the wonderful world of veena.

26 February 2014

book update: life after life [kate atkinson]

  • Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie
  • The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri
  • And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini
  • Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
  • Americanah by Chimamada Ngozi Adichie
  • The Round House by Louise Erdrich
  • Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple
  • Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
  • The Great Railway Bazaar by Paul Theroux
  • On the Road by Jack Kerouac
  • Creating Room to Read by John Wood
  • Zeitoun by Dave Eggers
In my first post of the year, I mentioned that the above are the 12 books I absolutely have to read this year. Well, I recently finished Life After Life [Kate Atkinson], and I enjoyed it for the most part. I have previously read three of Atkinson's books [Behind the Scenes at the Museum, Case Histories, and One Good Turn] and loved all of them, so when Life After Life released last year I knew I would read it even before it began receiving publicity.

Throughout last year, I continued to hear accolades and praise for Life After Life, and I was both excited and apprehensive about the paperback release of the book this January. I was excited because I really like Atkinson's writing and always look forward to her new releases, but I was a bit apprehensive because I didn't want the hype to get my hopes up too much and then end up disappointed once I read it.

In the end the hype didn't really effect my reading experience too much. I really liked the book overall, although there were a few parts I could have done without. If those few scenarios had been edited out, cutting the book down by about 150 pages and just generally saving a lot of confusion, I think I would have liked it immensely more. There were two in particular, although I understand why the first of those was included, regardless of how much I disliked reading it [for the subject matter, not for the writing]. The second, a complete departure from the rest of the scenarios, felt really forced to me, and it seemed way out of place. I know it was something Atkinson wanted to touch on and was the primary reason for setting her book in the 1910-1960 era, but I think the book would have been a lot better had that particular scenario been left out [I'm trying really hard to not give away spoilers, but I fear all I'm doing is sounding super vague. sorry!].

I would also have liked to see some further character development. We obviously get to know Ursula well over the course of the book, as she is the central character and the one who continually dies and is reborn, but we don't really get to see any of the other characters develop throughout the story. Her father is a saint, her mother is put-upon, her older brother is mean, her sister is the one who takes care of everyone, her younger brother is the one everyone loves, her youngest brother is the one we hardly hear about, and her aunt is the typical crazy aunt who lets you do whatever you want. Beyond those labels, however, we don't really get to experience anything with any of them, which is something I really would have enjoyed.

Probably the most interesting part for me was the idea of the story itself. I didn't know much about the plot when I began reading, but the idea of it continues to intrigue me, the idea that we can repeat certain situations in life and perhaps change the outcome of them. I think there were a few moments where Atkinson got a bit lost in her execution of it, but for the most part I liked it. I liked that every time Ursula got to "redo" her life, there were some things that still continued to happen. They were often on the periphery, but it played into the notion that even if we get second chances in life, some things are going to happen anyway. I'm not sure what my stance on destiny and fate are, but this was certainly an interesting way of looking at it. Were those things that kept occurring somehow more "real", destined to happen no matter what, while others could have been altered or even removed from history if given a second chance? It's an interesting thought, and one that has been on my mind even after I finished the book.

It was also quite interesting to read this book while watching the current airings of season 4 of Downton Abbey, as the two are set during similar eras and touch on a few of the same subjects. While Downton doesn't offer the same rebirth opportunities as Life After Life, I couldn't help but make comparisons from time-to-time.

It might sound as though I have more criticisms than praise for this book, but I did like it quite a bit. I definitely got lost in it a few times during those particular scenarios, those lives I didn't like, but it was an interesting undertaking and I'm glad that I read it.

currently reading [and almost finished with]: Creating Room to Read by John Wood. be on the lookout for that review next week, so long as I'm not sequestered.
next in the queue: one of the following - Zeitoun, The Round House, or Where'd you go, Bernadette? anyone have any particular suggestions between those three?

One down, only 11 to go!

25 February 2014

7 of 52: finally getting to experience soup sunday.

