Life Lately- November Edition

Life Lately- November Edition

paul-itkin-46110

Photo by paul itkin on Unsplash

Greetings from chilly Brooklyn where I’m currently sitting cocooned in a sea of blankets and sipping a cup of hot early grey tea. It’s currently 4:30AM and I’m suffering from a seemingly incurable bout of jet lag. Not that I’m complaining (completely). Jet lag has turned me into a functioning morning person. I’ve gone to early morning Pilates classes, knocked off worked projects before the sun rises, and have generally felt like a real adult. And even though this happens after every trip past the Atlantic, I can never seem to keep up the routine. The allure of that snooze button becomes too great after a week of being a morning person. I thought I would take advantage of the early hours to write this month’s Life Lately post. Can you believe that it’s December 1st tomorrow? Where did the month go? Actually, where did this year go?Hope that you are all ready and excited for this year’s Holiday season. I’m looking forward to hearing what you’ll are up to!

Cheers, A

 

Currently Eating: G’s super special chili. I’m still hoping that one day he’ll let me share the recipe so everyone can enjoy this super tasty (and reasonable healthy) chili. (Hint: It involves coconut milk)

Currently Craving: BCD Tofu House‘s Soon Tofu Soup. Because it’s winter and I like warm things.

Currently Drinking: Fortnum & Mason Earl Grey Tea.

Currently Bookmarking: Celestine– purely for the Brooklyn Bridge views.

Currently Re-Reading:  Murder on the Orient Express. This is one of those books that I re-read every couple of years. This time, I re-read it because of the new movie release. I didn’t care for the movie (no one who has ever seen the David Suchet version of Hercule Poirot could) but the story itself is still marvelously cheeky.

Currently on my Nightstand: A Gentleman in Moscow. I started this back in April and it’s been sitting on my night stand ever since. Don’t get me wrong. It’s interesting but it seems like the type of book that you need to consistently dedicate a couple hours to. And, I haven’t had that type of time. Maybe over the holidays?

Currently Recommending: Movie Pass. Back in August, we signed up for MoviePass, and to say it’s completely transformed our movie theatre going experience is an understatement. For a set fee, ($6 – $10) you can see a movie a day in the majority of theaters. Given that NYC movie tickets are $15, it’s a steal. I’m not sure how MoviePass is making money or how they will sustain this business model, but I’m not questioning it (too much).

Currently Watching: Stranger Things 2 . I know, I know. It was released over a month ago. But G+ I have been so busy (and can’t watch it without each other) so we just finished it yesterday.

Currently Making: Holiday Potpourri from Half Baked Harvest. Every holiday season, I bookmark about a hundred links to make our apartment smell like the inside of log cabin filled with apple pies. I never do it. But, this feels like the year.

Currently Listening to: Imogen Heap. #tbt

Currently Loving: Sunrises + Sunsets. The only good thing about the early darkness winter hours.

Currently Visiting: Yayoi Kusama: Festival of Life exhibit at David Zwirner’s Gallery.

Currently Reminiscing About: The Maldives. Best vacation EVER. Post-coming soon!

Currently Traveling Through: Brooklyn –> San Antonio –> Brooklyn –> Kolkata

Currently Looking Forward To: the holidays.

Monthly Recap from the blog:

  • This year’s Thanksgiving was actually an early Friendsgiving with 25 of our closest friends and family. Check out our epic menu. But please don’t do it on an empty stomach.
  • Interested in going to Western Europe, but skipping the typical Tourist countries? Check our my guide to Belgium.
  • This bookworm slash food lover finally got her act together and made a list of “Five Books for Foodies“. It’s a mix of fiction and non-fiction (and the one rare cookbook) suggestions.
  • Craving something healthy but yummy? Try Chrissy Teigen’s Pork Stuffed Cucumber Soup. I did, and now I can’t stop thinking about it.

