Rediscovering a piece of me

My posts are few and far between, given that life is a full time job and parenting makes it even fuller, but even with the busy times I have to sit back and enjoy the thoughts and experiences I’m enjoying. The sweet whispering sound of my daughter inventing music, narrating her day in singsong and suddenly shutting her mouth tight when she observes me listening attentively to her. How is that she senses my keen ear so astutely and looks at me with her piercing, knowing eyes.

Yes, mommy, I know it’s you wanting to hear me, but this song is for us alone and for this moment only, and you cannot share it.

But she must know that it is in her blood to sing. So she must sing loudly and for everyone around and to do her best to bring joy – or at least a smile, to a person’s day with music. I got to rediscover a beloved piece of me that had truly hidden in the background when parenthood paired with a demanding full-time job began.

Ah, sweet singing, choral music.

My new music folder

I used to tease someone I love very much who constantly wants to join fitness programs and thrives in the camaraderie it brings him – the friendships, the collective energy of working out in a group. But my secret in my workout routines is that I HATE working out as a group, I can’t stand the encouragement, I can’t stand the competitiveness of the various people; I can’t stand when someone cheers me on while I’m lifting a barbell. And let’s face it, I can’t really lift a barbell right now anyway.

But get me in a group of singers and the joy of the group is the THING. Fellow singers lift me up with a collective energy. Being in a choir brings me back to so many points in my life where I have enjoyed the thrill of overtones, the explosive joy of triple forte and the mystery of mezzo piano. Learning what a line is and avoiding the “padiddle in the middle of the night.” (Thanks, Jim Marvin, for that one).

So now I have joined an absolutely lovely choir – Te Deum – with which I’ll be enjoying my first performance in a few weeks.
 And I go to rehearsal after long, exhausting days in which I’ve barely finished charting and swallowing down a sandwich in order to drive over to practice. My eyelids are droopy, but I go in that church to sing. And I’m surrounded by a whole group of people who do this – many of whom do this for their livelihoods. They’ve come to the evening with preparedness and verve. And even if we’re a little squeaky when we get started, suddenly we’re all in groove and in sync and it’s just so darned fun.

The 2.5 hours passes as if in the blink of an eye, and I chat with my new colleagues to learn more about them prior to us all going back out in the cold night to our daily lives. And I feel that piece of myself waking back up that has given my life such a wonderful spark. And I get back home after the family is asleep, house dark. I’m chilly and sleepy but not quite ready for bed.

So I write, just a little bit.

Then I think of my little daughter and all the adventures she will have. Oh the many artistic pieces of her life that are just now starting to bring her enjoyment. It fills me with curiosity to think of what influence these extremely early experiences will have on her. What will jazz her and what teeny piece of all the things she enjoys – singing, dancing, humming, scribbling and drawing, learning to read . . . .which of these will make her tick? Or will it be something entirely different? And what will she remember of all this her mom is doing?

I can only hope she won’t mind that I kept singing, even if it brought mommy home late from a job that already brings her home late. But I think she’ll understand. I hope she already does.

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O.M.G. The Greatest Green Chutney Ever

Let me tell it to you straight. I may come from Indian heritage, but I don’t really like green chutney, never have. I was always a nothing-but-imli chutney kind of gal — my sweet tooth always triumphs, even when it comes to Indian food. Maybe that’s why I’m such a huge fan of Gujarati food in general . . and chocolate and ice cream.

I generally found green chutney to be a bit too salty or too spicy, and generally nothing to write home about. And certainly nothing to replace my beloved imli chutney with. Until I ate THIS chutney. Oh. My. God.

I remember the day like it was yesterday. Ok, it was about two months ago – Christmastime – when my dear Aunt Marie brought over a few jars of green chutney to share with us. She also made some chutney sandwiches to boot.  How could I know that crustless thin white bread and a simple bright green spread could bring me so much joy. But once I had some, I HAD to have more.

But alas, after Christmas, I flew back to my new home in Kansas City, with nothing but my clothes, the kids’ holiday gifts, and chutney-ridden dreams.

