How I Became My Son’s Chef…

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Hey guys, it’s quite clear by now that as moms we wear several different hats juggling roles all day from tutor to doctor to counselor and coach. But I am particularly fond of my toque. Figuratively of course. And even though my hypothetical tall white chef’s hat does not have the 100 folds signifying the many different ways in which professional chefs can make an egg, it’s an immensely versatile piece of HOT couture! That’s not a spelling error. The kitchen right now is a sauna, and those who’ve been there, know that.

Anyways, coming right back to the point, I have to give FULL credit for all my chef-ly adventures to my son. Before he was born, cooking was a one-off. Something I did when in the mood (Saturday pakodas & Sunday chicken curry) or when the “calmwali” bai ditched me (a hastily pressure cooked kichdi or tahiri). As my son started developing his own individual taste buds, I was pleasantly surprised by how I started catering to his refined palate. And with great pleasure. The smile on his face was so totally worth it.

My journey as my son’s chef truly began with cracking my own “Butter Chicken” formula after a bit of experimenting. Till then I was just a lowly cook. Now please understand that I am inherently quite fond of cooking. All my childhood one of my favourite pastime was collecting recipes – coconut laddus from Grihashobha and gateaus from Woman and Home! I would note it all down neatly in cursive – Ingredients and Method – in my red diary to skim through every now and then, though practically I don’t remember going beyond French Toast and gajar ka halwa as a teen.

We were posted in exotic Cairo, and despite all the fancy mezzes around, there came a time when we started craving typical Indian cuisine, not so freely available in the outskirts where we lived or even the inskirts for that matter. One Friday (Sunday is working btw) on a whim I simply put together a few condiments along with butter, chicken, rich tomato puree, Shan masala (that my Pakistani friend lent me), kasoori methi and cream. The result was quite impressive given the fact that my guys (pop and son) lapped it up. That was the day I proudly donned my stylized toque and ever since have developed a whole range of Pande-specific recipes: Garlicky Pasta Arrabiata, Creamy Red Bean Salsa, Handy Hung Curd & Sour Cream dip, Grilled Chicken Subs, Whole wheat garlic-cheddar toast with the trademark Jamie’s olive dip, Chicken Juicy Lucies, my oats version of the Starbucks choco-chip muffin and desi Chicken tenders in besan (Neat trick: swap the ajwain in the marinade with oregano seasoning – voila from Amritsari to Italian)!

In fact, right now I just got off my Sumeet mixer-grinder after churning up a delicious home-made humus, my son’s latest craze. Last week when he pounced upon the Wingrees Classic Hummus at Modern Bazaar after doing the cracker tasting, I just had to give this one a try and a special twist. In go the boiled chola, roasted organic sesame tahini, extra virgin olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic (everything needs garlic!), chilli flakes, cumin powder and dhania patta! There – you have your very own delicious humus in a jiffy. Slather it liberally over your Low GI bread and enjoy a yummilicious snack anytime! Easy, cheap but most importantly fresh and healthy. Goes brilliantly with a chilled yogurt shake in this muggy weather.

And so the merry experiments continue, because the way to a man’s heart most definitely is through his stomach!

(Do tag your favourite mom-chefs…: ))…)

(Written in mycity4kids)

Mommy reclaims Some Me Time…

gunjan pottery

Hey guys, right now I am at that stage in life where my teen is getting more and more independent everyday. No more worrying about what he’ll wear. No more chasing homework. No more story reading at nap time. No more any of that “baby” stuff. And that’s good. But it leaves me with this gaping span of time at hand.

Having been a 24/7 mom for the past 14 years, it feels like sudden unemployment. A kind of joblessness till 4:30 pm when my cutie gets home from school, and then again, after a quick snack & a shake, runs off for some class or the other – golf, guitar, tennis or to just catch up with his pals in the condo lawns.

This year, I decide enough thumb twiddling. It was time to take stock of my life. To re-access the possibilities and grab the opportunities. To basically “reclaim” some “me time.” God knows I have earned it – fair and square after a good bit of my life spent diligently “taking care” of my family in every way, often times at the cost of chasing my passion. Despite this misleading undertone of guilt and sacrifice, it was a time I thoroughly enjoyed, and given another chance I’d do no different.  But I have also come to realize that I, being a mom-wife-daughter-friend, owe myself some moments. Some serious pondering of my true place in the scheme of things. Some re-adjustment of priorities!

