I told you before that my word for 2021 is “Hope”. Hope has served me well so far this year, no complaints. But I feel ready for an upgrade. In July 2020, I switched my word for the year from “Tranquility” to “Faith”. As you well know, I had good reason to switch. Tranquility felt out of place and unattainable in a world gripped by Covid-19. Faith felt more accessible. Faith, I could muster on my own.
I am realizing that I really like the idea of switching to a new word in July. Which fool said that you shouldn’t switch horses in mid-stream? Far better to switch horses than to keep flogging a dead horse, no? 😉
Anyway. It is July again. And we. are. switching.
As in (prayers for) an abundance of good health, wealth (why the he!! not), love, peace, friendship, and happiness in 2021.
A little lofty (and greedy), you say? Yeah, me too.
N and I went to the beach this morning to watch the sunrise. We really should do this more often. After all, we are both bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at the crack of dawn on most days.
The beach was quiet. The sunrise was spectacular, the sand cool and inviting.
It would not be an exaggeration to say that idli is one of my first loves (sorry N). And my earliest and fondest memories of idlies are not homemade (sorry Patti). My first memory of those lovely fluffies is from when Thatha used to get them from Hotel Shantha Bhavan, which was a short jaunt down Mandavelli Market from our home. Thatha, ever the disciplined gentleman, would buy exactly four idlies for his breakfast – two of which he would consume, one and a half would be saved for V, and one half would be saved for me. I never resented being the younger sibling more than in that moment. I mean, how much younger was I that Thatha figured I couldn’t handle a full idli! Anyway. It was what it was, and it didn’t occur to me to ask for a half more. I would dunk my share in the kara chutney that would come wrapped in banana leaves and savor each bite – oh, so slowly. Man, I have not tasted kara chutney like that before or since. A simple, sublime recipe that continues to elude me (and, apparently, also eludes the numerous other South Indian restaurants that I have eaten in – smh, do better dudes!). Patti highly disapproved of us eating out and was very vocal about it. So, as we got older, our outings to Shantha Bhavan were mostly surreptitious – guilt greatly enhancing the flavors of the already flavorful mallipoo idli and kara chutney.
I made sure to pack Gits idli mix packs when I headed to Newfoundland for grad school. And was horrified to discover that Gits was really blech, and tasted nothing like the piece of heaven that it was supposed to be. I remember being invited to a Deepavali party at Professor M’s house and seeing the trays of (surprise!!) idlies, sambar, and chutneys gloriously arranged on their dinner table. The food was fabulous, I recall. After three months of living on my own, with limited culinary skills that resulted in rasam or thayir sadam with potato roast almost daily (not to mention the vanilla ice cream with chocolate sauce that added on 15 pounds), I was swimming in seventh heaven. Even more fabulous was when Mrs. M (God bless her!) pulled out two large containers at the end of the party, and packed a dozen idlies and sambar just for me. Let the record show that I did (reluctantly) share my bounty with other greedy and needy grad students who weren’t lucky enough to get invited to Dr. M’s dinner in the first place.
I remember sitting in N’s room when I was a grad student in Atlanta (let’s say, doing homework 😉). N’s roommate, A, who had a car, walked in and asked if anyone wanted to join him for lunch at Madras Café. I jumped out of my seat and screamed, “yes, me, me!” with an enthusiasm that startled both N and A. Madras Café did not disappoint. N and I became frequent visitors there (lack of a car, notwithstanding). We would go on a minor pilgrimage on weekends, sometimes switching multiple buses and walking for a while, to get to the idlies and vadais that patiently waited for us there (I would learn later in life that N was merely being indulgent, and that he is actually an idli-hater, hmph!!)
During one of their visits, Amma and Appa bought us a “wet grinder” from India, which I received with a lot more appreciation and gratitude than when they bought me gold and diamond jewelry (priorities!). Over the years, I have perfected the art of making super-duper soft idlies (if I say so myself), and several yummy chutneys and other sides as well (though, not that precious Shantha Bhavan kara chutney, sigh!). I send obnoxious pictures of my idlies and chutneys to my cousin, S, every time I make them, and demand that he show the pictures to my aunt, K. Chitti, who is an excellent cook. K. Chitti and S are both indulgent and supportive, and they congratulate me every time on my excellent idlies (thank you Chitti and S). Which just prompts me to send them even more of my idli pictures.
