Friday, September 24, 2010

Why I love Starbucks

There are 2 groups of people in the world - those who love Starbucks and those who hate it. The haters have their reasons - the most common one I've heard is - "$4 cup of coffee!!. I'm not crazy!" That's fair. I fall in the other camp - I love Starbucks. And the other day I had an incident which made me realize why I love it. I had a rare morning to myself - kids dropped off at school, husband was out of town and I wasn't going to work. Although I'm getting closer to the appropriate age for it, I've had the longest mid life crisis going on - for about 10 years now, I've struggled with reconciling my passion for writing, reading and learning with my professional life which is not always about those things. Every couple of months, my internal struggle raises its head and either spurs me to do something (this blog was created during one of those fits) or pushes me deep into general melancholy. So, on this particular day, I was tending more towards the melancholy and I decided some quiet time with coffee and the New York Times would do me good.

I was lucky enough to grab one of the comfy, overstuffed chairs next to 2 other women. Both of them were considerably older than me - one by about 10 or so years (I'll call her the tall lady) and the other maybe 20-30 years my senior (I'll call her the D&G lady for the stylish bag she was carrying). As I sat there browsing the Times, I overheard the most fabulous conversation ever. The D&G lady complimented the tall women on her elegance. They got to talking and I learned that the D&G lady had just published her first book and it was on Amazon's bestseller list in it's category. Then the tall lady told her that she used to be a professional runway model and now she was working on her PhD through a University in California. She was also an essayist and was working on a dissertation. I couldn't catch more details about the book or the topic of the dissertation, but I heard enough to leave me feeling inspired and refreshed. I couldn't believe that I had been beating myself up about not having written anything and for feeling that I was out of time for doing "something".

So I'm glad that I spent the $3 that day for that cup of coffee. It gave me so much more than my morning caffeine fix. I'm also grateful that I got to hear this conversation between these two amazing and inspiring women. They'll never know that they left me so much more energized and hopeful than what I was when I walked in.

And that's why I love Starbucks. For creating not just a place to get coffee but that ambiance where people can get together over coffee, over music, over books. Sure you could brew that cup at home but sometimes, its nice to be forced into the company of folks, even if you don't talk to them.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

My adventures in fashion

Today I picked up the September issue of Seattle magazine - its the STYLE GUIDE issue for those of you who have not seen it. I realised then that the only magazines I buy anymore are a copy of fashion and style related magazines every few months.

Fashion is definitely not a first language for me although I've come to enjoy it as I've started to study the nuances. Growing up in India, I was a bright student and encouraged to be just that - a good student and a good girl. And good girls, in the circles we moved in, did not attract attention through their clothes or their style. I'm devoting a chapter to my early sartorial struggles in the memoirs that I hope to publish someday. For now though, I thought it might be fun to share the lessons I have learned through watching stylish people, reading the style guides and experimenting with trends and clothes. This is what works for me - so take what sounds good or comment on what does not sound right. If you, like me, are piecing this together as you go, please share your tips and pointers!

1. Wear work clothes to work - This is for the ladies that work outside home, obviously. When I worked in New York, there were actual dress codes and since I worked at Time Inc. - home of People, InStyle, Real Simple magazines, dressing for work was..well, real work. And then I moved to Seattle and started working at Microsoft. Lets just say that things are a little bit more laid back about work attire here. I've been here 4 years and have come back to the realization that while its nice to have the flexibility to show up for work in jeans and T-shirts, as a rule, you might want to be err on the side of too formal rather than too casual at work. For me, it puts me in a different frame of mind and attitude and I think that changes attitudes of other people towards me. I recently went back and bought some more formal pants and dresses and while I am not giving up my jeans, I'm feeling a little more professional in my black pants and high heels.

2. Invest in the basics - On the topic of black pants and high heels, after going through countless pairs of pants bought on sale or at a bargain price, my personal choice is now to buy the best that I can afford in the basics like black and gray pants, a white shirt, a good pair of jeans, classic high heeled pumps etc. I'm still not going overboard on these but I'll get the best that my money can buy and then experiment more with the tops and the accessories. I've realised that buying clothes only to donate them to the thrift shop in 3 months is not necessarily a route to saving money on clothes.

3. Play with accessories - This is an area I continue to experiment with but watching many, many fashion forward women and my little steps into the field have shown me that having fun with accessories pays off. I just got rid of a pair of purple shoes that never failed to brighten up any outfit I wore and were surprisingly not completely in your face either. Last year, I had surgery on my neck and I was forced to try on scarves which are now my favorite outfit enhancer. I've tried hats too - my current favorite is one my husband brought back from one of his trips to London. Rings, earrings - I don't change them as often as I should but I'm happier when I do. I definitely recommend venturing out and experimenting with these little fun add ons.

