Like Duck to Water, thats how I have taken to life :). This blog is the saga of love and adventures of a small duck in a large water body called LIFE....

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Thursday, September 28, 2006

Routine routes :)

After we shifted to an independent home from an apartment, one of my major routines has changed and drastically! Most apartments in US have a free gym in the campus. So the gyms in the previous 2 apartments I lived in after coming to US, have been thoroughly "explored" by me :-D. But all that changed when we shifted to our current home. Yup, the problem is that there is no gym for the campus of independent homes. There are private gyms in Lexington, but there are none that are near to where we live. As I have gotten used to working out atleast for an hour for 5 days of a week, I had to do something.

So one of the first things we did do, after shifting to this place was to buy a cycle for me :).

Well, I didn't have many colour choices :-p.

So what was previously 10 min warm-up + 30 min treadmill + 10 min weights + 10 min exercizes became 20 min cycling + 15 min brisk walk/jog + 5 min exercizes + 15 min brisk walk/jog + 5 min exercizes :). The "how" is what will be addressed by this post :)).

The routine takes place somewhere in the range of 9:30 AM to 11:30 AM and it starts like this. I put on my exercize wear, brush my hair into some sort of a ponytail, strap a watch onto my wrist (God knows why!!), fill up my water bottle (yup the one hung onto the the mid-section of my cycle), wear running shoes and start off. The only things that I carry (actually my cycle does the carrying :-p) are the water bottle and the garage remote (the one fixed almost in the centre of the cycle handle bars). The remote is a very convenient device as I can close the garage door with the press of a button while I'm off riding on the cycle.

My cycling routine consists of cycling on a loop around my house with 3 water-sip breaks. There is no separate cycling path available, so most of the ride is on a main road, except one stretch where I use a foot path, basically as there is shade in that particular stretch. There are cars and huge trucks travelling on the roads I use, but though I block their way sometimes, they rarely honk at me. Honking (or pressing the horn) is considered rude or a dire (as in "only if the driver in front of you is just not following any of the traffic rules") gesture in US and you hardly hear any horns at all on the roads, unlike India, where probably if you don't honk, then you are being rude ;-) :-D. There's plenty of greenery on the roads I take, so its not really exhausting and is kind of fun :).

Its also feels good to know that I haven't forgotten riding the cycle with both hands not on the handle-bars :-D. I enjoy doing that every day on a down hill road ;-). The only sad part of owning a cycle in US is that I have to fill up air in the tyres myself (another do-it-by-yourself as there are no dedicated "cycle-shops" like India :-p). I somehow manage to convince (more like pester :-D) Sri into doing the work for me most of the times ;-) :-D. Thankfully I haven't had problems with tyre-punctures till now. Otherwise I would have had to slog for that too (Or Sri would have :-D).

After 20 min, I land back in the house, park my cycle, have a sip of water and am off walking. This time I carry only the garage remote. I know, I know, maybe its not very sensible to not carry any money or other stuff. But its a very safe place and so its not really a problem. I have fixed distances of walking and jogging, so thats exactly what I follow :).

There are not too many people who interrupt my routine in any way. There are dogs who bark their "hello"s with envy from inside their houses :). Very rarely I get to see specimens like me, who either are running, walking or walking their dogs (or it might be the dogs walking their humans - thats how it looks anyways, what with the dogs walking in front :-D). At one point along the way, there is a children's park, where I do see some parents bringing their children either by car or by pushing their prams. One I saw a mother pushing a pram with 2 kids with one baby in her arm!! Atleast I think its their mother ;-). Or she may have been a rich baby-sitter :-D.

I hardly get to speak to any of the people I encounter except the usual "Hello", "Hi, How are you?" or a smile :). But once I did meet this lady who was out to check her mail (not the internet one but the real mail :-p). She did smile a hello and then suddenly said "Well, I should be out walking like you!" :-D. It was really nice the way us two total strangers shared a moment of complete understanding :).

