Deriving wisdomFri, 23rd Feb '18, 10:35 pm::

Researcher Carolyn Aldwin, co-author of a recent study of 50 senior citizens published in the Journals of Gerontology concluded that "Difficult times are a way people define themselves." In short, the study confirms that we derive wisdom from how we relate to life events and how much we question our beliefs and our values for growth. Importantly, though, the type and quality of the social contact that we experience during hard times also play a role in determining whether we stagnate or become wiser.

Let's just say that for some time now, Juliet and I have been unexpectedly defining ourselves and unwittingly deriving wisdom. Leaving aside a long list of stressors that has stirred our life over the past year, from my wrist surgery and hurricane evacuation to Naveen's rustication from preschool, this last week has shaken things up a bit more than usual. I was diagnosed with a herniated cervical disc impinging the nerves going to my left shoulder and arm causing intense pain, burning sensation, numbing, and electric-shock like symptoms constantly for the past month. I've spent the past few days setting up appointments for second opinion, painfully filling out medical forms, and learning as much as I can about my condition before I pick a method of treatment. However, based on everything I've learned so far, people with my specific conditions generally undergo neurosurgery soon after diagnosis.

Since I haven't had any accidents or impact injuries, the cause for the disc herniation remains uncertain. The primary suspect is my years and years of severe dry cough which causes intense pain in my neck and head for months on end. A few months ago my pulmonologist suggested that I try taking Sucralfate every time I start to experience dry cough to see if it helps. Fortunately for me, even though sucralfate is not a cough medicine, it is helping tremendously in suppressing bouts of coughing. Unfortunately for me, the damage to my cervical discs is already done. The good news is that if I get a neurosurgical disc implant properly, it will alleviate my pain and give me back my mobility, strength, and energy. The scary part is of course undergoing neurosurgery at age 37.

Usually when not-so-happy things happen to me, I keep the exhausting details to myself and only share the highlights with close friends and family. But I've started to open up a bit more about this because I'm finding out that almost everyone has or knows someone who has spine or neck problems and each person deals with it differently. The more common I find my condition to be, the less alone I feel going into it. Even though I'd rather learn more about neural networks than neurosurgery, if you know anything about C6-7 herniated discs, I am all ears and ready to take notes!

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SerenityThu, 16th Nov '17, 12:20 am::

I woke up this morning to find Naveen had opened multiple bags of dried fruits, chips, and candy and was arranging them on his little plastic table. I asked him why he was emptying entire bags on to the table instead of just eating a few pieces from a bag and he said because he wanted to put them on the table. He knows I won't buy his circular reasoning but he still leads with it. After a few minutes of prodding, he reasoned that once all the food was on his table, it was his and he could eat as much or as little of it as he wants. I assured him that he could do the same even if it was in the bags and he seemed to accept that at face value. I will find out tomorrow if he believed me or not.

I've noticed he is doing more and more things to assert some form of control over his surroundings. Whether it is the arrangement of pillows before bedtime or which books he wants us to read in which order, he is constantly trying to govern his world. Initially I thought it was just random choices or him being fussy but now I can definitely spot a pattern in his requests. He wants a big pillow on the edge to prevent him from falling off the bed and he wants picture stories first and books with songs later on because the latter make him sleepy.

It was during one of his bedtime routines a few nights ago that I realized how important it was for him to feel like he was in control. The more he was in charge the more he behaved well and took responsibility for his actions. Frankly, that's pretty much all we want as adults too. Being in control of your own life and fate is one of the key ingredients to happiness.

My dry cough is back once again and disrupting my home and work life as always. Involuntary coughing is literally the opposite of control and barely an hour goes by without me hacking my lungs out at full volume. Obviously I am going to get the proper treatment but it is a painful, protracted process. Add to this some expensive medical issues, unexpected travel, and arbitrary work hours and you arrive at my complete lack of jurisdiction over my own life.

