Tuesday Tales- The Pink Trash Can

   Many moons ago, I had the opportunity to live in Kobe, Japan as part of the Japan Exchange Teaching (JET) Program and to say the least, it turned out to be an experience of a lifetime. Today’s Tuesday Tales is about how a little pink trash can from my first day in Kobe.

                                                       The little pink trash can 

   I was young and it was the first time I had traveled ‘overseas’ and I was hopeful, albeit a bit nervous. I had no idea about what to expect and in a country the language of which I neither spoke nor understood, planning to work there for a couple of years did not seem as daunting as it should have. I was running high on all things bright and beautiful and was honored to be a part of this pretty cool and at the same time, enriching, program.

   It was the month of August and it was hot and humid, a weather I was quite familiar with. After a couple of days of program orientation in Tokyo with probably around 5000 participants from more than 40 countries and mesmerized by all that was going on- from our stay in the wonderful Keio Plaza Hotel, to attending lectures to a beautiful milieu of what seemed like a cultural amalgamation, to making new friends-everything seemed to good to be true. After a three day period, I boarded the Shinkansen from Tokyo  and reached Kobe, along with my colleagues, some of who I became good friends with, that continues till today. We went to the Board of Education building of the city of Kobe where after some more briefing about the whats and what not-s of the program, my co-teacher from the school I was going to be teaching English at, took me to what was going to be my home for the period of my stay in that country, and the first place where I would be staying all by myself for the first time ever…too many firsts, one may say!

   We went up the stairs and opened the door to the place and it was then that reality hit me. I was looking at a tiny place that was just floors and walls, with the tiniest gas stove I had seen. Oh, there was a little futon too but it was all rolled up in a corner and had not caught my attention in the beginning. I dragged my big red suitcase inside, thanked my co-teacher, Ms. Takashima (who by the way, was surprised at the emptiness of the place), closed the door after she left and slumped on the floor in a pool of tears. I was exhausted and scared but the glitz and happy faces of Tokyo and the adrenaline from all the excitement had kept me from facing some realities that the sight of an empty place brought to the forefront in no time.

 I was alone for the first time ever. I had never lived without my parents and I was without friends. It felt claustrophobic in there and it was hurting bad. I went to the bathroom, turned the tap on and just sat in the bathtub, with my clothes till on. And I cried my heart out. I saw no reason to be there and just wanted to run back to the place and people who I left behind, waving through the murky glass doors at the airport.

   After I was almost done crying as I could not cry any more, I heard the door bell ring and someone saying something. I was drained out from all the crying, not to mention the soaking clothes. By the time I had changed into dry clothes, and thought of three excuses about what was wrong with my eyes ( an unhealthy duration of crying does strange things to the eyes obviously), whoever had rung the bell had gone away. When I opened the door, I found a little pink trash can with a pretty lid on it…it was definitely the cutest trash can I had ever seen, with a note on it that said- ‘I hope you will make this a part of your home-Ms. Takashima’. Also hanging on the door handle was a ‘welcome bag’ from the previous batch of JET participants, who were living in the same building as us and it had all the basic necessities to help us through the first few hours.  A dinner invitation for meet and greet was followed by a very teary Skype call home and the day ended with me passing out on that tiny futon.

    As I woke up the following morning and made tea (I had brought supplies from home), I realized I was calmer and less claustrophobic. The little pink trash can, with the note still stuck on the lid, was part of my ‘home’ now and I knew 20 more people than the previous afternoon and I had survived my first night away from my family. And at that moment I remembered something that my Baba always says ‘Din periye jaye. kalker din o eshei jaye‘ (loosely translated- time keeps on moving and, tomorrow always comes). I had never before paid much attention to this saying of his that he uses too much and I realized the truth of those words in that morning, sipping tea in my first home with the pink trash can.

   That pink trash can made that empty space my home and the next two years went by in the blink of eye. I had some of the best times of my life there, I definitely learned much more than I had before, I made some very special memories and even more special friends and I reconnected with a lost friend who I am currently married to and who is a wonderful father to our two kids!

 

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This picture of the school playground was taken by a dear friend and colleague near the end of my stay in Kobe. It has remained a favorite.

Friendly Friday Photo Challenge-Photo Walk

   This will be my third post for the Friendly Friday Photo Challenge hosted by The Snow Melts Somewhere (https://thesnowmeltssomewhere.wordpress.com/) and Something to Ponder About (https://forestwoodfolkart.wordpress.com/and when I woke up this morning, one of the first things that crossed my mind was ‘what would the prompt this week be’!

