Of musical heaven and bumbling husbands!

Brought up in a household obsessed with Hindi film music, my exposure to any sort of ‘non-Indian’ music is so limited, it’s not funny at all. So when the husband proposed we go to a Yanni concert last Friday, I was skeptical. Isn’t he the guy who played at the Taj Mahal a few years ago, I asked? That was the sum total of my knowledge of the master pianist. But the husband seemed rather keen, so we went. And I ended up being one of the loudest cheerleaders in our part of the stands. Now if only I could whistle, I’d surely have been the loudest!

To say the concert was good is to insult the magic of those two hours. There was divine music, exquisite dancing and a certain special something in the air. It was superb, magical, enthralling – basically out of this world. Tell me – where else do you get to see a big happy smile on everybody around you? The musicians seemed the happiest of the lot. They indulged in oneupmanship and cheered the loudest when their teammates outdid them. There was a special bond amongst them that was a privilege to simply watch. The evening ended all too soon, as is often the case with enjoyable evenings. The band played encore after encore, yet we in the audience hungered for more. We were on our feet, clapping and cheering and basically just refusing to leave!

In my post-concert euphoria, I was all set to be suitably grateful to the husband but that was not to be. On our way out, he asked me if the Taj Mahal guy was any good. With a transparently halfhearted attempt at keeping a straight face. Naturally, he got a withering glare for his efforts. The man is yet to learn when not to press home his advantage!

Where my legs declare a strike on me!

It’s official. My legs and I are not friends anymore. This is how it happened. Our friends, S and A, and the husband and I went biking the Lehigh Gorge trail at Jim Thorpe, PA yesterday.

“25 miles of pure nature, including small waterfalls, and continuous views of the Lehigh River. Make sure to bring your camera, lunch, and plenty of water for this exciting journey!” – the trail description read.

jimthorpe

Sounds good, doesn’t it? Except that we sort of missed the 25 miles part, concentrating on the waterfalls and nature bit instead. And how I wish they had mentioned bringing along a signed, sealed contract with our legs rather than the camera – I promise not to declare a strike mid-way down the trail, I promise not to go to sleep in the middle of nowhere etc.

So there we were, starting out bright and early at around 3 PM. The shuttle service that took us to the top of the trail was very reassuring – you should be back in about 3 hours, it’s an easy downhill ride. Plus it’s almost summer, daylight is till 8 o’clock, we told ourselves. How late can we possibly get?

The first 5 miles were just as beautiful as we had imagined them to be. Pure unadulterated nature – a playful river on one side, cascading waterfalls every few minutes on the other, chirping birds, a cool breeze – heaven!

Except that the easy downhill trail we were promised never materialized! And then the legs decided to make themselves heard.

My legs (grumbling): We are being ignored, you take us for granted, we protest this shoddy treatment!

Me (slightly alarmed): Err, no, no, what are you talking about? I love you, truly!

My legs (angrily): So when was the last time you gave us some exercise? And now you want us to carry you 25 miles – no way!

Me (totally alarmed now): Please, let’s go home and discuss this, okay?

Right leg (fierce and determined): No! We are tired of your false promises. We demand a break now! I am going off to sleep – bye!

Left leg (after a while): Wait, I’m coming too. Bye, JnM!

So there we were, four tired souls and a pair of legs on strike, somewhere mid-way along the 25 mile trail and with twilight fast approaching. There was no cellphone reception, no helplines, not a soul in sight and no access to a motorable road or civilization except at the end of the trail!

So what happened next? Please don’t ask, I don’t want to think about it ever. If I am writing this post, we must have come home, right? Right!

P.S. God bless the park ranger who found us, 3 miles short of the trailhead, and gave us a ride to the parking lot. I would have gone down on my knees to thank her except for those stupid legs, remember?

