Thursday, December 31, 2015

A new year.. A new beginning

2015 has not been a very active year on my blog, and I've really missed blogging regularly. What started as a parenting memoir has grown organically in so many ways and I am humbled when someone unexpectedly mentions to me that they read my posts and enjoyed a particular one. I also still get ragged occasionally for my A-Z attempt during our US holiday ;).

What finally prompted this last post for the year? For the record, it is not a "wrap up" post (do I hear some Phews ;)). It is going to be, though, a post of resolutions, of a new adventure and what I want to achieve in 2016. The last week of the year saw us moving to Singapore, after 17+ years in Bangalore. There were many reasons for the actual decision, but here are the ways in which I want to make my/our lives different in this all-new year:

More fun: The biggest advantage of living in a city with a great public transport system is that we have no excuse for not getting around. So I want us to experience more events, plays & movies, more running around, more enrichment and more of everything that's fun. As of today, we just became members in the local public library (I know this is passé' for U.S. folks, but I was as wide-eyed as the kids) and I am really looking forward to regular visits there as well.

More travel: I know many of my friends are experts at planning quick holidays, but I have always stuck to the planned-much-in-advance and usually a week's worth type of getaway. With a lot of long weekends to look forward to in 2016, I hope we'll be able to explore this part of the world with some quick and short trips.

More work: Another big life change that I am quite looking forward to is to go back to full-time work. I have enjoyed writing as a flexible career space, but I am now hoping to make a foray back into the big bad world of tech (if it'll have me!). As moving to a different country is such a huge step anyway, it felt like the right time to jump right into another change of pace as well. I know I have some challenges ahead and not everyone on the other side of the table will have faith in my capability, but I will be patient and wait for the right match, so fingers crossed :).

More blogging: As the kids grow (D is 10, and S is 7), the challenges are different. Dealing with daily doses of defiance do not a blog post inspire, but I need to look past the minor irritations and find those lovely positives too! Memories for today: D is apparently old enough to make a list of new year resolutions, and S thinks he doesn't need school anymore as he "knows so much Math already" ;).

More photos: After buying a good phone this year mainly for the purpose of using it as a camera, I have not really put it to use except when on holiday :P. That needs to change!

Those seem like quite enough resolutions to get on with, so let me stop with writing any "more" and wish you a:


Monday, October 26, 2015

The Rajasthan Holiday Ends - Part III

The holiday continues after our day 5 at Kumbalgarh:
Catching the sunrise as we left the resort on Day 5
Day 6: We had planned a day trip to Udaipur which was about 100 kilometers away. We left the resort early and also enjoyed a local breakfast of samosas, methi pakodas and faafda before reaching the city of lakes. Our driver, Devendra, belonged to the city and was raring to show us around his hometown. First stop was the Karni Mata temple that you can reach by cable car (or by walk) and provides a bird-eye view of the city and Lake Pichola. The temple also houses some white mice that are considered sacred here.

Clicked from the cable car
One of many attempted selfies on the trip ;)
The next stop was the City Palace, but we headed here only after a photo session in the local Rajasthani Garb near Lake Pichola (once again on our driver's recommendation). We realized later that this is an activity that is quite popular here as every tourist spot had a stall set up for this :).


Caution Rant ahead.. 
At the City Palace, we were a bit taken aback by the camera fee being equal to the entry fee :P. It was also a bit of an irritation that the security was at an all-time high and one of us had to leave the camera behind (we were not planning to use it as we took just one camera ticket). I guess honesty cannot be gauged by our faces, so I'm ok with our camera getting kept back but it just didn't seem to make sense in this age of technology where literally everyone can click with their phones anyway. On that day, the place was inundated by groups of schoolchildren who were doing just that when unnoticed by the guards. 
..Rant over

Well, I made the best of the camera fee and clicked a pic of EVERYTHING, don't worry I won't share it all here ;). On the whole, the place was kept very clean in spite of the crowds so it was a nice experience looking around.
My fascination with arches continues :)
The view!
One of MANY interesting windows
Beautiful doorknob - didn't I tell you I clicked everything ;)
One of the displays was the collect of silver - this included items like a present of silver hairbrushes and other grooming implements, as well as many lovely photo frames made of silver. The idol of Chetak was also decorated with tons of silver.. looked at this very keenly as I have a bit of a silver jewelry fixation ;).

