Making timeSun, 12th Jun '22, 4:50 pm::

This past week I promised myself that I will start making time for myself again. Over two decades ago when I started this blog, I was in the midst of college exams, homework, and projects and barely had time for anything other than studies, chores, and some work. And yet I always had time to write an update here. But last few years have been so exhaustively busy and stressful for me that while I made time to play with the kids and go out with Juliet, I pushed off my personal "me time" aside.

Add to that the long list of paperwork I have had to do and still haven't done, being alone in my office became the most opportune time to check things off the to-do list rather than relax, share my thoughts, or be creative like I used to. I don't even comment online anymore because if I have time to type paragraphs for strangers, I have time to update our Au Pair family profile so that we can find Adele's replacement once she leaves in early September. But thankfully, old tasks are getting done now and new todos aren't piling up like they did a year ago. The Au Pair family profile has been updated. I filled out the claim forms for moving damages from last year. I have the documents I need to register our cars here in Illinois and sign up Leela for day care. And soon my parents room downstairs will be ready.

Maybe then I can write down some of the thoughts that I've been itching to share for quite some time now. So next up will be my treatise on... love.

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Goodbye TeraFri, 10th Jun '22, 8:10 pm::

It was long time coming but I finally laid down my dear little Tera cat to eternal sleep today. I got her and Giga in 2004 and they have been as much a part of my life as any person. She was a shy, quiet cat who used to only come to me for many years. Over time some others charmed her and she started to run away from me because I was the only one to take her to the vet. But last few weeks she started to come up to me for back rubs. I had a feeling it was her time and gave her extra treats and rubs. I am sad she is gone but I am grateful she was there for me on days I needed a warm fuzzy nuzzle.

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SpringtimeThu, 28th Apr '22, 2:05 pm::

My parents just arrived from India last night and finally got to see the kids again after over two years! The last two years changed all of our lives so much and it feels great to be reunited as a family. I've been insanely busy last few months but hopefully now that they're here, I can get some free time to work on my projects, relax, and spend time with family.

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Settled in Fri, 31st Dec '21, 1:15 pm::

We've been in Woodstock, IL for just over a month and I'm glad to share that it feels like home. The main floor of the house is pretty much all setup and the downstairs has a week or two worth of organizing before we can call it done. After we put away the Christmas decorations and clear out the guest rooms, we will be ready for the next phase - construction!

The two big projects we have in the house are (1) installing an elevator between the upstairs kitchen and the gym below and (2) adding a en-suite bathroom to the guest rooms downstairs. Things got way too hectic last few months for us to start these but I'm hoping to have both projects done before my parents visit us in summer 2022. I'm sure there will be a number of smaller projects all year but even without anything major, the house is comfortable, safe, and organized.

I myself have been spending my hobby hours working on automating the house. I didn't want a traditional "smart" home system like Amazon Alexa or Apple HomeKit so I setup Home Assistant by myself. The nice thing is once it is all set, it will not rely on any external system in the cloud to manage my home. Already the Christmas Tree lights turn on/off on a schedule and my office electric candle starts warming up an hour before I start working. In a few weeks, most of the lights upstairs will be connected to the home automation system.

I have a TON of paperwork to do next week, from Juliet's medical to our drivers license and kids' passports. Naveen starts school this Monday and that's going to be a huge change for us too. All in all, looking forward to 2022 and whatever it brings us.

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Thank you AdeleSat, 11th Dec '21, 8:50 am::

After Juliet was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 2020, we were struggling to just take care of her medical treatments, let alone raise an infant and a preschool kid during the COVID-19 pandemic. At a friend's advice, I contacted Cultural Care Au Pair and we came across Adele's profile on their site. We reached out to her with our story and she said she was more than excited to be a part of our lives. It's been over a year since we first talked to Adele and today I'd like to thank her for everything she has done for us and beyond.

It is so easy for us to start listing off the wonderful things about Adele - she is kind, always helpful, trustworthy, reliable, and so much more. But simple adjectives cannot capture the extent to which she has positively impacted our life in these few short months. She brought us wonderful gifts and candies from her home in South Africa and got into our family's routine almost instantly. Naveen absolutely adores her and Leela snuggles up to her all day. She took over the day-to-day childcare responsibilities, giving Juliet and I the opportunity to find a new home in a cooler climate that would help with her recovery. Adele absolutely surprised us by saying she would love to help us relocate and would extend her stay to make sure we're fully settled in!

