Saturday, December 29, 2012

New Year's Revolution - 2012

I found my old post from 2005 and think it's time I did a similar exercise for 2012

Big Events
- Hurricane Sandy hit the northeast and shook her upside down. Our house was thankfully dry and warm throughout the experience. We were happy we could host friends. We're grateful that my parents house was unscathed by the tall tree that fell across their front walk.
- For us, we did some home renovations with floors that turned us upside down. If there's a lesson in that experience it's that you can only control so much of a situation and at one point you have to let it go. It's just high on my list of memorable events because it was emotionally and physically taxing experience in our home. However, there are more positives than negatives on this one.

- Madrid, Espana - Nov
- Toronto, Canada - January, June, July
- Mid-Atlantic Tour (Baltimore Inner Harbor, Annapolis waterfront, Virginia wineries and DC) July.
- Los Angeles,CA - July
- New York City Getaway - May 

- Aayushman J.
- Kiaan K. 
- Kush D.

The New York Times has a pictorial of  notable deaths of 2012. I see personal heroes such as Sally Ride, Ravi Shankar, Nora Ephron and Dick Clark. There's Maeve Binchy, an Irish fiction novelist whose stories I adored so she'll be alive with her wonderful Irish accent to me.

There are other deaths this year that will stay with me:
Trevon Martin - 1
Aurora Colorado Movie Theater - 12 
Sikh Temple in Wisconsin - 7
Clackamas Oregon Mall - 3
Sandhook Elementary School - 27
Anonymous Delhi Medical Student  - 1
The one name I'm thankful is not on this list is Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani girl shot by Taliban for advocating education for girls.

Creative Achievements
My biggest achievement this year is getting a foothold on my art again. With my instructor's constant encouragement, I challenged myself with watercolor and acrylic paintings, one of which I created as a gift. 2012 was getting my feet wet. Next year I'm jumping in because I know I can do it.

Auld Lang Whine
It's been a tumultuous year with the loss of a number of colleagues at work. We're calling this the "mass exodus of 2012" as some left voluntarily and others involuntarily. It's left a gap in our teams and just the way we all work together. We miss exchanging ideas, getting another perspective or just a confidence boost before a meeting. I know those who are good friends as well as colleagues will stay in touch, especially via social media. The others have left and just become another name in the corporate history.
Lessons Learned
Hard to say if there's any one lesson from this year,but the mantra that's been holding me together is to change what you can control and accept what you can't

This is hammered into me at work on the career front. I still have anger at the decision makers for the lack-luster-illogical choices that were made this year. I'm exhausted with the large corporations (no, Mitt Romney, corporations are not people. If they were, they would think and feel about each other.). I can't change corporate culture and nor will I accept it the way. All I can change is whether I choose to live in this. No, I'm not walking out blindly. 

New year, new changes.


Friday, December 21, 2012

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Culture Collide

Maya Angelou had a story in her collection "Wouldn't Take Nothing For My Journey Now" about traveling abroad and how the experience broadens one's mind. Americans don't know what it's like to travel half a day in either direction and experience new language, new food or new customs. Maya Angelou had said there's such a beauty when the cultures and languages collide (Sorry for lack of direct reference - I had the audiocassette version of this book and can't look it up.). I'm a strong advocate of study abroad programs and even for adults to work and/or live abroad. My husband was regularly traveling to Germany years ago and for every opportunity he had, he would drive to Switzerland or France or another city inside of Germany. On the other hand, there were colleagues who stayed in the hotel over the weekend and didn't bother venturing anywhere. Even when I travel for work, I try to allow a few hours freedom to see the local area at some point. I had a very exciting year traveling for work, but I had time to spend in Toronto and few evening hours in Los Angeles.


During my Madrid experience, I was challenged by the language barrier with my 6th grade Spanish skills. I studied French all through high school and college, and it only comes in handy to watch foreign films. My sister had studied Spanish and then proceeded to use it at various employments and situations. Therefore, she has a strong foundation and experience with it. Guess which language my daughter is going to learn?

In Spain, I could navigate sometimes when the French and Spanish overlapped (e.g., "tirar" in Spanish is to pull while "tirer" in French). Then other times it was quite a challenge to order a cup of coffee or ask someone for directions. We were quite surprised that a lot of people we interacted with did not speak English (e.g., random waitress, ticket vendors, traffic officers). On the other hand, the native Spanish speakers were really appreciative if you tried to piece a sentence together,  no matter how badly. They would help you along to complete your thoughts. 

There's something about that mental challenge of learning new languages. The minute I knew I had to talk to someone, my brain started churning. It was embarrassing that a bunch of us often threw in other languages when stressed. Our brains could recognized it as a foreign word - but just the wrong language!

I've been in this situation before in my life, and it could be frustrating and exhausting when communication fails. I've married into a family that doesn't speak the same language as mine, and it was hard to learn a new language. However, I tried the same systematic technique I learned French, as well as constant interruptions to discussions to make sure I understood the flow.  I actually believe I have strong comprehension skills for languages, while my speaking skills are rough. So by the end of the week, I could understand a speaker  better than I did earlier.

