Punctuate Life

Pause Breathe Relax


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Nature or Nurture: My Genes Revealed

I was recently writing an article about genetics and came across the nature versus nurture theory. I’ve heard of it before but never applied it to my life, until now. You see I have been fighting nature and possibly nurture all my life.

My Dad and I have a lot in common. We are both quiet bookworms with a small group of friends and prefer silence to small talk. Did I mention my Dad was a writer? My Mom on the other hand has what you call the gift of the gab. She can strike up conversations with total strangers. She was a teacher and so are two of her sisters. Teaching genes are strongly expressed in her generation. My Dad was probably the only writer in his generation. And in their relationship Mom is clearly the dominant one. I probably have a lot of the ‘dominant’ teaching genes. If you happen to be a friend of mine you know what I am talking about. I love giving sermons, counselling and advising people (much to their annoyance)!

My mom’s personality and mine are so different that teaching never featured in my career choices. Big mistake! I would have pursued a teaching degree instead of journalism if I had know I’d be teaching in my mid-thirties.

My teaching genes also benefitted from a nurturing environment. I’ve had some awesome teachers who have brought out the best in me and evoked a deep respect for this profession. My mother often spoke of how much she loved kids and how emotionally fulfilling her job was. Like her, I love kids and job satisfaction is high on my list of priorities. If I ain’t happy I ain’t doing a good job. I have to love the work and the people I work with.

Sometimes I think I inherited both writing and teaching genes in equal measure. Both seem to want to dominate my life at one time or another. If I had been privy to this knowledge ten years ago, it would have been easy to chart the course of my career. I remember how confused I was after doing my bachelors in science and realizing I didn’t want to go into teaching or research. I opted for journalism because my Dad suggested it after I took another wrong turn toward an M.S. in ecology. I was pleasantly surprised to find that I enjoyed journalism. Even before I finished my thesis I was offered a job. I also worked part-time during my final semester.

My first real job was editing and I loved it for the most part. Deep down I sorely missed creative writing. Sometimes I wish I had followed my friends career paths into technical writing or computer graphics. But then again the wordsmith gene in me rebels and sulks over not being able to express itself.

Both teaching and writing are jobs that give me a good work-life balance. My kids and their lives are equally important to me. I want to be there every day when they get back from school. I want to sit at the kitchen table and feed them home-cooked meals, while they share funny stories about school.

So after much deliberation I have finally arrived at the conclusion that it’s ok to branch out. It’s ok not to follow the beaten (career) path. We as individuals are such dynamic creatures that one career cannot do justice to our many talents. That is probably the reason for such large-scale dissatisfaction as far as one’s career goes. If you have to stick to your job to pay the bills, that’s ok. Pursue other talents as hobbies or simply volunteer whenever you can. You will be happier and won’t resent your day job so much.

So here I am – a writer, a blogger, a substitute teacher, communications VP at the PTSA and wannabe yoga teacher! Unofficial jobs? Well, let’s not go there. God help me!


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Haven’t I Been ‘Here’ Before?

My emotions surrounding our move to the Pacific North West were not entirely pleasant. It seemed like I had just about perfected my rhythm in life when this blaring move came along and threw me out of my poise. My blog was running along successfully. I had a part-time job that allowed me to balance work, home and the kids activities in a way that everyone flourished. And then this blasted move . It uprooted me from everything familiar and plunked me in a distant and seemingly unknown place.

My mental check list goes like this – friends- zilch, job – not a clue, number of hours spent job hunting – two to four, number of hours spent staring into space – infinite, self esteem – dangerously low and continuously plummeting. Being in an unfamiliar place, I hardly venture out afraid that I’d get lost. In an eerie way it reminded me of Boston and the early days of my married life. Thrown from a working independent woman to a full time housewife almost overnight. No drivers license, no work permit and debilitating morning sickness added to the miserable mix.