A weekend in the mountains

Last weekend, we took off to the Pennsylvania Poconos with a group of friends, eight of us adults and a cherubic two year old. What do I say of the experience?

cottage

Picture this – a remote mountainside cottage surrounded with snow. An old-fashioned fireplace to keep us warm. Playing games till 4 o’clock in the morning. Getting up at noon and eating maggi for brunch. Walking out and making a snowman right at our doorstep. Stamping in the snow to loosen it up for our snowman. Giggling at the silliest of jokes and sometimes for no reason at all.

snowman

An entire day of skiing and snowtubing. Interesting discussions and lots of banter and laughter. Three days of no internet, no television, no cellphone reception – almost no contact with the outside world. Just plain and simple fun! In short, an idyllic weekend! How I wish we had more of those!

Important note: I will be taking a short blogging break for the rest of February friends – we are off to Mumbai for our annual vacation home. I don’t need to tell you how excited I am, do I?

There’s so much awaiting me – a wedding, an engagement, a family function, my first visit to my very own home (the first time I’ll be seeing it as a home rather than a construction site!), a visit to B’lore and Pune, lots of shopping, hogging and of course meeting up with friends and family. All in the space of two weeks, can you believe it? I wish I could begin already…! 

See you soon friends!

A winter trek

Sometime in January last year, the husband and a friend climbed a nearby mountain range for a day trek. ‘What’s so unusual about that?’, you might ask. We live in upstate New York, that’s why. Average temperatures on a nice sunny January day here are below freezing. To say nothing of the fact that it was snowing the day the foolhardy two set out on their crazy (or so I claimed!) adventure.

‘Do I look like I’m crazy too?’, I smugly asked them when the poor guys invited me along. And ‘I just hope they come back home safe and sound!’, I prayed all day, as I enjoyed  some cherished me-time warm and cozy at home.

They came home all right, and brought with them some of the most breathtaking pictures I’ve ever seen! Naturally I was jealous as a cat! I’d mocked them too much to say anything then, but this year when the winter trek was being planned, I quietly slipped in a oh-so-casual ‘Perhaps I’ll come too!’. Hoping it would go unnoticed. Obviously it wasn’t, but what’s a few taunts and jibes when such gorgeous scenery’s awaiting me, right?

So a group of five friends, yours truly included, set out on a trek to the Skytop tower on the Mohonk mountain range early last Sunday. The final ascent to the tower was closed because of icy conditions, so I didn’t get my view after all, but the scenery on the way was worth every bit of the aching limbs that followed.

I leave you with some pictures and a suggestion – if you get a chance to go on a trek in the snow, don’t miss it! Take your precautions, wear lots of layers, put on sensible boots and go for it! Oh, and please don’t tell the husband I said that!

dsc05275Setting out!

dsc05328A semi-frozen stream on the way.

dsc05332Walking on snow is a tough job!

dsc053372But the view sometimes makes up for it!

dsc05327Pug marks in the snow – was that a bear? A dog, more likely, but it was exciting to imagine a bear instead!

dsc05347Lake Mohonk

dsc05353Sunset at 4 – it’s time to head back now!

dsc05365A sight for sore eyes (and aching limbs) – isn’t that just gorgeous?

Deck the halls with boughs of holly…

… fa la la la la, la la la la!!! 

So the Holidays are here. Imagine – five whole days of vacation with no agenda at all! Initially I thought we might get bored but I couldn’t have been more wrong – we are having the time of our lives and right here, around home!

The Christmas cheer started a while back when we put up our Tree.

Decorating the tree

(Picture re-used from last year since I didn’t get a good shot this year.)

Then there was the shower of gifts that decended upon us in office on Monday and Tuesday, the only two working days this week. Candles, chocolates, home-made tree ornaments, freshly baked brownies and cookies… the list was long and humbling. Especially since we had no idea what to expect and had not planned gifts of our own. (We were new to the workplace last year and weren’t really part of the social scene then.) Anyhow, I think we’ll stick to our plan and get back gifts from our India trip in February instead. 

Wednesday was spent mostly lazing around at home, the best way to start a vacation in my opinion! We had some friends over for chai and poha in the evening, and at night we accompanied a Catholic friend to Church for the Christmas eve service. 

dsc05172

The church was beautifully done up and the service was moving except for one small detail we found confusing and somewhat amusing – the priest kept asking everyone to stand up and sit down every few minutes, at least ten times through the prayers. We asked our friend about it but he didn’t have a good explanation. Do you?

