Friday, September 26, 2008

The Return of Those Guys!

My computer has been out of pocket, getting an update I'll tell you about soon. So for now, on the day of the first presidential debate, here's a little laughter for you. I miss the Muppet Show!!!


Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Meet Carter

Some of you already know him (very well!) but for those of you who don't, this is my bestie Elizabeth's son, Carter. He is such a sweet-natured kid, but in this video you can see how his rebellious spirit clashes with his honesty. It'll make you laugh so hard!

Turn the sound up!


Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Celebrity Recipes

Hey, wanna try making Katherine Hepburn's brownies? Or maybe Amy Sedaris' cupcakes?

Check this out! It strikes me that celebrities only make fatty, carby things to eat, except for Reese's spiced tea, which sounds bizarre but I'll try anything with Tang in it.


A little piece of gorgeous for you

I didn't think the Fleet Foxes could take my breath away any more.

Then I watched the gorgeous stop-motion video that the lead singer's brother directed.


White Winter Hymnal from Grandchildren on Vimeo.


'Til Death...

Last week, Bren and I painted a piece of pottery to celebrate and mark our 5-year anniversary.

We went to the "Color Me Mine" in Ladera Heights. If you are thinking about going to a Color Me Mine, we highly recommend that one over the Santa Monica location. This one is much cleaner, better-stocked and most important, friendlier. They even gave us a discount on the studio fee when they found out if was our anniversary!

We painted a small vase, knowing that we don't have room for anything grander at the moment. I can't wait to see how it turns out.

By now, 12 years later, it's rare to see Bren make a face I haven't seen before. But that day, he surprised me with a wicked good one!! Imagine him nodding whilst making this face. It was side-achingly funny.

A minute later, he was focused on painting his side of the vase.

We decided that each side of the vase should depict a chapter of our lives together, both fantasy and real. Here's birth (I did this one):

Then meeting in college (the lyrics are from a Tori Amos song Bren may have been playing in his room freshman year, luring me into his room in the first place).

This one is my favorite; Bren painted it, FREEHAND! It's us getting married.

And then, the final one, which Bren, whose humour brings a whole new meaning to "sickly sweet", came up with: Death.

Yes, those are our hands clasping each other from the sides of our caskets. That's... sweet. Right?


Monday, September 22, 2008


Something big has changed over the past few years. Before the Ports scandal, when I said I was brought up in Dubai, I was met with blank stares.

Today, people's eyes light up and their eyebrows skyrocket: "Oh DUBAI! Oh how wonderful. It seems like an amazing place. That must have such a great place to grow up in!".

And it was, for the most part. My sisters and I were blessed with a top-quality British education, which put us in better positions for university etc. Mum and Dad were both employed in fulfilling jobs that earned them a healthy living, which afforded us no shortage of luxuries like nice cars and golf club memberships. We still had a church to attend, without fear of retribution. We met people from all over the world, learned about their culture, savored their food. All this against a background of safe, clean, fun-in-the-sun living. None of this would have been possible had we stayed in India. It took a lot of sacrifice on Mum and Dad's part to get us there, and I am unbelievably grateful.

But, there was a lot about Dubai that left all of us dissatisfied. Beneath the modern, cosmopolitan surface lay a mucky river of prejudice that you couldn't get out of no matter how hard you worked, because the color of your skin was still the same. It's hard to explain. I had hoped it had dissipated in my absence.

Today, I read this article in the New York Times today.

It is, hands down, the BEST analysis I have ever read of Dubai in an American publication. No other article, that I have read, ignores the usual distraction of "the Islamic success story" and pins it quite like this one does.

The writer profiles an Egyptian working in Dubai, a Muslim who drinks beer everyday and dates a Russian prostitute.

First, it correctly portrays Dubai up as an oasis in a field of Islamic radicalism, the one place where folks from the region can come and let their hair down; within reason, of course. This is still a Muslim country.

