Thursday, November 27, 2014

Postcards from San Francisco 2013

I had last gone and wrote about my trip to San Francisco in 2006. Even though I’ve been to San Francisco two other times, this visit was much different because my daughter came along. We did more of the touristy things this time. But, that's ok – we’re tourists and this is fun!

What We Saw

  • Alcatraz – ok, we did not get tickets. You need to book 3 weeks out at least. I know on 7/7 the first available date was 7/29. I tried Craig’s List and almost had one but it didn’t work out. That's fine - need to leave something undone for the next trip.
  • Walking ToursCityGuides is a program offered through the San Francisco Library and native San Franciscans volunteer as guides for walking tours. Just a heads up that since this is a free tour, the group can get a little large. For our Chinatown tour, we showed up 15 minutes early and were the first ones there (not sure if we were in the right place). By the time the tour was ready to move, there were at least 50 people, but fortunately they had 2 guides.  Our guide Bob was knowledgeable about history of the area, as well as the culture. The walking tour had frequent stops, which included the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory for a snack. We also walked past the fish markets and into a Shinto Temple. It wouldn't have occurred to us to explore those.
  • Our second walking tour was to the Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park. I’ve been there before and just strolled around and admired everything. With a guide, it was wonderful to hear the stories around the gardens and the families. The imprisonment of the Japanese citizens during WWII impacted the history of the gardens, down to specific plants that were saved by friends. 
  • Cable Car Ride – we considered taking the California line because Fodor’s said it was less crowded and offered good views. However, we went for the Powell/Hyde line since that had more dramatic inclines. This meant we had 1 hour wait in line at 11 am on a weekday. My daughter had her heart set on hanging off the side, but we forced her 67 lb frame into a front row seat. We had some other tourists come and hang off so that made picture taking more challenging.
  • Bookstores - we stumbled upon City Lights bookstore, which is a poet's holy ground.The poetry and world literature section is so exciting - books and journals I've only seen online are right there. Another bookstore that I liked was Chronicle Books. I wasn't sure at first because it smelled and looked too posh to be a good bookstore (thinking of the crickety wood floors at City Lights). However, this was the opposite. It's not just books I had seen online that were here, but online jokes or meme were their own books. They had lots of journals and artistic notebooks. I did buy a children's book there for a gift.
  • Children's Creativity Museum Yerba Buena - we just poked our heads in here as we were walking by. Annika's 12 now and this looked like it was geared towards younger children. However, they said they had claymation movie making. So, Annika and I spent 2.5 hours making a 10 second video! She came up with the plot, we made our figurines from clay, filmed it using iStopMotion with camera/backdrops. Then we took it to their sound editing room where Annika worked with someone to add voice and sound effects to her video. It's not that great because we didn't know what we were doing. However, it was a great experience!

 What We Ate

  • Viva Goa - the owner and staff are from Goa, India and it's refreshing change from the standard north Indian food you find at Indian restaurants. My husband's family is originally from Goa so he was excited about "home food." I had tried their Xacutti curry and was surprised. It tasted just like my husband's egg curry that he makes -- blending onions and coconut with key spices. I wanted to tell the non-Indians behind me "Skip the chicken tikka masala! get a fish fry masala because you won't find that anywhere else!" I wasn't thrilled with the ambot-tik sauce (sour-spicy), so there is a new flavor palette with this.
  • Kasa Indian - found this online as recommended for kati rolls, which we love. We liked the rolls and they offered different varieties. However, we still love Kati Roll Company in NYC the best.
  • Vik's Chaat Corner - this is in Berkely and again was rated highly online. We had trouble finding this one, but it's very open and clean layout. I was impressed with the way they had the ordering/food pick up organized. We had dahi bhata puri, which is one of my favorite chaat items (FYI - I could just subsist on chaat foods. I don't need real food. Elko Arcade in Mumbai is heaven for me.)
  • Tacubaya Mexican - this is in Berkeley and I wasn't going to leave CA without eating fish tacos. It was good, but Annika devoured 2 chicken tacos and still talks about it. Do wish I had one of these nearby. There was a woman reading a book with a bowl of tortillas and guac. That's perfect.
We had Chinese and Thai as well, but those were forgettable. The Thai was recommended to us, but it was quite ordinary and a little odd, in fact.

