Friday, April 28, 2017

Puthandu/Easter weekend

One of my favorite things about being in a multicultural family is celebrating all the holidays together. Festivals are just so much fun, especially when we have the opportunity to have a gathering of loved ones, share good food, and make good memories. I especially love it when two festivals fall on the same weekend. Last year, we had Halloween and Diwali back-to-back, and a few weekends ago, we had Tamil Puthandu and Easter back-to-back!

The weekend kicked off with Tamil Puthandu - Tamil New Year. As you might remember, a few years ago we were invited to a luxe Tamil Puthandu that the Indian consulate threw. Since then, we have not celebrated it...until now!

The day began with my mother-in-law waking up early with Maya to perform a pooja in our special "pooja corner". Usually in India, a home will be constructed with a pooja room, but since we live in a 1000 sq.ft tiny urban apartment, we have a "pooja corner"! Maya was very excited to put on a new dress and do the chanting along with my mother-in-law. She seems very fascinated by practicing Hinduism.

Then, my mother-in-law got to work in the kitchen. She made a huge feast of Southern delicacies: Vada, Tamarind Rice, Spinach Dal, Curd Rice, Beans Poriyal, Mor Kuzhambu, and Poli (sweet roti with cardamom). We invited our masala friends over for lunch and we all enjoyed the food together, until there was hardly anything left!

The next day was Easter Sunday and it was really low key. Husband-ji took the baby out for an 8 km stroller walk along the beach. Simultaneously, my in-law's took Maya out to play at a nearby park, so I was ALONE at home for the first time in months! It felt so strange! I took the opportunity to do some Spring cleaning and organizing around the house, since my attention span with the kids never lets me get any work done for more than 5 minutes. I felt relieved to clean up the house a bit since it has gotten so messy and cluttered.

On Easter Monday, my mom had a big family dinner. She wanted to do it at her home since she has a beautiful garden and dining room. She is unwell so we all brought food like a potluck, so there was no pressure for her to make a big dinner. Both of my dad's sisters came and also my "baby" cousin-brother - who is now in his late twenties and is going to buy his first home!

The dinner was just lovely. My mom decorated the table so beautifully that it looked straight out of a magazine. All the blooms in the garden were emerging, and the pink magnolia's which dusted the window with it's presence matched the dining tablecloth perfectly.

The Easter meal reflected our multicultural family, with everyone bringing their own dishes. We had Lemon Rice, Tomato Chutney, Red Cabbage Salad, Green Salad, Okra, Ham, and roasted vegetables like carrots, potatoes and cauliflower. It was a very light and healthy Spring meal.


Dear readers, do you celebrate Puthandu or Easter?
If so, how did you celebrate it?


Wednesday, April 19, 2017

A look back at my pregnancies

Every pregnancy is so different, just like every child is so unique. My pregnancy with Maya was completely contrasting to my pregnancy with Veda. 

Both my pregnancies were complete surprises. Maya's resulted from 3 months worth of weddings that we had, and I didn't even know I was pregnant until I landed myself in the ER for severe vomiting and found out I was 8 weeks along. With Veda, we waited for her for so long that I gave up. And then she surprised us, and made us to happy and grateful. I knew I was pregnant with Veda within the first week just by how I was feeling, and tested positive the day before Maya's 4th birthday party.

Pregnancy is a very magical time for a woman. You're the first person to truly get to know your baby as you carry them inside you. It is also a very hard experience. It is hard on the body - physically, mentally and emotionally. It is a journey of transition. As much as you might have a supportive and helpful partner, it's a path that you have to walk alone. It takes a lot of bravery and courage to be pregnant and give birth to a baby. It takes a lot of mental strength and intuition.

Both my pregnancies served up major life lessons for me. With my pregnancy with Maya, I had to pull out of university and stop working because I was so sick. A little inkling of just how unpredictable and chaotic life with kids would become...and how much life can twist around despite making plans! I was also very anxious, but pulled it together by the end of the pregnancy and I finished it by being very centered and focused going into labor. My due date with Maya was wrong, which I knew from the beginning - it was two weeks off. My original due date was June 13, 2012 and she arrived on June 7, 2012 and was a 41 weeks old baby!

