I can count the number of friends we have met since March of this year. Hari and Ram hung out with their respective friends probably a couple of times over the summer. Outside of that I met with my dance friends twice and visited a friend’s golu (from her patio). The only people who have visited us indoors are my childhood friend V and her family, who live two doors away, our cousin, and our cleaner. Thankfully, the limited people that we have socialized with follow even stricter protocols than we do. We wear masks at all times and follow rules of social distancing to a T. Gratitude for the friendship of like-minded folks.
Gratitude for the little moments this week brought
- I too can make Kaju Katli! Indian sweets teach you life lessons like no other – do not wing it, trust the process, enjoy the sights and smells, be patient, practice, practice and practice! The Katli was kids-certified – “it tastes just like store bought ma”
- Swapping of Deepavali bakshanam with friends. After years of execution failures, this year the stars aligned.
- Nalangu, yennai and new clothes. What if the nalangu was diluted, and the yennai was thawed Parachute coconut oil. It was the moment that counted!
- Homemade naan. The things you can make with maida and yeast!
- Ram’s excitement about starting his guitar lesson on Stars and Stripes. The child has been waiting to learn this forever.
- Ram got his very first karate uniform with yellow belt. Yay Ram!
What little moments did the week bring for you?
2020 has humbled us like no other. It has brought the whole world down on its knees in a matter of days. We are nothing but a tiny speck in the grand scheme of things. Humanity has witnessed and continues to experience losses of all kinds (physical and emotional health, sustenance, loved ones, and what not) and of differing magnitude (from the daily stress to life altering events).
There is so much suffering and disruption. We all have been stripped off of our safety nets and forced to embrace uncertainty. We have been taught to adapt and reimagine. To never take anything or anyone for granted. To cherish blessings, to live in the moment and to show genorisity of spirit.
I start this thanksgiving month with a silent prayer. I hold the suffering in my heart and seek protection. Let there be healing, resilience, second chances and lightness. I pray for continued safety and well being. For you, me, and the entire human race. Let us become better, stronger and kinder individuals.
For the love of writing, as an act of self-care and as an opportunity to reflect, I am embarking on an exercise to be deliberate in expressing gratitude. If this sentiment resonates, I invite you to join me in this journey – what are you thankful for today?
It has not been easy on anyone. The administrators, the educators, the caregivers, and most of all the young learners. After all the discussions, arguing, disagreeing, fighting over options, the moment of truth will be here tomorrow. Our first day of the new school year. Who would have thought on March 12th of this year that education would be this elusive. The pandemic has mellowed us all. Hopefully, it has changed us for the better.
For us as a family, it feels like all our organization snafus and scheduling guffaws have prepared us for this moment. We used our state tax free weekend to order stationeries and supplies to help the kids get organized. We spent the long weekend setting up work area for the younger one. We spent this weekend setting up Google Classroom, keeping up with the flurry of emails from school, and setting reminders on Alexa, and in our calendars. Da and I reminded each other to do better than the random check in with the kids like we did in spring and to strive for some semblance for balance.
All of us will do what we can, knowing that some days our cups will be empty. We will embrace generosity of spirit, a phrase that our school system has taught us. Generosity of spirit. Towards each other. Towards ourselves. We are stepping into the new school year with trepidation but with hope and faith to make it work, and with the gratitude that it is finally here.
Hari and Ram – thank you for being such troopers this spring and all through the summer. For demanding so little out of us. Hari, special thanks to you for going with Remote option although your preference was to go Hybrid and we are acutely aware that this is not an easy path. We will lean in on each other and get through this together. May this year’s education help both of you learn, grow and evolve into better humans. Stay curious and be kind. Everything else will fall in place. Love and hugs, appa and amma.
