Updated on October 29, 2019
“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.
Tell about it.”
I try. I do.
Updated on October 14, 2019
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.””
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.”
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.
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, 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.
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.
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.
Updated on September 19, 2019
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I would love to have a coffee here someday.
How cool are these birdhouses?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Updated on September 19, 2019
New England weather doesn’t always lend itself to outdoor activities. We had the Polar Vortex, the school-is-delayed-due-to-icing mornings, the rattle-your-windows kind of a windy day, and more. So however idyllic it may sound, “go outside and play” doesn’t always work here. This means we are stuck with an endless loop of wanted screen time amid chants of “I am bored.”
Is that really a bad thing? What if being bored is actually good for you? It doesn’t even have to be good. Maybe it’s just okay to be bored. For the past many years, my travel related work has had me writing articles as varied as Delicious Hangover Cures From Around the World to Wolf Sanctuaries in Pennsylvania but never have I felt inclined to pen down a 10 point list on how to keep kids entertained on a road trip. Or say, how to navigate a cross-Atlantic flight fraught with delays and layovers, minus the meltdowns.
In an interview with GQ magazine, Lin-Manuel Miranda said “…there is nothing better to spur creativity than a blank page or an empty bedroom.”
Jerry Seinfeld once joked, “When you’re five and you get bored, you cannot support your body weight. I remember going to the bank with my parents … and I would lie down flat, like, ‘Sorry, Mom, there’s nothing I can do. This place is so dull, I cannot get up.’ This is what I think adulthood is: Adulthood is the ability to be totally bored and remain standing.”
So why not let kids get bored once in a while? It would at the least prepare them for adulthood.
In the midst of designing our child’s every waking hour with structured play, maybe we are missing something essential. Boredom often makes the mind wander into uncharted territories and foster a world of imagination that would be hard to come by during an organized activity. Another thing that gets lost in this labyrinth of constant monitoring is self-sufficiency.
Last weekend, when my son, who is all of seven and often “bored”, said he was bored for the umpteenth time, we did what we hardly ever do on a rainy winter afternoon. We went out to explore our new neighborhood. On foot.
Pretend obstacles and random races aside, the constant drizzle brushing against our faces compelled us to be in the moment. The weekend’s to-do list and other trivialities were left forgotten by the wayside.
Here, Elizabeth McCracken’s Bowlaway gives the humble walk a whole new meaning –
“In the mornings he would walk…. At the start of a walk, alone or moving, the sun at his back or cold rain down his collar, he was more himself than under any other circumstance, until he had walked so far he was not himself, not a self, but joined to the world. Invisibly joined. Had a religion been founded on this, purely this, he would have converted. Proof of God?….. Proof was in the world, and the way you visited the world was on foot…. Your walking was a devotion.”
This passage is something I visit often. If nothing, to make me want to stop whatever it is I am doing, pick up the baby, wrap him in his coziest carrier, pull on my warmest boots, and head out the door.
It’s even better when my husband and seven-year-old join us.
Updated on September 19, 2019
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.
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.
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!