Monday, January 25, 2016

First impression

So I've been trying to catch up with work and other things since we came back from India and now I've finally finished getting all the photos together to get down to some photo-blogging on India.

Everyone has been asking me if Xena liked India and what she did there. She did a lot for sure, but more importantly, what she did not do thankfully, was fall sick. We had been keeping our fingers, toes, elbows, knees and eyes crossed as we were not sure how she, born and brought up in squeaky clean Singapore, would cope with the chaos that is India. We made sure she got the typhoid and the flu vaccines before the trip, and during the trip, like an annoying NRI, I was even brushing her teeth with filtered water. But it was all totally worth it, because not only did she not fall sick at all (in fact, Viv and I were down every now and then, but not her!), she truly had a good time in every single city/town we visited.

We had planned our trip to coincide with both Viv's sister's and my sister's India trips, so we could have big family reunions. Besides, it was school holidays so a lot of our cousins' kids were vella at home. She was not at all overwhelmed by the barrage of the 3434955 relatives who had descended upon her, having never seen her, except only in photos. She especially got along with the 42987483757548375 cousins she encountered and it was amazing how within minutes, they were all friends and playing together.

She tried all sorts of food and to my relief, didn't hate everything. I even snuck in street food once! So much for my 'brushing-teeth-with-filtered-water' strategy. She didn't like it much, leaving me rather in shock. "How can you, MY child, not like pani puri?????"

She also had a chance to travel by various modes -- aeroplane, train, taxi, car, auto-rickshaw and even a boat! She truly did experience the various elements that make India what it is. Now and then she would be curious about why some places were so noisy and smelly and dusty but thankfully, she didn't show any disdain.

So here it is, a photo collage of what my little girl did on her first trip to India!

She met new 'paatis' (grandmas) other than her primary paati. This is Viv's aunt in Bangalore, patiently playing doctor-doctor with her. 

She met new 'thathas' (grandpas) other than her primary thatha. This is Viv's uncle, patiently playing, erm, candy crush, with her. She rightfully christened him 'Crush Candy thatha'. 

She tried on all kinds of food. Here, she is, having mixed feelings about 'thair sadam'...

...And here, with not-so-mixed feelings about dosa-sambar.

She discovered a swing in a playground. Surprisingly, swings are rather rare in Singapore playgrounds, so she plastered herself permanently to it. 

More swinging the next day. She couldn't get enough of it! I had to literally peel her off because we had to catch a flight!

Viv went go-karting with a friend, and Xena and I tagged along. She restricted herself to just trying on a helmet, which was incidentally about the same size as her. 

The Mini Stig

She, along with my sister's kids, took over my mom's puja room. They did everything. After the first day, mom didn't even have to tell them the various steps. Their favourite part was taking the agarbattis around the whole house before planting them near the basil plant outside. 

My dad set up a swing inside the house for the three kids. They had a blast on it. 

I relaxed my 'no nail polish' rule because it was a vacation, and she made me do a panda manicure for her. My sister's son howled and howled until his dad said ok to him getting the same thing. Phew!

Xena and my sister's son in identical clothes, and switched footwear
(Okay, so the identical clothes were my idea. I did a Christmas treasure hunt for the three kids, and the 'treasure' at the end of the hunt turned out to be identical clothes for all three. I know I know...)

My cousin gifted them a tent, which served as a great entertainment centre for the three of them, leaving my mom, my sister and me to do full gup-shup over chai. (Viv was, of course, busy watching cricket.)

She met my cousin's kid and suddenly got all big sisterly when she realised he's a year younger than her.

More cousins and more activities! Here she is, with Viv's cousin's kids. I'd taken some sticker books along, and they all got busy, trying to be the first to finish!

If you thought panda manicure was funny, wait till you see what mehendi she made me do on her hand! Yes, she asked for a helicopter and I had to google 'helicopter line art' to be able to make something that at least vaguely resembled a helicopter. Her cousin wanted an aeroplane. More googling ensued. Obviously. 

Yes, this is exactly what it looks like. My child is dancing on the streets in India. I asked her what was going on and she said, "Mama, I'm dancing in the sun so my mehendi can dry more quickly." Okay, then.

Manicure - check. Mehendi - check. Next stop - hairstyles. Both sides of the family are full of girls so I had a blast with all that hair. Xena's hair is easier to work with than mine, so I often use her as my guinea pig. The flower is from my dad's garden.

My fascination for these mosquito-annihilating racquets (or what my niece calls 'mosquito fryers') will never end. It was the first time Xena was encountering them. Here she is, putting on her 'formidable opponent' look for the mosquitoes. 

Here she is, enjoying the lovely blue skies, fresh air and cool weather in Yercaud, where we took a short family vacation. Upon the request of my dad-in-law, I'll be doing a post on Yercaud on my travel blog Hopscotch. Just as soon as I wrap up the Chiang Mai series. 

Xena, looking a little terrified, during a boat ride in Yercaud

Xena and her cousin during an early morning hike, on which they absolutely insisted on accompanying us, even waking up early for it

Xena, mulling over the intricacies of life, during the hike

Walked around. A lot. That's me with her and Viv's cousin's kid. 

Her synchronised naps with her cousin left me very amused. They'd go to sleep and wake up at exactly the same time!

