Category Archives: Merlot Moments

A Dozen

Dear daughter,

You turned twelve a week ago, and I haven’t had the time to write a letter to you to document this year of your life. You are growing up, but you should understand,  I am growing up too, and so is my long list of duties and responsibilities. Late, but worth the wait  I hope, here are  twelve little things I want to share on your twelfth birthday..

I don’t print dollars, and mom doesn’t stand for “made of money”. Of course I pamper you, and buy you every little beautiful thing I see in the magazines, but that doesn’t mean you are entitled to it. Learn to appreciate it.

Last Sunday morning you crawled up in my bed for cuddle time, and elbowed me accidentally. Trust me, I saw stars, and I didn’t know what hit me. I think it’s time we moved past the memories of a helpless infant that locked her eyes with me for a brief moment before they transferred her to the NICU.

Ears! They are not just to stick blue tooth and listen to call me maybe. They connect to the other parts of your body, and they should be used to listen. Not just hear. There is sound around you, of your parents, of your sibling, of your friends and of your teachers. Don’t drown us out like a white noise. Listen to us.

Help! The four letter word that you need to use is “help”. It’s OK, you can ask us to guide you, you can ask us to assist you. I know you are a student tutor now, and you are capable of taking care of yourself, but as you grow, so do expectations. Don’t limit yourself to things you can take care of yourself. We are here, to take care of you when needed.

Mirror! Forget the mirror on the back of your bedroom door, and trust my eyes. You are beautiful just the way you are. Even your Direction boy says that. See yourself through my eyes- I know when you are beautiful and when the ugliness creeps in. The smile that comes from the heart, and the sparkle in the eyes that are lit up with love make you beautiful, not your hair or your clothes. They can only add to who you are, not make you what you want to be.

Come back to me, anytime, anywhere. You are taking baby steps, walking into the world without my guidance, but the world is not a beautiful place always. Stuff happens. I will tell you today, I will remind you tomorrow, and I think I talked about the same last night, we are here for you, always. Whatever it is, we will help fix it, or we will fix you.

You tell me about the good Indian girls that have boyfriends in High School and don’t tell their parents about it. I hope you don’t turn out to be a good Indian girl. I need to know the truth, of where you are, and what you are doing at any given time. I am not the kind who will live in a bubble that it won’t happen in our family. So trust me, tell me everything about everyone around you.

You tell me that I signed up for parenting too soon, and every little event we attend is a reminder that things happened too soon for us. But trust me, we have everything under control. I don’t miss driving a luxury car when I listen to you play my favorite Goldberg variation. My trade off is justified, and don’t ever live in the guilt that you redefined dreams and goals. Learn from it, know that your plan can be perfect, but always have a plan b for everything in life.

Again, I repeat, I only care about you, and not your friend, and not your friend’s friend. I don’t care who dyed their hair with Kool Aid, who doused it in beer to highlight, and who uses mascara. Tell me if you want to dye your hair, and I will approve or disapprove of it. Tell me you want to get a piercing, we will talk. You are the center of my universe, and my problem, not people associated with you.

Thank you for the proud moment at Disney. Your dad told the man who dispensed Fastpass about your performance, and the woman on the Boudini counter and Ghirardelli counter know about it too. Excelling in academics or arts is nothing new in the family, but you are the first one to sing, and of course the first one to sing at Disney.  Thousands of schools from all over the country sent their video auditions and only a few were selected.  This was your school’s second outing. Take pride in those moments, and don’t think it’s not special because four of your other friends did it.

Don’t feel entitled to anything just because you are exposed to a lifestyle, a community like this. Know about Malala, and know that education is not a right for everyone. Know about the Mideast, and know that the worst thing that happened in the world today isn’t that accident near Trader Joes. Know about pro-choice, pro-life and a thousand other options in between, and know that you don’t have to take my stance on everything. Appreciate the rights, and the privileges, and use them wisely, and know that life is grander than what you know about it already.

The list of do’s and don’ts will continue forever. You will be a teenager soon. You will pretend to be someone you are not, and you will follow your friends and tell me I don’t know anything about what you go through. One last thing I want to remember is, your parents will always know what you are going through, because long ago they were the same misunderstood brats. Teenage is not a disease, or a special condition, and it can be treated with love and understanding. Fortunately for you, we already have the prescription. Just use as needed and be happy.

Until next year, lets’ continue the carefully coordinated and orchestrated mundane life and hope that our biggest problems are the grades the teacher hasn’t corrected yet.

Mom and Dad

Blast from the past:

Eleven Already, A decade.. 

Chasing Happiness #23

Summer of 2012 began with a promise, to let kids be kids.

