Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Finding the drop in!

If you have an extroverted kid, most of your time indoors, is plain torture. I understand and empathize with you completely. You either have to keep him or her constantly engaged or you have to remain outdoors till the cows come home. Now in India, cows do come home - but here - well, that's not even a possibility. 

We moved to the US a few months ago with our 3 year old. And Driti, is a firecracker.  Back in India, she used to go to school for  8 hours. And moving to the US, we were temporarily given a corporate housing in an uptown location, in a luxury condo. It was great and everybody who visited us fell in love with it. But to the kid - it was no less than a prison cell. Back in India, she could just barge into the neighbors' houses and  here the doors were always locked and every sound invoked complaints from irate neighbors. So I had to take her outdoors - at least as much as I could. We went to the parks, the play areas and explored some classes. Driti's school was to begin in fall and we had a good two months in hand. She needed social interaction - she needed to see friends and talk. I did a lot of research and finally narrowed down on Trettin Drop In. It is truly a God send, for emergencies, for impromptu child care and for your child - it's a great avenue to learn, explore and socialize. They even have kids going there for regular classes and I am truly amazed at all the creative work these kids come out with!

D loved it from the word go. I started off with a couple of hours and she would cry when I came to pick her up. To her, an American teacher is named 'Suzy' from 'Sid the Science Kid' and was I glad to find a teacher Sue here! The teachers are very dedicated and spend a lot of time with the kids through show and tell, crafts and art, stories, and it's so much fun - I'd like to enroll here!

The process itself was hassle free -we had to fill in the basic forms, sign up and we were ready to go! I would for sure, rate this place as truly awesome! There have been an increasing number of drop ins off late, here in Seattle - but my preference has been for Trettin! Mary Jo and the staff truly manage this place wonderfully!

You have an option of bringing your own lunch or buying it there. And the snacks - are free! Driti enjoys dabbing herself in color or playing with all those blocks or listening to so many stories! Its always been a calorie burner- trying to get Driti back home from here.I pull, she tries to hold on to everything she can. Thanks to the ladies, who help make her understand that she does have a home and needs to go there, my little energy ball winds up in my arms only to be promised that we will be back soon.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Long Beach and Longer Nights

It was our Anniversary get away. Oh thank you, you're so kind... yes, it's been 6 years, can you imagine it? Just a year, before the supposed itch kicks in. 

Anyway, so we decided we needed a vacation, from the daily cooking - my husband more than me - he was the one who always had to make approving sounds even if what I served him was burnt beyond repair. So this get-away was something he had earned - for marrying me - six years ago. 

This was also our first road trip. I hadn't gotten my license yet - yes, yet. So it was upon him to take us to this haven that was so hyped. 

We decided the best time to leave was after Driti's swimming lesson - that way, she would fall asleep and we would get sometime by ourselves. It was perfect planning, and we got time for ourselves to talk - about the various HR interventions to aid a growing organization. Yes, we're that romantic! By the time we reached Long Beach, we could've written an entire paper on career and succession planning and earned big bucks. But we're not that ambitious and are super lazy, so we let the opportunity pass, as we did with the first Gas station, when we realized we were running real low. We panicked before we reached the next station, to ensure we have enough fuel for the long drive. 

We stopped for refueling and Driti stopped for hers - cakes, chips and sandwiches. 'It's a vacation, after all', I reasoned and let her have some of the forbidden treats.

The route from our place is such that we need to touch Oregon, to reenter Long Beach in WA. So we filled in fuel in Oregon and it was tax free! Yay, so glad we didn't stop at the first gas station!

There is this beautiful bridge, the  Astoria–Megler Bridge that spans the Columbia River between Astoria, Oregon and Point Ellice near Megler, Washington. It is A.MA.ZING! If it is of interest to you, it is also the longest continuous truss bridge in North America. We did not have to ask Driti to keep silent while we could take the beauty of it all in, she just naturally did - a nature lover that one.

It takes about four hours to travel from Seattle to Long Beach and you cannot but notice the stark contrast between the city that Seattle is and the countryside feeling you get in Long Beach. We haven't seen any town quite like that in India. It was so small and so warm (not from a deg F or deg C point of view, but from a feeling stand point). It was just a cozy little place where everybody seemed to know everybody else - It was straight out of 'Cheers' where 'Everybody knows your name' Not ours - we just visited, but the rest. 