On Christmas Day, we headed out to the City. (And don’t you dare ask a New Yorker, which one – there’s only one City with the capital C, okay!)

dsc05182

Santa Claus was out in the City too and had gone all high-tech, with a car decked up as his sleigh!

dsc05183There were gorgeous Christmas Trees adorning almost every other doorway.

dsc05189

Our first stop was for candle-lighting and some heartfelt prayers at St. Patricks Cathedral on  51st and Madison.

dsc05197

Next stop, the Rockefeller Tree. Can you make out how huge it really is?

We sort of wandered around after that, on foot of course, the best way to explore a city I always say! Bryant Park, Macy’s, Time Square and Broadway, stopping to take in a movie (Valkyrie) and a breather at AMC, yummy Kathi Rolls at the Indian restaurant nearby and interesting sights on the way…

dsc05202

A store-front display I loved – a sari-clad doll!

dsc05204

Skaters at Bryant Park. No, I am notorious for my lack of balance and did NOT dare try my hand (or rather feet) at this extremely scary (for me) sport!

dsc05205

Another Tree at Bryant Park.

dsc05206

One of the famous store displays at Macy’s.

dsc05218

And finally, an innovatively decorated Tree at Grand Central. Can you make out what the decorations actually are?

And on that note, I’ll bid you adieu, until next time. Happy Holidays, Merry Xmas and a safe and joyous New Year to all!

Baby’s Day Out!

The husband had some work in Washington D.C. on Monday and I used the opportunity to tag along, bunk work and spend a wonderful day in the National Mall area of D.C., taking in the sights and lots of pictures, all for you guys of course. We have been there several times before, but the fun of roaming around aimlessly with no one to prod you along is something else, I tell you!

Early morning, the husband dropped me off at Constitution Avenue and I walked around merrily without a plan…

… stopping to take pictures of pretty little street corners on the way.

And then I turned a corner and this is what I saw… no, seriously!

Imagine turning around a bend and coming across THE most famous address in the country! I was surprised, shocked and excited all at once, to put it very mildly. One would think I would have had a fair idea of what to expect after wondering about the security guys popping up from behind every other tree – but I am the original naive girl, I am!

Is that Uncle Sam on the right, mowing his lawn this nice October morning? Somehow, I don’t think so!

It felt strange – the National Mall area was uncharacteristically peaceful on Monday morning.

These D.C. moms had the walking track all to themselves!

The school kids were out in full force too!

And this outdoor creche had me fascinated! Who were these kids? Why were they in the National Mall area? Were they out for a baby picnic perhaps?

I took advantage of the lack of crowds and signed up for a free tour of the Capitol.

Our tour guide was amazing! She was a history student with an encyclopedic knowledge of American Presidents and politicians.

The Capitol building itself is BEAUTIFUL!

And finally, I visited the lovely Botanical Gardens right opposite the Capitol.



I had a wonderful time, overall! Before I sign off, let me leave you with our good thought for the day – this board outside the Gardens was a pleasant surprise for me! Please do read it through.


P.S. In case anyone is wondering, the baby in the title is NOT me – I was talking about the babies in the pictures of course!

Babies, Going Green and a Movie!

Is it just me or do you feel uncontrollably drowsy in a moving car too? I have heard babies have this habit of going off to sleep the minute they step into a car, some friends of ours kept this as a last resort option to calm down baby when all else – monkey faces, lullaby singing and frantic rocking – failed. So is this another of my childlike habits, or are adults prone to the fall-asleep-in-car syndrome too?

Yesterday marked the first time the husband and I successfully remembered to a) pack in reusable paper bags that were so far gathering dust at home, b) carry them from the car to the grocery store and c) request the cashier to use them instead of plastic. Phew! Despite all our good intentions, this is the first time we managed to achieve all three together!

The cashier at the Indian grocery store seemed pretty surprised incidentally and everyone else in the queue kept eying us with what looked like surprised, amused, admiring, indulgent and in some cases, sadly, cynical looks. On a more positive note, there is also our local farm store that offers brown paper bags free of cost, and also gives a small discount if you bring your own, to encourage reuse. I wish the Indian store would take note too!

