Category: Food For Thought

I am not a nutrition expert. I am however an expert in eating, being a mom and feeding a two year old. Our house, is food-focused — creating delicious, nutritious and inviting meals is at the forefront of our priorities. I should not be surprised that many families do not put such an emphasis on homemade meals and instead focus on going out and even then, do not teach their kids how to choose wisely. Going out does not always provide our families with healthful meals and it is almost always more expensive than cooking at home. That said, and while on the topic of going out, I do enjoy going out to either a very nice meal once in a blue moon or to ethnic restaurants that offer dishes I would have a difficult time replicating at home.

Reflecting back on my own childhood and how we ate as a family, I cannot help but be incredibly grateful to my mom for feeding us healthy and nutritious meals that allowed us to grow and thrive without sacrificing flavor. We were never overweight as children and enjoyed many a treat. Having lived for a long time in Baku, where the weather was warm, our diet was brimming with fresh fruits and vegetables. We also ate on a more traditional European schedule where lunch was the largest, multi-course meal and the day’s dining completed with a supper. Suppers in our house consisted of things like blintzes or syrniki. I’ve already mentioned this many a time, but soups were almost always part of the day’s main meal along with a protein, starch and veggie second dish and something sweet to round things out. Breakfasts were porridge focused but pancakes and even baked potatoes and herring, my personal all-time favorite, made their appearances on our menu. I don’t remember drinking too many juices and there were no colas until I was a bit older and even then, they were expensive and not something we craved. I do remember eating lots and lots and lots of fruit.

As a result, and we are all a product of our own upbringing, my own fridge is chockfull  of fruits even in the winter. Maybe Evan is right that berries should be left alone until they are in season, but I do focus on apples, oranges, pomegranates, kiwi and persimmons.

Now, some things can’t be helped… Sophia is a super slim kid. She’s very tall and very skinny and I am starting to feel the fine fashion offered by the Gap slip out of my reach :-). At two, she is as tall as a three year old and as slim as a one year old. Everything hangs on her like a hanger or is freakishly short. She hates short pants, by the way. But I digress. She’s slim and it isn’t because we don’t offer her enough food or offer her items that are different from what we are eating. In fact, she has mostly transitioned to table food and is built this way. At her yearly 2-year checkup, our pediatrician supported our plan to switch to 2% milk and urged us to “feed her the way we would want her to eat when she is an adult”.

I recently started taking a Childhood Nutrition course from Coursera taught by a lecturer from Stanford University. The course is free and you can listen/watch the lectures at your own pace. I encourage everyone to tune in. Dr. Adam’s  course overviews the basics of nutrition (the roles of fats, proteins, and sugars) and offers advice on how to cook for your family. One of the very first recipes shared in the course was an oatmeal porridge. It reminded me of the way I grew up eating it. The oatmeal was cooked with water and a dash of milk was added at the very end to up the ante on the creaminess.

I am incredibly grateful to my parents for the way we ate when we were young. To this day, I try my best to echo my mom’s principles to feeding and to this day, my parents peel pomegranates for us when we visit and even send peeled ones to go. That’s nothing if not love. I’ll do the same, I think.

Food For Thought

The extraordinary positive impact music can impart on our state of mind, both emotionally and physically is well known. In fact, thanks to iTunes, iPods and now iPhones, we can have our favorite tunes with us, always.

Sophia almost always listens to her favorite kids songs on our drives and I have gotten into the habit of using my 45 minute commutes (that’s one way, by the way) to listen to my own playlists that help me decompress before coming home to my second full-time job. Many of my Food for Thought posts and my master’s thesis were written as I listened to music. Music is also how I coped with the stresses and challenges in planning a wedding, and, it ended up being a great escape and provided our guests with some good entertainment.

