Monday, December 31, 2007

Adventures in India 3 - The City That Never Sleeps (and Doesn't Let Me Either!)

Mumbai is definitely an city of contradictions. Suketu Mehta was right to dub it the Maximum City. Everything is maximized - the wealth, the poverty, the newness, the ancient, the noise and pollution.

Beggars sit on the pavement outside the secure gates of the palatial JW Marriott hotel. I have moments of disorientation as I am in a clean, air-conditioned store buying candles and artwork, and then jolted back to reality as I step outside to the filth and noise that makes Mumbai.

Annika is a bit overwhelmed by the city. We went to Gateway of India and first stopped at the Taj Hotel. Then, we left and walked around Colaba and shopped at the street vendors. We snatched up some good deals right there, but beggar children target the tourists. We had to scold our kids to stay close and not to wander off in a crowd. We all had to dodge traffic and crazy drivers.

We returned to Taj to use the restrooms. Annika commented, "We started here. We went to the other world and now we're back here." It is a different world.

Annika and I found some comfort food - Mumbai McDonald's. I had a paneer salsa wrap, which was great and she had Chicken Maharaja, which had chutney and onions. That did not fly with chicken nugget girl. I munched on a french fry and sipped my Diet Coke, as a Billy Joel song played in the background. I needed to recharge.

The other day she lost it after a long car ride in the city and we've decided to limit her excursions. She'll be spending more time with family instead.

I'm not a city girl. I've worked in New York, but always slept in New Jersey. These days, it's quite cool here in the evenings (60-70 degrees?). So, I find the fan unnecessary and we get quite cold.

I open the windows and there are trucks backing up, car alarms going off, people talking and shouting, horns honking. I just don't get it -- where is everyone going all the time?

There are a few hours of silence - my guess is between 3 and 5 am. Then, at 5:30 or so, the birds wake up. My daughter was amazed the first time she heard the koyil and it's unique birdcall so early. In addition, there are crows and pigeons fluttering about the windows - perching for a moment inside the windowsills. Then, there's a distant sing-song call of the roaming vendor announcing his vegetables for the day. These are the sounds that make the city and India so unique.

In the morning, there's also a burning sensation in my eyes from wood fire stoves outside. Another reason to keep the windows closed.

Today is New Year's and there are crowds making a pilgrimage to the SiddhiVinayak Temple. It is said one should walk barefoot from home to the temple.

Annika and I will be leaving for short visit to Gujarat to take a much needed break from the city.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Adventures in India 2 - Servants

Just about every family has a servant at some level. A person comes to cook, clean, wash or anything. This is common in a lot of developing countries, since it provides jobs to the lower classes. Behind every worker is a family that is supported by this income. It's not deemed a "luxury" as it is in the US, but a necessity, part of the economic structure.

Then, there's the American in me. When I was 11 and had visited India, I was amazed at this. I had lost my socks and was looking all over the room for it. The servant saw me looking and he started to help. He got down to look under the bed for me. I was surprised because in my eyes, here's a grown man helping me look for something I should be responsible for. In the US, you can't find your sock, you're out of luck.

I hear a lot of my Indian friends now talk about the maids and the help you get in the house. Again, as an American, I'm used to loading my own laundry, sweeping, cleaning.. heck, we finished our own basement from spackling to painting. So, I always felt people who talked about the servants in India were too elitist for me and not practical enough. You're in the US, you do have to work hard. Get over it.

Now, I've been here 2 days and I'm thinking of moving just because of the availability of help. My first surprise was when the kids went to play in the backyard and the nanny would be with them and I didn't have to go. I could, in fact, enjoy lunch with the other adults. The nanny (Nandini) looks about 16 years old and she speaks Marathi with a little English. She gets some downtime, but helps with the light housework (washing dishes, making tea). I was surprised when I made some rice for Annika that I just prepared it and then Nandini watched the stove, while I played with the kids.

Women can cook like Martha Stewart (er..Madhu Jaffrey) because someone else chops and preps. I know some friends at home who have complained because their MILs cook as if they were still in India -- expecting someone else to clean and prep.

I suppose since my harrowing adventures from last week, I realize how much time housework was taking away from other things I could be doing. Weekdays are stressful when I come home because Annika wants me to spend time with her. However, I need to cook dinner. So, she always complains when I cook and I compromise by chopping vegetables while reading to her. If food was ready when I got home, then I could focus on her directly.

Yesterday the dhobi was at the door and I gave clothes that were crushed in the suitcases (for my American readers: the dhobi washes/irons your clothes and delivers. Most people do not even have irons in their homes because the cost is nominal). My sister-in-law asked me to put all my clothes to wash by the washing machine and Nandini would wash and fold them.

Flashback to US: I separate whites and darks, load in the morning, toss in the dryer before I leave for work, and fold as I watch TV at night, then nag my husband to carry the basket upstairs for me so I can put them in drawers. For dry cleaning, we discuss whether we should drive extra ten minutes to the $1.50 cleaner or go next door to the $2.00+ and then try to remember who has the receipt and when to pick up.

I know friends of ours have a cleaning service that comes every two weeks but we've always prided ourselves on our spic-and-span house, done the way we prefer it done. For us, housekeeping is a work in progress and it can't be held until one day a week. We're always washing, sweeping, cleaning. We yell to our guests "We'll be right with you!" as we quickly put away leftovers and load dishwashers.

I suppose this what travelling and living outside of your own comfort-zone does. It makes you challenge and rethink your own judgments about other lives.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Adventures in India 1

“We are in India. Wow!” she said beaming. Her eyes are sparkling and her smile is alike a half moon. She said this at the end of her first day here.

I can’t tell you how excited I am for my daughter to wake up to India. She’s a pampered princess from the suburbs. She has a bottle of hand sanitizer in her desk at school. She’s been strapped into a carseat and driven around from birth. We have a private home that offers us seclusion and tranquility.

Her first words were “It’s hot.” Yes, that’s the standard reaction when you land in Mumbai. My first thoughts were “There’s that India smell.” It’s a mix of musty and spicy. The air feels as old as India.

Annika sat at the window seat all morning watching the activity outside of the Mumbai apartment building.
“I saw a man riding a motorcycle without a helmet!”
“I saw a green bird and blue bird and white bird and black bird.”

One of my friends would always tell the kids, “If you don’t eat your food, the crow is going to come and eat it.” This is one of those sayings that Indian mothers say and one just spews it automatically. I told her that our American kids don’t even know what a crow is. Now, I was excited to show her a black crow was sitting on the grate outside of the kitchen window. Annika stood at a window pretending to be Princess from “Enchanted” and sang to beckon the birds to her! She announced she had magic powers because she yelled “Ikday-ye kabutar!” and the pigeon appeared. (Side note: her Marathi skills do not really go beyond this. I’m sure she’ll pick up more with her cousin. However, she’s speaking English with an Indian accent to him – a skill unique to ABD’s)

She’s yelling outside the window with her little cousin. I love it. Yell. Be noisy. There’s a sense of freedom and casualness in India that does not exist in the prisitine air of the US.

I’ve also indulged her outside of my best interests. She and I sat in the front seat together, strapped into the seatbelt. I don’t care that carseats are not required, one has to be buckled. We’re not pulling a Britney here with driving with the kid in the lap. But, I figured she should sit shotgun once.

She’s delighted to see her cousin, uncles and aunt, and not to mention grandparents. We’ve got boiled water bottled, and controlling her food intake. Her pediatrician (who is Indian) had given her a mantra: Cook it, Peel it, Boil it, Forget it! He was specific about the ice cream and lassis. Other friends had warned me about juices, which may have impure water mixed into it.

