Thursday, July 13, 2017

How Sunshine Returned to Joyland?

Cancer in my dictionary is a bad stole away from me my champion, my best friend, my motivator & my role father. So, I have watched cancer from far with trepidation and fear...knowing that it's this evil beast that can strike at any time...When SC walked into my office last week and shared this book with me How Sunshine Returned to Joyland?, I didn't really want to read the book, this is about someone's baby having cancer...could I really deal with it?

The book sat on my night stand a couple days untouched and my 10 yr old attracted by the beautiful artwork asked me if we could read it together. I couldn't chicken out or find an excuse to say No, so we started reading the book.

  • We read it once, he said - Ma, she draws really well. Is she only 6 years old?
  • The second time we read it, he said - so the darkness was this ALL (blood cancer), Ma she is brave. Can you google me her picture?
  • The third time we read it, he said - can I keep the book?  
I feel I am very inadequately attempting to share the emotional journey my son and I made in those three readings of this story about Aparajitta Dutta, this brave 6 year old who fought cancer head-on. The struggles that she  and her parents went through are many, but the reality is that her story is an inspiration for parents across the globe whose brave kids are fighting cancer.

The lessons she teaches simply in her book are lessons we can all find strength in :

  • Dream Big
  • Smile
  • Enjoy the Present
  • The Magic of Happy Thoughts
  • The gift of true friends

Hats-off to her parents who are thinking beyond just their own child and focusing on greater good - funding cancer research for childhood cancer and also setting up a support network for parents whose children have been diagnosed with cancer. All proceeds from the book are going towards St.Jude Children's Research Hospital

If you want to read the book, you can buy it on Amazon here  
If you want to donate to the cause - Brave Kids Fight Cancer you can do so here

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Going back to the roots...

I landed in Bhubaneswar on a cool clear day in February...having been stuck inside a tin can they call an aeroplane for hours I was more than ready for a visit outside and we ended up at the "Adivasi Mela" 

I ended up picking up Palua or Arrowroot along with a few other herbs (turmeric, bhel patra etc.) at the Mela and it was a glimpse into a part of the culture that I hadn't been exposed to in a long time. Palua is a root vegetable and has numerous health benefits - easy to digest, good for digestion, immunity boosting, treats urinary tract infections,fights food borne pathogens and soothes dental issues among other things...

The Palua sat in my pantry for a couple months and then finally today I dusted out my degchi (cooking pot) and made some delicious kheer(i) which my son  slurped down in the matter of minutes.

How do you make Palua Kheeri? Here is my 5-step fool proof recipe to making this recipe in a degchi
  1. Start your cooking range, place degchi and pour about 3/4th liters of milk (I used 2%) and start heating
  2. Make a slurry of the Palua in cold milk ( about 3 tbspoon worth)
  3. Grind cardamom ( 6 pods) and sugar to taste ( I added this) and add in the degchi
  4. when the milk starts boiling, gently add the slurry and keep stirring
  5. when the consistency of the kheer thickens (like picture above)'s done
Here is my 3-step fool proof recipe to making this recipe in an Instant Pot
  1. Make a slurry of the Palua in cold milk ( about 3 tbspoon worth)
  2. Turn on your instant pot, add 3/4th liters of milk, add the slurry, Grind cardamom ( 6 pods) and sugar to taste ( I added this) and add to your IP
  3. Keep the instant pot to Porridge Mode and let your kheer cook. Stir - check sweetness and consistency.
You can eat it warm or cold...Enjoy!

What I have learnt rather late in life is that - it's the simple things that take you back to your roots and sometimes it just doesn't need to be complicated.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

The Self Care Series : While you were sleeping...

“I love sleep. My life has the tendency to fall apart when I'm awake, you know?”  

                                                                      circa 2006, tired mom getting some Zzzzz time
While I was writing my last blog post I was shocked to find out that the risk of death from stroke and heart disease was significantly higher in people who get less than six hours of sleep a night ( think 48% higher).

