the wonderful world of veena.

31 December 2013

looking back at 2013.

As 2013 draws to a close, I can't help but reflect back and be amazed at all that happened this year.

[my favourite Bombay boys]
[Gateway of India]
[the evening view from our house]
[Bombay harbour]
[my roommates, my loves]
[two of my all-time favourites came to visit. at the same time!]
[front and center for Robert Randolph and the Family Band]
[entrance to our resort at Kaziranga in Assam]
[view from the skywalk at the Don Bosco Centre in Shillong]
[yes, their first dance was to Gangnam Style. a match made in heaven if ever there was one]
I welcomed the year with my Devaraj family in Bangalore.
I got to live in Bombay for 5 awesome months [this one has pictures!].
Steph and Pete moved to Bombay.
Sneha, my mother, Alex-boy, and Haygood all came to visit.
I attended Sulafest and Mahindra Blues Festival.
I got to explore a new part of India with my CanOfBliss boys.
Tyler came to visit.
Pranay and Vikki got married.
I attended a live RCB match in Bangalore.

[we got a "Congradulations" cake at the final SGA meeting]
[me and my Moo]
[pretty sure Frankie was more into FNL than I was]
[yes, we slow danced together. it's a thing we do]
[my favourite little Nugget]
[best part of driving to Atlanta? lunch at Bojangles on the way]
[Peanut has a baby sister! her name is Pumpkin]
[if you've ever wondered what happiness is, it's a full rack from Blues City Cafe]
[you can see why I adore her]
[poffertjes in Aruba. they were delish]
graduation festivities in Little Rock.
Burt and Katie got married.
the Grizzlies made it to the Western Conference Finals.
I discovered the wonder that is Friday Night Lights, the television version.
Jillian and Jimmy got married.
I finally got to meet Lisa Jain's son Devin.
road trip with my parents to Atlanta for Chipper Jones' retirement ceremony.
I turned 30.
Fourth of July weekend in Houston, and Sunjana turned 16.
the birth of the Pumpkin, sister to the Peanut.
I completed my Masters in Public Service.
my father and I went to Aruba with my brother for a week.

[baby shower for Lindso; took Bee to her first Arkansas football game; Razorbacks won; reunion with my Mentor]
[officially official]
[got to see this favourite little brother for the first time in probably 4 or 5 years. far too long in my book]
[they put your name on a wall for the Nike Women's Marathon. it's pretty cool]
[a roomie reunion in San Francisco!]
[yep, I went to Hogsmeade. life mission complete]
[Hogwarts Castle. no big deal]
[beautiful fall weather in rural Arkansas]
[my little bugs are growing up!]
[celebrating my favourite lady and her 70 years of awesomeness]
[the Peanut; the Pumpkin; two of my favourite Bangalore ladies; my third-born]
[construction progress in Bombay; Deboo becomes a whiskey drinker; the lights of Bandra; PC hearts me]
[my little Pumpkin, a future Rhodent? #rollonlynxcats]
[new pictures up in my room!]
Caitlin and Wes got married.
the birth of the Muffin.
I ran my first half marathon.
I got to go to Disney World and Universal Studios Orlando.
my mother turned 70.
a quick 3-week jaunt to Coimbatore, Bangalore, and Bombay.
being in the States for Christmas -- and cold weather!


I read some new books and saw quite a few new movies.
I actually completed all of my 30thursdays posts [my two personal favourites are 30 words [or phrases] my friends use to describe me and 30 favourite places].
I created one heck of a 30th birthday playlist.
I completed almost a full 52 weeks of joy project posts [the final few will come in early 2014].

also, this:

It was quite a year, spanning two continents and lots of great adventures, and I look forward to seeing what this next one has in store.

Here's wishing you and yours a Happy New Year and a glorious beginning to 2014.

30 December 2013

1/2 marathon monday: why the little rock half?

Last week I mentioned that I gave in and registered for the Little Rock half coming up on the 2nd of March. I thought I'd go into my reasons for registering - not just for another half but for Little Rock in general - if you're interested in reading about it.

As I stated last week, I've been toying with registering for another half since I completed my first one in October in San Francisco. Yes, I've been bitten by the running bug. I honestly never thought I'd be one to give in to the running kick, but in the last few years I've found that I actually rather enjoy running. It gives me some "me time" and allows me to get lost in my own thoughts for a few miles. And since I hate going to the gym, it provides me with regular exercise, which is something I definitely need.

When I decided I wanted to run another half, there were a number of factors that I took into consideration when choosing my race...

The first factor was cost. As awesome as my San Francisco experience was, it cost me a bomb. The registration was significantly more than most other races [somewhere in the ballpark of $170, if memory serves correctly], and even though I stayed with Miriam and her roommates for 2 nights, those 3 nights in a hotel set me back BIG TIME. Yes, the hotel was majorly convenient, and I literally stepped out the front door and into my starting corral, but it cost a pretty penny. Luckily for me, my father had a ton of Delta Skymiles saved up, so I was able to use those to cover the cost of the flights, but even with that, I still had to contend with the price of food and such, which is significantly more in SF than it is in Memphis.

All that is to say that I knew my next race needed to not cost me an arm and a leg, and Little Rock wins in all categories. To begin with, the registration was $75, less than half of what I paid for the Nike Women's. Little Rock is driving distance from Memphis - about 2.5 hours from my parents' house to downtown LR - and I know of at least one friend from Memphis who is also running, meaning that there could be an option to carpool. I also have numerous friends with whom I can stay all throughout the city, but should I decide to stay in a hotel for the night before the race, it would cost about 1/3 the price of what I paid in SF. Additionally, meals are also significantly cheaper, and on top of that I'm going to try to get myself invited to the Clinton School carbo-load dinner the night before the race.

