Saturday, May 30, 2015

My Intercultural Love: Cheyenne & Raj

Cheyenne is a fun Midwestern girl, in a long-term live-in relationship with her dapper Bombay beau, Raj....She also writes a blog called Ladki in Love and is a big History buff!

Cheyenne: Caucasian American, from Indiana (Terre Haute IN, USA).
Raj: Punjabi, from Mumbai, India.
We currently live together in Indianapolis, IN, USA with our two cats and puppy!

Three words that describe you...
Curious, shy, and creative.

Favorite childhood memory...
I was raised by my grandparents growing up. My grandfather was a truck driver so he was only home on the weekends. Every Monday morning before I had to be at school (and he off to work) he would take me to a local donut shop. Even today that particular donut shop is very special and nostaglic to us!

Where/how do you feel most inspired?
In libraries, museums, new places. I've always had a love and passion for history and culture and that’s why I majored in History! I love learning new things, and finding new leads on interesting topics to research.

Where/how did you meet your spouse?
This was something Raj and I both struggled with throughout our relationship. I had recently written about this in my blog, the "coming out" story so to speak. We met online. On craigslist actually! For so long we were ashamed of that! I realized later that many couples are meeting online in today’s world, and had it not been for that, I wouldn't have ever met my best friend.

How long have you been together?
We are coming up close on two years!

What qualities do you admire in your spouse?
Where to start?! There are so many qualities I admire about Raj. I’d have to say a big one is his ambition. He talks about how hard his life was back in India, when he was in school. He had to go away from his family at a young age, but he has stuck through with it. Another big one is his ability to think logically. He is definitely the brains of the relationship! Whether we are making out a budget or arguing, he thinks things through without letting his emotions get in the way too much.

Favorite memory together as a couple...
About two weeks into us seeing each other, he suggested we take a small trip to Gatlinburg, TN. He didn’t have a car yet at the time, so we loaded into my tiny Yaris and made the eight hour trek there. It was such a beautiful drive! We only had time to stay for two days. We tried to plan to do some awesome things during that time, however I ended up getting one of THE worst migraines and I was down. We went back to the hotel room and he took such good care of me. I felt so terrible for ruining the trip for him, even though he insisted I hadn't. On the drive back home I think that was when we both realized we had found something so tremendously special - just being with each other...

What did you know about your spouse's culture prior to your relationship?
Intercultural marriages aren't unknown in my family. My uncle is married to an Indian woman, but unfortunately I realized I knew so little about Indian culture before I met Raj. Even in my studies in history, India was just not something that came up very often.

How did you tell your friends/family about your intercultural relationship?
I was actually quite proud of the fact and was so excited to tell everyone about it. While my friends were happy for me, my family seemed a little apprehensive at first, but it really took so little time for them to adjust and everyone loves him!

How has your relationship enlightened your life? How has it changed you & your outlook on life?
I’m definitely more enlightened about India and Indian culture. I’m still learning and almost every day it’s something new. It’s wonderful.

Who proposed and how?
Well, sadly that hasn't happened just yet! We've had serious talks about it, and we both know we will get married. We are just waiting for the right time.

Describe your wedding...
Again, this hasn't happened yet! However, we both hope to have a small American wedding here in the U.S. (mainly for my family) and then we will have a wedding in India for his family (and I definitely want this because Indian weddings are just so beautiful!)

What does being married mean to you?
I never saw myself as the kind of person to get married, prior to Raj. My grandmother always used to comment on that too and I was okay with that. Since meeting Raj, that has all changed. Now, I look forward to living life as a wife. I don’t feel that I can give a very sincere answer to this yet, since we are not married. However, the way I feel about it now is that it’s something very sacred. When you wed someone you are giving yourself to them and you will forever belong to each other.

What are your dreams for your future together as a married couple?
I dream that we both continue to be successful in our careers. We hope to be able to live comfortably enough that we can care for his parents, as well as our own!

What positive cultural values do you bring to your relationship?
Independence. Raj also thinks I’m not judgmental.

What do you do to keep your relationship alive? What kinds of things do you do to connect with your spouse?
Like most couples, we have to make an effort! We've found a big connection through food. I've learned how to make Indian food for him, and he’s made an effort to eat American food, which was not hard at all for him! He’s not a vegetarian and he does eat beef (only since being here in the US). We always have a good time together!

In what ways have you adopted aspects of your spouse's culture?
The food of course! I mainly cook Indian food for our dinners. I've always loved cooking in general, so getting to learn a whole new cuisine has been amazing. I absolutely love Poha in particlar. Even though I know it's technically a breakfast food, I make it as a dinner all the time!

Has your family adopted aspects of your spouse's culture?
Sadly, not so much. But hopefully one day!

What aspects of your spouse's culture do you find difficult to embrace?
The language. Hindi is going to be very hard for me to learn, especially since the scipt is so different from English.

Name some cultural faux-pas that you have unknowingly committed...
I accidentally called his father by his first name! We had all gone to see a movie together and at the end I turn to his dad and said “So Balbir, what did you think of the movie?” Ughhhh!!! Afterwards Raj told me that I shouldn't call them by their first name. So now they are "mummy ji" and "papa ji"!

Another time I hugged Raj in front of his mom. Never, ever, ever show PDA!

What was the most challenging time in your intercultural relationship?
Raj's parents came to visit us for about a month. This was the first time that I had met them in person. We had been living together, and they knew this, but actually seeing it was very hard on his mom. She cried a lot during the visit, because I think it was a lot for her to swallow (with us living together before marriage). We almost broke up a couple nights after he dropped them off at the airport to go home because it was so hard to see his mother cry. We have all come really far since then!

What's the best and the worst part of being in an intercultural relationship?
Best - everything! You get to learn in detail about a whole new culture. We never get bored, because there is always something new that we’re learning about each other’s culture.

Worst - while I don’t really see a negative side, I could say the language barrier. While it’s not a problem between Raj and I, it is with the rest of his family, but this is something that could be fixed!

What do you think are the biggest misconceptions that people have about intercultural relationships?
That the significant other is only out of a green card!

