Jan 31 – End of Blogathon!

One more year of Jan blogathon done thanks to Seema!

I look forward to this blogathon with a mix of expectation and dread. Its so wonderful to read and catch up with blog friends but to write something everyday is getting tougher and tougher every year. Sadly though this year a few of my favourite bloggers skipped it but I am glad to have read Ani, Seema, Tharini, freaky veggie…and I hope Summer script, Maya, R’s mom all come back atleast next year!

Until then, adios amigos!

Jan 30 – Weekend updates

Food is always a primary discussion in our family, so let’s start with that. I got inspired by Ani and her weekend cooking, so made okra and cabbage- 2 curries with rasam yesterday morning. Then came the badanekai yennegai, I believe is similar to the guttivankaya in telugu – eggplant in peanut based curry with paneer chappatis. Everytime the milk gets a little old and splits, I end up making paneer chappatis. Makes the chappatis super soft. Also made thai pineapple fried rice for lunch and raita for a potluck dinner.

For over a month now, 3 neighbor families have been thinking of playing sequence game over some weekend evening. With the kids’ activities its hard to make time and with our quarantine we had not stepped out of the house for over 2 weeks. So today, we decided to meet at the neighbor’s house for a game night- continous bouts of sequence- with kids and without kids with a quick dinner break. Us adults didn’t want to stop though it was a weeknight!

Sometimes such unadultrated fun is required even for us- always kids at heart ๐Ÿ˜

Jan 29 – India trip

India Trip

Before this blogathon ends I want to put this post here for posterity. 

In October, while I was starting preparations for the annual golu, I woke up on sunday morning to messages from my brother and missed calls from my mother to let me know that Dad was admitted in the hospital. What started off as an admission for a couple of days ended up becoming more serious and by the end of our Tuesday, the doctors were themselves not sure when they would discharge Dad from the hospital. A couple of months before that Mom had a freak accident and had broken her ankle, struggling to manage within the house forget running around to the hospital. My cousin and his wife were managing the hospital stay, food supply and their own office work after banning all senior citizens (all aunts and uncles) from going to the hospital because of the covid scare. Meanwhile my brother who had gotten his PCR test done and who was ready to travel was stuck in the UK because of new govt rules of anyone travelling from Europe having to undergo institutional quarantine for 7 days. I had booked my tickets but the earliest available one was on Thursday giving me time to get my PCR result in time to board the flight. By Wednesday morning, I had still not got the PCR result from 2 places where I had given the test so we decided to drive 1.5hrs to a lab where a 6hrs result was guaranteed while a friend picked Sam up from school that afternoon. After paying 200$, thankfully I received the negative test result on Thursday morning, well in time for my flight. 

I was flying Qatar airlines for the first time and I have to say the food and the entertainment were both good. The first leg of the flight was relatively empty and I slept all by myself in 4 seats. One important thing I have to mention here is how impressive the airport covid testing was. I was out of the airport after giving a sample in under 1.5hrs which is usually the same amount it takes even without covid test. I was home by 5.30am on saturday morning Blr time. In the meantime, another cousin had flown in from Mumbai to help with the running around, my aunt and uncle had come from Mysore to stay at home with my mom so she doesn’t have to be alone and to cook at home while even after 7 days Dad was still in the hospital. After thorough cleaning of all my suitcases and bags and shower I continued to wear mask inside the house until we got the negative test result from the airport. After that, I was free to walk around the house without mask and go to the hospital. The next 3 days I stayed at the hospital with dad while night duty was done by my cousins (girls don’t stay in the hospital overnight and all that). Dad finally came home on Monday evening on Saraswathi habba and everyone heaved a huge sigh of relief.

All the stress of travel and dad in the hospital relieved overnight, my actual vacation began. I managed to get some shopping done, grab a chaat dinner one night, meet all my favourite people, spend time with parents, dinner with cousins, coffee with one friend and breakfast with the school gang. The next 2 weeks rushed past in a happy frame of mind. Also managed to squeeze in some bank work in between. Mom was super impressed with me this time with the speed at which I was getting things done ๐Ÿ™‚

The best part of it all was Dad was home, healthy and Mom’s ankle had also heeled and she had started to walk properly with minimal pain. Like my cousins teased – it all only got better because I went. For the first time, while I was leaving, Mom gave me a hug and said she was so relieved as soon as she saw me, she knows now that me and my brother are always ready to be there with them at a moment’s notice and that gives her a lot of strength to face whatever future holds.

In all of this, I need to immensely thank the family that was there, holding the fort and giving us-dad,mom,me and brother the physical,mental and emotional strength until I reached Blr. This is the goodwill,love and affection earned that takes us sailing smoothly until the end of life. 

Jan 28 – Friday fun Sam tales

Before the end of the blogathon I have to write about Sam updates for all of last year!

