Six Cool Things to do in DC this Winter

Photo 2014-01-04 03.31.36 PM

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, 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.


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


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!

Moving Forward Without Falling Over

The days are getting shorter, and as my mornings darken so do my moods. I’m entering the part of the year where I suddenly wonder what the hell it is I’m doing with my life?

I have no time to feel this way at any other point in the year (thank goodness).

Enrollment for the summer camps starts in February, and from then on I’m aboard a runaway train of form filling, curriculum planning, researching, space renting, organizing, cleaning and buying.
May brings a slew of family birthdays that keep us all very busy, and the Spring markets, which I do a big printing and marketing session for.
In July and August, the exhilarating business of full time teaching begins, it is an all-encompassing business that doesn’t leave me much time to eat, rest, or look in a mirror, let alone begin any serious forays into self introspection.
Then comes the beginning of the school year in September, otherwise known as The Great Print to my family. While my rosy cheeked cherubs skip off to school daily, I go about the business of screen printing and sewing 1.5 million t-shirts on my dining room table, oh okay I exaggerate a little, but it does seem like that much at the time! This is when my family find me at my most annoying, the t-shirts take over the house, the dining room is inaccessible, there is an ironing board just where you don’t want it to be every morning, and bits of fabric and thread stick to the bottoms of everyone’s socks as they hobble around American Apparel boxes – I clearly need my own studio.

Then, all of a sudden the Fall festivals are done
The t-shirts are packed away, I have visited my bank, and…..hmm I’m not sure what I’m doing for a couple of weeks, I have stuff to do but it’s all unstructured. A couple of weeks of relative calm should be a good thing, after all it’s just a couple of weeks! But no, given a bit of free time and gloomy weather, my brain can be a dangerous tool.

“Oh god, what am I doing, why is it taking so long for my business to grow? Where do I go from here? It’s tough doing fairs with young children. Ugh, my website is terrible, I need to change that. I need to find shops to stock my products, how do I do that, and how will I manage to make enough shirts? Hand printing is so labor intensive, and I don’t have enough space, should I find a company to print them for me? I want a studio, Vienna is so expensive! I miss teaching right now, should I go back to teaching at a school? But what would happen to Noctiluna then? What do I do next? Hmm, where is this blog going? …And so on, and so forth.

See what I mean? I’m so used to having a deadline, that I crumble and lose perspective without one. So I’m not going to make a list or strategy for this one, I’m going to just BE. Those questions are there for a reason, so I’m going to stop asking them over and over, and spend the next few weeks answering them.

Oh, by the way, the Fairfax Fall Festival was wonderful, and the shirts did very well, so really brain, stop worrying!

Learning to Deal With Change


I have been holed away for weeks now working towards a deadline, printing tractors, squirrels, rockets and galaxies onto clothes. I have been sewing little patterned patches of steam above tractors, sewing sequins onto squirrels eyes for extra sparkle, sewing polka dot moons for rockets to fly toward, sewing labels onto everything, and ironing… ironing, ironing, ironing! The ironing was followed by much folding, packing, and labeling, ordering of business cards, and sorting of market paraphernalia. Not much tea was drunk, not much fantasy fiction read, not much in the way of Facebook loitering. In short, I have been a very busy person, BUT FOR WHAT??

Once hurricane Joaquin started making eyes at the DC metro area, the fabulous market that I had been laboring so hard towards was postponed.  Shock, horror, I ran the gamut of emotions, and have now somewhat recovered from them. Here is a quick rundown of my reactions following the cancellation:

No one wants to sell outdoors on a cold, rainy day. Now I don’t have to spend a day in wet, grey misery trying to smile at wet, miserable people, who just want to be at home with a cup of tea, not shopping.

Anger and Melodrama
I can’t believe I went to all that trouble for nothing!! Where am I going to put all these shirts now? Will anyone come to the postponed date? I could have stressed a bit less last week, and drank those cups of tea, all those missed cups of tea! I can’t even take good photos right now, the light has gone from the world!!! Grrr!!!!!

