The Importance of Weak Ties

As I write this post, we are currently in July of 2021. Compared to where we were a year ago regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, I think it is safe to say we have come a long way. Vaccines have been rolling out, the public has been re-opening, and masks are no longer required in many spaces.

As we remain vigilant as to the latest public health news and advice from the experts, many people are also returning to an in-person work setting. I have seen TikTok videos of people DREADING going back to work and having to engage in “water cooler” chat again, while others simply cannot wait to go back to the office. All of this has me thinking about the importance of weak ties.

What are weak ties? Dr. Meg Jay, the author of The Defining Decade, defines weak ties as:

people we have met, or are connected to somehow, but do not currently know well. Weak ties are also our former employers or professors and other associations not promoted to close friends … Weak ties give us access to something fresh … like bridges you cannot see all the way across, so there is no telling where they might lead.

(You can also check out my review of her book here)

Dr. Jay goes to explain how the people who are “weak ties” in your life can actually be the most useful for professional networking purposes. Another article my cousin told me about stressed the importance of weak ties for our emotional well-being. I could not help but think how true this is. These simple and perhaps transient connections are so crucial for opening avenues for serendipity in our everyday lives and fostering a sense of fulfillment. Whether I am chatting in the break room with my coworkers about the mediocre cafeteria pizza, listening to my hairdresser give advice to a guy going on a date tomorrow, or hearing my eyebrow threading aunty tell me about why she decided to come to America from Nepal, these interactions create a sense of community and belonging for us.

I am definitely grateful for these seemingly small aspects of our everyday lives. Although counterintuitive, these weak ties can be extremely powerful. As we slowly and carefully welcome more in-person social interactions and reconnect with close friends and family, I also wonder at the possibilities of new connections that we may form. To me, that potential is really beautiful.

Book Review: American Dirt by Jeanine Cummings

Initial thoughts

When I first read the description of this book online, I was immediately drawn to the suspense and adventure alluded to in the description. The story of how Lydia and Luca escape a dangerous drug cartel and venture North reminded me a lot of the 2007 film La Misma Luna (Under the Same Moon), in which a mother and son separate in Mexico and eventually re-unite in the United States. I excitedly started reading Chapter 1 of American Dirt and already felt like I was hiding in the bathtub along with Lydia and Luca from the gang members in Acapulco.

This was also my first time listening to a book on Audible, and I really enjoyed the experience. While there is a unique satisfaction that comes with holding a book (kindle) in your hands while reading, I enjoyed being able to listen to the book while coloring to ground myself.

Plot Description (without spoilers)

Lydia and Luca are a mother and son duo trying to escape the dangerous gang violence that has slowly but surely overtaken Acapulco. Sebastian, Lydia’s husband, is a journalist who has just published a piece exposing the drug cartel, Los Jardineros, and their leader Javier, also known as La Lechuza. After this piece is written, Javier orders for Lydia’s family, including Sebastian, to be killed. Lydia and Luca hide in the bathtub, breathless and not moving, while they hear and later, see their family members being murdered. When Lydia first met Javier in her bookstore, little did she know that he was the notorious drug lord responsible for the state of their town.

The novel follows Lydia and Luca’s journey as they venture North and try to escape the miserable violence and danger that awaits them in Acapulco. Trigger warning, there are instances of sexual assault and sexual violence in this novel.

Opinion and Reaction

I really loved this book because I felt like I was there with the characters. Cummings does a great job of using vivid descriptions and figurative language throughout the novel, so you really experience the pain, loss, anger, relief, and numbness along with the characters. The journey that Lydia and Luca embark on is an arduous one, and I felt like I was right next to them every step of the way. The emotions I experienced while reading this novel were a rollercoaster of sadness, relief, suspense and thrill, and just a general strong sense of hope that they would make it past each of their numerous hurdles.

At the end of the novel, I was so glad that I had read it. I felt truly honored to have been on that journey with the characters and realized the immense difficulty that Mexican and South American immigrants face in crossing the border to the United States. I could tell that Cummings had done her research when portraying her characters’ struggles and experiences. Her descriptions of Lydia and Luca’s reactions to trauma were also very vivid and real.