This past Sunday, I took my parents for Youth Villages' 25th Annual Soup Sunday. I interned with YV two summers during my undergraduate days, both of which were great experiences, and I continued to volunteer once a week at the Dogwood campus through the fall semester of my senior year. I got to know many of the staff well, and I like to think I might have had a tiny bit of influence over helping some of the kids deal with their myriad of issues and work toward overcoming them and reuniting with their families.

There are a number of fundraisers and events throughout the year that support YV and its activities, and Soup Sunday is one of the more legendary. I heard about it while I was working with and volunteering for the organization, but somehow I missed being able to attend Soup Sunday while I was in college. It usually occurs during a weekend in February, and for some reason I always had a conflict during said weekend.

But not this year. This year, I was in town and had no conflicts, and I was determined to see what it was all about and eat my way around Memphis. I normally make lunch on Sundays for my parents and me, but when I pitched the idea that we make Soup Sunday an alternative, they were game.

[round one, clockwise from top right: gumbo from a place whose name I cannot remember; hot & sour soup from mosa asian bistro; gumbo from bardog tavern; bread from unknown; beer cheese soup from bardog tavern. in the center: chili from another place whose name I cannot remember. but it was all quite good]
So this is how Soup Sunday works: upwards of 40 restaurants, bakeries, and other eateries from around Memphis - and a few of the casinos - set up tables around the ground floor concourse of the FedEx Forum. $30 gets you in the door, and volunteers are ready to hand out drinks carriers - you know, what you get from fast food places - that you can use to manage your various cups. As you proceed counter-clockwise, you'll see all the different restaurants that have food on offer. It's mostly soup, as the name promises, but there is also bread, cupcakes, coffee, and ice cream to be had. It's all-you-can-eat, but you have to strategize if you want to still have some room in your stomach by the time you make it all the way around.

[this was what my father's tray looked like before we even made it to the first eating station. needless to say, he enjoyed himself thoroughly]
My parents and I got our carriers and got in line and got straight to work, making our way from table to table with eagerness and excitement. There are eating stations - 4 in all, I think - strategically placed throughout the line so that you can sit down and consume your soups and other delicacies before you get up and start filling up your tray again.

[butter pecan ice cream from the creamery. it was so good, i didn't even think about taking a picture until i was down to my last bite]
In total it took us about 1.5 hours to make a complete circle of the concourse, and of the 56-ish tables, I probably sampled around 25 of them. My favourites were the Beer Cheese Soup and the Gumbo [Andouille, I think?], both from Bardog Tavern, the Butter Pecan ice cream from The Creamery, and the Ice Cream Donut - a genius invention, really, from Maggie Moo's. Honorable Mention to the Hot & Sour Soup from Mosa Asian Bistro [I will definitely be dining there in the near future]. There were also food trucks outside, including Central BBQ and another that had fried Oreos on the menu, but by that point we were all too stuffed to be able to partake.

[ice cream donut from maggie moo's. that's right, chocolate ice cream inside a fresh donut that is then heated up in a waffle iron. it takes like a creamy chocolate-covered donut, and it was delicious. i could have eaten 10 of these]
I'm so glad to finally have had the opportunity to see Soup Sunday in all its glory, and I always love getting to support Youth Villages and the work they do. It comes around once a year, so if you are in Memphis when Soup Sunday rolls through next year, be sure to check it out.

[beale street around 12.45pm on a sunday. only time you'll see it this quiet]
other highlights included: more Winter Olympics watching; launching The Wandering Samaritan; a brief respite from the below freezing temperatures; a lovely brunch with Dylan Perry at Second Line; a nice lazy weekend where I didn't turn on my computer for 2 days.

happy last week of february!

20 February 2014

introducing the wandering samaritan!

For the last month or so, I have been helping out with a new venture called The Wandering Samaritan. It is the brainchild of Jason Mandl, a friend of my brother's from his undergrad days, and through a series of lucky coincidences, I began working remotely with him in early January. Today, I would like to share The Wandering Samaritan with all of you.

