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Sunday, November 27, 2011

Somebody Pinch Me!

The blogs have slowed down after our first anniversary here in India.  I have to say my better half is much more witty and does such a good job capturing the moment, it gives me a reason to slack off.   If you have not read his blogs, please do check out http://whitemanforlease.blogspot.com/.  I just celebrated a birthday, moved house in India and received a promotion - lots of life events - in which I have had some time to reflect on what a journey coming to India has been.   Earlier I would have told you about the crazy traffic, animals on the streets, non-existant lines and a sense of logic to the chaos that we have learned to operate in.   Now I do not notice the traffic, readily plan to leave at least 1.5 hours in advance to travel a distance of 23km, push my way to the front of all lines, speak loudly at all times and complain to all waitstaff at restaurants.   Those are just the tactics applied for being a foreigner in India.   If I peel the onion back a little more, you would see that I can haggle with the best of them on Commercial Street, I do not pay listed price for anything; I have found my favorite places to get Mexican ingredients for dinner, hair cuts and last minute birthday gifts.   Go on more layer deeper and you would see we are quite at home here in India.   Even on a recent trip to the US (literally 48 hours in Detroit), my house seemed like the Schmitt Museum- full of expensive stuff nobody touches.  I know that is my home and there is comfort in every corner decorated by me.  However, on the flight back from Boston to Bangalore, I knew I was coming home.   My family was carrying on with daily life, my dogs were excited to see me, work was waiting and the social calendar was full for weekends on end .   While it was difficult to adjust to a place so foreign from middle America, I have found a happy spot tucked away in an old coconut grove in Bangalore.   I just have to pinch myself sometimes and ask, am I really in India?  

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Who are you?

Another first for me while over in India.  Credit card theft.   I was sitting at home the other night, catching up on email when I received a mail from Debra at American Express "Please Call" was the subject line.  Slightly skeptical, I emailed back "I am out of the country, what is this in regards to?"    An immediate response:

From: Deborah L Del Rosario [mailto:deborah.l.delrosario@aexp.com]


Sent: Thursday, September 29, 2011 9:33 PM

To: Schmitt, Rebecca A.

Subject: Re: American Express Request

Hello and thank you. I see 5 charges in great Britain on September 28th on your Costco card ending in 1019 (Douglas Schmitt is the basic, you are the supplementary account holder) I suspect fraud at these merchants:

Radisson Mayfair

Zara UK

NCP

Burberry Knights

Burdett Road

(Approx. $2,400.00)

If these are not your charges please advise ASAP as I am working with law enforcement in GB. Also, please report that account STOLEN ASAP (even though you most likely possess the card...right?) Sorry to disturb you while away.

Sincerely,

Debbie

(On my blackberry as technologies installing updates)

PANIC set in.  I opened my wallet - my Costco Amex was still tucked safely in it's slot.    I logged on to the website, I could only see the first charge for over $1000 USD at Burberry.  Clearly not mine, although not unlikely I could have racked up that bill.    Doug and I both went through the transactions, nothing irregular for the last few months until September 28th.  When was the card compromised??   Fortunately the people at Amex are on the top of their game, my card was shut off, the charges were flagged as fraudulent and Debbie called back to say they are have the GB Police in pursuit of two individuals who are using my card.   Amex is so good that they have sent a new card to my parents (I'll pick it up in November) and they even called my employer when I did not respond to my first email.    I was pleased to see that my HR rep emailed me asking to call Amex given my overseas assignment they were not sure how to contact me.
 
We are now in Thailand on our holiday and I have seen first hand how my card could have been misused.   Doug and I stopped at the duty free upon landing in Bangkok to pick up requisite Bombay Sapphire Gin and some Kentucky Bourbon for our week.    The cashier rung up our purchases and had us sign the customs slip.   She was very confused as Doug's signature did not match the one of the back of his card.    The back of his credit card said "SEE ID" in printed letters.    At first we panicked that we would not be able to make our purchase, but then I realized - she can't tell the difference!   I guess it would be pretty easy to use a card when the only check is if the signature matches SEE ID.
 

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Maintenance

Everything needs maintenance.   Cars, appliances, skin, hair, friendships, marriages etc...require fine tuning occasionally to keep them running smoothly or to repair a minor ding, zit or misunderstanding.    Women generally have a long list of maintenance activities, normally referred to as grooming.   Somehow no matter how busy I seem to be, I manage to have manicured nails and toes, a good mix of highlights and plenty of mascara on.    I have started to think about the other parts of me that need maintenance - some more than others.   Keeping up on my relationships while I am 8,000 miles away from home proves to be challenging as I am normally ready to collapse from my day when it's time for a phone call home.   Blogging helps, posting pictures on facebook is another easy way to be connected.    All these items become "to dos" for me necessary for keeping myself presentable and on acceptable terms to those around me.   I have realized lately that I have neglected the upkeep of myself in a few ways:  exercise and hobbies.   As Doug says, I need to give myself time to re-create with some recreation (what a wise guy).    I am making some goals for year 2 in India and one of them will be at least 15 min a day of something non-work related (which includes home and kids).   A walk with the dog, reading a new book, jumping on the treadmill, sun salutations or meditation seem like manageable ways to re-create.   I will keep you posted and am hoping this puts more time and energy in my day.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Sybil

Many people have a work side and a personal side to them.   Behaviors displayed by their friends and family may not bother them as much as a colleague who does something strange in the office or vice versa.   I have developed an Indian side.   I am pretty such the same at work and at home, and thank you to my family for allowing me to program manage our life, ask for collaboration during long plane flights and keep things BAU (business as usual) when I leave them home alone.    For my colleagues, please find some solace in the fact that my husband gets just as many emails and SMSs as I send to you and he also is required to produce status on any number of open items.  It sounds crazy but it works for us. 

A couple of things have happened over the last 4 months that are proof of my transformation since coming to India.    When shopping at Hyper City (our local version of Super Target or Wal-Mart) on a weekday, we approached the seemingly endless row of checkout stations.  Out of the thirty possible lanes, only one was working and the queue was 10 deep.  To the left of the only working register several employees were chatting avoiding eye contact with any customers.    Doug and Javeed were pushing the cart along the bank of registers aimlessly hoping someone would come to their rescue.   Not me.    I approached the gaggle of employees and in my loudest voice without yelling asked "Why am I waiting, are you on a break? I am a customer, get a register open for me."    All this while typing away on my iPhone.    A minute later, the manager looking person called "Madam Madam" and I was in a checkout line.   Doug and Javeed admitted after the checkout, they both looked at each other wondering who the crazy lady was yelling in the store; they were shocked to see it was me.

