Tag Archives: experience

Shining Your Light

This blog post was supposed to be “Challenges in Chennai” thanks to my friend S. Another friend H who looked back at her blog posts from several years ago urged me to do the same. I looked at all the pieces I wrote after arriving in Chennai – one miserable piece after the next. Where was the hope? Where was the inspiration? It was there buried somewhere but you really had to look for it.

So much for being the “enlightened” one, who dabbles in yoga, reiki and all the new age mumbo jumbo and then proceeds to shove it down everyone’s throat. But I discovered that it is so hard to shine your light when everything around you falls apart and there is no light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. The last four months have seen me move across the globe, sell almost all of our worldly possessions, unemployed, with kids trying hard to adapt to a culture alien to them. Added to that the water problem, maid problem and traffic problem. Every day you wake up in the morning not knowing what problem you will have to confront on that given day.

Before I knew it, I was sucked into a quagmire of problems. The more I struggled, the deeper I sank. It wasn’t before I was neck deep in it that I realized my folly. The problems were getting bigger because I kept focusing on them and complaining about them. I had to find my tiny bit of hope and I had to find it fast. It was my only foothold to stay above the water. I had to tell myself that it was coming and was on its way, even though I had no idea what was coming. That small expectation kept me going, even when there was no change on the outside.

That tiny bit of hope came trickling into my life a few weeks ago. It wasn’t much, just an assurance that some work may come my way after a hiatus of nearly five months. I heartily lapped it up and it grew in me and glowed within. Then things began to change on the outside. We had heavy rains in Chennai. The parched earth quenched her thirst and was replenished. The maid, gone for weeks, now returned. A big burden was lifted off my chest. Things are going to get better. As this transformation happened, an old school song from my school days came to my mind.

Jyothi De Bhagwan (Give me light O Lord).

Mere Dil Mein Jyothi De,

Jag Ko Apni Jyothi De,

Teri Jyothi Se Mein Chaloon,

Jag Ko Apni Jyothi Doon.

 

Give light to my heart,

Give light to the world,

Let me burn in your light,

Let me give your light to the world.

And that is exactly what each of us has to do. Find that little bit of light in our life and spread it. It is not easy, as I have experienced in my life. If you are unemployed, a single parent, chronically ill or in a unhappy relationship, you are consumed by it and it is harder to find the light – forget being the light. Some of us simply drift, barely keeping our head above the water. But survival is not our sole (soul) purpose. Some of us are swallowed by this tidal wave of sorrow and despair. There is no hope. No lighthouse to guide you through the storm. You probably know at least a handful of people who are worse off than you. But one person shining their light can lift hundreds out of their misery. And that person could be you.

Don’t wait for your life to be in order before you start sharing your light and uplifting others. Start now and start right where you are. Open your heart, empathize, help someone today. Your purpose is more than doing a 9 to 5 job, chores, managing kids or a business, social gatherings, college and discos. The world may be full of problems, but you can be the solution. Be the light. Be the love. Be the change we have all been waiting for.

Moving 101

Three moves in the past six years makes me somewhat of an authority on moving I think. I have done smaller moves within the same state in the past and that did not involve heavy furniture or movers. We simply took stuff in our car and put it in the new place, over the course of a month. For the bed and other furniture that did not fit in our car we hired a U- Haul van and transported the bulky items.

Our first big move from Boston to Florida was hard because we moved from a big townhouse to an apartment. Moving doesn’t have to be hard and exhausting. With proper planning you can get it done with minimum stress. Which brings me to step 1 of moving.

2 Months before the Move: Take Inventory

On an excel sheet or on paper list all the items in your house room by room and categorize them as furniture, kitchen items, electronics, computers, décor etc. Now next to each item name say sell, bring, donate or dispose. What you take with you will depend on the size of the new place, moving expenses and the condition of the items. Anything old, damaged or just lying around and not it use should be given away. Ask yourself if you have used it or worn it in the past year. If the answer is no, it should probably go.

Sell Items

Selling items takes time. The earlier you begin the greater the chances of disposing stuff before you move as opposed to simply junking it. Sites like Craigslist allow users to post pictures and descriptions of items for free. Some discretion is advised when interacting with potential buyers. Don’t give out your full name, address or e-mail. Create a new e-mail id exclusively for selling stuff. Give out a temporary number if required. Talk to the buyer before giving out your address. That way you weed out the crazies. Accept only cash and meet at a public place if the item is small enough to transport in a car. If a buyer must come to your house make sure you are not alone.