   I love taking pictures and there is no denying that and though I am not good at it, I am quite passionate. I am not the one who has the phone ready in her and at all times and clicks at anything and everything. On the contrary, I have had more missed chances that I would like to acknowledge as I was busy rummaging through what is supposed to be my bag but looks- like- a- sack, trying to locate my phone in vain! But, when I do go on walks, I am mindful about my phone and it’s storage space (another dreadful scenario I face often) and I remember to carry my camera as well. This week’s prompt gave me a chance to look back at many pictures I had taken that I have not had a chance to share yet (I am assuming none of my previous posts have these!) and I feel thankful and happy. None of these are recent but they all are special in heir own way,  with anecdotes that make them close to my heart.

   These first batch of photos were taken during our first visit to my sister-in-law in California and it was our first proper trip ever. Neel had recently got his first job and I was doing an internship at an organization, whose cause I was passionate about. I had never been anywhere before that in this country (other than Minnesota where we both went to grad school) and, on top of that we were visiting family and a very dear friend too! It was a special trip, reminding us of the steps we have had to climb to be able to go on a trip at that point in our lives. We did not have a camera then and so these were taken by my first smart phone:)

 

Santana Row, CA:2011

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San Francisco, CA 2011

   These next set of pictures are in and around my neighborhood during spring time, a couple of years ago probably. These are during the times when my then two year old and I would be going on our afternoon walks, him toddling as fast as his tiny legs would allow and me walking a few steps behind him soaking in all the magic that was happening as the little guy would walk, stop  and gaze at almost everything with wonder and delight! And as I took innumerable pictures of him, I also would occasionally take some of the cherry blossom that add pink and white to our neighborhood during spring.

 

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These final set of pictures are from our last visit to Kolkata , India in the spring of 2018. They are from in and around my in-laws’ house and my father’s house and hold a special place in my heart as it was around this time we found out that we would be adding another member to our family of three!  Now that she is four months old, looking back at these pictures bring back those flutters of excitement and anxiousness and remind me once again, to count my blessings and be grateful . It also hurts a little as I reminisce about growing up in this soulful city- a city I still call home, a city that has seen me through my many ups and downs. It’s the city where our parents and my younger brother live-  indispensable and unequalled, who enrich our lives with their selfless love; people we have left behind to find our footing in this world;  people whose hearts ache a little more with every passing year as we wave goodbye at the airport gates and people who bear more than their age allows  to make life easier for us.

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Friendly Friday Photo Challenge-Feelings of Spring!

   It is almost spring here in New Jersey…almost. It’s somewhat the ‘feeling of spring’ as this week’s theme from Friendly Friday Photo Challenge hosted by Something to Ponder About (https://forestwoodfolkart.wordpress.com/) and The Snow Melts Somewhere (https://thesnowmeltssomewhere.wordpress.com/) suggests. Winter-y weather seems to be dragging on forever  here on the East Coast and even though temperatures have started rising to the ‘comfortable’ 40s and 50s, there is still quite a nip in the air that sadly keeps us from keeping our winter jackets away.

   For me, here,  birds are the heralds of spring; their much awaited chirp breaks the monotony of the wintry silence that keeps us engulfed, what feels like at times to be, for ever. Kids playing outside and neighbors chatting for more than the perfunctory greetings are all signs of warmer weather and cheery hearts! And then come the sprouting of tiny greens on the bare branches, little pink flowers  with a smell that is almost intoxicating and that urge to breathe in lungs full of fresh air. I grew up in Kolkata where spring is much warmer and while the pink of cherry blossoms is surely missing,  the  red ‘polash’, a fiery orange-ish red flower also commonly known as the flame-of-the forest and colorful bougainvilleas add that rejuvenating splash of color,  signalling the advent of spring.

    The look that my four year old gets when I say ‘it seems to be a good day to go to the park’ has added to the wonder of spring for the past couple of years. The joy and exuberance that a child feels from being able to run around in the open, after remaining cooped up indoors during the dreadful winter months is hard to parallel! We still need to wear fleece jackets and hats but we go out and run around to our hearts’ content and the little guy exclaims, almost every step of the way to the park, at all the things he had missed during winter and the spark in his eyes warms up my heart, as I try to keep up with his bouncy steps.

   These pictures of spring were taken a few years back:

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These sunflowers added to the  bright Florida sun, on our way back from camping at the Everglades back in 2012.

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We spent last spring in Kolkata and these bougainvilleas adorned the rooftop of my in-laws’ house.

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And these are from a couple of days back, in our neighborhood….most tree branches are still bare but some have started to spring back and I hope to take better pictures once the pink and the white of the cherry blossoms take over.