Another factor was timing. I knew I needed at least 2 months to get myself back in shape for another half marathon, which ruled out the Scenic City Half Marathon in Chattanooga the third week of February. I would love to run a race in Chattanooga - and will likely register for the 4 Bridges Half Marathon held there in October if I'm still in the vicinity - but the 22nd of February is just too close; I knew I'd never be ready by then, and I would hate to spend the time and money for a run I'm not adequately prepared for.

The next factor was scenery. Ultimately it came down to either the Little Rock Half or the Germantown Half Marathon that's happening a few weeks later. We all know that I think LR is a pretty little city, and the course is well known for being scenic, with the crossing of the bridges and running through some nice historic neighbourhoods. I'm not dissing Germantown, but that's not a fair comparison. Also, that major typo on the header [the "twenty-nineth" annual race? come on, you KNOW how I handle things like that. especially on official notices and websites] for the Germantown race was a major turn-off.

And finally - and some might say most importantly - company, camaraderie, & familiarity. I ran the 10k in 2011. I know the first half of the course. I liked it. I liked running by the Clinton Presidential Library and Sturgis. I liked seeing people I knew along the course route. I liked saying hi to all the volunteers at the aid stations. I liked running through historic downtown North Little Rock. I liked having classmates and schoolmates and friends to greet me at the finish line, and in turn, I liked cheering on others to their finish. Oh, and I definitely liked the unlimited chocolate milk.

San Francisco was certainly scenic, and there was a certain element of surprise to it, since I didn't know exactly when the hills were coming. In a way, it's how I made it through the course. But there's something to be said for running a familiar route. I know I can make it through the first half, because I've done it before. There are no surprises through the first 5.5 miles, which helps me prepare mentally. And enough friends have told me it's one of their favourite half marathons to run that it didn't take long to sell me on it.

And speaking of friends. In 2011, I had two friends from the Clinton School running along in the 10k, 6 who ran the half marathon, and 1 brave soul who ran the full marathon. I also had 5 other friends from Memphis who ran the half, and another friend from Little Rock who ran the full. On top of that, there were plenty of others who came out to cheer and yell and provide moral support, which was so great. Having Miriam and Maren come out and support me during my run in SF meant so much, and only after I saw them did I realise how much it means to have someone you know, someone you recognize, out there supporting you through something like this. And that was the main reason I chose Little Rock. I know there will be friends running. I know there will be friends who come out to lend their support. I know it's a big race in what is, in a lot of ways, a small town, and I really liked that feeling last year.

Yes, the medals are nice, but so is the knowledge that I will be accomplishing this alongside friends from all walks of my life. That, along with the added peer pressure from Julie, is what pushed me to finally sign up.

Well, that and the unlimited chocolate milk.

28 December 2013

the joy project: week forty-nine.

Sunday: found out that this month Amazon Prime introduced a new feature - they now offer 1 of 4 future releases to read for free every month. a fun shower to celebrate Baby Koelsch. registered for both the Starry Nights 4k AND the Little Rock Half.

Monday: Christmas Adam party at Julie Clary's house.

Tuesday: family Christmas Eve lunch at Curry Bowl. got a $30 reward in the mail for Old Navy. reunited with Ralphie and family for "24 Hours of A Christmas Story".

Wednesday: CHRISTMAS DAY! opened presents from Santa. made channa bhatura for lunch almost entirely by myself.

Thursday: first 3mi run in nearly 7 weeks -- I'm pretty proud I made it. family nap time after lunch. made parwar for dinner.

Friday: got to have a nice little chat with big brother Mikey for his birthday.

Saturday: Starry Nights 4k at Shelby Farms Park -- it was cloudy and cold but still lots of fun; my favourite part was where the stars were hanging in the trees because it felt like running through an enchanted forest.

happy early 2014, friends!

27 December 2013

tv binge-a-thon: chuck.

Early in the summer, I came home from some random errand to find my brother on the couch watching an episode of Chuck. Even though I had some episodes from an early season on my hard-drive - courtesy of said brother - I had never watched it and honestly didn't know much about it. That day, I saw a geeky, awkward-looking guy with shaggy hair bumbling his way through something or the other, and I settled in to finish the episode, with my brother providing background details along the way.

I liked what I saw, and we began a new episode as soon as the first one had finished. And that led to another, and likely another, and pretty soon we were spending most of our days speeding through the seasons [hey, it was too hot to do anything in the afternoons anyway. don't judge us too harshly].

We slowed down a bit once August hit; between visits from our nieces and getting everything ready for the brother to head off to school, things were pretty busy around these parts. But once my father and I returned from Aruba and things settled down a bit - during the weeks, at least - I decided to finish the remaining episodes to see how things wrapped up.

To put it simply, the first three seasons of the show were awesome. In the season premiere, Chuck Bartowski - played by Zachary Levi, my latest favourite - is a regular guy in charge of the Nerd Herd at the Buy More [modeled on the Geek Squad at Best Buy] and just kind of coasting through life without really trying too hard at anything. He ends up accidentally downloading a super-computer, the "Intersect", into his brain and suddenly finds himself as an asset to the CIA and NSA.

As the seasons progress, he goes on various missions with his handlers and somehow manages to bumble his way through them, often escaping at the last minute. He has to hide his secret from his sister and her fiance, whom he lives with, and his best friend, Morgan, who is a hilarious sidekick. The cast of characters, including his CIA and NSA handlers and his bumbling coworkers at the Buy More, is pretty hilarious, and they certainly keep the entertainment up on the show. I think my favourite was probably Agent John Casey; Adam Baldwin plays the hard-nosed, stuffy NSA agent with such great underhanded sarcasm, and he adds such a great dimension to the show.

In the fourth season, however, things kind of take a turn for the worse, and the show's just not the same. And the fifth season was - to put it simply - pretty terrible. It was disappointing, especially after how great the first 3 seasons were, but I obviously had to finish out the series. It was also shorter than the previous 4 seasons, yet there was a new storyline with a new villain introduced with 3 episodes to go, and it all just felt really rushed.

If you're interested in watching the series, I would say watch the first 3 seasons and then STOP. I'm serious. If the series was just those seasons, it would have been awesome. I honestly think they finished season 3 and just didn't know where to go from there, and the remaining seasons suffered.