I do have one idli-related regret. For how much I rave about idlies (and perhaps that’s why), no one else in the family cares for idlies one bit. I mean, they will eat the idlies (rather ungraciously, I might add), if absolutely nothing else is available in the house. But, idlies are never anyone’s first (or second or third) choice. Mildly disappointed that I did not pass along the idli-gene to the munchkins (and N’s parents didn’t either, from the looks of it). Oh well. More for me, then.
What can I say, I am a plate-half-full kinda girl. 😊
I came up with goals for the new year, My 15 for 2021, back in January. Here I am, half-way through the year, to report that goals are coming along fabulously.
Well. Except for the “Eat at least one fruit daily” bit (but we already knew that one was a stretch goal).
Anyway. Feeling super accomplished (and ambitious), I came up with six more to get to 21 for 2021. And threw in an extra one for luck (truth be told, I came up with seven because I initially thought 15 + 7 = 21). But, bad addition notwithstanding, why chumma throw out a good goal, you know?
So, here goes, my 6 + 1 more for 2021:
Do something just for myself at least once every week
Make sure that all (well, most) of my indoor plants make it intact to 2022
Start using the air fryer that has been sitting around gathering moss since May 2020
Bike as much as weather and (ahem!) health permit throughout the summer
Do at least one fun thing with little A every week (sushi and boba tea, here we come!)
Create photo books from the pictures on my phone (especially, the 100s of food photos taken over the past year)
My Thing 3 turned 3 today. Or maybe he has graduated to Thing 1 now, since he is 21 in human years (is that how it works?).
I finally agreed to get a puppy for our family after seeing handsome, well-behaved dogs casually wandering the streets in Bariloche over Christmas 2017. “Seems easy enough, I can do this”, I thought. Little A conducted Ph.D. level research on dogs for several months, and after much debate, we landed on the loudest little corgi on the planet. At that point, all I knew about corgis was that the Queen had owned 30+ corgis over the course of her life. Which I found strangely reassuring for some reason (it did not cross my mind until much later that the Queen had a huge staff too, not just 30+ corgis).
While researching corgi pups available in our part of the world, we came across this precious litter of six. All born on the day that my MIL passed away. That really stopped me in my tracks. I felt like it was meant to be (I’ve told you before that I believe in signs). So we went to visit the pups and picked up the friskiest of the lot. Cosmo, they said his name was. Although, they only called all puppies “puppy” to avoid confusing them (clever, no?). So. In July 2018, that three month old Cosmo came home with us, sweet and achingly vulnerable, with big brown eyes that looked trustingly straight back into mine. Little Cosmo became our little Winston.
It’s been three delightful years filled with Winston’s special brand of unconditional love. He makes us better people, and better together as a family. It’s hard to put in words, but I think you know what I mean (especially, if you have ever had a pup yourself).
We celebrated his third birthday with a yummy pup cake for him, and tres leches (with his name misspelt) for the rest of us.
Happy birthday, my little one! What a blessing you are!
Appa passed away 10 years ago on March 21st. Every year, as winter turns into spring, my thoughts drift backwards and land on random memories of Appa. Here are a few that were on my mind this week.
When we were really little, at bedtime, V and I would climb on top of Appa and settle down for a story. The story would start promisingly enough – “When the Fox went to Moore Market…”. V and I would wait eagerly, imagining the fox traipsing through the crowded market and setting off on his adventures. But, on most days, the fox never got past arriving at Moore Market. The long work day’s exhaustion would catch up with Appa, and quick sleeper that he was, he would be fast asleep before the fox even had a prayer. V and I were left to our imaginations (which also didn’t take the fox too far).
