Fear of Aging: Not a Brave Old World

A strange thing happened after I turned 30. I became painfully aware of the transient nature of life. Sure, I was at ease with the idea of dying one day, but I finally connected the dots that the way to death was mostly through wrinkly, clumsy and dependent old age. Yep, I’m super smart. The fear that one day, I probably wouldn’t be able to pour milk into my own cereal bowl—let alone being able to buy it from the grocery store or digest it—started passively annoying me, much like a fingerprint on eyeglasses. Ignoring it was like telling myself not to think of the color red, so I decided to confront it head-on.

  • Say Cheese: I meekly admit that vanity got to me first. After all, I’m a woman in a world of anti-aging products where wrinkles are the most dreaded disease. Suddenly, all ads in waiting room magazines have started talking to me. Looks like I’m already five years late in joining the ‘always look 25’ revolution, but I have abundant help in that area in exchange for a chunk of my wallet. But slowly, more serious issues have started to feed my Geranto-phobia.
  • Honey I lost my dentures: I balk at the thought of kissing my man with dentures, and carrying a walking stick. To hell with always looking 25, how about always feeling 30? Sooner or later, our bodies betray us and bring the best to our knees. And not all diseases are our fault… sometimes life is unfair. Looking at the number of things that can go wrong with my body, I feel the urgent need to connect myself to all sorts of tubes and machines that will monitor my health constantly and fix any problems instantly.  Very Catch-22, I know, but I suddenly agree with Capt. Yossarian.
  • Older and wiser? I’ve seen a strange metamorphosis happen to people as they age. Some get lonely after retirement, some recede into a shell, some appreciate the free time and use it to travel or grow spiritually and some join gossip circles but gradually, they change. I watch, mute with shock, as previously benevolent people make scathing remarks about someone else’s sad life. I see how women can be loving wives and inspiring mothers but mean mothers-in-law, playing the victim as they skilfully play emotional blackmail. Some get into the religion fad, scrambling to repent for their sins.  Some get into the ‘healthy living’ aka dieting fad. I listen, amused, as senior citizens (mostly women) compete over who’s the most under-weight, and remorselessly call anyone who is not a size-0 fat. There are prayer groups and cooking groups and book clubs, and they are all closed to outsiders. It’s like high school all over again! All the while I choose characteristics of my future personality, picking the best out of what I see and making notes on who I don’t want to end up like. It’s a good 30-year plan for my character.
  • I’m my only friend: Loneliness haunts so many as they age. I shudder when my paranoid thoughts take me to a world where familiar faces are all gone and the youngsters are busy making their own lives. All the while, remaining friends complain of this ailment or the other, and you wonder when your turn is.

Dark, I know, but when has fear been reasonable? Everybody is afraid of growing old for different reasons—beauty, independence, disease, loneliness… the list is endless, but it has a single tormentor. Our society is pro-youth and we are programmed to feel a sense of loss as we add on years. I sometimes wonder that if life didn’t progress through the ailments of old age into death, would people still be so scared of dying? Maybe it’s the journey to death that scares us more than the end itself.

I lived in fear and anxiety the last year. Then on my 31st birthday, I had a revelation—I’d rather prefer this demon than die early or without having lived a full life. And when I got there, I wanted to be happy with who I am, and how I got there. But the result of this soul-searching was positive. There are some things I can’t control but for the rest, I have a plan:

  • I make a note to reconnect with my dreams and start hitting my bucket list. Life is indeed a journey, but it makes a big difference whether your journey has been a mundane drive on life’s highway or has consisted of pit stops from your wishlist. Sometimes we don’t have a choice, but when we look back after 30 years, we want to be sure some dreams were worth giving up. Some dreams do have an expiration date. Barring personal tragedies, people who managed their limited money and time to lead fulfilling lives are so much more positive and happy in their older years. I want to be them. I’m also convinced that people who didn’t live enough when they could, whether out of circumstances or just plain penny-pinching, have a high probability of turning mean or resentful later.
  • I double-check my diet and lifestyle so that even if I end up being four sizes larger in three decades, I’m still healthy and active.
  • I reevaluate and revalidate my value-system, for it can either be a strong grounding force or run you aground.
  • I even try to be a better person—I try harder to keep in touch with old friends, let old hostilities be water under the bridge, and be more empathetic.
  • I try to see today’s actions from a 20-year rewind perspective. Will writing that stinker to a friend who stood me up on my special day bring me satisfaction or regret in twenty years, when I don’t have her as a friend? It’s an exercise that is fuelled partly by fear but mostly by the desire to be surrounded by a circle of my peeps, always. If life gives me lemons, I want my peeps to add sugar and spice to it and bake me a lemon-meringue pie.

30 is a great place to be. It is the perfect place to look back and see how you got here, to look forward and see where you’re going, and fine tune your current path so you get where you want to be. 31 is even better; you get to start working on your plan for the next 30 years.

I’ve found my 30-30 vision. Have you?

Stress, gift wrapped

holiday_stressMost of us find the gifting season stressful, because it’s a battle of managing budget with expectations. But have you ever stopped to think how many gifts you shopped for the rest of the year? In an average year, we are invited to around 12 home dinners, 2-3 baby showers/baby birthdays, 1-2 weddings and 2-3 adult birthdays where we can’t pick up the tab so we carry a gift. And then there are loved ones’ birthdays, anniversaries and various occasions where we pick up the tab as a grand gesture.

