Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Art of Being a Singleton

It all started when we were wee lasses, with our pink frocks and our tiny pig-tails.

It started when we were handed our first bedtime story book illustration of Cinderella, Snow White and Rapunzel.

It started the day my mother said that a dignified young lady is expected to maintain a soft but audible, decibel when speaking and keep her legs crossed with her fingers gently placed over her lap. Do not speak with your mouth full and comb your hair after a shower to undo the tangles.

Yet there were other lessons that I gleaned from women-folk in my tribe. I learnt that a woman can carry pain and joy at the same time, that we're really inclined to buy a car for its colour, and everytime we open our underwear drawer we subconsciously hear our mothers saying "Wear matching clean, underwear always in case you are rushed to the hospital from an accident". By the time I was 21, I could cook atleast one decent meal and be a good host. I could  manage money when times were tough, and do laundry the right way. I could make my living and contribute to society. I was prepared to take on the world.

However, of all the lessons that I learnt in life's classroom, one important one was missed.

Here's the chapter us young lasses, girls and soon to become women were not taught -  How to be Single? Or, as I like to call it The Art of being a Singleton.

You understand where I'm going with this chickadee. How could I know to be "one" when everything comes in pairs - socks, salt and pepper. Heck every egg in a cardboard crate has a pair. They never sells eggs by the odd numbers. The stockboy at the super-market would give me the "lady you trippin'" look if I ever asked for just one egg for my Saturday morning huevos rancheros (yes, I realize that I've used the word "egg" more times than an Eggland commercial). All our lives we are taught that two is a good number.      We even have a set of boobs.

How am I supposed to learn to cope in a world where people exchange woeful glances my way when I sit in a restaurant with a table for one. Why is it cheaper to book last-minute vacation packages for two people instead of one. And why of why do I have to throw away both my thigh high panty-hose even though only one has a mile long rip in it. I don't even have the option of buying a replacement hose for just the right leg (okay that last argument is a stretch but you get my gist, right?)

Why is one a lonely number?

In my community, ideally, a young twenty something year old woman is to find her mate and carefully plan the expansion of her brood by the time she embraces thirty. According to some women in my tribe, having all your kids by the age of 29 affords you the option of being more energetic (than someone who is older) when motherhood takes over your life. Who came up with that? Aren't tired mothers just tired mothers, no matter what their age.

I won't lie but there are days when I've wondered what its like to have someone waiting for me at home with a hot-meal, there are weddings and children's birthday parties I've dreaded going to because I'm either going to be chaperoning the loud rambunctious four-year olds or be stuck in an odd place at the end of the dinner with the really low chair where you can't cross your legs because of the awkward table leg. A lady once told me that a woman's life is incomplete unless she has experienced motherhood; "Her life has no meaning until then", she said. I was in a particularly vulnerable stage in my life that her words stung my heart. The tears welled up and the voice in my head said "This woman thinks that I am worthless". We're so scared of being alone that we'll pursue and date the wrong men, wear labels or emulate the women who seem to have it all, and constantly immerse ourselves in toxic thoughts. It is exhausting y'all. That alone has made me age twenty years and given me three more laugh lines I did not need.

Based on all the worldly education outside my classroom, I had no hopes of scoring the eye of a genteel man, much less any man if I preferred climbing trees or running barefoot like a wild gazelle in no particular direction.I have one of two options - let society scare me into couple-dom or stay unfazed and do life as a singleton.

Poppet, if you're reading this and you have gone through the online-dating buzz, met boys that your parents thought would be a good match for you, mourned the loss of a relationship by having a relationship with Ben and Jerry, held a friend's baby and wondered about the day you'll be someone's mama and solitarily nursed yourself through a flu and prayed that chicken-soup would miraculously be dropped off at your door-step, YOU ARE NOT ALONE. You hear me. (Now, take a deep breath) We are not alone. Here's a big, big hug because I know you need it now.

