Je m’appelle…

Hello world! Or hello 825 followers if I’m being more precise! First post in over a month but who’s counting? Are you counting? I hope so.

A lot has happened since we chatted last. Some work. Some home. Mostly TV. More to come on that later.

Today’s post is about my name. Yep. Mi nombre. A few weeks ago my daughter’s boyfriend (adorable guy), asked if he could interview me about my first generation childhood. He said it’d take an hour and he’d ask me questions about my childhood, adolescence, etc. My answer was yes, of course. An hour to talk about myself as if I was on Oprah (not the new Super Sunday version…the old 4pm talk show version)? Who would say no to this? Not me. Not the gal who literally started a blog thinking people were dying to know crap I did and do and think about. Anyway it was so much fun. He promised to share the final version of it with me and if it’s flattering and makes me out of be some national Indian treasure, I’ll share it with you.

I’m telling you about the interview for two reasons. 1) to show off, obviously 2) because it got me thinking about my childhood. I don’t think I’ve ever spent that much time talking about how I grew up since…well since I started dating my husband and he grilled me like the FBI. But lately, something has been coming up. For some reason, in the past year, maybe 2 years – I’ve gotten a lot of questions about my name. Specifically…how my name is pronounced. Even more specifically – how I’m letting people mispronounce my name.

My name is Neha.

It’s an old-school Indian name derived from the Sanskrit version (Sneha). It means love and tenderness – which will come as a big surprise to those who usually use other words to describe me. You know who you are. In the proper Indian dialect (choose your favorite), it’s pronounced Neigh-Ha. Neigh…like what horses say, and a very soft ha. Not like a karate chop HA! That’s how my very young, wonderful parents imagined my name being said all over India.

Except my young, wonderful parents didn’t stay in India. They hauled ass to the USA. Jackson Heights, Queens to be exact – in 1979ish. To get the exact date I’d have to call my mother and disclose why I need this info, to which she’d say I’m giving super personal info to strangers on the internet who want to kill me. True story. My mother thinks the internet is out to get me. She’s right of course.

Let me set the stage. Jackson Heights today is not what Jackson Heights of the late 70s/early 80s was. Today, there’s so many Indian immigrants that have settled there, they call parts of it Little India. Back then it was still mostly immigrants, but there was a broader mix – Chinese, African, Puerto Rican, and some Italian and Irish to balance it out. In today’s Jackson Heights – my young self would have had other Nehas to mix and mingle with. My young self would have gone to a school full of other people that looked, talked, lived like me. But that’s not how it was.

My dad was a pharmacist – the reason we came to the US was for his job. My mom was a teacher in India but her certifications weren’t accepted here, so she got some random part-time work. My parents did one thing. They worked. They didn’t socialize. They didn’t have hobbies. They worked. I had a job too. One job. School. That’s all I had to do. My entire focus was school (and TV. Indians love TV. It’s a stereotype I know, but it’s also true). As was the case for most of my elementary and middle school life, I was the only Indian in my classes – and sometimes in the school.

I don’t remember the first time I said my name to someone outside my family. I wish I did. I wish I could remember how and why my name began being pronounced like Leah…as if it was spelled Neah…Knee-ya. It all makes sense. I’m sure I wanted to fit in. I’m sure I wanted to not be different, but I don’t remember making a calculated effort to change how people pronounce my name. But maybe I did. I definitely wanted to assimilate. I wanted to dress like everyone else, eat like everyone else (lost cause), date like everyone else. My idea of a perfect boy was a blonde, blue-eyed dude with a one syllable name. Speaking of names, I would have given up a limb to be called Kelly, Jane or some other really white name, so maybe this was the closest fix. I just wish I could remember that happening. I probably need some deep therapy to remember, but the irony is that I remember other things really well from that time. The Saturday night line-up…. Dance Fever followed by Love Boat and ending with Fantasy Island. I remember the slice of pizza my mom got me every Friday after school – this was early 80s NYC pizza. Big. Flat. Foldable. I remember getting a Rubix’s Cube. It was my parent’s favorite kind of toy. Quiet, cheap, and portable. I remember all kinds of useless info. The moment that changed the way people said my name? Not so much.

I’m going to interrupt this line of thought for a quick moment. One of the things I get asked often when i’m trying to explain why my name is pronounced the way it is, is this question,” well how does your family say your name? Do they use the wrong version too?” No. No they don’t use the “wrong” version. They don’t use any version. My family almost never, and I mean literally almost never, calls me by my given name. For the majority of my childhood I was known by a pet name – a loving moniker – Bittu. And it’s pronounced how it looks. Bit-To. It means “little one” or “little thing” or something like that. That’s what my parents, aunts and uncles called me. Once I had cousins old enough to talk, they called me Didi. Which means “big sister”. I know what you’re thinking…I’m a cousin, so why call me a sister? It gets even better. Now every member of the family calls me Didi, including my parents. Confusing, right? Listen – I can’t explain why all Indians are confusing – I can only explain the ways I’m confusing. Are you still with me? Are you over it? Bored? How many times have you checked your insta? Tell the truth. I just needed you to have some background since I assume you’re making a case in your head about why I’m a psycho.