The circumstances are way different now but it was tempting to go down that spiral of self-pity and utter despair. In fact for a few weeks I wallowed in it. But luckily some higher wisdom kicked in and I remembered how I had moved from Boston to Florida. Again I didn’t have a job or a license. Within a year I got my license, then my blog came into being in 2 years and by the end of the 4th year I even had a job. The circumstances were the same and yet I had flourished.

I clearly saw two paths ahead of me at this crucial juncture in my life. One where my ego led me down the familiar road of depression, hopelessness and defeat and the other where the Universe led me through joyful experiences, love, passion, abundance and fulfillment. Is it any wonder I chose the latter?

On some days it feels like I’m going around in circles, following the beaten path over and over and going no where. I have to consciously lift myself out and hover above it to see it for what it is. I may be on the same path but unlike in the past, I now have an arsenal of tools to assist me. Light if you will, is a big part of this. I’m not stumbling and falling over every rock.  I step over them with ease. There is joy in my heart and hope even though my outside reality hasn’t changed yet. And faith so strong and unshakeable that even a storm will not throw me off my feet. I may be walking the same path but I sure am leaving a fresh set of footprints.

Sometimes I feel we are put into these kind of situations to show us how much we have grown spiritually and emotionally. Old emotions no longer have a hold over me. I believe that a higher power will slowly but surely show us a way out of these unpleasant situations.

As my inner reality shifts I see many things on the outside that are gifts. For instance our trip to Seattle reminded me so much of Boston. Both cities have a lot in common. Both are a melting pot of cultures, full of museums and places of historic interest. Pike Place Market in Seattle is akin to the Quincy Market. Ferries to Bainbridge and Bremerton reminded me of our trip to the Boston Islands. Whale watching is a favorite tourist attraction in both cities. Both cities are close to the Canadian border and buzzing with activities in the summer.

So in a way the part of me that ached for Boston is in ecstasy ( if I can quieten the part of me that screams Florida!)

If you want everything to be perfect before you can be happy you will never know happiness. Be happy and all else will follow. Pharrell Williams’s song  keeps playing in my head. Cos happiness is the truth!

 

P.S. The Universe agreed with a resounding yes! The song ‘Happy’ was playing on the radio right after I finished writing this post.


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The Sparkling City of Seattle

On Friday the 4th of July we packed a picnic lunch and headed to the nearest park and ride. The Sound Transit Express bus took us to Downtown Seattle in 30 minutes. From there we headed to the famous Pike Place Market to see fish being tossed across the P P Fish Market. We wandered through shops filled with fragrant fresh flowers, local berries (including Boysenberries) and fresh produce for a while before we realized that the fish market was closed for the holiday. I had to stop and take pictures of some exotic mushrooms that are hard to find in regular supermarkets or grocery stores. We also stopped by the first Starbucks that opened its doors in 1971. Today the state of Washington alone has 559 stores.

We then boarded a bus to the Seattle Center to see the Space Needle. All that walking made us so hungry that we sat down on some concrete steps in front of the EMP museum and ate vegetable masala burgers and cherries (both from Trader Joes). The monorail zoomed over our heads every few minutes. After lunch we took a bus to the waterfront and a short 3o minute ferry ride to Bainbridge island. The sea breeze was chilly and I abandoned the deck and my search for otters and sea lions, for the heated lounge. When we got to the island we heard drum beats in the distance. As we turned a corner we discovered an entire collection of drums arranged in a clearing. Children and adults alike were playing bongos and other kinds of drums (please excuse my limited ‘drum’ vocabulary). Tambourines and other jingly instruments (apologies again) lay in a basket on the floor. My kids and I went for it. We drummed to our hearts content for a long time. It was fun and exhilarating. Others joined us and then left. This was community drumming at its best and left everyone smiling in the end. We thanked the man who had so generously offered us this fun opportunity and left.

