Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Simple Living : Of Dings, Dents and Life's Other Unseemlies!

I had a wonderful experience last week - I had 3 people stop me in the elevator at work and ask me why I haven't posted in a long time...for giving me the motivation to write this week I thank you...



I obsess over cleanliness to the point where -  I have had people visit us for the first time and ask us if we just moved in...I have got better over the years but I think I have passed on some of my quirks (not so lovable) to my 7 year old. We definitely want
  • To have order and organization
  • To have our way most of the time and are tenacious with our demands
  • To do things a certain way at a certain time
The reality is life is not always "made-to-order" and things are often out of our control. An apt example just happened to me a couple weeks back - K2 and I were alone for the weekend and wanted to use our time to get K1 a birthday present...ironically we took K1's car (or rather his baby) to the mall with us, parked it in the parking garage and then went into the mall for our purchases. When we came out the rear bumper of K1's car had been badly dented by an older gentleman who was trying to back out his car. The look of horror on K2's face made me almost laugh (not quite!). The old man had left us his information and his insurance is taking care of the car yet the lesson I learnt that day is one that I will be applying to my life for a long time to come --- I share my learnings here (rather selfishly) because I am hoping that I can come back and re-learn a thing or two from time to time



#1 Start accepting things when they are less than perfect – One of the biggest challenges for people who want "it perfect" ...people like me and K2 is learning to accept things as they are. Sometimes it’s better to accept and appreciate the world as it is, and people as they are, rather than to trying to make everything and everyone conform to a perceived ideal of right. No, you shouldn't accept a life of mediocrity, but learn to love and value things as you have it.
#2 Start being attentive to your stress level and take short breaks – Slow down. Breathe. Giving myself  the permission to pause, regroup and move forward with clarity and purpose. I take my breaks for quick walks, 1/2 hr visits to the Chiropractor or a Zumba class and this really gives me the opportunity to be more productive at home and work
#3 Start looking for the silver lining in tough situations – When things are hard, and you feel down, take a few deep breaths and look for the silver lining – the small glimmers of hope. Remind yourself that you can and will grow stronger from these hard times. And remain conscious of your blessings and victories – all the things in your life that are right. Focus on what you have, not on what you haven’t. Being  Pollyanna was something I learnt very early as a child and life hasn't yet proved me wrong - I really do believe that everything happens for a purpose and good things will eventually happen.
#4 Start noticing and living in the present – Right now is a miracle. Right now is the only moment guaranteed to you. Right now is life. So stop thinking about how great things will be in the future. Stop dwelling on what did or didn't happen in the past. Learn to be in the ‘here and now’ and experience life as it’s happening. Appreciate the world for the beauty that it holds, right now.

Our life has been filled with plumbing issues, guests, car body shop visits and fixing things around the house the past 4 weeks...yet we have taken the time for walks every night, dinners cooked together and time spent together before school starts (in less than a week !!!) ...How has your summer been playing out?

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Tentative Parenting : All that's going right with me!

This weekend while -- I was working furiously on a spreadsheet...suddenly I saw an old picture in Picasa...this picture
and it put me in a funky mood...it reminded my of the joke I was cracking  as the parakeets were pecking away at my Bapa's head at the Santa Barbara Zoo...I will never joke with him...never see him smile at me again and the pain in my heart was a tangible thing...and I wallowed in my misery just a little bit.
Fast forward to today : My wrist is aching  (damn! tendinitis)but not as much as the pounding in my brain which is way lesser than the gut wrenching cramps in my stomach -- today hasn't been a good day. Yet,the perspective I learnt from Bapa (my father) on Feb 27th, 2013 was to focus on gratitude and "All that's going right in my life". He taught me this lesson while in ICU and in hindsight with a mere dozen days left...(read it here)

I haven't been writing much this past month because there hasn't been much to say...yet there has been quite a bit of activity in my life  work wise and in kitchen. I have recreated time and again my favorite Kale Salad 

and I have cooked a few dinners for the boys...
And I have filled a part of my soul with happiness from just walking down the farmer's market every Sunday chatting with Mr.Lee about the water situation and buying baby onions and Guvar (cluster beans) from his stand, talking to Ron about his duck, geese and hen while he picked out his biggest eggs for his favorite customer K2, the heirloom tomatoes from Justin just waiting to be used in my spicy Kheema Curry and the wonderful samosas from Salim at Sukhi's corner...K2 reluctantly gets dragged to the Farmer's Market but has made his friends there  and learnt his fruits and vegetables...Gratitude that I live in such a wonderful neighborhood where I am exposed to these kind people who let me live my dream of "Farm to Table". Beyond home I have encountered this gentleness and kindness at work in the past year and it has been a wonderful revelation...it's been about authenticity, working together and collaboration.