But a month later, I will admit. We weren’t entirely true to our promise of letting them eat and sleep at their own schedules and make their own rules. We pushed our children to exceed expectations, to look beyond what they see, and perform under pressure. We pulled them out of their beds on Sunday mornings, and made them eat breakfasts that didn’t involve pastries, and promised them a good meal only if reached the heights we expected them to reach.

We are hiking as a family! Over the past month, we have explored a few trails in Orange County, and even though we drag our dirty selves to the shower and then to bed after every hike, we couldn’t have spent our time doing anything else so rewarding. Just walking on the carved paths in a line, one of us leading, one of us guarding the backs, and the ones in between chattering nonstop.. Just climbing a mound of sand, sometimes of clay and rocks… holding the one that goes off balance, asking the one who reached the top to slow down and wait for the team.. couldn’t have found a better activity to bond with the family without any distractions.

When we first went to the Santiago Oaks Regional Park, we weren’t sure if the kids were ready for this. We went up the little loop, and walked in a little line trying hard to get the kids interested in something that did not involve theme parks and television shows. The dried up vegetation, the distant chirps of the birds, vague rattling noises.. what was there for the spoiled children of the Orange County who live a stone throw away from the Disney, Sea World and San Diego Zoo.. not to mention lovely beaches lining the West Coast? A few steps into the trail, the older one already crinkled up her nose and starting jumping up and down- a fly attacked her. We don’t know who attacked who because both looked equally scared of each other, but the younger sister stepped in and swatted the fly, and made life easier for her sister.

Speaking of the comfort level with nature, I have nothing to worry about the younger one. She loves animals, big and small. She saw a sign for bob cats when we went to a trail in Solvang, she asked if she can please-please-please pick one if it was sad and lonely and bring it home. She would roll up her sleeves and pants and smuggle lady bugs home after she got busted for using her pockets to transport them. End of recess, the teacher would pull her to the side, check her thoroughly and let her in the classroom. She even brought home rollie pollies from the street because she thought they deserved a better home. When she was three, she insisted on adopting a lion, a tiger and a cheetah from the animal shelter and we kind of convinced her that we already adopted all of them, and since our house was so small, we put them in a zoo. No dog can pass in front of our house without paying the interaction toll. We know all the names of dogs in our area!

Her older sister is a complete opposite. A small fruit fly in the house will make her want to relocate. She is like the Princess in Princess and the pea. Delicate and darling. When she was four, we hit the Santa Monica trail with another family, and almost all the time her dad carried her because she didn’t want to get her shoes dirty. When she was five, we went on a walking trail, but she didn’t want to climb the trees because there were ants. If she bikes, her dad has to check air pressure, load her bike, and unload it. If she practices kicking her target, someone has to get the target ready and waiting for her. If she is on the beach, she won’t go close to floating kelp. She is very royal, in her own way. I am not complaining, just musing.

After the fly murder, we decided to talk to the kids about the hiking rule of “leave nothing but footprints, take nothing but memories”, but then a fly didn’t seem that important when we reached the top of the hill. There was a bench up there, and when we sat with the younger one to help her stop chattering and catch her breath, we were in for a breathtaking view of the Orange County! The kids couldn’t stop wowing at the view, and couldn’t stop screaming about their achievement of being at the top of the world. Going downhill along the loop after that was a cake walk, now that we knew the landscape. “Burger- Juicy burger” the backseat warriors screamed, and I couldn’t deny them that pleasure.

The next week, we went to Peter’s Canyon. While driving up to the parking lot, I mentioned that it would be nice to go up that steep hill with a path in the center. Little did I know that Junior Jillian Michaels will say “let’s rock it” “punch your fears away” “go team” “let’s do it” and climb the steep mountain without asking anyone to carry her. We had both fully prepared to carry half way up. Once again, the reward a panoramic view from the top of the hill. The kids couldn’t stop appreciating how beautiful it was. The chirping of the birds, the rattling of the snake, suddenly it was all so familiar, and they started looking forward to their weekly hikes.

Last weekend, we went to the Irvine Regional Park. This is our second outing in the park, the first one ended with a small walk and mini rock climbing on the Horse Shoe Loop Trail. No one liked it, but when I came home and researched, the other side of the Horse Shoe Loop Trail had better reviews. So we returned, this time fully prepared with our hike. Also, when we went to the Peter’s Canyon trail, we were amazed by the bird population that surrounded area. This time we packed the binoculars. So up the hill, over the hill, we went to hike on the hill.. and we saw the sign for a Mountain Lion. We never care for the signs, but this time the park ranger came walking down the hill and Miss. Royalty asked him if there were any mountain lions in the area. I just came down the hill, didn’t see any was his politically correct reply.