What are the biggest misconceptions about American women?
That we will divorce our husbands over the most trivial of things.

Have you come across people who disapprove of your intercultural union? If so, how do you deal with them?
Surprisingly neither of us have . . . at least not yet. While it was a shock to his parents, they never directly came out and said that they disapprove.

Take-away advice for other intercultural couples...
Patience, understanding, and trust in each other. Had Raj and I not had these things I’m not sure how long we would have made it. Patience is definitely key in this kind of relationship. Respect that your partner’s parents may be very shocked by such news, and may not act happy about it in the beginning. Because we were patient and didn't break up that night, we are here today. We are more serious than ever about marriage and even his parents are on board now! 


Friday, May 29, 2015

Now Featured on: The Almost Indian Wife (recipe post!)

Today I'm very happy to announce my special recipe feature on my friend Brittany's blog, The Almost Indian Wife. You may remember that I featured Brittany & Joel's relationship on my popular weekly series, "My Intercultural Love".

Brittany is doing a new series on Fridays featuring tasty family recipes from around the globe. 

Our family recipe is a classic Andhra fave - "hotel style" drumstick sambhar. Click HERE for my recipe!


Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Losing yourself in your spouse's culture

One of the questions that I am constantly asked is how I've been able to win over the hearts of my Indian family, to which I reply that bahu's HAVE to get to know your spouse's culture. I have often said that learning your spouse's culture can be the highest form of respect that you can give them, and that it needs to happen naturally. And while it has opened a lot of doors for me, it has come at a price....

Looking back at my now almost decade long intercultural relationship, if I were to tell my "rookie bahu" self one thing, it would be: don't get so consumed by your spouse's culture that you lose your own identity.

There is a very thin line between honouring your spouse's culture and getting completely overwhelmed by it. You want to get to know your spouse's culture not just for yourself, but for your children too. You want to be sensitive to the fact that they are often living thousands of miles away from their family and home country. You want to show your spouse that you are interested in where they came from, as a way of respecting their personhood. And then....slowly but surely, soon you may find yourself only celebrating Indian holidays and cooking Indian food. You may "become" Indian, in a way that you almost lose your own identity or forget where you came from.

I think women are more prone to losing their identity in their spouse's culture because globally, women are culturally conditioned to adjust, to adapt, and to be flexible. Men are raised to be confident and unyielding; whereas women are raised to be accommodating and put others' needs first.  Women are raised to cater to their man. [Social experiment: last year on facebook I posted two things in one week - one was to announce my first ever published magazine article; the other was that I made husband-ji a tiffin-box lunch.....can you guess which one got more likes? The tiffin box, of course!]

If you are a woman in an intercultural relationship, it is very hard to forget that your spouse's family would not have chosen you as an ideal partner. Especially if they were ever vocal about it in the early days - it breeds an insecurity of lack within oneself. You know your spouse loves you for who you are - but their family is another story! You may feel innately less than, and want to accommodate your spouse's culture as a way to prove to them that you're just as good as an Indian wife would be. Of course, it is a ridiculous concept - but how many bahu's have been told by their Indian families that just because they happened to be born in the West means they don't know how to cook, commit to a marriage, or raise children? ALL of us have...

When I met husband-ji, I was very wild and free. I danced with my friends; I wore revealing dresses frequently - not because I wanted attention, but because I just felt unbothered by the world; sometimes I drank for fun; I had about a dozen guys chasing after me at any given moment. I had just turned twenty years old. That was me - who he fell in love with. In those early days of dating, husband-ji told me, "I love how open you are", not knowing that it was the exact quality he craved for himself, after coming from India and repressing himself as an artist, as a man, and his own uniqueness.

On that first trip to India, it occurred to me that my entire existence seemed wrong to husband-ji's family. I was too vocal and open. I wore too much makeup. I was not "simple and homely". I was not vegetarian. They were horrified to find out that my hippie parents didn't marry until I myself was seven years old. I read novels about vampires who were all having sex with each other (thanks Lestat!). I watched films featuring gay storylines. I was clearly having lots of sex with their prized only son, and definitely wasn't apologetic about it. I hugged people. I swore a lot - saying "fuck" is my favorite adjective. I shook men's hands and stared at them right in their eye. I changed in front of my future MIL and SIL and let my boobs hang out - I didn't really know that one should hide herself, even from the same gender. I didn't understand why modesty was a positive personality trait for a woman. That you should stifle yourself and your emotions, to be deemed unthreatening. And husband-ji was adamant about marrying me - this free-spirited, Western temptress - who knew if I believed in the Indian version of "commitment"?

The reality was that despite me being wild and carefree, I was looking for a partner who would run wild with me. I was seeking for a loving companion that wouldn't try to control me...and I found him in husband-ji.

After being in India for several months, around all these chaste, conservative Tam-Brams, I was convinced that there was something wrong with me. Is it bad to feel free? Is it bad for a woman to be free? Does having a carefree and open personality (as a woman) automatically mean that I'm not cut out for marriage? Does it give people the impression that I'm promiscuous or unserious?

The many years leading up to marriage were extremely hard. We lived together like a married couple for five years, but we were unmarried. Which means that I wasn't valid, that I was just "a friend" - I had no Indian status. Relatives found out, and told husband-ji that he couldn't believe he would ever do such a thing - as if we were uncommitted and not intending to get married. As if I had forced husband-ji to do "immoral" things. As if our commitment to each other was less serious than married couples. My inlaws were shunned and spoken to condescendingly, as if they didn't raise their kids properly. That just the presence of me in this uncontaminated Brahmin family was a dirty little secret and that people hoped would eventually go away before they had to acknowledge it. "It" being me. Even recently, extended family members are asked of me, "who IS she to you?"..."do you know her?" if the sheer possibility of my presence in this family is questionable and impermanent.

