Pic(k) of the Week – New England Winter

New England Winter
Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©
New England Winter
Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©
New England Winter
Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©

The Year in Passing

I read somewhere that “while children deepen your emotional life, they shrink your outer world to the size of a teacup, at least for a while.” I couldn’t help but nod in agreement, while adding, “more like the size of a shot glass.”

In keeping the above in mind, this has not been a year of travel and adventure. We have a moderately busy seven year old and a ten-month-old who refuses to eat outside his comfort zone, vis-a-vis, his room. Some would say that itself is an adventure.

While low on travels, I have been high on reading, and that’s how I found this website. Austin Kleon is “a writer who draws” and his pages are filled with links to art and music, amidst philosophical musings and random jokes. I can spend hours browsing through his posts. Take this one for example.

I do most of the above, except for play the piano (it’s not that hard if James Rhodes is to be believed), write in my diary, and look at the moon. The last one seems a bit loopy to indulge in while totally sober.

I know what you are thinking, it’s not that simple as making a “dumb” list. Feeling happy is a state of mind as well as state of being. It can be moment-to-moment, that is, having fun, or it can be something more deep and fulfilling. The latter is accentuated by all that jazz about leading a productive and purposeful life.

We tackled a move and welcomed a baby all in the same year, so looking back, I have a lot to be grateful for, but as anybody who has done both will vouch for, it has been super stressful. We may look back someday and laugh at how during the morning rush we used chopsticks to toast some bread or the time we flooded the kitchen floor with an overwhelming amount of soap suds. Filling the dishwasher with the wrong kind of detergent while sleep-deprived will do that to you. But that day is not today.

Going back to the number one point on Kleon’s list, I am reading Right Ho, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse and enjoying at as much as I did the first time. My seven year old son made the art you see below and while I didn’t help him draw it, I was there to share a few tips I learnt from my Mom. Speaking of art, Neil Gaiman’s Art Matters seems like a promising winter-time read.

Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©

Long walks and naps both fall in the pleasant and refreshing category and I doubt there’s any grown human who will say “Umm, but…”

Scrolling through Instagram may seem like it should have been on the list because it does provide a momentary elusion of happiness, but ultimately it’s a time-sucker and time-waster and a few other things I don’t want to get into right now. It’s not an easy habit to kick, because it was designed to be such. At the end of every year, they have this collage of the top 9 grams on your Insta feed, and in spite of all my complaints, here’s mine for 2018.

Photos by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©

Although I am not one to make (or keep) New Year’s resolutions, I am going to try and spend less time on social media. And on that note, I wish you all a happy and crispy fresh 2019!

Holiday Traditions – Some Old, Some New

Holiday Stroll in Ridgefield, CT
Holiday Stroll in Ridgefield, CT. Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©

How long do we have to do something until it becomes a tradition? I would say it’s more about the feeling than the duration. And like everything else in life, traditions should adapt to the changing times. I see that a lot in India these days. New way of doing old things, making them a touch more relatable, and a lot more fair.

All over the world, now’s the time for traditions. As the nights get colder, and the days shorter, people gather around to celebrate. Diwali, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, and of course, Christmas. Did you know that Icelanders have this tradition built around gifting and reading books on Christmas Eve? Throw in a cozy fireplace and a hot cup of cocoa, and there you have it – my kind of celebration.

Books on the Common in Ridgefield, CT
Books on the Common in Ridgefield, CT. Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©

Taking a page out of their hygge-filled Scandinavian book, we have made our very own, rather new, but quite simple holiday tradition. We hop over to Ridgefield during their holiday stroll.

Ridgefield is one of those New England towns that is the right amount of charming during the holiday season, complete with pretty red bows tied neatly around colonial lamp posts. Take a peek at last year’s stroll and you will know what I am talking about.

We walk down the street, listening to carols and admiring the ice sculptures. Then we pop into Books on the Common and spend a good amount of time browsing in the warmth. During checkout, I love how they slip in their branded black-and-white bookmark, which has this quote from Erasmus – “When I have a little money, I buy books; and if I have any left, I buy food and clothes.”

Before heading back, we stop at Prime Burger for their specials. Our elementary-school-goer rarely looks up from his newly-acquired book, while we enjoy the Prime Sauce and onion rings. This year was special, as our nine-month-old baby joined us for a bite. Between streams of excited babbling, he let us know that he didn’t mind being a part of this whole stroll-sing-read-eat-drink venture. In fact, he quite enjoyed it.