Courtesy of Shelley and Keith Photography

 

In fact, music, and more specifically our band, were among the best decisions we made when we planned our wedding. When deciding on a general theme or feel, we steered away from anything too trendy wanting to avoid being labeled as a wedding from that generation and chose a Big Band theme. Well, if you’re going to have a Big Band-themed wedding, you must have a Big Band. We hired Jump City Orchestra to play during our cocktail hour and reception. The band was spectacular and we knew they would ensure a good time for everyone there.

Courtesy of Shelley and Keith Photography

 

Alas, to prepare for the wedding, we signed up for dance classes and spent a few months perfecting the foxtrot. People spend serious money on flowers, caterers, and wedding  dresses but seem to ignore the fact that the most important aspects of the wedding, the reason there is a wedding is because there are two people who want to say their vows in front of family and friends and then have a party, too. As such, if you’re going to commit to putting on a wedding, commit to learning how to dance — it is something you will do for yourself, something that you will take with after the evening is over.

We didn’t want to just memorize dance moves to our first dance song, and instead enjoyed learning the dance and practiced quite a bit. At first, it was intimidating, but as we got more comfortable, we began to really enjoy it. To this day, although we are a bit rusty now-a-days, we are glad that we invested a bit of money into those private lessons because nothing can lift your mood like a dance to a beautiful song.

Whether you are trying to get a better workout, get inspired to express an opinion or work off a few calories on the dance floor listen to some of your favorite tunes and enjoy the results.

Food For Thought

We are spending some much needed time with family. Even though we don’t celebrate Christmas, there is something magical about the season. We slow down, relax, look back at the year and think about what we want for next year.
Miracles and angels must surely exist manifesting themselves as grandparents’ helping hands. So for this very reason, I’m a fan of this season.
Alas, life still goes on and there is still plenty of unpleasantries that are. My golden rule… Say nothing if you have nothing nice to say. I am too old to be mean and make snide remarks and for that reason I’ll always take the high road. After all, I now have to lead by example for Sophia.
Speaking of…
Sophia insisted on taking some rocks she found to bed for her nap. She kept them… Didn’t toss them and maybe the world would be a prettier place if we kept our rocks (and daggers) to ourselves instead of tossing them.
This post feels good because it is cathartic.

Food For Thought

Oh the power of the internet, of instant gratification in the quest of information. I recently came upon this article and realized that surely I am not alone in the way I think about parenting and childhood. I admit that I am not an early childhood educator, but as this article points out … nurture cannot trample nature and thus, early childhood educators will not be able to alter a child’s innate nature.

I like to jest that my house is like a miniature version of Toys R Us. In reality, we have lots of toys but not any more than any other average american house. The difference is that I didn’t have even a tenth of these toys growing up and turned out just fine. My mother-in-law says that Evan and his sister had even more toys … and I sometimes ask myself whether I am doing enough. On the other hand, I worry about spoiling Sophia and raising her to believe she should always have everything and everything should be taken care of for her. Toys, education, activities are all privileges and not rights.

I notice that many children do not know how to play on their own and self-occupy. Activities galore, heavy schoolbags, after-school programs and what you have are tired, grumpy children who almost never play outside and have no idea how to play on their own.

I am not saying that my style (free range parenting) is the right way, but it certainly reinforces that involvement is necessary just in moderation.

Food For Thought

The year is coming to an end and sometimes we can’t stop but look back on own accomplishments introspectively. I find that it helps to see what were some of my own successes and more importantly, my failures. I always make a promise to admit my shortcomings, but no regrets because I can’t change the past.

My biggest regret has been not placing trust into people who I had no reason to doubt. I realize now that it wasn’t about trusting them, it was more about letting myself trust someone else. Realizing this very fact was my aha moment. I needed to grow as a person and as a mom.

My biggest accomplishment was keeping the household running. I shouldn’t claim this as my accomplishment because it really took the three of us. We each had a special role. I am the planner, Evan is my partner in crime and Sophia made sure we didn’t take ourselves and our life too seriously by messing up our plans once in a while.