Back then, I felt if I could just make myself more relatable to them, to become "right" by being more Indian, as opposed to "wrong" by being Western - I felt I could win them over. Five years is a long time to sit and wait to be accepted, so I decided to be proactive about it and improve my "bridal resume". I became a vegetarian. I took Indian vegetarian cooking classes. I learned how to tie a saree completely by myself. I studied Hindi at the University. I read only books by Indian authors. I did a whole series of Indian miniature paintings. I practiced Hinduism. I read the Gita. It was all to prove to them that I could adjust, respect their culture, and I would be better than an Indian DIL ever could be. Essentially letting them know that their dream of having a devout cookie-cutter Iyengar DIL from was superficial. 

Some of it came naturally, while doing other things felt forced. Indian attire seemed to suit me well, and I loved the glam comfortability of it. Although every time I wear Salwar Kameez, I don't really understand the point of wearing a dupatta, and I frequently lose it. I also love Indian food, however the vegetarian diet hasn't helped my postpartum anemia, nor do I enjoy eating rice twice a day like husband-ji does. Other things, like learning Hindi, were harder. It seemed frivolous to learn Hindi when husband-ji's family spoke fluent English (although them actually remembering to speak it... is another story). Or driving myself nuts trying to celebrate a particular Indian holiday that even husband-ji wasn't interested in celebrating it - all to show my inlaws that I could adjust. I felt like my non-Indian-ness was a handicap and I had to make up for it in other ways.

Husband-ji was happy that I was learning the cooking aspect (of course), but the rest of it he used to look at me and say, "you know, you don't HAVE to do all this...", which seemed easy for him to say because my parents outrightly always accepted him for who he is. There was a cluelessness about his understanding of my struggle as a Firangi Bahu - about the pressures of coming into an Indian family as a young foreign woman. There were pressures put on me that I couldn't even vocalise. I mean seriously, when was the last time that he was told that "after marriage you SHOULD wake up at 5am and cook for everyone" or "you SHOULD do pooja in  a nine yard saree every morning"? And me, not knowing how or what to cook, or how to perform a pooja, much less wrap a nine yard saree!!! Which, by the way, has nothing to do with our love!!!

I reveled in the fact that my inlaws would boast about my efforts, saying "see? Alexandra is foreign but she does all Indian things". My MIL would keep a tally of all the Indian things I could do, ready to boast to naysayers, as a way of excusing my "foreign-ness". She pitied other MILs with foreign DILs who did not do all these "Indian things". Elders told her she was "lucky" to have a foreign DIL that did everything "the Indian way", as if that was the "right" way. I was replacing my unacceptable "foreign-ness" with a more socially-acceptable "Indian" self, which seemed to be an easier pill to swallow. "If we have to have a Firangi in the family, it is better that she be more Indian like her," I overheard once. As if being more "Indian" somewhat increased my value.

Then, one day, I woke up and I realized that I was doing everything the Indian way. I had completely lost myself. That day actually did not come until I had my daughter. When I had Maya, she came out looking exactly like me. She looked like my father and my mother; and my grandfather and my grandmother. And I remembered. I remembered my childhood and where I came from. I remembered my playing in my grandma's garden with two long braids running behind me. I remembered going to church with her and singing bible songs. I remember spending summers in the water all day, coming out with my fingers looking like raisins. I remembered the smell of roasted meats for Christmas dinner. I remembered my grandfather teaching me how to ice skate and playing hockey with my little cousins. I remembered seeing my parents kiss - often. I remember walking to the record store with my friends in short-shorts and being the first in line to buy the Spice Girls CD. I remembered growing up around women who would howl with laughter, dance, and drink - all while being wonderful wives and gentle mothers. Women who were unquestioned. Women who were carefree.

And here I was, having spent the majority of my twenties making myself "right" by Indian standards. Trying to tone down who I was so I could be accepted for who I wasn't. Trying to become that cookie-cutter Iyengar DIL that they always dreamed of. After I had my daughter, I realized exactly how much of myself that I had lost in my relationship. I realized that my own culture was not a handicap, but something that was beautiful too - in its own way.

In many ways, becoming more "Indian" has opened a lot of doors for me that probably wouldn't have been opened otherwise. And when people tell me that I'm "just like an Indian girl", I always take it as a compliment. But now, instead of automatically doing things "the Indian way" to make myself more acceptable, I do it MY way. I have set out to raise my daughter MY way and the way that I was taught. That it's very much possible to celebrate my culture just as much as I celebrate Indian culture. And since then, we have achieved a beautiful balance of BOTH cultures in our life.

I don't make Indian food every single night anymore. Sometimes I make pasta, or other recipes of my mums. After I lost my baby weight, I proudly wore revealing clothes again...even around husband-ji's family. I only wear the thaali when I feel like it, which is not very often. I laugh and joke and swear, because that's just who I am. Oftentimes it embarrasses elders how crass I can be - on more than one occasion I have been told that I'm speaking something "inappropriate". I ate a holy cow hamburger and drank a glass of Kingfisher beer in front of my MIL once. I call my MIL by her first name - "Sandhya" - which is a deadly faux-pas, but it's the only way that feels natural to me (luckily, she doesn't hold it against me!). I also put my foot down and demanded that we explore other parts of the world, instead of only going back to India every year. And I'm more than okay with my non-Indian natural self - even if I'm complicated, improper, and immodest - because that true self is who husband-ji loves the most. I am valuable - and more importantly, I can cherish myself - for my non-Indian-ness too.

I learned how to preserve my own identity - while still appreciating husband-ji's. It took me nearly a decade to do that, and I'm still figuring it out...


Monday, May 25, 2015

Recipe: Grandma's Berry Pudding

This recipe is a personal family favorite that we make all year round. My grandmother got this recipe from a friend and wrote it down on the back of a bank receipt, of which we still have the original! This dish is less of a "pudding" and more of a cake/baked bread texture. The best part is that it is eggless, so our Indian family can enjoy it! It is a really easy recipe to make and is perfect for beginner bakers. You can use fresh or frozen fruit, and it works well with blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, peaches, or apples. Or you can do a combination of fruit as well. It is a very versatile dessert and it can be served hot or cold.

Grandma's Berry Pudding
(serves 6)

- 1 cup flour
- 2 tsp baking powder
- pinch of salt
- 1/4 cup butter (softened)
- 1/3 cup milk
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 cup water
- 2.5 cups fruit (fresh or frozen)


Heat the oven up to 350 degrees celsius and grease the baking pan with butter.

