the wonderful world of veena.

30 December 2014

book review: the lowland [jhumpa lahiri].

I am unabashedly obsessed with Jhumpa Lahiri. I have now read all four of her publications - two novels and two collections of short stories - and it is safe to say that she is one of my all-time favourite writers. She captures the Indian-American voice better than anyone else I've read, and I actively look forward to the times she comes out with a new work.

The Lowland is Lahiri's most recent work, and I just finished on my journey back to India. It was different from what I was expecting, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. I found it to be bleaker than her previous writing, but her knack for expressing emotions in words is unsurpassed by her peers.

At its heart The Lowland is the story of two brothers and how their lives take drastically different turns. While one leaves Calcutta in the upheaval of the 1970s to pursue his doctorate in a sleepy town in Rhode Island, the other joins the Marxist movement and gets caught up in ridding India of class disparities. Barely over a year apart and having grown up practically as one entity, this separation affects each brother and those in the periphery of their lives in different ways.

In some ways I wish I had read this book earlier in the year, because I was so distracted by packing and traveling and the holidays to properly enjoy it. Some days I would read 40 pages, and others I wouldn't read any, falling into my bed after a long day of running around and going straight to sleep.

But in other ways I'm glad that I read it when I did, on the cusp of returning to India. Although the book is set - as most of Lahiri's stories are - in Calcutta, there are so many elements that were still relatable for me. I somehow manage to fall into Lahiri's stories at just the right time in my life, so much so that it sometimes feels as though she is writing just for me. [obviously I know this is not true]

As always, I cannot recommend this book highly enough. It's not a happy tale by any means, but it's just so darn good.

29 December 2014

51 of 52: a family christmas.

It's no secret that Christmas is my favourite holiday. I love the entire season, the decorations and the good cheer and the general festiveness of the time of year. That month between Thanksgiving and Christmas is my favourite time of year.

[so many pretty, pretty ornaments]
This year that month was much more hectic than usual, as in between the general frivolity I had to also say my goodbyes and prepare for my move around the world. I would be lying if I said it wasn't stressful, but it was also more enjoyable in a way as well.

[up and decorated and lit on the day after thanksgiving. quite possibly my favourite day in the year]
And it was made especially special because we managed to have another family Christmas with all four of us in Memphis. It was the second year in a row that both my brother and I were home, something we have not accomplished since probably my second year of undergrad. Between him being away at school and my back-and-forth between the States and India, one of us is usually away, so it was nice for us to be able to celebrate together.

[this santa was a little drunk from last christmas, so he got put in jail for a while]
Now that my brother and I are technically "grown up", Christmas isn't quite the event it was when we were children, but I still like to go a little crazy if I am in town. The tree and ornaments went up the day after Thanksgiving, as did the stocking and tinsel. The wreaths were hung on the door, and a new inflatable snowman was procured to take up residence in the front yard. Our plethora of random Santas were spread throughout the house, and every now and then you could hear one singing "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" and shaking his hips. And whenever my father was home, the Christmas radio station was playing in the background.

[festiveness on beale st]
Even though the week of Christmas was crazy, the day itself was pretty relaxed. We slept in, we exchanged a few gifts, we stuffed ourselves silly, we played some cards and watching National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, and then we had family nap time. That's a pretty solid Christmas right there.

[that's my favourite holiday tradition, too. we really are destined to be best friends]
Seeing as how I don't know what my Christmas plan will be next year or where I will be, I was particularly thankful to have this time at home this year. It can get a little tense when all four of us are under the same roof for too long, but I will forever be convinced I have the best family in the world.

[christmas morning]
other highlights included: Lindsay and Miss Evelyn stopped by on their way to Little Rock to have lunch with me; farewell to India Palace dinner with friends; farewell to Gus's family lunch on Christmas Eve; traditional farewell chocolate chip pancakes as made by my mother.

[i think we all know she's the one i'm going to miss most]
[farewell to india palace. man, that place is good]
[christmas eve lunch at gus's. obviously]
[prepping the tandoori for christmas eve dinner]
[butter chicken, green beans, and black eyed peas. christmas night]
[every time i leave for india, my mother makes me chocolate chip pancakes for breakfast. she really is the best]
[passing the time at the memphis airport]
[stranded in chicago for a night = room service and one of the best episodes of friends]
[finally saying farewell to chicago]
Happy almost 2015!