However, it then addresses the inequality and the disgraceful conditions some of Dubai's poorest and hardest-working have to tolerate: company-provided housing in enormous dormitories where the mostly-Indian construction workers share a closet-sized room with 2 or 3 other guys. About a 100 men will share ONE BATHROOM and ONE KITCHEN. One character in the story was (rightly or wrongly) accused to stealing materials from a work site, was arrested, and then released by the police who have held onto his passport, essentially holding him hostage in Dubai. It also hints at some of the racism in Dubai. The article doesn't go into how the majority of those men got to Dubai, a story of deceit, betrayal and injustice.

Most importantly though, the article nails my central issue with Dubai, something I could never put into words.

Dubai's population is overwhelmingly expatriate (80% I think the article says). Each community keeps to itself though. The only unifying force to Dubai, as the writer correctly points out, is ambition and making money. And that's a soul-sapping unifying factor indeed, because it plays into one of the worst aspects of human nature: greed. Most people are only there for the money. When that's the driving force of a society, it can leave people feeling even more empty than they felt in the beginning; and that means about 80% of the people you run into are feeling very, very empty. Heck, that probably feeds into Dubai's incessant need to outdo itself: the tallest building in the world, the biggest arch bridge in the world, an artifical ski slope and so on and so on. If you read the article, you'll understand what I mean.

Take a second and read it if you can. Then you'll understand why I feel so ambivalent when I tell people where I'm from, and their eyes light up.


Friday, September 19, 2008

The Burn Part 2: "Cool" chapter 2

Yes, there is a second part to the Cool saga, believe it or not. First off, thankyou for all your words of encouragement. I know, I already said thank you. I'll stop now. It's a problem. I know.


Thank you.

As I was saying, I feel like I've worn a sandwich board around myself for a long time, which broadcast to the world (and to myself) that I was f'd. And the sandwich board suddenly got really heavy and uncomfortable and Burning Man.

Despite the number one principle of Burning Man, radical inclusion (the idea that no one is a stranger in Black Rock City), I put myself in the outsider category. In my eyes, Burning Man is an event attended by very, very, very cool people. I looked around and I saw 50,000 people who were cooler than me, all of whom seemed to be having no problem fitting in. I, on the other hand, did NOT feel like I fit in. I was just frontin'.

On the third morning, I woke up grumpy. My body didn't feel like itself. My thighs ached from biking in soft sand all night, I was STILL covered in dust despite a baby-wipe "bath", and despite the fields of cool art we saw the previous night, I really hadn't enjoyed myself that much the night before -- the physical discomfort didn't seem worth it. Oh no, I thought, it's true. I really don't belong here. Even here, in this place where everyone is welcome... I'm still (everybody say it with me!) f*cked up.

And then something weird happened. I had breakfast, I tried interacting with folks, poor things, just as shell shocked as I was... and the next few moments are a blur. Something must have happened to trigger me, but in my memory, there's an abrupt jump cut from breakfast time, to me lying in my tent with tears silently streaming down my face. I once heard that silent tears are the most dangerous. I don't know if that's true. But I do know that I was crying from a place where I couldn't form words. Bren came to find me, asked me what was wrong, and I couldn't say anything. I don't know why. It's all still a mess to me.

I DO know that all I could think of was that moment in the classroom again. I felt like I was right back there. I could see the light streaming in the narrow rectangular windows, hear everyone running around and screaming outside, I felt the over-sized white uniform shirt around my shoulders... I could even feel the residue of a ham sandwich in my hands. And most of all, I could feel my insides caving in just as they did on that day. After Bren left the tent, I rolled over onto my tummy and starting crying so hard and loud that I had to bury my face in the pillow so that no one could hear me. It was a cathartic for sure, but the logical side of my brain was looking at me crying like this and thinking, holy crap, you are losing it girl.

But I ignored the sensible-Susan part of my brain and kept on crying. I kept thinking about that day, and the day after and the day after that... and how it has ruled my life ever since, always driving me to divide a room of people as the "cool" and the "uncool" (I of course believed myself to be standing in the latter).

Elizabeth already mentioned this story in her comment, but I'll recap in case you didn't read it. I remember a day during my freshman year in college, when sitting at the cafeteria table, I was overcome by how cool everyone sitting around the table was, and that they were friends with me! Woo-hoo! Maybe it was over! I gulped and said, "Guys! I'm so happy because I have never thought I was cool, and now I have all these friends and they are so cool, it's so awesome! Look at us!"