Other things that I am proud of include the persistence with sharing our lives on this blog. I can say that I do it because I don’t like to quit, but really I think that this is an interesting journal for Sophia to read and see what we were both like when we were young and she was little. I don’t like to quit and I don’t have much respect for those who do unless there is a worthwhile reason.

Like most others when one thing comes to an end, we look forward to what’s next. I’m looking forward to more time with family, a bigger focus on being the best person that I can be and balancing my life to ensure a happy me and thus a happy family.

Food For Thought

It is hard to imagine that I’ve been working in my field for over a decade… seems just like yesterday I was trying to decide on my major and visiting Drexel University (my alma mater) with my sister who was trying to indoctrinate me into the field.

Years have passed, computers are faster than ever and computer scientists play a key role in all modern fields of technology. Computer scientists develop software to help medical research, design new algorithms that help find social connections, create software to penetrate nuclear projects, develop advanced algorithms that determine the best stock market moves in fractions of a second, and more, much, much more.

Programming and computer science are not exactly one and the same, but they are tightly intertwined; Programming is the application of computer science principles. This week is Computer Science Education Week and I wanted to highlight that computer science and programming have been recognized to have made an incredible impact on humankind. They are here to stay, here to make a difference, and as a society we must embrace both to compete on the global stage in innovation.

S(cience) T(echnology) E(ngineering) and M(athematics) are key in computer science and sadly, fewer and fewer high school seniors are enrolling into college degree programs in STEM. It is our responsibility as the parents of this new generation to guide and encourage that they pursue careers in STEM, that they learn programming and perhaps make a career out of computer science. It is the future. If you don’t believe me, look here for what world and industry leaders have to say about computer science and programming.

And in case you’re a bit lazy… here are some quotes…

“At a time when people are saying “I want a good job – I got out of college and I couldnt find one,” every single year in America there is a standing demand for 120,000 people who are training in computer science.“ – Bill Clinton

“Whether we’re fighting climate change or going to space, everything is moved forward by computers, and we don’t have enough people who can code. Teaching young people to code early on can help build skills and confidence and energize the classroom with learning-by-doing opportunities. I learned how to fly a hot air balloon when I was 30,000 feet up and my life was in the balance: you can learn skills at any age but why wait when we can teach everyone to code now!“ – Richard Branson

On a personal note: shortly after I graduated from college a close relative remarked that I was nothing more than a programmer and there would shortly be no jobs for programmers. We never know what will happen, we never know how economic downturns will impact our society, but as we saw in this latest economic downturn, computer scientists were hired by the dozens despite sky-high unemployment.

Finally, computer science isn’t just my job, my bread and butter – it is my passion, a craft I love. I look forward to sharing programming the very same way I share my knitting and sewing with Sophia. She is free to choose her major, but nothing would please me more than a career in STEM and perhaps computer science.

Food For Thought

Our lives revolve around being connected to the internet which leads to constant consumption of information. Whether waiting for Sophia to fall asleep or taking a short break from making balls and snakes in Playdoh, I find myself reading articles, editorials, blogs, and yes, even checking my Facebook or twitter feeds. Once in a while, there is a really good article that resonates with me quite a bit and leaves a lot to think about.

I read this article during a gloriously lazy Sunday morning while Sophia watched Sesame street. In reading the article, I tried to understand how similar or different my priorities are with those presented by the author. To be perfectly clear, I am not talking about income levels and actually believe that spending, much like class, transcends income levels. To a certain degree, our priorities and choices in life guide our spending.

Last year, I wrote about choosing a gift for Evan for his 30th birthday. Even then, like in the Times’ article, I said that the best gifts are experience or gifts that enable experiences. If you ask me or Evan what we want for our birthdays this year, we would have a tough time coming up with a tangible gift. Not because we are spoiled, but because we don’t think about our lives in the context of things. Spartan and uncluttered is how we like our life, our house and our closets.