23 December 2014

marvelous memphis: st jude children's research hospital.

My ties to and affection for St Jude Children's Research Hospital runs deep. My father was Co-Chief Resident at the hospital in the late 1970s. A good friend of mine from high school received his treatment there after being diagnosed with non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. I have a number of friends who work or have worked for St Jude or ALSAC - the fundraising arm of the hospital - over the last 15 years.

[the sign that greeted me upon my arrival]
Above that, the work that St Jude does speaks for itself. It is dedicated to finding cures for childhood cancers and other illnesses. It is committed to never turning a child away for a family's inability to pay. And since it opened its doors in 1962, it has raised the overall rates of survival from less than 20 percent to over 80, all while never charging families for treatment.

[statue of st jude outside the hospital's main entrance]
[murals in the lobby of the patient care center]
I realized earlier this year, in the midst of preparing for this year's St Jude Memphis Marathon Weekend, that I had never actually had the opportunity to visit the St Jude campus and take a tour. Since Christina occasionally gives tours as part of her role at ALSAC and wanted to practice, she very generously offered to show me around.

[a stained glass mural inside one of the chapels. notice the children of all different races and ethnicities, just like the patients of st jude]
[christmas cheer in the h clinic]
Christina showed Abby and me around about a month ago, but we were on a limited time schedule, and it was only when we were nearly finished that I realized I really wanted to do a longer, more in-depth tour and showcase as much of it as I could on here. So last week, we did just that.

[playing hide-and-seek between summer and fall. love these bright walls everywhere you turn]
[a collection of the illustrated memorials for danny thomas after his passing]
For nearly 2.5 hours we wandered the St Jude campus, going through the history of the hospital and working our way up to present-day. Even though I've heard the story of why Danny Thomas opened a hospital in the name of St Jude, patron saint of lost causes, this time I learned about how the hospital came to be located in Memphis -- when it opened in 1962, it became the first fully integrated hospital in the American South and paved the way for easing racial tensions in our city.

[my favourite spot: flags in the atrium representing the nationalities of patients and staff. so cool to see the global impact of st jude's work]
[a sculpture representing the work st jude and wash u are doing to map the genomes of children with cancer]
One of the main things that stands out when you wander through the hospital is how kid-friendly it is. You can see the efforts that were made to ensure children feel safe and secure without having to feel like they are confined in a hospital. Walls are covered with brightly-coloured murals depicting children playing. All registration desks and tables in waiting rooms are sized for kids rather than adults. Patients are transported around the hospital in red Radio Flyer wagons instead of wheelchairs. There are computers in all the waiting rooms so kids can surf the Internet [for the older ones] or play games. Where there are no murals, the patients' artwork is displayed. It is all very intentional, and it is all done to put children at ease.

[and his legacy for this lives on in the work of st jude]
[marlo thomas, danny's daughter, is now one of the main spokespeople for the hospital, and she has done a wonderful job of spreading the word about the work st jude is doing]
Another thing I love is the Kay Kafe. It is one of the main hubs of the hospital, as it is the only cafeteria on campus. Here you will find patients, families, doctors, nurses, researchers, fundraisers, and visitors all eating together. The food is both healthy and delicious, and I have thoroughly enjoyed both of my lunches there. An anecdote I learned from Christina: many years ago there was a young boy undergoing treatment at St Jude who was losing weight at a rapid rate and refusing to eat anything. All he wanted was his grandmother's mac-and-cheese, so the chef at the Kay Kafe called the boy's grandmother, noted down her recipe, and that is still the recipe for the mac-and-cheese that is served in the cafe to this day.

[i loved the digital timeline in the new building dedicated to marlo thomas]
[dr pui was co-chief resident with my father way back in the day]
[dr pui continues his incredible research while still treating patients to this day]
There are lots of similar stories and anecdotes that you learn about as you go through the tour. I don't want to reveal them all on here, both because I can't tell them properly and because I would prefer you visit the hospital yourself if you have an opportunity and hear them from a staff member as you go on your tour. They are all so much more impactful when you are standing in the hospital hearing about them, and I don't want to take away from that experience.

