Five Things I Loved This Week | The Sunday Salon

Sunday, May 22, 2016

1. Coffee.

The husband bought me a Nespresso for Mother's Day and I couldn't be happier with my morning coffee. I've been eyeing this machine ever since I returned from San Francisco because its coffee is exactly how I like my coffee - thick and creamy with a wonderful aromatic flavor. We had tried the Keurig in the past and I hated it. It was barely strong or tasty. This coffee, however, is perfect.

2. Friends who are almost family.

A close friend and her daughter have been staying with us this week. They are new to the country and are still working on getting settled. Most of our evenings are filled with movies and there may have been too much icecream and brownie snacking this past week. We've been trying to do something fun even if the weather has been dreary this past week. So most of the outdoors fun has been in the form of shopping.

3. Cape Cod.

This trip is technically not until the Memorial Day weekend, but I cannot wait to head up there. I am keeping my fingers crossed that the weather cooperates but we have a beautiful cabin booked so I'm sure it will be just as fun indoors. After all, I'm a very indoors person but let's not tell anyone that yet, alright?

4. A (very) mobile Shreya.

I love (and maybe sometimes not so much) how independent Shreya wants to be. This girl likes to go exploring the world without really wanting anyone to show her how to. As long as she knows someone is in the vicinity. This is a boon, of course, when there are tons of chores lined up for me. This is not so good however, when I want to strap her into her high chair at meal time. Lately, she has been standing by herself. The first few times she stood, she was screeching with delight and waving her hands. Now, she even claps her hands and says "Cla.. Cla.." Honestly, I think her first real word is going to be "Clap". (Despite all my attempts to get her to say mamma or dadda.)

5. Homemade granola.

I'd been planning to make my own granola for a while and two weeks ago, I made this. And was it delicious! I love how customizable this recipe is. I've made it thrice so far and have tried adding cacao powder, instant coffee powder, and coconut flakes. It's been quite the hit with the husband, who is not an oats or cereal fan.

What's happening with you this week?

Light at the end of a tunnel | The Sunday Salon

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Last week, I said that the week was going to be busy. That was quite the understatement. Not only was it busy, it was also a difficult week.

Shreya caught something at the end of the previous week. It started as a cold that appeared to get better two days later. However, on Sunday night, she woke up a few times coughing. One day later, she was down with bronchiolitis - something the doctor told us to expect to follow any colds that Shreya gets. So going forward, in addition to getting the boogie wipes ready, we have to make sure the nebulizer is set up and ready to run every time we see that telltale sneeze. This obviously goes without saying - but seeing babies cough or struggle is the hardest thing ever.

Work was at its busiest too this week and I struggled to give it a decent amount of attention. This was despite working half day on Monday and taking a day off on Thursday. It took everything I had to not go dancing like Daffy Duck in the rain on Friday singing "Thank God it's Friday!"

This week may be better. Though I will likely be trying to make up for all the work I didn't get to last week. Still, there is plenty of silver lining ahead. For one thing, we will be having some friends stay with us this week. For Memorial Day weekend (that's in two weeks!), we are planning to stay in Cape Cod and explore the area. Cape Cod and the Chesapeake Bay are two places I frequently run into in books - at this point, they have an almost romantic association with them. Even places like St. Louis, New Orleans, Maine (which is a state, of course), etc have the same appeal to me. I expect them to be beautiful cultural places built just for booknerds, simply because they are mentioned in books. We have a cabin rented at Cape Cod and this is going to be Shreya's first time at a beach, so we are very excited on her behalf and can't wait to put her in a swimsuit, even if she won't be venturing out into the water.

Speaking of the babe, she has crossed another milestone off her list - last night, she started standing on her own. She was so excited about it that she was calling out to anyone and everyone to look at what she did. It's so amazing to watch babies grow - I am constantly in awe of how they learn.