So after Jackson Heights my parents moved us to the hub of diversity and inclusiveness known as Albany, NY. No offense if it’s gone through some major change and my sarcasm no longer applies. Remember when I said I was the only Indian in the school growing up? Well in Albany I was the only person of color in the entire school! And it was middle school to boot. Good times. Actually they were good times. I have been incredibly lucky in my life and have always met friends who helped me through. In 7th grade something amazing happened. Two Pakistani girls moved to town. Twins. Huma and Asma. We immediately became friends. They were my first ethnic friends! I mean I tried being friends with a girl named Chang back in Queens but she was allowed to hang out less than I was so it didn’t work. I enjoyed my white friends whose parents let them come to my house for hours with no issue. Anyway – back to my first brown friends. They had just moved here from London. Dad was a doctor and divorced (scandal!). They came to the US to be closer to his sister. They all had these amazing accents which somehow cancelled out their “otherness” and made them hugely popular. It didn’t hurt that they were loaded and had a house with a pool (a rare jewel in Albany). Their dad worked crazy hours and the girls were mostly home alone – another bonus. I loved their house. It was the opposite of my house. No one cooked. My house smelled of ginger and garlic all day. Their house smelled of…nothing. Heaven. The twins’ dad was the first person to tell me that I was mispronouncing my name. Lucky for me his daughters were mortified and told him to never to talk to me again and I moved on.

Actually my family moved on. We moved from Albany to Harrisburg, PA. Again, Harrisburg today has a full, lively Indian culture. Back then? Nada.

My dad believed any religion was good religion – so I went to a Catholic High School. It was diverse”ish”….but guess which population there was only one of? That’s right people. Still me representing all Indians. Dot. Not feather.

It wasn’t until I went to college in NYC, where I minored in religion (by mistake) and had to join a club as part of my Religions of the World class, that I met a whole bunch of Indians. I joined The South Asian Club for two long months. They were a nice bunch – most of them had grown-up in Queens, in the exact neighborhood that I’d started out in. Turns out Queens went full-on Indian soon after we moved out. On another side note – by this time I was dating a half Irish/half Ukrainian New Yorker. That’s right people, he’s blonde, blue-eyed and most of the time has a one syllable name. All my dreams really did come true. Anyway this new bunch of friends all tried to educate me on the correct way to say my name. I left soon after. Not just because I didn’t want to be lectured to, in all honesty, I left because they met on Friday mornings at 8am – which didn’t work with my Thursday night at Terminal Bar schedule.

I’ll speed up. The 90s were vapid. No one really cared what the origins of my name were or how to say it correctly. Easy peasy. Even the early 2,000s were a non-issue. It wasn’t really until the last few years when people started getting “woke” that it came up again.

The 20 year old intern who asked me gently if I knew how to correctly pronounce my name. Yes, thank you. Next. The well meaning friends who have other friends who pronounce the same name differently. Yes, I know. I get it. You feel like you’ve been doing me wrong. But you haven’t! I swear. It’s not you. It’s me. Well, technically it’s not me, it’s my name.

You know I even went through a real immersion-into-my-culture phase in high school. We would go to India every year at that time to visit relatives (relatives who also never ever called me by my formal name). I was way into the culture, the movies, the food, the language – all of it. I was a Junior in high school and all I wanted to do was be different. I was thrilled to show-off my funky jewelry and henna’d hand. But even during that time – I never thought about changing the way people say my name. What does that mean? What does that say about me? I dunno. I’m sure there’s a million ways to dissect it. To “help me”. I’ll have to find a therapist and have them give me an answer. Or maybe I’ll Google it.

My point is this…aren’t you glad you made it to the point! Mazel. You’re almost done. My point is that however it started, and whatever reason I did it or maybe someone just started calling me that and I went with it – whatever – it’s how I’d like you to pronounce my name. Yes, the wrong way.

Trust me – it’s a daily struggle. People say my name in all different ways. Correct, incorrect, messed up, etc. I don’t mind any of it. I met a wonderful friend last year through work who is French. We had a long discussion about this. She told me that in French – the direct translation of Je m’appelle isn’t “what is your name?”. The meaning is “what do you want to be called?”. I love that. Je m’appelle Neha (knee-ya).

In conclusion, I’m moving to France. Au revoir.