My brother had bought the seasons on iTunes, but it also just became available to stream on Netflix, for anyone who wants to watch.

Wonder which show I should binge-watch next?

23 December 2013

1/2 marathon monday: because apparently I am a glutton for punishment.

Yep, I'm back.

After my half marathon in October, I've been slowly toying with the idea of running another. It's partly the running bug, and it's also partly that I know I'm always better at keeping up with my running if I have something specific to train for.

After my 10k in 2012 and after my run in October, I took some time off from running in the weeks that followed to give my body a chance to recover. But then as the first week stretched into the second and eventually a third, it took more and more to motivate me to get out and run. Especially this year, when the two weeks after were so crazy, and then I went to India. I ran a few times while I was in Coimbatore, but then with only 5 days in Bangalore and 4 in Bombay, there just wasn't enough time. And so I got out of the habit.

I had a pretty bad cold when I first returned from India, so that kept me from getting back into it. And then the weather was super cold, and I was just too lazy to put on all the requisite layers to just run a few miles. So I didn't.

I missed entering the lottery for the DC Nike Women's Half, because I was waiting to hear back about a job in India. Needless to say, the job didn't work out, and I suddenly see myself being in the States for the foreseeable future. I knew I needed some motivation to keep up with my running and workouts, and so I finally decided to bite the bullet and register for another half.

It occurred to me on Saturday night that the Little Rock half would be a good option. It's close, so travel wouldn't be to expensive, and it's the first weekend in March, when it's usually still a bit cool. The 10k last year was pretty fun, and I've heard the half is pretty flat, so I was considering signing up for it.

Enter Julie Clary. We were at a baby shower on Sunday afternoon for Walker, and Julie told me she had just registered for the half in Little Rock. When I mentioned I was thinking about it, I got a very enthusiastic "You totally should!" Being the kind of person who never gives in to peer pressure, that was just enough to push me over the edge. And so yesterday evening, I finally took the plunge and registered.

While I was out for a quick run this afternoon [look at that motivation already at work!], it occurred to me that this training will be significantly different from the last one. Where I had 4 months and a structured training plan to ease myself into the long distances before, I now have 2 months [one of which is February, so that pretty much means it doesn't count] and only my own schedule to get ready for the next one. That means that I need to be back to running 5-6 miles by next weekend. Yikes.

I've mapped out a tentative schedule for my long runs for the next 8 weeks, and while I probably won't do a weekly update like I did for the first one, I will likely check in every few weeks or so with an update on how it's going and whether or not my legs are still attached to my body.

So here we go, half marathon #2.
Little Rock, here I come.

22 December 2013

movie reviews: anchorman 2; the east.

With the brother home for the holidays, and with all the new movies releasing, I have a feeling there will be a lot of movie-viewing happening these next few weeks. In an attempt to not have a ridiculously long post chronicling my thoughts on all of them at once, I thought I'd split them up and go a few at a time.

The first two up are Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues and The East. My thoughts on both are below.

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues. The first one was brilliant, so obviously I was going to see the sequel. I knew it wouldn't be as great as the first one, but I was pretty disappointed with how it turned out. The pre-release PR campaign was awesome, with the Dodge commercials and Ron Burgundy as a host on SportsCenter, but the movie was a pretty big flop in my books.

On the whole it seemed really disjointed, and I know Ron is the main character, but I felt there could have been more of the supporting characters. Brick's little storyline was by far the most entertaining - especially with the added bonus of Kristen Wiig - and I would have loved more of that and less of Ron.

It was also far too long. These movies shouldn't be longer than an hour-and-a-half, and this one came in just under 2 hours. I love a comedy that knows when to cut and run, and this one seemed like it just kept going.

The best scene was definitely the fight scene involving all the other newscasters. It might have even been better than the original, especially with the cameos from Kanye, Jim Carrey, Marion Cotillard, Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, and more that I can't even remember right now. It's was awesome.

Other than that, though, it's pretty eh. I'd say that unless you're a super fan of the first one - hello Britney - you can probably give this one a pass.

The East. My brother and I wanted to see this when it was in the cinema, but we somehow missed it. When the brother found it available on iTunes, we decided to rent and watch it on Friday afternoon.

The East is the story of a young female recruit at a private intelligence firm who goes undercover to gather information on "The East", an underground activist group that focuses on outing corporations who are committing eco-terrorism. The group is run by Benji, played by a brilliant Alexander Skarsgard, and they reluctantly allow the new girl - Sarah, played by Brit Marland - to become a peripheral member. When another member abruptly leaves the group, Sarah is pulled into one of their "jams" and slowly becomes more integral to their plans. As the movie progresses, you can see Sarah's evolution from viewing the group simply as a mark to becoming more and more involved in their operations.

The movie jumps around a bit at times, but on the whole it was a captivating, interesting film. I couldn't help but identify with the group at times, because I am always a fan of corporations being held responsible for their actions, but I certainly don't have the balls to do the things they do. I found out after we watched it that the screenplay was co-written by Marland and the director [Zal Batmanglij, elder brother of Rostam from Vampire Weekend] and is based on their own personal experiences. That little tidbit made me like it just a little bit more.

For those interested, The East is available through Redbox and also for rent or purchase on iTunes. If you like thrillers, I'd say this is definitely one to check out.

Many more movies will be viewed in the coming weeks, so that means many more reviews are on your horizon. Please save your applause for the end.

21 December 2013

the joy project: week forty-eight.

Sunday: yummy chicken curry and parwar and parathas for lunch. another Packers come-from-behind victory [and that too over the Cowboys. doubly awesome].

Monday: cleaned my room -- 5 weeks in a row of traveling meant a lot of debris piled up on my floor, but I can finally see it again! family cards night.

Tuesday: made myself a little collage with some of my Instagram prints and now have pictures up in my room from after 2005!

