It’s Not Always About Getting Ahead

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This is a post dedicated to all those small business owners and fledgling entrepreneurs out there. Keep your chins up and read on :

First let’s get three things straight.

My business is growing, but it’s growing very slowly. Very slowly. I have clearly missed the overnight success boat.

Secondly, I have very little in the way of time, resources, and infrastructure on my side.

Thirdly, I have no business background. I have a design background, I have a solid art education background, I have a sense of humor, I am scarily tenacious, double jointed, and have a lot of dreams; but still, no business acumen.

Doesn’t really sound very promising, does it? I know.

Despite this, I carry on doing what I do. Every year, I fight a lot of battles to move forward a few inches, make some discernible progress. I have amazing ideas for the summer. Right now, I am trying desperately to find a suitable space to run my summer art camp, and I’m trying to do that before all the bigger, more established camps suck every available kid in Fairfax County out of their back yard and into their vast (yet, much less interesting -ha!) programs. Small fish in big water? I feel like a tiny minnow swimming in the ocean.

I am also printing up a storm, so that I will have all my products ironed and ready for the Spring markets.
I’m working by myself, time is ticking, the days don’t have enough hours, and the kids have been at home a lot recently. It can be overwhelming, and my family will vouch that I started last week as the grouchiest person on earth.

So…..this would totally be the wrong time to take a little mental health break, right?

As it turns out – wrong!
A good friend of mine is throwing a birthday party for her five year old at a black light bowling alley. She asked if I could help out, and I said yes. So last week we spent a morning cutting bowling pin stencils, and making glow in the dark t-shirts for the little party peeps. And guess what, it was great. Weirdly, I actually got the same amount of my own work done in half a day as I do in a full day.
How is that possible? Here is how:

  • Taking my focus off what desperately needed to be done, and doing a non work related creative activity, gave me a nice little brain break. I came back to my job with renewed interest, and a fresher perspective on my work (all cliches, I know, but it’s true).
  • Doing something for a friend, and not for work, made me feel good. It was nice to just help someone without expecting anything in return. My improved mood gave me a burst of energy, similar to the high you feel after a good workout. Hence I got more work done than usual that afternoon, and the next day.
  •  Most of the time I work at home by myself. This means I often succumb to bad habits, such as visiting the snack cupboard every ten minutes, taking breaks when I’m not supposed to, and being very self absorbed. Having company meant that I didn’t do those things at all, and there’s a lot to be said for hanging out with real life human beings instead of a radio. We had a lot of fun, I introspected less, and I had a healthier start to the day, which had a knock on effect for the rest of the week.
  • Last but not least, working on those shirts, without worrying about selling them was nice. I didn’t freak out so much about the outcome, and it gave me an opportunity to try out new materials and methods. The whole experience has got me thinking about doing a stencil making street art project with my campers this summer. You never know when inspiration might hit you. That Steve Jobs was right about the dots connecting unexpectedly in your life. Smart man.

I’m back on track after my blue period, and I know there will be other blue periods, but they will end, just like this one.

The message, as always, is play the long game, take the breaks you need to take, and just do what feels right to you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Staying Motivated After Snowzilla

Pre Snowzilla drawings

It is tough staying motivated when you work from home. Often schedules get gooey and the line between work and home life is not really a line, more a series of dashes and smudges. Being productive requires a lot of pep talks in front of the mirror, and a decent amount of self control. Sometimes it’s easy to stay focused, other times not so much.

I was doing alright up until Snowzilla happened, and suddenly I had two overly enthusiastic helpers at home with me for a week, and nowhere to go.

I couldn’t really get much done last week. I managed to screen print a little with the help of my nine year old (while the five year old walked around hitting things), and recycle some old screens, but mostly I gave in to the snow day mayhem. I took the kids sledding, I shoveled while they pelted me in the back with snow balls, I cooked a lot and ate even more, watched all three of the Hobbit films, waved a white flag while the kids covered the ground floor of my house with a giant train track, and kept a very close eye on the five year old and his marker pen collection.

It was fun, but at some point during the eight day snowcation, I started to get despondent (it doesn’t take much, does it?).  I started worrying about my business and the direction it was slowly shuffling in. “I have no idea what I’m doing, or where I’m going.” 

