Thursday, April 30, 2015

What I’ve been up to lately (retiring the 'shoulds' & going back to school)

So, I’ve been gone again. Yes, yes, I hear you (the voice in my head). I should be more regular as a blogger. I should work on reaching out to more people in the virtual world. I should plan my posts in advance. I should freelance more. I should do more.

The shoulds that march through our head like a ticker tape. The shoulds that tie us up in knots and weigh us down with our own expectations. The shoulds that are better left behind ‘coz aren’t we already doing whatever we can in our current phase of life!

After lots of thinking and soul searching, I’ve decided to let the shoulds be. For now.

I am doing all I can in this phase as a mom-with-a-turbo-toddler + Air Force wife (yes, let’s not forget that ‘coz this changes the entire definition of one’s job). Besides my primary job of being the sole caregiver 6 days a week, I’ve been trying to slot in some studies on the side.

A degree in yoga. A stint at a culinary school. A workshop in personal styling.

While each of these are as different and diverse as can be, they give my gray cells a good workout. I love the varied skills I’m picking up, some of these are things that I’ve been wanting to learn for a long time.
The yoga’s not only getting me back into shape lovingly, it’s making me stay grounded and calm (well, most of the time).

It’s at the online culinary school that I’m learning to hone my knife skills as well as my other kitchen skills, one simple instructional video at a time. My aim is to be more self-sufficient in the kitchen and more efficient at prepping/cooking (yeah, impressing others with my food has never been the idea!).

And the style workshop? I’ve been fascinated with discovering our own personal style since I gave birth and didn’t know how to create my own style in this new avatar (read: chubbier). I’ve realized since then that style is a lot about embracing the body we have and wearing what we have with flair. I’ve also been totally besotted with saris and styling the sari to give it a place of honor in the urban Indian arena. I’m just taking this interest a step further by learning from a professional stylist in Portugal, Lena Penteado. I’m also hoping that with this skill, I’ll be able to help my health coaching clients better.

So whenever I get a spare moment between mothering, I pop into one of these online schools or roll out my yoga mat for some learning.

I’m not sure how much time that’ll leave me with for blogging (I’m hoping to get some writing done on weekends when my husband’s home). But I’ll pop in every now and then to write and chat and say hello. I’m still going to write about saris, green living and about my life. But I may not be able to commit to a timetable.

For now, for this season of life, I’ll embrace this saying, “Do what you can, when you can.”

#lifeasmom #backtoschool

Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Summer Sari in the Workplace - 7 tips to help you take your sari from the wardrobe to the workplace with confidence

We’re back with another post from the Summer Sari Series. Saris and summer, they belong to each other, irrespective of all those myths and notions we swathe this concept in (“I can’t wear a sari when it’s muggy and hot – it adds to the discomfort!”).

Photo credit: Byloom

And the sari can serve you just as well at the workplace when the season turns up its heat. Whether you work a 9 to 9 job in a 2 by 2 cubicle, you hunt down stories in the villages of India, you work your craft in a home studio or you spend your day in a classroom, a sari can bring a good dollop of style, professionalism and comfort within the cottony folds of its fabric.

So, here are a few ways to wear it to your workplace, wherever that may be.

1. Choose fabrics that don’t crinkle up in a snap. I prefer Kota dorias, Chanderi cotton silks, Maheshwari cottons and Garden chiffons over the crispest of Bengal cottons for the days when I have to spend my days traveling around town interviewing people for stories or when I’m seeking out stories in the villages of India.

Rajeshwari Iyer, a blog friend & sari aficionado, in one of her 'work saris'...

2. Choose saris that provide plenty of movement and feel easy on your being. The quickest way to shun the sari as workwear is to wear one that slips off in a jiffy / feels cumbersome / restricts movement / seems unmanageable. I make it a point not to wear my heavy cottons/party chiffons/slippery silks to the workplace, which I find unpractical for a day filled with traveling and meetings.