People Magnet
Had we stayed in a sleepy suburban town, I might not have much to say here. However, being in Madrid, we had the opportunity to meet people from different places. There was a replanted Swiss gentleman with his two boys who helped us navigate the Metro. A neighbor who came onto the hotel balcony during the protests was a Swede on business.Then there was the lovely English couple - senior citizens with back packs who had just arrived in Madrid - who recommended restaurants from their guide to us and we felt old friends when we met them at one of them. My absolutely favorite multicultural moment was dancing to "Gangnam Style" with 2 Londoners, 3 Russian girls and Spaniards at an Irish pub!

What I find most fascinating as an American meeting foreigners on different soil is their perception of the US. We were in Europe one week after the re-election of Barack Obama. So, generally upon hearing we were American, their first comments where how pleased they were that Obama won. The Swedish neighbor said 95% of country wanted this. Some people had met other Americans who were Romney supporters and were stunned. This is so important because this is an example of what US role is in the world stage. People in the US tend gaze at their belly button and not realizing everyone is waiting for action.

Occupy Europe
We were also there on November 14th, when anti-austerity demonstrations were taking place all over Europe. Our hotel was on Gran Via, which we referred to as the "Fifth Avenue of Madrid." From our hotel room, we could see all the activity on the main street, which usually picked up in the evening and it became an exciting area.

On the 14th, we found ourselves on a main artery of the demonstration path as people marched toward the government buildings.These are photos from our balcony as thousands of people gathered. It was a 24 hour strike, so it literally started at 1am. We had hundreds of people chanting and marching in the streets, police vehicles and helicopters flying overhead (this was when we met the Swedish neighbor). They started again in the morning by 8a.m and I've got lots of photos and videos of the activity. It's surprising how loud a thousand people can get!

We said this was a once in a lifetime experience and after seeing the museums, cathedrals and palaces, this is modern Europe. People wanting their voices heard, whether they are in Madrid or Rome or Paris.

After the protests, we walked down the main street and saw that the protestors had defaced a lot of the private property. There were stickers plastered and spray painted messages on windows and doors.

These are pictures of the La Caixa bank and the Loewe store,which represent the 1% (in US terms). You could feel the anger the people have towards the banks that profited, while the people had to pay.

That day, we took advantage of the closed train stations and shops and staying out of the museum district, by spending the afternoon in El Retiro (the "Central Park of Madrid", but more palatial). We ran into the 1000's again in the evening by Plaza Cibeles, but fortunately followed some other folks through the back streets to the hotel.

In the evening, we had gone out for post-dinner drink and we meandered through the prostitutes and night tourism. We saw crowds on one street towards Puerto Del Sol, and then we heard police firing. At that point, people started running. We decided to run the other way, towards the Guinness beer sign on a pub!

When I returned home and told my colleagues and others about this, about 99% gave me blank stares. These are your average Americans who listen to local news station and that's their main source. The 1% who did know where actually immigrants who listen to NPR and BBC world news. Don't get me started on this.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Trip to Madrid - Recap, Tips and Comments!

We were fortunate to have the opportunity to go to Madrid, Spain for 8 days this month. This was our first trip to Spain and I haven't been to Europe since 2000. We made this a true family vacation with my husband, daughter, sister and friend coming together.

Where do I begin?!


First tip for travelers to Madrid - check the hours for free entry to the museums. Reina Sofia is free on Sundays and the Prado is in free 2 hours in the evening.We also went to the Thyssen-Bornemisza museum, which did not offer free entry. 

For Reina Sofia, we spent about 3 hours there and saw about 90% of what was open. I loved modern art, so this was like a feast for me! Unfortunately, we missed getting the audio guides and relied only on the description on the placards. My daughter liked the abstract work and we had fun guessing different things. However, some of the surreal films were too graphic and we had to usher her out. This was the first museum that I've seen that had an extensive collection of films for specific artistic movements. What impressed me the most were the variety of Spanish artists. I hadn't known about some of these, and made some notes to research them further.

We went to the Museo de Prado on 2 evenings. Just because it's centrally located, it wasn't hard to find ourselves in that area. Now that I mentioned how I love modern art, I was extremely turned off in the Prado. How many portraits of Spanish royalty do you need to see? On the other hand, my sister loved the portraits and the color. I did fall for El Greco though - maybe because he has the non-comformist edge to his work. This online image is quite weak. In person, this painting (Adoracion Pastores) is electric! He just takes the red cloth on Mary and then dabs pure white on top. Also, this painting is quite large so it's also very commanding in that sense. 

The third museum is the Thyssen and we spent around 3-4 hours there. I think I could've done it in less than 3 since I'm not interested in the Dutch paintings, which my sister enjoys. On the other hand, I discovered German and Russian expressionist painters that I might have missed. Again, I wrote their names to research later. Also, saw a sedate Lucien Freud portrait of the museum's benefactor, Baron Thyssen Bornemisza. My daughter enjoyed the modern art, and I was pleased to see groups of young school children (under 7). The tour guide would ask them to use their imagination to view these great works.

Where to Eat

Yeah, you really can't stay hungry for long in Madrid. There's a tapas cafe or bar every few feet.
Here are our favorites that we discovered:

Public - behind our hotel on Gran Via. This was absolutely fabulous and delightful. The ambiance is chic, the staff was accomodating and the food was divine. The ravioli was paper thin, and felt like comfort food.Tuna with rosemary was heavenly and people liked the beef carpaccio. We went there twice. The most exciting part was the price on the entrees. 

