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The Roaring 40s…

The other day I was lamenting to my parents about stubborn belly fat that won’t go away and they told me that happens at “my age”. I felt like it was a little premature for me to be having this conversation but it really got me thinking. I just celebrated a milestone birthday last month and I must say so many things have changed over the past decade. For one, my people pleasing days are over. You like me? Great! You don’t like me? Just get over it because I ain’t gonna bend over backwards to make you my pal. And my body is acting weirdly too. My stomach loudly protests in meetings if it is hungry, while I desperately clear my throat or cough to drown its groans. After a trip to DC where we walked around everywhere because parking is a pain in the city, I was almost immobile for days and had these aches and pains from muscles that are rarely used in my sedentary life. I made a note to myself to start exercising and taking better care of myself. Well, that lasted all of one week. Living with two teenagers drains all the energy out of me. I cannot have a conversation without being interrupted, corrected, or sassed. And chores? Don’t even get me started. As toddlers, they loved cleaning up. They would happily sing Barney’s clean up song and put all their toys away. Now, not only does the clean up song not work but also any amount of screaming and threatening won’t help. Some kid’s mom hides gift cards all over the house for them to find if and when they clean up. Most of her gift cards go undiscovered, so I’m not even going to try that. Sadly, part of you knows they’ll be off to college, leaving behind empty rooms that won’t get messed up till they come visit. That’s when you sigh and clean up the mess yourself.

I’ve connected with so many people over the last decade thanks to social media. So I should be grateful for technology right? No! Technology sucks! Ten years ago people used to call to wish you on your birthday. Now it’s just a bunch of messages on your social media page. 100 plus messages and yet that makes me feel mighty poor. Technology has its place, but condolences sent as text messages? That’s where I draw the line. If you can’t be with the person physically, then at least call. Losing someone close is incredibly painful, don’t make them feel like they don’t have anyone else they can turn to. And no one sends handwritten thank you notes anymore, except people from an older generation, so I’m going to let that slide.

It’s when you are at my age that you find older friends and family leaving for a better place and it makes you wonder about life and your purpose. Are we all here to study, work, marry, birth babies, send them to college, retire and die? Or is there something bigger than that? Today, I’m in a place in my life where I yearned to be in my 20s, but I find that the dream has lost its luster and left me feeling mildly unsatisfied. I don’t mean to sound ungrateful because indeed I’m blessed with all that I need and more. But I don’t feel like that is an accomplishment or something to be smug about.

Words get muddled up in my head sometimes and I end up saying things like “I gave up coffee cold shoulder” instead of “I gave up coffee cold turkey!” I mix up words and their meanings sometimes too and it is not very flattering given that I work as an editor. And I’m thinking I’m just 40, this can’t be happening to me. Maybe I’m doing something wrong here but I don’t know what. The last time I checked, these things happened to retired people! So much for the roaring 40s, I’m too pooped to go out with my friend during the week to network over cocktails. Maybe this is when life gives you a sneak preview of your later years or maybe it’s a wake up call to take better care of yourself so you’ll end up living a full life till the day you are gone. I don’t know. Check back with me in a decade!


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The Fruits of Perseverance

It has been a while since I last blogged and I’m writing to share the realization of a long cherished dream. My struggle to find full-time employment in my field is something that shows up in my blogs from time to time. Regular readers are familiar with my transition from unemployed to underemployed to doing odd jobs that weren’t in my field. I have extolled the virtues of volunteering time and again and I still volunteer for an NGO even after getting hired as a contractor.

Although I loved working in schools, a part of me wanted to get back to writing and editing. My blog opened the door to many writing opportunities and several websites have  published my work. The next step was getting paid for the writing. I started writing for content mills and although they paid a pittance, it built up my confidence and honed my skills as a writer.

When I was in India, a referral from a old friend/colleague landed me a contract as a content writer. This was my first job as a writer in the corporate world. While I enjoyed the perks of working from home, it became apparent that after a long break one could benefit from the learning that occurs in an office environment. This role was quite different from writing for content mills and showed me where I could improve as a writer. Before I knew it 4 months were up and I was back to being unemployed.

Long bouts of unemployment coupled with our unsuccessful attempt to settle down in India made one thing quite clear to me. With kids whose future lay in our hands, I couldn’t put my career on the back burner anymore. You never know when life will throw you a curve ball and one has to be prepared. If I had been established in my career, maybe the trip to India may not have been so stressful. Even though my husband was not earning I could have run the household.

I came back to the U.S. with one burning desire – to find a full-time job that could support me and my family. While looking for jobs I continued to gain experience as a writer/editor by freelancing and volunteering. Two interviews later I got a call that changed my life. I interviewed for a job that seemed a right fit for me and got hired as a contractor to do web content editing. There was the promise of being hired full-time if I performed well. Five months into the job and I got hired full-time. Maybe it’s not a big feat for all of you reading this. But for me it has been 15 years since I had a full-time job (other than being a full-time mom).

