I still miss…

It has almost been a year since we left the US, but I still miss…

  • Walking down aisles between book-shelves at our local library, picking a random book and leafing through its pages rich with illustrations, checking out piles of books (but never finishing most!) because it didn’t cost a thing to do so but gave me immense pleasure.
  • Driving through Dunkin’ Donuts and ordering a large coffee and a couple of doughnuts (mostly, toasted coconut and chocolate-glazed) for the whole family to share as we headed to the park in the evening.
  • Meeting the other moms at the library during story-time and sharing the woes and joy of raising kids.
  • Shopping at Safeway for dinner after Prasad’s return from work. I would sip away a tall mug of Starbucks coffee at the cafe in peace, while he pushed Medha around in her cart, picking supplies off my list. I would sneak in a bit of reading too!
  • Visiting National Parks on long weekends. I still remember our early morning walk into the Merced Grove in Yosemite National Park; It was quiet, there was no one except Prasad, Medha and I; We watched the early morning rays of sun filter through the canopy formed by the gargantuan Sequoia trees. I felt blessed that day. Also, I’m abounded with “What ifs” to this day when I think of the lonely hike we did in Yellowstone National Park: What if there had been a bear? What if we had lost our way? I can still feel the relief I felt seeing the lodge below from the top of the mountain we were on, which meant we were right on track. But what a wonderful experience it was! And so were our tour of the other National Parks.
Hiking in Yellowstone National Park
Hiking in Yellowstone National Park
  •  The early morning drives out of town, with Medha fast asleep in her car seat, soft rock playing on the radio and Prasad listening to my jibber-jabber.
  • Our race to catch the sunset in Del mar beach and walking its streets later, especially during Christmas.
Sun-set in Del Mar beach
Sun-set in Del Mar beach
  • Walking anywhere in the US during Christmas. The whole country comes alive this time of the year. It is as if its people wait all year just to celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas. I felt warm whenever I peeked into the window of a home that displayed a Christmas tree within its softly-lit hall.
  • The tree-lighting ceremony at Oro Valley Marketplace every year.
  • Breakfast in San Diego. We used to eat at different places every time and I just loved       trying local Coffee and a slice of Coffee Cake with cream on top.
  • Friday evenings spent shopping at Trader Joe’s for novel snacks from different parts of the world.
  • Visiting the beautiful Krishna temple in Phoenix and gorging on Indian food afterwards
  • The occasional snowfall in Tucson. We walked around the neighborhood greeting people in joy, made snowmen and watched Medha eat flakes of snow in delight!
Snow in our neighborhood
Snow in our neighborhood
  • Drinking hot cocoa and gorging on hot and spicy Huevos Rancheros at the hotel we stayed at during Christmas in Arches National Park, Utah.
  • Weekends spent cooking, chatting and dancing with our friends, Vinay and Vandu.

 

Good times with great friends!
Good times with great friends!
  • Shopping at Target with Medha. We enjoyed sitting at the café inside with a tall cup of Sunkist Orange juice and a bag of Popcorn more than shopping at the dollar area (which was pretty awesome too!).
  • Sipping Masala Chai, munching deep-fried Indian snacks and chit-chatting with Vidya aunty. I miss her all the time. She always encouraged me to pursue my passion for writing and complimented me for the way I took care of my kids.
  • Dancing away to Spanish songs during Zumba.
  • Spending Sunday mornings walking through yard sales and buying second-hand, sometimes-useful, but mostly beautiful junk.
  • The hugs I received from kids after lessons when I volunteered as a teacher to the under-privileged for Junior Achievement.

Yup…. I still miss the US, but not as much as I used to in the beginning.

I’d love to re-visit the places we once loved and still cherish, drink gallons of Starbucks coffee and hike the length and breadth of every National Park there is. But until then, I want to create similar, beautiful memories for my family here,  in India.

Moving back home

We just relocated to India from the United States. After a couple of years honeymooning and a few more years spent juggling parenthood in Tucson, we are back home. It was a big move that took years to plan and later execute. When one of us was sure of going back the other wasn’t ready. And then there was the issue of citizenship. We were on the verge of getting our Green cards and weren’t sure whether to wait for it or not.

We were pushed to action when our house got flooded due to a pipe leak when we were out vacationing in St. Louis. The walls and shelves had to be ripped apart; the flooring was removed. Most of our stuff was ruined due to water damage. We had to get the whole house repaired and renovated. Thank God our house was insured. Liberty Mutual, the insurance company covered all the cost of repair and loss. In no time our house was restored; in fact it looked even better than before with painted walls, granite countertops and brand new kitchen cabinets.

