Thursday, October 13, 2016

Simple Living : The Big 5

"The US of A is probably the only country that has more food than it can possibly consume & possibly the only one with diet plans that keep us from eating that food."

I slink make my way into the extended day care after a long day at work - I see two dear friends (beautiful well put together working moms) discussing an evening bootcamp and a Ketosis diet. I look at my idiot device and pretend to be answering emails and walk away suitably intimidated. As I am picking K2 up, the extended care director is talking about the Paleo Diet with another parent...I roll my eyes up ( eating like the cave man...yeah! right!) - Isn't it interesting how we surround ourselves with these multitude diets whereas the only thing that we need to do is be mindful about what we eat - not just eat quinoa, chia seeds and kale because it's oh!so! cool and the flavor of the month but because it makes sense for our health. I eat full eggs, my milk is 2% not fat-free, I use ghee and coconut oil in my cooking, we eat healthy whole grains ( quinoa, amaranth, barley and sometimes brown rice), we add a lot of beans and lentils to our meals and our fruits and vegetables are seasonal. I am a no-nonsense, no-frills and one of those people who doesn't have the attitude or the aptitude to spend more than 30 minutes a day in the kitchen and to some one like me this book by Dr. Sanjiv Chopra : The Big 5 - Five Simple Things you can do to live a longer, healthier life appealed on so many levels.
It was simple and gave facts on the Why's for the suggestions and definitely gave me something new for my daily routine. Just an FYI, the author is a Harvard MD who also happens to be Deepak Chopra's brother. Read the book if you get a chance and if you don't  get a chance to read the book, then read the 5 tips in the book here, hopefully one or two might resonate with you too and might be things you add to your (or your child's routine).
  1. Coffee - A cup of health : this  to a tea drinker like me was an AHA! moment. Yes, there is some research on why coffee is good for you but I have stayed away from coffee till about 3 months back. Three months back a friend made me a cup of latte on her office floor and since then I have been hooked on it. His research shows that coffee drinkers have lower risks than tea drinkers for cirrhosis, alzheimers, dementia and type 2 diabetes (dang! I still want my cup of cardamom chai in the AM and green tea mid afternoon) BUT sign me up for at least one cup of coffee a day.
  2. The Mysterious Case of Vitamin D : Did you know when you are low on Vitamin D, your immunity is low, your bones can fracture easily, you can have dental issues and like in my case get inexplicably depressed (click here to read the post on that). Most Indians are deficient in Vitamin D - so make sure to get your levels checked regularly ( my doc checks my levels every 6 months) and supplement! supplement! supplement! I am out in the sun a lot but it doesn't seem to help me much and the fortified D I get from Cereal, Milk and yogurt just isn't enough.
  3. Go Nuts : Eat. Nuts. Every.Single.Day. I keep blanched almonds and walnuts that I put on the table in portions ( 5 almonds and 4 full walnuts)  for me, my husband and son). This is  the first thing I eat after my warm glass of water with ACV (apple cider vinegar). Nuts reduce LDL (the bad cholestrol) and protect against heart diseases. I didn't know this but Nuts also reduce the risk of Type 2 diabetes and pancreatic cancer.
  4. Meditate : Transcendental Meditation was something I learnt as a young child (it was a mandatory 1/2 hour that we spent at school every day meditating - it felt like evil torture !!!). However, at some point it clicked and anytime I felt anxious or overwhelmed I tried to use meditation and breathing as my "out" - I will be the first to admit that this is still not a strict part of my daily routine and this was one of the things I want to make a fixture in my life. Meditating changes your brain structurally and functionally ( he had some amazing research to support it)
  5. Run (or Walk) for your life : If you know me, you know one thing I swear by is exercising and moving. With our laptop lifestyles we are textbook candidates for hypertension, heart diseases and diabetes - however, if we mindfully try and make exercise a priority, we will be giving ourselves a tremendous gift. I had a working mom ask me in a panel - but don't you feel guilty about spending that time away from your child - I said yes, I do feel guilty every single day because I choose to exercise every single day...but I am ok with that guilt -with that guilt I also feel good that by keeping myself healthy and happy - I have a lot more energy and am  able to do a lot more for my child and am setting myself up as a good role model. 
 I am digressing I know but are you signed up for the American Heart Walk - it happens on Oct 20th, 2016 at Oracle HQ. Not signed up yet - join our team - Oracle HeartFit. Don't want to commit to the walk, no problem - donate for heart health, your heart will thank you and I will of course thank you !!!