Ridgefield's Holiday Stroll
Ridgefield’s Holiday Stroll. Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©

This has been a year of packing and moving, and at the same time, getting to know a brand new member of the family, one whose dimples make those sleepless nights seem alright. Anybody who has ever moved will tell you how much of a hassle moving is, especially with a baby, but we have been lucky enough to stay in the same locality, enjoying the familiar, sometimes with the air of a curious out-of-towner.

During a year as busy as this one, it’s the small moments that count. The slow ones. The ones that don’t require a lot of planning or traveling. Moments that create new traditions.

How can traditions be “new” you say? I believe that traditions can be whatever we want them to be.

So, what “new traditions” are you making this holiday season?

Data in Advertising

Summer
Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©

Data is here to stay. Unlike Summer, which is gone. At least for this year, in my part of the world.

Hello, Fall.

We are done with barbecues and pools. We are now talking back-to-school supplies and pumpkin flavored everything. Like it or not, lacing everything with the flavor of fall is a marketing ploy that’s not going anywhere soon.

For me this was the summer of Web Analytics, and in turn, trying to understand the role of data in advertising. It is pretty much what everyone talks about these days, even during a celebration of artistic work, like during this year’s Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity. Turns out AI held court during many a presentation.

AI observes and learns from past behaviors and is essentially derivative. It is helpful in tracking advertising efforts. It crunches past numbers and informs us. Lets us know what is working and what is not. Creativity on the other hand is fueled by the power of storytelling. It needs emotional connection and humor. I think what data can do is propel it in the right direction.

But can it take over the creative side of advertising and start producing engaging marketing content? Well, although AI could become essential to the process as a whole (if it hasn’t already), it falls short when it comes to taking risks or taking the proverbial road less traveled. We need people for those and the crazier the idea, the better it is.

Speaking of crazy good ideas, O&M’s pug campaign for Hutch Cellular Service in India, comes to mind. Way back in 2003, they showed a boy with a dog that followed him everywhere. The tagline was “wherever you go, our network will follow.” No phones were shown. Hell, nobody even spoke a word. Not even a woof. Just a feel-good background score. According to Businessworld, “Hutch saw its subscriber base shooting up by over 70 per cent right after the campaign broke.” And I am not even getting into the awards and accolades. They were too many to count.

Setting aside creative pursuits, let’s consider Web Analytics, as it has become a vital part of advertising. Even here, we need the human touch to interpret the data and write out the actionable insights in plain english. As Avinash Kaushik says,

“Your dashboard should have some data, but what it really needs are three sections: Insights, Actions, Business Impact. IABI.

Your dashboards don’t need more wiz-bang graphics or for them to be displays of your javascript powers to sql your hadoop to make big query cloud compute. They need more English language. They need your brain in a box. Ok, three boxes.”

We have a wide selection of tools that helps us mine, analyze and visualize huge amounts of data but that doesn’t mean we “puke” data all over. By the way, “customized data puke” or CDP is a term often used on Avinash Kaushik’s blog Occam’s Razor. If you want to learn about web analytics and would rather have a laugh now and then, instead of mindlessly going through jargon-heavy content, his posts are the way to go.

As with other areas of our lives, advertising and marketing is changing rapidly. It’s not just that it is becoming more and more data-driven, the way we consume media is also changing. The rules of gathering data is changing. New bills are being proposed and laws are being laid down as I type.

Meanwhile, plain old imagination, something we try to imbibe in kids since preschool is thriving. Same with basic language skills. What does the data really tell us? We need to write it out in simple english. No frills required. And for both jobs, we need real people. Like you and me.

Sometime in the not too distant future, when the machines have risen, a couple of robots could be reading this and chuckling to themselves, “What a dum-dum! She had no idea, did she?”

Connecticut’s Hidden Parks – Tarrywile in Danbury

Tarrywile Park in Danbury, CT.
Tarrywile Park in Danbury, CT. Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©
Tarrywile Park in Danbury, CT.
Tarrywile Park in Danbury, CT. Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©
Tarrywile Park in Danbury, CT.
Tarrywile Park in Danbury, CT. Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©
Tarrywile Park in Danbury, CT.
Tarrywile Park in Danbury, CT. Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©
Tarrywile Park in Danbury, CT.
Tarrywile Park in Danbury, CT. Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©

Now, you don’t expect people to drive down to Danbury in Connecticut to experience nature, do you? Nah, they would rather go to Maine. Approximately 39 miles northeast of New York City, Danbury is part of the New York metropolitan area and as diverse as one can imagine.

It’s famous for its mall, second largest in Connecticut. It has a thriving restaurant scene but it is constantly upstaged by its neighboring towns when it comes to schools and other amenities coveted by suburban life. But what about that all important proximity to parks and birds and a little bit of wildlife?

