Meeting Santa Claus

One of the most cherished events of Christmas is arrival of Santa Claus. His loud ‘Ho Ho Ho’ and the jingling bells can bring smile on any face. As a kid, I used to wonder what might be there in his big bag. I always thought he dressed in red and white. While walking across downtown, I came to an exhibition in Winter garden. Although it was -4 degrees Celsius outside, the presence of warm smiles drew me towards it. The place was every child’s fantasy. A huge Christmas tree with ginger bread houses all around it. A live orchestra playing Christmas carols. But the most amazing part were the Santa Claus of the world. It seems he is known by different names in different countries and each culture has its own representation. But the sparkling eyes, genuine smile and the adorable personality was common in all of them. As I walked past each of them, I felt as if I am transported to that country, waiting like a child for my Santa to arrive. It seemed as if I was meeting Santa Claus differently. The aroma of cakes, muffins, biscotti and hot chocolate added the festive flavor to the event.

Santa Claus can bring smile even in freezing temperatures. It reminds me, a genuine warm smile can win our hearts even on the coldest day. Often we are so carried away in our day to day issues that we forget to smile properly. Sometimes a smile from a dear one is all we need to solve the biggest of problems. Maybe that is why festivals are held, just to remind us to smile, meet our dear ones and be happy. They are also the time to go out and enjoy the city. So the next time if someone asks you to describe Santa Claus, make sure to mention the smile because his outfit may be different but the smile is the same genuine, adorable one.

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Bijoya Sammilani

The festival of Dussehra holds huge significance in our lives. It is the celebration of the victory of good over evil. For Bengalis it is the time to meet and greet everyone. We wish everyone Shubho Bijoya (Auspicious Victory). This was the time we used to visit everyone’s house. I still remember my mother making all the planning for a Bijoya dinner. Then it was just food and fun for us but today I feel it was a wonderful way to familiarize us with our culture. It was because of this effort of our parents during Durga Puja, Bijoya Dashami, etc, we were able to imbibe the cultures of both our native place and our residential place. This has played an important part in helping us adapt to any place within or outside our country.

The tasty Luchis

Chicken Curry

This year a few of my Bengali colleagues decided to hold a Bijoya Sammilani (Bijoya meet), which took me back to my school days. But they did it with a twist. All the guys decided to release the females from cooking for the weekend. They had elaborate menu for lunch and dinner for both days. They even had snacks. The fun part was to see them cooking. All the resources were duly calculated and brought. During cooking there was an elaborate discussion on everything. It was surprising as well as entertaining to see software professionals arguing on ways of cutting onions and tomatoes instead of computers. I must say they all did an extraordinary job, even I got to learn a few things about cooking from them. Since the guys took the responsibility of cooking we took the responsibility of entertaining. This meant song performances, poetry recitations, dance and drama. We came to know about the artistic side of everyone. It was like meeting everyone again. At the end of it I felt, this is the essence of festival. We come togather, forget our day-to-day issues and create something to make a time memorable. As long as people with this spirit are there, the culture would stay alive no matter where we are. I thank my colleagues for this memorable time and wish everyone ‘Shubho Bijoya’.

The Strange Wish

It has started getting cold. People say, there is not much activity to do outdoors once the winter sets in. Last year I decided to explore the city of Pittsburgh in winters. Here is my first discovery. My hometown Baroda(Vadodara) was a princely state in past. So horse carriages are not rare but I never got an opportunity to ride one. I always wondered how would it seem to roam around the downtown in a Horse Carriage with all the modern vehicles around. They say sometimes even strange wishes come true. Last year I saw a long queue at Market Square in Pittsburgh. There were families with small kids who were waiting with bated breath. It was for the Horse Carriage ride. My curiosity made me join the queue. Within few minutes the Carriage came into view. It was a beautiful sight. The lovely carriage and the well decorated horse.

Babe and the Carriage

I was quite behind in the queue. The carriage soon got filled. I was just wondering my chance would come after two or three rounds of the carriage when someone shouted “Has anyone come in a group of 2, there are 2 seats left”. Advantages of being a solo traveler, I raised my hand and was able to board the carriage well ahead of my chance. Once we boarded, we were introduced to the horse whose name was ‘Babe’. We went around the downtown with all the modern cars and buildings around us. The reality was far more exciting than what I had wondered. All through the ride, we were entertained by stories of the Horse by the carriage driver who called himself a knight. We were waved by kids who passed by us. Another enthralling sight was to see our reflection in the glass walls of downtown. All in all it was an experience one should definitely have in life.

Once in a while strange wishes come to our minds and we shove them aside. When they come true, precious memories are created which makes our lives beautiful. This year when winter comes, don’t just sit at home but venture out, you never know which strange wish would come true.

Frozen Treats with a Twist

Everyone waits for the arrival of Summers especially the children. The lovely carefree Summer Vacations for which we used to plan from February. In my hometown Baroda, the Summer was flagged by the presence of yummy bright yellow and orange mangoes. All the terraces used to be full of jars containing spicy pickles. All the roads were full of ice cream shops. I still remember tugging my Father’s hand the moment we passed the ice cream shop. These memorable events of life create an evergreen combination of ice cream and summer. Even today the very mention of Summer brings forth a sight of mango and ice cream. This has also encouraged creativity.

The first breakfast introduced to me after coming to the USA was Waffles and I immediately liked it. I have always had it with strawberry syrup but this year I was surprised. While wandering around the library I came across a nice shop called Waffallonia when I went to the library in downtown. There was a genuine smile on all the faces around that shop. They serve Waffles with Ice cream. I had the outstanding combination of Waffles, peanut butter and cinnamon ice cream.