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Simple Living : Temperatures & Tempers Rising!

                          A fever is an expression of inner rage    
                                                                   ----Julia Roberts

DoormatSomebody who is always walked all over
Matadora bullfighter whose task is to kill the bull.

Last Sunday saw me in bed uncomfortable, there was a soreness in my chest and my head was throbbing, this slowly morphed into a full blown fever my morning ( 101 - yes I knew you would ask). I drag myself out of bed, pack K2's lunch box and drop him in school (just barely!) ...I virtuously go into work and stare at my computer for all of 20 minutes before I am forced to leave for the house...with a throbbing headache, spaghetti noodle legs and temperatures rising. The next 3 days are a virtual blur of rising temperatures, rising expectations ( Honey - what's for dinner? WTF, I am sick!; Ma- you made Dal again! Eat it or go to sleep hungry !!!) - more such inconsequential events adding to the rising rage, sense of helplessness ( I have never walked out of an exercise class feeling like my legs won't support me!) and isolation - the prescription cough syrup made me have these vivid technicolor dreams that had me waking up multiple times in the night...yet I played a doormat at times this week and a matador valiantly fighting the bull ( viral fever, lunch box routine,work deliverables, getting the car from the service center, other mundane routine stuff...)

In the midst of my tug of war with this viral fever - I also had an ensuing tug of war with our HOA Management Company. I have been very patiently trying to get them to fix our front lawn for two years...and they have been giving me the runaround or lipservice ( we took it to the committee for approval, we got a new HOA management company, we are currently getting a new landscaping company etc. etc. ) - so after two years of patiently exchanging emails, polite phone conversations - I*TOTALLY*LOST*IT. I waved a red flag at the HOA management company - now let's hope the red flag has positive consequences for this reluctant Matador.

My life feels like it is slowly coming back to normalcy, and the biggest learning for me has been the following :

I thought I was invincible, at least that's what I wanted you to think, and I wanted me to think it, too. Yet the past week has taught me that I will be down and out, and the opportunity to climb out of the hole and resume life is what makes me strong in life.

I went to a BollyX class today and am watching "Zootopia" with my son and am just taking it easy with a cup of hot chai (adrak maar ke aka with ginger). How has your weekend been playing out?

Friday, September 9, 2016

Tentative Parenting : Steaming over STEM!

I  don't like this tug of war between what is more important the Sciences or Arts.  What is important is that every human being deserves to learn about the arts & humanities, just as each person should be cognizant of the sciences.

I am mother to a 9 year old boy and most of the conversations happening in the past year have been all around empowering girls (and boys) in the area of STEM - and the reality is I haven't been comfortable with this propaganda. I have been encouraging my mathematically inclined son to explore nature, arts & literature and drama.

I come from a culture where STEM was over-emphasized. In India, there were only two  education options available to kids from the  ambitious middle class families in the early 90's (there I have dated myself)  - Medicine or Engineering. Imagine my mother's horror, shock and disappointment when I went into a totally obscure  and unheard of humanities field. I remember the societal pressure to follow a certain course - I remember the sympathetic looks my mother's friends gave her and the pangs of inadequacy I felt when I caught those looks. I will never forget the statement my mother made on my first day of college - well B.A. in Arts means you are getting ready to get married, so you better learn to make Rotis (Indian Bread) True Fact - I haven't made a Roti till date but then we are digressing ;-)

My sincere hope is that we don't add in one alphabet to STEM and say let's focus on STEAM  and believe that it solves a multitude of issues...the reality is every child is born with a unique set of skills, aptitude and inclination - it is super important that we nurture and help them blossom into confident, socially adept human beings who are secure in their place in this society. What I see happening more and more is this focus on Brilliance, Killer Drive and Genius and the things that seem to be falling on the wayside are - social and life skills, generosity and kindness - the ability to get along, get things done together, solve problems together (vs. just being the sole heroes). 

Dr. Seuss was seriously onto something when he said  the quote below AND this is a quote that I keep repeating to my boy when he asks me - Ma what do you want me to become :)  - You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose. You're on your own, and you know what you know. And you are the guy who'll decide where to go. 

