Experiences, Gratitude, Learnings, Little Moments

Bar Mitzvah

Last week Hari’s friend since pre-school had his Bar Mitzvah ceremony.

This was my first time attending one, so I was eager to soak it all in. My very rudimentary knowledge about the ceremony was it was a special occasion, a rite of passage in the Jewish tradition. For the rest, we sought out Google’s guidance – how to dress for Bar Mitzvah? (women, dresses or pantsuits)? Is dressing in black acceptable?  What gifts to give? (multiples of 18). So on and so forth.

Hari was slightly more experienced than I was when it comes to Bar Mitzvah, so of course I had to eat his brain away while driving – is the seating like in church? Do we have assigned seating? Are we allowed to talk? Can we take restroom breaks? What food do they serve? Hari indulged me initially but when he saw that my questions were growing by the second, he put things in perspective and devised an exit strategy, “Mom, I was in second grade when I went to Bar Mitzvah, so I don’t remember all the details.” Smart move child, smart move, I thought to myself.

We entered the synagogue right on time, and exchanged hello with the mom. I was dressed in a maroon sweater dress and black leggings, that did not seem over or under dressed. I saw that Hari’s friends were more formally dressed in suits, and tie whereas Hari was dressed in black and checked shirt. I made a mental note to get a khaki pant and a plain neutral colored shirt for the next ceremony. Overall, feeling pleased with myself, and heaving a sigh of relief, I mingled with familiar faces. I got a bit of education, how the ritual, the invitees and the protocol vary  depending on whether you belong to orthodox or reformed sects. In orthodox following, I learned you do not get a Bar Mitzvah unless the mom is a jew. Non-jews are not allowed to the ceremony.

Next we headed to the prayer hall. We were given a prayer book and an agenda of the events. Hari and I were going to leave a little early so I sat in the last row with a couple of other moms. Hari had mentioned that the Rabbi had a good sense of humor and he  lived up to it. The beginning of the ceremony was more spiritual in nature. He set the tone by asking all of us to take a minute to go to our happy place and express gratitude. Then the prayers and singing began. There were readings and taking the Torah in procession. The big moment was when the Bar Mitzvah child read the Aliyah from the Torah – that seemed to be the pivotal moment and the whole point of the ceremony. Although I knew very little about the ceremony, it felt emotional seeing the a child you have known from pre-school to come to this point. I felt fortunate to have been part of this ceremony and the big day of his life.

Hari and I left soon after that. For the kids, the cherry on the cake was the evening party. There was DJ, plenty of food, and what not! All in all, much fun was had. 

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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.

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Experiences, Family, Gratitude, Holidays, Introspection, Learnings, Memories, Us, Wishes

2017 – the year that was

There is pin drop silence in the house. Strike that, I can hear Da snoring his heart away. I can also hear some footsteps headed towards the bathroom, a sign that one child is up for the day. My tummy weighs like a ton of bricks from all the food indulgence last night. It was a cosy gathering. We met, we ate, we laughed and we dispersed with a full stomach and a light heart.

I have a couple of hours before the intensity of the day sets in. A time that I am carving out to reflect on the year that is coming to a close. As I look back on the year that has gone by, these are things that are at the top of my mind.

My paternal grandma, Andu patti, passed away in April. She had a really difficult end of life, with dementia wreaking havoc on her and the ones caring for her. Longevity means very little when it is not paired with quality of life. How our life comes to an end and when it comes to an end are not in our control; we can do all the right things and yet have an undesirable end. So taking proper care of our physical and mental health when it is in our hands seems not only responsible but also sensible.

I pushed myself to give back to the local community. I provided tactical support to a friend who stood for school committee, and played a small role in making our voices heard on a school related issue. I helped organize workshops in the local library and continue to edit the school newsletters. It was gratifying but I also realized, that they are very transactional in nature. Meaning, once it’s done, it’s done. This is an epiphany because it will help me choose where I want to spend my time and energy going forward.

I poured my heart and soul on my dance productions this year. I pushed the limits of what I can do and it was another humbling experience. There was wonder in knowing that I am capable of doing things that was challenging at the outset and there was also acceptance in knowing I come with my own limitations. Talent is something that we are born with, and we have no say in how talented we are. But striving towards our full potential is within our control; it’s not an easy path but one worth trudging on.