With Veda, I was very moody, short-tempered and reserved. The pregnancy started out beautifully and was much easier than Maya's. We had so much life stress with my parents' illnesses and my mother-in-law's heart surgery that most days I forgot I was even carrying a child. But I used to stay up at night and look at the ceiling, deep in thought. I was also very private about my pregnancy. Most people didn't know I was pregnant until the very end. I did not flaunt it or make a big deal about it, because I felt there was too much going on already. We didn't tell Maya until the 4th or 5th month. I was not anxious at all, until the very last moment. I was worried about Maya and the transition for her. Going into labor, I was very distressed but once it started, I found my focus. Veda was born at 38 weeks/5 days.

Here's a little look-back at my pregnancies, in pictures. I didn't take as many with Maya's as I did with Veda's. I felt really crappy with my first pregnancy and waited until I had on full make-up to take pictures. With my second pregnancy, I hardly wore make-up and just gave zero f*cks about my appearance!

My pregnancy with Maya

30 weeks: This picture was the first time I felt okay in well...30 weeks. Most of the pregnancy was spent being miserable with my head in the toilet bowl. But I was finally able to feel okay enough to attend my cousin's baptism/baby shower. I got all dressed up, so of course we had to take a picture. It was a lovely spring day and the cherry blossoms had just bloomed.

34 weeks: This was a picture of me at my baby shower. We had it at my mom's house and we had about 50 friends and family attend and give generous gifts. Unfortunately, I hardly heard from 99% of them after Maya was born. My "village" essentially disappeared. It was a nice party though, and at least they gave me nice outfits for the baby.

37 weeks: Back to feeling crappy. There was so much pressure on my pelvis at this point and I just wanted to get it over with. We took this picture right before we went out on one of our long walks. I did a lot of walking and swimming late in the pregnancy.

39 weeks: I could no longer see my toes, so I had to take a picture of that strange experience. I felt enormous. I ate a grilled cheese sandwich every day and that was my last meal before delivery. Maya was 9lbs 4oz because of that cheddar cheese!

My pregnancy with Veda

5 weeks: This was at Maya's 4th birthday party and I had just got a positive pregnancy test the day before. My tummy was swollen and my boobs were swollen so I wore a loose dress. I was terrified if someone were to ask me if I was pregnant - what would I say - would I lie? It was too early to tell anybody although I really wished I could share the good news.

8 weeks: We did a lot of swimming that Summer because it was just too hot. It was the only thing that would kill the time and get Maya tired out. I had some nausea at this point, in the afternoons, which was hard. The only thing that seemed to help my nausea was a caramel frappucino from Starbucks.

11 weeks: This was the picture that we used to announce our pregnancy to our desi family on our Whats App family thread. My tummy was getting huge and it was getting more difficult to hide, and we also wanted to share the good news. We took this picture when we were on vacation in Penticton. Everyone was totally surprised that we had kept it a secret for so long!

13 weeks: This was my father-in-law's 60th birthday dinner. We went for Italian food - thank god - because the only thing I felt like eating was pasta and noodles! Still no make-up. I wore this dress like a nightgown every day until my belly got too big!

24 weeks: Canadian Thanksgiving. The weather was miserable and this was my one maternity dress. I wore this dress so much that husband-ji started to get embarrassed of me!

25 weeks: At Disneyland. It was an exhausting trip, but we had so much fun. It was a special last hurrah we did for Maya as an only child. I thought I would just watch husband-ji & Maya get on the rides...but I ended up being a total badass and riding on all of the rides! I had to wear husband-ji's shoes because none of mine fit anymore!

26 weeks: When the sibling bond started...

27 weeks: Dressing up for Diwali was fun. It was my only time wearing a saree while pregnant during this pregnancy. I was actually feeling very depressed here, although you wouldn't know it because I put on a brave face. I do love this picture of me and Maya though. My little queen...

35 weeks: During Christmastime - my favorite season. I was feeling so good here. I spent the past month really giving myself some TLC and getting weekly massages and acupuncture and mentally preparing myself for labor. At this point, I knew I only had a month left in my pregnancy.