We then headed to the art museum with paper sculptures, old coins, antique dolls and playing cards. All that walking and drumming made us ravenous. We headed to the nearby café for hot chocolate, cinnamon buns and coffee. It was getting late so we headed back to the mainland. P wanted to eat fish and chips (something he fancied after a short stay in England). So we got off our boat and headed to Ivar’s fish and chips. It was the kids first time eating fish and chips (or French Fries as they call it in the U.S.). The pacific cod that they use must be really good and really fresh because the sea gulls were surrounding the modest shop that sits right on the pier. The kids and husband loved it and had it been warmer we might have eaten at the waterfront and fed some sea gulls Ivar style. There is a statue of Ivar feeding gulls in front of the fish shop. He also came up with the motto “Keep Clam”. We’ll be sure to order some of that Clam Chowder on our next visit.

We took the bus back home and ate a quick dinner so we could watch the fireworks in Bellevue, supposedly the best show in the area. We had seen the 4th of July fireworks at the Boston Esplanade and at the Cocoa Beach pier in Florida. Now we were seeing it for the first time in the Pacific North West. My daughter remembers the one in Boston because that year they had a firecracker that made a smiley face. Guess who all went to sleep with smiley faces that night? All of us! A fun day trip with the family in a sparkling city doesn’t get better than this!

How did you celebrate this 4th of July? I’d love to hear it all…

The Great American Road Trip

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From Atlanta we headed North West through the hills of Tennessee. I was ecstatic. Remember our trip to Gatlinburg to see the fall colors? I wrote about this wondrous place so I won’t dwell on it now. We reached St. Louis, Missouri very late at night after a whole day of driving. All the exhaustion of packing, moving and driving across states caught up with us and we decided to spend another day in Missouri.

The next day we went on a riverboat ride near the Gateway Arch. The Mississippi river is anything but pretty. The water is brown and murky. The buildings on the banks are old and dilapidated. We could barely hear our tour guide’s voice over the speakers – given that we were with an unruly and loud bunch of school kids. After the boat ride we walked past the towering Arch to a verdant stretch of trees lining either side of a walkway, generously sprinkled with benches. We sat down and enjoyed the twittering of birds and watched the squirrels scurrying by.

Earlier that day I had called J to let her know I was in Missouri and asked if we could meet. I had very slim hopes of meeting her given that it was a week day and she worked and had two young children to take care of. But she swung by later and I got to see my school friend after like 20 years. Back then we both wore pigtails and canvas shoes and the most stressful thing in our lives was Calculus! Now we were both moms – managing jobs, kids and a home. Her kids are adorable and played happily with mine. We chatted happily for an hour or so before we had to call it a day and hit the sack (or in our case the plush hotel beds).

We drove out of St. Louis and across the state of Missouri just as the sun’s first rays lit up the ‘amber waves of grain’. The rest of Missouri was not quite like St. Louis. It had barns, vast open spaces and endless fields. We drove through Iowa and a bit of Nebraska before we passed the South Dakota border. The landscape changed. We were no longer in the plains. Hills and valleys appeared in the horizon. The road itself went up and down meandering around the hilly terrain. Very soon the black hills of South Dakota were visible. We drove across the state of SD to get to Hill city. Our hotel was nestled in the Black Hills State Forest area in an idyllic little town with quaint shops and restaurants. We ate a hearty meal of pasta with marinara, fettuccini alfredo, grilled cheese sandwiches, French fries and chicken burger. After eating at fast food joints and pizzerias along the route this was food paradise. The dessert menu was on display at the front of the restaurant. It would have been sinful to leave without sampling their cheesecake. So after tucking into a generous slice we headed to the Black Hills Forest proper to see the Mount Rushmore lighting ceremony. The faces of four great Presidents were carved on granite rocks by 400 workmen over a period of 14 years. The planning and execution of such a grandiose project had to be the work of a genius – Gutzon Borglum. Even today so much work goes into preserving this monument. Sensors and monitors catch changes in the rock faces. Cracks due to weathering have to be painstakingly repaired.