We reached around 6 in the evening, to our hotel, and decided the only thing we could do now was to find a place to eat. I wanted to get a hair cut but considering not many salons had a Yelp rating, I kept my urge for a 'new look' under wraps. We checked out reviews for the various restaurants and one particular Thai restaurant had the best reviews, so we decided to give it a try. It was called - "Long Beach Thai Cuisine" (Surprise!!) and the place itself is not too much to write about - small square room with tables and chairs set, for dining - yes the basics. The upholstery reminded me of India - Elephants embroidered on silk - but guess Thailand also has elephants. 

We had to wait to be seated. For a small place, it was quite full, which was a good sign - people liked dining here or they were all tourists who had read reviews and come to test it like us. But the owner seemed to know most of them, so well, maybe they were regulars - which was  a good sign. 

I am usually averse to Thai food - allergic to peanuts and coconuts, so I was looking for every possible excuse to get out - but hubby insisted on this one because this claimed to be 'Authentic' and besides he hadn't really seen me throw up. 

To be honest, when we sat down for our food, we waited close to an eternity (15 mins). But the wait was worth it. The food was simply awesome - unlike any Thai food I've ever tasted. I finished almost the entire plate - that says something. I loved the food and so did hubby. I should've taken some yogurt for Driti for to eat her yogurt rice. She did not like anything, because the food was nutritious - it had vegetables or Chicken. So if you're going with a picky eater, go prepared.  Driti came back to the hotel and ate some 'cool fruits'. We really liked the owner/waitress/ cook. She was very friendly, and talked a lot to us. This is definitely a recommended place when you go to Long Beach. Whether you catch clams or not, get the Thai food. 

After that, we went to the Museum of Kites, and there were so many different varieties from Indonesia, China, India, Japan, Afghanistan and so on.. and they also had various videos on how kites were used for rescue and transportation. Driti made a pink kite for herself and with that, we moved out of the place. 

We then went to Benson's for lunch. The owner, the senior lady is so good with kids. She can keep any kid engaged and do her job at the same time. Our little daughter could just keep talking to her.

Just across the street is Marsh's free museum, which is a tourist trap. You cannot just go in there and come out empty handed. And Marsh is also the home for Jake the Alligator Man. We didn't believe it at first, but with so many signs everywhere and after some research, we got a shot glass of the half human, half legend. 

Coming back to the hotel, Ady and Driti went for a little swim in the hotel where they met a nice family of 10. The dad insisted on a clam digger to Ady so our daughter will have a great experience. Ady politely accepted, but we didn't eat clams and it just felt mean to get them for fun - so we skipped it. 

We then explored the town a little more and celebrated our Anniversary at ' The Depot' which is supposed to be the fine dining hub of LB. But if you're a vegetarian, your options are limited. I had artichoke hearts for dinner!

The next day, we checked out and went to the North Point Light House. It was straight out of the movies - the weather I mean - too windy, almost blowing your skirt away, if you were wearing one. But the light house as such isn't such a great experience. Maybe if we had braved the wind and gone up , but it was only for kids 7 and up and we decided to re explore in 4 years. But Ady loved the guest house there and the ambiance is just great. You should check it out.

One thing you will notice is the place seems to be made for RVs. There are so many parking spots in so many places! One thing we didn't try is the Cape Disappointment Park. We had heard it may be a little low key for our hyper energetic kid, so we visited Mc D's play place instead, before heading back home at rush hour on Monday. 

All in all, a relaxing trip. Good fun, great beach. It was worth it even in January!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Sleeping Beauty and the Pea

If you want culture shock to high- five you, this is the show you should go to. 

Performed by the Fremont players, the write up to Sleeping Beauty and the Pea says, "You'll see large colorful characters, men dressed as women, women dressed as men. You'll be encouraged to boo at the villain, cheer for the hero, and applaud the Magical Cow!" 

And that's just the beginning. When we planned for the show, it was because the adults get to have beers while the kids are watching the act. Rarely do you find shows like this - this was our first, anywhere we've been to and hence this gets a special mention in the travelogue.

The show was at Hale's Paladium and surely, there was lots of ale. It was an old workshop converted into a theater. My daughter liked the stage so much, she even went up to the orchestra to let her up. Pity, she wasn't a part of the 'Fremont Players'.