La Gloria de Montera - this the same owner as Public and we had received recommendations for this restaurant for being affordable and chic. The starters were wonderful - gazpacho, pumpkin soup, calamari. However, the entrees were a bit off. I had a giltfish out of sense of adventure and it was a bony mess.The paella was fishy. Dessert made up for it though. And, yes, if you ask they will give you a plate for your bread; otherwise it is is placed directly on the table.

The owner also has Ginger, La Finca de Susana and Bazaar, which we did not try. 

100 Montaditas - we found this chain and loved it for its casual atmosphere and cheap eats. A salad for 4 euros? A sangria for 3 euros? My only problem was that the descriptions sound wonderful, but they're all little sandwiches - carb overload alert!

After a while, you're done with the jamon and the manchego cheese. We found a little India neighborhood (mostly run by Bangladeshis) and a random Indian restaurant behind our  hotel. We also found a Chinese restaurant that was fairly decent, though everything tasted the same. We had some great pizza and some bad pizza depending on the restaurant.

For First Timers

1. Go to the Plaza Mayor Tourist office and sign up for the walking tour. We took one that started at 6pm and were worried it might be too dark. Yes it was dark, but who knew this city lit up so beautifully! All of the old buildings and fountains were hauntingly beautiful. We all got headphones and the guide had a microphone. So, if you fell behind a bit, you didn't miss out on the discussion. We took the tour on Day 3 in Spain (Day 2 in Madrid), and it helped so much. We understood the culture and history so much better. I took some notes, so we were able to see a painting at the Prado and understand which royal dynasty it represented.

2. Pick  up art work in Plaza Mayor - bull fighters and flamenco dancers are most popular, so you have choices and see which one calls to you. 

3. Take the metro and enjoy the musicians. Just be careful on the elevators - they move very quickly!

4.  Street performers in Plaza Mayor and Puerto del Sol. Take photos, but watch your wallet. 

5. Be ready to walk a lot, have plenty of foot lotion, powder and socks for end of the day massages

6. Bring extra film cards for your camera.You may end up taking videos of old men with accordions, birds nibbling at a cafe or the general strike demonstrations happening outside your hotel balcony.

7. Get a pocket Spanish guide. I wished I had one because not many people spoke English as I expected. So ordering a coffee or looking for directions was challenging.

Best Part of Madrid is Getting Out of Madrid

We took a day trip to Segovia - a 10:30 bus from Atocha Renfe for about 13 Euros. The trick is that train and bus tickets are booked to a specific timeslot so you may not assume you are welcomed onboard when you show up.

From the bus stop, we took a map from the Info stand there,but did not get much info from the attendant since obviously a busload of tourists just showed up. Instead, the tourist office by the Aqueduct had a more agreeable representative. He pointed how we could go off the beaten path - if the tourists are headed to the main sites, we should go through the quieter backstreets and get to the same place.

The three big things in Segovia are the Roman Aqueduct, the Alcazar (castle) and the Cathedral.

  • The Alcazar was beautiful from the outside and it started to rain, so we dived inside for a quick cafe. We had the audio guide, which was helpful since there weren't descriptions inside.
  • The cathedral looks like a buttercream cake! It was gorgeous and you could almost hear music from its outdoor architecture, when you see it from any angle in the city. Inside it's huge and beautiful as well.
  • The Roman aqueduct was mindblowing when you realize they're perfectly cut stones on top of each other without mortar. There is a point you can walk to where the aqueduct ends so you could touch the top of the arch!
We ended our day with Doner Kabab Nemrut where we had fabulous pizza, falafels and fresh squeezed juice. Jumped back on the bus to Madrid by 6pm.

If we had more time, we definitely would've visited the other museums and churches. It has a wonderful, ancient, small town feel. 


This is another UNESCO World Heritage site and it's a must see. It's larger than Segovia so the one day - actually 7 hours - we had set aside for this was not enough. Our original intention was to stay 1 night here, and that option is still open for the future.

We took the AVE train from Madrid for 12 Euros and it's about 30 minute ride. From the train station, we took one of the tour buses. We had option to book tickets and tour from the Madrid office, but chose to try our luck there. We did well. For 20 Euros, we got a tour bus, a (good looking) Spanish guide who translated into English and Spanish on the bus and walking tour through the city and the Cathedral. I thought Segovia was tough on the cobblestones, but this town has a lot of uphill and downhill paths. There's a river surrounding the city, so the view is outstanding.

The architecture in this city is delightful and you could always find small alleyways that need to be photographed. The Cathedral is beautiful and the guide explained a lot of the history and motivation. The beauty of Toledo was the history of Arabs, Christians and Jews living together in one tiny town, and it was the capital of Spain at one time. The main square was called Plaza de Zocodover, which comes from the Arab word "sook" for market. As you walk through the Jewish quarter, there are small 3" tiles in blue and white with either Hebrew letters or Menorah embedded into the cobblestones.

The guide had suggested we take a quick bus back to the train station. However, he neglected to tell us to ring the buzzer or tell the driver where we wanted to get off. The driver kept going passed the station and we got a tour of the local streets. We panicked and harassed him to get us back to the station to get our 7:20 train (remember, we're all reserved now!). We made the train with barely 7 minutes to spare.

Saturday, November 03, 2012

"After a Hurricane, there's a rainbow" - Katy Perry

What a week it has been! I keep thinking of how normal life was one week ago. Yes, there were news of impending storm, but we had Irene last year and made out ok. I can easily say, this was unexpected beyond imagination!