Easier said than done I tell you. Picking up the threads after years is quite unnerving to begin with. But the new age has a plethora of possibilities to offer. I started out by going to watch plays & movies in the evening all on my own as father and son bonded at home over ‘live’ telecasts of the PGA Tours or IPL eating paneer Maggi. It was the best thing, getting re-introduced to Ghalib, Ismat and Shakespeare alongside meaningful cinema. Then I began re-visiting all my favourite spots in Delhi, a multi-faceted city where I spent my senior years in a boarding school and later some delightful years working in a media organisation in CP. Dilli Haat, Janpath, Handloom House, Wengers, Bercos, Press Club, Nalli’s, Sarojini Nagar, Khan Market, India Habitat Centre, Swagath in Def Col and of course Chandni Chowk had retained their quaint charm after all these years and I was seeped in nostalgia when some of my school friends and office colleagues joined me on my Saturday jaunts. We joked like old times and laughed out loud as if it was just yesterday that we were standing together at the road-side thela enjoying spicy alu chaat. How wonderfully refreshing!

Once the fun-bit was in place, I began to crave something more worthwhile. That’s when I joined (after much research) a few groups that have now come to  be the source of mindful sustenance and sanity in my life. #1 my book club, a bunch of crazy ladies, who took me out of my “comfort zone” and got me reading a new variety of books from the compelling 40 Rules of Love and The Help to the breezy Orphan Train and The Husband’s Secret. Then came my chance encounter with a “green brigade” of conscientious citizens dedicated to the idea of spreading eco-awareness through the mantra of Reduce, Recycle and Re-use. From time to time I volunteer for various campaigns in the city, including “Say NO to Plastic” and Tree Plantation Drives that rope in corporates and school kids to protect and preserve our “green lungs.” It is a source of such immense satisfaction that I just drop everything to go plant a sapling.

Even my family has come to gamely accept my new routine and seeing my enthusiasm, actually encourage and support me in my efforts.  The happy fallout of all this is that I get to meet a whole variety of like-minded individuals – teachers, RWA office bearers, birders, student activists, theatre personalities, artists – who are single-handedly or collectively trying to make a difference – to be the change they want to see. This scenario has limitless possibilities and keeps me gainfully occupied and satisfied. I can’t believe sometimes that  it was so simple, all I had to do was take charge and reach out.

This new thinking has come into my life like a breath of fresh air and I have also gradually started painting and doing embroidery – my hobbies as a child and now, a soul-satisfying passion, a calming influence. Ever since I have spread my wings, I believe I can fly.. and I want to soar. Next on my bucket list: travelling with people I don’t know. Crossing new boundaries. Making new friends. Re-inventing myself. Because “life isn’t about finding yourself, it’s about CREATING yourself!”

(Do tag people you know who have “created themselves”… inspiring others to strive towards living a fuller, more meaningful life!)

(Written in mycity4kids)

The dad every daughter wants

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Hey folks, watched Bareilly Ki Barfi (BKB) yesterday. What a refreshing movie! Mazza aa gaya! Before that it was the superb sandaas satire Toilet: Ek Prem Katha (TKPK). Movies that seamlessly mixed a relevant social message into an entertaining narrative, garnering superlative critics’ and viewers’ ratings. For once, rightfully.

The lead characters are naturally basking in the glory of all round kudos, but it’s the unconventional characters – Jaya’s father in TEPK and Bitti’s in BKB, who must be particularly applauded for delightfully redefining the sensitive dad-daughter relationship.

On the one hand is Atul Joshi (a middle-class UP Brahmin) sharing peanuts and casually bantering with his newly-wed daughter, who, by the way, has just walked out of her sasuraal as it did not have a loo; and on the other is Narottam Mishra (a mithaiwala), chatting with his beloved bitiya about everything from cigarettes to virginity as if it’s the most natural topic of discussion between dads and daughters in our country.

Both dad’s, mind you, are NOT your posh, larger-than-life Karan Joharish characters, but very ordinary people typical of any small town in India. But it’s their thinking that’s anything but “small town.” The unorthodox comfort zone they share with their protagonist daughters is almost revolutionary in a samaj that severely frowns upon girls who do not conform. Who do not live each day of their lives by the guiding mantras of “log kya kahenge” and “khandaan ki izzat.” Who do not consider marriage and then quietly shuffling in the shadow of their husbands, as their ultimate goals in life. Who are bold and speak their mind.

