Experiences, Family, Food, Gratitude, Life, Little Moments

Little moments for the summer

I have been wanting to resurrect the Little Moments Thursday series. As the name implies, it attempts to celebrate the little moments in one’s life. I like the idea of dedicating a day of the week for this because as they say, anything that can be done at any time, seldom gets done. I have written a Little Moments post every now and then but not with the consistency that I used to at one point of time. 

LMT is a concept a dear friend came up with. The idea being we all get carried away with the day to day living or the curve balls that life throws at us that we forget to make note of the little moments that get sprinkled along the way.  To me, it’s one more reminder to be grateful for life’s blessings. It is not an attempt to see life through rose tinted glasses as much as it is about not allowing our lives to be defined by its challenges alone. Apart from taking my happiness quotient several notches higher, I like that in the process of writing about my little moments, I tend to journal the details of my life that otherwise tend to fade into the oblivion. 

Today, I am counting the little moments I have had this summer.

  • Seeing my parents as grandparents. It’s true that they have been grandparents for 13 years but given that our India visits tend to be very brief, that side of them tends to get overshadowed. I have enjoyed seeing my kids hugging and kissing them, Ram playing UNO with amma, Hari calling amma the goddess of dosai, and appa teaching Ram how to apply butter on his bread.  I have enjoyed the videos that my sis-in-law Wini sent, of my parents reading and playing with my niece and nephew,  during their stay with them. 
  • After searching far and wide for sari blouses that fit me, turns out my mom’s fit me well. My mom is leaving her kalamkari blouses for me…!! I love love kalamkari, have always loved it, even when it used to be designs on bedsheets and diwan sets.
  • Sharing kitchen duties with amma. Most of the time, amma takes over the kitchen making simple delicious food for us to devour. I enjoy cooking for them too. So we split our duties, taking turns so one person is not getting burnt out. Who does not like a break from kitchen duties?
  • Taking my dad for shopping. I not only like his choices but admire his keen eye for details. The rest of the boys in the household run a mile a minute should I mention the word shopping or will roll up their sleeves to buy what we call as Ramarajan t-shirts (the polyester ones that sports folks around the world wear – this is a term we coined at home after the tamizh movie actor who tends to wear colorful attire on screen) in our household.
  • Watching Da lavish affection on my dad – it’s genuine, spontaneous, and very child like. Pure as white. 
  • Watching my mom take delight in gardening and our garden getting a facelift.
  • Oh speaking of garden, love the three little rose bushes we have planted in the front yard. The yard has graduated from being despicable to being tolerable to the eye, thanks to amma and Da’s toiling.
  • Watching Sherlock Holmes with Hari. The first time I watched, it was with Da, and turns out I ended up sleeping for most episodes as we would watch it on ipads in the comfort of our bed. Hari is not hooked (the child does not like mystery) but doesn’t mind because it would mean he gets TV time which he would not otherwise get. And just like that I have started watching R rated shows with my offspring!
  • Exchanging food with my dear friend V. When I cook something on insta pot, I share it with her so she gets a kitchen break. When she cooks something delicious (which is often), she spares some for me. 
  • The kids hopping and skipping to V’s house for milkshake every Wednesday. V’s son S coming to our house to bake cake. I love being part of his growing up. 
  • Reading Hari’s journal entries during vacation. The child is not a big fan of writing but writing is a fundamental skill, can’t afford to be sloppy in it. So the deal is to write a little paragraph every day. The child always had a ending that had a nugget of wisdom like “If you have hit rock bottom after all, the only way to go is up”, or “My biggest learning for seventh grade is to not judge a book by its cover.” I enjoyed getting a glimpse into his teen brain.
  • Sleepovers with Ram. I love love sleeping next to him, squished in the twin mattress, his legs resting on my body and his head laid on my arm.  Love cannot get any more primal than this. 
  • Watching Ram read, read, and read like there is no tomorrow. My greatest fear is the child will run out of books of his liking at the library. 
  • Speaking of reading, I have been reading quite a bit this summer, and loving every minute of it. I learnt a little trick from my sis-in-law Aaru. She has this amazing ability to stop whatever she is doing, and grab a book to read. She can read when there is a crowd surrounding her, she can read when she has had a tiff with someone, she can ready just about anywhere at anytime. Reading is her sanctuary. Watching her read that compulsively did tickle my instincts to read. The trick that I learnt from her is to not wait for the perfect moment to grab a book because in this phase and stage of life, that is not going to happen.  It also makes reading a way of life. So gold star to her…!!! 