I am not going to sail into a diatribe about women's lib and how we're better off alone because in all honesty, I do believe that God created us to feel a sense of community and belonging. It took three decades into my to existence to figure out something about the journey as a lone ranger - having the single-hood chapter in a woman's life is one of great promise and discoveries. The first step - Accept that you are alone in this season of your life and it's okay to be single. We are not society's lepers or the bane of our mother's existence. We are taking the road less travelled, that few have braved to journey upon. You my dear, are a trail-blazer. Now, repeat that and believe that.

I think you're ready to hear about The Art of Being a Singleton so here's what I've learned -
  • Being single is a season. Sometimes long, sometimes short. It's a good season though ( and believe me it's coveted by married women too). 
  • As a singleton, I have been able to put more time and effort into my friendships. I have a small but rich tapestry of relationships that feed well into my soul. The kind of friend-"ships" that won't toss and turn when the going gets tough. We've seen each other through job-losses, death of a parent, transitions from one country into another, birth of a child and new beginnings. This is a time for us to sow into those people especially into the ones we want to keep around us for a long, long time.
  • It has enabled me to build a trust in our Maker that comes from an increased dependency in His word and His provisions. I can tell you without a doubt that my prayer-life has increased exponentially. I may not have a beloved waiting for me at home, but I am the Lord's beloved. That's the truth for each one of us so don't listen to the lying words that try to tell you otherwise.
  • I have gained a few more ounces of bravery and worry less about venturing into life alone. There is no fear. 
  • I may not be a child's mother today but that doesn't stop me from watching over those that are not my own. We need to feel a burden for the next generation and resolve to become a tribe of women that shapes the young ones in our community. There are many kiddos and teens that feel unloved and are dealing with the day-to-day crud. Wouldn't it be great to love on them in this season when we can give them our undivided attention.
  • I have been cooking, hosting, baking, feeding and serving more. I am emotionally and physically challenged and stretched, I love it! When the focus is on people around me, there's less time to worry about being part of a couple. Its brought on more bear hugs, peals of laughter, gut-wrenching tears, slices of chocolate cake, honest conversations and dinner table fellowships. I am forced to feel, to connect, to open up
  • Spontaneity is real word now. More plunging, less cautiousness.      
There it is, girlfriend. I'm no expert and make no claims into mastering the art of doing life in a singular tense with seven bullet points. I'm still discovering this journey but from a more honest place, today.
Remember that you're not walking alone....and if it gets hard let me know. I promise you a listening ear and a slice of chocolate cake.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Around my Thanksgiving table!

Dear Poppet,

How goes the planning for thanksgiving. I sure did miss you today. I thought about you when I looked at the state of my unkept house which was nowhere near ready for guests. I remembered how much you love my au gratin tray and how content you were with a spoonful of herby, creamy potatoes than a slice of turkey meat. 
Thanksgiving this year will be unlike any others from yesteryear. There won't be a turkey named Martha, or scores of ingredient lists to scribble and scratch over. We won't be standing in the produce line deliberating whether we could use apples instead of pears for that home-made pie. I won't silently curse when the store attendant comes back to tell me that they're all out of chicken broth. We also won't get into that usual argument about why I picked an apartment on the third floor, especially when I have twenty bags of groceries to carry up two flights of stairs (forty eight steps, to be exact).

Nope! That won't be us. This year will be about simplicity and spontaneity. It will be the year we fondly think about those that didn't make it around our table and over-feed the ones who did. We will swap turkey for chicken.

Whipped sweet potato pie for mashed sweet potatoes with a hint of cilantro and crumbly feta. The humble mushroom will become a star in the puff-pastry pinwheel accompanied with a side of homemade mango chutney. The store bought desserts will share a table with Cookie's Tarte Tatin. We won't discriminate there either.

We won't worry about perfection or colour coordinated flatware. We'll stop to kiss and make up after a silly argument and read (shout..) out instructions for the recipe whilst the blender runs in full steam. Lunch will further be stalled (because of a certain camera nazi) and picture after picture of our laden table will be taken until a famished someone finally grabs a plate to serve themselves because they can't wait to be fed anymore. Later, we'll lie prostrate on the carpet, clutching at over-filled bellies, mourning over our gluttonous ways. A scrabble board, baklava and tea will make their way into our thanksgiving tableau.