That is when I sat and answered the questions below, found on The Stellar Cafe, a lovely blog written by Peter H Reynolds (he of The Dot, and Ish fame). Sometimes all it takes is a few moments of reflection, to get back on track and feel motivated again (or maybe I’m just a very changeable person).  Asking questions about yourself is never a bad thing. Have a look. Maybe you will want to answer some of the questions yourself, or maybe you have some better ones to add to the list.

Happy Monday!

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1. What is something important to you?
Having an open mind. Taking the time to understand and empathize with other people and not being too judgmental or fearful of differences. Helping my kids to be this way. Going with the flow.

2. What special talent do you have?
Teaching/mentoring young people: I have a good rapport with kids, and remember my own childhood experiences vividly.

3. What place has special meaning to you?
London will always have my heart, it holds my childhood memories, and just feels right when I visit.

4. Who has helped you find your way?
To be honest, I’m not sure I’ve found my way yet, it’s taking me a bit longer than expected. Many people have helped me this far, mostly close friends and family. I’ve spent so much time with my head in books, that I can’t ignore their influences on me. However, most of the time, I have just accidentally stumbled onto a path.

5. What do you hope to do someday?
A creatively fulfilling job that pays the bills, keeps me on my toes, and still let’s me spend time with my family. Does such a job exist?

6. What do you need to be more happy?
People, more contact with people. A higher density of people around me (I’m a city girl). More family nearby, and like minded artist friends to bounce ideas around with.

7. What is a big dream you have–if reality wasn’t an obstacle?
Moving closer to the city and buying my own beautiful, roomy studio with huge windows, just a few minutes away from home, and just creating stuff with no limits every day. Ooh. and traveling to as many places as possible with my family and a sketch book. Not much to ask, huh?

8. Who have you helped along the way?
I hope I have helped some students along the way.

9. If you wrote a book about your life up until now what would the title be?
The Grounded Gypsy.

10. If you wrote a book about your future what would it be titled?
How to Grow Old Without Growing Up

Spring/Summer T-shirt Musings

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I write this just as we are all hunkering down for a big storm. I’m surrounded by legos, unfinished puzzles and socks (exactly how many pairs a day do my kids wear, and why do they keep taking them off??). Normally I’d be scared of the impending cabin fever, normally I’d be drinking tea and staring wistfully out of the window, but no, not today.

The Shipment

Things are about to get real busy around here. Colored Organics has just dropped a big box of fresh shirts and onesies on my doorstep, which has had me all aflutter.
I don’t know about you, but I love a clean slate; an empty page in a sketch book waiting to be drawn on, a new wall asking to be painted, a fresh, creamy, cotton baby onesie full of possibilities just begging me to print on it. My brain was overwhelmed with it all…

I could print anything onto that onesie, do anything to it….ohhhh the power, the unlimited possibilities.

That brief period between contemplation and actual action is the sweetest time. I like to savor it as much as possible before I start my work, realize my limitations, and drop straight back down to earth again. Not that the actual printing isn’t exciting as well. Noooooo,  screen printing is a most (instantly) gratifying activity, perfect for the extra jumpy human, the impatient artist, the big kid that I am.  But I have high hopes for my next collection, and I mean to push myself to make a leap from last year’s prints. I have ideas that I hope will work out, that could mean heartbreak or happiness (yes, I realize I am talking about a bunch of shirts, why are you surprised? I’ve always been this flaky).

This year, I am going to indulge myself, and add more color, more texture, more ME to my collection (see some shirts from last summer here). I’m going for a tropical/oceanic theme (think sea coral, octopuses, elephants and bugs, orangey reds, pale mint, grass green, navy blue, lilac). Don’t get me wrong, I do love the simple, graphic, inky vibe of last year’s t-shirts and I mean to hold onto some of that. However, minimalism has never really been me, and I feel it is time for a change, so I have been experimenting with hand painting my products beforehand to get a painterly background to print on. Hopefully it will all work out, I’ll have pictures of the finished products on here before long.

I’m off to prep some screens now, and print through the snow days….and drink tea, and wash socks.

 

Camp Time Again

Hopscotch!

The time has come to start thinking about the 2016 Summer camps. At this early stage, that mostly means enrollment, booking a classroom, sorting out dates, and sending out emails, and this will all need to happen over the next two weeks.

