Lemon Pickle Recipe

The South Indian style of making Lemon Pickle

I have grown up enjoying this delicacy as a kid and even today, I look forward to its taste in the creative ways I add it to my food. It bears mentioning that the South Indian style pickle is generally too hot and spicy to consume directly. It needs to be added as a condiment, in small quantities, to the main food.

I am fortunate to live in California where lemons grow well. We have a lemon tree in the backyard and I have made many batches of the lemon pickle over the years.

The beauty of it is that with proper canning, the pickles made can be stored at room temperature for a very long time, from months to even years, as long as the seal holds. Let’s take a look at the simplest recipe I follow to make this delicacy.

Variations to this are possible to make the taste further refined and nuanced, but this is the core recipe.

Ingredients

Lemons – 10-15 (Makes 2-3 quarts of pickle)

Extra Hot Chilli Powder – 1/4 cup per quart of pickle made (adjust to taste)

Salt – 1/4 cup per quart of pickle

Sesame Oil – 1/4 cup per quart of pickle

Turmeric Powder – 1/2 tsp

Black Mustard Seeds – 1/4 cup

Procedure

Wash the lemons well and remove all surface dirt.

Cut each lemon in half and remove the pits. I generally use a handheld wooden lemon juicer to drain the pulp and juice into a sieve over a pot. This makes it easy to fish out the pits and not lose the pulp and any juice along the way.

Cut the cored shells into small pieces and collect them in a stock pot. After all the pits have been removed, transfer the pulp and juice into the stock pot. Add a little water if it is too thick.

Add the turmeric powder and stir well.

Bring the stock pot’s contents to a boil. Then let it simmer for 10 minutes.

Remove from heat and let the pot cool.

Add the salt and chilli powder and mix well.

Cover the stock pot and let it stand overnight for 12-24 hours. Stir the contents periodically and mix it well.

In a frying pan, add the sesame oil and start heating. Add some of the mustard seeds  and wait for them to pop. Once the initial seeds pop, add the rest of the mustard seeds and cover the pan with a slight opening. You can hear the seeds pop vigorously. When all the seeds finish popping, turn off the heat.

Transfer the hot oil into the stock pot and stir to mix it well.

Using the canning funnel, start transferring the pickle mix into the Mason jars. Leave a 1/4 inch air gap on top in each jar. Make sure the rim of the jars are clean and don’t have stray pickle mix on them. Wipe it clean if necessary.

Secure each jar with its lid and the ring. Screw the ring on hand-tight. Place all the jars in the canning stock pot and fill water in the pot to above the top of the lids. The bottles need to be fully submerged throughout the canning process.

Heat the canning pot and bring the water to a boil. Let the water boil for 10 minutes. Remove heat.

Using canning tongs, lift each jar and place on a cooling rack on the countertop. Do not touch the lid or the rings, even after they start to cool.

One by one, within a few minutes, you should hear the lids pop down to seal, due to the vacuum created by the cooling.

After all the lids have sealed, unscrew the rings to see if any debris needs to be cleaned on the outside of the jars. Clean the rings and the grooves on the jars if necessary. Screw back all the rings, hand-tight, to get them ready for storage.

At this time, if you apply a slight pressure on the center of the lid, there should be no movement. All the seals should have been made by the cooling. If any jar had a lid that hadn’t popped down, store it in a refrigerator and earmark it for consumption sooner than later.

Any jar that has been properly sealed is ready for long term storage!

Consumption

The South Indian Lemon Pickle is a great condiment to add to any meal. The traditional, classic, use is in adding it to a course of yogurt and rice mixture. But you can let your imagination fly in adapting it to your taste.

For example, I used to drive my wife nuts by adding it to my bowl of oatmeal in the morning, after I added some milk to it.

Proof that you can invent your own comfort spot in how you can add it to your meals!

Mortgage Refinancing—What’s the Catch?

Why would my current lender encourage me to refinance for a lower rate?

I recently came across a question by a neighbor who wondered about the motive of their current lender in encouraging them to refinance their mortgage for a lower interest rate:

My current lender is sending me a lot of communications to refinance with a lower rate.

I’m trying to determine why my current lender would try to reduce the interest rate. If it’s someone else, I can understand: they are trying to earn new business. But I’m not able to figure out what’s there for current lender—apart from usual fees etc.