Friday, July 29, 2016

Pokemon Go - Cliff Notes from the Other Side

Pokemon Go has taken over  the mobile gaming world - 75 million downloads in  a little over 2 weeks is beyond amazing statistics. Let me also add that if you came to my article looking for hacks to dupe the system into believing you are walking, hatching eggs, location spoofing, teleporting to pokestops - you came to the wrong place - yes there is code for that somewhere on the internet - just not here. Every single XP point earned by me and my son tag-teaming has been without gaming the system - with good old walking, collecting at poke stops, fighting gyms and catching pokemon.
Pokemon Go was a game my 9 yr old introduced me to some 10 days back, and life hasn't really been the same since. At Level 20,  here is some advice I would offer you if you are just starting off  (something I wish someone had told me a week back) -
#1 Have Fun - this game is to let off some steam,bond with your kids and get some steps in  ( here's a tip - visit parks with multiple poke stops - chances are there will be lure models set there most of the time)
#2 Don't get impatient - don't randomly power up Pokemon, or evolve them just because you can. Wait till you get really high CP (Combat Power) Pokemon (that usually happens around Level 15)
#3 - Catch these 3 - Pidgey, Caterpie, Weedle every chance you get - see # 4 for why?
#4  Maximize your XP points - use a lure model (attracts pokemon to poke stops, works for everyone) incense (attracts pokemon to you) and lucky egg (double XP) together in a pokemon hotspot ( for eg. a popular park where people put multiple lure models). Use that 1/2 hr to evolve as many Pidgey, Caterpie and Weedle that you can and catch as many pokemon in the same 1/2 hour -- I jumped 2 levels each time with this strategy and know of people who jumped 3 levels with this strategy
#5 Battle Gyms - you can either train your Pokemon for XP by battling others or store them there for bonus Poke Coins and Stardust, which can be claimed once every 21 hours. However, when you encounter an opposing team's gym, you can only do battle with its Pokemon. If you defeat its entire roster, you'll take a large amount of Prestige Points away from that gym.
#6 Turn off AR for easier captures - I have found it useful to turn off augmented reality  to catch pokemon with greater accuracy (play around to see what actually works for you)
#7 Use Pokevision  -  which is a nifty tool to find where the Pokemon are (
At the end of the day - Pokemon Go has been an enabler for some good habits  in our family - we end up walking as a family at a park every single day, my step count has increased 5K per day in the past 10 days and last but not the least - my son and I have truely bonded over a mobile game.
Trainer Tip : Please Please don't play Pokemon while driving - I have seen two accidents in a 30 mph zone because folks were playing Pokemon while driving !

What's your Pokemon Go Story?

Friday, July 15, 2016

Tentative Parenting : Monkey See, Monkey Do

K2 : Ma, how come we have no hair products at home
Working Mom : Huh! We have shampoo and coconut oil - what are you talking about?
K2  (rolls his eyes) : Ma - I mean hair products like hair gel
Working Mom (Stretching the truth) : K2, you know all that is bad for your hair right?
K2 : Ma - But R, C and T use it - so I think it's alright - can you please get me some?
Working Mom : No can do baby! Not quite yet. Let's give it a couple more years and then if you still feel like putting artificial goop in your hair, its your choice. How about we talk about this again when you are 13?

In the urban dictionary "Monkey See, Monkey Do" is  - an expression describing someone who imitates another person's actions, good or bad,simply by having watched them before.
Given the sociologist in me I researched this some more and here are some loose guidelines I have set for myself in my parenting quest :
  1. Be intentional about your child's surroundings but be open to the fact that he will be exposed to both positive and negative role-models. For eg. K2 has this friend who only eats whites (white rice, white yogurt, white pasta with alfredo saunce, pretty much no veggies and fruits) and K2 takes a lot of pleasure in throwing up the friend's example when he is given 2 servings of fruits and veggies for both lunch and dinner - I just smile and ask him what the Doctor told him in his last check-up - Eat 6-7 servings of veggies and fruits  ( the argument ends there!)
  2. Notice the positive - K2 was reluctant about brushing twice (don't ask-I won't tell) till his friend had a rather painful cavity extraction and was very explicit about detailing the painful experience - I have noticed regular brushing and flossing as an offshoot #FTW
  3. Talk about it - Like we did about the hair products - it's not about giving in or it's not about being controlling - it's about letting them know Why Not and when they can use it if they still want to --- We have had a similar discussion around soda, getting him a phone etc. etc...the list doesn't end (can't say the same about the patience level!)
  4. Do as you say - I limited  the conversation around my son's use of hair gel but it was an easier talk for me to have with him because he sees that at home Mom and Dad don't really use a lot of these products - the soda conversation was an easy one because we have no soda lying around in the house.

