New Year’s Resolutions – Why Bother?

As a child, I used to make resolutions diligently but as I have grown older I have stopped making them. It’s the daily changes and habits that matter and those can be modified right this instant. Choose a healthier lunch, skip the chips, drink water – that sort of thing. You don’t have to wait for First of January to start something that’s good for you.

Also, sometimes it’s okay to sleep in, it’s fine to grab that greasy burger with the extra fries, and the sugary drink. As Brian Bilston puts it, our “glorious failures” and “sublime imperfections” are what makes us human. Makes us feel alive. And I wouldn’t give that up for the world.

Although many aspects of Bilston remains shrouded in mystery, I know he is British so when he says fags he means cigarettes. I thought I should throw in a disclaimer in case any of you were wondering.

While resolutions don’t work I do like goal-setting. That helps me keep in mind all the things I plan to do this new year. More travel, for one.

And more play. I think I have forgotten how to.

The End of a Decade or Just Another Tuesday?

Connecticut
Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©

The only resolution I have for 2020 is to be outside more, ’cause as the Danes have been telling us for hundreds of years “There’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothes” or something to this effect.

Walking clears the cobwebs in my mind. As my sneaker-clad feet sink into dead wet leaves and the sky above looks the same blue it always does, I wonder if we make too much of a trip around the sun. Who is to say? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

So here we are, ushering in a brand new year and while on plans and resolutions, I want to steal Brene Brown’s 2020 plan: Stay awkward, brave + kind.

Yes to all three and Happy New Year!

A Solo Trip

Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©
Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©
Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©

Last month I traveled half-way across the world to see my Dad. It was a solo week-long trip and had none of the highs associated with travel. I know that 22 hour-long flights are painful no matter how fun the destination or how great the company…but this trip stood out as one of the most trying ones yet. Mostly for personal reasons.

My Dad was not doing well. As I type this, he is slowly getting back on his feet. And I am back home struggling with all the numerous holiday activities that seem to take up all our time and energy in these last few weeks of the year. Come cold January and colder February, we are left with nothing to celebrate. The lights come down, the decorations disappear and back to work we go.

My flight took me from New York to Dubai and then to my hometown of Kolkata. It was on the Dubai-Kolkata leg of the journey that I took the above pics. It seemed to me like we were flying into the sunrise, it’s glow getting richer and deeper by the second.

As I was literally flying above the clouds, my mood could not be more sombre. But my trip was good. I spent time with my Dad and Mom. I saw my brother after five long years. Met his rescue pup, Brownie.

Since I can’t sleep on planes and also to keep my anxiety at bay, I watched a lot of movies, and only two stood out as note-worthy. One was Where’d You Go, Bernadette and the other was The Philosophy of Phil, both of them funny and dark in equal parts. Kind of like life itself. We have to give in to laughter and find little moments of joy even at times we don’t want to.

It’s the only way.

Paying Attention

Hard at work!

“The moment one gives close attention to any thing, even a blade of grass it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnificent world in itself.”
— Henry Miller

I was going to leave this post with a picture and the above quote when my 8 year old, who now reads this blog, suggested I write more. So here’s more on paying attention and why I think it’s akin to love.

If you have seen Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird you will know what I am talking about. In the movie, a nun tells the protagonist, a high school student who likes to go by the name, Lady Bird, that it’s pretty clear she loves Sacramento.

Lady Bird is taken aback, because in her mind she can’t wait to leave it all behind her to go to a college far, far away. Struggling to come up with an answer, she casually replies, “I guess I pay attention.”

That’s when the movie does its magic. The nun asks, “Don’t you think they’re the same thing? Love and attention?”

Yes, they are the same to a great extent. This bring me to why I love my job – travel writing. It’s simple. I get to pay attention.

When there’s a brief and a deadline hanging over my head, I pay attention to the obscure and the mundane, I try to take in the sounds and smells, and I end up having a more enjoyable experience.

As my one of my favored poets, Mary Oliver said,

“Instructions for living a life.
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it.”

I try. I do.

Monday Musings

On Gertrude’s Nose in New Paltz, NY on a cloudy day in the summer of 2008. If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.

I don’t have the luxury to pore over a book these days so I rely heavily on a few websites for my daily dose of words. Here’s what has stuck with me over the past few weeks.