3. Wear a sari that looks professional. Oh yes, each sari has a look of its own. Party. Confernecy. Brunch. Evening out. Wedding. If you wear a sequin-encrusted sari or a net sari that belongs to a teeny-tiny halter blouse, you’re not going to earn any brownie points for wearing a sari to the workplace. I prefer wearing handloom saris as well as the practical & pretty Garden chiffons to work over blingy polyesters and butter-soft chiffons.

4. Drape your sari well. By this I don’t meant that you have to work yourself into a tizzy creating perfect pleats. Perfectionism isn’t the goal, but neatness is. Use a few safety pins to hold your pleats and pallu in place, lest the former unravels or the latter falls off your shoulder.

5. Team your saris with the right kind of blouses. Halter blouses and backless cholis look great when you’re wearing your sari to a party. But for work wear, choose blouses that are sensible. Not boring, but smart. Keep those blouses with deep necks and backs for the evening, and invest in a few that you can wear with saris to the work place. Choose moderate cuts, simpler designs and smart prints or neutrals. I like to have 5-6 blouses in my work wardrobe in maroon/black/bottle green/blue/dull gold/beige with embroidery or some interesting elements that I can mix and match with several of my saris.

Priya Kadapa Shah in a sari + blouse combo that's smart + chic

6. While accessorizing, keep the ‘Christmas Tree’ look at bay. Keep those chunky gold and kundan sets for parties and weddings. Choose jewelery made with natural material like beads, silver, wood and fabric that’ll complement your outfit. If your’re a diamond and gold kinda girl, choose small pieces for your work wear.  

7. Get comfortable in your sari – it’ll reflect in your stance. This won’t happen overnight. But if you persist out of love for the garment, there will come a day when you can wear a sari with ease and carry it off with confidence.

So, here’s wishing you the best as you step into the work world in your gorgeous saris. Join this sari conversation at my blog page – Chandana Banerjee: a journal & a journey.

#100sareepact #summersari #sari

Friday, April 10, 2015

Summer Sari Series – 6 Ways to stay comfortable in a sari during the summer

Summer’s already knocking at the door, pushing us to pack up those silks and bring out the breezy cottons. Just last week, I bundled up my raw silk saris and dunked them in the trunk, with sachets of fragrant lavender and sandalwood, with plans of pulling them out of hibernation after a handful of months when the cooler months come waltzing by.

But for this long Indian summer, this season of heat and sweat, I’ve brought out the breeziest of my saris – Kota dorias the color of fresh flowers, Garden chiffons in watercolor prints, Chanderi cotton silks in pastels and a few crisp Bengal cottons.

Style often gets pushed to the back of the wardrobe in this season of the dragon’s breath. With the intense heat crawling up your skin like a slug that you can’t shake off, it’s a pair of shorts and a loose t-shirt that sees us through the season. But every now and then, I get the urge to wear something beautiful, to pretty up, to feel good, to give style a chance. It’s then that I reach out for my summer saris because 6 yards of breezy cotton isn’t just beautiful but just as comfortable.

Suitable for the intense heat of our sub-continent and designed to provide plenty of ventilation, saris can be the most comfortable of attires, if you let it be.

Photo credit: ADIVA

Here are 6 ways you can incorporate the sari into your summer wardrobe and wear it for comfort and style.

1. Choose breezy, breathable saris, which will feel cool on your skin and keep you comfortable. Kota dorias, Bengal cottons, butter soft chanderi cotton silks, even Garden chiffons. Let the synthetic saris with their sequins and bling rest for this season.

2. Pick out saris with pleasing colors…colors that are as refreshing like a glass of lemonade on a hot summer afternoon.  Colors that remind you of freshness and joy, of cool evenings and the sky before the sun rises, of chilled treats and slices of luscious watermelon. I don’t know about you, but when the season notches up its heat factor, I can’t wear prints and patterns that are too celebratory, too bright, too busy.

