Category: featured

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.

Dying to move On-ward

Dying as far as we understand is transformation for the dead; but, also for some of us living.  My Dad lived wisely. Now he teaches me posthumously. Yes, my Dad is no more. His death did not wait for me.  It happened. He’s gone forever; vanished into space when I least expected it. How can you expect it of a joyful, fairly healthy and determinedly active person?  A person so alive at every moment?

Life and death come in a bundle. We can’t have one without the other. Every day, we carry a chance of dying within. However, this prospect is somewhere in the deep recesses of our minds.  Whether the stoics tell us “memento mori” or when death happens in our circles, we don’t process how we will cope if it happened to us and our most-beloved.  

My regret: I fiercely wish I had loved my Dad more. Now that he is gone, I wish to show him how truly beloved he was.   

Sadly, it is through death that Dad remains my true teacher. Why had I waited for him to pass on in order to realize the deep wisdom from his death? Now through regret and reflection, I am applying Dad’s wisdom onto my loved ones, to my planet and our future. 

Most days since his passing on September 12, 2019, I have woken up to the rock on my chest and some days moving or thinking feels like choking.  

I grew up knowing my Dad mainly through my mother. I habituated myself not to look at him whole. This defined our relationship until 2016, when he left to go home to India. He came to live with me when my children arrived on the planet, 22 years ago. This was an ‘arrangement’ I was content with but actually, truly blessed with! It seemed to work out for all concerned: my parents who couldn’t stay together, my husband who loved my Dad, and my children, who continue to adore him. Dad lived with us for 18 years being himself – happy, helpful, joyful, kind, resourceful, engaged with kids, family and community. He kept himself busy cooking, shopping, chauffeuring, sharing, participating in all, without interfering. We lived together enjoying his happy presence, but I didn’t really make efforts to explore my views of him that were colored by my past nurture. It appears that I love both my parents but, I loved Dad less. 

Now my Dad is gone. For ever and ever.  

I struggle daily knowing that I loved Dad less than he deserved. Often, I remained un-acknowledging of his true giving to my family.  It was taken for granted by the busy-ness of life, work, career, and being self-absorbed. My children flowered in his love and Indian guidance. I remember him gently telling my son at my lighting god’s lamp, “don’t accept nor reject what mommy says.  Just be. And think for yourself. Understand it’s how mommy grew up.”   

When Dad left to head back to India, my relationship with him started flowering.  I missed his loving presence and his need for family. He wanted my mother and brother home. I could relate to this now when he is not with us anymore.  We talked every day. He gave me life-lines that I hold close and live by. 

‘Trust yourself.’  

‘Forgive yourself and others, Ma.’ 

‘Don’t dwell in the past; you won’t arrive into your future.’ 

‘Life is swift; remain awake.’ 

And this big one: ‘Don’t put yourself down!’

I started to see him now as my Dad.  My guy, holding strong with my best interests in mind. 

I saw that despite all the mud-slinging that he had faced his whole life, and the severe isolation from his own family, he did not let any of it define nor stop him from living his everyday life joyfully.  He had blossomed in his later life; every day, every moment he was full of joy and wonder. He loved every spider in our home. He gave every child and child-at-heart, gadgets galore. Money poured out of his savings to help people start a business or help them stand up.  He read books by the thousands and shared them when relevant. Through his blog, he wrote to thousands of people “random thoughts” of wisdom. My school friends and acquaintances were on his email list. He had 7000 followers on Speaking Tree. He talked to me, kids, my husband, his siblings, every day!  And this man would type with one finger, and joyful with 25% of a functioning heart.

I planned to visit him September 25, 2019 and stay with him for a couple months, exploring my non-profit work in India. The news of his sudden death following our conversation for 1.5 hours on the morning of September 12, 2019, knocked me out.

When I was able bid him my last goodbye, I knew that I didn’t know him as well as I could have.  My habit of being suspicious of him, based upon my childhood coaching, had created a palpable distance between us that I was not yet gotten over with.   I decided to go meet his friends who had been the bane of our (my Dad’s) family’s existence. My Mother had misconstrued from her own pain, that these friends of his “took” needlessly from him; we were to always to watch out for them, as they would “hurt” us by being friendly with him.  

What I learnt from meeting his friends is beyond precious for me. The only basis for his friendships was decency, love, sharing and giving.  Dad had cultivated real families beyond his own. His isolation in several senses from his own family, had him seek and shower affection to all he would meet.  And this hadn’t lessened his love for his blood family! Every one of his friends had great empathy for us/children and my mother. 