Try selling your items on Facebook pages for locals in your area, Moot Loot for selling furniture if you are in North Carolina or San Francisco and 2good2toss in other areas of the U.S. In India, Quickr is a popular website to sell used goods. If you are selling your car, Craigslist or cars.com is a good choice. Accept only a cashiers check if the buyer cannot pay with cash.  Listing your items in multiple websites allows for a wider reach and greater success at selling them. Ask friends, neighbors and co-workers if they are interested in buying your stuff.

In my experience smaller things sell easily, bigger things take time. Make sure your items are clean and take good quality pictures of the items to post on the websites mentioned above. Provide dimensions and a good description of items. If you are not sure, look up the item online and use the description provided by retail stores.

Mark items as sold on the excel sheet and also the price for which it is sold. When things don’t sell, consider reducing the price.

A Month before the move : Donating

What you consider trash could actually be useful to someone. So be green and don’t throw usable stuff in the dumpster. Donate to charities like Good Will. Put clean clothes, small household items and toys in bags and donate it. For bigger bulkier items call the Salvation Army or check for other local charities online which pick-up stuff from your home for free. Call at least a month and a half in advance to schedule a pick-up because they do get booked up. Donations are eligible for tax credits, so save receipts from charities and make sure you write down the amount then and there when your memory is fresh.

Cancel credit cards and close bank accounts. Make sure you schedule your bills to go to your e-mail to avoid late payments due to misdirected mails.

Two Weeks before the Move: Sorting and Packing

By this time you should know what you are taking with you and what you are leaving behind. Give away any unsold items. Sort through papers, shred papers that have your name and other sensitive information on them. Buy boxes, bubble wrap, tape and other packing supplies. TVs and LCD monitors need to be packed carefully in special boxes to keep them from shattering.

If you are moving for work, your company may provide packing and moving services. In that case you just have to sit back and watch while the movers do all the work. Otherwise you need to carefully bubble wrap your breakables and put them in a separate box stuffed with packing peanuts to keep the items from moving around. Dismantle shelves of cupboards, secure doors to cabinets without locks to keep them from popping out and getting damaged. Get plastic mattress covers to protect your mattress from dirt and grime. Make a list of all the items in each box with the box number, so unpacking will be a breeze.

A Week before the Movers Arrive : Packing

Get packing. Don’t wait for the last day to pack all your stuff, chances are you may run short of boxes or tape. If possible have the movers come into your home and estimate how many boxes you will need. Try and stick with that number and also remember that they will charge extra if they need to climb stairs. Use small boxes for heavy stuff, big boxes for large bulky items like comforters and blankets and medium size boxes for everything else. Keep giving away stuff you don’t need or on the last day you will be scrambling to empty out the house.

Make sure you apply for an address change at the local post office so that all your mail will be redirected to your new address. Disconnect cable service and phone if you are moving out of the state.

On the Day of the Move

Get up early, have a good breakfast and dismantle furniture that is heavy or flimsy. Make sure your boxes are numbered and you have a list of what is in each box. When the movers come, let them take the stuff after you have verified their credentials. They will have you sign a paper with the number of boxes and a brief description. Check the list to make sure the information is accurate. Keep a copy for your records.

That’s it! If your bags are already packed, jump on a plane and off you go to your new home. Your boxes should arrive within a week or a month, depending on how far they have to travel.

If you are travelling from one country to another, you will have to be aware of the customs policies as well. Hope these tips make your next move smooth and hassle-free.

Pray

Moving is not easy especially big moves from one country to another. I prayed incessantly for things to go smoothly, for the right people to buy our stuff and for us to keep our calm during all these changes. I even asked family and close friends to pray for us. If you feel emotional or things are not going right – pray. Somehow things magically work out. You don’t have to do it alone, you have the universe by the side all the time. Good luck and god bless!

My next blog will be published from India. Until then…bye.