Not the one to sleep in, he wakes up before 7:00 AM on most days. He walks on his tippy toes, careful not to draw attention, sneaks into the office, grabs his Kindle, and scurries back to his room quite as a mouse. The book he had placed on hold a couple of weeks back is downloaded and he happily gets lost in it until his tummy grumbles. Ha, breakfast time! He descends downstairs imagining all the butter he is going to slather on the light fluffy croissant. The omelette his mom made before she hopped on her morning call is waiting for him at the counter. Croissant toasted, Bournvita mixed in creamy milk, and with omelette on the side, he heads out to the patio. With the morning breeze, and the chirping birds to give him company, he settles down on the bold and bright colored beach chair. He savors every bite of his breakfast, giving it his undivided attention, as if that is the only thing that mattered at that moment.
His stomach and heart full, he takes his bike from the garage, goes up and down his street ten times like his dad has instructed him to. One check against his list of things to do for the day. He moves on to his music practice. It feels like work as he starts but soon he finds himself practicing more than he intended to. That is his second check mark on his list. Enough of check marks, this is summer, and he is not going to allow himself to be bound by checkmarks. So his footsteps take him to where his heart is. That book he was reading on Kindle in the morning. And before he knows it, his mom calls out for him for lunch. It’s spinach dhal with cabbage kai, not what he had hoped for but atleast better than the dhalai upma that he had the earlier night.
Lunch done, he heads to the home office, grabs his ipad and searches for knights and archers. He is in the mood to draw a scene in the battlefield. Amused with his creation, he rushes to anna to narrate the story behind the scene. Big mistake, anna now wants to play basketball with him in the driveway. Not what he had in his mind. Ayyoooo…!!! They dribble some but mostly they are chit chatting. About this and that. His anna is one of his favorite people on earth. They fight a lot but they also care for each other a whole lot.
Reluctantly, he now revisits the list of things to do. Writing and math. He grabs his daily journal, and today he decides to write a review of the book he last read. Then he does some word problem on fractions. That’s it for today! He has done more than his share of work. He decides to treat himself with a snack. He loves the ritual of assembling his snack. First he lays out all the crackers, eight of them. Then he takes a slice of cheddar cheese and a slice of swiss cheese, and deftly places them on the crackers. He grabs a mango yogurt. He heads to the living room, plonks himself on the couch, and enjoys the well deserved snack, one bite at a time. The sharpness of the cheddar, and the blandness of the swiss competing to complement the salty crackers. By the time his snack is done, Appa and amma wind up for the day and they all head out for a walk in the neighborhood and soon after they will watch Baby Yoda and the Mandalorian.
A typical day in the summer of 2020. No camps, no hopping from soccer field to baseball diamond, no tension of being late to music class. Just being, no doing. A child of leisure, this has been his best summer.
Haiku was one of the topics covered in Ram’s third grade remote learning. He was fascinated by the notion of counting syllables and writing something around the 5-7-5 syllables structure.
During summer break, we have stipulated that he write something every day. Originally, he came up with the idea of writing a chapter book that involved a zombie cat, super dog and other fun characters but then quickly changed his mind. Why bother writing pages when he can spend a fraction of time and energy writing Haikus. You see, it’s all about maximizing output with minimal efforts!
I will give it to the child. Everyday after breakfast, he settles down with a notebook in front of him and a pencil in hand. And I have the unenviable task of coming up with a topic that inspires him. “What do you think I should write mama?” Some days it doesn’t take much. “I am in the mood for writing something about nature” he would declare, and I would rattle some ideas. On other days, we are in a slump. Like today, the topic of Haiku ended up being Ovaltine.
I am sharing a few of the Haikus he has written. I did not have the heart to change the spelling here, the beauty is in that imperfection, in that dripping innocence. A child’s take at the world around him.
Dancing in the wind
Floating away to the ground
Crunch under my fead (feet)
Black Lives Matter
Everyone is the same
Everyone is fair and square
It comes out on days
It showers its blazing rays
It goes home at night
The earth protects us
She gives us the things we need
She is a good home
4th of July
We sit in the dark
Awesome fireworks pop up
I am having fun
He slithers around
He is hidden from his prey
Then he bites his prey
He can be sneaky
He eats from your garbage can
He is a burglar
It is very good
It is smooth and deliscious (delicious)
It is dark delight
He lives over there
Inside a home made of twigs
Housing all his eggs
The siblings in the house have been rambunctious lately. And tonight, there was above normal bickering. First, it was the whipped cream. “Look, he is pretending not to hear me. I asked him to put the whipped cream away. I set it on the table before dinner, so it’s his turn to put it back.” “I didn’t hear you, okay? Don’t blame me.” “How can you not hear me, you were right here” “I did not hear you because I did not hear you” “Now you are arguing for the sake of arguing.”