Chetak in all his silver glory
After lunch at a nearby restaurant, we headed to the statue of Maharana Pratap and Chetak, where we couldn't stand around too long due to the heat being quite high at that time of day. We soon took refuge in a small museum type display of paintings and models depicting the history of the state. 

Statue of Maharana Pratap and Chetak
Battle of Haldighati
Saheliyon Ki Baadi
After a quick stop at the lovely fountain and gardens at Saheliyon ki baadi, we were quite tired, and after a spot of shopping we headed back to Kumbalgarh for the night.

Day 7: This was a day of rest, to recuperate from the hectic sightseeing of the day before and also because of there not being much to see at Kumbalgarh other than the fort. We did manage a short visit to a nearby lake, where again the profusion of catfish was amazing as fishing is not allowed and tourists feeding the fish with puffed rice and other treats is a small source of income to the locals.
Feeding the fish
Lovely view near the lake at Kelwada
We went back to the fort in the evening, where we thoroughly enjoyed the Sound and Light Show - it was an amazing way to hear of the history of the fort and the state. A beautiful experience to round off our holiday :)




Friday, October 23, 2015

A Royal Holiday at Rajasthan - Part II

All those of you who read Part I and asked for the continuation.. thank you and here goes :)

Day 4: As Jodhpur was enroute to Kumbalgarh from Jaisalmer, I had decided to stop there for a few hours and try to catch the main attractions. The highly recommended one was the Mehrangarh Fort and we managed to get here quite bright and early. It was a different experience from Jaisalmer, as it is a very tourist friendly fort - the only mixup being that as it was the start of Navratri we ended up getting into these male/female queues (all the while wondering what was going on) and then had to backtrack to get to the actual museum/entrance. On the way out, we somehow managed to walk down past the entrance and then had to trudge back uphill to get out :P - a lot more cardio than I had intended.

Nice shot by D.. with my direction of course ;)
View from the top
One of many doorways that I used to frame my photos
Next stop was the Umaid Bhawan palace where we were charmed by the grace of the personnel who act as guides. This photo was directed by the gentleman who was taking us around - he made me click multiple times with moving G and the kids until he was satisfied :).


There was also this lovely set of paintings/murals with scenes from the Ramayana but interpreted in a Greek style as that was the nationality of the artist (as told by our guide, have not substantiated it with Google ;)).

Sita and Mandodari at Ashokavana
We spent the rest of our time in Jodhpur checking out(for rather too long ;)) the local Bandhani and Lehariya work at a Handicraft emporium before finally making our way to Kumbalgarh. The roads to get there passed through some ghat areas and for kids who used to be badly car sick in their early years, both D and S were troopers and we reached there without much ado. Much thanks to G who sat in the back seat and gave them someone to hold on to, instead of me being there and getting a bit green myself!

Day 5: The main and nearly only attraction in Kumbalgarh is the Fort and it has quite a history behind it. From Umaid Singh who was saved by Panna Dhai and brought there to safety, to Maharana Pratap in later years, it has played a major role in the history of Rajasthan. It was also one of the most fascinating forts to explore, simply because it is not as crowded and we could just meander here and there trying to look at things. We went to the fort in the daytime, so it was decided (as recommended by our driver) to do the Sound and Light show on another day.

The wall of the fort seems to go on and on..  
Lovely view of the hills around
Lots of such vantage points along the climb
Could not and did not resist taking photos of all the arches ;)

Are you done with your photos? Let's go!
Please bear with me.. this is getting longer and longer so going to end with a Part III :).

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

A Royal Holiday.. and a blog milestone :)

Just as I was about to publish this blog, I noticed that the blog has passed 100K views!!!!  Yayayayayayay and thank you all :)

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This holiday's been in the making for a couple of years now. In 2013, I started browsing Club Mahindra resorts in Rajasthan with an idea of going there but suddenly noticed the one at Dubai and ended up just like that booking that instead :P. (Link to that holiday) That resort was definitely a good find, and I have been recommending it to anyone who has a Club M membership.