The effects of my pain-killer have settled in..the discomfort a distant memory...dinner is done and I can either settle down with my spreadsheet for the next two hours or read the book on my night stand - Power Cues but then maybe again I will indulge and read a chick-lit tonight...
Whatever I do, I know I will focus on all that's going right with me...so tell me about all that's going right with you...my friend!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Dissecting the She-conomy

“You don’t have to be anti-man to be pro-woman.” ~Jane Galvin Lewis 

I was at a  conference last week where I heard about the power of the she-conomy. The reality is that there are two sides to this coin...wonderful is the fact that -
  • Globally, about 870 million women who have not previously participated in the mainstream economy will gain employment or start their own business by 2020. Most of these women – 822 million – will come from non-industrialized countries, while roughly 47 million will come from North America,Western Europe and Japan.
  • Women will be responsible for 19 Trillion in spending and 13 Tr in Earnings in 2016 in the US
  • Senior women age 50 and older control net worth of $19 trillion and own more than three-fourths of the US financial wealth
At the same time it is perturbing to see that :
  • In developing economies women are 20 percent less likely than men to have an account at a formal financial institution and 17 percent less likely to have borrowed formally in the past year.
  • A study in India showed that, although accounts might be opened in the name of a woman, the decision-making authority around the use of those funds often lies with a male relative. The World Bank’s Gender at Work report (2014) asserts: “On virtually every global measure, women are more economically excluded than men.
I see this behavior in my Ma who was totally like an "ostrich with her head stuck in the sand" as far as her finances are concerned ...She was a housewife and in the past she let my father deal with all things taxes, finance and investing. Trying to learn a new skill (now that Bapa is gone) is hard for her.  However, I see the same behavior from my mother-in-law  who has worked all her life as a doctor - yet when it comes to banking, finances and investing -- she leaves it all to the man of the house. I remember her telling me, she just asks Baba for money when she needed it and he gave it to her ...so the point above by World Bank on the male having the decision making authority seems to ring true.
I believe there are 4 key barriers to women engaging more fully with finance and investing :
  • lack of time 
  • fear of numbers
  • lack of basic  financial education
  • off-putting attitudes and biases of  family members and society in general
I believe to overcome these barriers women need to :
  • Get Educated About Money - Take the time to learn about how money works, and about how different investments work. You can learn in bite sized bits, tackling a concept a day, until you feel comfortable with money, and with making money decisions. 
  • Fund your own retirement (take control)  If you have a job, make sure some of that money goes into a retirement account. If you do not have a job, talk to your partner about a spousal IRA - plan your retirement
  • Don't be Afraid -  Framing financial challenges as 'lessons learned' and planning for expected and unexpected life milestones can help build strength and confidence.
  • Frugality is not a cuss-word - It's Not About Being Cheap or being a cheapskate, a miser or a tightwad.  It's about having security and peace of mind by spending less than you make.  It's about knowing where you stand financially on a daily basis so you can make intelligent fiscal decisions. I budget, I coupon and I forecast our savings and spending at home just like I do at work. 
At the end of the day She-conomy is about empowerment and true financial freedom. It's about building the know-how to walk that walk towards independence (vs. talking it) which is an alien concept for so many women. So what is your financial strategy...if you could change one thing  today what would you change?

Sunday, June 15, 2014

A letter from a daughter to her father...(Happy Father's Day!)


Dear Bapa,

Even though we were close and we talked, in the early days- you didn't share emotions much, you kept me grounded but guided me wordlessly down a path that somehow was the right one for me - always proud of my achievements...I wish I had asked you more "How are you?"...you had been my ideal clawing your way out of nothing to achieve so much (yet you were a practical person, not letting the power get to your head...maintaining your simplicity). It was only after you found out you were sick that you let that facade of "playing poker face" crumble...you let me be the strong one for you (and you made that easy -  you were so positive and cheerful). It's been two father's days, one birthday (yours) and two wedding anniversaries (yours) where the emptiness was acute. 