We knew Adele always went the extra mile to take care of our kids but this went above and beyond our expectations of what anyone would do for us. She could have taken the easy route and looked for a new family since we were leaving sunny Florida but instead she chose to sign up for extended cross-country trips, uncomfortable road-side hotel rooms, living out of carry-on luggage, and unpredictable schedule, all while taking care of the kids as gently and calmly as she did before.

I am not exaggerating when I say without Adele, Juliet would still be struggling daily from MS side-effects due to Florida's high humidity. We could not have found our new house near in Woodstock, IL and moved here without Adele's help and for that, we will be eternally grateful to her.

Adele is definitely the big sister for both our kids. They look up to her for advise, assistance, and activities. It didn't take us long to know that she was such an amazing person. The first week she was here, we went out as a family and before I even got out of the car, she was assisting Juliet with her walking cane. It was not much but it showed us her values, upbringing, and morals. That is exactly the person we want our kids to emulate.

She told us early on that one of her goals was to explore US and make new friends so we have always encouraged her to take time off, travel, and meet new people. In that spirit, we took her to all the places she wanted to visit and then some - Florida's Space Coast to watch SpaceX launch at 4am, kayaking in Weekiwachee Springs, long weekend in Disney, NASA Rocket Center in Huntsville, underground tour in Mammoth Cave, Kentucky, and explored a number of parks and museums like Selby Gardens, Georgia Aquarium, and Clearwater Aquarium. She has already been to California, Arizona, and Nevada with friends from Cultural Care and she is going to NYC next week with friends.

Adele has already done so much for us, our goal now is to make sure she has a million great memories of her 18-months in the US.

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Welcome to T-WoodstockWed, 3rd Nov '21, 2:30 pm::

So we've been in our new house in Woodstock for only a week and turns out we won T-Mobile's free home internet service for a year! While in Florida, I read about T-Mobile selecting Woodstock, IL as the winner of their 'Hometown Techover' challenge, basically they picked a small town among thousands from across the US to upgrade their infrastructure to 5G internet for cellphone and home use. And as part of the winning town, 100 local families were randomly selected to get free internet, TV, and some other goodies. As a new resident of Woodstock, we happen to be one of these 100.

Maybe it's a coincidence but I read about this challenge a few months ago while we were still in Florida because I was trying to find a backup internet provider in addition to the primary Comcast Xfinity service. I saw T-Mobile was going to start offering 5G in Woodstock but they had not rolled it out yet. Since I work remotely and cannot be without internet for long, I definitely want to have a backup in case my primary internet is down.

Hah! And this might sound like I'm making this up for effect but just after I typed the above sentence an hour ago, Comcast went down! If I had T-Mobile 5G at home service as a backup, my router would have switched to it transparently and I may not even have noticed for the most part. I believe it will be a month or so before I receive the new equipment. Santa is going to be nice to me for Christmas this year!

Here's me (in Mammoth Cave t-shirt) holding a giant winner banner. Always wanted to do this! Another check off my bucket list.

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Hello WoodstockSun, 24th Oct '21, 11:35 pm::

Tonight is our first night sleeping in our new home in Woodstock, Illinois. We flew into Chicago from Tampa on Friday and stayed in a local hotel until this morning. Our furniture isn’t here yet so we are sleeping on air mattresses for now. Life’s an adventure!

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Big thingsSun, 10th Oct '21, 12:45 am::

It's been a while since I last wrote about the little things in life and my, what a surprising turn of events these past 3 months have been. Forget about the frivolities of happiness, passion, and creativity that I mused about in June. July brought my whole family face-to-face with jarring life and death decisions.

My brother-in-law Aashish started experiencing severe neurological symptoms and MRI showed he had a 4cm tumor-like mass in his brain. My parents flew to my sister's home in Hyderabad and after a sleepless week of doctors visits and diagnostic plans, we were convinced that the best recourse was immediate brain surgery. And shockingly enough, the surgery showed it was not a tumor but rather a sphenoid fungal ball – basically sinus infection that went haywire and ended up creating a golf-ball sized mass in his brain!