One week was the time we had for this holiday, so I decided to stick with 2 out of the 3 Club M resorts in the state. Jaisalmer is the toughest to get to as it's 300 km away from the nearest airport at Jodhpur, but there was no way I was leaving it out. For someone who studied in the state (at Pilani) for 4 years, I had seen woefully little of it, and the vision of untouched sands had always been a dream. Since a lot of road travel was involved, we decided to go with a fixed car and driver for the entire trip, from getting picked up at Jodhpur airport to getting dropped back there at the end of the week. We were lucky to get an enthusiastic Rajasthani local from Udaipur as our driver - he helped set our daily itinerary and also told us lot of local tales along the drive.

Day 1: After a long day of travel (morning flight, afternoon another 300 km by car), we arrived on Saturday(10th night) at Jaisalmer.

Morning view of our resort
Day 2: Though the fort was one of the main attractions, our driver suggested we leave it for the next day while covering everything else on our first proper day of sightseeing in the city. We started with a nice boat ride on the man-made Gadisar lake - there was quite a lot of water in the lake with a lot of fish (the catfish variety) being fed at places. The fish here thrive due to fishing not being allowed.

Boating on Gadisar Lake
Next stop was the Patwaon ki Haveli, which is a well maintained abode-turned-museum. It contained a lot of intricate carving work in wood and the golden stone of the region, and also some rooms set up in the style of the time.

The lovely intricate work in the typical "golden" stone of Jaisalmer
The Living Room of the Haveli
One of the stories our driver Devendra told us was about a "legend" of the area - the abandoned village of Kuldhara. Though TripAdvisor reviews had warned me that this was more hype than anything else, I thought it was worth it to get carried away by the enthusiasm of the moment so decided to check it out anyway. The story goes that the entire place consisting of 5000 families from many villages in the area just upped and left in one night, all to protect a 10-11 year old girl, the "daughter" of the village from being carried off by an invading ruler. 

At Kuldhara Village
The abandoned homes of Kuldhara
Our day wasn't over yet, it was only about 3:30 pm when we left Kuldhara and off we headed to our Desert Safari. I was hoping to avoid the camel ride (for both our sakes) but somehow it was meant to be and it was on camel-back that we reached the beautiful sands to view the sunset. We got back to the desert camp for a cultural show and dinner before heading back to the resort.

Our beautiful beast of burden

Trying to capture the sunset

Just couldn't get enough of it!

Nearly done
Day 3: We had some warnings from our driver that the Golden Fort was not the cleanest as it was a "living" or lived-in fort. Even then, we were a bit surprised by the condition inside, especially in narrow spaces where the pigeon droppings overwhelmed our olfactory senses. With all that in the background, it is still difficult to not be impressed by the history and architecture all around. The history and spirit of Rajasthan really lies in its forts, as we were just beginning to discover.

Starting our tour of the fort
The "lived-in" look - notice the clotheslines
View of the city from a high point of the fort
I can see that this is beginning to get not just long, but also very photo heavy. So I'll stop here, and put the remaining stories/pics in Part 2 :). Thanks for reading!

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Honesty and Parenting #1000Speak

I knew I hadn't blogged much lately but was quite aghast to realize that I have only put up 9 posts in 2015!! This blog has had quite a journey - from baby memories to recipes to gardening posts - and some travelogue type ones as well ;). 

Rachna had recently posted on Facebook about Honesty being a good sub-theme for the #1000Speak theme of Compassion this month, and I really connected with this topic. Bear with me if I ramble a bit.

Honesty, to me, is something that is imbibed or learnt from examples around us right from childhood. I don't believe it could be drilled into someone, it has to come from within and from life experiences. While I have always wanted to be completely honest with everyone, life in the real world sometimes messes up this characteristic. 