It’s hard to deny her ice cream and cold dairy treats. And, her grandfather is bringing home lots of fresh snacks – methi dhokla, saffron jelebi fried in ghee and golf-ball sized modak. So, while he means well and gives with passion, we must refuse and look for alternatives for Annika, such as the fresh steamed idlis.

Speaking of food, she was confused with breakfast. She was offered milk and plain tea biscuits. “Why am I getting snacks for breakfast?” Then, we had bata-poha (potatoes cooked with rice flakes and spices). She looked a bit confused. “Is this lunch or breakfast?” She’s used to milk and muffins.

Another unusual aspect of Indian lifestyle for Annika is the bedtime. She’s always slept at 8-9 pm. Actually, she’s had to stay on a schedule to get adequate sleep; if she went to bed late, she would be overstimulated, cranky and wake up every few hours. Until she was four, she couldn’t sleep late. Anyway, this is unheard of in India where toddlers are wide-awake and partying at 11 p.m. Folks are eating dinner at 10 p.m. So, obviously, Annika’s loving staying past her bedtime. We’re on vacation and schedules are out the window!

Here’s two more funny observations from Annika. She told me she saw a girl about her age with a nose ring! She was amazed. Up until now, she’s only seen the teen and coed childcare attendants and dance teachers with facial piercings. I could see she was excited. I remember when I was 11, my grandfather suggested I have my nose-pierced and I was horrified! No way could I return to school with a freaking nose ring. My mom has a nosering and I've seen the questioning she's received; she's proud of it and doesn't care. Now, my little girl is sitting here contemplating how old she needs to be to have it done.

Then, when we were in the car, she noticed another girl in an adjacent car who sitting in the front seat. “There’s another little girl there. She’s looking at me.” Yep, get used to it. People keep staring at you for no reason. I don’t get that. Actually, I noticed this staring business among desis started on the plane itself.

We went to the Atria mall in Mumbai and I’m so embarrassed of our local mall. This one has neon lights, skylights and large windows and funky elevators. Granted, this is the high-end mall with a Rolls-Royce showroom and designer stores. However, the food court is to die for mix of Indian, Chinese, Mexican, Pizza and Pasta. You can get nachos as well as fried potato skin chaat. I had paneer rolled in toasted bread (khati roll). OK – I will take more pictures of the food.

Birds are waking up as is the city. (I've been awake since 5:30).

Are We There Yet?

Technically, I’ve been on vacation since Friday Dec 21st at 12:45pm. However, my true vacation started Thursday Dec 27th at 2:45 a.m. Since then, my vacation has included:
- Returning to the office to troubleshoot a problem that didn’t exist a month ago when everything was fine. We applied a band-aid to something that requires a biopsy.
- Facing airport congestion at night to pick up my sister on Dec 21st , also known as the busiest travel day of 2007.
- An overflowed toilet in between a day of hectic Christmas shopping and a party
- A leaky ceiling in my living room and dining room and a drenched area rug, courtesy of the clogged toilet
- Spending Monday waiting for the plumber and forcing schedule to control mine. By the way, I had a leaky garbage disposal on Monday and had a quite a time finding a good plumber. Thankfully, now I have one.
- Annika ingesting a bit of Christmas candy, which I had thought was a Crunch. Unfortunately it was a Butterfinger and she had an allergic reaction. We were to leave for the airport at 4:30 and this was at 4 pm. I ran to CVS and bought full bottle of Benedryl, Pepto-Bismo, Dramamine, sanitized wipes and ginger ale. She ended up vomiting, which was very good – her body needs to release the toxicity. The fact that it was in the car on the way to the airport had us freaked out. How will she do on a 17-hour flight?

- Have I mentioned that my husband has been in India all this week and I’ve been in “single mom mode”?

Now the Good News
At a friend’s Christmas party, I was relaying my woes to friends. One of them assured me that I had the “network” like on those Verizon commercials. There is a whole group of people behind me and I just need to tap into it. And, that is so true.

This week, I’ve relied on friends from helping me to negotiate with plumbers to supporting me on the phone to helping me select clothes and pack my bags. Even if they didn’t do anything but simply offered to drive to the airport or had Annika over for a playdate while I ran errands, it meant a lot to me.

Most of all, my family has been fabulous.. that’s not even the word I want. Supercalifragalisticexpialidocious is better. (Lots of “Mary Poppins” on ABC Family this week)

Having my sister around this weekend really helped me in so many ways as she stayed calm while I was frantic, which was unusual given our personalities. My father came when he heard about the ceiling and advised me on the toilet/plumber. I know he wanted to yell at me for not calling him earlier, but he stayed very calm and spoke nicely. Mom was there in the car aiding Annika during her reaction. And, my brother was ready to help out any way he could, especially at the airport. We were a tag team with a game plan and roles – we moved quite quickly and efficiently.

By the way, Annika’s health was perfect on the plane. As soon as we sat down, her appetite returned and she was back to normal.

I think my greatest lesson from this week has been that I can’t do it alone. When all conditions are steady, it’s not a problem. My husband has traveled a lot over the years and it hasn’t been an issue. However, when you throw in preparing for Christmas and India trip, it becomes more stressful. Then, add a leaky house and child with allergic reactions, it is downright insane to do it alone.

I’ve been called “supermom” by a lot of my friends, and I don’t like it. We can’t be supermom. I just read a quote from a psychiatrist that people are like ducks – seem calm and serene as they’re floating on the water, but underneath, they’re paddling like hell to stay afloat. This is exactly how I felt.

So my lesson this week is that part of being strong is asking for help.

The biggest, warmest, heartfelt gratitude to everyone who was there this week!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Christmas, Cultures, Quilting and Other Alliterations

My radio is always tuned to NPR and I woke up gently to the program "Living on Earth," which featured a Christmas special with Carribbean storytellers. It's always a delight to hear a writer speak because many at heart are such colorful storytellers. Every word from Yvette Brandy is lyrical, but she starts singing about the island Christmas: "For me Christmas is—you wake in the morning to scratch bands singing and dancing and they're singing, 'Good morning, good morning, I come from a guava berry! Good morning, good morning, put it on the table.'"

I've enjoyed Esmeralda Santiago stories about being a Puerto Rican immigrant. When I heard Santiago's memory of writing letters to the Three Kings who bring gifts for the children, I was touched. Santiago told it from the child's point of view, but it reached you from the parent's perspective.

The last storyteller was Ken Corsbie, who described ways to eat a mango. His style reminded me of my father's storytelling technique - anecdotal humor with a punch. (Side note: my father is quote known and respected in the Gujarati literary community.. we are working on his blog site for next year!)

Aside from the delightful stories, I enjoyed the diversity of it. We're so used to the Christmases of Paula "add more butter and bacon, y'all" Dean and Martha Stewart, where everything is proper and perfectly tied together in a satin bow from "my own collection available on my website". The majority of the world's population doesn't know what a cranberry is. Santiago talked about fresh oregano, rosemary, and herbs that grow wild on the islands. Brandy talked about dancing and revelling in carnival celebrations. Generally speaking, people living in warm or hot climates have a more laid back attitude on life. I suppose those that have to prepare and survive cold winters have to be more focused.

A comment I heard the other day about Martha Stewart (on NPR, of course) resonated with me this morning. She was raised in Polish-American family in Nutley, NJ. Somehow, she's been able to create herself into the ultimate CT Yankee. There's something to be said about identity. This is a country of immigrants, and everyone is extremely proud of their heritage. I remember my cousin visiting from India was struck how people called themselves Italian and German, yet they've lived in US for generations and never went to Italy or Germany.

However, is that part of the American fabric -- we come in with different colors, but we weave ourselves into one? Martha's makeover is similar to Louisiana Governor-elect Bobby Jindal. Indian-Americans are proud of one of their own making it, yet with resentment. They see his conversion from Hinduism to Catholicism as an abandonment. For every Martha Stewart and Bobby, there are lots more Martha Kostyras and Piyush Jindals. Shouldn't the American fabric really be a colorful quilt instead?

