Here’s looking at summer

As I frantically try to match the back-to-school shopping list to the items that keep arriving at my doorstep in brown boxes, I try to pause to appreciate the warm days that are slipping by, slowly but steadily.

Summer was supposed to be different and I can’t say that it was not, compared to last year. Could it have been better? Yes. Should it have been better? YES. But, I am taking what comes my way and am letting myself choose gratefulness and gentleness.

Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” Victor Frankl

Moving on.

Summer was good. Unexpected moments of peace and happiness filled it up along with the usual dose of crazy. There were trunk picnics and beach time, strolls in the park and just lazying around with family. There was a lot of music and a whole lot of boxes to unpack in our new home. There were lots of new books and play dates too.

We are learning to make this new home ours. We are finding our happy spots and we are finding corners that keep our secrets. We are learning. The little boy’s best friend moved across seas to a different country and he had his first heartbreak. He learned to miss his friend. The baby girl is discovering the joys of riding a tricycle and eating a whole lot of ice cream. I don’t know what the husband man is up to but I am learning, slowly, to be okay with being around people. Sounds strange, doesn’t it.

As the new school year is a few days away, my heart wants to rejoice. Rejoice as my son and his friends will be going to school for the first time, a big step indeed. Rejoice at them being together, learning and being goofy and playing and doing all that six year olds are supposed to be doing. Their face masks will be hiding their big smiles but I am confident the eyes will be shining as brightly as possible.

But I am rejoicing cautiously.

I am relying on the kindness of neighbors and fellow parents when it comes to the mask. I am relying on the fact that they will be doing what is needed to keep all the children, mine and theirs, safe.

And so, as the last week of this year’s summer vacation starts, I am looking at more ice creams in the backyard and extra cuddle time in the mornings. I am looking at family movies and silly finger paintings.I am looking at the brother who just knows what the baby sister wants and I am thinking about the little sister who gives the best hugs. I am looking at the extraordinary in the ordinary.

Thanks for stopping by. Stay safe. Stay kind.

Friendly Friday Challenge: PURPLE

I tried searching when was the last time I participated in my favorite challenge and I stopped because I had to scroll down a lot šŸ˜¦ Sandy, thank you for this unique color challenge, a color that I really love. Though I am not a proponent of ‘blues for boys and pinks for girls’, but my little girl somehow likes pinks and purples a lot more than other colors. It has made me wonder if these likes and dislikes or gravitating towards particular colors has any biological basis. I remember reading an article or two, a while back, that had mentioned that it may be so that girls are ‘hard wired’ to like pinks and purples but later research has disproved that (Phew!!!). Though we are not yet drowning in the shades of bubble gum, I wonder if that may be the case soon!! My boy likes all colors and that includes purple and so when he wanted to dress up as a wizard for Halloween a couple of years ago, I was only too happy to get this for him.

We have recently moved to a new place and I am yet to explore the neighborhood. But while it has lots of trees and trails and park like areas, I am yet to come across flowers. Let me explain a bit. Our previous place, where we lived for 8 years, was part of a sort of a development that was thoughtfully planned and had flowers everywhere. All kinds of flowers…on trees and in beds along the sidewalks, in big pots and carved vases, on people’s balconies and porches. It was a happy and beautiful sight. And this one was right at the end of the sidewalk that my kids learned to bike on.

We are trying to settle in here at this new place to the best of our abilities and while it sometimes seems that we may have to live out of boxes forever (there are way too many to unpack), I know we will unpack the last box one day soon and have more free time to explore our new neighborhood and meet more neighbors!

I wish I had more purple photos to post but I don’t. What I do have is this song on my mind that takes me back to people and places I have met and loved and who will, forever, be my guiding angels, threading the past to present and beyond.

Thanks for stopping by. Stay safe. Stay kind.

A mosaic

Fall is on its way out here in Jersey and the bare branches against the evening sky of violet and pink and grey often remind me of Joyce’s Araby. The street lights, children’s voices echoing through the streets and a chilly evening air complete my reminiscence of North Richmond Street.

The other day, while going through some of my keepsake boxes I came across bits and pieces of memories and as I went through each of those (and there were quite a lot), I realized how every single one of those had a story of its own, the very reason we have such boxes! As specifics other than the obvious ones kept getting tossed around in my mind, I figured out I was storing not just the one memory attached to one thing, but a host of others as well that had crept their way into each, with time. And I was reminded again that the most beautiful, the most precious things in life can never be things. Those are always people and the moments that we create with them, those are frowns and tears, smiles and giggles, celebrations and losses.

