Updated on July 19, 2017
New England summers are all about the surf and sand, and of course, seafood. As someone who has been dutifully doing her rounds of beaches and eateries, I can tell you about a few places I tried recently.
The first one is Westfair Fish and Chips in Westport, Connecticut. A hole-in-the-wall place, Westfair is a seafood lover’s haven. Not many people know about this dive. The credit goes to my friend for finding this tiny, tiny shop with a flair for the perfect batter and the freshest fish.
While the fish and chips is to die for and the crab cakes hold their own, the place itself is not great for a sit-down meal. So my friend and I picked up our lunch from Westfair and drove to Sherwood Island State Park, also in Westport. We had a picnic on the benches by the ocean, away from the prying eyes of the seagulls. As I have said before, Sherwood may not have the finest sand or the tallest breakers, but it does have a nice relaxing vibe.
It’s a place you chill out with a cold drink and a good book. And of course, a good friend. Away from the bustle of daily life.
The other place I would go back to is Down the Hatch in Brookfield, Connecticut. Fabulously located alongside Candlewood Lake, the place is open only in summer, but boy, is it always hopping! Bikers, boaters, families, teens – they are all there. The food is standard fare. It’s the view that draws people in. The drinks help them stay.
You get to sit on a sort of picnic bench and have fried seafood with chilled beer, or a glass of wine, depending on your taste. They do have non-seafood options and a basic kid’s menu as well. On its own, all this sounds rather mundane, doesn’t it? But throw in the rippling waters of the aquamarine lake set against a summer sky, and you have found your favorite summer spot.
It’s the perfect place for Utepils (pronounced OOH-ta-pilz), a Norwegian word that translates to something like sitting outside on a sunny day while enjoying a beer. If you don’t believe me, look at the picture.
Updated on July 5, 2017
Quite recently I stumbled upon this talk on TEDxTysons. It’s by Cal Newport and he is all for quitting social media. Before you think he is too old or not enough tech-savvy, get this, he is a millennial and a computer scientist. Did I mention he is an author as well?
I am on every bit of social media available to humankind. You can find me on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and even Whatsapp. But a couple of days before hearing Newport’s talk, I had deleted the Facebook app from my phone. It was partly because of privacy issues. I started seeing ads for products I had discussed with my friends on Whatsapp.
As Cal says, social media offers “shiny treats in exchange for minutes of your attention and bytes of your personal data which can then be packaged up and sold.”
Not all social media platforms are created equal though. For example, Tumblr and Reddit are struggling with profitability, while Facebook and Instagram are not. Tumblr is a blog based social network with a user base nearly as big as Instagram’s, a reblog framework unlike any other, and it is smack in the middle of what is known as “internet culture.” Fandoms love Tumblr. Advertisers don’t. Reddit, the self-proclaimed “front page of the internet,” much like Tumblr, has not yet been able to turn its prominence and influence into profit. Twitter and YouTube are struggling as well.
So when Cal talks about shiny treats and use of personal information, Facebook comes to mind. It seems to be making good use of “attention engineers” and extensive data-mining processes. It’s not a place for creativity or funny gifs, it’s a place where you update your school and work information, post pics of your vacation (sometimes an entire album), and list your favorite songs. It’s clean (Tumblr has a porn problem). It’s bland. It’s monitored. It has reached 2 billion users. Your aunt’s best friend’s twice-removed third cousin is on it, and most likely, he has sent you a friend request. And as I have found out the hard way, the ads are unnervingly specific.
Did I mention that it’s also the most profitable?
Other than selling targeted ads, social networks like Facebook fragments our attention and leaves us feeling isolated. We post photos of parties while they are happening. We check our phones constantly. We “check-in” to restaurants and movies, letting the world know our whereabouts. We post pics of our food. It could all seem boring when listed like this, but to advertisers and marketers, this data is gold.
Social media is also responsible for spreading fake news. There’s so much of it online. As in real life, you have to learn to filter out the crazy. The hateful, and the harmful.
Then there’s the safety concern. It’s best to keep things like your address and the name of your child’s school private for reasons not unknown to us. Sharing your location via Foursquare or Facebook’s check-in or even the newly introduced Snap Map from Snapchat is not a great idea, strictly from the point of security.
As with everything, social media does have its ups. Awareness for causes, like say animal cruelty, gets a big boost. I follow some of these Facebook pages like the Born Free Foundation, and I don’t know if I would have known half as much if it was not for their daily updates. As the name suggests, “social” media helps in spreading the word. People share stuff and that’s good for humanitarian causes. I know a friend who has raised money for a playground for under-privileged children in Asia through social media.
Apart from doing good, social media often has this niche segments that can only be viewed by logging in. For example, a certain section of the New York Times Book’s videos can be viewed solely on their Facebook page. It’s like a mini-show with children’s books authors drawing and painting while they discuss their work.
As Cal points out, social media is a form of entertainment, not a technology by itself. Spending time online can be both fun and productive. It depends on what you do. You can do research, you can learn a new language, do online courses, earn a degree, you can watch movies, you can pay your bills, you can shop, you can play games, etc. All these activities can be separated from social media. Social networks by themselves are mainly here to distract.