Ooh, I have a free weekend now! Let’s buy all the Indian snacks we can, and watch all the movies, and wear track pants and try not to go outside (other than for the kids’ sake).

Eugh, I need to detox after that weekend. Why couldn’t I just have done lots of yoga and put a face mask on?

What do I do now? This is supposed to be unpacking and inventory day, I’m off schedule. The universe is upside down!! Help!! I know what, I’ll write a blog post to clear my head.

Excellent. Well I guess I have an extra week to print out those extra pictures to sell at the next market, and I can clean out my work room, and finally start drawing again. Maybe I can find some shops for my shirts. Let’s write a new schedule, shall we? I’ll put the kettle on.

So glad I could share that messiness with you, now to get on with being a grown up again!



Awesome Art Books From Summer Camp


I was supposed to write this post three weeks ago, this is late, even for me. It was supposed to be written straight after Summer camp, it was meant to be the cherry on my summer camp cupcake but I overestimated myself,  just a little, once again.

After working very physical eleven hour days for six months (hey, those kids needed someone to laugh at during football/soccer/basketball/freeze tag games), being exposed to a higher than normal decibel rate 24/7, and still managing to behave like a vaguely functional mom, my body decided it needed a break. Unfortunately, it couldn’t take one straight away; first there was the packing-up-after-camp period, then there was the pack-for-New-York period, which made me sob a little. New York itself was a delight, but it also involved a lot of walking and climbing, I started to wear a glazed expression and fit in perfectly with the New Yorkers.
Last Tuesday, my kids went back to school and I finally crashed. It was a BIG crash that lasted a few days, followed by a few days of frenzied, nervous organizing of my house/workspace; I call it Back to Work nesting, but I’m back now!!! I am very excited to share some of the awesome books that I used during my summer camp with you. There are way too many books, websites, and bits and bobs that I referenced during my camps, so I’m narrowing the list down to a choice few, a very tough thing to do but here goes:

How to Talk To Children About Art – Francoise Barbe-Gall
Very useful little book full of interesting facts and starting points for conversations about well known works of art.

Picture This – Molly Bang
My favorite book for teaching kids about illustration, and visual language (color, shape, space, movement etc). 

Harvesting Dreams – Hundertwasser for Kids – Barbara Stieff
A wonderful guide to the Artist, that makes his personality pop off the page, and makes him so easy for kids to relate to. Also contains the word poo, which is always a bonus with 4th graders.

A Kidds Guide To Graphic Design – Chip Kidd
A great introduction to graphic design, and the role design plays in our every day lives.
Amazing website full of activities, ideas and lesson plans about Keith Haring.

Alexander Calder -Patricia Geis
Full of flaps, tabs and other interactive elements, this would be a really good gift. I used it to talk about using found objects to make art. Also, Galimoto by Karen Lynn Williams, is a great story book about making toys out of found objects.

Dreamtime: Aboriginal stories – Oodgeroo-Bancroft
This book has big, colorful illustrations, that go with it’s stories. A local library find!

Children’s Book of Mythical Beasts and Magical Monsters – Dorling Kindersley
Enough said really, Dorling Kindersley makes great guides, I’m still reading this one.

Fabulous Monsters – Marcia Williams
This book’s comic strip style was very popular with students who were not avid readers, they loved it.

The Ocean of Story – Ness, Mair
There is a great version of the Princess and the Pea from India in here.
Noga Ravin is a designer that the kids loved looking at, her shadow puppets are amazing. This is her website.

A Mango Shaped Space – Wendy Mass
I love this book. The main character has synesthesia, a condition that Wassily Kandinsky may have had. It leads to conversations about the connections between the senses, and multi-sensory art.

Lois Lowry – Number The Stars
The Bauhaus project led to a discussion about world war two, and the flight of many artists from Germany due to persecution. My daughter brought this book in, it is suitable for third graders to read, and is beautiful.