On the night Aashish returned home from a successful surgery, my octogenarian grandma started having seizures that lasted 72 hours! So my parents, who were already away from their home in Kolkata, now spent two weeks in hospital in 12-hour alternating day/night shifts, watching over her. While this was going on, Juliet's MS symptoms started getting drastically worse due to Florida heat. So my parents were in hospital with grandma, my sister was in and out of hospitals with her husband, and I was beside Juliet 24/7 while poring over MRIs and lab reports for the whole family.

August started with good news. Aashish was feeling better post-surgery. My grandma's condition stabilized and my parents managed to fly her home. And Juliet had some good evenings when it got cooler though she was in bed most days. And that's when I decided it was time for change. I resumed my search for a home in a cooler place and on August 10th, I got the whole family in the van and drove up north to the quaint little city of Woodstock, Illinois on the outskirts of Chicago. I knew I had found our dream home but before we bought it, I wanted Juliet to see it for herself. And honestly, we knew it was the right one the moment we pulled into the driveway.

We immediately put an offer on the house and the sellers accepted it. We stayed near Chicago for a week to finalize home inspections etc. and get a feel for the area. Illinois was about 15ºF cooler than Florida and Juliet was full of energy the whole time. On the way down to Florida, I booked a ranger-guided accessible tour of Mammoth Cave in Kentucky. We went 280ft down a large elevator, directly into the cave system, where the temperature is always a cool 54ºF. I expected Juliet to freeze but instead she absolutely loved it! MS does weird things. That just reinforced my belief that Illinois is the right move for us, despite the freezing winters.

We got home to Florida, started planning the big move, and after a month of non-stop mortgage, insurance, and legal paperwork, finally bought the house in late September. We are permanently moving to Woodstock in a couple of weeks! Part of the reason we waited to move was Juliet's early-October infusion of MS treatment, Ocrevus. She did great with it this time around and is recovering well.

As we are planning our move, my parents are also moving from Kolkata, West Bengal to Vadodara, Gujarat. My dad has lived in Kolkata since birth and so this is a pretty big move for him, especially since they will be moving out of my childhood home. But it will be a good move because they will be closer to family, be in a community that caters to seniors, and have a more active lifestyle with gardens, pool, and clubhouse right outside their doorstep. On a complete unrelated note, my sister is also moving to their new home in Bangalore in a few months.

Next few weeks are going to be insane for me, especially since I'm coordinating the packing, loading, moving, and unloading the entire home, along with selling our Florida home, and flying the whole family and many of our pets to Chicago. Among the things we will miss the most about Florida are the pets we cannot take with us. Today I held back my tears and gave our goats Marco and Polo away to a friend of a friend. She also took Naveen's two chickens Day/Night and Pretty. Our friend Megan will take the three Sulcata tortoises. Juliet and I spent the last decade creating a mini-zoo in our backyard and it is heartbreaking to see it slowly disperse. I want to say c’est la vie but since I actively took the decision to give them away, it's hard not to blame myself instead of just life. But I know it is the right decision because right now my focus needs to be on Juliet and the kids. And we're already taking our chihuahua Ladybug, cats Giga & Tera, birds Echo, Mango, and still-unnamed-after-5-years male Gouldian finch, and Rosie the red-foot tortoise. So we will still have a tiny-mini-zoo. Ladybug is over 15-years-old and Giga & Tera are over 17! I don't think I'm prepared for what's most likely coming in the next year or so.

Over the past decade, my family has had a lot of issues with health, work, school, childcare etc. and it has been hard for everyone to relate to each other because my parents don't have much experience with adoption and I don't have much experience with my brother-in-law's graduate studies. But July started us on a path of shared experiences. All of us had to deal with a household member with neurological issues and decipher MRIs. Then August got all of us looking for our next house. Followed by September of planning the big moves. October I'm moving. November probably my parents. And hopefully Q1 2022 my sister. We'll all have new addresses, new neighbors, new doctors, new favorite restaurants, and new experiences.