I had a lovely wake-up call when D was 2.5 years old and had just joined her first school at Siksha Montessori. When she was upset at my leaving her and heading back home, I remember the teacher telling me "If you tell her that you're right outside, then you have to wait there until she's done. If you want to go, just tell her and go, we'll take care of tears if any :)." This was just one of the many reasons why I loved that school and both D & S thrived there. As the kids grow older, there are (many!) times when I make a mistake such as forgetting to get something for school, I always apologize and tell them the real reason rather than claiming to have been busy or not have had time (You can always make time for what's important!). This is also teaching them to be persistent when they need something, so that's a good side-effect ;).

The other aspect - teaching the children to be honest. At the age of 4 or 5, most kids get into the habit of lying about stuff (experienced at home as well as heard from other moms I know) - the reasons could range from being scared to tell the truth, to just thinking that the version that they are telling you is more interesting than the mundane original :). This is also an age when they don't really understand the abstract significance of "honesty" or of "telling a lie". It initially used to press all my buttons and drive me crazy, but once I slowed down and understood the right way of doing it (explain and lead by example and not impose as a rule), I am hopefully on the path of my kids thinking they can tell me anything (I'll settle for at least 60-70% as they grow older, but hopefully it'll be the important stuff :)).

Do my kids think I am a perfect mom? I doubt it, though my 10 year old knows to diplomatically call me the "best mom ever" ;). Do they think I'm an honest mom? I hope so, and I wish that continues for life.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Declutter and Be Happy :)

Some of you may remember a couple of my posts from the Happiness Project. If you were wondering  if I had forgotten about it, not at all :). I was just a bit lazy to put my thoughts together and blog about it every month. With half the year over, I thought it was time to move to the next big part of the project. Decluttering away! For me, a lot of the previous steps especially the one about mindfulness was a decluttering of the mind. But oh well, it's time I got around to doing it for material things as well, so here goes.

I have come across so many decluttering strategies from blogs and FB pages I follow, and have tried some of these on and off for the last many months. I thought I should mention a couple of the earlier ones as well in case anyone else finds them interesting :).

One-thing-a-day: This one suggests that you get rid of 1 item every single day, and just go on until you can't find anything to declutter any more (if that could even happen ;)). In a small way, this is an ongoing activity for me - I find an old bottle of hand sanitizer in the bathroom and I decide to empty and wash and dry it right away (Yes I do that for my dry waste disposal), instead of passing it by for another time. That container in the fridge that you can't remember when you put inside, and know that it will have fungus-y unidentified contents inside - take it out and chuck out the scary stuff immediately instead of closing the fridge and hoping it'll disappear on its own ;).  I think it would help to keep track of what you're getting rid of every day(see this blogger who put up a daily update!), but I find this one a bit too low-key for my requirement.

15-minutes-a-day: This one comes from the Flylady whom I started following for her tips on keeping the house organized and clean (Don't expect to see evidence of this when you actually visit me though ;)). She suggests an interesting 15-minute timer strategy for getting stuff done and also has lots of fun terms to make it more interesting - the 27 fling boogie being one of them. I also like her emphasis that you cannot organize clutter, you have to get rid of it! 15 minutes - Just long enough to achieve a decent amount of work, without getting you mind numbingly bored for doing mundane stuff for too long. When I need to declutter a specific space like my cupboard, I usually set a time - 15 minutes to half an hour - and just stop and complete it another day. This helps curb my enthusiasm which usually goes a bit overboard when I start with activities like cleaning and decluttering - possibly also because I do it so seldom that there's always so much to do :D.

Monthly challenge: This one did the rounds on Twitter a while ago, and starts with 1 item on the 1st day, 2 on the 2nd day and keeps increasing until you are expected to declutter 30 items on the 30th day. I somehow didn't take to it because as the count went up, you really need to spend more and more time on this activity every day (for tracking not just the doing!) and it was just not working for me. There are many interesting charts that you can find online though, that give you ideas about spaces and items and other ways to go about this challenge.