Someone will cheat, make-up words, challenge the owner of the made-up word and scores will finally be tabulated. One of us will shot 'Huzzah' and the other will knock over the tiles and board until the twenty six letters of the alphabet are strewn all over the place. We'll watch our favourite Christmas movie, load the dish-washer, huddle under blankets and sleep like babes with a content smile on our face.
All of the above have the makings of a wonderfully, unplanned, holiday..don't you think? It also poignantly bookmarks (perhaps the last) Thanksgiving in this singleton's home.

Hope you had a lovely day and a full plate.

Miss you tons!
Your Singleton.

(Dedicated to my girlfriend and sister, Gigi)

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Sweet Summer....where didst thou go?

Two Tuesday afternoons ago - I panicked.

I was standing in front of the community refrigerator at my workplace and wondering whether I should commit to the fruit melange (I had painstakingly cut and prepared for the week) or cheat and cozy up with a warm and fresh chocolate chip cookie from the cafeteria instead. Needless to say, the cookie won (and this is not when the panic attack occurred).

Just as I was smiling at how quickly that decision had been made (on to world peace, next), I overhear someone make a reference to the woes of prepping their kid's lunches when they go back to school in two weeks. (Still not panicking, yet) 

My head voice interjects - Kids are going back to school in two weeks?

Still in my head voice (only louder) - You mean, summer is coming to a close? 

Icy, cold lemonade and sandal days are coming to an end and I DID NOTHING?

(Yes its not your eyes. The font is getting larger for effect) And this is where the panicking commenced.

You see, I love Summer. I love the possibility of an impromptu picnic, reading under the shade of a beautiful tree, a well done-pedicure to go with the sandals, kababs and chicken tikka on the grill, copious amounts of mangoes and strawberries, lassi (yogurt drink) and the long stretch of daylight for walks or five minutes on the swing in the park.

Don't get me wrong, we've had our bad days. The 100 degree weather, followed by scathing sun-burns, many bottles of aloe and myths about the "healing power" of teabags, breaking down of the over-worked, air-conditioner, longer wait-times at the water-parks because kids are out of school and running out of my favourite, freshly churned ice cream at the shops because everyone decided to get that particular flavour. Despite the misgivings, Summer and I have always managed to kiss and make up.

So, the realization that I had wiled away my June, July and August hit me harder than a ton of day old scones. We didn't even exchange a proper "hello".

A list was promptly put together. A list, yes. It was definitely a vow-sort of thing and required some writing and some committing. All of the below had to be checked off by dusk, or till the last ray of daylight disappears on September 22 ( I have no idea why I picked that date).
  • Walk along the beach. A beach. Any beach.
  • Reading under the shade of the tree for a full hour (even if subject is attacked by a swarm of mosquitoes)
  • Grilling - Indian style
  • Outdoor concert or movie night
  • Give the pants a break and wear all of my summer dresses, for a week.
  • Home-made ice cream
  • Finish the book I'd picked up for light, summer reading.
  • Swinging (in the park) high, then higher.
Thankfully, hot sunny days don't just disappear where I live, so here goes.

Next time I see you, the list will be checked completely and Summer and I will be saying goodbye. "Summer...hey, wait up, I'm going with you."

Friday, July 26, 2013

Batman, Butterfly and Bucharest

I once made eye contact with the most, delectable and charming slice of raspberry pie. It was once of those head over heel moments. I wanted to hold it close and whisper how beautiful it looked. There was no doubt in my mind that in the future, when I sink my teeth into its luscious fruit, cream and crust that an imaginary host of angels would be belting 'Hallelujah' in multiple harmonys to commemorate our union. 

The point I'm trying to make is - Sometimes we consciously fall in love. It's a heart thing. But other times we fall in love with the most unexpected plates of food, people and places.