We know we're not out of the woods just yet. My grandma needs 24/7 nursing care. Aashish is waiting for the next set of MRIs to reassure us that his anti-fungal meds are working. And Juliet has more bad days than good for now. But things are looking up. She's lived in Florida all her life but is excited to explore the mid-west with our kids. So many new parks and museums to check out! So many corn-mazes and hayrides to go on! So many vacations and tours to enjoy!

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Little thingsThu, 24th Jun '21, 12:05 am::

At the midpoint of 2021, I'm feeling a lot more optimistic than I did at the start of the year. Juliet is managing her MS quite well and has been in a great mood lately. She is getting used to moving around with a cane and walker and I've gotten quite adept at setting up her wheelchair when we go outdoors. While initially her limited mobility issues wore her out, she's used to it now and we have gotten better at planning her excursions. I've been taking her to USF Tampa for weekly physical therapy sessions and hopefully her gait and strength will continue to improve.

Over the past 10 months, she has learned as much as possible about her condition and gradually adopted a comfortable daily routine. She found that napping 2-3 hours during the day gives her the most energy and mental clarity to interact with family and friends. She learned that the best time for her to work out is early morning and late at night. We all learned that she absolutely cannot handle sensory overload from too much noise, light, or movement. So as long as we accommodate these things, it feels we're back in the pre-MS days.

Now that Naveen's on summer break, we've been spending our days together. I started playing Scrabble with him and Juliet's been reading to Leela a lot. Adele's been taking care of the kids when Juliet takes rest and I take over when I need a break from coding. Honestly, after a year of uncertainty and sleepless nights, it feels good to be able to enjoy the little things again.

And the little things are indeed wonderful. When I got home today, before I even walked into the living room, I heard Leela gleefully exclaim "DADA!" Later when I asked Naveen to help clean up the toys, he pretended to be asleep. I told him I'll use a flashlight to point to every toy that needs to be picked up and he instantly perked up! I spent the next 10 minutes pointing at various objects on the floor and he happily ran around picking them up and stowing them away.

I think a big part of achieving happiness is defining what happiness means for yourself. I've spent a lot of time wondering about happiness - does it come from fulfilling a life goal or mission, pursuing your passion, helping others, finding love, winning awards, overcoming adversities, attaining ambitions, or simply enjoying a cup of coffee while reading a good book on a lazy Sunday. I don't think there is a single path to happiness. I think it varies. Varies from person to person, from moment to moment. Tonight it was Juliet trying to prepare dinner for me even after I asked her to rest. Yesterday it was the kids jumping on me when I sat down on the floor. And last week it was reminiscing about building websites back in the day.

I was getting a little worried over the past year that I might have lost the spark within myself that made me want to be creative. Maybe I'm too old now to be as excited about making new things. Maybe I no longer have the energy or ability to work on my own tech ideas like I used to. Last year has been exhausting and I feel pretty burned out so I was afraid maybe this is permanent and this is the new me - the boring, loving dad who's always tired. Well, thankfully, over the past few weeks, I'm starting to feel like my old self again. It's going to take a while before I can get into my 2005-2014 creative headspace again but instead of being afraid that I'll never feel like that again, I'm making that my next life goal. Until then, I shall keep treasuring the wonderful little things in life.

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Video GamesWed, 7th Apr '21, 12:45 am::

I have vague early-childhood memories of my parents and their friends hooking up wired remote controllers to an old black & white TV in the early 80s to play pong. I never got to play it but soon after we got a handheld pinball video game that my sister and I loved, similar to this Nintendo. I was never good at it but it was fun. Few years later we borrowed a ZX Spectrum from a family friend for the summer and played JetPac. This was around the time PCs were becoming common in India and I got to try out the original Prince of Persia. My friends were playing Contra on NES but I never got into it.

Few years later we got our own PC, a brand new Intel 486 DX2 with 8MB RAM and 500MB Hard Disk, and over next few years my sister and I played so many games on it from Gods and Jazz Jackrabbit to Aladdin and Lion King. As I was still pretty bad at games, I discovered the wonders of Game Wizard, a background app that allowed me to freeze the number of lives I had so that even after my character died, I could play over and over again without losing. I made a few simple PC board games around mid 90s but didn't really go down the gamedev path. Then Wolf 3D, Doom, Need for Speed, and Terminal Velocity came out and my cheating apps didn't help.

