Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Aah! Philadelphia! and its Ten Thousand Villages

"Are you a student or a teacher?" he asked.

BLUSH! BLUSH! This winter coat must be slimming and younging- I thought and looked pleased.

"Teacher, but I don't teach here."

"It doesn't matter where...as long as you teach." beamed the kind shop assistant at the J.Crew store as I unzipped my wallet to prise out my credit card to pay for the navy blue wool scarf I'd decided to buy on sale.

My FIRST EVER teacher's discount! WOOHOO!

This happened in Philadelphia in December 2014 and just like that this gorgeous historic city became my:
'Ab Fab' - absolutely favourite US city:)

There are a few other reasons why I  LOVED PHILLY, like:

a) I spent a lot of time with my sister- just like we used to before we both got married etc.

b) I bought two beautiful books here (Bird by Bird and Writing Down the Bones- thanks to Pauline's blog) which lie on my bedside table now and will probably never move from there.

c) A twenty year old asked me if I were a student (ignore the image of mature students...erase that image!)

d) We discovered a shop called  Ten Thousand Villages, and

e) The streets are named after my favourite nuts- walnuts and chestnuts;)

What's not to like?

So here we go...a photo essay of our many many walks up and down Walnut and Chestnut streets.



Independence Hall 








At the Liberty Bell Centre




Graffiti Galore







Lights at night...


One morning, after eating a hearty and  a very reasonably priced but freshly prepared breakfast at Gene's Cafe on Walnut Street, my sister, niece and I wandered into Ten Thousand Villages- a wonderful shop filled with treasures from all over the world.


All my memories of trips seem to blossom from conversations I have with strangers who turn out to be kind and interesting and full of stories. 

The lady who served us at this beautiful shop grew up in Rome, Italy. I don't know how but the conversation veered towards food- the eternal ice breaker. 

She spoke about each item we had picked up with such love and care that it felt like she had crafted them herself. 

I'm sure you've come across people who seem so perfectly matched to the jobs they do that their joy spills over. Watching her wrap our purchases while she enthused about the artisans made my day. The three of us couldn't stop talking about her all day. 

If we do what we do with love, it shows and that positive energy (or whatever you might call it) touches people around us- moments as ordinary as these pitter patter their way like rain drops into the pool of my soul and whenever I am feeling frazzled, I just dip into this cool pool and a comforting Aah! sets me right.

It's wonderful to be human.

As usual, I picked up treasures for my garden....

A well travelled Snail (thanks Danielle;) - created in Bangladesh- sold in the USA and 
currently living in Qatar:)



created by 

A birdhouse bought with the right intentions but it's too pretty to leave outside just yet. I take it out only when there are no sandstorms on the horizon. 
Lately, Doha has been hosting a LOT of sandstorm parties- so sorry birdies...this pretty house is staying indoors for now!


Made in Cameroon


An etched gourd from Peru...

created by

And of course, we had to pick up this Liberty Bell Christmas ornament...

made by

Stepping out with all these goodies felt like we had been to a magical place where artists and artisans created beautiful pieces for ordinary people like me to take home and enjoy. 

 Almost four years ago, I made a conscious decision to seek out local artisans or artists if I were in the mood to buy 'stuff' on my travels. The stories that I get to hear and the people I get to meet because of this seeking turns these souvenirs into treasures- and the birds chirp their complaints when I get too silly and don't let them use their birdhouse- they just have to deal with it!

How can anything bought in a glitzy soulless store ever live up to this magic?


Try it sometime.

Here's the link to the Ten Thousand Villages...
http://www.tenthousandvillages.com/


And finally, on the last day...

A long walk down Chestnut Street
without the kids
my sister and I
walked
and
talked
and
clicked
the blues









A three dimensional mural to trick the senses...






If you are planning to visit Philly, here's a comprehensive guide to the best restaurants.
http://travelingpanties.com/2015/02/20/top-10-best-restaurants-in-philadelphia-plus-the-best-cheesesteak-in-philly/

We enjoyed honest and delicious food prepared and served by the Amish at Dutch Eating Place in the bustling Reading Terminal Market.
This place reminded me of the Borough Market in London on a Saturday morning- AWESOME!

This brings us to the end of the Philly tour folks- 
I hope you enjoyed it:)

Here's a video a friend shared on her fb page recently- this might explain why a discount that saved me less that $3 meant so much...


Friday, March 20, 2015

Resistance and A bipolar lunch box

Christine Mason Miller says:
 “Resistance grows in direct proportion to how important something is to us.” 
as an introduction to 
The Conscious Booksmith -
an online workshop that I've enrolled on recently.