And that's how I felt when I took one last look through the window of my plane. Sad that I was leaving some things I'd loved, behind.

Romania was not on my bucket list of places to visit but I'm so glad that we met. 

I make no apologies for being a lover of good food. And you understand it because you too, chickadee, would take the first plane, train and automobile for a tiny morsel that will make your toes tickle. And tickle they did, indeed, as I relished seasonal offerings of the ripest farm-grown cherries. The tiny pits, red-stained fingers and teeth are momentarily forgotten when you're enjoying so much of a good thing. 

Before we delve further I must tell you about Batman and Butterfly. Some friendships are birthed in the shortest gestation period and you recognize that its going to be a great one when your heart-person tugs with your head-person and your feet bolt down to the floor refusing to go longer than three feet away from them. They tell you about Foxy and their love of the theater. You love watching them smile and make jokes about them being cat-lovers. They drive all the way to your hotel to bring you the choicest raspberries from their mother's garden. You tell them how you'll never forget them. They share their favorite music compositions and take endearing pictures like this 'his-and-hers' one. 

My favorite one, you ask? When we all promise to see each other again.

There are infinitely better reasons to explore this jewel in Eastern Europe, however, the following is my flash-ten persuasion for why you should pack your bags quickly:

  • To say that you ate bear
  • To see one of the most ornate modern-day palaces (Peles castle)
  • To drool at the sight and taste of fresh goat's cheese
  • To claim you'd been to Dracula's castle (where you will quickly realize it was a figment of someone's imagination)
  • To taste chunky doughnuts being served with jam and cream for dessert
  • To re-learn the meaning of the word 'hospitality' 
  • To see real-life shepherds with their flock
  • To understand what contentment looks like 
  • To enjoy plum brandy
  • To watch people celebrate their food...Okay one more

  • To appreciate something unexpected (like capturing this life moment, unbeknownst to the wedding party, ofcourse).
And that last one is my favorite reason.

Monday, May 27, 2013

The "Big" Date

I’ve had this dream for a while. The kind of dream that does not wane with the passing of time. The kind of dream that gets rekindled every time I blow a birthday candle. The kind of dream that makes me : zip my suitcase and grab my list of conversational phrases.

Putting the finishing touches to my outfit with a hat (I feel French already), and finally taking two deep breaths to reassure my pounding heart that it’s just my dream coming alive and not an early cardiac arrest....I'm closing my front door.

A plane on the tarmac will be shortly departing to my city of dreams. Yes chickadee, I’m bound for Paris. Tonight.

I confess that the dream has been tweaked slightly. Instead of “Visiting Paris with or without a plus one before I hit 30”, we’re doing “Visiting Paris to celebrate my welcome into the big girl’s club”. None of it matters though. This rendezvous has been in the works for a while, you know. A date I made with Paris several years ago.

If I was still ten, Paris would be the cute-freckled boy who made my heart swoon and giggle uncontrollably.

So here we are, two decades later. The two of us. Finally.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Chronicles of a Singleton - European Edition

'You may have the universe if I may have Italy' - Giuseppe Verdi

It is no secret that I have always loved Europe.

In fact, my affections can be traced back to when I was a wee girl and realized that pan au chocolat is French and that some of the most beautiful shoes in the world were crafted in Italy. See chickadee, it doesn't take much to get me lovestruck! In fact, both my kitchen and closet are practically shrines to my two greatest loves.....food and shoes!

Once in a lifetime, a girl gets really lucky and  gets the opportunity to spend some time in the company of "slurpingly" good-pasta, decadent gelato and a treasure trove of leather purses. And so she packs her bags.

Darling, I'd love to serve you four generous courses from my recent adventures in the land of Amore - Italy.

Antipasto (Appetizer) - Pescara

Picture a view of the Adriatic sea from a vintage hotel by the boulevard, in a city with tiny cars and cobble-stoned squares adorned with little cafes playing soft Vivaldi. Can you imagine it, chickadee? You can, eh? Then you're  now experiencing my first awestruck moment.