37 weeks: This was right before I was hospitalized for the stomach flu that I picked up from Maya's school. The following week sucked - big time!!! 

38 weeks: A few days before I went into labor with Veda. I had finally got home from the hospital and I was only able to eat mashed potatoes because of my poor stomach! I was posing this way to try to hide all the bruising on my arms from the hospital IV and constant prodding of blood work. I was relieved that the baby was unharmed throughout the whole illness. I was already 3cm dilated here so I knew it wouldn't be much longer. After looking at this picture, I noticed my stomach dropped and changed shape.

Even though pregnancy was hard on me physically, it was a privilege to be able to carry both of my children inside me full to term. And it was lovely to get to know them before everyone else did!


Dear readers, how about you?
Have you had different experiences with your pregnancies?

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Blogging with a baby

One of my main priorities after having Veda was to try to figure out a way to continue blogging regularly - while trying to balance new motherhood and overseeing two children. I love how my blog gives me a space to express myself and it gives me a purpose outside the demands of family. It's just for me. And I love that about it. So even though I've had another kid, I didn't want to give it up because let's face it - it's so easy to lose yourself in motherhood, day to day. The kids do come first after all, and if they want your attention they will scream their head off let you know about it.

I originally started my blog about 4 and a half years ago, when Maya was 3 months old and I was on maternity leave. Back then, I had a lot of time on my hands. (I didn't realize it then...I thought I had no time...ha ha!) I tried to blog before but it just didn't stick. But undergoing such a huge life change - motherhood - made me want to write again and reach out to the world. 

I never used to put Maya down for a nap. I don't know why, I just couldn't do it! (Maybe that's why she's super attached to me to this day?!) First, I got caught up on all my shows, then I watched movies, then I read books, and then I started to feel frustrated that I couldn't express myself. I felt like I was wasting away a bit. I wanted to produce something for myself, to creatively document my time and experiences. However, it had to be something that I could do with a baby sleeping on my chest! So, I started typing away...figuring that nobody will even read it anyway. And then the blog was born, as my daughter napped on top of me. And because I did it daily when she was napping, it became a routine for me that I really enjoyed - and it stuck.

Fast-forward 4 and a half years and we have been blessed with another little one. Now I'm juggling two children who are completely attached to me. One to my boobs and the other to my legs. But blogging is still a priority to me. I still love writing and sharing my thoughts and experiences. This time it's a bit harder to find the time, at this moment at least. You sort of have to steal time to do it. I can't find the time every day as I did before. Especially when I'm juggling not only 2 children but our 4 big babies parents. But when the planets align and Maya goes to school and Veda goes down for her nap, the sky opens up and the angels sing upon me HALLELUJAH, I run into my office, shut the door, and get some writing time in. Otherwise known as "me" time! And by "office", I mean a shitty little room in our apartment that has no temperature control, is scattered with papers, crumbs from my cookies, an exercise machine, and also functions as my in-law's closet. It's nothing fancy. It's a shitty all-purpose room because we don't know what the hell to do with it. But I do call it "my office", because I like to pretend it's fancy, and at least my desk faces away from all the clutter.

Finding the time to write now only happens a few days a week, but it's one of the times I most look forward to. Sunday & Monday- husband-ji is off work, so Sunday is a family day and on Monday we usually have a date when Maya goes to school. On Friday, I spend the day at my parents' house, and Saturday I devote the day to Maya. So that means only Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday I may have some time in the afternoon IF the baby sleeps.

Sometimes I think, well the blog can wait because the children are only young once. Which is true, but I really enjoy documenting it. And I'm not going to remember all these little things a few years down the road. It will all get lost in the deep fog of motherhood.

So, here's a few tips about finding time to blog after a baby:

Steal the time
Time is pretty scarce as a new mother and it cuts down even more the more children you have. It's hard enough getting the children fed/nursed, dressed, entertained, asleep - and then you also have to do your own basic needs like shower, eat and sleep which are hard enough as it is. Sometimes I'm so busy tending to the children that I have to eat two hours after them, even though I'm starving - having not eaten, and had to produce about 2 Big Mac's worth of breast milk. "Me time" doesn't necessarily happen every day and sometimes you have to sacrifice something. Sometimes it comes down to - would I rather blog for 30 minutes OR take a relaxing bubble bath? Because there's only time today to do one of those things - not both.