We went up the trail, and rested at the top of the hill, at the vista point, savoring the view of the paddle boats in the lake below. The kids wanted more adventure, and insisted on going up the Puma Ridge Trail, and climbing that little clay and rock path someone had cut. Why not! Mission accomplished for parents, when kids lead them where they want to go. Suddenly little Miss. Royalty in her expensive designer clothes and shoes decided to get dirty, and enjoy what nature had to offer, used her hands to climb, slid down on her bottom, and just had fun! Not one single Ouch! Mission doubly accomplished. Since the trail was illegally cut, there weren’t signs of what to expect next, but that’s what makes a hike even adventurous.

That afternoon, driving home in our dirty clothes and dusty shoes, we made plans of taking a week off next week and exploring the wilderness along the coast. What a trip that will be! Go for a hike early morning, and then have lunch, relax in the hotel room or at the beach, explore the city in the evening and drive further ahead along the coast the next day. We talked about taking the bikes along, and then shot down that plan considering the biking capabilities of the little one and her mother. We are not ready for the slopes and curves, yet. I just got back on a bike after fourteen years, and she just got off her training wheels.

Then came the news of a Mountain Lion spottingin a trail we planned to go this weekend. I thought of not sharing the news with the children, but it felt a little unfair not to. If they were scared, we could always use our Mello Roos Trails, or hit the beach, or just swipe that annual pass and watch them Princesses pout in Disney. “We should get a horn that scares the Mountain Lion away” said the younger one. “We should get everyone their own backpack and bottle just in case we get separated” said the tween queen. They were not at all affected by the sight of a coyote whimpering or mountain lion walking past a biker. Of course their grandmother didn’t like it one bit, and warned us to stay off the course that says mountain lion country!

I don’t know which trail we will pick to hike this month, but I can proudly say this is just the beginning. Memories will be made. Stories will be told. Pain of the calf, and pleasure of the eyes will be shared. I don’t know if the children will ever appreciate us for giving them all the good things that we could in life, but I do know that I will never feel guilty of not doing enough. When these girls talk about their childhood, there might be nothing very exciting given the vanilla city we live in, and the vanilla upbringing they have, but I am sure this little adventure with nature will give them a lot to talk about.

To the new highs in life that do not involve alcohol and drugs.. or even sex.

Chasing Happiness #21

Dear Eighteen,

This year I turn thirty-six. Middle aged according to US Census. At thirty six, I have realized that dreams are not made of degrees, or of men who buy diamonds that match the silver of your hair, or perfect smiling children in matching dresses who litter their report cards with perfect grades. They make happily ever after. Today, go dream a little. A dream that celebrates you, and only you, and isn’t associated with a relation you will have in your adult life. A dream that doesn’t morph you into someone else. A dream where you walk on the dirt along a side walk letting your soles grow dark and hard. A dream that lets your skin burn and bronze in the sun. A dream where you wander alone, aimlessly. Don’t stop yourself. Don’t draw boundaries. Let go and enjoy the free fall. Trust me, I have seen things spiral out of control and bounce back stronger than before.

You were born on a monsoon morning, and without fail, the sky has sprinkled the parched earth by your birthday. You danced in the rain, drenched yourself coming back from school, but soon, you will move to a distant land where your birthday will celebrate the sun, and mark the beginnings of summer. Your children will get out of the school, and your husband will celebrate father’s day around your birthday. It will be a lovely day, you will look forward to it, but today, it is a lovely day, it’s cloudy, it’s going to rain in a few minutes. Step out, breathe the fresh smell of the earth, and seal it in your heart. You have very few of those experiences left to savor on your birthday. Blow those candles alone, don’t wait for someone to come and light up your world when you blow them all. One day it will be so bright, you will crave for a dark corner of solitude.

I am half as beautiful as you are, but doubly confident. The dark mane that you can’t tame today will be teased on the crown for volume in a few years. The acne that is the sign of your youth will be replaced by the wrinkles time and experience will reward you every passing year. The beautiful skin on your body will take a beating every time you have a baby, and very soon the battle scars of motherhood will bar the bikini for you, forever. Today, love yourself. Today, flaunt your beauty without any adornments.  Don’t hide in those flowing clothes, stop fidgeting with your hair, and picking on your acne.

Today is also Father’s day. You made your daughters sit down and write letters to their dad. Not poems, but letters. You will be amused, reading them. You never thanked your dad for buying everything you wanted. But your daughters will. You never thanked your dad for being there for you, supporting you when you were down. Your daughters will. You took your father and his love for granted, but your daughters will not. So today, go give a hug to your father and say thank you. The man that will clear your every invoice, including those for your education and wedding deserves it.

