Times they are a changin’

Last week we decided to make what seemed like a few small changes. We have a playset in the back yard that hadn’t been used in years. With a 17 year old about to graduate and a 12 year old boy obsessed with his trampoline, we thought it was a safe bet to get rid of it.

But as it was being taken down, piece by piece, I had a sinking feeling. I don’t remember being that emotional when we moved them from the crib to the bed – maybe because the rest of their room was still covered with toys and they were still a version of land locked with us at home.

The other change was a much needed refresh of my daughter’s room. New paint, new dresser, new bed. It was time to say goodbye to Ikea furniture that lasted her for more than a decade (held together by glue and prayer). But even when we were cleaning out the room it still felt like she would be in it. She picked the colors, the furniture, etc. It didn’t feel like an end, just the next step.

When the kids went from carseat to booster to nothing, we celebrated. When the training wheels came off, we celebrated. Even when my son left his elementary school last year, we celebrated. Our babies were amazing but we have a lot of fun with our kids. We live in a neighborhood that let our kids bike around, walk around and now drive around. We always felt so happy when they made another, brave step. Maybe because at the end of those steps they came back home. It didn’t feel like an end.

The playset being taken away felt like an end.

I know it’s normal and parents all through time have done this. I know there are bigger moments to come, graduation, weddings, etc. But this feels like a big movement. A home that doesn’t have little feet that’ll climb the slide. A home where I don’t stand at the kitchen sink and watch them play. Truth be told they haven’t touched it in years, and it’s a great big eyesore, which is why it was so easy to decide to get rid of it. Still it stung.

Here’s a look down memory lane and then the memory being demolished and taken away. Just kidding. Not really.
 

   
    
    
  

 

Ch Ch Changes

It’s October 3rd. September has been quite a month – full of surprises and change. Nothing new for us. The end of last year was full of changes for our family too. I quit my job after 8 years and started with a new company right before Christmas. My husband was offered a work-from-home gig and jumped on the chance to not commute after decades of trains, planes and automobiles.

Then January through July were a haze. I was traveling a lot for work, which was perfect because my husband and kids were getting into their new “being home together all the time routine”. I was all, “good luck with that, I’ll be in Newport Coast for the week. It’s you, the kids and Common Core. Bye!” It all worked out – no one died. We made it through the winter and spring and then summer was a lot of fun.

We were just hitting our stride and then boom. This is how our life works. For as long as I’ve known my husband, and well before we had our kids, this is our life works. We like to shake it up – or things get shaken up for us. Every change we’ve ever made has come from a small seed of an idea that we can’t let go of. Wanna get hitched and then have a baby in our 20s? Sure. Wanna move out of the city to a town we’ve never heard of? Why not! Wanna have another baby even though I’ll have to quit my job? Let’s do it!

Some changes were our whacked out decisions, and some changes were out of our control. We just had to roll with it.

For the past decade or so (this is not an exaggeration) – I’ve heard my husband say that he’d love to get out of his profession. That the world of finance isn’t making him happy. But because he’s a workhorse, and because it’s been good for our family, he would never walk away. He went from one stressful job to another and made the best of it. But then September started. And slowly a get-away plan emerged. His group was being shuffled and his position would now be based out of NYC. But the kids and i had gotten used to him being home. And he was loving the freedom of not being in an office. Not spending his life on a train. He was going to karate practices, doing pick-up after band rehearsal – getting to know his kids (and they got to know him) in a completely different way. Good, bad and ugly.

It was very much like my childhood. My parents had actual 9-5 jobs for a very short time, then my dad started his own business and never looked back. My mom was either helping him or home with us – actually they were both home with us. I don’t remember a time when my dad was out of the house for more than a few hours a day. It was unusual and wonderful. They were also risk takers. My dad was a pharmacist who could have made a very safe living his whole life, but he tried something different. He took a chance. The irony is that my entire childhood I thought of them as the most boring, risk-averse people – they drive their cars slow and live their lives quietly. Now I think they were absolutely bohemian (I feel my sister rolling her eyes). But really, they marched by the beat of their own drum. And it wasn’t all good – there were failures along with the successes – but they tried. They moved us around. They uprooted our schooling. Money went up and down – but it wasn’t boring. That’s for sure.

Maybe that’s why I’m not afraid of change. It doesn’t really rock my world. Not because I was unhappy before, or looking for the change – but because I know it’s not always bad. Or maybe I’m just dead inside. Just kiddin’.