The idea behind social media is connection. That’s its USP. That’s why it thrives. We like being connected to other people. Preschool friends, college room-mates, far-flung relatives and what not. It’s nice to have that sort of virtual group.
Being a travel writer, I need social media. I need to connect. I want to network. I love to collaborate on projects. I want to share my stories and photos. I want to see where my colleagues are going, read their stories. Like their photos. But I can choose to separate the interesting from the useless. I can choose to filter my feed and use my time on social media wisely.
As in real life, moderation is key.
Updated on June 6, 2017
Every town has its pizzeria.The one place that’s always been there, a part of the town’s fabric. A place known as much for its slice of pie as for its people. Often a hangout for teens, local sports teams, it hosts birthday parties for kids and has ample seating. It’s one of those places where you can relax by the window with a pint and watch the town go about its business.
For Connecticut’s Bethel, that place is Famous Pizza, owned and operated by the Anastasakis family. Their dough is homemade, and if you ask them, they will make it egg-free or gluten-free as needed. No matter what the toppings are, their pies are always delicious. We order our usual one with sausages, roasted red pepper and onions. And can’t say that we were ever disappointed.
I know we all want to stand by our local businesses, but isn’t it wonderful when they serve good stuff and make it that much easier to support?
If you find yourself in the neighborhood (it’s close to route 53), drop by for a slice.
Recent posts about Bethel, Connecticut:
Updated on May 23, 2017
Updated on May 16, 2017
There are stores that are flashy. There are stores that are grand. And then, there are stores like Byrd’s Books in downtown Bethel that make you feel like you stepped into the living room of an old friend. You can curl up on a chair and browse or read for as long as you want. These are shops that are the equivalent of a hot cup of cocoa and a fuzzy blanket. They spell comfort. And happiness.
They have new books, old books, hard-to-get books, and hard-to-get books that they will somehow get for you. Then there’s the summer reading lists for local schools, story hours for kids, and author events. We met Steve while we were there and he told us about this Bookmark Contest they are having this month. Here’s a link to the form.
You can just google “support small business” and find tons of lists extolling the virtues of the indie store. I will give you just one reason. Would you rather eat breakfast at a diner where the waitstaff knows how you take your coffee and then walk down a tree-lined sidewalk into a cozy shop filled from floor to ceiling with books, and watch your five-year-old chat with the owner while they choose books? Or would you rather have your downtown swarming with traffic, chain restaurants and sprawling malls?
I am lucky to have the former. There’s so much to say for a town that nurtures its independent stores. Shops like Byrd’s Books are unique. They add to the character of the street they are on. They inspire creativity. They teach us to slow down. They create a welcoming atmosphere for little readers.
Yes, I get it. We have Kindle. We have ebooks. We have libraries (which are great because you can’t afford to buy each and every book you want to read). But where children are concerned, nothing beats the real deal. A book in hand. A story you can’t wait to read. A prized possession. A dedication on the pages that makes you smile when you are older.
I have so many books from my childhood where my parents have written a short note. Now when I look at those titles and pass them on to my son, I feel they are the most precious of family heirlooms. Because they are.
As are the little shops that make a town feel like home.
Recent posts about Bethel, Connecticut:
Updated on April 25, 2017
Last year around this time, we were planning a hike up New Hampshire’s Mt. Kearsarge with our four year old. We visited the nearby McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center as well. Unfortunately, I wasn’t visiting this blog space as often as I do now, so the ups and downs of the hike (both literally and figuratively) has been stowed away as a fun memory. Until today, a day as cloudy as the day we hiked up the mountain.
I remember it being a gray dull day, which made the summit look eerily higher than it really was. It was a short steep climb to 2,937 feet, and we were accompanied by the Avengers. It was a time in the past, a fun phase, when our son wouldn’t step out without Captain America in tow. Action figures made for nice photo-ops. And they made greater paperweights for truant napkins. We had a snack near the fire tower at the top. We hung around for a while, taking in the misty nothingness.The fog had cast a wispy blanket, one not too thick, not too dark, but it blocked out the bright rays of the sun just the same.
The cairns had signs telling people not to touch them. But you know how some like to carve their names on boulders and trees, well, there are people who enjoy leaning against strategically placed cairns just because they can.
The word “cairn” comes from Gaelic, and loosely means a “heap of stones”. Norse sailors used them, Tibetan plateaus have them, as do the Andes. They are placed by trail experts – deliberately, painstakingly, and often artfully. We need them to guide us. And keeping with the basic rules of outdoor exploration, we should not move them. Or build new ones out of the blue. When we disturb a cairn, we disturb the soil, and with it the flora and fauna. In short, we mess up the ecosystem of the place.
As the days get longer and warmer, here’s hoping we go on many such hikes. If we are to enjoy the outdoors, we have to take care of our little blue planet. Let’s all do our bit in protecting it.
In keeping with the weekend’s celebrations, Happy Earth Day!