Slice of Life: Practising Appreciation

Many people call it gratitude. I prefer using the word appreciation since its less bandied about, and thus has less baggage attached to it.

Appreciating is one of my favorite ways to center myself in the here, and the now. The here. And the now. The way the sun falls on the building in front of me. The way the gold and the brown mix together to glow softly. The invigorating walk I just took. The delicious french-fries I ate for my afternoon snack today (you knew there was going to be food involved in this, didn’t you?)

I’ve been writing what I call appreciation lists on and off for years. I’ve often thought that the art of appreciation is really the art of observation. As I look around me, what catches my eye? Rather than trying to wrestle subjects that I have difficulty feeling good about, I choose to look for the simpler things, the things that are easy for me to feel appreciative about. Like running hot water. For showers, AND for dish-washing! Or a mattress that is perfect for me. Or looking out of the window, and seeing a sky that’s slightly silvered but mostly blue.

I love how even though I have to think a bit as I start, once I get going, words drip from my fingers, ideas flood my head, and I keep finding one thing after the other that I so love in this moment! My warm, comfy couch. Having so many delicious things to eat. The meditation app that I just found that is THE BOMB! The color blue. Living my life with a person I LIKE. Technology that makes it easy to keep in touch with those I love. Friends I’ve known for years, and years. People who are genuinely happy for me. People for whom I am genuinely happy. Words! Glorious, scrumptious words! Books that make me so, so happy! Finding that the stuff that I want is on sale! My notebook with its glittery cover of three kinds of blue, and purple, and pink, and big butterflies embossed on it! My “happy” notebook which is of a soft teal cover made of cotton, and which was gifted to me by a dear, dear friend. Taking the time to practise practices that are important to me, that center me, and keep me sane, and happy.

It’s funny. The more I write, the more the feeling of being truly blessed simply swells up within me. My problems don’t disappear in that moment. But I’m able to carve out a space in which they become smaller and my blessings become larger.

Note: This was inspired by The Annual Slice of Life Challenge, and by the joy that the art of appreciation brings to me.

Slice of Life: The Thoughtful Comedy of Trevor Noah

I remember the exact moment I knew I was going to love Trevor Noah. There’s a moment in “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee” when Seinfeld asks Noah how he could laugh coming from the background he did (“born a crime” as he was during the apartheid in South Africa to a black mother and a Swiss father). And Noah goes, well it was either that or be angry all the time. (I wish I could transcribe the exact conversation but the episode can’t seem to load on my browser)

I’m not a devotee of “The Daily Show” but I’ve seen quite a few of the episodes with Noah, attended one of his tapings, and also his stand-ups which I think are just brilliant. For the longest time the best way I’ve been able to put into words about what I like the best about Noah is that his comedy is inclusive, rather than being divisive.

Imagine my delight then, when serendipitously enough, he expands on this very point in his conversation with Chris Johnson in yesterday’s Live From NYPL session. Johnson isn’t sure how to put it into words either—he asks Noah about this sense he has of Noah’s comedy being “kind,” and the response that Noah gives to that gave me all the delights.

His answer to the identity question is another that made sense to me, and also kind of made me realize why I’ve always felt a little ho-hum about stories that seem to be motivated primarily by this question. (I’m not sure why it’s never been a question that’s bothered me much. Maybe that’s partly ‘cus of my spiritual background and roots. For me the answer to who I am has always been more inward-focused than stemming from the labels that grease our interactions in society.)

The whole session was awesome but Noah’s answers to the last few audience questions is exactly the reason why I love, love, love his stuff!

All of which is my way of saying, please go and see the session. It’s just really, really good:

And now, I cannot wait to read his book!

(Oh and if you haven’t already, check out his new Netflix release. It’s worth watching.)

Note: This was inspired by The Annual Slice of Life Challenge, and by the thoughtful comedy of Trevor Noah

Update: A commenter pointed out that the link only has about 12 seconds of music right now. Since other live sessions from recent past are fully available on the livestream website, I’m guessing it’s just a matter of time before this one is available too. I’ll update this update once it is fully available.

Shticks and Shenanigans. Mostly.

Miss Buncle’s Book by D.E. Stevenson: It’s possible that if I hadn’t read Jane and Prudence so recently, I’d have enjoyed Miss Buncle’s Book more. I was all prepared to be charmed but I found most of the characters, including the titular Miss Buncle to be just too insipid! This book just isn’t fun the way Barbara Pym’s Jane and Prudence is. I know, I know, they are two separate entities—why the comparison? Well, because they are both set in quaint English villages, detail the lives of those who people the said quaint villages, and both aspire to charm their readers (or so I think anyway!)

The problem is Miss Buncle’s Book has characters who are kind of cardboard cut-outs of various prototypes. So you have the gold-digger, the capable spinster, the queen of the social circle, the retired army-man, etc. etc. Their interactions are kind of interesting but each character in and of themselves are just plain boring. They’re simply not interesting enough for me to care much about them. (On the other hand, I WANTED to know what was going on with the characters in Jane and Prudence.)