You can basically write anywhere
One time, I asked a famous Indian author if he had a space that he likes to write in the most - like how does he get in the mood to write? He said a real writer can write anywhere. That most of the things he had written were things on the go, and if a writer tells you that he/she can only write at a special desk - then they are not a real writer. This stuck with me and I think about it a lot nowadays. I do prefer sitting in my office, but when the baby's continually using me as a human pacifier I've discovered I can also write on the notepad app on my phone. And if my phone dies, I can also write on a post-it note.

You won't have as much time, but that's okay
With kids, routines are constantly changing. Some days they sleep and you can get work done, other days are more chaotic. You can think "today would be a great day to do a little blogging" and then the whole day goes topsy-turvy. But no matter how crazy it gets, you can definitely find time to do it at least once a week. Unless the kids are sick. If the kids are sick, then you can't do shit.

Cut down on unnecessary distractions
I don't mean the children...ha ha. I mean things like social media, pinterest, and replying to comments, which are the biggest time suckers ever that take away from your minuscule writing time. For example, if I'm breastfeeding for 15 minutes in the bedroom, I'll usually go on social media and try to reply to people as well as look at articles, pinterest and get inspiration. And by the time the baby's done feeding, I log off and it's a short little check-in so that you don't end up on social media for hours. And yes, as any breastfeeding mother can attest to, sometimes you lovingly gaze into your child's eyes and other times you're trapped in your bedroom and bored out of your mind! So, at least for one of the feeds you can do it. That is, if the tyrant baby lets you!


What about you, dear readers?
How do you find the time to do things you enjoy?
If you blog, how do you "steal" your time?
How often do you blog?


Monday, April 10, 2017

Veda: 2 months old!

I can't believe our littlest one is 2 months old already! The last few months have just flown by so fast. Every day is really chaotic, but loads of fun.

My favorite part of this last month has been getting to discover Veda's personality more. As you might be able to tell in the pictures of her, she's very serious. It looks as if she's deep in thought at all times. And she's not very easily impressed by us. She's quite grumpy too - my mother-in-law says it's my karma to have a grumpy child since I told her she had a grumpy face so many times during my pregnancy...ha ha! Veda does crack a smile once in a while, but most of the time she likes to stare you down. She's definitely intense. She's beautiful, but she's way fierce. I actually noticed this when I was pregnant as I was very short-tempered for the first time in my life. I thought it might be the baby's personality coming out, and it totally was. I also kept hearing this cracking sound coming from my belly - like cracking knuckles. As in...the baby getting ready to punch somebody!

Veda is so different than Maya in every which way, that it's a miracle that they have such a strong connection as they do. Maya is absolutely obsessed with her, and at the latest parent/teacher meeting at school the teachers told me she talks about the baby all day long! She's very possessive over her little sister.

This month we really got into a good routine in the parenting department. Veda started having regular nap times from around 5 weeks onwards, regular feed times, and a regular bed time. Getting used to her natural rhythm makes our life easier wherein we can predict at what times we can go out, and roughly predict what times my boobs need to be available she will be hungry. She has fit into our routine quite nicely - going down for her big afternoon nap right as I drop Maya to school, and stays asleep for 3-4 hours which frees up my time to do some work. The only problem is that she only wants to sleep in her car seat during the day, which means I either have to drive around until she falls asleep; or I have to walk with her up and down the street like a neighborhood security guard! On most days, I take her with me to drop Maya at school and she's asleep by the time we get back home.

Last month, we tried to put the kids to bed at the same time which worked for a while, until we realized that it was too early for Maya and too late for Veda. Now, we put Veda to bed first, and then follow with Maya. That way Maya gets to read a lot more stories before bed. The whole bedtime procession starts at about 7 pm, and by the time it's all over, it's already 9:30 pm and we are exhausted. Sometimes I even mistakenly doze off in Maya's bed! Unfortunately it makes it impossible to go out for dinner or do a date night, so we have instead been doing dates in the afternoon like seeing a matinee movie - along with all the elderly people. I have been fitting in a little self-care by taking a hot bubble bath with Epsom salts around 6:30 pm - a little "me" time - which keeps me sane enough to last through the bedtime procession!