We went out for a movie for the first time in months, or so it seemed to me, last night! Ghost Town is a happy-sad, sweet and funny movie, one I would recommend for a fun Saturday night out with friends. I was initially apprehensive about the title, (I must be the biggest scared puss ever!) but while the movie IS about ghosts, they aren’t really ghostly ghosts, if you know what I mean! I especially liked the part where Dr. Pincus (a funny name in itself – try pronouncing it a little differently!), a man whose people skills leave much to be desired, slips into dental jargon when pushed into an awkward position, those scenes are simply hilarious!

Surprisingly for such a light comedy, the movie managed to slip in a beautiful message amidst all the tomfoolery. We all know we get to live only once and none of us know how much time we have left, yet do we really stop to think – How can I best use the time I have? If I die this very moment, can I die in peace, knowing I lived my life to the fullest and did my best for the people I love? Or will I leave behind regrets, unanswered questions and unfulfilled promises?

Happy Ganesh Chaturthi to all!

This…

New Hampshire - White Mountains

New Hampshire - White Mountains

…is why I couldn’t do a Ganesh Chaturthi post this year. And no modaks for the husband either!

We hiked around the White Mountains area of New Hampshire through the Labor Day weekend. Back home tired and sleepy late on Monday night, I was in no mood to make elaborate festival preparations. So I took the easiest way out and attended Ganpati celebrations at my friends’ place instead, all doubts and principles put aside for the moment. And I am glad we went, we had a great time, admiring the Ganpati decorations, singing aartis and enjoying the sumptuous traditional festive food. Only the husband is not satisfied yet and is pestering me to make modaks this weekend. Oh well, let me see about that! And a very happy Ganesh festival to all of you too!

Coming back to New Hampshire (how I wish I really could go back!), let me do my usual photo feature again. The pictures are beautiful plus I know you guys enjoy them so much more than my ramblings!

The view from the summit of Mount Willard, our first hike for the weekend!

The view from the summit of Mount Willard, our first hike for the weekend!

Halfway up Mt. Willard and tired already!

Halfway up Mt. Willard and tired already!

Light at last - We are there!

Light at last - We are there!

Ripley Falls - A short and sweet climb away!

Ripley Falls - A short and sweet climb away!

The view from Mount Washington - the tallest peak in the NorthEast.

The view from Mount Washington - the tallest peak in the NorthEast.

One of New Hampshire’s famed Covered Bridges…

One of New Hampshire’s famed Covered Bridges…

Relaxing by a stream…

Relaxing by a stream…

What better setting for an impromptu picnic lunch?

What better setting for an impromptu picnic lunch?

Tranquility!

Tranquility!

The Important Event Post!

So – for those of you who read Friday’s post and have been waiting with bated breath to clear up the Important Event mystery ever since (go on, say yes and humor me please), here comes the grand announcement to the tune of drum rolls and bandbaaja – the husband and I celebrated three years of married squabbles and bliss (yes, in that order!) this weekend. I know it doesn’t sound like much, but it is a pretty big deal for us, so please to excuse the excessive buildup and suspense friends!

I wore a beautiful new peacock blue kurta on the occasion and looked very pretty, or so I was repeatedly told by you know who. (And of course that IS the most important part and HAD to be told first!) We took the afternoon train to New York City to celebrate our big day, in time for a romantic walk along the entire length of Brooklyn Bridge and back at sunset. (I kept expecting the husband to break into song and serenade me Shah Rukh Khan style on the bridge, but it was pretty crowded plus the husband is a notorious spoilsport in these matters, so…!)

A brief stop at Lexington Avenue for a lipsmackingly delicious desi meal later, we sat bang in the middle of Times Square for a while, soaking up the excitement and atmosphere of the City before heading back home to our sleepy little rural town at midnight.

So that was the highlight of my weekend folks. I really wish I could post some pictures of our day to make up for the disappointing end to the Important Event mystery, but editorial policy (read parents and the husband) strictly forbids them, I am told! 🙂

The Best Laid Plans…!

I was very excited about last weekend for some reason. Most weekends just come and go, it seems to me, but this one would be different, I decided. I wanted to Make The Most of our time this weekend and for that I needed A Plan, I realized!

