Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Family Life by Akhil Sharma

I've been bogged down by a hectic work schedule and sick babies for the last couple of weeks, but amid the sleep deprivation, messy apartment and seasonal allergies, I was able to read an incredible book that I must urge you all to read ASAP. It's the kind of novel that really gets under your skin and stays with you... maybe even changes your perspective on life.


Beautifully and simply written, Family Life by Akhil Sharma is truly a masterpiece. The story is autobiographical, of a lower middle class immigrant family with two young boys that emigrates to the United States with heavy hearts and big dreams. At first, they are all eager and desperate to go to America. Their departure is a big deal by Indian standards -- the whole town gathers to gawk at their airplane tickets, and rumors of the good life in America spread quickly. "Americans clean themselves with paper, not water,"says a classmate. Ajay replies, "That's nothing. On an airplane, the stewardess has to give you whatever you ask for. I'm going to ask for a baby tiger."

The parents are sweet and innocent, but demanding of their children. As they all navigate the cultural differences and try to find a sense of belonging in America, their sons - Birju and Ajay, are gradually adapting. Birju finds assimilating a bit easier, succeeding in school, making friends, even securing a girlfriend. For Ajay, things are a bit harder. He is homesick for India, and struggles to adapt in school. The nuances of the immigrant experience are depicted just perfectly on these pages - with a combination of humor and pain, you will cringe, you will laugh. Until the accident that changes everything.

While the Mishras are celebrating Birju's acceptance into Bronx High School of Science and day dreaming of their golden future ahead, Birju hits his head while diving into a swimming pool and suffers severe brain damage. He and his family are left with nothing. His mother turns to desperate and heartbreaking attempts to revive her older son, his father becomes severely depressed and becomes and alcoholic, and Ajay is confused, neglected, alone. This family's entire life circles around the 24/7 care of Birju, who will always be unresponsive. The whole book proceeds to unravel the three minutes that Birju was under water, and how those three minutes changed all their lives. There is no more hope or happiness, only anger and pain. Still, the writing is so lovely, so heavy - that I had to stop and look away many times to just breathe. It's Sharma's amazing writing that left me breathless.

Our narrator, young and naive Ajay, is the one who enraptures the audience and absorbs you into this story, despite the endless tragedy. The way he describes bathing his brother, or his conversations with God, or his discovery of Hemingway, or that he "used to think my father had been assigned to us by the government” - all of it is both heartwarming and heartwrenching. Ajay's voice is clear and authentic, he is so lovable that it makes this terribly depressing book somewhat miraculous. He tells us that “we have to keep trusting God. We can’t just trust God when he’s doing what we want. We have to trust him even when things are not as we would like them.” In the end, Ajay is the only one who can lift himself away from all the misery -- but even when he becomes a successful young man, vacationing on a beach with a beautiful woman, he can't seem to leave behind Birju. And neither can we.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Fall Reading List

Hope you all enjoyed some of my picks for summer reading! If you've already breezed through the beach reads, you will love my picks for fall. There's something about the weather getting cooler, leaves turning colors, and wearing cozy sweaters -- just gets me in the mood for snuggling up with a book and hot apple cider. Fall is the perfect season for burying your nose in your kindle!


Cutting Teeth by Julia Fierro is set on a beach house in Long Island, where a group of thirty-something year olds gather together for a summer weekend away. This is a highly anticipated debut novel, and it does not disappoint. It's mostly about the complex issues faced in adulthood - the burdens on friendship, marriage, family life and sex. There is an undercurrent of love in many forms, that of friendship, parental love and romance. Great read. 


I'll be Right There by Kyung-Sook Shin is by the same author of Please Look After Mom, which I loved. This focuses on the tumultuous young life of the main character, Jung Yoon, who is an intelligent woman with a intense past. As she recounts this period of her life, she revisits the death of her mother, the strong bond she has with her professor, and her first love. Themes of isolation, friendship, east-west, love and loss are disclosed with extreme insight and care.


Every Day is for the Thief by Teju Coles is about a Nigerian New Yorker who goes back to Lagos for a visit, and sees things with new eyes. Similar to Americanah (my review here) in many ways, I was hooked on this novel right from the start. As this young man re-discovers and re-connects with his homeland, he finds himself in the midst of the tragedy, corruption, passion that is present day Nigeria. The writing is superb and palpable -- you will be engrossed. 


Bark by Lorrie Moore is a funny and heartwarming set of short stories written by one of the best American writers. Mostly about relationships, humanity and daily life - but with a narrative that is at once wise and amused. I only just started this book but am already blown away by the great writing. 