Girls girls girls

This is a short little story about my baby girl and her group of baby girls.

Random fact… all their names start with either A or B or J or K. I’m not sure what that means but it means something… right?

They’ve known each other for years, some longer than others. They’ve gone to the same schools and different schools. They’ve made good and bad choices together. They’ve drifted apart and drifted back to together.

Each is on a different path, in a different place. But when they come home, they come together. In the past few years they’ve created traditions of their own, kept connected. It makes me so happy.

It doesn’t just make me happy for them, it makes me happy for us. The world. I’m so excited to see what they will do. Where they will go.

When Kera was little and she’d bring home a new friend, I could always tell the ones that were the real deal. They would be the girls who said hello, came into the kitchen, sat down for a chat. These are those girls.

She has a great group of guy friends too – but nothing makes me happier about the future then seeing these smart, witty, beautiful gals. We are going to be ok.

Now if only they’d let me hang out with them…

Fire Rooster


Happy Chinese New Year to all!

Remember last year when I was so super excited about the Year of the Monkey?

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Well 2016 lived up to all the hype. Like a monkey it was full of energy, erratic and sometimes scary and full of surprises.

But Rooster. I have high hopes for Rooster. I know I don’t have to capitalize the word Rooster – put your red pens away. But I’m just trying to give it the respect it deserves.


Last year I went to a flea market and found a little monkey holding a banana. I brough him home and put in my kitchen and prayed that he’d bring me luck. And he did.  The monkey may have caused havoc in the world but for my little world – it was a good year.

When I think of 2016 I’ll think of  Kera and all her friends graduating. I’ll think of all the beautiful weddings we were lucky enough to be a part of – Keith and Danielle, Herb and Larry, Marcello and Lorraine, Sweta and Wendall.

I’ll think of my friend Sarah who welcomed little Charlie. I’ll think of my baby boy becoming a teen and celebrating 20 years of marriage with my guy.

That’s what I’ll think about.

So Rooster – Fire Rooster. Sign of dawn and awakening. Sign of hard work and justice. Sign of logic and reason.

I’ve always loved roosters. I know you’re going to think I’m crazy – but I have them all over the house. In fact this past Christmas, my secret Santa even gave me a rooster cookie cutter (Thank you Ty!). I’m not sure I ever thought about why I loved them. But I’ll take some logic, reason and justice. I’ll take being more grounded.

So let’s go people. Time to wake up. Time to get to work. Fire Rooster is here.

 

 

 

Phyllo, fancy parties…and medical marijuana?

Thursday night my husband and I decided to go out on the town! Have dinner, see a late show, like other people do. But a few too many of these went down.

And then, long story short,  I went down too. For 34 hours post night out I was out for the count. Coffee didn’t help. Two disco naps didn’t help. I even tried the hair-of-dog…. it didn’t help.

But last night was our book club – and I was not going to miss it. We had a real, live author coming in. We’re hot like that. The book was the wonderful Smiles and Ductape written by my dear friend April’s sister-in-law, Jesse Torrey (did you follow that?). 

The book is about the family’s journey after their son Jack develops ALD. It’s sad, happy and full of love. We were having a good discussion by the time Jesse started talking about the latest part of Jack’s story. It involves using medical marijuana. And then our little book club lit up…not literally, just conversationally. We had questions, lots and lots of questions. We became Charlie Rose level interviewers. I’ve never seen us come alive like that.  It was hysterical. 

And speaking of getting the munchies (just kidding)…

Usually when I go to someone’s home I like to bring a little bite to eat or some wine or both. My mama brought me up right. But did I mention I was exhausted? And old? Luckily for me my girl is home from college and had plans to meet friends for a “fancy dinner”. She had googled an appetizer she wanted to make and like any good mother I offered to buy her all of the ingredients… and then made her to make some for me to take too. I knew having kids would pay off eventually.

Now I love entertaining. I have for a long time. But in all those years I’ve never used Phyllo. Or is it just phyllo with a lower case p? In any case I’ve never used it/bought it/thought about it.

It was a revelation. Easy. Light. Tasty. How come more people don’t talk about Phyllo/phyllo?? 

Here’s what she made and I stole..

You need: Phyllo/phyllo cups, 2 tablespoons of heavy cream, 4 oz of goat cheese, 1 block of cream cheese, thyme, honey, red seedless grapes and black pepper. 


Fillo!! Wtf?? Which is it?



Combine the room temp cheese and heavy cream and whip


Bake Phyllo/phyllo/fillo shells to crisp up (this is optional because they are already fully cooked but remember she was going for “fancy”)


Fill each with the cheese mix – drizzle with honey, sprinkle in the thyme and black pepper, and finish with half a grape. Or one whole grape if you’re a Rockefeller.


Use fancy Ziploc bag as pastry bag….