When I first heard that statement, I wasn’t sure I understood it. Resistance is optional- this has been my belief thus far. You only resist to do something or go somewhere if you are lazy or scared or not bothered but you make that conscious choice. Is resistance optional and/or a conscious decision we make or does it work at a sub-conscious level? 
I'm trying to find out.

‘Resistance is in your mind. Stop resisting and your body will open up.’ My yoga guru repeats these words almost every time we practise- especially when some of us are unable to get into a pose.

According to Christine, procrastination and avoidance are some of the ways resistance manifests itself.

Why do we resist?

Is it because we fear the known - or what we think we know (I will hurt myself if I push too hard in a yoga pose) or because we fear the unknown - that which we think we have no control over (If I talk about my mother’s illness, people might pity me or judge me for washing my dirty linen in public). 

Is resistance a form of self- preservation - our ego's way to keep us functional? 

Or is it DENIAL wearing an 'I CAN'T' T-shirt?


Obviously, I have a long way to go before I can understand resistance, 

but I can identify it now.


Mother's day in the UK, the rain in Doha and this workshop have all conspired to make me nostalgic. They have pushed me to step on my nostalgia and stretch- really stretch -right on my tippy toes to reach and unlock the rusty old lock of my memories to face my resistance- to address him and tackle him- no matter how painful the rendezvous may turn out to be.

The words 'resistance is futile' kept knocking my insides till they morphed into 'resistance is FERTILE'- 
the more I stared resistance in the face, the more stories told themselves to me.

"Resistance is a good sign"- Christine's words are beginning to make sense.


I'm ready to tell my story... 


 My school tiffin box had bi-polar disorder and manic depression.

On good days when the sun was shining, the fragrance from my lunch box would escape the lids and smother my school bag. Exercise books and text books covered in brown paper and neatly labelled lying inside my bag would smell like my mother's kitchen. Every time I opened my school bag to put the books in or take them out, at the end of one lesson and the beginning of another, the aroma of the lunch box would wink at me and promise me a feast at break time. On days like these, the break bell took its own sweet time to ring.

The thick translucent yellow plastic lid of my lunch box would open up like a sunflower and reveal the fragrant paranthas of namak and ajwain (salt and carom seed) - soft golden squares with the folds visible on the sides.

My mum used vegetable oil to make paranthas for the lunch box so that they would taste good even when cold because the ones made with desi ghee (the norm is any Punjabi household) cannot be eaten cold- the cold ghee arrests the flavours and holds them captive.

These two square paranthas with haphazard brown patches where the bread had touched the hot tawa (pan) the longest proclaimed with confidence that all was well at home. The tiniest dots of ajwain which taste pungent when you first bite into them and then burst with sweet flavour on your tongue said all was well at home. The little blob of achaar (pickle) of mango or karonde (akin to cranberries) would be the trailer of good things to follow that afternoon when we reached home after school. It was almost certain that lunch would be ready and we (my younger sister and brother and I) would eat a hot meal prepared by our mother when we reached home.

The dark gloomy days of two slices of white bread put together with a layer of mixed fruit jam were always around the corner. These days appeared around the equinoxes -around March and September. Holi – the festival of colours and Dusshera – the celebration of the victory of good over evil appear around March and September in the Indian calendar.

“She probably gets sick on purpose”- I thought this often when I was four, five, six or seven and even when I was in my teens- “to avoid all the extra work that has to be done during festival times.”

Years later, when I started reading about bi-polar disorder, I discovered the connection between seasonal changes and depression.

Two slices of white bread put together with Kissan mixed fruit jam and if we were not running late to catch the school bus- even a layer of Amul butter to keep the sandwich moist for it would be eaten four hours later, would cast a very dark and grey shadow on my sun.

I remember biting into the half dry, half moist, hastily put together white slices of bread while eyeing the full moon shapes of fluffy round idlis sprinkled lovingly with ‘gunpowder’ chutney in my South Indian friend's lunch box with hopeful eyes. Perfect pooris stuffed with peas or poha (puffed rice) cooked with peas and carrots and seasoned with mustard seeds and curry leaves by another class mate's mother pulled me towards them.

To this day, no idli or poori or poha has managed to live up to the standard set by the ones my friends shared with me at break time. NONE!