A Special Birthday Post

A Special Birthday Post
annie-spratt-96526lizzie-254530
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I think Mindy Kaling said it best when she wrote “…I guess I’m just one of those weird kids who likes their parents too much.” Except for today, I need to expand the quote to say that I’m a kid that likes my family too much. Today, is a very special day. Today, I get to celebrate the birthdays of the two most amazing and inspiring (did I mention, talent) women in my life- my aunt Ranu Pishi and my mom. I know I’m biased, but both of these women are the most inspiring role models a person could have.
Ranu Pishi. You are the true definition of selflessness. Every time I see you, you go above and beyond to make sure everyone around you is comfortable. Whether that means chasing down the grey haired ladies to get the perfect Lapin recipe or staying up late, after a full day of work, to hang out and make time for your niece. You manage to entertain a barrage of never-ending guests and without requesting anything for yourself. I’ve watched you countless times from age 0 till now, selflessly helping those around you. I’m SO lucky to have you in my life.
Mom, I know I’m biased, but you are truly one of the most incredible, talented, stylish, innovative, endlessly giving, super humans that I know in my life. You inspire me every day and have taught me that no person operates independently in this life. You have created (and sustained) such an incredible network of both men and women for me to look up to. Thank you for being the constant source of inspiration- from encouraging me to dive deep into life, even when I cause you get distress (ahem, Bangkok and Spain).  
I’m very happy that you are celebrating together. I’m sending the biggest hugs possible.
Love,
Aheli/Ghurni

Life Lately – October Edition

Life Lately – October Edition
yasin-erdal-325792
Photo by: Yasin Erdal

Greetings from chilly San Francisco- where I’m currently resting in between back to back conferences in Phoenix and Minneapolis. These past four er five weeks have been a wonderful mix of work and relaxation. The calm before the storm as they say. I wanted to continue my Life Lately series with a special Fall/Halloween themed post. Let me know what your favorite Halloween activities are! – A

 

Currently Eating: Lorenzo‘s Turkey BLT on Dutch Crunch with extra Garlic Oil . Not halloween or fall themed, but I just landed in SF sooooo #sorrynotsorry

Currently Craving: Ghost Pretzels. PLEASE someone makes these for me.

Currently Drinking: Domaine Economou Oikonomoi Liatiko 2006.

Currently Reading:  Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

Currently Recommending: Any of these scary books. Especially Rebecca.

Currently Watching: Mindset followed by Halloween Wars.

Currently Making: Apple Turnovers ;)

Currently listening to: My Favorite MurderStay sexy. Don’t get murdered.

Currently loving: The Vixen Workout 

Currently visiting: Fishkill Farms because apple picking.

Currently reminiscing about: Sleepy Hallow. My first time there and I want to go back.

Currently traveling through: SF for the weekend to celebrate my BOF – best of friendssss— Jo’s 30th birthday. Then onto Minneapolis.

Currently looking forward to: Thanksgiving. Because it’s never too early to start planing your eating strategy.

Recap from the blog:

  • It’s Diwali time. So learn how I celebrate another fun holiday- Durga Puja.
  • Did you just go apple picking and need a quick, fool proof recipe?
  • Curl up with these scary books
  • Hack your carry-on with these travel tips

Diving into Durga Puja

Diving into Durga Puja
This past weekend, I traveled back to Connecticut to celebrate Durga Puja– a jubilant multi-day celebration of the hindu goddess Durga. I’ve been attending these celebrations- filled with prayers, performances and most importantly, good food- since I was a little kid. But this year in particular was special because I brought G along for the first time.
 
I won’t lie. I was both excited and terrified that G was coming. I find it super hard explain Durga Puja and honestly, I usually rely on my mom- -an internationally renowned scholar on human rights, women’s rights, peace-building and religion- to help explain Hinduism and the significance of Durga PujaThe problem was- she was in Los Angeles doing very important work for the weekend. I didn’t want to give any lackluster explanations about what was happening so I asked my mom for help. She- being the wonderful WONDERFUL woman she is- filled a dropbox folder with different articles, videos, blog posts and images for me to read.  I regressed to my former college self- highlighting, taking notes and binge-drinking cups of tea- trying to learn the full history and social context of Durga.
 