It was only after reading this book that I saw the controversy about American Dirt. Many felt that this story was not the author’s story to tell, as a white woman writing about a fictional story involving a Mexican woman. Another term being used is trauma porn, which is “when the plights or traumas of a culture or race are used for entertainment”. After reading articles about how this is harmful to minorities and how some minority authors feel as though they are expected to write about issues like immigration, slavery, etc., while white writers have more freedom in what they choose to cover, I felt a little more educated about the issue. I can definitely understand the controversy and different viewpoints. While I do not identify with the Latinx identity, as a South Asian woman of color, I do strongly care about advocating for minorities and bringing light to their experiences. I am glad that Oprah decided to have a conversation with Latinx writers after hearing about the controversy after announcing the novel as part of her book club. I am glad that she used her platform to highlight this issue, and bring awareness to the lack of diversity in media, including the publishing industry. I hope that these conversations continue to be had and we continue to address these issues and advocate for change.

Final thoughts

I really enjoyed this book and was absolutely blown away by how drawn I was to the characters. I would definitely recommend this book as a good suspenseful read and would also recommend anyone reading this book to also read about the controversy and issues brought up. I also enjoyed using Audible to listen to the book and am definitely pro-audiobook, (in addition to being pro-kindle). Let me know if you end up reading this book!

I Tried the Viral Baked Feta Pasta and it’s 10/10

There’s a trend circulating on TikTok and the internet for a baked feta pasta, and honestly, it’s worth the hype. I was so excited to try this recipe because my love for both cheese and pasta. Check out my TikTok for the video and other fun recipes!

Baked Feta Pasta

My experience with the COVID-19 Vaccine

Last week on CBS Sunday morning, there was a segment about overcoming COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy. The piece included an interview Reverend DeWitt, who runs a nursing home located in West Baltimore. The reverend talked about how the majority of his staff did not trust the vaccine and were resistant to receiving it.

This mistrust is not unique to that nursing home. The Tuskegee experiments that were done in the 1930’s on African Americans for untreated syphilis are one of the most ill-conducted studies in American history. In fact, it is partly the reason why clinical studies today require informed consent, or, for a patient to understand the risks and benefits to a study and give written consent before they can participate. The Tuskegee study is one of the reasons why African Americans in particular are hesitant about receiving the vaccine.

I can understand why one may have questions about the vaccine or be hesitant until they know all the facts. I can also understand why African Americans may be more hesitant about receiving the vaccine because of past history, general mistrust, and experience with institutional racism in the healthcare system, police system, and more.

I thought I’d share my personal experience with getting the COVID-19 vaccine. It is important to note that side effects may vary person to person.

First Dose

Day 1

I received the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. The fact sheet for this vaccine can be found here. As a healthcare worker, I was able to schedule my vaccine through my employer. On the first day of receiving the vaccine, I did not experience any symptoms. The process of receiving the vaccine was very smooth: there were multiple nurses stations and someone by the door ushered me to an available station. The nurse asked about any known allergies, gave me the fact sheet for Pfizer vaccine, and got the dose ready. It hurt just as much as a flu shot. After receiving a Bugs Bunny bandaid, I was told to wait in the next room for fifteen minutes to make sure I didn’t have an immediate allergic reaction.

I waited for fifteen minutes along with others who had just gotten their first shot, before I was given a vaccination record card. Upon receiving this card, I could schedule my second dose for three weeks later.

Day 2

The next morning, I woke up with a sore arm in the arm I had gotten the shot. Besides this, there were no other side effects and this pain went away by the third or fourth day.

Second Dose

Day 1

Due to shipment delays caused by the snowstorms in the Midwest region, my second appoint was actually rescheduled from a Wednesday to the following Monday. That Monday, I got my second dose. The process was very similar to that of the first dose. I was ushered to an available station and handed the nurse my vaccination card. She asked me about allergies, any side effects from the first dose, and filled out my card. Surprisingly, the second shot actually hurt less than the first one. I was asked to wait fifteen minutes in the next room, before going about my day.

That day, I did not experience any immediate side effects. This is understandable given that your immune system takes time to build a proper immune response.