Just as I was about to zone out of this delightful conversation, my gaze rested on the overflowing sink. An inspiration struck. Time for some character building exercise.
“Enough already you two. Hari, you will rinse the dishes tonight and Ram, you will load them in the dishwasher,” I gave stern instructions. The siblings muttered under their breath and agreed on something for the first time for the whole evening. “Let’s do what amma says before she gets ticked off.” Alright, I am the villain in the story.
“Cleaning up dishes is disgusting. I feel like vomiting.” said the older one as he scrubbed the stainless steel bowl with oatmeal smeared on it, with an expression that looked like he had just encountered a roadkill. “How many cups of tea do you guys drink? Can you please just drink one cup of tea from tomorrow?” “And all this cheese is so hard to clean. Why don’t we just eat things that are easy to compost and don’t need cleaning?” “And maybe we should start eating on a banana leaf so we will have fewer plates to clean.” “Maybe it is a good idea to get a dishwasher that will do the cleaning by itself rather than us having to clean for it.”
If only I didn’t have to pretend to be the responsible adult in the kitchen, I would have rolled on the floor laughing. Honestly, who needs Netflix and Hulu when there is comic relief playing right in your kitchen.
Knowing that he got the lesser unpleasant task, the younger one made no comment and tried to stay unnoticed, randomly loading one spoon after the other in the rack. I reminded him that it will be his turn to clean the dishes the next day. He paused, shut his eyes tight in a vain attempt to summon tears on demand.
“Okay guys, I hope you all learnt something valuable today,” I asked the boys.
“Yes, we know what it is to be appa and cleaning all the gross stuff,” came the response without skipping a beat.
What? Not only am I the villain in the story, appa gets to be the hero?
Ah well, the dishwasher was loaded and the rest of the evening was spent in pin drop silence. I can live with being the villain in the story.
I don’t know how it started but as a family we got into baking shows. We watched Sugar Rush and Zumbo’s Baking show on Netflix during the winter holidays and just as the pandemic was taking its foothold in our part of the world, we started watching the British Baking Show. Lockdown and not so warm weather meant it was time to get more value out of our Netflix subscription. We were head over heels in love with the baking show. What drew us to it, you wonder? The nuggets of baking wisdom, the British humor, the thrill of seeing Indian spices being used and Indian breads and desserts baked, the joy of rooting for Indian participants, the friendly competition, and most importantly, the calorie worthy bakes…! We broke all rules, watching TV during dinner, watching long hours of TV. No qualms or guilt whatsoever because it was more than watching the show, we were bonding over it. We made plans to bake this and that, and everything; never mind that the only experience that we had was baking from ready made mixes. But when you immerse yourself into something, you can’t but go in the direction of where it leads you.
Unbeknownst to us, baking became our muse! We baked garlic twists, hot cross buns, orange cake, chocolate cake, and pizzas. We started experimenting, substituting our good old atta for All purpose flour, and olive oil for butter. We listened intently to the knowledge that Paul Hollywood, Prue Leith and Mary Berry (the judges) had to impart, making mental notes, and reminding each other as we worked on our dough. We learnt to savor our bakes differently, looking for flavor, textures, and moistness.
We are done with all seasons of the show. The eagerness to bake has also diminished. But the baking pursuit has left us with a priceless Saturday night routine – homemade whole wheat pizza for dinner to delight our taste buds!
That time of the year to introspect, reflect and take stock of the year that has gone by.
First things first. Let me address the elephant in the room. My word of the year. HABITS. A complete, utter failure to embrace it. I have struggled with simple, foundational habits – eating right, and exercising for a few minutes, and flossing. That extended to the next tier of habits – reading, writing etc. When I started out the year, I thought I would start small, build on my habits over time, and make everyday habits second nature by the end of the year. I started small but all my efforts tapered and evaporated over the course of the year.