What’s the catch here? What does the lender gain by refinancing my existing loan with lower interest rate?

This is a legitimate question. On the first look there seems to be something fishy going on here. Why would a lender willingly accept reduced interest payments on the mortgage note they hold?

Mortgage lifecycle

Before we try to answer the question, let’s keep in mind what happens during the lifecycle of any normal mortgage loan.

  • The loan is originated. Money is lent and the borrower gets the capital to pay for their real estate purchase. The paperwork starting from the application all the way to closing of the loan is taken care of by the origination department, be it a mortgage company, a bank, a credit union, etc. They get paid for this service along with other service providers in the process like the title company, the county registrar and so on. Often these expenses are passed on to the borrower in the form of closing costs. Sometimes the lender absorbs these costs in return for a slightly higher interest rate than what it could have been.
  • Once the origination is complete, the mortgage can be sold in what is termed secondary market where these transactions are unseen by the borrower. The secondary market is complex and doesn’t have to be understood by the borrower. Regardless of who actually owns what part of the loan, they will be earning the interest rate agreed upon during the origination process.
  • In order to keep the backend ownership and changes in that ownership opaque to the borrower, there is a mortgage servicer who actually takes in the borrower’s monthly payments on behalf of the actual owners. They take care of distributing these monthly payments accordingly.
  • The servicer, the borrower-facing business, can change over time as well. One servicer may sell the account to another and the borrower would then make payments to a different business, but keeping to the origination agreement.
  • Home mortgage agreements normally contain no prepayment penalty. This means the borrower can payoff the outstanding loan amount any time and will not incur any penalty for the lost income stream to the lender. This means that the loan can be closed out at any point in time and the lender needs to be prepared for it. On a payoff, the loan ceases to exist.

Borrower’s perspective

Let’s take a look at the above from the viewpoint of a borrower:

  • The borrower applies for and obtains a mortgage loan with certain terms. These terms are generally the interest rate to be paid on the outstanding capital and how long the payments can take in time. Typical durations are 30-year and 15-year periods from the time the loan was originated.
  • The borrower makes monthly payments to the loan servicer on record. The amount paid is in accordance with the agreement at the time of origination.
  • Even with a significant capital still outstanding, the borrower can payoff the mortgage by refinancing, that is borrowing, using a new set of terms, enough money to pay off the earlier mortgage. Note that there is no assumption that the new lender must be different from the original lender.

The original question

Now, back to the question that started it all.

Why would a lender actively encourage a borrower to refinance in order to reduce the interest rate?

We will never know the true answer, but it is normally without any malice. Some of the possible reasons:

  • Different departments may handle mortgage origination and mortgage servicing, and they may not talk to each other. The origination department may be unaware that they are acting to reduce the earnings on the current mortgage note held.
  • Lenders expect borrowers, as a rule, to refinance to reduce their interest rate by watching the market. As a result, to earn the origination fees, it is good practice to promote without worrying about whether the borrower already has a mortgage loan with the organization. If they don’t promote, someone else’s promotion may prevail!
  • The origination department is aware of the current relationship with the borrower, but may seek a new loan anyway to retain them as a borrower, with the possibility of increasing the capital or loan duration, or both.

Therefore, the borrower should not try to second guess why they received a promotion. Rather, they should use it as a stimulus to take a look at the market; evaluate and decide for themselves whether there is any reason to consider a refinance at that time.

Sounds good. How to evaluate?

This is a huge topic. It deserves its own discussion. We’ll cover it in a future post. As a glimpse of the issues involved, let me mention a few:

  • Fixed vs. Adjustable mortgages
  • 15 or 30 year mortgage? (Or others too, like 10 year, 20 year and the like)
  • Monthly payments change
  • Total interest payments
  • Cash-out financing
  • Why increasing your interest rate may even be justified
  • Break-even analysis
  • and more …

So, as long as you follow the steps to evaluate your needs and come to a decision using your own analysis, there is no need to second guess why a particular lender is asking you to refinance. Their promotions are just reminders for you to be constantly vigilant.

The man who influenced four nations for over 20 years as the sole resident of a 134-room building

The year was 1966 when this period of his life started. October 1, 1966, to be exact.

For many years, he had a few co-residents who participated in this process as well. This group of people first became residents of this building in 1947. But all of the others left, at different times, finally leaving him in charge of his peculiar role.