Miss you Bapa and Happy Father's Day,


Love,
Your Daughter



Thursday, June 12, 2014

Tentative Parenting : What my 7 yr old teaches me about Management?


By the time my son came along, I had spent over 10 years in product management living life big : shipping products that people used everyday, solving problems for gigantic customers, flying across the globe to meet said customers and working with really smart development and sales people. I thought a baby shouldn't be a big deal...boy! was I wrong. My son (K2) was a blessing and a "handful" from the word go. Over the years I have watched him do things naturally that took me a long time to learn and internalize -
#1 Prioritize : K2 is ruthless about what matters in his life - it is his playtime, his iPad time and then time with parents... what I have learnt from K2 is that time will expand to fit what is a priority for you...I can sit down and say it's too hard and I can't get to things or get to first things first...sometimes I am amazed at how much I can fit into a day (and conversely how little).
#2 Communicate : whether it is a "small" question to letting us know he needs to use the bathroom, to he is hungry, sleepy or grumpy...K2 communicates...it is annoying at times but useful most times...I would rather he tell me he has a tummy ache to me second guessing it. At work I have learnt - it is critical to communicate with the team about most things - how large-scale decisions are made, what goals they’re working towards, and empower them to track their progress - this helps avoid confusion, alienation and helps keep everyone engaged and involved.
#3 Simplify : Man tends to over complicate, over-think life...K2 breaks things down to the basics (classic Maslow) - "When you learn how to say yes to the things you want in your life and no to the things you don't want in your life – your life becomes simpler."
#4 Visualize : K2 has to memorize poems every week for his public speaking class. The poems initially were itty bitty ones...the last one was a whopping 20 lines. I saw him getting frustrated and angry and nearly in tears. I sat him down and gave him a clue : visualize words ( the tree house, the robin, the stars and make them your anchor words). He had the poem memorized in 25 minutes. I had a mini-aha moment then - if he can apply it to memorizing a poem why can't I apply it to my life...at a moment that I am stressed why can't I close my eyes and visualize how peace looks like at that moment...sounds kooky but seems to work for me just fine.

#5 Authenticity : K2 is loud and laughs a lot...shy sometimes and sometimes not...he doesn't think about his actions much...his laughs, love and tears are from the heart - he is unconditional with his affections and emotions. I have learnt from him that it is important to be "true to yourself" and the approach of WYSIWG (what you see is what you get) works best here.

#6 Do it your way : I was trying to teach K2 how to do fractions...I was impressed that he came up with an alternate way to do the fractions which worked for him better. An important lesson I learnt then was - there is no right way or wrong way...the best way is "the doing it your way"...think out of the box...think about solving the problem or coming up with a kick-ass solution. This however doesn't equate to "my way or the highway" !!!

#7 Think Win-Win : I grew up in India and resources were scarce (college admissions etc) and our lives were intensely competitive -- we learnt to base our self-worth on comparisons and competition. I thought about succeeding in terms of someone else failing–i.e., if I win, you lose; or if you win, I lose. Life became a zero-sum game.-- however, with K2 I see that he is in a frame of mind and heart that constantly seeks mutual benefit in all human interactions -- he wants to share, his attitude is "there is plenty for all"...he has made me change my thinking too...it's collaborative and focused on the team vs. just myself.

As one of my mentors said to me in the past - “Grown-ups never understand anything by themselves, and it is tiresome for children to be always and forever explaining things to them” ...I am glad I am not sticking to stereotype here!

Friday, June 6, 2014

A date with an American Masala

For a self-proclaimed foodie, my knowledge about foods that I eat seems to be surprisingly sparse. You must have heard me raving about this amazing grilled cheese sandwich that my mother used to make for me that I kinda sorta modified to make my own...what? you haven't -- then I insist that you read the recipe here
What I didn't know was that this killer sandwich is called a toastie : a toasted sandwich made in a special machine, usually containing cheese combined with some other foodstuff.
I ran into Suvir Saran, an amazing chef and the author of the book American Masala. He inspired me to get out his book and my toastie maker and combine two of his recipes to make one killer toastie.
First things first - just in case you were wondering this is a toastie maker

I used the recipe for the warm pepper dip from the book American Masala (modified to my taste of course)
  • 2 Sprays of High Heat Spectrum Canola Spray 
  • 1 medium red onion - chopped
  • 10 Baby Red Bell Peppers  - That's what I had on hand
  • 2 medium tomatoes - chopped
  • 4 cloves of garlic - peeled
  • 2 Serrano - increase for more heat
  • 1 tsp  Sea Salt
  • 1/4 Cup Reduced Fat Feta Cheese
  • Milk to make the dip (To consistency)
Toss all the ingredients, except milk & cheese, together. Spread on a greased baking dish. Roast in a pre-heated 450 degree F oven for 1 hr, stirring every 15 mins. Blend and make the dip. Here is how my beautiful dip looks (even Buddha approved!)