She also turned official family photographer on occasions. From left to right: sis-in-law, me, mom-in-law (yes, yes, it was a very pink day)

And this last shot is just a representative shot of all the laad, pyaar, dulaar and pampering she got from everyone in India. 

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

A win-win situation

Lately, Xena has been questioning why kids her age are no longer napping in the afternoons, while she has to. She probably feels the world is out partying without her while she naps, and doesn't want to miss out. On the rare days that she skips her nap, she gets really cranky by evening and then dinner becomes a war zone. That's why even when we were in India in the midst of all the happening happenings, I made sure she didn't skip her afternoon nap.

Usually, she resists in the beginning, but I know that once she falls asleep, she will wake up only after an hour or more, refreshed and cheerful. So my goal is just to get her to agree to lie down quietly. The rest takes care of itself.

Here's a snippet of one of our negotiations on this.

Xena - Ok, I'll go to sleep now. But can I wake up at 2.30?

Me - It's 2.30 now.

Xena - Ok, I'll sleep till 3 o'clock?

Me - 4.

Xena - 3.30?

Me - 4.

Xena (after some deep thought) - Mama, I have a great idea! I'll sleep... till I wake up!

Me - OH! That's a GREAT idea! Why didn't I think of it? Let's do it!

Xena - YAYYY!!

Monday, January 11, 2016

It's a sign

I'd written a post after my India trip in 2008, documenting some funny signs I saw along the way as I travelled. My favourite has to be a restaurant called Achanak restaurant, which true to its name, appeared rather suddenly during our drive from Delhi to Jaipur.

This time, it was a little crazy as we went on a whirlwind tour covering 5 cities in 20 days. I didn't have a chance to capture a lot of signs, but I did get these three amusing ones, which I wanted to share.

PS: I'll be posting some more photos soon, documenting the things Xena did on her very first trip to India!

To lazy to catalogue?

No ordinary filter coffee, this!

Height of sale -- the taller you are, the cheaper your clothes get!

Monday, December 21, 2015

India calling

Let me start this post with some stats. Of my life so far, I've spent half in India and half in Singapore. I'm in a fairly good position to somewhat understand, praise --- and bitch about --- both. My child, however, had not been to India at all. Because of her lung issues and our frequent midnight hospital runs in her early years, we'd been advised not to rush her first India trip. So we didn't. In fact, the last time we were in India was 2009.

But recently, we started feeling that it was time she saw the place where her parents were born and where a gazillion of her relatives live. People who had only seen her in photos and videos and on Skype were asking to meet her in person. My sister was flying down from the U.S. with her family. There really was no better time. So with much nervousness and excitement, we booked a trip to India and here we are, currently in Bangalore, which is our first stop of many.

I was very curious about the things she would say when she first experienced the complicated wonder that India is, and so I decided to tabulate all her India-related statements.

2 minutes after boarding the plane...
Xena - Mama, are we already in India?
Me - No baby, we are in the aeroplane.
Xena - First it will take off, then fly, then land, and then we will be in India?
Me - Yes.
Xena - Yayyyy we are going to India!

At Bangalore airport... (her first words in India)
Xena - India is cold! India is cold!

At the Bangalore airport toilet (which was mind-blowingly clean, btw)...
Xena - Mama, are you going to wash your hands with the tap water?
Me - Yes.
Xena - But we can't drink tap water in India, right?
Me - Right.
Xena - Because tap water in India has germs, right?
Me - Right.
Xena - Mama, please don't touch me after washing your hands. Otherwise the germs will be on me!

Just outside the airport...
Xena - Mama, I love this winter. I want this winter in Singapore.
Me (deep sigh) - Me too, baby, me too.

In the taxi from the airport...
Xena - Mama, are you sure this is India?
Me - Yes, I am.
Xena - But this doesn't look like India.
Me - You've never been to India. How do you know?
Xena - You're right, Mama. I think this is India.
Me - Good.
Xena - Mama, I love this country!

Stuck in traffic...
Xena - Mama, I smell smoke.
Me - *Long explanation on how air pollution occurs yada yada yada*
Xena - Now I smell poop.
Me - ....

At Viv's aunt's place...
Xena - What is this?
Me - It's a bucket.
Xena - I'm going to bathe with water in a bucket?
Me - Yes.
Xena - Why?
Me - Because that's how many people bathe in India. It also saves water, you know?
After bath...
Xena - Mama, I love it. Can I bathe with a bucket every day?

After a standing dinner at Food Street...
Xena - Mama, tomorrow can we eat in a place that has tables and chairs?

Last but not the least...
Xena - Mama... is that... a cow... on the road?!

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Ice, ice, baby!

"Mama, when will I become 100 cm tall?" Xena asked me for the 9398235734th time.

"Soon, soon," I'd tell her. "Just eat your food and drink your milk and you will soon grow taller."

"Mama, when I'm 100 cm tall, where can we go?" (She knows that there are height limits on certain activities.)

"Erm, maybe we can go ice-skating!" I said.

That excited her to no end. She told every person she knew that she was going ice-skating once she was 100 cm tall. Neighbours, teachers, friends, everyone. If she had her way, she'd have stopped complete strangers on the road and told them. I was quite glad to see this because I'm a big fan of delayed gratification in kids. It's so much better if they can wait for a reward and work towards it.