The End of an Era

The bunk bed went yesterday. In the living room the 40-inch TV lies on the floor, devoid of its stand. The coffee tables and end tables gone – even their impressions on the carpet – gone. Very soon this house will be empty. Emptied of occupants and emptied of possessions. It will no long smell of curry, sandalwood incense or fried salmon. There won’t be small faces peering through the glass doors, seeking friends to play with. No more tea parties, potlucks or impromptu play dates when it rains. I am reminded of the song – I’m leaving on a jet plane. Don’t know when I’ll be back again. Every place I’ll go I’ll think of you…

I remember coming to America as a young bride, all my worldly possessions in one suitcase. I was lost, lonely and totally naïve. All I wanted to do was go back to India. To everything I had left behind – my family, my friends, my career. But that was not to be. I grew out of my homesickness, made friends, had kids, and even started working on my career goals. Thirteen years later my wish to go back to India has been granted and I’m not really jumping around in joy.

The thought of meeting family and staying close to them excites me. I get to celebrate birthdays, Diwali and every festival possible with my family and extended family. We get to go to weddings and family get-togethers. All the food I crave when I am in the U.S. will be right in my backyard (literally!) We could go to music concerts, plays, art workshops. My kids will get pampered by their grandparents. All the experiences that I had as a kid and cherished, they could now have, not just during a vacation but for extended periods of time.

And yet a huge part of me would miss America. The only place we knew as a married couple. The place where we raised our kids. Where our belongings grew from one suitcase full of clothes to over 40 boxes of stuff. What happens to a person when we strip away all the stuff they have accumulated? Nothing life-threatening I assure you but the whole process is very unnerving. A sense of displacement, of hovering between two worlds like a ghost. Like a ghost without a house to haunt. We have moved several times within the U.S. and it is quite an emotional affair. The kids have a hard time parting with their toys and my husband has a hard time parting with his electronics. For me it is always the little scraps of paper with writing on it – cards made by my kids when they were in preschool, crafts made at school. Bits and pieces of my life and theirs captured with crayon and paper.

As I look outside at the burst of color that marks the beginning of spring, I know I will miss the seasons as I missed them in Florida. The blanket of yellow leaves on my porch in autumn and the shower of pink flowers on my driveway in spring. Winter I shall not miss, though my kids will. Summer will be the predominant season all year long in Chennai. So no winter blues for me and I would not have to wait for summer to go to the zoo and the beach.

I may never drive again given how chaotic it is in my city. Maybe sheer desperation and the habit of being independent may push me into it. My career, if I can call it that, is something I will have to work on again. Given that I don’t have any contacts in Chennai and have no clue about the present work culture, I feel despondent.

But maybe the myriad seemingly meaningless moves I made really taught me something. It never really is as bad as we imagine it to be. We do make friends, we do find meaningful work. We do figure out our way around (this applies specifically to me as I can get lost even with a GPS!)

So although I feel sad, there is an underlying wave of excitement and possibility. Like a child with a new toy or a box of chocolates waiting to be opened, I can’t wait to see what wondrous things await me. What will I make of it? Where will I go? Who will I meet? I don’t know, but surprisingly I am ok with that. It does not terrify me that I don’t have a fancy job waiting for me. Or that I won’t have my own place to stay. I remember things were exactly the same 13 years ago. So my bags are packed and I’m ready to go…and…

With a heart full of gratitude I bid adieu to my adopted country, America. Her snowcapped mountains, winding rivers and trails. Miles of beaches, tall redwood forests, bison, deer and cardinals. Her four seasons, oaks, maples and pines. Apple pie, pancakes and maple syrup. Pizza, cookies and French fries. Public libraries overflowing with books. Trader Joe’s and blueberry farms. Long road trips and scenic highways. Thanksgiving and Fourth of July. People who smile and open the door for you. I bid adieu to the many friends and neighbors who made my stay here memorable and pleasant. This is not goodbye. So long until we meet again…God bless you all!

Walking Amidst the Giants

'Advice from a Redwood tree :)'Early one Thursday morning in the middle of February I rose early to pack up for our big road trip. It was still dark outside and probably cold, but the prospect of going to some place warm and sunny perked me up. I woke up the kids, gulped down some coffee, had a hot shower and loaded up the car with food to feed an army. Something about road trips, always made us hungry. Even after a hearty breakfast, kids would be clamoring for something to munch hardly a mile into our trip!