We are in PA so our area suffered slightly compared to others in NY and NJ. We have uprooted trees and power outages throughout the area. The uprooted trees that always stun me are the thick trunk ones with the roots that have gone deep into the earth.We were fortunate to have electricity (even though there was a tree branch precariously on a wire), and we could host friends seeking warmth, phone chargers and homemade corn soup.

When I woke up on Tuesday morning and just cried with relief that we were all safe. Monday night was rough listening to the winds and we woke up all night to make sure our power was still on. If we lost power, we'd lose our sump pump, which was running all day to extract water from our basement. With the howling high winds, we decided to stay away from windows and get blankets to sleep in the basement together. For me, social media was important - I kept checking all day to see updates from friends on weather conditions as well as their own power situations. A friend's husband was stuck out of state and she had to managing a midnight power outage and starting up the generator on her own. She and I were texting at wee hours of the morning.

Everyone has stories and this week has changed people. Before and during the storm, we ended good byes to friends with "Stay safe" message. Afterwards, when we meet each other, the first thing we say is "How did you make out from the storm? Is everyone ok?"

I have colleagues in NY & NJ who were hit pretty hard and we haven't heard too much except due to their limited power. Yesterday, a colleague in Staten Island was emailing me while waiting in line for gas. He said my emails kept up the spirits of "tired and frustrated man". He sent a note at 6pm saying that 8 hours waiting for gas and nothing. He has to try again tomorrow.

I'm reaching out to my network today to see how we could help (donate supplies or food). I'm in PA, but I'm a New Yorker and a Jersey Girl at heart. The fact that my FB news feed still has posts from friends without electricity and hot water and are displaced is disheartening.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Navratri Rules

Let me first wish everyone a Happy Navratri!

Now, let me acquaint my readers who do not know about this Hindu festival. All others, please go down to the Rules section

Navratri (translates as 9 nights) is the Hindu festival celebrating Shakti or Durga the goddess and the last night is Dusshera. There are different traditions around this festival. In South Indian states, they create a Golu, display of dolls. In my home state of Gujarat, we celebrate with regional folk dance called Garba and celebrating for 9 nights. We have an alter in the middle, and typically women dance in a circle around this. There are a few standard dance steps, but there will be multiple circles of creative dancing.

Here's a link to a popular Bollywood song, Dhole Baje (translates as "The drum beats" but could be a metaphor for my 'heart beats') Zoom up to 1:45 to see the garba steps. Again, this is stylized Bollywood and not a true depiction of "real people" events. But, if I showed actual video, it's too confusing.

During Navrati, women wear colorful traditional Gujarati dresses. It's beautiful to see otherwise modern women pull out the jewelry and clothes of the villagers. Trends now involve body art either painting traditional tribal tattoos or blingy stickers.

At some point, the dance changes from Garba to Dandiya Raas. Everyone finds a pair of sticks and a partner and dances in circles. Here's another Bollywood video that depicts the stick dance and again, it's quite stylized.

Here's one more link of a dance in Gujarat - Hu To Gai Thi Mela Ma (translates "I went to the fair")  with real people dancing.

As an Indian American and a Gujarati, Navratri garba meant more to me than Diwali or Holi. In the US, there's no way we could dance for 9 nights. We always manage with 2 weekends of activities.

My parents had friends who would hold garba in their basements. We would dress up and every family brought food for prasad. People would dance in the basement as a few uncles who played the harmonium and tabla. The moms and aunts all sang the songs and tried to make up new steps. I do remember it was a breakthrough year when they had the garba songs on a cassette. Wow - how did they find it?

Kids would drink soda and watch TV while waiting until midnight. At that point, everyone put down their sticks and we sang the prayers. We stood and clapped along to words we didn't understand. Every year I begged for the words in English, and my father would say "no one gave us the words, you just learned it!" Ironically, I did learn it and can sing along to Jai Oh Ma quite well.

I remember my first 'hall' garba - i.e., one that is held by the community in a school gymnasium - was in 7th grade. I wore a sari and my parents teased me because I was walking as if I were still wearing jeans. It was in Jersey City somewhere and awfully crowded.

Fortunately, by high school our local Indian organization held one at the community college gym and we loved that. We saw our friends there, and there was a cute guy that I knew I'd see once a year. That was another plus about garbas. Generally speaking for myself and majority of my peers, we weren't allowed to have boys call the house, couldn't be "just friends" because that invariably led to "more than friends". Dandiya was great because it was very social, your parents are right there, but you could dance with a guy if he happened to be in line. I always had to work myself to be in the line with that cute guy.  Also, garbas go on until midnight - so this is a chance for some people to sneak out and hook up. (I was shocked when I heard all that in college. All I wanted was to be in the same line with the one anonymous guy who I never talked to! I didn't know all this happened behind the bleachers.)

Regarding Navratri, there seems to be a passion that resides in Gujaratis, more than other communities. We plan ahead with shopping for jewelry, clothes and accessories. We find out the schedules and locations. We don't let weather deter us. By the way, garbas are also done as one of the pre-wedding ceremony events. It's a great way for families to come together and socialize before the wedding. So there's a stronger sense of this dance being part of lifestyle.

Ashini's Garba Rules

What I love about garba in the US is that everyone comes together. It's not just about being Gujarati. I see Marathis, Punjabis, Sikhs, Muslim (Yes, I saw one girl in a scarf at the high school dancing), Asians, White and Black Americans. Thanks to our enthusiasm to share our culture and traditions, everyone brings a friend along. Years ago, I had dressed up my college friends and handed them dandiyas, and they had a great time.