There were some challenges too this summer but I am deeply grateful for the little moments that made it a memorable one.

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Experiences, Family, Gratitude, Uncategorized

Another Sunday evening

Writing a blog post. A visit to the temple. Going on bike path. Doing stretches. Sitting down for meditation.  What do all these have in common? Once I indulge in these pursuits, I end up wanting to do more of them. But that first step takes monumental effort.

Summer is coming to an end shortly in this part of the world. The days are already getting shorter, we are thinking about back to school routine, and before we know it we will have to pull our sweaters and Fall jackets out. 

Hari has had a pretty laid back summer. He has been in camp just for one week of camp for the entire vacation. We figured the school year tends to get intensive, so why not let the child chill out when he has the chance. That was his preference too. He has enjoyed the freedom of going to the bike path on his own, and camping at the library. He hasn’t hung out much with his friends but has had social time during cricket and baseball practices. He enjoyed setting up his room, he calls it his “man cave,” decorating it with flags of different football teams, built his own basketball hoop, converted the long forgotten Ikea table into a ping pong table, and has made an arcade game on his reading desk. This summer has been a summer without the FOMO for him. 

Ram has been in camp every week. He tried his hands on wood carving and Scratch. His dad has set up a wood shop for him in the basement. My heart skipped several beats when I saw first graders hitting nail with a hammer at the camp. This should not have surprised me but it was too real! Scratch is a mix of programming and gaming. I am not thrilled about this experience but foray into video games is inevitable. For a while, it will be out of control but if I don’t feed the obsession now, it will lead to deprivation. In other news, he has been biking a lot this summer. And for a child that refuses to put his head under water, he has recently taken interest in swimming.  This summer has been a summer of exploring for this child of mine. 

Regarding myself,  I did not take any extra commitments as I wanted to keep it free for appa, amma and kids. Last summer was extremely crazy and I did not want to miss out on another summer with the kids. This summer has been a summer of “US” for me because the days are long but the years are short! 

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Experiences, Experiments, Family, Gratitude, Hari Katha, Intentions, Introspection, Kids, Life, Little Moments

Poonal Kalyanam

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I am writing this as a keepsake of a significant milestone that Hari had recently crossed, his Upanayanam. While it is very close to my heart, I do want to warn you that this is a long post that may not resonate with all readers. This post chronicles the preparations related to Hari’s Upanayanam ceremony. For a brief introduction to Upanayanam, check out this link

The seed…

Hari was at that age when we were beginning to receive Bar Mitzvah invitations from his Jewish friends. That got Da and I thinking – would now be a good time to do poonal for Hari? He is young enough to be open to it and possibly practice the sandhyavandanam (or sandhi) and old enough to understand its significance or at least consider it as a rite of passage. We bounced the idea to Hari, and he seemed to warm up to it. Atleast, he did not resist it.

The sprouting…

So what began as a seed of an idea, started sprouting. Then the question was should we do it in the US or in India. We talked to my parents, Da’s sister Aaru, and my twin, Sathya and they were game to it either way. Having it in India would mean we would have more folks from our extended family attend the event, having it here would mean Da and I could be more hands on with the arrangements. We chose the latter and started thinking about how we wanted to shape the event -close friends and family or more extended? At home or in a hall? The familiar iyer sastrigal we liked and were used to or the unfamiliar iyegnar vaadhiyar at the temple? Do we print the traditional invite or do evite?  How do we host the extended family? We wanted to do things that were meaningful to us and decided that we would try our best to stay away from having to do something purely out of obligation.  While I can’t say we were true to it 100%, for the most part that drove the answers to all the big questions.