Sweet, sweet Elizabeth, always the dry, but truthful wit, said with a smile, "Darling, NONE of us have ever been cool, I assure you."

"Oh," I said.

A few months into dating Bren, I remember saying to him, "I just think you're so awesome, and you make me feel so good about myself, because you're the coolest person I know, and you are choosing to go out with me!". He smiled and didn't say much, but I'm sure he thought I was a weirdo.

I've had friends since then who I thought were too cool for me, and friends I thought were less cool than me. I know, HORRIBLE, right?

Finally, I wiped the snot from my nose (gorgeous, right?), sent up a little smoke signal to God. I asked for some help with this silly, Earthly problem I was having. I didn't want to feel isolated anymore, and I knew that I could fix it somehow, could He help? I picked up my journal, and started to write out my prayer (which I've been doing recently, and works so much better for me than sitting silently). I grabbed my little devotional booklet, turned it to that day's date, and lo and behold, there was a verse that looked like it had been written just for me:

"Do not dwell on the past... See, I am doing a new thing!".

I smiled. Here was cosmic comfort. Here was saw Someone much, much, much cooler than myself saying, I don't care what happened, I don't care what anyone has said to you. You're cool to Me. And I'm cool, so I should know.

I read it, took a deep breath, and felt... released. It's a hippy-dippy word for it, I know, but that's the best way I can describe it. I feel like a dumbell has been pulled out of my heart and thrown far, far away from me. The sandwich board has been banished to a closet. I'm walking lighter. I don't feel like I'm functioning from that lonely classroom anymore. That 11-year old girl has been given a big hug, had her head stroked, told that she's beautiful and wonderful, and put out to pasture in an all-you-can-eat ice-cream parlour (what, isn't that YOUR idea of heaven?). What's more, over the past few days, more and more subtle revelations have dawned on me, about how that time affected me. I am looking at it from a distance now, not from the middle of it.

Does that make sense? I know that's dramatic but it feels like a dramatic shift in my tummy. I can't promise I won't trip up again and whisper that dysfunctional mantra to myself again. But at least this time when I do it, I'll be able to remember how the coolest Guy around thinks I'm cool. And that's enough for me.


p.s. And yes, after that day and after another looooong conversation with Bren, I broke through that shell I had constructed around Burning Man, and finally started to have a good time! Now I want to go back next year to experience the festival with a fully unafraid heart!

Thursday, September 18, 2008


I just wanted to say thank you to everyone for all the extraordinary comments you have left me in the past two days, either in response to our anniversary or to my "cool" post. It is really beautiful when you share your stories with me or write me sweet reassurances. I am so lucky to have you!

Mushy Mushy Mushy sauce.


Oh and... Surprise!

I failed to mention one of the biggest things to happen at Burning Man, which you probably guessed from the previous photo.

Bren cut his hair and beard off!

Bren had planned it before we got there. The uncertainty of not seeing his actual face in 5 years was getting to him. Besides, since he was losing so much weight, he wanted to see whether his dimples had gotten any sweeter. (Well, maybe that wasn't his desire, as much as mine :)

One of our camp members, Lisa, was responsible for the fabulous hair cuts. She is astonishingly good at it.

So this is Bren at the beginning of Burning Man, sporting the standard of the past few years, the "mountain man".

He did it gradually, first shaving off chunks of his beard, into a goatee:

Then, my favorite, the "civil war" coiffure:

Then long hair and no beard at all. This one is kinda creepy to me, I don't know why:

Then... gasp! All gone! I haven't seen this face since BEFORE we got married!

I should also mention that Bren lost, wait for it... 16 POUNDS over the past few weeks. He annoyingly looks about 10 years younger, making me feel like his older, fatter mistress... "Come 'ere sonny, let me kiss those baby soft cheeks..."


5 Years!!

Today is Bren and my 5-year wedding anniversary. Can you believe it? It's also nearly our 12-year anniversary of having been together.