In fact, it’s the moms, in both the movies, who go on and on whining about sabhyata and sanskriti with a melodramatic shake of their heads, only to be laughed upon conspiratorially by the father-daughter duo. A beautiful bonding so effortlessly woven into the fabric of the film that it seems like the norm and not an happy exception.

These are dream dads, brilliantly essayed by the very-talented Atul Srivastava (TKPK) and Pankaj Tripathi (BKB), who are their headstrong daughter’s BFFs, partners in crime, stolid supporters and true guardians. Unfazed by constricting norms. Unapologetic about the decisions their daughters take. Understanding yet underrated. High time the audience single out the “real heroes” and give them their due.

Ages ago, the fiesty Nargis broke the mould with Mother India, slowly but surely so are these dads! In their own understated way, redefining a relation that has got caught somewhere between being an oversensitive sob story or a ruthless patriarchal plot with no middle ground for cozy empathy and mutual respect between dad and daughter.

Here are dads, who are unfazed by a daughter who is moh-phat, rebellious or free thinking. That is in fact why she is confident, courageous and candid without being overbearing, in the face of difficulties and obstacles put up by a sadly narrow-minded society;deriving her strength from her father’s liberated ideology, his positive parenting.

Definitely worth a standing ovation. For behind “every great daughter, there is a truly amazing dad”… her first love. Her friend. Her hero!

(Written in mycity4kids)

Short Story: Toe The Line

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The bone had cracked. For sure. She knew it even before the split second it took for the excruciating pain to ripple through her nervous system and lodge itself firmly in the cortex. But, her first thought, amid tears of anguish, was “who’s going to make the rotis now?”

Sitting in Dr Sethi’s air-conditioned clinic in Phase 1, she thinks “how tragicomic!” Quite like her life actually. Full of hopes and aspirations dashed to the ground and stomped upon for good measure to toe the line. That’s all she had done, all her life. And staid nuggets that summed up her entire existence, the full 67-years of it, hobbled along in tandem down memory lane.

Clinics, with their plain white walls and the lingering smell of sanitizers, tended to do that to her. Make her reflect, as she waited for the X-ray in pin-drop silence. Even the money plant on the window ledge seemed frozen in time as the minutes ticked by, painfully slow this lazy July noon.

Her foot by now was quite swollen and a strange mix of colours, as if the artist set out to draw a renaissance masterpiece and then completely botched it up to finish somewhere between abstract and surreal. She looked at it with her woebegone eyes and thought, “will it ever be the same again?”

Fifty years ago, when she had stepped into her new home as a young bride, her feet had been the talk of the small town. Dainty, alta-lined and baby pink like a dewy rose bud, adorned with aamaa’s chunky silver anklets and her beloved gemstone encrusted bichias with cheery jingles –  the traditional symbol of good fortune and blessings for the Hindu bride. Over the years, the alta had faded, the silver anklets had become a hindrance to housewifely duties, but the bichias remained. Lone reminders of the day she thought she would grow wings and fly. Finally.

A dream so short lived, that moments later as she lay on her marital bed, she actually laughed at her own foolishness as her eye welled up in utter defeat and her aching heart surrendered submissively to the finality of life-long servitude. “How naïve to even think there was an escape,” she smiled wistfully, fidgeting with her wedding ring and recalling that exact instant when her fledgling wings were clipped for good.

She sighed deeply, her resigned sigh, breathing in the surgical smell that would fleetingly purge the past that fogged her present every now and then. “Maheshwari Maaaaam,” the attendant bleated from the X-ray room in the basement, shaking her out of her day-dreaming.  Maheshwari – Goddess Durga, the warrior adishakti! “Really, what was everyone thinking or not, when they named me,” her line of thought continued, half mocking-half pitying herself. If anything, she was the exact opposite of shakti – meek, quite, insignificant – tip-toeing on the outlined domestic periphery, appearing only when someone wanted a glass of water or a cup of tea or a kurta ironed.