Because I am my parent’s daughter, I’m constantly thinking of businesses that we can run. After my son was born and I decided to stay at home, I even started one of those businesses. A wedding planning company that did pretty well for three years. I loved it. I only stopped doing it because of another change that came out of nowhere. A phone call from an old colleague who had a job for me. A good job. The only caveat – it was two states away. A job that would force my husband to quit his well paying job if we took the move. Normal people would have laughed and said,”no way”.  But my husband and I,who wouldn’t know what to do in a casino if we tried, took another gamble. We said yes. And it worked out really really well. We loved our new town. The kids loved their new schools. My husband found another job right away, and I was happy with my new job. For a little while. But in the back of my mind, I was always thinking of what “we could start”. Even though my husband is the total opposite of my wandering nature, he got into it too. We would look at empty store fronts and imagine what we could do. We would have hour long discussions about the kinds of things that would work there. Then, like the lunatics we are, we’d even call the renters and ask how much the space cost. You know, normal stuff you do on a Friday night. While you and your husband are out at fancy restaurants and enjoying life, we’re researching franchise options and coming up with company names.

So last month when his job location shifted, we jumped on our chance. Well, I jumped and dragged him along. It was Friday night, we were doing our usual “this is a business that could work” routine – and he left the room to order pizza for the kids. That’s when I pulled the trigger for him and applied for all the legal paperwork for his new company. No joke. He came back into the living room and I said,” it’s done. You just started a company”. Instead of divorcing me like a normal person would do – he sat down and started a business plan. The only thing that saves my crazy is his crazy.

A month later, he’s ready to launch the website and dive in. And I would tell you what it is, but it’s not my gig. It’s his. I’m pretty sure he’ll go postal that I’ve even talked about it at all. But as always, I’ll take the gamble.

Manners, Manners

Manners are a big deal in my house. We use please and thank you so often that it sometimes sounds like a verbal tick. I grew up in a very quiet, polite home. My husband grew up in a very loud, polite home. His family wasn’t soft spoken (and isn’t) but they were always quick with a thank you. When we had kids we weren’t exactly sure what the “rules” of our house were going to be. We kinda just made it up as we went along. When we heard other parents talk about the things that their kids were allowed and not allowed to do – sometimes we felt horrible for the kids living through that regime, and sometimes we stole their ideas and rules. But not a lot of them. The only thing I really worried about was stranger danger and not-so-stranger danger. Other than that – we were open to most things. And unlike my parents house, our house is not quiet. We yell. We scream. We laugh. We cry. The full spectrum of the emotional rollercoaster is experienced on most days. We’re human afterall. 

When my daughter was born and I went back to work, we carefully picked a nanny we thought would follow our small list of rules. When we discovered that she was letting a 1 year gnaw on a hot dog while swinging in the park and then washing that down with a milk shake from an illegal visit to Mickey Ds – we were horrified. Just because we weren’t helicopter parents didn’t mean we wanted our kid eating that crap. We lived in NYC for goodness sake – the park was on the Upper East Side. Other nannies were bringing blenders to puree fresh smoothies in the park. If you’re wondering how she got caught, I’ll give you one word. Wrappers. My husband found the paraphernalia in our garbage of all places. Not only was she breaking our sad little list of rules, but she was a moron to boot. Suffice it to say, we gave her the boot. I was young back then and didn’t enjoy a verbal conflict like I do now, and my husband for all his tough guy demeanor can never be mean to anyone he pays for a service. So we let her go without addressing the problem. That’s how we rolled back then.

As she got older and then we had our boy, we held fast to only a few of those early family laws. I don’t want to alarm anyone but we never once bought a lock for our kitchen cabinets and our corners were never padded. Anywhere. My kids were allowed to play on the street. They were, and are, allowed to ride their bikes pretty freely. My daughter has navigated the public transit system alone – something a few of our adult friends don’t do. My son often rides a skateboard or scooter on busy roads. Do we worry about that stuff and pray for their safety? Yes we do. It’s like a full time job. Praying and worrying. But do we say they are “not allowed” to do that? Nope.

You know what they aren’t allowed to do? Speak rudely and not be polite. Manners are numero uno, followed by kindness, and just ahead of humor in terms of importance in our house. We don’t ask for something without a please before or after. When someone hands you something – anything – it should be followed by a thank you. In our house, if you are in the downstairs room all the way to the right and someone in the upstairs room all the way to the left sneezes, make sure they hear you say bless you. In fact you usually know if someone in the house is mad at you because you’ve sneezed and it was followed by silence. The horror!

I don’t go around expecting everyone to follow the same rules as our family, and I have no doubt that even with our politeness rules – my kids, my husband and I are are rude sometimes. Perfection – incase you haven’t read my blog before – isn’t what I’m aiming for in life. I’d like to just get through the day and maybe laugh a bit. Those are my goals. And to eat carbs with reckless abandon. But that’s another story.

