June 28, 2006

It's a whole new world!

Heard of the phrase "kenathu thavala" (frog in a well), the frog's world is the well around it and it thinks there is no world beyond the well (somewhat like H.G.Well's The Country of the Blind). So, anyway, two frogs from Lexington set out to see the world last week (I wouldn't go as far as saying we didn't think there was a world beyong Lex but well, it's a whole new world out there :)

The first thing that struck me about Seattle is that the city is aged, the buildings, the huge trees and even the weather seemed to suggest a place that had aged. B~ told me Redmond was much younger (built after MSFT came up), to me Redmond seemed old too (maybe it was just the weather that day). So, anyway, we wandered about the wise old cities and I liked quite a few things about it:

  • Let me begin with coffee because I think Seattle is to coffee is as Kentucky is to horses and KFC (tell any relative about Kentucky and you'll know what am talking about :) - There really is a coffee place every street! And not just Starbucks, there was this cute artsy coffee place (bottom row, first two photos from the left) that we went to at Pike Place in Seattle, then we had Seattle's Best Coffee and strangely enough, we didn't have coffee at Starbucks in Seattle. We did take a picture in front of the very first Starbucks (top left-most pic) though!

  • Pike place is this really neat market place in Seattle, we went early morning immediately after our Canadian Visa appointment and people were just setting up their stalls, within half an hour, the entire place filled with rows and rows of fresh flowers, fruits, produce; it was fun just to walk around and watch the busy morning unfold in this place. We then wandered around to this candy shop which also happened to sell kites. The lady there asked me if I recently got married (she was so thrilled that she was right) and since we bought a bunch of kite stuff from there, she also gave us honey-roasted popcorn (bottom row, two pics to the right) on the house. I will vouch that it's the best popcorn that I have ever tasted in my life!

Our Visa Stamping Appointment...

was anything but what we expected. First we got kicked out because we carried sealed envelopes (our official transcripts), "Go to the back of the 8.30 line!", the burly guard roared (it was as if I was in school again, only that noone had screamed at me like that in school!). So anyway, we went to the back of the 8.30 line and started giggling because the whole episode was so weird. First they ask for official transcripts, then they ask us to open them (to be fair, we didn't open them all and that was our fault) and then he strikes through our visa appointment letter (quite traumatic for B~ who hates even the lightest pencil marks on his books :) we get thrown out, anyway we sobered up lest we should get thrown back to the 10 AM line (he actually threatened to do that) and then were let in. The guard must have felt bad for us because he said, "See that guy there?" (pointing to a confused looking chap hovering outside) "I sent him to the 10 AM line!" Joy. Poor chap.

The interview inside went smoothly for the most part but k has a different version of the interview. Anyway, the good thing is we got our visas stamped after all that. B~ commented that he hated talkative interviewers, he said, "Imagine if they go on yapping for 15 minutes and then say, 'that's all very good but your visa is rejected'" :) I did see one woman denied a visa (she was there for a H4 to H1 transfer)...

Sights and Eats...

We went around Vancouver, Whistler and Victoria and saw the usual places - Capilano Suspension Bridge, Granville Island, Butchart gardens, scenic drive to Whistler, biking in Stanley Park, Robson Street, BC ferries...Ikea(!) - all fun. We ate food ranging from greasy Indian dal and questionable vegetable-curry in a small, dark restaurant with one-man service (he was the waiter, cook and cashier!) to expensive Greek leafy wraps with lemon sauce! In Seattle we ate twice at Thai restaurants, King and I and Thai Ginger - the pad thai definitely had a whole lot more oil than here at Lex. We had pasta, icecream and coffee all for less than $10 each at Old Spaghetti place - beautiful decor with tinted glasses.

Worth remembering...

- that the suspension bridges make the tree stronger! Also that they would have to rebuild the bridges once every 4-5 years because of tree growth! That's a douglas fir that k and B~ are hugging in the picture above. We saw some that were more than 300 feet tall, older than us by atleast a couple of centuries and more than 20 feet in circumference! We actually bowed down to one of the Grandma douglas fir trees!

- At Butchart gardens, the flowers mainly stole the show but it was fascinating to watch the different varities of leaves and plants that surrounded them! (Note the second row in this picture-collage).