We stood in front of the dark giant rock face and watched a documentary about George Washington, Lincoln, Roosevelt and Jefferson. Far away bolts of lightning split the sky and a cold drizzle made us huddle under our jackets. As they played the star spangled banner, the faces on the rocks lit up and a sense of patriotism rose from every soul present there. The ceremony ended with honoring veterans and U.S. military service men and women that were present.

The next morning we headed back to see the monument in daylight. I could see Roosevelt’s glasses as we walked down a trail to vantage points that offered a closer view of each of the faces. After that we headed to Custer State Park to view wildlife. One didn’t really have to go to  a forest to see wildlife in this part of the world! Just driving down the road we saw white tail deer, bob cats and mule deer. We drove for what seemed like hours without spotting a single animal in the State Park. And then it started raining down on us. Our hopes of seeing any wildlife were gone. I almost cried. We didn’t come so far to go back without seeing even a single bison.

The rain finally relented and we drove a few feet to see a line of motorists parked on the road and on the grassy plains were bison! Plenty of them, munching on the wet grass with little calves in tow that were romping around gleefully. It was such a wondrous sight. We parked and stared and took pictures of these hairy natives of the land. Up ahead we saw pronghorn antelope and some burros walking on the side of the road. After lunch we started towards the neighboring state. This part of the country is so beautiful that one day did not suffice to see everything it had to offer. SD deserved a whole week of exploration. The Black Hills, the Native American Culture, wildlife and so much more to see. But we had miles to go and a schedule to stick to.

The air got cooler as we reached Wyoming. The Great Plains of South Dakota with its ‘spacious skies’, hills and valleys and crosswinds were behind us. Wyoming’s ‘purple mountain majesties’ rose up in the twilight. We drove by acres and acres of land with cattle ranches and barns. We wondered how anyone could live here without cellphone coverage, neighbors that were so far away that they were invisible and a neighboring town that had a population of maybe 80 residents. As we drove past the local pub everyone stopped talking and watched our ‘strange’ car pass by.

We saw patches of snow and ice along the way and snow-capped mountains in the distance. My snow-starved Floridian children were super excited. We reached our little inn in Cody and crashed for the night. Next day we saw a deer on our way to breakfast. We had cereal, toast and coffee in a tiny room with very few chairs. The walls were full of pictures of the owner with various species of wildlife that he had shot during his hunting expeditions. Was enough to make me run as far as my legs could carry me! We then drove to the Yellow Stone National Park. There was snow all along the park roads. We had to stop and let the kids jump in the snow and touch it. Which they did with big fat grins on their faces. We drove around the park, stopping at geysers and snatching glimpses of wildlife. We had seen so many bison that we started groaning when we saw an animal and it turned out to be just another bison!

We stopped at Old Faithful, a geyser that erupts every 45 minutes to an hour spurting steam and water up to 105 feet high. Yellow Stone is another place that needs a week of exploring with its snow-capped mountains, frozen lakes, boiling rivers, geysers and of course wildlife.

Our last stop was Missoula, Montana, not originally part of the plan but we decided against another 14-our trip and split it into two trips. The hotel we stayed at had a water park and the kids jumped into the water at 9.00 p.m. for an hour of splash and slide fun. We didn’t really explore Missoula which was very close to the Glacier National Park ( it is now on my road trip list). Hope to go there sometime soon after I recover from road trip fatigue.

Next morning we headed to our new home, past the states of Montana and Idaho and into Washington- the evergreen state. It was Sunday. A week since we started from Florida. I couldn’t believe that we had driven some 3000 miles across the country, seen sights we never imagined in our wildest dreams. Now it all seems so surreal and it all went by so fast. But something tells me it is a trip we will all remember for a long time to come. It was the trip of a lifetime. A trip from one shining sea to the other.

I’ll leave you with the words of this beautiful song written by Katherine Bates. I suspect she drew inspiration for this song from her road trip across the States.