I am getting to know the true meaning of friendship. My circle of love has opened wide.  My family is bigger now. With my father’s friends, we share shoulders and mourn him. We all have lost our best friend at the same time.   

So how does one move on from such deep regret that cannot be changed except by time travel into the past with the wisdom we gain following death,, and correcting the error in our thinking? At least in my thinking?!   I can’t move on. But, I can move on-ward with my Dad in me.  He is the fossil imprinted in my heart of everything past that I cherish and carry.   I awake now to the questions, “how can I be his good child to the ideal ancestor he was to all who loved him?”  “WWDD/ What would Dad do?” 

Here is how, based on my Dad’s wisdom: 

–   Show all the living great tenderness and compassion.  They need it now. Not when they are gone. Time and space are relative in all parts of the cosmos.  But our time and space is now!

–   Open up to (your) humanity.  We have a role in the ecosystem as a member-species. 

–   Spread the legacy of a good person.  Visit and serve the vulnerable, weak, terminally-ill, orphans, the depressed, the voiceless.

–   Don’t conflate death onto religion, medicine, politics, ideology or relationships.  Don’t wait for deep wisdom that comes following death. Don’t wait to learn from dying.  Understand death from within the soul. We all have the ability to do so, now! 

–   See the future now, instead of when someone has passed.  Everyone we love is within us – in our habits, our children, our strengths and weaknesses, our character, in all our layers.   Even if the mind is foggy, they are always there. Our future is now. Our future with them/your loved ones, is now. 

To my one and only Dad, “I love you.”  I am moving on-ward with you.

Cheers!

Priya Tallam is a Geographic Information Systems specialist, wife and mom of two young adults. She is trained as an Architect and Urban Planner and at local government analyzed data to develop and apply sound policy for the health of the environment and people. In 2018, she established a non-profit centered on species and habitat conservation- vspca.org. She is an animal activist and advocate who encourages a plant-based lifestyle. Priya is currently researching the intersection of animals and design, aiming to demonstrate safe co-existence of humans and animals. One of the goals of this endeavor is to further human-animal flourishing in an urbanized world. Another goal is to encourage the stewardship of the planet. To this end, she promotes pedagogy to encourage ‘cosmic education,’ – working from the universe to the parts– genes, life-forms, ecosystems, individual cultures, history, geography. This is principally based on Maria Montessori’s work, but prepares young kids to learn by being inserted into real-life scientific research or natural living.

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.

Releasing Negative Energy

My first experience with energy work came about 5 years ago.  At the time, a good friend had begun her journey to spiritual awareness and she explained that her Energy Healer would clear my blockages and I would feel happier, lighter, less negative and overwhelmed.  In listening to her I became intrigued by all the feelings she was having, all the wisdom she was gaining and all these cool people she was meeting.  So, when she asked if I wanted to see her Energy Healer, Judy, I jumped at the chance.  But, as usual I didn’t ask many questions, which seems to be my style and allows me to be open in my own way to the process and fully see what happens next.

In my imaginings of what I was to encounter I pictured Judy in a long caftan with a white head scarf, dread locks, playing soft melodic tones in the background and her office smelling slightly of patchouli oil.  I thought her space would be dark and musty, that I would be sitting cross legged on the floor and somehow, she would be chanting oohhmmm over and over. 

I could not have been more wrong.

Judy’s “office” is in fact a light, airy space with lots of windows, painted a soothing baby blue with minimalist furniture, crystals lined along the windowsills, two chairs, some yoga blankets and what looked like a massage table, for the purpose of what I was to shortly find out.  Judy is a perfectly normal looking woman, dressed in everyday normal clothes.  A sweet-faced woman she looks younger than she probably is with a lilting sing songy voice that immediately makes you feel welcome.  She greets me with the biggest hug, as if she has known me for lifetimes.  And in an eerie, incomprehensible way, she does.

I enter the room after taking off my shoes and Judy asks me to sit.  I say okay and take my seat.  I am incredibly uncomfortable.  I don’t know where to look.  I don’t know where to put my hands.   Do I cross my legs?  Is my phone off? Where is my water?  My mouth is getting really dry and I can feel myself starting to sweat.  I hope I put on enough deodorant.  What am I doing?  Why am I here?

