Goodbye 2013

Though I know it’s a tradition, I don’t believe in writing year-end essays or letters especially because I feel they are a bit self-indulgent. However, I felt my family’s experiences in 2013 warranted at least a journal entry of some sort. So, here I am with the highlights that would also explain my disappearance from my blog for most of 2013.

2013 was an incredibly tough as well as a rewarding year for us. Here are some of the things that kept us busy:

1) Buying a second home – 2013 summer was probably the worst time to venture into the home buying market in the SF Bay Area. But the timing was perfect for us, so we dove in. After a lot of sweat and bidding wars, we were able to procure a house we could live in.

2) Finding a school for Virj – This probably requires a separate blog post but in a gist, I was looking into the SF Peninsula region, which probably has the highest population and lowest resources when it comes to either schools or homes. Of course we had to determine the school district before we searched for houses. I won’t go into the details here but it suffices to say that I was quite disappointed to learn about the school system, the budget cuts and the expanding class sizes. I am glad that at the end we were able to get my son into the school of our preference!

3) Having a baby – We are happy to announce that we are now the proud parents of a beautiful little girl. Naturally, the pregnancy had its own set of challenges and I had very severe nausea, acid reflux and early contractions, to name a few. These got so severe, I spent the last few months of my pregnancy on bed rest.

4) Other accomplishments – There were other professional highlights both in hubby’s career and mine but I will spare you the mundane details. They are reserved for Soam’s professional blog only, lol!

With a deep sigh of relief I bid farewell to 2013 and welcome 2014. I truly believe this year will bring us a lot of joy and a chance to enjoy the accomplishments of last year.

I wish 2014 proves to be a lucky year for you too. Happy New Year!

01

01 2014

Audition

I came across this video the other day and felt it captured the audition experience nicely. Of course it’s an exaggeration but true to the spirit…LOL!

Thanks Celia Rowlson-Hall! Someday I hope to have a piece about my endeavors too :-D

Virj’s 4th birthday recap

I know I haven’t updated in ages but I have tons of things to say :) Just haven’t had the time to write them down. So, wanted to start with a quick recap of Virj’s 4th birthday. Virj will turn 5 in a few days and I felt the need to document the memory of his 4th one somewhere. And, what better place than here with a captive audience, I kid :D

It’s been a very rewarding journey seeing Virj grow up. He’s always had a distinctive personality and, honestly, is not particularly easy to manage but, needless to say, it’s amazing seeing him develop into an individual. Last September we went to Vegas for my birthday and we tried bowling one night. That was Virj’s first time and he loved it. So, we decided to throw a bowling birthday party for him in November of last year. At first, we were skeptical whether it would be an age appropriate activity for preschoolers but the bowling alley staff assured us that they had experience with younger kids.

I made bowling invitations for Virj’s classmates and to my surprise most of the kids attended the party. We held it at Seabowl in Pacifica. If you are thinking of bowling, you might want to check them out. Highly recommended. The staff provided ramps and lightweight balls for the kids and reserved a couple of lanes for us. Afterwards we served pizza and cupcakes in the party room. The party was a huge hit. The parents still tell us about it. It was a special moment for some of the kids who bowled for the first time. In fact one of the parents asked Soam the other day whether we’re throwing Virj’s next birthday there again? Well, if it were up to Virj, everyone would only have bowling birthdays. That’s how much he loved it! AND, he got his first kiss at the end of the party :)

Here are some pictures from the day.

18

11 2012

How to create a Facebook Business Page

I created this video for a client presentation last year and never got around to posting it anywhere. Thought you folks might find it useful in creating your business pages before the Facebook timeline officially rolls out on March 30, 2012. As you know, Facebook continually changes it’s settings, hence some of the features might be dated but it will give you an overview of the process.

By the way, the timeline layout will require you to design your page for a width of 810 pixels as opposed to 510 pixels. If you already have a page, it will adjust automatically. You just need to do a couple of tweaks to customize it. The layout will also remove the left sidebar where the various applications are displayed but we hope they will continue with most of the old features and tools.

29

03 2012

Facebook vs Twitter

We all know that Facebook and Twitter are the two most widely used social networks out there. How best to utilize them for your needs? Should you use one, none or both?