The show started off with Simon Neale setting the 'ground rules',  "When somebody says, 'Oh no it doesn't', you say, 'Oh yes it does'", and there was no more explanation needed. He made us stand up and sit down everytime we heard the sound 'ba', in 'Bring back my bonnie to me'. So that was quite the calorie burner, and a good warm up exercise (sorry, HR in me).

Every time the evil fairy, (Debbie Tully) came up, we were to hiss and boo - and soon we just loved to boo at her.

And then when Esmerelda came on stage, the beautiful fairy godmother, in her pink tutu, long red hair and untrimmed mustache - yes it was Simon again - (s)he made us hold our tummies and laugh uncontrollably. 

I am not going to write too much on the story, you know it only too well from listening to it so many times since you were two. So...here are the highlights.

After she lost the Godmother contest, the evil godmother cursed Sleeping beauty  that she'd be accosted by a prick. And when our beloved Esmerelda eases it by making her only sleep, we heave a sigh of relief! What drama!

At 21, Sleeping beauty has a deep moment and asks rhetorically, "What do I do?" and someone from the audience cried out, "Get a prenup!"

The king's helper, the dim-wit Nigel was especially clear, with his punctuated English accent, every-time the King needed help bringing up his beloved Beauty.

In the 'Pea' part of the play, the super blond 'wannabe pageant- queen', queen who's all boom-boom up and down, seeks the help of a fairy Godmother, yes the evil one - (yikes, what was she thinking?) to get her son married.The short prince (played by a woman), is not so dim-witted as his mother and leaves home from the cruel clutches of the evil godmother to search for his bride. 

On his sojourn, he finds Sleeping Beauty and - kiss- slap- kiss-love. 

And with all the booing, the jeers, the hisses, a wonderful memory is made. No, I did not giving the ending away!

It was truly an entertaining and engaging experience.  We'll be sure to go to the play next year - this holiday tradition shall continue.

#SleepingBeautyandthePea  #Theater #Seattle #kids #entertainment   #review

Saturday, January 5, 2013

The White Blanket

Born in the southern part of India and raised entirely there, it was but naural for me to adapt to the pleasant weather there. Classic example of Charles Darwin's theory. Hey, c'mon I'm talking Hyderabad. So it is pleasant. Not the drippy Chennai weather, where you take a bath  only to find yourself completely drenched in your own sweat. No, this is different. You can walk out in the winter in your summer clothing, or use the pullover to make a fashion statement. Either ways the weather is not extreme. We've never had to walk out of our comfort zone. Well, we've graduated from the cooler to the AC, but still... not a giant leap of mankind.

And since we have only three seasons (Summer, Rainy and Winter), I had no idea what spring and fall felt like. My husband had a faint idea, but then again with all the global warming, his part of the country - the northern part- only has two seasons. Hot and Cold. So when we moved to Seattle and saw the first colors of fall - boy were we awestruck. Now,  I know Seattle is not necessarily known for the colors - it's mostly green. But what little we saw was breathtaking. 
The yellows, reds, orange, brown, green - it was a visual treat and a great opportunity to recap Driti's knowledge of colors. We were finally in some Bollywood movie.

And then it got better. It's winter here! I know, it sounds unbelievable that I am excited about winter. I mean, really, I could freeze if I scanned through the refrigerator for more than thirty seconds. That's why I always plan what I need from there and pick it up before I count to ten. But with the central heating system, the electric blanket, the additional space heater I am warm enough - infact it actually feels like summer at home. And when we step out, it's only from home to the car - so that's ok too. I usually have four layers on me to keep me warm.

And this is the first time we're driving through an ice cream cone. We went up Mt Rainier with Bhai, Bhabhi and Shiv who visited us over new years. And boy is the snow an experience! It wasn't new to the brood from Canada, but for us, it was sheer joy! Driti wanted to figure out where Santa stayed and I wanted to make snowballs and throw at everybody - which ofcourse I did. I loved. We loved it!

