Seven Years, Seven Jewels of Fort Lauderdale : July 5, 2014

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Sunset at Pompano Beach

Sunset at Pompano Beach

Fort Lauderdale is a quintessential beach resort down; as if you’re on one long vacation, 24/7/365; there’s not a lot of history, arts or super-character core community here. The core here is formed of water – it’s either the azure blue Atlantic – with amazing sunrises – or the magnificent, man-made, inter-coastal waterways that weaves around town.

The Mesmerizing Blue of the Atlantic

The Mesmerizing Blue of the Atlantic

Often my friends from elsewhere would say, you live in Miami; they could not be farther from the truth! In seven years, I haven’t ventured to Miami twenty times for pleasure! When you have a wonderful inter-coastal waterways, and a great beach – that you can actually access, without putting up with traffic, construction, need to learn Spanish, or less attitude– you rarely need to go to else where!

photo of sunrise on the Atlantic

In fact, I rarely ventured west of I-95, hence, my bias is restricted to a small geography. To complete it’s touristy nature, you are not surprised by, the number of wonderful places you can go to eat, or just hang out!

As a tribute to my seven years here, I wanted to point out seven jewels that have the best foods and memories held for me, in this magical city of Fort Lauderdale.

While there are 25 other great places that may have great food, what authenticates these, are their service and warm hospitality.

Breakfast at Jukebox Diner is always a treat

Breakfast at Jukebox Diner is always a treat

Jukebox Diner: By far the best breakfast place in town; if you haven’t tried their Banana’s Foster French Toast – you have truly missed out. Bring friends and family and hang out at this bright and cheerful location in Pompano Beach, right across from the iconic Houston’s on the inter-coastal. Great value, great food and simply the best service from the two co-owners who will personally greet and serve you.

Chill Wine Lounge: hang out with friends, or your loved-one, order a bottle of wine with some olives or cheese, listen to music on Saturday evening, and just let the evening melt away. Very knowledgeable servers will recommend good wines, if you ask; the music scene, is mostly local and always lively. This is not a bar set for really young people – the crowd I experienced around 10 or 11 pm was usually in their 30s/40s and had a relaxed vibe to it.

Eggs Benedict

J Marks: J Marks is a local restaurant with two locations; whether you want brunch on a Sunday morning, or just want to hang with a cucumber martini (appropriately named, A Day at the Spa), this is the place to go; great food, great service – just wonderful ambiance and warm, friendly service. We invariably went to brunch their after our Sunday morning spiritual services – with a few friends and family. Two of my favorite salads in town – their chopped salad with tangy lemon juice – or their Kale Salad – with Chicken!

Don't miss the Dessert with the eclectic cuisine of Hot & Soul

Don’t miss the Dessert with the eclectic cuisine of Hot & Soul

Hot and Soul Café: relatively new to this area, I have found the food here to be eclectic and soulful; they call themselves, “world cuisine” – I found the flavor distinctive and cocktails and the different brews – a great combination. This is not a place you go for fancy dining – but if you want a great atmosphere, coupled with some unusual and fun food – I would definitely try this. By the way, do take a look at their amazing dessert menu.

Red Cow: If you like funky, open, industrial looking environments with a large screens playing cartoons from by-gone days – yes, Red- Cow is your place to go! Amazingly flavorful bar-b-q, tasty sides, a great selection of wines and beers and excellent service makes this a local favorite. Really, really good beef brisket – if you are into that! I always order the sweet-corn bread for a starter and then usually their toasted greens as one of my favorite sides. The owners of Red Cow also own two other great places, Coconuts and Foxy Brown – but I find this the easiest of all to hang out at!

Tap42

TAP 42: This is by far my favorite place to enjoy a crazy-goat burger with one of their delectable brews on tap; food is always hearty, the sweet-potato fries are served on a wooden cutting board. Again service is excellent. The place does get crowded – even on week days; I have found a place to eat here on weekday afternoon. If you have a short stopover at the Fort Lauderdale airport – this is less than 2 miles away.