Family Life by Akhil Sharma is next on my list of must-read books. The story is of a family's emigration from Delhi to New York, where Ajay, the main character and narrator, is trying to assimilate into American Life. The twist comes when his brother suffers permanent brain damage and Ajay must assume the survivor's guilt and take on the family's expectations of success and accomplishment in America. I can't wait to dive into this one, which has gotten rave reviews!

What are you planning to read this fall? I'd love to hear any recommendations! 

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Recipe: The Best Fall Salad!

This is the best fall salad/side dish you'll ever taste, I promise!!

I used cooked quinoa, brown rice, cranberries, sliced crunchy almonds, and boiled lentils as my substance. Stir fry with olive oil, lemon juice, salt & pepper, parsley and add a dash of veggie broth. This is hearty, vegan, and it all comes together so quickly. Next time, I'm going to add some baked butternut squash and toss over arugula to make this a true salad. 
 
 
It was so good that I had it again for breakfast this morning! This is definitely going to be  my go-to salad this fall. What's yours?

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Being Mommy: A Year of Breastfeeding


Now that Leela is a year old, I've started the bittersweet process of weaning her from breastfeeding. While I love nursing and really enjoy our time together, I could not be happier to be rid of the pump!! Without the need to pump milk, I suddenly have so much more free time, and the ability to be a bit more spontaneous! I can have more than a glass of wine without worrying, be out for the whole day without feeling any pain, eat as much broccoli as I like, or do the occasional sleeping in while my husband attends to the baby's very early morning needs. The end of breastfeeding is somewhat liberating in many ways, but surprisingly difficult in others. As many of you moms know, breastfeeding is an intimate bonding activity, and when it's going well, it can be challenging for both parties to end it. It's hard to watch your baby grow up, and the end of nursing is a milestone in the same category as walking, starting school, becoming independent.  

I am so proud to have been able to feed my baby for this long, and am hopeful that she will reap many of the benefits of drinking her mother's milk. While we are weaning now, I still nurse Leela in the mornings, which is mostly for comfort and security than anything else. I know I've enjoyed the closeness and will miss that physical connection with her... but let me tell you, i will not miss that pump!

When I weaned Jiya, I did it a bit too suddenly (for no reason other than that I wanted my freedom back!), and I definitely experienced a bit of hormonal changes that led to fatigue and mood swings - which totally caught me off guard. This time, I was much more gradual, and felt a lot more prepared for the side effects. Here are some of my tips for weaning:

1) Wean gradually and gently. Drop a feed/pump session a week at a time, and wait for your body and baby to adjust before cutting out more. Remember, its not only hard on the baby, but also on your body - go slowly.

2) Sudden weaning can lead to clogged ducts, breast infection, even mood swings and depression. There are big hormonal changes related to the lowering of prolactic (hormone that triggers milk production), so be mindful and gradual. Prolactin stimulates milk production, but also provides feelings of relaxation and calm, all of which may drop with the lowering levels of the hormone. It's best to be aware and speak to your doctor if you experience any depression. 

3) Do not start weaning if there is a major change in your family or environment. Nutrition is only part breastfeeding - many babies nurse for comfort and the security it provides. During a time of change like a move or going back to work after maternity leave, weaning your baby will add to his or her stress and take away from his soothing mechanism. 

4) When choosing which feeds to drop, hang on to the comfort time feedings longer, like mornings and nights, and begin by dropping the middle of the day feeds.

5) Cuddle with and show your baby even more affection than before. This will help replace the feelings of closeness and comfort that he or she will be missing during the weaning process.

6) Logistically, to make it easier on both of you - avoid places and positions of nursing, and try to change basic routines to break the habit. That means hubby can do bed time or the morning routine (or both!!), and you can read books or take a walk instead of the evening nursing session.

Remember that the physical and emotional symptoms of weaning are only temporary, and are attributable to huge hormonal changes. Hang in there!

In case you're interested, see my Guide To Returning to Work after Maternity Leave, and Preparing a Toddler for a New Baby

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Trendy Tuesdays

In case you're like me and running late on back to school shopping, below are my picks for preschool backpacks! J's first day is next week... so exciting!

Race Car Backpack






Monkey Backpack


Ice-Cream Backpack


Lator Gator Backpack

Orange Fox Backpack
What's your little one carrying to preschool?

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Trendy Tuesdays

Today I'm sharing a few practical items I couldn't live without. Back to school is so much easier with these!

Hairbrush


My girls are fortunate to have thick, luscious locks - but brushing and styling their hair, especially during their wriggly-can't-sit-still years, is a chore I am just not up for most mornings! Our lives have been so much easier since I discovered this amazing detangling, gentle hairbrush. I even got an extra for myself!


My kids love getting little massages before bath time, and for those, I love to use this Organic Coconut Oil which is the best beauty product I've discovered. It makes their skin even softer than it already is, and everyone loves the smell. It's so soothing before bed time and I'm glad to say bye to dry and patchy skin! I also use this for cooking -- its delicious in stir fries, fried rice, or any where you would use olive oil. We all love coconut oil and seriously can't get enough...