4. "Pick me up" buys - I am the prudent shopper in my family - not one to spend too much or spend lightly. That said, my favorite activity in New York was to slip out during lunch or after work and wander into one of the countless New York stores. I picked up a sweater here, a pair of shoes there or a dress sometimes. It kept my wardrobe fresh and updated and gave me the little boost I needed in the middle of a work week. Its harder to do when you work on the Microsoft campus but I fit in a trip to the mall on my way back from work or after grocery shopping - keeps things fresh!

5. Consult the experts - As I mentioned in the beginning, every few months, I'll buy a copy of Lucky or InStyle or whatever magazine catches my fancy on the checkout stand. Although I almost never buy the stuff featured in the magazines, it gives me a sense of what's new and current and I can be on the lookout for stuff that works for me. I like to see how the professionals put an outfit together and take tips and tricks from them. I also check in with a few blogs regularly. One of my favorites is written by a Mom who is a stylist and dresses celebrities for work. I bumped into her virtually on a parenting site where she offered style advice to Moms looking for the same. You can submit questions to her on her blog and she will come back with thoughtful and ever stylish options for you.
I also love Polyvore,com - for the sheer creativity and enthusiasm with which members put together outfits and ensembles there. Again, the point is not to buy but to get inspiration. Combining the best of above, check out the below collection or "set" in Polyvore lingo, created by LA Stylist Mom.

So that's the fashion wisdom that I've gathered in my time here - if nothing else, I'm a good student and I'm great at learning from the experts. Some of these have worked well for me and hopefully will help some of you too. If you have advice, tips or tricks - bring them on! Stay stylin!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Books and stuff.....

Isn't it great when things just work the way they're supposed to -even better, they exceed your expectations and leave you delighted? After my rather negative post about Delta airlines (BT, I received a response and a small credit - not sure how much since I haven't read through their email yet), I've been looking for something pretty and positive and happy.

Last night, I finished reading a book and now that I am on the Kindle, of course, I went and bought a new one right away. How I feel at the end of a book is the best indicator of how I liked it. When I reach the end of a great book, I'm usually a little sad to put it down and a little worried if the next one will match up. If the book has not been too great, then I'm racing through the last few pages - looking forward to the next one, hoping it will be a better journey.

So last night, it was the latter -I finshed reading this book called Major Pettigrew's Last Stand .
The book has some glowing reviews on but I, for the most part, found it irritating. Set in a little pastoral village in the English countryside, the book deals with relationships between the "native" English and the Pakistani-English residents of the town. Without offering any spoilers, I thought the characters were all painfully sterotypical - from the Major's son, his American girlfriend to every last member of the Pakistani-English family. There were Bollywood like flourishes and twists in the plot, which perhaps thrilled some of the adoring reviewers but left just a bad taste in my mouth - I can take loud characters and fantastical turns in my Hindi movies but I'd like my books to stay out of that realm please.

And so last night, I zipped through the last few pages of Major Pettigrew and thankfully moved on the Kindle store to begin the search again. A friend had mentioned Lorrie Moore as a delightful writer and I decided to try out that recommendation. I bought "A Gate at the Stairs". I was a little wary at first since the title sounded a little too religious and at a very high level, the book is about a woman hired to provide childcare to an adopted girl. Lots of potential for things to get really maudlin there. Nothing turns me off a book faster than thick layers of cloying sentimentality, which, come to think of it, the Pettigrew book, had a lot of.

Anyway, I have been pleasantly surprised so far. The book has one less star on than the one above but I love it so much more. The writing is sharp, its snappy, its witty - the characters are complex and nuanced and the book is moving along at a great pace. Best of all, the book is funny in a droll and drab tone that I just love - the opposite of sentimental drooling. I read exceprts to Arjun last night and we both shared some good laughs. That to me, is a good test, if you and your 7 year old can both see the humor in a piece of writing. The protagonist's father - Bo - is a potato farmer and in describing him, she mentions his organic, quirky ways that distinguish him from his other farming brethren.
"He was known as a Tofu Tom, or Bo the Tofu prince or sometimes just 'Bofu', even though he grew potatoes." It was the Bofu that cracked us up. I'm looking forward to my reading time tonight!

And here also, is my brief critique of my Kindle.
Love - that I can buy a book as soon as I'm done with the last one, that I can carry all my books in that little slim device, that I can highlight and annotate - eventhough I have not yet done it yet and mostly I love it as a thoughtful present from my dear husband!
Hate - that I miss the coverart, i still miss the feel of holding a book, that I cannot lend a book I loved to a friend and that I can't just flip the pages back to a section - pressing the Prev page button is just not the same as remembering the feel of the book when you were at a certain page - know what I mean.