For 11 years I couldn’t work in the U.S. because it took me that long to get my green card. Then another 4 years to find my way back to writing and editing. Along the way I have had many well-meaning relatives and friends advise me to take up an entirely different career path. Like say pharmacology or QA testing or even running a daycare.  But none of that appealed to me. Somehow I circled back to writing.

As I write this , others in my circle have had breakthroughs in other areas of their lives. Some have been blessed with babies after several years of heartache and pain. Others who have struggled with finances now have nest eggs that give them financial security and freedom. It took a long time for them and for me to realize our dreams but we persevered, kept the faith and took one step at a time in the direction of our dreams.

I cannot say I have reached my destination because ahead of me are more lessons, adventures and truths to explore. For those of you unsure of getting what you want or following your dream, I stand testimony to the fact that it can be done no matter how long or how hard you have tried or how unsuccessful you have been so far. So go for it!  You are supported by the universe and my good wishes are with you.

 


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A Day in the Life of the Unemployed

The novelty of moving to a new place has quickly worn off and I realize we are still unemployed albeit in a different part of the world. The days seem to bleed into one another. It doesn’t matter if it is a Monday or a Friday. Only weekends seem different, with the kids around. The rest of week sees us following pretty much the same routine. For me, my day starts with the alarm at 6.00. I rush into the kitchen to pack lunch for the kids. I set the cereal and milk on the table for breakfast. Then I keep screaming the time out, to make the kids hurry. Followed by banging on the bathroom door to get them out or screaming up the stairs to get them down.  I see them off at the door and then the house becomes incredibly quiet.

After all that excitement I settle down in front of my computer and compulsively check my e-mail, junk mail and spam for mails from prospective employers. Disappointment washes over me when I find nothing and then I go to social media to take my mind off it. After breakfast, a renewed vigor comes over me and I start sending out resumes to half a dozen companies. On some days there are no new jobs posted and I slip into despair wondering if I will ever work again. By noon I am spent and resign myself to the fact that I probably won’t hear from half of the companies I applied to. I cook lunch and eat it quietly. A weariness comes over me as I think of the whole evening spread before me. I curl into bed with a book to again escape from my cruel mind and the horrible stories it tries to feed me.

The kids return from school and suddenly the sleepy house wakes up. Battle over the computer and who gets first dibs. Piles of homework to be done. After school activities have to wait and I’m clouded with guilt when I see kids marching off to karate in their stiff uniforms or carrying violin cases down the stairs. If it is a Friday and the weather is good we end up playing tennis together.

Weekends are hard because I know I won’t hear from any employer till Monday. It’s also hard to stay hopeful and cheerful in front of the kids when despair is eating at your heart. Sometimes I snap at them in frustration and they wonder what they did to get on my bad side. But on most days I play the part well. Every grocery trip, every trip to the gas station, I know we are dipping into our savings. As our bank account shrinks, the number of days spent unemployed grows and grows and there is this huge chasm in my resume that I could slip in to any day.

Social live is nil. Who wants to admit to perfect strangers that one is not working? How can you admit your brokenness and then expect to make friends? Like water finds its own level when poured into containers, people also reach for others at their level or above. Everyone has their own problems, who wants to take on another’s!

Hope is my only reprieve and also this responsibility I have to my children. If I give up too easily, how can I lecture them about trying hard and not giving up when they fail? So here I am, back at the computer, applying for jobs and trying to stay upbeat even though every part of me is exhausted by this constant search for something in the distance. Something seemingly unattainable and yet so close I can touch it.

I know in spite of it all I am lucky. There are unemployed people out there who are hurting, there are people who woke up and saw their life’s earnings disappear in the face of demonetization. People on food stamps and people living meager existences in different parts of the world.

So this holiday season as you go on vacations, shopping sprees and holiday parties remember there are some amongst you who will be staying home just wishing they had the means to provide for their families. Pray for them, send them your good vibes and if possible give them something in kind.


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My Big Secret – Part 2

I think I left you hanging long enough. So here is my second big secret. If you have been following my blog for the past year, you know of my big move to India and all the trials and travails that followed. It wasn’t as easy move after spending 13 years of my married life in the U.S. And my husband being unemployed did not help matters either. Add to that the education system which came as a complete shock to my kids and me. The fact that I did not have my own space or freedom made matters worse. So after much deliberation (mostly on my part) we decided to move back to the U.S.