Your grandfather loves you, pampers you, sees a little bit of his wife’s attitude in your tantrums. He buys a Cadbury Five Star bar every Saturday evening. The old man can barely hear the honking vehicles when he walks into the streets. His eyesight isn’t good enough to help him navigate the maze of motor vehicles on the streets. But he will go to the store every week for you, because that little ritual keeps the child in you alive, for you and him. Later, you will understand the reason he pampers you. He gave the same love to every child in his life. Some respected and returned the favor, some didn’t. Even in your selfish and self centered years where you question your father’s charitable efforts, you loved the old man whole heartedly. He will bless you, with his heart.

I hear every young woman who turned eighteen wrote a letter to her older self, sharing her dreams for the future. Thank you for not leaving a time capsule. It would have been hard to live up to your Bohemian expectations. You didn’t know, but the colors that you dipped your hands to paint those dreams would embarrass me if they bled through the beige of my life. You were innocent, you curiously roamed in the dark and forbidden alleys that I wouldn’t buy a ticket to in my consciousness. Before you know it, you will be tied down to stable life with marriage and mortgage, career and children. Without the basket of paints, and an unscheduled dream time, you will become the vanilla woman you desist today.  You are but a complete stranger to me today, living in a different world. But I love you, and treasure you deep inside me, only letting you surface for fresh air once in a million breaths.

Today is also the last day of summer vacation. These are the rare moments when you are allowed to be the parent. I open the treasure box and breathe you to life tomorrow. You can tell them to sleep-in every morning. Bike when they feel like. Scooter if that’s the mood. Eat when they are hungry. Watch TV. Turn on the music and play it loud. You can let the kids be kids, and give me a break. I am tired, waking them up on time every morning, shuttling them to school, activities, and helping them eat healthy. I will recharge my vanilla and beige self the entire summer and report back to duty in September. You will be a disaster if you stayed on. I am no Irvine mommy either, pretending to send my children to Harvard when they are in some public school Kindergarten class, but we do respect authority and keep our report card free of reds.

I didn’t realize it until I wrote a letter to you, but you look like a wilder version of your older daughter. She is the same daddy’s little princess that you were, pampered and protected by her father. She will be a disaster, I tell her, if she doesn’t learn some discipline, and some self control. I forget, I learned. I forget, I excelled. I should take a deep breath and let the University of Hardknocks teach her the valuable lessons of life. It’s easy that way. Let her be under daddy’s protective custody till the time comes. If you could drain the colors off your canvas, and play four minutes and thirty three seconds of silence with melody and harmony, so can she! Train the ear for the Goldberg variations now.



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Chasing Happiness #20

Dear children,

Today is Mother’s day, and I congratulate myself for saving my sanity surrounded by insanity.

I prepare to bask and revel in the glory of motherhood, congratulate the Indian mother in me for the tender loving care I shower on you, the Tiger mother in me for cracking the whip and taming you cubs to make sure you didn’t lie, you didn’t cheat, and you didn’t break my trust, the American mother in me who talks about feelings, who understands how you feel, and who promises to be there with you, no matter where life takes you.

I loved the first gift of the morning, solitude. Children all over the country are burning pancakes and waffles, but you were kind enough to sleep through my breakfast ritual. I woke up early, made me an egg omelet, and brewed a cup of coffee. I actually ate it while it was still warm, and drank my coffee while it was steaming hot. No one disturbed me. No one needed an omelet right after mine, and no one threw a tantrum that they wanted something else.  It was so peaceful. Thank you, for letting me treat myself to a good breakfast.

It took a fraction of a minute to pick you up, swaddled in the soft pink blanket and fall in love, to write poetry about the dream I have for you, to write pages about the relation we will enjoy. But it takes sleepless nights to convince myself that no matter how tall you are, you are still little. No matter how fast you run, you will still need my guidance. No matter how loud that door slammed shut, I need to go right after and remove that door if need be. It is a confusing age, it is a confusing phase. Thank you for letting me keep the copy of “Love you Forever” so that I remind myself, “as long as I am living, my baby you will be”.

“Be the wind beneath their wings, not their airplane.” Your father thinks it’s easy to let the precious children lose in the sky and watch them from the ground. I went through a lot of pain to bring you into this world. I won’t let go of you so easily. I am not guilty of being your airplane as long as I am transporting you to a destination of your choice, not mine. You don’t have to make your own mistakes, you can always learn from the mistakes others make. Mother Superior tells me that you will touch the fire to check how hot it is, even though you understand that fire burns. I don’t smother you, I only try to mother, with care. You can play with fire. I will be on the side, with a bucket of ice cold water, antiseptic cream and a blanket, just in case. Thank you, for letting me be your chosen mode of transportation.