We set the destination on our GPS for Salem, the capital of Oregon. As we hit the highway the sun was shining merrily without a single cloud to blot its radiance. We ate breakfast in the car as we sped south to the border of Oregon which was interestingly on a bridge. My daughter drew from her social studies lessons and told us how the Columbia River ran along the border of Washington and Oregon for miles together before it reached the Pacific Ocean. A couple of hours later we reached the historic city of Salem. We toured the Oregon State Capitol, a beautiful building with Grecian columns and murals of Lewis and Clark. Most of the building is made of marble with a gold statue of an Oregon pioneer at the top. The older capitol buildings were destroyed by fire but some of the columns were saved and can be seen on the grounds. The Capitol has some fine ceiling art, tall glass doors and wide stairways on either side, leading to the State Senate Chamber and the House of Representatives Chamber. Both chambers were deserted as they were not in session.

Lunch in the car was next, with egg and potato salad, broccoli and tofu stir fry and home-made cookies. Deepwood Estate was a short drive away from the Capitol. The 18th century Victorian home and gardens were open to the public. A silver-haired, pleasant lady greeted us and took us on a guided tour of the home. The home had stained glass windows, some furniture from that era and a solarium. Parts of the house had been renovated over the years, like the kitchen and the Porte Cochere or carriage port. Ornately carved door knobs and hinges and birds eye wood added a touch of style to the rooms upstairs. A player piano stood in the informal dining room and our tour guide played a merry song on it for us. Upstairs she wound up a rare music box called a euphonia, which sounded so melodious and could be heard all the way down in the living room.

Pictures of the families that lived in the house were sprinkled around the house. The guide showed us a copy of a book that was a favorite of two kids that lived in the house. One of them returned to the house years later and signed the book. The house had servants quarters, a dumb waiter, attic and basement. A door lead from the dining room to the outside, allowing guests to exit the house and board their carriages. A carriage house for the horses and a carriage port used to exist. The original owner had put many secret doors and openings all over the house but nobody knows where they are located. We strolled the gardens which held the promise of blossoms and beauty in the summer. The landscape artists for the gardens happened to be two ladies, something unusual in those days.

These days the Deepwood Estate hosts tea parties and outdoor weddings in its gorgeous gardens. It was time for us to see something more ancient that an old Victorian house. Southward we drove, towards Klamath, California. Along the way we watched in wonder as the shadows of the night revealed giant trees towering over us on either side of the road. We were in the land of ancient Redwoods. Some of these trees stood right here while dinosaurs roamed the earth. We craned our necks to see the top of the trees through the car windows but it was too dark. At 250 t0 300 feet, these trees are jaw-dropping amazing! We reached our hotel exhausted. But the kids planned to jump into the pool with their dad in tow. I decided to stay in the room, take a warm bath and heat up some dinner.

At the Prairie Creek State Park we took short hikes in the Redwood forests. We passed by trees whose trunks were so huge that when the four of us stood around the tree with our arms stretched out and barely touching, we couldn’t even cover half the trunk. We came across trickling streams, bridges and ferns. Some of the trees had fallen and lay on the forest floor. They were big enough to crush a car or truck. These trees loved to clump together and intertwine their roots like humans holding hands.

At one of the trail heads we found a hollowed out tree that was still standing upright. I named it “tree cave” and we all went inside and felt like we were being embraced by the tree. We stood in silent awe in front of “Big Tree” which was 1,500 years old, 68 feet in circumference and 304 feet tall. In another area of the park we drove through a tree. For some reason we could  not rent a mini-van for the trip and ended up getting a compact car. Guess what? If we had gotten the mini-van it wouldn’t have been able to go through the tree!

At the visitor center located further south the kids got their junior ranger badges and we were pleasantly surprised to see the beach right outside. The dancing waves beckoned to us. We rushed outside and walked on the sandy shore dotted with tree stumps. Rocks jutted out of the ocean and added to the drama of the waves. In the distance I could see a cloud of white basking on the beach. Harbor seals! My son and I trudged against the wind to get a closer look. We were disappointed to find a flock of sea gulls. But something else caught my eye and there right by the edge of a tide pool was a bunch of harbor seals huddling together. We kept our distance to avoid startling them. Some shimmied along and plunged into the water. One cute fella kept emerging from the water and playing peek-a-boo with us.