If you have good or bad book experiences, please share. I'm always looking for reommendations - and as you can see above, I remember and follow through on them.

Lastly, I will leave you with a delightful dust pan and bin - yes, you did read that right. Click on over to for an example of good design that brings a bit of joy and beauty to the most mundane household task. Hope that brings a smile to your day - happy Tuesday!

Friday, April 16, 2010

My open letter to Delta Airlines as a "Valued Medallion Member"

Dear Delta,
I am writing to tell you about my experience on a Delta flight (DL 0233 from Amsterdam to Seattle) on April 11th 2010. At the outset I want to mention that my husband and I are both Medallion members on Delta and have gone out of our way to book Delta flights for our very frequent travels. On April 11th 2010, I was flying back to Seattle from India via a KLM/Delta flight with my two children, ages 7 and 5.

I’m sure you understand that flying back from India to Seattle with 2 little children is a long, tiring and stressful experience. To add to this, on the second leg of the journey on the Delta operated flight, my son got sick. He told me his stomach hurt and so I got up to take him to the bathroom. As soon as we left our seats, he suddenly threw up. Since we were seated in the bulkhead seats right behind the Business class section, I put my hand over his mouth and rushed him to the Business Class restroom. He got quite sick and was passing out as I led him out of the restroom. While I was taking him back to the seat, one of the flight attendants stopped me and started telling me that I should have used a barf bag for him and also that I should have taken him to the Economy class restroom. I tried to explain to her that we were already in the passage and there was no time to either find the bag or walk to the back of the plane to the economy restroom. He had already vomited in the aisle and I wanted to get him to a restroom as quickly as possible. She continued to lecture me on how I could have done things and how they now need to clean up so many different places. Meanwhile, my son was fainting in my arms as I stood there listening to her. After this had gone on for some time, I told her I needed to get him to his seat and I could not believe she had not asked me once if he was all right. I believe my exact words were, “ Lady, I have vomit on my clothes that I have to wear for the next 10 hours. There is also throw up next to my seat that I also need to be in for the duration of this very long flight. Do you think I planned this? Do you think I would have not done something differently if I could?” It seemed like she had hard time believing that I did not, in fact, conspire with my son to make him sick so we could have a pleasure of puking in the business class restroom or watching the crew scrub the aisle, which they did a very poor job of, I might add.

For the rest of the flight, the treatment that I got from the flight crew was shocking and humiliating. I held my daughter in my lap so that my son could use her seat and lie down. No member of the crew came to ask me how he was or if I needed a blanket, a pillow or even a glass of water for him. As they cleaned the passage, they made it a point to shake their heads and loudly complain to each other about the task. At one point, I specifically thanked one of the crew members as they were cleaning and told them I was sorry about the incident. He did not respond to me except to again shake his head in disgust. The crew also proceeded to ignore me for the rest of the flight – no one picked up the garbage from our seats, or offered water, tea or coffee when they came around the cabin. I was stuck in the plane for 10 hours with a sick child and no help in a very hostile environment.

It was an unfortunate occurrence. It is not a pleasant experience for anyone, especially for the mother, to have a child throw up violently and unexpectedly. However, it was not the calamity that the plane crew made it out to be – it was simply an incident that could have been handled with professionalism, grace and humanity. I would have been glad to pitch and help the crew as best as I could. However, they seemed to completely fall apart at this inconvenience that was thrown their way. This is a crew that we are supposed to trust with our lives – based on this reaction, I would hate to be in their hands if a real emergency was to happen on the plane.

I already wrote you about this - not surprisingly, have not heard back. So I thought I would do my friends a service and share this experience with them, so they know, when their kids are sick - to not go into the business class restroom, AT ANY COST. And, if their kids plan to get sick, they better do so with advance notice to the parents and crew - we wouldn't want to incovenience your crew, now, would we?


Nikki Piplani.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

On my mind - Precious, Idiots and the Texas Board of Education.

Education has been on my mind for some time now - last night, I had another of my frequent and completely unfounded anxiety attacks. I had a wonderful dinner with friends - the occassion was the visit to Seattle by a friend who moved to India after over a decade of living in the USA. It's a common enough occurence these days -and something more and more of expatriate Indians are aspiring to. I know that we have discussed it at length in our household - do we go back, do we stay, what are the pros and cons? The biggest topic of discussion is always, "What about the kids? Will the kids adjust?" We've all dissected, at length, the merits and demerits of the education system in India and America and where our kids are getting the maximum advantage.