 

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And this was on the first warm-ish day at the park!

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Happy Spring folks!

Friendly Friday Photo Challenge- Story

I decided to participate in Friendly Friday Photo Challenge hosted by:

The Snow Melts Somehwere ( https://thesnowmeltssomewhere.wordpress.com/) and Something to Ponder About (https://forestwoodfolkart.wordpress.com/). There is a new prompt every Friday and this week’s prompt is “Story”.

 

It is my first time doing this and here’s my take on that:

7195d1a4-3c6d-4e48-ba32-5e09b93a2896                                                             GROWING UP TALES

 

I have been noticing for quite some time how my four year old has been gradually turning into a little more matured tiny human, with a developing set of likes and dislikes- and this shelf in our small bookcase tells that story the best. ‘Baby’ books (as he calls them) have been getting replaced by these ‘big boy’ books and we are enjoying growing up ‘seeing and reading’ these. The saying ‘ Kids grow up too fast’ is so true!

The Big Blue Sky

   I grew up in the city of Calcutta in the 90s and have spun many wonderful memories of that time. In our little neighborhood, everyone was part of a great big family who laughed out loud, celebrated the ups and faced the downs of life together. I loved that feeling of closeness and imagined life everywhere to be like that. And since I came from a big family, we had relatives spread all over the city and visited each other all the time. These visits were surprise visits as most of us did not have the telephone in our homes and that doubled the fun!

   While I really loved growing up in a city where life was easy and fun, I missed the vast expanse of the sky that fascinated me when I would visit the country side or go to our ancestral house in  Jamshedpur, a beautiful town about 170 miles from Calcutta. Going up to the terrace in our house in Calcutta did not allow for a lot of the big blue sky to be seen as skyscrapers, the heralds of development, seemed to be always under construction all around. Neighborhoods like ours with small houses were getting squished amidst the glitz that had slowly started engulfing the unembellished.

   And so on visits to the vast open country side or during our train rides to Jamshedpur, I remember just gazing at the sky, mesmerized. For a child my age, the sky held endless possibilities and dreams and I would sometimes imagine how it would be to live in a place which had unobstructed views of the big blue blanket above us. Life in my adopted country for the past ten years has allowed for that to happen and I am still as fascinated  today as I used to be when I was just a kid.  I take endless pictures of the sky whenever I can and looking at the big blue expanse, that at times lights up in dazzling colors, fills my heart with happiness and calms my distraught soul.

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Apple Tarts

   Of late, the weather here in New Jersey seems to be a bit of a head-scratcher. It has been bitter cold and we have been getting tired of the number of layers we need to put on when going out and then it rains and brings mugginess and then suddenly a warm 66 degrees in the middle of winter throws wants almost makes it feel like spring! The effects of climate change are being felt more and more all around and I wonder what the consequences of this is going to be on the future generations.

   With small children and older parents at home, we have been having a hard time trying to keep everyone as safe as possible from the snorts and sniffles that seem to be the most common side effect of such extreme fluctuation in temperature. It being winter, my parents who are here for just one more month, have sadly been cooped up at home for the most part. But they don’t complain and are only too happy to be spending time with their grandkids and weaving memories! They have put their lives on hold so that Neel and I can ease into this new phase in ours and my heart swells with love and gratitude for them. Ma makes sure we get to eat all that our hearts desire and Baba makes sure to keep the four year occupied as much as possible with stories and games and silliness so that I can get some ‘me time’ and what can I say about how big a blessing that has been. The six of us look after each other- we cook and eat, smile and have moments of absolute bliss, find happiness in what we have and add to our pocketbook of memories.

   While Ma has been making all her special dishes and we have been gobbling those up, Neel and I (mostly Neel) sometimes take over the kitchen to give her a break and whip up something that she would normally not be able to make in Kolkata. Neel has been surprising them with his kabobs and I have been satisfying Ma’s sweet tooth with the likes of cakes and brownies! Today I made apple tarts in the afternoon and they turned out pretty good. I have made them before but had followed a different recipe, one that I did not remember today. And so, I found another pretty awesome recipe at  https://www.lavenderandlovage.com/2016/03/apple-rose-tarts-mothers-day.html (Lavender and Lovage by Karen Burns-Booth) and I am so glad that I tried this! Thanks Karen!

Please see the original recipe here and I hope you will enjoy it as much as we did.