And although I’d like to go on a tirade about how rude the world outside is, the truth is that most people are polite. For example, this morning on the train into work, in a very very packed car – a woman walked in with her two small kids and a big bag. Instead of looking down or staring out the window, no less than 4 people stood up to give them seats and offered to help with the bag. One man even offered to give a woman who’d gotten up for the other woman his own seat! I mean, come on! This is politeness gone wild. I would have happily given up my seat but I was stuck like a sardine next to an older Asian woman. It’s a well-known fact to those who ride a commuter rail that older Asian women do not give up seats. No sir. I don’t care if they are from China or India or Nepal. It’s not a racist observation. It’s a Continental truth. And since I will eventually become one of those older Asian women, I can say that. Although you can argue that if you are older, you deserve the seat. You’ve earned the seat. Asian or not. Fair enough.

I was just so happy to see that this group of strangers on the train took care of this woman. These were probably also the same people who would help a tourist in need without rolling their eyes, or wave when you let their car go first at an interection. These were good people. 

When the woman finally sat down and situated the kids, one of them sneezed, and there was a symphony of bless yous in the train car. I wasn’t surprised at all. 

Back to School Blurb

I love Facebook for many many reasons. Birthday love. Vacation pics galore. Inappropriate overshares. I love it all. I especially love the beginning of school. I love all the happy, shiny faces with their new backpacks and lunch boxes heading into the new school year. I only have one picture of me that resembles anything close to a back-to-school shot growing up. I’m not sure where it is. In a grocery bag in a closet somewhere, I think.

That’s not said with any judgement or vilification, my mother or father literally drove me to school from 1st through 12th grade (I don’t think I went to Kindergarten. Is that legal?). Of all the things I never did growing up (like eat mustard, cream cheese or sour cream), I never rode a school bus. I mean I did on school trips and things – but never in the morning or back home. I’m not sure why my parents decided to do this and I’ve never asked why. Although they were over protective about weird things and then completely carefree about other things. Example, I wasn’t allowed to watch most American horror movies because there were bad words and boobs and yet Bollywood with it’s love to violence and rape was a green light in our house. Confusing no?

So I never rode a big yellow bus. But don’t you worry. I learned all the bad words and met all the bad friends anyway. I just did it at the lunch table. Eating my peanut butter and strawberry jelly sandwich on my Brick Oven bread. If you were nice to me I’d let you share my snack, oh wait, there was no snack. Just a sandwich and a thermos full of OJ. In high school I started buying my lunch. Actually I bought crackers and milk and pocketed the money for other things. Food wasn’t as important as the new U2 cd coming out. I know better now.

Happy back to school to all you kiddos. Enjoy the gluten-free, organically grown/fed/butchered lunch that probably cost more than my outfit. Hope there’s square pizza and fried tater tots in your future!

The Tiger’s Mother

Tomorrow my first born starts her junior year of high school. She’s in her room right now excitedly packing for the morning and humming a happy tune. Ok, not really. But she is getting ready. I cannot believe that at the end of this year she’ll be 1) driving a motor vehicle 2) thinking about which college she wants to go to and 3) be on the edge of 17. Just like the white wing dove.
If you believe in astronomy, and I do, she’s a Scorpio. To a capital T.
I also happen to believe the Chinese calendar, she’s a Tiger in that one. A born leader. Brave and warm-hearted. Sensitive and easily hurt but also fiercely protective of those around them. Yeah, that’s about right. She’s all that. And more. 
But tomorrow she’ll just be my little baby, going off to 11th grade.
I’d like to show you a picture of her leaving the house in the morning, in her uniform, ready to face to world – but I won’t be allowed to take a pic. Tigers and Scorpions aren’t exactly easy to photography. But she can’t stop me from posting these! 
Here’s my world from 1998 to present. In a blink.

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Second best decision ever

11 years ago my husband and I met one of his cousins to go on a skiing trip. They brought their two-year old twin boys and 4-year-old girl – who was best buds with our 4-year-old girl.

Before that weekend we had decided that one kid was perfect for us.  We loved our baby girl. She fulfilled every paternal and maternal need we had.  We were a tight little unit of 3 and we were happy.

Then we went away and everything changed. I don’t know if it was the way the three siblings in the other family clung together, or if it was my husband telling funny stories about his sisters, or maybe it was the memory of how happy I was when my mother told me I was finally going to be a big sister at age 11. Whatever the trigger was, then and there we decided our little girl needed one other person in the world that would share part of her history.