Let me tell you something – I’ll get political here as I do. Immigrants matter and contribute to the United States culture so you obviously know where I stand. But did you also know that a certain aunt of mine who happened to immigrate here years ago makes the most amazing chutney you’ve ever had!??  Now you can find out because I am sharing her recipe with you, just to spread joy and good taste across the globe.  Let me introduce to you: the Greatest Green Chutney Ever.

Make it. Relish it (HA!). Because life’s too short not to experience this.

A warning: This recipe has not been tested multiple times (like my beloved Cooks Illustrated recipes) and it is improvisational. So I am sure that depending on the ratios you use and the freshness of your ingredients, it could range from amazing to less than magical. But hey, it takes 5 minutes to make so if you have a problem, tweak the ingredients, work that blender magic, and check if you like your concoction any better. At least you won’t have to wash any measuring cups or spoons in the process. Once I make this a few times I hope to have a more exact recipe, but I had so many Facebook requests already from friends who want to make this themselves that we accelerated production a bit with this recipe. So here goes nothing.

First – a few notes on ingredients. Make sure to trim the bottom of the cilantro and dunk it in a few changes of cold water to make sure it is completely clean and free of dirt. Don’t just use the leaves — Keep the stems — there is LOTS of flavor in the stems! As far as the chillis go, I highly recommend long thin chillis because they aren’t too spicy but are very flavorful.

If you can’t use raisins, dates are also acceptable. I am indicating raisins here because that is how I made this chutney. If your raisins or dates are dry or older, soak them before using as it’ll take a little work for the blender to grind them adequately. As far as yogurt goes, I used whole milk yogurt since that is what I had around and it gave great flavor but Marie Auntie uses Greek yogurt and hers turns out awesome.

Notes on equipment. I recommend a Vitamix with the smallest blending container or BlendTec if you’ve got it. More powerful blenders will get you a better, more uniform chutney. A smaller blender will also help it mix well so maybe a “magic bullet” would also work? When adding ingredients in any high speed blender, it’s best to put the liquids on the bottom and put more solids on top – the liquids will give you a medium to mix and will help the prevent the blender from stopping/overheating/getting clogged.  Agitate as needed and scrape sides as needed while blending.

If it isn’t quite right – you can tweak this recipe as you need to.  I used juice of a full lime so I needed to add some more cilantro and yogurt to cut the tart and help balance out the flavors.

RECIPE for the Greatest Green Chutney EVER
By my awesome Auntie


1 bunch of fresh cilantro
1 long green chilli, stem and seeds removed
Half a handful of golden raisins (sultanas)
salt to taste
freshly ground pepper
juice of 1/2 a lime (or more to taste)
handful of almonds or a handful of almond flour (I used almond flour)
whole milk yogurt – 1-2 large spoonfuls to help with grinding.


  1. Fill Ingredients in blender. Add liquid ingredients first, then put dry ingredients on top.
  2. Pulse a few times, increase blender speed as necessary. You may notice the blender making a little noise from the raisins getting chopped up; stop to agitate/scrape sides as needed until you get a good smooth blend.
  3. Taste it – adjust ingredients as necessary and mix again.
  4. EAT!

Eat it on anything. Eat with a rotisserie chicken, spread on thin plain white bread and cut the crusts and cut it into cute little triangles (like Indians do), or just eat it by the spoonful.  If I get permission I’ll post the awesome Pakora Recipe from my friend Sheetal which is also an UH-MAY-ZING dish that goes very well with this chutney!

Before long you may be out of chutney.

Do not despair. One day you will find more cilantro. You can make more.


