Friday, April 18, 2014

So long, appacha...see you in Heaven

Life has been humming along for the most part since I last posted. Significant and hilarious moments, worth blogging about, have come and gone but the recent death of my father-in-law evoked a great deal of emotions in our children and is worth sharing. Read below, my eldest daughter Stefanie Joseph's moving essay on her reflections of her grandfather's (appacha's) passing.

When I walked into the hospital room and looked at my grandfather he didn't look anything like what  I had imagined. His face looked hollow, his eyes were closed and there were tubes coming out of his nose and his throat while he lay still. I don't know why, but when I imagined him in the hospital I imagined him awake, being able to talk, and exactly as I saw him when I was in sixth grade when we went to India. That was the last time I saw him.

I pictured that appacha would have his framed eyeglasses and his teeth and that he would be sitting upright in the bed and maybe when he saw his grandchildren he would get better, his body would
Appacha (aka Joseph Daniel)
suddenly heal. But that was a naive thought. Seeing him lying there unable to talk back, let alone know we were there in the hospital room brought me to tears. I was sad and upset because I didn't have a chance to say goodbye. I didn't have any last words to say to him before he passed away. The only memories he probably had of me were those little questions I would ask on the phone when he used to call. "How are you, appacha?" or "How's the weather in India?" Not anything really personal and not anything that might form an impressionable memory.

I felt upset that I couldn't tell him how much he really meant to me and how I appreciated him even though I didn't show it. I was sad that my dad would have to lose another parent in about a year and that he had to go through so much pain. I was upset with myself for not being sensitive towards the situation. When my dad would call the hospital constantly I would get irritated thinking that probably all my grandfather wanted to do was rest without constant calls from his son. But now I realize that wasn't the case. My dad was losing someone he loved and he used every opportunity he could to spend with him, even if it was just a phone call. These are the reasons I was in tears when I saw him lying in the hospital bed.

I had not seen someone on their deathbed or die before this. Whenever a loved one died it was unexpected, as when my ammachi died last year. But my appacha suffered much before he died and after all that suffering he went through he was going to die. It seemed unfair. People always say things get better, that suffering is unavoidable and in the end there will be happiness, that just seemed wrong. After he went through all his treatment he was being taken away from his family who loved him. How is that a good thing? How is that a happy thing? So, of course, I was sad to hear he was dying.

No one in my family had ever said the words “he’s dying” to me about appacha. It was always he's just doing bad so hearing the word dying made me very sad and I came to tears because it meant we were losing him soon. This is what I thought before I reached the hospital, but after I saw him in the hospital my views changed. I saw him and I began crying because he looked like he went through so much. I stood there staring at him and I felt that he was going to pass soon, that God will take him when we were still in Canada. I felt that God was being kind to him in taking away his suffering so he could be in a better place —  in heaven with him. He could no longer be in pain and sorrow but would be happy and he was going to get that happy ending.

God waited to call appacha home until the rest of my family got there and had a chance to see him. He wanted us all to have a chance to say our goodbyes and maybe just maybe my grandpa heard us. I think I am okay with his death because I know that God had a plan for him.  God works in mysterious ways. He has plans that we may not accept or understand but we can't stand in the way of God and we just need to believe that he has a better plan for all of us. That is why I am okay with my appacha's death. I know that he is in heaven and he is happy.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Mother, Myself and I

Foreword: For a Mother's Day special, I asked my dear friend, colleague and a mother of two daughters, Cindy Chin, to share why she so loves this day that brings out the best and worst in us. Cindy Chin is an editor at Newsday. She is also a life coach specializing in relationship coaching. She loves helping individuals and couples make the most of themselves and their relationships. If you would like guidance on living a more purposeful and fulfilling life or you want someone to help navigate some of your relationship challenges, contact Cindy at to discuss coaching services.


Ah, Mother's Day. A day when children lavish us with the sweetest homemade gifts they put together in school. A day when the family takes us out for brunch or surprise us with breakfast in bed. A day when husbands declare that it's “our day” to do whatever we please.