What We Drank

We had to hit Sonoma. So here are the wineries we explored:
  • Viansa - Enjoy the scenery. After a week of foggy and cold July weather in San Francisco, we were ecstatic to see the sun. Loved the view of the fields, mountains and trees from here. There was a wedding happening later and we were all jealous. We enjoyed the wine tasting experience here. If you become a member, their wines are quite reasonable.
  • Ledson - look for the castle! We slid in here right before closing and were happy the hostess spent a lot of time with us. She was great because she took it as a challenge to find wine that would suit or push our palettes.
  • Gloria Ferrer - we stopped here because we liked it so much last time. However, we didnt stay too long. Just felt more crowded there and not as easy-going as Viansa.
  • Chateau St. Jean - we stopped here, but didn't get to stay since they were closing for a private event. (Darn you people and your fancy events!)
In town, there were some other wine tasting rooms and the staff seemed quite appealing. However, we were seeking more of the vineyard experience.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

2013 Transforms

Looking back at 2013, it's a year of transformations.
For myself, I started in one place with a specific mindset, but somewhere tracks changed and I ended up in a different place. It's definitely better, but not what I imagined in January.

It hasn't been easy since there were lots of dark moments during the year, and one was especially painful as it was related to a young person close to us. However, that traumatic experience too led us to a place of transformation and hope.

Lesson 1 - Believe in the Positive

I attribute a lot of the transformations this year to the power of positive visualization. I finally read "The Secret" by Rhonda Byrne, after seeing it lying next to me at the library. I had avoided the hype years ago and decided to pick it up.

The biggest message is to believe the desired state exists now. I'm a pretty positive person, but the difference was believing in the change. I was writing down the things I wanted, but the Secret is to believe you already have them. That was something different for me, and felt it was effective.

I learned to dream big too. I remember 20 years ago, I couldn't dream big at all. I was in such a tunnel and couldn't look beyond forwards and backwards. Now, I'm in a place where I could see left and right, but I didn't know there was an up. So, it's a matter of lifting the ceiling and seeing new possiblities.

Lesson 2 - Expect Change

The only thing consistent is life is change. We can't rely on consistency as much as we think we can. Life changing events can occur and we should not assume our lives can't change instantly. We use building blocks to stack pieces of our lives together and it doesn't take much to knock over the tower. However, we pick up the blocks and build a tower again. When that tower does topple, we have to look at which pieces will build the strongest foundation for us. It's not always the ones we think.

Lesson 3 - Look Beyond Your Belly Button
Stop the navel gazing and bemoaning your life. See what you have in your life. There were days when I was stessed, and I was grateful for a colleague who made a funny joke and made me laugh. It's not all bad. Really.

I'm full of hope and optimism for 2014 and know the lessons of the previous year will help ground us.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Echoes from The Sound of Music

There’s been a bit of an uproar lately with country/pop/American Idol star Carrie Underwood tackling the role of Maria in a televised stage version of “Sound of Music” This has generated such a dialogue among fans, and unfortunately hate tweets for Carrie.

“The Sound of Music” is such a culturally iconic movie and it has a sense of sacredness about it. It’s not just in the US, but globally.

  • If at any time someone needs to depict the most uplifting and positive portrayal of Hollywood, flash to Maria spinning her skirts to the “Hills are Alive” with that amazing pan of the open space.  
  • In Arundhati Roy’s “God of Small Things,” the main characters are at a viewing of the movie when a critical event occurs. I always remember how Maria and the children were described having “peppermint voices” in contrast to the harsh realities for the characters in the book.
  • We sang the songs in school, learned about Rogers & Hammerstein in music classes. Now that I’m thinking about it, I had done a report in elementary school on Rogers & Hammerstein and sketched the scenes from the movie.  My father had the double record album and there were movie stills and as a child, I gazed at this forever wondering about the Von Trapp children. I wonder how many future puppeteers were inspired by this movie.

We visited Austria years ago by car from Germany. We drove through beautiful landscapes and we gasped at the breathtaking mountains. I kept gushing “Wow, I feel like I’m in the Sound of Music.” When we arrived in Salzburg, Austria, we hit the Sound of Music mecca. I had forgotten that Salzburg is where the story took place and the movie captured all of the local elements. There was church, the gardens, the mountains.. and Salzburg knows this. They offer full and half day tours to see all the sites where the movie was filmed. 

While walking around the town, I came across small beautiful flowers along a hedge. I realized they were Edelweiss, clean and white. I took few steps further and entered the garden of the Dwarves. I started telling my husband, “This is it! this is it! This is where the kids marched and stepped to the top of the staircase!” It was like I had been there in a previous life.