Schmitts in Rome at the Pantheon
Fast forward to Rome. I am frequently approached by street vendors in India either while walking or sitting in my car at a traffic stop.    I  have developed a smooth hand flick that let's them know I am not interested.    In Rome we were bombarded with street vendors offering glow in the dark toys, replicas of the Colosseum and fake Gucci bags.   One evening near the Spanish Steps, a persistent vendor kept offering me roses.   I directly told him to go away and gave him the hand flick.    Our friends from Michigan, the Zaks, were traveling with us and they were mortified that I would treat someone that way.    They felt so bad for the vendor they almost bought the rose.    Doug explained that this India Becky.    The rest of the trip I was reminded to be nice as this is Italy and people are not begging but actually working selling things.    It took me about a week to revert back to my regular nice Mid-western self but only about 30 minutes of being back in Bangalore to bring back the attitude.

I think I can give Sybil a run for her money.  Here is the link if the reference is obscure http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sybil_(1976_film)

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Snake in a box!

Karnataka's state snake
is a cobra!
My blogging has been slacking as I have been traveling but I am back with some juicy things.    My one year in India is nearly up and we had the task of filing for a employment visa extension this week.    For those of you that have traveled to India or have experienced the Foreign Registration Regional Office (FRRO) first hand- you know the pain.    India loves paper copies of everything and not just one copy but duplicate, triplicate, reminders, passport sized photos in duplicate neatly stacked and stapled - one pack per applicant.   So the two day story begins...

Here is the list of what you need to get the visa extended:
1. Police Verification - make sure we are good standing foreign nationals and that we really do have an accommodation of our own and are not squatters etc...
2. Marriage License
3. Birth certificates for all
4. Bonafide certificates for the kids enrollment - again making sure they are going to school and not causing problems
5. Letter of employment
6. Guarantee if my employment ends, my employer would take care of my exit
7. Tax Return for India
8. Housing Lease and a copy of the ID card of the landlord
9.And the list goes on

Fortunately we have an excellent vendor that helps assemble papers, stand in line and direct you at the various stages.    However we have no control on when the police are available or in the station.   So our day begins, arriving early (10:30 am) hoping the inspector will be able accompany us home and sign our papers.   Our bad luck, after about 30 minutes of waiting in the lobby which consists of one bench barely wide enough for my back end...the "receptionist" tells us the inspectors are all at court.   The kids are happy to leave but Doug and I know that this is just the beginning of a VERY long day.   Our visa processing "handler" translates for us in Kannada (local language) that the inspectors should return by 6pm.   McDonald's fills our disappointment, value meals and soft serve ice creams for all.    

Several hours later our handler calls and says, "can you come now?"   We leave the kids at home, load in the car and set off to the Whitefield police station.   Doug and I are somehow expecting the inspector is waiting for us but our handler waves us off and we wait in the car...it's dusk and warm, windows down mosquitoes in.   Our driver, Javeed, starts to walk around the parking lot which is filling with those coming off their day shift, those coming on, people on smoke breaks and the normal chaos of chai-wallahs (tea sellers) and others with police issues.   Doug was buried in his book, but I could barely sit still.   Each person that pulled up, i would motion to Javeed "is that the inspector?"  No...then the excitement began.  Two cars of agitated Indians pulled up.   Lots of arms waving, each person holding a conversation on their mobile and with the inspector simultaneously.    Javeed was right in the mix, looking like a member of the plaintiffs or crowd control.   Immediately, they all pile back in their cars and the inspector on the back of a 2 wheeler.   Quick translation, property dispute and the inspectors are going to check it out.    Little known to us, Javeed was reminding the inspector that we are foreigners and it's rude to keep us waiting in our car for hours.   Also, we are the same foreigners who were here in November filing a police complaint against our maid for the loss of my jewelry.   Finally 1 hour and 50 minutes later, our handler calls us in the office.  Back on the skinny bench, I have learned to make eye contact if you want service - then you cannot be ignored.    The lead inspector has our file, signing away he eyeballs us over and continues his property dispute dealings.    Like most things, one verification is not enough, we are handed our papers and pushed to the next desk.    I am still waiting for the time we need to go back to our house, but the second inspector says "I know you.  I went to your house."  We nod in agreement.   Two quick signatures and we are on our way home.   I think that is the first time I can say I was happy to have been to the police station once before ...

Day 2 - arriving at 8:30 am at the FRRO.   No queue, our handler has strategically placed himself in front of the crack in the gate to hold our spot.   About 30 other foreigners blob together waiting for the crack in the gate to expand and hoping to position themselves a shoulder ahead to get inside.   Scanning the crowd, I see another American (sneakers, dockers and some sort of REI sports shirt) he has the same sense of bewilderment Doug and I are feeling.    A few Europeans, many students from Africa and several Korean businessmen and their families.   Kids are tired, cranky standing in the muddy street with the street dogs circling with one parent nearby and the other in the blob protecting their spot in whatever line will form inside.   As the gate opens I hold onto the telephone book of papers needed for the visa and assert my best India Becky attitude.   I make it 8th in line.  Practically jumping in the lamp of a plus sized Kenyan woman - Doug is in shock.   I give him the be quiet and hang back look while holding my spot.   And this is just to get a number to be processed.  The real fun starts once you get out of the parking lot come waiting room and into the offices.

After about five verifications that our data was in order and signatures, stamps, we are told one hour.   Do we give up the seats we have managed to secure in the overcrowded processing area for a potty break and get some coffee?  Will it really be an hour?  Will the kids kill each other? Or have we annoyed the rest of the foreigners?  We opt for coffee and a trip to the bank to get the demand draft to pay for the visas.   Back promptly one hour later, paying at one counter, rendering our visas at another we wait.   I have decided to stand behind the only chair at counter 3 eyeing the clerk.   Each time he lifts his head he cannot avoid my glaze and nod of my head as if to say, "anything yet?"   He is a nice guy, repeatedly saying "few minutes madam."   Eventually, it's noon - we have been approved another year.   Now we can get lunch.  Back out the street, our handler checks our papers and we wait by the car for him to get a copy.  

Now just to share, our vehicle has clear windows and as a family of blonds most passersby peer inside.  Additionally we are magnet for street vendors, women with babies and many others attempting to earn a few rupees.   That day a lady and her baby approached the car.   As she motioned to her mouth asking for food, she pushed a basked toward us.  Doug gave her the normal go away had movement, the lid came off the basket and I recognized the word "snake."   Not even 30 seconds later a cobra uncoiled, fanned it's head and flicked it's forked tongue at us.   I freaked, Doug tried to roll up the windows of the parked car and Javeed quickly jumped out to save the day.  I wasn't sure if the snake was to scare us or entertain us, but either way she left without any tip.

Never say never in India.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Choo or Not to Choo...