Day 2

The following morning, I woke up with a sore arm as expected, as well as a general feeling of fatigue. I had slept eight hours, but I felt like I could go for at least four more. Besides that though, I was surprised. I had no fever or chills. I took a Tylenol that morning as a preventative measure. Besides feeling tired, overall I was okay, and went into work that day.

Later that day, I experienced some mild headaches that would come and go, but nothing severe enough to affect my ability to work or anything. That night I went to bed early to try and get some extra rest. The following day I felt much better.

Final thoughts

Overall, I only experienced mild fatigue and a slight headache from my second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. I expected it to be way worse given what I had heard from coworkers and friends. Nevertheless, I am glad that my experience wasn’t too bad, although I know it will vary from person to person. Resting and taking Tylenol or something similar definitely helped me. I encourage you to get the vaccine when you can, as with each vaccinated person, we get one step closer to a relatively normal life. 🙂

Praise for The Orphan Collector by Ellen Marie Wiseman

A novel that is eerily similar to the current pandemic but worth the read

While I was worried that reading about the 1918 Spanish Flu epidemic would be difficult given our current pandemic, Wiseman reveals to us the inner thoughts of her characters to make them more relatable, thus creating a compelling story. Pia Lange is a thirteen year old girl who quickly faces a harsh reality when the Spanish Flu hits Philadelphia. After losing her two baby brothers, the novel follows her long and arduous journey as she searches for them. Pia finds herself alone in a hospital, in a bleak and dreary orphanage, and in the warm home of Dr. and Mrs. Hudson until she eventually reunites with her brothers. The book takes the perspective of Pia and her neighbor Bernice, and gives us a glimpse of the anti-immigrant sentiment, the griping plight of those recently orphaned, and the desperation that many faced when they lost their homes and their loved ones.

Overall, I had a hard time putting The Orphan Collector down. Wiseman crafts a dramatic story and uses just enough suspense at the end of each chapter to make you want to keep reading. You end up rooting for Pia after all she has been through with the flu, living in an orphanage, and more. The final chapters and ending gave me goosebumps and left me feeling emotional and incredibly grateful. There is much to learn from the 1918 Spanish Flu epidemic and Wiseman doesn’t shy away from portraying its harsh effects on Philadelphia’s residents. Nevertheless, the story is incredibly touching and worth the read.

Discussion questions and parallels to the COVID-19 pandemic

The book makes you think about how we have dealt with the current COVID-19 pandemic in relation to how we dealt with the flu in the past. The discussion questions at the end of the novel mention how in Philadelphia, doctors pushed for the Liberty Loan Parade (where the book first starts), to be cancelled because of concerns that crowds of people would spread the flu. They tried convincing reporters to write about this, but to no avail. Despite warning, the large parade was still held and over the next six weeks, more than 12,000 citizens had died. The discussion question then asks, “How much of a difference would it have made if those stories had been printed in the newspaper? Do you think people would have stayed home or gone to the parade anyway?”

Reading this question almost made me feel ashamed of how back in March, there was some media coverage about COVID-19 but we didn’t realize the effects or the severity until it was already too late. While colleges did move to online classes, each college’s spring break was a different week in March, making it hard to prevent millions of students from traveling both domestically and internationally. Going back to this question, it definitely would have helped if those newspapers had published those stories, and I doubt people would have collectively listened to health advisories unless they were mandated or there were formal sanctions or bans.

Another question was “Though the disease knew no gender, racial, or ethnic boundaries, Philadelphia’s immigrant poor suffered the worst, with the largest loss of life happening in the slums and tenement districts. Why do you think that was? What issues do you think contributed to it? Do you think any of those issues continue to impact people living today?”

Reading this sounded eerily familiar, because currently, black and Latino Americans are more likely to get infected with COVID-19 and more likely to die from the virus. This is explained in part by black Americans having preexisting conditions at a greater rate that predispose them to contracting the virus, as well as less access to health insurance and having jobs that prevent them from working remotely. It is astonishing how much public health can intersect with race and the socioeconomic gradient.

The last discussion question I’ll touch on includes some pretty interesting facts:

“In 1918, St. Louis, Missouri, immediately closed schools, movie theaters, and banned public gatherings. Their death toll ended up being one-eighth of the losses in Philadelphia due to the Spanish flu.” -To me this just reminded me of New Zealand and their leadership’s ability to deal with the virus and prevent its spread.