Friends who lived near the school would sometimes extend an impromptu lunch invitation. This always made me feel like I was Alice in Wonderland. What unreal worlds did these girls come from?  How could they be sure that their mothers would have something ready for us to eat? There were no cell phones to communicate in the 1980s. Do you mean to say that their mums got out of bed every day, any day?

Sometimes, OK honestly, lots of times, I would look at those lunch boxes and wish to follow them to their homes instead of mine when the end of the day bell rang in school. But only when the days were dark and gloomy and the sun had been eclipsed by two slices of white bread.

Because on bright sunny days, my mother would serve us baingan ka bartha (aubergines cooked with onions, tomatoes, peas and seasoned with cumin, chillies, coriander and lots of love) and hot rotis with white butter and dahi (yoghurt set at home) when we flung our school bags down and ran to the kitchen pulled by the sweet smell of fresh rotis.

The three of us would fight over the two aubergine stalks. These are little umbrella handle like stalks that hold an aubergine but when they are simmered in the aromatic bhartha while its cooking, they store inside them all the delicious flavours. You suck and suck on the dark stalk till all the sharpness of cumin and coriander and the sweetness of the aubergine has emptied itself out on your tongue. You suck and suck till only the dry fibres remain and you still suck and fight with your brother/sister to not touch yours as it’s your turn to eat the stalk that day. Come to think of it, we always had only two stalks- I guess two big aubergines were enough for our family’s meal.

My mother was an awesome cook and her secret ingredient was the love she poured into her cooking. She loved feeding us fresh-off-the-tawa-rotis with a dollop of homemade white butter. On rainy days like these, her secret ingredient is what I crave.

My school lunch box’s bi-polar depression only got worse as we grew older. The dark spells became longer or maybe we had started noticing it more.

The two slices of bread were replaced by spending money to use in the school canteen as we moved up the grades and could be trusted with keeping the couple of Rupees safe till break time. Hot chanas (chickpeas cooked in a solar cooker by our environmentally friendly canteen owner) and bun or mouth watering crumbly 'bun samosa' became the silver lining to my dark gloomy clouds.

xxx

"There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story within you"-

 Maya Angelou's words scribbled on an envelope lie next to my laptop and cheer me on.

My childhood memories are a blurry ball of twine- 
all knotted together- 
entwined- 
happy and sad. 
As I begin to pull at the frayed edges of the little end that's jutting out, I tremble. 
Once it starts unravelling, I may not want to or be able to stop.
Let's see where this 'unburdening' takes me.  

xxx

Thank you Pauline for recommending the workshop:)

&

Thank you Christine for introducing me to my Resistance. xx




Saturday, March 14, 2015

Winter walks within and Washington with Wings.

Happy March to all you lovely people. 
May you march to your tunes
and 
Discover you:)


It has been a topsy turvy start of the month for me. I took time off from work for two reasons:

1) to have more energy and time for my daughter who will be flying the nest this fall and

2) to find out if I would do the things I always said I would if I had the time - like reading and writing and in the process discovering who I am and what is it that I really want to do. 

You may call this a mid-life crisis. I call it 'reflection'.

The first few weeks were fabulous. I attended a few morning workshops- geometry  and ceramics and even found myself relishing a piece of delicious chocolate cake at a coffee morning! 

I watched my daughter play basketball which was great.

But then March rolled by and I felt lost. I was lost in the jumble of all the things I wanted to do- read, write, garden, yoga, cook, clean, diet ...basically I wanted to do EVERYTHING perfectly, so I ended up doing NOTHING except gardening:) 

Living a free day (when I am not constantly checking the time) is testing me. I am becoming conscious of myself. Removing the tick-tock of timetables from half of my day is forcing me to listen to the 'dhuk-dhuk' of my soul. This change of gears from auto pilot to conscious living is not easy. It's thrilling but scary. It's so much easier to just turn the telly on or to stalk people on facebook, rather than peep inside myself to find out who I am. 

My vision of a 10 kg lighter me with an impeccable house and garden throwing garden parties for friends where I would wow them with my poetry or short stories has become another fridge magnet - wise words and ideas stuck in limbo WITHOUT action.

"You are not free until you have no need to impress anybody".

A friend put this up on her fb page. I inhaled the words deep into my core. If I inhale these words regularly, I might become them and then I can be free to do what I really want to do. 

My first steps towards this freedom make me slow down. I read and I read and I garden and I ignore lots of chores and duties. I feel safe in my go-slow-cocoon for now. 

No wonder men and women take sanyas or go wandering to discover themselves. I don't have that luxury. I can't pack my bags and go wandering. I have to find myself here - surrounded by my family, laundry, school runs, facebook, whatsap, blogs and dinners.