Completely necessary
for any trendy mom
By the name of my blog, one could assume I like shoes.   You may not know the extent of my addiction, topping over 200 pairs.   Unfortunately I could not bring all my shoes to India as a third of them are built for a much colder climate and the other third top 5" inch heels which would make me taller than 75% of the India population.  So I was conservative, only packing a mere 20 pairs focused on flat sandals, ballet flats, several pairs of reef flip flops. 


must have accessory for
Kim's Wedding!
I am heading west starting on Friday and in addition to seeing my family , friends, sleeping in my own bed and grabbing a chai tea latte at Starbucks; I CANNOT wait to go shopping.    The list is long and filled with mostly food items and things for the kids, but what trip would be complete without having a few unnecessary necessities for me.   You can guess, those would be something frivolous, slightly over the top and certainly designer for my feet!  I have been dream shopping online, as all the spring and early summer sales start.  From Saks, Nordstrom, Net-a-porter and Neimans, it's everything a diva could want.   However reality check for me, those diva days are packed away in my closet in Michigan along with my party dresses, fur coats and leather pants.    My day to day consists of flat sandals, leggings and long kurtas with one of my lovely silk stoles.   I can't say I miss the fancy stuff here in India but old habits die hard.     I have found two favorites, I would love to buy however balancing the rest of my life, I think the guilt would kill me.   So do i Choo or not Choo, that is the question.   In my heart, I know the answer but a girl can dream!  I'll save those pennies for my final return when I restore the shoe queen to her former glory.    Target and DSW Shoes are on the agenda for next week and hopefully will soothe the savage shopper in me.


Final Countdown!

Grosse Pointe, MI home
I have a pit in my stomach, my mind is racing, and I know I will forget to do something.    We are packing our bags today, making lists and checking them twice as we get ready for our first visit back to the US in 10 months.   

Time has flown by, I can hardly remember how I felt the last few days before we left Michigan.     I have a busy week as I try to wrap up loose ends and leave the team for the next three weeks.  Doug is attempting to get the house in India in order so our house sitters, Stephanie & Danielle, can manage the staff, pay some bills, watch our dog and still have fun (safely) while they are in India.  My parents are organizing our house back in Michigan; filling our cupboards, pulling out the patio furniture and collecting the packages I keep sending to them.    It's a strange feeling to live here in India and have a parallel life in Michigan.    Keeping up with friends and family on facebook, skype and over the magicjack.   In India, making new friends at the bus stop, Samrudhi's grocery store or by the pool.   

Each day has gotten easier in India as we get used to being away from home, find ourselves making the house here a home and creating regular moments.    As much as I would like to think of our visit home as a vacation it's as much of regular life as we had before we left.  Doctors appointments, William getting his braces off, running to targets or Costco and planting flowers in the yard.    However, these regular moments have a new meaning this time around as I now know how special each one is.   There is an old saying, you don't know what you have until you lose it...and that is certainly something I have come to appreciate ever day here in India.   Freedom to drive my own car when I want, ability to visit my parents with just a 30 min drive or know I can always get prego spaghetti sauce at the grocery store every time I go.    

And even as I am typing this, I know I will miss things about India.   Life is quieter here, more family time, simple things really do put a smile on your face and you can live with a lot less.    A trip to McDonald's, figuring out how to cook Mexican food, a game of hearts and a trip to the pool bring us all together in a good old fashioned kind of way.  We only have each other and it's made this all the hard stuff much more manageable.    Three weeks in the US will go by quickly and I am sure year 2 in India will as well.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

My Eat, Love, Pray Moment....

Back in February Doug and I visited an Ashram for a 48 detox.   We actually had won a stay from a charity silent auction back in November.   Our Ashram was as commercial as an ashram can get because it's part of a chain - Ayuravedagram (http://www.ayurvedagram.com/).    Before I take you inside the visit, here are a couple of terms that might help you understand the experience:

Ayurveda - ancient practice of medicine that originated in Kerala, India (southwest coast, see my blog on All that with a broken foot)  The traditional Hindu system of medicine, which uses diet, herbal treatment, and yogic breathing.
Ashram - A hermitage, monastic community, or other place of religious retreat for Hindus or a place of religious retreat or community life modeled on the Indian ashram.

Restaurant  Doug and I arrived on a Friday evening just after work and in time for dinner.  We entered the reception area which was a magnificent Keralan house with amazing antiques and incense burning.    Our first plan of action was to set our appointment with a doctor for the next morning and our schedule would flow around that.    We made our way to our room even though it was dark and raining via unlit brick paths.   The room was basic, low beds, wool blankets however the bathroom had a very nice concrete modern shower.    A small flat screen was positioned about shoulder height in front of the bed.   I was 1) happy it was clean 2) glad there was a TV 3) liked that we had a nice porch to sit on.    Doug was not happy we had two twin beds that were as soft as crushed concrete....Thankfully he brought his own contraband with us - gin, tonic and glasses.   Yes the Ashram is alcohol and smoke free- but we are rule breakers.    

After we settled, we walked to the restaurant that served Vegetarian only meals buffet style.   After nearly 10 months in India, I am quite used to this and have figured out my favorites and what to avoid.  Our meal started with hot cumin water.  A little strange but oddly satisfying.   We munched on our meals and watched the other guests pour in.    Older couples, some singles from Germany, a few Indian women and several expat couples like ourselves.     This would be interesting.

Our next day began at 630 am with Coffee service to our room, I was thankful this vice was allowed.    We enjoyed our filtered coffee and then proceeded to the 730 am Yoga course which was in the hall adjacent to our room.    I have been an avid yogi for about 8 years but mostly practicing Bikram.    It's always different when you go to a new place- the teacher, the flow of the asanas and the general facilities greatly impact your ability to focus and enjoy.  This was Doug's first ever yoga course!  We purposely did not sit next to each other as to minimize my competitive spirit.  I think he liked it and he was definitely surprised how sweaty you can get.     We enjoyed a vegetarian breakfast and then headed over to doctors appointment.   After a quick questionnaire, he determined that my body type (Dosha) if Pitta-Vatta and Doug's is Pitta-Kapha.  Now you can go very deep into the science of this analysis, where you alter all the food you eat, the rhythms of your day and exercise to suit your body type.  The belief is that if you match your intake of food to your dosha you will achieve a healthy weight and minimize illnesses.     Our prescription was a hot oil massage and steam bath.  Sounded good.

We headed over to the treatment center only to be stripped down (separately of course!) and made to put on this paper undergarment that was reminiscent of a sumo wrestlers uniform.   Up on the massage table (face up) were one liter of hot oil was poured very slowly over our bodies.  Still not terrible, but then the double massage which was akin to to an aggressive beat down took place for the next 30 min.   Given the amount of oil I was sliding all over the table, praying this would be over soon.   As abruptly as the massage started, it ended and I was put into a steam box.   It reminded me of old cartoons where villains were put into a box in the town square with only their head exposed.  Yes that was me, however the temperature in the box was well over 100 degrees F.   After 10 min, I was ready to expire and was pushed into the shower.   Washing the oil off and getting dressed was the most enjoyable part of the experience.    Doug and I compared notes and found the "treatment" to be identical and unfortunately identically painful.    The rest of our day was followed by a Veg lunch, a long nap, yoga, veg dinner and then a repeat of the same the next day.    We could have stayed until 5pm on the second day but after a double yoga course, second torturous massage and steam bath; we busted out right after lunch.     Back home to Palm Meadows and we cracked open a beer and potato chips, feeling we needed a reward for being so good.