Today, we are cleaning. Throwing stuff. Decluttering. Reorganizing. Of course, no matter what Marie Kondo says, the mess will be back in a week but at least I may get a day of orderliness, if not more. I am still reading the same book as I was last week - Fever at Dawn by Péter Gárdos, which is about a couple that fell in love through a series of letters they exchanged right after WW2 ended. So far, this is captivating even if I feel that it jumps around too much.

What are you reading?

To the Golden State and back | The Sunday Salon

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Hello, there? It's me, I'm still here. I realize I've been out for almost two weeks now though it feels longer than that - probably because my last four posts were reviews and I haven't put up a personal post in almost a month. I toyed with the idea of taking another week off because things are crazy right now but so much has been going on and if I don't pen this post now, it may never happen next week either.

Happy Mother's Day

First of all, Happy Mother's Day! This is my first after being a mom and I am feeling all kinds of emotions about this journey so far. Also, nothing makes you appreciate your mom more than being a mom yourself and, especially when the going gets tough on my end, I whisper a few apologies to my mom for anytime I was a pain in her behind. Being a mom is the toughest role I've taken on (and it's only been 10 months so far) but it's also the most most most most.... rewarding experience of my life. Sometimes, I just cannot articulate this feeling of having my heart jump in my throat every time I see Shreya or she trips or she smiles and I end up wondering what took me so long to decide to have a kid. So, dear mom, thank you so much for everything you have done for me and all the sweat, tears, and hard work you invested in me and my brother. I know I owe a LOT to you and I know the journey can't have been easy either. Love you loads.

The Golden State

Last weekend, I was in California. We wanted to visit our cousins in San Francisco and Los Angeles, so off we went on a Wednesday night and back on the following Tuesday. It was short - much shorter than I like my vacations to be but it was also just the ideal duration. I didn't get the end of vacation blues and I was actually ready for work. Shreya also did pretty well though for the first couple of days, she didn't go to anyone. Too many new faces on the block.

The California visit was FUN! We didn't really go anywhere much except to eat out (we had seen plenty of SF and LA during previous visits). This visit was all about spending time with family and we got a lot of that. Some highlights from this trip were...

So this happened to me when we left on our trip. Don't ask me how. I keep telling everyone that the bulb in the shoe closet was out and both shoes feel the same on my feet. I also blame the mommy brain sometimes. Truth is, I didn't look at the shoes when I wore them and just hurried on my way to wait for the cab to the airport. You know, #lastminuterush, #toomuchtodo, #forgetfulness. In other words, shoes are not at all priority when I leave on a vacation. I felt terribly mortified when I put the pair on the security conveyor belt in front of the TSA lady. I don't want to even imagine what she thought looking at the mismatched pair. I didn't take another pair with me so I had to hide my feet behind luggage or wave my hands crazily if I thought someone was going to look at my shoes. And you know how everyone looks at shoes first when they meet someone? I did finally buy another pair the next day so I didn't have to wear a mismatched pair throughout my vacation.

Oh, and I got to meet one of my favorite bloggers while in LA - Ti of Book Chatter! I knew she lived somewhere in or near LA but once we started talking about my California trip, we found that she lived very close to my cousin's home. So we planned a lunch date for the weekend and had no trouble recognizing each other at the cafe. We talked about a lot of things - books, kids, life, school, work, books, blogging, books. It was amazing.

Left is a photo of a mango mousse than the husband's cousin made for us when we visited them. It was just too good - so good that the husband "helped" finish mine when I had to get Shreya nap while we were doing dessert. Right is a picture of the hand and footprints of the three stars of the Harry Potter movies in front of the Chinese theater in Hollywood Boulevard. (Note my new pair of sandals.)


The husband had to travel for work the very next morning after we arrived. That was rough because we reached home by 1.30 am and he was back at the airport by 4 am. I have been mostly on "catch up" mode since we arrived and I am still not caught up with anything really. I may have to just accept that it's not going to happen for another week either. The husband gets back on Tuesday (hate not having him home on weekends) so I expect to get more free time then. I have been reading some but I will save the books for another post. How have you all been doing?