The nurturing…

Once we defined our values for the event, nurturing it into something more concrete was the next natural step. We chose to call people we felt a connection to while balancing out the number of guests we wanted to have. We decided to go with our family sastrigal since our immediate family did not have any objections to it. The initial list of invitees made it clear that we would have to hold the main function outside the house, and the earlier day rituals at home. For logistics reasons, we chose not to do the invitation and go with the evite route. We blocked a few rooms for friends and family who we are not able to host at home. For bakshanam and clothes for immediate family, we worked with my appa and amma, who did all the groundwork and heavy lifting methodically, one task at a time. We went with good old trusted Grand Sweets for bakshanam. For return gifts, we didn’t have a big budget but Aaru knew a local kondapalli vendor that we leveraged. Despite her own crazy busy life, Aaru worked with him based on our design, inputs and budget without batting an eyelid and making it all seem so effortless. For extended family and really close friends, we designed a personalized poonal set using kondapalli bommai. It took several iterations and honestly was fun to work on. We were very pleased with the end result. For the extended guests, we zeroed in on a kondapalli thoranam. For the evite, Da designed a poonal wearing iyengar payyan using powerpoint geometric shapes (captured as a picture in this post). I thought that was the cutest design ever. Take that comment with a pinch of salt, as I am only utterly biased given who the artist and subject were.

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Growing pains…

Then came the growing pains and the curve balls. We had initially decided that the date of the function would be June 3rd but that went for a toss when Hari’s baseball schedule was out. Between Sunday school and baseball, there were too many conflicts and we had to work the function around those conflicts.  After a quick check for hall and cook availability, we advanced the dates to May 26th-27th, the memorial day weekend, which was great for out of towners but not so much for local folks. Not only because of travel plans but also because of the kumbabishekam at the temple. We can’t have it all so we made peace with it; we will be happy with whoever attends and will understand if people are not able to make it. As we inched closer, and had a second level of discussion with the cook, she was unsure of being able to cook for the 100 guests estimate we talked about. So we scrambled around and thankfully found someone who came highly recommended and with whom we were quite happy with in the end.

Around this time, I was also feeling a little conflicted about the intent of doing this poonal function – why spend so much and inconvenience our family for something that may not mean much few years down the line? For all my talks about considering everyone equal, am I flaunting my caste with this event? The child is going to get too busy to do sandhi and even if he does, it’s not going to mean much other than reciting a few slokams he has managed to cram.

I did find my ground eventually. Showing something that’s unique to our heritage is worth something. Knowing that there is something powerful called Gayathri Mantram that he could possibly derive strength from was worth something. I don’t think of myself as a religious person, but everything in life cannot be explained and there are so many things that are beyond our control. There is something about surrendering ourselves to a higher power and having faith that things will fall in place. I want to provide my kids some of these intangibles in their toolkit so they can pick and choose what resonates when life overwhelms them. While I thought of it as inconvenience for our families, it was actually a pleasure for them and there was excitement in the air.  

The big picture arrangements – the hall, the cook, and the evites were done by the beginning of the April.  The bakshanam choices, the gifts and the hotel arrangements were done by end of April.

The budding…

Come second week of May, all our efforts were coming to fruitation. It was a ton of work from then on and that’s when the enormity of hosting six to seven families at our home and managing an event while keeping up with work, school and volunteering commitments hit me like a ton of bricks. We only had one weekend to get the house ready – the clearing of the basement, the borrowing of the comforters, arranging the curtains, buying groceries,  planning of the menu etc. Oh there were so many details that we had to work through and it was never ending. The only way to do it was to just do it. If a small poonal function could be this detail oriented, I couldn’t imagine how much work my wedding would have entailed..!

Da and I decided that we would not sweat the small stuff, we will stay grounded in the big picture and will go easy with the imperfections. Hari and Ram were taking it in. Ram understood that the function was about Hari and not him. Hari, on the other hand, was in a flux. The child had a burning question, “why do all the poonal kids in the google images look grumpy?” An astute observation that we all laughed about and told with a glee that that’s what we have signed him up for and that he should expect to feel some of that on the big day.