I have an unexplainable pain in my back from the epidural. My stomach has battle scars. My body has changed after I gave birth. I lost me when I gained you. My new identity wasn’t my own, I was your mother. The Bohemian in me was bound to conventions by your arms wrapped around my neck. It was an irreversible change, physically, emotionally and socially. It was hard, to wear the hats, to assume different personalities to let you and me grow together. But thank you, for working with me, for letting me grow up with you, and for shaping your identities that I am proud to be associated with.

This morning Mother Superior called me. “Happy Mother’s Day”, she said, “Thank you for being a wonderful daughter that I am proud of”. I tried reminding her that she is not happy or proud. I am twenty pounds more than her ideal weight of me, the career path I chose doesn’t exactly satisfy the feminist agenda she had for me, and the writings that are self centered aren’t her vision of creativity. “It doesn’t matter”, she said, ”My dream for you will always be different from the dream you have for yourself, or the expectations your husband and your children have from you. You have a dream and you kept it intact, that’s all that matters”.

She continued, “When you were young, you would hold my hand and walk to the market with me. I would tell you to pick any dress and gladly pay for it. When you visited us for your father’s sixtieth birthday, you took me to the same shopping center, and told me to pick whatever I wanted to, and you would pay for it. That was the proud moment. Your career enabled your ability to the pay your mother’s bill, your good relationship with your husband gave you the power to make independent decisions. You bought the same sari for your mother-in-law and that told me, I raised you well. As a human being you have excelled, and I am proud of you. Be like that always.”

I may seem perfect and all powerful to you, but without my own mother’s seal of approval, I am miserable. I complain, I whine, and I tease her for being on my case always, but I am happy she does. I am happy I haven’t disappointed her to the extent of giving up on me. I am actually thankful that she sees me slightly imperfect always, and wants me to fix me. Thank you, Mother Superior, for maintaining the title of superiority, so that I have an example to follow, so that I have someone to lead me.

I will ramble on, there is so much to share, but there will be times, there will be moments for that. Right now is the time to shower and sparkle in the happiest place on earth with you. It will be only so many days before you will enjoy the company of your friends more than your mother’s. It will only be so many days before you will dress in all black, even opting for weird colors to stain your lips and nails. But today you like pink, you like the sparkles, and you still love them princesses without mothers. Let me make the most of it… Let me make memories with you.

Love always,
Mother in the Middle

Blast from the past:

Chasing Happiness #12

I am suffering from Multiple Goal Crashing Syndrome.
Head is hurting, eyes are closing themselves into a dark empty space that people call naps, every muscle aches like it’s been wronged. There is a general sense of weakness that surrounds my brain when I have to focus and stay on the course. I hear they call it distraction. I started out the year with multiple goals, and chasing happiness through all of them, and added one more as we rolled. Gardening. Result? Now I am overexposed and underwritten, between gardening and writing.

There were weeds in my garden. Not the banned ones, but the ones that you wish were banned. The plum and peach dwarfs have lost all their leaves and look ugly. No, they are not fooled like the Jasmine plant by the weird weather. They know it’s not Spring, and they haven’t sported any blossoms, or even leaves yet. I bought new planters because I loved them, but now I need to buy plants that I can love. It is hard work, this gardening, even if you are garden is as big as the Master bedroom.

I haven’t stopped writing. In fact, I have written twenty thousand words. Unfortunately, they are not about chasing happiness. I am chasing a rainbow. No, I am not writing a book under that title. Kathleen Long already did that, and did a good job at that. I meant to say, I am searching for that happy space between the rain and sun. I am searching for the spectrum of fantasies, replete with the pot of gold at the end.

It has stopped raining where I live.
The sun and the weather force me out of my room to head out with the family to the happiest place on earth. Happiest place on earth lies somewhere within twenty feet of where you are standing when your head is filled with ideas of all sorts, including installation of keyless entry to your front door, but happiness is not solitary. Happiness needs company, and happiness is a derived state of mind, mine mostly derived from my family.

I drag my feet and join in the fun, getting on to rides that make you go round and round, and waving my hands at the Princesses and Princes that don’t get tired of it at all. I sat there observing Minnie Mouse signing autographs and giving hugs for almost twenty minutes, and I wondered how hard it must be to do that. Dressed in something very uncomfortable, you stand there, wave at everyone who waves at you, and greet the children who lined up to see you politely, and react lovingly to their hugs, and pose for a picture. It doesn’t matter if you are hot, if you are not in a mood to be around with so many people.

“Let the memories begin” says the tag line for the happiest place.
My memories began when we took our first daughter to Disney, to meet Pooh bear. I never fell in love with a character or a person so much that I wanted to go give them a hug and tell them how much they meant to me. That was my first introduction to freedom of expression. When we moved to the lala land, we took her to the happiest place every weekend, until she got tired of it. That was my first introduction to derived happiness. Amongst all the noise, and the parade of pink and purple, I found happiness in her happiness. When I took the little one for the first time, she barely cared for anything other than me. She was only a few weeks old, and the mother’s loving embrace mattered more to her than a Princess’s dramatic proper hug. As she grew up, the story book characters coming to life have interested her more though.