Wednesday: got the sweetest thank you card in the mail from a girl going on the Jamaica Trip in spring 2014. made spinach dip for the first time in my life. ornament exchange at Walshie's house.

Thursday: between a sale and a $20 rewards coupon, my brother and I scored the complete Friday Night Lights box set on DVD for $30. Charlie Brown Christmas and Home Alone 2 both on television. caught some old episodes of Friends [on Nick-at-Nite! that makes me feel so old!].

Friday: even though this year's Ugly Sweater Run was canceled, I still got a free knit hat!

Saturday: caught up on some Upworthy videos [note to self: next time I decide to watch 2 months worth of videos in one sitting, remember to keep the tissues handy]. watched some of the India v South Africa test match at stupid-o'clock in the morning with my mother. family lunch at Taj Mahal. I followed it up with a 2.5 hour nap on the couch.

Christmas is in 4 days! holy crap.

19 December 2013

retail review: printstagram.

I've been on a huge "I want to print pictures" kick for the last few weeks. I've always loved taking pictures, and I'm pretty sure I single-handedly kept the photo department at the Walgreen's on the corner of McLean and Union in business during my undergrad years. Depending on the time of year, I sometimes printed two or three rolls of film a week. That's right, you heard me correctly.

But then everything went digital. I got a digital camera for Christmas one year, and although I continued printing pictures through my graduation from uni, I slowly tapered off after that. I printed photos when I returned from my initial stint in Bangalore and put those into albums, and then I printed a few after Jagan and Maeve's wedding, but I'm pretty sure that was the last time. Their wedding was in December 2006.

So for the last 7 years I have been accumulating thousands upon thousands of pictures on various hard drives, but I've not printed any. Not even thought about it, really. It never crossed my mind while I was living in India, and I was only ever in the States for a short period of time, so it wasn't high on my priority list.

But in the last 7 months, I've been noticing more and more that all the pictures I have up in my room - and I have a lot - date from 2004 and before, with the single exception being a photograph of Lindsay, Miriam, Ashley, and myself taken at Lindsay's wedding in 2009. And if I'm being honest, I think someone else printed it - my guess is Ashley - and sent it to me, and I put it in a frame. Otherwise everything is from undergrad or before.

Don't get me wrong, I love all those pictures. I love looking at them and remembering the occasions on which they were taken, be it orientations or trips to Jamaica or proms or date parties or weddings or random nights where fun adventures happened. My photographs are the road maps of my life, and if you travel through them you'll meet all the wonderful people who have populated my life.

In order for that road map to be complete, I have been feeling the need for more recent pictures. I knew it would take me a while to sort through all the pictures on my hard drive to choose ones for printing [it's taken me a week so far, and I still have 1,300 potential pictures. eeks], so in the meantime I thought I would print some of the pictures from my phone.

I've been using Instagram [@vrangaswami, if you want to follow me] for the last few years, and I've really liked how some of my pictures have turned out. It's been a great way to grab some quick shots while I've been out-and-about, so I decided to print some of those pictures to tide me over for a while.

I had heard about Printstagram a few months ago and really liked the idea of a tear-off calendar using your Instagram pictures, but I didn't have enough to print a calendar for next year. Instead, I opted for the 4x4 square prints that they offer. It's $12 for 24 prints, and I chose 72 pictures to print. Perhaps a little excessive, but shipping is a flat $7 no matter what you order, so I figured I'd get my money's worth.

The site automatically accesses your Instagram account online, so you can choose which pictures you want to print directly from your browser. I had an idea of most of the ones I wanted to print, so it didn't take me too long. Once I placed the order, it took about a week for them to be delivered via FedEx. My only complaint about the delivery was that it required a signature or a note on the door with instructions to leave the package. It wasn't necessarily a hindrance but more of an irritant. I've been ordering stuff online for years, and I've never once had to sign for a delivery. It was just weird.

But the product itself was great. The quality of both the prints and the paper are really good, and I love how compact they are. I'm really happy with how they turned out, and it's so nice to have new pictures for the first time in so many years. I got so excited that I decided I wanted to hang them in my room, so I bought a 16x20 poster frame, chose 20 prints, and arranged them chronologically [that's my OCD rearing it's pretty head], and pasted them onto the insert using double-sided scrapbooking tape; now I just have to figure out where I want to hang it.

Below are some pictures showing how they turned out. The first 5 are just them piled on my bed, and the last one is a shot of how the collage turned out.

Thank you, Printstagram, for my awesome new pictures.

[this is not a sponsored post; I don't do that sort of thing, but I do like sharing any products that I really like]

17 December 2013

movie reviews: catching fire; the book thief; frozen.

I am one of those people who loves going to the movies by myself. Especially if it's on a weekday afternoon [one of the perks of being fun-employed]. In the last 2 weeks, I've seen 3 movies, and my thoughts on each are below.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. Yes, I like the books, and yes, I like the movies also. Last year I read only the first book before seeing the movie, and then I read the second book earlier this year in anticipation of the movie release in November. I hadn't really seen many previews for it, but that didn't stop me from going to see it 3 days after I landed back in the States.

And it was pretty good. The beginning dragged a bit, just like it did in the book, which made it about 20 minutes longer than it really needed to be, but man, the action sequences were pretty awesome. And even though I'm not that into fashion [understatement of the year, I know], I really liked seeing the descriptions of Katniss' outfits come to life on the big screen.

I will say that I'm over the whole Gale-Katniss-Peeta triangle. I get it, but I'm over it.

It's one of those movies that I wanted to see in the cinema, but it's not necessarily one that I'll rewatch in the future. It was good - not great, but not terrible. It was pretty much exactly what I expected it to be, which is neither a pro nor a con.

I'm definitely intrigued to read the final book and then see that movie when it releases next year [although I just saw that it's being released in two parts. ugh. I LOVED both parts of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, but I hate that now all these series are splitting their final movie versions into two parts. but that's a separate rant]. I'm interested to see how Collins wraps up the series.