Now, my friends.. here are the rules.

1. Take off your shoes as you enter the gym. There are sacred images on the alter and shoes must be left outside. As always, no one guarantees your shoes won't be stepped on, kicked around or just generally lost. Keep this in mind when choosing your footwear.  

2. Take 10 minutes and go into the hallway and learn the routines. Only when you're sure you have it, enter. Newbies look frustrated and don't enjoy themselves.

3. When you enter an existing dandiya line, come in as a pair. By jumping in solo, the order is upset.

4. When you leave the dandiya line, leave as pair. Don't suddenly decide that you're done and walk away. Find someone else in line with you to leave as well. Again, by walking away, the order is upset and you've just ticked off a bunch of people who will end up dancing alone for 5 awkward beats.

5. Be in the moment. There are people who are spacing out and not in the same beat as everyone else. Either you want to be here, or you don't.

6. Safety first. If your dandiya breaks, find a partner and leave the line. Don't dance with a broken stick in your hand. Also, just be aware of your space and who is around you. I've been accidentally whacked by a friend and had a welt on my arm. Be aware of how you move in and out of the crowds.

7. Don't be an "Airplane" - the guy who takes his dandiya and spins around in the air like a plan, and confuses the partners when he's going to land on them.

8. Don't be an "Air Kisser" - the woman who is so happy dancing and spinning, she doesn't really hit your dandiya, but makes a show of it.

9. Be a "Switcher" ONLY if you have a partner in crime. If not, people will think you're messing up the lines.

10. One stick or two - it's doesn't matter. Just make sure you have one.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Burning Bridges

Not just burning the bridge, but then throwing a dead cow down the town’s well and sowing salt into the fields.

Sometimes we make big leaps in our lives - escaping from unhealthy situations if we need to do so. However,there's always a connection that should be maintained. As I've grown older, I'm always surprised to see how we cross paths with people at different points, just when we thought we had left them behind. Sometimes, it may not be direct crossing, but close enough. You never know when you need to rely on someone's good word or deed. Or, better yet - someone could be relying on you and there should be a confidence in your dependability.  

There have been times when I've been rewarded by referencing someone else. For example, I may reference my father's name and receive positive feedback.  That's pretty powerful to know that one's behavior represents not only the person, but those connected to the person.  I'm fortunate that my father always leaves an extremely positive impression on people, and he's made connections far and wide.  So, there's a positive impression for the family.  However, just by association with a negative person, one's image is invariably tainted. It's a struggle to redeem oneself in that light. 

We can move forward, but we always have to look back at the road we traveled. We don't want to see simmering timber and villagers with pitchforks.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Regret Factor II

I've written the Regret Factor, but I heard this amazing Ted Talk on the radio last week by Karen Shulz. The last line is so powerful. "Regret doesn't remind us we did badly. It reminds us we can do better." Please listen to her talk as she takes you through her experience and conclusions.

I'm so excited to hear this perspective because she gives permission to people to feel the pain and acknowledge the mistake. However, she also grants the hope to do better the next time.

One of my favorite quotes about success and failure - You don't fail when you fall down. You fail when you don't get up.

There's always a chance to do it again. You took the wrong action or perhaps you did not take an action at all.This could be at the individual level or a larger social or community level. We could struggle with our own demons. However, we can't just stop. I had to tell this to my daughter when she was struggling in school - it's all about getting up each time.

Sorry to throw more quotes in this blog post,  but another favorite quote is "Regret is hoping we can change the past."

Yeah, that's not going to happen. So, why are we so intent on reliving the incident over and over? Like Karen Shulz said, it becomes an infinite loop. It's a mantra. One should have a positive mantra rather than "I'm such an idiot and I can't believe I did that." It's during that time we need to check if we're spinning our wheels in the mud or actually moving forward.

I love this quote because it allows us to accept that it's over. You're done, don't bother unless you've got a Flux Capacitor and building a time machine to relive that moment.

The best part of this is that we have the gift of looking back and saying, "Wow, that was not the right thing to do." If that situation arises in the future, we know how we should handle this.

Our lives are made up of light and dark moments. Imagine the rocks strewn along the beach as moments our lives. There are some perfectly round rocks, smoothed by time and tide. Then there are jagged or malformed rocks. They belong there on the beach and they were put there for a reason. But, we don't need to keep dancing on those and keep feeling the pain. Those are the ones we pick up and throw back into the water. We take a side step and continue seeking the smooth ones.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

With a Purpose

I recently finished Paulo Coehlo's "Aleph". I'm a fan of Coehlo and subscribe to him on Facebook, so I receive a daily inspiring quote. Some people may find him too preachy or too "all iz vell". But I respect him and enjoy his writing.

"Aleph" was a surprise because unlike the magical realism of "The Alchemist," this was all his personal experience. I enjoyed it on one level because it was a glimpse into the life of a writer - dealing with global publishers and fan following.

This book addresses past life connections and how they intertwine into the current life. It was interesting how he said he realized he had transgressions against 7 women from a past life and he interacted with few of them already. He realized that he had to engage with them in this life to resolve the pain carried over from each cycle.