One other person that could understand how frustrating her mother could be, or how nutty her father was, or why we have cake for breakfast on our birthdays. A partner. An ally. Someone who knew what the house that she grew up in smelled like on Saturday mornings. Someone she could be angry at and say mean things to and still be able to sit down to dinner with and laugh. Yep. We needed to have another baby.

I got pregnant a few weeks later.

10 years ago today, I woke up at 4am on a Saturday morning and went into labor. I was supposed to go pumpkin picking that day with my girl and one of my best friends who had come to visit. Instead, my husband and I left them to go to the hospital.

The weather was exactly like it is today, cold and crisp. We lived in Upstate New York and the leaves had changed late that year – so everything was shades of orange and red.

He came like a bullet – in about an hour once I started pushing. And like a bullet, there was some major damage afterwards (I’ll save that for another post).

Since then he’s been a whirl of energy, emotion, comedy and activity. He’s always moving. Even in his sleep he’s moving. He’s smart and quick and always late for something. He says things like,” I love my life.” and “I want to be a kid forever”. Then I go cry in a corner.

And he loves, no adores, his sister. Both are Scorpios, if you believe that sort of thing (I do), but on different ends of the spectrum. She’s easy to trust, warm, welcoming and ready for anything. He’s guarded, careful and likes his routines. Bookends of our family.  Our perfect unit of 4.

So Happy Birthday to our little man. We had no idea how much we really needed you.

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How an Indian does Italian

Growing up, in my very Indian family, the only “American” food that was cooked in our house was spaghetti (which was strangely made on Saturday mornings) and a dish that we called – eggplant. No, not eggplant parm. I didn’t know what parmesan cheese was until my first year in college (also never had cream cheese, sour cream or mustard until then).  This is an entirely different thing. A bastardized version of caponata. I’m pretty sure my mother has never heard/seen/eaten anything called caponata.

I don’t know who came up with the recipe. I’m not sure how it all got started – but I do know that in my family and in my cousin’s families – this is what you get when they say,”we’re having eggplant for dinner”.

I make it now for my little tribe too. I’ve changed a few details. All the veggies in this dish were fried when my mom made it (and still makes it). I don’t fry anything – not because I’m so super healthy – but because I’m really bad at frying. Things burn. Stoves are covered in oil. I stink like burnt oil for hours – it’s not good. So I do a little saute/steam method. It works. I still use a bit of oil – but I use olive oil instead of the corn oil my mom uses to this day. I tried to talk her into canola once but it was a lost cause. Who am I to judge?

Here’s all you need. Please note: do not buy expensive sauce or make your own marinara or something. You need Ragu. Or some other cheap jarred sauce. Trust me. And don’t go trying to add fresh basil – hold yourself back. Pretend like this is the 80s and we haven’t all been watching The Food Network obsessively.

Olive oil, eggplant, peppers (red, green, yellow – whateva), sauce, cheese (again use what you have, cheddar, mozzarella, etc).

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First chop up your very pretty peppers and onion in a hearty julienne and throw them into a non-stick pan with about a tablespoon of oil. Cover and saute/steam for about 10 minutes until both are cooked through and soft.

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While the onions and peppers do their thing, cut the eggplant(s) in half and then in thick slices. Then think about the fact that literally nothing on earth smells better than onions and peppers cooking. I hear you all screaming at the computer now,”bacon does!”, “cookies baking do!”, “a baby’s head smells better!”. Calm down.

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Once the onions and peppers are done, pour them into a medium-sized pan. Add another tablespoon of oil, cover and cook the eggplant. I like to do this in batches. In the end you’ll use 2 to 3 tablespoons of oil to cook all the eggplant.

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I’ve tried doing the above steps in different ways through the years. In a crockpot. Roasted in the oven. Grilled. I like this way the best. Once the eggplant is done – add to your assembly pan. Don’t worry if there are still firm pieces – it’ll spend a ton of time in the oven and cook through.

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Add the bottle of sauce, stir, cover with foil and put into a 350 degree oven for atleast an hour and a half.

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Use this time to work, mother, wife, clean the house, clean the car, or…if you’re me, have a cup of coffee and a piece of last night’s dessert (raspberry cobbler).

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After about an hour and 1/2 – check your dish. Does it look like this? If yes, it’s done!

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Add the cheese. I ended up using half cheddar/half colby jack. It’ll go back in the oven for about 5 minutes and then, done!

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Like a caponata – eat this with some good, crusty bread. Add salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper to taste.

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Now, if you come of my mother’s house and she says we’re having eggplant for dinner, you’ll be ready.

 

 

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