As I ride the bus from the parking lot to the parks, I notice these teenage kids riding with us. Barely thirteen or fourteen, they make up the eaves dropping heaven for me. It’s the mirror into future. They talk about boys, boys and more boys. Parents, siblings, or even other girls don’t find a mention in these conversations. I wonder if my own days of riding a bus with my kids to the park are numbered. Then I wonder if my own days of being a central part of their conversation are numbered. Memories will begin every year, fresh and new with the new year at Disney, but I will start fading out. First there will be boys, and friends, then boyfriends, and then their own lives.

I laugh at the simulation of future, and promise myself to not to that again, not because it’s scary, but because it’s far far away. The children are still children, and I am still the center of their universe. Happiness can be derived from them for the next few years to come, I am sure, and then it will be all about finding it in fixing a new lock set on the door, or sitting in my garden planning a color scheme, careful deadheading spent flowers. I tell myself to keep life underwritten, overexposed, but overly experienced.

Happiness today is about deriving it from the people we love, at the right time.
Happiness today is enjoying Multiple Goal Crashing Syndrome, and adding more to the list, paving your way to a bigger crash and better burn.

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Chasing Happiness #9

Fourteen years ago, a new bride would be sitting at her desk, engrossed in research to complete her thesis, perfecting the perfect, and the dark clouds would fill the sky, distracting her from the mission of her life, to be an Architect before she joined her beloved seven seas away. You miss him more than you love this, the lightning would say, lighting up that corner in the heart she would try to hide from the world.

She would push aside the hardbound Time Saver Standards and the stack of books she used for reference, and pick up a bond paper, or a parchment, or whatever caught her fancy, and using the best of her inks, would write a letter to the person brought the moanful misery to her life. I miss you, she would write, then tear that paper, do you miss me, she would ask in the next.

Passion would fill in the pages sometimes, agony of separation sometimes, it would just be a factual tale of happenings sometimes. Pages and pages that could make up a novel were written, sent across the world relying on the postal service, without backups, without copies of what was written. The trust and faith that this too shall reach surpassed the doubts that it would be lost somewhere in transit.

Some reached in a week, some reached in a month, some never made it, and there was one, a passionate one, that she regretted writing came one fine day when least expected, when the passionate moments she used to long for were already relived, when words were no longer used to convey the meanings. It went into the box, a box full of letters that would one day become a treasure, to be opened and read on the rainy days, sitting on a ledge near the window, forgetting the world.

Soon, the series of passionate mails were replaced by the longing of a mother and daughter. They wrote to each other about everything happening in their lives, including stacks of recent pictures, even though they talked to each other every day. There is something about the written words that makes you say more than the words that come out of your mouth. The unspoken, unsaid was traded across the oceans.

Life got busy at some point, sticking only to the verbal conversations, slowly replaced by the video chats that took over the letters like never before. Pictures were traded over the internet, and words exchanged with a face to relate to. The letters sit somewhere deep in the boxes, only things that I sign and date became the city hall application when I filed for my client’s permits.

Forgotten art of writing had to be revived, not because I had time to write, but because I had time to keep the art of writing alive, especially the glory of my beautiful handwriting. Beautifully calligraphy adorned the Christmas cards, each alphabet written with precision, with love, to the person I sent it to, to tell them that they are important, as important is my handwriting to the envelope. Once a year ritual, but that held on, mailing handwritten cards, and receiving handwritten cards.

All that frenzy over now, life is reset to the next year, only mail I will receive will be the Tax 2011 papers and the various bills. An envelope of a different color surprised me, as did the handwriting on it. There was a Christmas card that came from a land far away, from an Island Princess. The delight that it brought, the reminder it gave of the holidays that just passed was so simple and so special. It came on a day that I had taken all the cards off of the refrigerator, and stowed away all decoration until the next year.

Suddenly, by arriving late, it became special, special than the ones that came on time. I left it on the refrigerator, perhaps it will be there, with a handwritten message in it, till the Valentine’s day frenzy begins. Stacks of pink hearts will be traded between friends, and stacks of them will be all over the fridge, until I declare spring cleaning.

Reminded me of the passionate letter that came late, igniting the passion that only separation could bring. Reminded of the letter that my father wrote to a pregnant me, asking me to stay away from junk food, not because it affected me, when my daughter was already a year old. Reminded me of the proposal my uncle got for an arranged marriage, when his daughter was already two years old.

Happiness today is reliving that joyful moment the letter was written for long after that moment has passed..

