Friday, August 30, 2013


"Those who can, do. Those who can do more, volunteer."

This sentiment, summarizes the spirit of volunteering. Volunteering traditionally considered more as a social service is no longer just that, it has moved on from the realms of social workers to corporate workers. Giving back to the community is the "in thing" today. 

It might come as a surprise to some, that we have all volunteered in our life and many of us continue to do so without even realizing it.  You may not remember, but I am sure in your life time, you have helped an old lady at the grocery store, or maybe helped a friend care for their children or even helped a neighbor during a difficult storm. These are all acts of volunteering, we can call them anything, but it is the selfless act of helping others for no particular benefit to self that is today called volunteering. 

Mankind has been volunteering since the days of cave man of maybe even before. When groups of humans moved together, helped each other and their neighbors gather food, find shelter and stay safe, they were in a sense volunteering for their own kind.  Then came the modernization, the world wars and we forgot about it all. After months and years of seeing the war, again emerged the Nightangels and the volunteering spirit returned. The "feel good" feeling is very powerful and viral too. The smile of a volunteer helps heal the pain of a broken leg or wipe the blood of a wounded knee. Such was the volunteering spirit in the yonder years. Fast forward to the modern world, social work and volunteering became synonymous. When in real world they are very different. 

Volunteering today is hard to see. In these busy times and a wold which is centered around me, myself and my, to get up and spend hours helping a cause for no monetary benefit takes extra effort. People volunteer for different reasons: maybe to build a resume, gain career experience, explore opportunities at a lower risk, build a network in their chosen career or maybe to climb the social ladder while helping the less fortunate. There are a handful of folks out there who volunteer because of the values instilled in them. Some of us have seen our parents give back to the community so volunteering comes naturally to us. 

What is your reason to volunteer or not volunteer? 

My reason; very simple, I wanted to know more.  My domain of volunteering is restricted to the school my kids go to. Volunteering did not come naturally to me.  Honestly speaking it was an alien concept.  But then I took a step forward, because I wanted to see what happened in a kinder class room. And the rest is history. A few days in the classroom volunteering and following directions of the teacher, I was amazed to see how much effort goes into teaching the little ones. It was impressive to see the knowledge and skills that the kids grasped in a short period and it was even more mind boggling to see the behind the scenes effort that the teachers put in to teach the basics. Before I volunteered, all I saw was the few sheets of homework that came home.  

Volunteering is also infectious, if you are surrounded by people who are selfless volunteers, chances are you will be infected by the bug very quickly. I know I was. It has been 7 years now that I have volunteered at different events in the school and every time, the joy of knowing that I did my part takes all the tiredness away. The thrill of being a partner in my child's education and not just a by-stander is motivation to come back and do it next year. Sure not all efforts are rewarded equally, there are always a few parents who complaint and find mistakes, but then I think of them as the entertainers, they keep the atmosphere alive and in a sense push us volunteers to do more.

If you have never volunteered before, your child's school might be an excellent place to start.  The rewards and gratification are instant. You will be helping improve your own child's learning experience in addition to hundreds of other kids too. The best part, your child will proudly acknowledge that his mom or dad made it happen. 

Many say volunteering does not pay. I disagree, it does. Volunteering has made me a better person.  

Volunteering takes up time, effort, lots of energy and sometimes even money. The resources available to a volunteer are limited, the glory is not there so why would one even go on these rarely travelled roads.  Well, its a personal thing.  If you wish to see the world a better place, you got to do your part. Sure there will be roadblocks, but that's no reason to not try.

If you are thinking what's in it for you, there are many reasons. For starters, you'll make some amazing friends. Friends who you may not know as a family, but yet they will be friends for a lifetime.  You will see "the other" side of the picture and gain a better understanding of the cause and the situation. In addition to making a difference and gaining self confidence most importantly you will be building a community and leading by example. 

To volunteer or not is your decision, and regardless of what it is, do your part. It takes a few minutes off your busy schedule and gives you the opportunity to slow down and you might surprise yourself. This slow and less sought after adventure might just be what you need to feel alive again.  

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Is She a Mirror or am I the Mirror?

