Friday, August 5, 2016

Being a cancer mom

Those who know me in real life or from Facebook know that my three year old daughter is fighting leukemia and recently had a stem cell transplant. I do not plan to document the full story on my blog but I want to occasionally write about my feelings here. Writing about feelings can be therapeutic for me sometimes.

A few months ago, my way of recharging my batteries would be either reading a book quietly or baking. Now, with all the restrictions that come with a stem cell transplant, quiet time is scarce. My toddler cannot go to any indoor public place - school, grocery stores, malls are all off limits. So she is home just about all the time. I do still bake, but now it includes her. She stirs the batter while I watch to make sure she doesn't lick any part of the raw batter.

Some days, it seems like I have lost the ability to feel anything - sympathy, empathy or joy for another person or another situation that does not involve pediatric cancer. Not to say that pediatric cancer is the absolute worst thing that can affect a person or family, though it is probably high up on the list of such terrible things. This is just how I deal with the situation and attempt to keep my sanity.

A lot of funding and research goes into finding cures for adult cancers, but only about 4% of the funds are allocated for pediatric cancer research in the States. Yes, pediatric cancer is a lot less common than adult cancer. But the way it affects families, both immediate and extended, is way more intense. A parent who has been through this ordeal is never the same person again. The same is also true for grandparents and other family members. A patient who goes through cancer treatment misses out on some very important segments of their formative years. They spend hours and days in hospitals and clinics instead of learning at school or playing outside. Their life span is shortened by the therapies used for treatment, even if the cancer is gone at the end of treatment. There are side effects to be dealt with for the rest of their lives.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Life of Pi: The Movie

The summary on the book jacket never intrigued me enough to make me want to read this one, but the promos of the movie that I saw on TV were definitely more interesting.

People are talking about the graphics and animation in the movie but that is really the kind of thing I notice when I watch a movie again after someone has talked to me about that stuff. What I really appreciated about this movie is how strongly it portrays one boy's will to live, to simply beat the odds and survive. It makes me appreciate how easy we have it in life and how we have never had to deal with that kind of constant struggle for days (weeks?) on end just to stay alive.

Not very long ago, my husband and I went out for a walk around the neighborhood on a relatively warm evening. Now most of the houses around here don't have fenced-in yards, and people with dogs often just let them roam free in the yard. More often than not, though, these dogs are well trained and will not step out of their owner's yard. But that particular day, a St Bernard came running towards us from across the street. We were somewhat scared, but we just stood still, because my husband reminded me that it is unwise to run from a dog. The dog went from barking to whimpering and sniffed at our feet for a bit before it went back to where it came from.

I mention this because that incident is the closest I have come (and the closest I will ever come, I hope) to feeling that kind of fear of an animal with sharp teeth. But this movie takes that kind of fear to a whole other level. The boy is afraid of the tiger, but knows that he will definitely die if he does not try to defend himself. If he tries, he has at least a chance at saving his skin. That is the kind of attitude we all need in the face of adversity, large or small.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Fudge Brownies - My way

This is a recipe I tweaked from the original recipe here to make it healthier and fudgier. The end result doesn't have a brownie like texture, really, but is mostly like fudge. Gooey, sticky fudge.

I took about 9 oz (that would be about 250 g, give or take) pitted prunes and pureed them in a food processor. You can also put them in a small saucepan first, add maybe half a cup of water and simmer for about 15 minutes. Then puree. The second method gives it a smoother texture and makes it easier to puree them. But I have done it both ways and both work. Dates would also probably work in this recipe, but I have not tried that.

Add to the prune puree 1 1/4 cups of cocoa powder (A cup in America is 8 fl oz or about 237 ml) and 1/2 cup of flour. I always use whole wheat flour. People tend to use refined flour in baking but whole wheat is so much healthier and in a recipe with this much cocoa, you will not taste the difference. Throw in a cup of sugar. The original recipe has a total of 2 cups of sugar but I like more of a dark chocolate flavor and the prunes do add some sweetness so I find that one cup is enough. If you are a milk chocolate person, you may want to use more sugar.

You may or may not want to add 2 teaspoons of vanilla and a pinch of salt. I sometimes add those, sometimes not. I can't really taste the difference.

That's it. No butter, no eggs, no baking soda. Just prunes, flour, cocoa and sugar. Bake in an 8 x 8 square pan at 300 degrees F for about 45 minutes. They will look a little under baked when they come out, that's okay. Cool completely and refrigerate overnight. If you try to eat them soon after they come out of the oven, they will taste very prune-ish and not too chocolaty. But after being tucked away overnight in the fridge, you will taste only the chocolate and the fudgey texture. They are best eaten at room temperature, but also take good straight out of the fridge.