Since we tackle these instances one by one, it is not as stressful as Christmas shopping. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t stressful at all.

Apart from Christmas and family occasions, there is an unspoken budget for casual gifting. The budget is normally $10-15 for a dinner invitation, $25-30 for a casual friend’s baby shower/ housewarming/ similar party, $100 or multiples for weddings, nothing for BYOBs and flowers/wine for pot lucks. But there are other nuances to gifting as well.

The biggest challenge is picking something in your budget that is right for the occasion, looks good AND will be liked by the receiver. Whew! And it becomes harder if you don’t know the person that well. Weddings and baby showers are simpler because gift-cards are more acceptable and the gift-list has been picked out, so you can’t be blamed for a useless gift. Drinkers make gifting easier too. Whether or not the gifter drinks, wine and wine accessories are the cutest and most convenient gifts. Otherwise, what do you find under $15 that is gift-able and not too preposterous? The health conscious don’t eat chocolates, fruits are boring and flowers may be inappropriate if you or the host/ess is single and not your type. Gift cards aren’t always the best option and can’t be less than $25 anyway. I tackle this by gifting a kitchen accessory—a Misto or a cool timer is always appreciated. Wind chimes and bird-feeders are nice ideas too.

Then comes the more complicated issue of meeting expectations—you neither want to appear cheap nor preposterous. It is stressful to remember who brought a wine to your holiday party and who gave a crystal stemware set, so you can return the sentiment at their party. Moreover, lavish gifters—the ones who bring along a $100 wine for a dinner party—are stressful too, because you are compelled to reciprocate on a similar scale, whether or not they expect you to. Gift unto others how they gift unto you. Women are normally great at this so either maintain a file or get a girlfriend. And my rule of thumb is that I’d rather be preposterous than cheap to keep my friendships.

Finally, there is the suspense game of whether the gift was liked. Did they return it or exchange it for something else? Did they push it off to someone else? Did they give it to charity? Do they like me a little less?

There’s stress on the other side of gifting too. After the rush of unwrapping, what do you do with all the gifts? Not all gifts are made equal. Many exchange for a better one and although I frown upon re-gifting, many do that and it’s a win-win. Some re-gifters don’t even bother re-wrapping; I received a re-gifted package at my wedding that was probably just peeked into before resealing the gift-wrap. Too bad the original gifter had left a note inside the box. I do reuse cute gifting covers, but only because that helps the environment. Whatever. After all, reduce, reuse and recycle, right?

I think the key to making gifting less stressful lies at the receiving end. You can’t always put up gift registries, but how about maintaining a public wish list that is subtle yet easily found whenever someone is second-guessing their choice of gift? Also, if you are using their gift, show it to your friends the next time they come home. It wouldn’t hurt to send a quick thank you message or email either (although thanking for wine is normally an overkill). It will help your friends relax, feel happy and it’s also good karma. Maybe someday you will receive a thank you note for spending your precious time to pick a gift, wrap it and add a personal note just to make someone happy.

So, did you thank Santa Claus yet?

You know the suburbs have got to you when…

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  1. You see a warm, sunny day in November and think, “It’s a great day to do yard work!”
  2. Your local social circles mainly include older people with kids or recently married couples secretly planning babies.
  3. You stare down fellow pedestrians at downtown, but happily wave at all passing cars on your morning walk because they just might be your neighbors. Even if they never wave back.
  4. A baby shower at your neighbor’s makes you go ‘awww’ instead of dreading sleepless nights.
  5. Costco sizes actually start making sense—no more quantity v/s guest room trade-off!
  6. You suddenly start seeing Home Depot and Lowes everywhere. After all, the top items on your Black Friday shopping list are a ladder and a lawn mower.
  7. You ‘plan’ a day in the city by packing some water bottles, snacks and extra shoes in the car.
  8. You’re always a little over-dressed when you go to the city, but you’re never wearing the ‘in thing’.
  9. You feel a bit of a fraud when you brag that you support small businesses—what else is there anyway?
  10. You prefer to call people home instead of meeting them in the city but find it mildly irritating when other suburban couples call you home, because if you’re driving, you might as well hit the city!

Welcome to suburbia.

PS: A lot has happened since I last blogged. Between helping my sister plan her wedding, getting stuck while vacationing in my own country because of  bureaucracy and moving to the suburbs for the very first time, I haven’t had time to blog because (sob) I actually had a life! Now that I’m back home and old habits are kicking in, it’s time to start writing all the blogs I’ve written in my head. Once a blogger, always a blogger. Keep checking back in!

Ex-Home Sweet Ex-Home: An nrI in Bangalore

Having lived outside India for more than 8 years now, going home is recharging and stressful at the same time. A list-maniac, I’ve tried to break down the experience into the following stages.