I had watched Arianna Huffington talk about sleep about 4 years back at a Women's Conference ( you can see the jist of it in this Ted Talk by Arianna Huffington ). She insightfully quoted "sleep your way to the top" and rediscover how to live a more productive and joyful life  by getting more sleep. According to AH,  for men, sleep deprivation is an act of virility and one-upmanship and goes on to talk about examples at the work place of how "lack of sleep" was being worn as a victory badge (don't shoot the messenger guys...instead look at yourself and scan yourself and see if you indulge in those behaviors).

How to get more sleep?

1. Get checked for medical problems that might be waking you up - these include issues like Obstructive Sleep Apnea ( did you know people with OSA had 3 times the risk for Type 2 diabetes). My dad suffered from OSA and sure enough he had Type 2 diabetes.
2. Set up your environment for sleep — have a comfortable bed, a dark room (or an eye mask, if needed), and quiet (use earplugs, ambient music).
3. Set up your evening for sleep — do a quieting half hour before bed - they say don't take a device to bed but for me the Kindle is my version of a physical book, so I read for 1/2 hr before bed. 
4. Set up your days for sleep — get sunshine during the day and keep the room dark in the night. Get some physical movement aka exercise, so your body doesn’t want to move when it’s time to sleep.
5. Prevent hunger and low blood sugar. A bedtime snack including protein and some complex carbohydrate (a small bowl of oatmeal, some nuts, even a small piece of dark chocolate) might help you stay asleep. I swear by this smoothie recipe of mine (it's a play on the Ethiopian Drink Telba) - 1 Banana, 2 tablespoons roasted flaxseeds, 1 teaspoon cacao nibs (optional) , 1 cup of water or more depending on the consistency you want and 1 tsp honey to sweeten (I added Stevia, as I am trying to cut down on sugar). It's high in protein, fiber and essential minerals like Magnesium and potassium (it's good for you heart too!).
6. In consultation with your health-care provider, consider proven sleep supplements such as magnesium and melatonin. On high stress days, I take 5 mg of Melatonin to ensure uninterrupted sleep. I take a magnesium supplement every day called Natural Calm   and have been taking this supplement for 4 years now.
7. Get help with anxiety, stress, and depression, if you think those might be problems. I think everyone goes thro' phases and sometimes the depression and anxiety might just be a chemical imbalance ( for me a couple years back it was a severe Vitamin D deficiency) or even if it is a deeper seated issue, its better to meeting it headlong vs. let it fester.
8. Accept that sleep is important. It’s not being lazy; it’s not shirking your responsibilities. Your body needs it. You may have to spend some time in the day clearing up things that are worrying you, like taking care of the kids so that you can relax and heal at night. Sleep is especially important for kids and setting them up with good sleeping habits is critical to their well-being.
I look forward to shutting off the lights and having this free entry into a "land of dreams"... I especially love getting up in the morning rested after a good night's sleep. How did you sleep last night? 

Monday, June 26, 2017

The Self Care Series : Different Strokes

"Nearly six million die and another five million are left permanently disabled. Stroke is the second leading cause of disability, after dementia. ... In the developing world, however, the incidence of stroke is increasing."

I lost a 59 yr. old uncle yesterday to a stroke. This was my mother's younger sister's husband. He had the symptoms of a stroke - Sudden numbness of his leg on the left side, trouble walking & loss of balance and severe headache. He ignored it for 2 days...he was rushed to the ICU on the third day and they found a large brain clot on the 5th day and did a brain surgery to remove the clot on the 7th day...he spent the next 30 days in a hospital, half the time on a ventilator and finally drew his last breath yesterday at 4.30 AM.

