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.”

Valuable Brands in 2018

Courtesy of: Visual Capitalist

When we say “the most valuable brand” we mean the brand value, which is not to be confused with the Enterprise Value (EV), which is a measure of a company’s total value. “EV is calculated as the market capitalization plus debt, minority interest and preferred shares, minus total cash and cash equivalents.” – sourced from Investopedia.

Brand Value is more of an abstract concept but one that has to be essential, long-lasting and practical. It could be intangible as an asset, but it represents the core values of a company and shapes the perception of its customers.

For eg, IKEA has the following core values (Src – 6Q Blog)

1. Humbleness and willpower
2. Leadership by example
3. Daring to be different
4. Togetherness and enthusiasm
5. Cost-consciousness
6. Constant desire for renewal
7. Accept and delegate responsibility

Back to the infographic at hand, I am not surprised to see Amazon’s influence in USA and TATA’s hold over India. Then you have Mercedes-Benz, Nestle, IKEA and LEGO – these brands nicely fall into allotted slots as well. What surprised me was Canada with RBC. Maybe I should get to know my neighbors better.

When gathering data, it is good to have absolute numbers. But sometimes it’s the unquantifiable impact, or the inherent belief, that seems to make a fraction of a difference, and could prove immensely beneficial to a company in the long run.

Amazon Go

The earth has made a full trip around the sun since I wrote about Amazon Go here.

The beginning of this week saw the automated 1,800-square-foot store being finally launched in Seattle, Washington.

Here’s some Insta humor to brighten up an otherwise dull Wednesday.

Amazon Go

The Addictive Power of Social Media

Photo by the Art of Social Media

Recently I have been worried about this constant feedback loop generated by social media, and when I say social media, I am mostly thinking of Facebook. It’s one of the big “four” (Amazon, Apple and Google make up the rest) and recently it seems to be losing its footing when it comes to weeding out the nonsense from the real stuff. Trolls, bots and click-farms are a concern when democracies are at stake, don’t you think?

I have been active on social media for years and I do realize that there are some benefits of being connected to family and friends, being more aware of happenings around the world, and browsing through aesthetically composed pictures (here’s looking at you, Insta).

This New Year, while I was contemplating the hours I spend on Facebook, I found out that “On Jan. 1, Germany began enforcing strict rules that could fine major internet sites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube up to 50 million euros ($60 million, £44 million, AU$77 million) if they don’t remove posts containing hate speech within 24 hours of receiving a complaint” – CNET.

It’s a step in the right direction. People are far meaner online, thanks to the anonymity factor, than when they are debating face-to-face. And it’s as damaging as all the fake “likes” and “loves” one garners after posting a photo on Facebook.

Speaking of which, I recently read Justin Rosenstein’s interview on the Guardian where he says that “he was particularly aware of the allure of Facebook likes, which he describes as bright dings of pseudo-pleasure that can be as hollow as they are seductive.”

And who is this Rosenstein guy you ask. Well, he is the Facebook engineer who created the ubiquitous “like” button. A button which needs no introduction, and has recently been supplemented with the love, angry, wow, and sad “reaction” buttons.

Buttons are the easiest, they require no effort, no typing, and yet they send across these little packets of affirmation which provide a short-term feeling of happiness. Kind of like a dopamine infusion. And I may go as far as to say – not so different from cocaine.

While we reveled in the “bright pings of pseudo-pleasure” derived from sending and receiving likes, Facebook found itself swimming in a sea of valuable data. So they mined it with care and sold it to advertisers.

It also tweaked the activity-alert/notification color from dull blue to trigger-happy red so as to drive maximum engagement. The pull-down-to-refresh feature you see on these sites and their apps, well, they are not so different from the pull-down levers of slot machines. The advertising professional in me loves all these little modifications, and that’s why I got hooked into the psychology behind the social media phenomenon.

According to the same Guardian interview, Loren Brichter, the designer who created the pull-down-to-refresh mechanism, says he never intended the design to be addictive – but would not dispute the slot machine comparison. “I agree 100%,” he says. “I have two kids now and I regret every minute that I’m not paying attention to them because my smartphone has sucked me in.”

When we share pictures of our food, homes, vacations, kids, friends and family, I guess we are trying to project a controlled image of ourselves to people we don’t get to meet on a daily basis? And there’s nothing wrong in doing that. It’s all good till it gets addictive. Till these likes and reactions and comments take over so much that we lose sight of the good from the bad. Till we start sharing every single thing that happens to us. And till we almost plan things around a Facebook post.

There are people whose “feedback loop” has gotten so out of hand that they are posting pictures on a daily basis. The give and receive likes and post saccharine comments almost instantaneously. No matter how blurry the shot or how awful the picture, they have to adorn it with a suitable adjective in the comments section.

But I am not worried about them. My concern lies with the next generation who will not know a world before Facebook. Will they miss out on hanging out with friends in real time and find it difficult to forge real connections? Will they miss out on real-time fun? Every single shared joke will be online, and worst, forever. There are things I have said and done in my teens that I don’t want to be stored in a chip for eternity. And neither do you.

During a talk at Stanford Graduate School of Business, former Facebook VP for User Growth, Chamath Palihapitiya said that the “The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops we’ve created are destroying how society works,” referring to online interactions driven by “hearts, likes, thumbs-up.” “No civil discourse, no cooperation; misinformation, mistruth. And it’s not an American problem — this is not about Russians ads. This is a global problem.”

Later, of course, he went on to apologize for his hard stance on social media, especially to and on Facebook, which led him to release a more balanced statement weighing the good vs the bad. And I agree, it’s not all bad. None of this is part of a mega evil plan laid out by a mega villain rubbing their hands in glee as we tap likes and loves.

Social media sites are not driving us insane on purpose, and they do a lot of good in the world in many ways hitherto unknown to us. And I am sure that they can become a force for the greater good, if only we knew how to use them better.

Maybe the next generation, the one I worry about, will do just that.

Pic(k) of the Week – Joyeux Noël

Ridgefield, CT
Ridgefield, Connecticut. Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©