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Chasing Happiness #5

Ten brown tin canisters lined up the top shelf of my grandmother’s locked supply cupboard. They were interesting, mainly because they lacked interesting features like a bright red background, or a bright yellow stripe, or a picture of the celebrity endorsing them. So uninteresting was the brown background and the words written on them, they became an interesting addition to a house filled with shiny copper and brassware.

They were Ovaltine canisters from the early 1950s, used by mother when she was a child. A quick background information check on the canisters revealed that Mother Superior was born a skinny tiny girl who just wouldn’t put on weight. Much later in life she would struggle to lose every little ounce of fat that she added effortlessly, but then, when she was a little girl, a doctor had suggested using Ovaltine to help her stay healthy and add some flesh between the skin and bones.

I never tasted Ovaltine at all, grew up to be a Boost faithful, the  bright red and yellow canister with my favorite cricketer Kapil Dev’s signature “Boost is the secret of my energy” endorsement.  When I was young, the health drink with chocolate flavor was just used to break the dullness of the white milk and make it more exciting to drink, and promised some energy unlike today’s health drinks that promise to make you grow, make you the strongest. My generation wasn’t really that competitive. We just enjoyed our food, and our drink, did not make it a war against nature.

Last December I volunteered in my daughter’s school on the “Winter wonderland” day. We Californians are blessed with the sun and sand, but we do like the feel of fresh snow melting in our fingers. It’s a two hour drive to the snowy lands from where we live, so we decided to bring the snow where we are. I don’t know if the kids will ever appreciate the beauty of nature in it’s true form if they are spoiled like this, but sometimes, as a parent, all you want to do is give everything you can to your child. Winter wonderland was one such day. A snow blowing machine came to the premises early in the morning, and while the kids watched, blew snow on the playground. The kids were so excited, to play in the snow on a sunny day. Later when they were done, we had planned a hot chocolate-marshmallow-movie party for them to relax on the last day of school before the winter break.

We brought in slow cookers, and ladles, and hot chocolate. A mother had sent “Ovaltine”. I had never tasted Ovaltine before, and the closest I ever came to tasting was in my thoughts, worrying that the canisters my grandmother actually had twenty year old Ovaltine in them, and I would be served it with milk some day. That never happened because they were all empty, filled with knickknacks from my mother’s childhood my grandmother couldn’t part with. In them was a piece of history, coins that were outdated, small bangles that my mother no longer fit in, the face powder that she used. I made fun of her for saving all those good for nothing items, but now, as a mother I understand that she was not saving those things, she was saving a piece of my mother’s childhood in them.

We mixed the Ovaltine, and I was a little excited that my daughter would try something my mother enjoyed as a child. Like grandmother, like granddaughter.. she instantly fell in love with it, and when we called home and told her grandma about it, a simple chocolate flavored drink became a bonding moment for the two. They could make up an advertisement for Ovaltine, spanning generations. As I mix the powder into the white milk and watch it swirl around, turning the whole glass into a light brown liquid, I wonder how it would have been when my mom was a child. Did her mother also remind her a thousand times to drink her milk? Did she threaten her that if she didn’t she will have crooked bones? I don’t know, the older I am, the easier it is getting to imagine my mother as a little girl. There was a stage when I wouldn’t believe that she was skinny once or young once, unless presented with photographic evidence. May be as I am aging myself, getting to the middle of life, it’s getting easy to see on both sides?

Happiness today is knowing that life is not limited to “Like mother, like daughter”.
Sometimes it can be “Like grandmother, like granddaughter”.

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Chasing Happiness #1

Chasing happiness.
That’s the goal, not a resolution for the next 3-6-6 days to come, one day at a time, one moment at time… through architecture, writing, trading, parenting.. through family, friends and strangers.. through everything that brings me joy.. searching for extraordinary moments in an otherwise ordinary life, finding poetic control organizing the dishwasher, enjoying the genuine peace of hugging an innocent child, losing self in sometimes cluttered, sometimes compartmentalized life.. Someone wished that this New Year I should be thankful for the thorny bush I cared for has grown a thousand rainbow roses in a season where as the orchard has shed its leaves, baring it’s bones.

The partying of sorts that kicked off with Diwali, and included two birthdays, and an anniversary, along with the Thanksgiving-Christmas-New year ended yesterday, and tomorrow life will reset to normal. I documented, I didn’t dramatize as I did before, the life that we live, the pain and the pleasures that came with it, talked about some because there were so trivial, they were perfect to be shared.. talked about some because they were taking up so much space in my heart, I had to share.. forgot to talk about the ones in between, that gave me happiness and joy. Between the mundane and the magnificent, the Merlot moments fell short of words to be the matter of my heart.. This year, the first toast of red is to the moments like that.

