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!
Updated on April 15, 2017
Do you want to see an Ozobot following lines on paper? Make music with light? Get lost in a space gallery? Pretend to be a Radio Jockey, or say, a Disc Jockey?
At the Connecticut Science Center in Hartford, you can do all of the above and more. It’s a place for the curious-minded, the scientist, the philosopher, and the wanderer.
Toddlers and younger kids dig the KidSpace area in the lobby, with its water/ball based activities. There’s blocks of Lego on a water-table. You can control the volume of water with the help of a tap, and by strategically placing the blocks, you can adjust the flow of the water. Dam building made fun, right?
I for one could have spent the entire afternoon in the Sight and Sound Section, which deals with the basics of robotics, among other things. Imagine controlling a basketball from a screen. Or having a tiny robot, Ozobot, the smallest of its kind, drive on lines drawn by you. Smart enough to sense colors and read commands, this miniature droid is a big draw. Pun intended.
If you are wondering what I meant when I talked about making music with light, look at the picture below. It’s a harp strung with sixteen laser beams instead of your run-of-the-mill, boring old strings. So when your fingers break a beam, the computer that’s connected to the beams, triggers a sound. You can even change the style of music with a push of a button.
We enjoyed a 3-D movie Journey into Space, where we saw rockets being launched, astronauts being trained, and many a space scene that would make a Star Wars fan’s heart fill with joy. The Space gallery had an interactive bit about our Solar System. When you have a kindergartner with you, one who knows all the names of the moons of Jupiter, that interaction is bound to be a hit. Then we saw a NASA spacesuit up close, tinkered with Google Earth, and played in a make-believe spaceship.
The Space Gallery would have been our favorite, if it was not for the space pods by the restrooms. We waited for what seemed like an eternity for people to give up their comfy pods. Nobody stirred. Ideally, a staff member should have been present there to make sure people took turns.
Anyway, there’s so much to do that it’s hard to list all of them. You can design a car (vary the weight and wheels) and test its speed. Learn how wind directions affect sailboats. Guide a ball in the air and through a hoop using wind energy. Dinosaurs are never a bad idea when it comes to kids and in the Planet Earth gallery, one can dig for fossils, and even get to know a Dilophosaurus up close, roar and all.
The cafeteria and gift shop was the usual. You could also bring your own lunch. Parking is ample. But we couldn’t see all of the exhibits in one trip. We left out the Sports Lab, River of Life, Rooftop Garden, and many more. Having become members for a year, we will get them next time.
Updated on March 30, 2017
What’s so great about the city of New York? Crowded and dirty are some of the words that are often used to describe it. Digging deeper you will see the people turning up their noses at the city are not immune to its charms after all. They whip out their cell phones as much as the guy with the Nikon, catching a New York moment here, a gothic doorway there.
Right after stepping out of the Grand Central Terminal, a train station that is instrumental in shaping the country since its inception on Feb 2 (1913), we were greeted by the all-too-familiar thick and smoky city air. Steam from the subway grates rose up to meet the whiff of the kebab stand on the curb, and the cold, heavy March air held on to it longer than it should. Walking down the few blocks (from 42nd St to the 61st) played out like a well-orchestrated play. Walk. Stop at crossing. Wait for walk sign. Or don’t. Check map on phone. Cross. Walk again. In between a cacophony of honks and chatter. Anyone who has marched a few blocks in this well-planned city will attest to the fact.
Big brands lined the streets, and architectural marvels, both modern and medieval reached out to the sky, gray and dull as it was on the day we visited. For us, being from the suburbs, it was a leisurely Saturday, as we took in the sights and smells of city life, getting away from the complacency of the unremarkable and the unexceptional.
I understand that for many, a trip to this city means getting on a plane, and they want to hit all the talked-about spots and get all the right pictures. If you are one of them, please go to the official city tourism site.
Even on an ordinary spring day when the branches hung bare, the flowers were yet to bloom, and the ground was covered in slush from blizzards past, the city attracted its usual share of people. They stopped in their tracks to look up, clutching phones and cameras, hoping to catch the highest arch or the tallest tower. It’s one of those things that the locals take in their stride. It’s the price you pay for living in the Big Apple.