For all of you who feel inspired to go to an ashram and detox; I challenge you to take stock of what it means to render control of your schedule, food and daily routine....I am not sure i will ever do it again! 

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Taj Magic

Visiting the Taj Mahal, Agra at Sunrise
Emma holding up the Taj

check out the reflection in his shades

Our room at the Oberoi Hotel
view of the Taj Mahal

The Oberoi, all rooms face the Taj
In March we journeyed to Agra, about 5 hour drive south of Delhi to see the Taj Mahal.   The Taj is a monument of love.   It was built for a wife who died in childbirth.    While the monument is widely recognized as a symbol of India for those of us outside of India, seeing it in person is an out of this world experience.    We sprung for the fancy smancy hotel, the Oberoi Agra.   I won't tell you the price for two rooms for one night but I think we have rented a beach house for a week in Florida for the same price!  However, you only go around once so we decided to do it up right.  We were there on March 20th which also happened to be Nolan's ninth birthday.   The hotel was very accommodating, bringing us a chocolate cake at dinner.   I am not sure he will remember this as his most fabulous birthday but I certainly will!     We arranged for a private guide via our hotel and decided to go at 730 am for a sunrise view of the Taj.   The marble has a translucent look that gives you a feeling that the Taj is breathing.     While Doug and I were visibly moved to be near such a remarkable man made monument, the kids were ready to go after about 10 minutes.  Fortunately our guide was very creative and had us pose for fun shots - holding up the dome, catching the reflection of the Taj in Doug's glasses.    It's a journey that I am glad we made even if it seems touristy.    Until you see the Taj in person, you cannot visualize it's grandeur and tribute to love. 

I'm Padi Certified!

At the Dive Shop - Euro Divers on
 Kandooma Island, Maldives

If you have read my earlier blogs, I committed to learning to scuba dive based on the words from my husband "what will we do when our kids grow up."   The classroom session was easy to pass and being competitive, I was driven to have a high score.   The pool test was a bit more traumatic for me, feeling claustrophobic I freaked out about five times in the first ten minutes.   However, I passed and actually figured out I liked the scuba.     Fast forward 6 weeks and we have landed in the Maldives to complete our open water certification.   The first dive was in a closed off lagoon area where we would demonstrate everything we learned in the pool.   Walking across the beach to the dive dock I was feeling queasy.  I started to sweat, shake and panic that now I would have to remove my mask in the ocean and real fish would be near me.    Doug was very understanding and told me I could skip.  It would save us money and I should only do something I wanted to do.   Mentally I tried to pull it together and the alternative of sitting on the beach with a beer seemed like much more fun.    However I rallied, if i failed the test in the ocean it would be a sign but I would never know until I tried.   To my surprise, I LOVED it.   I was able to take my mask off, clear the water, hover, remove my tank and BCD under water with no problems.   After our test dive we signed up for the following morning to complete our first open water dive.   It was amazing, we went 12m deep (36 feet) the first trip saw amazing huge fish and I felt very peaceful swimming along the reef.    We completed a total of four open water dives and now can go 18m deep.  Will, Doug and I now want to complete our advanced certification - taking night dives, learning to use different types of tanks and exploring more places in Southeast Asia.    The best thing about the scuba for me was how clear your mind becomes when you just focus on breathing and seeing sights you never imagined you could get close too.    I have had several moments since we have been back in the last two weeks where I just wish we were diving and being 18m under is a nice place to be.

Will & Becky suited up for our dive

Doug is ready to jump in

Warming up after our dive

The Easter Bunny Found us

Easter Morning at the Leela Palace

Easter bunny - Indian Style
Doug and Becky in Leela Garden
Brunch with unlimited Champagne!
Having a family in India means trying to keep things regular, be in a routine, and remember to celebrate the important things.   Easter is a big holiday for our family.  While it has tremendous importance to our faith, it's usually a time we gather with our extended family and eat.    This was not our first Easter away from family, we have taken holidays in the past given the kids usual school break.   For our first Easter in India, William was on a trek to the Himalayas so we planned mass at St. Patrick's and then brunch at the amazing Leela Palace hotel.   If you come to India, you must stay there but if that proves to be too expensive, at least brunch is a must.    Our youngest, Nolan, is 9 years old and very much looks forward to his annual Easter basket.    We break all the rules with Easter and Halloween, allowing our kids to stuff their faces without any parental regulation on intake for the first 24 hours.   Finding the standard Easter Candy in the India was proving to be a problem; thank goodness for Grandma.   A large box stuffed with jelly bellies, peeps, smarties, gummy bears, licorice, starburst, pastel colored m&ms, cadbury eggs and whoppers colored like Easter eggs.    We hid that box and used it for our visit from the Easter bunny.    We even colored our eggs with crayola markers and hid them all over the house.   I would not advise this as the markers leaked through the shells and our hard boiled eggs were tattooed.  Not sure we could eat that, we scrapped the eggs and went right for the candy.    The true highlight of the day was brunch, unlimited champagne for me and a 3m long sweets table that included a chocolate fountain.   The kids were in heaven.   Life is pretty good and Easter Brunch was the icing on the cake!

All that with a broken foot!

Cochin Harbor, fishing boats coming in

Emma- our Lady Gaga

Nolan & Becky washing elephants

Chinese Fishing nets

Ice Cream break


Spice shopping on Jew Street

Antique shopping - crazy stuff behind us
I am a little behind on my blog entries, mostly because I have not figured out how to get the pictures uploaded to shutterfly back to my blog!   Back in February we took a short weekend trip to Cochin, Kerala on the Southwestern coast of India.    Cochin is one of the oldest ports in India with St. Thomas the apostle arriving there and starting the Syrian rite of Catholicism there nearly 2000 years ago.    But more recently the Portuguese, Dutch and English taking up shop there as a key spot on the trade routes.   Shopping expedia.com or more conveniently expedia.co.in I found a tremendous deal for two rooms at a Taj Gateway property (very nice hotel chain in India) and flights.    This was our first weekend trip.    When we decided to come to India we had planned to be travel junkies, exploring one corner of India to all the nearby exotic countries.   However, we live in India which means I have a job, the kids have homework, we need to fit in dentist appointments, shopping for sneakers and figuring out how to get regular things done.  Unfortunately that takes time so squeezing in a weekend trip is not as easy as we expected.    We pulled the kids out of school hopped on the hour flight to Cochin and armed with our Lonely Planet South India book, started our journey.   