And then Judy started to talk.  Ahh, the sound of her voice is like cotton balls, soft and warm covering me with a sense of security and I think, whatever happens in this process it will be alright.  I sink into her Adirondack chair and let her guide me through the process.  First, she explains that upon hearing my name she meditated and connected with my energy in order to get a read on what was going on with me.  I listened carefully trying not to let my cynical, skeptical brain take over.  She explains about energy cords and our irrefutable connection to every person that we contact.  She explained that we can hold on to the energies from other people and when these energies are too overwhelming or negative they can become a part of us and ultimately need to be released.  And by releasing this negative energy we become closer to our higher selves and our spiritual guides.  What. Is. She. Talking. About?  This is a bunch of hoohaa, malarky, silly voodoo.  How can we all be interconnected?  And how by thinking about my name never having met me before can she know me, I mean really know me.  But I will trust the situation.  I will trust that my friend has not wasted my time.  I will trust in the power of Judy.

She explains a bunch of other things about past lives, higher selves, master programs.  Nothing that made any sense.  And then she asked me lay down on the table.  A table, she explained, that was similar to a massage table but that she would only be lightly touching me to release my negative energies.  Okay, really?  What is she made of, magic?  How on earth could her “light touches” release all my negative energies?  I think to myself this is going to be hard.  And weird.  And disturbing.  But I will continue to trust in the power that is Judy.

She begins her work.  I hear her taking a deep deep breath, the kind of breath you would imagine a seasoned yogi to take, a breath so deep you can almost hear her lungs expand.  She smells faintly of mint tea.  A sweet pungent smell.  But wait, I am supposed to be concentrating on relaxing, not on what Judy just drank. I take my own deep breath, not as deep as Judy’s as I don’t think I could ever achieve that level of depth.  And. I. Try. To. Relax.  This is hard.  My mind is spinning.  Where are my kids?  Are they having a good day?  What clients am I seeing tonight?  What will I make for dinner?  Did I pick up the dogs’ medicine?  The strain of thoughts keeps coming as I try to stop the flood tide and concentrate on what I am doing.  What am I doing exactly?

And. Then.  It.  Happens.  Judy is at my head.  And all I feel is a searing pain in my forehead, directly over my right eye, a little off center.  A. Searing. Pain.  Almost blinding, except that my eyes are closed.  Do I open my eyes, I think? Is she balancing a tire iron on my head?  Do I tell her to stop?  What am I supposed to do?

And then it stops.  Just as quickly as it started, it was now over. I open my eyes.  Judy tells me to breathe deeply, to continue to relax and to rise from the table when I am ready.  I was ready immediately.  I was also a little scared.  What WAS that?

Judy asked me how I felt and I explained about the searing pain and asked if she had balanced a vile on my head.  And she explained in her calm and loving way that she released my energies at that moment in time and felt all my negativity built up in my head.  She also explained a whole bunch of other stuff.  None of which I can remember now.

And I felt released.  I felt lighter and freer and better able to see.  I also felt drained and confused and curious.  How had she done that?  And where would I go from here?

It was just the first step on my journey to better well-being and an expansion of my internal and external knowledge of the world around me.   It was neither hard, nor weird (well maybe a little weird) or disturbing (well the jury is still out on that one) but I did it and it was fascinating.  If I wasn’t a Judy believer then, I am surely a Judy believer now.  And I want more.

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.

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.

Fault Lines

Artist Statement: Conceptually driven and thematic, my work is a way to process everything that is going on around me. Experiences are distilled and sewn together by research in the studio and through reading. Recent political rhetoric has shifted the direction of my work towards notions of identity, belonging and assimilation. My practice has become a series of propositions, a way of bridging the sociopolitical with the aesthetic. I invite the viewer to experience what is felt rather than what they hear in the news through installation and haptic strategies.

Fault Lines:

  • Gaza Strip
  • Syria / Turkey
  • North Korea / South Korea
  • Mexico / USA
  • India / Pakistan

Five fabric panels suspended in a row from ceiling overhead, inspired by the door hangings from Gujarat, India
Embroidery on silk organza
21” X 48” each


“Fault lines” draws parallels between a country’s borders and a home’s doorway – both interstitial spaces that divide the insider and the outsider. Door hangings like the ones used in Helen Louise Allen Textile Collection have been used to welcome good spirits and guests into the home for centuries and are also deeply tied to the Indian aesthetic and spiritual culture. Borders on the other hand define a country, acting as gatekeepers for a secure and safe nation. But they are also portals to other places, to safety, prosperity and security. However, they are often the most treacherous and contentious passageways and remain examples of a divided and fragmented globe. In this work, I use the interstitial form of a door hanging to speak about some of the most dangerous borders in the world at the current moment– the Gaza Strip, Syria and Turkey, US and Mexico, India and Pakistan, North Korea and South Korea. I imagine what it would be like if these borders became welcome ports and the line between insider and outsider is blurred.
I bring in my long-term interest in ritual, the body’s relationship to space, and viewer engagement. The extensive history of narrative embroidery techniques became an inspiration to create these “door hangings”. By walking under this row of door hangings, the viewers symbolically cross the most dangerous land borders in the world. I urge viewers to think about the earth as a global village and borders as portals for human and material exchanges rather than fault lines where lives are lost.