I am wondering if I should give another of Stevenson’s books a go to see if I might like her any better? What do you guys think? Have you read any of her works? Did you like it?

“Story of Your Life” by Ted Chiang: This one was prompted by the movie. We saw the movie, and wanted to read the story to see a) if we were right about the parts which had been Hollywoodized aka dramatized unnecessarily (we were) b) if the story was better than the movie. Duh. It was. Of course. I love sci-fi for the ideas it explores, and this was no-different. From the wielding of the Sapir-Whorf theorem (which is even more dramatically illustrated in the chapter “The Grammar of Animacy” in Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Brading Sweetgrass which I absolutely loved and am waiting for my turn at the library again so that I can finish it!), to Fermat’s Least Time Principle to the deconstruction of languages to my least favorite part of the story about free-will and determinism, “The Story of Us” weaves lots of stuff into a seamless plot. If you liked the movie, or are interested in any of the things I mentioned, I’d urge you to read it!

The Penderwicks at Point Mouette by Jeanne Birdsall: What is it about Birdsall’s stories that gives me all the feels? There’s something so honest about the way her characters think, and feel, and interact that I can’t help being sucked into their world. My favorite character by the way, is the five year old Batty! The sisters’ adventures reminds me of Enid Blyton but the depth, and the fullness of their inner lives reminds me of Elinor M. Brent Dyer’s Chalet School series. And there’s so much humor in Birdsall’s world! I wish I could be more coherent about these books. Maybe I’ll have more to say on a re-read? Do you love the Penderwicks too?

Slice of Life: The Internet’s Frontpage

If you’re like me—that is to say, generally clueless about things internet and pop culture—you probably heard of Reddit later in your life than sooner. The only reason I came to know about this time sink is because of my husband, who happens to be a class A nerd!

Reddit, as I said, is a sink hole. How is that any different from the rest of the internet you ask? Well, reddit, in my opinion, is a special kind of sink hole. It sports itself as “the frontpage of the internet”—and so “a discussion at the trump rally” shares page with “drainage canal in Germany is so clean they even have beer in it,” which of course inspired “drainage canal in America is so clean they even have dogs in it,” to “ELI5: What would happen if you take a compass into space?” (ELI5=Explain Like I’m 5).

HOWEVER, what makes reddit the special sink hole that it is are all of the comments!

See the thing that fascinates me the MOST about reddit is the utter joblessness/conscientiousness (depending upon your point of view) of the hundreds? thousands? tens of thousands? of people who devote so much time and attention to answering all the questions. And then commenting on all the answers. And then remarking on all those comments. And so on and so forth, till the initial question/post sort of becomes completely and totally beside the point!

And in case you’re wondering at the source of all my knowledge, let me assure you that I generally do NOT seek this time sink out on my own! Rather, it is husband, whose endless chortles annoy me enough to want to poke my nose into it too. Because yes, that’s the other thing about all these comments! They’re really, really funny! And sometimes insightful. And sometimes totally scratch-your-head-worthy! Oh, and there’s enough pictures of dogs and cats to please the highest of sticklers. (Does anyone remember ICANHASCHEEZBURGER?)

Note: This was inspired by The Annual Slice of Life Challenge, and yes, by reddit.

Slice of Life: Routines, rituals, and practises

One of my lasting memories from my childhood is of the smell of incense wafting through our home early in the morning. That was my mom doing her puja. Rain or shine, winter or summer, my mom begins her day with her daily puja. I’m one of those who has a small puja-ghar with all the requisite idols and photos but rarely lights an incense-stick. And yet, I think, I’m beginning to understand why the daily puja is such an incontrovertible part of my mother’s life.

A few years ago I started meditating. It was slow going, and I was beset by doubts (still am at times), and there continue to be days when I don’t meditate. But over time, I find myself returning to my meditation practise. Same goes for exercising. I don’t exercise every day. More like once every four or five days. And yet, despite going only once every while, I’ve seen the tangible difference in my strength and endurance over the course of the past year.

Even more than this increase in physical well-being, what my exercise sessions have done for me, is driven home the value of consistency. Suddenly, I see why my mom has kept up her puja practise for so many years. The clear, discernible differences brought about by the sheer consistency of my exercise sessions have made me look forward to my own rituals. I already liked myself better on days I meditate but this has made me see my practise in an all new light.

It’s made me think about my grandmothers, and other women of those generations. Maybe some of the things that baffled me about them were simply their brand of their own rituals and practises.

It’s also made me contemplate the “small” stuff— rituals that need not have any specific tangible benefit but still speak of comfort and peace, rituals that are a part of the framework of our days. Such as drinking tea. I wasn’t a tea-drinker for most of my life but I now brew myself a cup once a day and feel a sense of kinship with the friends, families, and legions of other Indians, for whom the gupshup, and the unwinding happens over the morning and evening cup of tea.