In a week I will be moving with my family. You could say I am escaping, running away because I am too weak to face the challenges life has thrown at me. But I am just returning. Returning to a familiar place that I have come to call home. Where I have the freedom to be the person I want to be and not feel guilty about it or be ostracized for it. For those who think I am weak, let me tell you that I faced these challenges for a year using all my strength, faith and all the support I could garner. But at some point I had to admit to myself that things are not working out as planned and that I would never be truly happy here. And that somewhere along the way I ceased to belong to this place. Since this is my big reveal, I won’t go into the challenges I faced in Chennai in detail. That is material for a whole new post.

We have been moving every year since 2014 and this time I intend to put down roots, put my foot down and cement myself in North Carolina. For the next several years my kids need the stability of attending one school and growing up with friends they care about. As for me, I am tired of packing and giving away stuff and moving like a freaking nomad.

For the record, I lived in the same city for 23 years of my life, attended the same school from kindergarten to 12th grade. I attended college and university in the same city and had friends I knew from the cradle! I think my kids deserve a little bit of that too.

If you are reading this, please know that it isn’t as easy as it looks – hauling your family half way across the globe and then back in a year. We don’t have jobs waiting for us. We have to buy everything from furniture to vehicles and insurance. It is scary, but less scary than having to live in Chennai for another year without jobs. America isn’t called the land of opportunity for nothing! So I beseech you to keep us in your prayers as we make this move and settle down. Thank you and wishing you a lot of success if you are making big changes in your life. I will leave you with this quote I saw on Facebook yesterday that really resonated with me – If you don’t like where you are, move. You are not a tree. (Jim Rohn)


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The Restless City and Me

February 9th came and went but I hardly noticed. Nope I didn’t forget my own birthday or anyone’s for that matter. Nor was it my wedding anniversary. It was simply 4 years since I started this blog. No biggie right? Wrong! The pause breathe and relax lady is totally swept by the city and that aint good news for anyone.

It’s funny how she grows on you and makes you a part of her, no matter how hard you resist. A victim of chaos swirling in the air which grabs you in a vice-like grip and slowly but surely saps everything within until you join the hollow-faced endless crowd of humanity. Their listless eyes looking to the horizon, dragging their weary feet they go on but they don’t know where they are headed.

Her fangs pierce deeply through your skin and softly and insidiously suck the joy and peace out of you. Unwittingly you get consumed by a flurry of busyness and complexity. Complexity that serves no purpose and sits atop sagging shoulders with monstrous burdens. Deep rooted in her habits she has little or no patience for those who don’t conform. She sniggers at simplicity and directness. Why those are for fools and inept village bumpkins! For they lie dormant on the fringes of her skirts wondering why they weren’t swept by the tide. They don’t see the gift of stillness in a ever moving and ever doing world where to rest or pause is frowned upon by efficiency guards. Hut! Hut! Hut! On your feet at 5.00 a.m. they bark.  Don’t rest till your chores are done. Don’t nap or sit idle or you’ll miss doing something really important. Keep on your feet from dawn to dusk or guilt will keep gnawing at you while you try to sleep.

The important things slip away from you and you spend day after day doing prosaic burdensome tasks. You kill the creative spark in you. Your inner child breathes her last. Laughter and fun seem like a privilege meant for a few who have the luxury of time. Time ticks by and so does your life. Endless days spent in meaningless toil lead you to believe that this is life and you enter the maze of dim-eyed, dim-witted souls leading a procession to no where and nothing.

To break away from this trance is a super human task. Like the squelchy muck in a peat bog she has you at her mercy and the more you struggle, the more you get stuck. Many have emerged but get labelled as rejects because being stuck is mistaken for being rooted. Doing takes precedence over being and getting over giving. Programmed to do and get, there is never enough and the tortuous race must go on indefinitely. Everyone grabbing what they can and hoarding what they must lest they end up with an empty fist.

I see myself following them with a yoke around my neck. My strength failing me and my thoughts seemingly alien and pathetically helpless. Sometimes all it takes to shake off a bad dream is to wake up. I think I have woken up but the bad dream refuses to go away…


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The Pull of Power Places – Trip to Arunachala

 

When I was a kid I recall reading about sacred places around the world where miraculous healing occurred and which drew multitudes of people to it. But it was in my early twenties that I actually visited one such power place with spiritual vibes so palpable that the air feels different. It wasn’t very far from my hometown Chennai and I practically stumbled upon this place quite unwittingly. In the small town of Tiruvannamalai stands this majestic hill called Arunachala. Legend has it that the hill is Shiva himself who appeared in the form of an effulgent pillar of light with no beginning or end. Brahma and Vishnu in their arrogance sought the two ends of the pillar, but no matter how deep they dug into the earth or how far into the cosmos they ventured, they could not find it. The two gods realized their folly, begged for forgiveness and prayed that the Lord may be present in a form that could be worshipped. Thousands flock to this ancient town from all corners of the world, to savor the peace that escapes us all in this maddening life.