I'm extremely excited to see how comfortable my daughter is with her Indian and American identities. She lacks the embarrassment I did at her age. I wouldn't talk about the food I ate at home because it was too complicated to explain. My daughter proudly lists "laddoo" as her favorite food (her teacher had emailed me kindly asking for more information about it). She talks about going to her Balvihar classes for culture and religion, just as freely as Rachel does about her Hebrew classes.

Listening to these stories this morning made me realize how important it is for immigrants to keep memories of the "islands" and their own homelands alive.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Closer to India & Anthony Bourdain

My India trip is nearing and I wanted to follow up on my previous posts and my readers' comments.

We recently went to see Anthony Bourdain speak in Philadelphia and got a signed copy of his book, "No Reservations. " This book is a collection of photographs and commentary of his global travels. Here is an excerpt of his thoughts on India, which I think are quite accurate:

"There are two types of visitors to India: There are those who quickly find themselves frustrated, irritated, frightened of the food and water, intimated by the great masses of humanity, overwhelmed by the all-too-evident poverty, ground down by the heat and the crowds, perplexed by the behavior of Indians..."

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

By the way, Bourdain's speech and question/answer session was such a blast. We had awesome seats in 2nd row and felt very close to him. He's exactly the same in person - open, politically incorrect, easy going, and friendly, though he spent a bit of time bashing vegetarians and Rachel Ray. At the time, I could not think of a question to ask him. Later in the day, I had my "esprit d'escalier" - French phrase for the witty afterthought that hits you on the staircase. My comments for him were regarding vegetarians. He feels they are rude because they refuse to eat certain foods and it can be disrespectful in cultures where a poor family proudly gives you the only pork or rodent they have. You can't refuse. I can respect that. However, I don't think that should be targeted to vegetarians only, but to any closed-minded person. I know people who would happily eat a whole pig on a stick, but a plate of hummus freaks them out.

The coolest part of Bourdain is that he does all the stuff typical Western travel show hosts do not do. In India, he's sitting on top of a bus with all the common folks.. he and his camera crew indulged in bhang. He wears his sense of freedom on his sleeve.

Motherhood - On the Job Training: Dis-Enchanted

I wanted to keep this post separate from my review of the movie "Enchanted"

When Annika and I went to buy our tickets, I gave the attendant 2 free movie passes we had. The attendant looked at Annika and asked, "How old is she? Is she four years old?"

I said, "Uh, yeah she is." She is a bit smaller than most American kids. The attendant looked 16 years old and would've believed me if I said she was 3.

"Ok, then." and he gave me one movie pass BACK and the two tickets for the show. How cool is that!

We went inside and I led Annika to the concession stand since I had promised her popcorn. We waited in line for half a second before she started.

"Mommy, why did you LIE to the man? You LIED and said I was 4. It's not good to LIE. Why did you LIE?"

I bent down and whispered, "I'll tell you later."

"But you're not supposed to LIE, but you did." She seemed to get louder.

I whispered a bit more fiercely, "Annika, keep quiet and I'll tell you later. You want the kid's size popcorn, right?" I changed the topic, and it worked.


All the cliches are true. Kids watch your every move and at this age, they'll call you on it. Also, I've always been quite (ridiculously) honest and used to question my parents all the time. My mom used to say, "We have Gandhi living in our house or what??"

So, it comes full circle, doesn't it?

I don't feel I compromised my morals or cheated the million dollar movie industry; in fact, I paid $5 for 1.5 cup of popcorn, 5 oz drink and a "fun size" bag of Skittles!

On Monday, I approached a colleague, who has raised 3 children, for advice. Her suggestion was that I need to redeem myself in Annika's eyes. So, the next time I receive an extra dime in change or something, I should make it a big production as I return it. She pointed out her 20-something son recently questioned her actions when she scolded him on the same point.

Newsflash -- it doesn't end.

I've worked so hard to be the one Annika relies on for straight forward answers. I'd like to help her guide her moral compass. At this age, kids need black and white answers. It's hard to discuss those areas of grey.

She also caught me complaining about a Christmas card (a preprinted business type card without personalization). I said, "That's it?" or something to that effect.

She said, "How can you say that? [This person] worked hard to send the card."

I told her, "You're right. I was just teasing."

"You were?"

"Yes, and if they were here, I would tease them and say the same thing!" Whew.. caught my balance back quickly then.

Anyway, I'm loving this little person in my life. I think I'm just the pitcher, but she's throwing curveballs right back at me!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Movie Review: Enchanted

My daughter and I went to see "Enchanted" yesterday and we had such a blast. As a "princess mom", I'm intimately acquainted with many of the Disney stories. If there's a feminine character with a tiara in it, even with a fishtail or as an ogre, we've got it. For my own Princess, she recognized a lot of similarities and had fun with it.

I loved the tongue-in-cheek approach the movie took toward Princess stories. Annika and I both laughed a lot, and she did a loud "eeeyyouuu" at one kissing scene.

Patrick Dempsey is always delightful to watch, so no complaints here, but I think his role could've been better. The character for Nancy was not as developed as it should've been and threw away actress Idina Menzel; she played Maureen in "Rent". Even Annika commented on that.

Amy Adams was really good because she captured the wide-eyed innocence and she transformed from an animated character to a human. Kinda sucks to be James Marsden because he got jilted at the alter in "The Notebook" too!

Nods to other Princess movies (Spoilers!)

Sleeping Beauty: Living in the round house in the woods. Singing with the animals. Transforming objects into a human form. The evil queen turns herself into a dragon at the end. Magical swords. Magic kiss to break the spell. Prince Edward is pretty much modeled after Prince Philip, who doesn't do much but sing and talk about true love at first sight (or first hearing as it is).
Cinderella: Giselle calls upon the animals to help her clean, scrub the floors and get dressed (tie bows). Lost shoes.
Snow White: poison apples, evil queen, dwarf references, Magic kiss to break the spell.
Beauty & The Beast: I was dying with laughter when Giselle was singing in Central Park, just like Belle. And, the final ballroom scene is just like B & B where the camera swirls around the couple exactly the same way! Plus, Robert is donning a blue suit just the Beast. The last scene on top of the building is similar to the B&B as well. In the Central Park dance scene there's someone dressed in belly dancer outfit with a candelabra on her head (oh, Lumiere, wherefore art thou for an elaborate dance sequence!)
The Little Mermaid: While surfing for photos, I learned that Jodi Benson who was the voice of Ariel played the secretary and if you listened carefully, "Part of Your World" is playing in the background. The whole fish tank thing is a tribute to Little Mermaid.
Aladdin: The only similarity I could see besides the belly dancing candelabra, was Giselle brushing her hair in front of a mirror. Jasmine tends to do that often ; really, what else can she do all locked up in the palace?
Shrek: Big, green, booger-faced ogre muttering "true love"
The Princess Diaries: Julie Andrews is the narrator. Of course.

If you've seen the movie and know of anymore let me know. It is inevitable that we will be buying the DVD for this. It's just sweet and charming, and it's great to see a movie with Annika. I think 6 is a perfect age for this movie. Any younger, then some of the irony would've gone over their heads.

Anyway, here's a parting shot of Patrick .. never hurts a blog.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Chak De India!

Just a few more weeks until we are in India!

This is exciting for me because it seems my destiny for trips to India are on a 10 year cycle. Once I left in 1971, I've returned 1980, 1987, 1997, and now 2007! My husband had gone 3 times without me because of the circumstances; I was pregnant, daughter was too young or his trip was last minute and I couldn't schedule it.