The Book Thief. I recently posted my thoughts on the book, and although I normally like to wait longer before seeing the movie, I also knew I wanted to see it before it left the theater, so I hopped over to the fancy Ridgeway cinema to check it out.

I know they had to condense a lot of it to fit a 578-page book into a 2-hour movie, and I thought they did a good job of doing so. I thought the casting was great, especially the little boy who played Rudy. In the book his character has so much personality, and to find a young boy who can pull that off on the screen was a great accomplishment. He was one of my favourite characters on page, and I was glad to like him just as much on the screen.

I also liked the girl who played Liesel, and I thought Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson as Hans and Rosa Hubermann were great. Both played their parts with simplicity, and it brought a lot of depth to the roles [I realise that doesn't make a lot of sense, but it does in my head. so there]. What I mean is that they expressed so much with minimal actions or words, and I feel like that had a greater impact on the story.

I also really liked Max. Again, I know a lot had to be condensed, but I really wish he could have had more screen-time. His relationship with Liesel develops so gradually over such a long period in the book, and I was sad that it had to be so rushed in the movie to allow for everything else that needed to happen. I really would have liked to have seen that blossom slowly, if it had been possible.

Overall I was pretty happy with how the movie turned out. It's rare that I say that, particularly when I see a movie so soon after reading the book, but I really thought it was made well. Emotions and actions were expressed simply, and that's how I envisioned it while reading the book, so that gave me a positive outlook on the whole thing. I would definitely recommend seeing it, and I will definitely watch it again in the future.

Frozen. I hadn't heard anything about this movie until a few weeks ago, and I'd not seen any preview for it prior to seeing it in the cinema. All I knew was Idina Menzel was in there somewhere [major girl crush on her], so I was game.

I've not seen a new Disney movie since The Princess and the Frog, and I was very pleased with how this one turned out. I actually liked all the songs, which is something that's not happened in a really long time. It was a good time-pass, and I loved getting to hear Idina belt out some of those songs. I will say, though, that I didn't buy her voice as a blonde character. I'm sure I'm biased since I've only ever seen her as a brunette, but I found it odd. But that's neither here nor there.

I obviously loved Kristoff and now have a new animated crush to join the ranks of Prince Eric and Dmitri. His character was simple, but he had that sense of right-and-wrong that you don't find outside of Disney movies. Oh, and Olaf was great. I loved his desire to feel heat and how they handled that storyline. Disney's great at those sidekicks, and he - and Sven! - were perfect. And the trolls. The trolls were great.

My main complaint was that I didn't like how the character of Hans turned out. I obviously knew that twist was coming, so it wasn't much of a surprise, but that didn't stop me from being just a little disappointed with how it was handled.

Other than that - and the thing about Elsa being a blonde with those pipes - I really enjoyed the movie and will likely see it again in the future. There aren't many recent Disney movies that I say that about.

And there you have it. With Christmas next week and my brother home for the holidays, I'm sure there will be many more movies to be written about in the coming weeks.

Until then, happy viewing.

15 December 2013

the joy project: week forty-seven.

Sunday: made lunch mostly by myself [the leftovers that were also consumed were made by my mother last week]. Packers won for the first time since Aaron Rodgers got injured. learned how to iron [yes, I am a 30-year-old woman who is only now learning to iron. it's cool].

Monday: started reading and editing Will's book. folded and put away a month's worth of laundry. started writing my holiday cards. ordered Papa John's for dinner, and my father had only good things to say [usually he hates on Papa John's and insists on Pizza Hut, but I won today's battle]! nice long gchat with Bee.

Tuesday: picked up some fun Christmas presents for the Peanut and the Pumpkin. Dirty Santa pajama party and potluck at Walshie's house.

Wednesday: finished [I think!] writing my holiday cards. now to address, stamp, and mail them!

Thursday: mailed Christmas presents to the Peanut and Pumpkin in Bangalore as well as the Muffin in Nashville [I might have a slight problem buying presents for babies. I figure there are worse problems to have in life]. saw Frozen [great movie; review coming soon]. prep work for the Brother's return.

Friday: my prints from Printstagram arrived! short 1.5 mile run around the neighbourhood, my first cold-weather run in nearly 2 years [note to self: gloves are your friends]. began plowing through the last 6 years of photographs to choose which ones to print [I'm apparently on a really big photo-printing high right now].

Saturday: finished combing through all my pictures, but I think I've made my project even more complicated. hoping to have the 2,300 pictures narrowed down to about 1,000 [still crazy at least more manageable] in the next few weeks. also, Brother Bear came home for the holidays!

only 10 days until Christmas! raise your hand if you're excited <both arms flung high in anticipation>.

12 December 2013

book reviews: cutting for stone; heavy words lightly thrown; the book thief; miss peregrine's home for peculiar children.

Trips to India are always a good opportunity to get in some good reading time, and on my recent jaunt I made it through 3 very different, very good books. My thoughts below, if you're interested...

Cutting for Stone [Abraham Verghese]. Normally I recommend books for my mother, but this was one she had received from a friend and passed along to me. It's the story of twin boys born in Ethiopia as the result of a secret union between an Indian nun and a British surgeon. Their mother dies in childbirth and their father disappears, so they are raised by the other staff of the hospital where their parents worked. It follows their childhood and adolescence in Addis Ababa as the country was on the brink of revolution and then winds its way to New York City before eventually returning to Ethiopia.

