Sep 29, 2016

5 ways to manage wet waste

Earlier, I had written a post on managing dry waste. I got a lot of positive feedback and encouragement (thank you all!) for that post. Continuing on similar lines, let me talk about five ways by which I manage wet waste at home. 

Wet waste refers to waste generated from cooking, take-away food, left-overs etc. Segregating dry waste and wet waste is a mandatory rule in Bangalore. In-house composting of wet waste in apartment complexes is also being enforced in order to control the amount of waste that gets into landfills.

(1) Home composting:

Since 2010, my husband and I have been diligently using Daily Dump's Khamba to compost wet waste, mainly the fruits and vegetable peels. It has become a habit for us to dump such waste directly into the compost bin 2-3 times a day. The Khamba sits in a corner of our balcony and doesn't emit any smell. It doesn't attract any rats either. Maggots do come into the bin but they only fasten the composting process. Our 5 year old daughter gets excited to see the maggots whenever my husband mixes the bin. He typically takes the filled bin once a week, adds dry leaves fallen on the floor from our little garden and mixes them together with a pair of garden tongs. We get good quality compost that resembles mud once every 3-4 months. Home compost rightly deserves the name "black gold". We sprinkle this compost onto our plants. Through this home-based composting, there are hardly any fruits and veggie peels that get added to our wet waste bin. 

(2) Plan your meals, Be aware of your pantry stock:
I plan my meals in advance, according to the veggies I have brought from store. I had earlier written a blogpost about how to put veggies to good use without letting them rot in your fridge. I follow this simple practice that has helped me tremendously in controlling the veggies that go unused. Do check it out.

(3) Cook food according to your exact needs (not more):
The only other wet waste that goes out of our home in little quantity is cooked food. With more than 10 years of cooking experience, I know exactly how much to cook for my family. I always prefer to cook the exact required quantity (sometimes even less) rather than cook more and store left-overs (or throw away the excess food). We prefer to eat fresh home-made food and I cook 2-3 meals a day. But there is hardly any food that gets wasted.

(4) Educate children and bring them onboard:
I'm strict with my daughter about food wastage. I would rather serve little on her plate and let her finish it fully than add more food to her plate that she would find it hard to finish. I know her food preferences and I don't experiment with her school lunch box. Tried and tested food items feature repeatedly and the dabba comes home empty most of the time. 

(5) Reduce take-aways / Order the right quantity:
Coming to take-away or store-bought food, we don't order food from restaurants or from the food delivery startups. Even when I'm tired or not well, we would rather eat a simple curd rice or dosa with chutney podi at home. We go to restaurants once a week but don't carry home any left-overs. This may not work out for everyone but my only suggestion is to order the required quantity and avoid food getting wasted.

We follow these principles 90% of the time but there is still 10% to be improved. Hopefully one day, we'll hit the 100% mark and I don't keep my wet-waste bin outside my apartment for collection ever.

Do share if there are other ideas of managing wet waste at home. 

Sep 27, 2016

The music of JTHJ discovered 4 years late

If you are wondering what JTHJ stands for, it is the Bollywood movie "Jab Tak Hai Jaan" :-) A regular reader of my blog would know that I'm a crazy fan of AR Rahman's music. His music is like a dear friend, a family member to me. My iPod and playlists are filled with his albums (mostly). 

There was so much hype when the music album of Jab Tak Hai Jaan was about to release in 2012. Media was going berserk that ARR-Yash Chopra-SRK combo would create magic. All fans of ARR were eagerly awaiting the album. When the first 2 songs and later the entire album was launched, there was so much criticism that ARR failed to meet the expectations. To be honest, I didn't fall in love with the songs instantly. They say ARR songs grow on you but to me, this album didn't impress even after multiple times of hearing that time. 

Now after 3 years, this album sounds so refreshing. When I'm feeling dull and tired, I just turn to the peppy "Jiya re". What an energetic song it is! It's even more impactful to watch the video with Anushka Sharma's high-spirited dance, SRK's mellowed expressions and the beautiful locations. Well-picturized with the superb voice of Neeti Mohan makes "Jiya re" my favorite song of this album.

In complete contrast, "Heer" is such a soulful, soothing song. I don't understand the lyrics completely but the feel of a father-daughter separation after marriage is brought out so well by the singer, aptly supported by ARR's tune.  The title track sung by Javed Ali and Shakthishree starts off on a slow pace and then takes a surprise turn with a classical beat. "Saans" as a song is a beautiful melody with the mellifluous voices of Mohit Chouhan and Shreya Ghoshal but the picturization was so pathetic. Maybe, it's just my bias that I hate Katrina but I also felt many scenes of the song were out of sync with the tune of the song. 