As with many things in the real world, there are no clear-cut answers. On a personal level, Facebook holds a greater appeal in its ability to connect with friends and maintain an ongoing dialogue. To this end, Facebook provides a rich set of tools – update, instant messaging, email as well as allowing sharing of images and video. This has allowed me to reconnect with many long lost friends and stay connected. Twitter, on the other hand, tends to be more focused. I find it shines for networking with people of similar interests and for tapping into trending topics. I tend to use it as a professional networking tool and to research useful first-hand information.

In this article, I will focus on how to utilize both for businesses. As a social media consultant, I frequently find myself having to craft a strategy for my clients that best leverages the strengths of both.

Facebook

In my opinion, a Facebook Page is a more interactive version of the traditional website. For many small businesses, Facebook Pages are taking over the function formerly served by their external websites. It makes it very easy to post updates and communicate with customers. Various Facebook applications help showcase media rich content within a simple layout which can be customized further. Pages are a useful vehicle to drive more traffic to the actual company website. Encouraging feedback, user content creation and content sharing can generate more “likes” and improve visibility.

Twitter

Tweets act like RSS feeds that can be broadcast to a wider audience, a powerful capability if you are looking for promotion. Twitter works really well in conjunction with Facebook or other social media tools. For instance, Twitter can be used as a recruitment tool for the Facebook page, a blog or a YouTube channel. As I mentioned before, it also makes it easy to tap into trending topics, participate in conversations and to make alliances that increase visibility. Success on Twitter is often measured by the follower base and number of re-tweets although in my opinion that’s a very basic yardstick. Additionally, mechanisms such as hashtags and links can improve the visibility of your tweets and allow easier discovery by other like minded folks.

Some Statistics

In terms of popularity, Facebook (not just business pages) leads over Twitter. It is nearing 700 million users compared to Twitter’s 300 million members.

Facebook vs Twitter Visitors. Courtesy: The Geek Club.

A share on Facebook reportedly generates more revenue than a tweet. A possible explanation is because a share comes with a higher level of trust and credibility, hence has more revenue generating power than a tweet from a stranger: A Facebook ‘share’ vs a Twitter ‘share’.

Facebook vs Twitter Revenue. Courtesy: SocialMediaToday.

Facebook or Twitter?

I think you have the answer already! :) It depends on the nature of the business! However, you don’t really have to choose. Facebook and Twitter work really well together with one complimenting the other. All content can be posted on Facebook with links on Twitter to drive traffic to the Facebook page and eventually to the company website. However, for small businesses or non-profits with a limited budget, just a Facebook strategy could be sufficient especially if the business is community focused. For customer service oriented companies, Twitter works better because it provides concise, prompt feedback with specific links. For example, many banks are using Twitter for their customer service these days. As for retailers, a combination of the two is most beneficial, since it is easier to set up events or post promotions on Facebook that can then be broadcast on Twitter. For technical bloggers, online marketers, evangelists and public figures, Twitter is now a must.

03

06 2011

Mother’s Day Reward

If you ask me, every week should have a mother’s day…probably on the weekend when moms can relax and celebrate the hard work they put in during the week. So a day in the entire year is certainly well deserved by mothers and I was looking forward to it!

So far my memories of mother’s day have been of extreme exhaustion because Virj invariably falls sick around that time. This year wasn’t much different but he temporarily recovered before the actual day.

My mother’s day celebration started a little early when Virj brought back a gift he made in school. I wanted to wait till the weekend to open it but obviously Virj didn’t have the patience and we ended up opening it early…. it was a hand made fridge magnet wrapped in a cute little box that had his photo on top. On the actual day, I woke up to very excited toddler handing over a gift bag in bed. Then he took the presents apart and licked every piece of chocolate before giving them back to me :-) We subsequently went out for brunch and even managed to take a rare nap in the afternoon…so overall a very relaxing day indeed!

But, the best gift was when Virj went potty by himself for the first time! It might seem like “too much information” to many but I guarantee that parents of small kids who have changed diapers for 3+ years and struggled with potty training will relate to my sentiment! The joy of seeing the first piece of dooky in the potty was enormous!!! I’ll spare you more details and end my post on that note :-D

Virj's mother's day gift from school

More gifts & treats to treasure!

