The Signs Are Everywhere

About 5 years ago my brother-in-law passed away.  And it was sad.  And tragic. And heartbreaking.  But it was also enlightening.  And inspiring.  And unbelievable.

I know that sounds strange but let me tell you why.

Shortly after my brother-in-law passed, my son, who was ten at the time, had to pick a number for his baseball team.  Typically, he would have picked a number like 2 or 5 or 15.  But that year he picked 61.  This seemed very random and very unlike him.  We asked how and why he made that choice.  He had no explanation other than to say, “I don’t know, it just felt right”.  It just felt right, another unusual thing for a 10-year-old boy to say, but we let it go

It wasn’t long after that conversation that I learned 61 had a very special meaning and a meaning that would follow me for a long time to come.  1961 was the year my brother-in-law was born.  1961. 61.  That 61 that my son seemed to randomly pick maybe wasn’t so random after all.  

I started to see 61 everywhere I went.  On license plates.  The temperature gauge in my car. The percentage on my phone.  Even the unexpected ‘inspected by’ slip you find in a pocket showed up in my sons suit jacket with the number 61. 61. Everywhere I looked, everywhere I went. 61 was following me. Or was 61 trying to tell me something?

It became a running joke with me and my family.  Oh, there is 61 again.  We would all look to the sky and say, “thank you Uncle” or “there’s Uncle again”.  It seemed funny at first, but to me it was beginning to mean so much more.

I began to research numerology and its’ significance.  Was there something to the meaning of numbers in general and 61 specifically?  I learned that the number 61 symbolizes family and introspection.  It is a number symbolizing harmony and balance.  People who resonate with the number 61 are nurturing and caring for their family members and friends.  They have a protective nature.  They are idealists as well.  Ok.  I can get down with that.  I can see how 61 would pertain to me personally, but how did it pertain to my brother-in-law passing?  And what was I supposed to do with it?

I began thinking hard about 61 and tried to make some connections between me, 61 and my family.  Was my brother-in-law telling me he was watching over us and that he was trying to harmonize and balance the family?  Was he telling me that he was watching over my husband to whom he was very close and who to this day still feels heartbroken by his passing?  Was he nurturing him from afar?  Was I just making this up and it was all a coincidence?  Or was he just fooling around to see how gullible I was and laughing at me from the other side?  All these scenarios made sense, especially the making fun of me part.  I could just imagine him getting a kick out of my fretting and wondering.  He was a great jokester in that way.

But then the unthinkable happened.  Or if not the unthinkable, the truly weird and crazy.  Around the time I started to really see 61 everywhere my husband was making some difficult and big steps to changing the course of his life and his career.  My husband is a trained chef.  A very talented chef, who spent years prior to attending culinary school as a successful stock trader. 

My husband made the career shift later in his life and he paid the price for this change both financially and emotionally.  But creating food was his passion and I was fully supportive.  So was his brother. Very much.  His brother was known to scarf down my husbands’ food before it would even hit the plate.  None of us stood a chance at getting a full helping when he was around.  And it was something that simultaneously annoyed and delighted my husband.  So when my husband started this second career his brother became his biggest fan. 

Not surprisingly my husband had to start at the bottom of his new career working first as a sous chef in a small French restaurant.  Later he became the chef at a small but popular catering company.  While he gained a lot of experience there it did not allow him to grow in the way he wanted yet his options were limited at the time.  It wasn’t until he did a lot of soul searching and knew in his heart that his situation wasn’t working that he finally made a change.  That decision came in the form of investors who approached him to help them open a corporate café.  He would be in charge of constructing, executing, designing and managing this new place.  He was very excited.  It seemed like to opportunity of a lifetime.

And then as is often the nature of this type of business it didn’t quite work out the way he had wanted and he had to part ways with the original partners.  Again, he did a lot of soul searching when he stumbled upon a realtor who knew a café owner who was looking to sell his business. 

Yes, a random realtor looking to sell a random business for a random owner.  A well-established highly regarded business in a great location with already established customers.  Was this a happy accident? Was it a coincidence? Or was it, as I would later find out, maybe a divine intervention?

Now you may be wondering why this background information is important.  Here comes the best part of the story.  My husband, who notoriously pursues all opportunities, good or bad, jumped at the chance to potentially own his own café, design his own food and run his own staff.  But who knew if this was a good opportunity or a bad one?  Who knew if he would be able to handle this all on his own with no partners to help him make decisions?  Who knew? 

