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Archive for the ‘goals’ Category

Eventful few weeks

I’m proud of the many milestones for our family in the last few weeks.

On Jan 23, I drove for the first time on Bangalore roads, all the way from home to my mom’s place (~ 15 kms). Admittedly, it was on a Sunday morning when traffic is minimal (One of my colleagues had this to say – you really have to go look for cars to hit), but still I was pretty much on the edge of the seat and sweating profusely. Was a huge relief when I reached there. Haven’t driven again since. Sometimes I wonder if its worth it. But you can’t a price on independence!

The same morning, a couple of hours later, SK started swimming in the pool, without any floating aids, for the first time.

Then on Thursday, Feb 3, SK started to ride her bicycle without training wheels. I had been coaxing her to do this for 6 months now. We removed the training wheels about 5 months ago and had to put it back on, because she absolutely refused to even sit on the bike. Even now, she need a lot of cajoling, coaxing and bribing. She still needs to build a lot of stamina, but I can see she has improved steadily over the last few days. She could barely go a minute without stopping, now she can do almost 5 minutes.

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Cruise to the coast

For a while now, I had wanted to do a weekend cycling trip. Although we haven’t done any regular cycling in five months now, even before that, riding through the back roads of Sarjapur/Hosur road every Sunday was getting a bit tedious. So I had been following a couple of companies who do organized weekend trips in various parts of Karnataka and Kerala, through forests, hills and such other soothing scenery. These usually start on Friday night and end late on Sunday night, so we would have to leave the kids with extended family. And since there would be school next day, it would have to be on a long weekend where the Monday was a holiday. Luckily one such opportunity came up last weekend. Monday was a holiday for Onam, so we chose to cruise to the coast with Cycling and More. PK, me and a friend signed up.

But before that wonderful trip, there was a harrowing misadventure. The pick-up location for these rides is a common point near the heart of the city. We had opted to take our own bikes instead of renting (it is hard to find good rental bikes, especially for women, height is an issue). This meant that we had to find a way to transport our bikes from home to the pick-up point. We called around for luggage autos/tempos, but without luck. It was Varamahalakshmi festival and no one would come. So, around 7 pm, the three of us started pedaling in the dark. None of us had experience riding in the night or riding in the city. It was all a terrible combination of conditions – peak Friday evening traffic, semi-lit to completely dark roads and inexperienced riders for those conditions. For a minute I wondered what I had been thinking to even attempt this. After a nerve-wracking 1.5 hrs, we reached the pick-up point. I was already wondering how we would get back home after the ride.

The overnight bus journey to Bhagamandala was uneventful. As with most Indian roads, it was a very bumpy road, so we couldn’t really sleep. We reached around 5 am and checked into the KSTDC hotel at the base of Talakaveri. It was simple and clean accommodation. After a nice hot shower, felt refreshed. There was an optional “expert riders” ride to the top of Talakaveri (8 km uphill). I obviously sat that one out. PK went and turned around after 4 km. Breakfast was ready around 7.45 – Idli, vada, coffee. We started on the trail around 8.30 am. Initially, it felt good to be back on the bicycle after a long break. The scenery was mostly lush green mountains with low hanging clouds. The terrain was mostly rolling hills and so it wasn’t easy or anything. After about 10 km or so, it turned to be mostly downhill for the next 15 kms. But the road was a bit wet and slippery, so at least I was afraid to completely let go. I constantly had my hands on the brakes. Also, the road was extremely bumpy, so despite having shock absorbers my whole body was shaking the entire time I was on the cycle during this stretch. We did take a few breaks since there were almost 10 or so waterfalls right by the road side, each more beautiful than the other. Towards the end of this downhill stretch, on one of the several hairpin bends, our friend took a nasty fall. He hurt both his palms, a cheek and chin. He was bleeding profusely and it took a while to stop. Luckily PK had cotton, dettol and lots of band-aids and was very useful for the several people who fell in that stretch. When we were done with this long down hill stretch, my biceps, shoulders and neck were hurting from the vibrations of the bumpy road. Once we were down all the way and crossed into Kerala, it got pretty warm and humid. Legs were tired, and it was drizzling off and on. Quite a few were getting off and walking their bikes on the uphills. I was determined not to and kept pedaling. But at some point, walking is as fast as pedaling on those slopes, but with less effort, so may be those heroics weren’t worth it after all. The support vehicle passed us and everyone who was behind us had got on to it, so effectively, we were the last ones among the ones still riding. They said another 3 km more to the lunch point and we pedaled on. Was so glad to reach the lunch point, it must have been around 1.30 pm or so. Most people had finished eating and we also finished up hurriedly.