12

05 2011

Quick Remedies For Lost Voice (Laryngitis)

This was exactly what I was frantically looking for today morning when I woke up with severe sore throat and “no voice”. I needed a quick fix within 2 hours before heading out for an interview. Obviously calling it off last minute wasn’t an option. I found some tips online and tried them all at once! Boy, I’ve never cared so much for my voice before….glad I’m not a singer! Result – I lasted one hour of continues talking without breaking my voice or coughing uncontrollable.

I thought I’d share the list with you so you don’t have to do a similar search, if ever in my position. After all, flu season ain’t over yet!

Hot Beverage – I usually start the day with a hot beverage and have switched from tea to hot cocoa to avoid the excess caffeine. I think hot milk works a little better than coffee or tea if you have sore throat because caffeine can make your throat dry. But, ginger tea with a little clove and honey, can work wonders. Both ginger and honey are antioxidants and have antimicrobial properties. Clove is also antibacterial and helps with bronchial congestion. I was too lazy to prepare the above concoction, so just stuck to my hot cuppa cocoa.

Saline water cleanse – Then I boiled a cup of water with a teaspoon of salt and gargled with it. This cleared up my throat substantially. I called Soam at that point to make sure I sounded normal on the phone. I was still having a little hissing sound in my voice. I read, adding lemon to the saline water helps too.

I repeated the above after breakfast and just before leaving the house, making sure not to drink cold water right after. That along with the sunny weather helped boost my overall spirit.

Cough drops – While I was still few blocks away from the office, I popped a throat lozenge. It was a regular CVS brand honey lemon cough drop with menthol. I prefer the Ricola brand but didn’t have any at home. I drank some water before the interview and that soothed and cleared my throat completely.

My voice is still intact after several hours now and mucho talking though I’m ready to call it a day and collapse in bed! I plan to keep my throat hydrated by drinking more glasses of water today and hope that I don’t have a relapse tomorrow morning!

29

03 2011

Extra Contagious — My Hollywood Experience

A couple of weeks ago, while idly facebooking away, a shared link led to me an article talking up a Hollywood production, “Contagion“, starring Matt Damon, being shot in San Francisco. And yes, they were looking for extras. In general, I don’t really do that stuff because my agent doesn’t think it’s particularly worthwhile. However, I was curious about this one. First, it was a big budget shoot. Second, it was directed by Steven Soderbergh. Wouldn’t look too bad on my resume at all! So, on a fine sunny Sunday morning, I went up to San Francisco, stood in the long line outside the YMCA at the Embarcadero and submitted by headshot. I saw some recognizable faces – apparently the whole town had turned up to try their luck! I also overheard that a couple of thousand people had already submitted their photos the previous day and they were expecting another couple thousand that day. Daunting but that’s showbiz, isn’t it?

A week went by and I heard nothing. Then, lo and behold, the phone rang and it was the Contagion casting agent. I’d been selected for the role of an office worker at the FBI building in SF for the coming Friday. I was also told I’d be getting another call later in the week with more details. That call directed me to a hotline number I was supposed to ring the night before the shoot for directions/wardrobe details. Ringing the hotline yielded a recorded message asking us to bring a couple of sets of clothes to the shoot. Resisting the temptation to lug half my wardrobe to the set, I decided to stick to the basics because from my experience, that’s usually sufficient.

My actual reporting time was 8:30 in the morning. Early but miles better than something like 5 in the am. Phew! I took BART to the Civic Center stop and walked to my assigned location, the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium. Getting closer to the building, I saw Grove Street had entirely been blocked off and people were unloading equipment from trucks. They were putting up big yellow signs that said “Vaccination Center” on the top followed by instructions in English, Chinese, Arabic and another language I couldn’t recognize. As I wandered confused through this activity, a crew member was kind enough to point me to the entrance of the extras holding area. Inside, I checked in, was handed a form to fill and directed to inside to the huge auditorium where the rest of the cast were waiting. The space was full of small tables and chairs occupied by well-dressed men and women, mostly attired in business suits, working on filling out their forms. One side had been converted into a makeup area with ten or so dressing bays lined with chairs and surround lights and being manned by makeup artists. In another corner, there was the wardrobe area with clothes racks lined up against the wall. Actors stood in line to be inspected by two ladies. Most folks carried luggage filled with clothes or garment bags of business suits. I realized that the initial message about the FBI building and business attire must have created some confusion. Finally, there were two tables with breakfast food, snacks and beverage in the center of the room.