So I took a few minutes off after lunch on Thursday afternoon for a Brainstorming Session with myself. This process calls for a free flow of thoughts, I had heard, so I proceeded to jot down whatever harebrained idea came into my mind. The next step was Evaluation And Analysis, where I had to basically sift through my ideas. Now this was easier said than done. I had no clue my mind was capable of such wild thoughts when given a free rein – we obviously could not go snow-mobiling on an August weekend, unless we made a weekend trip to Alaska of course.

Sadly, half my list was pared down at this stage. Never mind, that just made the next step, Setting My Priorities, so much easier, I consoled myself. So was vacuuming the house more important than finally catching the new movie the whole world and its granny had seen except for the husband and me? Surely not! (This decision was quite easy to make when I remembered the movie was three weeks old – the vacuuming had only been pending for two weeks now, you see.)

Finally, I had to plan for Stakeholder Involvement – it looked like it was time to involve the husband in my grand plan for our weekend. This was the most crucial part of my project, I knew, so some Risk Management was called for here. Perhaps I had been a tad hasty in my planning, ignoring the husband’s interests a bit too conspicuously? A short hike on Sunday evening should be a sufficiently attractive incentive to Engage My Stakeholder, I decided, and added the hike to my list.

So finally, the list I emailed to the husband looked something like this.

Chores List 😦

  • Friday evening – Drop the rent cheque
  • Friday evening – Groceries (Milk, cereal, potatoes blah blah blah)
  • Saturday afternoon – Return the library books
  • Saturday afternoon – Indian groceries (Idli/Dosa batter, mirchi blah blah blah)

Fun List 🙂

  • Friday evening – Romantic walk at a local Lake Park
  • Friday night – Watch Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na
  • Saturday evening – Swim
  • Sunday afternoon – Stuff oneself to the point of bursting at the buffet lunch in the local Indian restaurant
  • Sunday afternoon – Mountain hike to burn up all the calories accumulated during the buffet lunch and hopefully some more

Monday morning, I came into the office, wondering, as usual, Where Did The Weekend Go? Somehow, and please don’t ask me how, we’d ended up doing all our chores except one, and ignoring all items in the fun list except for the buffet lunch and the mountain hike and the latter was a risk management afterthought in the first place, remember?

Sure, we did do a lot of other fun things instead – I lazed around in bed on Saturday and discovered the televised adaptation of my favorite book series on youtube, then I tried my hand at gardening on Sunday, planting some new plants and pampering and admiring the old ones, and we saw my first Hollywood action movie on Saturday night. (Only one person enjoyed this last activity, I’m sure you can guess who!)

But that’s entirely besides the point. My Grand Plan for our weekend had proved completely useless! Next weekend, I plan to stick to my good old chores list. Some things in life just cannot be planned, I’ve realized!

Latest addition to my list of fun American pastimes

Drive-ins are supposedly a dying business in the United States, so I guess the husband and I were lucky to uncover one in the nearby town of Hyde Park (incidentally, the home of former President FDR). We were driving past the town on Friday evening when a huge open air screen in a pretty little park intrigued us and we just had to stop over and investigate.

“The show’s just started, you can still make it, seven dollars each!”, the attendant at the entrance welcomed us. On a whim, we decided to go in. It was twilight, and the twinkling headlights from cars scattered around the park looked like tiny fireflies beckoning us.

The atmosphere inside was young, vibrant and fun. Both families and groups of youngsters alike were in a mood to party outdoors. Most people were seated in their cars with their FM stereos on full volume (the audio for the movie was available on a particular FM channel), while some lounged about on lawn chairs outside and a lively group of teenagers danced to the title music, huge FM stereos in hand.

The movie we had so unsuspectingly walked into, ‘Get Smart‘, turned out to be a complete Bollywood masala potboiler masquerading as a sophisticated Hollywood spy movie. The plot was absurd and the buffoonery in the action sequences has to be seen to be (dis)believed. Some of Govinda’s or Rajnikant’s movies might be saner, I think. It wasn’t too bad for an action comedy though, we got a few good laughs out of it.