This experience made me realize that it is better to listen to a music album after the hype and media buzz dies down. We tend to appreciate the songs a lot more when the expectations are not sky-high.

Next in line is Tamaasha. 

Sep 23, 2016

What goes behind deliberate practice?

Twitter is my go-to source when I need some inspiration/learn new things/access interesting articles/stay up-to-date on what's happening in my areas of interest. On one such twitter browsing session this morning, I came across a story "the science of practice" from Hardbound. It is an excellent compilation on what goes behind the achievement of world-class performers. We have all heard about the 10,000-hour rule that was popularized by Malcolm Gladwell in his book "Outliers". 

The quantity of time spent in "deliberate practice" of a skill matters. But what is equally important is the quality of time spent towards building a skill or expertise. I have been curious to understand how one builds expertise/mastery over a subject/skill. Mastering a skill is not possible by just reading books/articles, taking courses, listening to podcasts etc. 

This story link talks about a research by Dr.Ericsson that went into discovering the 4 elements of deliberate practice. 
  1. Goals - well-defined, specific. Acquire micro-skills
  2. Focus - full attention, block out all distractions
  3. Feedback - take the help of a coach
  4. Discomfort - push yourself out of your comfort zone. Set more difficult targets to achieve.
Sounds simple but made a lot of sense to me. It gave me a useful framework to work with. 

Many of knowledge-oriented skills are vague in the sense there is no clear destination or milestones defined. So it is a challenging task to define specific goals and identify micro-skills to be built in the journey of mastery. Say, you want to be a world-class digital marketer, what are the intermediate micro-skills you need to build? what goals you need to achieve?

In today's world of constant distraction, focus is a precious commodity. If we are constantly checking our phones/devices for FOMO, where's the attention needed to focus on a specific task at hand? When we were in school/college, studying for 2 hours at a stretch without any distractions was easily possible. Is this achievable in today's times? Do read this brilliant piece by Joshua Becker on why you should disconnect.

Without the right feedback, we wouldn't know which areas we have improved and which areas need more practice. Taking feedback from a coach/mentor will help us course-correct and plan our mastery journey better.

Just like how our bodies get used to certain fitness activity and has to be progressively stretched, our minds also need to be pushed out of our comfort zones. Extrinsic motivation through publicly announced goals to a friend/partner would help. Even if you don't announce your goals to the outside world, writing them down in a journal can motivate you to stay committed. The Goldilocks principle of "not too much, not too less, just right" holds true for progressively increasing the challenge levels of the skill that we are building. 

Take some time and write down the list of skills you are trying to become a master at. For each of these skills, think about these 4 elements of deliberate practice and how you plan to address each of them. I'll share my experiences once I put down this framework for the skills that I want to build.

Sep 15, 2016

What's your slash?

I stumbled upon this site this morning - FindYourSlash

According to this site, a slash (/) represents the following:
It is a symbol used to express the eclectic ensemble of avatars of those living in many different worlds. You could be an Artist/ Blogger; Writer/ Photographer; Technologist/ Musician; Fashion DesignerDJ; anything you love. 
While browsing through this site, it reminded me of the conversation I had with a classmate from college days when I met her a couple of weeks back. She decided to be a homemaker after her son was born. During our conversation, she remarked how her relatives are mocking at her for "wasting" her engineering degree. Do note that she did work for many years after college. She is now learning Sanskrit slokas and ancient Hindu scriptures. The casual chat I had with her that day triggered many questions in my mind.

1) If you pursued an engineering degree, does that mean you "have" to be in the same field for your lifetime? Once an engineer, should you "always" be an engineer?
2) Was the decision to pursue engineering solely made by you? Or was it made due to parents, peer pressure or societal expectations?
3) At the age of 17, did you have enough options in front of you (like today's well-connected generation)? Did you have the exposure on various fields that might interest you?
4) 90% of us (including me) took up Engineering because that was the only option students with good marks can get into (apart from medicine that was anyway not within the reach of deserving students who are "unreserved"). So what if you pursue engineering, later do an MBA and get into banking? The popular question asked by Aamir Khan in 3 idiots is absurd to me. 
5) Is becoming the CEO of a company the "ultimate" purpose for everyone in the planet?