Did you know?
  • Nearly 800,000 (approximately 795,000) people in the United States have a stroke every year, with about three in four being first-time strokes.
  • Someone in the United States has a stroke every 40 seconds.
  • Every four minutes, someone dies of stroke.
  • Stroke is a leading cause of long-term disability and the leading preventable cause of disability.
  • More women than men have strokes each year
  • South-East Asians are more at risk than other races
Who is more at risk?
  • People with high Blood Pressure
  • People with Type 2 Diabetes
  • High Cholestrol (especially high LDL)
  • Obese or Overweight People
  • Desk Jobs or leading a sedentary lifestyle
  • Bad Food Habits - red meat, eating too much carbs & sugar to your diet
What can you do about it?
  • Sleep Well - 7-8 hours every day
  • Manage your stress - meditation, yoga, read books, take quiet walks, listen to music, practice gratitude
  • Managing your weight - ensure your BMI is in the healthy range
  • Diet - this is a topic I am very passionate about - making sure you eat healthy is No.1 to keeping a lot of these diseases at bay. Eat more fruits and vegetables, Eat legumes and lentils (sprouted if you can sprout them at home), Limit Dairy & Meats, Eat more nuts and seeds, Consciously add more fiber to your diet, Cut down on fat, carbs and sugar in your diet.
  • Regular Exercise - Try Shruthi's Bolly X Class in the Oracle Gym!
  • Smoking & Alcohol - No smoking and either no alcohol (or alcohol in moderation!)
  • Recognize the symptoms of a stroke and go immedietely to a doctor if you suspect that you are having stroke symptoms
                                                                                             circa 2002
I know it's easier to give advice and very hard to follow in real has taken me years to get disciplined about exercise, sleep and's second nature now. I am putting a picture up from 15 years back...I love... food ( fried food, chips, cookies and indian sweets)....and I didn't really like exercising and it shows in this picture of mine. I don't believe in "before and after pictures"...the reality is the After is "Work in Progress"'s still a journey and the key is I am learning to live life happier, healthier...sharing this information with the hope that you do something positive for your health today!

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Tanishq's Diamonds NOT a girl's best friend!

Tanishq the Indian's say is what Tiffany's is to the USA. Hear my story and you will definitely know that "Diamonds can be a girl's best friend but avoid Tanishq at all costs"

My 40th birthday which happened a couple years ago also marked the 1st year anniversary to losing my father and getting a promotion. Having lived a very minimalistic life until that point (and because my Dad was always urging me to do something special for myself) I was ready to  treat myself to something special to mark the milestone. I ended up buying myself a solitare diamond ring. It made me feel wonderful - a gift I bought for other person involved (almost like coming of age...). My ring was a great companion for 3 years. Two weeks back with normal use, my entire solitaire with it's cushion fell out of the ring setting. I thought the diamond was lost but with the help of some wonderful people I located the diamond (after 15 panicky minutes....can't imagine next steps if the stone was lost !!!)

 I contacted Tanishq hoping to understand next steps...the first tenet of their mission is - Total Customer Orientation... or so I thought. I was so wrong...

I sent my first email to a senior executive at Tanishq and heard nothing back and sent a follow-up email...NOTHING !!!

I am now getting my ring reset at a reputed local jeweller in San Francisco  and paying $300 ( ~ Rs. 20,000) for fixing poor quality issues of the manufacturer. The jeweller concluded that the workmanship on the ring was really shabby ( 2 solders where the ring needed 6 solders if we are getting technical) and hence the solitaire had fallen out...When I read forums on Tanishq, I saw this as a complaint that a lot of people had about stones falling out of the setting.

I want to highlight this as an example of not just NOT standing behind the quality of your work and brand but also of a total customer disorientation and apathy to what a customer is going through. If you are thinking of buying from Tanishq for brand name and reputation - take my advise look locally and pay lesser elsewhere...

Diamonds may well be a girl's best friend but as I have sadly discovered...not a Tanishq Diamond !!!

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

In Loving Memory...

Dear Theresa,
I am sitting in your warm sunlit office space in Building 300,
When you moved to the warmth of Arizona,
You gave me the gift of a wonderful office space.
We met a couple times before you moved,
You were always so helpful and warm...
I really appreciated the camaraderie and the sense of belonging you made me feel from Day 1
It was a shock to learn about your health issues,
You were so brave and positive...
It left a lasting impression on me.
And 10 days later you are no more...