Sequellea Café: This is one of the first places I discovered, during the relocation from Denver. There aren’t a lot of places in Boca that I have experienced that has great service; Sequellea is different because it has great food and good service, consistently. Love the brioche egg sandwiches, Italian style coffees and the freshly squeezed orange juice any day. They also have great Gelatos. People can eat outside with their dogs or inside in the air-conditioned setting. Even though it’s set out in a plaza setting, you get the typical Florida feel, with palm-trees swaying in the gentle breeze

When someone has the opportunity to live in two of the most beautiful places on earth: Denver, Colorado and Fort Lauderdale, Florida, it’s tough to go anywhere and say, this is more beautiful than where I live, or have lived.

After seven years of Fort Lauderdale, where life-long relationships have been built, and defining moments of truth accepted, Shania and I are headed to start a new life, in the megalopolis of Dallas, Texas.

There are cravings, to come back to this town – one day – re-anchor my heart in these azure blue waters. Until then, we will enjoy the sounds and flavors of the prairies of Texas!

Watermelon Salad at Thasos Greek Restaurant

Watermelon Salad at Thasos Greek Restaurant

A Father’s Presence: Approval and Affirmations; Fathers Day June 2014

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I keep searching for a particular black-and-white photograph of me and my Dad. The photo was taken on my fifth or sixth birthday, at Joypahar; Dad wearing a suit and me a corduroy jacket with large golden buttons! Dad was holding my waist while sitting on an ottoman, and smiling – I was sad (because I had lost some game!).

Every time I go to Dhaka, I look for this particular picture in all our old albums.

1967 - Atiya and Zain with Dad

1967 – Atiya and Zain with Dad

After years of soul-searching, I have recognized an innate need that I have had, for almost thirty years, of seeking my father’s approval in almost all major decisions of my life.

College, Degree, First Job, Marriage, Buying a House, Raising Children, Divorce…. There hasn’t been a major decision, where I haven’t thought about how he would react to this or that.

The last decision he directly influenced, was in 1985, over a milky cup of tea, when he asked me to consider a different college major: Industrial Engineering over Economics (my favorite school topic in those days); and the decision was made.

Last Formal Mahmood Family Pic - 1985

Last Formal Mahmood Family Pic – 1985

I have noticed this same tendency, in many of my friends and family, where our father’s shadow hang over us. For son’s and daughter alike, it’s this need to seek approval of major decisions. The more silent the Dad is, I think, the need for their approval becomes stronger.

I have a friend who often tells me about his absent father – almost in antipathy towards him; but as I notice his actions, it becomes clear that his own relationships are reflections of his relationship with his dad.

Often times, without our own choosing or knowledge, we become one of our parents.

I am finally learning to acknowledge, after thirty years of his passage, however much I try, he is not there to give me that approval directly. That doesn’t mean he disapproves – he is just not capable of delivering it personally.

As a father of two daughters, I notice a similarly interesting pattern developing in my life; my nineteen-year-old texts me throughout the day and bounces ideas off me. At first I felt an urge to give my opinion on what she asks; I have learned that often she asks me test the boundaries – or to just let me know what she is thinking; she doesn’t really want me to solve her problem for her.

It’s natural to seek affirmations on the steps we take, and decisions we make. I wonder why that affirmation cannot come from within us or from the supporting environment around us.

Today, I wake up thinking about my Dad; last I saw him, he was about my (current) age; I can see his acknowledging, smiling face. I am learning that, in my heart, he is still there – as he probably will be, for the rest of my life. I can stop looking for that black-and-white picture from Joypahar.

As a father myself, I am learning that this sense of approval (or disapproval) comes with a heavy responsibility – to make sure that we nudge them, without guiding them – we help them without making them dependant on us – we love them without suffocating their own love.

Zain Shania and Daiyaan Jun 2014

On this Father’s Day, as I may take my boat out for a few more hours, with my two princesses together, when Daiyaan asks me about a Tattoo she would like to get, or Shania keeps holding on to my t-shirt when we go fast on the boat – my role is to be there – the best gift I can give them – is to be there – when they need me – without judgement, or confirmation.

