Friday, September 12, 2014

September 11

I was driving to work and almost there, looking for a good parking spot. It was a sunny morning in Burlington, MA, Fall setting in, the radio playing new albums, intermittent traffic updates, New England gearing up for Halloween decorations, pumpkin spiced Latte at the local Starbucks. Ameet took his flight in the morning, he was traveling to a client site. 

The music was interrupted  - I remember a twinge of annoyance at my song being cut off - and a very confused reporter started off by saying " We have just heard news that a plane has hit or grazed one of the towers, not yet sure if it is a recreation aircraft or a helicopter" and handed off to a correspondent who was going to check the site out. I nodded my head, mentally criticizing people who took it to the next level by flying their personal planes for fun on a work day and that too in the middle of Manhattan, and hoped that the pilot was okay. And just as I was ready to turn the switch and get out of my car - the reporter screamed and frantically started saying that they can see a passenger aircraft flying towards the tower. Then came the realization that the first aircraft was also a full fledged passenger one and was from Boston. And as I sat there stunned and confused, I heard the impact of the second plane.

This is the first time I have written about it. And reliving those moments my hands grow cold, my heart constricts, my throat goes dry and I relive the horror and despair of all the moments to follow. It is amazing how a moment can change so drastically in a flash. The rushing in to my office to figure out if Ameet flew to DC or Manhattan, (I did not keep track as he traveled so much). The relief to know his destination was DC replaced by a new fear after hearing about the DC flights, as his office was next to the Pentagon and unable to contact for a whole 8 hours as communications were jammed in that area. The shock to learn we lost a co-worker in the flight from Boston and the hourly updates that stated how many people had been accounted for in the Sun Microsystems office in the second tower. The calls to locate a missing uncle and 2 cousins who worked in the same area as the towers. Ameet was contactable in the evening and he and a friend drove back from DC amidst all the mayhem. We were able to locate our family members late into the night and I am so very thankful for the blessings that day. And grateful and in awe of how the country's forces united to support and help the ones affected by this tragedy.

The thought about people leaving their homes in the morning for a regular day and not being able to ever see their family members again, trying to remember their last conversation - not having the slightest inkling that it would be their last...... The images fill me with sadness, the feeling of helplessness of not being able to contact your loved ones, the waiting and to so many the delivery of terrible, terrible news. This awful proof that man can do this to another man ....... 

The dictionary defines humanity as 
: the quality or state of being human
: the quality or state of being kind to other people or to animals

This day is a terrible reminder that these two definitions may not be synonymous. Whenever I see a digital clock say "9:11", my heart skips a beat, when I see a celebration on 09/11, I dread to attend it, I hesitate to travel on this day, I go through every hour a little tentatively, with a heavy heart. Some wounds heal but the scars are deeper than we know ......

Thursday, May 1, 2014

 May 1st

May 1st is celebrated in different parts of the world as May Day in Great Britain, International Workers Day in USA, Spring Celebration Day in many parts of Europe,  Valborgsmässoafton in Sweden celebrated the night before,  Kevadpüha in Estonia ,  ziua bețivilor (drunkards' day) in Romania, Lei Day in Hawaii, the list is long.  At the beginning of the 20th century, it became a custom in France to give a sprig of lily of the valley on May 1st as a symbol of springtime Most importantly it is also Maharashtra Din in Mumbai - The day the state of Maharashtra was formed by the Bombay Reorganization Act, 1960  so it is a bank holiday !

But in our family we celebrated May Day for a reason much closer to home - it is my parents' Wedding Anniversary. For us kids (me and my brother) we knew that the day is not not only a holiday but it would be filled with chocolates and flowers, traditional recipes would be cooked for breakfast and lunch, a morning trip to the Fish Market to get the first catch of the day,  an inevitable last minute(!) trip to the jewelery and sari stores with my dad, a trip to the only Bengali Sweets store in town to get Mishti Doi . A busy day culminating in an evening of more fun and food at the restaurant of my mom's choice ( well, we tried to influence the decision). It never occurred to us they would want to do something together without us tagging along, we simply assumed it was a family celebration to be celebrated together ! If anyone dropped over to wish them, they would be all invited to stay for lunch or join us for dinner :)

Today on this rainy day there is emptiness in the air .....It is the first May 1st without my dad. A first of many firsts to come ....

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Summer Camps 2012

Camp Reviews


Summer is over (alas!) and we are into another new School year (woohoo!) which is exciting and overwhelming at the same time. We try to keep a journal of all the fun stuff that we did during the vacation months and one of them is to jot down how we liked each of the camps that Aishani attended this year.

So here is a chart based on a rating scale that is somewhere between the fun that the camper had and the level of sincerity, commitment and safety that the parents noticed at the camps. All camps were geared towards kids aged 8+.

While the "Fun Level" is completely the camper's opinion, the "Instruction" and "Administration" columns are rated mostly on the basis of parents' experience.  The "Will Go Back" answer is a combined decision of the whole family!