He has grown over 8 inches tall in less than a year…every morning when he comes down he has to check if he has grown taller than me or not. I am proud to say there is still a couple of centimeters left for that ๐Ÿ˜†

He has really taken to the violin in school and this year when my Dad turned 70 and we had a zoom call, he learnt the notes of Happy Birthday from youtube and played it.

Continuing the violin love, he now learns random music pieces like Mission Impossible and Good, Bad and Ugly.

I am glad that the carnatic music is still going on and his teacher has registered him for the Level 1 exam in April. I am getting worried about it but he, like always is a happy camper.

After more than a year of covid restrictions we had community Deepawali celebrations in November where the boys did their own live band performance and Sam sang Gulabi ankhen and Bombe heLutaite. A proud mommy moment for me though it was the daddys who put the effort to teach and get the kids to practice.

One thing that has drastically changed is his interest in reading. No more library books every 2 weeks, no more asking for this or that book. Xbox and TV occupies most head space and we are always at loggerheads to get him back to reading.

Middle school has definitely got him a wee bit serious about completing his homework and activities without being reminded. Sometimes even extra activities get completed before he asks for TV or Xbox. Hopefully these are all steps in the right direction.

So until next year, all aunties…give your blessings and best wishes to Sam!

Jan 27th – The Beach Vacation

We had just returned from the Smoky Mountains vacation when we got an invitation to join our gang of friends’ families here for an Outerbanks beach vacation in August. Initially I was hesitant as we had just returned from one vacation and I did not have vacation days left. Also I was a little uncomfortable because I was not sure we would get acceptable accommodations for 5 families.ย 

Surprisingly hubby was super enthusiastic to go on this trip. While I voiced my concerns he told me to search for my version of “acceptable” accomodation and if I find one we will go. Reluctantly, I agreed and spent a couple of hours on sunday afternoon browsing airbnb and vrbo and luckily found a 6 bedroom house with 5 bathrooms. That was my criteria – a bedroom and bathroom for each family – no sharing and no sleeping in common areas. But I knew if I shared it with the group they might not even see it, so I sent it to hubby to share with the group. Within 1 hour everyone had given a thumbs up and another friend had already reached out to the owner to book it for our days. By day end, we had a beach house booked for 4 nights in August.ย 

One of the families in the initial planning dropped out and another friend’s friend family from New Jersey decided to join. We started on Saturday morning in our 4 cars and it was a fun drive, figuring out where to stop for lunch and coffee, taking breaks together. All 5 families finally caught up together at the beginning of outer banks at a subway around 8pm for dinner. We started driving again at around 9pm and after another beautiful drive over dark bridges looking at the full moon reflect over the water, lightning striking at a distance, we finally reached the house at around 10.30pm. Despite over 10hrs of drive and the late hour, nobody wanted to sleep yet, so we figured out our rooms and set up the kitchen (we had carried all our instapots and food to last an army for 4 days).ย 

The next three days were a flurry of food, fun, beach, dance, drinks, party. The kids had their own room and had a blast by themselves. One night we decided to walk to the beach at 11pm – cool ocean breeze, the moon was still nearly full, empty beach – simply beautiful. I felt so free that I did something that I would never usually do – let go of my inhibitions and ran around in that sand, arms outstretched as if I was flying. I really wanted to feel the breeze, take deep breaths and consciously be in that moment by emptying all thoughts in the head.

The next morning I went to the beach alone to watch the sun rise. After 3 days, finally found a quiet moment alone, walked along the beach watching the dogs running in and out of the water chasing birds, the birds trying to catch the hiding crabs and took a moment to show the sun rise to my parents over a video call. I love watching the sun – set or rise doesn’t matter over any beach. Nothing like the sky lit up in those colors, nothing like the reflection of those colors on the ocean mixed with the blue and white of the waves. Nothing compares to the feeling of being so minute and unimportant in the largest scale of things. To make one feel why we carry so many unwanted thoughts and tensions. Philosophical, like this.ย 

Back home and back to reality, back to conversations and indulgent food and drinks. We hired a boat one day while some of them did the jetskis and spent a better part of the day on the water. But we never got tired of going to the beach. We went to the beach at all times and stayed in the water for hours. The kids could not get enough of the water and even ventured out to the community pool after the beach one day!

The checkout day came too soon and we stopped at the lighthouse that was on my to-do list and started back home. We stopped for dinner at the extremely hyped Adyar Anand Bhavan for dinner and then drove back home in rain to reach home by 10.30pm. One noteworthy thing to mention – hubby slept on the drive back while I drove for 4 straight hours on heavy traffic, road construction highway in Virginia which is a big confidence booster for me ๐Ÿ˜€

Some small hiccups to remember:

a. the J family who got pulled over for speeding

b. Kid A who got pulled into a riptide the very first time we went into the water and had to be pulled out with an effort from all the dads especially DadA who ran into the water and swam to catch hold of the kid and push him from behind – it was super scary 15mins

c. Heavy winds that broke our tent – we were sitting under it when it broke but we got up just in time so that no one was hurt

d. Sam as usual had to get hurt – he slipped and fell from the bunk bed and got such a bad scrape that the skin from his entire back got pealed off. So, that last evening he had to sit out from playing in the ocean. He still has a mark on his back from that fall.