We make no lofty goals about furnishing our house which stands with entire rooms still empty or remodeling outdated baths and kitchen. We happily put off buying couches and dining room sets in favor of building memories and paying for a nanny. I would be a hypocrite if I didn’t admit to having a penchant for jewelry and handbags but have curbed those me habits in honor of us habits. It isn’t that I cannot afford my me habits, it is rather that I have no desire to show off my socio-economic status with things. I have little desire to collect fine china or antique silver because those are just things and I have no idea whether or not my taste, my choices and my old things will be of any use to the next generation.

My biggest goal in life is similar to many other families. It is to set Sophia on a successful path through enabling enriching experiences for her. Lastly, and most importantly, no matter your socio-economic status, always give to those in need and teach your children to do it, too.

Food For Thought

I like to mix the delicious with the serious and thought provoking. I am told that people get hungry after reading the weekend recap on Monday morning so in an effort to do my fair share in helping maintain my readers’ svelte figures, I am using this post to continue the discussion about successful people, their achievements and how they became successful.

Reading is not something I enjoyed as a child. My mom used to think that I would never be able to hold a lengthy conversation with anyone who is educated due to my lack of desire to read. I got into my reading stride when I was about ten and have since tried to make up for lost time. That was, of course, until Sophia came along and I must now weigh the importance of reading against the importance of sleep. Anyway, after having read my posts about Bragging Rights and Lucky Successes, a few readers suggested that I read Malcolm Gladwell’s “Outliers: The Story of Success”. I am glad I took their advice and enjoyed the book so much that I couldn’t put it down.

I don’t want to spoil the read for you should you decide to read it yourself, but I do agree with most of Gladwell’s theses about some portion of everyone’s success is the result of a fortunate circumstance. It seems that most successful people were presented with opportunities. However, what makes these people successful is their determination to seize these chances and opportunities and to work exceptionally hard. Gladwell brings forward examples of people he calls “the outliers” from all types of professions ranging from famous musicians to famous computer scientists. He postures that your likelihood of becoming an outlier — an incredibly successful person has everything to do with who you are, where you are, what family you are born into and how hard you work. He agrees with a well-known theory that in order to really master something, one needs to work at it, to practice his craft for 10,000 hours. What is 10,000 hours, really? That’s about 5 year’s of practice at 40 hours per week.

Gladwell postures that determination and hard work and not aptitude have more to do with your likelihood at becoming a master. This made me remember a conversation I had with Evan a few years back. Sometime in 2008 or 2009, we got an invitation to attend Joanna Frankel‘s violin recital at Carnegie Hall in New York City. Joanna was a classmate of Evan’s and we thought it would be nice to show our support for her by attending. Besides, I don’t need too many reasons to make a trip to the Big Apple. We made a weekend of it and saw a Broadway play then, too. Evan also plays a violin and he is actually quite good — for someone who no longer practices. He practiced since a very young age and all the way through high school.

Joanna’s performance was excellent — she’s truly a virtuoso. I remember asking Evan if she was gifted or practiced a lot. He said that he believed she had great aptitude but thinks that she probably has been practicing 6-8 hours a day, every day for years and years and years whereas he would practice 2-3 hours a day. Basic arithmetic will tell you that 6-8 hours a day for a few years will quickly add up to that magic 10,000 hour rule. While Joanna was practicing the violin, Evan was practicing programming and is a virtuoso whose instrument is the computer.

It doesn’t really matter what you choose to pursue, just pursue it with passion, with determination and you will achieve greatness. To all those people who start something only to quit it a few short months later … nothing will ever come of it. There is never constant joy in anything we do, but when things get difficult, it is best to push on. Those who do, are rewarded with successes.

In the end, no matter how lucky your breaks were, it is your own hard work that rewards you with the fruits of your successes. If you’re someone who has been a lucky recipient of opportunities, pay back by creating opportunities for others along the way. There is nothing better than giving back. The ultimate sign of gratitude.