After 15 min of walk-run combination, I reach the area club. The club sadly only has a swimming pool and no gym. And its too costly to join just for the pool. The place I like most is just next to this club and I call it "My grove" :-D. Its a lovely lawn surrounded by trees. There are some park benches. Though there are houses just beyond the trees, its a quiet green peaceful place, where I do some basic exercises and also have some moments of breather. The best part is that there are no disturbances and being the nature lover I am, the blue sky (white sky on cloudy days of course :-D), the green leaves and grass, I feel, is so pleasing to the sight. There are also squirels that look at me suspiciously as if they want to punish me for invading their territory (:-p), birds chirping to themselves and insects screeching. I have even seen a couple of hares twice and a pair of white bunny rabbits once (Nope, I didn't follow one like Alice in Wonderland :-p. And yup, they did vanish when I tried to reach out to them :( :-p). Does sound unbelievable, doesn't it? Well, the place certainly exists :).

The noises of the outer world do intrude sometimes like a car passing by or the voices of people playing in the pool water (the latter has stopped now as the pool has been closed in anticipation of winter), but nevertheless its all music to my ears. Over the past few months the grove has become a place where my thought process is in full swing, a place where I feel absolute peace and a place thats mine though I am there hardly for 5 minutes a day :). I long to take the camera there, but its not really possible while exercizing. Also, one of the hidden agendas is not to share it with anyone :-p ;-) :-D.

After a few moments of rest, I head back with the same walking/jogging and cover another 15 min. I open the garage door with the remote and drink water again. I do some 5 min of stomach exercizes and I am done :). I have stuck to the routine for some time now regularly for 4 days a week (5th day I have a whole house to vacuum + do the exercize set anyways).

I basically am getting plenty of sunshine and fresh air now than previously when I used to go to the gym. But I really wonder what'll happen once winter is here. It was very easy in apartment to wear a jacket and remove it once I went inside the gym (yup, the gyms are all air-conditioned :-D). Now there is no protection whatsoever from snow and the cold. I can hardly go through with the routine if its raining, so it'll certainly be impossible in the snow. I don't really want to stop exercizing altogether, so I guess I'll have to figure something out.

If it weren't for the fact that the TV set and the refrigerator are so far apart, some of us wouldn't get any exercise at all - Joey Adams.

I don't exercise. If God wanted me to bend over, he'd have put diamonds on the floor - Joan Rivers.

Eat Right, Exercise, Die Anyway! - Edward McPhail.

Hehehe :)).

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Boring hoardings :-p

Whenever you are on a freeway in US, one of the most common boards you'll see almost before every exit is this:

The reason is pretty obvious. There are thousands of McDonald's in US. So many that almost every exit has one. Unlike India that is. In India, McDonald's is considered sophisticated what with only 1 or 2 each in Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore (well, my info is limited to that, don't know if there are more :-p). So going to McDonald's is considered a big affair :-p. But in US, you have a McDonald's per galli galli. Its more like our pani puri gaadis. You have one in every street kind of a scenario.

So basically, if, say, there are 10 exits on a freeway, 9 of them are sure to have a McDonald's. Then pray what's the point in wasting so much money in 9 hoardings such as above? Its cheaper to put one hoarding before the exit that doesn't have the McDonald's. Something like this:

Hehehe :-D. My hands have been itching to do something like this ever since I saw the 1st board :-p :-D. By the way, if you are a McDonald's representative who is impressed with my idea and want to steal it, let me tell you buddy, that this idea is copyrighted :-p. If you really want it, then you can give me atleast some percentage of the money you've been wasting away on all the unwanted hoardings :-p ;-) :-D.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Spinach deprivation :(

One or the other thing keeps happening for the media to report, highlight and to have as a major alert news. The latest in US is the lovey-dovey relationship between spinach and Escherichia Coli (E.Coli) bacteria. Its not as lovey-dovey as it sounds as it is proving hazardous (there have been more than 100 people affected so far and even a death). So whats the current trend? Don't eat spinach!