I found a pendant that I had bought for my Ma back in 2008 from Japan. I saw a diaper ( a fresh one of course!) that was from the first box of diapers we had bought for our son. Among other things, I found ticket stubs of a movie we went to for our 5th anniversary , a lunch receipt from the restaurant we had our meal on the day we moved into our current apartment, a bracelet gifted to me when I was 14 years old by my then best friend. Old albums brought back memories of last day of school, of my then 89 year old grandmother who had made the journey from her home to ours to attend my wedding, of a neighbor who had made time to surprise and see me off at the airport when I was leaving for Japan. My first crush, my first fight with my best friend, the one and only day I was reprimanded by a teacher in high school, the time I heard about one of closest friendā€™s decision to end her marriage, the first time I spoke with and advocated for a victim of domestic abuse and countless such moments are carefully stored in pockets of my mind and heart. And, it suddenly dawned on me that I am a mosaic of all the people I have loved and held dear and of all those who have loved and cared for me. We all are.

In all that we do, that love shines through in its own way. Sometimes it comes to us through the smell that fills our kitchens, the very smell that used to fill the kitchens of our childhood at our parents’ place and sometimes it informs our parenting style. From simple things like the habit of always mixing a salty snack with something sweet ( I get this from my father) to the reason some songs sound more magical, it influences our reactions to situations and moments, it lets us make choices and it works with our own understanding of the matters of the heart and the world to help us move forward in life. The innate characteristics that define the ‘I‘, are not only our people and our experiences, old traditions and the ones we start on our own, the life we have left behind and the one that we currently lead, they also are a million other bits and pieces from all across the universe. These come floating by through the changing seasons, through revolutions that bring about change, through portraits of places far and wide, through the words that are carefully chosen for biographies that find place in our nightstands, through our daily strifes as well as stories of success. We are the custodians of all these and so much more.

Thanks for stopping by. Stay safe. Stay kind.

Friendly Friday : Quiet Places

Amanda invites us to reflect on quiet places and share a picture or two. If I had to choose between living in the heart of a big city where tall buildings could make you twist your neck if you tried to look all the way up and where people never stopped roaming the streets and the music never ceased or, in the suburbs, away from all the hullabaloo where people probably went to bed at 8 and there were farmlands around, I would always choose the latter. Noisy places and a super-fast life do not make to my list of top 50 favorite things! When we moved to New Jersey, it took my husband a great deal of convincing and a whole year to go visit the Big Apple!

Back when we lived in Minneapolis, one of our favorite spots to just escape to at the end of a tiring day, of course during the summer months, was this spot overlooking the mighty Mississippi. We sometimes packed sandwiches, chips and some juice and it made for a lovely picnic too. Life was stressful as grad students at that point in time and this was a place that helped shut out all the commotion in our minds about deadlines and tests and the somehow ever dwindling bank balance.

One of my favorite places that I keep revisiting in my mind is Duluth, Minnesota. A couple of hours from Minneapolis, it is a pristine place where Lake Superior reigns supreme. The blue of the lake and its vastness sort of puts one under spell and it is so easy to just shut out all the humdrum and lose oneself in its beauty. Pretty hikes, picturesque cottages, beautiful shoreline and very few people would give you all the quiet that you seek. You can hear silence and feel at one with the gorgeous nature that wraps you in a warm and peaceful hug.

Many years ago I had visited the Hiroshima and the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park was like no place I had been to ever before. A hauntingly beautiful place that leaves one with emotions that are complex and sure to evoke thoughts that escape the banalities of our daily lives. The picture quality is not good at all here, but this is one of the few photos that survived my laptop -in- the -bathtub debacle.

During these days of COVID-19, when the world is hurting bad, quietness is easy to come by and often can be found in the strangest of places. A popular hiking trail, a park that usually is teeming with children during the spring and summer months are such places, where it has been eerily quiet these past few months. While a semblance of normalcy has returned now, at least where we live, the quickening steps at the sight of others passing by says a different story. Words are not exchanged and kids are yet to play freely with each other. With masks covering their innocent smiles, there is a strange sense of quiet that is not ideal and neither desirable, but at the moment, essential.

We often escape the sights and sounds of big cities for some peace and quiet and to listen. To listen to sounds that a gurgling brook makes or perhaps the chirping of birds that get canceled out by the blaring alarm of our mobile phones or car in our neighborhood; the sound of crickets chirping as the sun sets and the rustling of leaves as the squirrels gather food. Or just to listen to the sound of silence. Like when snow falls. Have you noticed that quietness?