Have you ever been traveling and come across an organization working hard but without the funds or resources to make a significant impact? Or a clinic or hospital in need of an incubator or x-ray machine? Or schools without adequate desks for the children to study at? Met a family who needed a sustainable form of cash income to be able to send their children to school and provide food for their family? Have you ever wanted to help them but not had access to enough funds to do so?

That's where The Wandering Samaritan comes in. We are raising funds that approved travelers - our Samaritans - can have access to so they can create random acts of kindness along their journeys. So those resources can be provided, that equipment can be purchased, those supplies can be donated, and perhaps that income source can be found.

Our launch video is below and explains more about what we hope to do:

At the moment we are still in the beginning stages of building our Miracle Bank, searching for our first Samaritans, and generally getting our name out into the world, but we are very excited about the opportunities that lay ahead of us. If you or someone you know are interested in learning more, there are a number of ways you can get involved and stay updated as we continue to move forward:
  • you can visit our website and sign up to receive updates
  • you can follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram
  • subscribe to our YouTube channel and share the video
  • add us to your circles on Google+
  • make a donation on our website or let us know if you would like to host or donate to a fundraiser
  • most importantly, spread the word. right now we need to get our name out there, so the more you can share our name and our website with your family, friends, colleagues, and neighbours, the better.
This is a venture I'm really excited to be a part of, and I'm so proud to be able to share it with all of you. And now, let's all go forth and tell the world about The Wandering Samaritan.

16 February 2014

6 of 52: connecting with friends.

A few months ago I wrote about being intentional about maintaining relationships with friends both near and far. I am always learning what an ongoing process it is, but it's always great to connect with friends, no matter how long it's been since the last time we spoke or saw each other.

This week I had the opportunity to reconnect with friends both in Memphis and abroad, and those little moments went a long way to improving my mid-winter spirits.

On Friday I joined Jane, Chrystal, Regina, Dan, and Walshie at El Porton for drinks and dinner after which all of us ladies headed on to Slider Inn. It was a low-key night, and I was back home by just past 10, but it was also really refreshing. It was great to hang out with all of them in such a casual setting, with nothing else really happening around us, and eat and drink and laugh and generally cause a ruckus. It's been a while since I was in that kind of an environment, and I really enjoyed it. I've known Jane and Walshie since our Rhodes days, and Chrystal, Regina, and Dan all work at Rhodes, so even though I've not known them for as long, that immediate connection made us fast friends, and I always enjoy getting to spend time with all of them.

[me and jane in bangalore, july 2011]
On Saturday night, after many months of missing each other or having conversations in passing, Dorothy and I got to have a nice long gchat session. Dorothy is one of my very closest friends in Bangalore; she is one of the most genuine and caring people I know, and her friendship has meant so much to me over the last 8 years. We often catch up on-the-go like this, and somehow our quick interactions will turn into 2-hour long chats on a wide ranging variety of topics. It's always so nice to hear what is going on in her life and to just let the conversation flow, and these chances always remind me how grateful I am to know Dorothy and her family.

[me and dorothy at tavern, october 2012]
This week it was little interactions like those that lifted my spirits, especially since I've been up-and-down battling a bad cold since Wednesday night. Sometimes it's a combination of all those little things that can make your week.

other highlights included: lots of Winter Olympics watching; finally got to eat at Second Line; saw Spamalot at Playhouse on the Square; finished Life After Life.

Here's to a happy - and healthy - week ahead.

11 February 2014

foodie friday: soul fish cafe.

For our Friday lunch out a few weeks ago, my parents and I tried Soul Fish Cafe in Cooper Young. I had been craving catfish for a while, which I knew my father is always game for, and although my mother's not big on seafood, she loves all the accompaniments, especially hushpuppies and fried okra.

Soul Fish has three locations throughout the city, but because I am a Memphis purist when it comes to dining out, we went to the Midtown location on South Cooper. Because we went around 12.45pm, we didn't have any trouble finding street parking, but I imagine it can get tough, particularly in the evenings or on the weekends.