We have been struggling a little bit in terms of the fact that Veda has sometimes stopped taking my pumped milk from my in-law's. I have been exclusively breastfeeding, but sometimes on the weekends I like to pump a bottle of milk so I can take Maya out somewhere special and devote some one-on-one time to her. And we have been trying to give Veda a pacifier (so far tried 3 different brands) and she refuses to take it and instead only wants Mommy. I do enjoy breastfeeding, (although it is very demanding) but I wish she would take the pacifier instead of using me as a human pacifier and gnawing on me!

This month was also a bit trying for us due to the fact that Maya and Veda both got sick. And we had a thrush outbreak and I got mastitis! Yup, that was how we spent Spring totally sucked. Poor Veda has had a cold 3 times already but the last one was particularly bad. We were so freaked out that we went to the children's hospital twice in the middle of the night. I felt silly because she just had a bad cold and wet cough. Of course my mind had to wander to what if she had pneumonia and was checking "infant wet cough meaning" on Dr. Google at 4 am!

Other than those little speed bumps, everything has been going great. Veda is becoming increasingly more alert during the day and I just love talking to her, cuddling with her, singing to her, and staring into her little blue-grey eyes. Her eyes are like the ocean...

I can't wait to see what the next month brings!


Friday, April 7, 2017

Ask Firangi Bahu: "My husband's parents and sister are taking advantage of us financially..."

(Img via Wil Stewart)

Sharing a letter from a reader....

"I have a question. I married my Indian husband in a U.S. wedding, but we had a wedding party in India. Our in-laws arranged the party to "introduce" us to the rest of the family. It was a large dinner, and in the end my husband paid for it as he did not want to burden his parents. Most of the guests said about 7 words to me, ate dinner, and left. A number of guests gave me gifts and/or envelopes (which I assumed contained money). I put the envelopes and gifts on a chair, unsure of whether it was polite to open in front of guests. At some point my mother-in-law moved the gifts and put the envelopes in her purse. After the guests were gone, she opened them and appeared to be counting whatever was in them. I never saw them again. 

We've since returned to the U.S., but I found it very strange that the party they hosted for us was paid by us and that gifts given to us and handed to me were taken. I wanted to thank those who gave gifts, but feel weird thanking them for giving gifts to my mother-in-law, and I don't even know what was gifted in the cases of the money. Ultimately, only two gifts were passed to me - a set of sheets and a plate. The rest disappeared. 

I asked my husband about it, and he brushed it off, saying the total given was only 4,000 rupees (about $60 U.S. dollars). I found that odd because that would mean that most guests (almost all doctors) gave only $10 USD or less. The whole thing makes me uncomfortable and suspicious of my mother-in-law. I would never dream of taking anything that someone gifted to her or my sister-in-laws, etc. Had the gifts been for her, should they have not handed them directly to her? Was I wrong to accept them in the first place? I feel like she should have at least explained what was happening - and now I am not sure I trust her. My father-in-law even said during the party that now I had some money to spend on my trip, I'm not sure if he knows his wife took whatever was given. It's not worth ruining our relationship, but it bothers me. I'd never take anything that belonged to anyone else, nor would anyone in my family. We paid for the party, so it's not like she needed compensation. 

My husband is very generous to his parents and sisters and they keep expecting more - I find it very creepy. He paid $10,000 USD for the down payment on his sister's second house even though they earn $3,500 USD per month (and live in India in a house they inherited so no payments). She is married, in her 50's, and has grown kids of her own. She is married and her and her husband are both professors. He also paid $5,000 USD for his niece's crazy expensive wedding, $10,000 USD for the same niece's tuition to graduate school (even though her parents are well off in Indian terms, live in a large 5-bedroom 5 bathroom house inherited from father in law; and she has two working parents; and she is also married). 