I hope that you have found yourself a warm sunlit place up above,
You will be missed.

I lost a colleague Theresa yesterday - what I remember about her is her beautiful smile and warm personality and her absolute willingness to help her team mates. She has left behind a young daughter. A fund to help with the education of her young daughter Rachel has been set up, please help if you are able to - Theresa you will be missed !!!


Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The truth about School Lunches!

I am angry and upset about the state of affairs with our school lunches specifically in our school district. For years I shut out the angst of my son recieving cold, burnt lunches and sometimes a lunch where he was supposed to get a "chicken dish" but got it sans the chicken and told myself that maybe I was the only parent feeling the pinch of paying between $5.50-$6.50 for my son's lunch - for a not so good lunch. Here's a picture of the california rolls that my son's school lunch advertises vs. what the kids get in can guess which is which...

 My son patiently ate the food I ordered for him in 3rd and 4th grade and finally told me in 5th grade - Ma, please start packing my lunch for me (or I will do it myself) - I would rather eat a PBJ to what they are giving us at the hot lunch. I have been packing school lunches for most of this school year (except for the time when I went to India) matter if I had a critical deliverable or an early morning meeting - my evening ends with my planning a packed lunch for my boy. Reality is it is not that hard once you have a plan of what you want to pack and I am able to give my son a "reasonably  healthy and nutritious" lunch for < $1.50/ day. Here's one of the sample meal plans I built (what can I say - I am a planner!)

But this blog isn't about my ability to plan and pack school lunches for my son. It's about the fact that 

(A) Food at my son's Public school runs to about $5.50-$6.50 for a school lunch that includes an entree, a choice of drink (milk/water) and a choice of fruit. School Lunch prices for our school district are way "out of whack" when compared to neighboring districts (these graphs are self-explanatory!) - in case you are wondering my child falls under the BRSSD umbrella. If I as a part of a double income family am feeling the pinch - can you imagine how hard this would be for a single income family ( about half the families in our school district comprise of single income households)

Here is a Yelp Review that I pulled up on our lunch provider on the topic 

The response of the vendor was particularly enlightening but I won't add it in here, I am hoping you would actually go to Yelp and read their response (gist of it is they say - they don't get the $5.50-$6.50 - apparently the district sets the price to cover "other" costs). 

I have started a conversation with the School District but the answers I have had from their Chief Business Officer have been very "officially correct" but not particularly enlightening.

(B) The quality of food is sub-par and the vendor usually gets away with it.  I will give you an example that had me all riled up this week - my son was signed up in advance for the spaghetti with chicken meatballs ( we don't eat beef or pork)...a week before the lunch was due I am sent a message saying chicken meatballs were not available, so they were substituting it for spaghetti with meat sauce (beef) WITHOUT consulting me- I went in and changed the order to cheese ravioli very reluctantly (it's not a very nutritious meal!)  - but honestly seeing my son's sad face in the AM when I told him he had a hot lunch was just a "cherry on top of that indignity". The reality of WHY I ordered a few school lunches this week is  - I am frugal and I had a balance sitting in choice lunch and I didn't have the patience or time to ask them to refund it, so instead ordered a few lunches to close it out to zero balance  and my son's expression made me wish I had gone thro' the pain of getting that balance back vs. order him a hot lunch. Read an example of the travails a parent faced - I had a similar conversation with a parent at our school. 

From a parent’s perspective School Lunches are successful when (a) their kids are happy eating the food – no complaints (b) the food specs are reasonably healthy (c) the food is consistently affordable. From my perspective school lunches for us have been bombing on all three levels . A good school lunch strategy is if we had a simpler lunch menu  vs. complex choices that are very poorly executed and a pricing structure that is reasonable ( reasonable for me is comparable to other school districts and something that doesn't feel pricy to parents)

My son moves to middle school next year and my strategy for school lunches is - Status Quo aka pack my son healthy school lunches from home. What are your thoughts on school lunches?