I’m finding it difficult to focus. Being me, I can’t really separate all that nitty-gritty administrative stuff  from what I really want to do:  plan the content of the camps.
I get so excited about planning a new series of projects, researching artists and techniques, and …just…being…immersed in new ideas,  that it can interfere with the other, less exciting, nevertheless important, aspects of running a camp. I wish I had a business manager/accountant/butler, sigh.

I’m off to pound the streets of Vienna today. Approaching schools and churches with a solid determination to find a suitable venue for my summer antics. “Hello would you like to host me, and a group of frenzied kids with loaded paintbrushes this summer?” Hmmm, need to work on my introduction.

I’ll leave in an hour. Until then, I’m going to give myself some time to think about the camp content. In order to do that I need to evaluate……

….What worked last year?

Let’s see, what did the kids particularly enjoy, which projects and activities were most successful?

  • Typography
  • Experiments using unusual drawing materials (sticks, marbles dipped in ink etc)
  • Musical chairs (strange but true, they couldn’t get enough of that game)
  • large scale group printing projects
  • printing with rolling pins
  • Dot paintings, and anything pattern related.
  • Hanging out with my teenage assistant (so much cooler than me)
  • Screen printing
  • Making something utilitarian
  • Putting on a performance
  • library breaks, quiet time, and books on CD
  • Open ended 3D projects
  • Taking a walk in the middle of projects
  • Toilet humor and the word ‘poop’

Food for thought. Definitely need to find another willing teenager to help out this year. I see some pretty amazing projects forming in my head already. Watch this space.

Favourite Things This Winter

Aaah bitterly cold January, only marginally more bearable than February, the month of Mockolate kisses, cabin fever, and dread.

As you can see, winter has never been my favorite season, but I’m getting slightly better at dealing with it; you might even say I’m slowly warming up to it. See what I did there? A bit of seasonal humor for you, I always try my best.

There are actually some nice things about extremely cold weather. For example, being able to snuggle up in multiple cozy blankets while watching a good film, or that moment when you enter your warm home from the cold outside, and someone hands you a hot cup of tea. Those are singularly pleasant experiences that wouldn’t exist at all without winter. Winter, you’re not so bad after all.

Below, is a list of some things that have been making me happy this winter. You may find them ridiculous, amusing, or both; or you may actually find an affinity with some of them. Either way, read on and (hopefully) enjoy…..

Being immersed in another world
There is nothing like finding a good book that sucks you into it’s pages and keeps you there in a warm embrace for a while. If this happens in the winter, it is indeed a happy occurrence. The Miniaturist has done this to me, and now I’m totally obsessed with the workings of fifteenth century Holland. I’m a historical fiction geek, what can I say.

Taking refuge in a library
Actually, I like libraries at any time of the year, but they are especially useful in bad weather. Warm, dry, full of books, kid friendly, free, what’s not to like?

Winter nights in
This might actually be my age speaking, but I’m actually enjoying the whole blanket-sofa-slippers-tea experience in the evening. I know it’s an excuse to hibernate and be lazy, but I don’t care, it’s not forever. Spring will be here soon enough with it’s get up and go attitude in tow.
I’ve been watching The Grimm with my husband, and we are hooked. Of course, we are the generation that grew up on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and, as I said before, geeks. Keep that in mind before you explore, please.

Mulled Wine
I know this is a Christmas thing, but it just tastes so good, and gives you a warm feeling in your belly. It should be appreciated throughout winter really. I heart mulled wine.

New Year’s Cleaning
I love the idea of a fresh start, in every way possible. Clearing away the Christmas decorations is just a catalyst for me to clean out my home, and especially my work space. It has actually made me more productive over the past week. You know what they say, ‘declutter your environment, declutter your mind’ (not sure who ‘they’ are, but it sure makes sense to me).

Yoga
I used to be a yoga baby. I started practicing it when I was eight, during my Indian dance classes. Since then, I’ve been doing yoga on and off throughout my life, but I completely stopped over the past eight years or so. I’m a pretty active person, and I’ve drifted through various martial arts, dance classes, and intensive workouts (including one horrific summer of P90X), but this year I found myself realizing just how much I’ve been missing yoga and meditation. I’ve started going to a class, and found its benefits more obvious than ever. I’m definitely going to start teaching my kids.