[a painting created by one of the teenagers receiving treatment at st jude. i can't get over how great it is]
St Jude really is a wonderful place, and we are so lucky to have it in our city. It has brought so many world-class doctors and researchers to Memphis, and they are continuing to make breakthroughs and find ways to save more and more children. I cannot say enough good things about St Jude and the work they are doing, and I encourage everyone to learn more about the hospital.

[the sister of a patient does a take on quotes from the fault in our stars. also on display on the teen art wall]
Some quick facts about St Jude:
  • Families never receive a bill from St Jude, because all they should worry about is helping their child[ren] get better.
  • Since opening in 1962, St Jude has helped raise the overall rate of survival for childhood cancer from 20 to more than 80 percent. Their next goal is 90 percent in the next ten years.
  • The daily operating costs for St Jude is $2 million, and most of that money comes from individual donations over the course of the year.
  • St Jude shares all of their research and breakthroughs to anyone who wants it, free of charge [that is not always the norm with other hospitals or research centers].
  • St Jude is currently building the world's first proton therapy center dedicated solely to helping children.
  • The St Jude Memphis Marathon Weekend, held every December, is the biggest single fundraiser for the hospital each year. As of race weekend at the beginning of the month, this year's St Jude Heroes had raised $7.5 million; their goal is to pass $8 million by the end of the year.
[one of the many mottos of st jude]
I for one am proud to support the work St Jude does every day to find cures and save children.

22 December 2014

50 of 52: a farewell to memphis.

I wanted to have some sort of farewell event in Memphis before people began dispersing for the holidays, so last week we had a desserts and drinks event at Katie, Christina, and Toney's house. It was nice and informal, which was exactly what I was hoping for, so I had plenty of time to hang out and chat with people. And we had the Grizz-Spurs game - you know, the one that went into triple overtime - on to provide the right touch of drama to the evening.

[sherry went all out with that rum cake] 
[cupcakes, cookies, and mini bundt cakes. yummy]
It was great to have nearly everyone together one last time, and I'm so glad I got to see so many great people one last time. I've got some pretty great friends in this city, and I loved being able to spend some time with them.

[such a nice picture, and then you have the two jokers in the back]
And that QPon jersey is pretty great, too.

other highlights included: finally tried the BBQ spaghetti at Bar-B-Que Shop; another successful Ornament Exchange; saw The Theory of Everything; great Grizz win over the Warriors; in-depth tour of St Jude; fantastic farewell party; whirlwind visit from Bee; lunch at Las Delicias; last visit to the Forum; last lunch at Curry Bowl; began packing.

[bbq spaghetti. yes, please]
[ornament exchange getting underway]
[scored a world map ornament]
[awesome grizz win over the warriors]
[flags in the st jude atrium representing the nationalities of all the patients, families, doctors, nurses, researchers, and other staff at the hospital]
[further proof that quincy and i are destined to be best friends]
[the veebees strike again]
[we got to meet santa grizz! while i was wearing his face on my shirt, of course] 
[took a moment on friday night to say goodbye to this special place]
[let the packing process begin...]
[last sunday family lunch. chana bhatura washed down with some thums up. can't beat it]
4 days until I leave!

21 December 2014

movie review: the theory of everything.

Let's begin with a confession: I really had no idea who Stephen Hawking was until about 7 or so years ago. I had heard of him every so often while I was in college, but his name didn't come up often in history seminars, so I never actually knew who he was or why people spoke of him with such reverence in their voices.

Fast forward to 2014, and although my knowledge of Hawking's life and work isn't exactly extensive, I have a much better idea of who he is and why he is so famous. So when I began seeing trailers for The Theory of Everything, a movie about Hawking being diagnosed with ALS as a doctoral student at Cambridge and how he and his first wife dealt with the disease and curated their lives around it, I was intrigued. Not only did the movie look interesting in general, but I was curious to learn more about how he has lived with such a devastating disease for 50 years.

Going into the movie I expected it to be a bit of an epic, and I was very pleasantly surprised when it was just over 2 hours long. It moves along quickly, from Hawking's first meeting with Jane at a Cambridge party [in the first 3 minutes of the film!] to his diagnosis and beyond, and I really didn't feel as though it lagged at any point.