Oh beautiful for spacious skies
For amber waves of grain
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain

America, America
God shed His grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea

 


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Happiness, Trust and Uncertainty

I don’t want the fleeting happiness that comes from acquiring beautiful things. Nor the shallow mirth that comes from people who please you, praise you and bring you gifts. But I crave the satisfaction of one who need not try so hard to prove one self in a cruel world. One who without seeking has all the treasures of the world at one’s feet for the taking.

I no longer know what I want. After much striving and finally arriving at the place I wanted to be, I reveled in my success for a while before I realized all that I had strived for were worthy goals but in itself could not sustain my happiness. Husband – check. Kids – check. Home – check. Job – check. Sense of purpose – check.

Why can’t I enjoy the journey instead of fretting about the final destination? Especially since I have learnt many times over that there is no such thing as a final destination (even for a soul’s journey). Life does not stand still and idle. It seeks to go further and further to unseen lands.

The grey clouds outside reflect the gloom that has descended over me. A shroud of uncertainty that keeps the hopeful sun from lighting up my face. How many times will I falter and fumble knowing fully well that I am not in control. I never was. Led by an invisible hand to realms I had never dreamed of and experiences I never wished for. And yet all of it was necessary. All of it was beautiful. Even the cruel, dark places had their purpose. Uncertainty is not such a bad thing after all but it brings out the worst in us. The what-if questioning mind with its apocalyptic scenarios. But when I look back I see the paths that this hand led me down – sunny, shady, dark and gloomy. And I always emerged unscathed and stronger. So why can’t I trust that this hand will lead me down the best path yet. Down winding sun lit meadows and fragrant orchards. Up hillsides soaked in dew to mountain tops kissed by the clouds.

Trust is like plunging headlong into deep murky waters and suddenly bolting to the surface on invisible life vests. It is like falling backwards off the edge of a cliff placidly and getting caught in a safety net that happened to be there.

Why can’t I be like a child walking into the ocean holding its mother’s hand, trusting that when a big wave comes threatening to engulf him, she would clasp her arms around his little body and lift him up before the ocean could swallow him whole.

When you place your trust in something bigger than you then you can be certain that the right path will open up. When you trust, you give up anxiety about the future and are filled with peace and a deep inner knowing that it will turn out ok in the end. But to trust when you are in the eye of a storm and unraveling is the biggest challenge of all. After facing enough storms and upheavals I can assure you that those invisible arms held me tight and never let go – not once (although it felt like I was alone when it was all happening.)

So surrender and be at peace. Let the drama play out in your life and in the world and be no part of it. Know that it will all be over soon and you will be exactly where you are supposed to be.


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My Gastronomic Adventure – Part 2

Now the U.S. is a culinary jungle all by itself and living here for more than a decade has greatly influenced my cooking. As a young bride I focused on making everyday Indian food which was easy, given that I used to help my mom a lot in the kitchen and knew most of the basic recipes. I love Chinese food and we used to eat out at Chinese restaurants quite frequently. The Chinese food you get in India is usually spiced up and modified to suit the Indian palate. When I came to the U.S. I quickly discovered that most Chinese restaurants were Americanized. I was disappointed and craved Ind0-Chinese food so much that I started making it myself – just the fried rice, noodles and cauliflower Manchurian.

Another type of food that I missed was chaat (Indian snack food or street food). To try and explain what chaat is to someone who has never tasted it is next to impossible. Maybe the closest I can get to describing it is by borrowing a word from Japanese – Umami, which is a 5th taste, a savory taste. Chaat is an explosion of salty, sweet, tangy, spicy and crunchy that takes you to food heaven. So again I had to perfect my paav bhaji, pani puri and bhel puri for whenever the chaat cravings hit me hard.

I love to bake and out here baking is big. So I spent many years trying out different cake and pie recipes and now I have a few perfect ones under my belt. Like banana nut bread, apple pie (thanks to Aunty D’souza – who bakes the most amazing desserts), key lime pie (thanks to Florida) blueberry muffin, almond cake, brownies and chocolate chip cookies.