Danbury houses all of that in Tarrywile Park, and more. Dotted with birdhouses, and lakes and ponds and hiking trails, it’s one of those secrets that a town with a reputation for being gritty refuses to share with the world. Heck, it even has a mansion.

We go there often. Last week, we arrived at an odd hour, off-peak if you will, and had the entire park mostly to ourselves. I wasn’t sure I liked that. What if a bear jumped out of the dense woods? If you think I am joking, check this out. But then, slowly, people began to flow in, dogs and kids filled the peace and quiet. Yes, the very same peace and quiet I wasn’t so sure I was enjoying before.

One dog-walker forgot to pick up after one of her four-legged friends, so I had to go over and tell her. She said she didn’t notice and cleaned up the mess. Of course, this is something I would rather not do on a walk. I would rather be alone with my thoughts. Or spend that time pointing out bugs and birds and crazy leaf patterns to my kids. Wouldn’t you?

But that’s the problem with life. Either it’s too quiet. Or it’s too loud and busy. Maybe there’s an in-between. Maybe there isn’t, and you have to find your own in-between.

Three Funny Things. Okay, Maybe Just Two.

Camden, Maine.
Camden, Maine. Photo by Pinaki Chakraborty. All rights reserved ©

What is a pronoun?
It is a noun that has lost its amateur status.

These two lines cracked my 6 year old up. He was reading Calvin and Hobbes. When he narrated the joke to me, I was elbow deep in some mundane work and probably didn’t even crack a real smile. Uh-huh, I must have said. But later that night, as I was getting ready for bed, this silly joke crossed my tired mind and I burst out laughing.

It happens all the time, doesn’t it? A familiar tune. A warm phone call. A funny text. A weird moment. Something that makes us laugh. But then we forget about it. ‘Cause we have forms to fill and errands to run. I wish someone had told me that ninety percent of adult life is filling out forms. And that one day I would be thankful for naps, not view them as some sort of prolonged and unnatural punishment.

Speaking of errands and chores, I often listen to podcasts while doing them, and one fine day I chanced upon The Science of Happiness By PRI and the Greater Good Science Center. I clicked on Three Funny Things readying myself for three funny jokes, or something like that. But instead, I found an exercise for happiness. The podcast suggested we list three funny things from the day gone by, possibly before going to bed. It could be anything as long as it makes you laugh.

I, of course, had to make it simpler. I began by listing two funny things. And I may have counted a wave of nostalgia as a “laugh.” That’s how a Spice Girl number made it to the list. Yes, I know what you are thinking but we are not here to talk about my taste in music.

What I am trying to say here is this – try thinking of two or three funny things that happened during the day. Laughter is important. Happiness is elusive. Even the very rich and very successful and superbly talented falter to find it at times. So, if during the course of a day we happen to find it, we should relive the moment. Make it linger.

After all, when it comes to anecdotes about our families, don’t we remember the ones that are oft-repeated? The ones that are mentioned at every holiday and told to every newcomer at the dinner table?

The makers of the podcast have a detailed step-by-step exercise for practicing Three Funny things. But I went rogue and did it my way. The sillier the better, I thought.

I went through old photos one night. Some of them, like the one above, made me smile. As did the one below.

Mount Mansfield, Vermont
Mount Mansfield, Vermont. Photo by Pinaki Chakraborty. All rights reserved ©

It could be a joke in a group text. Or something you overheard a kid say. Kids say the darndest things as we all know. They provide easy fodder, don’t they? It could be a sarcastic meme you shared with your brother. A ridiculous incident that had everyone cracking up at work. A story recounted by your parents where they seem to agree on almost nothing, so much so, that it sounded like two completely different events.

It could be anything. And everything. Doesn’t even have to make you laugh. Or smile. It just needs to make you feel good. There, I made the exercise simpler. Now go try it.

Slow Summer

New England
Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©

I began the day by reading this delightful article On Eating Alone in Paris. There’s something so self-affirming about being alone and not feeling lonely. It’s like telling yourself, “Hey girl, I like spending time with you!”

As I was reading the piece on dining solo, I was reminded of a lovely little write-up by my aunt about a rare flower on her window sill, and how she took time out from her busy morning to quietly celebrate the occasion. These moments, these seemingly unimportant moments, are what life is all about.

An NY Mag article about Yale University Professor, Laurie Santos, and her wildly popular college course on happiness, tells us that “Dr. Santos came up with a straightforward way of communicating the concept of time affluence to her students. After the midterm, when they arrived on the day of the “special event,” Santos and her teaching assistants handed out flyers at the door of the lecture hall that read “Class is canceled. Go practice time affluence. You have one free hour.” The only proviso was that they were not allowed to fill that hour with work. They had to do something unexpected: Read for pleasure. Take a hike. Meet a friend for coffee. One student was so grateful for this one-hour reprieve in her overpacked schedule that, at news of this gift, she started to cry.”