Maheshwari indeed! “I mean, I couldn’t even convince him to come along with me to Drsaab’s clinic as he dismissed my hurt as a mere sprain. In fact, he didn’t even look up from the Lenovo screen while taking stock of the Sensex, munching gleefully on the mid-morning fruit platter that I had to prepare for him before dragging myself painfully to the car.” Bah! she exhaled loudly, surprising herself.

The attendant, meanwhile, lent her his shoulder to lean on and deposited her gently on the X-ray table after what seemed like an agonizing mile. “Sethisaab will be here is a bit,” he beamed and started on the preliminaries humming a Sai bhajan to himself. “Kaisi hain Maheshwari behenji,” Dr Sethi sauntered in all charm and good cheer shuffling through her medical records. “Oh ho, yeh kya? Koi nahin, Dr Sethi will fix it. You just relax.”

There was something about the jolly old doctor that just put you at ease instantly. And Maheshwari smiled one of her rare dimpled smiles. “Bas ek choti si problem hai,” he declared glancing at the angry reddish-blue welt on her swollen toe, from above his glasses: “We’ll have to cut open the toe-ring!” 

Thwaaaak! The words slapped hard across her face, as if someone had called her khasmanukaani – the cursed one, left alone in the world to suffer the ultimate ignominy of widowhood!  Her throat suddenly constricted and she felt breathless choked on the “Nooooo” that just got sucked under the quicksand of What ifs. What if this is a portent of doom? What if he suffers a fatal heart attack? What if everyone blamed me? What if there’s no one to look after me? What if this is like playing truth or dare with fate which does label me khasmanukhani??

Maheshwari closes her eyes. And lies still on the X ray table. Very still….

The smile, as she looks at the black and grey image of her foot on the Samsung screen, later that day, reaches her eyes – finally, after 50 long years!

(Written in mycity4kids)






















The Healing Power of Crying

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Hey guys, I had my last good cry just 5 days ago. And I say good, because it was a full-throated, open-hearted howl. Very emotional, anxiety ridden and coming from somewhere so deep within that even I couldn’t place the exact GPS location. But once the tears dried up, I felt a strange lightness of being. As if a mighty load just got off my tired drooping shoulders, leaving me relaxed, clear-headed and fighting fit. Ready to take on the mundane as well as sublime challenges that each day brings with it – emotional, physical and spiritual. The transformation was complete. Even magical.

Made me think about the innumerous news stories and magazine articles we read daily lauding the extraordinary gumption of people who take on this one mighty challenge in life and conquer it, and I rued the fact that our relentless struggles of day to day living find no mention anywhere, ever. Are they any less stressful? Or applaud-worthy? Don’t the common people climb their own Everests? Day after tiring day, with nothing more than the shoulders of loved ones to lean on, and sometimes not even that. So where do we draw our strength from, mere dots that we are in this boundless, dark universe? Just the thought is so daunting you start feeling weak at the knees. Till you realise this other boundless but bright source of immense strength that lies within YOU. Often unleashed after a hearty weep-a-thon! You feel light, you SEE light! Voila.

From a sheer layperson’s perspective, crying is cathartic. Especially when multi-tasking as a wife-mom-driver-chef-host-friend-daughter-sister-or just being part of this expectation-ridden society can be nerve wracking! I have felt it time and again. But it is equally true that it does start with that feeling of “marking yourself as a weakling” and you always fight the urge to howl outright by drinking in the tears that are just raring to gush out. It is quite akin to being emotionally naked, so to speak. And you resist, and resist, till you come to a point when it seems your heart with burst with the emotional overload!

That’s when you realise the futility of having held your sorrows within, quite unnecessarily for so long. The absurdity of plugging your emotional valve with this blinkered conformity to vacuous societal norms – Don’t cry in public. Control your emotions. Don’t be a wuss! Even if it means that the sorrow or anxiety or fear, like a vicious parasite, is eating you up from within. Trying to seal that fount of will power that’s in you, with a leaden crust of guilt, hopelessness and mind-numbing fatigue, that the burden of cloistered tears can bring.

Metaphorically, it’s exactly like your kitchen sink – stinking, clogged, ugly with the detritus of the past floating about like a constant reminder of gloom. Do you let it stay that way? NEVER! So why not pour some emotional Drainex into you system and let all the inner clogs drain away with the energizing gush of tears every once in a while?

