Nov 7, 2014

5 Random things about me

    My friend Cheryl recently blogged about 5 truly random facts that help me see and  know her that tiny bit better. She tagged me to do the same. In the words of Cameron (also tagged), I'm also usually "the place where memes go to die" but not this time. I'm taking the bait and tagging others. Because celebrating random traits rocks in these times when carefully crafted images are so easy to perpetuate. They often deceive whereas the honestly random ones might just give you away. The real 'you'. 

Here are '5 random things about me'

Oct 9, 2014

Fall, falling, fallen

The streets are lined again.

Summer has zipped by as long awaited delights usually do. This year it felt particularly crowded with memorable experiences. Perhaps it's just the welcome relief of easy exhales: the past couple of years held a series of challenges that had left me feeling rather wrung out.

This year, amidst a celebration of unremarkable health and stability (which felt remarkable nonetheless), we got away from home and hearth and their constant tending for a few easy mini-breaks. They amplified the wash of gratitude and ease quite a bit. 

Oct 3, 2014

Phones that chatter

When the toddler's diaper trilled with my ring tone, I had only a fleeting moment of pause. In those sleep-deprived and semi-catatonic days, dredging up concern at anything past the bare necessities was beyond me. That my cutie's privates were ringing registered only as "So that's where my phone is."

Sep 11, 2014

Penguin Pez and the car door

On the way to school the Penguin chain-pull on Oyon's book bag got caught in the car door. He recovered it before we drove off but we spent the ride to school making up a giggly tale  about what might have happened if he hadn't. This preamble is mainly in defense of the liberal use of behinds (and all it's 7 yr old synonyms) in the tale. I may have been driving the car but 7 year old scatological sensibilities were steering the story. 

Jul 26, 2014

Finding my 'maybe'

About three times this past year I've felt an odd and overwhelming need to give thanks. It's taken me to an interesting place.

Jul 15, 2014

The funnies: LTYM, Boston, 2014

It's not always easy to laugh freely. Daily annoyances, over-the-limit personal baggage and the sheer grind of Life, can preempt the handiest of smiles and reserve them instead for self-identified 'perfect' moments, which are invariably few and far between. So to tease them out of people, can be a Herculean task.

Jul 14, 2014

Un-stereotyping 'motherhood': LTYM Boston, 2014

I'm annoyed by the word Motherhood'.

It's too easily associated with over-simplistic tropes of noble self-sacrifice, loaded with implied superiority and dripping with saccharin sentimentality. The narratives seem reductionist at best, marginalizing at worst. As if you can't be capable of love if you haven't had a child. As if that there truly is no greater joy than parenting. As if the only path to wisdom and empathy tracks through a landscape of dirty diapers and sleepless nights. And by the way, what of the Fathers?

Jul 10, 2014

A whale named 'Hancock'

It's almost as if I never saw the least, if you go by the pictorial records of my days. 
The way memory seems to work is that the ones you preserve (visually or by retelling) stand in as summaries of the entire experience as the surrounding details fade, even the important ones. 

But this was the first of my many whale watching trips, where I had the ability to easily archive this joy on my handy phone camera. Yet I didn't click. Not much anyway.

Jul 8, 2014

Bonfires and things

The mop-topped little boy looked like he was about 5 years old. He stood quite still just outside their Yurt, a few hundred yards from our campsite.

   "Are you going to the beach?" he called to Oyon, who was the obvious focus of his attention.

Jul 2, 2014

Scratching on rocks

This beach is crowded with rocks of many colors. Some stack comfortably together and others tumble in the tide. There's a salty tang in every breath and prickles of hot sun on suncreen-less skin are so intense that sensation overwhelms any concerns about UV rays. It's promising to be a lovely afternoon on the island where we are camping. I'm starting to hear the quiet in my mind as my hands busy themselves with nothing.

Jun 16, 2014

Fathers Day

This Fathers Day my husband requested I not make a fuss on Face Book about anything around it in our home. There's too much sharing on social media these days for our comfort and though I blog about all things personal, even I'm developing a bit of a privacy reflex when it comes to the crowded world of FB.

Sugared almonds, fathers and brothers

North End, Boston

Many years ago, Gabriel Garcia Marquez crafted a Pavlovian association for me with almonds. I'm sure many, many others too think of the bitter smell of cyanide and a tired man forfeiting his battle with disappointment ('Love in the time of cholera'). Yet I had strong memories of almonds in my life before, though I'd all but forgotten. 