Paradise, is a must see. It's better in Spring, but you can have so much fun in the snow too. Just remember to bring your equipment. We didn't and so the kids 'tubed' in their own clothes and came out soaking wet. Just make sure you're on time and have access to the little cafeteria at Paradise. Hot coffee or chai latte ( I hate it, but that's Ady's choicest drink in Seattle.. so I have to mention it here), is a must have after your experience in the white. And don't forget to just pick the snow and eat it.. just like that.. it is amazing.. and I didn't even stop Driti this time.. if she did catch cold, I could handle it later!

We drove from Seattle to Mt Rainier, Ady's first experience driving in the snow. We rented out chains as it is illegal to drive without them. If you can, get those cool magnets and T-shirts from the local shop. I just wish our driver had a little patience and we could shop a little more to fondly remember our trip. But there are pictures, oh so many pictures - and we will  come around to uploading them, before Driti turns thirty. Else she will do so herself.

But - walk through snow, and throw snowball on a total stranger - check. 

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Best of Places

So, I'm not exactly going to stick to the chronological order of our travel. Simply because, I did not record everything, before I decided to write down my experiences. You're also not going to get any professional advice on the best places to visit and the best time, best prices. You will get to know the time we visited, our best and worst experiences. So, yes, you can save tons of money based on our experience, because we're the last minute backpackers and are pound foolish. I am not claiming we're penny wise. We're just silly when it comes to handling finances. But we're getting better, and I'll share those stories as well. 

This post is dedicated to the best place I've ever visited. Digha. I know, I'm sorry I disappointed you and didn't say Paris or Australia. To me, this place is special. This was among the first trips I ventured out on my own. Well, I didn't go with my parents. I went with friends. So still, this was an 'on my own' experience for me. This was way back in XLRI. During the Durga Puja vacation, a few of us ventured out to the closest touristy place near Jamshedpur. We were tight on budget, and going to Digha seemed a lot more affordable and fun than going home. Besides, my Mom had her own travel planned around the time. So even if I did go to Hyderabad, I would've only met my Granny. So instead of learning to read Tamil -my Granny by the way, has still not given up on her objective and makes every attempt to teach me the script, I decided to go on this trip.  I love languages, don't get me wrong, but it's just that Tamil seems to be very Scroogey, when it comes to using more letters. They use the same letter for 'Pa' and 'Ba', which is why my Grandma calls me Badmaja, although she was the one who named me. Digha incidentally, was also the trip where I made an arch enemy and met my husband. So I think I made the right decision.

I hated the beach. I am a Piscean alright, but I prefer mountains and plains to beaches and water rides. But my best friend was coaxing me to accompany her in this trip, which had three other boys and  another girl. She had a crush on one of the boys and felt this trip would be the ideal location for the silent hide and seek of the eyes to become more vocal and open. She wanted me along, because, well - India and all - girls need to be with girls. The other girl was not very close to her, so she wanted me to join in. The only reason I was reluctant, ok, in addition to the beach thing, was this annoying boy who was also coming. I hated him for reasons that seem too trivial to pen here. But I let myself be coaxed into the trip and we went to this 'exotic' place closest to Jamshedpur. 

I read a little about Digha, to know where we were going. It was originally known as Beerkul, and then I guess like Kolkata, Bengaluru, somebody decided Digha was much cooler. Digha's is mentioned in Warren Hastings letters to his wife as the 'Brighton of the East'. Shame on those guys who read his personal letters. But Digha became famous and hopefully a good tourist spot. Atleast, was when we visited back in 2004. 

We rented a taxi and a sleepy driver, who almost got us killed in the middle of the night. It's just about 4 hours from Jampot (Jamshedpur), but we didn;t want to waste any holiday time in college, so we set out on the evening of the last working day. So the night journey turned out to me a tough call. My friend took over from the driver and chauffeured all of us to Digha. The taxi driver didn't pay him for the ride, but gave us a Rs 50 rebate. Breakfast money earned.

Digha is full of hotels. A number of them line around the beach. We had made no accommodation arrangements. But ofcourse. The boys were supposed to make the arrangements and naturally they didn't. So we went ahead and hopped from one no star hotel to another. That was all our student pockets could afford. Most hotels were not ok, giving us the rooms as we were not a 'family'. Now it's too difficult to explain the concept of friends being family to the inn keepers, so we were careful enough  not to divulge our marital status at the next tiny hotel. But the thing is, the boys did not tell us they were trying to project us as a family. So when one of them went in and reassured the receptionist, that we're a family of new couples, I bravely walked up and asked for a student's discount. I  did get to hear a ear full when we were rejected accommodation in that sidey inn too. But in my defense, I wasn't debriefed!