When you are vegetarian, eating out is such a tedious task. Our go-to places are Indian, Chinese and Italian restaurants. My kids simply love Italian food and given a chance they would eat pasta every day. So chef DC did it again and perfected her pasta sauces, ravioli, lasagna, frittata and even home made pizza. The fun part of making pizza is getting the kids involved. They love getting in there and getting messy and I love cooking with them. It reminds me of the time I spent cooking with my mom and also G.

I used to spend many hours watching food network and my favorite show was 30 minute meals with Rachel Ray. She was my idol and I used to race against the clock and try and make Indian food (that typically takes hours to make) in just 30 minutes. The rice cooker and pressure cooker were my best friends and I quickly mastered the art of speedy chopping. So in under an hour I would make one veggie dish, one gravy and rice. I can make a one pot sambar (many traditional cooks frown upon this method) which to me tastes just as good.

Other friends I have made out here have also shared wonderful recipes with me. Most of my neighbors in Boston were from Andhra Pradesh, India and their dishes are very tasty and very different from ours. I learnt how to make mango dal and eggplant curry from them. My good friend and neighbor shared her mushroom biriyani recipe which has been passed on to many friends and is still a favorite at my house. She is a very good cook and we used to make and share vada and payasam during festivals and also try out different recipes and share them. She inspired me to make sweets for Diwali (although the seeds were sown by G’s family and Ganga). So I’ve made Ladoos, Jalebis, Halwas and Kheer. My neighbor S started making murrukkus with me when she was between jobs and I soon found myself in the possession of a murukku press (thanks to my husband), making murukkus from scratch.

My husband likes to cook on occasion and he has whipped up some very good recipes. One of the earliest ones was a veggie sub with grilled green pepper, mushroom, onions and tomatoes and melted cheese. He makes the best rava dosas and dry coconut chutney. These days he is into making plantain chips from scratch – we just finished frying up a batch after slicing them up in our spiffy new mandoline.

So that brings me to last month’s Thanksgiving Dinner. Firstly we don’t eat turkey – me because I’m vegetarian and the rest of my family simply doesn’t like it. So we replaced the turkey with chicken wings – buffalo style. My daughter wanted mashed potatoes and my son wanted lasagna! I replaced the lasagna with mushroom ravioli because it’s a lot easier to make and for dessert we had eggless cake. I’m glad I chose a simple menu because on the day before Thanksgiving I fell sick and I secretly thanked myself for not choosing to make Indian food! I consider myself a die-hard curry eater but no other cuisine involves so much soaking, grinding, marinating, frying, sautéing, mincing and spicing like Indian cuisine. Later that evening the guilt set in and I ended up making eggplant curry.

There is something about food that not only titillates your palate but also warms your heart and soul. When you break bread with someone, share your table or your cooking with someone, an invisible bond is formed – one that lasts for a long time and one that evokes a lot of fond memories of fun, food, family and friends. Here’s to your own culinary adventure…cheers!

 


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The Hills are Alive…

In the last week of October we drove up to the Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee. It was a 11-hour drive, mostly on I-95 North. A straight highway with regular cars making their way up North somewhere. Towards the end of day I dozed off for what must have been thirty minutes. I woke up suddenly and found myself in the colorful mountains. The winding road had bursts of color popping up at every bend, the evening sun throwing spotlights on the mountain slopes. Breathtaking, enchanting are merely feeble words to describe what I saw. Whoever included “great” when naming these mountains knew exactly what they were doing.

I was ecstatic and I broke into a song –  The Hills are Alive. For four years I hadn’t set foot on the mountains. For four years I hadn’t filled my lungs with the crisp and fragrant autumn air. For four years I hadn’t witnessed the awe-inspiring season that is fall. Unquestionably, my most favorite season of all. We stopped by a river right by the road, walked over the pebbled and rocky banks and touched the freezing water. My son picked up some rocks to add to our river rock collection. It reminded us of summers spent by the Deerfield river in Mohawk Trail, Massachusetts.