They had to do with my father and brother. They were not bitter.

Jun 6, 2014

Threads that make me ME

The moods that flit across my face
Are way too slow to match the pace
    Of my tumbling streams of thought.

I've ideas, plans and then some more,
Dreams and stories in my store,
    Whether or not I ought.

For some may say my childhood asks
That grins and giggles be my tasks
    But I really don't agree.

My questions, tantrums, even whine,
Are threads that deftly intertwine, 
   To make me fully ME.

May 28, 2014

The anatomy of 'Greys'

“Sandra Oh is leaving!” screamed the blurb from my Facebook news feed recently.
“Sandra WHO?” I thought, dutifully clicking on the link. 
Turns out NBC's  prime-time drama, 'Greys Anatomy' hit the usual high finale note as the 2014 season ended. 

'All about my mom' book
Now, whenever I imagined blogging about TV, I saw myself indulging my immense 'West Wing' fixation, though it's passed into the annals of television history years ago. I imagined some delicious deep delving into it’s glowing idealism, deconstructing its themes and inferring its inner messages with an adolescent glee. 

Even my seven-year-old caught onto my mania. Mainly because I complained incessantly about my nasty addiction and how it was eating into my free evening time while spiking TV viewing hours into the stratosphere - compared to my usual near-zero baseline.

May 20, 2014

Shed-petals and a pause

Yesterday I saw a blossom storm. 

The GIS application I was working on had been frustrating me all day before finally giving in to my debugging efforts about 5 minutes before I had to leave for my train home. One of the biggest challenges of doing iterative problem-solving in my job is that its often 'two steps back for one step forward' as I test new methods and tools until suddenly - success is in sight. That moment almost always arrives just minutes before my train home. 

May 12, 2014

Peeling back the cover. Just a teeny bit.

On our computer hard drive is a video of my Mother-in-law (MIL) playing with 7 month old Oyon. He is struggling with the lid of a transparent plastic box full of his favorite blocks. His pudgy fingers are clumsy though, seem to have a mind of their own and the blocks remain tantalizingly close yet out of reach. He lets loose a series of those peculiar baby grunts that are pre-amble to frustrated wails. In our home video, my MIL waits a beat while he makes another futile attempt, then gently takes the box, pries open a lid corner and places it back within his reach. Baby resumes fumbling but now manages to work a fingertip under the crack then peel open the entire lid. A delighted coo follows, then the entirely satisfactory clicking of blocks being struck together then a  droolly silence as like everything else those days, they get mouthed. Between his previous struggles to get at these elusive toys and now, something shifted just enough to let him translate intent into action. I had just witnessed one of his first significant experiences with persistence and innovation, enabled by the natural instinct of a practical woman who might have smoothed his way entirely (by opening the box for him) but chose instead to help him help himself.

May 7, 2014

Other Mothers

As Mothers Day looms (Sunday, May 11th here in the US), my thoughts are wandering from my own motherhood to that of others. Perhaps I'm somewhat primed by the live reading I was recently part of - 'Listen To Your Mother'. I came away altered but more by the stories the other mothers shared, than by any catharsis of my own.

Every year I look around in disbelief at the complete immersion in Mother-love, Mother-respect and Mother-spending that this day brings in the U.S.

Apr 25, 2014

Boston Strong

There was an unusually grim faced gentleman across the street from me today in Boston as I (and he) waited for the 'Walk' sign. He caught my attention first with his grimacing face, second because he was wearing shorts on a day when the predicted high was just around freezing and third, because descending from his left shorts leg was a prosthetic limb.

Apr 15, 2014

Fearlessness - Listen to your mother

My picture was in a newspaper recently. I'm going to be part of a public performance on April 26th called 'Talk To Your Mother' celebrating the many facets of motherhood. (Buy your tickets from here!)

The paper in question is the Boston Herald. A tabloid, though one with the impressive provenance of having earned 8 Pulitzers in its broadsheet days of yore.
Yes, I'm skipping blithely over the 'tabloid' part and dwelling on its blue-blooded lineage. Because I can. And because my pic could appear in worse places. 'Wanted' posters come to mind.

The Boston Herald,Monday, April 14, 2014

Apr 2, 2014

Things I heard today….

Waiting to board my morning train to work:
Cop on a bike: “Beautiful day today”
Train conductor: “They say it might rain”
Cop on bike: “Don't care. Just glad to see the sun.”