I’ll tell you who knew.  61 knew.  My husband’s brother knew.  And how do I know this?  Because this opportunity presented itself after his brother passed, shortly after 61 started showing up everywhere. 

AND because the doors opened on my husband’s new café on 6/1.  Yes, 6/1.  The 61 that I saw everywhere I went.  The 61 that was trying to get my attention and tell me something important, to follow the path that led to his brothers’ success.

My husband is happy.  And his business is thriving.  And if that is not a sign of the divine, if that is not a sign that the other world is looking out for us, if that is not a sign that the connection my husband had with his brother remains, then I don’t know what is. 

And that has made me feel through all the sadness, through all the tragedy and heartbreak that the signs are there waiting for us to see, to feel enlightened, to feel inspired and ultimately to believe.  And with a little belief maybe you can find your own 61, too.

Stacie Goldstein, LCSW, is a social worker, psychotherapist, wife and mom of two teenage children.  She has been in private practice in Northern NJ for the past 15 years working primarily with teens and adults around issues including anxiety and depression, life transitions, and parenting concerns.  Stacie has worked in a variety of settings including schools, hospitals, mental health agencies and group practice.  She has also taught Social Work at the Masters level for the University of Southern California as an Adjunct Professor.  Stacie’s professional point of view incorporates a variety of techniques and styles including meditation and mindfulness to help her clients carve a path to living less stressful and more content lives.

The Healing Power of Talking and Listening

Imagine picking up the phone and making an appointment.  Imagine talking to the other person and giving them a brief description of your life in order to assess your needs.

Then imagine days later walking into that persons’ office.  It is dimly lit with a small but comfy looking couch, unique Chinese prints on the walls, symbols signifying peace, love, serenity and joy.  The woman you spoke to greets you with a hearty and friendly hello and shakes your hand firmly.  She asks you to have a seat.  There will be some paperwork to complete and some money to exchange but that will come a little later during your time together.  Imagine taking a deep breath, glancing around and looking her in the eyes.  Imagine her smiling warmly and asking you “what brings you here today?” and “how can I help you”.

Now imagine swallowing hard and looking for the words to start.  There is so much to say, so much history, so many details.  Where do you begin?  She looks at you and says “begin wherever you like.  I will decipher the rest and ask questions so you can clarify your experience for me.”  You breathe a sigh of relief.  Imagine thinking, “okay, I am not alone in this.  It may feel weird and scary, but at least I am not alone”.

And you start to talk.  You talk about the past, your relationship with your mother, your siblings, your friends.  You talk about high school and college, post college and work life.  You talk about your spouse and their family, your spouses’ friends and job.  You talk about your children.  You talk about your feelings of anger and rage, happiness and joy.  You talk about comparing yourself to others and how damaging that feels, but you just can’t stop looking at Facebook and Instagram.  You talk about the state of the world and global warming, things that worry you, but there are so many other things to worry about. 

And she sits and she listens.  She nods with validation and asks you to continue.  So, you do.  For 45 minutes that seem like nothing, you continue. 

And as you continue the discomfort seems to melt away.  Okay this isn’t so bad and it’s really nothing like the movies.  You are not laying on a couch.  She talks back when there is silence.  She laughs at your jokes, smiles with encouragement.  There is no blank slate here.  It is two people, one talking the other listening.  Imagine what that feels like.  To talk while someone else is listening.  No unwanted interruptions.  No judgements.  No preconceived notions.  No history together.  Just one person talking and the other listening.  And you feel the power in this.  Although you may have been skeptical before you entered the room you feel a lightness and relief that you have not experienced before.  And you want to see more of where this unique process can take you, what you can learn and how you can feel more content in your life.  And you understand the healing power of talking and listening. 

This is what I imagine my clients experience when they meet me for the first time for therapy.

Now imagine walking to the door of your office and firmly shaking a new persons’ hand.  You have some brief history that you gathered over the phone, basic information you need just to make sure you are the right person for the job and you can meet this new persons’ needs.  And you ask them to sit on your comfy couch with a warning that it sinks in fast so sit slowly.  And you wonder what preconceived notions do they come here with?  What tv therapists have they watched that have raised their expectations? You wonder are they nervous to uncover their stories and change their self-perceptions?  And you think “I hope they are not too scared”.  Do they feel comfortable in your tiny office with the Chinese symbols and the books on psychotherapy strewn about?  You hope their nerves don’t get in the way.  You do your best to normalize their expectations and you ask them “what brings you here today?” and “how can I help you?”