Spinach or Palak as we Indians know it, is a commonly used sabji in our households. I cannot claim that life doesn't go on without spinach :-p, but yeah we do use it atleast once a week in some form or the other - palak tovve or parata or palak gobhi and so on.

Last week when I went to the supermarket for the weekly grocery shopping, I saw a bunch of spinach and immediately put it in the shopping cart. The reason being that it had already been more than a week since I had made anything with it. The very next day, Sri told me that there was an E.Coli outbreak and it was pin pointed to the fresh spinach out in the market. Well, we always wash and cook spinach before we eat it and it seems though the washing doesn't offer any protection, the cooking does kill the bacteria, but who wants to take a risk? So I had to throw the whole bunch into the dust bin :(.

Previously, there have been quite a few outbreaks of E.Coli in US, but that was mainly due to raw beef. Most of the strains of this particular bacteria are perfectly harmless but a few are responsible for some severe infections. More details here. The one thats circulating right now can cause infection with symptoms diarrhea and vomiting, and the bacteria can lead to more severe complications, particularly in the very young or elderly, including anemia and kidney failure (yeah stole the sentence straight from CNN :-D).

And somehow spinach is the carrier this time. Some people are blaming the manure and others are even speculating foul play (!) :-p. But the spinach farmers are in deep trouble as it has been taken off the shelves of every supermarket and people are being advised not to consume any spinach at all. But I'm sure the government will come up with some sort of compensation for the whole thing.

Well, the choice is easy right? Spinach or no infection? Obviously no infection. But whenever I see spinach in news, on web pages etc, I can't help remembering that its has been weeks now since I've made and eaten anything with palak in it (after all thats the human weakness, we crave for anything we can't have :-p) and it maybe weeks more until spinach will be in the clear again...

Oh Popeye, whatever will you do? ;-).

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Chicago chakkar :)

The laziness bug bit me and I was sick for 2 weeks ;-). Have been trying to write this particular post for days now. This is regarding the Labour day long weekend. Yup, a long weekend = a trip. Well, most of the times anyways :). So this time it was Chicago's turn.

1st September 2006:

As usual, since this was a driving trip, we left home on Friday. Chicago is about 5-6 hours drive away from Lexington. And its in the Central Timezone, so we actually gained one hour :). Yet, we left Lexington at around 2:30 EST PM and reached Chicago only at around 9:30 PM central what with traffic and stuff.

Two stunt planes welcomed us as we were in the outskirts of Chicago. That was really an amazing sight to see. They went around in vertical circles, dived suddenly and leapt back into the sky. We didn't really stop and watch them as we were on a free way. But it was fun nevertheless.

We had to cross downtown Chicago as our hotel was in Wheeling which is north of Chicago. One of the things I noticed were the bad roads. This despite having tolls for the same!! I have almost come to expect good roads no matter where I go in US, so a major city like Chicago having road constructions all over the place was kind of an unpleasant surprise. But Chicago downtown with the Sears tower was a nice sight :).

2nd September 2006:

Early Saturday morning, we had breakfast at the hotel and drove to a place called Linden. Thats where we caught the train to Chicago. Most of the major cities in US have fantastic transportation facilities and Chicago is no exception (well, with the bad roads, they really do need alternative modes :-p). The CTA (Chicago Transit Authority) has several lines of trains connecting most of the places in Chicago outskirts to Chicago downtown. Each line of train is represented by a colour. The CTA also has buses connecting every part of Chicago and has amazing pass facilities. But sadly for us, Linden didn't have the Pass-vending machine, so we bought tickets.

We caught the purple line from Linden to Howard. From Howard, we transferred to the red line to get down at another place called Jackson. Why Jackson? Thats the closest station to Sears Tower ;-). We then walked to the Sears tower.