“Many people blamed the 1918 pandemic on Germans, claiming they were spreading poison clouds, or that Bayer, a German-owned company, had infected their aspirin”. This reminded me of the discrimination that many Asian Americans continue to face ever since the start of the pandemic.

“In San Francisco, people without masks were fined five dollars and were called “mask slackers.” Now this seemed like a pretty neat idea and good way to encourage people to wear masks when in public to prevent infection.

Hats off to Ellen Marie Wiseman for creating such a realistic and heartwarming story that impacts readers emotionally and makes them truly reflect on our current situation.

50 Ways to Take a Break

What are some ways you take care of yourself?

Just posting this to make sure you are taking time for yourself. I remember my senior fall semester of college, when I was balancing my classes with research, teaching, and volunteering. I was so busy that I barely had any time for myself. When I did have free time, I would forget how to relax because my mind would be preoccupied with my own to-do list. As we enter 2021, I want to continue actively setting time for myself to relax and recharge. Enjoy this image I found that includes 50 ways to take a break. What are some ways you take care of yourself?

Inspiring Quotes from Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime

I recently read Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood, and absolutely loved it! Here are a few quotes that really resonated with me:

On racism and inequality:

People love to say, “Give a man a fish, and he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he’ll eat for a lifetime.” What they don’t say is, “And it would be nice if you gave him a fishing rod.” That’s the part of the analogy that’s missing.

Trevor Noah, Born a Crime, Stories from a South African Childhood

This year we have seen protests all around the world demanding that we address the racism in our country. Specifically, there is systemic, institutional racism that is somehow allowed in our country, that disadvantages black and brown people from attaining the same status and accessing the same opportunities as those more privileged. Those who have privilege often think that ‘Poor people don’t work hard enough’, but the reality is they are not given the same opportunities.

On growth and comfort zones:

Comfort can be dangerous. Comfort provides a floor but also a ceiling.

Trevor Noah, Born a Crime, Stories from a South African Childhood

A solid reminder that every accomplishment starts with the decision to try (a quote by JFK), and that our limitations are self-imposed. It is a reminder to keep breaking through your comfort zone, because what lies outside of it is the potential for something beautiful.

On abusive and toxic relationships:

Growing up in a home of abuse, you struggle with the notion that you can love a person you hate, or hate a person you love. It’s a strange feeling. You want to live in a world where someone is good or bad, where you either love or hate them, but that’s not how people are.

Trevor Noah, Born a Crime, Stories from a South African Childhood

People are not innately all good or all bad, and that sucks for our mind, which tries to categorize and organize, to make sense of what is going on. One of the reasons it is so hard to leave a toxic or abusive relationship is because of something called “lock-in”, which Dr. Meg Jay defines as the “decreased likelihood to search for other options, or to change to another option, once an investment in something has been made”. We keep giving chances to people who do not want to change, and end up getting hurt. My heart goes out to anyone who has experienced this and remember that you are not alone.

What are some favorite books you have read this year?

Got any favorite books you have read this year or favorites in general? Let me know of any recommendations in the comments!

Review: The Defining Decade

Graduating from college is monumental enough. But graduating amidst a pandemic, into one of the worst economies, and during a pivotal election year is even more daunting. Much like how I receive a lot of new information, it was through Instagram stories that I discovered this book, The Defining Decade, by Meg Jay, a clinical psychologist. I decided to give it a shot.

Common Feelings

The book is divided into three key categories deemed the most relevant to twenty-somethings- Work, Love, and The Brain and Body. Each chapter addresses an important issue and uses stories from real clients that the author has spoken with as a psychologist. Many of the clients in the book are lost because they do not know what to do, are so stuck in a certain position that they don’t know how to get out, or simply do not have a plan for their future. I’ll be honest, reading about some of their stories did make me feel better about myself by comparison, but the point of the book isn’t really to be reassuring. I thought about how relatable it was to feel like you are navigating an ocean and don’t know how to swim. I’m sure other twenty-somethings feel the same. I remembered what Emily, the grad student whom I worked with in my research lab said. Basically, she said everyone who seems to know what they are doing is probably faking it, and that’s what most of adulting really is.