So, for many many weeks, she'd keep asking me to check her height and one day, we saw the magic number.

100 cm.

It was time for me to fulfil my promise. I chose a weekday so that the skating rink wouldn't be too crowded, and called to check if the rink was kid-friendly. It was, and so we set off to Kallang Ice World!

They had these frames for kids to hold on to, but because there was no sign to say that they were for kids, many adult beginners snapped them up. In spite of the mara-mari for the frames, we managed to get our hands on one.

All set to skate!

At first, Xena was extremely cautious and just stood there, holding on to the frame. I told her that was fine, and she could look at how others were doing. She did that for a while and I went for a couple of spins.

Then she started taking tiny steps forward and soon, she was moving at a decent pace. After a while, I stood behind her, put my arms under her armpits, locking her between the frame and myself and skated as fast as I could. She loved it so much, she started giggling incessantly, much to the amusement of our fellow skaters. But it was tiring for me and slightly painful for my back to bend like that, so we took frequent breaks. And photos. 

My little poser

There were some other kids skating too. Most had frames but there was one little girl who was doing quite well without a frame. Xena asked me if that girl was skating for the first time too. Her mom, who was watching her from the viewing area, turned to us and told us that it was her 10th time. Xena asked me if she'd be skating like that on her 10th time too and I nodded. Then she asked me to ask the kid's mother what the kid's age and height was! Of course, I didn't ask the height, but we did find out that she was 6 years old. I think Xena can't wait to be 6 now!

As she was able to move slightly faster now, I asked her if she wanted to try skating without the frame. She looked horrified at the thought. Then I asked her if she just wanted to try standing without the frame. She agreed reluctantly, but was pleasantly surprised when she could do it. She even tried to take 2-3 steps without it.

Look ma, no frame!

We also saw many people slip and fall, and the concern on her face whenever that happened was heart-warming. I told her that that's how we learn to skate. We fall, we pick ourselves up, and then we go again. (In fact, I can't think of a better place than an ice-skating rink to teach this to kids.)

"Mama, did you fall when you skated for the first time?"

"Yes, I did."

"How many times?"


"Did you fall on your bum-bum?" She asked and burst into giggles. Sigh, that b-word and the hilarity that kids associate with it! I try to keep a straight face so I don't encourage all the bum-talk, but sometimes it's impossible.

When she was done, she recounted the whole thing to her dad.

"Dada, do you know that I could stand without the frame? Do you know that I didn't fall at all? Do you know that when Mama skated for the first time, she fell on her BUM-BUM? HAHAHAHAHA!"


Thursday, November 26, 2015

About time

Would you believe me if I told you that the number of blog readers who have asked me to share my time-management tips and tricks is in the double digits?

10, to be precise.

The most recent email on this from blog reader V has convinced me that I really should write a post on how I get the zillion things in my life done. I'm finally in a zone where I'm not questioning myself "Am I doing enough?" I know I am doing enough and happily so. I'm not overwhelmed with the stuff I do. I'm in my comfort zone. So a post on this would be handy if I start to slack some day and ask myself the "Am I doing enough?" question all over again. 

Not knowing where to start, I asked Viv what he thought I do differently, and his reply was, "You plan well. And you go through with it. You have a very precise idea about how much time and effort each task takes."

True, that. I do believe that if you can own your time, you can own your life.

So here they are, some simple tips and tricks on time-management. I am aware that these might actually might be too simple and obvious, and something you've always thought of, but perhaps never got to doing. Hope they help you as much as they've helped me. 

1. Know what you want in your life.
Take a moment to think - what do you want to do in your life? Not with your life. That is a much bigger question. In your life. What are the things you want to be doing in your life? What is important enough for you to invest your time and effort in? For me, that is Xena, my work, Skyping with parents, fitness, cooking, planning events, meeting people I want to meet, travel and hobbies. 

2. Know what you want in your kid's life.
As long as your child is a child, it is your job to decide what to fill his/her day with. What do you want in your child's life right now? What do you want his/her days to be filled with? I want to be there in Xena's life as much as I can. I want to be there in her childhood memories. I want to parent her to the best of my abilities.

One of the biggest sacrifices I have made is to quit my full-time job. After she was born, I turned  freelancer because I couldn't bear to not work, just as much as I couldn't bear to be away from Xena. It was crazy, but it worked. Now my new job still allows me to mostly work from home, but the hours are a little more regular, so I get more time to do more things with her. A lot of my planning goes into what I want her to see and do.

3. Know what to chuck out. 
Once you have points 1 and 2 in order, make a priority list. It helps you assess your time vs tasks so you can chuck out what is not important at this point.  You need to decide what is not worth it. There is no point feeling guilty forever about something you're not able to do. Either do it or chuck it. Don't mull over it.

Though I am someone who wants to do everything, I have had to make my choices. About a year ago, I got into Mandarin classes and nail art, and more recently into baking, and I had to chuck my sewing dreams. As a kid I had joined sewing classes and my teacher told me I was fab. I thought one day I would take it forward by sewing clothes for Xena, but there simply isn't time to fit it in. The fact that sometimes Xena is almost like a teenager who will only wear stuff she picked, helped to cement the decision that taking up sewing again is simply not worth it. I've made my peace with it. For now, I'm content sewing back fallen buttons and taking up hemlines of short dresses which I feel are, erm, not short enough.