CampOffered ByFun Level (Kid)Instruction (Kid & Parent)TimingsAdministration/
Counselors (Parent)
First Time ?Will Go Back ?
Chess Camp
USA Chess**********9-4****YesYes
360 Gymnastics**8.30 - 5.30***YesNo
Camp Invention
*********8.30 - 3*****YesYes
British Challenger Soccer
Challenger Sports Full Day

*****8.30 - 3***NoNo
5.Drumlin FarmsMass Audubon**********8.30 - 5.45*****NoYes
6.Sewing **********9-12****YesYes
7.Digital PhotographyActon Recreation ****9-12****YesNo
8.Art CampActon Recreation********9-12****YesYes
9.Illustration CampActon Recreation*********9-12****YesYes

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Van Gogh - Up Close

“I…am always obliged to go and gaze at a blade of grass, a pine-tree branch, an ear of wheat, to calm myself." - Van Gogh wrote a year before he died.

The paintings displayed in the exhibition in the Philadelphia Museum of Art has all the signatures of the artist. The melancholy, the hope, the endlessness on his landscapes and the breathtaking beauty that emerged from those brushstrokes. It was an exhibition that filled the heart.

The Museum itself boasts of graceful architecture enclosing art of many varieties. We were visiting PA for a couple of days for a family event and was  pleasantly surprised to find that the exhibition was open until 8.45 pm.It was a rainy evening but the aura inside was festive - "Art after 5" was in session - with International and jazz live music, cash bar and h'orderves. But our focus was on the special exhibition and we picked our recorded tours and proceeded to it.

As soon as one steps into the room, a feeling of awe spreads like a wave on each visitor. To be surrounded and yet be so close, to each of these paintings - be able to lean forward and watch each dot and line, to be able to percieve the layers of colors that he used to portray the right "impression", that was a privilege.

The exhibition was arranged in the order of the age of the painting, so as we saw his paintings we also saw his life unfold, starting with his still life paintings with flowers and objects, portraits, gradually moving on to landscapes, his interest in Japanese paintings and culminating into the beautiful "Blossoming Almond Tree" which he painted for his brother's son, his namesake - Vincent.

My 8 and 4 year olds too were actually listening to the narrations provided for each painting. The Museum also did a great job of having a "Kids Activity Book" which had trivia questions and observation hints. A most curious one was " What is a common factor between all the paintings which had trees ? "  And the answer was " They all had no tops !" Of course this did not deter my kids from asking to go to the rest room "urgently" right midway through the exhibition (they are always strategic as not to plan that for the beginning or the end), but the beauty in the room was strong enough to bring me back to continue. Aishani had her book : Sunflowers and Swirly Stars (Smart About Art) from her school library and she was thrilled to find the real counterparts of some of the paintings in the book !

My other favorite from that evening is "Undergrowth with 2 Figures".
In the last month of his life, Vincent van Gogh painted this lyrical scene: lovers arm in arm in a forest of poplars with wildflowers underfoot.

It was an enjoyable evening, the exhibition itself had excellent lighting, was well spaced with seating to view the paintings and ended into a gift store which had beautiful objects with the paintings printed on them. Obviously a lot of planning and effort had gone into this one and I hope to go back for the Gauguin Collections in June.

When we settle down at the Cafe after all was done, with our coffees and croissants, my 4 year old exclaimed "Guess what, Mom! This is about Art !". Well, seems like the kids did gain something after all on that evening.....

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Create Sew - An Exceptional Experience

Sewing in my family skipped a generation (namely me). My grandmother embroidered poetry with illustrations and my mom has made many a pretty dress for me. But unfortunately my creative talents completely bypassed this skill, and I confess I make do with safety pins and fabric glue.

My daughter, on the other hand is mesmerized by by anything that concerns using threads, yarns or needles. Be it making bracelets, weaving pot holders, attaching buttons or knitting scarves. all these are immensely enjoyable to her! So it was with considerable interest that I enrolled her into a sewing camp that I saw on one of my favorite websites : Suzy Said...

Create Sew - Founder and Director - Rebecca Szetela - offers a variety of sewing classes and camps for kids and adults.

Aishani attended a 4 day sewing camp this summer. She loved creating a dress for herself as well as a frilly skirt ! An extra perk was a pretty pillow with a funny face. There were 7 students in the class and 3 teachers. She learnt to use the sewing machine, cut fabric and learnt to hand sew along with understanding dress patterns.

She would love to go back there many more times ! It was a wonderful experience for her to create an outfit from scratch. It indeed was a perfect camp week. As a parent, if I am asked for any wishes that could be added to the experience, I would ask for 2 more things - for at least one additional hour, it would allow working parents like us a little more time if the camp ended at 3pm, currently it is 9-2pm for 4 days. The other request would be a more structured drop off. I usually have my younger one in the car and I am not comfortable dropping my daughter off at the doorstep if noone is there to receive her. So a parent has to walk downstairs to the workshop at the lower level. It would be nice if there was someone to recieve students at the door during the scheduled drop off time.