 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.

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.

Just Listen

I am asking you to do one thing today to care for you, and those around you, just listen. 

You may be wondering why you should listen to advice from me. Let me introduce myself…I am, like many of you, a mother. I am also a seasoned teacher with a background in psychology and sociology. Of all the titles I have, my favorite comes from my kids. They call me the “Baby Whisperer” and this is a title I wear proudly.

Why do they call me the Baby Whisperer? Let me share a story of a recent encounter with the most adorable little boy…

My family and I were enjoying a fun-filled day at an amusement park and it was nearing closing time. We were trying to fit in a few more rides before we all crashed, as we had been there since early that morning. We were getting in line for a ride when we saw a teenager yelling at her younger brother to stop crying, he couldn’t have been more than 3 years old. I felt bad for them because I imagined they were both exhausted. As we were standing in line, the little boy started running towards us with his sister chasing after him. I bent down and started talking to the boy saying he looked so sad. I asked him why he was so sad and he stopped in front of me and just continued crying. When I said the tiger face painting looked so cute on his face, he started wiping it off. I told him that he was taking away the most adorable tiger I have ever seen and he said, “I am just wiping away my cries!” I told him that it was okay and he finished wiping his tears, calmed down, and gave me a big hug.

I put my arms around him, rubbed his back, and said he must feel so tired because it is probably past his bedtime. He nodded his head, calmed down, gave me one last squeeze, and went back to his sister. I think both the boy and his sister were relieved that he stopped crying and my kids were completely amazed that I was able to calm him down so quickly. I told my kids that he just wanted someone to listen and understand him, just like I do with them when they are upset. 

The technique I used seems simple, but it was actually harder than it sounds. It’s called active listening and it has been the subject of studies over the years (see below). Basically you need to listen, and when you comment it needs to be done without judgement. Believe me, I have been practicing listening to other children for years before I had kids with no problems, but the first time I tried it with my own kids, it came out as me sounding disappointed in them. I had to really work at it, but it was worth it.

So when you are feeling frustrated with your toddler, tween, teenager, or even significant other, just remember that sometimes they need someone to listen and understand. Take a deep breath and understand that there are so many rules for them to follow, from you, school, and/or society. Sometimes when things get overwhelming for them, they just want someone to hear them. No lectures or trying to solve their problems…just listen.

And while we are at it…I want you to know that I hear you. I hear the frustration and tiredness in your voice. I hear you crying in the bathroom while you are trying to deal with tantrums or moods. I hear you getting up at night to tend to a cry or nightmare. I hear you and I understand. I am here, listening, wrapping my arms around you, and patting your back. I know it is past your bedtime and you cannot take one more thing while you wipe away your cries. I hear you, and I understand. Once you calm down and take a deep breath, it can be your turn to pay it forward and just listen.

“Active Listening.” Center for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, October 2, 2017,

https://www.cdc.gov/parents/essentials/communication/activelistening.html

Shenfield, Tali. “How to Communicate with your Teen Through Active Listening.” Advanced Psychology, Advanced Psychology Services, October 16, 2017. http://www.psy-ed.com/wpblog/communicate-with-teen/

Weger Jr., Harry, Castle Bell, Gina, Minei Elizabeth M., and Robinson, Melissa C. “The Relative Effectiveness of Active Listening in Initial Interactions.” International Journal of Listening, Volume 28, Issue 1, 2014, pp. 13-31, Published online: 08 Jan 2014.

Crissy Blanos has a MA in teaching and a BA in psychology and sociology from Rutgers University, New Jersey. This has lead her to teaching, instructional design, and becoming an overall observer of human patterns. Her current career at Middlesex County College as an instructional designer emerged from over 20 years of teaching, spanning pre-k through college.

Crissy spends her free time improving her knowledge of growth and brain development, mindset and mindfulness, and behavior and habits and how to incorporate them into relationships and life. She is active in her community as Secretary and Trustee on the Board of the Mary Jacobs Memorial Library Foundation.

She is passionate about what she does because it allows her to help others help themselves. Crissy lives by the motto: “Life is a work in progress and so am I.”