April was just turning her pages, and the tourist season had not quite begun, so it was a wonderful way to make introductions with Italy and her delightful culture. Night after night of the freshest mussels, monkfish, razor clams and baby shrimp with a choice of two pastas, one red and one white.
You see, the Italians don't restrain themselves to just one carbohydrate; they'll have two. In moderation, of course. The wine was smooth and everything about this city and its inhabitants read "laid-back and inviting".

Having lived in America for a little bit, I shamefully admit that I've unconsciously adopted the culture of eating quickly and summoning for the cheque, shortly thereafter. Long forgotten is the art of savouring, lingering and waiting at a dinner table.

During our first week in Pescara, my group tried to stay true to our dining traditions and developed various strategies to outwit the Italians.  We tried to get to the restaurant at 7:30pm (when hardly any patrons were present) in the hopes of being able to get the cheque faster if we moved through the meal with precision and speed. We failed!

We tried a smaller diner at about the same time, the following night. We failed yet again.We tried doing dinner at 8:30 and then 9:30 but each time our quips were no match for the waiter. Stumbling back to the hotel's lobby at midnight was becoming a routine.Night after night of the same "Cheque, please" slow dance. Epic fail!

And so we conceded and accepted the Italian way. We were humbled but a greater lesson was being imparted, unbeknownst to ourselves.

A short hiking trip with a breath-taking view of the Alps, a jazz concert in one of the oldest theaters in Chieti, lace-adorned shoes, driving through a modern highway in a teeny-tiny car with vineyards and hundred year old houses on either side and many, many scoops of gelato later, I was smitten.

By Week Two, there was less scurrying and more savouring. We were enjoying the thrill of biting into a fresh, juicy tomato and greedily dunking fresh herby, focaccia into cold, fruity olive oil.                              
And that my dear, was how this singleton finally started grasping the art of eating and eating well.

On a slightly different topic, I am in love with all the Italian boy names. Giovanni, Rafaello, Camillo, Gaetano, Leonardo...sigh! Someday my son will understand why he has such a unique name.

Primo (First course) - Rome

A new travelling companion made her way into Rome. She's one of my leading ladies and the woman who taught me that it was not a sin to not share ice cream. My mommy.

True to its place in our travel itinerary, Rome was a first course, indeed. It was heavy on the archaic and beautiful buildings: the Colosseum, the Pantheon. History tells us that the the epicenter of the Christian faith and the great Roman Empire were birthed here. It was by those fountains and the piazzas that great scholars, revolutionaries, apostles and artists debated and exchanged ideas day after day. Democracy, free thinking, captivity, nudity, art, literature, religion; all of it had been concieved in Rome.

But everyone has a favourite thing from their travels to Rome. I have three.

The first favourite - The fact that Raphael's lady love has been portrayed in his painting entitled 'The School of Athens'. Upon closer inspection, the picture depicts hoards of busy people. Everyone is engaged in something: a conversation, a book, weariness. But not her, not Raphael's lady. She looks straight ahead outside that canvass and I imagine, into the faces of the crowds that are admiring her beau's work. Incidentally Raphael makes an appearance in that painting as well. To tell you where this handsome man is, would be robbing you of the opportunity to see this lovely work for yourself so I withhold that tiny piece of information and urge you to go and find him. Find Raphael and you'll know why he has a place in history.

The second favourite - Sitting across from and gazing at Michaelangelo's 'Last Judgement' inside the Sistine Chapel. It was perhaps the noisiest place in the Vatican that day with two hundred adults and children in the same space. But I could neither hear anything nor move from my current position. Unfazed by the commotion, I was fixated, awestruck rather (there was some gaping even), by the work in front of me. Nothing could distract me from Michaelangelo's impressions of God, man and angels. Yes, my dear, it was THAT beautiful.