Life is a journey. We evolve as we age. Our interests, preferences and ambitions would keep changing throughout this journey. If someone had told me when I was 15 that cooking would become my passion in my 30s, I would have laughed at them. The world is too big a place to just pursue one career for lifetime. 

One of my friends who is also an Engineer is awesome with arts & crafts for children. My husband's school friend who is a doctor writes amazing poetry and fiction. The rat race doesn't give us enough space and time to even think about other creative pursuits. 

For moms, we are blessed with a temporary break called maternity to rediscover ourselves. If you can financially afford to take a maternity break, I would highly encourage you to do so. If your industry doesn't appreciate career breaks, then do part-time work / consulting assignments during the break. Stay relevant, keep yourself updated with what's happening in your area of interest/industry/domain, never stop learning.  But also take the time to figure out what inspires you, what makes you happy, what impact you want to create, what legacy you want to leave behind in the world. Find your slash. 

How Shalabhasana taught me a lesson on failure?

Today is a special day for me. Having struggled with Shalabhasana for the last 1.5 years, I was able to do this Yoga pose today for 10 counts and most importantly, with ease. When I started out with Yoga last April, I had such a hard time whenever my teacher asked us to do this pose. My legs would hardly go up an inch. I pushed, struggled, tried a lot but failed multiple times. Though I was getting better at other asanas, this one gave me such a hard time. As months passed, I could see that I was improving a little bit and my teacher also recognized that. Today, when I got this asana right, I patted myself on my back. Certainly, a satisfying moment it was!

This experience reminded me of this interesting talk by Bharathi Baskar I listened to a few days back. She is one of my inspirations and I love her books and speeches.

In this talk where she talks about first-rank holders in schools (from 31st min of this video), this statement on failure struck a chord in me
"People who taste success all the time don't know how to face failure. Failure teaches us grit and determination to overcome any obstacles in life"
I had been a top-rank holder pretty much all the time in school and college. I never gave importance to sports or physical activity (except for a brief spell of basketball sessions in 6th grade). I used to play outdoors a lot when I was a kid/teen but never been part of a regular sports activity. Life in my 20s was spent mostly in comfortable cubicles, conference rooms and classrooms.

Years of sedentary lifestyle and lack of exercise has reduced my flexibility and strength. Through Yoga, I'm realizing the positive impact of regular exercise, both in my body and mind. I still can't get many asanas right but the small improvements I make everyday give me such a high. It's okay if I fail and struggle but I know one day I'll get it right, like today.

A few of my favorite quotes on failure
“Failure should be our teacher, not our undertaker. Failure is delay, not defeat. It is a temporary detour, not a dead end. Failure is something we can avoid only by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.” - Denis Waitley  
“It’s not how far you fall, but how high you bounce that counts.” - Zig Ziglar  
“When we give ourselves permission to fail, we, at the same time, give ourselves permission to excel.” - Eloise Ristad
What lessons have you learnt from failure? Do share your stories.

Sep 14, 2016

சிறு மகிழ்ச்சி

என் வயதில் பதினைந்து
வருடங்கள் பின்னோக்கி
சென்றது போல்
ஒரு உணர்வு
எண்ணம் புரியாத
ஒரு குதூகலிப்பு
முகத்தில் அகலாத
ஒரு புன்சிரிப்பு

இமைக்க மறந்தேன்
கணினியில் உன் சிரிப்பை
கண்ட தருணத்தில் இருந்து,
தனிமையின் பெருமை
இதயத்தின் படபடப்பு

எங்கோ எட்டா உயரத்தில்
நீ இருந்தாலும்
அருகில் அமர்வாயா
என்று ஒரு ஏக்கம்
அந்த புன்முறுவல் தருவாயா
என்று ஒரு ஆசை

கண்களின் காந்தம்
உன் மொழியின் அழகு
தேர்ந்த பல்வரிசை
ஈர்த்ததடா என்னை
இதயத்துடிப்பு வேகத்தில்
இடி முட்டியது விண்ணை

புயல் போன்ற இந்த
ஒத்தி வைக்க
என் பணிகளில்
மனம் செலுத்த
அல்லல் படுகிறேன்

வேண்டாம் இனி
உன் திரைப்படங்கள்
வேண்டாம் இந்த
இளம்பருவத்து இன்னல்கள்

கடமைகளும் எதிர்பார்ப்புகளும்
அலைக்கழித்துக் கொண்டிருக்கும்
வேளையில் இந்த சிறு மாற்றம்,
வியர்க்கும் கடும் வெயிலில்
வரும் சில்லென்ற கோடை மழை
தாகத்தில் தவிக்கும் பயணிக்கு
தரும் ஒரு கோப்பை குடிநீர்