I was in such a state when we travelled to Tiruvannamalai. Run down by life and its travails, with little or no hope in my heart. I wasn’t even sure the trip would materialize, like everything else before it. But the mere thought of Arunachala has a magnetic pull and draws one to it and everything fell into place miraculously. An outpouring of much needed grace came to our succor.

We packed our bags and our burdens and took off in our small car. Leaving the dusty city behind we drove past lush green paddy fields and sugarcanes swaying in the warm breeze. The open vastness of the blue skies greeted us in every direction. Starting before dawn we caught an unobstructed view of the sunrise over the villages. Along the way we passed the Gingee Fort with steep steps cut into the rocky face of a hill. We stopped for some hitch-hiking monkeys looking for food. They were far too comfortable in human company for their own good.

As we approached Tiruvannamalai, the lone hill of Arunachala stood in the distance, still and firm, above the din and busyness that marks life in a small town. My heart leapt with joy and I instantly felt light and free -like a yoke had been lifted off my neck. We drove to the ashram to get the keys to our room in the guesthouse. The guesthouse was named Achalam, meaning still. Simple, clean accommodations in a quiet, serene neighborhood with overhanging trees, added to the peace that had now replaced the gnawing anxiety that accompanies urban life. After resting for a bit and eating a bit of breakfast, we headed back to the ashram meditation hall, where I got my spiritual batteries charged. A sanctuary for humans and animals alike, the ashram is frequented by dogs, peacocks and monkeys. The Maharshi’s love for animals is honored even today by the caretakers of the ashram. After a delicious and simple South Indian lunch we decided to explore the hill. From the back of the ashram is a path that leads uphill. The kids were excited at the prospect of trekking, but it wasn’t the best time of the day to do it, given that the afternoon sun was beating down on us.

I was however determined to go for it, having missed the opportunity to do so in my last two visits. The path was rocky and before long we reached the summit. From a clearing we could see the temple town below. After resting on some rocks and taking in the view, we trekked uphill for nearly an hour before reaching Skandashram which was built by a devotee single-handedly over a period of ten years. A few rooms with pictures of the Maharshi and a neat garden set against the backdrop of a rocky cliff was all it was. On one side was a spring with water pooled around it and a horde of monkeys gamboling around it. The place had only a handful of visitors and was imbued with quiet and peace.

We then went downhill on a treacherous path to the Virupaksha cave. The walls of the cave were low and we bent down to get in there. It was dark except for the light of a steady oil lamp. The inside of the cave radiated heat and we sat there for a bit taking in the quiet and the stillness.

The thought of climbing back up the hill and then back to ashram seemed daunting. So we asked a little boy and some old ladies if we could continue downhill to reach the town. To our intense relief they said it was just a 10 minute walk downhill to the temple from where we could begin our 14 kilometer walk around the hill. A few minutes into our walk we passed another cave – the mango cave – which was well lit and attended by a priest. We crawled in and prayed, while he told us about the history of the cave. We then proceeded downhill and found our way to the temple. The ancient temple of Shiva, was full of secret places to explore. I was particularly interested in locating the patala linga which was underground. This is where the young Maharshi sat absorbed in a state of bliss while ants and rodents gnawed on him and naughty boys of his age pelted him with stones from the top of the stairs that led to the chamber.

It was time for our walk around the hill, we purchased a bottle of water and started asking for directions. A helpful lady materialized out of no where and showed us the way to the first temple along the route. We walked with the hill appearing and disappearing from our sight. We walked as the sun set and the moon rose. We walked in the dark, after a power cut. We walked with weary legs and rested at temples along the way. When we got back to the starting point it was nearly 9.30 p.m. An auto took us back to the ashram and then we drove to our guesthouse. We ate some curd rice and went to bed. We slept soundly and rose early in the morning to visit the Arunachala temple. We took the kids to see the happy temple elephant that gave pats on the head with its trunk in exchange for coins, and swayed as if dancing to music only audible to its ears.

Back at the ashram we ate a simple breakfast and had some coffee with fresh cow’s milk. I would have loved to linger on and soak up the peace till I was immersed in it, but we had to head back home for Ayudha pooja.

In 24 hours I had undergone a complete transformation. My faith was renewed, hope rekindled, the heaviness was gone and so was the utter helplessness and despair. I knew that I would be taken care of and so would my family. It wasn’t up to me to take on the burden of the world.

Miracles awaited us as we returned to Chennai. Bigger upsets also swung by to torment us but that day spent in the shadow of something much larger than myself, gave me the strength to go through it, to have faith and to emerge out of it victorious.

Have you visited any power places? What has been your experience?


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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.


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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.


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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!


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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!