My husband, who’s also the official dishwasher in our house, has his own ritual—he either watches or listens to comedy shows or podcasts while washing the dishes, or more often than not, practises his own version of meditation by doing nothing and simply focusing on the task at hand. Then there’s my ritual of putting lots of oil in my hair the night before I plan on washing it. And my daily take-the-fresh-air-in walks, even if they last for only ten minutes.

All of which has got me wondering about the differences between a routine and a ritual, and the ease (or not) with which we can cross from one into the other. What do you think?

Note: I was inspired to write this by the Annual Slice of Life Story Challenge. (And by meditation, and exercise)

Slice of Life: It’s Just An Omelet. Not!

Two eggs whisked together (that go in last I might add), a handful of baby spinach, some mushrooms (that go in first), some cheddar cheese, and voila, you’ve got yourself a yummy omelet! Now the trick to a tasty omelet (that is if you’re me at any rate), is to cook it at a low heat and to cover it with something so that the top gets steamed! No covering, and it takes forever to cook. Crank up the heat, and the omelet becomes too eggy.

Yes, there is a thing such as an omelet becoming too eggy.

See, I’d never really been fond of omelets till my aunt taught me to cover it up while cooking. Till that time, I’d only ever eaten the well-done omelets, especially the way it’s done at my in-law’s place—which is in vegetable oil, and really, really well done.

Cooking eggs in oil is a no-no for me. Cooking it in oil just accentuates the eggy smell, and much as I enjoy eggs, I DO not enjoy an overdose of that eggy smell. Which by the way is why I cannot stand quiches. Or cakes which call for 6-7 eggs. Ugh. That’s like all eggs and no cake!

The best way to cook eggs, if you ask me, is to make it in butter. Same goes for mushrooms. If like me you can’t stand the smell that mushrooms emit (especially ones that are past the super-fresh stage), try sautéing them in butter. Or better still ghee. Ghee! Ghee my friends makes everything tasty. As does frying. Or parmesan cheese.

But back to omelets!

I admit it’s been a while since omelets have been on the menu at chez Juhi but they’re making a comeback! For suddenly, I’ve lost the appetite for boiled eggs, and instead feel myself salivating over cheesy, laden with vegetables, slightly crisp on the underside, and totally fluffy on the top, omelets!

Note: I was inspired to write this by the Annual Slice of Life Story Challenge. (And by omelets).

In Which I Read Some Meh Books (and re-read a favorite)

I very eagerly started The Goblin Emperor by Kathleen Addison only to DNF it. It was the political intrigues! Apparently, I am not one for endless court politics. They bore me to tears. I liked . . . erm, I don’t remember our protagonist’s name? I liked the untenable position he found himself in, and his struggle for legitimacy while staying true to who he is, but when I found myself at the half-way mark, and realized that the reason for my reaching that half-way mark was the skipping of dozens of paragraphs in between pages, I knew it was time to return the book rather than continue persevering. I was also held back by the sheer number of characters and the abundance of consonants in their names. I kept forgetting who was who, and having to constantly turn to the index at the end to look them all up took a toll. Have any of you read it? Did you enjoy it?

The Vor Game by Lois Mcmaster Bujold was next. And it was nice, though it’s of a slightly different mien than The Warrior’s Apprentice. It has space hi-jinks, and Miles getting caught in impossible situations, but it was different in feel than TWA. TWA introduced Miles, in TVG we see his development as a lowly officer in the emperor’s army. (And since lowly and Miles do not go together, fireworks ensue). An essential part of Miles’s character that comes across very clearly in this book is his desire to be a part of, and to serve Barrayar. I’ve been wondering about this. Why does he yearn for this so much? Why not move to his mother’s home planet? Or somewhere else? Is it because of his father’s legacy? I’m interested in seeing what Bujold has in store for him through the course of the series.

Edith Layton’s The Duke’s Wager was next, and I didn’t really enjoy it. I’m not one for much angst in my reading and this one while not being angsty, was much too emotionally fraught. I never got around to caring much for any of the characters either. The heroine was the kind of ingénue who I want to shake, and slap, rather than be amused by, and the reasons behind the two anti-heroes’ dissoluteness felt too pointless for me to buy into it (though come to think of it while Layton makes a creditable attempt to give some backstory to Jason, Sinjun’s dissipation is never really explained at all). The culmination of Regina’s and Jason’s character arc to such a point where the two’s coming together feels authentic is very well done though.

I also finally gave in and re-read Georgette Heyer’s Frederica, rather than storing it for a “rainy day.” I want to write a longer post on this one later but along with The Unknown Ajax, this is probably my favorite Heyer. Although both have such different settings, and heroes, the one thing in common between them is the humor! The banter between Alverstoke, and Frederica just slays me! Slays me, I tell you! (And then there’s Felix, and Jessamy, and Lufra, but I’ll reserve them for the longer post).

So what have you been reading friends? Any spectacular meh-s (or stand-outs) in your reading pile recently?