At that point, we were told that about 10 or so (I guess the slowest and least energetic) were planning to ride the support vehicle. The others who intended to cycle all the way had already left before we even started lunch. And we were under pressure to reach Bekal fort before 4.30 pm since that would be the last allowed entry. It didn’t look like we could make that 35 km in less than 2.5 hrs. So we decided to get on the vehicle also, although neither of us were proud of it, I was secretly glad that I could rest my weary body. PK called it the “ride of shame”. It turned out it was the right choice. The drizzle turned into steady rain and the last 10 km or so before Bekal fort was on a highway with heavy traffic, so it didn’t look like an enjoyable ride.

Bekal Fort is a beautiful and relatively unknown place. Apparently main Bollywood songs are shot here. The sea, the beaches and everything was enchanting. But we had to see all this in the rain, so I couldn’t really take any pictures. Would be nice to take the kids there one day. Initially, we had thought that we would cycle the last stretch from Bekal to Kasargod, but the rain was so bad by now that another 10 more got into the vehicle. So the support vehicle made multiple trips on that last 15 km. First the cyclists were dropped off and then they came back for the bicycles. Only about 10 or so very experienced riders rode this last stretch. The hotel in Kasargod was decent (actually, above my expectations but I have very low expectations, especially in small towns). I had to plead hard for hot water because they apparently use solar and considering the weather, there was no hope. After much convincing, he provided about 6 of us or so, a bucket of hot water each. The hot shower was good after the very long 24 hrs!

Day 2

The trip director woke everyone at 5 am, knocking on each of our doors. We were ready and down by 6 am. We started our ride with about three other guys, at around 6.30 am, since we wanted a head start compared to those expert riders, who were not even down yet. The early morning ride was good. The terrain was gentle ups and downs with a few sustained uphills. Around 7.15 or so, we stopped at a roadside tea stall but the coffee and tea were pathetic. We poured those down a gutter and settled for 3 to 4 bananas each. By 8 or so, we reached the designated breakfast point and few others had also come by now. There was no sign of the support vehicle, and we could see an uphill stretch, so everyone felt that it was better to keep going instead of waiting there, since this stretch would be difficult to do after breakfast. Breakfast or not, this stretch was very difficult anyway. Today I didn’t have any qualms about walking my bike a little if I had to, so that’s exactly what I did here. After 3 km or so, the slopes become bearable again and we stopped here. By the time breakfast came to us (8.30 am or so), people had eaten up all the vadas and only idlis were left. There were gentle curses being thrown around by some of the more vocal ones, for those who had devoured more than one vada. I don’t know if it was because we were very hungry, breakfast tasted really yummy, especially the sambar – this coming from me, someone who is not at all a fan of idlis. The ride from here was again rolling hills. Today we were determined to do the entire stretch. PK was riding ahead of me most of the way. I guess he had some new-found resolve and energy. There was a beautiful 6 km downhill full of hairpin bends, which was a lot more enjoyable than the previous day because these roads were smooth, dry and wider. There was one viewpoint where 15 of us had congregated and took some group pictures there. This road reminded us of some roads in White Mountains in New Hampshire – the sound of river flowing near by, birds singing and thick green forest on both sides. The milestone markers kept showing us the remaining distance to Jalsoor. Soon we were in the single digits. About 6 kms or so before Jalsoor, there was a beautiful stream where we spent a lot of time. It was only around 11.15 or so and we were not due back at the end point before 12.30. We took off our shoes and rested our feet, chatted, took pictures and hung out. Some good friendships had formed. The last 6 kms was an uneventful ride. We were the last 5 or 6 to reach. We took off our helmets, gloves and put our luggage on the bus and just joined the rest of the crowd who was chatting.