The Emperor of all Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Emperor of All Maladies
It remains an astonishing, disturbing fact that in America - a nation where nearly every new drug is subjected to rigorous scrutiny as a potential carcinogen, and even the bare hint of a substance's link to cancer ignites a firestorm of public hysteria and media anxiety - one of the most potent and common carcinogens known to humans can be freely bought and sold at every corner store for a few dollars.

This might be the first scientific and technical book that I read for leisure. As a science student in school, I used to read books like these to help my grades along; so for the longest time, I resisted the idea of reading them for fun. After reading a lot of book reviews though (of this and other subject-focused books), I have begun to love the idea of reading technical books about a certain topic, though I haven't really gone out of my way to read them. But it took me two tries to finish this book - the first try was short-lived (just a couple of pages) and the second was always in danger of being abandoned. In the end though, I finished it, and felt rewarded for doing so.

The Emperor of All Maladies is basically what its subtitle says - a biography of cancer. It starts its story way back when, from how the Persian Queen Atossa's slave cut off her malignant breast to the present, when there are countless drugs to delay the inevitable. As boring as I worried this book would be, it turned out to be the opposite, with a few caveats though.

Cancer is clearly the one illness that no one wants to think or talk about. All of us probably know at least one person who has or had it but it's more likely that we know or knew more than one person with this illness. The prognosis is almost always grim, sometimes with an immediate outcome, other times with years before that outcome, but we all know how it will likely end. How then do you write a biography of such an illness? Isn't this what most of us are doomed to meet?

When I started eying this book, I was looking not just for history but also for options that will help prevent cancer. After all, as Mukherjee stresses heavily in this book, prevention is the best cure. I didn't exactly get that but I wasn't expecting to (because if that magic prevention strategy is out there, then nobody would be getting sick). But I got a lot more from this book. In fact, when I finished the book, my first thought was that I felt no longer scared of this disease because Siddhartha Mukherjee opened my eyes to a different way of looking at things.

Mukherjee starts and ends the book with the story of one of his patients who was battling cancer. While he narrates specific experiences from his life, he interleaves the stories of how cancer has showed up at specific times in history. How it was once suspected that black bile is the cause of this disease, how excising the tumor was the norm centuries ago. It is fascinating to see how scientists came to the many conclusions that we take for granted today.

Mukherjee also makes a brilliant attempt at showing progress in this "story" of a protagonist that kills people. Most of the advancements in oncology have helped "cure" cancer in many people and yet, the number of people with cancer has only gone up. He explains that this is because there are more cancer survivors now than there was in the past.

I will admit that as interesting as this book was, I did find it a tad too long. At 22.5 hours, it kept me company through countless 20-minute commutes to and from work, and after a while, I just wanted it to end. I don't know that reading this book would have been faster. Probably not, because I may have bailed out early enough. The audiobook medium is probably the best way to get me to "read" books like this one. If you don't mind the length and would like to know more about how cancer became the towering force it is today, then you should certainly consider this book. I learned a lot and although I have forgotten a good portion of the details, I would love to add a print copy to my library that I can refer to once in a while.

PS: If you were wondering what carcinogen Mukherjee is talking about in the quote above, it is cigarettes.

This audiobook is from my personal library.

10% Happier by Dan Harris

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

10% Happier
What mindfulness does is create some space in your head so you can, as the Buddhists say, "respond" rather than simply "react."