இந்த சிறு மகிழ்ச்சிக்கு
ப்ரேமம் கலந்த நன்றி,
உன்னால் ஈர்க்கப்பட்ட
ஆயிரம் "மலர்"களின் சார்பாக! :-)

Dedicated to all Premam fans and to the one and only Nivin Pauly :-)

Sep 13, 2016

How to present healthy foods to children

This post is applicable to parents of children between the age group of 2-6 years. I'm not sure if the tips shared below would work out for older kids, but do give it a try :-)

"We eat first with our eyes" - this quote has struck me deep, ever since I came across it. The fast food / junk food manufacturers have been successfully applying this principle on us through their posters, large banners, drool-worthy advertisements etc. When you see a big hoarding of a burger with dripping mayonnaise and colorful veggies, you automatically salivate. In reality, the burger would be smaller and there would be hardly any veggies.

Children start to become fussy eaters when there are alternatives. When we were kids back in the 1970-80s, we ate what was given to us, no complaints or cribbing helped. We didn't have any McD or a supermarket stuffed with Kinder Joy or Lays chips right next door. As parents of today's age, we have an added responsibility (and challenge) to present healthy, home-cooked food in an attractive way so that kids eat without a fuss and not demand junk food for every meal.

Here are my 8 tips on how to present healthy, home-cooked foods to your children.

1) Buy a steel plate that has 3-4 compartments. For major meals like lunch or dinner, make sure you have different food items in these compartments. Children love variety. By variety, I'm not saying that you cook many dishes. Let's say, the dinner menu is chapati and dal. Apart from these 2 items, add few sticks of cucumbers and carrots. Add a few spoons of curd or a tomato raitha.
2) Children love colors, so make the plate look colorful. If your main course is say lemon rice which is yellow in color, add cucumbers, color capsicums, tomatoes etc. The overall color quotient of the plate goes up and the kids try the veggies too.
3) Play with textures and shapes. My daughter loves raw carrots. So in any meal, I give carrots in one of these forms - sliced in round shapes, cubed, cut into sticks, shredded (big, small) etc. Same strategy applies to cucumber, red radish, cabbage etc. For water melons and musk melons, use a melon baller to cut into round balls. You can also cut a watermelon slice in the shape of a triangle, top it up with some grated cheese and black grapes / olives and serve as a fruit pizza.
4) Take an extra minute and present rice/upma/kichdi in a round shape (fill it in a small cup tightly and flip it over on the plate).
5) Use cookie cutters/moulds and cut chapatis/parathas into desired shapes. It takes some time to cook each individual piece, so try this when you have some time in hand or during weekends. I have a few moulds in the shape of heart, star, hexagon etc. My daughter loves the mini-parathas when I cut into these shapes.

6) For salads, arrange the veggies/fruits as a smiley and let them eat as finger foods. Ask them which part of the smiley face they are eating :-) Try making a house, cat or even simple shapes like square, rectangle, triangle etc. No limits to your creativity :-)
7) Use a similar compartmentalized steel plate for evening snack too. You could serve some cut fruits, a bread toast or a mini sandwich, dry fruits/nuts, cheese cubes etc. As I keep reiterating, stock up on healthy, quick eats like fruits, dry fruits, chikkis, cucumbers, sprouts etc. Children's appetite is very less and they like to keep munching something or the other every hour or so. During holidays, all I hear from my daughter is "I want to eat something" every 30 minutes :-)
8) Change of place also helps. Arrange a small picnic in your balcony or garden. Spread a mat, bring the food and eat - nothing fancy.

This quote from Dumbledore changed my life -
"you always have a choice between what is right and what is easy"

Packaged foods are the easy choice - children love them, they don't take much of our time, they are convenient. I admit I have taken the easy choice multiple times. Moms are not robots who can operate at 100% throughput always. But if I'm able to give healthy meals to my child atleast 80% of the time, I feel content and satisfied.

Hope you find the above tips helpful. Do share other easy/quick techniques you use to present healthy food in an attractive way to your child.

Sep 7, 2016

Book Review: Nalla Soaru by Rajamurugan

During one of my visits to Chennai, I came across an article on child nutrition written by Rajamurugan in Ananda Vikatan magazine. On similar lines as "Aaraam thinai", I found the article interesting and insightful. Later it dawned on me that the author had been writing a series of articles titled "Nalla Soaru". I quickly rummaged through old issues of Ananda Vikatan from my in-laws place and got hold of a few older articles from the same series. I felt so excited when I noticed this title in Vikatan books online site and quickly ordered it. 