Each time he goes to India his parents expect him to wire $6,000 USD, $2,000 USD of which the father keeps and then the father withdraws $1,000 USD in rupees to pass as gifts to daughters and nieces. And now they've called saying the father needs a new car and expecting us to pay for it, although the parents live in a 4 bedroom 4 bath home and have a good income. They say it is because we earn in U.S. dollars, but we also pay our bills in US dollars and we have a mortgage which none of them have to pay. It's all new and bizarre to me - I think they think we are just rolling in money and can give it away like it was candy. We want to pay off our home and put money away for our retirement and we are still paying our kid's tuition in college, etc. I don't understand why they ask so much of him, or why she would take the wedding gifts. Is this some kind of dowry or what?

I just don't get why his family thinks he is still responsible for his sisters and even his niece when they are all adults, married, working, earning good salaries, and living in paid off houses. One sister has two houses paid off and we have zero houses paid off. Both sisters and niece live in houses inherited from deceased father-in-laws. And his parents home is paid off and my husband paid to add a level to their home which they rent out and collect the income from that, in addition to large pensions and the money my husband sends. I feel like we have our own kids to pay college and weddings for and we need a home and retirement security etc - which his parents and sisters already have - yet they keep taking-taking-taking. He loaned one sister $5,000 USD and she never paid him back. When he wanted to confront her his father told him not to, so he didn't. We just can't afford to give his family $10,000 - $20,000 a year, and they don't need it. And personally if a gift is meant for the mother in law, I'd rather the giver hand it straight to her and not to me, because then I have the obligation to the giver to return the favor, thank them, etc. and it's awkward. What if they ask me what I bought with the money? What do I say?"


Dear readers, what would you do if you were in her shoes?
Have you ever been in a similar situation?
Do you find that when you live abroad, relatives think you're rolling in money?
What boundaries need to be set going forward? 
When does one draw the line between generosity to one's family, and taking care of yourself financially first?


Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Celebrating Ugadi

(Maya's first Ugadi)

Since my in-law's moved in with us last year, it's been great to celebrate more of the festivals first-hand and also have more of a heavy presence of Hinduism in our lives. We have made a little pooja corner in the North-east portion of our home, to which my in-law's have added all of their idols to ours. Every morning, my mother-in-law does a small pooja and lights the diya's, incense, and gives an offering of fruit to the Gods. Not only does it add a beautiful smell to our home in the morning, but it adds a little more tradition to our home. Maya often participates in the pooja's and loves looking at all the Gods in the morning. I love waking up to it as it gives off a really nice energy to seize the day ahead.

We usually celebrate Tamil festivals predominantly, so it was lovely to celebrate the Telugu festival of Ugadi last week. While my father-in-law is Tamil, my mother-in-law is a Telugu lady from Guntur. When she married my father-in-law, she also married into a completely different culture, and had to learn not only a different language, but also a new set of festivals and customs. With her living here, it has been wonderful to learn more about the Telugu festivals from her culture. I have never celebrated Ugadi before, so it was really interesting to learn about it. (Note: it is also celebrated in Karnataka as well).

So, how did we celebrate it this year?

First, Maya and my mother-in-law took a bath and put on a new outfits. Then my mother-in-law was cooking up a storm! She made tamarind rice, veg fritters, and carrot halwa. She also prepared Ugadi Pachadi (a special New Year dish that consists of six different tastes: sweet, sour, pungent, bitter, spicy, etc.). They decorated our pooja corner with fresh flowers, and gave an offering of the food she made, including a fruit platter to the Gods. They both did the ashtothram together, which is chanting the 108 names of the God/Goddess. Maya did an offering of akshata and flowers. She was very excited about this and participated fully in the festival.

(Our pooja corner)

(Maya and mother-in-law doing the chanting)

Ugadi is known as "Telugu New Year" and it is symbolic that one must appreciate ALL the experiences in the upcoming year - both good and bad - and make the most of it. I really like the meaning behind this - because as much as we would hope the year ahead would be only good, there will also be some bad too. Some sweet moments and salty moments. Achievements and failures. And you must accept both, be open to both, and also expect a mix of both - because that's just life!


Do you celebrate Ugadi?
If so, how did you celebrate it?

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