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Breathing, Being

Sometimes (OK, many times), it’s hard for me to know what to write about.Life is so extremely busy, so unending, so consuming — it keeps my husband, kids and I super busy, even though we know we are far away from loved ones in our new home. The fortunate thing about a busy life is that it gives you little opportunity to wonder what it would be like if you did not take those great leaps forward and away from familiarity. Instead, a life well lived is so consuming that you can do nothing but enjoy it, and let the adventures waft past you as you attempt to take deep breaths and drink them all in. The air passes by me much more quickly these days. It’s hard enough to let the joys of a tickle fight consume me as I think to the day’s tasks tomorrow, charts to be created, people to be managed, patients to be treated. But tonight was  one of those super fun nights. Ok, it had a little share of whining, but miraculously my little tykes ate their quesadillas, flavored with chipotles in adobo, no less, the kitchen was decidedly NOT in utter ruins this evening thanks to my cleaning lady and my lovely nanny taking charge, and the kids were bathed and dressed for bed, basking in the joy they had earlier where they went to a large sporting goods store and bowled with their nanny.  Baby steps, I think. Maybe they’re not consumed by activities yet, but we are taking it in and having fun.

So after the cleaning routine and a little cartoons for the li’l uns, L and I had a monster game of tag where he got to direct the safe zones — which alternated between the bedroom and our downstairs office — in other words, wherever he was and I wasn’t.  To join in this revelry I’d hoist my daughter R to my hip as she raised her hands upright saying, “Godhi, Godhi” (or “Pick me up and carry me, mamma!”) and go scampering past L.  Meanwhile my husband T was mystified; someone (presumably the cleaning lady) had corrected the arrangement of strings in the office tchotchke the kids had entangled upon his desk.  So up and down the stairs we all ran, round and round the house, enjoying ourselves right up until little R took her dolly — the now 40+ year old doll Clarissa who both I and my older cousin owned — and brushed her teeth, sang her lullabyes, had her wave goodnight, and climbed into bed with her. The doll is practically as big as R, so it’s a pretty funny site watching her extend her little arms to balance the giant doll and teeter her through the bathroom to the bedroom.

Now that I am in the basement, taking care of the little necessities — like cleaning out my ancient phone of excess pictures so that I can get it to function reasonably well — I find another wonderful reason for being. A dear picture from my last job, where I painted henna on a teenage boy who was dying of cancer.img_0681

It was somewhat unexpected to get the message. I had started at the hospital not long before, but I happened to get a call via a friend of a friend who knew me from my henna days way back when.  They didn’t know that I happened to now be a pediatrician at the hospital, but once I heard that there was a young boy who was terminally ill and that his dying wish was to get a henna tattoo, I was too happy to oblige.  And then began a really nice afternoon getting to know a boy, his best friends, and his parents, as they slowly said goodbye to him.

Once I painted the “survivor” design on his palm, everyone was thrilled to get in it and get matching tattoos — listing his nickname, his high school mascot, a “fight cancer” theme despite everything.  And I sat, painted, watched as he asked for more pain medication to ease his discomfort, listened as family members looked at him, spoke to nursing staff, scheduled a massage appointment to help keep them comfortable as they went through these most stressful days, and hopefully brought them some peace. It wasn’t profound, it was very plain to do my art, give my good wishes, and part ways. But I hope that it helped ease their minds and took them away, if only for a short while.

Even after working in a health care environment, I cannot imagine having to spend day in, day out in a hospital NOT of my own volition. How it must be as a family to pack up your things and to go to a place where you know your child is NOT going to leave. He’s not going to get better, and at the end of the stay you’re going to lose him. There are so many fortunes which we have in this world — which includes all that glorious time we have with one another before we, too, depart.  As you can see from this young boy’s tattoo, he may not have survived to see today, but he is a survivor, and his story and his memory is with me and with those he loves.

When I sit back and think of my kids scampering back and forth, shouting and laughing gleefully, I see the fortunes and the joys in the world, the reason for bringing joy to others in a day. Even if I’ve handed my sanity over to a crazy thing 1 and thing 2. It’s for kids that I am and because of them that I breathe.


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Depending on the Kindness of Strangers

Those of you who are close to me know that I have recently moved to the Heartland – relocated through my husband T’s job, I am about to start a new position at Operation Breakthrough via Children’s Mercy Hospital of Kansas City, Missouri. I recently had to give a very bittersweet goodbye to my previous employer – KidsHealth of the Nemours Foundation — through which I truly explored my creative interests and my zest for health education and writing over the past two years. And all in all I pretty much lived in my own hometown for 30+ years — 10 years consecutively, most recently, so it was a tough place to leave. T has worked his hardest to make the transition smooth for us. We have found a comfortable home, a nice neighborhood, wonderful vendors for various services related to moving, and have come across wonderful new friends.