The return gifts arrived in the second week of May, closely followed by the bakshanam. Appa and amma landed in the third week of May,  closely followed by Aaru’s family. Vish, Shraddha (our nephew and niece) were thrilled to be here and Hari and Ram were deliriously happy to have family around.  Amma and Aaru rolled up their sleeves and took over the logistics right from the get go, working like a well oiled machinery. Cooking, bakshanam division, packing the thamboolam, kolam etc. The flowers that we had ordered online from New Jersey arrived as promised on that Friday morning. Of all the things I had to focus on, I was fervently working on the Upanayanam write up for the occasion to educate ourselves and our guests. It was very hard to make time for it but I am glad I prioritised it because without it, I would have been utterly clueless not just prior to the event but even after the event. Sathya and family, and Da’s cousins and athai arrived on Friday night. There was a lot of tension that evening because Amrit, my nephew, had an accident at the airport and had to be taken to the emergency room. We went through the motions waiting for time to pass and checking on them every once in a while.

It is customary to shave part of the head on the day of the poonal function. We took it the easy way, and took Hari to the salon in advance. Around this time, I was also receiving messages from folks who were unexpectedly making it to the event and those that were unexpectedly canceling. There were also so many people who were checking in on us and asking us how they could help.

Details, details, so many details that had to be taken care of. Lists, lists, and so many lists that were put together to keep us on check.

The blossoming…

Come Saturday morning, the house was teeming with life. We had many little kids in the house that were running around, giggling, chasing, and playing. And little Amrit had the biggest of smiles, which brought much cheer to all of us. That morning, Sat. May 26th, was the day of the Udhagashanthi. Aaru being the athai was tasked with doing the nalangu for the boys. I was so pleasantly surprised by how ready Ram was, sitting right next to Hari, who was feeling mixed with all the limelight showered on them.

The house had to be prepped for the afternoon function and the hall had to be prepped for the next day and all items transported. We divided and conquered. Wini, my sister-in-law, Ammu our cousin, my amma, part of the men folk  and I stayed back to host, prepare the house, and to keep an eye on the kids. Da, Aaru, Sathya, cousin A and my dearest friend V and her family were the decoration crew at the main hall for the next day.

It was getting festive. The silver lamps were gleaming. The flowers, the thornam, and the kolam added to the piety of the occasion. Out of town family started trickling in. We were gossiping about the food that was ordered and the comedy of errors from the communication gap. The decoration crew was whatsapping pictures from the venue and were back by noon. We had our lunch, stole a few minutes to rest before getting ready. My very own poonal project was to learn to wear madisar, draping the 9-yards sari, which amma and I worked diligently on a couple of times every day over the past week. I wore amma (my mil’s) blue nine yard sari on my own with some assistance from amma. Hari was nervous but he was also having a blast being the anna to all the kiddie gang along with his cousin Vish. Ram was all dressed up veshti and chattai and even a chain on his neck!

The sastrigal was late, so we used up that time for picture session. He came around 4:00 PM and the function began. This day was meant for invoking the blessings of ancestors, and the deities and kick start the rituals for the next day. Highlight was giving a holy bath, and the ankoorarpanam (soaking grains and allowing them to sprout, symbolic of the potential growth of the vatu or the boy). The function went by so quickly. We tied some loose ends for the next day and hit the sack. Not without applying mehendi on little and not so little palms though!

The harvest:

All of us woke up bright and early on the day of the Upanayanam. The only tasks were to load the perishables, provide breakfast for folks at home, and get dressed up for the occasion. I had a wardrobe malfunction that morning. My kura podavai or the wedding sari tore as I was draping myself  (and this sort of mishap is not uncommon). We quickly had to look for a 6 yards sari that I could wear in 9-yards style, a practice I had scorned at during our practice sessions. Serves my snobbishness well. We got over the obstacle and headed to the hall. The sastrigal joined us.