A Father’s presence is his best gift.

When Happiness Just Shows Up, Without Notice: May 2014

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This week I had a series of text conversations with my nineteen-year-old, over happiness.

On Monday, she texts me, saying, “Daddy, I don’t know what really makes me happy; I am kind of always satisfied; that’s not right! ” I advise her that this is normal and she will know when she is truly happy.

On Friday, I get a note from her that her roommate just spontaneously invited her to go to Key West and since she had no classes that day, and had the day off from work, they were leaving for Key West within the hour; later in the afternoon, she texts me to let me know how happy she is suddenly, to get away, enjoy the blue sea, not have anything to worry about.

I sit back and think about our Tuesday conversation and text her back asking if she realized that happiness, just shows up sometime, like this, without any notice!

Throughout the afternoon, I get a series of IPhone pictures of her feet hanging on blue waters, selfies, the blue ocean, the amazing sunset; just by the tone of her texts, I can tell that my princess is happy for these few moments.

A couple of years ago, I wrote something about Designing Your Own Happiness; where, I talked about doing exactly what makes me happy on my birthday.

When you sit back and think about all the things that really make us happy, and wonder how much of it comes spontaneously, accidentally – and how much of it can really be crafted for execution.

There is a marked difference between things that make you unhappy and those that make you happy. I think it’s important to distinguish that it’s not a linear equation – in fact if you visualize it, most likely on a completely different plain.

If you choose to do the reverse of what makes you unhappy, somehow are not going to necessarily be happy.

So, as example, eating chocolate me happy; and I also know that when my kids are hurting, that makes me unhappy.

But eating no cake will not necessarily make me unhappy – and if my kids are just all “well” doesn’t necessarily make me rejoice with happiness (it’s kind of my basic expectation!)

If you accept this premise that happiness comes from a different plain than the sources of our unhappiness – It becomes a lot easier to “craft” or plan for happiness!

I believe, the first thing to do, is to understand those independent sources of happiness within us.

I notice that I become joyful, when I hear an old favorite song suddenly play on the radio; I become super happy, to run into a friend at the supermarket. These spontaneous sources of happiness, teaches me that I like spontaneity in my life. That makes me happy.

Now, one of my children, on the other hand, is petrified by spontaneity and resists everything new I propose to her. So, it’s important to recognize that spontaneity may not be everyone’s source of happiness.

Occasionally, it’s nice to sit back and think what are 5 things that made YOU happy, over the last 2 months: make a short mental list. Try to replicate that again, sometime over the next few weeks. See what happens.

Today, on this beautiful sunny Saturday morning,  spontaneously, we invite a couple of friends we like to hang with, to come swim with us at the pool and bring something to grill and just catch up on life. Of course, over a bit of wine!

I think, that will make me happy! Will keep you posted.

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The Taboo on Tattoos: April 2014

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It’s a warm Friday evening and we are on our way to get some cake-batter flavored frozen yogurt; my eight-year old casually asks me, “Are people with lot’s of tattoos, bad people?”

She follows up, by assuring me that she didn’t think I was a bad person; because, I have only one tattoo.

As a single-dad, raising two daughters alone, this is not an unusual situation; often, I get asked uncomfortable questions – that I can’t just delegate for someone else to answer.

Someone at school must have made this comment; something she either overheard or became aware of this in a group conversation. Usually, children pick such things up from their families – most likely from parents, older siblings or extended families.

You wonder where these dogmas come from and why people would say things like this; when I think back at my childhood, I was told (and sincerely believed) that men who wore gold-chains (or pendants) around their necks, were either hijackers or smugglers (“Lafanga” or “Bokhatey” are the the words in Bangla, that I have a tough time transliterating).

We carry these harmful untruths all our life; most of the time, it’s someone in our families, who instills these values in us – to create this perception of “judgement”. Instead of getting to know the person (with the tattoo, or wearing a pendant) – just start judging them on their appearances – and somehow you will be safe!