The inevitable homesickness has pervaded each and every day for me – I hear it takes about 2 years before you feel settled in a new community. So, I go to networks like Facebook for solace and am focusing on making this new home everything I want it to be — hanging pictures, putting away belongings slowly but surely, getting a CD player to play long lost CDs and enjoy some nostalgia, finally getting the courage to start bike riding (even though cars are the norm here, very much so).  I do miss my family deeply, but all in all I can say that I lead a life of very good fortune — thanks to having had caring parents who sacrificed much to raise me, and having had many opportunities in life and now a caring husband and two wonderful kids. And I’m nervous but excited to start my new job, and am hoping I can bring to it everything I planned while I was applying.

But for every multitude of lovely interactions, I do have one here or there that is less than ideal – most recently it was being dismissed by some staff at a prominently known furniture store here, after which I was curtly directed to browse and consider the cost before looking at the items that I was considering.  I’m not sure if it is the color of my skin that directs it, but it sure feels that way sometime. And people have made assumptions about me – either what I can afford, what I should be doing, where I should be — and none of it is directly offensive, nor do I think that people are intentionally trying to make me feel bad — but these assumptions indeed do make me feel bad and very unsure, and it makes me think about the role that we all play in creating communities that are receptive to outsiders.  At that particular store — fortunately I approached another staff member, who was extremely kind and helpful, and gave me all the information I needed to inform on my decision-making.

People who are new to a community for reasons like mine may be like me in other ways — maybe they have a very strong social structure, and enough social and often intellectual capital to persevere when an off-putting event happens.

But I can only imagine what it must be like for others going through upheaval. Consider refugees, foreign guest workers, undocumented immigrants, and others who truly come to a new place because they seek opportunities and indeed may have nowhere else to go.  My interaction was simply as a customer in a furniture store, but what of more serious issues — being denied medical care, having trouble finding a good job? For example, I remember one recent immigrant I met who was working as a cab driver — he had been a registered nurse in his previous country and a good one, but needed to earn immediately and couldn’t go through needed training here in the US. My experience is nothing to those who are going through so many daily struggles just to get by — and they experience this all in a totally new place.

I think of my interactions with some of these individuals in clinic — and think of the denouement of the visit — the utter relief that a non-English-speaking patient expressed when I was able to use an interpreter with them – not only for the visit, but when I took steps to extend that to other clinicians they were seeing that day. Contrast that with other memories — the days when I knew I was not at my best, and the frustration that patients went through. I now think about the tears families may go through when learning their child is ill, or realizing they cannot afford the care they seek, not being able to advocate successfully for themselves because their new environment is so utterly foreign.

The kindness that we show others is not only intrinsically a beneficial thing — something that can turn a tear-stricken day into a good one for someone who has been through it all — but it has also been shown to improve their outcomes (google Health Outcomes from Positive Experiences — it’s too late for me to research tonight). I recently heard an NPR story documenting the experience of recent refugees in Canada — who after just a few weeks to months of schooling were already showing improved mental health and positive attitudes, speaking English, and adapting to Canadian society.  It is so important to show kindness and build trust with the people to whom we are least exposed, the people with whom we are least familiar. I am so grateful for the many in this community who are already so open to my being a new part of it and have shown me so much loving kindness. I only hope I can continue to grow from my experiences being a total newbie here and extend that kindness to others.

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The most important investment we can make

Holding handsThe other night little L and I were playing Uno, his new favorite game. Imagine my surprise to see him calculating his way through the game after he had lost – counting whether he could finish all his cards if he played his current hand. And then his keeping track of the cards I played and teasing me for not playing my own cards better. Clearly he and I both knew the same rules, but he was on his way to playing a much better game than his mom.

In my profession we talk a lot about not wanting to reinvent the wheel. We don’t want to repeat something that has already been done; we want to learn from past experience and make change, make our product better, improve it, make it different.

But what if reinventing the wheel was the task at hand?

What if that precisely is our task?