That evening, we reached our hotel, nestled in the mountains. The next day we headed off to the Great Smoky Mountains known for their permanently cloud-capped peaks. God bless the visionaries who fought hard to preserve these scenic places as National Parks for future generations. We drove all the way to Clingman’s Dome which is the highest point in the Smoky Mountains at about 6,600 feet.  Shrouded in fog and freezing cold (at least for us Floridians), we skipped the 30 minute hike to the observatory/dome for the warm and toasty gift shop. After warming up by the fire we headed off to the Cherokee Indian Reservation on the North Carolina side of the park. It boasted the biggest waterfall in the area and it was a short hike to reach it. Doable by our family of kids, elderly parents and us – middle-aged adults. The Mingo falls could be reached after climbing 170 steps and a small stretch of rocky mountain path. It was well worth the hike to see it.

On the way back my husband was compelled to stop at an Indian gift shop to buy a dream catcher. The one we got from Mohawk Trail years ago was falling apart and he wanted to replace it. Dream catcher in hand we headed off for lunch and some more tree ogling, oohing and aahing, and trying to take pictures of tunnels and trickling rivers. On the way we were forced to stop on a narrow road as cars in front of us slowed down and came to a stop. People were jumping out of the cars and heading to the edge of the road overlooking the forest. We were wondering what all the fuss was about and found a big group of people gazing up at the treetops, cameras and phones clicking away furiously. We too looked up in the trees and saw a black bear climbing up a tree.

Now in all my years in the U.S. I had never seen a black bear in the wild. I had always wanted to see one (hop across the road while we were driving or take a drink in the river while we watched from yonder!) My husband (the ever practical one) warned me of the dangers of encountering a bear in the wild. So this was just perfect. We were far enough to be safe but not too far to miss all the action. We simply had to get off and take pictures. One excited person yelled – there’s four of them. But we only spotted three and they looked like cubs. My husband joked that we should be on our way before “Mama Bear” made a grisly appearance.

Next day we packed up and checked out of our beautiful hotel and made our way to Ober, Gatlinburg to board the aerial tramway for a view from way above. It was like seeing the mountains for the first time ever. We took the tramway up and down four times and each time the mountains and the colors looked different because of the light and the position of the sun. We then took a chair lift to a ride called the Alpine slide where you squat in a little car with a hand pedal to go forward or slow down. Our little cars took us down a winding concrete track. The kids loved it and wanted to do it again and again but we had to leave. I wished we could have spent another day in the mountains but we had to say goodbye and reach Atlanta, Georgia by 4.30 p.m.

P’s Dad loves elephants. When he was a young boy growing up in Kerala, many families owned elephants and some used to turn up in his backyard for a treat of bananas by the bunches. He loves telling my kids about elephants and stories from when he was a child. But in his 80 years he had never seen an African Elephant. So P and I were determined to show him one on this trip. Zoo Atlanta boasted not one but two such elephants. But we had to get there in time for the last admission which was at 4.30.

We drove for 3 hours without a break. Not stopping for food or drink. We made it in time to see these magnificent elephants. One was swaying away happily and the other was moving around. We also saw a very restless lion that was growling and pacing around and two hungry pandas munching on bamboo shoots. In an hour the zoo closed and we headed off to our hotel for much needed R & R.

The next day we left early to see Martin Luther King’s house and the Freedom Walkway. We then stopped by the Georgia Aquarium and spent the morning there before heading back to Florida. The sights of the city and aquarium held no magic for me for my heart was still in the mountains. I simply had to close my eyes and I was there in the midst of the trees in their glorious hues, feeling alive, feeling surprisingly healthy and happy, the melody in my heart rising to my lips until I could hold it in no more and I burst into song…The Hills are Alive.