After trying these and being partly successful but also losing steam along the way, I decide that I need a strategy with a specific end in sight. I do intend to use the mentioned ones as sub-strategies along with my own ideas mentioned below. So fingers crossed and all set to go, and here I am with:

Pic source: Popsugar Pinterest page

1 Room a Month:


I looked around my living room this morning, and wondered how many of the devices lying near the TV we really use and need? If I were to move home, what were the items I would really take with me i.e. what do I REALLY use on a daily basis and what wouldn't I even miss? This is the idea that I am taking forward starting this July. Aiming at one room a month gives me the flexibility to look at one or multiple items a day, depending on the room, and also gives me an end goal for the end of the month when I have to figure out what to do with what I have to dispose (more on that below).

If you want to join me, you are most welcome. I am not a list maker, but I am planning to track this just to make myself feel good about it ;). I think noting down or tracking would work really well for something like this, and also help you remember what you want to dispose in every room. And whatever needs to go, must GO. By the last day of the month, make sure that you have got rid of or given away whatever you don't use or need.

One idea from my favorite mom's group(thanks N!) is to collect stuff that is in good shape to give away to those in need - that is a lovely thought and in fact this is something that I have been doing in a small way. Most clothing and toys and even electronic items of ours that are in usable shape have gone to the families of those who work for me, and I intend to keep it that way with this activity as well.

Disposing can prove to be a bigger challenge for me, as I am very particular about segregating my waste and need to know that it's got rid of in the correct manner. This means that e-waste is disposed of to the right agency, and so are old or expired medicines. So in a way, I expect the end of the month to be the toughest part for me but I'm up for it :).

Here's to a decluttered home by the end of 2015!

Thursday, June 18, 2015

London - An Amazing Holiday

After going through our 400 or so photos and finding about 50 to post on Facebook, I understandably ran out of steam to write a blog post about it. But travelogues have always been my favorite way of keeping vacation memories fresh for later, so I had to get to it soon :). Especially this holiday, that was so so special to me, had to be put down for posterity, so here goes.

Scenic route to B&B
Day 1 & 2: After arriving on Saturday afternoon, we chilled out at my friend Aarti's place for the rest of the day (other than being introduced to London-style grocery shopping ;)). She had already made exciting plans and bookings for us at Cambridge, and we set off soon after breakfast the next day. The most important question of "Train or Car" was answered by her 6 year old who loves trains. This meant passing through the King's Cross Station that is synonymous with Harry Potter for me, though there wasn't enough time to check out Platform 9 and 3/4ths ;). Once we reached Cambridge, we decided to take the scenic route through a nature park area to reach our B&B, The End House, and got there just in time for tea offered by our host, Jonathan. We set out soon after to make the best of the rest of the day, walking through the picturesque streets and making our way to a pub and later a restaurant for dinner.


Tasteful decor at our B&B
Day 3: After a refreshing night, we got ready and had a lovely breakfast at the B&B, which really was so tastefully decorated that it was a pleasure to be look around and appreciate it all.

Thanks to Aarti and her husband Anirudh, who've lived in London for a while, we had a great guided tour of Cambridge which was packed with a whole lot of lovely experiences including punting on a boat on the river and a tour of St. John's College. We even managed to browse and buy a couple of books at a used booksale at one of the small churches, that was meant to raise money for renovations. The day ended with attending Evensong at the King's College Chapel before we absolutely had to leave and get back to London.





Day 4:  This was our most "touristy" day in London, with Aarti going in to work and Jayashree and I setting out, well armed with the Tube (Metro) map and a data connection on her phone. We managed to cover most of the highlights including the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben and Buckingham Palace where we literally ran to try to get to the Change of Guard at 11:30 am. When we saw the crowd there, we dissolved in giggles thinking of what little use our wee bit of exertion had been, as we just could see some glimpses of the happenings through gaps in the crowd :D.  Like the fox with the sour grapes, we told ourselves that it wasn't such a big deal anyway and set out to find lunch and then move to Westminster Abbey. Here, we diligently listened to all the parts of the audio tour to try to understand the majestic space, nodding more vigorously when we recognized at least some of the greats who are buried there. Trafalgar Square and the National Gallery were also dropped in on by evening.

We ended the busy day with a lovely Italian dinner followed by a musical rendition of the Lion King at the Lyseum Theatre, which was something I had been wanting to see ever since our New York trip. It was as spectacular as expected :).