Few years ago she took me on a roller coaster ride. Even before the ride started I knew it's going to be different, it was up and down for nine months and some very tiring moments. Moments that made me depressed, panic and left me feeling completely drained out. And then a friend living miles away said "Daughters always fuss take their own sweet time to get ready. This is nature's way of training you for the future. Be happy you're going to be blessed with a girl." And lo and behold, out did come a girl :)  Seeing her was very different from my son. She was nothing like him. He came out energetic and stretched his vocal chords right away. She cried but not much. When the pricked for the first time, they were shocked, for she didn't even whimp. The doctor's thought that was weird. We enjoyed the wonderful hospitality of the hospital for a couple of extra days and then came home to our world.  

I was prepared for colicky nights again, but to my surprise, the adage "sleep like a baby" came true. She was a good sleeper.  Time kept moving and the baby is now a big little girl. In additon to blue and green, we now have pink and purple too. The home is now a beautiful rainbow of colors. 

At this young age, she is a strong headed girl, who knows the difference between magenta and shocking pink and will not settle for a sky blue dress when she wants an aqua blue dress. Her love for colors and the glow on her face when she twirls her dress reminds me of another girl I knew some 35 odd years ago. She insists on having long hair and I am reminded of a girl who did the same. It is true, "what a daughter does, the mother did."  

It may sound strange, but my relationship with my daughter is nothing like my son.  My son is in a sense my anchor. He helps me stay grounded and focussed on what is important. My daughter to me is like a mirror. A mirror wherein I see my reflection. A reflection that I had forgotten existed.  Her love for colors has brought back colors in my wardrobe too. The shocking pinks and purples are back.  

I look at the mirror and I see a little girl who loves long hair and is trying very hard to grow it long. The mirror shows me a little girl who loves posing for the camera and is always asking her dad to take a picture.  The mirror does not lie, and shows me a dad who is stern and strong. He has a firm hand and yet the smallest tear drop makes him fall to his knees and he lifts her up in a warm fuzzy hug, for it is true daughter's bring out the softer side of dads. 

I close my eyes and wish time would stop. 

I will always be your parent.  You can come to me when the world seems harsh and we will tread Snow White together and learn to believe again. As you continue your journey into this world, be determined like Aurora and brave like Mulan. Always believe in yourself like Belle and never lose hope like Cinderella. Be Wise like Pochahontas and while I wish you all the comforts, never forget the importance of following your dreams and working hard like Princess Tiana. 

You are loved more than you will ever know.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Yellowstone: It's alive.

The park is full of exciting wonders.  The wildest geysers in the world…hills of sparkling crystal, hills of glass, hills of cinders and ashes, mountains of every style of architecture, icy or forested…mountains boiled soft like potatoes and colored like a sunset sky.  Therefore it is called Wonderland, and thousands of tourists and travelers stream into it every summer, and wander about in it enchanted.
~John Muir on Yellowstone, 1885.
Four years ago, I read this quote during my random searches on the internet. Yes I am one of those who likes reading quotes and sometimes even collecting them. A trip to Yellowstone has been a dream in the making since then.  As a family we agreed to visit a National Park every year.  Since then, we have seen the magnificent Rockies at Colorado, the imperfectly perfect stone formations of Moab, Utah, the luscious green forests of the Smokies in Tennessee and of course the Redwoods of California.  
As you drive thro' Nevada. 
Miles to go.... 
Yellowstone National Park became a reality this year.  They say the journey is more important than the destination. We clung to this phrase during this adventure. Our journey started on a saturday. We were driving all the way to Island Park, ID; a 925 mile drive across the wild wild west state of Nevada and into Idaho.  Nevada is unlike any other state. Imagine an ocean of barren desert with an oasis of casino thrown in the middle and you have Nevada. It was amazing to see how much land lay wasted just a few hundred miles outside of California, and here we are scrambling for every inch of space. I asked myself Why?  The drive on I 80 is very doable, one sees civilization and there are pit stops along the way.  The wild west really showed up once the vehicle is off I 80 and onto state road 93 (some where around the town of Wells, Nevada.) This stretch of road is the hardest.