Full moon at the beach
Gathering clouds over the ocean
Moon guiding us during our drive to destination

See the beach-less than a minute’s walk

Jan 25 – Random updates

– Sam seems to be doing fine, going to school but he has his evenings free as he cannot go to swimming for another week. Every evening now, we switch the TV off and play Sequence board game that we all are enjoying. I am loving this family time.

– Whoever said/says Govt. Offices in America are better to India are plain lying. Its the same “don’t care” attitude everywhere, the people who are supposed to help don’t give the right information or they are least bothered. After making us run around they say they don’t do this in that office or the system is down. They get completely frazzled by even a little bit of crowd- if there are 10 people in the line, they get overwhelmed. Where as in India people are so much better at handling lines of 100s and proportionally about the same amount of running around to get things done.

-“Dhadkan kya keheti hai samjho ishaara” this line popped in my head today, no clue why, and I did not even know the beginning! Google baba to my help – https://youtu.be/Fxey_cVB3B0 Neither a good movie nor a popular song!

– Work is picking up and I am enjoying what I am doing, but everyday there is this thought that what am I doing here? I want to do something more, why have I given up my own aspirations to get somewhere? I don’t know if its diffidence or laziness or just complacency that’s stopping me from even putting my resume out there

– Sam came home and said the Principal saw him help another kid today, and that he will get a kindness certificate which will be displayed on the main school notice board. My day is made! We heard the same kind of remarks from a couple of his teachers during our PTMs in November that he is very kind, always helpful and his class teacher even went to the extent of saying ” We all want our children to be good, kind , responsible citizens at the end of the day, more than the education and lessons. You must be proud parents because you are raising one such child”. I cried that day and my heart soars everytime I think of this, though I have to admit we are hardly doing anything. This is all Sam and the person he is.

Jan 24 – Smoky Mountains National Park – Part 5

Though the National Park highlights ended in the last post, I want to log the rest of our fun times as a part4 of Smoky Mountains as we were still there with friends for another 2 days.

There was a dilemma about returning back home. Do we return back on Friday because Sam had his divisional swim meet on saturday or do we get Sam to skip the swim meet and start on Saturday as planned before. On Thursday, after all the excitement of bear watching, we picked up Donuts near our Airbnb, sat there and asked Sam what he wanted to do. We were ready to pack up and leave on Friday if that’s what he wanted. He gave it a lot of thought, saw his ranking and his meet timings and decided that he will skip his meet. In his words “Even if I do go to the divisionals, Amma, there is no gaurantee that I will make it to the top 3 to go to the next meet. I have already missed practice this week and without a single day of practice I cannot compete with the best. I would rather spend 1 more day with friends that I have not seen in 5 years and I don’t know when we will meet them again so let’s stay back and enjoy another day here”. I was amazed at his clarity of thought and we decided to accept his decision. 

Friday also happened to be Daddy-N’s birthday and we had done all that we wanted to see and do in Smoky Mountain National Park. So we partied until late night on Thursday, drank Moonshine which is the alcohol of choice in Tennessee, danced and celebrated Daddy-N’s birthday by making him cut the cake at midnight. 

Friday morning, us ladies had decided to go to the Tanger outlet in Severville again which was very close to our airbnb while the boys wanted to go to the amusement park we kept seeing as we drove by everyday and N-girl wanted to go to the parrot mountain close by. So we split, the men taking the kids to Parrot mountain and the amusement park while we ladies did our laundry and some packing before heading out to Tanger outlets wearing our twinning clothes. 

Birthday boy daddy-N wanted to eat Indian food that we had seen great reviews about so we ordered dinner from that restaurant which gave us a chance to pack up the kitchen. Oof! the amount of food we had carried! We had theplas, pasta, noodles, rice all of it through the 6 days but it felt as if we brought back as much as we had taken but we had had a great vacation with good food, drinks and great company.ย 

Saturday morning we were supposed to checkout by 11am so we had time for one last breakfast before we all headed in opposite directions, back home. Last minute packing and cleaning up the house (we got a 5* guest rating from the airbnb owner ๐Ÿ™‚ ) We all said our sad good byes and started back home. We reached late Saturday night while they had another day of driving to reach back home on Sunday afternoon. 

Like always, the vacation ended too soon and as I write this, my mind is thinking of places where we can meet again like this mid-way. 