Talking from experience I can tell you for a fact that it is no less effective that those absurd early-morning laughter clubs. Shedding baggage always is. But if you are hell bent on hearing it from the pros, this is what they have to collectively say “CRYING – resolves grief, there is absolutely no need to feel apologetic about it.” The “new paradigm of enlightenment redefines a powerful person as one who has the strength to CRY.” Crying apparently is a natural pain-healer and a proven way to eventually release “happy hormones.”

Sometimes memories sneak out of my eyes and roll down my cheek, – let them – “for you cry not because you are weak, but because you have been strong for too long!”

(Written in mycity4kids)

Mom Breaks the Bhindi-Gobi-Matar Trinity!


phone pics 7th august dwld 794Hey guys, it’s a wonderful morning and I’ve just loaded up on fresh vegetables from the local mandi. Something I really enjoy doing. In fact, one of the to-dos on my bucket list is actually visiting the popular Farmers’ Markets in Europe, especially France and Britain, and getting  a first-hand feel of buying locally-grown herbs and greens. I think I can spend all day amidst fragrant rosemary, curly-green kale, purple Swiss Chard, crunchy lettuce and juicy lime.

Every time I watch my all-time favourite chef Jamie Oliver ( I am in love with him!) extol the virtues of a freshly-plucked fennel bulb or a newly-dug sweet potato from his kitchen garden, I just feel like moving out of this urban jungle and living in a quaint farm somewhere. The point I am trying to make is I come from a family of vegetable lovers. My grandpa had one of the loveliest kitchen gardens. I love vegetables. All vegetables. Even stuff like arbi ke patte, chichinda (go on Google that one…ha!), petha, guwar phalli and yam! There’s something very earthy, very nourishing, very Satvik about vegetables. And in my meals all through childhood, which was fortunately spent across India thanks to my dad’s transferable job, I got a taste of a veritable smorgasbord of vegetables. If Chittaranjan in the East introduced me to the delicious kele ke phool ki saabji, Hyderabad down South got me my very first taste of the tangy Gongura pickle! Yum! Later, Bangkok opened up a whole new range of culinary experiences, as did Cairo.

Now imagine my situation, when I get married to this guy whose entire list of vegetables starts with alu (bah!), moves on to gobi, bhindi and ENDS with matar!!! Throw some paneer in, and I had practically said “I do” to a lifelong shuffling of just 3 vegetables (alu does NOT count) in innovative combinations! OMG! Nightmare!

That’s when I decided, things HAVE to change. This will not do. Making the decision was the easy bit, the implementation was super tricky. I mean you can’t just start making baigan, karela, lauki, kaddu and simply expecting the husband to smile and tow the line. So the very first thing I did was start with this thing restaurants fancily call Navraatan vegetables, whatever that means. To me it’s mixed veg in different spice combinations. Mine was phoolgobi, gajar, matar, beans and paneer, in a spicy onion-tomato gravy. Winner!

Then we started on veg pulaos with mixed veg raita (haha), getting in bits and pieces of  soya nuggets and moong vadi. All good. Local greens were gradually introduced on the side with a buffer of his favourite chole or rajma to tickle his taste buds. Phew! Moving on from here was easy as we experimented with Thai mixed greens (bok choy, zuccini, bell peppers, beans, mushrooms and broccoli) and Italian herbs, liberally sprinkled with fried garlic and chilli flakes.

With the arrival of my little one, all of this went up one notch as I was hell-bent on passing on the vegetable-gene. The real challenge was getting kaddu and lauki into the Pande diet. There was NO way Pande Sr would eat those. No way. Already he was acting the veg-martyr. I had to think hard. And then I saw light!

One of the easiest ways to get such veges into the daily diet is through soups. What I started eventually doing was serve the clear soup with a dollop of butter and croutons once in a while, then whizz the solid base and use it in atta for paushtic rotis or parathas! I realised soon that if you put your mind to it, the options are aplenty – pasta sauce with kaddu and gajar incorporated (yes it is a tried and tested recipe, works every time!); rajma base with lauki and red bell pepper; sweet potato chaat;  kathi rolls with egg chicken and a host of veges; mixed veg cutlets that get in the dreaded patta gobi; sambhar with ALL the veges – it’s brilliant; mixed veg stuffed parathas; beetroots & amla mixed with anar in juice and pav bhaji!