We were figuring we were ready to leave when the trip director V, noticed one person was missing. No one remembered seeing him and I didn’t even know that name. V called his cell and apparently the guy had a flat and was walking his bicycle. He already had walked 6 kms and was 6 away from the destination! They went in an autorickshaw and brought him back. That was a sort of lesson to me to at least ride with a one or two others who are aware whether you are ahead or behind. There were few stretches where many of us were alone, but not for more than 3 to 4 kms I think. Either we would end up catching up with someone or someone would catch up with us. (I was also wondering if the gentle curses thrown around at breakfast time had come true and asked him how many vadas he had eaten at breakfast. This was a recurring theme as a joke throughout the bus ride back).

Anyway, around 1 pm or a bit later we left Jalsoor and reached Sulya (~10 km) and stopped in a restaurant for lunch. It was the slowest service I have seen. The guy seemed overwhelmed that ~35 people descended suddenly at lunch time. I don’t know if they see that much business even in a week in some of these parts. Lunch was a totally forgettable affair, but the socializing with the rest of the riders was good. We left after lunch at around 3 pm. There was one stop at 6.45 pm in a CCD on the way. We had good coffee and picked up some sandwiches to eat later since there wasn’t going to be a dinner stop (which was a wise decision if we had to reach Bangalore before mid-night). We were back at the Hockey stadium around 11.15 pm and it was pouring. We were running from pillar to post to figure out how to reach home and what to do with the bikes. Luckily another couple from Whitefield had arranged for a tempo and they transported our bikes till our doorstep and we took a cab home. They were really our saviors that night.

Overall, we really enjoyed the trip even though we were a bit disappointed that we didn’t do the ride completely (even though that was not a fair expectation of ourselves since we are out of shape and have had no cycling practice in 6 months now, but who says expectations have to be fair or logical). It was organized very well – clean and simple accommodations, decent food and the bike transportation logistics were covered very well. And it was great value for money, the trips are priced very economically. Would love to do another one sometime.

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Closure, sort of …

Not sure, where to start …

The last three months are a blur in my head. We had the home for sale in the market for about seven weeks. The stress we were under can only be experienced if you try to sell your home in a market as tough as the current one. I feel like I could write a book on it. Somewhere along the way, I also felt that a support group for home-owners on the market would be very helpful too. It was seven weeks of constant cleaning – vacuuming, dusting, mopping, wiping etc for the almost daily showings that we had. I was afraid to cook anything even slightly elaborate, for fear of the smells and the mountain of cleaning which would come after that. We lived like guests in our own home with minimal impact, but that still didn’t ease the pain of keeping the home show-ready. The outcome was not too bad. We got a few offers, some real low balls, some decent ones but were badly timed. Ultimately we just chose to rent it out for a year. To me, the most attractive thing about renting was the prospect of quick closure vs the six to eight weeks it takes for sale closures. I was feeling the time pressure due to the academic calendars in Bangalore. There’s also the hope that things will turn around in a year or two.

The relief at having finalized the lease quickly faded when we realized the amount of work that needed to be done in less than three weeks. We had three vehicles to sell, sort through a house full of junk stuff we accumulated over the years, tying loose ends at school and day care and also work towards realizing the dream of a cross country road trip before we leave. Again, the vehicle sales had their own drama. As of today, we are two down and one more to go. And for that last one, we have lost the title and are running around trying to get a duplicate issued quickly. We realized that only on Saturday. It was frustrating to just wait it out on Sunday and Memorial day for banks, RMV etc to open. There has not been a dull or care-free moment in this household all of this year!

Our time here is quickly coming to an end. If all goes well, we hope to vacate our home in ten days and embark on a two week cross country road trip and reach San Francisco by the 20th and fly to Bangalore from there. Along the way, we plan to meet some friends, see a few new places and also do some camping in the Yellow Stone and Grand Teton National Parks.

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Almost a year ago, our family decided to move to India, this summer. The bigger picture of moving back “home” sometime, has been on our minds for a few years now, but the time frame was sort of finalized early last year.