When my daughter was 3 years old, I thought it’d be fun to play this movie for her alongside the TeleTubbies and Disney movies. She loved it so much that she wanted to watch it every day for 3 weeks. Every. Day. For three weeks. Let that sink in.

The first few times, we would sit  to watch, and friends would walk in and sit down too. When we got tired, she threw tantrums. She wanted specific scenes.  She kept crying “when he has a haircut!” and I replied no one gets haircuts.  We realized that when Maria first enters the house to meet the children, my daughter thought it was the father (with a haircut) who opened the door, not realizing it was the butler. Once we drove by an old cathedral in NY and she asked if Maria was there. When she was about 6 or so, we went to see a local stage production. During the show, when Maria and Captain came back from their honeymoon, she asked if Maria had “a baby in her tummy now.” Yes, SOM raises other family issues we never thought about.

One thing I noticed during our 3 week SOM marathon, the children in the movie acted extremely well. They were crisp in their delivery, and even when there was no dialogue, their expressions were on target. The story is very tight, and the music is absolutely creative, which make this film so durable.

Question on the Plot

I do have one qualm with the overall storyline. The youngest child is 5 years old, which means the mother had died at the most 5 years prior. We understand the father has issues resolving his grief and opted for repression and denial as coping mechanism. Other than the 2 younger children (aged 5 and 7), everyone should have reasonable memories of mother and the happier times when the house was full of music. It seems they all just erased the mother. Of course it's cleaner to remove the references to mother, and let Maria step forward without handling baggage of the previous relationship. Otherwise, this turns into an issue of “Nannies Gone Wild.”


Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Adventures in Roller Blading and Parenting

She got a pair for Christmas and after few exchanges for sizes and styles, we were all set. We strapped on all the protective gear to knees, elbows and wrists. We figured out how to adjust the skates. We're ready to roll!

At first, she didn't know what to do and asked me to walk in front and be pulled along.

I said, "No way. Move your feet. Push off and glide." Why would we get blades -- so I can pull her along? She hobbled with one foot in front of the other out of the garage and onto the driveway.

My heart stopped whenever she faltered. I warned her of rocks and imperfections in the asphalt. She would laugh, but teetered backwards with squeals. However, my arm was always there to catch her around the waist or the shoulder until she gains her balance.

She did her stumbled up a little slope on the driveway. When she went on the decline, she picked up speed. She had good momentum going and was excited. She didn't need help. Her head was up and arms in a ready stance and she was moving quicker than I was.

That's when I said, "No you're not controlling it. You're just going with momentum."

I pulled her back and forced her to slow down and move her feet. I reminded her she didn't know how to stop so it wasn't good to keep going until she crashed into car or the house.

While teaching a 12-year-old to roller blade, I felt like every metaphor and aphorism about motherhood was coming alive at that moment.

1. Parents are there to catch you. She can move confidently knowing I'm right there when she wobbles backwards.

2. Parents are not there to pull you along. You've got to push off on your own and move your own feet.

3. Parents are going to pull you back when you're just going downhill, riding on pure momentum and speed, and not your own volition or skill. It's exciting for just a few moments, but you'll crash into something.

4. Parents will get beat up. My right foot was run over by the blades, I was kicked in the right shin and my arms were scratched from holding her up by all those velcro pads. But like everything else, you keep on doing what your doing to get kid moving.

We just had one session in the driveway and I'm confident she'll do well in no time.

Next challenge -- pull out my roller blades from the basement where they were buried 12 years ago!

Monday, May 27, 2013

"The Great Gatsby" Review

As a fan of Baz Lurhmann's "Moulin Rouge," "Romeo + Juliet" and "Strictly Ballroom," I was excited to see this movie. As someone who's been obsessed with F. Scott Fitzgerald short stories and the  20's and 30's for the past year (reading Anais Nin & Henry Miller right now), I was thrilled to step into this era and writing.

I have to make the disclaimer that I haven't read "The Great Gatsby" since Mr. Boyd's 10th grade English class. And, frankly, I didn't like it back then. Daisy Buchanan seemed like one of the worst heroines in literature - fluffy, flighty and shallow. Jay Gatsby seemed too stuffy and repressed to be "great."  I was confused by the end scene with the cars and hit and run. I think we might have watched the Robert Redford version in school, and I don't think that helped.