The funny part is that it was not even his own idea to exert all this influence. He sort of fell into this fateful role when he embarked on his solo flight to Scotland as far back as 1941.

This man was none other than , Deputy Fuhrer of the Nazi Party, second in command behind Adolf Hitler in the Nazi Germany between 1933-41.

The building he had occupied as the sole resident was none other than the which was built in 1876.

Changing of the Guards at Spandau Prison
(Used with permission from
)

A 134-cell structure that had held as many as 600 inmates at times, Spandau was relegated to hold just seven inmates post World War II for their war crimes. Situated in West Berlin, it was located in the section controlled by the British. Spandau was operated by the World War II victor nations of France, United Kingdom, United States, and Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and the guard duty rotated among them.

Deputy Fuhrer Hess is purported to have reached Scotland on a solo flight mission in 1941 to engage Britain in peace negotiations with Germany. But he was held a prisoner in the U.K. until Germany surrendered unconditionally in 1945. He was later transferred to Nuremberg for the trials by the war crimes tribunal. He was sentenced to lifetime imprisonment at Spandau along with six others.

Between 1954 and 1966, all the other six prisoners were released. Hess was the sole remaining prisoner.

There were several attempts over the years by family members to release Hess on humanitarian grounds, and every time the soviets vetoed the idea. Being the last prisoner at Spandau, Hess was their only excuse to retain visitation rights to West Berlin. They were not going to relinquish it.

Hess had attempted to commit suicide multiple times, in Britain as well as at Spandau, but was unsuccessful. Finally, on 17 August 1987, at the age of 93, he did commit suicide and died in prison. The prison had lived out its usefulness to the nations involved at that point.

Before another use can be proposed for its existence, the British took swift action and demolished the prison in the same month, August 1987, in a mere 14 days! The Soviets lost their claim on their West Berlin presence.

I first learned of this stalemate situation in 1975 when a fellow student in college was describing how that prisoner (didn’t know his name then) was never going to get out of that prison. The political leverage was too dear for the Soviets who held a veto power.

Noting that Hess had attempted suicide multiple times, and wanted to be released multiple times, loneliness in the prison seems to have been the harshest punishment he endured. All accounts seem to indicate he had been treated well and had freedom to move around in the prison grounds. But not having interactions with other people, for over 20 years, must have taken its toll.

Interestingly, around the same time that Hess went through this solitary confinement in a genteel setting, another man went through harsh, physically abusive, confinement for political reasons. Nelson Mandela, who endured such treatment for 27 years in South Africa, did emerge out of prison eventually and enjoyed Presidency shortly thereafter.

A comparison of these two men offers a stark difference in their circumstances and almost explains the turn of events.

Hess, as Deputy Fuhrer during 1933-1941, arguably the darkest period of life in contemporary Europe, clearly subscribed to racist doctrines.

Mandela, a political prisoner incarcerated for opposing racism, eventually blossomed.

The course of history may be meandering, but has reached an understandable endpoint in both the cases.

Actions do have consequences.

Sundial Bridge: A Sight to Behold

I stood mesmerized by the sleek, slanted, gleaming white column brightly lit by the evening sun against the clear blue sky. The cables tying the column to where I was standing, a pedestrian bridge across the Sacramento River in Redding, California, with see-through glass panels for the deck, made it all the more intriguing and aesthetically pleasing.

I got the first glimpses of the Sundial Bridge when a friend of ours had visited and posted its pictures years ago. 

Design

Designed by Santiago Calatrava, a Spanish Swiss architect of renown, the bridge sports a massive tower. As a structural engineer, Calatrava has a long list of projects around the world known for their architectural statements. The tower, slanted at 42 degrees, appears to reach for the heavens.  It acts as a cantilever and counterbalances the weight of the bridge with the help of the 14 cables. The strength and integrity of these cables are vital. They support both the tower and the bridge and keep them in place. Their visual aesthetics are what we see and enjoy as we take a stroll.

Interestingly, this bridge uses gravity in a creative way. The conventional design has supports on either bank (and sometimes more) of a river. This keeps the deck of the bridge from collapsing due to gravity. Calatrava’s design uses the gravitational pull on the bridge as well as the pylon tower to cancel each other through the tension in the cables. 