I really love going to India, and I know a lot of Indians are skeptical of my claims. When I landed last time, I felt like I was home. People thought I was full of it. I could see their thoughts: Please, you're an ABCD. NJ is home for you.

India has an undeniable power.

When we went to India when I was 11, we stayed for 5 months. We lived like regular Indian kids -- running around the streets of my father's small town, playing with goats (no donkeys, though - you stay away from the donkeys!), drinking and eating everything that was handed to us -- sherbets of all colors of the rainbow. We roamed the neighborhoods of Ahmedabad with our cousins and went for ice cream at every occasion. We saw lots of Hindi films and ate popcorn and masala chips.

We returned to the US very tan, sick, emaciated and malaria-ridden and had trouble adjusting in school after being out so long. Lovely.

What I enjoyed the most about India is the unabashedly open reception. I learned what family really meant that first summer. There are no formalities about who you are to them. (I wrote a little about this experience in My Own Elizabethtown.) There are downsides to that though, such as lack of privacy and how people think you're entitled to heed their comments about your life or your body. I know we've all been made quite miserable at some point or another.

At 6, my daughter is at an excellent age for this trip. My sister made her first trip around the same time and her memories are very strong. However, I'm a bit nervous about my daughter's first trip there. She's a pampered princess from the suburbs. She cringed when we went to Chinatown in NYC and was overwhelmed by the people.

My friends and family in Mumbai live the cosmopolitan life, so I know we'll be comfortable and quite sanitized there. Yet, everything in India is open - especially the poverty. My sister and I have cried in the car from the airport upon seeing the poverty. I'm worried about myself. I've always been close to children and wanted to help every one there. Now, as a mother, how will I be able to react to children knocking on the car window or tugging on my skirt for alms? I'm taking deep breaths now.

I was greatly inspired on my last visit by my cousin and her husband. We were at a temple, and when the children came to beg, they took them to the dining area and made sure they were fed. We all had pulled over to eat at the side of the road, and a poor man was walking. They quickly prepared a plate for him. By the way, I was aghast that after a whole group finished eating on paper plates, they dumped the trash on the side of the road!! (Two points for Humanity, minus one point for the Environment)

Like all my India trips, I know this will be just as exciting. By the way, we're looking to get internet hook up at home, so hopefully I'll be able to post while I'm gone for three weeks. Also,I haven't had a three week vacation since I started this job 6 years ago! So, just the aspect of not being at work for 3 weeks is very exciting as well!

Now, if anyone has any favorite Mumbai spots, please let me know:
- shopping (not looking for Bollywood glam..reasonably priced with classic styles)
- restaurants/clubs (yes, looking for Bollywood glam! Finding John Abraham would be the best!)
- spas and salons
- any other must-see

We're hoping to hit Ahmedabad and Goa, as well.

Also, if you've traveled with children before and have any caveats, I'd like to know too. Yes, we will be staying away from rainbow-colored sherbets and have our sunscreen and malaria prescriptions!

Feel free to email me directly with any of the above.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

The Tao of Lucy & Ricky

The institution of marriage comes up a lot these days with friends who are in various stages: newlywed, long time wed, much too long wed, finished one and looking for next, never been wed.

So, we go through these discussions of what marriage is supposed to be.

I have this Lucy and Ricky magnet on my fridge. My friend Heather gave this to me years ago because I was a "I Love Lucy" fan. I looked at it the other day and thought about Lucy & Ricky as a good example of married couple.

Forget the real life Lucille & Desi stories when they got divorced. Think of the characters. Forget that Lucy & Ricky had twin beds as a married couple and still had Little Ricky.

There's something appealing about this couple and they have a place in our collective hearts.

1. They are a visibly loving. They are as kissy-face and affectionate as permissible by TV censors. No need to go overboard to prove anything or be possessive. Just enough to show they're comfortable with each other.

2. They fight all the time. Lucy always wants to be in the show and he's too embarrassed by her lack of talent. They will battle it out. It's ok to disagree and argue.

3. There is a lot of humor in the relationship. At the end, they both forgive each other and laugh off their stubbornness.

4. They have Ethel & Fred as their support system. You gotta have friends. Even if it is a Mertz. You need girlfriends who will listen and go out on a limb for you (in Lucy's case, literally!) Ricky and Fred seemed kinda odd pair, but you know, you don't always click 100% with your spouse's friends' partners, do you? But you find a middle ground.

5. They're total opposites. They have different cultural backgrounds since he's a dark Cuban and she's all-American redhead. They accept these differences. Not always easily when he starts going on in Spanish and she starts her own cackling.

Well, just a snapshot of another type of "reality" TV. Stay tuned for more in depth psychoanalysis of other magnets on my fridge! We have a "Sound of Music" one. My next blog might be "The Von Trapps : A Well-Adjusted Blended Family or a Case of Nannies Gone Wild?"

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Macy's Thanksgiving Parade

A few years ago, my sister and I had the opportunity of a lifetime to be in the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade in New York City. Yes, we were in it! My sister was a Macy's employee and signed us up to be clowns. The other option was to hold balloons, but that seemed too intensive.

Our day was to start 4 am by taking a chartered bus from NJ to NY. Unfortunately, we couldn't find the bus or her colleagues. We panicked and decided to drive ourselves to NYC and go to the meeting location. Later, we were happy since we were able to leave immediately after we were done. I remember driving in the dark hours and seeing a falling star.

We went to a hotel where we were given our costumes. We were to be part of "Martian Madness" and accompany this fuzzy character (I don't recall his name). To be a Martian entailed having our faces painted down the middle or diagonally - red on one side and blue on the other. We had these sock-like things to wear over our heads and some antennas. We had worn layers of t-shirts, sweatshirts and socks, plus gloves. To be honest, we hated our costumes. They weren't as cute as others and people would ask us "What are you?? Teletubby?"

They bussed us to where the parade started. It was 6 am and parade would kick off at 9 am. The weather wasn't so bad, but the prolonged exposure and not doing anything made it worse.

Once the parade started it was awesome! While we were waiting for our turn to jump in, we saw every float upfront! We cheered and waved to all the celebs on the Sesame Street float and I had my picture taken with Barney. We saw Al Roker interviewing folks and celebrities like Jill Hennessey.

Once we started walking, our job as clowns was to pump up the crowds and accompany our fuzzy friend in a little car. So, we had to run around, high-five everyone, yell and cheer! Even though kids didn't know what we were, the majority of people were excited when we'd come running up. They would lean over just to give a high-five. By the way, with all the running we did, we were quite warm. And, it was a long damn walk!

The most exciting memory I have is walking towards Columbus Circle and seeing hundreds of people! For a moment, I felt the high that Britney and Janet Jackson talk about when they perform in front of people. It is totally exciting! (Ok, the Sesame Street float was in front of us, so obviously that generated more excitement than our fuzzy-forgotten-name character).

By the way, we did not appear on TV. They did announce us "Coming up, Martian Madness" so our friends and family were all tuned in. So, yes we did come up next - but NBC went to commercial.

One regret I have for that day is not bringing a camera. We weren't sure how we would carry it and later saw lots of other clowns with cameras. Macy's photographer did take a picture of our group and it was available online for purchase. And, the photo was quite lousy.

Anyway, we had to return the costumes and left by noonish. We were so exhausted and just ready to go home and crash. That Thanksgiving was more memorable because the family member who was going to host dinner canceled due to a sick child. Therefore, around 4 pm, my sister and I were at Acme trying to round up some stuffing and gravy for last minute dinner!