Believe me, I love all these sentiments, but my argument is this: Why do we get the royal treatment only one day year? So sounds like after Sunday, it’s back to the reality of housecleaning, making meals, chauffeuring kids from one event to the next, breaking up fights among siblings, and so on.

The truth is that as mothers we need to create times of pampering, rest and self-care and not wait for Mother’s Day to roll around to say “Calgon, take me away” from our work and chores. But what is holding us back from showering ourselves with love and affection? GUILT! It’s the mother of negative feelings. We often feel guilty saying we want to do something that doesn’t revolve around the kids. We fear others will find us selfish. And when we do venture off on our own or with friends, we feel the need to justify to other people why we’re not with our kids.

Don’t get me wrong: Being a mom is one of the most rewarding jobs anyone could have, but in order to lead a life of balance, don’t lose sight of all the other roles you’ve known and enjoyed: romantic partner, BFF, shopping buddy, outdoorswoman, writer, bookworm, arts and crafts lover, etc. It’s all these elements along with the precious gift of motherhood that round out our sense of purpose and fulfillment.

So on this Mother’s Day, let women celebrate motherhood and everything else that they are!

Cindy Chin is trained under the Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching, a fully accredited program with the International Coaching Federation. She has nearly 20 years of experience in communications, is a mother of two and active in the community. For more information, visit Cindy’s website at:

Monday, March 28, 2011

Clothes call: Designing mom fashions a plan

Teen and I have finally found a common thread that binds us together, but the fabric of our relationship is stretching thin.

There’s no skirting around this issue anymore. Now that teen is almost as tall as I am, she has taken to raiding my closet as she sees fit, and, frankly, this trend doesn’t suit me well.  I am thrilled that my children are growing taller but I don’t want them to do it at my expense. Every week, they engage in a pattern that makes me lose my stature before my own kids when all I want to do is stand tall and exercise my maternal authority. Our kitchen wallpaper bears the markings of my weekly humiliation. Teen, almost 15, is an inch or so shy of my 5-foot-1 frame. Middle child and son, still a few years from teenhood, are in a constant race with each other and with me to see who can one-up another. When I feel desperately hemmed in by the three kids I resort to offering motherly advice such as:  Drink your milk everyday so your growth is not stunted like mine to borrowing a line from Seinfeld: “I’m watching my height. My doctor doesn't want me to get any taller.”

But it is my teen’s latest fashion trend – borrowing my clothes whether or not the garments are a sure fit, lose fit or tight fit – that has me all ruffled up and rolling up my sleeves for a fight. Borrowing a T-shirt here or a sweat shirt there has me in knots. But borrowing a pink silk blouse on which I had spent a fortune is out of line. The other day, noticing that a sweater I wanted to wear to work was missing from my closet,  I rushed downstairs, my passions flaring, to give her the boot but I realized the teen also wore my lace-up waterproof footwear to school.

Now that my teen is literally walking in my shoes, I am raring for a catwalk fight. But I tell myself that I should take things in stride. Afterall, I’ve raided my mother’s closet in my younger days. Those Princess Diana-looking blouses and skirts that looked fine and dandy on my mom did not always look chic on me but I was more a fashion-wreck rather than fashion-forward back then.  Indian kids growing up in the eighties were not given an allowance to buy their own clothes and the chic-look was forbidden, lest a boy cast his lustful glance and snares the girl away from the clutches of her parents. Thus, for the earlier part of my teen years, I was doomed to commit major fashion faux pas.

My teen has better fashion sense at her age than I did but I don’t want any boy to have designs on her either (a subtle note of warning to all the boys out there). But I’m tickled pink to learn that teen thinks my clothes are haute couture and that she cares to parade them on her high school runway. She tells me that since she wore my lace-up boots to school, her own fashion stature has been upgraded. And did I say that her friends think I’m cool, too. To think that my teen looks up to me for style points and that I could drive fashion trends among teenagers makes me feel quite hip.