It's a heavy read and covers a number of heart-wrenching topics, but it was one of the better books I've read in the last year. There are some parts that definitely require a strong stomach to get through, and I'm not ashamed to admit that I was close to tears at multiple points, but it's a beautifully written book and one that will definitely stay with me for a while to come. I left the book in Bangalore with Shonali, but there were two passages that I wrote down:

"We are all fixing what is broken. It is the task of a lifetime. We'll leave much unfinished for the next generation." [written by the narrator, one of the twins]

"The key to your happiness is to own your slippers, own who you are, own how you look, own your family, own the talents you have, and the ones you don't. If you keep saying your slippers aren't yours, then you'll die searching, you'll die bitter, always feeling you were promised more. Not only our actions, but also our omissions, become our destiny." [said by Ghosh, probably one of my top 10 all-time favourite characters in a book]

Heavy Words Lightly Thrown: The Reason Behind the Rhyme [Chris Roberts]. I bought this one years ago - I think when I was working at the B&N - and I kept meaning to read it but then got distracted by other books [the story of my life, really]. I chose it for my India trip because it was a small book, meaning it would be light to carry, and it seemed like it would be a quick read, which I always enjoy when I'm traveling like that. I expected to find it intriguing, but I certainly didn't expect to enjoy it as much as I did.

You know all those lullabies and little poems you heard as a kid? The Jack Sprats and Humpty Dumpty-s and Jack be Nimbles? Roberts gives you the most probably story behind many of those age-old lullabies, delving into a good bit of British history along the way. For a history nerd such as myself, it was actually quite fascinating. There were a lot dealing with Henry VIII, there were quite a few dealing with stories of William of Orange, there were more than I expected about prostitutes, and then there were others that had multiple possibilities as to their origins. I found it intriguing; I can imagine someone from the UK who's interested in history would find it more so, as they would get a lot of the more subtle references that I might have missed out on. One of the things I liked the best was that Roberts provides a glossary in the back for terms or phrases that non-Britishers might not recognize and marks them throughout the book with asterisks. For someone like myself who enjoys playing at speaking like a Britisher from time to time, it was quite fun to go through. It's definitely an interesting read for anyone who's interested in learning the origins of those lullabies and stories we memorized as children without ever truly understanding. Probably my favourite little snippet:

"Pleasingly for Henry, the fact that the land the brothels stood on was controlled by the Bishop created a link between venereal disease and Catholicism."

The Book Thief [Markus Zusak]. I've been wanting to read this one for a while, and I lucked out the week before we left for India when I found the Kindle version for something like $2 [it's currently $4.99, if you're interested]. To say I liked it is an understatement. It's 578 pages long, and I finished it in roughly 48 hours.

Narrated by Death, it tells the story of Liesel Meminger, a young German girl sent to live with foster parents in 1938 just as Europe is on the brink of war. While adjusting to her new life with her new parents, her life is turned upside down once again when a stranger - a young Jewish man named Max - arrives on her parents' doorstep, seeking shelter. Liesel and Max become friends, sharing stories of the nightmares they both have each night, with Liesel serving as Max's window to the world outside. Seeing their relationship develop was one of my favourite parts of the book, watching as Liesel reconciles her friendship with Max with the German atmosphere above-ground.

The "book thief" aspect comes into play because stealing books almost becomes Liesel's coping mechanism for dealing with stressful situations in her everyday life; while I can't recall every having stolen a book, I could definitely relate to her need to escape into the words when the real world became too much to bear.

There are a number of interesting secondary characters as well, my favourite of whom was Rudy, Liesel's next-door neighbour and best friend. The writing is pretty simple, hence the fast read, but it also has depths that you don't notice at first, and I was definitely close to tears a number of times throughout the book. We've seen before that I am a sucker for books about or set during World War 2 [see my previous reviews of Sarah's Key and Suite Francaise], and this one did not disappoint. My two favourite little passages:

"It was a Monday, and they walked on a tightrope to the sun."

"I have hated the words and I have loved them, and I hope I have made them right."

Three very different yet very interesting reads. It was nice to have some variety in my reading material, and it was a pleasant surprise to enjoy all three as much as I did.

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children [Ransom Riggs]. Since I completed The Book Thief on my journey back from India, I dove straight into this one. I'd been hearing about it for a while, and I was obviously intrigued by the name, but I'll admit that I really didn't know much about the book going into it. I don't know what I was expecting, but it certainly wasn't this. And I'm so glad that it caught me off guard.

Jacob is a 21st century teenager living in Florida who grew up believing his grandfather's stories about growing up in an odd home for children on a small island off the coast of Wales during World War 2. When the grandfather dies, Jacob takes his death badly, particularly because he still has difficulty believing his parents when they tell him the stories were all made-up. In order to help him find some answers, Jacob and his father travel to the island to do some exploring. While there, Jacob discovers that his grandfather's unbelievable stories were in fact true and that he has some peculiarities about him as well. The book then follows Jacob on his adventures as he figures out how to balance his old life with his new discoveries. The beginning was a little slow as the foundation for the story was being laid, but once Jacob reached the island, the pace picked up, and I got really into it. There was a twist I didn't see coming [probably should have. oops] about 2/3 of the way through it, and then it sort of ended abruptly. I was upset for about 5 minutes until I figured out that there is a sequel scheduled to come out next year, after which I perked up again.

It's definitely a different book, but I very much enjoyed reading it, and I'm looking forward to the sequel.

Currently reading:

  • my friend Will's book, which I am editing along the way [it's really good!].
  • Talking to Girls About Duran Duran: One Young Man's Quest for True Love and a Cooler Haircut [Rob Sheffield]. I read his first book, Love is a Mix Tape, when I worked at Barnes & Noble and loved it, and I'm looking forward to reading his most recent release, Turn Around Bright Eyes, once it releases in paperback. I love his writing, both in novel form and as a writer for Rolling Stone, and his books always provide new-to-me music to download.

as always, happy reading.

09 December 2013

ode to a backpack.

[friends for 14 years]
It may seem odd to you to write an ode to a backpack, but this guy has been much more than a backpack to me over the last 14 years. He's been a friend, a roommate, a pillow, a travel companion, and the co-collector of most of my memories. We've been through high school, college, and graduate school together. We've lived in Chattanooga, Memphis, Bangalore, Little Rock, and Bombay. We've traveled to Jamaica together 7 times, to the UK twice, and to the Dominican Republic, Turkey, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, Paris, Nepal, and Aruba. When we were in Bangalore we traipsed all around India, visiting Coimbatore, Calcutta, Hampi, Kerala, Coorg, Gokarna, Delhi, Kurnool, Manipal, and Goa.