In a mixing bowl, mix flour, baking powder, salt, and softened butter together.

Then mix in the milk to make a soft dough-like batter.

Place the dough in the centre of the baking pan, and surround it by fruit - like an island.

In a small pan, boil 1 cup of water and 1 cup of sugar. When it finishes boiling, pour it over the dough in the baking pan.

Immediately put the baking pan in the oven. Bake for 45 minutes.

And voila! 
This dish can be eaten by itself, or topped with whipped cream, or vanilla ice cream (or both!)


Saturday, May 23, 2015

My Intercultural Love: Jess & Madhu

Jess writes a wonderful blog about their multicultural life in Sydney and raising their two gorgeous boys between two cultures!

I'm Jess. I was born in Sydney Australia, which is also where I met my husband, Madhu. Madhu is originally from Bangalore. We currently live in Sydney with our 2 boys - Sachin and Rishi.

Three words that describe you... 
Caring, happy and critical. 

 Favorite childhood memory... 
 I have lots of childhood memories, but the overriding sensation I get when I think about my childhood is love. I was surrounded by unconditional love.

Where/how do you feel most inspired? 
I feel mostly inspired when I am with my family. They push me to be a better version of myself. 

How long have you been together? 
We first meet in 2009 and have been together ever since. 

What qualities do you admire in your spouse? 
His ability to always put his family first. Everything Madhu does is to help make our life better and easier. 

Favorite memory together as a couple... 
Finding out we were pregnant with our boys and then becoming parents.

What did you know about your spouse's culture prior to your relationship? 
Only what I seen on the National Geographic and I knew about the Taj Mahal. To be honest, not very much!

How did you tell your friends/family about your intercultural relationship? 
I was very open from the start with all my friends and family about Madhu. My side was accepting - they had no choice - but just wanted us to proceed with caution. Madhu took longer to tell his family, and at the time I was very frustrated about that. Looking back, I can understand why he waited and it took them quite a while to get over the initial shock, but we made it in the end!

How has your relationship enlightened your life? How has it changed you & your outlook on life? 
I can't say that just my relationship has changed or enlightened me. Over the 6+ years we have been together we have grown from a couple to a family. In my opinion, being parents together has enlightened us so much more than just our relationship. Our appreciation for each other and love for our children has made us better people. 

Who proposed and how? 
We were going on a drive to Madhu's favorite beach and I was being such a bitch in the car on the way there! We walked a while through a bush track which looked over a cliff top, and then Madhu got down on one knee and asked me to marry him.. I cried - of course - and said yes. I can just remember thinking that I was such a bitch this morning and all this time he was thinking about proposing to me!!!

Describe your wedding... 
I was lucky enough to have 3 ceremonies. What more could a girl want!?

The first was a simple registry wedding at our home with very few guests to finalise the formalities. The second one was a small pooja in India with the priest and the traditional tying of the Thali. Last but not least - what I like to call "The White Dress Wedding" - in Bali! Again, just close family and friends in a tropical dream destination. 

All of the 3 were special and significant to us. We both needed to have the ceremonies that signified to us that we are married. Wedding traditions for everyone are very important and we both wanted to uphold them and pay our respects by doing them justice. And who doesn't love a wedding!? 

What does being married mean to you? 
It means love, respect, honesty and future. Being married is a choice. I chose who I wanted to marry and they in turn chose me. We made that choice and we have to respect it - for each other and our children. Anyone who is married knows how tough it can be to stay married. It takes work, commitment and compromise, but it demands to be upheld and admired. 

What are your dreams for your future together as a married couple? 
Happiness and longevity. 

What's the best marital advice that you received from elder family/friends? 
The best advice that I have been told is to compromise. You cant have it your way all the time and keep in mind a marriage is two people and not one. The old cliché holds true about how ''there is no 'I' in TEAM''! 

What positive cultural values do you bring to your relationship? 
Openness and willingness to see and and try new things. I went and still go to India with a very open mind and it's definitely a part of my cultural upbringing. I don't think anyone is better than me and I don't believe that I am better than everyone else.

What do you do to keep your relationship alive? What kinds of things do you do to connect with your spouse? 
Honestly, this is something we struggled with after the birth of our children. We found it hard to connect and that caused tension. I think I was mainly to blame for the tension but I felt like I was being left behind. Madhu's ideals of marriage were different and we had many deep discussions about "us" as a couple which has helped. Now the kids go to bed, and we have dinner together and talk. Even if it's nothing more than how many poops Rishi had, or how the park was, we make an effort to talk about our day. Night time is our time as a couple and we cherish it. 

In what ways have you adopted aspects of your spouse's culture? 
One main aspect is the food. We are a vegetarian household (no cooking meat at home) and I cook lots of Indian food. Mainly because the variety of vegetarian dishes is endless and I love the spice! 

 Has your family adopted aspects of your spouse's culture? 
They love a good curry!

What aspects of your spouse's culture do you find difficult to embrace? 
Religion. I am not a religious person, I never have been. For me, religion makes people dependent on something and I don't like that. I go to the temple and be there for Madhu, but I could never convert. 

 Name some cultural faux-pas that you have unknowingly committed... 
I always use my left hand for eating food. I know they hate it and I try really hard but it's so hard to change a life time habit!

What was the most challenging time in your intercultural relationship? 
 I would have to say when our first son was born. The cultural ideas of how I should behave after having baby (ie. sitting in a dark room alone all day, co-sleeping and not letting a baby cry) was a huge wakeup call. Every thing I wanted to do for and with the baby was completely opposite to what he thought. The arguments were horrendous and it truly was a tough few weeks for us. 

What's the best and the worst part of being in an intercultural relationship? 
Lots of holidays and mix race babies is the best! The worst is not being able to fully appreciate the other person's language and culture. I know I try, but we are so far from India so it's hard. 

What do you think are the biggest misconceptions that people have about intercultural relationships? 
People just flat out think Its not going to work! I don't know how many times I have heard "See... you should've just married someone from your own race." When I question it, the answer is always the same "they are so different". Yes, they are different - but that's what I love and that's what I was drawn to! If I was to marry a white guy we would fight and he would be different too, but outsiders don't see that.