Okay, I don’t think the list should get any longer, I’ll save some for later. Happy reading!

Kids, Stories, And The End Of Camp

The theme of the last two weeks of camp was Myths and Legends, it was a popular choice.

The moment I introduced the theme to the kids there was a LOT of squealing and jumping up and down, which then turned into a discussion about Greek myths, which then turned into a heated discussion about Percy Jackson….and Harry Potter…and Hogwarts, and we all know how that ended. It was the ultimate geek-off, and we enjoyed every minute of it.

Yes, I can solidly state that Myths and Legends week was a very good theme to pick.

We looked at creation myths from all over the world and the origins of fairy tales. We had great discussions about similarities between different myths, and how stories have been passed down through generations, and migrations. Of course, this meant I got to read the kids lots of stories, and they got to impress me with their own stories. I realized that this particular age group love to work around, and tell stories. Indeed, for a lot of kids it made a nice break from the many abstract projects and concepts we have been working on so far.

So we learned about the aboriginal dream time, and the rainbow serpent, and painted our own dreamings. We read about Minotaurs, Gorgons and the ancient Greek pantheon; we studied different mosaic techniques and made bean and lentil mosaics, all while listening to Percy Jackson on audio book. Then we made very unsuccessful jelly bean mosaics, because somehow the jelly beans kept mysteriously disappearing. We also read Native American, and Siberian myths about trickster Ravens and the creation of the sky, and made sky boxes and raven collages. We made illustrations, and books, talked about minimalism, and made a huge, upsetting mess during a Marc Chagall project.
The kids threw me a party at the end of the last week, complete with cards, chocolate, and a HUGE banner, and my heart swelled to ten times it’s size.

And now I’m left with a large banner, a lot of boxes to unpack, and an urge to read as many Percy Jackson books as I can get my hands on. Also, I keep throwing balls to other adults, in the hope that they will play with me. Yep, I miss recess badly.


Some more things I learned at camp

  • Saying “don’t shoot” to a kid with a water gun is a surefire way to get drenched.
  • The introduction of any kind of metallic paint/pen/pencil will make kids instantly more excited about a project.
  • Playing audio books in the class room is an excellent idea; everyone was so much more focused.
  • The most successful projects were the ones where kids learned about another time or culture. Putting art against a historical/cultural context always makes learning and understanding stronger.
  • Saying the word “poop” will always lighten any situation.
  • It’s good to have very different techniques and projects in each camp. Kids have different strengths and weaknesses, and you need to build success into everyone’s week.
  • Drop back during lunch times. Kids need their own space without a teacher around.
  • Never leave clean up until the last day of camp, get most of it done the day before. No one wants to spend the last day cleaning – it’s party time!!!
  • Wear outfits with pockets. Trust me, this is very important.
  • Pack extra silverware. Someone always forgets a spoon or fork.
  • Kids don’t care whether your throat is hoarse, if you started reading a story, you had better finish it (with all the voices).
  • Let the kids teach you something from time to time, they are amazing at it.
  • Go with the flow. If everyone looks tired stop the project, after all it’s not school.
  • When making jelly bean mosaics, buy twice as many jelly beans as you think you may need.

The Kids Need To Play More!

Okay, I’m back! It took a bit of recovering after the last two (very physical) weeks of summer camp, and a lot of chocolate and BBC consumption, and now I’m ready to share.

In the beginning…

I don’t know about you, but growing up in England in the 80’s I had a lot of free time. I spent a lot of time playing school yard games, and making up new games with friends and random kids that I bumped into everywhere I went (there were a lot more of those hanging around back then). Recesses were longer, my parents were too busy to hover over me, and I didn’t have many extra curricular activities apart from my dance classes (unless you count reading Indian comic books obsessively, and annoying the next door neighbor’s dog).
One thing I wish my nine year old and her friends had more of is this kind of unstructured time. Her recesses at school are pitifully short, and when she does have time to spare, she often can’t find other kids who are also free, I guess Fairfax County likes ’em busy.
So…. four years ago, I decided to run a summer art camp that has big chunks of unstructured play time built in, and lots of time outdoors. This has worked very well, the kids in my camps really bond and play together the way kids are supposed to, and their creativity outdoors pours into their art projects and vice versa.