Last Wednesday, between Christmas eve and New Year’s eve, we celebrated our thirteenth wedding anniversary. So weird was the number, we insisted on celebrating the day we got married fourteen years ago. The sparkles and sparklers aside, we took a trip to Pasadena, the city that we matured in, the city that we spent our last carefree days in, the city that we left as we stepped into the great housing depression. The mere mention of the city still brings memories of different kind, starting from the fifth anniversary’s sapphire ring, the first one of it’s kind, that served as my mood ring, developing a crack when the heart felt the cracks, and turning a deep blue when happiness overflowed. Deep blue was mostly the color, because there was only a little girl with us, no mortgage, not many assets, and not many liabilities, material and emotional. We still think that it was the city that brought us joy, not the state of life.

It turned out to be a journey of a different kind. The houses with character have become the abandoned houses covered with graffiti, the busy streets lined with people expressing themselves in every color and every style are replaced by the grey and whites that have still saved their jobs, the restaurants usher you in as you open the door, no one is overbooked, no counter busy to serve, no women stepping out the boutique stores with blinding shopping bags. Some of the restaurants that I loved, the stores that I frequented they all wore the same sign, for lease. It’s not the life we lived there, or the live we saw there. Worked in our favor still, with two kids in tow, we didn’t have to stand in line for lunch, and didn’t have to keep circling around to find a space to park.

We drove in front of the apartment we lived in, sort of a town house, once surrounded by tall, and dark green trees, now out in the open, we almost wondered why they tore it down, until a quick check on google revealed the recent fire.. it would have been our house. It was our house actually, and I wondered, if something had happened when all of us were at work, we would have lost a lot memories. This was the house where R2 was born, where R1 began her schooling, where I finished my masters, where I sat at my desk, pregnant, staring at the squirrels eating acorns and wondering what was the point of all this chaos, if all it was to life was eat, drink and sleep. This was the house where I turned thirty, turned the chaos of my mind to early midlife crisis.

There was a project that I did, a quarter of the size of my other projects, but needed double my efforts. There was nothing beautiful to add, there was nothing significant to be design, but it was all reading the city planning guidelines and finding the fine print. Yes, just finding the fine print, the loopholes like a lawyer and executing the design that we wanted to, the client wanted to. A lot of money was spent, a lot of meeting were conducted, I spend so much time at the City Office, I knew almost everyone in Building, Planning, Fire, Health, Transportation departments, and they knew me, by my first name. End of the day it all worked out, the happiness the opening day balloons brought almost equaled to the happiness of stepping into my new house. The store is empty now, the window awnings with the logo that we had three meetings for, because we were not conforming are cut and machinery is broken, some parts hang freely into air. The people that I worked with have found new niches, new avenues, the person that taught me how to read the fine print was forced into retirement., the company that I worked for was bought over.

Life has moved on, half a decade has been erased, leaving me a few pictures, a few documented memories and a lot of people to hang on to. Life has moved on, the crisis of the mind is over, I have moved mentally into the new home, embraced the new roles of my life, become the woman I never thought I would, and actually thankful that I didn’t end up with purple hair and a torn jeans at thirty five. Life has moved on, from just the two of us with a baby in tow, we have become a family of four, a cat would complete us, but what’s the hurry to complete a life that is only midway through. Life is at a happy space, though I am in the middle of everywhere.. end mark is far away, but so is the beginning. I can see neither..

Coming to the committed part.. of the things that brought me happiness.. of Merlot and  me.
This winter vacation was the most productive winter in the past several years. I would run around like a headless chicken, trying to feed the hungry mouths, wash loads of laundry, help them brush their teeth, arrange their baths, schedule my work around the nap schedules and park schedules, reading my magazine in the bathroom while husband took over when he returned from work, drinking coffee to just keep me awake. Even watching a TV program was a hassle, with each into a different genre. I felt so lost, that I always wanted a vacation after the vacation with them.

But this year, both of them were home, mostly conversing among themselves, sharing things that they could, playing board games, watching the same TV programs, listening and singing along the same songs, reading their books by themselves while I read my own, on sofa, with a cup of coffee in my hand, a luxury for any mother, without needed me constantly.. Independent. That’s the word I am looking for. But so many things fall under that word that I couldn’t justify their importance in my life just by one word to express them.   Just a few months ago, in summer, I would do anything to trade for a few minutes in peace, and now I have peace, even with them around me.

The wall full of handwritten cards from the people I met in the lost half decade is happiness.
Life in the city that is not filled with “for lease” signs and torn awnings is happiness.
The children who sit next to me reading books without snatching mine is happiness.
Being able to spend an hour to write this blog while kids watched Harry Potter is happiness.
Spending thirteen years with a man I love is happiness.

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