I was about to start moaning over our decision to pay fourteen bucks for such a movie, when I discovered, to the delight of my kanjoos desi heart, that the drive-in charged a one-time admission fee and let you stay and watch as many movies as you wished to! Make that doubly delighted, since we were about to (very reluctantly) drive away when we made this discovery. The next movie was one I had been dying to watch and no prizes for guessing we stayed back to watch it.

Sex and the City‘ turned out to be a fun girly movie. Fans of the television series are sure to love it. I thoroughly enjoyed myself but the husband claimed to be somewhat bored. I heard him chuckling more than a few times at some of the bawdier jokes though, so I am not sure how much I’ll believe him on that. But I’ll concede the movie seems a tad stretched, it might have worked better perhaps with about half an hour chopped off. And do make sure you watch it alone or with a close friend/partner if you are a prude like me. Some of the steamy scenes in it are simply unbelievable!

The husband and I had a great time overall, we enjoyed the cool breeze and complete privacy. (I’m sure the frazzled young couples in crowded Indian cities like Mumbai would love this concept!) Families seemed to be having a great time too. The kids were happy to run around and ignore the movie and the parents were equally happy to ignore the kids and enjoy a movie without worrying about irritated glances from fellow patrons for a change.

So would you like to visit a drive-in theatre? Just move back your seats, put up your feet, turn up the stereo and have a blast! And don’t forget the popcorn now!

Weekend snippets

An early morning start on Saturday, catching a glorious sunrise for the first time in many months and a short drive to the Delaware river for white water rafting with friends…

Getting drenched in the exciting river rapids with screams all around and water splashing fights and antakshari and lots of strenuous rowing during the calmer stretches of the river…

Basically, loads of fun during the day and aching limbs and iodex massages at night followed by a completely relaxed and lazy sojourn at home on Sunday…

All this and more made for a different but enjoyable weekend and an appropriate birthday celebration for the adventurous and slightly crazy husband of mine!

Biking the Delaware & Raritan Canal in NJ

I seem to be doing only travelogues these days! Kya karen, the husband and I are busy making the most of these glorious May weekends and it would be such a pity not to share my excitement with you guys, wouldn’t it?

So as you might have noticed from this post’s title, we (the husband, his friend and I) biked along the Delaware and Raritan Canal in New Jersey yesterday. I won’t bore you with a long winding write-up as usual. Instead, here’s the story in pictures!

Starting out...

Starting out!

Green all the way!

Green all the way!

Reflections

Lovely reflections…

Husband and Friend

The husband and his friend have forgotten I’m there of course!

Better company

That’s okay though – I had better company to keep myself amused!

A lakeside weekend break

We treated ourselves to a short but wonderful break last weekend, in the Lake Erie region of upstate New York. It was one of our nicest short and impromptu vacations ever! I wish I could do a nice long post on it, but life is pretty hectic right now and I would perhaps end up repeating a lot of what I’ve written here, so I’ll keep it short and do a quick recap instead.

A common note throughout our vacation was gorgeous scenery and lots of peace and calm and relaxation sprinkled with occasional bouts of activity and fun. Calm azure lake waters, blue skies, swans and ducks and geese and doves and many other little birds that I couldn’t possibly name chirping about, verdant green fields and farms with sheep and cows and horses and quaint little farmhouses dotting the country-side, brooks and streams waiting to surprise us across the bend in the road… I could go on and on about the beauty and charm of this place, but you get the picture, don’t you?

Friday night, we were at Lake Findley, a smallish but very pretty lake in the heart of Findley village and one of the numerous ‘inner lakes’ in the Great Lakes region of New York. We spent a relaxed evening strolling along its banks and exploring the countryside.

Dinner was at a pizzeria in a tiny neighboring village called Sherman, estimated population 700! With a dozen shops on Main Street, a couple of side streets lined with neat rows of houses, and huge working farms scattered all around the village, everyone knew everyone else in the restaurant we dined in – this was a fascinating side to America that I’d never seen before – an American ‘khede-gav’ (hamlet) so to speak.

We spent most of Saturday at the Preque Isle State Park on the banks of Lake Erie. A long walk and picnic lunch at a beautiful deserted beach, a ramble through some lovely nature trails with lots of colorful birds for company and some tandem bicycling fun towards the end made for a tiring but enjoyable day. We stopped by the nearby Lake Chautauqua, another beautiful ‘inner lake’, to take in more breathtaking vistas in the evening.