 

We are faced with the situation of putting our home for sale in this difficult housing market. It is actually terrible timing for us – not just with the house, but for new jobs too. I’m kind of lucky that I will probably be able to move with my current job since my company has operations in Bangalore too. But PK will probably have a tough time finding something good. I only have a job, but absolutely no relocation assistance. And it riles me when people make all-knowing comments how most companies pay for these moves. Have they not been seeing or reading about the happenings all around? My company used to, also. But that was then.

 

The school situation in Bangalore is extremely competitive. They have all sorts of written tests and interviews for elementary schools. And I’m not talking about elite schools or anything. This is standard operating procedure for just about any school there. The academic calendars don’t coincide either. So AK will probably not have any summer vacation. Probably just about a two or three week break.

 

We are not able to firm up any dates yet since much depends on what happens with the home. We have spent the last couple of months painting, replacing carpets etc, in preparation for listing it. I don’t deal too well with uncertainty, so it promises to be a tough year. Even if we are able to wrap up everything smoothly here, we will have the other daunting task of actually settling down over there. The kids have never spent more than three to four weeks at a time there. School system will be new. And even though it is my home town, it feels like a new place every time I visit (every two years, in case you are wondering). The place has changed drastically in the last decade.   

 

A friend asked me if I was feeling nostalgic having to leave this home after having lived here for eight years. Now is not the time for nostalgia for me. There is just too much to be done and a lot of stress about how it will all work out. Hopefully, once that is all ironed out, nostalgia will come (and hit me hard, I’m sure!).

 

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A trip to DisneyWorld

Magic Kingdom

 Before it becomes a distant memory, here is a quick recap of our DisneyWorld Trip.

 

Since we used up most of our vacation days for the year this summer, this had to be a short trip. Which meant we couldn’t see or do everything that we wanted to. But then, standing in lines all day (not just for the rides, even for food or other treats), for so many days, it was enough.

 

 

On the first evening, we visited Epcot, only for a few hours though. We were tired from travel earlier in the day and so it was a short visit. Most of the thrilling rides were closed or were near closing time, with lines of 45 minutes to an hour’s wait. So we did a few kiddie rides like the one from Finding Nemo. I wanted to stay for the “Illuminations” fire works show, but it was a chilly night and everyone was exhausted, so we skipped it and went back to the hotel.

 

The next morning, PK did go to the local Circuit City for some black Friday deals (yeah, I know, we were supposed to be on vacation, but it was his choice), but he was back by 7.30 am. He picked up a one TeraByte External hard drive, some SDHC cards, DDR2 RAM, wireless mice etc, in case you are curious J. Around 10 am, we took the shuttle from the hotel to The Magic Kingdom. PK was blown away by the scale of it all. You get dropped off by the shuttle at the ticketing center. Even if you drive yourself, you park here. Then you have to take a monorail ride or a ferry ride of several minutes to get to the park itself. It was CROWDED! The minimum wait even for the least interesting rides were at least 45 minutes. And all the character meet and greets were well over an hour’s wait. It was disheartening. Also, we didn’t find out about the FastPassuntil late in the day, so we couldn’t take advantage of it. Even with that, there are limits, you can not hold passes to several rides at one time. We saw a few live performances and the kids enjoyed the 3D movie. They make the experience too real – in windy scenes, they were blowing a gust of wind in the theater, in rainy scenes, they sprinkled water etc. SK wanted to go on the “Dumbo, the flying elephant” ride but it had an hour’s wait. The surprising thing was, it wasn’t only parents with young kids waiting! I would have thought groups of adults didn’t care for such rides. The only characters we met were the Disney Princesses. I chose them because for an hour’s wait we got to meet three favorite characters instead of one. There was Cinderella, Belle (from Beauty and the beast) and Aurora (Sleeping Beauty). I had thought SK would be thrilled, but she looked more curious and in awe rather than elated. I think she was extremely tired too since she didn’t nap. After that, we did some boy stuff, like the speedway car rides, the Buzz light year ride etc.

 

We didn’t find too many options for dinner. We managed to find garden burgers and fries after some looking around. After dinner, we saw the fireworks which was quite good. The Castle and Main Street really looked very beautiful, all lit up in the night. The park was open till midnight but we headed out around 10 pm since the males in the family were complaining of aching legs.