Winter weekend mornings
What is it with kids? On school days, you could march into their rooms playing the tuba and clashing cymbals, and they still wouldn’t be able to wake up, but on weekends they are up at the crack of dawn, waiting creepily by your bed holding a fart gun; this is a problem many parents face.
Winter weekend mornings are bit better for me. The kids are cold, and more likely to be lying in their warm beds for longer. Also, my kids are still small and cuddly enough to get into bed with me and snuggle in the mornings, any extra heat helps.
Also, getting out of bed is so much harder in the winter, that weekend mornings are that much sweeter for their extra moments in bed. It’s all about appreciating what you have.

There you have it, it’s all about appreciating what you have.
Happy sofa hogging!

 

 

 

 

 

 

A New Year Thanksgiving

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So……hello there again, it’s me; yes really!! I’ve been here all along, I just haven’t been blogging. I know, I know, quick slap on the wrist and a waggle of the finger as a reprimand, now let’s move right along.

The last you heard from me, I was getting ready to leave on a family vacation to sunny Chennai, India. Unfortunately, said holiday turned out to be a teensy bit more eventful than we had hoped for. Long story short, we got trapped in the Chennai floods. More accurately, we got trapped in a small apartment with no power or phone lines, and one craaazy Dengue-ridden mosquito on a mission. And yes, I got Dengue fever (high achiever that I am, I felt I needed to do better than just plain old food poisoning this time).

What does Dengue Fever feel like?
Well, since you asked, it feels like you have been in a fight with Mike Tyson and his tiger, and then someone stuck hot pokers in your eyes, and then you got the flu. Yep, no exaggeration.
We returned to the USA in a rather bedraggled state (though, I must admit in my case, rather more svelte than usual), and it took me quite a lot of time, and grilled cheese on toast to get my energy levels (and, unfortunately, weight) back to normal.

Then Christmas happened: all that mulled wine and family time was lovely, but not really very conducive to blogging. However, I’m back now, energized and ever so thankful for a lot of things. In fact, since I missed Thanksgiving this year, lets just do this now.

I am thankful for

  • The security of having a roof over my head, unlike many of the displaced people of Chennai, who are still piecing their lives back together.
  • My wonderful family, who nursed me back to health, behaved themselves (sort of) on the flight back, and made the Holiday season actually happen.
  • The friends who actually made it possible for us to fly back, and left little surprises in our house for us, that made our travel-weary hearts lift.
  • Cheese. All the cheese that I ate during my jet-lagged early morning cravings when I first got back. Food of the gods, I’m convinced it was the main thing that cured my Dengue.
  • A fresh start. Here’s to fresh starts, the spark they put in your eyes, and the spring they put in your step. May they always be in abundant supply.

A very Happy New Year to you all, I have high hopes for 2016.

Six Cool Things to do in DC this Winter

A very dear friend of mine was supposed to visit DC this winter, and had asked me for suggestions of places to visit and things to do while she was here. Unfortunately, her trip has been canceled due to all the nasty rumors out there of an impending terror attack on DC. My heart feels so heavy when I think about the recent ISIS attack on Paris, and there seems to be a dark cloud hanging over the world at the moment.
These types of crises do tend to bring out the best and worst in people, and it is understandable that people all over the world are feeling insecure and scared. However, life must and will go on, and it is in this spirit that I present this blog post to you, a hopeful post.

Hopefully, my lovely, fragrant friend will make it to DC sometime in the near future, because I have found some cool things for her to see here. Speaking of cool, while researching places for her to visit, I stumbled upon this amazing website called dccool.com, that opened my eyes to things DCwise in a way that makes me want to forget that I am a suburban mom, and just move to DC and live undercover for a while.

I’m travelling to India this Friday (expect silence, followed by more posts like this soon!). However once I am back, these are the things I really want to do in DC over the Winter….