I visualize these by picturing two yoga poses: the plank and the modified boat pose. Plank exemplifies the conventional bridge where the torso and the legs act like the deck of the bridge with firm supports on both sides, namely the feet and the hands (or elbows depending on how the yogi does it). The modified boat pose I am thinking of is where the body is in the boat pose but the hands are grasping the legs. In this picture, the legs are the bridge deck and the upper body is the pylon, with the hands acting like the cables that help the two parts counterbalance each other.

While it looks sleek and inviting, the cantilever design is not as strong as the regular construction. Think of someone pushing the yogi in the poses above. It would take considerable effort to push a yogi in the plank pose to fall over. But it is quite easy to do the same to the yogi in the boat pose. The Sundial Bridge endures this reduced stability due to the cantilever design. But as it serves just pedestrians and bicyclists and the challenges to stability are more manageable.

Aesthetics and Driving Traffic

The engineer in me marveled at the delicate details of the construction. But the artist in me just saw the aesthetics and the ambience on that cloudless, balmy, summer day. 

The evening sun adding shimmer to the full flow of the Sacramento River

The emphasis on aesthetics at the expense of robust engineering appears deliberate. The project started in the early 1990’s with a goal of increasing tourism in the Redding area. It was a conscious decision to add a bridge where there was none before and drive more traffic to the area. The project ended up costing eight times the original estimate. But it was successful after its opening in 2004. Visitations rose 42% in the first year. Millions of dollars’ worth of commerce and tourism ensued each year thereafter. 

Sundial Bridge cares about ecology

One of the design decisions was to leave the river free of obstructions for salmon to migrate up the river during the salmon run. The Sacramento River offers an important spawning habitat for the Pacific Salmon that swim upstream to multiply for the next season. 

The 700-foot span of the bridge has no touch point in the river itself. The cantilever design made this possible, as seen below.

The cantilever design leaves the river undisturbed

Translucent glass panels on the deck of Sundial Bridge

Another aspect of the bridge that’s special is the translucent structural glass panels that form the deck of the bridge. These allow light to pass through them, and this is supposed to maintain the natural environment as intact as feasible (by not blocking sunlight) for the salmon in the water. (Photo on the right by  Razster at the English Wikipedia)

But the bridge is lit from below in the night. That ruins the advantage of translucence; it compromises the night experience for the salmon! The only beneficiary seems to be the pedestrians and cyclists who would have light in the night for their own safety and enjoyment.

The Sundial

Keeping with the theme of entertaining tourists, another twist in the construction adds to the experience: The sundial. The 42-degree angle of the cantilever tower, as it is pointing precisely North, opens up the possibility of a sundial. There is a sundial patch built into the grounds. The shadow moves about one foot per minute, so you can see it move! But it may be that it is more of a talking point than of any utility. It indicates the correct time on only one day of the year: the summer solstice, on June 20 or 21. Regardless, it gives the bridge its catchy name.

Sundial Bridge: A Worthwhile Stop

All in all, the Sundial Bridge lives up to its purpose. It attracts tourists with interesting architecture, beautiful views of the Sacramento River and fun with the sundial. It is situated in the city of Redding with quick and easy access from Interstate 5. Yet, it is secluded and shielded from city noise for a peaceful sojourn. 

I am glad I went and enjoyed the bridge and the surroundings on a summer day. I think I will visit it again, this time on the summer solstice, to experience the sundial in precise action!

 

The Case of the Missing Milk

About three decades ago, I was walking the corridors at my work and saw a short yet poignant story pinned to the outside of some cubicle. I never forgot about it.

Let’s take a look:

Whose Job is it Anyway?

This is a story about four people named Everybody, Somebody, Anybody and Nobody.

There was an important job to be done and Everybody was sure that Somebody would do it.

Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it.

Somebody got angry about that, because it was Everybody’s job.

Everybody thought Anybody could do it, but Nobody realized that Everybody wouldn’t do it.

It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when Nobody did what Anybody could have done.

So succinct, yet so expressive of the practical issues surrounding shoulda, coulda, woulda, perfectly knit together!

This reminds me of another story I have heard when I was a small boy.

 

The Case of the Missing Milk

This is set in India where it is auspicious to bathe the idol of Lord Shiva in pure milk.

Once, a king ordered that a huge vat be set up at a temple for an elaborate ceremony of such a bathing. All the merchants of the kingdom were asked to privately donate a jug of milk each by pouring their offering into that vat while praying and seeking the Lord’s blessings. The vat, filled with such donations, would provide the milk required for this special ceremony. The vat was so huge that people needed to lift their jugs above their heads to pour in their offerings.