- On the way to Stanley Park, there was the cutest cupcake shop (bottom right most pic), I just had to eat one!

- Microsoft is everywhere, literally. It's hard to escape it when you live on the campus, MSFT somehow manages to enter most conversations, there is less of a home-work distinction there than here...

- So we heard quite a few quips about our "small town" life :) Ku~ asked if we still had only two roads (one for the University and one for Companies) or if they were building a third road. Driving in downtown Seattle was kind of...wild compared to Lex (you know the two roads that we usually drive on :)

As k put it, the trip gave us a chance to get a different perspective, to catch a glimpse of a different life style, to take a peek at a different work-culture, to catch up with friends, to raise eyebrows at the real-estate prices and all that good stuff...a nice little breather in all, frogs back to well now :)

Tip: Green implies there's an associated photo in the collages somewhere :)

June 27, 2006

All about "I"

I am thinking about...
why I cant think of anything except what to think about when someone asks me what I am thinking about :(

I said...
it's always about me but people keep hearing "me" as "you".

I want to...
have a demanding career, retire;
keep my days full so I can hardly breathe, do nothing all day long;
aim higher, be satisfied with what I have;
give up and move on, hold on and stay rooted;
do everything, do nothing;

I wish...
i could remember our Acura's mileage (for heaven's sake, it's just one number!).

I hear...
voices I no longer want to hear, too loud and voices I want to hear, too soft.

I wonder...
if anyone's gonna actually read through this whole tag, except the people I tagged...actually even them :)

I regret...
at times, things that were just not meant to be.

I am...
quite silly except when I am not.

I dance...
better than k! :))

I sing...
to myself.

I cry...
when I am alone and wish someone were around with me to ask me why.

I am not always...
imagining rosy beginnings and fairy-tale endings, I just happen to be doing that most of the time and at other times :) (wipe that see-I-told-you smirk off your face, I am kidding!)

I make with my hands...
scrapbooks and good food :)

I write...
what I feel and what I cannot.

I confuse...
numbers and directions. Always.

I need...
a sanity check :)

And finally...
thanks to Kumari for getting back at me :) and to the rest of you for the 3.5 seconds that you spent reading this post. Be back with some cool photos from Seattle and Vancouver (now you know what the pics in my previous post meant) :)

I tag Kamal (because I want to see the look on his face when I demand to see the answer to this tag :p), Dinesh (because he would love to answer a tag like this) and Bus (so I can force him to write a new post).

June 19, 2006

Clues, Plays and Such.

Had fun making up clues for K’s birthday-gifts-treasure-hunt. It’s almost a kind of tradition now with us, where I make up these weird, complicated, sometimes downright silly clues for him to go hunting for birthday gifts.

Last year, I recall he had quite a day of fun solving clues. This year was even better (for me ;) I was initially disappointed when he solved the first few clues in a flash (I didn’t realize he would guess the Da Vinci mirror trick so soon).

But, I had my revenge especially with the LEET clue, here goes the clue for those of you who would like to get tortured too:

\-/37 4|\|()7[-]312 8eye127[-]|)4\-/ 61ph7 4VVaeye75 @ |)4|\|\/11_1_3 - ^^\-/ $1$7312 31_1_3|\|

Hint: I’ll give you the first word: \-/37 is YET. It’s all about pattern recognition, symbols and a solid imagination (ever played joining the dots as a kid?)

I finally finished obsessing over the scrap book that I was making for his birthday and gave it to him. He made all the appropriate gestures to indicate his pleasure at receiving it (I don't really know if guys dig scrapbooks and stuff like that!). And this time my cake came out not-so-sad-looking! Thanks to egg substitute and the right amounts of ingredients (you wise people were right in warning me not to mess with the Science of Cake Baking :).

Anyway, if you live around the Lexington area :), you should check out the Pioneer Playhouse in Danville, Kentucky (where else? :). It's a quaint indoor/outdoor play house and I have watched a couple of plays there (under the stars, just as advertised in the brochure) and they have been nice old-fashioned comedies or dramas. We went this Saturday to watch "My Sister Eileen" and it was fun! K and I were probably the youngest members of the audience (if you don't count the few kids that managed to laugh louder than K)!