Musings

I've had a few people ask me why I haven't been blogging in recent times. I have had a lot going on that is not the subject matter of a public blog, and it is difficult to put all of that aside and write about random things. I do write privately about things that are on my mind, but I write a public blog post only when I feel a real need to do so.

On a more positive note, I started a new job about two months ago and it is the best thing that has happened to me in the last year or so. After almost four years, I once again have a boss I can respect and look up to. He is a very bright, brilliant man who is always willing to share his knowledge. Plus, my coworkers here are friendly and willing to help and collaborate whenever I need them to. A very pleasant and much needed change from my last job.

A random thing that I noticed recently. I have a bunch of different blogs on my RSS feed, some written by people I know, some by those I don't. But in recent months, I have noticed that I tend to read only the ones that are related to food and recipes, such as the Food Network Healthy Eats blog. So here's what I'm thinking I'm going to do. I am going to blog every now and then about my own experiments in the kitchen. Don't expect me to post neatly and systematically written recipes, because that's not how I cook, but I'll share general ideas about what I do with my food.

I never, ever follow a recipe exactly the way it is written out. But I do look for new recipes of all kinds just to get new ideas. Then I tweak it, to make it healthier, or fuse in some Indian flavor if it's not an Indian recipe (so that my husband will be more likely to eat it), or just to substitute some fancy, difficult to procure ingredients for ones that are easier to find.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Thoughts

I realize I have been away from this blog for way too long this time, and I have also been even less communicative than usual with a lot of people. I have just had a lot going on that has not been easy for me over the last few months. It is not something I would like to talk about on a public blog at this point of time. I am still not in a very happy place, but I believe that time can and will heal most wounds and things will get better. But today I am just feeling very nostalgic for my last workplace, where I had a boss who was genuinely concerned for the well being of his employees, and coworkers whom I could actually be friends with.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

"Prodigal Summer" by Barbara Kingsolver

I recently read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by the same author and found it to be one of the best and most meaningful books I have ever read. Then I found out that she also writes fiction, and actually has more works of fiction to her credit. So I decided to try one of those. This was picked randomly from among the choices, but it was a good choice.

Prodigal Summer contains three interconnected but fairly independent stories set in southern Appalachia, where the author actually lives on a farm with her family. There is the story of a female forest ranger who watches over the mountains, the story of a newly widowed young woman who now owns her husband's family farm and is trying to save it from going bankrupt, and the story of two elderly neighbors, a man and a woman, who cannot see eye to eye on most things but do have a hint of underlying sympathy for each other.

In this story, it's not just the people that are significant, it's all the flora and fauna around them that they are inevitably connected to. From moths to chestnut trees to snakes to coyotes, everything is part of the same ecosystem that we are and everything affects us in some way or the other. The author gets that message through to her readers in a very beautiful way. The way she talks about every creature being connected to every other creature, ecologically, is deliciously poetic and a pleasure to read.

All three stories have an important character who is a strong, independent woman who speaks her mind and does what she thinks is right, regardless of what anyone else thinks. A woman perfectly capable of looking after herself and everything else that needs looking after. That is another thing I liked about this story.

Not this minute (I think I should take a bit of a break) but I will definitely pick up more of Barbara Kingsolver's books in the near future.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Reading On

I have recently rediscovered the joy of reading. Because of my long commute. I do dislike the fact that I have a long commute to work once again, but it's much better than before because I can ride a train from a station that's a four minute drive from home to a station that's a ten minute walk to the office. Sure, they have wi-fi on the train and lots of people use their laptops to work, but I like to take some time to unplug and unwind. I had this one day recently when I forgot to pack another book after I finished reading the one that was in my bag and I felt all restless and fidgety and did bad things to my iPod earphones.

So recently I read two books by Elinor Lipman back to back. I know, it's not the best idea and I don't usually read two books by the same person in succession, but this time I did. The first one was called "The Ladies' Man" and was a fairly entertaining, light read, so I picked up "Then She Found Me" next. Totally not what I'd expect from a book which has been made into a movie by someone like Helen Hunt. Crazy book about a woman who first finds the daughter she gave up for adoption years ago and then tells her untrue story after story about her father. Makes no sense at all. It reminded me of the scene in Chameli where Kareena Kapoor tells Rahul Bose one made up sad story after another about why she got into her line of work.

Anyway, I have now picked up a novel by Barbara Kingsolver. I did not know that she was much better known for her fiction than her nonfiction and that she wrote a bunch of novels before "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle." This book feels good so far.