After I started coding business systems in late 90s, I stopped playing games. In early 2000s, during my college years, I only finished one game, Splinter Cell because a good friend of mine, Chris, loved it and gave me tips. My favorite part of Splinter Cell was that I could save and load any time. So I would save right before I entered a room full of bad guys and keep loading the saved game until I managed to shoot them all without dying. I was terrible at it but I finished it without needed a modern Game Wizard cheat.

In 2005, I came across Falling Sand Game and loved it. It was more of a toy than a game but I'm fairly certain that when I decrypted the Java code and resized the tiny game to be full-screen, it launched the genre. I didn't write the game but I'm pretty sure I pushed the metaphorical "GO!" button and I think I also came up with the name itself. Other than this, I don't think I played any games until after I married Juliet and we tried Portal. It took us a few weeks but we loved solving the puzzles together and finished it after much effort. I listened to the Still Alive song from the game for months after. We tried Portal 2 a few years later but never completed it.

I rarely played games on my phone but Juliet tried a few ones like Candy Crush. Then my parents got me into a few word game apps but it was under 20-30mins per week. When Naveen turned 4, I installed Terraria on his Kindle and he started playing it. Couple of years ago I bought Oculus Quest and tried out Beat Saber and enjoyed it until our living room was once again overtaken by baby toys.

Last year we started playing a few games together on the Apple TV and during the initial lockdowns, Naveen and I got into Oceanhorn 2. We played it all summer and when the game was over, I was crushed because it was such a great experience just sitting in the living room with kids, looking for hidden treasures to collect on-screen. Thankfully for Naveen, he and Juliet started playing Sneaky Sasquatch soon after and I believe they are still exploring that game 9-10 months later today.

Earlier this year, I bought the new Xbox Series X and we all started playing games together again. We absolutely loved Call of the Sea and What Remains of Edith Finch. I finished Gears 5 on my own, with Naveen occasionally telling me to "go there" or "pick that up" from the sidelines, but the experience was nothing like when we played Oceanhorn because Gears is not really a kid-friendly game.

I haven't started a new game with Juliet yet but after trying out a LOT of different games, Naveen and I finally have a new game we love to explore together, Outer Worlds. It is a surprisingly feature-packed game with so much to explore, ton of player customization and upgrades, and great story-line and interactivity. Naveen uses his experience from Terraria and suggests how I should modify my gear, barter items, or select newly unlocked perks. We haven't finished it but we've explored a lot of the game already and can't wait to see where it goes.

Three decades after getting my hands on a video game, I am still terrible at them. I can barely fight an enemy boss without half a dozen attempts to save and reload. I often get lost and have to go into the same rooms and hallways repeatedly just to find my bearings. And despite all of it, I thoroughly enjoy playing video games, especially with family. I miss the days my sister and I would stay up all night just to get past one tricky level. Now I get to relive those exciting moments and nerve-racking emotions again with Naveen in every new game we try, and someday maybe with Leela.

Books, films, TV shows, and music each have their own place in my heart when I want to engage in passive entertainment. Board games and outdoors adventures are wonderful for active entertainment. But video games for me hit the perfect spot as a blend of both active and passive activity and best of all, since I am so bad at them, last for weeks and even months! And I think it is this prolonged participation in each particular game that leaves such deep, wonderful memories in my mind. Because when we're playing a new game, I am living in that world for a long time, unlike a 2-3 hour movie or a few evenings worth of reading a good book.

I have watched every Marvel and DC movie made in the last 20 years, most of them multiple times. Last summer we spent over 120 hours playing Oceanhorn. That's twice as long as all of these movies combined and then some. And best of all, I spent every single one of those hours engaging with Naveen, asking him why he wants to go there or pick that up, letting him come up with the winning strategy, working with him on his decision-making process. Sure, at the end of the day it's all just games but we needed the escape from reality when Juliet was alone in the hospital after her diagnosis of MS. And now while we await the results of her secondary, possible diagnosis of Myasthenia Gravis, I'm just glad that Juliet seems interested in playing Fallout 4 next.

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