Seeing the parade in real life is exciting, and being in the parade is an even better experience!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Catalog Wisdom

Tis the season for catalogs! Amidst the visually sensual and seductive Harry & David catalogs, I found Signals. This is definitely targeting artsy-fartsy people like me because I wanted something on every other page - jewelry with Emily Dickinson and Shakespeare quotes, unique Harry Potter paraphernalia, abstract figurines in metal, jewelry reminiscent of ancient artwork and symbols, Asian-inspired decorative artwork, etc. I'll admit, some of the items are too much for me (e.g., the "I love Mr. Darcy" sweatshirt)

What caught my attention were quotes on jewelry and sweatshirts. Since I wouldn't wear these (I am always looking over my shoulder for Clinton and Stacy), I thought I'd share them here:

National Sarcasm Society Like we need your support
Never Judge a Book by the Movie
She is too fond of books and it has addled her brain - Louisa May Alcott
English Major You Do the Math
There are only 10 kinds of people.
Those who understand binary and those who don't.

(Whew! In spite of my professional geekiness, I'm glad I missed that 10 = 2 in binary!)
Not all who wander are lost
Patron Saint of External Optimism:
Rely on her to help you see your cup is half full and that there's a silver lining in every cloud
and tomorrow is going to be a better day.

(I think my readers might bestow this title on me!)
(my favorite..)
Careful, or you'll end up in my novel.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For..

I had an interesting discussion with someone close to me. We were discussing the challenges of being a single person and finding the "right" person. She said her new approach is to identify what she wants, the desirable traits. If she finds someone who meets these points, then she would pursue the relationship and they could work through the other not-so-desirable points. (By the way, there are some traits in the No-Compromise Zone; I'm referring to those that can be worked through a compromise).

Too often, people work backwards - eliminate based on the undesirable points and do not look further. So, they feel all they've found are people with undesirable traits. Of course, if you are looking for X, you will find X. So, why aren't you looking for the positive traits instead?

Now, I'm going to stretch the context of this theory further and let it adapt to different circumstances. Let's say there's a new project at work and along the way, there will be problems along the way. It's only normal that there will be human error, communication failures and other unforeseen issues. You can look and you will see all of those. The project looks absolutely riddled with failures! You can moan, "We never win."

However, if you set your milestones - the desirable points - you may find you have met them. And, you can add those 'failures' to your column of "Challenges Faced." Then, you would be able to forecast how to avoid them in the future.

OK, still not buying this theory? When people have a negative attitude, it filters out everything positive that they could see.

"Let's go out to lunch. Italian?"
"No, it's too heavy."
"No it's too spicy."
"No, it's all that MSG. There's nothing to eat." (Sigh.. woe is me..)

Or, you can look at it "I can get a nice fresh salad with olives and balsamic vinaigrette, if we do Italian." "Or, "hey, they have a good crunchy pad thai" or "That Chinese place has excellent vegetable dumplings steamed in banana leaves."

Life is about making choices and we make choices on how we look at things. So, we can't complain that we never find what we're looking for. The problem is that we're looking for the wrong things.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Unlocking the Shackles

Don't ask why, but my office has archaic telephones. They are the black, corded, touch tone phones. No redial. No mute. Voice mail indicator? Are you kidding? Nothing. These are a total flashback to 1975.

We always complained, but no action was taken. The managers said they would approve the orders. Finally, two months ago I took it upon myself to order simple, cordless phones for my team. Seriously, we should be toting Blackberrys, but we've heard there are a lot of hoops to jump through to get those.

Anyway, our "Blackberry Lites" are working well for us. They really changed the dynamics of how my team works. We're more responsive to customers and colleagues. The speakerphone allows us to have a quick conference call no matter where we are. Voice mail is still an issue, but that's alright. We can speeddial the voice mail box. We feel like we're in 1995!

Recently, I was on a long conference call and I couldn't sit much longer. I paced within my cubicle, and then just walked around the office perimeter. I can run to the printer while still on the call; in the past I used to email our admin and ask her to get me a printout if I was stuck on the phone.

Later, I thought of a story about baby elephants I read. The keepers used to chain baby elephants to a post so they couldn't wander far. When the elephants grew larger, they took off the chains. The elephants didn't wander because they thought they were still shackled.

This is how I liberated I felt with my cordless phone. I wasn't shackled to my desk anymore. I should be able to explore and multitask better.

I'll take this analogy up a level and say that there are many parts of our lives where we impose the shackles on ourselves. We've been released, but we don't realize it. It's a matter of recognizing our freedom of movement and actually using it.

Last year, I had someone moan to me that he felt he was in a prison. I told him he may feel like he's in a prison, but he has the key to the door. Fortunately, I can say this person is out of his "prison" and is looking towards a more positive and promising future. For him, one critical change needed to occur, which gave him the confidence to move forward.

So, if there's something that is frustrating you, see what needs to happen for you to be free. Look down at your feet. You'll see you don't have shackles on them like you thought.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

One Way of Defining Myself

In the two years that I've had this blog, Mermaid is the first person to ask me why I chose "Indigo Bubbles" as the name.

The Bubbles part is spelled out in the blog header. Writing is meditative and liberating. My blogs are like bubbles that are being blown all over the world. Like a child, I look in amazement at every bubble and enjoy what I can bring to others through my writing.

The Indigo part is more frivolous and memory-based. I always liked the word "Indigo" because of my 4th grade science project. My father helped me create a prism, discussing light and colors. He explained the colors that make up the rainbow as VIBGYOR: Violet, Indigo, Blue, Green, Yellow, Orange, Red. (Ironically, American teachers taught it in reverse as ROYGVIB.)

I was always trying to identify this elusive color Indigo, that didn't exist in my Crayola box. In college, I was fascinated by the stories of the Latin American farmers who suffered indigo poisoning.

I also like the Indigo Girls.

Then, if you want to be really crazy, you can dissect Indigo as in Indian-American.

Addendum: Last night I realized that my wedding china is Noritake Indigo Waltz!

Online Workshop

I have a manuscript of poems that I've been peddling this year. So far, no luck. However, I did receive two comments this year that some of my poems could be workshopped further, enhance the endings.

If anyone would like to form an online writing circle, please contact me directly. I've found the online writing groups that I've done in the past helpful. Ironically, I've read drafts of work that have been published novels. (A bit frustrating because the author had ignored the group's feedback!)

It's hard to find poetry enthusiasts, but I like to write poems that anyone can understand. My intention with my poems is to reach the people who are intimidated by poetry and have them say, "I get it!"

I have no predefined purpose for the group, but hoping to see what kind of participation and interest I receive!

Saturday, November 10, 2007

What Not to Say Rule #2 & #3

Do not ask a person about the number of children they have or don't have. I don't understand the intention of asking someone "Why don't you have a (or another) child?" or on the flip side "Another one!?"

What is it to anyone else outside of the couple?

There could be a plethora of reasons for a family's decision to have or not have children; some people may be in the process of fertility treatments or had complications with their last pregnancy. That's not cocktail party conversation, is it?

If for whatever reason you choose to ask, accept the person's answer. Don't provide arguments. Give the person some credit for having thought through their family planning decisions. Exactly who is raising the child/children - you or them? And, do you seriously believe you can convince them otherwise via a cocktail party conversation?

By the way, my Rule #3 is not to ask single people why they are not married. Unless you are a marriage counselor or a wedding planner looking to drum up business, there's no reason to inquire. Again, the information is so useless to you and you cannot change that person's situation.

I know single people think married people were born married and are unsympathetic, but we've been on both sides. So, when I crossed over to being a Married, I promised I would never ask anyone about their relationship status. I've been pleasantly surprised by lots of friends who announced they were getting married when I didn't even know they had someone.

In short, let people make the lifestyle decisions they have made for themselves. Unless it directly impacts you, no need to inquire or argue.