  • Nervous excitement: Before I leave Seattle, I fret a lot. Will they say I’ve become fat? Dark? All relatives happily tell you (repeatedly) if you’ve fattened up or darkened, but never seem to notice the opposite. So one month before my India trip, I hit the gym like a podgy bride-to-be and avoid the sun like a vampire. I also abandon my meticulously prepared gift list and hit all the sales in town, grossly overspending and over-packing.
  • First impressions:  Three things grab my attention when I step out of Bangalore Airport—Girls, Gold and God. Indian Fashion is forever in the Spring mode, and the bright clothes on the local women wake me up pleasantly. Gold dazzles everywhere. Everyone wears at least gold earrings and a chain, and the billboards scream of new gold designs, gold loans and gold shops. And Oh my God! Right from my taxi’s dashboard to tens of temple gopuras/churches/mosques to every home’s gate, I see images, idols and chants of a multitude of gods, in all forms and colors. But who am I mocking? As soon as I get down from the airplane, I wear my gold mangalsutra and touch the Indian soil. Really.
  • Bewilderment: It’s only been six months this time, but life in Bangalore still bewilders me for the next few days. It’s expensive! It’s chaotic! It’s crowded! It’s polluted! It’s even more stressful because I’m trying hard to fit in and not be that NRI. I’m a closet NRI, remember? So I quietly cringe when the cashier coughs into my bill, and quietly cringe when people huddle so close in queues that I can smell their deodorant (or the lack of it). I try to look cool when I ride along in a car, closing my eyes and trying hard not to shriek every time a vehicle does something unexpected and risky. I either fall asleep or end up with jaw tension. I hold dad’s hand, ostensibly with love, when we run across the road, avoiding vehicles like an obstacle-course video game. I wistfully wish for my quiet, sleepy town from years ago. Culture shock hits me too. I blink when relatives brag about their expensive shopping sprees, and surreptitiously move my Old Navy slippers under the sofa. I’m aghast at youngsters like me blowing up their paychecks and their fast dating lives. I feel a generation older than my peers and my unconventional love-story seems as daring as a 1950’s movie.
  • Adapting and swalpa adjust madi-ing: That’s week 1. By week two, I’m again a Bangalorean. I reassure myself that I’m not an N.R.I, but an n.r.I. I talk and cuss like a Bangalorean. I fight with autorickshaw drivers and use three languages in the same sentence. I chumma say chumma. I’ve arrived.
  • Soaking it all in: Then comes the richest part of my experience, the part that keeps me going until the next vacation. I absorb my world like a sponge. I happily play with street dogs and hug cows. I visit temples. I pig out at my favorite eateries. Through it all, I observe. This year’s observations:
    • Money is the mantra now. Although there is an overall increase in wealth, I see tailors, cobblers and vegetable vendors working hard all day for appallingly low incomes while my generation does as little as they can do for appallingly high salaries. The gap is growing, and that explains the crime rate in my previously safe city.
    • Despite their fast-paced lives, I appreciate that a majority still have a dormant grounding force—that anchor for our souls. Be it religion, tradition or blindly following ‘culture’, they have a grounding force that will rescue them in times of crisis. I make a note to reinforce my anchor.
    • I see the hassled senior citizens, trying hard to catch up to the traffic, the inflation and the change in public attitude. I hope my generation, charging on with brash confidence, will notice them too and slow down every once in a while.
    • I see the huge gap between the modern and the conservative, even in my own generation. A part of the society has evolved, a part has retrogressed and the rest straddles both precariously.
    • I curse ‘outsiders’ for coming into my city and ruining it—they use my city for wealth and a good life without even trying to adopt our culture and our language! And then I realize why other countries resent Indians. This is immigration on a smaller scale.
    • I appreciate how societies are self-balancing. We have managed to prosper and grow even in this chaos. But it’s not been easy, and I know I took the easy way out.

It’s a lot of observation and introspection, but in the end it recharges my soul.

  • Withdrawal symptoms: Vacations always end. At the airport, I take a lungful of the damp, earthy air and memorize the scenery with coconut trees (conveniently erasing the omnipresent pollution, mismatched buildings and noisy vehicles from my memory) one last time. I manage not to cry at the airport, but when the airplane takes off, I feel an overwhelming sense of loss. I sigh at the thought of returning to my picture perfect world. For even though my world is clean, pretty and orderly, I will still be on the outside, looking in. I wonder whether I’ll ever be able to move back home to Bangalore; I’ve become such a comfort-bug. The answer leans toward No; I’m not tough enough for this life anymore. I wonder if I’ll ever be able to truly be a barbecue-loving, football-fanatic  American; the answer is unequivocally No. I cringe at the thought of having ABCD kids. I wonder whether I’ll find peace 30 years from now. What use is an anchor when it’s 10,000 miles away? I think I already know what my mid-life crisis will be about.

I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it. For now, there’s living to be done and bags to be unpacked.

Salon Rules 101

I pause outside the glass door with its shutters closed. Have I checked everything? I’m impeccably dressed, I am on time for my appointment, and know what I want. I enter (placing my right foot first for luck). There are three women in the room.

“Hi!” I say brightly. The first impression is the best impression, even though this is not my first visit.

A big looking woman gestures me to a seat.
“Haircut?”

A visit to a salon is NOT, as many (mostly men) believe, a vanity affair. On the contrary, it can be a quite stressful. Murphy’s laws apply all the time—if something can go wrong, it will. A chipped nail, mismatched brows, and product allergies—you name it. Everyone has their own salon horror story. Many of my friends are even superstitious about it—no cutting nails on Fridays and no hair cuts on Tuesdays, in case they anger the Beauty Gods.