Tivolo Sandwich Shaper



Nothing makes a sandwich more fun than shaping it into a train and boat, or a butterfly. This is unreasonably fun for both moms and kids alike.
 
What products make your life simpler, especially in the mornings?

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Happy First Birthday, Leela!

Photo by Asiya
On your first birthday, I can't help but reflect on the past year and think about the endless joy you have brought me. Everything in our life is sweeter because of you. Before you were born, I could not imagine that my heart was capable of so much love. When Jiya was born, she made me a mother. But when you were born, you made us a family. 

I cannot believe a year has already flown by since you first came into my arms as a chubby, beautiful baby doll. And today, you are turning one. In the past 12 months, you have grown from a round and sweet baby, with juicy cheeks and sweet little lips, into a walking, climbing, fiesty little toddler. As a newborn, you were cuddly, laid back and adorable. You loved to nurse and be carried, you hated the car and stroller, you loved listening to your sister chat away, or look out at New York City with your daddy. You loved the carrier and it always helped to soothe you. You refused all pacifiers, loved to roll around (even in the middle of the night), started sitting up very early, and right from the start, you became engaged in the world around you. We enjoyed many songs, baths, late-night snuggles together, just you and I. I will always cherish those moments, especially as you will inevitably grow up and become more and more independent. 

Photo by Melanie Rose Photograpy
You make all of us laugh every single day - whether it be because you are trying desperately to climb into the tub or shower, or because you are scrunching your nose and making a funny face. You display incredible focus when trying to accomplish any task, and you are so ambitious when navigating your way around safety gates, up stairs, through cabinets... we love your mischief! You astound us with your intelligence... from mimicking Jiya, to kissing on demand, you are a quick learner and so curious about everything around you. You love to eat. You chase after anyone with food, point and yelp until you get some in your own little hands. You love walking around with a cracker in each hand, gumming  both while you wander around and explore. You also love to nurse, and I am so grateful for the time we've spent together nursing and cuddling. You are picking up new skills every day. You can already walk, climb stairs, clap hands, blow and give kisses, even dip a spoon into food and feed yourself! Although you can't speak words yet, you can always get your point across. You bring over your shoes and point to your feet, you lead us to the stroller, or push your way through the dining chairs to the little toy car... somehow you can always let us know what you want to do next! I cannot get over how quickly you are growing. I often want to freeze time to keep you small, innocent, mine forever. 

Photo by Asiya
Photo by Melanie Rose Photography
You wake up smiling! You are very happy and very naughty. There is always mischief in your eyes when you climb into the toy chest or pull out the bow from your hair. You never stop moving! You hate to sit, but you love to be held while walking around. You have amazing hair and everyone stops to comment on how much of it you have! You've already had 5 haircuts and can make pigtails. You've acquired so many nicknames in just a year! Leels, Leeli, Leelu, Leeli-ki-my peels, and Kimi - are just a few of the names we love to call you. You especially love to play with and annoy your sister. You love to follow her, copy her, and you always try to have or do exactly the same thing as her. In the double stroller, when she is minding her own business, you often pinch or pat her so that she gets annoyed (or maybe you are seeking her attention!). We love watching you two interact. She loves to hug, kiss and squeeze you, and although you often tolerate it - more often, you like to look at one of us and complain. In those moments, I can almost picture the eye-rolling teenager you may become. 

Photo by Asiya

Photo by Melanie Rose Photography
Your smile and giggles took my breath away and you stole all of our hearts, especially your big sister's. Jiya was enamored of you from the first day she saw you in the hospital, saying things like "She's soooo cute," or "I love her so much" or "I need her, I need to be with her." In fact, Jiya was able to use the potty successfully after you "helped" her by sitting in the bathroom with her. She often talks about you when you're not around or asleep, mentioning your "adorable chotis" or sweet face. She is still working on sharing her toys with you, but everyone can see how much she adores you and how protective she is of you. My biggest joy is watching your relationship grow, and I hope that one day you will see each other as a gift - that you will encourage each other's hopes and dreams, share and keep secrets, watch out for each other and grow together to become best friends.

Photo by Melanie Rose Photography
Although you look like many of our family members melded into one, I see a lot of myself and Naveen in you. You are determined and athletic like your daddy, fiesty and a foodie like your mommy, and energetic like both of us. Leela, we wish you all the happiness this world has to offer, strength to face challenges, and adventure throughout your journey. May you always be fascinated by the world around you, may you always be blessed with health and luck, and may you live every year of your life with as much joy as your first. 

Photo by Asiya
                      
With all my love today and always,
Mommy