They begin to relay their story but express concern that there is too much information and they don’t know where to begin.  So, you say “begin wherever you like.  I will decipher the rest and ask questions so you can clarify your experience for me.”  And they begin where they begin and you do as you say you would.

Your mind wanders a bit as the information comes out which is okay.  You may lose track sometimes of what they are saying because you are human.  But you are also making room to focus not just on the words but on the feeling in the room, the energy you pick up from this new person.  Is it sadness you feel?  Or anger?  Fear and anxiety?  And these feelings inform your work and how you respond to this new persons’ words.

And you listen as they tell you their story.  You listen to their past, the relationship with their mother, their siblings, their friends.  You listen as they talk about high school and college, post college and work life.  You listen as they talk about their spouse and their family, their friends and job.  You listen as they talk about their children.  They talk about feelings of anger and rage, happiness and joy.  They talk about comparing themselves to others and how damaging that feels, but they just can’t stop looking at Facebook and Instagram.  They talk about the state of the world and global warming, things that worry them, but there are so many other things to worry about.  And you sit and listen.  You nod with validation and ask them to continue.  So, they do.  For 45 minutes that seem like nothing, they continue. 

And you look on with encouragement if you see them stumble.  You feel grateful that they are trusting you with their story because disclosing personal information can be so risky and hard.  And you ask for clarification and more examples so you get a clearer picture of what they are trying to describe.  You don’t offer solutions or advice although sometimes this is what they want and sometimes that is what you want to give, too.  But you listen closely and carefully as you guide them along to the answers they know are there but just need the objective outsider to reinterpret and reframe their understanding.  And you ask at the end of the session, “how did that feel for you?”  And, more often than not, they reply “that felt good.  It felt really good to say all of that, to be heard, to have you listen”.

And still after 25 years of doing this type of work, it never ceases to amaze me the healing power of talking and listening.

Stacie Goldstein, LCSW, is a social worker, psychotherapist, wife and mom of two teenage children.  She has been in private practice in Northern NJ for the past 15 years working primarily with teens and adults around issues including anxiety and depression, life transitions, and parenting concerns.  Stacie has worked in a variety of settings including schools, hospitals, mental health agencies and group practice.  She has also taught Social Work at the Masters level for the University of Southern California as an Adjunct Professor.  Stacie’s professional point of view incorporates a variety of techniques and styles including meditation and mindfulness to help her clients carve a path to living less stressful and more content lives.

Third Culture

Every time I visit India, I am reminded of the feelings, smells, and sounds which make up my perception of my parents’ childhood home: waking up to the sound of the street vendors shouting to sell vegetables and rushing out of bed to have piping hot chai with my grandparents; hearing the loud and bustling traffic of Hyderabad and the sound of the soft but steady rhythm of the ceiling fan.

However, these memories belong to my parents, and I barely get a taste of them during the few weeks of my visits. 

Despite the fact that India is my parents’ home, I feel as though I am a foreigner not only there, but also in the US. When crossing the busy streets of Hyderabad, my mom will instinctively grab my hand, as if I have suddenly returned to being a clueless four-year-old. And while I am in India, I’m forced to carry around bottled water everywhere I go because my body is not accustomed to the water my grandparents drink. 

And it isn’t much different back in the US. People at school will discuss their parents’ craze for the band Queen, but until a few years ago, I had no clue what this “Queen” was. I only knew of my parents’ favorite Hindi film singer: Kishore Kumar. When my first baby tooth fell out, my parents were confused as to why I was demanding money from some “Tooth Fairy”, but when Rakhi (a Hindu Holiday) comes around, I gladly accept large amounts of money and gifts from my brother. 

These minor differences soon became more and more prominent as the years went on, and because of that, I had a growing fear of the idea of feeling separate from others. I hated that my family was different than those of my friends in New Jersey, but also from my relatives in India. But now I’ve come to realize that despite the fact that I may feel like an outsider in these two countries, I have something that a lot of people from either of these places will never have: the experience of what is known as “Third Culture”. 

“Third Culture” is not the idea of being foreign and separated to what exists around you, but rather is the idea of being immersed in two deeply contrasting cultures and creating your own mix of the two. When my family and I learned how to connect the two rather than to point out the differences, we were able to create traditions of our own that encapsulate both cultures. 