And to top it off, we ended our glorious vacation with a mostly enjoyable but occasionally scary horseback ride at a local farm on Sunday. The drive back home east was beautiful (a major chunk of which was along the picturesque Delaware river) if somewhat lonely, but I took advantage of the deserted interstate highway to try driving on a freeway for once.

All in all, I totally fell in love with the area as you might have gathered, and I would highly recommend it for a short weekend vacation during the off-peak season if

a) you live within a reasonable distance,
b) you are a nature lover,
c) you do not enjoy jostling with a hundred other people on your vacations and
d) you are looking for a nice place to relax and are NOT looking to cover ‘n’ points of attraction as part of your vacation!

Now if you are still reading and are still interested, here are some useful links to get you started. Enjoy!

Lake Findley
Preque Isle State Park
Lake Chautauqua
Double D.A.B. Riding Stables

An out-of-the-rut weekend!

It’s tough to slip back into the daily grind after the kind of hectic but interesting weekend we just had. For starters, we had invited an American couple, our former boss and his wife, home for dinner on Saturday night. Since the only guests we have invited home so far have been fellow desis, I was naturally as nervous about this dinner as I had been the first time I had played hostess on my own. I spent the better part of last week agonizing over the menu. ‘Which Indian dishes do Americans like to eat?’, I asked each and every desi in office. To make things worse, the husband and I are vegetarians and we had heard our guests speak glowingly about ‘Chicken tikka masala’ each time Indian food was mentioned in their presence. So strike one against us, we were certainly not going to be able to satisfy their expectations, if indeed they had that in mind.

So well, I finally designed the dinner menu with far more attention to detail than I had spent designing the recent big software project I worked on. We would have jaljeera and idli-sambar-chatni for starters and palak paneer, sookhe aloo, daal fry, boondi raita, peas pulav and rotis for dinner. We decided to get a chocolate cake for dessert – I am not very good at making Indian desserts and we figured the poor things could at least enjoy the dessert if not anything else. After I was done designing the grand menu, I spent the whole of Saturday afternoon cooking, only to have my worst fears come true! Not only did our lady guest eat plain rice (peas pulav) while ignoring the palak paneer and daal on the table in front of her (and I did point her in the right direction), the only dish that she finished off her plate was the chocolate cake! At least I was right about the cake, I consoled myself.

Her husband was a little kinder to me, though not much. I think he enjoyed the daal and he definitely liked what I assume must be the sambar – ‘Very nice soup’, he told me! Oh well, let me look at it this way – at least I will not need to cook for the next few days. Every cloud does have it’s silver lining! The failure was doubly galling for me, I think, since I’ve never had guests who haven’t loved my food, licking it off their plate and repeatedly complimenting my cooking skills. So I was not prepared for such a reception at all. I think it’s now obvious I can cook for desi palates only. The irony is that I had taken so much care to make sure the food was not extra spicy or salty, that I wasn’t able to enjoy it much myself!

Though the food was obviously NOT a big hit, the conversation was almost good enough to compensate. If I could manage to forget the food fiasco for a while, the evening was definitely a very pleasant one, I’d concede. Our guests are in their early fifties, and it was interesting to note that a lot of their childhood memories and value systems are very similar to ours. My guess is that the America of the sixties must have been very similar to the India that my generation grew up in i.e. the eighties and the nineties. For example, we were talking about how fast technology is changing these days, and our hosts were telling us about the black and white television sets they had at home during their childhood. Of course, your generation would know nothing about them, they said and were surprised when we clarified we had those at home during our childhood too!