In the 70s and 80s of Bangladesh, where I spent my childhood and teens, there are no racial divisions – but there still are atrocious economic inequalities and discrimination. You will not play with a certain type of children – or you cannot be friendly with children who don’t go to school with you!

However, in this twenty-first century America, where Shania enjoys the best of a private school education, it’s difficult for me to accept where these taboos originate from.

I have noticed similar negative biases in workplaces. We often make hasty decisions, on recruitment or results, based on outside appearances. About 10 years ago, I was surprised to know that one of our best technology leaders had an armful of tattoos and smoked a pack-a-day.

As we park at the Yogurt place and emerge from the car, I speak to Shania about not judging people by their external appearances. We talk about colors – how orange is different from blue – how we like different books or music – how some days are cloudy and others are not.

We conclude, people have different tastes; we cannot udge them on the basis of their height, weight, tastes or color. Instead we should really try to get to know the person and see how s/he behaves with others. Humanity, is at the end of the day, our biggest asset.

Filtering is necessary for survival; however, undue biases and taboos create so many negative experiences in our lives.

There is no practical way to insulate my children from all their biases or choices – I know the world is not perfect – nor that they won’t experience by themselves. All I know, on this mild evening, is that my responsibility is to keep questioning my own beliefs and helping my children see the world from a different point of view – where love is possible in forms, shapes and colors – with tattoos, or not.

The Value of a ME-Cation: March 30 2014

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I just booked a one-week trip to Napa Valley.

Just the thought of getting away, on my own, to a place that’s beautiful and filled with possibilities – makes me happy!

I have written about my Me-cations before; I try to go away, for a few days, to explore, connect with myself, and more importantly to really NOT do anything significant. It’s almost a meditative time off. There is something about being alone for a few days – thinking, reflecting, contemplating and adjusting to our journeys.

Most of the vacations I have taken in my life, with parents, friends or immediate family – were a set of compromises. They were also happy – to observe the happiness in someone else’s eyes! I remember driving my mother to visit her Alma Mater in Stillwater, OK  ! I remember every hot and sweaty vacation in Orlando to see Mickey or Minny with my two princesses. Memorable family trips – but to please someone else!

The key characteristic of a ME-cation, is that you get to plan (or not plan) the whole thing. You don’t have to carry anyone’s luggage or eat at restaurants you don’t like, or go to see museums or art galleries if you choose to do so. For those few days and hours, you get to do things that make YOU  happy – just YOU!

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My first such Me-cation was at Provincetown in Cape Cod.  I stayed in a lovely bed and breakfast, a bit away from the busy town; every morning, I woke early for a run in the misty roads of this charming New England resort town, with white picket fences and a beautiful shoreline. After a hot shower, I enjoyed a hot, home-made, breakfast– a hot cup of English Breakfast – and read the New York Times, cover-to-cover. I only talked to people, when I felt liked it.

Later in the morning, I rented a bike and explored the streets and surrounds of this charming town; I stopped and took pictures of interesting points; I rode up to see one of Provincetown’s seven beautiful lighthouses – sat there and just listened to the waves – in abandon.

Later in the afternoon, after a light, goat cheese salad and a glass of white wine, I read one of my favorite hardcover books…. and fall asleep to take a two-hour uninterrupted nap.

The most important thing about this journey is that, most of the time, I am alone; but none of the time am I lonely.

I was alone in Provincetown – but never lonely; I was with myself. And around me were lots of people who I have never met (and unlikely to meet again). What gave me peace, was to know that no one here had an agenda – or expected anything, in particular, from me.

There is something very cathartic of freeing oneself from all the expectations that we often have created for ourselves. As we grow in life, our families, children, and even (some of ) our friends, start expecting us to do certain things – or behave in certain ways.

When you go away on a ME-cation, you leave those expectations behind and decide to really explore within yourself – to test and see, if you really like who you have become.