Jan 23 – Smoky Mountains National Park – Part 4

We had a relatively early start on Thursday which was still around 11am as we had to cover a 7mile Cades Cove loop drive which I had read was a beautiful drive. Before that we had to cover the Laurel falls hike. But we got stuck in traffic going through Gatlinburg to drive through a loop with a few view points there. The Laurel falls hike was tougher with more incline than the Grotto falls hike though the distance was shorter. It took us all morning to finish that hike after which we found a great picnic spot on the way to Cades cove to stop and have packed lunch. This time it was Methi theplas with pickle and ghee ๐Ÿ™‚ย 

The drive through Cades cove loop was slow, one way traffic and the views of Meadows and horses. I believe it would look colorful during spring but in peak summer the drive was honestly quite boring and everyone other than hubby, who was driving and me stayed awake.ย 

I had read in multiple reviews that there are plenty of bears in Smoky Mountains and a lot about what to do if you encouter a bear. I kept hoping that we will see a bear during our hikes and was disappointed that we didn’t. That day someone told us that we had missed seeing a bear by about 20mins on the Laurel falls hike and I kept hoping that we will get lucky and see bear before we come back. I remember we had gotten lucky even in Yosemite because bears are supposed to be shy creatures and they don’t come when there are too many people around. 

After the boring Cades Cove drive we were driving back to the park entry and then suddenly it felt like every car in the National park was parked on this steep road and people were all out of their cars and ooh-ing and aah-ing. I immediately realized that there must be a bear there and started jumping around asking hubby to stop the car. It woke everyone up and I had jumped out of the car even before the car came to a full stop. With so many people around, I knew the bear wouldn’t search for only me to attack ๐Ÿ˜€ 

I hadn’t imagined, but we saw 4 bears not just 1! A mamma bear and her 3 cubs were walking in the valley below not more than 8-10 feet from us. Despite the commotion of all the people there the mamma bear was just walking with her cubs and making sure that the cubs were following her. The cubs were playfully climbing rocks and branches but somehow stayed close to the mother. It reminded me of toddler Sam ๐Ÿ˜‰ we managed to take a few pictures and videos and I felt the the whole trip was justified and validated. 

Cades Cove
Laurel falls
See the bears?

Jan 22 – Smoky Mountain National Park – Part 3

One thing I have learnt after visiting a few of these National parks is my capacity for hikes. I do my research on the must-see, must-do hikes, figure out their intensity and the time it takes, what is there to see at the end of the hike (preferably a water fall) and choose only those that have a good view with minimal effort – like an easy or moderate hikes. I generally skip any hikes marked “Difficult” or anything more than 6 miles round trip.

Having said that, Wednesday and Thursday were days kept just to drive around and do some small hikes in Smoky mountains and we got extremely late on Wednesday. By the time we all woke up and had brunch and started for the park it was past 1pm and we reached the park and took the park maps and drove to one of the hikes that we had decided to do that day – the 3 mile hike where we would go behind the waterfalls – The Grotto Falls trail. Since T already had a bad back ache and was taking medication, we decided to take it even slower and easier. I have to admit, if I were in her place with so much pain, I would have chickened out! Hatsoff to her sheer determination that she did all the hikes and trails and walks through out the trip. It was an uphill climb and the weather was also quite hot but we managed to complete the hike in about 2.5hours including enough times for picture taking. As we got down to get to the car we saw a Llama filled van – apparently these Llamas are used for good transportation within the Smoky Mountains where there are no roads for vehicles. After a quick sandwich break – we had packed cheese sandwiches and nutella banana sandwiches into individual ziplocks along with kitchen tissues so it would be less messy to eat.ย 

Since the hike for the day was done and it was still around 5.30pm, we decided to drive to the highest point on the Smoky Mountains to watch the sunset which was scheduled for around 8.40pm. An hour’s drive from where we were, it included another stop at the NC/TN border where we took a quick rest room break and reached Clingman’s Dome trail at around 8pm. A steep and uphill hike though only 0.5 miles, it had us all breathless but we managed to get to the top of theย  trail and the dome to view the sun set over the smoky mountains and to undertand why it was called so. The whole haze of mist surrouding the mountains could be seen very clearly for all 360degrees.

I had read reviews that it could get windy at the spot and I had told T so we had packed light jackets for the kids and ourselves while the men dismissed the suggestion, chose to stay in shorts and had not carried anything warm with them. As soon as we got off the car, we realized how true the reviews were. As the sun set, it began to get dark, cold and extremely windy. The men finally gave up the macho attitude and wrapped themselves with the floor blankets we stuffed in the backpack just in case we decided to sit somewhere!ย ย ย ย ย 

I only remember that there was no phone signal anywhere and we were trying to figure out dinner options but what we had finally, I don’t remember at all! We must have picked up dinner again, I am thinking.ย 

Sunset from Clingmans Dome
Behind Grotto falls
Small falls on the hike
View during the hike