28 November 2012

Thanksgiving story: karma catch-up

I love the concept of Thanksgiving. I love the idea that at least once a year people in this part of the world pause and take a moment to express their gratitude. There is so much life to be thankful for- our family, our friends, our health. The list is practically endless.  But the occasion is not just about the thanks, its also about giving. So this year for thanksgiving, I wanted to share a story about 'giving'. And how it all somehow comes back.

Every year, N and I write out two small donations at this time of the year. Mine is usually to Vancouver's BC Children's Hospital- this place has a special place in my heart. It was the hospital where little V was born and I can never forget the wonderful service I received at this place- the doctors, the nurses, the staff were absolutely marvelous so I send them a little token of appreciation from little v and me every year. N's donation these days goes to St. Jude's Children's Hospital, which works hard for pioneering research for pediatric cancers.

This year as we were writing out the cheques, N told me a little story about the very first donation he ever made and how it all came back. About 10 years back, when N was in the last year of his undergraduate program, he got an internship with a pharma company in Mumbai. On his way back home one day, he saw an advertisement in the paper requesting donations for a young girl who was suffering from cancer. The girl was from a small town and belonged to a poor family who  unfortunately could not afford the expensive treatment needed to save the girl. Something about the story touched N so he sent him a cheque that night for half of his monthly internship income. With the cheque he sent the girl his best wishes and then forgot all about it. A few months later, N was pleasantly surprised to see a handwritten letter of thanks from the girl thanking him for his generosity and goodwill. Also included was a heartfelt invitation to visit them at any time in the future. Unfortunately, amidst all the hustle and bustle of the later years, N lost the letter. To this day, he regrets not keeping in touch with the girl-  we both hope that she is happy and healthy.

What is interesting for me though is that this good karma nudged N into the right direction. Years later, N went on to work with one of the best researchers on anti-cancer medications in North America- an experience of a lifetime. Not only that but at a time when getting jobs in US is tough even for experienced folks, N secured a position right after his PhD. Again, with a company focused on anti-cancer drugs.

You could call it coincidence. I call it good karma. I sincerely, earnestly believe in giving back- doesnt matter if its a little or lot. Its the gesture that matters. And the goodwill behind it. Because if it is with a clean conscience and a true heart, it has the power to make a difference.

I did not write this post with the intention of glorifying N. He is what he is. What I wanted to share was my takeaway from the story that once a good deed is done, even if we least expect it to (or perhaps because we least expect it to) it somehow always comes back.

 Picture courtesy: compassionistagirl.org

A very happy thanksgiving to everyone.

19 November 2012

Fall recap and Pumpkin-raisin muffins

Cannot believe that its November already!

Time has always flown in the past but these days it seems to be in a supersonic hurry. I don't even remember how summer slowly changed into fall and then into winter. All this while, I have been meaning to write about fall and its flavors and colors but never really got a chance. But now that I am determined to crawl back into the blog world, I thought I should go ahead and write a post. Better late than never.

Speaking of fall, I have to admit that this season is absolutely stunning in this part of the world. The green on the trees somehow changes to yellows, oranges, reds, and golds- its just gorgeous. It literally feels like God picks up a brush and paints the picture with his multicolored palette. And what a painter he is!! Check out these pictures if you don't believe me

Little v has been enjoying the leaves and their colors as well. He now knows his reds, yellows, oranges and green so picking up leaves and then identifying the right color brings enormous joy and pride to him (and me). Arlene, his nanny (God bless her sweet soul) has also been teaching him some fall leaf art- here's a sample- she helped make him this masterpiece by collecting fall leaves and then rubbing them on paper with crayons. Neat, I say!

While we are still talking about the little guy, here's a pic of him dressed up for Halloween. This year, he was a little dragon- almost everyone who saw him went 'awwww' (I did too). Here's a pic of him running from N. This, by the way, is the story of our life now- him running and we chasing.

And finally, because food is a big part of my life, I could not resist writing about these delicious pumpkin-raisin muffins I made a few days back.

I was looking for a good pumpkin bread (cake) recipe when I stumbled on Stephanie's Joy of Baking website- an absolute treat for any baking enthusiast. Her recipe for the pumpkin-raisin muffins seemed to be just what I was looking for so decided to give it a try. I followed her recipe almost completely, except for 2 changes- I used all purpose flour (instead of whole wheat flour and wheat bran) simply because I didn't have any whole wheat flour on hand. I also used only half a cup raisins instead of Stephanie's one full cup.

Pumpkin-raisin muffins
Recipe adapted from Joyofbaking's recipe from here
Makes 12 regular-sized muffins. 