In most parts of the modern world, being busy is looked up at while an abundance of leisure is looked down on. Hell, it is even frowned upon. Being busy is good. Free time, eh, not so much.

Have you looked around your neighborhood these days? How many kids do you see running around aimlessly? They are probably all sitting somewhere learning Mandarin or practicing the violin. If they are doing physical activities like sports or martial arts, it’s something superbly organized, and often, indoors. Structured play and extra-curriculars fill up their days.

I would rather they just lay in the grass and looked at the puffy white summer clouds floating overhead. Or read a book that is not on their school reading list. Or make a new friend just because they were both outside at the same time, not because their moms have exchanged numbers and arranged play dates.

I am no expert at parenting but I do try to keep my kid’s after school hours as flexible and as unstructured as possible.

As is the case with most six-year-olds, my son is a fine example of taking things slow. Have you watched them get ready for school? It’s a painfully slow process that involves multiple distractions and deviations from the actual job at hand. But that’s another topic for another day.

Chandler Hovey Park in Marblehead, MA
Jump! Chandler Hovey Park in Marblehead, MA. Photo by Pinaki Chakraborty. All rights reserved ©

This summer I plan to take it slow.

Watch my kids grow.

Make them laugh. It gets harder as they enter their teens. My lame “mom” jokes and Captain Underpants brand of humor won’t cut it after a few years.

I plan to cook slowly. Have you tried this slow-roasted indian-spiced salmon from Samin Nosrat’s highly-acclaimed book Salt, Fat, Acid, HeatEven my fish-averse son loved it. The lovely art is by Wendy MacNaughton and it makes me want to sit with a sketch book and rekindle my love of doodling.

I plan to practice mindfulness. My friend Debarati has an Facebook entire page dedicated to it. If you find yourself in and around New Hampshire, and happen to stumble upon one of her workshops, consider it your lucky day.

I plan to drink my coffee as I would my wine. Savor every sip. If this means waking up an hour earlier so be it.

I plan to walk more. Drive less.

I plan to listen more. Read more. Play more.

Doctor’s appointments and other time-bound engagements aside, summer means no school so I plan to hurry less. What about summer camp you say? Aah. We will probably be the last ones in. Those who know me will tell you that’s never going to happen. Taking it slow doesn’t mean you have to be tardy, am I right? Maybe some diligent planning and waking said six-year-old a tad early than usual would work in our favor. We will see how it all unfolds.

I am going to try and make every day count.

What about you?

Spring Stroll – Ridgefield, CT

Ridgefield Spring Stroll
Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©
Ridgefield Spring Stroll
Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©
Ridgefield Spring Stroll
Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©
Ridgefield Spring Stroll
Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©
Ridgefield Spring Stroll
Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©
Ridgefield Connecticut
Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©
Ridgefield Spring Stroll
Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©
Books on the Common, Ridgefield, CT.
Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©
Ridgefield Spring Stroll
Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©

Pic(k) of the Week – Snowy March

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

The World is Getting Better

There is no magic number when it comes to having kids. One is good. So is two. As is zero. We recently went from one to two kids. So far, it’s been a learning experience in sharing our time and space with a brand new chubby addition to the family.

Meanwhile, our six year old did a rendition of Dog Man and I put it up on Instagram like any ordinary social media influenced mom is wont to do. Within minutes, we had none other than the author Dav Pilkey himself popping up with an encouraging comment. I have been known to disparage my son from reading Captain Underpants because of the scatological humor and distorted spellings. But I gave in when I saw how happy the books made him. You can’t go wrong with gross stuff, when you are trying to elicit a few “laffs” from a first grader.

There is no magic solution when it comes to parenting. They will read what they want. And draw what they like. All we can do is try and guide them along the right path and teach them to be kind and respectful. Along the way, we would also like them to be smart and strong.

If the news is any indicator, the next generation is not just about selfies and Snapchat. As Daenerys said in Game of Thrones, they will probably be better “rulers” than the ones who came before them. Something about the way they are changing the political dialogue all over the world is giving me hope.

On that optimistic note, here’s an editorial by Bill Gates where he says “There’s also a growing gap between the bad things that still happen and our tolerance of those things. Over the centuries, violence has declined dramatically, as has our willingness to accept it. But because the improvements don’t keep pace with our expectations, it can seem like things are getting worse.

On the whole, the world is getting better.”