Each merchant reasoned thus: “All the other merchants will be adding milk into the vat. If I just take a jug of water and pour it into the vat, it wouldn’t make much difference. I can save some money.”

One by one all the merchants made their private offerings, secretly applauding their own smartness.

After all the offerings were collected, the priest arrived to find a sumptuous supply of pure water for the Lord’s bath.

Is it a good example?

The question arose in my mind if the Missing Milk story forms a good example of the parable. I can see it being argued both ways, so I asked around. I got some feedback from my friends and family and the verdict is clear.

In response to my question whether the story exemplifies the parable, we have:

Troubled fit

The biggest issue I had with the parallels between the stories is that the parable talked about a job that anybody could have done. Meaning it would only take one person to do it. Nobody did it. The milk story seems to fit better with the model that the job to be done, gathering pure milk for the bathing, could only be done if all the actors did their part.

So I was grappling with the suitability of the story as an example. Noting the overwhelming endorsement of the of the applicability of the story as an example, I got to thinking again.

Better fit

Then I got it: the job to be done is not what I thought of initially. It can be entirely different:

Eliminate the incentive to cheat!

Now we are cooking. Let’s take stock.

  • The king could have defined the process without including the privacy clause.
  • The priest could have invoked the privilege of the officiator to be present when the offerings were poured, thereby actually redefining what privacy means.
  • Each merchant could have known better than to assume that the other merchants would not cheat.

So, we are back to the observation that anybody could have done the revised job. Nobody did.

This premise started to lose luster when you include somebody and everybody. It is possible to account for their sentiments expressed too, but only with a little stretch of imagination. Things still didn’t gel.

The best fit

The common theme, as identified by my friends and family, expresses the parallel the best: Personal Responsibility.

Brilliant, would you say?

Does this gel for you?

How A Dead Rat Trapped Us!

A story of survival with self-quarantine and driveway camping

“I don’t have a coverall to go into the crawl space,” said the technician.

He said that with a straight face too. I was watching him closely.

You may not think much of it, except, he was the one the extermination company, let’s call X, sent precisely to deal with our situation. A stinky one at that.

I mean it literally. The stink in the air was unmistakable. However, it was building for a few days and it took my wife and me a couple of days to make sure it was reason enough to call X.

We put through the call on a Friday. Big mistake. Extermination needs are supposed to arise just on weekdays, during working hours. How dare we hope for prompt service when all the overworked technicians were more than ready to throw in the towel on the work week and were dreaming of a cold beer to ring in the weekend!

We got graciously pencilled in for a visit by the gentleman who stood in front of us. Not on the Friday when we called, but on Saturday, in the afternoon. In the meantime, the stink was getting meaner.

The Battle

At the point when the technician declared his inability to visit our crawl space, we got into a staring contest. He was hoping for a quick and easy resolution where we’d excuse him and he could go his merry way home. And we were incredulous at his preposterous declaration and were also waiting for a resolution that would make him relent.

The silence was deafening and seemed interminable.

We won that battle in the end (the war was another matter). He mumbled something to the effect that he’d try and find a dirty coverall from a previous job and go down to take a look. He vanished for a few minutes and returned, clad in a coverall. The garment didn’t look dirty!

We were relieved to have someone finally go into that crawl space and get rid of that pesky rodent that was stinking up the place. We were sure that our problems would be solved in a matter of a few minutes, once the technician went under there.

Little did we know.

Literally a couple of minutes were all it took for him to resurface, but with no gift in hand. We learned why.

“I can’t go through your crawl space. I’m too big,” was his report. Again, he was very sincere and apologetic. He went on to explain, “You have some duct work down there. I can’t get under them. I’m too big. We need to have a skinny person go through the space.”

Now, what are the chances that X would send someone matching the body size requirements on a Saturday evening when this determination was made around 5pm? Our hearts sank. But we put up a brave face and tried to appeal to his sensibility.

Our technician, let me call him Mr. Too Big, was a master of apologies. He profusely expressed how sorry he was, all the while reinforcing the idea that the best we can hope for was attention by the company on Monday. To prevent our despair in his presence, Mr. Too Big threw in a last ditch hope: he could try and see if one last technician still on duty could swing by and take care of us on that Saturday evening.