What motivates me to fight for clean air in India

I have practiced clinical medicine and public health in India for over 20 years in a number of roles, including academic researcher, educator, corporate medical director, and patient-centered clinician.  In 2015, after six years of living and working full-time in New Delhi, I thought I had undertaken every precaution to keep my family healthy: pesticide- and hormone-free food, purified water, mosquito protection… you name it, I had probably investigated it and figured it out.

The one thing I completely neglected to protect against was the air pollution. In fact I was oblivious to India’s air pollution until, in our final month in New Delhi, my then 9-year old daughter required emergency room care for sudden-onset asthma attacks. Coincidentally, in that same month, the World Health Organization announced that New Delhi was the most air polluted city in the world.  We had no choice but to move away, not just for an upcoming job transfer, but simply to protect our children.

I was grateful that we were moving to live in clean air, but both professionally and personally, I felt I had left behind a huge problem, affecting everyone I knew and loved there. I could not let it go. I now travel to India every few months, in part to support a non-governmental organization that raises awareness and advocates to mitigate India’s air pollution crisis.

A few days ago, a young New Delhi-based reporter asked me for my “expert opinion” on how air pollution harms children in India. Here is an excerpt of what I wrote:

“Children born in air pollution face shorter life expectancies compared to their counterparts born in cleaner air… Children suffer physical health harms, including diminished lung growth and development, and increased prevalence and severity of pneumonia and asthma… [they] risk functional health harms including suboptimal cognitive development and sports performance. Air pollution is associated with depression, anxiety… and contributes to cancer and lifelong chronic diseases in adulthood including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and dementia…”

These health facts are easy to summarize, but they do not convey the whole story.  What is more difficult to articulate is the stress and suffering that air pollution has created for millions of Indian people.  Including me.

I hate all the coughing. It starts within three days of my landing in New Delhi. Every friend is coughing or suffering some respiratory symptom. The plane is full of coughing passengers when I depart.

I cannot fully enjoy Diwali anymore.  I dread the futile arguments my friends and family will have with neighbors who insist it is their “right” to set off illegal firecrackers.  I dread the off the charts toxic air my friends and family will breathe in the subsequent weeks. I mourn the loss of elderly neighbors and relatives who have died of respiratory illness in the post-Diwali smog.

I hate that I discouraged my 75-year old father from visiting India for his elementary school reunion last November, because I was worried that the toxic air and ill-equipped health care system would seriously harm him.  

I feel sad for scheduling my children’s India visits only during the monsoon season, when the heavy rain reduces the air pollution. I feel guilty for limiting if and how long my children can play outside for those few weeks, knowing that their friends practice sports in worse air, every day.

Air pollution is not just a health problem harming our bodies. Air pollution compromises our moods, how we celebrate weddings and holidays, and how we live, work, play and travel. It is a crisis, affecting families just like mine, every single day.

Ultimately, for me, the only marker of success in this fight is India achieving clean air, for every person, every day.

I now know many of the experts and activists in India engaged in this fight, and I join forces with them.  We lack a sure path to clean air. Yet, we know that solving this crisis is entirely possible. Other countries have successfully cleaned up their air.  And Indian history has proven the country’s will and capacity to dramatically change.

India can and must overcome its air pollution crisis.  We have to believe it is possible, bring our skills to it, and keep at it. Not just life, but more importantly quality of life, is at stake, and worth fighting for.

Gita Sinha MD MPH is a physician specialist in Internal Medicine and Infectious Diseases and an independent consultant in clinical medicine and public health. She currently serves as a member of the executive team leading strategy and evaluation for a non-governmental organization dedicated to fighting India’s air pollution crisis.  

Gita completed her undergraduate and medical degrees at Stanford University, Internal Medicine residency at Brigham and Women’s Hospital/Harvard Medical School, and Infectious Diseases fellowship and Masters of Public Health degree from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, where she served as Assistant Professor of Internal Medicine/Infectious Diseases for over 10 years.  Throughout her career, Dr. Sinha has led programs in clinical and public health education, and health services delivery for rural and urban populations in India as well as other South and Southeast Asian countries. Her roles have included Principal Investigator for an NIH-funded community clinical trial of HIV clinical services in rural Maharashtra, Visiting Faculty and Research Director in clinical medicine and public health in Jodhpur, Rajasthan, and co-Medical Director for a New Delhi-based primary health care start up company.

Her work-life motto is a quote by MLK Jr. which is present on her refrigerator as a reminder, “Never, ever be afraid to do what’s right, specially if the well-being of a human or an animal is at stake. Society’s punishments are small compared to the wounds we inflict on our soul when we look the other way.”  Born and raised in the United States, she divides her time between New Delhi and Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where she lives with her family.