At the Shard
Day 5: We had our London local back as tour guide, which means we managed to get a glimpse of some unusual sights. We started with a local marketplace, the Borough Market, abounding in various food offerings to choose from for our lunch. The next destination was the Shard building, where instead of going to the top just for the view, we decided to go visit a cocktail bar near the top instead - the best way to get a view and an experience ;). After experimenting with selfies and clicks of each other and of our gorgeous drinks, and of course much gossip and giggles, it was time to leave. Next we visited the South Bank where we walked around and had coffees and finally got too late to enter the Tower of London which was to be our last stop for the day :P.




Day 6: We had the most amazing weather that made it ideal for our plan of visiting the Kew Gardens. This is why some photos like the attached one have my friends looking like ants while I try to capture the surroundings in the photo :). We took the tram to the points of interest and also walked around to catch sights like the Japanese Garden, Bluebell fields and the Greenhouse with tropical plants like our very own banana growing in it! The highlight of the afternoon was an English tea session at Orange Pekoe, again thanks to Aarti's research and making the booking for us. After getting back home for a bit, we set out to Ronnie Scott's Jazz Bar  where we also met some friends, followed by dinner at Ceviche which was in Soho.


At the Tower of London
Day 7: We set out bright and early for the Tower of London, determined to make up for missing out on it the last time we tried :). We hung around at the Yeoman's tour for some time, but it was quite crowded and we decided to explore a bit on our own as well. The Crown Jewels and the suits of armor along with the history behind all of the exhibits held our attention for a while, and then we moved on to a coffee meet with an old friend who lived in London.

Day 8: I was leaving only the next day, but Jayashree was returning to Seattle a day earlier. After seeing her off, the morning was spent at another college friend's home. I said this in my previous post too, but there was something about meeting old friends whom I hadn't met in 15+ years -  We could just pick up where we left off even with minimal or no staying of touch in the interim :). We also scouted some bookstores searching for music books for S before heading back home.

Day 9: Off to the airport and a 10 hour flight to get back to the kiddos and to reality ;). They had been in good hands so I had not spent much time worrying about them, other than trying to speak to them every morning.

For those who read this far, thank you :). More pics in my FB album at:
https://www.facebook.com/apster.george/media_set?set=a.10152987341774164.608439163&type=3

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Of Co-Travelers and other such things :)

I'm back :). That means - back from my travels, and on this blog space after aeons.

After a few relaxed weeks in Singapore, I moved on to my first ever all-girl holiday in London. I had a whale of a time, meeting friends and roaming around the city to my heart's content. Before I put out my usual travelogues though, there were a few other thoughts on my mind.

On Traveling Alone: This was an experience I had looked forward to for many reasons. I was most curious about needing to handle logistics just for myself, versus for a family as is usual on my usual holidays. There were some funny discoveries along the way though. For example, while it was much easier to check-in and select the right seat just for one, this also meant I had no control over who would be sitting next to me ;). And on my journey back I also realized that my little fella S takes up very little arm space compared to pretty much any co-traveler. For the record, on a long flight, a seat close to the toilets pretty much trumps all others :P.

On Not passing judgment: One of the first things you learn as a parent is to not turn up your nose at the parent struggling with that toddler meltdown at the supermarket. While I try consciously to give the benefit of doubt always, I am afraid I need reminders at times. And this was a strong one. On my flight out to London, I was a bit taken aback to find a slightly fidgety child coming to occupy the seat next to me. Just as I was bracing myself for a not-so-pleasant journey and remembering some jokes about disturbances from bratty kids on flights, I took a closer look. The child's mother was sitting in the seat next to her, and immediately reached out to let me know that she was a child with special needs. She apologized to me in advance for any discomfort :(. I figuratively kicked myself, and told her that it would be no problem at all. And it really wasn't - all I could think of was how much I tell my kids to behave on flights and what an easy time I really have of it. How much more of a battle these parents must be facing, to need to be patient and to deal with their child with understanding. I was in awe of the mother throughout the trip, as she tried to be firm yet was so very loving to her child as well. She even offered to have her husband switch seats with me after a few hours (it was a 10 hour flight), but I was emphatic that it was fine. The husband was sitting across the aisle from her and taking care of a younger sibling. It was also lovely to note, that the cabin staff (I was on BA) were very understanding and helpful - one of them even remarked that she had met them on their flight out as well.

