I am happy with no more than a tenuous connection to reality, such as quiet music playing in the background, something only touching my ears, no vision in my eyes, shallow breath in my lungs.

 

I crave that floaty feeling, hallucination, silence, and sensory deprivation, so that my imagination may fill the empty balloon.

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I’m Back!

I’m back! While you weren’t looking, David and I had another baby, and named her Bliss. We really did it. Bliss Blaustein was born at home October 5th. She was brought earthside in a lightning bolt, and our midwife missed the birth. So, we delivered her ourselves. Birth story to come.

Now this:

I decided I spend too much energy on Facebook and resolve to write more for the blog in the coming year. Like, love, or other, please feel free to share your thoughts in comments. As a bridge from Facebook, I’ll share here what I shared over at my page the other day. I’ll deliver always original, always honest, sometimes-hopefully-possibly-entertaining content. Heart thump. Peace sign. Love to my loyal readers.

- Michelle

Ways I’ve Discovered To Occupy a Toddler

- Sink Full O’ Bubbles

- Mound of Flour on the Kitchen Counter

- Tub Full O’ Bubbles

- Bubbles on the Deck

- Bubble Wrap

- Bubbles Anywhere, in All Forms

- Skype with Unsuspecting Relative or Another Toddler

- Leaves

- Rocks

- Sticks

- Stickers

- Window Markers (Awesome!)

- A Pet Who Doesn’t Bite

- A Phone Call (Complete Torture for the Callee)

- Decorating Mail to Send to Penpals

- Tissue Paper

- Bowl of Water (On the Deck)

- Crystals that Make Rainbows When Hung in Windows

- Flashlights

- iPods (Sometimes)

- Kitchen Utensils

- Large Exercise Ball

- Pad of Post-Its

- Plants to Water and Groom

- Junk Mail to Open

- Books

- Dinosaurs

- Figurines of All Kinds

- Fruits and Vegetables to Sort and Stack, Then Eat

- A Puddle on the Floor and Some Towels to Clean It Up With

- Musical Instruments

- Removable Anything (Jelly Stickers Are Fun!)

- Cars, Trucks, Trains, Wheels

- Food to Dip into Condiments

- Indoor Picnic on a Picnic Blanket on the Floor

- Costumes

- A Microphone

- Tubes

- Send Toddler to Bug Daddy

You might notice balloons are not on this list. They’re really bad for our ecosystem. Follow Facebook page “Balloons Blow” for conscious reporting on the subject. We also try to use single-use items sparingly.

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NATURE WRITING WORKSHOP AUGUST 25TH

NATURE WRITING WORKSHOP AUGUST 25TH

Nature Writing Workshop taught in a natural setting in Westchester County, NY

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Let the Music[ian] Play!

I filled a glass syrup jug with water and whistled for Adela’s amusement, presenting it like a really neat trick. Then I said, “Wait! Let me show you what happens when I put MORE water in! What do you think’s gonna happen?”

Adela answered, gleefully: “The sound is gonna come out higher!”

Did she intuit that? Is she a musician? Am I too easily stupefied?

It’s not just Adela; I believe in the innate wisdom of children and see shreds of evidence that genius is endowed at birth, and fades, erodes, gets clouded over the more layers of culture are laid on top of it. Most important of the faculties we’re equipped with is INTUITION. We, in our new age movements, in our coaching circles and manifesting meetups and writing workshops, ply an ounce from the breast of our own INTUITION and celebrate our AHA! moments.

But imagine a steady stream! That’s the brilliant mind of a child. It runs clear and unpolluted, until…

Well, it looks like this family has a handle on cultivating intelligence—allowing it to flourish and fruit to its potential by leaving it undisturbed—call it Wild Intelligence.

The Family Who Sent Six Kids to College by Age 12

Anatomy, biology, acoustics, entomology, medicine, structural engineering… We’re hypothesis-forming machines, and there’s an existential frustration that accompanies unanswered, or untested hypotheses. There’s a buildup of residue.

I’ve seen two recent posts on different Facebook parenting group pages by parents who ask, “HOW in the WORLD do I get my TODDLER to stop asking WHY?”

And I’m thinking, the question is, how do I get my toddler to NEVER stop?

The GOOD thing is, residue can be removed—either by returning to a familiar primal or precognitive state, through immersing in nature, dunking in the ocean, hugging your mom, swinging on a swing… or by leaving your comfort zone for a new sensation or sport that demands your full participation (a.k.a., flow psychology as defined by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi).