3. Team your saris with blouses that aren’t too tight or made with synthetic fabric. Sweaty underarms and general discomfort are some of the first things that’ll send you running to ditch the sari for a pair of Capri and t-shirt. The fabric of the blouse is just as important as the fit – wear your cotton blouses/tops or the crochet ones that look stylish and are super-breathable at the same time. Remember, comfort is just as important as style when you’re wearing a sari in summer.

4. If you’re relatively new to wearing saris, start with more forgiving fabric like Kota Dorias, Garden chiffons and Chanderi cotton silks instead of the crispest of Bengal cottons that can get wrinkly in a twinkle if you don’t carry it off well. You can graduate to wearing more of the latter, when you’re super comfortable wearing cotton saris and have got used to the billowy nature of these saris.

5. Change the way you look at a summer sari. A lot of summer cottons can puff out, some more than the others. If it’s this that’s holding you back from wearing saris in the summer, then just reset the way you look at your collection of summer cottons. If the sari billows out, it doesn’t mean you’re “looking fat”, a common lament I hear from women who love their cottons but can’t get themselves to wear them. A cotton sari may puff out when you drape it, but as you go about your day, it settles around you.

6. Accessorize according to the sari and the season. Team your sari with a smart cotton/crochet blouse, a cotton jhola with patchwork or mirror-work, a necklace that’s not too chunky and silver-and-bead earrings. Slip into a pair of comfortable kolhapuri slippers or strappy sandals and you’re ready to take on the summer. Keep your make-up light with kohl, lip gloss and a big round bindi, if you please. (For more Sari Style tips, head over to the Style section of this blog).

Note: Next in the Summer Sari series (#summersari), I’ll be writing about ways to wear those gorgeous saris in this season to work. So, stay tuned for our updates + post your sari questions on our Facebook page: Chandana Banerjee –a journal & a journey.

For more Sari Style tips and posts, head over here.

#saristyle #summersari

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Take a deep breath…

If there’s one thing, one little nugget of gold that I’ve picked up in this journey as a yoga teacher-in-training and as a mother, that’s ‘Take a deep breath…or 5’…depending on what’s at hand.

photo credit: Unsplash

A toddler meltdown, complete with ear-piercing shrieks and big tears and an angry red face – take a deep, deep breath. Uncoil that tight knot in your stomach, unclench your jaws, let the breath flow through you. The tantrum doesn’t disappear, but dealing with it is a tad (and I mean just a tad) easier.

It’s the end of the day, and you’re weary and exhausted after a day of taking care of your kids. All you want is to put the children to bed, curl up and read a good book, and then something happens. The child vomits out a volcano / he decides that he doesn’t want to sleep just right now / wants to whine some more / poops in his diaper again. You want to disappear through a crack in the floor. But you take a deep breath or five more, roll up your sleeves and get down to work.

 You sneak out of the bed after putting your child down for a nap – it took 2 hours to get that done. You run to the laptop and whip out a fresh document to write, and just as you’re about to tap out your first sentence, there’s a wail in the other room. Your toddler has sensed that you’re not beside him and wants you back. You take a deep deep breath, tell yourself you’ll get back to the computer later and go back to curl up with him.

You’re waiting for your husband to get back home after a month long tour of duty. It’s been a tough 5 weeks, what with you being on single parenting mode and the gray winters biting at your heels. You prepare his favorite meal and wait for him to come home. And then, you hear that it’s going to be another week before he arrives. You take a long, slow breath and gather up your strength and soldier on.

Situations like this dot the landscape of motherhood and daily life. Taking deep breaths do not turn the situations on their heads. Taking a deep breath doesn’t mean that the toddler will stop having that tantrum or that your husband will magically appear before you or the child will go back to sleep.

A deep breath just makes what’s on your plate at the moment, a little more doable.

It grounds you when you’re ready to scatter. It lets you hold on when you’re about to unravel.