We renovated our house this year. We moved into this house a decade back and have worked our lifestyle around what was given to us, which worked well. The renovation gave us a chance to think about our needs and wants and how we want to customize the house to our personal preferences. For the most part, the project was enjoyable and I am proud of us for having taken the discomfort and inconveniences in stride. This project also gave me a newfound appreciation for all the details that go into the making of a house.

It feels like the outside world is filled with pain, suffering and destruction. My very liberal neighborhood was in the news for hate crime, there have been several break ins, and a life was gone too soon. This is within the short circumference of my neighborhood. Beyond that, if at all anything, the magnitude of the events happening are confusing, nerve wracking, and overwhelming. Yet, I am trying hard to not get hopeless. If we give up hope and faith, what else can we hold on to? We need to stay informed, be aware and push ourselves to do what little we can. If not anything else, be kind. I like to believe that kindness goes a long way in counter balancing the negativity around us even if we are not able to directly impact the events.  

I wish you a very happy 2018.  I wish you the freedom and courage to be who you want to be, relationships and friendships that matter, deliberation in thought and action, unshakable faith in your effort and values, compassion towards the self and others, grace and wisdom to handle the unknowns, bountiful little moments and happy surprises, unconditional love and acceptance, uncluttered mind, full presence and focused work, and a strong body and sound intellect. I wish you the best that life has to offer. In 2018 and always!

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Hari Katha, Humor, Learnings, Little Moments, Memories, Writing

With Hari’s permission, I am posting the personal narrative that he has been working on. I love how writing is taught here, right from elementary grade. In this narrative, he is required to check for transition words, sensory language, zooming in, zooming out, grammar and spelling.

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Bad Kitty!

When I encountered a lion, things weren’t pretty. It did not bite me. It did not scratch me. Instead, it peed on me. That’s right, I was a john for a lion, a once in a lifetime experience.

While visiting my uncle’s family in Bentonville, Arkansas, we decided to visit a famous zoo located 25 miles south of where we were staying.  Although the drive only took 30 minutes, it felt like eternity as my eight year old brain processed the fact that I would see animals which were uncommon in New England.

“Bang!” slammed the passenger door, arousing me.  Not missing a beat, I hopped out of the car and headed towards the zoo, thrilled about what experience awaited me. When we entered the zoo, I gasped. I was astonished at the chimpanzee swinging in its cage like a trapeze artist, a bear expertly balancing on a tiny red ball, and an iguana blending with its surroundings. The warm delicious scent of popcorn from a nearby food cart welcomed me with its lovely aroma.

“Come on Hari,” my mom instructed. “You should take a look at these majestic lions. If you need me, I’ll be in the reptile section.”

“Sounds fine mom,” I replied. I trotted towards the lions, and halted when I spotted them, their orange manes flowing in the cool wind. Standing a mere inch away from the smooth, black cage was a kid about my age, staring at the lion. Turning around, he beckoned me to come sit next to him. Immediately, I started sweating. I felt that standing that close to the cage would likely come back to bite me. However, my undying curiosity to see the lion prompted me to crouch next to the kid and face the lion. I looked in awe at the humongous lion which peered back at me as if saying, who are you, and why are you in my territory?

“This lion is awesome!” I whooped, expecting the kid to respond. Instead, the kid, whose gaze was getting more alarmed by the second screamed “Look out!” and quickly dove to the side. I however, did not have quick enough reflexes. A yellow spray of liquid washed over me, sizzling all over my arm. Embarrassed I scampered away, avoiding as many people as I could, only to bump into my mom.

“What happened to you?” My mom cried, her face turning pale as milk seeing me wet.

“Ummmmmmmmm,” I mumbled, feverishly debating in my mind on whether or not to tell my mom.

“Spit it out, what happened?” She insisted, pushing me to the brink of telling the truth.

“Oh fine!” I sputtered, “A lion leaked on me.” Instantly, my mom put a hand to her mouth.

“Come on, we’ll get you cleaned up,” she replied, extracting a bag of tissues from her purse.

As you can see, I have survived that traumatic experience, but am still trying to live down the fact that I was a urinal for a lion. Now, I always stand far away from the cages of animals knowing well not to repeat the same mistake twice. Nevertheless, I still have nightmares, imagining that yellow substance submerging over me. Most of all, I have learned to accept the facts, and laugh along with my family when they make a joke about that incident – I’m Hari, I was a potty for the king of the jungle, and I am proud of it!