But we fared better when Appa was home on some afternoons with us. We would play board games like “Trade”, the Indian version of “Monopoly”. I remember V running out of money one time, and immediately offering her Rs. 500. Not how the game works, of course, but I remember Appa beaming at both of us. “Remember to always be like this and help each other even when you are all grown up, ok?”, Appa said. “Of course, we will always help each other out, we are sisters!”, I remember thinking.
We bought a new clothes washer in 2010, less than a year before Appa passed away. I remember trying to figure out the settings with Appa. “Hmmm… what’s that “small load” setting?” – I wondered out loud. Appa replied, “It’s always a small load, Papa”. It’s funny how the little things stay with you. Even today, I hear Appa saying those words every time I do the laundry. And every time when life seems a little too difficult. “It’s always a small load.”
In reality, though, it was likely Appa’s frugal nature talking. Appa spent his formative years at his paternal grandparents’ home. My Kollu Thatha was apparently a highly frugal gentleman, one that Appa spoke of with much pride. Appa inherited that trademark “Haridranadhi” frugality (quite vexing to those who have to live with it, I am sure), which I am happy (and proud) to report both me and my little N have inherited in spades.
With Appa’s passing, I felt unsheltered and lost for several months, as if an umbrella held over my head had been abruptly pulled away. It’s hard to believe that it’s been a decade already. “How do you feel about it – that it’s been 10 years since Thatha passed away?”, little N asked me earlier this week.
I’ve been thinking about her question. Well. I realize that, more than any sadness or sense of loss, I feel grateful for the uncomplicated and loving relationship that I had with Appa – a relationship with absolutely no regrets. It is something special to be in someone’s presence and to realize in real time that you are so deeply loved. I had that deep love – that umbrella over my head – for 37 years, and it has truly made my life that much sweeter.
I am part of a parent group on FB that I really enjoy. After all, parenting doesn’t come with a manual and it’s hugely comforting to hear how others are doing (which is sometimes validating, and at other times reveals how out of line you are). Anyway. This morning, I saw a post where one of the moms had asked for “random advice, nothing in particular”. Several interesting ones popped up.
Be in the pictures
When someone shows you their character, believe them (the first time)
Say yes as often as possible
Don’t give away your day
Pick your battles
Learn to laugh at yourself
When in doubt, say nothing
Measure twice, cut once
Buy the beach house (gotta love this one!)
Spend time with your mother (hope little N and little A read this)
Step away from your phone
Make your own magic
The axe forgets, but the tree remembers
You make your days
Show up for the good, the bad, the hard – all of it
“Enjoy the little things in life, because one day you will look back and realize they were the big things” ~ Robert Brault
As I look back on my past five decades on planet Earth (and let me remind you that five decades means forties not fifties, in case you are too quick with your math), some little happy moments pop into vivid focus:
Buying cotton candy from the guy on the street
Feeling the wind on my face while biking
Sailing paper boats on rainy afternoons
Spending the day with Thatha and Patti at the Mandavelli house
Attending Bhajans at Sundaram with Appa
Stay-over visits from a favorite cousin, B
Cut mango pickle at weddings
Visiting Perimma’s place in Nagapattinam with Amma and V during summer vacations
Making time for chole bhatura at Shanti Vihar, even while running late for Hindi class (priorities!)
Fireworks all day long during Deepavali
Ranking 1st in the state in science in 10th grade (I actually shed tears of joy for this one)
Riding with V on her Silver Plus
Outing to Adyar Bakery with N after a hard day at college
N feeding me lunch while I quickly copied his homework (and our classmate R tut-tutted his disapproval)
Walking on an empty stomach over hills and valleys during grad school in St. John’s, Newfoundland, to arrive at (wait for it) desi buffet
(Finally) getting my US student visa
Wandering around London as newly-weds (and enjoying some high tea on a tight budget)
Cooking dinner with N during grad school while watching Mad About You
Seeing two blue lines (twice) on the p-test
(Really little) little A waiting for me to catch up while biking in Vermont
Visiting local bookstores on every vacation
Loud game nights and movie nights with family and friends
Buying lovely cotton kurtis during India trips
The little blackboard in my kitchen (where I spew questionable wisdom and art in equal measure)
Listening to little N sing
Writing on my blog
Listening to little A speak all hoity-toity and profound at the same time
Little N giving little A a forgiving hug (after little A accidentally injured her eye)
Little N stealing my ancient, 26 year old sweater (and wearing it when she facetimes us from college)
I like coming up with goals for the new year. I came up with a super ambitious 18 for 2018, and a more realistic 19 for 2019. Interestingly, I did not come up with a 20 for 2020, displaying remarkable prescience that most things on the list would have no chance during a year gone crazy.