Having said that, don't chuck important things like goofy time with your kid, or a fitness routine, healthy eating, or family time. For me, blogging always goes out of the window during very busy weeks, but I have the advantage of some bewdas emailing me to remind/scold me to blog. It inspires, touches and motivates me to blog. Because I love blogging and I don't want it in my 'To chuck' list.

Once you're in the groove, you will know what to say no to. My friends wanted to do something called the NaMoBloMo (i.e. every day of November you need to write a blog post about Narendra Modi... kidding!) together, but I knew that November was going to be a crazy period, with the new job and houseguests and an upcoming India trip, and I didn't want to do a shoddy job at it. I already struggle doing the April blogging challenge because of Viv's work travels. So I said no to NaMoBloMo, and I was glad I did. I would have gone mad trying to blog every day.

Speaking of chucking things, one of the most important things I've realised lately is the importance of not hanging out with people you don't want to hang out with. Often, we find ourselves with people who make us wonder why we're hanging out with them. Well, stop it then. It's not just a waste of time, it's a waste of emotions -- space in the heart. Life's short and it's totally not worth it. Get out of the rut of forced friendships. If you're always the one reaching out, and there is no response, take the hint. Stop. If the other person is not making an effort, it is a waste of your time and thoughts, when you could be in a happier place, literally and otherwise.

4. Make time for fitness.
Whenever we get busy, our fitness plans are usually the first to go out of the window. So have a plan and stick to it. I go to the gym for exactly half an hour. Not a minute less, not a minute more. I always remind myself that the key to a good workout is that it should leave you energised, not exhausted. And 30 minutes is just nice. Also, that's all I can afford, even though 30 minutes of exercise five times a week is actually the minimum recommended. So if you're not doing that, get to it. Until last year, I wasn't a regular at the gym. Housework and running after Xena gave me enough exercise anyway. But I've come to realise that fitness is not about losing weight or getting a six-pack. Fitness is, or should be, a way of life. And after toying with exercise classes, badminton and workout videos, the gym is where I'm most comfortable and get the desired results. Another good thing about the gym is that you don't need another person for company or motivation. You are your company and you are your motivation. 

5. You snooze, you lose.
There is nothing I dislike more than the snooze button. It serves no purpose. It makes a joke of the alarm, and it makes you feel horrible anyway because you didn't wake up when you wanted to. So I pretend that there is no such thing as a snooze button. When your alarm rings, you wake up. If you're really tired and need some more sleep (say on a weekend), turn it off and go back to sleep. Seriously. Don't mock the sanctity of the alarm by overriding it again and again and again with the snooze button. It's also extremely annoying if your partner wants to sleep but your snooze keeps going off every few minutes. (Ask me. I've now banned the snooze button from our household. Viv is coping well.)

6. Have a good morning.
Get up early. Have a good morning. If your morning is good and productive, the rest of your day will go great. If you wake up at noon even if it's a weekend, two things happen. One, you continue to feel tired because oversleeping causes a weird kind of lethargy. Second, you feel quite useless and wonder, "Aaj maine life mein kya kiya?"

Of course, be reasonable. If waking up at 6 am every day to do yoga is torture for you, don't do it. At least for me, waking up at 6 am any day for any reason is torture, so I don't do it. Sustainability is a big factor. Of course I can wake up at 6 am and hit the gym, but for how long? I know some people can do it very easily, but not me. I will have to do it at some point when Xena goes to primary school, but not now. I know my limitations. I go to bed by 11 pm but I set my alarm for a reasonable 7 am. That gives me sufficient sleep, and sufficient time in the morning to make a hearty breakfast for my family before I send them off. 

7. The daily routine
So this is my typical weekday routine. In fact, a lot of you have asked me for just this; the rest is just bonus footage I guess.