And…the weekend went well. G impressed everyone with his knowledge of Durga (and all the Bengali terms he learned last year on his trip to India), and enjoyed the “inclusive” “relaxed” and “unstructured” nature of the whole event (his words, not mine). I thought, given the amount of work my mom did for me (amidst all her other commitments), that I would try to piece together a blog post about Durga Puja. If you are really interested in the subject, I highly recommend reading Living Our Religions and The Religion of Man (Tagore). They do a far better job of capturing the essence of religion. I hope you enjoy.
– A
 

Diving into Durga Puja

***************************************************************************
A couple of caveats before I start this very simplistic breakdown of Durga Puja
  • I am not an expert
  • There is no way to capture “what is hinduism” because it varies from person to person
  • Hindu celebrations vary widely and few are celebrated the same way
  • Most spiritual terms cannot be wholly translated into English
  • My most wonderful cousin- Sanchita Bhattacharyya- is an incredible photographer and provided me with all the photos of Kolkata Durga Puja.
  • I could not do this with out my mom- I am indebted to her brilliance and compassion.
*******************************************************************************

What is Durga Puja?
Durga Puja is a four day celebration in late September or October of the goddess Durga. During Durga Puja, Hindus celebrate her victory over evil with special prayers, readings, decorations and dramatic events recounting her legend.

Who is Durga?
Durga is the goddess of strength and power. Accordingly to Hindu mythology, when a particular Asur (demon) got too strong for the male gods, they collectively appealed to Durga to vanquish the demon. They showered her with their most potent weapons, one for each of her ten hands. But victory was not easy. The asur kept changing his form to evade her. Finally, Durga tracks him down, hiding in the skin of a water buffalo, and slays him.
5. Durga- Gabriel
Durga is typically depicted in moment she victoriously kills Asur.  This image (above) shows her in action, yet her face is calm and serene. Durga is violent, not because of her hatred, egotism or pleasure in violence, but because she acts out of necessity, for peace, for love, and for preservation.
She is also often shown surrounded by her four children- Lakshmi the goddess of wealth, Saraswati the goddess of learning, Kartik the god of war, and Ganesh, the god of benevolence. Now Durga is powerful enough to be shown by herself. She was the only one capable to defeat the Asur. However, she is not alone in the universe. She was strengthened by the gifts & knowledge from the other gods. She acts in the interests of protecting her children and the future generation. This is why Durga is known as both the “warrior goddess” and the “mother goddess.
 
IMG_5609
 
During Durga Puja, we are reminded that we are all connected.  No one person can act alone, autonomously, without affecting others. It is our manava dharma (religion of mankind) to become more human by acknowledging and enacting this interconnectedness to the universe. Durga represents everyone regardless of religion, gender, or orientation. During this time, we are reminded to think about our place in the universe, renew our ethical commitments, reconnect with family & friends, and stand up for goodness and justice in the world. Durga is a part of us- representing our ability to challenge wanton violence and might, and a figure we aspire to be.
 
The Cool Social Justice-y History of Durga Puja
Durga Puja as we know it today was popularized in the 20th century as an act of resistance.
 
Worshiping Durga dates back millennia. Originally, worship occurred in temples throughout India, most abundantly in Bengal. In the 18th century, Kolkata’s elite- wealthy kings, landlords, and merchants- began organizing pujas within their homes- combining the religious ceremonies with theatrical and musical performances.
 
As Durga Puja began to shift into a elite cultural event- the British started taking over India, imposing rules, segregations and hierarchies. During this time, Durga became a symbol of resistance- a goddess who fights against “evil” (British colonialism). As interest in Durga increased, community members initiated Durga Pujas in outdoor areas- like like fields and parks, and away from the private temples and residences. These sarbojanin pujas (collective worship) were open to all- irrespective of religion, gender, age or class. What was originally an exclusive family affair transformed a whole community event.
 