The third and my absolute favourite part about our Roman holiday- walking eight miles along the Tiber River hand in hand with mommy, under the canopy of trees along the embankment as we made our way towards the square of St. Peter's Basilica. Those of you who know me well, know that I am a lazy creature and hate exertion in all its forms. But this walk was the best one yet. Ofcourse, we took plenty of breaks and soaked in the comfort of two icy, cold beverages, but it was memorable, this five and half hour stroll with my mother.

Secondi (Second course) - Florence

She is famous for her Chianti wine and enchanting views of the Tuscan vineyards and hill-country side. Michaelangelo and Raphael had been in her company, for a while, perfecting their work and their art. Unlike them, we only had the pleasure of Florence's company for a day.

Florence is incredibly picturesque and I think photographs more than words do her beauty justice.

Below is my favorite view from the Uffizi museum.

I mulled over my brief visit with Florence aboard the train that was leaving the station and my parting words to her were:

Florence, you beautiful city. You beguiling lass. I am under your spell. Your are every bit as beautiful as they say you are. Your vineyards and paintings are gorgeous. But you have bewitched me with your leather goods and their craftsmanship. I am hooked for life

Dolce (Dessert) - Venice

I love dessert and you know that very well. How fitting then that  we should conclude our week long taste of Italy by visiting this next city.

The first view of Venice was from a train bound towards Santa Lucia. The landscape had changed quickly before my very eyes. One minute, there was grass and fodder and the next minute there was a body of water. Our train boogie amidst a sea of deep blue. It was mesmerizing.

It was a cloudy afternoon in Venice and some light showers were imminent but there was no better way to be greeted by the city of canals with its great lovers and love stories. Ma and I were spell-bound by the view of the dome, the canals, people hopping on and off the vaparetto, colorful Carnivale masks, gondolas and Murano glass.

I also have to say that this charming city holds some sort of invisible love potion. Why, you ask? Its because something about being in Venice makes couples hold hands, whisper sweet nothings into each other ears and and exchange deep, long kisses in the middle of a furiously rocking boat, where crowds of people are shoving each other to get in or out. I witnessed about a hundred of these public displays of affection, so I speak from first hand-knowledge - Everyone is a romantic here. And you know this is a hard confession coming from a girl who cringes and rolls her eyes at all that lovey-dovey stuff.

My mother was taken by a painter who was standing at St. Marks Basilica and making a real-life impression of what lay before him. Literally, from his eyes to his canvas.
You just don't see real art come to life anymore.

It was still cloudy when we walked along St. Marks Square, its very narrow streets,window-shopping, enjoying steamy slices of hot, fresh from the oven, margherita pizza whilst standing at a bar table, running our fingers through Venetian cotton, entranced by the music from a quartet of violinists. I had to pinch myself in between. This wasn't a movie. This was life in Venice.

I momentarily envied people who could escape to this wonderful place at a moment's notice and not have to succumb to ten hours in a plane over the Atlantic.

I repeat, I am not lovey-dovey and not one for public affection but at the airport when we said our final good-byes, I couldn't let my mum's hand go. For the past week, we had discovered a lot of new things together. We had burnt our tongues on hot pizza, hopelessly twirled our spaghetti strands and devoured pistachio gelato. We had taken turns lugging bags of food and gifts for our important people. We helped each other carry and tow, three very heavy pieces of luggage both in and out of a busy train (I'm sure I heard some Italian swearing off the bloody foreigners who don't know how to travel light). We laughed a lot, my mother and I. She glowed and basked under the cover of trees and I loved making her pose for pictures . She unpacked and repacked in every city and organized things neatly while I muttered how I was never going to be like her. She held my hand when the crowds were large. We had exchanged scarves and lipsticks, secrets and some heart stories. We'd become closer. A lot closer.

That's the thing with mothers and daughters. As they grow older, the emotional distance between them wanes away. They become girlfriends. If only we'll let it.

On the train ride back, while the gondolas were quickly disappearing and the raindrops were slowly dripping down my window, I made a promise.
A promise to come back here again with someone. The Someone I was meant to share a lifetime of desserts and a closet space with.