7.00 am - Wake up. Feed Blueberry (or get Xena to do it.)
7.30 am - Finish making breakfast (I don't like the idea of toast and I don't like to repeat stuff in the week, so I have a roster of omelette, idli, uttapam, paratha, bread/suji upma, poha, and a filling veggie patty sandwich. Of course, Xena doesn't eat any of it, and only has a glass of milk, so I pack a snack for her.)
[From 7 to 7.30, Viv brushes his teeth, Xena's teeth and gets her dressed and ready at the dining table, before he goes to bathe.]
7.30 am - Do Xena's hair and coax her some 4353445 times to finish her milk. [Lately, Viv has just been putting a timer on his phone and that has been miraculously helping her finish her milk within minutes.]
7.45 am - Breakfast
8.15 am - Daddy and daughter leave for work/school. I head to the gym.
8.45 am - Back from the gym and quick shower
9 am / 9.30 am - Start work
12  noon - Have lunch (mostly leftovers from the night before; but sometimes I head to a random cafe near Xena's school before picking her up)
12.25 am - Leave home to pick up Xena from school
12.50 pm - Pick up Xena
1.30 pm - Shower Xena and give her milk (she has lunch at school)
2.30 pm - Put her down for a nap and start work
3.30 pm - Finish work and do some vellapanti, e.g. reading Bollywood news, Facebook, Youtube, blogging, etc.
4.00 pm - Xena wakes up
4.00 - 5.00 pm - Goofy/creative/housework/academic time (I plan an afternoon activity that Xena and I do together, e.g. baking, painting, craft work [we made our own snowflakes for our Christmas trees this year!], learning Hindi letters, listening to silly songs like Pigeon kabootar by Daler Mehendi [yes, there is such a song!], singing, reading books, laundry, folding clothes, cleaning the house [I sweep the house while she clears up stuff and tidies up her room], etc.
5.00 pm - Give Xena a fruit snack; feed Blueberry
5.30 pm - Prep for dinner (e.g. if I'm making parathas for her, I make the atta. If I'm roasting vegetables for us, I chop and marinate them.)
6.00 pm - 7.00 pm - Outdoor time (we go to a different place each day -- the playground, the library, the pool, the beach, the field, and on one of the days there is a play date... with a kid whose parenting philosophy matches mine)
7.15 pm - Shower Xena
7.30 pm - Make and serve her food
7.40 pm - Viv is home and takes over feeding duties, while I start cooking our dinner
8.15 - Finish cooking our dinner
8.30 pm - Family dinner and catch-up time (yes, Xena is still eating her dinner!); no devices allowed
8.45 pm - Viv brushes Xena's teeth and puts her to bed, while I clean the kitchen
9.00 pm - Xena is asleep (hopefully)
9.30 pm - If neither of us has any office work to finish, we turn on the magic device -- the TV. (We only watch TV when she's asleep and because we've unsubscribed from all the channels, we don't find ourselves mindlessly watching something just because it's on TV. We pick and choose our movies and TV shows and we watch only those. Currently we're hooked on 'Breaking Bad'. It's beyond awesome.)
11.00 pm - Zzzzzzz

Weekends are a little different, with more tasks (Skyping, cleaning the house, ironing, grocery-shopping, etc.) but there is less eating in and more outings. 

8. Make time to clean your home.
Of course, if you have someone who cleans it for you, great. If not, spend some time cleaning it. A clean house induces a special kind of happiness and serenity. After we renovated our home, Viv and I are charged up about keeping it as clean as we possibly can, or rather keeping it as clean as having a child in the house will allow. We do a thorough clean on weekends, and we try to do it first thing on Saturday morning. Then you have a nice, clean house to invite people to or just hang out happily in. Obviously cleaning is not the most fun part of the weekend and it's extremely time-consuming, but if you push it, chances are you won't get to it, and it will hang heavy on your conscience, especially if there was nothing else productive you did in the weekend.

We even have a shared chores spreadsheet, where we list daily, weekly and month chores and we put the date when it was last done (except the dailies, of course). It's greatly helpful in keeping track. For example, when was the last time you cleaned out the inside of your fridge, or checked the expiry dates of the medicines in the medicine cabinet, or took everything out of your wardrobe to sort, throw and reorganise?

Another good way to keep your house clean is to invite people regularly. After our renovation, we held 21 housewarming parties (I cooked for all of them!) over a few months. We didn't want to have one big one and not be able to interact with anyone properly. So each weekend, we invited individual families, and small friend circles. That set the tone for a clean house every weekend.

One of the rules I also try to follow is to ask myself just before I leave the house -- can I come back with an unexpected guest? Is the house in good shape, or would I be ashamed to enter it with someone in tow? That motivates me to keep it as neat as possible at all times, so the weekend cleaning is faster. I'm not a super-duper-tidy person by nature, but I'm trying hard. And it helps if you have a kid because you have to do the right things to teach the right things.

9. Don't underestimate the power of 5 minutes.
Many of the tasks that never get done or don't get done as regularly literally take 5 minutes. You can find several of these 5-minute pockets throughout the day. For example, Xena likes to play with her water toys for 5 minutes before her afternoon shower. Instead of simply standing there and waiting for her to finish, I clean the washbasin or the mirrors while she tells me all about what happened at school.

Another example of the powerful 5 minutes. Once or twice a year, I organise a donation drive (clothes, books, toys, etc.) around my estate. Friends ask me how on earth I make time for community service alongside all my other stuff. Well, I simply break it down into 5-minute tasks. It takes 5 minutes to email an organisation to ask them what they need (I already have a list of organisations) and fix up delivery. It takes another 5 minutes to post a 'call for donation' for my neighbours with a specified drop-off time. It takes a few more 5-minute bands to get the stuff together. And another 5 minutes to arrange for delivery. So, overall, organising a donation drive seems like such a big task, but if you add up, it's about half an hour's work overall. One can surely spare half an hour, twice a year!

10. Get organised
An organised life is a big time-saver. Our post-renovation home is so much better organised. Not that it was a total mess (or maybe it was), but it was far from what it is now. We wanted to make our home a place we wanted to hang out in, invite friends to, and one that we felt like cleaning. I wanted a kitchen that I wanted to cook in and keep clean, a work space that made me want to work without taking 3924738297 breaks. We wanted Xena to finally have her own room -- a room that she would be proud of, that she would want to keep clean and invite friends to.