Actors filling forms

Makeup Area

Wardrobe Area

Food Table

The form we had to fill out was quite elaborate and I could see enlarged photocopies posted around the room for reference. A woman came around the tables checking everyone’s form along with IDs and signing them off. She was quite particular about mine. I ended up having to call home several times to get information. After all this, one of the makeup folks called me to do my hair. She spent a lot of time straightening it out but took off what little makeup I had on. Apparently, we were all supposed to look tired and somewhat ill, like, in their words, “after being stranded in the airport for three days.” I suppose extras in a film entitled “Contagion” aren’t supposed to resemble partygoers in Club Med, more like the poor hordes stranded in European airports over Christmas! I didn’t understand, however, why then would they spend so much time on getting my hair to look so good?

My actual wardrobe check was quick as I had the right outfit on – my experience of dressing for auditions proved to be useful. Each of us extras were given different types of masks to cover our faces. I appreciated the depth of thinking by wardrobe department here. After all, if this was supposed to be an epidemic, many would be wearing makeshift masks of various types. They shouldn’t look alike.

We sat around chatting for the next couple of hours while we waited to be called in. Ages and background varied widely from opera singers, SAG affiliated actors to kids, moms, tourists, retirees and regular office workers who had taken the day off to be a part of this experience. Some actually came for the free food and the paycheck! There were doctors and medical professionals in the mix as well as SF policemen and members of the National Guard, here to lend authenticity to the proceedings. I even spoke to a systems engineer who was very excited to have been selected. It felt more like a big block party than work!

We were finally called for the shoot and asked to line up in front of the building. The set was ready by then with more signs on the building and border patrol trucks parked all over. And we had an audience – passers by had gathered around the cordoned area to watch. We were given fake vaccination cards to hold. We were also told that Jude Law would be on the set, so we should control our urges to throw ourselves at him .. er .. not get in the way or take pictures. Then, a couple of assistant casting directors came by, picking some of us out of the line to appear in a special scene. A mother and her young daughter standing in front of me were asked to step aside. Next, an African American girl a few feet behind me. Just when I started wondering if I would be that lucky, I was asked to join them as well! It turned out seven of us had been selected for a special scene with Jude Law. In addition to the mother/daughter and the girl, we also had a mother/son, myself and a middle aged Asian lady. SF diversity represent!

What followed was a series of rehearsals and practice takes to determine the exact sequence. We had to walk through the park situated across the auditorium while Mr. Law passed us on his way to take some photos of the building. I believe he’s playing a journalist. The director, Steven Soderbergh, along with the rest of his crew were present at the location, shooting from a distance. There was a small black tent for the monitors as well as editing equipment but the rest of the folks stood around in the sun in between takes. All of the actors waited near a snack area that had been set up next to the border patrol trucks that provided some shade. Jude Law stood a few feet from us, sipping some water and waiting. It was pretty amazing to see the level of professionalism on the set, nothing like the stories of high maintenance Hollywood and Bollywood divas and their entourages.

While waiting, the seven of us started chatting in a bid to take our minds off Jude The Not-So-Obscure standing close to us. “Where’s the director?”, one of the mothers asked. When we pointed Steven out to her she said, “oh, he was just talking to my son a little while ago, showing us pictures of his kids on his phone!”

Vaccination Center Sign

Location shot

The way the scene ended up being structured, I had the privilege of walking past Jude Law in one of the shots. If it makes it through edit, I hope to see myself on the big screen! A couple more takes and it was over. We were asked to go back inside the building and wait. In a while, we were called back again, this time for a group shot of all us walking out of the building. And that was it for us. We were given the option of staying for lunch or leaving early. I was starving by then, so I decided to stay for the elaborate spread. By the time I left, about 6 hours from when I arrived, the whole set was wrapped up and the crew had left for the next San Francisco location for another scene.

PS: A special thanks to the set crew for letting me take pictures after the shooting was over!

02

03 2011

3-year Checkup

This is a quick update/journal entry for myself, so that I remember this milestone couple of years down the line.