This year, I have been on a self help kick. Mostly on topics related to mindfulness, productivity, and being happy. I think feeling overwhelmed occasionally is the reason for it. And stress of course - who doesn't have that problem? When I came across Dan Harris' 10% Happier, all my neurons were intrigued. Besides,
  • It has a promising title.
  • It is a story of one person's attempt to be happier rather than a general 'How to be Happy' book.
  • Also, it sounded like a light read - something I was looking for to complement the other heavy reading I was doing at the time (Emperor of all Maladies).
Dan Harris starts off with the story of what triggered his interest in meditation. In 2004, he suffered a meltdown in front of millions of viewers of Good Morning America. He attributes the episode to stress, ambition, and his drug habit and realizes that he needs help. Shortly after, he is tasked with covering religion - a subject he hated and mocked openly. He would play the part of an intrigued audience during his interviews with evangelicals but once that was over, he would revert back to his usual cynical self. At this point, a friend introduces him to Eckhart Tolle - whose books he found to ooze with the nonsense mumbo gumbo that he has by now come to associate with religion but also occasionally be sprinkled with wise words, that he doesn't know what to make of it. He realizes surprisingly that he wants the same benefits that many people get from religion or spirituality but without having to follow a faith. He isn't sure there is an answer out there though because all the evangelicals or meditation gurus he meet don't appear convincing to him. It is months later when he was close to giving up that he comes across Mark Epstein, who introduces him to meditation AND makes him realize that, contrary to his beliefs, meditation doesn't involve talking or walking like a zombie.

Note: Despite the talk about religion and spirituality in the first three chapters of the book, 10% Happier is not about religion at all. Rather, it is about a lot of misconceptions that Harris has regarding faith and meditation.
I will admit to not liking Dan Harris much. He was the kind of the person who hated religion so much that he derided other people's beliefs. He had no idea what Buddhism was about nor did he want to jump on the meditation 'fad', claiming it was religion as well. He also admits often that he had these annoying traits and I get why he kept talking about it - there are plenty of people like him, who believe that to meditate requires you to chant and talk in a sugary voice and not be ambitious. To make these people realize that those are misconceptions, it helps to admit one's own fallacious beliefs. That didn't make reading about him easy though. I guess I am biased here because I grew up in a land close to where Buddhism was born and I had lessons in my History class about the Buddha and Buddhism. I am, however, not a religious person but I respect another person's need for faith. It just bothers me when someone talks like an expert on subjects they know nothing about.

Dan Harris was also not hesitant to call someone's bluff. He had no issues criticizing or mocking someone. While I agreed with his thoughts to some extent, I cringed at the blunt way in which he expounded his beliefs.

But, as ironic as this may sound, those issues I had with the author are exactly the reasons why I enjoyed the book a lot. I appreciated the lengths to which he was willing to go to understand how meditation works. Despite being in a job where you can easily lose gigs or be overlooked for promotion. Will he eventually be that perfect person who had no issues with anything, who always thought through every idea, and who was very aware of every breath he made? And how would this affect his ambitious personality? Would he stop caring about his work? Would he slow down?

As someone who has been focusing this year on being more mindful, I loved reading about Dan Harris' discovery of self. His complete ignorance on the subject at the beginning makes this book perfect for any newbie to the meditation world. I liked how he explained that being mindful doesn't require you to sit under a tree for years to attain nirvana. There is plenty of misinformation out there regarding Buddhism, mainly because of how this faith is packaged by money-makers. I loved that he explained that Buddhism is less a religion and more a philosophy - something to aspire to live your life by.

Sprinkled throughout the book are several strategies that Harris learned about how to meditate. Years ago, when I wanted to meditate, I was most struggling with the idea of how to focus only on my breath and not on any of the 100 ideas that pass through my brain, especially when I want to shush it. Harris had the same worry. Several of his teachers corrected him - the point was not to clear your mind but to be aware of what you are thinking and not let them take over. I don't have this mastered at all. But I loved getting this different perspective into how to meditate. My brain loves to have conversations with itself but now, I am aware when it happens and able to stop it. (For the uninitiated, one of the habits that meditation tries to encourage is less time spent thinking and more time actually doing AND being present in whatever it is you are doing.)

By the time I turned the last page, I loved this book. It has made me more excited about being mindful and more aware of myself. I haven't exactly sat down and meditated but it's something I want to give a try. As soon as my baby complies with that wish.

This book is from my personal library.