Celebrating Durga Puja
 
Durga is rarely a permanent deity in a Bengali temple. Her image is created in clay before each puja and at the end of the five days, her image is immersed into the river water. Her image is housed in a temporary public edifice- called a pandalEvery Durga image and pandal are different as you can see below. Each reveals a mesmerizing display of artistry and skills, made even more special given they are only created for a short period of time. Below you’ll see a series of images taken by my cousin. She and my mother visited Kumortuli where they create the images of Durga.
 

1. Acquiring Clay

© Sanchita Bhattacharyya

1B. Durga head

© Sanchita Bhattacharyya
2. Details
© Sanchita Bhattacharyya

3. Skilled Craftsmen Skilled Craftsman from Kurmatoli © Sanchita Bhattacharyya

4. Photographing Durga
Photographing Durga © Sanchita Bhattacharyya
One of the best places to celebrate Durga Puja is in Kolkata. You may have read my account of crossing the street or tales of chili garlic prawns, but Kolkata during Durga Puja is a whole atmosphere.  During Durga puja, Kolkata transforms into a multi-day open air art festival filled with makeshift artistic displays and performances. The city closes, as a carnival-like atmosphere descends on the city as people hop from one pandal to another, enjoying the sensory overload.  Each neighborhood and club in Kolkata tries to outdo one another  through the form, material, and beauty of the images and pandals they commission. As you will see below- the themes & images range dramatically.
22045962_10154651087270633_6215946992692988450_n
© Sanchita Bhattacharyya
Pandal Detail- Bosepukur Sitalamandir
Chalta Bagan Lohapotti © Sanchita Bhattacharyya
Shibmandir Pandal
Shibmandir Pandal © Sanchita Bhattacharyya
14500339_10153746779495633_252720758682036166_o
© Sanchita Bhattacharyya
Chalta Bagan Lohapotti Scale
Chalta Bagan Lohapotti © Sanchita Bhattacharyya
14700901_10153750703710633_8165664198551291025_o
Sponsored by Google © Sanchita Bhattacharyya
7. Beliaghata
Beliaghata Pandal © Sanchita Bhattacharyya
6. Durga Beliaghata
Beliaghata Durga © Sanchita Bhattacharyya
 
Conclusion(-ish)
The celebrations in Kolkata are magnificent. I truly cannot wait to visit one day. My own experience celebrating is very different. Growing up in Connecticut, I took time out of school to celebrate with my family and the rest of the (very small) Bengali community. Durga Puja was squeezed into a weekend, where we’d head over to a local school auditorium or church hall. On Friday night, men and women would set up the hall with our recycled images while playing Bengali music and eating Bengali food. At this time, I’d join my other Bengali friends in extreme games of hide & seek or tag as the grown ups did their thing. On Saturday morning, we’d all come together, say some prayers, and then watch various performances over the next two days.
To me, while growing up, the religious ceremony was one small part in a larger celebration to hang out with other Bengali people- something I didn’t get to do in my normal day to day. As an adult, I struggle to contextualize this experience to my partner and many friends who grew up attending church or temple. I was brought up in a non-faith based, non-ritualistic Hindu tradition. We did not gather at a specific temple, have a specific priest or follow any set of rules defined in a book. Instead, I was brought up to live religion in a spiritual, philosophical sense. I was expected to figure out for myself — hence my typical inability to express feelings about religion as actual articulated thoughts- how to be connected to a larger universe. It is an evolving process, and something that I will continue to ponder here as I wander around.

Life Lately- September Edition

Life Lately- September Edition

Happy Friday! Since my last Life Lately went pretty well, I thought I would try to make this a monthly series. These last four weeks have been insane: three trips- DC, Montreal & Paris, two big work projects, and (whimper) the end of summer. Here’s a summary of life back in Brooklyn.

Currently Eating: Akuri (Spiced Indian Eggs)

Currently Craving: happy hour (aka the $1 oysters I found at the Jane on Saturday)

Currently Drinking: The 2014 Bartolo Mascerello Barbara d’Alba I tried with my parents at Joe Beef in Montreal

Currently Reading:  Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Currently Recommending: The Trespasser by Tana French. Mystery.