It’s very unlikely I will gain any actual inches to my stature since I am adamant about sticking with the aforementioned Seinfeld diet. But I can still reach the height of fashion, thanks to my teen, and accentuate the positive. Spring is here and I could use a new wardrobe. After all, I have an added parental responsibility now to keep my teen in style. My wallet will bleed but there is a lesson here in maximizing my opportunity. Teen will soon grow out of the skinny jeans and stylish tops that I buy for her, but I am bound to stay in vogue for the rest of my life.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Let's Face It: An FB post trumps nagging, hands down

Note: Today, I had the honor of writing a social-media related guest post for my friend's blog, Social Media Prism. A blogger and a public speaker, Farida Harianawala is an independent communications consultant for small businesses on Long Island and handles public relations, social media and content development through her company, Prism Media Services. You can check out Farida's views on social media and the rapidly changing world of communication and read my guest post on her blog at

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Currying flavor – and some good favor

Get a taste of this. I had the good fortune of being born in God's own Country, aka Kerala in South India, famous for its backwaters and tropical greenery, but it has taken me quite a few decades to turn over a new leaf and become an authentic, or pakka, Malayalee.

The reason, I am ashamed to say, is that when it comes to Indian cooking, I just don’t cut the mustard. Just ask my hubby or my parents. Unlike pakka Malayalee women who grow their own curry leaf (karivepilla in Malayalam) plant in their homes, I am probably one of a handful of Malayalee women in all of America who runs to the Indian grocery store to pick up a few sprigs of frozen or few-weeks-old curry leaves to use in any number of traditional Keralite dishes I normally don’t cook. Substitute basil or any other herbs, and you are toast. (Note to Americans: Curry leaves are NOT the same as curry powder (a mix of dry spices) and pakka Indians don’t use curry powder either. When making a dish, you usually pop mustard seeds in oil and fry the curry leaves with onions and chilies before adding other ingredients/spices.)

Curry leaves Mydaas!

Let me make this clear. Long, curly hair (which most Malayalees cut short and blow out or straighten these days) and varying shades of olive complexion do not a Malayalee woman make. The ultimate measure of a Malayalee woman lies in how well she grows and nurtures the small native Indian plant, standing by some estimates about 4-6 meters tall – that can grow taller than an average Malayalee woman – and produces aromatic green leaves that look a bit like bay leaves, are leathery in texture and have a citrusy flavor. Cultivating one or more curry leaf plants is as essential to a Malayalee woman’s status in society as the curry leaf is to South Indian dishes. The plant, a Malayalee woman’s pride and joy, is a testament to her heritage and is key to earning her a top chef star prize at any dinner parties.

Since I don’t sport a green thumb – my two previous attempts at growing the plant failed to take root — I’ve always considered myself a Malayalee cook not worth her salt. Garden-variety Indian that I am, I cook up quite a storm in my house by making Italian, Spanish, Mexican and other non-Keralite dishes, but when the craving for Indian food hits me and mom is not around, I confess I’ve bought curry leaves that another woman grew in her pot. Hubby, always a good sport, has had no choice in this matter but to live by this adage: “If you don't like my cooking, lower your standards.”

But last summer, a relative who cherishes her garden of aromatic curry plants as a mother cherishes her son, sensed that I was really up a tree and offered me a tender plant. Within months, the plant almost died on me, coincidentally, after a good friend remarked why in the world I needed a curry leaf plant, while I served him pasta puttanesca topped with chopped basil, for dinner.

He was probably just green with envy, but my plant has since sprouted fresh leaves and I am back in the good graces of pakka Malayalees – and have found new favor in my hubby’s eyes. Now, I can stand as tall as any pakka Malayalee, or the curry leaf plant. Who can’t relish that!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Look who’s crying fowl

Thanksgiving Day, I’m finding out, is less about giving thanks and all about maintaining family traditions.