Apart from the fact that the kids are learning a very important skill, I think the process of creating an item that they can wear and use -  is a wondrous thing. The activity helps in increasing concentration, has a calming effect and teaches kid to provide dedicated and focused effort on a job from start to finish. I believe the benefits from this kind of a class/camp are very many.

The registration process was very well managed and one can pay online for the session. Rebecca is immensely good about sending the list of materials and requirements well before hand and welcomes questions and concerns. I would highly recommend Create Sew to budding seamstresses !

Find them in Facebook and

Images by Sabrina Vincent

Friday, April 1, 2011

MFA Art Camps - Disappointing

The new MFA (Museum of Fine Arts) as it is being advertised is quite breathtaking. A whole new wing of the Americas, a gigantic almost ceiling-less cafeteria, updated collections - basically a list that will awe any art lover.

Aishani attended the February Vacation camp for 4 days. We had to enroll in 2 sessions - a morning 9-12pm "At of teh Americas - Midnight Journey" and an afternoon 1-4pm "ToyMaking" and also enroll for a supervised lunch in between. There was no options of after-care. Right at the beginning while enrolling I should have seen the signs unreliability and inadequacy. The new system needs parents to call a 3rd party to buy "tickets" for these camps. The 3rd party on the phone does not have any answers to any questions that you may have about the camp. They can only repeat the 2 line description in the brochure and calling the MFA number multiple times during valid hours only forwared me to voicemail. I signed my daughter up.

 She loved the class and I am NOT signing her up again for a long time!  The whole program needs a lot of work - planning & execution - before it can be satifactory for concerned parents.

My daughter loved it because :
  • From start to finish, the curriculum was about learning and creativity in the classes. They visited galleries and learned about artifacts and paintings. 
  • They tried to reproduce art and sculpture in their classes with different range of mediums from string, clay, paper, paint, wood and so on
  • She made new friends - Addy and Selma 
  • She was proud to be visiting galleries with a peer group, absorbing and implementing what she was learning.

I am upset because :
  • The classes itself are on the 3rd floor and once you step out of he elevator, you are transported to another world - very different than the MFA you visit. The walls are dingy, the floor uneven and stained, small windy flights of stairs which straightaway spell "fire -hazard". I am a MFA member and I was completely surprised to see this part of the MFA which is not "publicized". I would love to see pictures of these classroom areas online on their site - especially the hand written notes on doors saying "Don't block- exit in case of emergency" - stuck with temporary tape. I must say it was depressing.
  • Driving back on the last day I asked my daughter if there was anything she did not like about the camp - and she said "Of course the 3 boys who kept bullying us in the afternoon Toy Making" class. After asking many many questions and getting some answers between "I don't knows" I learnt that there were 3 boys, 10-12 yearolds who kept bullying the younger girls. They pushed and punched the girls ! tried messing up their art/craft and called them names and snatched their stuff and so on. The girls complained to their instructor - but the bullying did not stop in any scale!
  • On the fourth day I was late in picking her up, I continuously called the "contact" number but noone picked up - in fact right from the beginning of registration - non-availabilty of people on the program has been an issue.
I could go on about her lunch bag and how her Bento - Laptop Lunchbox was thrown out, how it took administrators 8 days to reply to my email or how it takes a person at least 40 minutes to find parking in the garage and get in and out while the museum gives you half an hour of parking and you have to convince the gate keeper of your situation, how noone could find me a tissue or napkin when my daughter had a nosebleed (the coarse craft paper had to suffice) and many other small things which may sound petty but which to busy but concerned parents and parents who want a good camp experience for their child, is extremely important.

Ultimately it all contributes to the experience we have had as a family and my experience was not good. I think whoever is planning the program may be doing a great job of the curriculum but the administration of these camps needs a lot more work. Currently I think it is an unreliable environment to send my child to. It has been a disappointment and needless to say I will not be renewing my membership this year......

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Kindermusik by Samantha Sicorez

"When are we going to see my Musical Family again ?" asks my 3 year old.

We just finished a Kindermusik session at 360 Gymnastics, led by Samantha Sicorez. Each session had the kids enchanted, trying out different musical instruments and enjoying every minute of the class. They hopped and walked and ran and rolled, they jumped and pulled and pushed. They tried out a variety of physical activities, all the time following the melodious voice of their teacher. I must say, at the end of the session, she acquired quite a fan club !

It is not always that one chances upon a music teacher who is not only very talented but is very interested in every response from the kids. She has a genuine love for interaction with children and brought out their musical abilities splendidly! Her zeal is infectious, her methods to draw each child out and transform them into active participants are quite successful and I was not surprised to know that she has a double degree in Vocal Performance and Music Education. Arohan loved dancing with flashlights, drawing on papered walls and most importantly the Spiderman sticker at the end of the class. Needless to say, we are looking forward to another Kindermusik session with her.

More at 360-Gymnastics