We continued to walk till we reached Central Park, spread out over 843 acres, green and inviting, hemmed in by the surrounding gray and black. The ratio of green to grayscale is something to be proud of, especially when you compare New York to other top cities of the world. Not one to go to zoos (we like our animals free in the wild), we made an impromptu decision to visit this city sanctuary. Apart from the grizzly bears, Betty and Veronica, the rest of the animals seemed to be in sync with city life. Since 1984, the Wildlife Conservation Society is in charge of the place, and they have added a domestic animal area, which seemed quite popular with the toddlers. We had gone there mainly for the penguins because my son is fascinated with the wobbly creatures.
Always one for a scramble, a steep set of rocks, a mini-hill if you will, amidst the flat park, is met by delight by most kids, and well, grown-ups. Did you know bouldering is a thing in Central Park? Other activities in the park include the usual vendors, the artists, the bubble-makers, the music-makers, the roller-skaters, and the dog-walkers.
Then there was a bunch of street-performers who made a big hue and cry over a long jump. People gathered around, clapped, cheered, waited, got shoved into a line, willingly became the butt of many a wisecrack, and basically wasted a lot of time for a mediocre performance. And yes, they parted with their money as well. When I was there, there were people from Portugal, Wisconsin, and India, to name a few. If I were you, I would walk right past the unnecessary fanfare.
Not a fan of the horse-drawn carriages, we opted to walk back to the station, the Grand Central Terminal. As the 1913 brochure stated, it is “a place where one delights to loiter, admiring its beauty and symmetrical lines — a poem in stone.” The then chief engineer of New York Central Railroad, William J. Wilgus, came up with the daring idea of demolishing the existing station with its steam engines and replacing it with a monumental structure and electric trains.
I saw many photographers pointing their cameras upwards, trying to capture the artwork spread across the station’s ceiling. Try as I may, I couldn’t do justice to the concave ceiling with its constellations of 2500 stars and the precise shade of blue , as conceived by the French artist, Paul Helleu. Also, we were famished from all the walking.
Last summer Vanderbilt Hall got a makeover. Danish restaurateur Claus Meyer, a proponent of New Nordic Cuisine, transformed the former waiting area into a quiet and cozy food hall. It’s a corner inside the station where the bustle comes to a screeching halt. In the glow of chandeliers, pugs loll underneath chairs, old friends greet each other, wine glasses are set down, and smorrebrods (open-faced sandwiches) are devoured. We sat down to salmon and cured meats on dark, nutty, tender rye. Although the grain bar looked appetizing, we opted for dough and air, with a glass of chardonnay, and a can of Danish beer.
Every big city in the world has classical architecture, highly celebrated cuisine, art, commerce, towering buildings, throbbing streets, and diverse people. As does New York. Yet, it is a city unlike any other. When you are on its streets, you can’t drift aimlessly like in some archaic European city. You are on the Manhattan grid, the first of its kind, established in 1811. Monolithic and navigation-friendly, love it or hate it, it’s the rectangular blocks of streets that prod people with a sense of direction and purpose.
And what is life, devoid of either.
Updated on May 5, 2017
There are children’s museums that are seemingly endless and packed with activities from corner to corner. You rush from exhibit to exhibit, often jostling alongside a sizable crowd. They are pretty good for days you feel energetic and ready to take on anything life throws at you. Then there are children’s museums that have a laid-back vibe, where your kid can tinker with Legos for as long as he likes, while you catch up on your reading, and let’s be real, your IG feed as well.
EverWonder in Newtown, Connecticut is one such little museum which lets you unwind while your kids explore. They have a dancing wall, a three-wheeled racer track (a great way to learn about friction), a swinging art harmonograph, two tornado tubes, a ramp and track room, and an art room, amongst other things. The staff is unhurried and friendly, often stopping to discuss the intricacies of building a Lego parking garage with the kids. They will even regale you with the dietary needs of the resident snake, Luna, if your five year old so asks.
Speaking of diets, they have a snack room with a vending machine. You could bring your own snack and eat in there. The room’s nut-free which is a huge relief for parents of kids with allergies. It’s a museum that’s more often than not frequented by locals so an elaborate cafeteria is not really a necessary feature.
Families with toddlers will appreciate the five and under area. It even has a reading room filled with books. For older kids interested in animation, moviemaking, game design and computer programming, there are ongoing workshops. Just call and ask. For those of us looking for summer programs, they have an array of offerings. As of now, Mad Science Week and Space Week seem to be getting all the votes in our house.