Driving on this road two things crossed my mind, the movie Dirty Harry and Wells Fargo wagons that transported all the gold during the gold rush period. I am not a history major, but since the past few years have had a great appreciation for the subject. As the SUV hummed its way along, I could not help but be impressed by the hardships man took to discover the west. The rugged mountains, the rough terrain, the extreme temperatures, and yet the lure of the west was so intense, they overcame all the hurdles.  
The drive on 93 is nothing but boring and every cloud has a silver lining. The kids freaked out on electronics which was fine with us. My husband and I; believe it or not, we talked.  We live in a time when every thing is in a hyper drive. It's the era of multi-tasking and texting; so to have my husband behind the wheels, when he can't text or play Dots was a blessing in disguise for me. I made the most of it and we discussed everything from the eco system of the Silicon Valley to the benefits of drinking green smoothies. 
Idaho; the land of Potatoes. 
Idaho is another extreme state. After Nevada, to see the green fields was a treat for the eyes. But that's all it is. Fields and fields of agricultural land.  The only sign of industry was the factory for Chobani Yogurt.  The stop signs, speed limits and the roads are all designed for minimal traffic and life pace that we City folks have forgotten. Life moves differently in these towns. Its slow and yet happy. The desire to multi-task is absent. It's okay to take a nap in the afternoon and procastinate on the "to do list."  Surprisingly I was enjoying this change of scene. My mind was slowing erasing the "chores list" that's always dancing around and instead in my mind was the excitement of seeing the geysers and more.  
We took the exit for I-20; the longest main street in the US and on it lies Island Park. Island Park is a volcanic caldera in itself.  Approximately 500,000 years ago, Island Park was a volcano, that collapsed in itself creating the caldera. It is approximately 18 miles wide and 23 miles long, thus making it one of the largest caldera's in the world. Its unique in the sense, that over time volcanic flow from surrounding area has filled it up to the rim, thus making it habitable.  Travelers and settlers cleared areas and started calling them parks. Once such park was an island surrounded by the rivers and creeks flowing then, thus the name Island Park.  The first humans to step foot here were the Shoeshone Indians. Different branches of the tribe lived here and to date, every once in a while shards of pottery and arrows dating back decades can be found in the area.  There are more amazing facts of this place including the fact that Teddy Roosevelt went hunting here.  
The cabin
As we turned into Arrow wood lane, we were greated by a moose. It was instant welcome to Yellowstone. Of course the animal was as startles as us and it ran off into the woods, while we continued to our cabin. Seeing the cabin was a breath of fresh air. It was beautiful.  If you ever decide to go, the location is beautiful and about 20 miles from the West Entrance of Yellowstone National Park.  We had a humble dinner of the Indian staple food _ Maggi and called it a night. 

Next morning, after a scrumptious breakfast of eggs, we were on road again to begin the second phase of our adventure; Yellowstone National Park.  Just outside the west entrance lies the town of West Yellowstone. On reaching we found out that there was an accident and there was an hour wait for the entrance. Instead of waiting in the car, we took off to see the Grizzly Bear Center in West Yellowstone.  The kids enjoyed seeing the live bears in captivity and we were surprised to learn that not too long ago, the grey wolves found in Yellowstone were extinct. Being a predator, it was an important element to the food chain. So the animal was reintroduced as early as 1995. 14 wolves from different packs in Canada were captured and released into acclimation pens. Today its a success story and the animal thrives in the park.
As the traffic eased up, we started our drive to the entrance.  A fee of $25/ gets you a 7 day pass to both Yellowstone and Grand Tetons.  
Any idea how the Grand Tetons got their name? ;) I'll let u google this one.

We were now in Yellowstone; the father of all national parks. Yellowstone was established as the world's first national park in 1872. As we enter the park and  drive our automobile through the single lane road, I remind my kids that during the parks initial years, the visitors came through on rough trails, on wagons and stagecoaches. It wasn't until 1915 when the first automobile rolled in. And after that the wagons and stagecoaches vanished and today it's cars, SUV's, buses, RV's, bikes and bicycles that tread the roads of Yellowstone.  At first it looks like any other park. Alpine forests, with camp grounds galore, but as you go into the park, the magic reveals itself.