 

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Inspiration, Introspection, Learnings, Little Moments, Me, Reading, Uncategorized, Us

On reading

We were resting in the tent indulging in the leisure that a beach trip rewards you with. I looked up from my book and declared to nobody in particular, “Poor Mr. Darcy. All because he was an introvert!” My unintentional and sudden outburst elicited uncontrollable giggles from my offsprings. After the amusement settled down, the first born quizzed, “Who is Mr. Darcy”, the second born questioned, “What does an introvert mean?”  Their questions were lost on me, as I had long delved back into the world of  Lizzy, Darcy, Jane and Bingley, oblivious to my curious boys. They gave up and ran back to the waves. 

It felt so good to be lost in this world that Jane Austen had built that it was a sweet burden to pull the mind back to where the body was. What fine writing!

The reading experience was reassuring because I was beginning to wonder if my love for reading was just a figment of my imagination; something that I made up in my mind. Perhaps I liked the idea of reading more than reading itself?  I felt like an imposter when I borrowed books from the library. Finally,  I feel liberated from those self-doubts! For sure, I can say, I too love reading!

A couple of weeks back during our road trip, the conversation meandered to reading styles and habits. I told the family how I tend to take a long time to warm up to characters and story plot. That I read the first few pages very very slowly, and at some point, there is a flip of the switch and the pace picks up. Hari, who likes to read books in one sitting, said he has a different style. “I love reading the first portion of any book. It is so exciting to get introduced to all the characters and see the story unfold. It is in the middle that I slow down.” Da, who is a very fast reader, commented that for him it is the last part of any story that slows him down. And not wanting to be left out, the voracious reader of the family, our Ram, piped in, “I don’t slow down at all. I like reading the first, the second and the last part”  Atta boy! I thought to myself. Not necessarily for what he said on his reading style but that he made his opinion matter. A lot of times, may be because he is small relative to the rest of us, we overlook him on subjects that involve deeper discussion but he always stands tall,  makes his voice heard, and weighs in with his thoughts. Never ceases to surprise me. Anyway, I digress.

This discussion was a revelation to me. It made me cognizant of my reading style and helped me figure out why I have been reading less. The first few chapters requires that I stick to the book, so it can grip me.  Without understanding that piece, I have been expecting to instantly immerse myself in the story and have ended up feeling utterly disappointed.  I am not sure I got my reading mojo back but it is good to know that there is some mojo left.

What is your reading style? Do you ever suffer from a reading block? What are you reading? What is next on your list?

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Dance, Experiences, Gratitude, Introspection, Learnings, Life, Memories, Milestones, N40

Me, myself and my dance

Life beckons and I have to heed to it. Yet, I linger, wanting to soak in the sudden emptiness that I am feeling. For the past six months, dance has ranked high in my list of priorities. For the past six weeks, dance has been the center of my life. The critic in me chides me for not doing more, for not trying harder, for not making the most of the opportunity.  Yet, the pragmatic in me acknowledges that while there is always room to do more and be better, I did the best I could on any given day. Some days my best was good enough and on other days it was not.  And that’s part of being a human.

I have given my bare minimum to my family for the past several months. Dance is to me what sports is to Hari. In that we share a connection. A connection that is born out of setting your heart at something, working on it, feeling jubilant on some days, feeling disappointed on other days, and knowing that true strength lies in picking ourselves up every time we fall. Hari has shielded me with his pep talks, “Just imagine Ram and I waving at you amma if you get the jitters.”  He has held down the fort stepping up to be there for his little brother in my absence. And Ram what can I say about this little one, our very own Krishna? Dance has given us the gift of new bonding experience. I just love to sing “Avani rohini ashtami yele aradhajama nerathile avadharithaya” as I give a cheek rub to him, a rush of love washing over me. Da has been the pillar of support I have leaned on. Where do I even begin? Suffice to say that he walked the talk and did so wholeheartedly, doing all the heavy lifting, and making sure that the kids do not get shortchanged. I don’t think I would have been as unwavering in my support for him if I were in his shoes, so not for a second I take his support for granted. I am especially thankful to him for nailing the big picture in my head – it’s rare to get an opportunity to do something like this, outside of the commitments that life thrusts on us, at this stage of our lives and I should remember to derive positive energy from it and not get distracted with the noises. 