Now there are certain ground rules to having a successful salon/beauty parlor/day spa experience. For this post, I will address them all as salon to make it simpler.

The first rule, look great when you walk in. Set a high bar for their services.

The second rule, always take an appointment, even if it’s only a ten-minute job. It gives you the air of someone busy and therefore, important. Talking about how stressed you are also helps.

The third rule, give the stylist a broad idea of what you want and end with “You’re the expert, I’ll leave the rest to you.” Broad, warm  smile. Trust, or even a show of it, is the best flattery.

The fourth and the most important rule, NEVER contradict your stylist. A sure fire way of making yourself a living example of Murphy’s law’s manifestation is to correct high-flown talk with reason. Give respect, and take service. An “Oops”, and a “Sorry”, and you’re stuck with a permanently surprised look on your face or look like a piece of Picasso art. So when my sweet lady, who seems to have mistaken The Onion for National news, tells me her views on politics, sports, religion, etc etc etc, I agree. Empathetically.

So here we are. My good lady is practicing politics, and I’m on automatic response mode, while I focus on counting the snips made so far—was it 3 on the left and 4 on the right?(“Absolutely!”) did I specify the right length?(“True!”) I try to look but my hair covers my eyes. Now the conversation’s shifted to some dispute involving the righteous woman. I shift gears in my auto answer and continue worrying. (“She said that?”) Well, the only reconciliation is that at least there is no pain during a haircut! (“Serves her right!”)

Finally, the curtain in front of my eyes undergoes a rendezvous with the scissors as well and after some blowdrying, a satisfied grunt wakes me from my reverie. There is silence only once during my visit—when the job is done and awaiting approval.

This is where the key rule of successful salon experiences comes in… always compliment generously. If in lofty comparison to another (obviously inferior) competitor, even better. And match a good tip with your compliments.

I don’t look like a bad hair day, I don’t look like a modern art piece, so this must be a job well done. Relief seems to justify the fees. No more worries for the next 6 months.

I step out with my right foot forward—just to be extra sure.

Seven Deadly Whines of Blogging

I’ve been blogging for 7 months now, so I think I’m allowed one PMS post.

If you think I’m complaining about you, remember, it’s not just you. I visit at least 3-5 new blogs every day, and many other blogs have similar attributes as yours. And before you hate me, remember, it’s not just me. If one reader had an issue, chances are, other readers encountered the same problem too. Bottom-line, being unique is unique.

  1. Closed Circle: You blog because you have something to say. I comment on your posts because I have something to say. When I read an awesome post but can’t compliment/discuss with the author because I don’t have a G+ or Disqus or some other kind of lame profile that I’ve tried very hard to stay away from, I growl so viciously I’d scare a bear away. Your blog is public, why not open out your comments to the public too? We Fabo-Twitto-Gpluso-phobes are people too.
  2. Insomniac’s corner: When I can’t sleep, I find blogs that take so long to load, I can count all the pixel-sheep on my screen. At other times, I growl again (bears obviously fear me) and click out vehemently. If the title is really interesting, though, I take a little nap to kill time and do some yoga to calm down while it loads. When it comes to blogs, everyone prefers the wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am way. How about some spring-cleaning and downsizing?
  3. Plug-in slugs: A major cause of the insomniac’s corner, some blogs have so many plug-ins, it conjures up creepy images of the Matrix. Too many ‘efficiency boosting’ plug-ins not only load pages after eternity, but also freeze our browsers and crash it. Growl. Remember, a plug-in a day drives the reader away.
  4. Blog of no return: I’ve encountered this mostly on websites but also on some over-enthusiastic, well-established blogs. I don’t see the reasoning behind disabling backspace, because it annoys more readers than it retains. It’s a free world, and your nasty little tactic can be overcome by a simple CTRL-T, or pointedly visiting another blog. Nobody’s indispensable.
  5. Blog hijackers: I plead guilty to having done this many times. As a newbie blogger, I’d carefully read every word in a blog post, reflect on it and comment with my views/counterviews, citing examples and even adding my own twist to the article. I was often miffed that the authors only said “thanks” or didn’t even reply to my thoughtful comments. It took me fifteen minutes to just type that! Now I know why. If you have so much to say, blog about it instead and send the author the link. Or share your email ID privately and have heated intellectual discussions. Don’t hijack their post with a mini-blog in their comments section.
  6. Stiff upper lip authors: Remember, you blog because you have something to say? Well, your readers spent their precious time reading your thoughts and sharing their 2-cents in the comments section, when they could have been popping corn or jumping on bubble-wrap to unwind. The least you can do is reply. And a mass manufactured “thanks”, “thanks for dropping by” or their variations just show you’re a pizza hut in the world of hand-crafted pizzerias.

So, what’s your seventh deadly whine?

Patches- A furry tale with a Super Squirrel and mange treatment

Last fall, we put up a birdfeeder in our backyard that turned our suburban Seattle backyard into a mini-zoo. There were chickadees, nuthatches, jays, robins, thrushes, towhees and many other birds. To keep the squirrels from destroying my birdfeeder, I kept a ground feeding tray for them.