A yoga teacher once said that yoga is not about running away from your duties but finding yourself while performing them.

I am trying to do just that- 
at my pace
in my space.

Where is Washington and where are the wings? you ask...They're coming right up. Following my own advice of not trying to impress anybody- here goes - a mismatched post of discovering within and without.

This is Washington Do See (D.C.).

We happened to be in Washington D.C. for Christmas 2014. This was the first time our son actually wanted to visit a museum. 

The National Air and Space Museum was on his list and that was the only item on the list.

But before we fly, let's walk.

And before we walk, let's eat. If you ever visit Washington D.C., try out Brown Bag-

Hot oatmeal served with pecan nuts, sprinkled with chia seeds and honey and any other topping your heart desires followed by a farmer's breakfast of fluffy scrambled eggs and chunky home fries got us hooked. 
We ate there every morning:)

If you like walking- go to Washington. It's great. We walked everywhere - 
even in Thunder, Lightning and in Rain

Being jet lagged meant that we were up really early, so we ended up at the National Mall before anything was open.

Time to shoot!













As soon as the doors of the National Air and Space Museum opened, we entered and queued up for the guided tour. 
It was FANTASTIC. I would recommend it as a MUST DO if you go.
Our extremely knowledgeable 84 year old guide put the rest of us to shame. After about an hour and a half of walking and looking, some of us were trying to find perches to rest our feet while he carried on -enthusiastically sharing amazing anecdotes and details about what we were seeing.

I shot the wings like I shoot flowers- by colour. I have no idea about airplanes and their history, but if it felt right, I shot it.

The Eternal Question...



The following photo is of a mural which shows an exact moment of WWII. We were told that the wife of the pilot in this mural actually identified him when she visited the museum with her son!






Amelia Earhart flew this plane single handedly across the Atlantic.
It's the Vega monoplane, built by the Lockheed Company.








The next day, we walked from our hotel near the National Mall to Georgetown. It feels like a high street in an English town and I loved it. The Christmas lights were toned down and pretty.
The whole place had a small town vibe to it.

I met a very kind shop assistant in the Jack Wills store there who grew up a few blocks away- chatting with people in stores who are not just trying to push a sale but are nice to you always makes me smile.
Human stories turn destinations into memories.
 And he gave me tips on what to do locally that I wouldn't necessarily find in a guide book;)

 The teenagers kept sending me death threats telepathically when they saw this-

"How embarrassing Mum! Why did you have to talk to him?"

But, he's so cute;)

Oh! Yuck!!! Mum!





Another walk I would recommend is from the National Mall to Foggy Bottom - makes me giggle every time.
We walked to Kennedy Performing Arts Centre via Foggy Bottom -another historical neighbourhood which looks like it's been cut out of an English town and pasted here.
Quaint little houses with their quaint little gardens- sorry no pics as I was forbidden to stop and shoot on account of the cold winds.

Here are some shots from top of the Kennedy Centre. The wind was cccccold! 

Doesn't this sky remind you of the Simpsons?




We walked by the river to reach the National Mall. It was a BEAUTIFUL walk.





He scuttled down and climbed on my daughter's shoe. 
'Show me! Show me! How do  I look in that shot?'  he seemed to be saying.




'Yes, mum, this walk is super fun.'


Not everything I saw in Washington was happy and sunny. There were homeless people sleeping on pavements in that bitter cold. While we walked briskly towards our hotel and warm beds smothered in our goose down jackets, I saw groups of humans taking cardboard out of dumpsters to make their beds for the night on the cold grey concrete.

Then there was the van which stopped in front of us on Christmas Eve and started handing out blankets to the people who were making their cardboard beds.

BBQ smells greeted my husband and I as we stepped out of our hotel on Christmas Day to walk to Kennedy Centre for a free Jazz recital. The entire park near our hotel had been turned into a BBQ station for the homeless by a local charity. The park was a grey cloud- dark shapes carrying their homes around them had gathered there.

I walked past the park in my winter boots and warm hat towards the Jazz recital. The BBQ smell lingered  around me and made me hungry. I  noticed the grey humans but chose to continue with my holiday instead.

Yes, the sunny and the grey, the happy and the gloomy live side by side in Washington like in any other city of this world.

I choose to capture the sun and keep it with me. Maybe, I'm selfish. I am who I am.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

March shines through my window today.
The tutu pink Hibiscus nods its head
 and opens its heart to receive the sun.




xoxo