like Book 5. This book still had a gleam of light.
I felt as if much was lacking from the movie that was in the book. Hagrid and Olympe were half-giants, and the history of giants. There was more about Victor Krum and Hermione; I even felt as if a scene was abruptly cut from the movie. I believe this was the book that Hermione had taken up rights and freedom for the elves. There was some more involvement with Malfoy and his elf.

However, I can respect that from the filmmaker’s point of view. Those side tales did not move the story as much and they have to build a core story from the side ones. I think that’s brilliant on Rowling’s part.

Definitely was a fun movie, but darker.

Harry Potter Mania and My Philosophy

Harry Potter, Harry Potter. What is all this hype about? At the bookstore, I picked up the “Sorcerer’s Stone” and read the first few pages. I was hooked. By that time, three books had already been out and people were talking about them. It caught my attention when religious fundamentalists were boycotting the book for its “paganism” and “witchcraft.” Hmm. Same people probably don’t have a problem with “Wizard of Oz” though.

Anyway, I quickly finished “Chamber of Secrets” and “Prisoner of Azkaban.”

My philosophy is that one should not be desperate for a new book. I do not want to fall into the anxiety-ridden desperation that HP fans feel when Rowling releases a new book. I do not want to tackle 4th graders at Barnes and Noble at midnight. I do not want to stand in line with 45-year-old wearing purple witch or sorcerer hats.

I like having the cushion of one book ahead of me. So, when Rowling released Book 5, then I could read Book 4. When Book 6 was coming, I read 5. It’s nice this way. I can easily find the book in paperback, in the library or borrow from someone. The book is not going anywhere. It’s forever, isn’t it?

Friends and colleagues get grumpy with me, since they like ordering the books in advance and reading it over the first weekend. Since I haven’t read that book yet, they have to hold back discussions or wait until I leave the room.

Anyway, now that Rowling is working on Book 7, I think I might start reading Book 6 soon. Or, maybe I’ll wait.

By the way, I don’t think I have a favorite book in the series, but I was disappointed in the fifth book, “The Order of Phoenix.” Thought there was a lot going on, but not sure how substantial it was. I guess that's the problem with being in the middle of a series.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Movie Reviews: Movies Based on Books


Image hosted by

Stay away from this if you can. It is absolutely horrible and Spielberg should be ashamed of such a lame movie. I always liked Spielberg movies, especially since he defined the alien genre with "Close Encounters" and "ET". This movie is definitely a thriller/disaster movie. Not one to provoke you into questioning alien life forms, just know this ain't gonna happen.

With WotW, it builds up, builds up, and then fizzles out.

The problem with this was there was no hope at the end..Just flat.

Compare it to other movies with DoomsDay themes.
"Independence Day' gave you Will Smith who was gonna kick alien butt..

"Day After Tomorrow" had the climate shift disaster, but at the end, there was hope at that the snow would melt and life would rebuild. This was also the case with "Deep Impact", the meteorite movie with Tea Leone and Morgan Freeman.

Let's forget the disaster movie comparisons, and go back to aliens. It was similar to "Signs" in the way the whole world is affected by the aliens - it's not just an American thing, but hitting everyone. Makes the whole planet feel small and vulnerable. However, "Signs" was eerie. (I admit that I was afraid to walk around my house after dark for 3 days after seeing that movie, since I felt I was being watched. Having my baby monitor cross signals with our Chinese neighbors' monitor was also nerve-wracking!)

Anyway, when Spielberg's aliens scoped out the house and the folks cowered underneath, it reminded me of 'Jurassic Park' with the dinosaurs in the kitchen.

Tom Cruise. No comment. (The best acting he's done to date has been on the Oprah show jumping about Katie.)


Image hosted by

If you have no experience with Roald Dal's book or the other movie with Gene Wilder, then this will seem like a weird and psychedelic movie without substance.

I read the book a few times when I was 10 or something, and really liked it. I was frustrated that the movie was different than the book and things were missing. I always remembered how the grandparents all slept in bed together and Violet Beauregarde would stick gum behind her ear to save it.

To be honest, the Gene Wilder "Willy Wonka" movie had scared me when I was young. The Oompa-loompahs were freaky with their brown faces and green hair.. then kids were disappearing into tubes and tunnels. This was just not a comforting movie.

Now we have our man Johnny Depp, and I think he is a brillant actor. The fact that he played JM Barrie in "Finding Neverland" and Captain Jack Sparrow in "Pirates of the Carribbean" and is now playing this Michael Jackson-like character proves how talented and diverse he is (compared to a bland actor like Tom Cruise).