1 cup canned pumpkin puree
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1/2 cup canola oil
1 1/2 cup all purpose flour  
3/4 cup granulated white sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup raisins 

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Place rack in the middle of the oven. 
2. Line 12 muffin cups with paper liners (or spray with a non stick vegetable spray).
3. Mix together the pumpkin puree, eggs, yogurt, and oil. 
4. In a separate bowl, sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. Add sugar.
5. Add the wet ingredients (from step 3) to the dry ingredients (from step 4). Stir until just combined. 
6. Fold in the raisins. Do not over mix the batter or the muffins will be tough when baked, says Stephanie. 
7. Fill the muffin cups with the batter using a tablespoon. 
8. Place in the oven and bake for about 18 - 20 minutes , or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Place on a wire rack to cool.

This was such a delicious recipe. The star of the recipe for me was the cinnamon - it brings out the pumpkin flavors superbly. N, who was a little sceptical of pumpkin muffins initially, loved it. I have already baked two batches in 3 weeks :)


P.S. Anyone notice my new blog name? I like it better- the old one was way too long!

08 November 2012

Life on H4

Yes, I know. Inspite of the best of my intentions, my blog postings have trickled to a meager few over the last few months. Given that I am at home these days, I should be posting more. But I guess that's exactly where life gets paradoxical. Somehow, being busy at work while we were in Canada inspired me more to pause and pen my thoughts that staying at home does. That, and of course the fact that I have little v demanding more my time with each passing day. And that I am lazy. 

So more than anything, I blame my blogging inertia on H4.

Its been quite a few months now since we moved from Canada to US. Also the exact time on which I am on H4 visa (the category of US visa for spouses of H1B visa holders- people from countries other than US (and Canada) who are qualified to work here in US). Since I cannot work while being an H4 visa holder, life in US has been almost a complete antithesis of my life in Canada. I have suddenly gone from being a full time no-kids-so-do-as-you-please working woman to a full time stay-at-home-house wife-little-kid-in-tow kind of a woman.

 Picture courtesy: redbus2us.com

Fortunately for me, the H4 timing is the best it could possibly be. Little v is now 19 months old and probably needs me more to be around him than at any later time in his life. I definitely feel reassured that I am around him at this time to set a good foundation- teach him the life skills from the very beginning that I hope will shape him into a good person in the future.

That being said, I have to admit a part of me longs to get back to work. Longs to put my brain cells to use. Longs to have an adult conversation that involves science and medicines and not just nap-times and lunch menus. 

Of course, I know I am not alone in this. Countless women (and some men) who accompany their spouses to US for their jobs face this crisis. In fact, here's a very interesting video I came across that talks about this issue. Meghana Damani, a H4 visa holder as well, decided to document her story - aptly titled 'Hearts suspended'. Check out her side of the story and what some of the Americans had to say about it.

And while I completely understand what the documentary means to say, I agree with every word that the discussion panel says towards the end of the video. At a time when the US economy is struggling and so many of their own are unemployed, it would be absolutely insensitive to think of leniency such as automatic work permits for spouses of H1B visa holders. 

Besides, I knew exactly what I was getting into before I made the move. I knew upfront that there was a high probability of being out of work for quite some time. I could have very well stayed back in Canada (or India for that matter) if I so badly wanted to work. But it was MY decision to move to US. MY decision not to break the family.And now that I have made my decision, I should also have it in me to face what it brings.

So for all its ups and downs, H4 has taught me some valuable life lessons that I dont think would have been possible if I didnt have this opportunity.
- It has made me realize me that I have a husband who incredibly, after all the years of marriage, truly loves and cares for me and little v. On countless occasions over the last few months, N has been my friend, philosopher, guide and more. He has pulled me up each time I would start falling in the 'why-is-life-here-so-monotonous?' pit.

-Being at home has let me make more friends in Boston than I ever could have imagined. Little v is a superb ice breaker (as all little kids are) so starting conversations and then making friends has been easy. I now have enough friends here so this finally feels like home.

-I have come to realize that there is so much more to life than work. Though I love my work (and I know that I will return to it one day), its only one part of my life. As cliched as it sounds, I have known only now that I define my work, my work does not define me.

-And most important of all, being at home has afforded me the luxury of watching my little baby grow from a tiny bundle to a tireless toddler on first hand basis. I have a feeling that one day when I get old and look back at my life, these will probably end up as my fondest memories.

So yes, life is beautiful. Even on H4.

Picture courtesy:lionhearteagle.blogspot.com


P.S. I would love to hear what you think - do drop a line  :)