Which reminds me, The Lexington Shakespeare Festival is coming up soon. Be there or be square or whatever geometric shape that doesn't appeal to you :p

So be back with more stories from:


Gosh! I hope I took all my forms and remember all their names!

June 15, 2006

Stuff I don't "get".

It's that time again. Filling up online forms that generate PDFs that cannot be edited, re-filling said forms re-generating said PDFs, spending more than what you would for a decent lunch on passport-size photos which should have your face covering at least half of the whole photo, noting down the exact dates of entry and exit into the United States (5 trips so far for me - if you manage to decipher the vaguely reddish, smudged stamps of entry on your passport, I shall declare you Master and Lord).

Anyway, I finally got tired of my ignorance on aforementioned subjects and decided to educate myself to the minimal extent permissible. So, here goes a totally lost person's (I refuse to use the word, dummy) attempt to embrace what she does not wish to - the dreaded world of visa forms and indecipherable acronyms.

OK firstly - what is a passport?

Oh boy! You are way behind. Please peruse Visa Documents 101 before you come to this post!

1. What is a visa?

An official authorization appended to a passport, permitting entry into and travel within a particular country or region.

2. What is an I-94?

A USCIS Form I-94 (Arrival-Departure Record) or Form I-95 (Crewman's Landing Permit) shows the date you arrived in the United States and the "Admitted Until" date, the date when your authorized period of stay expires.

3. What is an H1-B? (Sigh...don't we even qualify for a "Who"?)

An H1-B is an alien coming temporarily to perform services in a specialty occupation. (Alien :()

4. What is an LCA?

H-1B status requires a sponsoring U.S. employer. The employer must file a labor condition application (LCA) with the Department of Labor attesting to several items, including payment of prevailing wages for the position, and the working conditions offered. The employer must then file the certified LCA with a Form I-129 petition plus accompanying fee of $130.

This is a two-page form that contains information about the employer. By completing and signing the form, the employer is agreeing to pay the higher of the two wages, that the employment of this individual will not adversely affect the conditions of other workers and that there is no strike for their occupation at the workplace. Recently, Congress determined that employers must attest that they will offer H1B visa holders the same benefits as their other workers. This includes health, life, medical, retirement, stock options and bonuses.

Forms used: ETA 9035

5. What is an I-129?

Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker – US Employers may use this form to petition USCIS (US Citizenship and Immigration Services) for an alien to come to the U.S. temporarily to perform services or labor, or to receive training.

After the Department of Labor accepts the LCA, then your employer can file your H1B visa petition. BCIS Form I-129 (Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services or BCIS).

6. What is an I-797?

An approval notice (Form I-797) is issued to the petitioner. The Form I-797 shows dates of validity for the foreign worker to work in H1B status for the petitioner.

7. What is a Visa stamp (H1-b stamping)?

A visa stamp is used solely for permission to enter or reenter the U.S. The visa stamp does not control how long a visitor may remain in the U.S. That is, a visa stamp is used only to cross borders. The visa stamp authorizes the visitor to enter the U.S. to engage in a particular activity using a specific visa type (e.g., J-1, H-1B, F-2, etc.).

You need form DS-156 (Non-immigrant visa application form) and DS-157 (Yay! Only guys need to fill up this form :).

Don't congratulate yourself yet. Once you emerge out of this slew of forms, a mutated version in the form of a green monster awaits, which we fondly call, "The Green Card" (which is not very green actually). Here's a quick description of the process:

1. Are you eligible for permanent residency? If you are a studied-at-top-indian-college-completed-masters-now-working candidate, mostly you are under category EB3.

2. The U.S. employer complete a labor certification request (Form ETA 750) for the applicant, and submit it to the Department of Labor's Employment and Training Administration.

3. Third, CIS must approve an immigrant visa petition, Form I-140, Petition for Alien Worker, for the person wishing to immigrate to the United States.

4. Fourth, the State Department must give the applicant an immigrant visa number, even if the applicant is already in the United States.

5. Fifth, if the applicant is already in the United States, he or she must apply to adjust to permanent resident status after a visa number becomes available.

Forms: I-94, LCA, I-129, I-797, LCR, I-140, DS-156, DS-157

If your head swirls a tad, if the alphabets in your cereal soup seem to read BCIS and INS (Immigration and Naturalization Service), if you see flashes of green whereever your head turns, if you've already started revising the 120 or so questions that a person must know the answers to before becoming a US citizen in your sleep, yup, you've definitely caught the "Green Card Fever" :)


June 12, 2006


Scratch. Scratch.