More Random Positive Energy

In my post "Happy Heart," I wrote about strangers approaching me positively and my friend predicted this would happen to me more. I have to jot 3 separate incidents. First of all, it's important to understand my personality, which is hard to convey virtually. I'm an extroverted Introvert. I can be very animated, super friendly and chatty among small groups or one-on-one. However, I don't reach out to people if I don't have a reason or context. I am happy to stay within my own boundaries. There are time when I have to psyche myself to take a step outside.

An interesting example is that I've been a member of my gym for 4 years, going up to 3x a week. I go in, work out, and leave. I say hi to the receptionist, but I don't talk to anyone, especially avoiding eye contact with trainers lest they try to loop me into some promotional deal. My husband joined the gym 6 months ago. We went to lunch at Baja Fresh and the gym people had a promotional table set up there. My husband approached them with a "Yo, man, how's it going!?", laughing and shaking hands with the manager. Then they asked me if I wanted to be a member!!

Anyway, these are the three situations of random positive energy that have come my way.

1. A few weeks ago I was walking around the neighborhood where my daughter takes her dance class. I found a thrift store and looked for some books. I chatted with another customer about a whole range of topics. A few hours later, I ran into her again at the Indian store, which I had recommended to her, since she was interested in all-things-Indian. We ended up chatting for good bit of time, exchanged emails, etc. Very positive experience meeting someone randomly!

2. Yesterday at the gym, I had some extra time to indulge in the sauna. I noticed a cell phone and eyeglasses were left on the bench. I thought the cell phone would get damaged in there, so I placed it on the counter in the locker room.

An older woman came out and asked me "Did you lose an earring?"

"No, I'm good," I said as I checked my ears.

"It's a shame to lose such a pretty earring. I found it by the shower."

"I know.. you know, I found that cell phone and glasses in the sauna." pointing to the counter.

"Oh my God! that's mine!" she said. "I can't see a thing without these. Oh my God, thank you so much!" as she grabbed the glasses and cell phone.

She was extremely relieved and we chatted a bit more. She ended it by saying, "The world needs more people like you."

Really? I thought that was such a generous compliment for something so ordinary and intuitive. Would another person just take the cell phone?

3. After the gym, I went shopping. At the store, there were two lines to purchase. The first line had 4 people with medium quantity of items and the second line had 1 person with a lot of items. I decided to take the line with 1 person. I knew I'd have to wait as she had many items that needed to be hand-wrapped up.

My sister called and I spoke with her for a minute or two. I browsed the sunglass display. I took off the hangers on my items. I looked at the woman's purchases and wondered who she was buying all these things for? Grandchildren? Daughter-in-law?

When the salesgirl rang up the other customer's order, the customer fell short in cash. So, she had to write a check. Sales girl is ringing this up. I'm just hanging out. I checked the other line and people were still waiting. So, I would've been waiting regardless of the line I chose.

Finally the woman was done with the packing and paying. She said to me, "I am so sorry.. thank you so much for your patience. You deserve a medal!"

Really? I'm just waiting here. However, I can imagine more anxious people pacing up and down, loud sighing, making noises of exasperation, calling someone on their cell phone to complain "omg, this line is taking foreeeeeverrrr!"

Maybe I'm just starting to notice these compliments and interactions. Life is freeing my attention to look externally, outside of my own space. Maybe they are coming my way for some other reason.

Either way, I'm happy that I could make someone's day a little nicer in an ordinary way, and they made my day extraordinary!

These moments are like sparklers - brief flashes of light that delight and amaze. Happy Diwali!

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

On the Job Training - Motherhood: The Results Episode

I'm excited these days with my 1st grader. I can't believe what a difference it is between 5 and 6. I think at 5, kids look at the world with magical goggles. At 6, they're taking off these goggles on their face and questioning them. They'll put them back on for fun, but it seems more fun to look at the world without them. I see more logic and analysis happening, as well as more eavesdropping!

One exciting event for us is her enthusiasm for reading. I remember trying to teach her to read last year and all she did was improvise or memorize the books. I knew that was ok, but I was worried because it felt like we were inching on a long road. Now, I can see persistence paid off.

I remember when she was 3, she didn't ride her tricycle well - I had to really show her how to pedal. At 4, we're still working on the "remember to pedal!" while my friend's son the same age was whizzing around on his bike. I was quite anxious at the time wondering if she'll ever ride a bike. I remember complaining to a parent of older kids, and he waved off my fears by saying once kids see other kids do it, they learn. Now, she's still on training wheels, but she enjoys riding. Again, this is the importance of patience and persistence.

I watched her tie her shoes the other day and I was amazed! We started last year by practicing on her bathrobe. The belt was thick and I could show her how to make bows. It's not easy, but it helped illustrate the process. She wanted to tie her shoes by herself, but we're in a perpetual state of rush, so I would just say, "Here let me do it." even though she wanted to try. I couldn't believe when she tied 2 shoes perfectly the other day. I just want to cheer for those moments.

Annika is still in Suzuki violin classes, and it's a bit harder this year because the class has only 2 students. The other boy is quite good, which shakes her confidence. I know Annika can be up to par if she practiced regularly. Usually, she chooses to chat, goof off or whine during her violin practices. When she chooses to focus, she's awesome! (Honestly, our violin lessons are 60% drama and 40% actual practicing).

So, when she gets down on herself for her violin or swimming or reading, I wish I could explain focus, persistence and patience to her. That in time, she will be able to handle this as deftly as she has everything else. Obviously, this means nothing in her world. So, it's more important for me to adopt that belief and attitude so I can calmly lead her (and not freak out, compare her to other kids, etc.)

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Under My Umbrella

I'm not a Rihanna fan, but I like this song "Umbrella" a lot. With lyrics like these, I think a singer like Dido or Jewel could do more justice to it. There's a message in the emotions of this song, despite the catchy "ella, ella" parts. And, even then Jewel could do some of her vocal fluctuations on it.

The umbrella is such a vibrant symbol - shelter and enclosure, coupled with freedom and movement - think of Gene Kelly dancing. As a symbol, it can be stretched to represent protection from any harsh circumstance. We can all run through the rain without one, but we know we just end up sopping wet. Sometimes you have to open up your own umbrella, or accept an invitation to walk with someone under theirs.

Umbrella - By Rihanna

You have my heart
And we'll never be worlds apart
May be in magazines
But you'll still be my star
Baby cause in the dark
You can't see shiny cars
And that's when you need me there
With you I'll always share because

When the sun Shine
We shine Together
Told you I'll be here Forever
Said I'll always be your friend
Took an oath I'ma stick it out till the end
Now that it's raining more then ever
Know that we'll still have each other
You can stand under my Umbrella
You can stand under my Umbrella (Ella ella eh eh eh)
Under my umbrella (ella ella eh eh eh)
Under my umbrella (ella ella eh eh eh)
Under my umbrella (ella ella eh eh eh)

These fancy things, will never come in between
You're part of my entity, Here for Infinity
When the war has took it's part
When the world has dealt it's cards
If the hand is Hard, Together we'll mend your heart


You can run into my Arms
It's okay don't be alarmed
(Come into Me)
(There's no distance in between our love)
So Go on and let the Rain pour
I'll be all you need and more


It's raining
Ooh baby it's Raining
Baby come into me
Come into me
It's Raining
Oh baby it's raining

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Sickest Generation?

I saw this article last week, "Are Our Kids the Sickest Generation", and I've been bothered by this a lot. My daughter has a peanut allergy, one nephew has asthma and food allergies, another nephew has a nut allergy, other friends have kids with eczema and food allergies, a colleague's son has ADHD, and a friend's toddler now has autism.

What is going on?

The only person I ever knew with a peanut allergy was my friend Jim in college. Now, my daughter has 4 kids in the 1st grade who sit at the Peanut Allergy table at lunch. My sister had eczema when she was a child, but it took years to diagnose it and she felt ostracized by it. Now, I've seen many children with patches of eczema and mothers concerned about giving medicated creams to their toddlers.