A few minutes later, he came back and reported that he had made contact with that lone technician, let’s say Mr. Phantom (we never saw him). Mr. Phantom would come by if he could. Mr. Too Big also said that he had arranged for a follow up appointment on Monday by another technician. And then he split.

A few minutes later, we got email notification that the service call was complete. Panicked, I texted Mr. Too Big who then assured me that’s how the business protocol worked!

Later in the evening, when I tried to communicate with him about Mr. Phantom, I discovered that Mr. Too Big had turned his phone off for the weekend.

Needless to say, we never saw Mr. Phantom on Saturday.

The War

Between Saturday and Monday, the stink had a field day, and was starting to permeate the whole house. The saving grace was that the bedrooms were still odor-free and we quickly sealed them off with their doors shut to keep them that way.

Mid-day Monday, another technician came by to investigate. He came properly equipped, and went into the crawl space as we would expect. A little while later, he came back up, empty-handed.

“I found no dead rodent down there. But I found rat infestation with a lot of droppings,” was his report. His recommendation was to sign up for a special service to rodent-proof the house, with a 10-year warranty. No short-term solution for the problem at hand.

Since the stench was the most in the kitchen, we had him scrutinize that area as well. He spotted some droppings and found some hair.

He asked, “Do you have pets?”

“We don’t have pets, but our cousin’s dog had visited us a year ago for a few days.”

The technician was satisfied. “That can explain it.”

He found no other evidence of any dead rodent in the kitchen.

When I pressed him to take care of the problem rather than talk about it, he was visibly surprised. He offered, “I am an inspector. I diagnose the issue and propose a solution, but the actual work is done by a specialist.” Mr. Inspector’s solution? Purchase of the (expensive) service.

His persuasive argument? There was an infestation of rodents in the crawl space. Finding and removing one rodent was not going to fix it. We needed to seal the house and the (expensive) service would include vacuuming of all the droppings in the crawl space to give it a fresh start. And we were so lucky…we could have a technician come by and take care of it first thing in the morning the next day, Tuesday. These slots are normally not so quickly available.

We were at our wits’ end, and of course thought the mental peace was worth it, so we signed on to that (expensive) service. Chalk it up to clever salesmanship. It worked. We lost the war.

Driveway Camping

As it became clear that the trouble spot was likely the kitchen and not the crawl space, and the stench was becoming unbearable, we had stopped cooking altogether and would self-quarantine ourselves in our bedrooms. When meal time arrived, we would hold our nose and dash out the side door that minimized our exposure to the odor, and drive the van over to a take-out place of our choice. With COVID-19 hanging over our heads, no sit down meals anywhere either. We would drive back home, park the van in our driveway, and consume our food, sitting in the van! Camping in our own driveway! Then, of course, we’d dash back into a bedroom.

Just as we were consoling ourselves that the ordeal would at least be over on Tuesday, Monday evening handed the bombshell: X had a mix-up with their appointment calendar and the specialist technician could only come on Wednesday, not Tuesday. Our only choices were to accept the new appointment or cancel the whole deal.

Guess which option won? One more day of eating out, COVID-style.

The False Hope

Surprises never cease. Tuesday morning brought us a phone call from an X technician—I’ll call him Mr. Tuesday—who said he would be seeing us soon. Excited, we got into a dialog and pretty soon got very confused.

Each of us didn’t understand what the other was saying. In the end, he excused himself, checked with X, and got back with the finding. “I will NOT be seeing you soon,” was his witty retort and explained that yet another snafu at X caused him to contact us.

Wednesday was our day.

Trapped!

Wednesday brought in a breath of fresh air. No, not literally in our kitchen. Arriving earlier than the appointed time (how often does that happen!), the specialist technician, Mr. Fixer, got down to business. He went around, sealed off all rodent access points, and went into the crawl space to remove the dead animal.

Guess what! He emerged empty handed as well. No rodents in the crawl space.

No vacuuming of droppings either, because vacuuming only applies to droppings on the concrete blocks supporting the house; not the dirt. He was also surprised that he didn’t find the infestation reported by the inspector. Just a few droppings here and there.

Not finding anything, he was all set to leave! It didn’t make sense. I recalled Mr. Inspector’s vacillation and asked Mr. Fixer to look under the range for droppings and hair. He lay down on the floor and shone his flashlight under the range to take a peek.