As my life has evolved and I have grown up, the "Veena-bag" has evolved and grown up with me, and it took a lot of convincing - and a little bit of bribery - by my father to finally get me to part with it and purchase a new backpack. I just couldn't - and sometimes still can't - picture myself going on an adventure with any other bag. I looked online and visited multiple stores, and yet I talked myself out of nearly every bag I found, because I didn't have a good answer to the question, Can this backpack keep up with me for the next 14 years?

Fourteen years is a pretty significant chunk of time, particularly for something like a backpack that we tend to throw away or forget about after a few years. I can't think of many other things I've had for 14 years, and definitely nothing that I've used as frequently over that time. Nearly everywhere I've gone in that time, this guy has gone with me. This backpack has been witness to more of my antics and adventures and amazing memories than any one person, and it's nearly impossible to imagine my next trip with a different bag.

But alas, the time has come for the Veena-bag to hang up its hat - so to speak - and enjoy its retirement. I for one certainly believe he's earned it.

08 December 2013

the joy project: week forty-six.

Sunday: lunch with Lisa, Jonathan, and Devin at Huey's. bought the mother a new washing machine. tried on my new salwar and anarkali designed by Priyanka!

Monday: lunch at Humdinger's followed by a noon viewing of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. slowly catching up on television shows and emails and generally getting my life together again.

Tuesday: caught up on all my television shows. I know it doesn't sound like much, but it can be so nice to spend the day watching your favourite shows.

Wednesday: our new washing machine arrived! and I finished putting up our holiday decorations, except for the star on top of the tree [pictures will come once that is complete].

Thursday: took advantage of good sales at Old Navy and Dick's Sporting Goods and got my Christmas presents early [thank you, parents :)]. bought a new small backpack [rest in peace, LLBean bag that's been with me for 14 years. you will get your own post soon]. saw The Book Thief. my Jackalope swag and Will's to-be-edited book arrived in the mail!

Friday: parents finished work early because of the weather. spent most of the day playing cards.

Saturday: awesome college football games to wrap up the season.

It was a slow week, but I'm over my cold and my sleepiness, the weather is getting colder, and the Brother arrives home for the holidays in 4 days, so things will only get better from here on!

03 December 2013

those 15-hour flights make for some good movie watching opportunities.

Yes, you read that correctly: I said 15 hours. That's how long it takes to fly between Dallas and Dubai. The good thing with Emirates is that they have a rockstar in-flight entertainment system chock full of movies, tv shoes, and music, with everything ranging from new releases to old school classics. It can be rather overwhelming, but once you get the hang of it, it's a gold mine.

On my way to India, I watched Mud and Tangled along with a few episodes of Downton Abbey. On my return journey I watched The Internship, Bombay Talkies, and Kai Po Che, as well as a few episodes of Parks & Recreation.

Below are my thoughts on the movies...

Mud. I wanted to see this from the time I heard rumours around Arkansas that it would be filmed there, but I somehow missed it when it was in the cinema. As soon as I saw it on offer on the flight, I knew it would be my first selection, and I really liked it. For starters, Tye Sheridan, the actor who played Ellis, was phenomenal. His quiet demeanor brought so much to the role and to the movie, and I was pretty blown away by his acting. His unflagging belief that love conquers all carries him through a lot of ups-and-downs in his life, and he'll do anything to help that belief along. I am always a big fan of Matthew McConaughey taking on serious roles, and he did not disappoint in this one. And that snake tattoo that he rocks certainly helped matters. Sam Shepard is one of my favourites, and he was excellent in his supporting role. So pretty much, the acting was awesome. It's a different storyline, and it definitely had a few flaws in it, but the performances of the actors were really great. I also really liked the fraught father-son relationship between Ellis and his dad and how that came together at the end. I really liked the movie and think it's one for everyone to see.

Tangled. A new take on the traditional Rapunzel story. When I saw that Zachary Levi of Chuck fame voiced one of the characters, I was sold. There were a few changes to the storyline, but overall I enjoyed it. The songs weren't as good as other Disney films, but I very much enjoyed the "I Had a Dream" song. Admittedly, I'm still not a fan of Mandy Moore, even if it's just her voice, but otherwise it was a good movie, and Disney's ongoing tradition of animal sidekicks is still alive and strong and rather entertaining. It was a pretty good way to pass the flight, but I probably won't watch the sequel.

The Internship. You know, your typical Owen Wilson-Vince Vaughn movie. Good entertainment, lots of silly laughs, a feel-good message tucked in there, and just about 20 minutes too long. It's one of those movies that I'm going to watch at some point, just because I love those guys, but you know exactly how things are going to play out about 15 minutes into the movie; regardless, I enjoyed it. Their group of quirky sidekicks were entertaining and added a few extra layers to the movie. Definitely a good time-pass to check out.

Bombay Talkies. Four short films celebrating 100 years of Indian cinema? Sign me up. The stories were directed by Karan Johar, Dibakar Banerjee, Zoya Akthar, and Anurag Kashyap and covered a range of topics from a married man with a secret to a young man trying to fulfill his father's dying wish, and all take place in Bombay. They show the different sides of Bombay, from the children begging at the railway stations to the upper middle class elite and everything in between. All four films - 30 minutes in length each - were very well directed, but I have to say that Zoya Akthar's was my favourite [other than the cameo from Katrina Kaif. could have done without that]. The story of a little boy struggling with his desire to dress like a girl and be a dancer in the face of his father's push to play football and act how a "boy" should act was really touching, and the boy who played Vicky was phenomenal. None of these are your typical "Bollywood" films, but I think it made them that much better. I also liked the montage at the end of Bollywood films through the years, but I was sorely disappointed when they cut it off in the 80s and then had current film stars lip-synching a song called "Bombay Talkies". I think they really could have killed it with that montage, and I hated that they cut it short like that. But otherwise, an exceptional collection of stories.