Thanks to computer imaging advances, the Oompa-loompahs have been whittled down to one man, Deep Roy. I liked his attitude and diversity too. The child actors are really good as well. I was surprised that the new Veruca Salt looks a lot like the old one. And, I love Freddie Highmore who plays Charlie; he was Peter in 'Finding Neverland'. How does a little kid like that get to be in 2 movies with Johnny Depp?

It's been a long time so I don't remember the "weirdness" of the character of Willy Wonka from the book, though it makes sense in the movie. After all, Wonka must be dysfunctional to isolate himself in a candy factory.

Anyway, this movie is rated PG - so I am right that it might be too eerie for little ones. However, they did stick with the heart of the book.
I read a review of the movie, which stated this movie was like good chocolate - sweet, but a little bitter.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

On the Job Training: Motherhood - 8
Changes to Protect the Innocence

I once heard someone say that children are born with all the goodness and purity that exists in the world. It's the adults who spill this goodness from them.

So how far do we go to protect the wonderful essence of childhood?

I know I'm always on the edge of my seat if I flip TV channels while my daughter is present in the room. We were shocked at the kissing scenes in Disney's "Pocahantas" & "Aladdin." We're used to the discretion of Hindi movies, where lovers duck kisses and hide behind umbrellas, trees, etc. She glimpsed the Madonna & Britney moment on MTV while I was flipping and she questioned it. I glossed over it and quickly put on the Food Channel.

I guess I don't want to answer questions just yet. I will eventually. I have no problem. But not now.

We were in a car where the local morning shock-jocks were doing their thing on the radio. Yes the FCC has a control over the language, but not the content. I asked for the station to be changed. While she may not understand the slang and double entrendres, I don't want questions. Not just yet.

By the way, I found it interesting that the DJ said his 12-year-old son is not allowed to listen to his show. However, the radio station made a CD and the son's friends got a hold of it and the son was subjected to humiliating teases about his parents. The DJ was not happy about this and had to have a good talk with his son about this.

Not only am I protective about her mind, I'm also protective about her body. My first experience with her was that breastmilk was the only thing she could consume and from that point on, it's been a challenge for me to let go. Yes, yes, I let her have her Halloween Laffy-Taffy (a pinkish chewy concoction of sugar, corn syrup and whatever) - so I'm not that rigid.

However, I read that baby teeth do not have the protective coating that adult teeth do. Therefore, consuming sodas is detrimental to their teeth. I then decided she would not have Coke until she is 6 years old. Really, she has her whole life to drink Coke if she wants to do so. There was a period where I drank a can of Diet Coke every day (then I went cold turkey on carbonated drinks and found myself feeling so much better!). Anyway, she has never had soda of any type.. and she even says "Soda is not for kids."


We went to Boston over the summer and it was at least 100 degrees that day. The only drink available was Sprite. I asked her to drink some - get hydrated at least. She took a sip and said it "bit my tongue" and refused to drink anything. I begged her and she said no. Then we finally got her apple juice and water.

~More Sugar~

My other policy is no gum. She's only 4 and really too little to handle it. Therefore, gum has become THE forbidden fruit. At the dentist, she requests bubble gum flavored toothpastes/fluoride. She questions me every time I chew a Trident or Dentyne.


Last week we flew to FL on vacation. On the descent, she said her ears hurt. We told her to yawn or hold her breath to pop her ears. But, she couldn't. So, I gave her a piece of gum and her eyes lit up! She loved it and chewed happily. She also relinquished it later.

The next day, she came to me in the kitchen and said "My ears are hurting me." I knew exactly what she was up to. I told her gum is only for the plane.

So, she danced around looking forward to the plane ride home so she could have gum. She told her aunt before bed, "We're going on a plane tomorrow. I can have bubble gum!" and raised her arms in victory.

As soon as we sat down, before the plane even moved, she said her ears hurt. I told her on the way down it'll hurt. So she went back to looking out the window. She fell asleep before and during the landing. I woke her up when the plane stopped moving. She looked out the window and realized we landed. "My ears are hurting me" she wailed. I laughed and gave her a piece since I promised her.

She had the BIGGEST smile.. my God, I don't ever recall such a look on her face - big smile, mouth chewing and eyes lit up. In the car, she kept chewing the gum and FINALLY gave it up later. I thought she was going to turn into Violet Beauregarde from "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" as the gum chewing champion.

Anyway, I still believe we should protect for as long as we possibly. However, it's all about being flexible, isn't it?