On taking photos: I have been researching and reading reviews of DSLRs for a few years now, but the logistics of carrying one around always scare me a bit. I worry that on journeys like this one, I would find it tough to carry an additional piece of baggage all the time, not to mention a not-too-light one. So this was the first ever time I completely depended on my phone for all photos, not even taking along my point-and-shoot which has a lovely 21X zoom and has always been great for outdoor photos. Did I miss it? A little bit for sure, at places where I would have loved to zoom in and get some extra detail. But the final result was a tidy collection of pics between 3 phone-cameras (iPhone6, Oneplus and my own iPhone5). I even got some lovely scenic shots on my phone, which made me realize that the subject of the photo is really the most important contributor to a good shot. The natural lighting of course, comes a close second. Here are 2 shots of the same scene - one when cloudy and one after it cleared up.
From a Cocktail bar on the Shard, London

So much more breathtaking just an hour or so later :)
On meeting old friends: I stayed with a friend who is based in London, and another who joined us from Seattle. Though we have met a few times over the years, it is just amazing how it always feels the same and we can just pick up from where we left off the previous time. I also met a couple of others whom I haven't seen (or in some cases even not chatted with on FB ;)) in the 17 years or so since college, but even then it was so very natural to just get talking with no warm-up time required. It was also great to just relax and be oneself, without having to worry about what anyone would think. To be fair though, I have it pretty easy on this front in my normal life as well :D.

Err.. that seems like quite enough gyaan until I get to my actual travelogue post ;). Bye for now and thanks for reading this far!

Sunday, March 15, 2015

How Do You Recharge? #together

Enough of the snuggly memories. I'm just going to put it out there - Being a Stay-at-Home-Mom can get tough for your intellect. The main reason is that when "Mom" is tagged on to your identity, it means that you spend a lot of your time with little beings who for the first few years speak in sentences of 5 words or less ;). The toughest question that you need to answer might be "Why was that poo green today?". And the answer to that is close at hand what with Google and Babycenter being literally at finger's reach.

When D was young, I think I hardly stepped out of home until she was a year old. During that time, it was just a whole lot of all the things that babies are known for, including an endless loop of feeding-burping-putting to sleep. It was close to when I was at the end of my tether, when we tried our first family vacation to a place called Poovar. The holiday had a whole lot of other complications thanks to first-time travel with a baby, not knowing a lot of the logistics that we should have checked earlier, and what not. But to a mom who had been interacting solely in baby language, it was a breath of fresh air nonetheless.

A couple of years passed and S came along. I was more adventurous now, after all we had done it once before ;). Our first vacation was when he was about 7-8 months old. I was a lot better prepared, from figuring out how to sterilize baby bottles to bringing along any baby food that we needed. We also had both sets of grandparents along this time, so it was a really nice opportunity for everyone to unwind and relax.

At least one vacation a year #together as a family- that has become a norm now. Though it's partly to do with us having bought into a timeshare, it has evolved into much more than that. Regular readers of my blog would have come across my elaborate travelogues every time we go on holiday ;), the last one was really long and spread over many posts as we were away for a month - I tried an A-Z though I wasn't completely successful! Here's one of the posts from our last vacation.

In between vacations, if I feel like I need a change of scene, it's great that I have friends to reach out to - for a coffee, a lunch or even just a FB chat #together. Any of these can cheer me up and set me back on track, ready to tackle the next parenting challenge that might come along :).

I am also thrilled that I am planning my first ever all-girls trip #together- I am really looking forward to that and I'm sure it's going to be a rejuvenating and memorable experience. I love being a mom, but thinking only about myself for a week - I could use that once in a while ;).