 

 

Saturday’s stop was at Animal Kingdom. I liked this park since it is sort of unique. Also, it is much smaller than Magic Kingdom, so it was easier to get to the different parts of the park. Our favorite rides here were the Kali river rapids, Expedition Everest, Dinosaur and Kilimanjaro Safari ride. Crowds were thinner here and with the use of FastPass, we were able to do most of the things we wanted to. We met Donald duck, Mickey, Minnie and Goofy and SK was absolutely thrilled to meet them all. In fact, she has never seen any TV shows or movies of them – just a few books here and there, so I was surprised that she enjoyed meeting them so much. Her face absolutely lit up and she wouldn’t stop talking about it for days. Also AK was a bit shy to pose with Minnie in the picture, but she (or was it a he, who knows?) hugged him and AK was thoroughly embarrassed. It was sort of cute. He spent the next hour begging me not to tell anyone or show the picture. Here too we saw a few live performances. Of them all, I liked the “Circle of Life, Lion King Show”. Great songs, dances and colorful costumes. Also, the park closed at 8 pm, so we got to go out for a real dinner.

 

On the last day, we went to Disney’s Hollywood studios. Much of the day was lost to thunderstorms, rain and strong winds. Our favorite ride of all the four parks was here – The Tower of terror. We liked it so much in fact, PK reserved fastpasses to go a second time, but we didn’t. First of all we had to take turns since SK is not allowed on most of the so called “thrilling rides” and AK was scared of this one too and didn’t want to go a second time. So, it would have been just PK and me, solo, taking turns. The Aerosmith Rock n roller coaster was pretty good too. It was frequently marred by technical issues though, so we had much longer waits. The new Toy Story Mania was a huge hit too. AK’s biggest desire in this park was to meet the cars, but they left earlier than the time we were told, so we missed them and the Incredibles. We met the Monsters. We did catch the Fantasmic show too. Good thing we went to the earlier performance. The second one was washed out.

 

 

Another service I liked is the PhotoPass. It costs an arm and a leg to download a copy of every single picture, but at least the option is there. I wish itw asn’t so expensive. Most of our vacation pictures is a combination of one adult and two kids depending on who is taking the picture. It is not a pleasant thing to always ask people around to take family pictures, so we have very few of those. This service allowed us to have more than a few pictures with all of us in it, so I will probably download a couple before they expire. 

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Scenes from Charlestown

Bunker Hill Monument

Bunker Hill Monument

Last Sunday, the weather was perfect – sunny and 70 (which is rare in late Oct). So we headed to Charlestown. Even though we have lived in the area for eight years, we never had a chance to go there. This seems to be the year when I’m knocking off quite a few things on my list of things to see/do. We climbed up the Bunker Hill monument (294 steps), got great views of Boston, read up on some history of the American struggle for Independence, went to City Square Park where there were beautiful fall colors on the trees and ate an awesome “Coffee lovers” ice cream at Cold Stone Creamery. Days like these always lift up my spirit!

City Square Park

City Square Park

Boston from the top of Bunker Hill Monument

Boston from the top of Bunker Hill Monument

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I subscribe to a family travel blog and recently read about families who take a year or more off and travel around the world. With mild curiosity, I clicked through to read about one family who’s planning to start their adventure this summer. And then they have links to many families who have done this in the past and to some who are on the road now. I read with great fascination about one family’s recent trip. I was blown. Ever since, I’ve been thinking about this a lot. I raved to PK too, all about it. I’m currently reading “One year off“, one family’s account of their trip (may be one of the earliest?). It’s a great read. My only frustration is that I can’t seem to find enough time to read a substantial portion in any one sitting.

Yesterday evening, we were running our usual weekend chores – library, blockbuster, grocery shopping. The kids were restless and it was pouring outside. For the grocery shopping part, PK and the kids stayed in the car and I ran in and grabbed the essentials. But because it was raining hard, it was a mess to load the groceries in the car, keep the cart and get back in the car. I had not even sat down and AK was talking to me non-stop and it was obvious I was paying any attention to what he was saying – because after all that rush, I just wanted to sit for a minute before I responded. He got annoyed and I snapped back. PK says, “Oh, we’ll never be able to survive one year off”. For now, we have some modest goals.

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