Soon I could recognize the lovable pests. There was the mischievous fat squirrel, Rascal, the competitive brothers (I later realized they were mates) Chip and Dale, and some other regulars. By January, our backyard pets associated me with the F-word… FOOD.

Rascal the birdfeeder destroyer

Rascal the birdfeeder destroyer

Chip and Dale fighting

Chip and Dale fighting

 Most of them were happy co-existing with me, but one little guy decided to go where no squirrels dared. One day, as I watched him finish his food from behind the window, he stood up on his hind legs, clasped his hands, looked straight into my eyes and waited expectantly.

Hungry-puppy pose

Hungry-puppy pose

 I thought I was going nuts, because lately I’d been staying home so much. Then it happened the next day, and the next. I put a finger against the window and he bounded right up to it, pawing at the glass and looking back and forth from me to the table where I kept the food. This little guy really was talking to me!

And so started an extraordinary friendship. Every time I went downstairs for breakfast or lunch, he ran up to the window and assumed his hungry-puppy pose. He was tuning himself to my routine! He bounded around excitedly in a flash of gray fur when I spotted him, and soon stayed put at the tray when I went to refill it.

patches mange stage 1

Initial balding along spine and shoulders

Then he started balding along his spine and shoulders. At first, it was just a little bit, but then he lost hair at an alarming rate. It was still March and quite cold, so I feared he would freeze to death. Frantic, I found a squirrel lovers’ forum, The Squirrel Board, to determine whether this was molting or something else. They were stumped, because it looked like Mange, a common fungal skin disorder, but he didn’t have scaly skin, a major symptom of Mange. Mange was a possibility as Seattle is wet almost all year through. They suggested the antibiotic paste Ivermectin 1.87%, but wrong/over dosage can be lethal, so I refrained from treating him yet.

To make things worse, as his fur thinned I realized my squirrel, Patches, was a she. It was early spring and she was probably a nursing mom, and I wasn’t sure how safe Ivermectin would be for her kits.

I eventually found a blog by a squirrel rehabilitator, which made me quite certain her skin condition was Dermatophytosis, and the best way to treat her was to give her a good diet and virgin coconut oil. So I gave her Kaytee Forti-diet for hamsters and gerbils, half a walnut with quarter teaspoon of coconut oil and some powder from cuttlefish bone (normally found in the pet bird section). It’s the closest I could find to the recommended KayTee Forti-Diet for Rats and Mice.

Patches eating2 JPEG

Patches and I are BFFS

By March end, Patches and I had become inseparable. She scampered up to me as I sat out, held my hand with her little paws, put her little snout in my palms and nibbled away. She liked to show off, too. When other squirrels competed for food, she’d call for me. When I went out and other squirrels backed off a few feet, she’d scamper up to me boldly and hang out, showing her fellow squirrels how close we were. She knew I always gave her second servings and after that, the walnut as a dessert, so she pleaded (read demanded) only twice. Sometimes she’d ask for some other food. No I’m not nuts, people, this squirrel talked.

She was a big bully too. Sometimes this 1.5 pound creature sat near my feet and growled, trying to dominate me like she bullied the other squirrels. A loud clap and an admonishment worked and after a few times, we finally established the alpha in the relationship and she recognized my saying “good girl” as a cue to scuttle away.

But her condition got worse. By April, she was completely bald waist up. Her exposed skin turned gray but not scaly, so I finally guessed it was another form of Mange, called Notoedric Mange. Desperate, I started administering the Ivermectin hidden in her walnut, hoping that her kits were old enough to handle it as well. If she didn’t show up for a few days, I agonized that I’d killed her. But Patches is a super squirrel. In three weeks, she stopped balding. In four, she had fine fur on her upper body. By end of May, Patches had turned into a fur ball. She did develop some fresh bald patches on her lower body, but she managed to grow it back, so maybe that bit was molting.

patches mange stage 3 jpeg

4th week. Her bald upper body has fine fur.

Patches mange stage 4 jpeg

Dosage completed. Upper body furry, lower body molting

I was delighted I could do my bit for my furry friend, although I was terrified I may have killed her kits. But I recently saw her hopping along with a little squirrel, I really hope it was her kit.

As our rental lease expiration approaches, with a heavy heart, we’ve decided to wean our backyard pets so they’ll be self-sufficient by fall. So starting June, we now feed them just once a week, unless someone looks obviously hungry.

I haven’t seen Patches in weeks, but last I saw her, she was happy, healthy and bullying other squirrels as usual. Thanks to her, all the animals in our yard see us as friends, and many other squirrels now eat right next to us as we sit out. But no one has talked to us. The Jays, however, have learned how to ask for food, and the little chickadees stay put, grumbling impatiently, when we go out.

Although I miss her sorely, I know it’s for the good. Patches taught me so many things, and she gave me the greatest gift of all—her trust. Coming from a wild animal, it’s exhilarating and fulfilling like nothing else.

She’ll always occupy a special patch in my heart, for I know she’s a one in a million squirrel.

Patches healed

Healthy, happy and hungry

Endnotes:

Want to see Patches in Action? Watch here

I’m just another squirrel lover who somehow managed to treat a wild squirrel. Please check with an expert or a squirrel lover’s forum if you see a sick squirrel and want to help.