This nugget of wisdom from Kurt Vonnegut’s A Man Without a Country:

“But I had a good uncle, my late Uncle Alex. He was my father’s kid brother, a childless graduate of Harvard who was an honest life-insurance salesman in Indianapolis. He was well-read and wise. And his principal complaint about other human beings was that they so seldom noticed it when they were happy. So when we were drinking lemonade under an apple tree in the summer, say, and talking lazily about this and that, almost buzzing like honeybees, Uncle Alex would suddenly interrupt the agreeable blather to exclaim, “If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.”
So I do the same now, and so do my kids and grandkids. And I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, ‘If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.””

Fall of 2019. If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.

This Poem.

Small Kindnesses by Danusha Laméris

I’ve been thinking about the way, when you walk
down a crowded aisle, people pull in their legs
to let you by. Or how strangers still say “bless you”
when someone sneezes, a leftover
from the Bubonic plague. “Don’t die,” we are saying.
And sometimes, when you spill lemons
from your grocery bag, someone else will help you
pick them up. Mostly, we don’t want to harm each other.
We want to be handed our cup of coffee hot,
and to say thank you to the person handing it. To smile
at them and for them to smile back. For the waitress
to call us honey when she sets down the bowl of clam chowder,
and for the driver in the red pick-up truck to let us pass.
We have so little of each other, now. So far
from tribe and fire. Only these brief moments of exchange.
What if they are the true dwelling of the holy, these
fleeting temples we make together when we say, “Here,
have my seat,” “Go ahead — you first,” “I like your hat.”

And last but not the least, this bit from the convocation speech by George Saunders at Syracuse University. It was for the class of 2013.

“So here’s something I know to be true, although it’s a little corny, and I don’t quite know what to do with it:

What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness.

Those moments when another human being was there, in front of me, suffering, and I responded . . . sensibly. Reservedly. Mildly.

Or, to look at it from the other end of the telescope: Who, in your life, do you remember most fondly, with the most undeniable feelings of warmth?

Those who were kindest to you, I bet.

It’s a little facile, maybe, and certainly hard to implement, but I’d say, as a goal in life, you could do worse than: Try to be kinder.”

Peekskill Brewery by the Hudson

Peekskill NY
Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©

What is it about summer that makes us seek out oceans and rivers and lakes? The answer is rather obvious I guess. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

With that in mind, we took off for an afternoon in Peekskill, a city by the Hudson River. By and large artsy, but not without its sharp edges, this place had quite a few surprises up its sleeve.

Peekskill NY
Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©

A waterfront walkway with biking paths and a large playground, a sculpture here and there, steamboats, patient fishermen with not-so-patient kids, swimming ducks and flying geese would have been commonplace if it was not for the stunning Hudson Highlands looming large in the horizon, providing a backdrop like no other.

Within walking distance of the waterfront, is the Peekskill Brewery, which was our second choice for dinner that evening. Our first choice was the local Coffee House, but we were ten minutes away from its opening time.

Peekskill Brewery
Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©
Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©

Peekskill Brewery, as the Google description says, is located “in a bi-level industrial space”, with the Tap Room below and the Restaurant at top. They have outside seating as well, with string lights, games and music. A relaxed dinner is a rarity when you are out with a picky eighteen-month-old and a seven year old, but this came quite close. We were ushered to the kid-friendly Restaurant and immediately seated along with all the necessary frills – high-chair, crayons, sippy cups and kids’ menu.

Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©

We ordered the burratta salad, beer battered fish and chips, the grain bowl, and a couple of staples off the kids’ menu. It’s not unusual for our seven year old to have to let go of the crispy chicken because of egg in the batter. He is allergic to eggs and on hearing this, most servers and chefs suggest alternate options from the menu.

Here the server told us that the chef has offered to make the crispy chicken with an egg-less batter. If you have a kid with food allergies, you will know how huge this is and how much of a difference it makes.

Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©
Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©
Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©

I am going to be hyperbolic here and go right out and say this was the best fish and chip ever!

As for the beer, my husband and I sampled the AMAZEballs (with a name like that how could we not?) and ordered some right away. An American pale ale, it lived up to its description of being exquisitely dry and balanced. Our server said it was her favorite and now it’s mine as well.

Although, before picking a favorite, I feel we should make another trip to the brewery and try a few of the other house brews. I have a good feeling about the Sitting Duck, which was described as big, rich and malty, with notes of dark fruit and rumcake.

Maine Again

Maine
Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©

Yet again, we are back from a summer jaunt in Maine. This time around, we chose a fishing village in the southwesterly coast, just 90 miles north of Boston. We stayed in Kennebunk but every time we ventured out to eat or shop or swim in the ocean, the lines got blurred as to where Kennebunk ends and Kennebunkport begins.