How I make my toastie?
  • 4 Slices High Fiber Whole Grain Bread
  • Spread the bread with the Red Pepper dip (thick coat)
  • Take a Amul Cheese Cube or whatever cheese rocks your boat (tear and spread across the bread)
  • Cover with another slice of bread
  • Close the toastie maker and let the magic begin!
Here is how the Toasties looked -

K2 absolutely adores this version of the Toastie -- he will have it for breakfast, lunch and dinner!
Sending this recipe to :
  1. Nandoo's Kitchen for her event Healthy Diet : Healthy Breakfast (brainchild of Priya's Versatile Recipes)
  2. Cooking 4 all Season's event - Come Join us for Breakfast
  3. Food Better be Good's event - Kid's Delight : Lunch Box Series
Thanks Suvir for your wonderful book that has so many lovely recipes (most kid-approved, at least my kid approved :) )

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

If I were 22...


I will hit a birthday milestone which ends with a "zero" this month and such a milestone does put one in an introspective mood - there are lessons learnt (and re-learnt)...priorities set and experiences gained. Some lessons I learnt in the last 18 years that I would love to share with my 22 yr old self are below (but as I tell myself you live and you learn!)
#1 Don't Hold Grudges - It is better to forgive and forget than to let negative feelings crowd out my positive feelings. Holding a grudge has a lot of detrimental effects on my well being, including increased depression, anxiety, and stress. For all I know the person who has done me wrong might be totally unaware of my feelings -- so I let myself feel strongly for that instance, express my emotions if it makes sense and then just let it go...makes me feel a whole lot lighter and better.
# 2 Eat Well and Exercise- I didn't start exercising till I was 30 (yikes!) and filled my body with a lot of junk food. The last 10 years have taught me good habits of eating organic, whole foods and making exercise a part of my daily routine. I feel this has a huge positive impact on my mental health, my productivity at work and my ability to spend more energy and time with my young son.
#3 Don't sweat the small stuff (so hard!) - This is so hard for an eternal planner like me - I am anal with To-Do Lists and Organizing stuff -- I have learnt that sometimes things just resolve themselves...things that seemed huge problems a month back seem non-trivial now.
#4 Express Gratitude - There are so many things going right in my life...I would rather take the time to appreciate all that is going right with my life vs. lament the things that don't seem to be working out.
#5 See Problems as Challenges - A problem is viewed as a drawback, a struggle, or an unstable situation while a challenge is viewed as something positive like an opportunity, a task, or a dare. Whenever you face an obstacle, try looking at it as a challenge. I won't say the path forward has been the easiest however once I changed my mindset - that things were not being put in my path to create roadblocks but were opportunities -- I was able to achieve more success
#6 Never seek approval from others - I used to be so "needy" of approval from my parents and close friends. What I realized over time is that it is impossible to please everyone. My mother still feels I should stay at home and take care of my family vs. have a career. I do listen to what the people who matter in my life have to say, but I always forge my own path forward...seeking approval from one source and one source alone - myself.
#7 Live in the Present - I don’t dwell on the past much or worry about the future. Losing my father taught me one important lesson - Life is fleeting, savor the present. I have let myself get absorbed in what I am doing at the moment. I do plan for the future but with broad brush strokes...I know I have a path mapped out but I am enjoying what I have "right now" vs. thinking of what "I can have tomorrow to enjoy"...my father told me something in Jan 2013 which rings true every day after - You live only once, don't make the mistake I made of waiting for retirement for all the vacations and relaxation to happen...enjoy every day like it is the last one that you have on this earth...then you will really live!" Living life for me today was about standing in my backyard for 10 minutes enjoying the antics of a squirrel...made me ready for any curve-ball or challenge that this day had to throw at me!
As Lao Tzu said it - If you are depressed you are living in the past. If you are anxious you are living in the future. If you are at peace you are living in the present!