We had brought a lovely Rajasthani wall-hanging for them from India and I think they loved it but were slightly embarrassed too. Embarrassed because they would have liked to bring a gift for us, but while the tradition here is to bring a bottle of wine or chocolates, they weren’t sure if we drink wine (we don’t) or if we are vegans (we aren’t)! A common mistake many Americans make is to confuse vegetarianism with veganism. I remember walking into an I-Hop once and asking for something vegetarian, the poor guy waiting on us seemed ready to cry at our request! (I-Hop only serves pancakes made of eggs and milk products.) They just cannot understand why we can eat milk and eggs but not meat. In my case it’s doubly confusing since I enjoy eating cakes with eggs in them, but will not touch a boiled egg or omelet! ‘Is fish okay then?’, they hopefully ask. Veganism, which is something of a fad here, they can understand, but vegetarianism leaves them completely confused.

Then on Sunday, the husband and I went skiing with a group of friends on the Pocono mountains in nearby Pennsylvania. It was my first brush with skiing while the husband had tried it once before, but since most of our friends were in the same boat as I, we decided to start with some preliminary lessons on the beginner slopes. Skiing looked deceptively simple when we saw the experts nonchalantly zigzagging down the slopes in the morning, but I know that’s not true now that I’ve tried it. Take it from me, skiing is definitely not easy. But if you are prepared to fall every few minutes the first time you try it, go for it, I’d say. I wasn’t able to pick it up much, but the husband who was the best in our group and was coming down the intermediate slopes by the end of the day, will vouch for the fact that it can be a lot of fun once you get the hang of it.

To compound our troubles, yesterday was an unusually cold day to begin with (temperatures in the single digits fahrenheit), add to that the strong winds and the snow blowing into our faces from the huge snowmaker on the slopes, and just standing outside for two hours at a stretch was a feat in itself, I’d say! We were wearing woollen thermals, multiple layers of clothing, sweaters, winter coats, gloves, face masks and ear muffs – nothing worked! One had to get back into the welcome warmth of the cafe adjoining the ski slopes every couple of hours just to avoid getting a frostbite. What with all the falling over and the bitter cold, I gave up my skiing attempts by afternoon and wasn’t surprised to see some other quitters from the group waiting for me in the cafe with many more joining in over the next hour or so.

The husband and another friend were the only ones to continue right till the end. The husband in particular was childlike in his glee. ‘It felt like one of those summer vacation days when I used to play the whole day long’, he later told me while we drove back home. I was happy just watching the thrilled look on his face. (It’s funny seeing him walk today, though. He is limping around with a very strange limp and I love teasing him about it.) And I don’t feel too bad about quitting halfway. I enjoyed whatever little I tried and feel confident enough to try again on a warmer day. Now that’s more than enough for me!

We also made some new friends yesterday. The ski resort we had been to was offering a considerable discount for large groups, and being the penny-pinching desis that we are, we had gathered friends and friends of friends and friends of friends of friends from all over the place to get a good discount! So we met a whole lot of new people yesterday, some nice and some not so nice. There was a young mother with a small one year-old baby in tow who did not ski at all. The girl was sweet and fun to talk with and the baby was as cute as one year-old babies usually are, so I had some good company during my quitter phase in the later part of the day. I offered to look after her baby while she went out for some fun, but perhaps she did not trust my baby-handling skills and refused. I was slightly annoyed with her husband though. Couldn’t he have offered to take his turn watching the baby and let his wife enjoy too? Husbands… hmmmmp!

As I was saying, we met some nice people, and some who were not so nice. Another couple from the group fell into the latter category unfortunately. The guy bumped into me and knocked me down as soon as we had put on our skis and were lining up for our lesson on the slopes. He was trying to show off around his wife and fell down while trying to ‘correct’ her and demonstrate how her stance was wrong. It would have been a funny situation had I not been so angry with him. The worst part is that he never apologized to me, nor did he as much as look sorry! And the irony is that his wife was much better at skiing than he was!

His wife was no better in other respects though. When we were waiting in the cafe at the end of the day, my new friend with the baby was about to leave when her baby dropped a bag of crispies on the floor. As a courtesy I offered to clean up while she left. (The baby was pretty cranky and wanted to leave immediately by then.) This lady (the earlier wise-guy’s wife) who was sitting right next to me and participating in our conversation all the while, coolly sat there watching me clean up the floor around us. She was actually so helpful as to offer me some kind words of encouragement while I worked. ‘Oh yes, clean it up’, the maharani said as she sat and watched! All I can say about the pair is – they seem truly made for each other, for sure!