Waffle with Peanut butter and Cinnamon Ice Cream

Summer is also the time for juicy fruits like watermelon, grapes, etc. My mother always made sure, we have lots of fruits. One of her favorite ways to make us eat fruits was through fruit custard. She was really fast at that. Anytime we made a request and it would be present as a dessert. Last week, I went to the local library. It was really hot so I searched for frozen treats around library and came across The Meadows. There I came across different varieties of Frozen custard. This time it was frozen custard with crunchies.

Custard with Crunchies

Waffles, cream, crunchies are mostly available but it never occurs to us they could create such amazing desserts. This shows creativity has no limits, one can do so even with day to day things. Both Ice cream, waffles and custard are part of my list of favorite dishes but this year I had them with a twist. The trip to library definitely helped me discover these in addition to books. Next time you go for Ice Cream, do ensure you look around for something new in your regular favorite.

Heart winning Event

This years shopping

There are so many questions in mind when one is moving to a new city. ‘Will I be able to adjust here?’, ‘Will the city accept me?’, etc., are just a few of them. These questions make a person nervous, which was my condition when I moved to Pittsburgh. Three weeks after I came here, a book fair was organized by Half Price books at a nearby hall. The streets were lined by small boards mentioning the sale. The moment I saw the boards, I felt so glad. The sight of a book fair always fills my heart with joy. It reminded me of the bookstalls at my hometown and cleared all the uncertainty and nervousness immediately.

The fair also consists of records and dvds in addition to books. The hall was extremely crowded when I entered. My excitement was boundless at the sight of rows and rows of books. There were books on fiction, cooking, photography, science, self help, etc. The collection had classics like works of R.L Stevenson, Jane Austen as well as new age authors like Danielle Steele. I discovered so many new authors here. It felt so nice to see so many people who enjoy reading. People had their shopping carts full of books. You can speak to any person and get knowledge on authors. People had come with their toddlers. The excitement of the children at the site of books was marvelous. I was moved to see parents encourage their kids for reading even in this age of gadgets. This event connected me to the city in such a way that I never felt I was new here. It just became my heart winning event.

This fair happens only once a year and I make it a point to attend it. These days people have to move to new places for job. When that happens, one should not crib about missing the old place but look out for events in the new place. These are the windows to the culture of the city. They are an opportunity to relate to the city. In fact they give us a chance to find new things about ourselves. So the next you face a transfer, remember to check the events that take place in the new city. You never know, the city you are going to may just be the one, most suitable to you.

A cluster of Museums

Its not often we come across places with historical significance. Today was a beautiful day. A nice breeze blew which urged everyone to move out of their homes. It was an opportunity to explore parks. While looking for a park, I discovered the Frick Art and Historical Center. It is a cluster of museums spread over 6 acres. One feels like travelling through time as the neighborhood around it has an old world charm. A warm smile greeted me as soon as I entered.

The paintings of Madonna and Christ in the Art gallery filled my heart and mind with positivity. There is a beautiful lane through the garden to The Car and Carriage museum.

One is immediately transported to the era of black and white movies. The carriages remind you of aristocracy. Each vintage car has unique identity making it an owner’s pride.

What really amazed me was that there were cars that were used to spread awareness about voting rights for women. It reminds us of the struggles that women went through to get the voting rights. They also showed how the evolution of Cars brought changes in women’s fashion. I next passed through the playhouse where soothing music was being played.

The greenhouse has an amazing collection of flowers and plants. There is also a Café, library and gift center. I did not have a ticket for the Mansion so that left me with a reason to visit again. A colorful garden surrounds all the buildings. Helen Clay Frick (1888—1984) was the driving force to preserve the Frick estate and allow it to open to the public after her death. One can feel her presence everywhere through the exhibits displayed around the area.

An exploration is successful when it leaves one with a purified heart and an enhanced mind. It also helped me do my daily walk as the garden was simply mesmerizing. So the next time, its a beautiful day and you feel like an explorer, make sure Frick Art and Historical Center is on your list.

Discovering a Sunny day

Farmer’s Market

It was a bright, hot and sunny morning, the day when you see everyone in sunglasses. The lazy person in me said “Lie down, listen to music and read a book”. “This is just the right day to go out and explore the place”, said the explorer in me. There was a debate between them, each giving the benefits of their proposal. Ultimately the explorer won. I drove to the community park to see the Farmer’s market. Be it vegetables, bakery products or honey, each vendor greets you with a warm smile and is eager to tell you about it. Every product has the human touch of the person who created it. Its a clear indication of how you feel when you put your heart and soul into developing something.

The park was throbbing with life. Each shade had a story to tell. One shade had a community meet, another had a family picnic, a wedding was going on in third and so on. The smiles of the people seemed to be synchronized with the brightness of the sun. The highest excitement was at a kids baseball match. The ground was surrounded by parents cheering their kids. It seemed as if a fair was near the baseball ground where people sold fresh lemonades, beads, sunglasses, etc. The small kids in the park, personified freedom. They ran, shouted, laughed and cheered. It reminded me of my school days when all that mattered was to live the moment. The sights at the park made me happy, contented and energized for the entire day, something I wouldn’t have experienced if I had stayed back. The Sun seemed to have infused everyone including me, with extra energy. We often tend to take the easy way in life but if you stretch out a little and wander, you will discover way more than you can imagine. Here is my discovery, a sweet and spicy strawberry-Jalapeno jam, which I had never seen before.