Now the question was whether to move back into our beautifully-restored home or to have it sold to execute a much-thought-of move to India. The easier thing to do would have been to quietly move back into our home and enter into a routine. But we hankered for more. For a change. Our house was market-worthy without us spending a dime. If we wished to sell, it was the right time to. We found a buyer immediately after we put the house on market.

Handing the ownership of the house where we had begun our journey as parents was tough. But we got through it. Even more difficult for me was bidding farewell to my dear friends. Faraway from home our friends had become our family too. The thought that I wouldn’t be seeing most of them again weighed me down. I got through that as well. It was time to pack our bags (and that was no less a headache!) and make another journey. To India.

I will always remember the US and the fond memories we created as a family there. It taught me so much about the world. It taught me so much more about myself. For that I will remain eternally grateful to that country and some of its people.

We are settling down in Hyderabad now. I’m enjoying the help that’s easily available. The kids are enjoying their grandparents’ attention. I feel we did the right thing by relocating to India ’cause there’s no place like home….

Hawaii part 3

At the mountain town of Hilo on Hawaii’s Big Island we visited a couple of breathtaking waterfalls called Rainbow falls and Akaka falls. Rainbow Falls (not sure why it is called so) was pretty. More than the falls itself the climb up a set of steps for a view of the water from above was an experience. A large banyan tree with its hanging roots and other trees with their roots creeping above the ground gave the whole place a Hogwarts-like ambience. The lake below was pristine and glistening and lent itself to beautiful photography.

On our climb up for a view of the lake below Rainbow Falls.
On our climb up for a view of the lake below Rainbow Falls.
The lake {not sure what it is called!)
The lake {not sure what it is called!)
Rainbow Falls
Rainbow Falls

Akaka falls was pretty too. A short hike descended into lush Rainforest that was intoxicatingly green. Akaka’s height and the ferocity with which it plunged into the pool below filled me with awe.

A short hike to the Akaka Falls led us through Rainforest.
A short hike to the Akaka Falls led us through Rainforest.
Akaka Falls.
Akaka Falls.

Another highlight of our trip was shopping at a Fruit stall. It stood on our way to Akaka Waterfalls. Colorful fruits hung from the ceiling and beckoned us to make a stop. We each had a cup of Sugarcane juice that was so out-of-this-world! Then we bought a bunch of fruits like Guava (which was hard with a nutty texture like the ones we find in India, but tasted bland without some chilli powder and salt sprinkled on it.), Papaya (which the lady at the store cut in half and gave a spoon to scoop up its flesh to eat. It was melt-in-your-mouth soft and so sweet!) and star-fruit (juicy and succulent!) .There was coconut water too but we were too full to try it, but it was fun to watch the lady break it open at one go with a huge knife!

We were delighted to shop at a fruit stall!
We were delighted to shop at a fruit stall!

Our last day in Hawaii felt bittersweet. We were glad we decided to visit. The prospect of leaving the US and relocating to India kicked our butts to plan this trip. I also felt sad to be leaving a place as serene and lively as the Big Island. But I’m happy We were able to create such beautiful memories to take back with us. I’m sure they will remain with us for a long long time.

Winding down with a glass of Mai Tai.
Winding down with a glass of Mai Tai.
So long, Sweet Hawaii!!!
So long, Sweet Hawaii!!!

Hawaii part 2

(Continued from last post)
One bout of snorkeling experience at the Two-step beach had not satisfied Prasad. He wanted more. The awesome part about snorkeling in Hawaii is it is free (if you own a gear, but even if you don’t, it can be rented for a pittance at stores by the beaches) and it can be done at any beach. In Florida the whole thing had been expensive. The cheapest was at the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, where we still had to pay $30 per person apart from renting the gear.

Prasad In Snorkeling gear.
Prasad In Snorkeling gear.

Prasad wanted to capture the underwater world for me to see. So he decided to carry a water-proof camera along on his next dive. At kahalu’u beach he bought one – a tiny disposable water-proof camera- for $18.

The camera was so cute!
The camera was so cute!
Can you spot the turtle resting beneath the coral reef?
Can you spot the turtle resting beneath the coral reef?
Medha splashing about.
Medha splashing about.

After he left to explore the ocean floor and Medha began collecting sea shells and Madhav napped on my lap, I dove into my Samsung Note to journal our vacation. It was so relaxing, I couldn’t have asked for a better way to spend our days in Hawaii. Or so I thought until we found ourselves on a curvy ascent to the town of Volcano to visit the Volcanoes National Park.