In thinking through what went wrong? I am a textbook case of spare the rod and spoil the child. If I don’t hold myself to high standards, I just fall apart. I have developed a huge inertia for working out. I simply do not want to sweat it out. Moderation does not work for me. Once I succumb to one bite, it’s million bites after that. My mind has become an expert at wiggling out of discomfort and coaxing me into taking the easy way out. If my own internal barriers aren’t enough, Da’s and my own work schedule have thrown a wrench on our routine and made time even more scarce.
I am disappointed with myself but determined to pick up my slackness and get better. Now that the most difficult part of introspection has been addressed moving on to what else was happening in our lives.
In terms of life events, my maternal patti passed away in the beginning of the year. End of life is a hard phase, some have it harder than others. My grandma was surrounded by love and prayers in her deathbed. Thankful that her suffering was not prolonged.
Da moved on to a new company. The commute is less but the work day is longer, all worth it as there is fulfillment coming from the work. Hari is thriving in high school, taking responsibility for his learning, charting his course. Ram is dabbling in a lot of stuff with scouts and Destination Imagination being good fit for his personality, sports done for movement and socializing, and Sunday school because his mom insists.
It was tumultuous couple of weeks when appa was sick and the reality of staying so far away and the enormity of role reversal hit me like a ton of bricks. Visiting India, spending time with my parents, going around on my own, reconnecting with friends and life in India are most certainly the highlights of my year.
We have gone green this year. We have been composting since the beginning of the year, carrying bags for grocery trips and minimizing the use of paper goods. Did I mention that we will be installing solar panels next year? The motivation for that though is the tax benefits rather than the environmental benefits coming from it. While our day to day choices still tilt in favor of convenience, we are more thoughtful about the use of plastics in our lives.
My work has had several twists and turns this year. I miss my old team but I am happy to be part of my new team. I am learning new things, taking on new challenges and working with new team members. I have also become disciplined about going to office for three days per week and not using my work devices for personal purposes. It feels like some sanctity in my work life has been restored with these simple measures.
After a break of over a year, got back to dancing, wherein we as students are steering the direction of our classes and making thoughtful choices. I feel good about this because I missed dancing and I took ownership to bring dance back into my life.
I spent a lot of time listening to interviews and podcasts by Eckhart Tolle. I have read his works but somehow the podcasts took my understanding to the next level and the teachings resonated at a deeper level. For the first few days, I wanted to scream at the top of the mountain. I felt like I had found a treasure. An instruction manual on how to live life.
I leave you with my biggest learning for this year. The present moment is all that matters. That is all there is to life. Surrender to it. Take refuge in it. Accept it willingly.
I am spying Ram across the hall. His face is intense, the kind of expression you see on someone who is lost in what he or she is doing. He has been working diligently on the word search and trivia that Hari had made for him on his favorite video game, Brawl Stars, for Christmas. I then shift my gaze to our picture from Costa Rica on the mantle. I have forgotten the name of the specific location but remember the gratitude I felt when we clicked that picture last year. Hari has photoshopped and presented it to me as his handmade Christmas present. Then I see the hand painted cards (with coffee powder) that Da had made for all of us.
As we inched towards Christmas, I declared that this year we will make handmade presents for each other. Ram was first in line, he rolled up his sleeves, and galvanized into action right away. Paper made football creations for Hari, a story for his mom in which there is a Muffin-man superhero who runs a shop called Muff muff muffin store with his superpower being to catapult humans with licorice and lollipop, and a personalized set of Pokemon cards for his dad. Hari outdid himself with his creations, putting in a lot of thought and time into each of them. Da, in addition to playing santa’s helper and ensuring that there are presents under the tree, made handmade cards for us. For my part, I have committed to gift of time and acts of service for each of them over the course of the next year – cuddle an read, baking sessions, follow TV shows, assume positive intent, so on and so forth.
This year has been less about Santa and more about Family. Less about presents and more about togetherness. It has been about game nights, Christmas songs, and baking peanut butter cookies together.