Apple Tarts

Serves 8 to 10 apple rose tarts
Prep time 15 minutes
Cook time 25 minutes
Total time 40 minutes
Dietary Vegetarian

       Ingredients

  • 2 x 215g ready rolled butter puff pastry
  • 2 to 3 Pink Lady apples (or any red skinned eating apples)
  • juice of half a lemon
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons apricot jam glaze
  • ground cinnamon
  • icing sugar
  • cake release spray

      Directions

Step 1 Pre-heat oven to 200C/400F/Gas mark 6 and spray a 12 x hole muffin or bun tray with the cake release spray.
Step 2 Cut the apples in half, from top to bottom, core the two halves then slice each half very thinly; place the cut slices into a large microwaveable bowl filled with water to cover the apples, and with the lemon juice added.
Step 3 Microwave the apple slices for 4 minutes on high, then drain and pat dry between 2 clean tea towels or with kitchen paper. (If you don’t have a microwave, place the apples, water to cove them and the lemon juice in a pan and heat until boiling for 4 to 5 minutes until JUST soft but NOT cooked)
Step 4 Place the ready rolled pastry onto a lightly floured pastry board, and using a rolling pin, roll it out to add 2″ to 3″ (5cms to 8cms) to the length of the pastry.
Step 5 Cut the two pastry sheets lengthways into 4 to 5 strips, or if the pastry is too long, cut widthways – you need strips long enough to place between 8 to 12 apple slices along the length.
Step 6 Brush the pastry strips with the apricot jam glaze and then sprinkle with ground cinnamon. Place the apple slices (peel size up) along the top third of the pastry strips, overlapping them slightly as you lay them out.
Step 7 Fold the bottom two thirds of the pastry up and over the bottom of the apple slices and then gently roll each strip to make a small “muffin shaped” tart – see photos. Place the apple rose tarts into the prepared muffin or bun tray.
Step 8 Bake the apple tarts in the pre-heated oven on the middle shelf for between 20 to 25 minutes or until the pastry is crisp, golden brown and puffed up and the apples are cooked, but not too dark.
Step 9 Allow them to cool in the tin for 2 to 3 minutes, then gently ease them out of tin and place them on a wire cooling rack.
Step 10 Dust with icing sugar to serve; they are fabulous when served warm with ice cream, cream or crème fraiche.
Step 11 Can be frozen at the pre-baked and baked stage. Allow to defrost before baking or re-heating.

 

My Recent Reads

    I have always loved reading books. Growing up, I would look forward to ‘library time’ at school, a designated 40 minutes in a week when we could go to the library and spend time there and at the end could also bring one (or may be two…my memory betrays me) home for about 15 days. I remember exchanging books with a couple of my really close friends after we had finished reading ours. During senior years, when there was no more library ‘class’ or even the time to read much outside what was in the syllabus, I would still sometimes go to the library and pick up books other than ‘study stuff’, that I would later sneak in to the bed at night, even when I could barely keep my eyes open.  Books have always been my go-to when it comes to reading material of my choice. Our four year old too loves reading and story reading at bedtime is one of our favorite things to do as family! At times, the little guy takes over and reads his Ma-Baba his favorite story.

    It has been a very long time since, and while a lot has changed in terms of reading material and medium, my love for books remains unchanged. As a student of English Literature many moons ago, I came across the works of Camus, Kafka, Beckett, Naipaul, Virginia Woolf to name a few, that cast a spell on me. While the cacophony of every day life does not let me spend a sunday morning lazying in bed, sipping on copious cups of coffee and some chocolate chip muffins and read as much as I would like to, I still try to catch up on some reading at any chance I get. Bookstores are my favorite store to visit and the sight and smell of books enthralls me today just as much as it did when I had first walked into a library at my school decades ago. Nothing probably beats experience of physical browsing at a real store and it saddens me to see local book stores and even big ones close due to the craze of on-line buying.

    An absolute necessity is our pursuit of happiness and in helping us dream, the pivotal role of books in undeniable. Today, I am sharing with you books that I read and re-read over the period of last two years (a couple from here I am yet to finish) and can read over and over again!

  1. The God of Small Things (Arundhati Roy)
  2. Beloved (Toni Morrison)
  3. Snow (Orhan Pamuk)
  4. Love in the Time of Cholera (Gabriel Garcia Marquez)
  5. Brave New World (Aldous Huxley)
  6. Sea of Poppies (Amitava Ghosh)
  7. Clear Light of Day (Anita Desai)
  8. Selected Stories by O. Henry
  9. Train To Pakistan (Khushwant Singh)
  10. The Namesake (Jhumpa Lahiri)
  11. The Ministry of Utmost Happiness (Arundhati Roy)
  12. Dreams from My Father (Barack Obama)

 

What are some of your favorite reads?