As we drove on, sunny, sandy beaches gave way to cooler, wetter coffee farms, banana plantations and hardened lava. After a couple of hours, we reached the Volcanoes National Park, where we first did the 11-mile Crater rim drive, to get an overview of the place. It was drizzling. We saw vents with steam spewing out. It is believed that a big hot rock churning the molten lava underneath the surface heats up all the rain water that sinks, causing its conversion to steam. The steam also contains toxic gases like sulphur dioxide and hydrogen sulphide. For this reason the areas affected look barren while lush rainforest covers the rest of the park.

A steam vent.
A steam vent.

A short walk led to the Kilauea Caldera, a Shield Volcano (shaped like a warrior’s shield), the most active (ACTIVE!!!) of the 5 volcanoes that together form the island of Hawaii (1). Kilauea means “spewing” in Hawaiian. A cloud of smoke billowed from the Halema’uma’u Crater within the Kilauea Caldera . From the safety of the observation deck of the Thomas A Jaggar Museum we viewed its volcanic activity at a closer proximity. As it got darker a vivid glow illuminated the cloud of smoke and made it look like the crater was engulfed in flames.

Halema'uma'u Crater within the Kilauea Caldera spewing steam.
Halema’uma’u Crater within the Kilauea Caldera spewing steam.
At dusk....
At dusk….
From the observation deck of Thomas A Jaggar Museum.
From the observation deck of Thomas A Jaggar Museum.

But before dusk we decided to explore the park on foot. Our first hike was a 4 mile (6.4 km) Kilauea Iki trail. It was still raining, so we bought a couple of Rain Ponchos at the park store (we couldn’t find kid-size ponchos). I carried little Madhav in his ErgoBaby carrier and Medha walked ahead with Prasad. First, we descended a 400ft mountain cloaked in Rainforest into the deserted crater floor that was still steaming from a Volcanic Explosion in 1959.

Descending a 400ft. mountain.
Descending a 400ft. mountain.

The crater floor looked prehistoric, as if, any second a horde of dinosaurs could come crashing at us. The hike wasn’t easy: relentless rain; slippery mountain ; cracks on the crater floor; seemingly-endless walk across a rugged landscape; a toddler on tow that began complaining after a stretch of walking, all made it nearly impossible to finish. I began panicking when Madhav woke up (he had been sleeping on our descent and halfway across the crater floor). We had to reach the safety of our car before anyone went berserk.

We had to walk across this....
We had to walk across this….

Whenever Medha began her whining, her dad called her “Dora the Explorer” and asked her to lead the way. Immediately, she pulled her shoulders back, held her head high and marched on. People who saw her called her a trooper. Madhav looked around captivated by the beauty surrounding us. I tried to steady myself and inhale the rugged beauty around me. We were treading fresh land, i reminded myself, that had been created recently due to volcanic activity. I let the power of nature and our good fortune for the opportunity to witness it sink in.

Our little Explorer having fun along the way.
Our little Explorer having fun along the way.
Pausing for a picture on a seemingly endless walk.
Pausing for a picture on a seemingly endless walk.

As we neared our car we felt proud of what we’d accomplished. If we’d stayed tucked inside we wouldn’t have had the same sense of deep contentment that we experienced after our hike. We treated ourselves to cups of hot coffee, passion-fruit juice and snacks at the Volcano House. With renewed strength we resumed our exploration.

Our next stop was the Thurston Lava tube, a 500 year old tube formed as the cooler slow-moving lava on the outside of a lava flow hardened and the inner, hot, fast-moving lava emptied out forming a cavity. We walked through a well-lit tunnel where thin, hairy roots of plants hung from the ceiling. It was eerie to imagine that we were standing where lava had once gushed out not so long ago.

Into the Thurston Lava tube.
Into the Thurston Lava tube.
Lava had gushed out of this not so long ago!
Lava had gushed out of this not so long ago!

We had witnessed the forces of nature at work. Would any other experience we have in the future come close??
(More in my next post)

(1) wikipedia

Hawaii

“Aloha!” is the most common word of greeting or farewell in Hawaii. The Insight guide describes it as a composite of 2 words- “Alo” meaning “to face” and “ha” meaning “the breath of life”. To me, a vacation in Hawaii, nicknamed “the Aloha State”, felt akin to facing the breath of life!