Virj had his three-year checkup last week and the results were: Weight: 45 lbs (99%) and Height: 40.5 inches (95%). We think his height is more because he was constantly moving or bending his legs while they were trying to measure him, and because he wears 5T clothes already! His BMI: 19.29 (98%)…oops! Looks like we’ll have to put him on a diet!!! We find this amusing and ironically it is a mark of our achievement! If you recall, Virj used to to be underweight at some point. I wrote about it briefly in one of my earlier posts.

Since birth till around 6 months Virj was 50% all around and then rapidly fell to about 5% in weight (falling off the growth chart) in the first year. He had to see a pediatric gastroenterologist and undergo a lot of tests. Eventually, he was put on a high calorie diet and monitored every month. His gastroenterologist even suggested a feeding clinic in case his weight didn’t improve within a specified period. Luckily, it never came to that and all the butter and cheese, along with gallons of PediaSure restored his position on the growth chart! I remember being very disappointed at around 11 months when his gastroenterologist suggested that I might as well stop breastfeeding because he wasn’t getting enough calories and asked us to add formula to breast milk. I however, continued my breastfeeding efforts for the next 5 months, being a hard-core California mom ridden with purist guilt! For the next year, our (as well as our nanny’s) primary focus was to load Virj up with lots of calories, which by the way, wasn’t easy at all since Virj is a fussy eater and had severe acid reflux. Our carpets, sofas and bed sheets still retain some evidence of that even after several washes and professionally cleanings.

So now you see why we were so happy to hear that our son is on the verge on being over weight! :) Honestly, I’m not worried because it won’t be difficult to get his weight down…all I have to do is stop nagging him to eat! The other observation by his doctor was —

While Virj was bouncing off the walls at the doctor’s office, the doctor once paused and asked us “Is he like this all the time?” Our reply: “Ummm…yeah, and more…”. Then he looked at us and said: “No wonder you guys look tired!”. Again, ironic but it made us happy that somebody acknowledged our efforts! Then the doctor went on to suggest a lot of activities like swimming, soccer, lot of outdoor play, etc to expend Virj’s energy. Is he implying I become a soccer mom? Yikes!! The other day Virj’s teacher at preschool said something similar too. Oh well, this energy runs in the family….my brother was a rambunctious kid and my dad still works like a 45 year old and refuses to retire at 75!

I am 3

3-year old Virj (Take #25!)

17

01 2011

Welcoming 2011

2010 was certainly one of the craziest years for our family! The list of events in our lives and that of our extended family included hospitalizations, surgeries, non trivial injuries of various kinds and, sadly, even deaths. In addition, we had the usual work related stress for Soam and myself, some major ups, some disappointments and challenges of raising an ultra busy toddler. Looking for quality childcare almost seemed to be an ongoing, constant activity for us, particularly in the first half of the year.

Thankfully, in the end most of it worked out well. Soam hit some major milestones in his career, I picked up more work skills and acting/modeling experience. Virj started preschool, grew almost 4 inches and 5 pounds, started communicating with REAL words and is on his way of getting potty trained. We can only pray he doesn’t go through too many briefs and bedsheets in the meantime! Oh, I almost forgot to mention, he completed another paying modeling assignment, this time for AMD.

I also finally managed to lose the last bit of baby fat (yes, after 3 years of Virj) and toned quite a bit. It’s a weird feeling searching the closet for tops that haven’t been worn for years only to find out that, yes, I can fit into them again but now they’re out of fashion. The slacks still work…yippee! Can’t say it was an easy journey and now I’m setting my new goal to lose another 5 lbs…too ambitious?? :-)

Soam’s post on Reasons To Be Cheerful Pt 3 highlights some of the things that kept us going. I would add the following to that list:

Being Yoga when I needed regular yoga trying to recover from a foot injury
• Virj’s daycare and Calvary Preschool with its very caring teachers. They deserve most of the credit for Virj’s tremendous progress!
• Diane Roby again for the opportunity to work on some fun projects!

We had a great year-end trip to Vegas around Christmas and the last few days of celebration definitely makes me very optimistic for the New Year! I have made no resolutions but hope to apply my experience from last year to make 2011 more successful!!

05

01 2011