Isn't this surreal? Be honest. 
We started our journey with the old faithful historical area. It is one of the most famous geysers not because it is the highest or widest geyser, but more so because it has been faithfully displaying its strength and maginifence in a predictable fashion for decades now. As we approached the geyser, we were a little disappointed to see how far the seating was. Almost 300 feet away from the geyser. But considering that the temperature of the water can be as high as 180F, it seems like the right thing to do.  Well, we kept our faith and took our spots on the boardwalk around it. We were ten minutes away from the predicted eruption time. As we sat there, the geyser started teasing us. It started to bubble and out came a spout, but wait the camera's were not ready, so it went back into its nice and toasty home. Another bubble and another and so forth. Finally it was there. To picture the geyser, imagine water trapped under earth for centuries eager and desperate for a breath of fresh air.  That's exactly what it was; desperate for fresh air. As soon as water erupts, it evaporates, leaving the land around the geyser parched and thirsty for more. The magnificent spectacle wows us all with all its grandeur. Behind us were Yellowstone veterans who were not as impressed, for them there are other geysers in the park that put up a more profound display, but they are not as predictable or faithful :) But for us it was about 90 seconds of pure mesmerizing magic.

The dry and parched land around Old Faithful
Magic not because its an illusion, but magic because we had not seen anything like it before and were finding it hard to fathom the fact that we were sitting on an active volcano and watching one of its best displays.  Yes, Yellowstone is an active volcano. We often think of volcanoes as a cone shaped volcano forming in a mountain. But fundamentally, a volcano can be flat. It is the magma that defines the presence of a volcano and not the mountain. Yellowstone is a Super Volcano. To try and understand when the area was formed is meaningless, because the area is evolving everyday. With the many fault lines running below, minor earth quakes are constantly shaping the land.

We moved on to walk the board walk around Old Faithful and noticed a common factor, The Earth was alive there. To hear the hissing, rumbling and bubbling of water right below your feet was a surreal experience. The smallest hole in the ground and one would see the eruption of water or hot steam from the ground. Thermophiles thrive in the burning sulphuric ground reminding us again that life began with nothing but a small micro organism.

The Fountain Paint Pots
Midway Geyser Basin; another grandeur of the lower loop, and my favorite hike lies here. The hike to the Grand Prismatic Spring. If Old Faithful's display was magnifence, then seeing The Grand Prismatic was celestial.  It is the largest hot spring in Yellowstone. Ideate a hot spring 370 feet in diameter, with hues of every shade of blue in the color wheel surrounded by yellows and oranges formed due to the presence of thermophiles.

The hike to Grand Prismatic.

The Grand Prismatic _ Celestial and Spiritual
Our day ended with the Grand Prismatic and all of us drove silently back.  The music of silence coupled with mystic transported me literally to the world of wonder and beyond. I continued to marvel at the beauty of Grand Prismatic. It was love at first sight. It's absolutely gorgeous. Words cannot describe the experience or the feel.  

Once back to the cabin, the kids switched back to the modern world, while we pulled out books dating back to 1786 and tried to live the past. 

The second day was interesting, it started with a simple question from a  5 year old, "I thought Yellowstone is a park, but there are no slides or anything here. Daddy aren't parks supposed to have play areas?" And we agreed, there should be a few play areas near the visitors center for the tiny ones. At this age, trees and mountains get boring very quickly. So we switched gears and decided to drive through the upper loop to see the falls and animals.  First stop, Canyon Village, Upper and Lower falls.

The lower falls
Seeing the upper falls is very easy, you drive, park and they are right there. The lower falls demand some effort. You can either walk down 328 steps or go the "Brink of Lower Falls" and take a 3/4 mile hikebut careful, there is a 600 foot drop. It's a cardio coming up, but totally worth it. If you go, I recommend taking the walk rather than the steps. The walk takes u right at the falls. If the railings were any smaller, an adventurous soul could probably touch the water. The view at the brink of lower falls is breathtaking. The 308 foot drop creates a rumble that is both inviting and eerie. There are many other vantage points from where one can view the fall, it depends on how much you want to hike. I have been told by a fellow tourist, the view of the fall on a full moon night is godlike.