That’s when I saw it.

The sparkle. The excitement of discovery. The mirth of diagnosis. “This is it,” he declared!

I was trying to recount Mr. Inspector’s uncertainty about what it could be.

“Nope, this is rat hair,” asserted Mr. Fixer. I could have never imagined how pleased I would be to find rat’s hair in our kitchen!

With a little effort, he pulled out the range from its housing. There was no sign of the rat! Sure there were droppings, and even hair, but no rat!

Mr. Fixer was visibly stumped. The back of the range was neatly sealed with metallic panels. It was designed to be pushed flush against the wall.

He started shining his flashlight into the teeny holes on the panels. Bingo! A rat was spotted inside the back panel. Mr. Fixer needed to run back to his truck to retrieve a special socket to unscrew the back panel to expose the innards and there he was, Mr. Rat!

When Mr. Fixer grabbed the carcass by the tail and gingerly dislodged it from its resting spot and dangled it in the air, I could see the rat’s eyes, face, and the whole lifeless body.

The rat got into a tight spot and couldn’t get itself out. It basically starved to death.

The real question is, how did it get there in the first place? Neither Mr. Fixer nor I could figure it out. I still don’t know.

Trapped it was, and trapped we were too.

Trapped?

Trapped, we felt when we couldn’t use most of our house and needed to quarantine ourselves in our bedrooms. Trapped, we felt when we had to eat in our van. But the feeling of a different trap slowly took shape in my mind.

I was running the whole experience through my mental video. Starting with our first call to X, it was mind boggling to realize how far we needed to go to get this resolved. Mr. Friday (the agent who set up the appointment for Mr. Too Big to show up the next day), Mr. Too Big, Mr. Phantom, Mr. Inspector, Mr. Tuesday, and finally, Mr. Fixer each played a role in shaping this journey.

Strangely, the one person, Mr. Inspector, who engineered the expensive solution, left me with a sense of feeling trapped.

As a marketer myself, I understand the perils of questionable marketing. Revelations from Mr. Fixer gave me pause.

The amount of droppings in the crawl space and the conclusion of a rat infestation there may have been exaggerated by Mr. Inspector.

The benefits of the expensive service agreement, as applicable to us, may have been played up. Mr. Fixer found nothing that could be vacuumed out from the crawl space, yet Mr. Inspector presented vacuuming out the droppings and having a clean start as one of the benefits for us.

Urgency is a big part of marketing, and I wonder if ‘availability’ of a slot first thing in the morning on Tuesday was a ploy to egg us to sign up for the service on Monday.

We’d never know for sure.

Do you think we were trapped?

I Thought I Planned a Perfect Anniversary Gift

But I may have triggered a pandemic

Last month was special.

In May, my wife Praveena and I celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary! Sadly, I cannot but wonder if I had precipitated a crisis by planning that celebration. Let me explain.

Anniversaries come and go every year like clockwork. That’s what they do. It’s up to us to make the most of them. Praveena and I have done pretty well over the years, but there is one lingering — mostly unfulfilled — desire for an anniversary celebration: travel.

The Dream

My wife’s major dream was to visit Australia for our 25th anniversary. Didn’t happen. Life happens, and it didn’t include such an interlude. We floated several other ideas in the following years, and they just floated away. There was always a reason. For a couple of travel aficionados, we had trouble planning a good travel itinerary for our anniversaries! We did make it to Joshua Tree National Park in 2016, but still no New Zealand, Antarctica, or Angkor Wat, all of which are in our bucket list. May is perhaps not the best time for some of these locations, but we can always dream without worrying about practicality!

If you can dream it, you can do it.

Walt Disney

Late in 2019, as the 40th anniversary was coming closer, I was getting restless: I really needed to break the pattern and think of something unexpected. Travel has always been our dream for our anniversary, but it was not on the cards yet again: We had other travel we needed to make in 2020 and couldn’t swing another one on the anniversary date. We were making plans for a family get together in Florida in June/July which would include a flight between San Francisco and Orlando, and a road trip within Florida. It was when I started making airline reservation in December for the June trip that I got the epiphany.

The Plan

I thought that if we couldn’t travel on the anniversary date, perhaps I could make the Florida trip unusually special. I could then let Praveena know of this special twist on the anniversary day, making it my anniversary present. I decided to upgrade the cross-country flight between San Francisco and Orlando. Following through on that decision was another matter.