We have known each other since before we could legally drink. And just after he could legally vote. We have seen each other get fatter, thinner, happier, sadder, braver, scaredy cat'ed-er... and we still get excited to wake up to each other every morning.

Bren is definitely the biggest blessing in my life. I am so thankful for him.

Bren, do you have anything to say?

B: Since you said all the nice things and stuff already, I'm only going to sound like an echo machine.

A: No you won't!

B: I guess I won't because echo machines can't type. They only spit out ticker tape.

A: Um, that's... right?

B: And if I could, I'd throw a ticker tape parade for you. 'Cos I think everyone in the whole universe and at least two out of three of the neighboring universes should know how amazing you are, how talented and lovely and interesting and perfectly cool and askance, that's right I said askance and I know it's not meant to be used in this context but I'm going to use it and make it mean exactly what I want it to mean. And your side-long glances have always been a source of inspiration to me. They seem a distinct part of your lesson plan. And you're a key part of my lesson plan on this earth. And this life. And beyond I'm hoping. I thank the Lord for you every day. And He says you're welcome. And gives me a gift. Funnily it's the same gift he's been giving me for 12 years, but it's so good that I don't chastise Him for regifting. And 'cos you're no white elephant.


B: p.s. Iloveyou

We took this first thing in the morning. Can you tell?


Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Lessons from Burning Man: "Cool"

In which our heroine decides to bid adieu to a chapter in the past once and for all.

I see my trip to Burning Man challenging me in three ways: physically (with the dust storms I talked about earlier), emotionally and spiritually. Today I'm tackling the second one, and it's a doozy, so here is Chapter 1.

First some context...

Around the age of 11, things started to get awkward for me: my hair, once straight and shiny, decided to experiment with curls. It hadn't quite figured it out yet, so it settled on dry frizz. My hormones kicked in, but rather than award me with the menstrual cycle I craved (why oh why?!), it gave me a big swollen chest, a slight furriness above my lip and yes, even MORE hair in even LESS attractive places. (Such is the yoke of the Indian people: we are soooo furry.) Oh, and I wore glasses, big Harry Potter ones. Bren, after finding the following photo of me at this age, likened me to a Mexican drummer for a band like Styx. Lovely.

It's ok. You can laugh. :)

Personality-wise, I was pretty awkward too. I knew I was smart, but I didn't know how uneasy that attribute would make kids around me; I was called a "swot": a studious, over-achieving, lame-o, dorkface, suck-up'ing dweeberson. That was a weird transition, because at home, my intelligence was the most valuable commodity. At school, ironically, it was not.

Soon, a bunch of my friends formed a gang, The Wallyland girls, formed as a quasi-admiration society of some guy named Wally who was a wicked good ice-skater I think.

This is a half-decent photo of me at that age.

All the cool, pretty girls, the ones all the boys were into, the ones even the teachers were drawn to, were in the gang. These were the days of Vanilla Ice remember, so of course, they even had their own rap!

"We're the Wallyland girls and we like to rap. We're the rebel mc's and we take no CRAP!"

I thought it was the silliest thing, and yet I wanted to be able to spit that rap too! Oh man! Isn't it funny what your brain holds onto??

They would hang out together during the lunchtime break, and I don't remember how I knew that I wasn't welcome to sit with them. I suppose I sensed they were shutting me out. Instead, I would sit in our classroom, usually alone, and read.

Anyway, one day, I admit it, I got nosey. I looked in the folder of one my friends (we all carried around these big box files with all our work in them). She had a section with the name of the gang on it, and when I turned to it, I found a list of "applications" each of the members had to fill in and sign. The forms had questions about what kind of music they liked I think... I can't remember honestly. All I remember is scanning down to the bottom of the page, where the initiation-type question was, "Do you hate Aarti (and another girl, Sheetal)?"

One after another, each one of the girls, including the ones who had stayed over at my house and me at theirs, said "yes". Well, except for one girl, Sam, who said she didn't. She always spoke her mind, even if her opinion strayed from the crowd. In retrospect, that's probably why all the girls liked her -- and why, even as an adult, someone who speaks their mind so confidently (even if you don't agree with them) is so charismatic.