Thanksgiving with my cousins in Chicago is one of my favorite instances of third culture. Instead of a traditional American turkey, mashed potatoes, and cranberry sauce, we have mutton biryani, paneer, and tandoori chicken. Yet, we dress up in simple American clothing while listening to my cousin’s mixed playlist of obscure Western rap and Bollywood music from our Google Home speaker. We then go around the table saying something we are thankful for, usually involving one of the parents cheesily quoting an Urdu poem and the kids shaking our heads and laughing in response.

This is my third culture. It may be completely different from another Indian American kid, but that’s the beauty of it. It differs from person to person. You are able to learn from one another, allowing you to broaden your own third culture. If it weren’t for my initial disappointment for my inability to relate to my relatives and friends, I would have never even considered what it might be like to create something so unique with my family.

Naina Waghray is a jersey girl and junior in Montgomery High School. She loves to sing. Her other passion is running that she enjoys with her buddies at school all through the year in the central Jersey countryside.

Awakenings at the Red Barn

The day was surreal. I was once again driving with my good friend and spiritual guide on another unknown adventure to continue to explore our energy healing selves.  I go blindly with my friend without asking questions because I trust her and am curious about where this journey will take me. But this journey seemed particularly suspicious.  It even had a name. Awakenings at the Red Barn. Awakenings? At a Red Barn? I am imagining horses and hay bales. But I trust that my friend would not steer me wrong and I go along for the ride.

When we get to the Red Barn it is actually a red barn, but not like I thought.  No horses, no hay bales. In fact, it is a barn on a magnificent property rubbing up against one of the most beautiful homes I have ever seen.  A regular home. No voodoo dolls or magic potions. Just a normal, regular home. When we get there my friend and I mingle around for a while and I overhear people discussing their various experiences with energy work and all matters related to healing their souls.  I tend to become very intimidated in these types of situations and revert to what I know best, the role of quiet observer. And in that role, I quietly participate in the days’ activities which included a guided meditation. I follow the instructions of the jin shin jitsu instructor.  I listen intently to the discussion on soothing yoga practices. I am skeptical as I work my way through the sessions trying to immerse myself in the faith and power, but ultimately question why I am even here and when it will be time to go.

Then the Medium approached the front of the room.  Yes, a Medium. I know what you are thinking. Because I was probably thinking the same thing.  A person who has the power to speak to your loved ones on the “other side”? The other side. This can’t be real.  People do not speak to people or get spoken to by people on the other side. It just doesn’t happen. It must be a hoax. 

But it made me start to think.  And being a visual person, I started to wonder what the other side might look like.  Does it have the classic pearly gates? Are there angels floating and waiting to take your hand to approach G-d?  Or is the other side where you walk down the yellow brick road covered in your favorite ice cream flavors and rub elbows with famous people?

Now I don’t know what you think about the “other side”, but as far as I was concerned, I have never had a strong pull towards faith, religion or anything that claims to be mystical.  Probably the reason I need to be on this journey in the first place. So that I can have more faith.

So the Medium approaches the front of the room, takes a few deep breaths and starts to divulge details of the various (shall we call them Ghosts?) as they enter the room.  There is a woman behind me who meets up with her mother-in-law, another whose best friend died suddenly, a third whose death was mysterious but wanted the guest to relay to his family that he was fine.  All very irrational seeming and a little but creepy. I wondered, is this was some kind of setup? Although at the same time I was secretly hoping someone would come talk to me too. I wondered in a peripheral sort of way who that would even be?  My mother-in-law who had passed the year before? Or my grandmother who my own mother says has come to her in the middle of the night and sat on her bed? But I dismissed this as silly, this isn’t real. And no one would want to speak to me anyway.

I wasn’t even really listening when I heard the Medium ask if anyone claimed the “white collar man dressed in a suit doubling over in pain pointing to his abdomen”.  Since, if anyone was going to come to me, I was expecting to hear from the “older woman who always painted her nails to match a special occasion” I didn’t immediately react.  I sat still, stunned and a little bit afraid as she continued to describe his laugh, his intense love for his wife, his specific observations about other relatives. He spoke to the Medium about one he called the handyman, someone who could fix anything and found great pleasure in helping in this way.  He spoke of Army Colonel who was recently diagnosed with a disease and knew that at the time he was stable. This could be for no one else but me. The details were too specific and the descriptions too rich. I sheepishly claimed him as my own raising my hand to say, “I think he may be mine?” The Medium continued reporting that he was safe and happy and well, laughing like he always did, making jokes that only she could hear but that only he would make.  And then the crazy part happened. As if having a dead person speak through a stranger in front of a room filled with strangers isn’t crazy enough the ACTUAL crazy part happened.