Must be a wild cat or something. It was a little after 3 AM.

Scratch. Scratch. Louder this time followed by a definitely human cry, "Help!"

I tried to locate the zipped door of our tent and opened it frantically.

V~ stood outside holding an umbrella in the pouring rain, shivering. He must have caught the look of panic on my face or maybe he realized he shouldn't have exactly said, "Help!", anyway, he added, "Our tent collapsed in the rain. But no problem, I just need a car key so we can sleep in the car, you guys go back to sleep!"


Anyway, our camping trip was fun, the rain made it more "adventurous" as our local Tarzan claimed. Few observations/thoughts/random musings follow:

  • We are possibly the only bunch of people that cooked Suda suda alu + onion curry with lotsa green chillies, channa + tomatoes + masala + lotsa chilies curry with gravy (thanks to Sb~) for a "light" dinner at our campsite. And to add variety, we had sev puri and bhel puri in the morning (thanks to p&b) and sandwiches and hot coffee the next morning.

    Making each cup of coffee was a kind of elaborate procedure (devised by k), first he would mix milk, coffee and sugar in a plastic cup and place it in the microwave, set it to 2 minutes, approximately 1.5 minutes he would come back and notice that the plastic cup has lost its delicate balance and the coffee is now getting directly heated in the microwave and then we would proceed to step 2 - the cleaning stage. In this stage, a few other unfortunate souls will join him to clean the microwave plate which is now swimming in a rich almost-coffeeish liquid. Then k would fill in another plastic cup with milk, coffee and sugar and this time make sure it is placed exactly in the center and standing straight inside the microwave. And viola, a hot cup of coffee is ready in exactly 4.5 minutes!

  • P~b rocked with the grill! He managed to make 3 tortillas/minute, he made a total of 24 tortillas for the twelve of us. His grilled potatoes (I helped, I helped! Yay!) were a big hit too!

  • Black bears were a popular conversation topic at the campsite. Although we couldn’t reach a consensus on 1) whether we should play dead 2) make a lot of noise 3) run away 4) attack, if a black bear drops by.

  • K and ANM were absolutely fascinated by the whole fire bit. They had the most fun buying the logs of fire, adding coal, coal starter, lighting it up and giving the camp fire company until it died. ANM’s word of the day, “ember” was a big hit at our campsite.

  • I was glad that I was not the only one that prayed at night when we saw one lightning after another flash outside our tent. Oh and the gentle pitter-patter of rain drops can sound so much louder when you are sleeping inside a tent in the middle of nowhere. It was a scary but thrilling experience, distant and then not-so-distant sounds of thunder, flashes of lightening, a slightly leaking tent and me. Well, there were seven other people in the tent, but you get my point.

  • We had several interesting discussions/arguments inspired by let’s say nature…one of which was, are the guys who got a campsite allocated right outside the rest rooms lucky or not? Since the restrooms were really clean and smelled great, we decided they were lucky. P~ and I decided guys were luckier than girls when it came down to basics. While we drove to the restroom from the campsite twice a day, they just picked a tree and they were all set.

  • ANM decided at 1.30 AM Saturday night that it was way too scary to drive back alone in the night. I totally agree. We discussed what we would do if we were left alone in the dark, I figured I would just knock (err...scratch?) at the nearest tent, asking for help (and get shot for it probably)!

  • I heard the sound of waves splashing against the shore, after a really long time.

  • 6 cups of rice is too much when you are also making 24 tortillas and alu curry and chickpeas curry with lotsa green chillies. Yes, it’s a lot even if you are having a second serving of rice with butter milk and manga thokku pickle.

June 09, 2006

Me and My Christmas tree.

My ex-boss once told us a story about his christmas tree. He said he had an argument with his wife about his christmas tree - where do they place it? In the living area or the front room? He wanted it in the living area so they could all see the nicely decorated christmas tree when they were relaxing with the family. His wife wanted the tree in the front room so that people outside would see the brightly lit christmas tree sitting in the tastefully decorated front room, through the window.