Currently watchingBig Little Lies. I just started it yesterday.

Currently makingPainting terra-cotta planters…and trying to develop a green thumb.

Currently Bloglovin’:  Remote Rhode. Duh. Steph is awesome, and recently features how we met on her blog.

Currently listening to: Jain’s Makeba

Currently commuting to: How I Built This– one of my favorite podcasts. My favorite will always be the interview with Sara Blakely.

Currently loving: the Surfset workout– it’s surfing but on land. Okay not really but do get to do surf-like moves on a surfboard on top of three yoga balls. Diana and Aaron make this one of the best workout classes I’ve ever taken.

Currently visiting: Tasting at the Tenement Museum. The Tenement Museum is one of my favorite museums in New York, and every Thursday they host a tour to explore and taste influence of immigrant culture.

Currently reminiscing about: Paris. Take me back please. Also, a post is in the works but you can check out my Instagram for a quick glimpse.

Currently traveling to: my college for our volunteer weekend. SO excited.

Currently looking forward toFALL. Because sweaters, changing leaves and HOT tea (sorry no PSLs for this lady) are my JAM.

 

 

 

[Updated] How to Help During a Natural Disaster

[Updated] How to Help During a Natural Disaster

If you are like me, you’re still trying to wrap your head around the devastation from the hurricane in Texas, the hurricanes in the Caribbean & Florida, the earthquakes in Mexico, the floods in South Asia, and the inhumane DACA rescinding decision. If you’re also like me, you may panicking over how to actually help those families in need and not just be another social media post in #internetland.

So:

How do you help those who have lost everything– their homes, their jobs for the foreseeable future, or even loved ones?

Full disclosure: I don’t have the answer. I personally donated to three organizations: Ramakrishna Mission (South Asian flood relief), Team Rubicon (Hurricane Irma/Veterans) and Global Giving (Mexican Earthquake/Local NGOs) after extensive talks with my brilliant friends and family.

I thought I’d share some of their advice on how they donate their time or money:

1. Donate Blood.

If you can’t make a financial donation, consider donating blood. It’s free (!) and it’s needed desperately. Find your local blood drive here.

2. Donate Supplies.

If blood isn’t your thing, consider sending in specific supplies. There are medical supplies organizations, like Portlight that provide relief for people with disabilities or Direct Relief, that deliver prescription drugs and medical supplies. You should also seriously consider sending specific items like diapers, undies, bras and menstrual products because human bodily functions don’t stop for natural disasters. (I wish).

3. Think Internationally

Obviously, there is a lot going on in the US right now, but it’s important to think internationally. Nepal, Pakistan, India and Bangladesh have endured a record amount of severe monsoon rainfall. Approximately 1,200 people have died and millions of people have been displaced. The earthquake in eastern coast of Mexico- particularly in Oaxaca- has resulted in 90 confirmed deaths and the islands in the Caribbean- such as Barbuda and Turks & Caicos are completely devastated.

It can be hard to find a reputable place to donate domestically (points 6&7), so it may feel impossible to donate effectively abroad. Global Giving is a global fundraising platform for connects nonprofits, donors and community organizations across the world. Global Giving is a highly rated nonprofit and carefully vets the local nonprofits it funds, so you can have some confidence your money is going to the right place.

Side note: I personally donated to Ramakrishna Mission who have boots on the ground for the flood victims, Team Rubicon and to Global Giving’s efforts for the Mexico Earthquake and Hurricane Relief fund.

4. Support Veterans 

I recently read about a wonderful organization called Team Rubicon that hires veterans and  them to lead recovery and relief efforts for natural disasters. You can donate and track their progress here. I love the idea of investing in people who are often overlooked but have the perfect skillset for emergency disaster relief. I did make a small donation and will continue to research them as they are not on Charity Navigator (see below).