The room that used to be my workspace is now her room. It used to consist of my workstation, the ironing board, our workout equipment and every unwanted item on the planet. Not exactly an ideal working space. Now I've moved my workspace to my room. Viv designed it to be very office-like so I actually enjoy working more. My new job needs me to work about 5 hours a day -- 1 or 2 mornings a week at the office and the rest at home. And working from home needs discipline. You really need to focus and stay away from distractions such as Youtube and Facebook (not that I don't indulge, but I try to avoid it during my working hours) and also the most important one -- THE FRIDGE.

I use Google calendar extensively to plan my work and I stick to the timelines I give myself. I guess working in a strict deadline-oriented industry helps. I'm also a big lover of lists -- grocery lists, to-do-lists, list of chores, list of deadlines, list of Christmas shows in malls to take Xena to -- you name it, I have it.

In the 'new' house, everything has a place. Stuff is easy to find. Quick to clean. Nice to look at. I've picked up a lot of organising tips on the net too, such as how to fold and vertically stack socks and underwear. It's the coolest thing ever. Seriously. Takes longer than simply throwing everything into a drawer, but the look and ease of finding stuff sure makes it all worth it. 

An important part of getting organised is also fine-tuning to maximise efficiency. For example, travelling and blogging about my travels is important to me, but I feel I'm not as prompt with Hopscotch as I could be. Most of it stems from the fact that I need a couple of hours to sort through the hundreds, sometimes thousands of pictures I take. And one of the ways I'm going to fine-tune it is to take fewer pictures during my next holiday. (I don't really believe that one should just take pictures with the mind and not with the camera to truly enjoy a holiday. A good holiday is one that you can relive again and again by looking at the pictures. So I do need to take a certain number of pictures, but not so many that it becomes a hindrance when I'm blogging about the holiday.)

11. Multitask
My mom-in-law always tells me that I'm really quick in the kitchen. This is after years of practice dove-tailing and multi-tasking. For example, I don't chop all my vegetables before I start cooking. I chop only what goes in first, chillies and onions for example. While that's cooking, I quickly chop the rest. This means that the stove is up and running within a few minutes of me entering the kitchen. This means that a simple dinner is ready within half an hour, and a fancy one within an hour. I also follow a sign I saw at MOS Burger - CAYG. It means Clean As You Go. So while things are on the stove, I start cleaning up and clearing away what's not needed anymore. This makes the post-cooking clean-up a breeze as I just need to wipe the stove and countertop.

I also multi-task at the gym by turning on the TV and getting the news while I work out. Sometimes, when I'm on the treadmill, I also do a bit of work in my head, like thinking of a catchy title or a funny cartoon for the article I'm working on. Also, since I refuse to get a data plan, I have no Facebook or WhatsApp or whatever distracting me during my bus rides to pick up Xena, and that is also a very relaxing, de-stressing time for me and my thoughts.

12. Get help
And by that, I don't mean hire a helper. Viv and I are thankfully on the same wavelength on this one. We don't want a stranger living in our house, cooking our food and bringing up our kid. Thankfully, my job allows me to be home. We have tried the 'part-time helper' path, but it's didn't work out well, mainly because Virgo-man thinks (and I agree) that we do a better job. The help I'm talking about is within the family. Everyone pitches in, so you're not the only one managing the kid and the household. Viv, of course, does a lot of housework, but Xena and I are in the house for the most part, so we do quite a bit. I read somewhere that having kids is like continually having to clean up after a party you didn't attend. Well, I refuse to. Since she was a toddler, I've made her do chores and now she's pretty good at it. She can clear the dishwasher, remove dry clothes from the clothesline, put clothes into the washing machine, fold clothes, clean her room, wipe tables, etc. etc. Of course, I still have to run after her to remind her that I can't see her desk anymore and she needs to clear out the 309582875 things on it, but I'm hoping that in time, tidiness will become a lifestyle for her.

13. Plan fun
One of the questions blog reader V who emailed me recently asked was, "Do you also plan 'fun'?" The answer is a resounding 'YES'! I use Google calendar to make sure that our weekends are nicely filled up, because those are exactly the kind of days that just go up in smoke, making you wonder on Sunday night, "Where did the weekend go? What did I do?" When you look at the events for the week, they should excite you. So we invite people, go to restaurants, have picnics, hang out with friends, go cycling at the beach, etc.

During cricket season, Viv is pretty much out all weekend, but we maximise family time in the off-season weekends. Xena and I hang out all the time, but I make sure there is something that involves all three of us. When you don't have time for your family, the feeling of being very busy gets elevated, adding to the stress. If every day you can have some goofy time with your family, you feel more relaxed and less guilty about being so busy all the other times.

And of course, if time and finances permit, go on at least one vacation a year. We aim for two - a big one and a small one, if possible. Vacations are not only fun, they also break the daily monotony and clear your head. I always come back from vacations, feeling charged and actually looking forward to regular life.

14. Don't overdo it
Having said all of this, do remember not to overdo it. It's nice to accomplish a lot in a day, every day, but if you feel overwhelmed or exhausted, you're doing too much. Don't go at breakneck speed because you want to do X and Y and Z today. Think about whether it is possible to do X and Y and Z today. Listen to your body, mind and heart. Much like the post-gym gyaan, doing all the things that you want to do should make you feel energised, not exhausted.