Anyway. 2021 is here now, a fresh clean slate full of promise. I came up with 15 rather than 21 for 2021. A little over two-thirds seems to be the right number, given my past erratic follow-through on such goals.
So, here we go, my 15 for 2021:
Make (and keep) all required health appointments for everyone
Eat at least one fruit every day (Little N read my draft of this post, and left a pithy comment on this item – “LOL”. Little A just asked me dramatically, “Really Mommy, don’t you do this already?”. Ugh, really do not understand why I struggle so much with bloody fruit.)
Light an oil lamp every day (easy one since I have already gotten into the habit of doing this over the past year)
Spend at least 10 minutes in prayer every day
Write at least three entries in my gratitude journal every night (five entries would be even better)
Go on at least one vacation in 2021 (hmmm… should add this topic to my 10 minute prayer every day to increase probability)
Walk with W for at least 20 minutes daily
Celebrate as many holidays as possible (Pongal, dho vandhuten!)
Buy produce from local farms and farmers markets during the summer
Experiment with cooking a new dish every month
Try out at least six new restaurants (that are not Indian)
Call or text at least one friend every week
Clean the house for at least 15 minutes daily
Donate to a food-related charity for Appa’s and MIL’s ceremonies
Write at least one blog post a month (I do love it so much!)
Seeing my list written up, I can see some patterns emerging (you knew I was a geek, didn’t you?). My goals fall into five broad categories :
Health – 2 goals
Food – 5 goals
Spirituality – 3 goals
Fun – 4 goals
Hygiene – 1 goal
Hmmmm…. food, fun and spirituality beat health and hygiene?
N has had a couple of weeks off for the holidays. Early during the winter break, as he was clearing out our basement, he came across a long-forgotten camera. With a 24 exposure Fuji film roll neatly in place, ready to be developed. We were intrigued. Wouldn’t this film be all blacked out and moldy inside by now? Is it even possible to still get these developed? Remembering our 1-hour photo processing shops from a decade ago, we called around. And decided to drop the film off at the local Walgreens, who promised to have it developed within two weeks (whatever happened to 1-hour photos!). So. N and I dropped off the film, crossed our fingers, and went on with our holidays.
Realized today that it’s been a couple of weeks since we dropped off the film. And that Walgreens has had more than enough time to do whatever they could do with it. N went by to pick it up. Surprise of surprises, there were several pictures in there! Pictures from October and November of 2010. Of a 3rd grader and a pre-schooler.
I thought back to that time. It was in late November 2010 that Appa was diagnosed with his illness. We returned from India at the end of December and had some intense months of grappling with Appa’s illness before he passed away in March 2011. Pictures didn’t feature very much in our life during those dark months. The camera somehow got forgotten. Maybe we moved on to digital cameras when we finally got back to taking pictures, and that was that.
Until two weeks ago when N found the camera.
The pictures are an absolute delight. Eight year old little N playing soccer. Practicing the violin. The munchkins dressed in their costumes and ready for Halloween celebrations at little N’s elementary school. Four year old little A poised with a tiara and getting her face painted. Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed little N smiling and ready with her backpack on what seems to be a school day morning. It blows my mind that this film roll was just sitting there intact for over a decade, patiently waiting to be found.
Little N will move in to her college dorm room in exactly one week. As someone who believes in signs, I feel blessed to receive these pictures today. And reassured that my little ones will forever be my little ones, even as my first one stands on the cusp of exciting new adventures and adulthood.