And here’s my girl and her crew at their dinner. And then me with half the bookclub with the author (lower right) below. 

I’m sure that’s juice punch in that bowl… ahem.

11 days

Until we drop our girl off at college – but whose counting? Oh yeah. I am. Every day. 

I’m assuming every parent in all of time has had this exact same feeling. It’s a mixture of sheer excitement for the things she’ll be doing and people she’ll be meeting, and sheer terror for the things she’ll be doing and the people she’ll be meeting. Let’s face it, she can learn everything she needs to know on the Internet and more importantly – people are horrible. Just kidding….ahem.

Plus…how is this little munchin supposed to go to college? 

 
You’d think we would be spending every second with her before she leaves but that’s not exactly how it’s working. Because that’s just what she’s doing – she’s  working. A lot. And then there’s her very full dance card. You’ll be shocked to hear this but a 17yr old would much rather do nothing with a friend then something with her mother! Outrageous right? 

We did kidnap her today for a few hours.    

 It was awesome.

I know this isn’t about me. But I’m so sad for me!!! Aren’t you sad for me too?

Ok ok. Let’s focus on the positive! Parents weekend is in October.

Hello old friend

Because it’s been a really tough few weeks in the world and I think you needed laugh.

Because this is what I looked like the summer before I went to college and I’m feeling nostalgic with my oldest going away in the fall.

Because even though that outfit seems pretty simple, I spent HOURS thinking about it.

Because those earrings were as heavy as they looked.

Because those shoulder pads didn’t even come with that shirt – I added them!

Because I was rocking a matte lipstick way before the Kardashians (thanks to Wet n Wild).

Because that hairstyle needed those sunglasses.

And mainly because I probably still own and wear some version of this outfit.

That’s why I’m sharing this picture that my sister found of me….hold on to your 80’s cause here I am!

  

 

A Midfall Night’s Dream

It’s November. Did you know that? I kinda knew that but it didn’t sink in until about two hours ago. It’s 2am. I’m up. I went to bed at 10pm after we caught up on Homeland (Carrie is off her meds and its super fun!) About an hour later I woke up and haven’t been able to sleep. My mind is reeling. October is over. But it feels like late September. It’s sunny and not too cool (actually right now it’s pitch black and nippy out but you get my point). The Fall foliage is in Technicolor – no filters needed.  I can’t believe I’m talking about foliage at 2am. Correction – 2:10am.

Here’s everything that’s happened in the last few weeks non sequitur:

  • We kicked-off college visits with my baby girl and I’m sad/happy/excited/scared/jealous/weepy for her. Who will be my partner in crime for all foods ethnic? Definitely not her father and brother, their idea of ethnic food is salsa. Who will tell me about cool new music and make me feel like I’m in the know? I know what you’re thinking. All these things are about me. But she’s about me. She’s mine. I’m not ready to let the world have her yet. The world isn’t good enough. I wish she could experience all those amazing things that are around the corner for her, but still come home every night and sleep in her bed. So now I cry randomly when I’m alone thinking about dropping her off at school. Good times.
  • I’m obsessed with Project Greenlight. Matt Damon and Ben Affleck were supposed to be the most interesting thing about this show – and yet they are the least. Effy, the valley-girl-dreadlocked-feminist producer who lives to drive newbie director Jason crazy with her control issues is what’s interesting. The fact that Jason looks like a real life version of Jack Skellington from A Nightmare Before Christmas is just a bonus. Watch it watch it!!
  • Babes with Books is still going strong! In fact, it’s my turn to host book club next week and I’m excited to see the ladies. We picked Me Before You. Have you read it? Did you love it? I read it in one day. Couldn’t put it down. It could have been a predictable story but it wasn’t – even the parts that you can predict are slightly twisted. Read it read it!!
  • We hosted 8 birthdays in one day. 8. Birthdays. Efficient and crazy. That’s how we roll. See birthday cake as proof!
  • My baby boy was one of those birthdays. He’s 12 now. 12 years ago I woke up at 4am and hightailed it up to Vassar Brother’s Hospital in Poughkeepsie, NY. 12 years ago I brought home this little, strong-willed, creative, smart, kind boy who makes me laugh every day (when he’s not driving me crazy). 12 years flew by like 12 minutes. See his picture below –  at 9am, eating a hot dog and drinking an Icee on what he called his “cheat day”. I don’t even know what that means. But I’ll play along. Forever.
  • Fall in our town is my jam. One of our very good friends is a gifted photographer and generously shares amazing shots. Marcello you are the best!  I posted some of my favorites below.
  • So….Halloween down. 8 birthdays down. 1st college visit down. Bring on November! Or continue on with November!

jack! Delawarepic Canalpic 8birthdayscake

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