Posted in Experiments, Family, Food

20 for 20

20 things that I will be striving to do in 2020. Some of these are stretch goals and some of these are hard to track but I will be striving for them anyway!

    1. Come up with my 20 for 20 list. If you think this is a low hanging fruit that is an easy one to check off, do not be misled by the seeming simplicity of it. I wanted to do an 18 for 18 list. 2018 came and went but the list never happened. Rinse. Repeat. 2019. So after two attempts of wanting to but not doing, it makes sense that I have it first on my list, don’t you agree? If you do not have a starting point, where do you even begin? 
    2. Read 20 books. Not reading as much was my biggest regret of 2019. Reading does not find a place when there is so much more going on. But not reading is not an option, so have to figure out how to make it happen. Reading at night does not work for me. I will target to read first thing in the morning. If that does not happen, I am just going to drop everything that I am doing, to simply read. All I am targeting is 15 minutes four times per week. 
    3. Weigh 10-15 pounds lighter at the end of the year. This is a moonshot for me. I have done this in the past but every time I attempt to lose the weight I have gained back, it becomes that much more difficult to lose again. Things to remember, I have developed strong inertia for workout and have repeatedly succumbed to temptations this past year.  
    4. 10 baking sessions with Ram. Now that I do less of everything with Ram, this is my attempt to get us more exclusive time with him. Plus all that Sugar Rush watching has us itching to make cupcakes, buttercream and ganache. I know this goal is an irony considering my goal no. 3 but the plan is to abstain from all things sugary and frosty. 
    5. Learn to make one Indian sweet like cashew/badam/milk burfi. The rare times I have attempted to make burfis/cakes they have turned into halwa. It will be kind of cool if I can crack the formula for making it. The whole world seems to be making it in style. I should take interest and make the time.
    6. Settle into a snack routine during the work week. Our breakfast, lunch and dinner during the work week is normally well planned and we have fallen into a rhythm.  It’s snack time that’s the bane of my existence. Without proper snacks, we tend to go overboard with dinner. The goal is come up with few easy grab and go snack options that we can fall back on during the hustle and bustle of evening relay race. 
    7. Get better at making chapathis. I have always wanted to make soft moist chapathis but mine are far from it. I lack the practice it takes to get there. The goal is to make chapatis once per week for dinner and once for lunch (for kids). 
    8. Follow IPL with Hari. Everybody around me watches cricket. I don’t want to be left  out! Plus when sports is such an important part of his life for the first offspring, I should at least try to cultivate some interest in some sport. 
    9. Watch one TV series or movie series or weekly movie session with Da. Again this sounds simple but weekdays are crammed and even if we are able to make time, with more gadgets than people at home, it is so much easier to go solo. I resort to watching a rerurn of Friends and Frasier (which are no longer in Netflix I hear, what blasphemy is this?) while Da does rerun of some alien or sci-fi show. But in the past we have had a good time watching shows together (Killing Eve, Homecoming etc.) so would like to work on this.
    10. Watch one TV series with Hari. We just have one season of Office left. Have to find something that I have not watched and he is eager to watch. 
    11. Learn to operate the TV Projector. Please don’t ask me for how long we have had the projector. Just too many remotes to watch one show. Still… not knowing is not an option. 
    12. Personalize Alexa Show options. I have a tendency to buy and not utilize things. I bought the Alexa for a purpose. There is so much value I can gain out of it. Need to look through options and personalize it.
    13. Set up the underutilized shelves and storage spaces in the house. These underutilized spaces can add so much value to the everyday quality of our lives!
    14. Residual clean up of the yard, remove weeds and plant perennials. I have wanted to do this forever. But I realized that I like the idea of doing it but not actually doing it. Need to find it fixed. 
    15. Internalize dance items that can make up for one margam. Doable but needs consistent efforts. Also, easy to forget the items if not reviewed consistently. The goal is to build muscle memory so with a quick review it will be easy to recall. 
    16. Write 48 blog post for 11 months. I am not counting Thanksgiving month and posts in that month as I have fallen into a routine of a day a post that month. This year, I want to learn to write by showing and not telling, purely for the joy of learning how to do it. 
    17. Learn to do eye make up. Not the eye shadow kind but just learning to use eyeliner. All I can do is Lakme kajal stick. Will be fun to explore other options and see if I can do it. 
    18. Do a Shutterfly album of Hari’s upanayanam. Yes, it will be two years this May and yes, we do not have a single hard copy of the function. 
    19. Learn to recite Vishnu Sahsranamam fluently. The goal is not to memorize but read it fluently. In honesty, I had this as a goal for 2019, made some progress but would like to push it towards completion.
    20. Weekly rituals with the kids – game night with Ram, cuddle and read night with Ram, check in with Hari.
Posted in 2020, Experiments, Inspiration, Intentions, Wishes

Word of the Year

STRIVE. 

Strive to do better.

Strive to get better.

Strive to be more present. 

Strive with momentum, overcoming inertia and temptations.

Strive with acceptance, including accepting resistance and denial.

Strive with things that are within my control.

Strive in spite of things not in my control.

Strive one day at a time, one goal at a time.

Just STRIVE.

 

Posted in Experiences, Experiments, Food, Health and fitness, Learnings

Lost and Gained

In the context of weight loss, I have lost, gained, lost again, gained again… you see the pattern right. Basically, I have not been able to sustain my efforts or maintain my weight. I was not following any fad diets, I lost weight the healthy way. But needless to say, they were not sustainable. Sadly, for the past two years, I simply have not been able to do what it takes. May be as I age, the reserve of determination is getting depleted. May be the body metabolism changes with every weight loss, and my body is demanding more than what I can provide. Today, I heard the Life Kit podcast and had some big takeaways.