What are the biggest misconceptions about Australian women? 
When we first had our baby, there were people that thought I was not going to be a good mother because I was white, and that I would not love my baby as much as an Indian mother would. It is hurtful for people to think and say those things when they hardly even knew me. I sure proved them wrong because I know that I'm the best mum ever!

Have you come across people who disapprove of your intercultural union? If so, how do you deal with them? 
There has been one person (even after 6 years and 2 kids) that does not like me. I am completely ignored and would not be served food by her in her house (she literally skips me- it's quite hilarious) and I just ignore it and be the better person. She is just a narrow minded small individual that obviously has her own issues and tries to make others unhappy!

Take-away advice for other intercultural couples...
You have to be a united front. Going to either side of the family and telling them that you've met your soulmate takes some courage and you have to be there for each other.

(All photos courtesy of The Aussie Indian Bride)

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Belated birthday weekend

Husband-ji's birthday was last weekend and I felt so awful that I wasn't well enough to celebrate it...but luckily by the time the weekend rolled around, I was feeling so much better!

For husband-ji's birthday this year, I wanted to get him something very special. Last year I cooked for him, which was a big hassle. The year before that I think I got him some random gift. This year, I wanted to give him a meaningful gift that would last forever. I got him the most amazing present.....a teak wooden mandir and Saraswati idol imported from Calcutta, circa the 1940s. On the inside of the mandir, there is a faded depiction of Ganesh and Lakshmi. It is fully loaded with positive energy!!!

Since I gave it to him, we have placed it in the North East corner of our flat, and every morning we light incense in front of it. It brings such a fantastic energy to the house, which I am welcoming with open arms after such a tough few months. Husband-ji was just in awe of it, and it meant so very much to him.

We also planned a really nice birthday dinner for him and celebrated it with close friends and family, at his new favorite dosa spot. My friend Frances of Darcy's Cafe made the most delicious layered eggless chocolate cake that all the kids went crazy over.

I also let him pick out my outfit for his birthday dinner, and he chose one of my brand new cream/turquoise embroidered Salwar Kameez that I got on our last trip to India. I felt so fabulous and glam!!!

The day after, our Tamil cousins dropped in for the weekend from Seattle, to spend time with us. Maya was absolutely thrilled to play with her favorite cousin, and we had so much fun staying all together like a fun joint-family sleepover

Overall, it was a weekend of togetherness, which we simply loved....I really needed this past weekend's celebrations - it made me feel so good again!


Monday, May 18, 2015

Book review: Lean In, by Sheryl Sandberg

Recently I got a chance to dig in to the popular Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. I had wanted to read it for a while, but don't you notice that sometimes books get sent to you like little angels at the exact specific moment in time that you are meant to read them? This was one of those books for me - especially since I had just started working again.

Originally, I thought I might not be able to relate to it too much because I'm not in a corporate profession. But this novel was very much a feminist manifesto - and the underlying theme was how to balance work with motherhood. The book touched on gender roles, work/life balance, self-confidence, and societal pressures on women - which is something that I deal with A LOT.

A huge message in the book was actually a call on men to step up to the plate at home and "lean in to their families" and "be more ambitious in their homes" - which is brilliant. Sandberg said that women aren't going to work or succeed if their husband's don't fully support them. And AMEN to that!!!

Here are some quotes from the novel that really spoke to me:

"A truly equal world would be one where women ran half our countries and companies and men ran half our homes."

"We [women] internalize the negative messages we get throughout our lives - the messages that say it's wrong to be outspoken, aggressive, more powerful than men. We lower our expectations of what we can achieve. We continue to do the majority of the housework and child care. We compromise our career goals to make room for partners and children who may not even exist yet."

"Many of these girls watched their mothers try to 'do it all' and then decide something had to give. That something was usually their careers."

"Professional ambition is expected of men but is optional - or worse, sometimes even negative - for women. 'She is very ambitious' is not a compliment in our culture. Aggressive and hard-charging women violate unwritten rules about acceptable social conduct. Men are continually applauded for being ambitious and powerful and successful, but women who display these same traits often pay a social penalty. Female accomplishments come at a cost."

"When a girl tries to lead, she is often labeled bossy. Boys are seldom called bossy because a boy taking the role of a boss does not surprise or offend."

"Popular culture has long portrayed successful working women as so consumed by their careers that they have no personal life. If a female character divides her time between work and family, she is almost always harried and guilt ridden."

"Women are not thinking about 'having it all', they're worried about losing it all - their jobs, their children's health, their families' financial stability - because of the regular conflicts that arise between being a good employee and a responsible parent."

"For many men, the fundamental assumption is that they can have both a successful professional life and a fulfilling personal life. For many women, the assumption is that trying to do both is difficult at best and impossible at worst. Women are surrounded by headlines and stories warning them that they cannot be committed to both their families and career. They are told over and over again that they have to choose, because if they try to do too much, they'll be harried and unhappy. Framing the issue as 'work-life balance' - as if the two were diametrically opposed - practically ensures work will lose out. Who would ever choose work over life?"

"We need more portrayals of women as competent professionals and happy mothers - or even happy professionals and competent mothers. Our culture remains baffles: I don't know how she does it."

"Fear is at the root of so many barriers that women face. Fear of not being liked. Fear of making the wrong choice. Fear of drawing negative attention. Fear of overachieving. Fear of being judged. Fear of failure. And the holy trinity of fear: the fear of being a bad mother/wife/daughter. Without fear, women can pursue professional success and personal fulfillment - and freely choose one, or the other, or both."

"Owning one's success is key to achieving more success."

"Women need to shift from thinking 'I'm not ready to do that' to thinking 'I want to do that - and I'll learn by doing it."

"It's easy to predict society's reaction [to becoming a parent]. When a couple announces that they are having a baby, everyone says 'Congratulations!' to the man and 'Congratulations! What are you planning on doing about work?' to the woman. The broadly held assumption is that raising their child is her responsibility."