I remember, once I had the craziest day ever. I had tons of messages and emails from people, and I was quickly skimming through it all, but there was no way I could sit down and reply. There was so much to be done. It was a mad, mad day. And then it struck me how many people I know who have entire lives like that. Don't do that to yourself. Take time to respond to people who are reaching out. A big shoutout to blog reader Bubblegum who takes time to send me the longest and loveliest emails every now and then, and it makes me slow down and push replying to her to the top of my priority list.

So there you have it, my super-long gyaan list on how to do all the things you want to do without going bonkers. If you've actually read it all the way to the end, congratulations and thank you! If you have just scrolled down all the way to check if the post ends at all in this lifetime, here's the one takeaway again -- if you can own your time, you can own your life.

Do share your tips with the other bewdas in the comments box, or drop me an email if any of these tips worked for you!

This post was selected by BlogAdda as part of their Spicy Saturday Picks.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Drama queen

The hilarity of Xena's randomness often has me in splits. 

Some of my Indian neighbours were planning to get the kids to enact the story of Ramayana at our Diwali party. It was a fab idea as it would get all the kids together, doing something fun and learning a little bit about their culture and heritage. So casting was in full progress and they wanted every kid to be in. I asked Xena what she'd like to be. She refused every single part. I even offered her the part of one of the monkeys in Rama's army, considering her experience and expertise in playing that part on a daily basis, but she said no. 

"What do you want to be then?"

"Hmm... Mama, I can be a snail. Is there a snail?"

"Err... there is no snail. There are monkeys and bears though."

"No, I want to be a snail."

"There is no snail."

"Then I don't want to be anything."

"Do you want to just watch the play?"


The director of the play, who is very fond of Xena, was surprised not to see her name in the cast. So she called me up. I told her the whole story. I'm not sure she believed me, because the next time we met her (at a birthday party), she went directly to Xena.

"Do you want to be in the play, Xena?"


I got a 'look' from said neighbour, but I motioned her to carry on the conversation. Xena, incidentally, was running around, holding approximately 25 birthday balloons (I kid you not). 

"What do you want to be?"

"I want to be a balloon seller. Is there a balloon seller in the play?"

I burst out laughing, and then put on my best "I told you so" look for my neighbour. She looked distraught. I told her it was okay. If Xena wanted to be in the audience, that was totally fine. Besides, I thought it would be better if instead of being coerced, she could watch the play and then decide if she would like to do something like that in the future. 

So rehearsals started, and there was a call for volunteers to sing the mangal gaan when Rama was born, and some other songs as well. One of the ladies asked me if I was going to volunteer since I liked to sing. Me and mangal gaan?? I burst out laughing in my head. 

I think Xena's randomness had rubbed off on me. I almost felt like asking, "Can I sing an item number instead? Do you have an item number?" 

And I kid you not, this actually played in my head. Instantly. 

"My name is Sita
Ayodhya ki rani
I'm too pativrata for you
Main tere haath na aani!"

So that was that. Xena and I were happy spectators of an adorable little play. They even had an 18-month-old play the deer that Rama ran after. The poor baby was totally clueless, of course, which made it all the more cute and hilarious! 

On the way back home, Xena said to me, "Mama, can I be in the play next year?"

"Sure, you can. What do you want to be?"

"Can I be a kitten? Is there a kitten?"

"Erm no, you saw the play. There was no kitten. "

"A bunny? Or a slug?"

All right, it looks like we will have to do our own home production next year -- a spoof version of the Ramayana, full of kittens and snails and bunnies and slugs and item numbers. 

And oh, Ravana will come to kidnap Sita, disguised as a balloon-seller. 

Friday, November 20, 2015

Mehendi laga ke rakhna

In 1986, my dad got posted to Patna. It was my first tryst with all things Bihari, and the beginning of a 12-year stay in Bihar. Even now I consider myself more Bihari than anything else. It was also my first encounter with the Hindi language, and how I survived in an English-medium school where all the teachers taught all the subjects in Hindi, is beyond my comprehension.

It was in this city that I first came across this wonder of nature called mehendi. There were two entities in my neighbourhood that had a profound effect on my childhood. One was a mehendi tree (oh yes!) right next to our playground (and by playground, I mean the street, of course), and the other was 'Lalli ki mummy'. Lalli ki mummy was a prominent figure in our neighbourhood. I wonder if anyone at all knew her name. She was 'Lalli ki mummy' to everyone -- from the kids to their mothers and even to the sabziwala.

And she had a grinding stone.

We would pluck leaves from the mehendi tree and take it to her, and she would grind it and give us the paste. We would then apply it on our hands in very intricate patterns, which can be best described as 'one big circle in the centre, surrounded by four not-so-big circles'.

I was fascinated by the concept of mehendi. Soon, we figured out how to make it darker, how to make the colour last longer. But the circle design stayed. I didn't know what to do with it. Till my sister, my very artistic sister, decided to help this poor soul out. She cut open a milk packet, washed it and made a cone out of it. Our first mehendi cone! We used mehendi powder instead of leaves and soon, instead of the big circles, we were making real mehendi designs.

She got bored of it soon, having pushed me towards the path of enlightenment, but I was never bored of it. To this day. I love love love putting it on my hands, or on anyone's hands for that matter.

And I thought Xena would inherit my love for mehendi.