  • Our body has a natural tendency to fight weight loss, which is why it is hard to maintain weight loss.
  • I knew what we eat matters more than how much we exercise for weight loss but what I didn’t realize was exercise helps with maintaining the weight you have lost. So for weight loss, eat right. For weight maintenance, exercise right.
  • Given that, there is no point in aiming for weight loss. Instead, take the high road, focus on making behavioral changes, lifestyle changes, changes that you enjoy because the chances are if you don’t believe in or enjoy what you are doing, you are not going to be able to embrace it in the long term.

The grand conclusion is weight loss should afterall not be the goal. Accept your body for what it is, do what works in the long term; you may not end up being slim and trim but you will be healthy and happy. Something to ponder about. 

Posted in Experiments, Kids, Little Moments

Game on!

Remember I had mentioned about Destination Imagination a few months back? It’s a  team based competition that encourages problem solving and critical thinking in young learners and have them work towards a grand challenge. The best part about this extra curricular activity is the policy of non-interference from parents.There are strict rules around what parents can and cannot do, and interference of any kind would result in the team being disqualified or penalized.  

Ram participated in this challenge with five other first and second graders. The team was managed by Da and another parent. The team opted to compete in the category called “Game on”. They chose Monopoly as the game based on which other elements of the challenge would rest on. They had to come up with a story that had two points of view, weaving in some research about the game, making up a song, building a gizmo and props that should fit in a container. And the thing is, the kids had to build all of the elements from scratch on their own, be it writing the script of the story, lyrics of the song or building the 10 by 8 feet monopoly game that would fit in a “container”.

The team was formed in November, and the challenge took place last week. It took a good couple of months for the kids to warm up to each other, understand the challenge, and brainstorm ideas. Until about the winter break in second week of February, it was all abstract with progress made here and there.  An amazon box was used as a container, with the four sides painted with different scenes, that would serve as a backdrop. The song would explain the monopoly game to the princess who was lost in the woods and had to win the game to get out of jail and escape the witch. The story was told in Princess’ viewpoint and the witch’s view point.

Although play based, the kids worked very hard, thinking actively, drawing enthusiastically, and improvising constantly. When the weather got colder and it was difficult to get together in person, they worked on their dialogues on Google Hangout. They reminded each other’s dialogues, filled in when there was a gap, and went berserk over snack time.

They were one of the youngest teams in the competition and they secured the third place. Prize or not, we could not have been prouder of them. They totally owned it! Go team DInausaur!

Gold start to Da, it was as much a delight to watch him (and his co-manager) run the show as much as it was to see the kids in action.

Posted in 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!  

Posted in Experiences, Experiments, Learnings, Us

Photo book

Gifts don’t get any more personal than a photo book. The hardest part in making a photo book is the time commitment involved in selecting the pictures.  Most templates allow you to autofill the pages, but I prefer to manually select them in order to be able to sequence them to my liking. I have made three photo books so far. The first two were made through Shutterfly and the one I made today is through CVS. How would I rate the two products?

  • Design, layout and templates – the two are comparable
  • Ease of use – they are similar
  • Price – the cost of photobook by itself is cheaper in Shutterfly (25 pages for $15) but when you add shipping cost ($8), it is more expensive than CVS (20 pages for $20). You can offset some of the cost in Shutterfly through coupons and special deals.
  • Time – Standard shipping can take 5 to 10 days for Shutterfly. In the case of CVS, you can practically pick up the order within two to three hours from the time you place an order. Given that almost every town has a CVS, this option definitely maximises on convenience.
  • Quality – Shutterfly outshines CVS in terms of quality. With Shutterfly, you have more choice in terms of hardcover, the photo sheets are glossier, and the photo book sturdier.   CVS, in absolute terms, is decent. But relative to Shutterfly, it lags.

If you have the luxury of time and have promotions that you could use, Shutterfly is the way to go. On the other hand, if you need a quick turnover, CVS is a not a bad choice at all.

Posted in Experiences, Experiments, Food, Health and fitness, Intentions, Me, Uncategorized

January Reflections

I did the monthly reflections post last year for a couple of months and abandoned it after. Let’s see how far this year takes me.

January has been a slow and steady month.This is the time of the year I normally tend to push myself to build new habits. But this year, I am just going with the flow without any grand goals or lofty ambitions. Just making sure to put in small consistent steps every day. This month I focused on infusing some discipline into my eating habits and imbibing 15 to 20 mins workout. It is not a lot but it has helped me get some of my stamina back. I also worked on one of my very annoying habits – I often leave my handbag unzipped (yikes!) and forget where I leave my keys (I never lose them but always misplace them as a result spend a lot of time searching). I can’t say I have conquered the clumsiness (I doubt I ever will) but have certainly been more mindful.

For workout, I wanted to share the youtube video series called Jessica Smith TV. It works well given the weather outside. There are many styles to choose from setting you free from monotony. They are for different chunks of time ranging from 10 mins to 30 mins, so lack of time cannot be used as an excuse. There are different levels to choose from. And the person who does it, keeps reiterating that something is better than nothing, which is kind of a great slogan when it comes to workout because you don’t have to do a lot, just a little something everyday. Some days that pushes you to do more and on other days, atleast you know you did a little something.

How quickly one month has gone by, isn’t it? Where are you with your new year goals?