With that said, I enjoyed the movie. I adore Carey Mulligan from "An Education," and she helped Daisy become a multi-layered and complex character. We could understand her struggle with conforming to demands of society and accepting her own emotions. Leonardo was intense and vulnerable as Gatsby, which made him more than the aloof shadow lurking in the windows. And, Tobey Maguire. Please. He's perfect. Though the unshaven writer at the typewriter harkened images Ewan MacGregor in "Moulin Rouge," but that's the director's actions.

Baz Lurhmann definitely made this movie grand and visually enticing. By the way, I'm grateful there was a non-3D version of the film. I'm sick of 3D movies and frustrated with "Life of Pi" for being 3D. Yes, it's wonderful creative challenge for all, but it's a major headache and I feel distanced from the screen. The movie wasn't as crazy as "Moulin Rouge," but still captivating. I did like the soundtrack and especially the Jay-Z added a pulse to certain scenes.

The parties were definitely lavish, but perhaps Lurhmann should've consulted Real Housewife Adrienne Maloof for outrageous party ideas.

By the way, the Daisy Buchanan fashion collection is amazing. Of course, I learn now it's all Prada. I wanted to reach through the screen and grab her jewelry and dresses! The one with the white crystals she wore to the party was genius and sublime. And, the overall theme of this movie is extramarital connections.

For Bollywood fans, Amitabh's appearance is quite short. So, don't go expecting a lot of screentime. But, as always, he delivers.

Returning to F. Scott Fitzgerald, I'm even more in awe of him. A story that is almost 100 years old is still luring and charming audiences. The story is the backbone of this movie, while everything else is its interpretation by the actors and the directors. 

Parental Comments
So, now that my daughter is 12 and this movie is rated PG-13, she's informed me that her friends have seen the movie and are reading the book. Well, bravo to the friends reading the book in 6th grade. I would have recommended they start with another Scott Fitzgerald story like "Curious Case of Benjamin Button" or something with less complex characters.

As for the movie, there are party scenes that are not appropriate for the tweens. I don't know if they would fully grasp the inference of "humping noises" in another room, but the overindulgence of alcohol, drugs and promiscuity is obvious in those party scenes.

Personally, I don't see the value of this movie being seen by a younger audience. My message to my daughter is that movies and books will always be there. They're not going away, and when you get older you'll get more out of them. There are books I read in my early 20's that are more meaningful now in my 40's.

It's hard when you're young to be patient and wait for the future. It's hard to know your friends have seen a movie that you can't see. However, as  parent, I don't want to be pushed by Hollywood, media or other parents who do not have the same beliefs I do. I know my parents would not have allowed us to watch this when I was in 6th grade; we were told to leave the room during "Three's Company." We'll just put this movie on hold for another few years and watch it after she reads "Gatsby" in school.

Sunday, March 03, 2013

The F Word - Feminism

This week we watched the documentary on PBS "Makers: Women Who Make America" and the videos can be found online. It's about 3 hours and I think I only caught part of it, so I'm excited the rest are online. My daughter did not watch it with me, but I'll have her watch this.

For me, I had a feminist awakening in college with my women's studies classes, which clearly defined situations. While watching this documentary, I remembered all these women from history, as well as the history we lived. I loved seeing Pat Schroeder's biography and miss her voice from the political arena today. It was inspiring to see this video because it reminds us of how recent the women's movement is in historical terms and the advancements that happened quickly. Once one  door was opened, others could follow through swiftly.

I'm proud to be a feminist and it comes down to a single idea: Feminism is giving women the choice to do what they want with their lives and not as it is decreed for them by society. If they'd like to be full time homemaker/stay at home mother, go for it. If they want to run a company or start their own business, they can. If they'd like to join the military and fly fighter jets, they should. It's their choice of how they want to live their life. That's it.

I'm dismayed by the next generation of young women who say "I'm not a feminism, but.." and they live their life enjoying the benefits of feminist movement. Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo!, says she's not a feminist. It's ironic when she's the female engineer and corporate executive. The early feminist movement fought hard for women to be accepted into science programs (there were limited quotas for women's admission). Plus, it was a challenge to be acknowledged seriously in the workplace. I don't know where she comes up with the "militant" feminists and "chip on shoulder" statement. Seriously, I'm not sure where she's seeing that - maybe there was an overly aggressive Women's Studies student in her dorm? I think we were all overly enthusiastic when we finally understood. By making this kind of statement, she's playing into the stereotype that feminists are militant and she's distancing herself from "those type of women". This is a crucial move on her part because it's doesn't threaten men. Maybe it's her own survival technique.