Maine
Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©
Maine
Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©

As you see, the first photo welcomes us to Kennebunk, and right across the street it’s “Welcome to Kennebunkport”. We crossed town lines, y’all.

The summer home of Pres. George H.W. Bush, the place lives up to its name. Pretty as a picture in places, it has an air of well-maintained decorum. The beaches were nearby and plenty but we had time for just two – Scarborough and Crescent. And I can tell you right now, Scarborough is the one I would go back to.

Also, it reminded me of Simon & Garfunkel’s –

Are you going to Scarborough Fair?
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme
Remember me to one who lives there
For once she was a true love of mine

Such lovely lyrics, am I right?

During high tide, the beach gets narrow but you are so far from the selfie-stick holding tourists that you don’t mind. What you have instead is Surf Camp, which is how I wish I spent my summers. We took long walks along the shore, had a quiet lunch with the waves crashing around us, and cooled off in the not-as-chilly-as-usual waters of the Atlantic.

Maine
Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©
Maine
Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©

Back in town, we had time to try a couple of restaurants – the Village Tavern and Duffy’s Tavern. Both had excellent service but if you have a toddler with you, I suggest skipping the former. Nicely pressed table cloths and place settings with two shiny forks are very attractive to a toddler, who will not want to sit in his high-chair the entire course of the meal. Buttered pasta saved the day – long enough for us to finish our dinner.

Duffy’s on the other hand, served above-mentioned toddler a glass of water with a taped lid and he had his very own crayons and coloring page. Both places did well when it came to seafood and cocktails and craft beers. But of course, when you are busy straggling a one-year old and a seven year old, you don’t take pictures, however “gram-worthy” they may be.

Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©

We paid a visit to the local supermarket, Hannaford, and I was pleasantly surprised to see most people opting for personal grocery bags. Yes, Maine charges a few extra cents for plastic bags and Gov. Janet Mills has very recently signed a bill into law that has made Maine the fourth state to ban single-use plastic bags. The new law won’t go into effect until April 22, 2020, giving businesses some time to make the necessary changes. The same can’t be said of Hampton Inn. They had no recycle bins and the amount of plastic waste produced each day, especially at breakfast, left me speechless.

The town itself was by the river and supremely walkable. It had coffee houses, gift stores, surf shops, pretty signs, antique lamps, restaurants around which queues of hungry people with phones in hands waited to be texted in, and bunches of flowers everywhere. A sweet summer evening by the coast and as expected, the place was hopping.

Maine
Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©
Maine
Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©

The chalk art spoke to me. Love the sentiment behind the words and the cutesy little light on the top right. I wish I had the time to go in.

Maine
Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©

I would love to have a coffee here someday.

Maine
Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©

How cool are these birdhouses?

Maine
Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©

Take a book or leave a book. Your choice. While I was there I saw a little boy arrange the books in a way so that they can be visible from the sidewalk. I am not entirely sure but I think he added Pomp and Circumstance by Fred Mustard Stewart in the mix. I cannot tell you how much this concept warms my book-loving heart.

If you want to Maine all to yourself, go during the winter months. But we didn’t want the quiet of winter. We liked the scent of sunscreen wafting in along with the salty sea breeze, the seagulls looking for careless lunchers and their open bag of chips, the kids learning to surf and the babies playing with warm sand. We wanted to feel the vibrant energy of coastal New England and embrace it fully. And that we did.

Put Something Silly in the World

Draw a crazy picture,
Write a nutty poem,
Sing a mumble-grumble song,
Whistle through your comb.
Do a loony-goony dance
‘Cross the kitchen floor,
Put something silly in the world
That ain’t been there before.

– Shel Silverstein

Kids don’t need to be reminded to do any of the above, it’s we who forget. The mundane gets in the way. I have not “put something silly” in the world for a while and by that I mean I have been neglecting this little corner of mine for some time now.

Speaking of little people aka kids, they are are also pretty confusing. Sometimes it seems like all the toys in the world and the funniest book told in your best voice won’t entertain them, and then you come across something like this.

“IT’S GRATE - BUT IS IT ART?” by HERB SLODOUNIK
Photo by HERB SLODOUNIK

I stared at this photo for a whole minute because guess what, my one-year-old finds the air vent in our half-landing the most fascinating thing in the world. And I have often wondered why.

Once you are done reading the copy and laughing out loud at the caption, if you like to read more about this photo and its creator, go here.