This was our families first domestic trip which meant figuring out the taxi situation in a new city, navigating a new town and being in a much less cosmopolitan area than Bangalore.    Oh and I forgot to mention, Emma broke her foot horseback riding a few days earlier, so her range of activity was somewhat limited.   She was a trouper.    A walking cast in India is not really meant for dragging on the cement, so we customized a walking shoe out of one of Doug's sandals.   Not a fashion statement but did the job.    I highly recommend the Lonely Planet series for India, each restaurant they recommended in Cochin or surrounding towns was definitely worth it.    We feasted on ocean fish marinated and grilled in banana leaves, a Chinese-Indian fried rice, prawn curry and kingfisher beers.    Since Cochin has long been a desired port and had several ruling cultures - the food is a nice fusion of western and Indian.     

Things we learned on the trip:
- Our family of 5 can fit nicely in an auto-rickshaw.   Becky-Doug-Will with Nolan on my lap and Emma on Doug's lap.  Best use of 30 cents to go three kilometers ever
- The local fisherman still use Chinese fishing nets that have been the same technology since the time of Kubla Khan
- Elephants love to bathe in the local rivers and we were lucky enough to see their morning ritual.  Nolan and I even made into the river to help clean them with coconut shells
- Having two hotel rooms that do not connect make for a much nicer vacation
- Vasco da Gama was buried on Fort Cochin, we visited his grave site
- The oldest synagogue in India is in Fort Cochin and sits on a street called Jew Street, also a wonderful place to get antiques
- You can take a ferry from the mainland out to Fort Cochin for 2 rupees a person (4 cents) but there are not enough life jackets on the ferry for the hordes of people they stuff in the boat
- Emma still remains the most photographed in our family, whether she poses with families, other kids or on occasion single men request a photo with her (which of course I decline), she is our Lady Gaga

All in all, traveling within India as a family taught us that we do really like each other, teenagers can be very helpful to carry the luggage and we cannot wait for the next adventure.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

West Coast Girls are Unforgettable

Mehendi magic!
Katy Perry and Snoop Dog called it right in their song from last summer - California Gurls; west coast girls are very fun.   This past week we had a convergence of people in Bangalore and it was the first time in nearly a year that I got to see my colleague Mary (from San Fran).     I have to say Mary was up on my blogs as she arrived with a generous stack of magazines - Redbook, Cosmo, InStyle, Yoga Journal....it must have been 5Kg worth of literary candy.     Additionally a mini pillow case of Easter Candy for the kids and some wine make for the perfect Friday night chez moi in Bangalore.   But on to more important events of day 1 in Bangalore.   Mary and a few other ladies needed authentic Indian attire for a formal dinner at the Leela Hotel.     For most of us, this is an exciting opportunity - bust out wear a sari, bangles, mehendi and bling it up.    

I won't go into Mary's shopping experience but I will share with you mine recently and you can note - I've asked around, it's pretty universal.     Getting a Sari is an exciting adventure for anyone; stacks of silks, chiffons, embellished trims and uniquely embroidered choices overwhelm you.   Any store is happy to see me walk in because in general, I am not sure of what sari is appropriate for what which makes selling me anything pretty easy.    No need to change your clothes, the sales attendant (most often a man) will wrap you up and secure the 9 feet of fabric with a mock belt.   Spin around to the nearest mirror and you are transformed.    I now have two saris and one lengha (which i thought was a sari and now have been told it's really for weddings only).  The blouse piece (mid-drift baring top) is usually custom made to fit you like a second skin from an extra piece of fabric attached at the end of your sari.   I have recently found a shop that sells ready made blouses - which makes me happy since I went to a men's tailor the first time and ended up with a CRAZY tight blouse.   I guess we know who that tailor was designing for!     Where things get complicated is when you are shopping for a salwar kameez - more of a dress style top (often to the knees) with leggin' pants.   Being slightly oversized for the south Indian population, I have a tough time getting the dress even over my head.    If I can find a top with a zip, then I conquer the first hurdle often to find my shoulders are cricket player sized and my arms don't move.   If you are not prepared for your normal size in the US to translate to an XXL+ here in India, this can be quite humiliating. 
Two California Girls Looking
Super Fab in Saris!!!
The best advice I received was to go with the flow.  You can always try shopping at the stores in large hotels who often cater to foreigners; you can find a trusty size medium that fits as you expect.   Oh and if your feet are 9.5 or larger (US sizes) you might save your self frustration in the shoe shopping area too...i recently bought some lovely sandals only to find out they are actually considered a size 12 here!   But if you can embrace a new experience, not be hung up on sizes or who joins you in the fitting room to wiggle that kurta or salwar kameez over your head - you might just find a winner that will get lots of oohs and aaahs back in the States.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Closer

I love to write.   Lists, cards, letters, emails, facebook posts, blogs, notes from meetings.  Somehow writing down a thought, an idea, actions or the flow of a meeting make things stick in my brain.   Here in India one of the first things my colleagues commented on (and my superiors) was my propensity to take notes.   It was all so overwhelming when I first arrived; new organization, new names, learning to spell Indian names - I had no choice but to write, write and write it down.    I have been keeping a notebook for about 10 years, I usually go through a few per year and I save them.  There have been times I pull up an old one to check notes from the past...I guess I am ready for court should i need to prove my whereabouts!   My notebooks are a mix of personal and professional.   I usually write work items in the body of the book and personal reminders in the top margins of the pages.    The funny thing is that I almost always remember writing something down and whether it was at the top of the page, bottom, left or right side.   I guess you would call that a visual learner.

We are just finishing up the first 8 months in India (arrived in mid-August for those of you just joining my blog now).  I have used up my first notebook; Staples brand composition notebook.   In between the note book entries I have run through several packs of sticky notes that I typically attach to my laptop, bulletin board, wallet and iPhone for the "must do" that day.    However looking back on my unraveling black and white book, the progression of my journey to settling down in India unfolds.   The first pages list the necessary actions for survival here:
- get cell phone
- register at Police Office
- find cleaning supplies for house
- call Vet
- get parking sticker
- find orthodontist for William
These items CONSUMED me for nearly six weeks as I just tried to make sense of my new surroundings.   Flipping through the next set of pages, I have noted lots of names with their job positions, phone numbers that I needed to meet to establish myself.   By early November I can say I was well on my way to problem solving, dealing with employee issues and contributing to our organization.     December through late February seem frantic, notes in all directions, stickies stapled to pages as I assumed more responsibility and began to supervise an even larger team.    As of late my note book has contained  mostly meeting minutes and countless notes reminding me of the aspirations and grievances I hear each day from my team.  I have been traveling to our many locations here in India for face to face sessions; in addition to reminders on what hotel in what city, I keep track of who I meet and when.   Some of you might think, can't she remember?   The answer is yes, but I want to remember what I hear as well as what strikes me during our meetings becuase often the things unspoken are the most powerful to remember.   My notebooks take the following form - checkmarks for action taken, strike-through for no longer relevant and circled items for things still open and taking time.  