Anyway, the reason I bring this story up is because that moment has wrapped its tentacles tightly around my life ever since.

It was the first time that the bubble of sweet innocent childhood popped (and I know it pops a lot earlier and lot harder for other people). Listen, I know they were just being girls, and this stuff happens, and none of them were thinking about how their actions would affect MY long-term sanity. It's not a big deal on paper. But in that moment, I was just an 11-year old Indian Catholic girl with the naive notion that people just aren't capable of being mean or stabbing you in the back.

Yesterday, when I was talking this through with Bren, it dawned on me that my REACTION to that moment probably says more about me than anything else: Rather than lose trust in everyone else, I lost trust in myself. Rather than thinking, "Hey everyone hates me, they must be f*cked up", I thought, "Oh well, I must be f*cked up".

As I said that last part to Bren, my voice cracked and I started crying a little. It's just such a tragic thing to think about yourself, and I realise that I've whispered that mantra to myself, all my life.

Somewhere along the line, I learned that if I did uber-sweet things for people, they had no choice but to like me. At least, I *think* that's what my strategy has been -- I don't have enough distance yet to figure it out. Luckily, I have been blessed with true, deep friends who love me even if I sit on the couch and do nothing (Joo often sat next to me on the couch and ate bacon chips with me. Thankyou Joo!). I haven't completely unpacked that concept yet. But I do know that something to do with that part of my soul came loose at Burning Man.

That's about all I think is fair to lay on you today. More tomorrow. And oh, it's good. Stay tuned.

In the meantime, can you relate? Did you have a similar experience in your adolescent years? Were you one of those rare folks who DIDN'T have these kinds of things happen to you?


The Big Reveal

Did you figure out what that was? I think Sarah probably knows.


This, my friends, is the result of "absorption drills", the fancy name Krav Maga gives to what I would call getting the s*it kicked out of you. You are meant to stand still whilst someone kicks you over and over and over again in the same spot. The "exercise" is intended to build up tolerance and the aftermath shows up particularly well on Bren's lily white skin.

Still, it does make you seem pretty bad-ass, doesn't it?


Monday, September 15, 2008

Guess what this is?

I'll tell ya tomorrow!



The Un-named Salad

I know you're waiting with bated breath for the next installment of the Burning Man saga.

However, that's going to take more work than I'm willing to do at 10:37pm. Sooooo, I thought I'd share a yummy salad I made the other night, based on something I saw in a magazine a little while ago. I haven't decided what to call it yet, so for now, it's the Un-named salad. Should you have a cute name for it though, I'll take it!

It's seriously delicious, and so easy... um, even a caveman could do it.

I can't believe I said that. I blame the hour.

I made this salad the other night, to go alongside some grilled fish (with zatr! yum!) and roasted fennel.


Dressing (enough for a couple of salads!):
1/4 cup pomegranate molasses
1/8 cup extra virgin olive oil
Juice of 1/2 a lemon (or to taste)
A splash of water
Salt and pepper

Salad stuff:
1/4 cup pistachios, shelled and toasted in a small skillet for a few minutes
1 big tomato (I used a brandywine), diced
1/2 big English cucumber, or a couple of the Persian kind, diced
1/2 avocado, diced
Handful of fresh mint, chopped
1/3 handful of fresh parsley, chopped
Salt and pepper

1) Whisk the dressing ingredients together. Taste and season accordingly. I like it a bit tangy, so I used a bit more lemon juice. Keep in mind that the dressing will draw some of the juices out of the tomato so it'll get a bit more watery.

2) Toast your pistachios, if you haven't already. Don't let them burn!

3) Toss the tomato, cucumber, avocado and herbs into a bowl with a light sprinkling of salt. Let it sit for a few minutes (I find this takes out the "raw" flavour a bit).

4) Add a few tablespoons of the dressing, toss with your hands. Sprinkle with pistachios, taste and season. Then serve!

This could also do with some nice soft goat's cheese too now I think of it.