  1. The DC Downtown Holiday Market
    Beautiful crafts, cozy ambiance, yummy holiday food, and my kids will love it. I rarely get to enjoy a good craft market without being a vendor, this will be fun.
  2. The Fridge
    I love street art, and contemporary art, how on earth could I not have known about The Fridge?? Apparently, you get there by following the graffitti and murals, it’s like a Banksy Hansel and Gretel thing . They have a textile art exhibition called Sew Rad on until Dec 6th, which I will be sad to miss.
  3. Escape Room Live
    Every single thing about this is making my spine tingle! Apparently there are Sherlock Holmes and Harry Potter themed rooms, and it is a real life gaming experience. I’m hyperventilating just thinking about the concept. Also a friend’s husband helped to design it all. Very cool.
  4. Wonder 
    The Renwick Gallery has just been reopened, and this exhibition looks amazing. No need to say anything, just check out the website.
  5. The Train Exhibit at the US Botanical Gardens
    I will not lie, I enjoy this more than I should. There is a different theme each year, my daughter particularly enjoyed the fairy theme exhibit, my son loves trains, I love the warmth of the gardens, my husband loves botany. Hence, a happy day out for us all.
  6. Zoolights
    Lights, animals, gingerbread, hot cocoa, and free entrance? Yes Please!!

What are you looking forward to doing in DC this Winter? Please do share your ideas with me.

Here’s to looking towards the future with hope and happiness. 

Holy Cow! Cool Diwali Books.

Krishna

So this is Diwali week, and while shopping for Indian mythology books online for my kids, I stumbled upon a really cool range of books by Sanjay Patel, who is an animator for Pixar Animation Studios. He has worked on Monsters inc and The Incredibles, and Toy Story 3, and I reeeally wish his books were around when I was a kid.
Often books on Indian mythology are either too difficult for younger kids to read alone, or not quite age appropriate for them. Not these, Ganesha’s Sweet Tooth was a perfect bedtime read for my five year old, and The Little Book of Deities had a humorous, spunky writing style that my Percy Jackson obsessed nine year old really liked.

A big bonus for me: the books are bee-eautiful. I’m afraid to say that most Indian children’s books that I encountered as a child and young adult didn’t really have much in the way of good design. These books definitely have some pizzazz; I love the little thumbnail sketches included in the Big Poster Book of Deities (which I splurged on for myself). Thank you Sanjay Patel – (the man also makes stationary: hello, Indian Goddess writing set!). Not really surprising that these are published by Chronicle Books, who put out the most lovely books each year.

I should also say that the books are more than pretty jackets, they are full of interesting stories (as books should be). I thought I knew my Indian mythology, but apparently there is a lot more for me to learn.

If you are looking for cool Diwali reads for the kids, peel your eyes away from the Amar Chitra Kathas for a moment, and take a look at these.

Happy reading, and Happy Diwali!

Counting My Cultural Blessings

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As the child of first generation Indian immigrants, who moved to Britain in the sixties, I can tell you that living between two cultures can be complicated at the best of times. But how about living between three cultures?

As a British person of Indian origin, who has now settled in America, and is bringing up American kids of Indian origin, who still have a slightly British accent (one of them puts on a French accent from time to time just to keep things from getting boring) life is…… well it is wonderful, complex, confusing for some, and…….busy, especially around this time of year.

Navaratri has just passed, Halloween is over, now we have Diwali just around the corner, then Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, New Year, and then Pongal in January. I consider my children lucky to experience all these different celebrations and have such a rich cultural background to shape them, but things can get a little bit hectic around here.

Thursday Oct 22nd was Vijayadasami, a day that celebrates learning, and the arts, in southern India. In Tamil Nadu, it is traditionally the day when small children are taught to write for the first time using their fingers in a plate of rice. Vijayadasami is a very important day for people who create, and engage with the fine arts. It is normally a day that I put aside for contemplation, a day when I just sit and create without any purpose than to just create. However, this year  my poor run down body got sick, and not much creating (except of copious phlegm) was done.

I decided that I needed a do-over, so last week I had my own Vijayadasami of sorts, and spent a couple of days sitting on the floor with a mess of colored tissue paper strewn around me just making stuff. Not everything I made was fabulous, most of it was truly terrible. The point was to just enjoy the process rather than worry about the outcome.  I’m a little rusty when it comes to making things without a plan or brief, so I started off by doing an exercise that I had set for my summer camp students – Bauhaus letters – it looked like so much fun when they were doing it, so why not?