Notoedric Mange was my best guess and Ivermectin did work, but I’d like to know what Patches really had. If you know, please tell me!

My Liebster blog award. I’m a Liebster Blogster!

liebsterThey say your first time is always the best. And my very first Liebster, given to me by Namrota, arrived on the heels of the dismal end to the short story contest I’ve raved and ranted about in my previous post, and made me feel like the Universe was conspiring for me. Thanks a ton for reading and appreciating my blog, Namrota, and hope you continue to enjoy reading my blog!

Jumping, shouting, celebrating is done. Now back to business.

What is a Liebster? It’s a blogger-to-blogger award that tells a fellow newbie blogger that they are making the world a more interesting /intellectual /funny /better place. For a lot of us, it comes just when we’re facing that first blogger’s block or wondering if it’s all worth it. For the rest, it’s a shower of accolades. Either way, it’s a great thing. There are no certificates or trophies, but hey, appreciation from a fellow blogger is always valued.

Borrowed from Namrota’s blog, The Liebster Award is given to upcoming bloggers who have less than 200 followers. So, what is a Liebster?  The meaning: Liebster is German and means sweetest, kindest, nicest, dearest, beloved, lovely, kind, pleasant, valued, cute, endearing, and welcome. 

So here’s my Liebster questions, answers and nominations.

11 random facts about me:

  1. Music is my soul. I’m a die-hard metalhead. I also love classic rock, psy-trance and of course, 80’s hair bands. When other teenage girls were daydreaming of movie stars, I was busy daydreaming of jamming with Dave Ellefson and meeting Steve Harris. It saved me many heartbreaks.
  2. I love animals, and HAVE to make friends with every animal around me. It’s gotten me into trouble many times, because not every animal wants to be friends with me.
  3. I’m a giganormous Sci-fi geek. I grew up reading Doctor Who. My favorite TV shows are Firefly and Futurama. My favorite books still are Brave New World, Hitchhiker’s guide and Dune. Star Wars is for lightweights, Dune is the real thing.
  4. I was the bassist in my Undergrad semi-pro band, BellCanto. We even released an album!
  5. I wrote a Rock n’ Roll book last year. I’m happily slacking off on its revision now.
  6. I have an organization OCD. All my spice boxes are labeled and arranged alphabetically. My undies are rolled meticulously and ordered by color or brand in the drawer. I once even tried ironing them but that made me feel a little stupid.
  7. I hate sharing my food or drink. I’m a caveman (cave woman?) at the dinner table.
  8. I’m that crazy girl hopping and screeching on top of the chair with her eyes squeezed shut, when there is a teeny weeny caterpillar in my line of vision. Even a vivid photograph will do.
  9. I’m a wimp. ‘Scary Movie’ scares me.
  10. I always count in 4’s. I have no idea why.
  11. It’s very hard to gross me out. Seriously.

Questions for me from Namrota:

1) When did you start blogging and why?

I started blogging seriously in late 2012 with the goal of promoting my book, but then fell in love with blogging. Now I use blogging as an excuse to procrastinate revising my book. And I’ve done nothing to meet my original goal!

 2)   What inspires you to write?

I love writing. I’ve been composing limericks, poems, song and prose since 5th grade. This is the first time I’m writing for a real-time audience, so that excites and inspires me. It also scares me a bit, so I strive to make every blog post better than the previous one.

 3)   When you become a world renowned writer, would you give up blogging?

I’d probably blog more, because more people would read my blogs!

4)   How would you describe yourself in one sentence?

One sentence? I have one word for myself- Weird.

 5)   Which is your most cherished memory till now?

If I had to pick one, it’d be the day my dog at the undergrad hostel, Baby, had babies (pun intended). We were meeting after 2 years as I’d already graduated, and she came up to me slowly, limping in her post-delivery pain, and licked my face. I could have cried when I looked into her eyes. She had just told me who among the 80-odd girls at the hostel she considered her mama.

6)   Something that you learned recently…

Strawberries will curdle milk. So much so for my experiments with hot strawberry-chocolate tea.

7)   What is your pet peeve?

Smelling Pistakes.

8)   Did you ever have an imaginary friend? If yes, tell us something about him/her.

Never needed an imaginary friend because I have lots of real ones. No one seems to ever see them or talk to them, so I’m guessing they’re either poorly dressed or smell bad.

9)   What is your idea of heaven?

My heaven would have blue skies, snow-capped mountains, acres of wildflowers, a serene waterbody, and a clean, white, sparkling toilet. Seriously.

10) Which fictional character from a book would you like to be and why?

Alice in Wonderland, if only there’s a version without the giant caterpillar. Otherwise, Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz. Why? Alice’s and Dorothy’s lives are so much more exciting than mine!

11) Whom would you like to play you, in a movie on your life and why?

The movie on my life will be an animated movie, so that it captures all my daydreams. It would be somewhat on the lines of Simpsons meets Family Guy meets Wizard of Oz.

My nominations for the Liebster: Now I know why all the Liebster posts apologize for having taken so long. There are lots of cool blogs around, but they all have more than 200 followers. And my biggest problem was that a lot of blogs don’t even show the number of followers.