My first impression of the inside was a highly positive one for one reason: the curtain. When you open the door, there is a thick curtain that divides the immediate entrance from the interior of the restaurant to keep the outside breeze from impacting dining customers. Genius, really, and I don't know why other places have not been doing this all these years. Extra points for that one, especially since we were there on a cold, windy day.

The restaurant itself has a simple, semi-homey kind of feel to it. It's a lot of exposed steel, which keeps it from being too overly familiar, but it's still a welcoming space, with lots of pictures on the walls, comfortable-looking booths [we were seated at a table], and chalkboards depicting the day's specials and the beers on tap.

For food, I went with the catfish basket, and I substituted fried okra in place of the coleslaw. My food was awesome and was way more than I needed to eat, but it was yummy. My father got the blackened catfish, and he loved it. My mother ordered the kid's meal chicken tenders and got a side of okra, which she seemed to enjoy.

All in all I loved it. I finally got my catfish fix, the okra and hushpuppies were great, and the cornbread that came with my father's meal was awesome. So I will definitely be back in the future.

862 S Cooper
Memphis, TN 38104

4720 Poplar Ave
Memphis, TN 38117

3160 Village Shops Drive
Germantown, TN 38138

11am-10pm M-Sa [East Memphis & Midtown]
11am-9pm Su [EM & M]

11am-9pm Su-Th [Germantown]
11am-10pm F-Sa [G]

I recommend:
the catfish basket. although on my next visit I plan on trying one of the po-boys.

Any suggestions for where we should lunch this week?

10 February 2014

5 of 52: a carroll family weekend.

My dear Maggie, one of my favourite Clinton School classmates, is getting ready to move to New York City in a few weeks. She is a fantastically talented photographer, videographer, and journalist, and she is heading to the Big Apple to continue working on her portfolio. To celebrate her journey into the great unknown, I headed to Little Rock this last weekend to soak up some time with my Moo and generally to hang out with her family, who are all pretty spectacularly awesome.

Molly, the Middle, now lives in Seattle and had planned to come home on Friday as a surprise for their mother, so we plotted a trip to the Purple Cow as an excuse to get out of the house to go pick her up from the airport. It was snowing lightly on the way there, and on the way back it got pretty bad. We actually got stuck a few miles from their house, and Papa Carroll had to come rescue us. Luckily Mama Tiziana was shocked enough to see the Middle that she didn't yell at us for being out in the bad weather :)

[this was the sight on Pleasant Forest on Friday night]
The snow gave Maggie and I the perfect excuse to stay in on Saturday and generally lounge around. We had a nice late breakfast of pancakes and eggs and sausages and then played wii Dance for a solid two hours. I had never played it before, and I was definitely sweating profusely by the end of it. It was super fun, and I am plotting how I can procure one for myself.

[the view from one of the front windows]
Moo and I spent the afternoon watching Bhaag Milkha Bhaag - excellent movie, by the way - and then we read for a little while before watching some of the Olympics coverage and enjoying a late dinner and some general hangout time with her family.

[the Middle and the Mama rocking out]
It was so nice to get out of town for a few days and enjoy a relaxing few days with Maggie and her family. The Carrolls are such a genuine, caring family, and I always love getting to spend some time with all of them. They're good people, and I can't wait to go see them again. And of course to visit Moo in the NYC.

other highlights included: received a super sweet note in the mail from Nana and Pops; ordered my first ever bridesmaid's dress; a winter wonderland in LR; future plans slowly taking shape.

Hope you all have a happy week ahead!

04 February 2014

memphis eats: ethiopian restaurant.

Before my father and I saw American Hustle a few weeks ago, we tried out Ethiopian Restaurant for dinner. We've both had Ethiopian food before, but it's been about 6 years for me and closer to 30 for my father, so we decided to give it a go, since it's very near the Cordova cinema.

To begin with, the name. I love that it's just called "Ethiopian Restaurant". Not trying to hide anything, not bragging or showing off, just a simple pronouncement of what they offer. I like it when places don't try to beat around the bush.