This post has been written for #together for Housing.com

Stepping Into the Unknown #startanewlife

I used to be a techie. Yes. I always say "used to" when I tell somebody this, because for me it feels as good as a past life and very very far away from my present. When I occasionally meet ex-colleagues, they often tell me "I never imagined YOU would make this move!". I was very happy at my workplace, competent at my work, on the way to a reasonable amount of recognition and raises and all that comes with it.

Even when I got pregnant, I planned it as a seamless "short" break from my work. I would take my maternity leave, add a couple of months of annual leave, and come back part time for a couple more months before getting back for good. The scene was set - I had a workforce in place at home as well. And I don't use that term in jest - part-time maid, full-time help for babycare, driver - everyone was trained in their role and ready to take over when I needed them to. My parents also were close by to oversee things when I wasn't around.

My little one decided to come out only at her own pace, so it was the full term of 40 weeks plus a couple of days when I first saw her face. The first weeks were a blur, full of bawling and feeding and cleaning up and need I mention - a lack of sleep like I never could have imagined! And before I knew it, my 5 months were up - it was time to get back to work.

And then it happened. I looked at her face. REALLY looked at it. It might have helped the mood that it was a peaceful moment, and she was well fed and burped and content at the time ;). But it finally struck me - I couldn't do it. I just couldn't go back to work as planned! It was like a switch turned on in my mind - I was completely at peace with my decision as well. It was funny to think back to the days when I was worried if I had a maternal instinct :).

It was time to move to a new phase of life. Thanks to a supportive family who never raised the slightest bit of doubt about my decision, I could #startanewlife and a very happy and content one at that. Three years after that, my second one came along and cemented my decision further - D is now nearly 10, and S just turned 7 a few days ago :). Along the way, I've moved from Stay-at-Home-Mom to a Work-from-Home Freelance Writer, and of course I also play many other roles including exam-prep-helper, preparer-of-tiffin-boxes, awaiter-at-bus-stops and answerer-to-all-questions. But I wouldn't have it any other way :).

This post has been written for Housing.com for the topic #startanewlife. Do check out their ad here:

Monday, February 09, 2015

The Mantra for 2015 - Mindfulness

As I continued to read The Happiness Project, one of the most significant things to catch my eye was the mention of "Mindfulness". The author wrote about driving a car to a destination, and on reaching there, realizing that she had no memory of the route she took to get there. When meeting people for the first time, she didn't have a memory of most details she might have heard about them. And so on. That was my Aha moment! When I used to drive to work everyday, there were days when I would be at my workplace 8 km away with no memory of driving any part of the route. I also have an abysmal memory for names and details, and have to keep asking folks where I might know them from! Putting it down to a bad memory though didn't seem to cut it, as I could remember many other things well enough!

It struck me that this lack of mindfulness is the reason that I sometimes drop things, cut my fingers while chopping veggies, and often feel stressed when I'm doing something. That's because even for the most mundane activity, my mind is still racing on at 100 miles a second thinking of a zillion other things to be done or that I should be doing at that point of time! Do I hear a small voice saying “Get organized!” – yes yes that’s coming too but I get to choose which habit I adopt first ;). So as a small change for February, and hopefully forever after, I have picked to be mindful of whatever I am doing at that moment. I have been trying it already for the last few weeks, and it takes some doing! Especially while chopping veggies, my fingers are very thankful that I have started being more mindful ;).

Source: http://bit.ly/1ANQTaa

Parenting is a big part of my life and mindfulness is even more important where the kids are concerned. Giving them my full attention when I am with them is something I have read about in many parenting articles now, as I'm sure you have too ;). I do try very hard to do this, but some chore or deadline always looms large and it is just so easy to listen or respond with half your mind and plan or do something else at the same time. As a part of this habit, of my own Happiness Project you might say, I hereby decide that even if it is just a half hour in a day that I am spending focused time with the kids, it shall be 100% of my attention.

Note: I had heard the term "mindfulness" in the context of a type of meditation or therapy, which is a surefire indication that I might go to sleep in the middle of it. It was such a great coincidence that a friend mentioned this resource on her FB timeline, as I was in the process of writing this post. I am definitely going to check out www.headspace.com as a part of my mindfulness journey.