This year, I thought, I’d chuck just one tried and true family custom for a new one, but this has ruffled quite a few feathers in our household. For the past some years, on the fourth Thursday every November, I’ve been waking up before the rooster crows to slave over a bird that never bothers to thank me. So, this year, I’ve decided to take the advice of some fine experts who insist I ditch the annual “martyrdom” and instead enlist the help of other Indians and Pilgrims to cook up the golden bird.

I didn't realize I'd be taking on the role of the fabled "Little Red Hen." I asked my mom and my younger sisters if they would be honored to take over the turkey duty. They all said they lacked the pluck to handle a wild fowl. Running out of options, I volunteered my hubby. He’s usually a good sport but he didn’t like being bagged and looked for an escape, including soliciting Obama to consider him for this year’s presidential pardon.

But faced with the prospect of a turkey-less Thanksgiving, he decided to get back in the game and offered to go round up a gobbler. As he ran out the door, he asked, “So, should I get a 40- or a 50-pounder?” I was just thankful hunting season on Long Island was off to a slow start.

Fearing the worst -- no bird to grace my dinner table on T-day -- I sat down to contemplate on alternatives. I could save a turkey and send out for pizza, cook a duck, or a chicken. I wouldn’t have to face two weeks of turkey leftovers and sandwiches. But no matter how you slice it, Thanksgiving just isn’t Thanksgiving without the turkey.

As I chastised myself for listening to the experts and was about to set out to the market to buy a bird and embrace martyrdom, my cousin called to talk turkey. And she offered to take care of the big bird for the big feast. “Golden,” I said, ever grateful for her help. Now I can sleep in on Thanksgiving Day while coz slaves away in the kitchen. And I hope my hubby will be back in time from his hunting session to carve the bird.

A reader alerted me to updated statistics on teen texting (see previous post). reports that the average teen sends 3,339 texts per month. Thanks reader!!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

‘Dear Mom, YTB. XOXO’

That’s the text message I would get from my teen should I get her a text messaging plan. And I’d respond: “FCOL, IHA. Stop being so kewl.”

Of course, I would have to consult an Internet slang dictionary every time I needed to communicate with my own daughter.

[Translation for above text slang
Headline: “Dear Mom, You are the best. Hugs & kisses.”
My response to her: “For crying out loud. I hate acronyms. Stop being so cool.”]

It took three years of lobbying before teen finally got her first (freebie aka ugly) cell phone just a few months before she graduated from eighth grade. When she was in fifth grade, she had handed us a list of top 10 reasons stating why she should get a cell phone. It took her dad and me three years to work out the contradictions listed therein (I can call my friends vs. I will always use it for emergency only) to process the request.

But teen’s latest request, via email and chat phishing attacks, is not making me LOL, laugh out loud. For one thing, teen has offered just two reasons: her friends never talk on the cell phone, they only text; and “it’s the cool thing” — which means she expects us to deliver the verdict in less than three years. Two, her reasons are not plausible. Parents so do not want their children to be “cool.” We want them to master their chemistry, biology and social studies so they can earn a Nobel prize and be “cool” in their later years.

Moreover, we discovered, for a child who said she and her friends hardly ever talk on the cell phone, she definitely has a way with words. Our last two cell phone bills leave us speechless. The mobile company assured me there was no billing error. Teen just has a gift of gab.

If the old-fashioned way of communicating is cost-prohibitive, perchance it might be a better idea to get teen a text plan. Apparently, she will be joining a host of kids doing “the cool thing.” The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project reported in April that 72 percent of all 12-to-17-year-olds in the country send an average of 1,500 texts a month.

Obviously, teen texting is getting way out of hand and inflicting financial and emotional pain on many families. But as a parent, I’d like to have the last word in this conversation. Since teens are great at KPC, keeping parents clueless, for any text plan to work in my house, I would need to get a PhD in teen-IM slang so I can decipher all the messages teen sends and receives.

Given my current time constraints, learning to crack the code of teen lingo will take at least another four years. By then teen should have graduated high school and be able to afford her own new "cool" cell phone and text messaging plan.

OO, Over and out.