I found this interesting and actually quite helpful perspective. We have such a notion of "one soul mate". I know someone who had gone to a psychic who said her then-husband had been in her past lives too. However, it was a tumultuous connection and they would keep meeting, but they are not resolved. Unfortunately, the marriage dissolved very quickly and they've parted ways completely. He wasn't her absolute soul mate, but they were souls that pulled toward each other.

There's another person close to me who had a committed girlfriend for a few years. This was exciting because she had a positive influence on him. He didn't have a direction in his life, and she really encouraged him to travel independently, continue his studies and find his dreams. During that time, he learned more about himself and gained more momentum. It was a delight to see them together because she received strength from him as well. There was such peace around the two of them.

However, they broke up. They parted amicably as they chose their own paths in different directions. Geographically they did not belong together, but for those few years, they were in the same city. Now, they were being pulled in separate directions (literally, across the country). The romantics in us thought he should've chased her down and proposed, or they both should've at least compromised and looked for alternatives. They are still apart, but quite amicable. Actually, we were all hurt by the break up because it seemed so right.

After reading "Aleph", I feel they were soul mates, but that they had a temporary purpose. They were drawn to each other for a specific period. They needed to help each other and this relationship set the foundation for their future relationships. There isn't one soul mate, but multiple souls becoming entwined. I do feel better about the break up since I know they will both find someone else at a later time.

I think of others who came into my life at various periods, and then they disappeared. At the time, everything fell into place, but then the universe pulls them away just as quickly.

Tips on Saving Money on Groceries - Part 2

Here is the link to Part 1.

Here is your money saving tip - Clean your kitchen!

Recently, I've done some cleaning and reorganizing kitchen areas of friends and family members (who shall remain nameless for protection). We found expired bottles, multiple packages of cheese or oatmeal. The story with the oatmeal is a good one because they don't even eat oatmeal. They had bought it for visiting parents, who left months ago.

What happened to our poor victims happens to all of us - overwhelmed by clutter. When you organize everything, you know where to find things. For these tragic cases, had their space been organized, they may not have bought additional Parmesan cheese or salsa. They would've known there were 3 open already in the fridge.

I'm guilty of overbuying - "Didn't you say we needed ketchup?" and it's more due to confusion or miscommunication.

Growing up, I always cleaned the fridge while my mom went to buy groceries. If you don't have an underage housekeeper of your own, you will have to take that responsibility yourself.

1. Organize the space 
Everything has a purpose and a place. For example, we have 6 rows in our pantry. Starting at the bottom:
1. Potatoes, onions, extra bottles and cans (need to bend a little, but it's ok)
2. Canned food and juices and bottles (these are likely to be used so need to see them easily)
3. Chips, cookies, snacks (these are used daily and right at eye level for us)
4. cake mixes, pastas, spices (just right above eye level)
5. Indian spices, thai curries, coconut milk, packets of surprises (these I need to get the stool for)
6. Extra cereal boxes, boxes of chocolate (man, I need to really climb up on that stool!)

Each row should have a purpose. If you stick your salsa bottles behind cereal boxes and you're going to miss them. And keep buying more bottles, even though you have them.

It is through this exercise that one learns priorities.

2. Clean the fridge before you shop.
  • Leftovers need to be tossed or frozen. If you have a substantial quantity, go ahead and freeze it. Just get some masking tap for a quick label. However, do remember to clean your freezer occasionally. We freeze a lot of food and it's like a nice surprise not to cook on those days that exhaust you (e.g., coming home from a trip)
  • If you don't think you would serve something today (e.g., a piece of 2" square of Gouda from your last party), then throw it out. 
  • If you find you have food items that you bought for someone else, but don't need - Give it away! 
    • I've brought snacks to work (after my picky kid rejected them) or extra fruit that I won't be using, but it was such a good deal.
    • Look for the food banks. By the way, food banks do not just need canned soup. Donate extra boxes of cake mix and Jello.Contribute all those special items too!

Now that you've seen what you've thrown out and what you have kept, you can go shopping with a purpose.

3. Store food  properly
  • Downsize containers and packages. Actually fruit is supposed to be kept in airtight containers, so transfer from the plastic ones from the market. Don't let one serving of pasta in the serving dish take up valuable real estate in the fridge.
  • Don't leave food in tin cans or open bottles - transfer to a proper container with lid. 
  • If you're wrapping up with foil or clear wrap, do it right. Leaving gaps is the same as leaving it opened.
  • Speaking of wasted real estate space, throw out those bottles of expired condiments that line the refrigerator door! Don't confuse yourself into thinking you have dressing, when it's from 2005.

4. Keep a running shopping list. 
We write down whatever we need on a list on the fridge. It sounds mundane, but it really helps. The minute I'm looking for something and realize we don't have it, I scribble it down. I take it one step further and write down the store (e.g., Indian store, Grocery, Costco, etc) so it's ready whenever someone is out.

Disclaimer: our pantry and fridge is not 100% perfect. This is why I'm not attaching photos of our kitchen to this blog. We have our 3 open bags of  chips and crackers that no one seems to eat. However, I wanted to say that it's a constant process, not a one time event.

There is no Refrigerator Fairy. If there were, she would be replacing the moldy salad mix  in the drawer with fresh batch of brownies! Since that ain't happening, I have to clean it up. 

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Fields of Energy

"Please take responsibility for the energy you bring into this space"

Oprah has this quote posted in her makeup room. I've thought about posting this on my office door. However, how could we send out this message to people when we're not in a physical space, but our own space?