Critical Periods

So apparently, the twenties is another one of those critical periods. This time though, it’s not so much about developing your brain like when you were an infant, but rather about learning how to be an adult and navigate new challenges and uncertainty. I’m glad I learned about this so-called critical period while I was still in it. I noticed that in all sections of the book, Jay emphasizes the importance of being intentional, and acting with a purpose. So much of what we do during our twenties translates to how we will live the rest of our lives. Most of the 30 year olds who visit Dr. Jay were nonchalant and indifferent in their twenties and thus struggled to thrive in their thirties. The emphasis of the book was that the time is now.

“That’s cool, but we’re living in a pandemic, so…”

I really enjoyed Dr. Jay’s book and all the lessons she offered relating to work, life, and the brain and body. She stressed the value of being intentional, taking action, and making your certainty. Twenty-somethings are already worried and anxious about whether their life is going to work out. In the middle of a pandemic, that anxiety heightens for many. In the midst of all this increased uncertainty, how exactly are we supposed to “take the world by storm”?

When thinking about this question I thought about something that Dr. Jay mentioned, called present bias. This is our human tendency to overemphasize immediate rewards while discounting the future. We end up putting a lot of psychological distance between now and then, and this creates a lot of abstraction. Basically, we place emphasis on the present a lot. Which in some ways is good. But to stop ourselves from overthinking about the future, the best way to deal with this is to remember that the situations we are in won’t last forever. Obviously, none of us know when this will all be over, but we can control how we adapt to these changes and move with them. Those that are thriving mentally and physically are those that have learned to be flexible and calm in the face of uncertainty. As someone who values structure and organization, this is new. And we are all learning.

“You are deciding your life right now.”

-Meg Jay, PhD.

Quarantine Activities That Have Kept Me Sane

Because we’ve reached more than 100 days in quarantine and I’ve started to think my social contacts consist of the deer and rabbits in my backyard. 🙂

As a disclaimer, I would say one of the most powerful things that has lifted my spirits is talking to friends and family. However, it doesn’t happen as often as I’d like. With studying being one of my top priorities, (mental health being the first),  I haven’t really been reaching out to friends as much as I should, and I have definitely reduced my social media presence. But falling off of the face of the earth was all fun and games until I realized it wasn’t sustainable. So in addition to maintaining social contact with real humans and not just the animals in my backyard, here are some things keeping me sane during this lovely time. 

1. Exercising daily

Yeah, you read that right. I never worked out more than maybe two or three times a week, but about 6 days into quarantine I realized that if I didn’t move around for a bit, my homemade bread loaves would catch up to me. I started doing some light exercises on my own and slowly bumped this up to following Youtube videos. Fortunately, my parents also wanted to join in, so we started following some simple 10 – 20 minute videos together. As our stamina increased, we started working out at least 30 min to sometimes 1 hour a day. Over time, I noticed an improvement in my general mood and confidence. We had come back from India in March when quarantine started and so losing the extra weight from eating all the amazing food was definitely a plus. In addition to improvements in mood, I generally just felt more motivated to keep going, and it was a positive feedback loop as I got stronger. I would especially like to shout out the fitness YouTubers Emi Wong and Chloe Ting. They are the reason I see increased muscle tone and some ab lines starting to shyly introduce themselves.

2. Cooking new foods

In addition to our homemade bread recipe, cooking new foods has helped me express my creativity and feel more in control of my health and wellbeing. When I was in college I definitely dabbled in some staple dishes like fishes, pastas, rice dishes, etc., but not as often as now. Now that I am home and school is out, I have some more freedom to try out different things. Some new things that I have tried include homemade bread, english muffins, shakshuka, lasagna, sweet potato toast, risotto, and seared scallops. Some staples that I continue to thrive on include overnight oats, pasta, and salad. It feels nice to take charge of our lunch and/or dinner from time to time, and I am glad I can contribute to our household in some tangible way. I sure know it makes my parents happy. 

3. Listening to some dope music

I do this whether we are in a pandemic or not, but it definitely has a therapeutic effect. Sometimes a solo dance party in your room is all you need. I can’t jam to music at parties right now but I sure can in the shower.