Food For Thought

Not long ago, I wrote about bragging about one’s accomplishments and that while most of the time, what everyone is doing is nothing out of the ordinary, there are those moments when everyone is entitled to bask in the limelight afforded by social media. This post is an unplanned continuation.

Lucky for me, Evan and I had a chance to carpool to work yesterday. These days, this sort of  a thing happens about once a week or so. We can catch up among ourselves, discuss our respective to-dos and most importantly, take the 2-person minimum HOV route to and fro work. Sometimes, on particularly slow mornings, we listen to one of a million new podcasts Evan has stored up on his phone. And so while driving in yesterday, we listened to an episode of This American Life. If you haven’t heard of the show, you should give it a chance because I think it highlights the extraordinary in the mundaneness of life.

The episode has a few parts, and one caught our ear and precipitated a lively discussion about the attribution of one’s successes. The discussion centered about Emir Kamenica, an up-and-coming economics researcher who has thus far been on the fast-track to great things. The gist of the discussion is as such: he is a Bosnian refugee who immigrated to the US with his mother and sister when he was a young teenager. He started his US schooling in an inner-city Atlanta school but was soon noticed by a substitute teacher who encouraged him to apply for scholarship-based admission to a prestigious private school (Paideia) which enabled him to reach his potential, receive a full-scholarship to Harvard followed by a Ph.D., also at Harvard, and attain a position at the prestigious Booth school at University of Chicago where he is now tenured faculty.

Throughout his interview with Michael Lewis on This American Life, Kamenica maintains that his successes (he’s recently been named one of the select few recipients of the Alfred P. Sloan Grant) are the results of happy circumstances and luck. He maintains his positive luck-based success attitude despite many less than favorable life events. And so the question is this: to what or who do we owe our successes?

It is clear that there were fortunate circumstances that enabled the opening of certain doors for Kamenica, but this did not mean he didn’t study hard, apply himself, and work incredibly hard to achieve certain goals. Turning the focus on myself, I can describe my life two ways:

I can say that I had quite a few happy circumstances that enabled my achievements to date. For example, I was fortunate enough to be born into a highly educated family where my father enabled us with a privileged life (in the USSR) which enabled my parents to look for opportunities to provide my sister and me with the same as we got older. I was fortunate that my parents made the difficult choice to come to America and my aunt welcomed us and hosted us for 3 months while we got our bearings. I was fortunate that my parents were able to find jobs and pay for housing in areas with great schools which enabled me to stay focused and go to Drexel. I was fortunate to have great mentors both at university and at work, fortunate to land a job at my current employer, fortunate to meet and marry a man who shares my outlook on life and fortunate that together we recognize the importance of hard work. Lastly, I am fortunate that together, Evan and I are willing to really commit to make our own dreams (whatever they may be) come true.

OR

I can say that despite not being born in this country, despite surviving immigration (that is the only way I can describe the process even at the tender age of 11), despite being teased because I was not born here, wishing that I could be afforded the chance to do more extra curricular activities, dreaming that I could go to private school because I was bored most of high school, followed by a college education during which I could focus entirely on my studies and that someone would pay for room and board in its entirety instead of taking out loans (which I still pay to this day), despite all that, I have managed to be mostly self-sufficient. Strike that. Better than self sufficient and although I say it a bit louder than Kamenica, I did that, and am where I am because of an indescribable amount of hard work and determination.

I wasn’t born to parents who could afford to send me to private school in America. I did not have connections that enabled me to join any research labs at Drexel University (my alma mater). I still did join a prestigious research lab and got an immense start in computer science research. However, I do owe my success to luck — luck that I was born to a family who raised me to see that being given so many opportunities, doesn’t necessarily teach you to cease them. And now, maybe Sophia will one day say she was lucky to be born to parents who can send her to private school, to pay for her college education, her wedding and her first new car. Maybe. If she works hard and definitely not just because. If she is not selfish, spoiled, conceited, focused only on herself and does something good for those around her. Maybe then I will show her how privileged her life can be and open doors for her.

Food For Thought