However, this did not happen immediately.

At first, faced with longer breaks, and less adult intervention, many kids seemed confused and anxious. They kept coming up to me saying things like “Can you tell me what to do?” and “I’m bored” and even “when can we go back indoors?” after just ten minutes of being outside. They sat around looking miserable, and argued and complained a lot. I panicked internally, thinking that parents would start calling me up with complaints, but I stuck it out, nonetheless. I have noticed that after two days, a change takes place and the kids start playing together, organizing themselves into teams, and inventing new games and new rules for old games. Many of my kids return year after year, and it is very satisfying to see the way they play with each other.

Games Week

I took things a bit further a couple of weeks ago, and made Games the theme of the week. The kids played art games with dice that they made, created their own board games. They also made articulated shadow puppets, and put on their own show. During recess, I showed them games that I had played as a child, and they taught me some new games as well. The game everyone seemed to love the most was played with an old loop of elastic, and jumping contests were all the rage.

Some Games We Played And Made Up:

Red rover
Marco Polo
Cherry Bomb
Limbo/jumping contests
Sponge tag
Obstacle courses
Sack races
Touch football
The Orange Line
Torture Run
Wall Ball
Apples to Apples
Simon Says
Target Practice
Sharks and Minnows/Octopus
Froggy Murder
Sticky Sticky Grapes

Of course, I played a lot of games with them (perks of the job), but I learned to leave them alone as well , because that is when the real magic happens!

Please, please, make the kids play more, and see their creativity, teamwork, negotiation, problem solving, focus, and motor skills improve!

What I learned at Summer Camp – Part 2

Last week was my favorite week of Summer Camp so far. This is because the theme was Bauhaus.  I am obsessively in love with the Bauhaus art movement; it’s influences can be seen everywhere today, from IKEA furniture to the abc tv logo, and even Apple computers. Bauhaus stripped art down to it’s basic principles and focused on formal elements such as color, pattern and shape. Look, I’m starting to ramble already, see how much I love Bauhaus?? The kids also seemed to really get into the projects, and the theory behind them.

The big (and unsurprising) take away from all of this is…

The more passionate you are about a theme, the more excited the kids are going to be about it.
You may look a bit crazed, and they might play it cool and pretend to not be buying into your frenzied enthusiasm, but they are (well most of them are, some of them just think you are crazy), and the proof is in their work.

One obstacle that we hit on, is that so many of the Bauhaus projects relied on being able to paint/cut/draw ‘clean’ shapes. Motor skills vary greatly with elementary school age kids, and some kids found the painting tasks a little too challenging, so we took a step back and learnt some painting and drawing techniques for a while. The nice thing about summer camp is you can go at your own pace.

I tend to concentrate on process more than outcomes in my camps, which means that sometimes projects can change direction and take on a life of their own. The printmaking project was one of those projects that had more juice in it than expected, so we kept developing it further. I think that the two artists that the kids seemed to like the most were Josef Albers and Freidensreich Hundertwasser. Why?? Here is my big lesson of the week:

…Art Gossip!
Elementary students like to hear stories. They like to hear juicy little morsels of information about artists, that make them more human in their eyes (click on the links for cool kids’ books about the artists). They were delighted to hear that Hundertwasser, changed his name to mean ‘Free Kingdom Hundred Waters’ and recycled his own poop, and that Joseph Albers was a primary school teacher, and his father was a house painter. Tell them stories, put the art in context, laugh about it a bit, and make it more reachable and fun.

Next week is going to be all about Games. Art games, board games, shadow puppets, and old school yard games. I’ll let you know how it all goes!