It's a very simple restaurant, with a very simple decor. Just about 10 tables, with various Ethiopian souvenirs displayed on the walls. Nothing over-the-top or fancy, so you know I liked it.

They have a fairly simple menu anyway, but I have a feeling the same dish - the tibs - gets ordered in whatever version people want, be it chicken, beef, lamb, or fish. My father and I went with the lamb tibs and a starter of beef sambusa, the Ethiopian version of a samosa.

The sambusas were pretty good, and the tibs was delicious. While the lamb was tasty, my father and I really enjoyed all the vegetables that came with it - cauliflower, two different kinds of lentils, and some yogurt-y something [the salad was also very good, but it came with the sambusa as well, so we both kind of ignored it on the main dish :/]. It's served in a giant dish with a side of injera, similar to an Indian dosa but brown in colour.

[looks good, doesn't it?]
Because the dish is so large, we shared it, and even then it was too much food for the both of us. Hats off to anyone who can finish that on their own.

It was a nice simple dinner, and I'll definitely be back. In particular I would like to try out their weekday lunch buffet one day. Anyone who's interested, let me know.

1134 N Germantown Parkway, Suite 107
Cordova, TN 38016

Lunch Buffet Weekdays 11am-2pm
Tues-Thurs 11am-9pm
Fri-Sat 11am-10pm
Sun 11am-7pm
closed on Mondays

I recommend:
beef sambusa to start and yebeg tibs [lamb] or tibs wot/awaze tibs [beef] as an entree, depending on your meat preference.

And seriously, join me for the lunch buffet. Or for eating adventures in general.

03 February 2014

learning to take the leap.

For two days last week, I watched Nomadic Matt, one of my favourite travel bloggers, give an online workshop about stress-free budget travel through CreativeLIVE. He spoke to a small audience in San Francisco, but the entire thing was available to stream live for free on both Wednesday and Thursday, so I enrolled. I figured at worst I would just hear repeats of stuff I've read on his website or his newsletters, and at best I would decide where my itchy feet want to travel to next [because you know I am forever planning getaways in my mind]. I certainly did not expect it to have quite the impact on me that it did, but I will get to that in a minute. First, the workshop itself...

For one thing, I really liked that the workshop felt intimate, like he was just having a chat with friends about taking a trip. There were only about 10 people in the studio for the workshop, but there were probably thousands watching online from various places. It was very casual, very informal, and while I don't know Matt personally, from following his website for a while that seems like his style. I also liked that the online viewers could comment and ask questions, and a few of the questions - including one of my own - were asked and answered on the broadcast.

Secondly, I like how he broke the two days down into smaller modules to then go over everything it takes to plan a trip: finances and travel hacking; staying safe while traveling; making friends on the road; gear and technology; travel insurance; getting affordable flights and accommodation; saving money while on the road; finding work and living overseas; and finally putting it all together to make an awesome trip for yourself. While I've never taken a trip longer than a few months, it was great information on how to plan and execute a longer, more intensive journey.

Each module included guest appearances from friends of his, fellow travel bloggers - including the lovely Candace - from around the world who shared their experiences of life on the road. From the elderly Canadian couple who are now in Peru to Lauren, the British girl who had never ridden a bus before leaving England, who is currently based in Mexico, it was great to hear firsthand accounts of how travel has changed their lives, to hear about the fears and anxieties they had before they left on their travels and to find out how they overcame those fears over the course of their adventures.

One of the good things about the workshop was that while it definitely was geared more toward people looking to take long-term trips, all of the information is useful for those going on one- or two-week holidays as well. It's universal information, and it's good information. Everything Matt - and his friends - discussed are things they have learned during their years of traveling the world. Yes, they discussed things I already knew or had heard about, but there were also some little tidbits that I learned, and I got a whole new list of travel bloggers to follow.