The doorbell began to ring.

Now let me give you some background about the doorbell.  My then 6-year-old was given a toy doorbell by her uncle one holiday.  It was battery operated, hooked up with a single wire with a button you press to make it ring.  Simple, straightforward children’s toy, no fuss, no muss. And it hung outside her door. Only if you rang the bell could you enter the room and those who didn’t were sure to experience her wrath.  Anyway, the doorbell seemed to have a mind of its’ own. It would ring whenever it wanted. While I was cleaning her room. While I was brushing my teeth. While the whole family was downstairs eating dinner nowhere near the doorbell.  Right, you heard me. It would ring when. We. Were. Nowhere. Near. The. Doorbell. We joked, oh hahaha our house must be haunted. Hahaha we have a ghost. Oh hahaha I am ripping that damn doorbell out of the wall and throwing it in the garbage.  Which is what I did. I couldn’t take the random ringing anymore.

Now sitting in the Red Barn my ripping the damn doorbell out of the wall has literally come back to haunt me.  My Medium (as in my mind she has now become mine because we have now established a mysterious and unbreakable bond) tells me he is jangling something.  Could it be keys, she says? Or is it wind chimes, she wonders? In that moment I knew. It was neither keys nor wind chimes and the message to me was perfectly clear.  He was ringing my doorbell all along and letting me know I should let him in.

I learned a lot that day.  I learned to relax my mind in meditation.  I learned to channel my anxiety through jin shin jitsu.  But most importantly I learned about belief and faith. And with a little faith you may find out who is ringing your doorbell from the other side.

Stacie Goldstein, LCSW, is a social worker, psychotherapist, wife and mom of two teenage children.  She has been in private practice in Northern NJ for the past 15 years working primarily with teens and adults around issues including anxiety and depression, life transitions, and parenting concerns.  Stacie has worked in a variety of settings including schools, hospitals, mental health agencies and group practice.  She has also taught Social Work at the Masters level for the University of Southern California as an Adjunct Professor.  Stacie’s professional point of view incorporates a variety of techniques and styles including meditation and mindfulness to help her clients carve a path to living less stressful and more content lives.

How to Defeat Your Dementors

Harry Potter fans know who these are but for the rest of you…dementors are horrible, spectral magical creatures, hooded and robed, who feed on negative human emotions. According to the Harry Potter lexicon dementors drain ‘peace, hope, and happiness out of the air around them,’ …they create a chill mist which permeates everything …They drain a wizard of its powers if left with them too long. The dementor sucks out the victim’s soul, leaving them an empty shell, alive but completely, irretrievably “gone.”

We all have our dementors, negative people who suck our energy and drain us. Some are just acquaintances, one can escape or put up barriers to protect oneself. But when they are close family and friends, bosses or employees, sometimes it’s hard to have barriers. Sometimes it’s someone we “should” love (a parent or an in-law), sometimes it’s someone we have to be around. The negativity can be subtle- criticism or comments about your weight, your cooking or heaven forbid, how you raise your children. I have a friend who deals with one such dementor and it takes the form of self deprecation where the person is so negative about herself and it falls to you to build them up, offer constant and exhausting support.

Anyone who removes your positive energy or directs negative energy at you is a dementor.

http://Harry Potter dementor from You Tube

So how do you proceed if you lack a magic spell. It’s not easy but can be done. First, you identify your dementors; it’s hard because sometimes you love them and need them. But remember you are not eliminating them (unless you can and want them out of your life). If you care for them, keep them, but isolate the negative spirit. You need to counteract that with a good dose of positive people to balance the negative. One dementor might require 5 awesome positive people (uplifters).

Limit time with negative energy, cut short your time with them and have a list of positive activities you can do with them if you have to spend time together. Add on extra good activities on your own (engaging with friends, hobbies, silly shows, things that give you pleasure) to balance the negative stuff.