I don't know how accurate the facts of the movie were, but there is no doubting that the acting performances were superb. Eddie Redmayne was spectacular as the young Hawking - you can't deny that resemblance - and he displayed the ALS progression with beautiful subtlety. And Felicity Jones as Jane was excellent. Her character takes such an arc, and Jones was great as both his dedicated caretaker and his exhausted wife.

I also really liked that the movie was equally about both Stephen and Jane. I know the subtitle is The Extraordinary Story of Jane and Stephen Hawking, but I still kind of expected it to be more about him than her, and I was pleased to see that it really was about both of them. It showed how each of them dealt with Stephen's disease, and how they banded together to deal with it and to raise their family.

As can be expected of a movie of this caliber, it is already generating tons of awards chatter, and it is easy to see that the praise and speculation are well-deserved. It was probably one of the best movies I've seen this year.

And it also taught me that my brother is convinced every single British person in the world was in the Harry Potter movies. That guy.

16 December 2014

memphis eats: bbq spaghetti from the bar-b-q shop.

[tell me this doesn't look delicious. i dare you]
I love Memphis food a lot, and I love Memphis BBQ more than anything else. There are plenty of joints I have not yet tried, but my tried-and-true favourites are Central BBQ [on Central. obviously], Blues City Cafe, and The Bar-B-Q Shop. I go to each one for specific dishes, but until yesterday, I had never tried one of Bar-B-Q Shop's most famous dishes: the BBQ Spaghetti.

Once I knew when I was leaving Memphis, I began working backward from my departure date and planning out my remaining Memphis meals, and yesterday was Bar-B-Q Shop's turn in the rotation. Although my standard go-to is a regular pork sandwich plate with fries and baked beans, I decided this would be a good time to try one of their signature dishes.

And it was delicious. It's spaghetti with bbq sauce, which in and of itself is brilliant, and then there is pulled pork instead of meatballs. There is really no way to go wrong with that, and I was so happy with my lunch decision that I ate every last bite [I had the "side portion", which was a full meal for me].

And in outside news, Bar-B-Q Shop was just named the best BBQ in the Mid-South by a readers' poll conducted by the Memphis Business Journal. So you know it's legit.

Trust me when I say it is totally worth a try. If you're not a convert, I'll buy you lunch the next time I'm back in Memphis.

15 December 2014

49 of 52: taking the farewell tour through little rock.

Last week my mother flew to Phoenix to visit her sister and niece, and since it was easier for her to fly out of Little Rock, I decided to play chauffeur and make a week out of it. I hadn't been to the Rock since my week housesitting for the Carroll family in late May, and since I ship out soon, I don't know when I'll be back.

[i can always count on alan to join me at the town pump]
[the little and the middle entertain the gina]
I had a great week eating and drinking and catching up with lots of cool people. I stayed two nights with Angela and Lee, and I stayed two nights with the Carroll familia in West Little Rock, and it was great to get some good catch-up time with both of them.

[chihuly exhibit. it's breathtaking]
[pictures cannot do this justice] 
[words from the artist]
[are we sure he can't run again?] 
[inside the library. such a cool place]
I also checked out a few coffee shops [River City Coffee in Hillcrest was my favourite], I did some work at the library downtown, and - most importantly - I made a visit to Slim Chickens. I got to see people in Sturgis and visited the Chihuly exhibit at the Clinton Presidential Center. I had coffee with Don Ernst, lunches with David Monteith and Alex Thomas, and dinner with Dr and Mrs Hughes. And I obviously made it to All Day Happy Hour at the Town Pump.

[love these carroll sisters. sad the maggie couldn't be there with us]
Even though I didn't spend a lot of time in Little Rock when I was younger, I loved the year I lived there for grad school, and I made some great friends. I'm glad that I was able to have some time visiting those places and seeing those people before I leave for India.

other highlights included: my guide to Bangalore was featured on Hippie in Heels; made a trip to Helena for Lauren St Columbia's wedding and got to catch up with a lot of old friends, including some kiddos I used to babysit way back in the day.

[i remember when this sweet girl was born, nearly 16 years ago. i can't get over how grown-up she is!]
[the house that raised me]
I can't believe it's only 11 days until I leave. Perhaps it's time to leave the blog for a bit and get some packing done...