Mar 12, 2014

Missing a flight but not Hope

"The shadow makes it look SO real!"
Oyon (7) has the sharp little ears of kids his age. Eager to make sense of the world but without the requisite input, his antennae seem to constantly be picking up small details that he then mosaics together his own way. So he hears a lot that we choose to not share with him - from kids at school, snippets of radio and the general conversation surging around him.

He's completely into aircraft and flight again, undoubtedly fueled by the recent trip to India. So I assumed that it was only a matter of time before he heard about the missing Malaysian Airlines airplane and demanded to know more. In the interest of peace, I broached the subject myself as he played yesterday after homework. 

Mar 5, 2014

Say 'Hi' to your neighbors week

'Hi' again Bob Thx for the coffee!
The good folks at REACH are at it again.

The temp this AM at the Waltham commuter train station was an unnerving (for March) 12 degrees F per my car though my stinging, frozen face scoffed and pushed it down another few degrees. Yet Bob from last years event (here he was in 2013!) undauntedly offered me a hot cuppa with a warm smile and that quintessential connector word -



Mar 4, 2014

Listen To Your mother....and maybe your Father too.

Usually when I hear "You've been selected !" it's followed by unlikely schemes for improbable vacations or offers to participate in time (and soul)-destroying surveys. Imagine my surprise when this time I found I'm about to perform at a wonderful public event called 'Listen To Your Mother'! After a pinch or two to check that I hadn't succumbed to jet-lag (just returned from a trip home, to Kolkata, India) I realized that indeed, I'm part of 'Giving motherhood a microphone' .Year 5 now in 32 cities all over the US.

Feb 26, 2014

My casual dalliance with Facebook Free Fridays (FFF)

About a year ago I hit a wall. Of noise. It was my Facebook wall.

My FB community has served me in unexpected ways, from forging new connections with old acquaintances to exploring hobbies that would have otherwise gone unexplored. From being in touch with breaking news to gleaning insights on current debates. From reading heartwarming stories about the goodness still around us to cute kid stories from doting parents. From reading inspiring recipes to getting links to great web articles I would have otherwise missed.

Perhaps more valuable than all of the above has been the ability to engage in discussion, debate and musings with people who, if not real-life 'freinds', have taken on that mantle through meaningful FB interaction. In the midst of busy work days and hectic after-hours,  juggling home, work and parenting, it's provided an easy release. Escapist entertainment like reading or TV can only go so far as they require free swatches of time. But there are always free minutes lurking in-between tasks for instant 'conversation' and stimulation that is unparalleled in real life. I know that the dynamics of communication get permanently warped when diverse people who don't know each other can jump into the fray and exchange thoughts with impunity for the social graces. But it's uniquely liberating too. You won't have to see those faces at the water cooler the next morning or share a meal with them that weekend, so it's easier to be frank and speak your mind.

Feb 3, 2014

Keepin' it real.

Blog stats
Signed into my blog account and got a thrill to see the following stats on a 1 day old post:

They're reading me in Brazil! 

73 people in just 1 day!

As I furiously patted myself on the back and let the gentle shower of validation wash away my writer's insecurities, these sobering thoughts washed up.
1. "They" are not reading me in Brazil. Precisely 1 person - a freind on a work trip with nothing else to do - is. (Thanks Saikat!)
2. The 'Don't track my own pageviews' option in my account was not turned on. Undoubtedly, I'm reading my blog.
3. Technical difficulties made me delete then re-post the link on my FB wall, which is where I trap my unsuspecting victims readers. Some followed the second link to the same post  (from a combo of loyalty, coercion and boredom) and were double-counted.
4. The tally counts the people who landed on the page but not what they did next, which was hopefully not surf immediately away.

The water in that comforting shower ran out. I'm now trying to pretend that it never even happened. While re-checking my Traffic stats.

Feb 1, 2014

Listen To Your Mother: First Un-born

The kidney-shaped hospital tray is a deep, cheerful red. It's a stunning mismatch with both its contents and this moment in my life. Empty and tired, I try to focus my bleary, post-surgery eyes on the advancing tray. Gripping the kind hand of Nurse Janice while struggling for clarity through the anesthetic fog, I peer into the tray. A single thought takes shape: who knew a two month young fetus could look so perfect? Whole. Real. And utterly unaffected by its own untimely demise.

Jan 31, 2014

Listen To Your Mother: Kolkata, Kenya and a faded coverlet

My mother was a housewife. Not a 'homemaker' but a wife who stayed at home. The mom part went without saying, though I'm sure I said it a lot anyway. It was “Maa! Maa! Maa!” for me constantly until I turned 6 and went to school for the first time. She defined my world in every possible way.