Sometimes your own thoughts are the dementors and these are the hardest to identify. But it can be done by being  brutally honest. Do you look in the mirror and say “ I don’t like how I look”, “I’m so stupid”, “ I screwed up”, “ “I’m no good”?

Make a list of your your uplifters, the amazing people in your life. If you don’t have enough go find them. They are everywhere. I made a friend at the gym who is one of the most positive people I know. She had to have open heart surgery and walked out 4 days later. She says cardiac rehab is a blast. I can’t possibly feel sorry for myself around her! I paint regularly with a group of women I met at a watercolor class through the local recreation department. They don’t need to be only deep friendships though those are awesome too. I met a really interesting lady at a batik class I took. She used to be a nurse and now does political graphic art. I want to get to know her, I took her card and plan to get in touch one of these days.

I’ve had a couple of truly horrible dementors that took me into dark negative places and it took me a long time to learn to isolate them.

And it’s the uplifters (people and activities) that helped me survive these.

And try picturing the negative people as hooded dementors… it might make you smile and remind you that you can deal with them.

References/ Definitions

https://www.hp-lexicon.org/creature/dark-creatures/dementors/

https://accidentalcreative.com/teams/people-factor/

Svapna Sabnis is a pediatrician, mom and a wife. She is in private practice and is Clinical Associate Professor of Pediatrics Medical College of Wisconsin and Clinical Adjunct Professor at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. She is an immunization advocate and Director of Immunize Milwaukee and the Wisconsin Council on Immunization Practices.

She loves to teach medical students and residents, was awarded the Best Doctors in America 2010- 2019. She is coauthor of a textbook –Pediatric Decision Making Strategies. She likes to garden and dabbles in watercolors in her free time. She’s still trying to have it all and achieve balance in her life.

Blurred Boundaries

“Blurred Boundaries” imagines the world as a network of systems and connections, conduits and tethers rather than isolationist nations. it speaks to how we experience the world currently- where paper maps are made obsolete and GPS technology gives us the topography of a place but also an illusion that we have knowledge of it. Its so funny how we feel connected and fearful of certain places at the same time. We try to build walls and have a new interest in nationhood but when you step back and see an image of the earth taken from the moon, we are just so fragile and interdependent and interconnected in so many ways.This installation utilizes screen-printed and hand-cut maps and Hanji paper to create layers upon layers of complexity.

Playing with the polarities of micro and macro, I use screen-printed patterns sourced from electron microscope scans of Hanji (Korean paper) which then inform my cutting. Hanji has long fibers that make the paper strong yet thin. By using this as a layer, I make the maps pliable, giving the work a sense of movement and fluidity. The piece seeks to disturb and displace the very intent of a “map” to locate and identify. In this era of global movement, this work is an act of disregarding boundaries that divide us and asks the viewer to contemplate matter and also what constitutes our interconnected world.

Material: Sumi ink and screen prints on hanji and paper maps, handcut and suspended

Nirmal Raja is an interdisciplinary artist living and working in Milwaukee. She approaches her practice as a process of sifting and communicating sensations and ideas with varied materials and processes. Conceptually driven and thematic, her work straddles the personal and the political and is a response to lived experiences that are distilled and strengthened by research in the studio and through reading. She examines notions of memory, identity, place and belonging. Performative collaborations with other artists and the larger community have recently become part of her practice. Occasionally, she curates exhibitions and organizes and facilitates situations that articulate moments of connection and empathy.

On Hands

My dear friend Laj Waghray has made a lovely documentary titled “On Hands”. She filmed artists, gardeners, musicians and crafters who use their hands to create their art or the product.

My commentary on hands is much more prosaic. Last year I developed carpal tunnel syndrome. My hands became tingly, then numb and painful and then so weak I started dropping things. I had never stopped to consider how much I needed my hands. Cooking, cleaning, folding clothes, washing my hair and even brushing became almost impossible. I started using a dictation program on my computer and voice recognition on my phone. I’m an avid reader and turning pages or holding a Kindle became painful. I couldn’t paint or draw which usually helped me relax. I couldn’t do yoga -many exercises put pressure on my hands. Even driving was hard- holding the steering wheel hurt.

My hand surgeon recommended, well, hand surgery .. but I had to exhaust all other options first. In the meanwhile my family really stepped in and took over “my” tasks including my teenage son who did a lot of cooking  and meals! One night while cleaning up the kitchen my son turned to me a little tired and frustrated by the mess and said.. “Mom you do this every night…putting things away and picking up things left around”. I said “Yes.. I do”.