I took a few moments to soak in the sights. The full length poster that we had designed by the staircase, the reception table with our very own poonal set, and write up, the kids swarming around the plate of sugar at the reception table and consulting with each other “do you think we should lick some sugar everytime we invite someone?” (and I pretended not to hear that), the lovely rangoli on the dias, the paper flowers on the mirror walls, rows of thamboolam bags stacked, and all my favorite people in the room decked up and buzzing around. What more could I ask for, I thought to myself and sent a prayer upward.

After those few moments, everything was a blur. Friends were trickling in, and the ceremonies were proceeding swiftly – the kumarabhjanam, the yagnopaveetham, the brahmopodesam, the biksahai arisi and so on. Da and Hari were focused on the rituals. My eyes were on Hari, assuring him that he was doing good, and ensuring that he understood what was being told to him by the sastrigal. I tried my best to be present (mentally, not just physically) for the rituals, but I found myself drawn to playing the host.

For all the hustle and bustle, the event itself was fleeting. It was all over even before it began. Da and I caught up with friends as we ate and wound up. There weren’t too many mutual friends, so I felt good introducing my friends to each other and telling them how each of them meant much to me.   

Even in the hustle and bustle of things, I took a step back and looked at the event as a passer by – it was so humbling to see the event materialize after days and days of planning and working on the details. So many things had to happen right for this event to take place. It meant much that people who meant a lot to us – family and friends – had prioritized us and were there to be there for us. We had an army of helpers, people of all sorts of skill sets, who pitched in to make this event complete and a memorable occasion for us. In the end, I asked myself – what was the event about – exposing Hari to the Gayathri Mantra? A rite of passage? A parental duty we were ticking off? What was the occasion really about?

I smiled to myself as the answer came to me –  it was about a bunch of little people coming together, bonding with each other, and making memories to last a lifetime while getting a tiny glimpse into our religious practices and culture. And I cannot think of a better reason to celebrate!  

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Experiences, Family, Gratitude, Health and fitness, Intentions, Introspection, Life, Memories

Hiya!

Anybody missed me? Please fake a yes, will you? I missed being here immensely. 

I have a lot to share. A lot to write. A lot to be recorded in this journal of mine. And I intend to do that in due course. 

May reflections – May, as I had alluded to in April, was anything but normal. I didn’t even attempt to eat healthy or exercise. Some phases in life are like that, it just consumes you and that’s ok.  I just wish come June, I had atleast made an attempt to get into the mindset of eating healthy and working out. But mindset hardly changes like the the flip of a switch. The mind needs time – to resist, to turnaround, and then finally embrace the intentions. Atleast, that’s how mine works. So I am sitting tight, entertained by the drama within.  

Work update – The person who hired me was let go in work related reorganization. While  I expected to feel incredibly sad, I was surprised by the sense of loss I felt. She was passionate, detail-oriented, pushed back and had a way with pushing people out of comfort zone. She was a mentor to me, one who has shaped my work ethics through her working style. I miss her a lot and wish that she had left with the recognition that she deserved. The project that we are working on is not the same without her touch.

Family visit – My parents will be staying for sometime, while my sister-in-law and family will leave soon. A few weeks back we had even more house guests. It feels like the house renovation has served it’s purpose, allowing us to have our near and dear ones under one roof. The kids are soaking it up and we are grateful that everyone left their lives behind to spend time with us.

Dance – I have missed classes and I am missing this summer’s production. Once I pick up my routine, I resolve to make more time for dance and make up for it.

Sunday school – We had our last day of Sunday school last week. I will miss my fourth graders, much fun was had learning and growing.  This year’s cherry on cake was being able to volunteer in Hari’s class. Loved getting to know Hari in a classroom setting. Loved seeing the first set of kids I taught all grown up. Loved working with other teachers and getting to know them. I also did multiple dance workshops, it felt special to bring one part of my life to another part of my life and seeing the dots connect. Greatful for the opportunity. 

More to come! Hope all of you are keeping well in your neck of the woods.

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Experiences, Family, Food, Gratitude, Hari Katha, Uncategorized

Weekend updates

Just like the prior week and the week ahead, the weekend was full. This is how it is expected to be for the next few months. No complaints. Just have to learn to be focused, efficient and budget R&R to avoid the burn out.