It helps you keep things in perspective, when you really want to unleash the devil in you (c’mon, we all have that in us ;-)).

Join me on my Facebook page for updates and conversations.


Wednesday, April 1, 2015

6 Ways to make time to read as a mom

I love to read, and I wasn’t quite ready for this prediction from fellow moms – “You won’t be able to pick up a book till your child is in high school, let alone when he’s a baby/toddler.” These words can easily come true, what with a whirling bundle of energy clinging onto you or tumbling around you 27 x 7 and your attention being demanded on various levels all the time.

But strangely, I’ve read more books between pregnancy and now than in any other stage of life. I don’t get to read them in one long, luxurious stretch, but in bits and pieces, during stolen moments and in scraps of time. My Kindle is bursting at the seams with all kinds of tomes that I’ve been reading – fiction, non-fiction, ebooks. And if I’m lucky, I’m able to fit in a magazine or two from the library too.

photo credit: Mikhail Pavstyuk

Now I tell you this not to brag or blow my trumpet in a “look I’m so smart that I can make time for books with a toddler at home”. No, never. I’m just as surprised as you or more, and grateful that I haven’t had to let go of this hobby, this little nugget of nurturing. I haven’t been able to paint much or write as much or sew or craft in this season of motherhood. But, if there’s one thing I’ve been able to hold on to, it’s books and my love for the printed word.

So, how? Not by being the world’s greatest time manager (that I’m absolutely not!). Not by hiring a fulltime babysitter (that I don’t have). Not by staying up through the night (ok…I’ve tried doing that sometimes, but I can’t sustain that).

Here are my ‘secrets’. I’m writing this for all moms out there, who look at books wistfully, waiting for the day when they can pick one up and submerge themselves in the story. I’m sharing my own little methods, so maybe, you can tuck into the odd moment, the leftover minute, the lesser part of 10 minutes to fit in a page, a chapter, a story into your life as a mother and let the words nurture you.

Use those nap times to pick up a book. When my son naps, he still wants me around, in the same room, in the same bed, and right next to him, our heads touching. He is one of those ‘contact babies’ with a super sharp antenna that alerts him every time I try to leave the room to work at my computer or cook the evening meal. So, whatever I want to do while he naps, I must do while sitting next to him. And that’s when I break out a book and read till he wakes up.

Read while breastfeeding. During the first year, it seems that you’re perpetually on the couch, nursing a newborn for a 100 hours. I used to go brain dead with boredom, just sitting it out for hours endlessly, feeding my son at the weirdest of hours. That’s when I started bringing my Kindle to the couch, and read more books in that year than in any other.

Grab a 15-minute short of time after putting your child to bed. How I look forward to that time of quiet when my son nods off for the night. That’s when I whip out my book from under the pillow and read for a little while.

Mine those stray minutes. Even in a mother’s life, there are a few stray minutes through the day. Like when you wake up a few minutes before your kids, or in that sweet but short time when your toddler busies himself with a toy or when the husband’s home. I use these little interludes to get some reading done. Maybe just a page or two, but that’s how reading is like in a mom’s life.

Try some short ebooks. I’ve been hooked onto the world of ebooks for the past year or so. I love how moms around the world are sharing their words through this medium. And how some of these ebooks are such a treat to curl up with.  The other great part is that these are short and easy to finish. So, while I still read novels and non-fiction tomes, I like to download a steady pile of ebooks on my phone and Kindle for the extra-busy moments.

Get your toddler in the habit of ‘reading’ his own storybooks. Start by reading lots of picture books to him. As he starts getting used to the concept of stories and books, he’s sure to ask for a few books to thumb through. So plonk him next to you with a stack of storybooks and read your own book as he looks at pictures of his own. I do this every afternoon and we spend the better part of 20-minutes reading our own books.

Hop onto the blog bandwagon at our Facebook page here: Chandana Banerjee - a journal & a journey

#books #reading
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