It's so easy for the young ones and the not-so young ones to get caught up in this behavior - whether it's hair styles, dresses, make-up, shoes, designer bags, accents, behavioral aspects...we tend to look up to and ape role models. I constantly  remind K2 and myself of something my father told me while I was growing up " it takes nothing to join the crowd, it takes grit and courage to stand alone - you don't have to fit in unless you want to ...always remember that

 Happy Friday! So are you living in a world of "Monkey See, Monkey Do or are you being an Original Monkey" :-)

Saturday, June 4, 2016

On being Mortal

"Severe Illness wasn't life-altering, it was life-shattering.It felt less like an epiphany - a piercing burst of light, illuminating what really matters- and more like someone had just firebombed the path forward"
-- When Breath Becomes air

I didn't want to read this book - after K1 told me the book was incredibly sad and he skipped pages because he couldn't bear the melancholy. I waited till the last minute, the book was due at the library on June 5th - I couldn't stand the thought of returning the book without reading it first. This book made me cry & get a headache ( I don't cry easy!) , it made me feel way too much, but most of all it had me revisit old memories- so thank you for that!

It took me right back to the times with my father - where I had lived second-hand through all his angst, realizations, acceptance and hopes...the decision tree of treatment, the Kaplan-Meier survival curves,  the numbness, the fall-back of - why the heck even live if we have to die anyway? I revisited some of my blog posts which reflected (less elegantly some of my second-hand brush with severe illness and death...the truth is I didn't deal with it with as much grace and realism as I saw reflected in this book). Sharing some of my older posts...if you have travelled this journey, know that you are not alone - there is an answer at the end of the question - it might not be the one you are seeking, but it's probably the only one you will get - it's what you make of that answer that defines the rest of your life.

Hitting Ground Zero - 11/07/09  -- I found out 3 weeks before this that my father had cancer
Hope Floats - 12/25/09 -- this was 10 days after my father's surgery in Irvine
Existential Crisis- 04/02/11 - the cancer is back
The ticking timebomb - 09/25/11 - dealing with the aftermath and the decision tree of next steps
The Dirty "C" Word -  08/07/12 - the chemotherapy aftermath
Inside Out...Outside looking in - 11/03/12 - my last vacation with Bapa, we talked a lot, ate whatever we wanted and took our morning walks every single day
Simple Gratitude  -  02/05/13 - My last trip to India, Bapa was in the ICU and I spent 10 days in the hospital with him, he went back home on Jan 31st.
Lost my voice found my mind - 02/14/13 - Bapa was back in the ICU with low platelets
You are loved - 03/12/13 - lost Bapa on March 11th and the trip back home almost broke me down completely...but you survive, thrive and go on...there is an empty part in you that always misses your lost ones...but you learn to go on.

I didn't really want to end my day on a sad note today...yet maybe it's not really sad. It is about "making peace in my own mind" with issues as yet unresolved...Maybe it's the survivor's's something for sure. I want  to end this post in the words of Paul Kalanithi - 

“Everyone succumbs to finitude. I suspect I am not the only one who reaches this pluperfect state. Most ambitions are either achieved or abandoned; either way, they belong to the past. The future, instead of the ladder toward the goals in life, flattens out into a perpetual present. Money, status, all the vanities the preacher of Ecclesiastes described hold so little interest: a chasing after the wind, indeed.”

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Dearly Departed

For my friend "N" who has had more than her fair share of heartache - today she lost her mother  2 years 9 months and 29 days after she lost her brother to cancer.

                                                                              PC:Dearly Departed

You knock on the window of my subconscious,
I see you standing there looking,
Trying to tell me something?
Or are you just missing me?
As much as I am you.

I try and tell myself,
Where you are is a better place,
But then how would I know,
That there is eternal sunshine and warmth...
Or maybe it's just me hoping.

Every time I tell myself,
The longing is faint,
Then there is a memory that comes,
And lodges itself in my being,
The pain that accompanies so real.

 For all the sad notes,
I wrote, spoke or thought,
The saddest thought was - saying Good Bye!
The reality is...
Maybe I am just waiting to say - Hello Again!