Plus, although Google will spew out hundreds of blogs that received the award, I couldn’t find the official website (if there is any) or the nomination criteria. Some blogs state the criteria is <3k followers, some state <200 followers. I’ve gone with the latter, but there are some blogs that are just over 200 followers that I’d love to give the Liebster to. Please feel free to shed light on this!

So aspiring Liebster bloggers? Don’t forget to put your following count on your blog so a Liebster stalker like me knows for sure that you qualify! I promise to complete the 11 nominations in the next few weeks or so!

  1. http://tomatotwist.blogspot.com/
  2. http://avalleyofdreams.blogspot.in/ Neelima Chakraborty
  3. http://www.jambudweepam.blogspot.in/ C Suresh (Yes, yet another one to answer and forward. Evil laugh)
  4. http://kookydom.blogspot.in/ Sreedev Soman
  5. http://miraarvind.blogspot.com/ Easwar Arunmugam
  6. http://sakshinanda.blogspot.in/   Sakshi Nanda

My questions to the above winners:

  1. I blog because I want to…
  2. We all have articles we wrote with gusto but never published onto our blogs. What’s yours and why didn’t you publish it?
  3. What’s your idea of the perfect blog?
  4. Who do you wish would compliment you on your blog?
  5. Describe your writing style in 5 words.

Whew! The tough ones are over! Now for the more fun ones.

  1. If you weren’t in the career that you are now, what would you be doing?
  2. If you were an item on a restaurant menu, what would you be and why?
  3. What would you do if no one’s watching?
  4. There’s always a song, a book or a movie that changes our lives. What’s yours and how did it change your life?
  5. What’s that memory that haunts you and makes you cringe in embarrassment?
  6. What does the inner child in you enjoy doing the most?

The next steps: Again, borrowed from Namrota’s blog because I’m lazy.

  1. Each blogger should post 11 random facts about themselves.
  2. Answer the questions the tagger has set for you, then create 11 new questions for the bloggers you pass the award to.
  3. Choose 11 new bloggers (with less than 200 followers) to pass the award to and link them in your post.
  4. Go to their page and tell them about the award.
  5. No tag backs.

Congratulations and Good Luck, dear bloggers!

The Harper Collins short story contest fiasco

About 240 of us finalists are licking our wounds after the unexpected end to the ‘get published’ contest. For those who don’t know about the contest, the short story contest was organized by Indiblogger, the popular Indian blogging directory, in collaboration with Harper Collins. After putting up with constant changes to the submission guidelines, and waiting long beyond announcement dates for results, the contest finally ended in a fiasco for the finalists. Of the promised 50 winners, Harper Collins selected only 10 to be published in the compilation book, and didn’t bother announcing the changes to the participants.

I entered into two contests this year. The first was the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award (ABNA) for my novel, and the Get Published (GP) contest for my short story. The two experiences were like chalk and cheese.

  • The ABNA had clear rules and announcement deadlines that remained unchanged throughout the contest, unlike the GP whose rules changed every time someone at Harper Collins sneezed. GP folks never cared to meet their own announcement deadlines, either. And we’re talking 10,000 ABNA entries v/s 500 odd GP entries.
  • My book went till the top 500 in my category, but I received 2 pages of feedback when it didn’t qualify for the next round of ABNA. The feedback gave me valuable insights on the real category of my book, its strengths and weaknesses. The judges honestly considered every entry. Do I need to mention again the careless way the GP judges changed the final list from 50 to 10 at the last minute, without any announcements?
  • Contract—the most important thing in the publishing industry, and defined meticulously in ABNA. Where was it in the GP contest? What about royalties, and copyright? A lot of us probably did wonder about it, but then we trusted Harper Collins’ reputation and submitted our stories anyway. Although they didn’t bother disclosing their contract, they would come after us with bloodhounds if we violated the contract, wouldn’t they?

I have one word for the way GP was executed—Unprofessional.

I wonder, would this have happened in another country? If results were bungled like this elsewhere, Harper Collins would be buried under hundreds of lawsuits. Not to mention the hit its reputation would take.

The least the GP coordinators could have done was update the participants, stating the reasons for the drastic changes in the results. After the initial outrage, we’d make peace because this is the first such contest they’re hosting, and teething troubles are to be expected. But instead they decided to take the easy, sneaky way out and quietly changed the rules, quietly announced the results and shut off communication.

This was a great opportunity, and Harper Collins had the opportunity to tap into young, modern and eloquent talent. And what did they end up doing? They probably lost 400 odd entries for their next contest, assuming that 80% of us will think twice before we submit our creation to another contest run by them. A lot of us won’t bother wasting our time and energy again at all.

Indiblogger did a great job. The people who coordinated the contest did a great job. But ultimately, they were all powerless since there was no contract holding Harper Collins to their word, and Harper Collins probably called all the shots. At the end of the day, it was a symphony of apes.

My hearty congratulations to the winners, your entries were awesome and deserved to win. And although I wish I’d made it to the top 10 too, I think I’m still in pretty good standing. Why?