However, I was in for a big disappointment when I introduced mehendi to her. All of two, she looked at the mehendi on my hands, tossed her dainty little head and commented, "Dirty."

I was devastated. Dirty? DIRTY? My only daughter, MY only daughter thought mehendi was dirty?

Well, I didn't give up. Next year, I showed it to her again. She didn't call it dirty. Wooohoooo! Wait a minute. She paused, came closer and then casually said, "It's smelly..."


The next year (which is this year), things changed. Magically. I bought a cone at Mustafa a few weeks before Diwali and put mehendi on my hand. She was fascinated. "Can I have it too?" She asked. I tell you, I wept internal tears of joy.

"Sure! What design do you want?"

"A vacuum cleaner."

"A what?!"

"I want a vacuum cleaner design."

"You want a vacuum cleaner design? With mehendi?"


Okay fine. I swallowed my pride and Viv drew a prototype on paper and I followed it. It didn't look like a vacuum cleaner. More like a snake in the middle of moulting. Oh, well.

She loved it. She showed it off at school and at the playground and everywhere else. When the design faded, she asked me to make something else.

"No vacuum cleaner this time, okay?"

"Ok. I want a butterfly."

Great! Butterfly was definitely more mehendi-friendly than a vacuum cleaner. So I made a butterfly just before her nap and asked her not to take it off or wash it till the evening. She did, and the mehendi came out super dark.

"Darker than yours!" She said.

"Oh yes!"

Over the next few weeks, she had gazillions of designs all over her hands. As soon as one would fade, she would ask me to make something else.

This is what the monkey did when I told her she can't let the mehendi touch ANYTHING till it dries.

She has now mastered the art of going to sleep with mehendi on her hands.

During the Diwali week, she had mehendi on both hands, on both sides, at all times. Our days were literally full of mehendi. I volunteered to do a Diwali workshop at her preschool and all the kids queued up to get mehendi done. I had some very strange requests from the kids too -- a heart with a snowflake inside, a spider, a car, a BIG school bus, and what not.

I also put mehendi for some of my neighbours for karwa chauth. She accompanied me without complaint, and watched with fascination.

I made this on my hand for Diwali. 

She wanted the exact design on hers!

She even compared both and remarked that they're not exactly the same, but it was fine because hers was darker. Sheesh.

Here's my happy little bunny with her mehendi. 

And her mama is also one happy little bunny now. Kid finally likes mehendi. Yay!

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

The missing details

"What do you want to be when you grow up?"

"I want to be an editor like Mama." Xena says this on some days. On other days, she wants to be a bunny. On yet other days, she wants to be a kitten. We have not received her final decision yet.

However, I can see that she has been trying her hand at editing. With very mixed results. When Viv got back from the US last week, he asked, "How are my darlings?"

"You know, Daddy... Mama is unhappy and wants to marry again." She immediately reported.

No, there was no Ekta Kapoor level music/silence/shock at this 'news' of hers. Obviously, Viv knew that the situation was nowhere as scandalous as she'd made it out to be, and it was probably her editing skills at work.

"Why don't you tell him the full story?" I asked her.

So she did. This was the full story.


Xena (looking at our wedding photo album) - Mama, I don't like this photo.

Me - Why not?

Xena - See? Daddy is smiling, but you're not smiling in this one.

Me - Hmm... you're right. I do look quite unhappy in this.

Xena - So what do we do now? I don't like this photo. Because you're unhappy.

Me - I have a great idea. Maybe Daddy and I can get married again and then we will take some more photos and I'll smile happily in all of them!

Xena - Yes! That's a great idea. Let's do it when Daddy comes back.

Me - Okay!


So yes, as of now I don't think she has much of a future in editing, but she'd make a terrific clickbait writer for sure. 

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Child's play

As Xena grows older, I've been subtly trying to convey to her that it is not my job to keep her entertained all the time. (Yes, you can totally tell that I'm going to be that kind of a mom when she's a teenager.) She's a big girl now and she needs to know what to do with her 'free time' (which is pretty much all her awake time). I strongly believe that some boredom is good for kids because it makes them imaginative and creative. And I'm glad that she's reciprocating.

The haze is not letting up, so we can't do our two hours in the playground every evening, or go to the pool. This means that we are stuck indoors for hours, trying to come up with activities. We still do some things together, of course, but now I've started to leave her alone with stuff and do my chores. Viv is away in the US again (sometimes I wonder if his office has relocated and they just forgot to send me the memo) and it's been a little difficult to juggle everything, especially when I've just started an exciting new job (more about that in a later post!). I'm actually surprised that lately Xena has been so cooperative in letting me work while she keeps herself busy with her books, or toys, or random things that she makes into toys, or her pretend play, which can be so hilarious sometimes, I just have to stop my work, turn and watch ("Oh no, the fish has done pee-pee; I need to change its diaper now!").

Today, I was in the kitchen making dinner when I heard her chuckling away. Curious, I stepped out to witness an amazing sight. Sick of battery-operated toys (they are expensive and are almost always chucked away after a grand total of three uses), I'd bought her a $2-set of these plastic wheels which you can attach to one another to make random things, and she had just discovered a very cool and funny way to make them move. I got her to do it again and recorded it (and some variations).

A little bit of physics ... a lot of fun!