"I don't care if you can see the tree through the window, I want to enjoy the view when am at home!"

Fair enough. But I see his wife's point too. The right thing to do here is to put it in the family room but then there are some things we do because we feel compelled to do so even though they may not work to our best interests. Women tend to be affected more than men by this society-syndrome.

I remember this other time, when one of my office colleagues said, "My neighbour bought a new Lexus, you know? So, the pressure is quite high on me! But, we are a single-earning-member family and my wife understands that we cannot afford to match our neighbour, you know what I mean?"

Yup, I do. I try to do things because they make sense for me but sometimes I end up (not) saying/doing things influenced by what others say. And much as I try, I know am affected by the society-syndrome more than k. After all, haven't we all learnt long back that "Man is a social animal"? They just forgot to add, "Woman take that to a whole new level." :)

If I do anything that falls outside what society deems as "normal, appropriate" with an approving nod of her (this society that I talk about is definitely feminine, believe me!) head, my mom objects with "What would Vaishali maami say?" Her little society initially did not give her nod of approval for a Gujarathi son-in-law. She (society) extended a warning finger and shook her head sadly, much to my consternation. But somehow, over time, she brought me into her embrace and mom said, "You know that pretty girl Anju who lived in 2nd street? She married a Punjabi and he takes such good care of her!" Yup. Nod of approval. Took time but she did nod.

Anyway, I digress. What I wanted to say was, maybe sometimes, it's good to take a stand back and think of what it is that "we" really need, just us, not the family next door, not the Doctor couple that saw our house and said, "Oh, that's a good starter home!" (maybe for you uncle, it's a good finish home for me :), not whether Vaishali aunty would approve, not whether others can see the christmas tree from outside...

For now, I want to see the christmas tree, with it's twinkling lights and starry decorations, with colors winking at me and angels flying around...I want to see the tree when I sit cuddled on my sofa in my finish-home...just me and my christmas tree :)

Photo from:

June 05, 2006

Almost Yum!

Have you watched the Rachael Ray 30 minute cooking shows on Food Network? Blank look? No, have more useful things to do? Well, I don’t :), so I watched it and was so impressed with one of the desserts that she whipped up ;) that I thought I’d try it too!

Ingredients: Brown Sugar, peaches, butter, vanilla ice cream.

That’s all. Simple ingredients and a simple recipe...well, I did spend a few minutes wondering whether to buy the light brown brown-sugar or the dark brown brown-sugar, I settled for the light brown one, it looked better :)

The dessert came out pretty well, unlike my other sun-tv Sunday samaiyal attempts. All I had to go was melt 3 spoonfuls of butter, add ¼ cup of brown sugar to it and stir it till it melts, cut pecans into little pieces and fry them in the mixture. Then the fun bit, To one scoop of vanilla icecream, add the fried pecans and a little bit of the syrup left behind on the pan and you are done! It tasted heavenly although I didn’t set the pan on fire with a little cooking wine and add three layers of whipped cream to the icecream (which is what she did on TV).

And then I thought, since my dessert attempt was a big hit, I’ll try baking a cake. So, I bought two boxes of Betty Crocker’s cake mix, lemon and chocolate, a cup of chocolate frosting and a tin of condensed milk (which was to be my egg-substitute) and I wore my apron (that’s a must, you can’t bake if you don’t wear the apron).

But then, I decided to alter the measure of ingredients to suit my mood, and so I added 1/4th a cup of oil instead of 1/2, I added 4 spoons of condensed milk and a little bit of yoghurt instead of eggs and then added the cake mix to this and used the hand mixer to beat it (Can I say “to beat it” although I didn’t add eggs?). For some reason, I missed the 11/2 cups of water, I just didn’t see it in the recipe the first time I read it. When the cake came out, it looked a bit sad, instead of being all fluffy and happy, it kind of sat depressed in the center. Also when they say extra-moist lemon cake mix, they mean extra moist because the filling in the center of my cake was really moist.

So, anyway, my second experiment was not as good as my first but I shall still put on a brave front and cook more exciting, new err…experimental stuff (In my defense, I also tried an angel hair pasta with my very own tomato based sauce and it came out really good!)

Anyway, Until my next experiment, eat healthy ye' all :)
© Ramya Sethuraman, All Rights Reserved.