Over the last three years, I have zip-lined in the rainforests of Costa Rica, experienced the markets of Cartagena and walked the white sandy beaches of different shores, searching for lighthouses.  Sometimes, with a non-demanding friend – and sometimes, just by myself.

I recommend this concept of Me-cation to all of my busy friends and family, whom I observe getting close to exhaustion. But, I don’t think we need to get to that point, of a burn-out, to go on one of these. Instead, I recommend, once a year, to put aside a few days – just for yourself – to get away from all your chores and expectations; and do something that you really want to do.

You deserve it.

Some of us get into this mode of feeling guilty for taking this time off – for ourselves; sometimes it’s the environment that we live in that creates that un-natural pressure or guilt.

People who truly love you, will understand and encourage, your need to re-connect with yourself. In fact, every time I went on a me-cation, my focus and care for my two beautiful princesses only grew deeper. Nowadays, my eighteen-year old asks me when I am going away for a few days again!

I feel privileged to be able, to make this time for myself and the ability to get away… for a few days….to almost become a child….but without the worries of the everyday world. All that’s needed to make this happen, is planning.

I look forward to my Napa vacation with a few friends next; I want to go see the balloon fiesta in Albuquerque and maybe make it to Santa Fe again, this fall. So many places to see, so many opportunities to re-connect and re-charge.

Almost as soon as I come back from one me-cation, I start thinking about the next one;  living life, one vacation to the next. That’s what life’s all about….. :)

The Peace of No Ringtones: Jan 5 2014

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We haven’t together been to a family-movie for quite some time; there’s always that conflict of schedules, and to complicate matters, there are rarely movies that a eighteen and an eight-year old want to sit through together, for ninety minutes.

Saving Mr. Banks, the tear-jerking, funny and soulful Disney movie, is an occasion to cherish with my two lovely daughters; just as important: for those two hours, I turn my cell-phone off.

As a parent, it often feels that it’s impossible to turn-off your mobile phone!

You feel this nagging need of being wired – knowing – and most importantly availing information about your children.

At the beginning of team-meetings, I often ask my colleagues to mute their cell phones and ask them to refrain from answering, unless it’s a family emergency.

During a date, sometimes, I forewarn the other party, that I do check my phone during an intimate dinner or while watching a play – just because I have kids! My notification comes like the warning from the Surgeon General on a packet of contraband nicotine.

In this world of wired anxiety, our minds often race to juggle quadratic challenges like work, childcare, healthcare and entertainment – all in one swoop, we feel the need and urgency to remain informed – to feel that we are constantly in the loop of things.

If we look back fifteen or so years, mobile phones were rare and bulky – and you had to wait to get all your news until you got to work or home – you didn’t start solving your problems at red-lights.

All this mobility and constancy, may have given us more up-to-date information – and in some cases, ability to solve some urgent problems quickly; however, coupled with our own inability to know when it’s urgent to solve problems, and when it’s ok to wait, I argue, it has also notched up our anxiety levels on unimportant things.

What you don’t know, really can’t hurt you.

Why do we need to know every movement of our children (or parents) or other loved ones on a constant basis; what is the value of this “new” need we have created for ourselves?

In some instances, this anxiety over receiving information, borders the comical.

On my recent visit to Bangladesh, I have lunch or breakfast with some of my “VIP” friends; invariably, they carry multiple cell-phones, chargers and other PDAs, in their expensive leather carriers, as if during a foggy 8:30 am breakfast meeting, over coffee, somehow some massively urgent phone-deal will emerge. One such person tells me, he has one cell phone exclusively for his boss and another one just for his wife – I am relieved to hear that his third cell phone is for common connections like myself!

Looking at the growth projections of mobility technology worldwide, I am convinced the ship for simpler times, when cell phones were rare, has sailed long ago. We might as well, get accustomed to constant mobility-anxiety in our lives.

The question remains, when to turn that cell phone off – or when to hit that “ignore” button during a seemingly involved and often important conversation of life.