  • The way GP was executed doesn’t inspire my confidence in the next steps hereafter and the contract. But now I am not contractually bound, which means I can enter my story into more contests, self-publish it or add it to my own collection of short stories for publishing. My story is still mine, and now I can get published on my own terms.
  • The final announcement surprised everyone by hinting that the winners will have to make changes to their story. Why weren’t participants informed before? I’d specifically asked that question too. They are hazy on what changes will have to be made. Can you imagine having to expand a 4000 word short story into 20,000 words? What if they ask the authors to rework so-called objectionable content and situations? It’s unfair, and I sincerely hope the winners don’t have to go through that.
  • Finally, I’m glad that I got a validation for my short story skills. I wouldn’t have ever tried my hand at it otherwise. Now that I have, there is a whole world of opportunity in front of me. And through the process I also found an awesome community of bloggers, who make up my intellectual family.

So dear Indi-family, pick up your pieces and charge on. You know you’re good, so don’t let one dreadfully organized contest break you.

Finally, don’t forget to delete your entries as soon as you know there is no way the results are changing. And winners, please check your contract before signing anything.

We all live in a jungle

Think all dogs are out to bite you, all cats will scratch you and all other animals in your city are dangerous in some way too?

If the Freakonomics guys ever did a statistical study on this, they would probably find two things.

  1. The people who’re most scared of getting bitten if they approach animals most probably will get bitten. Most people who are that scared of animals are that way either because of childhood conditioning or a childhood memory of an attack. All the animals they share their world with are either caged in at the zoo, or are their friends’ puppies. So they missed out on the essential do’s and don’ts that other kids naturally picked up. They don’t know how to shut up and listen, watch, feel. They translate body language and expressions from a human perspective. They have preconceived notions and fears that warp their perception. But you know what? By staying away from what they don’t know, they’ll probably be safer than those of us who’ve had limited exposure (think domesticated pets, petting zoos). Which brings me to my second point.
  2. More people are hurt by pets than wild animals. Of course, we take more liberties with our pets than with wild animals.

Here are some myths I’ve heard from people with limited experience with animals, and disagree with.

WP_20130519_038Myth: Animals are cute.

Fact: Animals LOOK cute. It’s the fur, it reminds us of teddy bears. Unless they’re pets with no worries of shelter, safety and food, they don’t have time to be cute. They need to find food or starve, they need to fend off peers and hide from multiple predators constantly. It’s stressful. Some stray/wild animals may learn that acting cute will get them food and safety, but most of them are happy co-existing with you in peace. Even if you become friends, you can’t cuddle up to them like your pets.

Myth: Some animals are dumb, some are smart.P1050500

Fact: Understanding our language and responding to us aren’t the essential qualities of intelligence. No animal is dumb. They learn what they need—they are intelligent enough to make their lives, raise a family and survive. If they ease up just once, they may end up as a predator’s dinner. Trust me, your friend’s ‘intelligent’ retriever is relatively much dumber than the ‘dumbest’ earthworm.

Myth: Animals will warn before attacking.

Fact: They do, but not the way you expect them to. Not all animals growl or wave their tails. Females and mothers are difficult to read. Some go very still when they’re threatened. Some become very silent. So listen, watch, feel. Their eyes and body language are screaming, but silently.

I’m not an expert, but I’ve been around animals since I was a kid. I’ve only had a pet dog for a few years, the rest of my experience has been with stray dogs and cats, wild urban animals like birds, cows, ponies and very recently, squirrels and even a mama raccoon. I’m that girl whose parents didn’t monitor for a minute at a zoo, and then found her with her arm inside a leopard cage, stroking its tail. That little girl got lucky that leopard just watched her lazily, but I haven’t been lucky all the time. I’ve got bitten twice by stray dogs and a few more times by pets. But I keep going back, for they bring me peace and make me happy. A few accidents don’t stop you from driving, and a few falls don’t stop you from cycling, do they? Besides, the human world gets boring after a certain point.

Like many people, I’ve learned a language and etiquette that spans across many species—mostly urban, but maybe more. Here are some things I follow without thinking. Remember, my knowledge is limited to my mostly urban experience, so don’t try this with a wild bear!

  1. Think what you want to tell the animal. Feel it. The animal will catch your vibes from your body language. You can talk if you want. Your language doesn’t matter, your tone does. Be gentle, be soothing.
  2. Never approach an animal. You’ll threaten it and it will either flee or attack. Imagine a giant bear found you cute and came to you, whispering calming words. Trouble is, all you see is a 10-foot bear with sharp claws growling at you. It’s the same for that little furry fella out there when you approach him. Make yourself visible at a healthy distance and stay, open your palm and hold it out. Let the animal choose whether he wants to approach you, and let him come closer.
  3. Stay still, and move slowly.
  4. If you’ve encroached on their territory or their children, back away slowly, your eyes on the parents but not making eye contact. Size matters, you can use it to your advantage. But if an animal is not tiny, viciousness matters (think raccoons).
  5. If you’re trying for a friendship, establish Alpha with your furry friend early on. A little fear is always a good thing.

Most importantly, share the world and show some compassion. A bowl of water in the summer and some food in the winter can go a longer way than adopting all stray animals. You don’t have to be an animal lover to help a few hungry animals out. It’s good karma. Plus, a bird feeder or a food bowl will give you hours of entertainment, and you’ll suddenly start noticing birds and critters everywhere.

Yes, they’re all around you, even in this busy city. Chirping, tweeting, scampering. We’re all ultimately living in a jungle.

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