This week I start a new notebook; moving forward my goals, dreams, places to book vacations in Asia and a long list of people I look forward to meeting with and helping grow.   Maybe it's all in my head but somehow just knowing it's also in my notebook helps me make sense of my life, close out the items on my plate and know there is lots to look forward to.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Putting down Roots in India

We are settled down pretty well here in Bangalore. After 8 months, your house feels like home and coming home after any business trip – your bed feels cozy. Doug and I have begun to look around the place and made a list of things that would be nice to have for the next 18 months. Fortunately we are members of several expat and community groups. The wonderful thing about Bangalore is that people are always coming and going. Whether that be our friends and colleagues that bring us goodies from the US or members of these networks posting items for sale. The funny thing about all these networks – Bangalore Expat Club, Overseas Women’s Club and the Palm Ladies Group – is that people think their stuff is gold. If you are an avid garage/ yard saler in the US, you know how this works. The ad goes into the paper with a short of list of key items to get the shoppers in. The truly serious garage / yard salers show up before the stated time of sale and pick up the good finds. If you show up at the listed time of sale, you get leftovers. The same thing happens here! However the prices are nearly the same as full price but the fact that it’s from IKEA or Pottery Barn retains retail value like nothing else I have ever seen. And if you have a small child and are looking for something as rare as Fisher Price toys, those will be snapped up immediately for the crazy prices. On occasion we can find some of those items new here in India, but many of them you simply cannot. Often you find a similar looking item but the quality might be slightly less durable – especially for toys. Also the really popular toys in India are the same as in the US – which makes them extra expensive here when purchased new.


Back to my home decorating. We have been watching the postings for a dresser, armoire, terrace furniture, vacuum cleaners, ovens etc… We were successful on the vacuum cleaner back in December and I think that was equal to $100 USD. We caved and just bought new terrace furniture and an oven because we kept showing up at sales where those things were already gone. Multiple times we have seen listings for 47” Sony flat screens but only come to find out they are sold within seconds of posting – on the phone or email transactions. The other crazy thing is that people who are leaving really do sell everything. We have seen listings for liquor – some open bottles, some not; medicine – Prilosec to Xanax; magazines; flippers; bikes and mattresses. Many times its cheaper to rebuy it at home vs. ship it from India. Doug and I have changed our strategy. Keeping cash on hand the minute a posting shows up with something decent, we call/ email or show up at the lister’s house regardless if its sale time or not . This has landed us with a new armoire and a twin bed (Sealy Posturpedic) plus bed frame. And of course we no longer attempt to negotiate for “used” stuff because there is a line up behind us of other hungry expats wanting something quick and easy that feels like home. Our only consolation is that we should be able to unload our purchases for what we paid for them.

On a side note, this helps satisfy my shopping hunger :)

Mascara Magic

I have been feeling like an ugly duckling lately in India. My wardrobe consists of the two suitcases of items I selected last August - strategically picking out coordinating pieces to maximize my mixing and matching; a collection of shoes that seem not so appropriate for the lumpy Indian sidewalks and an assortment of silver jewelry. Indian women are very colorful, so my somehow NY chic look seems a bit sad in here. Some things are starting to look a little tired as they have cycled through my wash machine mixed with towels and soccer uniforms ....the idea of sorting by color and delicates is lost in translation with our maid. As I dig through my closet I am momentarily cheered up by the new tunics and dresses that are adorned with yellow pompoms and sequins. Somehow those items distract from the black or khaki trousers I wear almost every day. But on a closer look, there is something else. My face is looking a little faded lately. It's 8 months of trekking to the office each day, in and out of airports across India, decreased yoga and increased wine. Add a healthy dose of India sunshine and I feel like I am sporting farmer chic; no make-up and a lot of tired. To top it off, I did not stock up on my supply of make-up before leaving the US because it's been ages since I have actually used a full tube of something up. I honestly did not know it wouldn’t last a year! Office life will do that to you, I ran out of mascara in February. I picked up a local brand at the "Health and Glow" which ended up giving me the sad clown look as it streaked under my eyes throughout the day. Next I opted for the heavy black eyeliner that gave me a distinct look; distinctly scary as either a blonde Cleopatra or something more like a street fighter. Then over the last few weeks, I had all but given up. Fast forward to another business trip. To my surprise a new display has taken shape at the Bangalore airport. LancĂ´me makeup has arrived. I have searched high and low but I think the local population has mascara low on their list of beauty needs given their naturally luscious lashes. I was VERY excited to find something similar to what I was missing! I whipped out the Amex and bought my tube of extra black mascara. I was so excited that even for my 8pm flight, I ran to the rest room and clubbed it on my eyes. It was a transformation: instant awake, bright eyed, happy! I am feeling better the next day too, I look like myself again - who knew how important eyelashes can be...I guess those Kardashian were right about something - load on the lashes!




Thursday, March 31, 2011

Mules

There are a few things I wish I would have packed or shipped when I had a freight container to fill, but I am happy to say I am living with less.    The list of things I miss and have not found substitutes for is shrinking by the day as I get to know India, find new things to satisfy a sweet tooth or ways to quench the thirst to shop.   However I feel it's time to recognize the stream of visitors to Bangalore that are able to get me the little things and bring treats from home.   So here's to you, my fleet of mules:

Jacqui - while you have not made it here, you shipments of Cheetos and pop tarts helped us through the first weeks of utter chaos

Christi - Shipping a box of Tory Burch purchases I made days before my departure in August but didn't have a chance to wait for and Nolan's only pair of sneakers he left behind in the rush to get to India as well as letting in our cleaning lady every month

Julie R - chocolate chips, stain stick, People, InStyle, and M&Ms - satisfying on so many levels

Michael S- more M&Ms personalized with a "Miss U Becky" and in blue / gold (all Michigan fans relate) made me realize my friends mean a lot to me

Kim - pringles, hazelnut creamora, People, InStyle, Halloween decorations, Reefs, pictures of my god daughter and load of cards keep your spot as a BFF

Eliza -  a box of goodies, cocktail napkins and reminding others to send the pringles and more importantly keeping track of Rivard Street while I am gone

Tara - my credit card (thanks mom for mailing), M&Ms and pringles - thanks for the nice Italian dinner when you were here

Alma - load of Christmas Candy, earring backings and plenty of wine to drink once you arrived

Jason - a few magazines but more importantly breaking in our terrace furniture with 12 nights of beer drinking

Stacey - a massive shipment from target including Halloween costumes, towels and clothes; the spirit of the great pumpkin was alive and well in our household

Mom and Aunt Karen - new luggage packed with enough goodies from Costco to keep us happy for a month and our smokey Joe grill....plus plenty of Christmas gifts

Michelle R- awesome homemade chocolates and itunes for William; given we don't have an oven - those hit the spot

Aunt Jane - amazon.com for the kids just in time for Christmas (hence the gifts that Michael brought)