I really wanted to see elk, so we thought the elk meadow would be a good spot to see them in their natural habitat. On that day we found plenty of deer grazing in the meadow but not one elk. It was time to head back north to Crescent City to see the Battery Point Lighthouse. The lighthouse closed at dusk but the rocky beach and tide pool was the perfect setting for a gorgeous sunset. A narrow bridge made of pebbles connected the lighthouse on top of a hill to the beach. As the tide came in the bridge started slowly submerging. I was on the beach and my husband and kids were near the lighthouse. I waved frantically asking them to hurry lest they get stranded. We stood there in the cold windy beach, watching the waves crash on the rocks, push around them and between them, finding some way to go forward. The skies were a startling orange, with the pale pink mountains yonder and the lights flashing from the lighthouse intermittently. There is something about the salty air and rhythmic waves that washes away a year’s worth of fatigue from the soul. Soothing like the very womb of mother earth. Beautiful, mysterious and ever so temperamental. Full of wonder, all-engulfing and oh-so powerful.

In reverent silence we drove to Portland, Oregon, grateful that we had witnessed another grand spectacle of nature. As we neared the city, a thick fog enveloped us and remained well into the next day. It slowly lifted as we made our way to the Columbia River Gorge area. The very same place that Lewis, Clark and Sacagawea had traversed nearly 200 years ago to explore the west. Between the Cascade Mountains and the Columbia River is the 2nd largest falls in the U.S. – the Multnomah Falls at a staggering height of 611 feet. It was a Saturday and Valentines Day, so the crowds were thick and the parking situation was grim. It was hard to capture the entire falls, consisting of the upper falls and the smaller falls that tumbled into the river, in one shot. A little bridge somewhere below the upper falls offered a breathtaking view of the falls. We hiked up to the bridge and felt the cool spray from the water fall on our skin. The trek to the top of the falls seemed long and arduous. Considering the long drive ahead of us, we opted out. We picked up some Chinese-take out and headed back home. I was reluctant to go back to the city bustling with activity, an uninviting urban jungle.

My son warned us – we are going to find the evergreen trees around our home really small. And he was right. We laughed at how tiny they were!

On the Brink of a Mid-life Crisis

Maybe it’s the dwindling hormones that announce the advent of menopause. Maybe it’s the overcast skies that are a regular feature of this part of the world. Maybe it’s my inability to get a decent job. Dang it! I blame all of the above for pushing me into this limbo.

Winter blues hit me bad when I was in Boston and now again in Seattle. It’s like a shroud that obliterates even the smallest bit of mirth. It’s hard to get motivated when it’s dark and cold for nearly 6 months of the year.

The kids are growing up fast and before I know it they’ll be out in the world fending for themselves, leaving me behind clueless. Heck, I don’t have a career to drown myself in. I can drown in the kitchen sink with all the dirty dishes! While my friends and my spouse climb the corporate ladder, I struggle to find my footing. I look in the mirror and only see a ghost of the girl I used to be. A girl full of dreams and ambitions and here I am almost middle-aged and drifting to God knows where.

Have I simply settled because after years of striving I haven’t arrived anywhere? Or is it because I was so focused on others that I did not realize that I was neglecting myself? The greying hairs on my head keep setting off alarms. Your time is so short. What have you done with your life? What have you achieved? Right now the false security of kids and chores keep you busy and lull you into a trance. But when you wake up one day it will be just you. The kids, the home, everything you put your heart and soul into – all gone. Then what do you do? Go back to college? Find a hobby? Travel the world? I have no idea.

Maybe I’ll shatter conventions and do something that will make the world look up an take notice. By now I have convinced myself that I am a late bloomer. How late will I bloom? Only time can tell. And it’s ok as long as I don’t go out with a whimper. Maybe I’ll start my own business, finally. Be my own boss, pick my hours and work with people I really like.

In Florida, I had the good fortune of knowing several women whose kids had grown up and moved out. Some worked full-time, others did part-time work from home and still others simply had an active social life. All of them seemed happy and content with their lives. Maybe it won’t be so bad after all. Life has a way of balancing things out. Changes happen and its hard at first but we ultimately adapt and find a new way of living. So while I may not have all the answers right now, I know when the time comes it will all fall in place. And I’ll be fine. Just as I am now with the crazy hormones, erratic job and gloomy weather.