Just like my son, I grew up learning how to take charge of my life, from asserting control over my routines to fighting for command in school and work environments. And now I find myself at an unexpected juncture - reciting the Serenity Prayer to myself 5x a day because accepting that there are things I cannot control is surprisingly more difficult for me than chanting the try-try-till-you-succeed mantra that has fueled me all my life.

    "Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference."

I don't know how long things will be tough and seemingly out of control but it helps to have a loving family and tons of cuddly pets. I may not be able to direct this season of life but I can sure teach Naveen the words to The Lion Sleeps Tonight and for the moment, that's good enough.

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Then I saw her faceFri, 27th Oct '17, 10:45 pm::

Exactly ten years ago on this day I first laid my eyes on the woman who would become my wife. I wrote about that day long ago when I was but a young man. Today was the first time in years that I re-read that entry and it feels like I wrote it yesterday. So much has happened in the past decade since this beautiful woman walked into my life and all I can think of is how much more life Juliet and I still have to experience together. As we raise our son Naveen, we hope that someday he can have a couple of siblings to play with. We want to go to Galapagos to see the giant tortoises and see wild lemurs in Madagascar. We hope to have a real homestead someday where we'll raise a dozen dwarf goats with the help of our kids. And maybe one summer I will drive around the country with the whole family in a big RV.

Looking back, almost all of our wishes and dreams have already come true. She graduated at the top of her MS class, I became a work-from-home software consultant, we bought a nice house in a good neighborhood, climbed up a glacier in Alaska, found a great school for Naveen, and most of all, have supported each other through our toughest days. Now that I think about it, the only pending item on my wish-list is getting a high-pressure rain-shower in master bath. Pretty sure I'll check it off some time in the next ten years.

It was quite a coincidence that I even remembered today was the exact day. We were watching the new season of Stranger Things and during a scene shot in a cabin I turned to her to bring up our past trip to the Smoky Mountains. Maybe it was the lighting or how her hair just slightly covered her face but my mind suddenly flashed back to the very moment I first saw her a decade ago. If someone had told me that day that exactly ten years later I would be watching a scary show with her after we put our son to bed, I would have laughed at how ridiculous that sounded while secretly hoping for all of it to come true.

And then I saw her face. All of it had indeed come true.

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Safe, sound, and offlineTue, 12th Sep '17, 1:15 pm::

We are ok, our friends are ok, and our house is ok, just some minor yard/fence damage. My biggest fears did not pan out but Irma got really close and did a significant amount of damage in surrounding areas. We heard that a number of huge oak trees fell in our neighborhood but thankfully away from the houses. Most of our county is without electricity and Internet. We are waiting to drive back to Florida once we get power and clean water. Until then we have friends watching our house. I'm fairly certain I will write more once we return.

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Safe but not soundSat, 9th Sep '17, 3:05 am::

We left our house at 1am Thursday and drove 16 hours non-stop through back-country roads to a rental log-cabin in the Smoky Mountains in North Carolina. We are safe and have enough gas and supplies to last us weeks. Naveen was great during the drive and we all have been spending some much needed family-time together.

We're trying our best to act normal but I can't stop thinking about all of our friends back home. Almost everyone we know stayed back. And now there is Irma, a Category 5 Hurricane, headed straight for the west-coast of Florida. This feels unreal. A week ago Juliet took Naveen to Disney while I finished up some work and now the entire state of Florida is under a Hurricane warning, unsure of what is going to remain standing next week. This feels unreal. Four days ago Miami was supposed to be the epicenter of devastation and now it's going to be my county across the state. This feels unreal.

I am not worried for us. I am worried for literally everyone we know. It is one thing to hear about an acquaintance who got into an accident. It is entirely something else to watch weather announcements get morbid by the hour, as everyone who told me "Oh it's nothing" slowly admit "Maybe I should evacuate" to now saying "I am scared and don't know what to do."

People are telling me to be positive and hope for the best but all I see is a time bomb counting down. Unless Irma drastically changes direction or loses strength, catastrophe is imminent. I've been hoping I'm wrong for a week now but the storm continues to reinforce my worst fears. All my life I've hated being wrong but right now I am wishing harder than ever that I am wrong. It's only September but all I want for Christmas is running water, electricity, and functional roadways for all of Florida.