After a few months of trying therapy, acupuncture and steroid shots I had the carpal tunnel release done. I decided to do both hands at  once so I wouldn’t have to miss too much work.

During my recovery I had to rely entirely on my husband for simple tasks like eating, drinking, dressing, combing my hair and tooth brushing. But as functions returned rapidly I gained a new appreciation for these two hands, like the joy of clipping your own nails or squeezing shampoo from a bottle. Chopping vegetables and cooking again was not a chore but gave me a feeling of independence. I didn’t even mind folding laundry! I’m still working on getting back to yoga- that Downward Dog puts too much pressure on the scars. But I can hold a book and I can pick up a baby at work without being afraid I might drop her. We take so many things for granted. This has helped me truly appreciate the simple things my hands do for me.

Svapna Sabnis is a pediatrician, mom and a wife. She is in private practice and is Clinical Associate Professor of Pediatrics Medical College of Wisconsin and Clinical Adjunct Professor at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. She is an immunization advocate and Director of Immunize Milwaukee and the Wisconsin Council on Immunization Practices.

She loves to teach medical students and residents, was awarded the Best Doctors in America 2010- 2019. She is coauthor of a textbook –Pediatric Decision Making Strategies. She likes to garden and dabbles in watercolors in her free time. She’s still trying to have it all and achieve balance in her life.

Wrapping Air in Cloth

“Wrapping Air in Cloth” uses a universal form of wrapping one’s belongings in a piece of cloth. Except these are empty shells that allude to the innumerable lives lost at the border when people flee danger and poverty. I am in search of forms that have multiple meanings.  This one in particular has many – on a physical level, it could stand in for the body and breath, on a metaphysical level, it could stand in for transience and how nothing belongs to us. On a global level it is the universal and ancient form of carrying one’s belongings and on a political level, it could symbolize all the lives lost when refugees risk life and limb in the hope of a better life.

 Nirmal Raja is an interdisciplinary artist living and working in Milwaukee. She approaches her practice as a process of sifting and communicating sensations and ideas with varied materials and processes. Conceptually driven and thematic, her work straddles the personal and the political and is a response to lived experiences that are distilled and strengthened by research in the studio and through reading. She examines notions of memory, identity, place and belonging. Performative collaborations with other artists and the larger community have recently become part of her practice. Occasionally, she curates exhibitions and organizes and facilitates situations that articulate moments of connection and empathy.

The “no-excuse” guide to making time to workout

We know the importance of exercise and how it can help us stay physically active, mentally alert and emotionally happy. Most of us have access to multiple gyms in our neighborhood that offer a fun variety of classes. We also have good intentions to develop exercise routines and sometimes we start out strong, but most people struggle to maintain consistency with their workouts.

As a fitness coach, I often hear people say that they don’t have time to work out. We juggle work, families, multiple passions and are burnt by the end of the day. I would like to share my top 10 NO EXCUSE tips to help you fit a workout routine into your lifestyle. Ready, set, go:

Win the mind, win the body

Some of the busiest, most successful people in the world swear by their exercise routine and credit their workouts as one of the reasons for their efficiency and success. So, remind yourself that if they can do it, so can you.

Baby Steps

Sometimes we have an all or nothing approach to fitness, which is why gyms are packed from January 1st to the 15th. I recommend you commit to going 1-2 times a week at first and when you have consistently done that for a month, then add another day and so on.

Don’t try to be a superhero

You don’t have to do it all yourself. Ask family members to pitch in with household duties, and support you in your health goals. Remember that if you are healthy and strong, you will be able to do more for yourself and everyone around you.

Make it fun

If you hate running, don’t invest in a treadmill. Find a workout you enjoy and chances are you will show up more often if you enjoy it. Try out a new class in your neighborhood, most gyms offer free trials to attract new clients.

Find an accountability partner

Find a friend or family member who will hold you accountable. Someone who will actually send you reminders and check in with you or become your gym buddy.

Rome wasn’t built in a day

Changing your habits is one of the hardest things to do. Be patient and focus on progress not perfection. Think big, but start small.

Set up fun rewards

For every week that you make it to your goal, put a dollar or more in a gym jar or give yourself an NFR (Non-Food Reward). A mani-pedi or coffee with a friend, or a new dress can serve as a fun incentive to get you to the gym.