I blogged once about how I'm quite sensitive to the energy around me - if you're motivated and inspired, I will be too. If you're bringing negativity, I will feel it too.

Our personal challenge is how do we deal with the persons that are constantly negative. It's easy to say that we just cut them out of our lives. But, it may not be that simple as you may be into forced situations such as work or social settings.

We recently had an interaction with someone who is extremely negative and teeters on obnoxious (well, sometimes, falls over). We're in a situation with her that we can't extricate ourselves due to social entanglements. Therefore, it's a struggle to maintain our own positive energy while being subjected to pellets of negativity. We could clearly see the effect she has on people around her, and they look beaten down.

I suppose one has to put up a force field. I'm thinking of Violet from The Incredibles who finds this energy inside of her to put around herself and her family when being attacked. Go ahead, hit me with your insecurities, it won't penetrate us!

However, force fields can only be sustained while the superhero is focused on it. If we let down our guard just to breathe for a moment, we could get attacked. It's exhausting to repel the negative energy. And, my force field cannot be there to protect every one at every minute. This is like my previous blog about controlling situations. I can adjust my sails and step away.

An alternative approach would be to spread the positive. However, I've seen that people live via negative channels have put up a wall, not just a force field. They don't have to even focus on it - it's already built and protects them. You could keep sending forth positive messages, but they won't hear them. They may bring down a brick or two if they see that the coast is clear.

The fact that I'm even writing about this proves that I've been affected by this. If I truly repelled them, I wouldn't feel the urge to even write! By the way, I don't think it's necessary to bad-mouth people. I've seen that negative and incompetent people do their own advertising. It's quite obvious to other people, so you might as well save your breath.

There was a situation at work with someone who is notoriously negative and I say his project management methodology is "bullying." There was an incident where he broke me and I was deeply hurt. My colleagues rallied around me. The second time he attacked me, I had put up my force field and just stepped away to look at him. It was 9 a.m. on Monday morning and he was already fired up. He must have some baggage that I'm not aware of that is causing him to be so irrational so quickly. My colleagues were angry at his behavior, but I told them I felt sorry for him. We don't know what burdens everyone is carrying. His anger didn't change the situation, and actually hurt how the team worked with him.

I had read years ago that you should be the type of person you want to attract. If you want to attract depressing and miserable people, just send out the message you're one of them. If you want to attract more spirited and positive people, send out the message you're one of them.

I'm just frustrated that even if I want to be around positive people - and there truly are lots of amazing positive and vibrant people in my life - the Negative and Insecure still manage to weave themselves into the framework. I suppose that's part of life. Keeps us aware of who we are and where we want to be. Actually, I'm going to reach out to some of my positive friends today in order to "cleanse" myself of this negativity.

Adjusting Sails

"You can't control the wind, but you can adjust the sails"

This has been my mantra for the last two weeks. We've started some home renovation projects after doing so much research for months. We had flooring samples from different vendors, did the research online and with consumer ratings. We interviewed friends and designers for their suggestions on paint colors and did sample patches. We found contractors based on personal references, and followed up with others. We were in fortunate and unusual position of having 2 good contractors and needed to make a decision based on schedule, not price or competency.

They ripped apart our carpeting and vinyl to prepare for the hard wood floors. However, once they opened the boxes of wood, they brought to our attention the quality of wood. It was really inconsistent and poor. This led to a frustrating weekend for us, and lots of split decisions as our house was upside down and we had to make sense of it all. In addition to the wood, we had some issues with bathrooms, new appliance and a leaking basement ceiling.

Anyway, I don't want to go into details-- there are plenty of DIY sites out there. I'm focusing on the DIY inside. This was very stressful for us mentally and physically, and for my husband, it became spiritually exhausting feeling the collapse of a year of hard work.

Control Issues

I needed to point out that we controlled every factor that we could - the contractor, the wood selection, special situations that needed to be addressed, coordination of simultaneous installations/delivery of other components. All of that was done impeccably. However, we could not control what happened when those boxes were packed at the factory. Was the machine out of sorts? Were these returns? Did someone not understand how this worked? Did they mix up the boxes and send the wrong ones out?

This is when we need to adjust our sails. We could easily wallow in self-pity and blamed it on "bad luck" or "mercury retrograde" or even the Evil Eye or beat ourselves up for being plain old stupid.  However, all we could do is really clear our minds and work logically through the chaos.

To adjust your sails is to take control, but a different way.

One of my gifts in life is to be the calm in the center of the storm. This is not to say I don't become the eye of the storm every now and then! However, generally, I like Rudyard Kipling's If that begins  "If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs.." That's when I usually step up to the plate - ease the energy.
Since I work in IT, this is a skill that used quiet frequently as there are stressful and uncontrollable situations constantly.

Part of being calm and rational is to be able to look at the situation and the options at hand. We had to make some decisions very quickly. You make decisions with the information you have on hand a that moment. You don't know the future so you can only predict based on what you know. At that moment, we had to make decisions based on current conditions. Now we look back and wonder what we could've done differently. But hindsight is 20/20, of course. It's easier to say "we should've done xyz" but at that moment we didn't know that at the time. 

I believe I blogged about this before, but it's not having control over situations that makes us anxious. When you're in the middle of chaos, you have to find some way to control what is in your power.