Over the past six weeks my dance mates and I have spent close to 30 hours per week in dance practices. I would love to say that all that time was spent dancing, but that’s not how it works. You wait a lot, then you practice some. Going after your passion may sound like pure bliss and all lofty. But the truth is even for pursuits of your choice, they come with their share of baggage. We were preparing for a 3-day dance event, one that we knew was going to be a labor of love. Taking care of the practical aspects was the easier part. It was the emotional part that involved a ton of hard work. To stay focused, to push oneself harder, to not get lost in the stories we tell ourselves, and to practice self compassion.

Some days were more challenging than others and a little TLC went a long way in building that resilience muscle. One of the best parts about the dance camp was the support group we developed and the plethora of opportunities we had to get to know each other as individuals. We rooted, helped, inspired, provided constructive feedback, showed appreciation, and hugged each other. On the day of the performance, we complimented each other on how we looked. I think it had less to do with makeup and costumes and more to do with how fond we had grown of each other. They say friends come into our lives for a reason, season or a lifetime. Only time will tell what path our friendships will take. One thing is for certain; the summer of this year will go down in the books of our lives as a time that weaved us all together in a shared experience, and from knowing  that we all gave it our all no matter what else was going in our lives.

I feel immensely thankful to my teacher for her bold vision and audacious dreams for her milestone production, and getting all of us pumped up about it. I am deeply grateful she introduced us to one of the finest teachers and choreographers, who we fondly address as Thiru anna. One who believes that everyone is capable, that imperfections are part of being a human, and that mistakes are ok but to remember to never lose the happiness one derives from dancing. It was a blessing to be part of anna’s creative process and seeing first hand how even a small act can be elevated to a higher level with willingness, creativity and effort. Such a precious and rewarding experience. 

If you had asked me last week, I would have told you that I can’t wait for this week to come. What I expected to feel was relief at being able to move on with other aspects of my life. What I am feeling instead is an emptiness that comes from having to let go something that gave an intense sense of purpose and pushed us beyond our comfort zones. I don’t want this emptiness to end, so I prolong. Checking whatsapp messages, refreshing facebook page, and going through the motions of the past six weeks, and itching to do more. 

Dance means different things to different people. To me, bharathanatyam is my Zen. It helps me discover more about myself,  be accepting of my strengths and weaknesses, quench my thirst to learn and grow as a person.  And for that I am eternally grateful and incredibly blessed. 

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Experiences, Gratitude, Introspection, Kids, Learnings, Little Moments, Milestones

Sunday school this year

Last sunday was my last day of Sunday school for the year. Like the past few years that familiar feeling of pang returned with gusto at dismissal. You know that feeling of missing out on the rest of the learning journey of a bunch of goofy, mischievous, argumentative, lovable, and affectionate bunch of little humans who have delighted and exasperated you.

This was my first year teaching fourth grade and how different the dynamics are from teaching second graders!  I loved the syllabus – dasavatharam, ramayanam and mahabhratha. In fourth grade, students are more engaged, contributing as much as learning, having strong opinions, likes and dislikes, and don’t miss a chance to challenge you with their accumulated knowledge. On the flip side, if you have reluctant learners, it takes a lot of effort and creativity to find something that resonate with them. Classroom management was tougher on some days because children are more brave about questioning authority. So there has to be clarity in expectations and boundaries.  I was fortunate to have had a mentor who is one of the creative teachers that has inspired me to get better at what I do. I learnt that kids learn best when they are actively involved in the learning process (opportunities to participate in class, hands-on activities, project based learning) than when they are in passive mode (listening to lectures). I had underestimated how little I knew of the mythologies but I would like to think that we learnt and grew together as a class. 

We ended last class with a class selfie and as we were wrapping up, one kid popped the question – “What is the most ridiculous thing we have done in culture class?” A few ideas were thrown in and the popular vote was for – talking about vegetable korma when we were discussing Kurma avatar… !  which had all of us break into peals of laughter. I could not have asked for a better way to end the school year. 

I am not sure how much of this year’s learning will stay with the children but if they have had few laughs and have associated learning with fun, I think the class has served its purpose.

 

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