"If we make it easy for women to drop out of the career marathon, we also make it too hard for men. Just as women feel that they bear the primary responsibility of caring for their children, many men feel like they bear the primary responsibility of supporting their families financially. Their self-worth is tied mainly to their professional success"

"As women must be more empowered at work, men must be more empowered at home."

"When it comes to children, fathers often take their cues from mothers. This gives a mother great power to encourage or impede the father's involvement. If she acts as a gatekeeper mother and is reluctant to hand over responsibility, or worse, questions the father's efforts, he does less."

"Tasks like laundry, food shopping, cleaning, and cooking are mundane and mandatory. Typically, these tasks fall to women. Sharing the burden of the mundane can make all the difference."

"The image of a happy couple still includes a husband who is more professionally successful than the wife. If the reverse occurs, it is considered threatening to the marriage."

"When husbands do more housework, wives are less depressed, marital conflicts decrease, and satisfaction rises. When women work outside the home and share bread-winning duties, couples are more likely to stay together. In fact, the risk of divorce reduces by about half when a wife earns half the income and a husband does half the housework."

"Employed mothers and fathers both struggle with multiple responsibilities, but mothers also have to endure the rude questions and accusatory looks that remind us that we're shortchanging both our jobs and our children."

"Guilt management can be just as important as time management for mothers."

"As Professor Williams explains, 'These mommy wars are so bitter because both groups' identities are at stake because of another clash of social ideals: The ideal worker is defined as someone always available for work, and the 'good mother' is defined as always available to her children. So ideal-worker women need to prove that, although they weren't always there, their children are fine, fine, fine...Women who have rejected the ideal-worker norm and settled for a slower career (or no career) need to prove that their compromise was necessary for the good of their families. So you have each group of women judging the other, because neither group of women has been able to live up to inconsistent ideals' "

Click on the link above to purchase the book or add it to a wish list.


Dear readers, which quotes speak to you?

Saturday, May 16, 2015

My Intercultural Love: Timo & Ruowei

Timo writes an amazing and insightful blog about being married into a Chinese family (from a guy's perspective!) and raising their beautiful son between two diverse cultures...

I am Timo and I am both Finnish and German. My family originates from those two countries so I ended up living in both places when I was growing up. My wife is Chinese and was born in the city of Xi'an. Right now, we live in Germany. We met during university in Finland and lived there until 2014. Together we have a little son Nathan and we hope that he will get the best out of our cultures. As I am always surprised by my Chinese in-laws I started writing my blog CrazyChineseFamily.

Three words that describe you...
Creative, quiet and loyal.

Favorite childhood memory...
Going for the first time to our cottage in Finland when I was a child. It was such wonderous place for me to discover as a little kid. The lake, the forests, the house itself...and so much more. Up till now I have been there every single year and this summer will be actually the first time when I have no time going there due to us moving to Germany and me getting a new job! However we hope to be able to go there next year again - especially for our son to be able to experience everything as I did when I was growing up.

Where/how do you feel most inspired?
On bicycle and running trips around the countryside. During the summer, I always go on such trips alone to get my head cleared from the daily burdens and load up new ideas.

Where/how did you meet your spouse?
We met at university in a language course. However it took over one year until we started dating...but I guess some good things just need longer to develop than others!

How long have you been together?
We got together in February 2010 so now it has been over five years.

What qualities do you admire in your spouse?
She is able to see always positive things and how to turn bad situations into good ones. Because of her ability to plan perfectly ahead we achieved a lot in the past few years and I know I would have not been able to do so alone.

Favorite memory together as a couple...
This is a hard one as there are just so many good memories! I would say the most recent one is the birth of our son :)

What did you know about your spouse's culture prior to your relationship?
I knew only few things which were not even able to cover the basics. When we got together, I started to study more things about my wife's culture as it is so much different than my own. On the other hand, my wife barely had to learn anything new as she lived in Finland already four years by the time we got together!

How did you tell your friends/family about your intercultural relationship? 
I just told them without anything on my mind. My friends just accepted it as any other given relationship - especially at university, there are so many intercultural relationships that one more hardly matter to them. I didn't have any trouble telling my parents. From my perspective, they just had to accept it, what else should they do? My mother did have some mixed feelings about it only because she was thinking way ahead as to hoping that my girlfriend wouldn't leave me behind heartbroken in Europe and go back to China after graduating college. In the end everything worked out perfectly and my mother's worries were for nothing.

How has your relationship enlightened your life? How has it changed you & your outlook on life?
I became more positive about life, thanks to my wife. I was always rather pessimistic about everything and did not plan greatly ahead. With my wife, I suddenly wanted to plan our future, and wanted to make the best out of everything - even if it required to cut down certain other important things in my life such as my sports career which was anyways already on a downhill track due to injuries, I just didn't see it back then as clearly as she did.

Who proposed and how?
I proposed to her on her birthday in 2012. We went first to eat at a restaurant in downtown Helsinki and I had planned to propose there but I just didn't find the right moment as silly things happened non-stop - such as the noisy people at the next table, the waiter popping up at unexpected moments and so on. Due to this I decided that we should take a walk after we got back home to the nearby lake and I proposed to her standing on a berth just as the sun was setting.

Describe your wedding...
Which of the three weddings? We had one wedding at the registry office, one wedding in China and yet another wedding ceremony in a church in Finland. But I must say, the last of our celebrations was the best as we really had planned for it for over a year - as we got married at the registry office back in 2012 and we had the Finnish ceremony at the church in 2013! It was a wonderful celebration as we had guests from around the world there. Her parents came from China, my parents from Germany, my relatives from Sweden and Finland and our friends from China, Finland, Germany, USA and Ghana...the wedding was surely exhausting as it took the entire day and night but it was so worth it.

What does being married mean to you?
It means to be there for each other no matter what. There is no backing out because you don't feel up for it at that moment. Whatever you do you have think not only for yourself, but for the both of you. But I must say that I felt this way anyway already when we were still dating. Being married didn't change this as I always felt connected to her and knew that I can only be happy with her.

What are your dreams for your future together as a married couple?
To stay healthy and to have one more child. 