After a long, sleepless and tiring 8 hour journey from Phoenix, we reached the Big Island. But once we set foot onto the tarmac of an airport too tiny to be called “International”, we were overjoyed to see it dotted with coconut trees and buildings with tiled roofs that were reminiscent of South India. We felt like we were home!

Kona, or the Big Island, stretches for about 60 miles from Kona International Airport to beyond Kealakekua Bay(1). It is one of the 8 main islands of Hawaii, which is the 50th state of the US. But it was so easy to forget we were still on American soil. “Aloha!”, names like “Kealakekkua Bay” and, simply, the whole environment felt so unlike the mainland that I kept expecting to come across a different currency or language.

If we were overjoyed to spot coconut trees and tiled roofs, we were thrilled to have a beautiful balcony with a spectacular view of the ocean from our room at the Royal Kona Resort. Sleeping to the sound of waves splashing against boulders felt like lullaby to our ears at the end of a day’s exploration and adventure.

View from our balcony.
View from our balcony.

For about 5 days we explored the length and breadth of Kona starting with Kailua Kona where we explored the sunny beach, the cool interior of Mokuaikaua Church, the exterior of Hulihee Palace (which had been turned into a museum whose tranquility We didn’t wish to disturb by taking a couple of feisty kids inside) and its tiny shops selling accessories resembling exotic Hawaiian flowers like Plumeria, and other knickknacks.

Royal Kona Resort.
Royal Kona Resort.
Mokuaikaua Church
Mokuaikaua Church
Musicians performing in front of the Hulihee Palace.
Musicians performing in front of the Hulihee Palace.

Kealakekkua Bay was one place that we visited almost everyday at different times to catch a glimpse of Dolphins sleeping after a night of foraging. But we never spotted one. A localite we spoke with said they were out greeting the whales that were arriving just then from Alaska. Makes one good story, doesn’t it? But that didn’t deter us. We loved its postcard-like views of the mountains and the ocean and went there whenever we had time. Sometimes we took our lunch there so we could have picnic by the ocean. Medha just loved the idea of eating outside where she didn’t have to follow table manners!

Kealakekkua Bay
Kealakekkua Bay
e

Lunch by the sea.
Lunch by the sea.

“Kapu” refers to the ancient Hawaiian code of conduct of laws and regulations. Kapus were strictly enforced. Breaking one, even unintentionally, often meant immediate death(2). A kapu-breaker’s only chance for survival was to evade his pursuers and make it to a puuhonua, or a sacred place of refuge. Once there, a ceremony of absolution would take place and the law-breaker would be able to return to society(3). Puuhonua o Honaunau National park preserves one such sacred site. Before we got there I had assumed the place must have been full of sinners but I was wrong. It had a “Great Wall” that secured the Royal grounds where “Ali’l” or Chiefs lived,. There, we saw the royal canoe landing; the Keoua Stone, the favorite resting place of the high chief of Kona; as well as halau (thatched work house), fishponds and a heiau (sacred temple)(4) with beautiful wooden statues carved out of coconut tree trunks. A breath-taking view of the ocean pulled us to the Two-step beach close to the park.

Halau or thatched work house.
Halau or thatched work house.
The Great Wall.
The Great Wall.
Heiau or the sacred temple.
Heiau or the sacred temple.
Wooden statues carved out of coconut trees.
Wooden statues carved out of coconut trees.

“It was like an aquarium out there!”, Prasad exclaimed after a bout of snorkeling in the ocean. His exploration took him through jungles of coral reefs inhabited by colorful fish. One experience couldn’t satisfy his thirst for the sea and adventure; he wanted to don his snorkeling gear and go swimming every chance he got. He had found his passion and he wanted me to partake in his pleasure; but being unable to swim and having to look after the kids, I resisted the idea. “If only I could rent an underwater camera!”, he wondered
, wanting so badly to capture that world for me….. (continued in my next post)

(1)gohawaii.com
(2)wikipedia
(3)gohawaii.com
(4)gohawaii.com

Sleep

I was feeling overwhelmed by what lay ahead of me- cooking, journaling, blogging, getting Medha ready for school, exercise and cleaning. Even the fun things like journaling my kids’ activities felt gargantuan a task. 

My head was exploding; I was carrying a heavy sack across my shoulders; A lump was blocking my throat making it difficult to swallow; Nothing was going according to plan; And there was no plan in the first place. I felt clueless. I was wandering.

And then I slept. A nice, long, restful sleep.

 

 

I woke up smiling. Really. I didn’t know I was so hungry for some good ol’ solid sleep! 

And now I have a list. A list of things to do. I will tackle them all, one by one.