  • On Friday, my childhood friend came with homemade pickles and besan ladoo. We decided to have dinner together impromptu. She is the best when it comes to rolling rotis, so that had to be part of the menu. Much fun was had cooking together and gorging on simple home cooked dinner. Beats take outs and eat outs any day. Could not have asked for a better start to the weekend!
  • Most of Saturday and Sunday was spent out of the house. Can’t tell you what a relief it was to be home in the evenings, even if it was filled with chores. When I am doing chores, I am either listening to podcasts or catching up on phone with family or friends, both of which are the sounds of relaxation for me. 
  • Hari and I watched 60 minutes today. There was a segment that interviewed the student activists from the Florida school. Oh God, my heart weighed a ton and my eyes were streaming with tears as I watched them speak. I have no words but deep deep admiration for their convictions. Like one of the moms said, I wish we were not behind, but in front of them. These kids shouldn’t have to do it. We should not be thrusting this burden on their shoulders. But really what choice do they have after their lives have been so profound affected and changed forever?
  • Last week Hari participated in the Walk Out against gun violence. He is aware, has been following the updates, and has been forming strong opinions. 

Time to hit the sack even though there are gazillion thoughts waiting to be written down. Adios amigos. Have a good week.

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Experiences, Gratitude, Hari Katha, Intentions, Kids

Growing pains

Hari was eating his paruppu sadam with beans with delight as I was about to move out of the dining room. “Amma, can you just sit with me for few minutes,” he asked. “Of course, love” I told him and silently watched him for few seconds as my head was reeling from a tsunami of thoughts.

I needed him as much as he needed me in that moment. Earlier this morning there was a post by a local mom on FaceBook about how she had encountered her child using JUULS. Last week, the school principal had sent a note about Vaping and E-cigarettes. That was my first time hearing about it. Google will give you plenty of information about these addictions. In short, these are the latest in the drug world and is directly marketed to young adults as alternatives to cigarettes. Worse still, they look like USB drives, and smell like cheap perfumes. They wreak the same havoc that drugs do. Apparently, it is more pervasive than we would imagine in middle school and high school. The post was disturbing and made me really sad. Peer pressure is so real. One day you hear about suicide, another day you hear about depression, and yet another day drugs. The list only seems to be growing.

Hari and I were generally chatting and catching up when he mentioned, as if reading my mind, “Mom, today they pulled us out of our classroom to question us about drugs. They do it to all kids. They ask us a few questions. Do you use drugs? Why do you not use drugs?” He then proceeded to explain that “I don’t do drugs because the determinants far outweigh the benefits. I also told them that I have a younger brother who looks up to me and I want to be a good role model to him.”

I tried very hard to suppress the lump in my throat. He told me how they explained that their brains are still developing and the part of the brain that makes decisions is the last to develop. “So we have to make safe choices,” he concluded. Then I asked him what would he do if he saw his friends doing drugs. “First, I will protect myself and then I will stay away from their influence.” I told him how important it is to report to an adult, you are not getting your friend in trouble, you are helping him, ok? On that note, we wrapped up our heavy but reassuring conversation.

As I was clearing the kitchen counter, I sent a prayer upwards. I reminded myself to be more engaged, and more cognizant of what’s going on in my children’s lives. It’s so easy to get lost in the everyday busyness and competing priorities. To sweat the small stuff and lose sight of the big picture. Let me not take them for granted. Let me be fully present. Let me verify even when I trust them.

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Experiences, Introspection, Me

The price of procrastination

We leave out recycling waste in a bin that has been counting its last few days for the past several years. Every Monday, I wince, look at the bin with disdain and embarrassment and promise myself to have it replaced at the town public works department by the following week. And nothing would have changed. Replacing the bin is a fairly straightforward process. It costs nothing. And yet, I kept procrastinating. 

Enough is enough, I told myself and headed to the center with the recycling bin this afternoon. All it took was 22 mins – 10 mins to go, 10 mins to come, 2 mins to deposit and get two brand new bins in exchange. The time it took to get the job done was a minuscule fraction of the mental space it had occupied over the years. 

A classic case of self-inflicted misery.

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