We finally did find a place to stay - we became one happy family and got two rooms. One for the girls and one for the boys. As soon as we plonked our bags, we rushed to the beach. Ok, the rest rushed and I was pushed out by the girls. I didn;t want to be tanned just before the summer placements. But I have to admit, the sea is super scenic. I know, each place is known for its sun rise and sun set, but this one had something magical about it. If you ignore the sari clad aunties or the uncles with huge paunches frolicking in the water, you will notice the vibrant colors and the breathtaking view. We could never get up on time for the sun rise, in the three days we stayed there. So, we stayed well through the sunset. One of the boys loved birds and this place was his haven. You get to see a variety of birds here and if you have a good camera and good photographic skills, chances are, you are going to get a wonderful shot for posterity. 
All of us depended on my camera - the ancient Kodak, with a reel. And then someone dropped it in water, and we now bank only on our memories. And each of us recollects something totally different. 

We also did some horse riding on the beach and shopped for jewelry with shells. They broke by the time we reached college, but then again it was because one of our friends sat on the plastic bag we had carefully procured to carry our priced possessions.

We spent most of the three days at the beach and by the end of it all, my fears had come true. We were all cruelly tanned. When we were not at the beach, that is late in the night, we played Dumb Charades in our tiny room. The boys came over to our room because they were too embarrassed to invite us to theirs - you know, the filth they float in. So we were more than happy to play hostesses. The Dumb C we played in Digha was the mother of all Dumb Cs. I mean, we played and enacted the sidiest of movies, third grade, C grade you name it - and we played unabashedly. From Casablanca to the fictitious 'petticoat mein hulchul' we enacted all the movies to boisterous laughter. But the boys soon ran to their room and we switched the lights off when we knew the innkeeper was coming. We were not convincing as a family, so we had to keep our guard. 

It was one heck of a trip. Scenic nature, blasphemous movies, student discounts apart, all of us who went on the trip, found our life partners. What could be a more memorable trip?

The Background

I was never a travel buff. Given a holiday, I'd rather prefer staying at home watching the rerun of a sitcom, than venture out. I am an ambivert by nature, so my social skills are limited to being the first person to say 'Hi'. Beyond that I run out of topics to talk about till the other person starts talking. And then again, after sometime I need a break. So you see, home is my haven. No internal pressure to interact ( I have this weird need to make eye contact and say the first word) and no social norms to follow. I can plonk in front of my TV or laptop and watch till my yes start to water.

And then something happened and my whole world changed. I got married. My husband loves the outdoors. He loves meeting people. No, no, he's not a social butterfly and such. He just likes to meet people he knows. I on the other hand, would prefer meeting new people, and then talking to them via mail. So there's no inherent need to meet them. We pushed and pulled and ultimately came to an understanding that we will go out every other weekend and travel once a quarter.

And then something stranger happened. I became a Mom. Now my daughter, well, she's a firecracker. And she is the definition of a social butterfly. She needs people. She loves company and she loves the outdoors. You can still fret, whine and win with your husband, but the daughter - well, when it comes to your progeny, something changes in you and you make so many sacrifices and accommodate so many of their insane requests, it's just unbelievable. When you're going to bed, you'd actually admonish yourself for being played by a toddler. And you'll just smile and go to sleep, to get what little rest you can, before she walks into your bedroom to cuddle with you and display her acrobatic skills while sleeping on your side of the bed.

But, because of these strange events, one thing for sure did happen. I for one, started really enjoying our travels. They're not all vanilla and chocolate type vacations - we don't just make an itinerary, stick to it and come back home safe and happy. We've come close to being kicked out of a country, we've made friends for life, we've been reprimanded for our 'irresponsible' behavior, we've been stranded with no tickets. But at the end of it all, we do come back with great stories and awesome memories. We take tons of pictures. Just don't download them from the camera and even if we do, we don't upload it up on Picasa. We're like that. I blame him and he blames me.

I've resolved today and hope to adhere to it as much as I can - that although not through photos, I am going to capture our adventures through this blog. Well then, this was the introduction. More to come!