Scott - picking up another envelope of treats from Kim

Michael S - yes, back again, with Amazon.com video games and Michigan T-Shirt

Laurie M - a valentines shipment full of my favs - InStyle, movies, white choc pretzels

Lynne B- wine and chocolates, even if they are from Bangalore duty free - it means a lot

Fiona - beef jerky, granola bars, hamburger helper, peanut butter, jodphurs for Emma, bathing suits for all

Mom & Dad - hiking clothes for will and new duds from Nordstrom for me

Jillian's mom - Weeds Season 6 and Call of Duty Black Ops for Nolan

All in all, I am blessed in more ways than one and thankful for the bigger suitcases you packed to bring me treats or the extra postage you paid for to get us treats.   I don't feel that far away from all of you and know that facebook, skype, IM, SMS and many other things keep us close.

hats off to you,
Becky

Spa Junkie

Enjoying post spa treatments
with beverage of choice - wine
for me and juice box for Emma
I caught up over email with a colleague who is both a fellow dog lover and spa junkie.    Diane related to my blog on the ayurvedic spa treatment in Sri Lanka with a recent trip through Seoul and a massage at the airport spa.   We both left the experience with pain and wondering why we actually paid money for that level of torture.     Quietly I thought to myself - who goes to the spa at an airport.

Fast forward five days and I am coming back from Mumbai after a busy three days of meetings.   Feeling like my brain had turned to liquid and left me slightly numb, I misread my itinerary and ended up at the airport 2.5 hours early.    India domestic travel is not fancy and the quality of the airports vary greatly depending on the number of international flights they have.    Fortunately Mumbai is quite nice.    Security takes about 5 minutes, there is no removing of shoes or belts - just the requisite laptop in a separate container.   I often send full size toiletries and bottles of water through no problem.   The security will confiscate alcohol- how convenient for them to enforce the liquid rule on that product only.    I walked through the relatively empty airport as most people were in the local pubs or home watching the Cricket World Cup - Pakistan vs. India, which we (yes, I mean India) finally won.     Given Diane's recent comment on the Korean airport spa I felt inclined to check out the services and prices of the Mumbai O2 Spa.  

I was greeted by a lovely Chinese woman in a Sari, yes things in India are often not what you expect, and handed a menu.    Reflexology, massage, manicure, pedicure  -oh the choices for Rs900 ($19 USD) to Rs2000 ($44 USD).     I cranked my neck around the corner only to see several pairs of hairy calves propped up on terry cloth footstools.    A crew of Asian masseuses dressed in crisp white jackets slathered on jasmine oil and applied pressure the several sets of hairy toes.    I was surprised that all the clientele were men and they were all getting the 30 min foot reflexology.   I evaluated my choices.  The Luna Bar sat behind me in the center of the concourse and the male dominate spa in front.    A gin and tonic with a bag of chips cost about the same as the foot massage and since it was only 430 pm, I opted for the reflexology.   

The entire process was quite normal and relaxing, I nearly fell asleep in the reclining seat.    The only negative side effect is that my feet swelled up like balloons in flight and I was barely able to walk to my car once I was back in Bangalore.   I guess I had a lot of toxins.   Airport Spa - thumbs up from me. 

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Fond of Fiona

One of the great things about being in India for an expat assignment is that many people have business related trips to Bangalore.    We have been fortunate to have many visitors coming from the US or Europe either via my employer or clients.  Our guests add to the excitement of daily life, allow us to try out new restaurants and give us an excuse to play tourist all over again.     Since most of the visitors work for the same company as me, I generally have some work overlap with their visit.   This has been an exciting way to connect my team to our global network.    Recently my former supervisor, Fiona, came to help get my team up to speed on some specific processes.   

Fiona is one of a kind.  She is petite, powerful and packed with wit.    I had the luck of working for Fiona for the last 3 years before my move.    She helped me grow into the person that was ready for stint in India.   Fiona is well traveled, having grown up in Manchester, England and Tunsia; taken her own family to Paris for a year, now lives in the US and is generally adventurous.    What a perfect person to come to India and help my team sharpen their skills.    While I won't bore you with the list of things we accomplished, I will share with you the mishaps.

Manchester United Bar in
Bangalore - Prithvi & Fiona
After a quick night off to recover from jet-lag, I enlisted my driver to take Fiona and me to work.    Bangalore traffic is something I have learned to ignore but Fiona was rather jumpy in her seat as the number of near misses with buses was more than you count.   The symphony of horns kept her distracted from my ever important download of work dramas.    Upon arrival to the office, Fiona was in need of real tea (remember she is English).   I have gotten used to India filter coffee or chai tea, so finding Darjeerling proved to be a challenge.   Once found Fiona quickly figured out how to get herself through the maize of cubicles and up to the Cafe Coffee Day for a refill.     

Our nights consisted of finger foods and drinks.    Our first stop was at the Manchester United Bar, equipped with autographed jerseys.   Prithvi and Priya joined us for a platter of snacks and drinks.    While all these late nights were keeping my driver busy, we opted to be adventurous and take the 45 min ride back to the hotel via a rick-shaw.    Even our Indian colleagues thought we were brave for going so far in the rickshaw.   Well you only live once and we survived for less than $10.    Of course our driver tried to change the price once we got to our destination, good thing we are tough.      

We made the rounds, dinner and drinks around town.   Shopping for jewelry, handbags and fabric - it was great fun.  Somehow I was the only one who got wrapped in a Sari, no matter how I tried Fiona would not induldge me.      Fiona joined Doug and I for lunch after my scuba diving and ordered a Tomato Basil salad.  In her zest to share her treat, she passed doug a tomato which promptly landed in his kingfisher beer.   I am not sure Kobe Bryant could have sunk a basket more efficiently.  Fortunately Doug is a mix master and enjoyed a beer marinated tomato.  We rounded out our day with a trip to the Shiva Temple, just a few days after Shiva's birthday / festival, the temple was still in full celebrations... We checked our shoes, walked through a maze of small shrines where we could ask Ganesh for help, offer some milk to Shiva and round the diety for blessings.   It is really quite peaceful to see so many people constantly visitng a temple.    
    
Loose tomatoes
 For those of you that know Fiona, you are probably expecting more "shocking" behavior... Aside from announcing to our HR team that she is a real live "lesbian" and sharing her issues with her digestive track before air travel - her impact can be seen in the team's excitement to work on new things.   We look forward to her retun and have remembered not to take ourselves so seriously all the time.   