While at the Lower Falls, don't forget to stretch out and absorb the grandeur of the canyon. The Canyon gets it color from the hot volcanic water flowing over the mountains. The debate on how Yellowstone got its name continues, however most agree that the name derives from the Yellowstone River that has its origin in modern day Wyoming. The Minneatree Indians called it the Mi-tse-a-da-zi. The french trappers later called it the "Roche Jaune," a literal translation is Rock Yellow. It wasn't until 1797 when the area officially came to be called Yellowstone and was further reinforced during the Lewis and Clark expedition.

Basking in the glory of the Canyon we moved on to see the Tower Falls, but the construction and delay forced us to detour to Lamar Valley, the valley of the animals. It had been 2 days in Yellowstone now and we hadn't seen a single Bison. This was pretty disappointing, because every one who had been there told us we shall see so many of them that we will get bored.

The Canyon at Lower Falls

Bisons - It's their right of way
We drove and drove and suddenly traffic slowed down. We wondered why, and lo and behold a herd was crossing the road. They are huge. From a distant they remind of a water buffalo, walk lazily, don't give a hoot to the cars parked near by. But don't let their bowed heads fool you, they are dangerous wild animals, living in their own wild surroundings. So while it is okay to awe their size and strength, it is also important to remember and respect their home and their privacy.

The Bears that guard the forest
I can go on and on about the multiple other geysers, fountain pots, mud holes, mammoth springs, and  the little town of West Yellowstone, but that would take me away from telling you about the drive back home. We said good bye to Yellowstone feeling thankful for being able to come and spend four wonderful days there.  Our journey back had one small stop, the Yellowstone Bear World. Since we did not see any bears in the park, we decided to treat the kids to this small and very enjoyable drive through safari. I would highly recommend this pit stop and if you plan ahead of time (which we did not) you can treat yourself to feeding some bear cubs too.

We left the bear world to drive via Utah  spend time with some family.  This time it was going to be I -80 all thew way.  No more state roads. A key difference, interstates have much better rest areas and more frequent gas stations. Rest areas were an absolute no on the interstate, and if you have a daughter, you can imagine how difficult that can be :)

The Wild West
Salt Racing
Fast forward to the drive back via Salt Lake City, Utah,  we saw salt, acres and acres of it, and in that salt we saw really really old cars salt racing. It was weird, there are miles of open acreage covered with a while substance, okay there maybe sand in it, but this picture proves there is quite a bit of salt too. See, I wasn't joking, we truly saw the wild wild west.  The only person missing was Clint Eastwood :) 
Salty Drive through Utah
There was another key difference on the drive back home. We were talking less, and only because we were still enthralled in Yellowstone. I for one kept wondering on the how's and why's? My philosophical brain started drawing parallels between Yellowstone and life. And if by now you think I am absolutely in love with this park, you're very close to truth. 

Life emerges after a forest fire. Fires area  necessary part of the
Yellowstone eco-system. From the fire and fury emerges life. 
Mother Nature in Yellowstone teaches us about life.  Life for anyone is continuously changing. Underneath all of us is a volcano of passion, passion that helps us achieve our goals and objectives. And when we don't find an avenue to unleash the passion we explode, much like the hot bubbling water that has been trapped in its volcanic home until it finds the conduit to emerge as a towering geyser. Yellowstone tells us that it's okay to let off some steam and then take our fiery anger and convert it into something beautiful. It tells us that life can find a way in the most adverse conditions.  This is the message I take away from my sojourn. 

19 hours and 1000 miles later we were glad to be home, with me secretly wishing to go back again someday.  If there is one national park you want to see in the USA, let it be Yellowstone National Park.

It is impossible to go to Yellowstone and not believe in Mother Nature. 

Be silent, you can actually hear it hiss and rumble. 
Marvel at its majestic grandeur and respect its fury, Yellowstone will then speak to you. I know it did to me.