5. Volunteer (or at least sponsor a Volunteer Program)

This organization- All Hands- was recommended by a friend and featured on Charity Navigator. You can read their transparency report here. You can donate cash directly, to a smaller collective, start a fundraising program, or donate time. All Hands works after first responders, working with FEMA assisting as a liaison with local organizations helping with the rebuilding process.

6. Support Small Organizations

I try to support smaller and more established organizations that have worked in the community before disaster struck. These organizations, in my opinion, are more effective in delivering relief and are in greater need of funds. This is hard– these smaller organizations spend less time marketing themselves (so they will not come up on your google search) because they are actually helping out. For example, my mother- genius woman of life- reached out directly to G’s mom in Texas to ask her if her church was accepting donations. (Yes, they are).  My mom has sent money that she knows will go directly to the less talked about- low-income, “communities of color” neighborhoods outside of Houston. Win for all. Some larger organizations spend more time on optics over care. If you’re struggling, see the next point.

Puerto Rico Relief: 

7. Do Your Research

No matter if you are donating to a small or larger organization, please PUH-LEASE research the organization. Yes, even if your favorite athlete, politician, celeb du jour advocated for it in a tweet. The FTC provides a helpful checklist on how to safely donate. The BBB Wise Giving Alliance and two other watchdogs, Charity Navigator and CharityWatch, have released lists of more than a dozen highly rated groups- like Direct Relief– that are position to effectively help. The last thing you want to do is donate your hard earned money and not have it go towards a family in need.

A note for online donations: I highly recommend setting up Apple Pay or using Pay Pal when doing your online donations.

8. Be a consistent volunteer

I find that the easiest way to avoid becoming overwhelmed is to give consistently through the year. This is probably the hardest action you can take. I do recognize that some people cannot give time or money.  If it is an option, please consider doing one of the following.

the basic volunteer

And I mean as in #BASIC, like a “plaid shirt wearing, PSL lovin’, I’ll probably snapchat about this later.” You can start small (and honestly, I feel a little more superficially) by doing things like…signing up for Amazon Smile. For every eligible purchase you make, 0.5% of the price goes to your selected nonprofit.

the “I want to but” volunteer

Dip your toes in the water with some infrequent volunteering. For any one in the New York Area- New York Cares is a great organization that allows you to do “on-demand” volunteering. Sign up, and search through different volunteer opportunities from cleaning parks, volunteering at food banks, teaching older people computer skills, leading yoga classes….all based on when you have the time.

the “A+” volunteer

Make a weekly commitment. I swear by the VITA Tax Program to prepare tax returns for low income families and people with disabilities. It is the MOST meaningful thing that I have done in a long time. Every week, I meet dozens of families, briefly learn about their different life circumstances, and apply my tax knowledge to get them the best return possible. It’s personally gratifying to walk away knowing that you’ve gotten X amount of money back for a family that you know needs every single dollar to survive in the city. I will say that it’s challenging. You must invest a lot of time- to learn and qualify to prepare taxes, to commute to remote parts of the city, to spend an hour with each family going over mundane parts of the people’s financial lives. But I think it’s worth it to be an active and contributing part of our community. I love getting to meet (and learn from) other people and spend that time to do something I wouldn’t normally do in my every day, non-tax season life.

I hope this helps. Seriously comment below and I will keep this post updated.

 

Wander with Steph Jones of Remote Rhode

Wander with Steph Jones of Remote Rhode

Meet Steph Jones; she is the author of the popular running blog, Remote Rhode, and does (sometimes crazy) cool things like swim from Alcratraz, packs a single backpack for a wedding in Scotland, and starts marathoning with infamous Marine Marathon. She’s also one of my best friends. We met 3,068 miles from our homes, carrying the same awesome (some people may say ridiculous) green and pink flamingo sheets, conquered creepy hostels, chased old ladies for lapin recipes and have wandered through ten countries together. It made perfect sense to feature her adventures in wandering…of the totally impressive and hardcore running kind.

// Continue reading “Wander with Steph Jones of Remote Rhode”