Visiting the 50 ft Shiva
Statue/ Temple

Shopping for souvenirs,
somehow i ended up with another Sari

Auto Rick-Shaw - dirty/ bumpy

Must Love Dogs

Jami and friend (Jami is
dog on left)
I have turned into one of those small dog people.   I am self-aware and know that this can be truly annoying.  Fortunately we are in India and it's too hot to dress my dog in her University of Michigan rain coat or puffy pink sweater that were such a necessity in a Midwest winter.     There are other things I am finding myself doing lately:  coming up with new nicknames for Jami, our 2 1/2 year old beagle mix; carrying her around the house when she is certainly capable of walking and creating sleep space for her in our room.    OK, I also speak to her in baby talk.  Disgusting - I know!   Perhaps I am suffering from a mom version of mid-life crisis - the kids are growing up and our baby is now 9 years old - so this dog is the one living object that is just plain happy to see me.   For those of you that are not yet living with teenagers, please enjoy the years before age 12...I think I took them for granted.    In order to make up for those lost years on my oldest two kids, the youngest child (Age 9) and the dog have become perpetual babies.  This sends the older two kids over the edge.   I am often accused of favoring the dog over the kids or making exceptions to the rules for our youngest child.   Growing up I realize I accused my mom of the same thing.  I have one brother who is 7 years younger and I always felt he had the easy ride.  Somehow he was the favorite.   As an adult, I have come to find out my brother felt the same way about me.  The saying is true, the grass is always greener on the other side or you never know until you walk in someone else's  shoes.   However back to my current dilemma.   We have brought Jami from the US to India because I could not fathom a separation.   I spent loads of money on getting her permits, shipping her via Lufthansa and organizing the right set up for her in India.   We researched kennels she could stay at while we are away and committed to lots of dog walks to keep her happy.    Needless to say this cramps our style or the style we hoped to have as the jet set family.      We have been using the same kennel since November.   Aside from one case of fleas (and yes they do bite humans), we have been pretty pleased.  Again, we live in India, so fleas, scorpions, cockroaches and snakes are not unusual for us and have no relation to the cleanliness of your home.   The bugs and reptiles were here first and are getting edged out as we move in.  We have returned from a 5 day trip to Jaipur and Agra, pictures coming, and Jami appeared to be fine.   We are now dealing with a very sick dog.   I won't alarm you but for a 7kg dog, I am not sure where all this vomit could be coming from!    I am proud to say the kids and Doug all love Jami just as much as me.   They have rallied to nurse our sick puppy back to health, have not complained about the disgusting clean up jobs we all have to do and can actually team nicely when it comes to taking care of something we collectively love.   

p.s. we do not think it's the kennel but actually some "India" manufactured dog treats that have rattled her insides.   Any future visitors will have to bring milk bones and puppa-ronis along with the requisite m&ms and red wine for me.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

All for Love...

Suited up and full of faith
When Doug and I first were married, we had these grand plans to get Scuba certified when we went to Hawaii.    Three kids later, a move to India and 15 years of marriage, we have taken action.    Now, to be honest, this was no longer one of my dreams or even something in my "bucket list."    We have made plans to go to the Maldives for Easter week and that is one of the best places to dive in the world.    Seemed like a crime to go there and just see the water from the beach.    Doug researched our options and to our surprise we have a dive shop in Bangalore.  Land locked but still cosmopolitan, the Bangaloreans have figured out a way to certify those interested in scuba.   

I was dragging my feet on whether or not I would join Doug for the certification.   Let's be honest, the equipment is heavy, I am not sure that flippers qualify as "footwear" and will the regulator really allow me to breather under water?  William was on board.  So would I really back out when my 14 year old son was going to get certified...I am not the most maternal but I am competitive and I didn't think I could be outdone physically by my child.    



Completed my first phase of certification, in record time
 
What was the tipping point?   Doug simply said, "the kids are growing up and what will we do together once they are gone?"   My mind sped ahead to the future, in 8 years it would just be the two of us...watching TV, running errands.   I don't golf, that ship has sailed, so my chance to develop a hobby with my spouse was now.    The classroom session was fine but there was still a pool test.   I will be honest, I was nervous - could i swim 8 lengths, tread water for 10 minutes or take my mask off under water and not freak out?  

Sunday March 6th, I showed up at the St. Joesph's school pool which was currently being occupied by a toddler swim class.   The school pool was a far cry from my neighborhood pool back in Michigan and it was not heated.    I put on two wet suits and learned how to organize my equipment.    The first 10 minutes in 3 feet of water were nearly the end for me.  I did freak out.  The instructor could tell that I was not there out my own volition.   I regrouped and just trusted they would not let me drown...by the end of the course, I enjoyed it!   I did struggle with removing my mask under water, putting it back on and breathing without the use of my nose.    I am praying there will not be an emergency in the future.   I passed, in record time.   It's an exhilarating feeling to push yourself mentally and physically.     I am looking forward to April 26th and my first ocean dive...however I do remind Doug I did this just for him :)   

Friday, February 11, 2011

Becky Crocker

Many of you know Doug and I completed a massive renovation about one year ago on our home in Grosse Pointe, Michigan.    We ripped down the back of the house, created a modern kitchen with a heated floor, mudroom and great room.    All decorated, custom window treatments and more; we decided to move to India.    I admit, I have never been the best homemaker.  I am good at organizing, planning parties, chosing the items from Costco that taste homemade.   However once our new kitchen was completed I had visions of cooking in my double ovens, five pots simmering at one time on my new cook top and all my pals sitting at our countertop drinking a good bottle of red.   
My mom in our kitchen- wine in hand!
Fast forward six months and we are in living in Bangalore, India.   While our home is in the most prestigious neighborhood in town, Palm Meadows, the kitchen is far from what we were used to in the US.  As a family, we are the new kids on the block.  Moving in, finding our way, figuring out what we forgot to pack and how much small things make us happy.   The other day I bought some new placemats and napkins and felt like my kitchen got a make-over!    Our kitchen here is equipped with cook top (4 small gas burners that you light with a lighter, I have not yet learned this skill), small fridge and sink (no garbage disposal).    We have a microwave and just added a counter-top oven.   Cookies and fresh breads are returning to our lives.   The kids are now super efficient at scraping their plates, we have learned to make all sorts of things on the cook top and thanks to grandma, a Smokey Joe Weber now brings grilled shrimp, chicken and burgers to our menu.    The kids are not looking so skinny anymore and we have moved back to an American diet, all are happy.   Our American favorites include El Paso taco kit with minced lamb (I haven't told the kids, they think it's ground beef), tiger prawns in our our Alfredo pasta helper and chocolate chip cookies for dessert.
My counter top oven, only $150USD

Our Smokey Joe Weber $29 USD in the States, over $200 to buy in India
(this is on our 2nd floor terrace)
Doug is now our menu planner and cook, as we fired the last one.    I am not sure I want another one as I am pretty happy with his cooking as it usually involves a good wine pick or a gin & tonic.     I still struggle with making boxed chicken noodle soup in this India kitchen or getting the filtered water running.  The days that the power is out are particularly challenging; no electrical outlets work and no hot water flows from the tap...good thing that Domino's delivers.    My goal is to teach the kids to cook for themselves and avoid all future contact with the India kitchen.