The Sears tower is right now the tallest building in the US. It was actually the tallest in the world from 1973 to 2004, but now its the third highest (well this post might not hold true tomorrow :-p :-D). Whats interesting is the way its built. To support its height, the base is huge and it gradually tapers up in a series of setbacks :). Its kind of built in 9 blocks - 3 terminate at 49th floor, 2 more opposite corner blocks terminate at a slightly higher floor, 2 more end with the 91st floor, and 2 tubes extend to the full height of 110 floors. The pic below gives a basic idea:

As soon as we entered the lobby, we were warned of an hour wait to reach the sky-deck, which is on the 103rd floor. Thankfully, the day was bright and sunny, otherwise the location of the sky-deck changes drastically to lower floors depending on how bad the weather conditions are :-p. There were queues, queues and did I mention queues? Somehow we managed to get to the sky-deck within an hour :-p.

The view on the sky-deck was beautiful. The Lake Michigan, the buildings of downtown and wow, the freeways, they all looked so good :). Hmmm the cracks on the roads were not visible :-p ;-). After taking in the views from all sides, we left the Sears tower.

Our next destination was the Navy Pier. We caught a CTA bus to the same. The first thing that needed to be done was to buy tickets for an architectural boat tour of the Chicago river. Since we got tickets only for the 3:30 PM and it was still about 1:30 PM, we decided to roam around the Navy Pier for some time. The Navy Pier is a water front entertainment site next to the Lake Michigan.

We had lunch and roamed around looking at boats and taking in the sights. They even had a band playing in one of the malls. There were loads of people, but it was all still very nice.

Next came the architectural boat tour. We climbed on to this boat and we set off. The tour is for one hour and the boat takes the people on the Chicago river while a guide explains the architecture of various buildings around. Believe me, there are a lot of buildings..

Other than the Sears tower, we saw several buildings including the Boeing building, the Wrigleys building, the Citibank building, the NBC building etcetera. Also most of these are on the banks of the Chicago river. Though the sun was a bit hot and we were in the absolute front of the boat without any shelter, the breeze was cool and it was a really relaxing boat ride. Here's another view of the Sears tower:

After the boat ride, we headed to the Millenium Park. The Millenium park is supposedly a celebration of all that Chicago stands for and has some objects of modern (More like "weird" :-D) architecture. The first one is the Jay Pritzker Pavilion:

Though this is an outdoor auditorium, it is designed in such a way that it gives all effects of an indoor one. Sadly, there was no concert going on, so there was no way we could experience the effects..

The next point of interest is the Cloud Gate. Its 12 foot in height and completely made of stainless steel. It reflects the Chicago sky-line and every one standing it front of it :-D. It was loads of fun as people were taking all sorts of photos of their reflections on the monument :-p. Vain, we are!

Lastly (though there were many more in the park), we saw the Crown Fountain. It consists of 2 50-foot glass (!!) towers and these towers project video images of Chicago citizens! When I first saw it, I really didn't know what to think of it. I simply stared at it for a long time trying to figure out why the artist had designed it the way it was. Well, no answers here :-p.

What was really nice about the fountain is that its not covered by any compounds, so there were kids bathing there and playing in water which was really a pretty sight :).

We were done with downtown for the day. But it doesn't mean that we were finished with our roaming. Next, we set off to Devon Avenue. This avenue is the desi-locality of Chicago. Yup, Indians. In this case, there were Pakisthanis too. We took the red line to a station called Loyola and caught a bus to Devon from there. It was kind of neat, as if I was back in India again, but somehow I kept comparing it to Edison in New Jersey. Edison, I felt was a bit better. Devon had lots of crowds and it is a bit shabby compared to Edison. Nevertheless we barged into a chat shop for bhel puri. It was so crowded that a single bhel puri we ordered took hours!! The taste wasn't very impressive either :-p.

Anyways after bhel and roaming around, we decided to have dinner in Mysore Woodlands, a south Indian veggie (surprise! surprise!) restaurant. We had a feast of Bonda, Masala Dosa, Pulav and curd rice. The food was pretty good, but it was a bit too much. We walked a bit, then caught a bus to Loyola and again caught the red line to Howard. From Howard we transferred to the Purple line to land in Linden. Then drove back to the hotel. What was really nice was that we had no problems at all though it was about 10 PM in the night :).