Thanks for stopping by. Stay safe. Stay kind.

Friendly Friday: Morning Rituals

Sandy invites us to yet another fun challenge this week and I so agree with her on the world being divided into two types of people- the ones who wake up and go and the ones who go there eventually. I am with Sandy in the latter category. Ironically however, my job had always required to wake up really early- back in India I used to teach at an undergraduate college and classes started at 6.45 am and a 30 min car ride to did not make it any easier. And then when I went to Japan to teach, I had to take the 7 am train to reach my school. Not a whole lot of fun for a person like me!! But the faces of the kids made it all worth the effort it took on my part to get ready in the morning.

This morning, from our balcony.

While reading Sandy’s post, I was thinking how our morning rituals perhaps keep evolving as we move through life. In Japan, it always involved grabbing a coffee from one of the vending machines and an o-nigiri (Japanese rice balls) or the extra delicious Cream Pan (Custard Cream filled buns), depending on my mood. And there was this bakery right where I came out of the station and that was always bustling with busy morning commuters because all of their bakery items were just perfect!! Or maybe I am partial because of my BIG sweet tooth šŸ˜‰ Some weekends, me and my friends would also walk over to a nearby McDonald’s and get their breakfast and Sandy’s photo of that meal, brought back many a happy memories…thank you Sandy!

When I started life here, most of my classes at grad school were in the morning too and in case you didn’t know Minnesota winters are not very ideal for morning classes! Bundled up with steaming hot tumblers of tea or coffee in their hands, students and professors would be rushing to get into the buildings. My morning ritual mostly involved trying not to slip on the icy roads while running to get the bus!

Here in New Jersey, a decade later and no longer working at the moment, my mornings look a lot different. They usually involve cuddling with my kids before the day begins and then going about the chores of everyday life. I am a tea person (for my morning beverage) and a right cup sets the mood for the day. Now that school is virtual, my mornings are spent helping out my son as needed while he has fun figuring out the tools.

Over the years, however, I have sort of ‘formed’ a ritual that I try to follow from time to time in the mornings and that gives me some much needed ‘me time’ which clears my head and helps me relax. I quietly slip out of the house, while my kids and husband are sleeping,with the camera in hand with the aim of taking photos. It is mostly around the neighborhood and typically in spring and fall. That time of the day helps explore better without too many people around and I must say, I have loved doing this for some years now. Even when on vacation, I make it a point to get up early, if not to catch the sun rise (which also I try never to miss) but to just find out a bit more about the surroundings. I think I may have gotten this habit from my father who would always get up very early, while on vacations, and explore the area around our place of stay and before setting out for ‘sight seeing’ he would always take us out to to experience the local flavor, some ‘hidden gems’ as he would call them. When I look back, I find that many of those made for more memorable moments than the bigger tours.

Here are some photos that are the result of that ‘morning ritual’ I have made for myself.

Sunrise, Maryland

For some of us, these rituals keep changing, evolving as I mentioned earlier. But then there are so many of us for whom these are more like a routine. My father and many like him of his age back in Kolkata had a set routine for the mornings. Get up, have tea while reading the newspaper and then go out to the bajaar (the market) for daily supply of fresh fish and vegetables. Once back home, it would involve getting ready for work and leaving home, in case of my father, as the clock struck 8.45am. Across oceans, decades later as I pour my morning tea, I often wonder if my father misses his morning ritual now that he has retired from work . And I can’t help but think how has the pandemic affected millions of people all over the world as they adjust to different morning routines, carving out new rituals while letting go of older ones. It may be relaxing for some, while for some it may be making more sacrifices and working harder than before.

Thanks for stopping by. Stay safe. Stay kind.

A Photo A Week Challenge: Vacation Memories

Nancy invites us to take a trip down memory lane and visit a place to two from our vacations past. This year has been challenging, to say the least, and people are hurting not only from the devastating effects of the pandemic but from inequality and hatred that is unfathomable. But the work to make our society just, more compassionate and safe continues and there is hope in that. It is inspiring and powerful. It also makes us reinforce our belief that the sun may set but it also does rise after a dark night. Till then, the fight for equality and justice must go on.

Amidst all that is full of despair and darkness, we have moments from our pocketbook of memories that bring us slices of happiness and peace. This photo is one such slice, from a vacation back in 2013- a sunset in the Everglades.

Thanks for stopping by. Stay safe. Be Kind.