We talked last night about how schools and kids in India are so competitive. It is something that I and all my contemprories who grew up in India are so familiar with -the pressure cooker, one dimensional approach to "success" - work hard, study hard and get good grades. Actually, get the best grades - beat your friends, beat your foes - fight with the faceless millions competing for the same seat in the same elite college. We've all had countless dinner party conversations around the topic - how we never had a chance to follow our dreams, how we were evaluated on academic success above all and we've all concluded with a sigh of relief that our kids have it so much better. Things in India are different now, I beleive, and kids who are growing up here in America have an embarrassment of choices about classes and activities from the mundane swimming and baseball to fencing, pottery and line drawing. There is less pressure here on kids to compete - at our first parent teacher conference, Puneet and I exchanged looks as the teacher stressed to us that we shoud not force the kids into extra work at home, fearing that we might turn them agains the concept of learning. I'm guessing the parent teacher conferences my Mom and Dad went to sounded very different.

My panic attack last night was related to just the above - we've followed the herd and scheduled Arjun in multiple after school activities - Martial Arts, Chess, Basketball and so on. School, meanwhile, is putzing along - he breezes through his weekly spelling tests, gets good report cards and in general, is well adjusted. Things appear to be fine. But of course, that's when, like a good Mom, I start to worry - is everything really OK? Are we doing too much extra stuff and not enough academics? Am I setting him up for failure by not pushing him to work harder? Should he be stressing a bit more about work? Should I have been prepping him for the gifted program? Is he learning enough? Will he be able to compete when he has to?

Puneet thinks I look for reasons to worry and I am sure I do - but I know I'm not alone in this. Dont we all worry about our children and want the best for them? I just read this article that led to a fresh set of worries about what our kids are learning - how much of their world view will be shaped by the decisions of bureaucrats and ideologues.

At the same time, as I work myself into a tizzy over these thoughts, I was reminded of the movie we were watching yesteday - Precious - the movie that won Monique her Oscar nomination. The movie about this teenager from Harlem who had every odd in the world stacked against her and yet, perseveres and goes on. It gave me the chills and made me come back to realization that I've had a few times now as I've gone about the process of raising my kids. This is my philosophy in general - If we are worrying about the children and their welfare, the kids will be OK. That's all they really, really need - parents who love them and want to do the best for them within the means available to them. Everything else, the best school over the good, the cursive handwriting or advanced placement class in algebra, is icing on the cake. It is hard to stay true to that belief while functioning in the soceity where parents, including us, worry about every aspect of parenting - from spending enough time to spending enough money - not too much, not too little - the elusive just right balance. Which leads me to my next observation - the more we have, the more we provide for our children, the more we worry about them. While millions of people worry about the basic necessities of survival, do we really need to be stressing that my child is "only" at the 92nd percentile of reasoning ability? I think not - it does not mean I do not do it. It only means that I stop and take a breath before breaking out in hives over that baskeball class registration deadline that I missed.

So while the worrying itself is not productive, I've accepted that it is part of parenting and perhaps an indicator that, in fact, ALL IS WELL! For those of you not up to speed on your Bollywood happenings, I suggest you head on over to YouTube and check out 3 Idiots. Let me know what you think!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Interesting article here about the banning of burqas in France -

Could there be a topic more touchy? In the Western & Eastern worlds, Islam and all its associated artifacts from towers in Netherlands to burqas in France, whip people into a frenzy normally reserved for sporting events or political rallies. So, I thought the author here made an excellent point where the presumed intentions, the showy rhetoric and the final consequences do not line up - to say the least. If the aim is to facilitate the liberation of Muslim women, banning the burqa - partially banning the burqa, I must add - seems like an easy, ill thought out tactic - geared more to populist stance than any real aim at reform. Of course, real reform is not easy, it is not good politics - as Mr Obama has well learned. So perhaps, this might be the best and wisest any politician can do. Is it good enough though?

Its a scenario I've watched unfold several times in my smaller sphere - mostly at work in different companies. The problem is too big and too hairy - solving the real issue would take too much sacrifice and long term focus. So, people take the easiest route - knock down 1-2 things, create some new names and make a big announcement and then - its back to business as usual. Metrics are carefully chosen (rigged, dare I say?) to reflect progress and ensure fat year end bonuses. If you are a thinking and analyzing person, things can get discouraging real fast. All this to say, I do not have a solution to the rampant populism and short term-ism, of course. What I do have is an eye for spotting BS and calling it out in whatever forum I can. The challenge is to keep my job and my integrity - and so far, to the credit of people and companies I've worked for, I've kept both.

Now, if you are truly looking for some innovative thinking to solve a real world problem, take a look at this chicken coop designed for the urban farmer - beautiful and practical. Perhaps we need more "real" artists in the world - and certainly more of them in politics and business.