With each new child comes a brand new iteration of life. While children are born with a genetic code, a child is not born with knowledge of all the lives and experiences that came beforehand. Children are born to learn to trust their parents, to love, to take risks . . . to make bad decisions when they’re teenagers (God help me when my kids reach their teen years, because their mom was so well-behaved during her teen years that she has no frame of reference there!).The progress we each make toward maturity cannot happen unless we experiences the consequences of our actions.

Similarly, with a newborn child comes the birth of a new parent.  It always amazed me to see every new mom comes into my office completely terrified of their child’s cold. That is, until it was my baby with the cold. My new little DS had never had a cold before and suddenly he was suffering, and all the skills I’d developed as a pediatrician were mush in my brain.

It didn’t help to remember what colds had been like for me, and to know that kids get over colds. It really took the experience of going through those difficult nights and coming out unscathed on the other side.

This is what made me think of how much we need to recognize the needs of all in the new parent-child dyads that form. Each needs tools to help the other, and it’s this precise need to reinvent the wheel with every child which reminds me why early childhood education is such a valuable investment for us to make in our modern world.

In the case of my kids — reinvention is part and parcel of each day, such as teaching my children how to manage their emotions — thank you Inside Out for making this experience so vivid! Or even helping them figure out how to handle a troublesome interaction with a friend at school. And my goodness are they absolute and utter sponges for the learning that happens. Their lovely, most plastic and pliable brains respond to knowledge in amazing ways – with my 5 year old son learning how to read and write and my 2 year old daughter learning how to get her shenanigans past her mommy.  They process and recall things so much better than I ever did.

When my son learns about ostriches in school he can tell me precise details about how fast they run, who they’d beat in a race, and give me examples of their “creature powers.” I struggle to keep up, myself! But thankfully, I have also been fortunate in my own education so can reinforce his knowledge, help him recognize if he needs to think differently, and acknowledge my own defeat when he has surpassed his mommy’s comparatively limited powers.

Compare this with an experience that I had visiting the natural history museum — I saw a lovely family going through the museum and stopping in front of a large diorama of several deer about to be attacked by a puma.  The young daughter exclaimed to her mother, “That’s a puma, it’s going to attack its predators.” And the elated mom shared this with another relative who was with them, and they continued on their trip to the museum, thrilled at how their daughter was learning. I bit my tongue – clearly this little girl was curious and learning good concepts in school, but her mom was so excited by her daughter’s knowledge that she missed an opportunity. Once we get past our own amazement, we can question the knowledge and say, “predator – that’s an awesome word! Did you mean predator, or prey?” — or something else to help her daughter clarify what she had already learned.

A lot of the fundamental knowledge that leads me comes from my earliest years — when I got to understand simple concepts of language, interaction, society, math, a zest and love for reading — the list goes on. Making learning enjoyable for those kids so that they get thrilled the next time they see a diorama at the Natural History Museum — and making sure that their parents had an awesome education and the tools to help their kids grow even more is paramount.

So it’s clear to me that we need to ensure that every child has access to a safe, play-filled, and learning-filled early education environment. It’s a clear way to even up their playing field and give them the foundation they need. But how do we bridge the gap that adults face, and make sure that both parents and kids are prepared for one another?

  • Find books – even children’s books – about what kids are reading – and read them together with your child. I certainly don’t remember all the details about ostriches I learned as a child but it is not as much about the details as it is about the dyad and the foundation for a love of learning. Enjoy your children’s learning and grow with them.
  • Find easy ways to incorporate their learning at home – when they are learning about plants and photosynthesis, find a few seeds and grab a little dirt from the yard, and plant a little seedling in the house.
  • Involve kids in all the things that you know – for me it could be I how I bake their favorite chocolate chip cookies and what happens if I change the recipe a little or alter the baking times. But if it’s your awesome soccer technique, how you use the bow on your violin, how you tend your garden, how you beat someone at chess (or Uno!) – whatever – remember your strengths and use them to help your child to grow! You may find the wheel reimagined completely.

What tip do you want to share with me and other parents to encourage your family’s learning? Please share!

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