I'm not sure what's going on. It makes me angry because I know as parents, we did everything "right" during pregnancy. We stayed away from alcohol, second-hand smoke, caffeine, tuna fish, and brie. Peanut butter was a good source of protein for vegetarians. We drank milk for the protein and calcium to help our babies grow. Now our babies have milk allergies and need to have rice and soy milk.

At first I felt this is an era of better diagnosis. Adults are happy to realize they've been lactose intolerant all these years. However, the incidence level is alarming.

I don't know why this is happening, but it angers and hurts me. And, maybe there's guilt too because our foremost instinct is protect our children first. Our children are suffering because of this. There have been cases of death from allergic reactions because of hidden allergens. I read an article from Today Show and now I wonder what's wrong with me for not carrying the epi-pen with me every time we go to the mall. My vigilance for my daughter is extra high this time of year as we have to monitor all candy (Reese's and Snickers are out! Peanut M&M's scare me the most because they can be mixed in a bowl with regular ones). My daughter is attentive herself and has been questioning candy/snacks since she was 3 years old. As parents, we have to take the extra step and question restaurants whether they use peanut oil in their cooking. I learned Chik-Fil-A and Cheeburger Cheeburger use peanut oil for frying.

We don't live near toxic waste plants. Maybe there are power lines that are too close? I've read theories about ultrasounds disrupting fetus development. There is also mention of the environmental chemical overload and even microwaves. Friends and family who have children in India do not have any of these issues.

Obviously, we will all learn to deal with these physical and mental health concerns on a day to day basis. I can only hope we can stop or isolate the cause.

Friday, October 12, 2007

So Simple

"How does one become a butterfly" she pensively asked.
"You must want to fly so much that you're willing to give up being a caterpillar"
- Trina Paulus, Hope for the Flowers

What a wonderful quote! It's a simple concept, but so strong. It forces one to look at the options:
1) stay in a safe cocoon as a fuzzy gray caterpillar
2) fly and float through the air, enjoying freedom and the beauty of the world.
It's also compelling that it's part of nature, a lifecycle. Everyone has to make this change

On the Job Training: Motherhood - When Bad Lunches Happen to Good People

Now that my daughter is in school, she has the option to buy lunch or bring it from home. We read the menu the night before and decide what to do. For lunch, I've done the deli slices on bread or tortillas, chicken quesedellas, and chicken nugget sandwiches.

It's only October and she's telling me she's bored. I started looking online for options and found a colorful sandwich slideshow on and article on Chef Todd English, who preps his son's roast chicken with basil and parsley lunch the night before. (Well, yeah, if I had 17 restaurants, I'm sure I'd have a few tricks up my sleeve.)

So, I was inspired after checking these sites. I had brown sugar-flavored cream cheese, which could go with grated carrots from a salad mix. I lightly toasted a tortilla and spread the cheese. I thought the combo tasted pretty good. A bit sweet, but still healthy.

She asked me what was for lunch and I told her, "Brown sugar cream cheese rolled up with carrots." She agreed to it. (Yeah! 1 point right there!)

In the evening, I asked her if she liked her lunch.

"No, I didn't like it. What was in it?" Apparently, there was some lettuce leaves stuck to the grated carrots and the green threw her off.

I panicked. Was she hungry all day because I didn't test-drive this sandwich first? (Bad Mom Moment ahead!)

"No, I ate some of it. But, don't ever give that to me again." she requested nicely.

"Ok, fine. I won't do it. I was trying to be creative." I replied.

"No, don't do this creative again. All I want is a bagel and cream cheese from the cold food line at school." she said determinedly.

Done. Of course, she only repeated this for another 5 minutes how she doesn't like it, don't give it EVER EVER again, etc.

I don't want her to end up eating hot dogs, bagels, nuggets and pizzas from school. So, I'm open to (nut free!) lunch ideas suitable for a picky eater -- easy to pick up, unwrap and eat.

Be A Kid Again

This is one of those lists that get forwarded all over the internet, but I liked this one because it made me pause. How much of these things do I do now, or rather could I do now? If I can't or don't, who is stopping me from doing it now? The answer is usually one of the indicators of adulthood - it might be dirty or dangerous or inconvenient or interferes with getting bills paid.

Be A Kid Again

Do a cartwheel.
* We finally finished renovating our basement after a year of work. The paint, spackle, and drywall dust were gone. The carpets were new, the walls were delicious and smooth and there were open spacious rooms. I can't tell you how much effort and work we put into it. It was a mentally and physically challenging endeavor. It was a cartwheel moment.

Walk barefoot in wet grass.
*Is there anything better!?

Play a song you like really loud, over and over.
*When Duran Duran comes on the radio, for some reason the volume just needs
to be really, really high.

Read the funnies. Throw the rest of the paper away.
*Actually, if you get the Sunday Philadelphia Inquirer, that's what you end up doing anyway.

Dot all your “i”’s with smiley faces.

Sing into your hairbrush.

Dunk your cookies.
*I used to dunk chocolate chip cookies in milk and pull out the chips. I'd make a tidy little pile of chips. Then,enjoy a big bite of the chocolate. (Now, I eat low fat ginger snaps)

Play a game where you make up the rules as you go along.

Step carefully over sidewalk cracks.

Change into some play clothes.
*If I had my way, I'd never have to change into play clothes because I'd always be wearing them!

Try to get someone to trade you a better sandwich.
*Anyone want a veggie chicken sandwich on one slice of flaxseed bread? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

Eat ice cream for breakfast.
*Ok, this is my plan. Eat flaxseed bread now so I can eat ice cream for breakfast when I'm an old woman. My plan is to make life easy for myself. I'll simply tie a spoon around my neck so I don't have to bother anyone whenever I want breakfast.

Kiss a frog, just in case.
*I'm digging the Geico gecko these days. That British accent on a green lizard makes me laugh uncontrollably!

Blow the wrapper off a straw.

Have someone read you a story.

Find some pretty stones and save them.
*I do that now. I toss them into candlescapes.

Wear your favorite shirt with you favorite pants even if they don’t match.
*Ok, my family of fashionistas will probably claim that I do this already!

Take a running jump over a big puddle.

Get someone to buy you something you really don’t need.

Hide your vegetables under your napkin.

Stay up past your bedtime.

Eat dessert first.
*On hot summer days, my colleagues and I have gone to Dairy Queen for lunch and ordered awesome sundaes. Also, one of my favorite restaurants in Philadelphia is the Rose Tattoo Cafe. Their mushroom soup and desserts are awesome. There would be a group of ten of us from work, and everyone had mushroom soup. Finally we decided to go for soup and dessert only, skip the meal. I remember we confused some new people who were ordering entrees.

Fuss a little, then take a nap.

Wear red gym shoes.

Put way too much sugar on your cereal.

Make cool screeching noises every time you turn a corner.

Giggle a lot for no reason.

Give yourself a gold star for everything you do today.

*I like that idea! So much that we do goes unrecognized, not necessarily by others, but by ourselves. We get bogged down by the 10% that didn't go right, we missed appreciating the 90% that did. A former boss commented once, "You turn on the light switch every day. You only notice when the lightbulb doesn't work." I think that's so true. We don't acknowledge ourselves or the people around us for 'lighting' up when they do.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

On the Job Training: Motherhood - The Ugly Duckling

I'm finding a new sense of maturity in this 6-year-old. She tends to question and evaluate more, so I know I need to be ready with my age-appropriate answers.

I was reading "The Ugly Duckling" to my daughter, which we've read dozens of times before. It's always a pretty hard story to read in my opinion because the other animals and humans are quite mean to the "ugly duckling." Everyone is so mean that baby swan that he has to go live away from the rest of society. The mother duck tried to protect her "baby", but she really couldn't be there all the time. It's only after the long and lonely winter does he come out on his own.