I'm safe but I'm pretty far from ok.

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EvacuatingWed, 6th Sep '17, 11:35 pm::

We are leaving in a few minutes, driving up straight to a cabin in North Carolina. We have someone taking care of the house and some pets that cannot travel safely on such a long drive. Right now there are three active hurricanes around Florida: Irma and Jose in the Atlantic and Katia in the Gulf of Mexico. While Tampa Bay is not directly in Irma's path, we live very close to the Gulf and our house and yard is barely 6-8 feet above sea level. If Irma somehow ends up on the west coast of Florida, staying would be catastrophic.

All we can hope is that Irma misses Florida and does not do much damage elsewhere. Here's hoping we are just being unnecessarily cautious and get an unplanned 7-day vacation in a log cabin instead of well, literally anything else.

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IrmaMon, 4th Sep '17, 11:30 pm::

Hurricane Irma is currently a Category 4 Hurricane with wind speeds of 140mph (225kmh) in the Atlantic Ocean. According to most of the spaghetti models, it will make landfall in South Florida on Sunday, September 10th. I've been in Florida for 13 years now. This is the most concerned I have ever been about a hurricane and I was seriously scared the first season of hurricanes I experienced when I moved here in 2004. I hope I am wrong about this one but I don't plan on finding out in a flooded house. We're planning to evacuate unless the storm suddenly loses steam or changes direction. I will post updates here as we find out more.

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Nine years just flew byThu, 27th Jul '17, 7:10 pm::

Can't believe how quickly time passed. I feel like Juliet and I just got married but that was nine years ago! We went on our 5th anniversary Alaskan cruise four years ago.

To celebrate our 9th anniversary this year, we did something completely different. We decided to thoroughly clean our porch together. It took five hours of cooperation, understanding, and hard work. While that sounds like a pretty boring way to celebrate an anniversary, I thought it was kind of cool. Had we tried this even 4 years ago, we'd have had 3 arguments, 2 hours of delay, and one big mess at the end. But I'm proud to report that our porch is clean without a single disagreement. Maybe that's what maturity and growing together is all about :)

Love you Juliet!

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Happy 60th Dad!Sun, 16th Jul '17, 2:00 am::

We had an amazing time in Kolkata, India last week celebrating my dad's 60th birthday. It was a very short but fun-filled trip and the memories we made will last a lifetime. Earlier this year my dad said that he wanted to come visit us in Florida for the summer but I wasn't too keen on that because that would mean he would be away from all of his friends and family on his 60th birthday. So instead I suggested that we have a party in India and invite everyone.

It took about 6 months of intense planning and organization (his favorite activities) and last week about 60 of his closest friends and family arrived at Sun City Resort in Mandarmoni for a weekend of fantastic food and fun activities. From private water-park hours to foot massages on the beach, he planned countless activities to entertain everyone from kids and young adults to my 85-year old grandmother. The only thing I didn't let him plan is the game show that my sister Roshni, my wife Juliet, and I put together for all the guests last Saturday evening.

Over the past 3-4 months, I developed a customizable game-show app that runs in any modern web browser, does not need internet access, and displays videos, gifs, and team score on a separate monitor that can be hooked up to a projector. During the main event, Juliet was controlling the app from a laptop while my sister and I were walking around the room with wireless mics, coordinating the games. The games could have easily been played without the app but having a big-screen that showed funny videos, played background music, and displayed team member names and scores enhanced the audience's experience. Kind of like how well-made PowerPoint presentation can improve a product demo.

We pitted our dad against our mom in a "Race to the Big 60" and played 7 rounds of games (6 of them made by Juliet, remainder by yours truly). During each round, 3-5 guests would randomly be selected to join my dad's team and similar number to my mom's. Then we would explain the rules, Juliet would start the timer, and the conference room would erupt into a pandemonium. I am so happy that every single guest excitedly got up to play and many were trying to influence the game play from the audience. While I would love to take credit for the extraordinary audience participation, looking back it is clear that the simple reason everyone was so excited to join in was because they love my dad and this was a celebration of his lifelong friendship, generosity, and genuine affection for everyone he has ever met.