I have a rule with my children – if it’s urgent, call me on my mobile twice. I will know that it’s critical to take the call if possible, or call you back  if I see two missed calls.

Maybe one day our smart phones will be smart enough to classify and we can choose separate ring-tones for calls as “critical/urgent”, “important but can wait” and “calls from Mom to check on your weather pattern!”

Just like any other Disney movie, Saving Mr. Banks, ends on a happy-joyous note; we stroll out of the dark theatre discussing the parallels and nuances of the plot and contemplate who wants to have what, for a late lunch.

I don’t turn my cell phone on for another thirty or so minutes, enjoying the peace with the most important people in my life.

There is a certain peace in this ringtone-free world; it maybe temporary and short, but I enjoy the giggling of my girls and the sound of the rain-drops on my windshield for just a few more minutes.

You learn to make the best of whatever time is afforded to you, without the interruptions of the outside world.

The Rhythm of Routines: November 28 2013

The Atlantic is calm as a lake today; it’s a beautiful, sunny and crisp morning; hot milky-tea in hand, with a few mint chocolate Milano cookies, I am thankful for so many routines in my life.
The girls are still sleeping; soon Shania will wake up, and fill up my life with her sparkling laughter and giggles; she will ask me, “Can I ask you a question?” and I will smile and exclaim, “But that is a question!” She will dunk a Milano in my lukewarm tea and spill a drop on the furniture. We will cuddle together on the sofa with a warm blanket, and read a story or watch a cartoon.
These are our simple routines.

Brunch at J marks with Shania
Breakfast at the Jukebox diner where Daiyaan never finishes her bagel; Sunday morning service at Unity followed by brunch with friends at J.Marks, where Shania hides the sweet potato fries from me; A Beach Roll or a Pretty Face Roll at 9 Face Sushi Café followed by handmade ice-cream at Razzleberry’s; a walk on the beach on a warm day.Shania does her Kumon at the dining table; Daiyaan lies on the sofa with the red blanket covering her – even on a warm day.

DZM

These mundane, routine activities are so simple and authentic, and yet so meaningful.
On this typical Thanksgiving day, I am thankful for these repetitive activities in my life. I realize, tomorrow these will morph into something else; but today, they provide continuity and a little piece of heaven .
For today, along with the sunshine, and the blue Atlantic, I embrace these routines.
I heard from a childhood friend last night, where she said that her college-going children are back at home for the holidays; the home is noisy and messy and she is loving it! One of the nicest part of the holidays are when your empty homes fill up again, with those familiar sounds and smells! Those familiar faces – changed, yet same for a few days – trying to re-enact, as close as we can, those moments from the past.
Now I understand, why during every conversation, my mother brings up all her nostalgia and ruefully asks If I remember the day I fell down in our neighbor’s Lilly pond or when our new kitten Koala climbed up a curtain some forty years ago ! She searches for those moments of routine from the past.
When tumult engulfs us, we crave these routines; we try to get to “steady state” by finding or re-creating routines. As if, these little repetitions somehow give a rhythm to our lives.
Recently, I moved from one condo to another, and remember the grueling few days of moving boxes and glassware from one room to another. Every moment of the move, I kept craving these repetitive ritualistic moments. One way to get through a difficult time, is to look back at those memories of routine happiness, and try to remember those times that were relatively more stable or pleasant.
As our lives change over the years, one of the joyful and exhilarating experience is the formation of habits and then subtle changes that occur over time.
When Shania tries something new or decides to not follow the norm, instead of opposing or changing of routine – I try to understand that this change is a normal part of life; the routine is not as critical– but her presence in my life. In any form, shape or routine, Shania and Daiyaan are the most important repetitions that I love in my daily life.
One day, this too will change; just as Daiyaan moved away from home to college and created her own routines in her new life – one day, Shania will do the same.
Until then, I want to enjoy this subtle rhythm of slow mornings, with lazy blankets, milky-tea with cookies and a deep embrace that lasts forever.

Sushi at 9 Face