Attitude of Gratitude

Remember that there are so many people in the world who cannot work out due to injuries or limitations or financial reasons. If you have the physical ability to work out and you can afford a gym membership, then be grateful for your body and keep it in the best shape possible.

Sign up for a charity 5K or an obstacle race

Find a local race in the upcoming months and use that to get yourself going. Sometimes the pressure of an upcoming event can push you to show up and be more consistent in your workouts.

Hire a fitness coach

If you absolutely cannot get your mojo going, you may want to invest in a coach who can get you going with fun workouts and accountability until you develop a routine of your own.

IT’S NOT ABOUT HAVING TIME, IT’S ABOUT MAKING TIME

Chitra Rochlani of Livingston, New Jersey is a NASM (National Academy of Sports Medicine) certified personal trainer, Precision Nutrition Coach and owner of FIT WARRIOR CHITRA and works in Florham Park, New Jersey. In 2014, Chitra had a life-changing personal transformation when she lost 80 lbs. and she uses this personal experience to inspire and motivate her clients to get lean, strong and fit. Her motto is “Win the mind, win the body” and she believes that fitness, nutrition and mindset are the three pillars of success and contribute to lasting change. Follow her on Instagram and Facebook.

A journey through singing

Music has always been a way for people to create meaningful connections. However, when you learn to sing or perform as opposed to simply listening, it has another depth to it which cannot be experienced otherwise. According to my parents, I have been singing for almost my whole life. They say that when I was a toddler, I would run around the house singing songs of my own childish language. Of course, nobody really understood what I was saying, but they simply nodded along in agreement to my profound “lyrics”.

When I began kindergarten, I remember sitting on the bus with my friend and singing together. Though we would sing completely different songs, we were attempting to mimic the music our bus driver played on the radio. As a 6 year old, I had already begun to feel a love for music. 

Throughout my childhood, as well as now, I was engrossed in Hindi film music through my parents’ love for it. Though I never really understood the plot of the Hindi movies, there was never a moment when I did not enjoy listening to the dramatic love songs sung in my beautiful mother tongue.

Later, I was encouraged to join my fourth grade choir club in school, where I learned songs all the way from Christmas carols, to Korean folk songs, to pop songs.

When my parents noticed my interest for singing, they enrolled me into a Hindustani classical singing class. At the time, I was ten years old and it can be said that the only thing I really cared about was my Nintendo DS. Needless to say, I went into the class assuming it would be boring, seeing as it wasn’t Hindi film music. For a while, it was all scales and simple songs. I reached several points at which I considered asking my mom to quit. However, the day came when I was sick and ended up missing a session. To make up the class, I had to join “the big girls” for one hour. I did not know what to expect, and I was nervous as to what the older girls would think of me. 

As soon as I walked into the room, I was mesmerized by how confident they were, how eloquently they went through the warm ups, how easily they were able to memorize a song, and the smooth yet precise way their voices flowed. But what truly caught my eye, was how they were enjoying themselves. At that moment, I realized that singing wasn’t just something I liked to listen to, it was something which I wanted to have as a lifelong skill; something which I wanted to enjoy and pride myself with. I wanted to be known as one of “the big girls”.


More recently, I attended my first Hindustani classical music concert for Pandit Jasraj, a renowned Hindustani classical music singer. I will admit, my parents may have been involved in forcing me to go to the concert, but the experience was well worth it. Prior to the concert, I remember feeling the lack of excitement which I had felt during the early years of learning to sing. I childishly argued that if I already knew about the art form from my own teacher, then why did I need to go see someone else do the same? That in itself was the answer to my question. 


During Pandit Jasraj’s performance, I was in awe to see what I had been learning in my class be executed so gracefully. His voice and skill is like no other I have heard before. I was able to listen to and identify the variations and details of his songs which I had struggled to grasp during classes with my teacher. Pandit Jasraj’s performance gave me the final push in understanding that my love for singing goes beyond the way it sounds; rather it goes into the way I am able to build and improve. It is about enjoying the work I put into building such a skill. 


Finally, I am proud to say that I am now one of “the big girls”. I love learning the meanings of lyrics. I love hearing improvement in my voice. I love understanding the history behind what I am singing. And I know that this is just the beginning. 

Naina Waghray is a jersey girl and junior in Montgomery High School. She loves to sing. Her other passion is running that she enjoys with her buddies at school all through the year in the central Jersey countryside.