What's the best marital advice that you received from elder family/friends?
I don't know if it is a really good advice, but my father told me that being married doesn't mean you are happy together all the time. Happiness is one thing - but being able to live together and be satisfied is what really matters.

What positive cultural values do you bring to your relationship?
I actually have no clue.... we never really viewed our cultural backgrounds as positive or negative aspects for our relationship.

What do you do to keep your relationship alive? What kinds of things do you do to connect with your spouse?
Whenever we feel like it, we do things together. We don't try to force some schedule upon us about what needs to be done but just let it happen. For example we both love Lord of the Rings and also Harry Potter so few months ago I just bought the Harry Potter movie collection and we spent the following weeks watching them and discussing what happened back then in our lives when we were watching those movies for the first time, as it was years before we met each other. We do not try to connect to each other because we have to, but we connect as the years go on in a way that now we know already what we both want and what is going on in our heads.

In what ways have you adopted aspects of your spouse's culture?
I started enjoying eating good meals during evening time! In my culture we eat barely anything for dinner except perhaps some bread. In China, on the other hand, dinner is the most important meal as a family or with friends and now I also enjoy it.

Has your family adopted aspects of your spouse's culture?
I do not think so because it is usually hard to adapt to such things for elderly people!

What aspects of your spouse's culture do you find difficult to embrace?
For me, it is very hard to embrace this whole traditional stuff in China. Whatever they do, no matter how ridiculous it seems for Western people they always defend it with "It is tradition in China, it has been done like this for 2000 years". Well, my wife also hates this, but only after she lived abroad for many years. Now we just combine what we feel is best of our cultures/ what suits our lifestyle the best. 

My wife had and still has trouble to accept my beforementioned "only bread for dinner" and how often elderly people are just pushed away by their families into retirement homes and I agree with her on that.

 What was the most challenging time in your intercultural relationship?
The biggest challenges has been for the family of my wife due to all kinds of small things. For example, many Chinese people expect foreigners to be rich so they expect me or my parents to buy her family a new apartment, cars etc. Of course her family does not expect that, but they get constantly asked about these things and this can be hard for them as well.

What's the best and the worst part of being in an intercultural relationship?
So far we had no bad thing - except of course the distance between our families. This means each year, we have to think how to use our holidays in order to visit both families in their distant countries.

What do you think are the biggest misconceptions that people have about intercultural relationships?
The biggest misconception is that people think that intercultural relationships are harder than "normal" ones. There is never any easy relationship. In order to make a relationship work, you need to commit yourself - but in the end this is needed in any relationship! Intercultural relationships are however perhaps more interesting as there are many things to discover about each others culture which is usually missing in a "normal" relationship.

 Have you come across people who disapprove of your intercultural union? If so, how do you deal with them?
Wherever we go, we have heard stupid comments by people. Especially in China, it seems that many people do not agree with Chinese women marrying foreigners. So each time in China, there are few bad comments from random people on the street. In Europe, it has been less drastic so far but there were about a handful of situations with people who told me openly how this is a bad relationship because "foreigners are all evil" etc!

Take-away advice for other intercultural couples...
Don't give up because you think there is some cultural difference which might be in the way because saying the cultural difference is making something harder is just an excuse. Work on it - and you will find a solution. I do not have any advice to give about telling parents as it always depends on the situation. You might be lucky, as we had been with our parents as they are understanding and supportive, but we heard also several horror stories where everything went basically downhill with the parents leading even to getting cut out of the family and death threats.

(All photos courtesy of  CrazyChineseFamily)

Friday, May 15, 2015

Ask Firangi Bahu: “How can we expect his parents to come around if even HE doesn't think it’s possible?”

Sharing a letter from a long-time reader....

“I am an avid reader of your blog. It has given me advice and hope for the past year or so. I have been in a relationship with a Telugu Brahmin man for the past two and a half years. We met while we were both working at a school program and slowly became friends and fell in love with each other. 

He told his parents about me a year ago when he went to India during winter break. They are from a small town in Andhra Pradesh and his mom is very traditional. His dad was apprehensive and said the family will not accept it, while his mother was just silent. His sister accidentally found out before then, and has been very negative, telling him “you know how THEY are, and telling him not to hurt their parents, etc. Since then, he has talked to them about it occasionally, and they either refuse to talk about it or get indignant and say that he should just forget about them and not talk to them. Basically letting him know that they will stop talking to him if he tries to continue this relationship with me. They are constantly worried that he will elope with me even though he tells them he wouldn't ever do that.

His parents are coming here at the end of this month, because his older sister is due to have her second child in July. She is living in the US with her arranged-marriage husband. I won't meet them until at least September though, as I am going to Germany for two months.

My boyfriend doesn't want his parents to become sick from worry, and he’s afraid they will stop talking to him or treat him like a stranger because of our relationship. I keep telling him that they will be uneasy at first, and maybe even stop talking to him for a little while, but that if we just keep trying they will come around. 

He doesn't seem willing to even cause them a little discomfort at the cost of our relationship. He loves them more than anything and doesn't want to hurt them. I keep telling him that I believe that we can make this work, but he says that he doesn’t know if he does. I just wish he would believe in our relationship too…How can we expect his parents to come around if even HE doesn't think it’s possible? It breaks my heart that even he doesn't even believe in our relationship....

He feels guilty that I want a future with him that he doesn't know is possible. He thinks that my future is dependent on him, and while I really want to be with him and will be very, very distraught if we break up, I will survive. It’s like he doesn't want to continue this relationship and lead me on saying it’s possible when he doesn't believe it is, thus it is ruining my career.

We are currently in a long distance relationship and only get to see each other for a few days every 2 months or so at best. The distance is taking its toll on our relationship and I want to move in with him after I've graduated in August, but he says his parents will freak out and probably force him to go back to India. My thinking is that if we live together, then his parents can come visit us and get to know me and realize that I won’t be a bad daughter-in-law. I feel like I'm not real to them; that they think if they ignore “the problem” - me - I will just go away eventually. I told him we'll compromise and I'll live near him despite the horrid amount or rent it’s going to cost us to have two separate apartments when we'll basically be living in one.