4. Gardening

One day we were using green onion in something and had cut off the roots. My mom had the idea of planting them in our backyard so they would grow more. We also had some pumpkin seeds laying around that we planted as well. Instead of eating the resulting pumpkin fruit as one normally would do, we actually harvest the flowers, coat them in batter, and deep fry them. It tastes so so good. Anyways, in just a week, we saw the pumpkin seeds starting to sprout, and the green onion had already shot upwards. I’m not sure if it was the lawnmower dude or the rabbits, but one day I went out with scissors to use some of the green onions in my cooking, only to find them obliterated. The perpetrator had also gnawed off the start of the pumpkin leaves. So one wild Saturday, my mom and I drove to this small farm place and got some mint, coriander, zucchini, cucumber, roses, lilies, zinnias, and celosias. I read on Twitter that placing flowers around your vegetable plants protect them from creatures, and so far, that has worked! We also had an existing green chili plant and some basil. After buying the new plants, we replaced the soil on both the old and new guys and they have been thriving. 

Pink celosias (top) and zinnias (bottom)!

Overall, I’d say working on something consistently and feeling accomplished as you watch your growth and progress has been super rewarding. In that way, exercising, cooking, and gardening are alike. They have helped me develop a more robust sense of self during this time, and for that I am thankful. 

5 Reasons Why ‘Never Have I Ever’ is Rightfully Number One on Netflix RN

Devi, Kamala, and Nalini at Ganesh Puja

Having recently watched this show on Netflix, it left me feeling so many things that I had to share. So keep reading for 5 reasons why this show is so great. *Spoiler alerts* below.

1. It deals with grief and unresolved trauma.

This is something that was so refreshing to see on a show. Devi’s loss of her dad left her feeling deeply saddened but we see how she chooses to suppress and avoid this. She becomes defensive and aggressive any time her dad is brought up, and tries to suppress her memories and flashbacks by channeling her thoughts into sex and Paxton. Regardless, we get to understand through her eyes why her dad was so important to her and how she is coping with his loss. 

2. Different parenting styles

Mohan is a warm and accepting father while Nalini is a strict and protective mother. Fabiola’s mother wants to connect with her and can be overbearing at times,  but has a good heart. Eleanor’s mom is too selfish to be there for her daughter. Ben’s parents are both away all the time, leaving Ben feeling lonely. No parent is perfect, and we get to see each parent struggle in their own way to understand their kids. 

Mohan comforting Devi while she wonders if she’s ugly. (Of COURSE NOT)

3. Loneliness and Insecurity

The two boys in Devi’s life, Ben and Paxton, respectively show us how loneliness and insecurity are common and human.  Ben never gets to see his parents and doesn’t feel noticed by them, making him feel lonely and resulting in him often spending nights with his housekeeper, playing basketball, or hanging out on Reddit. It even leads to him being catfished! But it reinforces how loneliness is common and can be something we all feel. Paxton’s sister has Down’s syndrome, and we see him get defensive and upset at Devi for hanging out with her. He’s protective of his sister, and doesn’t want anyone to hurt her. 

4. Kamala and Devi’s relationship

Of course, Devi’s friendship with Fabiola and Eleanor is awesome to see, but I really enjoyed seeing Kamala and Devi’s relationship. It reminded me of my cousin, who like Kamala, has come from India to get her PhD. Watching them bond over keeping secrets and overall just having each other’s back was very heart-warming to see. 

5. Prashanth

I left this one for the end, but it definitely is not the lowest priority. When he came at the Ramakrishnan’s door looking like THAT, I was so surprised. My approval intensified when he came with a gift for Kamala, and peaked when he was emotionally aware enough to recognize that Devi did not necessarily want to play the harp. It really makes you reconsider an arranged marriage. Also, the part they mentioned about Indian guys wanting a girl who will be his mom. The stereotype is that these boys are treated like kings at home to such an extent that they are coddled, and can end up growing up to be entitled. Prashanth so far does not meet that stereotype, and he reminds me that not all men are like that. 

And so, my girl Mindy Kaling really did it again. She covered a lot of ground with this show, and I hope it continues to get the recognition it deserves. Well done!

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