Broken Symmetry in Bethel, CT

Brewery Connecticut
Broken Symmetry in Bethel, CT. All the photos in this post are by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©

Part of the Greater Danbury area, Bethel has always been the quiet one. On the surface, that is. If you dig deeper, you will see it has a thriving restaurant scene, boutique shops, art studios and independent bookstores. All it needed was its very own brewery. Last Spring, the new kid on the block, Broken Symmetry, took care of that.

It’s located in the old train depot, right by the tracks, which of course, adds to its rustic charms. What else do they have going for them? Long shared tables inside (beer hall style), exposed beams up high, repurposed wood on the walls, a patio outside, handwritten chalkboard menu up above the counter and a fine collection of beer on tap.

Craft Beer
Sample first if you can’t decide.

If you are not into craft beer, they have Cross Culture Kombucha and an array of other non-alcoholic drinks. And best of all, apart from the usual fries, they have tacos and burritos and wild shrimp to accompany each sip. I enjoy my beer more with food, so it’s right up my alley. Doesn’t hurt that the food is delicious and the greens are locally sourced from Holbrook Farms.

Fish Tacos
Ah! The fish tacos.

Post a stint at a neighboring Tap Room, my friends and I went there on a Saturday night, and were pleasantly surprised. We cut it close to closing time but that didn’t stop us from trying out quite a few of their beers and bites.

Not to be a beer nerd, but I have been reading up on various brews, and it turns out that kolsches are unique. Originally from Cologne, Germany, this fancy little hybrid is fermented with ale yeast but finished in cold temperatures like a lager. Like India pale lager, it uses a mix of techniques and the result is a cliche-challenging well-balanced beverage.

The kolsch I tasted at Broken Symmetry had the crisp clean finish one would expect from a pale lager, without missing out on the punch altogether. The subdued hint of fruitiness from the mango made it go down well. I was told that the IPA and the mango kolsch are their fastest moving beers.

Beer
Blurry mango kolsch.

Perfectly refreshing for a warm spring evening, the kolsch is something I would go back for. Also, I need to find out the story behind the name “Broken Symmetry” and the logo. A tour of the brewery would be nice too.

Craft brew and lovely plates notwithstanding, I doubt I would have enjoyed the place half as much if it wasn’t for the company. In the coming weeks, I can see this fine little Bethel Gastro Brewery climbing the ranks of our most-favored haunts.

EverWonder Children’s Museum, Monsters and Robots

Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©

The first couple of years with a baby can often translate into less time and even lesser inclination for long-distance travel. Some people will forge on, undeterred by sleepless nights but that’s not who I am. I like taking it easy.

While writing about Ursula K. Le Guin’s writing routines and her take on interruptions, my current favorite blogger/writer/artist/parent Austin Kleon has a lovely thing to say –

Keeping that in mind, I am taking it slow. We are reading books, making messes, eating leisurely lunches, making messes while eating those aforementioned lunches, learning how to clap, and walk, and talk.

But recently we made time to visit the EverWonder Children’s Museum in Newtown, Connecticut. I have written about it earlier here. Unpretentious to a fault, it’s a nice little fun place for kids.

They were hosting Microsoft’s Coding with Minecraft event and the thing that threw me off the most about it was the ratio of girls to boys. It was 1:14. What do we need to do to get more girls into coding? Make everything pink? To be clear, I say that with sarcasm. Growing up, I didn’t care much for the color and as it turns out, neither did the two women who were at the event on behalf of Microsoft.

While we are on the subject of Minecraft, I should add that Microsoft is trying to distance itself from the creator of the game, Markus “Notch” Persson. He sold Minecraft to Microsoft for 2.5 billion in 2014, and since then he has developed a controversial online persona. Google his craziness if you must, and you will be flooded with more tweets and stories than you need.

Coding with MineCraft
Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©

While the seven-year-old tinkered with making chickens rain and building brick roads, I took the one year old to the toddler play area. I must say it was nice to see him make a beeline for the books.

Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©

Speaking of board books, There’s a Monster in your Book is a big hit with the little one. All through we shake and spin and flip the book to get the monster out, but at the end, there’s a twist. Yes, a twist in a baby book if you can believe that. I am smiling as I type this.

As for the second grader, he is into Peter Brown’s The Wild Robot. The underlying themes are super deep and it says a lot about inclusion and acceptance, amongst other things. Although it’s on my list of “books I want to read”, I am rather busy with the monster, unruly and impossible as he is.