I cannot explain how amazing those two days were, how many new ideas I generated for my work, and how much more I wanted to do. Obviously I should do this more often, all people should do this more often. Go and schedule yourself a day, or even a couple of hours of unplanned creativity now. Do it your own way, whether it is writing poetry, playing your guitar, or making origami. I’m going to actually physically block off time on my calendar every month for this, because I need it. I need to push myself to keep developing, because learning must never stop, especially if you are a teacher.

I count being able to celebrate Vijayadasami as one of my many cultural blessings, along with being able to understand many languages, recognizing a decent cup of tea, and doing a convincing Hagrid impression.

We all have cultural blessings, what are yours?

NYC In 2 Days With 2 Kids

Driving into the city

My problem is that I am a big city girl living in a small town. I grew up in the hustle and bustle of London, and get antsy if I go for too long without being in a proper crowd, getting yelled at by a bum, or using public transport. I’m happy where I am, but when things start looking too clean and homogeneous, and I’m confronted with too much shiny hair and teeth, I start craving for the city again.

This August, I was feeling particularly disgruntled with small town living, so I dragged my small tribe off to my second favorite city in the world: New York, New York (so good they named it twice).

Aaaaah New York. Back in the 90s, my brother used to have an apartment in New Jersey, overlooking Manhattan. Of course, I took full advantage of that. As we drove into the city, memories flooded back of my twenty-something self wandering aimlessly around the village, no time limits, no money, cheeks sucked in, trying as hard as possible to look cool, and making new and amazing discoveries around every corner.

Of course, this trip would be different. For a start, we were on a serious time crunch, just two days in NYC??? With two little kids, that equates to around eight hours, factoring in bathroom stops, tantrums, and tiredness, but it would still be awesome. We picked our activities carefully, I wanted to visit the High Line, and Central Park, and cross the Brooklyn Bridge my husband wanted to spend as much time outdoors as possible and take a nap, the nine year old wanted to see the Statue of Liberty, and the five year old wanted pizza, ice cream and cookies.?? Clearly, art galleries, museums, and fine dining would have to wait for another trip.

Here are our favorites from this trip: 

  • The High Line
    A great way to take a walk in NYC without having to deal with traffic. The High Line is a narrow park built on a disused elevated railroad. It is beautiful, and green and full of cool things to do for kids and adults, and a very good idea on trash day.
  • Shakespeare’s Garden
    I love Shakespeare’s garden, it is my favorite part of Central park. There are the beautiful flowers, the winding walk, the little castle at the top, where the nine year old can pretend to be Rapunzel, and the views across the park. What’s not to like?
  • Union Square Pigeon Lady
    Union Square has a great farmer’s market, and a really cool playground (more on that later), but the coolest thing by far on Union Square is the lady with the pigeon installation. She makes the pigeons and the pizza slices they are eating out of felt, it’s beautiful and a little surreal, and makes me smile.
  • The Sky Line
    However you approach New York city, it’s skyline makes you stop and gasp. In fact, it is impossible for me to enter the city without playing a musical backdrop. This time it was Jay-Z’s Empire State of Mind, but if I were entering via the Verrazano bridge, it would have to be the Soprano’s theme. The city is just so damn iconic.
  • Being a tourist
    I normally do things a little off the beaten track, and avoid big touristy attractions. However, my daughter reeeaaally wanted to see the Statue of Liberty, so we took a ferry there, and visited Ellis Island afterwards, and got a bit emotional about it all. She was majestic, it was a lot of fun; sometimes it’s good to be a tourist.
  • The Playgrounds
    Oh…my…god. The playgrounds in NYC are amazing, so much better than DC playgrounds. I consider myself a bit of a playground expert, a connoisseur if you will. If there was such a job as ‘Playground Expert’ I would apply for the post. My kids and I tested out a great many playgrounds in NYC (which is why we never got to see the Brooklyn Bridge in the end). NYC playgrounds don’t just consist of the usual swing set, formulaic play set with slide and bridge, and sand box (I’m looking at you, DC playgrounds). Each playground was totally different from the last, and they didn’t ‘suggest’ what kids should do. There were big domes, spirals, nets, wobbling sticks, and ropes that could be played with in multiple ways, presenting so many more creative possibilities to children. Even the public school playgrounds we saw were more open and non-linear than what my kids were used to, they were in heaven.

I can’t wait for my next trip. See you soon, Brooklyn Bridge!