Deep Breaths
With regard to our house, we've decided to take a break for a bit and have scheduled some help on this. We've let go of the anxiety of deadlines and schedules, and opening up to whatever may be as long as the results are desirable.

I had a friend who said "Never make long term decisions on short term circumstances." Look at the big picture and you see where this fits in.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Nora Ephron Quotes

“I love that you get cold when it's 71 degrees out. I love that it takes you an hour and a half to order a sandwich. I love that you get a little crinkle above your nose when you're looking at me like I'm nuts. I love that after I spend the day with you, I can still smell your perfume on my clothes. And I love that you are the last person I want to talk to before I go to sleep at night. And it's not because I'm lonely, and it's not because it's New Year's Eve. I came here tonight because when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.”
Nora Ephron, When Harry Met Sally

How great is that? 

A Tale of Two Helens and One Nora.

As I near my birthday, I realize another year has gone by and I become wistful..

I start realizing my own mortality and how the years have escaped me. And, the road ahead seems shorter than it used to look when I was 30. Where's my legacy, my notable career achievements, my great novel, or at least a considerable following for my blog. (While I love having 8 followers of my blog.. it's just 8. I've seen really lame blogs have hundreds of followers.. what am I doing wrong, aside from not posting enough?). I was supposed to have the svelte figure, Michelle Obama arms, and the ability to run a half marathon (it seems everyone is doing that on Facebook. I didn't even know some of these people owned sneakers let alone could hold their own in a race!) So, recently I've been wallowing in my despair and allowing these dreams to fall like deflated balloons. It feels like the road ahead is a lot shorter than the road behind me. Yeah even if you live to 100, but you're not really doing too much at that point. Physically your body craps out and you can't do anything but worry about your hip and not falling down.

Then Nora Ephron died this week. They've been playing her interviews and she was speaking on NPR:
"You do get to a certain point in life where you have to realistically, I think, understand that the days are getting shorter, and you can't put things off thinking you'll get to them someday," she says. "If you really want to do them, you better do them. There are simply too many people getting sick, and sooner or later you will. So I'm very much a believer in knowing what it is that you love doing so you can do a great deal of it."

For Ephron, there was a moment that helped bring that realization vividly home. She was with friends, playing a round of "What would your last meal be?" (Her pick, by the way: a Nate & Al's hot dog.)

"But (my friend) Judy was dying of throat cancer, and she said, 'I can't even have my last meal.' And that's what you have to know is, if you're serious about it, have it now," Ephron says. "Have it tonight, have it all the time, so that when you're lying on your deathbed you're not thinking, 'Oh I should have had more Nate & Al's hot dogs.'"

 NPR calls these "driveway moments." This is when you sit in the car and can't get out because you're engrossed with the radio story. So you sit in the driveway until the story is completed. I had my "parking lot moment" with Ephron. Yes, I need to do it now. There's no more waiting until tomorrow or next week or next month. I need to move the clutter in my life and do the things I love. (Hence, the blog post at midnight)

My second epiphany came during my art class on Wednesdays. I've been taking art class since Sept (shoot, I haven't even blogged about it and it's been life changing for me! I owe a blog about that one!). So, Jenn is my instructor and she said 2 ladies from her senior citizens class would attend the evening class this summer. So, I've met two lovely ladies named Helen. I remembered them from Jenn's story about the two Helen's painting each others work because it was signed "Helen". These two ladies are full of stories, opinions and light-hearted banter.

Helen #1 is early 70's, thick, light brown hair cut short and a ready smile. She's elegant and has a face full of soft wrinkles, but a strong body. Since the art class uses on of the dance studios, Helen went to the ballet barre and showed us the 5 positions and included a plie. Then she swung her leg over the barre! Helen #2 teased her by calling her a 'show off'.  Helen keeps extremely busy - she's active as a Township Supervisor, a number of quilting and arts group, has her swimming club and will be leaving for Okinowa to see her granddaughter have a baby in few weeks. She offered to buy her grandson a ticket provided he join her, and they plan to stay in hostels and eat local food.She's also going to be riding in a car for the July 4th parade representing the township.

In those soft lines on her face, I see so much enthusiasm for life. Aging gracefully doesn't mean you don't have lines on your face. It means you accept the life you're leading and continue looking for new adventures.

Helen #2 is probably the same age and is a larger African American woman. She's a retired nurse and her husband died and he was in police force, I believe. She's got white hair cropped short and an animated facial expressions. Her arms and bosom are big and you know those are the best kind for hugging grandbabies! (yes, I've seen pictures and the little girl has her nose). Physically, she has trouble moving but she's busy with her senior groups and cooking for potlucks. (Helen #1 said she was bringing a 5 cheese lasagna and then confessed it was Stauffers'. Hey, you don't have to do it ALL!.)

 She's a perfectionist in her art and gets frustrated so easily. She showed us her album of artwork she's done and I was stunned. Painting after painting was done beautifully. There must have been over 10 paintings in her album, and I'm sure there have been more that weren't in there. My one acrylic 10x8 takes me 4 classes to finish. These are large canvas paintings that must take hours. I thought "wow, she had time to work on these and make them so perfect." That's when I saw how many years ahead I had, and saw that Helen was taking advantage of what years she did have.

All my panic about running out of time faded. The Helens reminded me there is a lot that can be done in the time that remains. But I need to do it and not dwell on it. And like Nora reminded me, you need to enjoy every day because life is so short.