Written in a simple format with total focus around food, nutrition, millets and traditional practices, this book has a lot of relevant take-aways. A few of them listed below:

1) Food decides our health, well-being, mental thinking and our lifespan. So invest time in learning about food and cooking. Don't surrender to packaged foods for the sake of convenience and taste.
2) Have bajra(kambu) in summer, ragi and foxtail millet (thinai) in winter/cool seasons.
3) Store-bought packaged wheat flour has excess added gluten which can lead to intestinal cancer in the long run.
4) Teach children about food - where is it grown? How is it grown? Who grows it?
5) Plan your meals in advance, in order to avoid food and ingredients from getting wasted. 
6) Avoid eating greens in the night. Greens are rich in fibre and also possess cooling property.

The author has also given a lot of easy recipes using millets. A good eye-opener for people who are new to millets. 

It is good to see many relevant books that talk about healthy eating using traditional practices. Such books need to get a nation-wide audience. Let's not succumb to the fads that Western diet and food industry backed pseudo-research keep popping up now and then. 

Sep 1, 2016

Say no to alcohol

Image Source:

 Writing about a sensitive topic. So a disclaimer which is a dialogue from a Tamil movie - "idhu advice illa, akkarai" (this is not advice but a genuine concern). Please read with an open mind.

I vividly remember this incident. I was around 9-10 years old. My dad's usual Sunday evening routine was to take a walk to a tea shop to buy a weekly Tamil magazine (thuklak). My brother and I would accompany him, mainly to buy some tasty butter biscuits from the tea shop. While coming back one Sunday, I casually asked my dad if he had ever drunk alcohol. He replied, "Once I had a drink at an office party and came home. Your mother shouted at me and got very angry. I never touched alcohol after that".

In the 1980s, drinking alcohol was considered a social taboo among middle-class families. Our parents and grandparents were strictly against it. So were the women of the household.

It's appalling to see how the mindset has shifted radically in the past 20-25 years. The liquor manufacturers have identified India as a growing market with increasing disposable incomes. New pubs and bars (including a fancy name like liquor boutiques) are being opened in every street/road. Whenever there is a social gathering or a casual meet up, people inevitably choose a pub over a coffee shop. The marketing experts of these liquor companies have understood that they need to bring women on board in order to make a bigger dent in the Indian market. So new products - breezers, wine, vodka and what not have been introduced/rebranded/repositioned, targeted towards women audience.

Social drinking has become a norm rather than exception which was the case a decade back. In a group, if you are a teetotaler, you are the odd one out.

The statistics that is of serious concern:

"The per capita consumption of alcohol in India increased 38 percent, from 1.6 litres in 2003-05 to 2.2 litres in 2010-12, according to a World Health Organisation (WHO) report, which also revealed that more than 11 percent of Indians were binge drinkers, against the global average of 16 percent. "

High alcohol consumption is one of the leading causes of liver cirrhosis, liver failure, heart diseases and cancer. By 2025, India may become the world capital of liver diseases, says one study.

If you can understand Tamil, I highly recommend you watch this video clip of a talk given by Dr.Sivaraman, a renowned Siddha doctor where he explains the impact of alcohol. Listen to the part starting from 22nd minute of the video.

To summarize what the doctor says,
Alcohol in even tiny quantity does no good to your body, irrespective of what the advertisements claim about wine being good for the heart etc.
India is fast becoming the capital of liver disease. Liver transplants cost more than Rs.48 lakhs if you are able to find a right donor.

My 2 cents:
Observe if you are becoming an addict. If you are just a social drinker, try the following ideas:
1) If you are planning to meet up with a friend, go to a coffee shop. Take a walk around a park or a lake. Get some fresh air. It provides the right ambience for casual conversations.
2) Planning for team outings? Ditch the pubs and go for dinner / participate in cooking events together / go for hiking / rent some bikes and go cycling around nearby villages / play some outdoor sport.
3) Social gathering at home? Instead of opening a bottle of wine, brew some fresh filter coffee or make some traditional masala chai. Give priority towards interesting conversations, chit-chats and relive old times rather than boasting about how expensive the wine is or where it is from.

I'm neither a doctor nor a nutritionist. I'm a normal person who is highly concerned about the increasing rate of alcohol consumption, especially among educated urban households.

Lastly, if you disagree with any of the above, please let's move on and not get into arguments. We can agree to disagree.

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