We left Kolkata, India when I was around two. It was known as Calcutta back then. As the oldest son, my father had the responsibility of supporting a large extended family in the traditional Indian way. A young electrical engineer in state employ had only so far to go in the early '70s though and East Africa needed electrification.

Jan 29, 2014

'Not happy'

The other night, I tuned into a documentary titled 'Happy'. It achieved my desired end and put me to sleep within minutes but not before I'd caught the requisite opening scene of a poor rickshaw driver in Kolkata, India (my hometown). He grinned happily while describing the joys in his subsistence level existence, full of confessed privations. The fuzzy thoughts running through my head as eyes lids dropped was "That's not 'happy': that's 'not sad'". In the light of day I recalled and altered my reaction: the interviewee WAS speaking of his simple sources of joy. That I'd read them as being illusory said a lot more about my entitled, elitist perspective than any weaknesses in his skills of self-expression. And that brought me around to this topic of 'happy' that had been buzzing around my head for a long time. I've read bits of Daniel Gilbert and Gretchen Rubin (authors delving into 'Happiness'), news magazines and zeitgeist tracking online sites and have a dawning awareness that deconstructing our 'happiness' is now part of our cultural fabric. At least for self-identified 'thinkers'.

Jan 22, 2014

Tales of tails

"A mouse just ran over my foot!" is the status I chose for my FB wall today.

It was one of those supposedly funny chain gags that ripple out from FB from time to time.The modern version of a chain letter. I commented on someones odd sounding status and was then tasked with picking an odd status for myself from amongst a list to trap unsuspecting commenter's from MY FB network and further the chain.I didn't find it particularly funny and was about to pass when one of the status options caught my attention. To be fair, they all did: included were "I was approached by someone to become a prostitute" and "I'm going to adopt a monkey". (Really, who thinks up this stuff and have they considered using their powers for good?) Anyway, the one about the mouse tugged gently at me, suggesting I lighten up a bit and laugh with some friends.

Jan 9, 2014

Alien in the garden

While watering our summer garden I spotted this on one of our tomato plants. I hollered for Oyon to come see his classroom science lesson come to life. I thought I'd found the butterfly eggs he'd been diligently seeking over the past few weeks.


We gleefully nosed closer for a better look then jumped back in shock. A quick web search left us gazing sadly at the poor parasitized Hornworm hanging off our plant. Seems it was hosting Wasp cocoons. And by 'hosting' I don't mean making sure the sheets were fresh, clean towels were handy and that there was something more interesting than Fruit Loops for breakfast. They were feeding the wasp larvae in the most literal sense.
Because that's what was happening to those Hornworms: they were being eaten alive from the inside. As I tried not to gag and groped to relocate my ecological sensitivity so I could reconcile to the gory wonder that was the food-chain, two further surprises (via Google) came whizzing my way:
Sphinx Moth:
The 'Hummingbird' that had delighted us earlier in the summer by hovering next to Oyon's right ear for a few seconds was more likely a Hummingbird MOTH. They are drawn to Butterfly Bushes (like our neighbors) but also to the Anthurium I'd planted. Some, I'd placed in the vegetable bed (to draw pollinators for our veggies) and others around our front door in planters - which is where the Moth had appeared. And what is one of the stages of a Sphinx Moth's life cycle? Hornworm! 'Curiouser and curioser' turns out be just the phrase when you're falling down this kind of rabbit hole. Lewis Carroll must've had a kitchen garden.
Braconid Wasp:
The delicate little red-winged 'flies' that we had been spotting (and admiring) outside all summer long? Turns out the only thing 'fly' about them is their preferred mode of travel. Actually Braconid Wasps, these insects hold only warmth for humans in their dear little hearts and no sting at all. They buzz around, generously pollinating to ensure that zucchini flowers turn into zucchini vegetables and constantly searching for.....Hornworm! Yes, the plot does indeed thicken here. Hornworms, doomed offspring of Sphinx Moths, are the budget motel of choice in the Braconid Wasp world. They lay their eggs (via stinger) just under the Hornworms skin and cocoons emerge in time, housing larvae that  then avail of the round-the-clock, all-you-can-eat buffet until it's time to emerge as adult wasps.
So to connect the dots: the flowers in our garden attracted pollinators that made our plants productive THEN they produced predators to destroy said produce but THEN one predator-pollinator attacked the other, interrupting both its dastardly plans and its life cycle and.....SCORE for us vegetable loving humans!!!!
It's called 'bio control' and practised mindfully as 'Integrated Pest Management' in ecologically conscious farming operation. In our garden though, it was just another awe-inspiring instance of Nature thumbing her nose at our paltry efforts to 'save' the planet as it effortlessly functions the way it has to.
Baby Braconid Wasps emerge after gestation.