I scanned my options on Expedia for making this happen, and my heart stopped! What I was going for would cost us a pretty penny! I reminded myself why I was doing this and the objections quickly vanished…we have come a long way together and this one-time expense was worth it. Still, it took me some time to muster enough courage to click that final submit button, but I did it: I committed to travel by First Class! Praveena deserved it—she has waited long enough for a treat like this. When I made the reservation in December, I told my wife that flight was all set, but didn’t go into the details.

The charm of a well-intentioned surprise is its revelation. The price paid for this reward is the wait till that day.

With the booking done, it was time to make some plans. We started chalking out excursions to explore three different National parks — the Everglades, Biscayne, and Dry Tortugas — over several days, not to mention a visit to Key West. Summer heat and humidity can be a detraction, but I come from South India and I don’t think Florida can trump my experience of walking bare feet through an open corridor, midday, on a sizzling granite floor in the April heat at one of the temples of South India.

I have forever longed to visit Key West. Can’t really say why; it just seems like a fun trip. Perhaps it has to do with it sporting the southern-most point of Continental US where you should be able to see sunrise and sunset on the ocean from the same point. It’s nostalgic because I lived for many years just 12 miles from Kanyakumari, the southern-most point of India, where I could do the same with ocean sunrise and sunset.

Or, perhaps I was hoping to get a glimpse of Old Man Santiago battling the marlin just like Hemingway saw it. Or travelling on the 7-mile bridge through the Keys much like the San Mateo Bridge across the San Francisco Bay. Anticipation of the unknown is wonderful.

All that trip planning was exhilarating, but I needed to make sure I didn’t blurt out the key surprise. It was a torturous wait of five months to keep the surprise for the reveal.

Reveal I did, as planned. Happy 40th Anniversary, My Dear! Everything gelled for the surprise. We never purchase a first-class air ticket to go anywhere. What a fitting celebration!

Alas, it was too good to last. As much as I savor the happy culmination of the five months’ wait, I can’t help feeling that my plans had unintended consequences. My decision on December 9, 2019 — when I made the booking — was to pave the way for our Florida trip to be enjoyed in style. What has happened instead?

The Fallout

Man proposes and God disposes!

The husband who decides to surprise his wife is often very much surprised himself.

Voltaire

Just a month after I booked the tickets, in January 2020, we heard murmurs of COVID-19 when China released news of its impact on Wuhan. But life went on as usual here in the U.S. even until mid-March. No hint of any danger to our travel plans. Then everything unraveled within a month and it became clear in April that our travel plan would be toast.

Once before, I had a cancelled trip like this one: A much awaited trip to the Vatican was thwarted due to my needing an appendectomy three days before the start of that trip! My luck with special trips, the once-in-a-lifetime kind, seems suspect: Something is bound to happen to sabotage my plans. I am convinced that this luck of mine was the true cause of the global pandemic, a means to this sabotage.

Don’t believe me? Consider the evidence:

On December 9 when I bought the ticket, COVID-19 must have been giving Chinese officials grief. China announced the specter of COVID-19 to the world in January, so they must have been battling to contain it in December. Thus, December 9 was as good a date as any when the fate was sealed for the global COVID-19 outbreak.

Hence my assertion: I (really, my luck) may have triggered this pandemic! I am sticking to it.

The Silver Lining

There is no silver lining for the thousands of people who succumbed to the pandemic or the millions of people whose lives have been turned upside down. But there is one to my quest.

Positivity is essential for happiness in life.

I have been able to successfully keep the surprise gift a secret from my wife. I can say that with confidence. I let Praveena read this narrative up to the previous section and I submit her outburst as evidence of her surprise: “Oh! We were going to travel by First Class? You actually did it? You’re kidding me! First Class! Wow!” Precious moment, indeed. The wait was worth it. Mission accomplished! We have been able to enjoy the idea behind it, keeping in mind that it’s the thought that counts. Praveena is with me on my conspiracy theory too: “We were going to travel by First Class? I am sure that’s why this [pandemic] happened. Positive.”

Moreover, all our plans could be cancelled without financial loss. The whole affair turned out to be a NO that just means NOT NOW. The travails of today portend a better tomorrow. We’re thankful for that anticipation.

Most importantly, my wife and I are here together today and we were able to celebrate our 40th Anniversary. That’s priceless!