I read aloud, "So the ugly duckling was sad because he had no friends."

Annika stopped me, and asked, "Why does it say he has no friends? He has his mother. So he has one friend. "

I had to smile because I felt so assured about our close relationship. I was happy to see her confidence in knowing that she always has me in her corner. I told her she was right.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Happy Heart

Last weekend, I stopped at the grocery store to pick up a few things since I had friends coming over in the evening and a kid’s birthday party prior to that. I was shopping with my daughter, which is so stressful to me. It’s not because she’s constantly pestering to buy products conveniently located at her eye level. She's actually quite good. I’m just a super paranoid mother at the grocery store making sure she doesn’t get snatched or hurt by grocery carts. (I once read about a boy who fell from the cart and suffered head injuries and I’ve considered it a death trap since).

Anyway, this woman was carting around me and she leaned over to ask, “Excuse me, what perfume are you wearing?”

I paused and stunned because it was so unexpected. If she reprimanded me for not controlling my daughter who was running with the grocery cart I was ready. For this, I thought for a second.

“It’s Clinique Happy Heart,” I replied.

“Oh! it smells so good!” she gushed. I thanked her and she left.

I was surprised, but not really. I first received a sample of Happy Heart from my sister and wasn’t too impressed with it. Yet, I tried it and was surprised to receive many compliments. So, I eventually indulged in the full bottle. My husband says that is the fragrance that reminds him of me. I still don’t agree with it because I think Prescriptives Calyx or Lauder's Pleasures (Intense) is more like me. However, the positive responses make me continue using Happy Heart.

I casually mentioned this incident to my friend and she commented that it’s part of the positive energy that’s happening in my life.

I have always said that the way you present yourself and the energy you emit predicts the kind of people and energy you attract. Be the kind of person you want to be with. If you’re going to be grumpy and bitchy, you’re only going to attract negativity in your life.

So, what’s there to be positive about? A helluva lot!

My girlfriends and I were comparing where we were one year ago at this time and how far we’ve come with our personal and professional lives and goals. Last year, I was extremely fatigued as I was bombarded with stress and demands on the work and home fronts. I felt burdened with everyone’s problems, even that of my clients and corporation! So much of it was beyond my control. I could see the toll on my health, as well.

This year, so much has changed and things have picked up enormously. As my horoscope said, I’m on an “upward spiral.”

I haven’t won the lottery or anything. It is really smaller things that keep building on each other and building such a platform . Most of all, I’ve learned not to take anything for granted. Life is too short to think you can get a do over. But, it’s too long to hold on to the small things. That might be my mantra for 2007.

So, like my Happy Heart perfume, I’m hoping to emit some of the positive energy I feel these days.

For those who think I’m just full of it and want to keep bitching and moaning, I do have one other inspiration that my friends and I keep in mind on those days that we just want to give up.

“Nobody trips over mountains. It is the pebbles we stumble over.”

We can let little things deter us and just bring us down. And, give up. But, if we recognize them as pebbles, we just have kick them out of our shoes and move on. It’s so easy to let one problem overwhelm us.

But, I've heard the view from the top of the mountain is spectacular.

That Wierd 70's Flashback.

I'm on the treadmill at the gym. I've got "Pure Disco" playlist on my iPod, which includes classics like "The Hustle", "Fly Robin Fly," and "I Will Survive."

Looking up at the TV screen, Dorothy Hamill is chatting with Larry King about her book.

I had a weird 70's flashback. I'm 8 years old again.

Remember the Dorothy Hamill bob? It was fun, alive and easy to maintain. How easy? Why, it morphed seamlessly into the Princess Diana hair do in 1980.

Reason and Consequences

People like to say "Everything happens for a reason." Yes, I think so too, but now what? What is the reason? What are you going to do about it?

I think if life didn't kick us in the butt sometimes, we'd continue to sit happily on our fat arses. There are times when I thought my life was going down the tubes. For example, when I was 25 and had my first "real" job for two years, my director suggested I should look elsewhere for a job. They wanted to redefine my position and bring in an experienced professional. I hated her. Was mad at my boss. And, I hated myself for doing a bad job. I was used to leaving jobs on my own terms, not someone else's.

So, what was the reason that happened? I ended up at a great job in NYC, which I continued for 3 years and left on my own terms. That second job set the foundation for a career change and brought me to the career I excel in today.

If I didn't get that kick in the pants back then, I don't know what would've happened. Would I have stayed there and just waited for my boss to get promoted so I could get her job? How great was that job anyway? Where was the growth potential?

Sometimes when jobs or marriages end or health takes a downturn, it's like life putting on the brakes for you. Take a look around you. Is this where you want to go? We always have to remember we are driving our own cars. We can take it off cruise control and stop going around the block. We can move forward.. if we choose to do so.

So, some disruptive events lead us to introspection of our choices. Then, there are other events that happen and explanations are not as easy, such as death of a spouse or child or a terminal illness. Are there lessons? It's hard to say. There's a lot we don't understand and I think the reasons may not be apparent at the time. While we would love for someone to hand us the definition, it may take time to evolve and for us to grow to recognize it.

I chose the waterfall picture because my professor used to call it "Cascading Consequences." The source of the water is one. It starts in one stream, flowing in the same directions. Then, as it goes over the edge, the rocks and earth take it into different directions.

One event may happen and it will lead to multiple streams and flows. As it goes over the edges, it reaches out and touches more rocks and plant life than it would have had it gone straight.

So, when certain events happen and there's no logical reason for it, it's really a cascading consequence - something we can't see but know it's going in many directions.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Notes to Myself

Back in college, we were told to be "active readers." We underlined special phrases, check marked certain paragraphs while we read. When we discussed the work, we still remained active readers. We jotted notes in margins "Empowerment" "Fidelity" "societal ideal" " Oppressive marriage" Once I deflowered a book by reading it, it becomes a special possession.

One such book is "When I am an Old Woman" anthology. I bought this book when I was just out of college and loved the poetry, prose and photography. This book is expressions by women regarding the experience of aging, enduring life events such as death of a spouse or parent or just living on a fixed income. It's beautifully written, though it is not the most uplifting book. The publishers had issued additional anthologies by Sandra Martz, which I have ("I Am Becoming the Woman I've Wanted", "If I Had My Life to Live over I Would Pick More Daisies and "If I Had a Hammer: Women's Work in Poetry, Fiction, and Photographs.") I found the first one to be definitely the best one.

I was organizing my bookshelf a few weeks ago and I flipped through this book. I was really surprised reading the sections I had asterisked and checked.

In a way, it was the 30-something me was looking at a note from 20-something me. Poetry is so personal and it grabs one at the right moment. Seeing the notes confirms that I had felt some connection or recognition when I read it.

Looking over the notations on selected works, I sense her uncertainty and her skepticism about relationships, but she's still a romantic. I'm pleased to see her confidence and acceptance of an aging body, and the appreciation of the wisdom of elders.

There's a poem by Michele Wolf called "For my Mother" and it begins "I sharpen more and more to your likeness every year, your mirror.."

There are no marks on the page. More than likely, 20-something me never read it. No..she read the whole book. There's an obvious denial of any resemblance to my mother. Actually, that resistance is still there. However, if she had read it all the way through, she would've seen the graceful shift in the poem where she fights it and wants to turn it around, to avoid repeating the same history. And, she wants to help her mother change both of their fates. That's the major difference between me then and now. Today, I realize my mother has a point of view, especially as I am a mother and I have a definitive point of view.

I like these little notes that fall out of books. It shows me how much I've changed, and how much I haven't.

*The above image is called Young Woman Writing a Letter (detail), Encre Marquet, 1892. Image courtesy Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.