Kai Po Che. The film version of Chetan Bhagat's The 3 Mistakes of My Life. I read the book a few years ago, and while I enjoyed the story, I really wanted it to go into more depth at a few points, and the film did just that. It's a story about 3 friends who open a sports shop and cricket academy in a temple complex in Ahmedabad in 2000, and it follows them through their trials and triumphs over the years, showing how events in Gujarat affected their lives and their friendships. I really enjoyed the film and thought it did a great job of adapting Bhagat's story. Because it had been a few years since I'd read the book, there were a few details I had forgotten, but I'm pretty sure they stayed pretty accurate to his original story. I thought all three main actors performed really well in their roles, and it's definitely a film I will see again. If you're interested in watching it, it's available to stream on Netflix.

Happy movie watching!

01 December 2013

the joy project: weeks forty-three to forty-five.

my 3 weeks in India, rolled into my awesome blog post.

Sunday 10: landed in Bombay and was recognized within 2 hours. as my parents and I were checking into our hotel, I hear from one of the bellmen, "Madam! How are you, Madam? So long!" and then, when he and another guy brought our bags up to the room, the other guy was explaining breakfast hours and all to my father, and this guy stops him and just says, "No worries. Madam knows all." seems my reputation is still intact.

Monday 11: yummy breakfast at the hotel. flight to Coimbatore.

Tuesday 12: visited Vasamma, my father's sweet aunt [who sadly passed away just this week. she'll be fondly remember and missed every day].

Wednesday 13: early morning run around Race Course. definitely an odd feeling to go for a run in Coimbatore, but it was nice to get out and about.

Thursday 14: lots of rest, relaxation, and reading.

Friday 15: another early morning run, and this time I dragged my nephew along. cousins dinner at Bird on Tree followed by ice cream at Ibacco.

Saturday 16: joined the guys for a 5.45am run around Race Course. lunch at Bombay Brasserie. "doctors' dinner" at home for my father and all his doctor friends.

Sunday 17: spent most of the day at home playing cards.

[clockwise from top left: my aunt made ragi mudhe for me; my dog-cousin apple; attempts at "fixing" the road outside my grandmother's house; lots and lots of card playing]
Monday 18: spent the day at our family temple for the full moon festival. hung out with my cousin's 5-year-old daughter, Esha, who is an absolute gem. pretty sure I have a new best friend for life.

Tuesday 19: TO BANGALORE! I met the Pumpkin and had a reunion with my Peanut, the first of whom is one of the happiest babies I've ever known and the second of whom is absolutely hilarious and quite the little diva. also a reunion with my third-born.

Wednesday 20: a fun afternoon with Shonali and Rajat. an Old Monk reunion. barbecue at the farm with Nithya, Sam, Anthony Appa, and Viji.

[rajat can't contain his excitement at having me back in town]
Thursday 21: Catholic Club and then reunion at Guzzlers capped off with dosa and chicken curry from Kentacky. quite an epic night in my books.

[teaching the peanut to touch her tongue to her nose]

[sweet little pumpkin]

[love that whenever i see prakash for the first time, he comes bearing these]
Friday 22: lunch at Nagarjuna with Dorothy and Sneha. nice long catch-up afternoon with Dorothy. went shopping with Shonali [as a note to anyone who might find themselves in a similar situation: never ever go shopping with Shonali. it lasts forever]. yummy biryani for dinner. and then Bern and I taught Nithya and Sam how to play Phase10.

[because sneha and dorothy both came dressed in hearts]
Saturday 23: lunch at South Indies with Prakash-a. got my hairs cut [and not by a barber :)]. took Shonali for a burger. dessert at Berry'd Alive. and then Prakash's aunt fed us akki roti and curry, dosa, and some yummy sweet I don't know the name of. then it rained! so much rain. we sat in Prakash's house with the windows and door open and blues on in the background and chatted while we waited for the roads to be drivable again.

[love my third-born]
Sunday 24: nice drive to the airport. flight to Bombay. reunion with PC, Deboo, Reishabh, Punit, and Steph.

[pretty typical, really]

[goodness knows what was so funny. probably shonali trying to figure out how to take a picture]
Monday 25: met Chris, the founder of Reality Gives, and walked all around Dharavi visiting the projects. discovered a new spot in Bandra to enjoy some quiet and watch the sunset. traditional night-in with PC where we ordered food and binge-watched episodes of Homeland.

[view of bandra from our point out in the sea]
Tuesday 26: met PC at the new Starbucks in the Fort and then had lunch with PC and Mahrooh at this cute little cafe in a bookstore. finally met PC's boss, Sonali. reunion of sorts at Toto's with Steph, Pete, PC, Deboo, Uday, Anurag, and Avinash. capped off the evening with frozen yogurt from Pinkberry - my choice was a salted caramel and chocolate swirl with sliced almonds and dark chocolate chips on top. and it was amazing.

[teaching my deboo-boy how to drink whiskey. i think he's slowly getting the hang of it]

[i heart you, too, pc]
Wednesday 27: spent the day sleeping and relaxing and reading. pav bhajji at my hole-in-the-wall darshini in Bandra. dinner at Steph and Pete's.

Thursday 28: back to the airport for my journey back to the States. no traffic on the way to the airport, I was the first person in line when they opened the Emirates check-in counters, I had no wait in the Immigration line since OCI holders get to go through a shorter line, and there was no line at the Security Check. and then in Dubai I paid to use the lounge near my gate - free wifi, food, and alcohol, which is a pretty good deal if you ask me.

Friday 29: finished The Book Thief [which I had started on Wednesday afternoon]. landed in Dallas. no line through Immigration or Customs [thank you, Global Entry] or Security Check. early lunch at Pappasito's. back to Memphis.

Saturday 30: slept in. mum's chicken biryani for lunch. unearthed all the Christmas decorations. set up the tree and got the ornaments on. Christmas season is here!

happy December, all!