Here's what our meal looked like the other night. I was mighty pleased with myself because it only took about 35 minutes to get it all together (I am a horribly slow cook I realize).

What do you think?


Friday, September 12, 2008

Jesus helped me sing rock 'n' roll

I ADORE this video. If anyone knows anything about this group, let me know!!


Thursday, September 11, 2008

Back from the Burn!

Karate CHOP! We're back from Burning Man!

On the first day after I got back, Russ asked me how it was and I said something along the lines of "great, horrible, wonderful, challenging, amazing..."

You get the picture. It was a lot of things.

Let me begin by putting on my weather-girl hat. Did you guys hear about the duststorms out there? At worst, we had winds up to 30mph out there. And the temperatures ranged from 95 during the day to 36 at night. No wonder our bodies have taken a while to recover.

The playa (the dried lake bed on which the whole event is set up) was soft this year -- normally, it's hard enough to ride your bike on. This year, even the most expert rider bit it HARD, after a surprise encounter with a particularly soft patch. And those renegade soft patches were everywhere. While that meant I built up some wicked thigh muscles, it also meant that when the wind picked up, it kicked up an awful lot of dust... much dust that the sun often looked like a tiny pinhole God was shining a flashlight through.

It was even storming on the night we drove in. Here I slammed the bell that only first-timers ring; it wasn't snowing. That's dust.

I thought I'd show you what our camp looked like, built primarily by Brendan, and his friends Garland and David all on their lonesome! Thanks to all my camp members for sharing their photos! My camera went missing on the third day so I don't have many photos (it reappeared at the end of the trip thank Goodness).

Our camp consisted of two geodesic domes, the larger of which was dubbed the "Freedome" in honour of this year's theme at BM, "The American Dream". Bren made this awesome sign out of an old American flag.

We often heard people riding or walking by our dome, yelling "Freeeeeeeedome!". It always made us smile.

Step inside the dome, and the harsh desert slipped away once your eyes feasted on our majestic bedouin-ish lounge, complete with billowing curtains, beaded lanterns and hand-covered (well done design team!) futons and cushions upon which to rest your weary dust-blanketed bones. If you were lucky, one of us would come and wipe your feet with baby wipes and rub them with lotion. We often had strangers stopping by, drawn in by the cool sign, and the gorgeous decor. Just looking at this photo now makes me go "aaaah!". So relaxing.

The lanterns were my favorite.

The larger dome was intended to serve as our "public" dome, where we would teach improv, bellydance and yoga classes. We ended up taking refuge from the storms in here a lot, spending our time painting, reading and having henna applied to us by Graham, our resident Buddhist henna specialist. :)

The design team (Elena & Summer) even made an altar where we could place a symbol of our beliefs. I brought my favorite cross (it normally hangs over my other favorite, the stove!), and I wrote down a verse that appeared in my devotional on a tough morning: "Do not dwell on the past... See I am doing a new thing!".

The smaller dome became the costume dome. Unfortunately, before it could do that, it actually TOOK OFF in one of the duststorms, and (eeeeks!) punctured the windshield of our neighbour's car. I'm telling ya: those winds weren't messing around.

I was honoured to be one third of the Food Committee, which was responsible for planning, buying food for and preparing nearly all the meals (Bren made his signature amazing pancakes on the last day... my favorite was the peanut butter-chocolate variety!). Yorron and Lisa, the remaining two-thirds of the Food Committe turned the 24' truck we used into an astonishingly organized and efficient kitchen... which was really important since we were cooking for 30 people!

The biggest team effort however, was putting up the massive shade structure that would protect our individual tents from the harsh rays. We bought a hot air balloon top, and the guys ripped holes in it to keep it from flying away. Then they pulled it atop the 15-foot wooden tower they had built, whilst we held it down and kept it from flying away. You really start to understand how powerful hot air balloons are; it took all our strength, in addition to several pieces of rebar and some amazing pole-structure-thingies our friend Mace built, to keep this top from flying away.

Well that's it for infrastructure. More interesting emotional stuff to come!

all text and photographs on aartilla the fun © 2005-2009 Aarti Sequeira unless otherwise indicated. All rights reserved.