3rd September 2006:

Early Sunday morning, repeated the steps -> drive to Linden; Catch the purple line to Howard; Transfer to Red line train. Only the last step differed -> Get down at Roosevelt station. We then caught a bus to the Field Museum. This particular museum is famous for its Egyptian artifacts. We actually went there to see the mummy of King Tutankhamun, but the tickets were booked for the day (!). Though disappointed, we were not really keen to come back the next day. So we decided to make do with the other mummy exhibitions :).

The above is the mummy casket. None of the mummies were very good-looking, so I'm not putting up any pictures of them :-p. The tomb is which the mummy casket is placed is this:

We also saw the usual museum stuff like animals, dinosaur sections etc. After that we headed to the Adler planetarium thats next to the museum. But sadly most of the next shows were booked and there were huge queues. So we decided to give it a miss and went roaming around the outside of the planetarium. The planetarium is again on the banks of Lake Michigan, so we had a beautiful view of the lake and the skyline of the Chicago again.

Next we went to another place Chicago is famous for. Thats the Magnificient Mile.

The magnificient mile stretches for 1 mile (obviously :-p) in the heart of downtown Chicago and is the home to many shops exclusively for the rich :-p. There are fashion shops of famous fashion designers (Georgio Armani, Gucci, Ralph Lauren), huge dress stores like Macy's, Bloomingdale's and Nordstorm's. We went into these stores only to see and had a nice time gasping at the price tags :-D. And you know what? I even touched a dress that cost $1200!!! I consider myself blessed :-p :-D.

But the most fun were 3 things. One the Ghirardelli chocolate store where we ate chocolates. I also had an icecream whereas Sri settled for a latte. Second was the Cheesecake factory store. I had never been to one though its famous for its cakes all over US. We just bought a single piece of Swiss almond cheesecake and shared it. Man!! It was the yummiest thing I ever had :). The third is my favourite of them all and no, its not another eatery :-p. It was a Lego store in Nordstorm mall. I've seen lego sold in the various supermarkets, but had never been to an exclusive Lego store before. The store not only sells the standard toys, but has Lego bricks which kids can use to build stuff in the store itself. And a kid I am when it comes to building bricks :-D. Despite Sri's protests, I had a wonderful time building 2 different houses, one of which is this:

Not bad eh? ;-) :-D Hehehee. Had a really nice time. Enjoyed it so much that I am actually planning to buy one of their packages :-D.

We really got tired after all the walking we did. But no siree, we didn't give up. Next we headed towards the Buckingham Fountain and garden.

The fountain is huge and beautiful :). Moreover there was a jazz festival going on right next to it. We enjoyed some 2 melodious songs and then we were off to Navy pier again. This time we had an appointment with a night speedboat ride with a view of fireworks included :).

The ride on a speedboat in almost total darkness is one unforgettable experience. We both loved it!! The wind on my hair and the thrill was really something! After 2 incredible long rounds on Lake Michigan, we stopped at a point to watch the fireworks. The fireworks were being executed from a boat and on occasion of Labour day weekend :).

After the really enjoyable speedboat ride, we went around seeing the night lights from the Navy Pier :).

That was it. We again caught the red line back to Howard and then the Purple line to Linden. Later drove back to the hotel :).

4th September 2006:

Since we were tired from the loads of walking we did on the previous day, we woke up late on Monday morning. Checked out of the hotel and headed back. We did think of visiting downtown again, but later decided to skip it and headed back as we had a pretty long drive ahead + were going to lose an hour because of the timezone difference. Anyways were back in Lexington by evening.

So that was it. Another tick mark :-D. We have covered most places on the east coast by now. Still so many to go. As long as there are many, there will be more travelogues coming up :). So long.......