I knew going into the workshop that it would probably set my feet itching to visit somewhere new. Whenever I'm in one place for too long, I start to get restless and begin dreaming of places to go and people to visit and things to do and see. It's a never-ending cycle, and there is no cure for my wanderlust.

And yes, it did set my feet itching [hoping for a trip to DC in the spring to see some of my favourite people], but it also did something else: while Matt was giving some background on himself and how he got into the traveling lifestyle, it struck me over and over that he had the courage to go into the unknown and see what would happen. That sink or swim mentality, if you will; he swam, and now he's a successful travel writer and blogger who lives life on his own terms. He listened to his own advice and took the leap he needed to.

I'm not looking to be a lifelong traveler necessarily - I love traveling and am always looking for new places to visit, but I don't think my home will ever be "on the road". I was more influenced by the genuine passion that Matt clearly has for traveling, and I began thinking about my own passions, for work, for people, for places. And I began to do some deep thinking about where I am in life and where I want to be, mentally, professionally, and geographically.

I am slowly beginning to explore these thoughts and see where they lead me, and I hope to make some bigger decisions in the next few months. As those materialize, I will share them on here, but I don't want to jump the gun or jinx myself by speaking about them too soon.

So for now, here's to taking the leap...

02 February 2014

4 of 52: dreams really do come true sometimes.

[dream come true to finally get to see this show]
What does it say about me that I knew going into this week exactly what my highlight was going to be? Does it show my amazing ability to predict the future? Is it a little bit sad? Or perhaps a combination of both?

Whichever you think it is, I don't really care, because the simple truth is that I FINALLY GOT TO SEE WICKED.

For 10 years I have been listening to the cast recording of Wicked and dreaming of the day when I would finally get to see the show on stage. You can go ahead and call me lame, but it's the honest truth. I've loved the music since the soundtrack came out, but I always missed it whenever the tour came through Memphis. One time I missed it by 3 days. If I'm being completely honest, the thought occurred to me to change my flight back to India so that I could see the show. That's how much I wanted to see it.

So when the Orpheum announced its schedule for this year and I saw Wicked on there, I vowed to myself that if I were still in Memphis when the beginning of February rolled around, I would be there to see it. My mother agreed to go with me for the show based solely on my enthusiasm - she's not really a theatre-goer, but she's a really good sport about these things, and since I was looking for company, she volunteered.

And yesterday was the big day. We got ourselves dolled up and headed downtown for the afternoon show. I was literally on the edge of my seat throughout the entire production, partially because of enthusiasm but also mostly because the girl sitting in front of me was tall, so the only way I could see the stage was by leaning forward. Whatever, it was cool.

And the show. The show. It was amazing, incredible, magical, wonderful, fantastic, etc etc etc. Any of those crazy adjectives you can come up with, they probably apply to this show. The cast was great, the musical numbers were fantastic, the sets were awesome, and it was by far one of the best shows I've ever seen. This might give you some indication: my mother always takes a nap on Saturday afternoons, and she generally falls asleep if she sits still for too long, so I anticipated that she might nap through a good chunk of Act I, which runs for about an hour and a half. She maybe slept, on-and-off, through 10 minutes. Even she was mesmerized.

I posted the above picture of the programs on Instagram and Facebook, and I think Sarah Leer said it best in her comment: "It's like you hear the cast recording, know all the words, and then walk in and get blown away by the magic."

Yes, that, exactly. So if you're in Memphis, or close enough to drive in, definitely, definitely go see this show. It's probably close to being sold out, but if you can find tickets, it is absolutely, totally, no doubt about it worth it. You can purchase tickets through the Orpheum website or on Ticketmaster.

other highlights included: nomadic matt's awesome two-day workshop on stress-free budget travel [that also might just have been the kick in the ass I needed to get my life in gear]; great phone chats with both stevo and maggie on the same day; friday lunch with the parents at soul fish cafe; jackalope launch at the lynx lair; rhodes women smoked sewanee; huey's date with eli and steve.

What an awesome way to wrap up January. I'd say this year is off to a pretty stellar beginning.