I really don't know what I can to do convince him that his parents will come around. I've told him about this blog and all the success stories despite the odds, but he believes that his situation is completely different and more difficult. How can I convince him our relationship is possible? And how can we get his parents to accept us without them completely abandoning him, or worse, them becoming ill from worry? I'm at my wits end....”


Dear readers, what advice can we give this fellow Bahu?
Do you think the boyfriend is being subtly blackmailed and/or controlled by his parents?
How do you handle traditional parents when they still oppose the match after you have told them?
How can you make a relationship work if one partner is losing faith in it?
Going forward, WHAT should they do to avoid heartache?


Thursday, May 14, 2015

Now Featured on: Masalamommas

After being sick for an entire month, there was nothing that could lift up my spirits like a fabulous blog feature on one of my favorite sites!

Masalamommas is a fantastic online magazine that caters to South Asian mums and is a true gem for intercultural couples. They have tons of topics that cover lifestyle, parenting, marriage, recipes - you name it! And, they're based out of Toronto too! Woot woot Canadian pride!

Ever since I started blogging, I have dreamed to be featured on Masalamommas. It is one of the things on my writing career bucket list. Being featured on this site has given me a feeling of "I HAVE ARRIVED!"...ha ha ha! 

Last year, after my brutally honest, #zerofucksgiven post about being an Invisibly Visible Bahu went semi-viral, it somehow made it's way to the editor of Masalamommas, and she contacted me for an interview literally just as I was hopping on a flight to India.

 So I'm very excited to share with you my candid Q&A! I talk about my intercultural marriage, my mother-in-law, culture clashes in parenting, blogging, and much more!

Click HERE to read the article!

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Complete Wellbeing April 2015 - full article

Recently I posted that an article I had written was published in Complete Wellbeing magazine's April 2015 issue. The article is titled "Living my storybook marriage" and it is about how to reconnect with your spouse when you're in a long term partnership. It is located on page 34-35.

Since the April issue has passed, I'm pleased to scan it and give my readers an exclusive peek!


Dear readers, what did you think of the article? Can you relate?


Tuesday, May 12, 2015

A month of health woes

(Doctor the rescue!)

Even though I do live my life like an open book, sometimes I feel unsure about what to reveal online - especially when it comes to health problems. I have been meaning to respond to all my reader's comments for quite a while, but I have had a really bad month health-wise, to be honest. In the last month, I have been admitted to the hospital five times, which is scary in itself.

I suppose it all started a few months ago - with not my own health problems, but my dads. I mentioned it briefly that I was stressed out about it, yet until I myself landed sick - I really didn`t realize to what extent it had affected me. For the past couple of years, my dad has struggled with his balance and has been consistently tested for everything under the sun - until this year, when he was diagnosed with Ataxia. Having survived colon cancer last year, we all felt grateful that he got a clean bill of health...or so we thought. Having Ataxia means that he will gradually lose muscle control and end up in a wheelchair, unless he is proactive about it and exercises to improve his muscle tone. My dad has been completely in denial about it and has outrightly refused to exercise to help improve the Ataxia, and it has made us all worried sick. We have begged, we have pleaded, we have yelled at him, we have given him helpful tips, we have offered to exercise along with him....and he has refused. This has gone on for months now. It is extremely hard to see someone you love shrivel away right in front of you - very much a choice - and you can do nothing about it.

Not only that, but since the new year started, husband-ji & I have been trying for a second child with no luck, so far. Which makes me feel like such a failure as a woman. My doctor said she thinks stress has a lot to do with it. So I have been making this huge effort to de-stress, including doing nightly evening yoga, reading books, doing Art, going for massage and reflexology....I have been so proactive about de-stressing that I have practically made it into a job! And... I'm still stressed out about my dad! I see my dad quite frequently and every time is hard for me to see him deteriorate a little bit more than they day before. I have been trying to take control over this stress, but I essentially feel quite powerless. I don't really know how not to get stressed about it.

Shortly after Easter, I began to feel nauseated - identical to pregnancy nausea. For the first time in my life, I was actually happy to be nauseous. In my mind, I was calculating a due date, thinking about how I would tell our family, and dreaming of onesies and baby socks again. Not long after, I felt more sick along with a strange dizziness that made it difficult for me to walk. I immediately went to the hospital, wherein they gave me a triple whammy - I had a bad kidney infection, I was not pregnant, AND I have anemia. Turns out that I had an undiagnosed bladder infection which turned into a kidney infection - that I was literally so preoccupied with my dad's health that I completely forgot about my own health. Talk about a big wake up call!

Now the doctor has me on iron tablets, eating iron rich foods, and is insisting that I eat meats at least once a day. The only problem? Holy cow-worshipping husband-ji doesn't allow meats in the house, since he is a strict vegetarian. Luckily, since the doctor gave her orders, he has let up a bit by allowing me to have take-out meat dishes at home. But I can tell the smell really bothers him, which is enough to make me feel crappy about it!

Almost immediately after I recovered from my kidney infection, I landed in the hospital again after catching a bad case of strep throat - which I swear I actually caught from that same hospital! So, now I am on the mend from that....and feeling utterly drained from FIVE visits to the hospital in one month, and never-ending antibiotics that seem to drain my already frail energy. It has been really depressing too. This past weekend was husband-ji's birthday and Mother's Day - my favorite annual event - and I was too sick to even celebrate it!

Now, both my MIL and my superstitious Greek godmother are convinced that I have some kind of evil eye“ hex on me! At this point, I'm just glad that Maya and husband-ji are healthy. And I am definitely grateful that we are in Canada, which means I can go to the hospital so many times without having to ever take out my wallet!

In many ways, the readers of my blog have become a supportive village for me, coming along on these experiences for me, giving me advice and rooting for me. So many times with health problems - people suffer in silence. I hope by being honest about all this will send me some good vibes around the world to aid my recovery, and hopefully help get my strength back.

If I'm able to feel better this week, I'd like a do-over of husband-ji's birthday & Mother's Day! Those are my plans for next weekend!

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