Our score today has gone up from 3 to 25 plus (including a host of greens – chaulai, palak, methi, sua, batua, sarson, morning glory, chard, kale, rocket leaves). Quite an achievement I have to say. That still leave out a whole lot – arvi, tinda, parval, baigan, kamal kakdi to name a few, but that’s all right I tell myself, because I am happy savouring the little battles that I have won over time. The greatest joy is when people look at my son and say “arre wah, yeh saab sabjiyan khata hai.” It’s a different story that he goes for his favourite curries (anything that starts with butter something) first and then just eats up the veges that I serve on his plate. But I am happy. And he is NOT complaining. Just like his dad. That’s one little food revolution right there.

(Written in mycity4kids)

Mom Gets Inked! Happy Birthday To Me!


phone pics 7th august dwld 1447Hey guys, the ink hasn’t even dried as I sit in #MyHappyPlace here keying in my tattoo experience. A gift I gave myself this year, as I turned 40…ish. There’s a teen in the house, but funny how it’s the mom who’s gone ahead and got herself a tattoo. That’s how it is out here. And all is well with the world.

Why a tattoo? People may ask, and it’s a very valid question. To which I would answer “why not?” To me a tattoo is something that unchains the boho side of you. It’s a celebration of you. And aesthetically, a neat accessory to tag along – if done right. Yes, the crucial point is – it had to be done right. That’s where you need to sit and ponder a little over the 3 “W’s” – Why? What? Where?

Why do you want a tattoo. And please, you can’t say “why not” to yourself. Sounds a bit odd don’t you think? There has to be a deeper reason to go ahead and mark yourself permanently and irrevocably, so to speak , for posterity. It’s your own private reason and you don’t have to necessarily declare it from the roof tops. But you’ve certainly got to think, before you ink! WARNING: one of the lamest reason is: because everyone else has one! If that thought is flitting in your brain right now, get yourself a gum and slap on the “butterfly tattoo” in it. Free and facile like the raison d’être. Gives you time to chew (no pun intended) on the issue a while.

Moving on to the ‘what’ – that’s another knotty (& naughty) matter. In my case, after a long search, it’s a “statement of intent.” A constant reminder of one of my life’s goals. Something I want to internalize. Eventually. This one can be quite tricky as the options are as diverse and plentiful as the millions of people who have gotten inked around the globe. You can seriously get lost in the fascinating maze of Sanskrit shlokas, tribal motifs, love signs, traditional patterns, neo-school designs, friendship bands, faces, fonts, colours, sizes, textures and plain blackwork! To all that, don’t forget to add the very popular “name game” – your boyfriend (what’s with that?), husband, kids, Om, Jesus, and what have you.

Then comes “Where.” Again a very personal decision, but one that needs to be dealt with care and some consultation. I was very clear on that one right from my “light-bulb” moment – 5 years ago (looks like I have broken some sort of a record on pondering surely)! The tattoo had to be very visible, and least painful. Full stop. So I went straight for the super fleshy, super visible forearm, where my “four-and-a-half inches of inspiration” sits pretty!

“UNFUCKWITHABLE”… that’s one of my tattoos. A word  I came across about two years ago on Facebook. And it was love at first sight.

unfuckwithable: (adj.) when you’re truly at peace and in touch with yourself, and nothing anyone says or does bothers you, and no negativity or drama can touch you

Truly Wordgasmic! And so Zen! Although on the flip side I do encounter a lot of “Oh My God, what is unfuckable” while people try to arm-twist and decipher the slanting font. Naturally, this is followed by a round of explanatory pravachaan by Ma Gunjan, received with genuine awe sometimes and utter horror at others. IDEA. From now on, perhaps I could gently guide the naysayers as well as those who are truly interested in knowing, to this blog  right here on mycity4kids. Read on people, and go ahead make your choice, for in my case, the deed is done. The doer is happy. And the goal is clear, in dark black font!

Comes with a rider though, from my adorable 14-yr-old son, “Mom, please wear full sleeves for my next PTM.” Cracks me up, but as writer Michelle Delio once said, “Tattoos have a power and magic all their own. They decorate the body but they also enhance the soul.” – finds a definite echo in my heart! The body is decorated… now to work towards enhancing the soul. Amen!

(written in mycity4kids)