Empty cocoons on a spent Hornworm.

All that remains

Jan 8, 2014

News Graphs

Last winter 6 year old Oyon took to leafing through the Boston Globe newspaper that his grandmother left every day on the dining table. And demanding explanations that I was hesitant to offer.

His Dad often discusses current affairs with him as they browse news magazines together but this was new territory for me. I periodically shared a few dumbed-down headlines with him but my day of reckoning came when he declared that it looked like the world was in really bad shape and that he didn't want to hear any more news.

He didn't look happy. He can be a brooder and his sadness was unmistakable.

Not surprising either as the winter of 2012 was particularly brutal in our world. The Newtown school shootings were followed closely by the Delhi bus gang-rape, there was war everywhere, we lost 2 family members and people close to us were suffering from a gamut of very real challenges. There wasn't exactly sunshine and light surrounding him no matter how tightly we tried to keep the filters in place.

Plus, 6 year olds can take things quite literally: if the newspaper was reporting that the world was in a bad way, it must be true. That particular Saturday morning, when my little son gave up on the world with a heavy sigh, I bristled at what the world was doing to this little mind, what dark perspectives were etching themselves across this blank page full of promise. This little person, who would one day go on to shape the world we are leaving to him, was learning to give up before he even got started. I've no soaring hope from him that he'll become a world-changing leader. Good for him if he does, but I don't need him to. I DO need him to the best person he can be and that involves thinking for himself .

So I wasn't going to give in so easily. The 'graphs' his Kindergarten class had been drawing and their science game of Disproving Hypotheses flashed across my mind.  I scribbled a little chart with multiple columns, labelled the first 2 -'Good news' and 'Bad News' and handed it to him along with a few markers. I told him we were going to investigate what he just said.

We then got to work trying to see if all the news really WAS as bad as it seemed. No declared hypothesis but he understood (I think) that we were testing a notion for validity. We fetched his little globe so we knew where in the world the news was and I verbally summarized each article on the front page for him. He happily evaluated each news item then filled in a cell in the appropriate column (good vs. bad news) for a little while.

Then he piped up with one of the most wonderful insights that I have ever encountered in my 42 years on this planet. Paraphrased, it went something like this:
    "We need some more words, Mummum. It's not all 'good news' or 'bad news'. Some stuff starts out 'good' then turns into 'bad news'. But some OTHER stuff is sad but actually, kind of good!"

To my puzzled look he patiently explained the following about all the A380 Dreamliner aircraft that were just grounded (because of battery caused fires). Again , paraphrased, it went something like this:
  " It's BAD NEWS that people can't use those new, expensive planes. But isn't it actually 'GOOD news that they're fixing it so people don't suddenly fall out of the sky?"

I can no longer remember an example of how 'good news' proved to not be so. Suffice it to say, he didn't find too many of these instances. Already, he had learned to read what he WANTED to but I was happy to have him err on the side of optimism: there's plenty of time to teach him about Reality and introduce him to Cynicism.

The clincher came though when he asked me to add a category for 'Kind of silly'. The news item that prompted this was that some drunk police officers from our neighboring town, Newton, had chucked eggs at their supervisors house and then got caught. He refused to really qualify this as 'news' of  any sort and insisted on the special category. He chuckled a bit at the silly choice they made ("Didn't they know they'd get in trouble?!") but also at the thought of them handcuffing themselves since they were both THE law AND breaking it! When he'd recovered from that particular giggling fit we incorporated some basic math and took a look at just how bad the news really was.

This is how the world looked, per the The Boston Globe to my 6 year old Son in early 2012. In case you can't read it, there are 13 pieces of good headlines vs. 6 bad:

We repeated the exercise the following month:

The 'Kind of silly' article was a picture of some Patriots (our football team) fans crying in a sports bar over the team's loss. He not only thought it was silly to cry when you lost, he wondered why anyone would put that picture in the paper! I didn't have an answer for that one.

I really liked the way he categorized the world though. I love that when you add it all up, there's always more in the 'Good' column than the 'bad', that not everything is how it seems and that my little man learnt first-hand that the world is as good or as bad as you make it out to be.