Frankly, "well behaved women seldom made history." Women had to be stronger and louder to be heard. Of course that made them "militant" and "lesbians" and "sluts" and any other name men could use to denegrate women to their "role."

When the next generation of women say they don't believe in feminism or think the world is just for all, they need to pick themselves up and walk over to another part of the world. Wait a second. Actually, sexism is still alive and well in the US. We saw that on the night of the Oscars with Seth MacFarlane's jokes about women's bodies and sexuality; there are a ton of articles out there but here is link to one that talks about "sexism fatigue"and how we don't even notice it. It was unacceptable and offensive, especially for a show. Unfortunately people thought he was funny because he had that charming smile on his face. (We were extremely offended by the 'boob song' when we have a 12 year old daughter watching the show. I thought Oscars were supposed to be family friendly?)

One of the sites/organizations that I follow regularly is Miss Representation. The film itself is astounding and enlightening (I saw this on OWN, but it's a must-see for all, men and women). I saw  films in college about portrayal of women's bodies in the media, and I believe I did a paper or two about this topic. However, this film made me realize that it hasn't changed much in 20 years and has potentially gotten worse. Now, as a parent, it's more alarming to see the sexism and "sexuality for sale" in the media.

Even though we're progressing socially, professionally, and academically, there are still reminders around us that we're still being considered "the other" and not part of the whole.

In one breath we can say we've come a long way, but the struggle is not over. Women are still held hostage by religion, by economic conditions and by political strife in different parts of the world. Like Hillary Clinton said, "women's rights are human rights" and should be treated as such.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Name It

With Quvenzhane Wallis coming into the spotlight, she brought her complex name into the media spotlight. There's been some discussions about media dubbing her "Little Q" to her directly. This shouldn't be a big thing when Jennifer Lawrence is now J Law, and you have Brangelina. On the other hand, here's one article about the importance of your name and owning it.The author brings forth this quote:

“Give your daughters difficult names,” Warsan Shire wrote. “Give your daughters names that command the full use of tongue. My name makes you want to tell me the truth. My name doesn’t allow me to trust anyone that cannot pronounce it right … Give your children difficult names, so the world may learn how to unfurl its tongue in the direction of our stolen languages.”

Well, I'm one daughter who received a difficult name. Growing up in the US, when the substitute or new teacher paused while reading the attendance, I knew it was my name. It's fairly easy once you've understood how it's pronounced. Ye, I've heard all sorts of variations - Ashoni, Ashina, Ashanti, Sheena. When people asked if I had a nickname, I always said no. "Ash" reminded me of a plate of dirty cigarette ashes. In the digital age, I've accepted the nickname Ash or Ashi since it's easier to type.

Indians tend to call me Ashwini, since Ashini is so unique. So, my first comment is "no W". It's a fine name, but just not mine. So, they're just as confused with my name and usually call me Ashwini anyway.

Professionally, I haven't had any noticeable issues with my name. When I introduce myself on calls, I usually say "I'm Ashini, etc." I've learned to take a pause because some people thought it was Mashini. Recently I acknowledged a client who said my name perfectly out of the gate. He joked that he noticed one of the other team members calling me all sorts of variations on my name. When that happens, I take it as a flaw on the person's side - not mine. I have no problems saying my name.

With that said, I've had fake names in my back pocket if I don't feel like spelling or explaining my name to the hostess at the restaurant who just needs to put my name down or the barrista who has to write on a cup. I used to use "Ashley" or "Jeeni" (off my maiden name Jani). When I got married, I hijacked my husband's nickname of "Sandy" since I know I've started acknowledging that one when the hostess calls us.

Last week, I noticed something unusual for me. I was travelling for work and was asked by the Starbucks barrista holding a cup and marker, "Can I have your name?" I responded "AJ" and that worked. I loved it! I don't know where it came from. Those are my initials for about 3/4 my life, so it makes sense. However, it was buried and just came out when I was away from home and alone.

So, thanks for allowing me to indulge in my own name for a bit. But I think that's my response to 'give your daughter's difficult names". You may give her the name, but how she chooses to wear it will be up to her.

On that note, I love that Annika has been specific about the pronounciation of her name since she was little. She's Annika - rhymes with Monica and Hannukah. She's been called Ann-ika or A-nika, which are common pronounciations. Then, she surprised us by using "Nikki" as a avatar names.