Juliet and I spent a lot of time making each game and thinking about what we could add or remove to make it more exciting, not just for the players but also the audience. For instance, in the "Auditions for Indian Idol" game where 4 members of a team sing 20 songs out loud and their 5th team member standing 10 feet away has to identify the song, we gave all the members of the audience birthday noisemakers (whistles, horns etc.). What transpired during that game can only be described as raucous cacophony.

In the end, my mom's team won narrowly by 2 points. After the game, many of his friends took the mic and shared memories and stories about him. The most wonderful gift he received was from a friend's daughter-in-law Purvi - a beautiful album of family photos with handwritten notes by all of us. Juliet and I gave him a set of custom-etched Jenga blocks and asked the guests to write a few words on each block to remind them of their friendship and love when they play the game.

Beside the games and fun activities, this was a huge experience for us because it was Naveen's first trip to India and the first time I got to hold my sister's son Aayansh in my hands. And naturally, this was the first time Naveen and Aayansh met. There were lots of cute/funny incidents but my favorite is when Naveen woke up in the middle of the night and started to pat Aayansh's back just like I do when I try to put Naveen to sleep.

So much happened during the short time we were in India that it is impossible for me to write down everything. But the most important thing that happened is that my dad spent an exciting and memorable weekend with the people closest to him and I got to see him insanely happy.

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Choosing to be meTue, 6th Jun '17, 3:05 am::

As a kid, the most confusing thing for me was how adults behaved with other adults. Grown-ups were usually pretty nice to kids but it was clear that there were a lot of behind-the-scenes tallies running during their interactions with each other. From deciding which family members or friends should get an invite to determining the appropriate gift for someone, there sure were a lot of rules and regulations for being a proper adult. Naturally, I absorbed every bit of social etiquette and norm I was exposed to, so that I could easily navigate the adult world of adulthood like a proper adult. And turns out, it works out pretty alright.

Except when it doesn't. It turns out, not every situation I encounter as a grownup has an established handling procedure. Dinner-table seating arrangements? No problem! Trusted coworker shockingly spreading false gossip? No standard operating procedure that I could just follow. It took me a while to realize that how we handle situations that deviate from the typical social routine, is what really defines our true personality. We are defined by how we navigate uncharted waters. Until I realized this, I kept trying to apply skills I had previously learned to new situations, hoping for favorable outcomes. It worked out for me as well as a random coin toss - 50/50. I was not happy with this but it's the best I could do.

Then one day, during some heated discussion on what the proper course of action should be, I just said to myself "I will give more than I take because that is who I am and want to be." Suddenly, all of my dilemmas were resolved! I didn't have to worry about what the appropriate gift card amount would be for someone who may or may not have ever sent me a gift. I didn't have to worry if I should spend more effort helping someone who rarely helps me. I didn't need to keep running tallies of everything everyone ever did! I could just do what I can, when I can, based on how much I care about someone. Most importantly, I would rather do more than less because that's the kind of person I have chosen to be.

I realized that I could choose to be someone who does not do tit-for-tat. I could just decide to be someone who always gives more (money, time, love, attention) and does not care much about exact reciprocation. Of course relationship is a two way street but if I expect it to be equal all the time, then it's not a human connection, it is a business transaction. There are definitely some negatives to taking the give-more-take-less approach. The additional effort usually goes unnoticed and comes at a cost of time, money, and sleep. But it still works out better for me because it makes life so much simpler.

This is a failure of the Golden rule (treating others as one would wish to be treated) and happens because we underestimate what we get and overestimate what we give. Always giving more than I get resolves this nicely and saves me from headaches. Maybe I am foolish for not trying to maximize my net gain in every relationship but that's ok. I choose to be like this and will continue to do so until I decide otherwise. That's the best part about being an adult - you can choose the kind of person you want to be.

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