I’m just buzzing with excitement over every one of our child’s discoveries or proofs; I’m staring into a mirror that reflects my own evolution, so it’s a self-study, as well, of how I got to be who I am; how the world shapes us; and maybe reminds me of some innate potential I’ve let become obscured by clouds.

Almost every parent is motivated to correct for mistakes that have been made in our own lives, and to filter information and chemicals that may reach our child—with my own body I filtered Adela’s intake for the first years of her life. And why not add intelligence-boosting “vitamins” to her “diet”?

In the most recent case, we’re inheriting a piano! I am absolutely thrilled, because David and I have been hoping for a miraculously priced, used upright piano to float into our sphere. We saw a flyer and phoned, but it had already been taken; we point wistfully to piano stores as we pass them, and wonder aloud whether they sell reconditioned pianos and how much one could possibly cost; we admire our friends with uprights in their living rooms… we’ve bided our time until our chance to play came. Sure enough, a fellow synagogue member is giving away a white upright piano, and we just need to get it moved THIS WEEK! (I need a Kickstarter campaign just for that. But anyway…)

Here it is:

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Cookies That Will Capture Your Heart!

There’s something magical about these soft chocolate cocoa cookies. When I made them Saturday, and my husband came home from covering an event, he ate six of them!

So, I made another batch.

When I gave one to our cleaning lady to try, her eyes widened and she clutched her chest. “These remind me of my grandmother’s cookies!” she said. She went on, “My heart is beating so fast! I’m going to cry. I haven’t tasted anything like this since I saw her. It’s exactly how she used to make them!”

“How long ago did you see her?” I asked, and the answer was fourteen years. Her “mamita” is 95 and on life support in Colombia. She called her cookies “negritas.” Clara closed her eyes and swayed, and savored every bite, moaning with pleasure. At the same time, tears glistened on her cheeks. Never has my cooking had such an effect on someone. I imagined a day in the far distant future when I would taste a combination of ingredients, textures, and aromas that evoke a memory of my dear mother and her fabulous cooking. Books and films such as “Like Water for Chocolate” have portrayed the transcendental power of cooking, but I’d never experienced it firsthand. (Though certain smells, like a particular laundry soap, can whisk me back to breezy mountaintops of Nicaragua where sheets line dry beside thatch-roofed huts…)

I packed the whole batch into a tub for Clara to take home, and will share the recipe with her. And I made another batch last night. They’re disappearing. When I described them to my sister in an email, she said they sounded “dangerous.” She’s right; they are dangerously delicious. And so easy to make! Total time including prep and baking is 25 minutes.

1/2 cup butter or 1/2 cup margarine

1 cup brown sugar, packed

1/2 cup cocoa (I used Ghirardelli’s unsweetened)

1 large egg

2/3 cup milk

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 cups flour

3 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon vanilla

Some chocolate chips

Directions

1. Cream butter and brown sugar; add egg.

2. Sift dry ingredients and add to butter/sugar mixture alternately with milk.

3. Add vanilla.

4. Stir in chocolate chips.

5. Drop by spoonfuls on ungreased cookie sheet. (I treat with a fine mist of Spectrum Organic coconut oil spray.)

6. Bake 8-12 minutes at 400°F; do not overbake.

7. Ice with chocolate icing, if desired. I sprinkle vanilla sugar on top.

Internet Photo

Photo by mcgex 112908.

My Photo

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Mother as First Guru

I had a breakthrough moment with our daughter that I’m eager to share.

At certain skills, I’m a perpetual beginner. Starting and starting again, back to square one, even though I’d like to build a skill, a discipline, a practice. I’ve been a beginner-level yogi since…oh… 2004. I first visited Kripalu yoga retreat in 2009 and did an excellent program called “Yoga and Kayaking.” We’d set off at 5am on the glassy waters of a lake in the Berkshires, kayak to the edge of the forest, park our kayaks, and practice yoga in the forest. This was an awesome experience.

I’m happy to say I’ve gotten back into yoga since a forced hiatus this summer/fall, when I tore both my ACL and meniscus in my knee.

I had the privilege of hearing Ina May Gaskin speak at the Museum of Motherhood this past March. Ina May is a midwife and activist who inspired a movement to make midwifery accessible to the American masses. Museum of Motherhood is a special space on the upper east side where women collaborate to form enlightened experiences surrounding all aspects of motherhood. Women, it is an amazing place and I highly recommend a visit. It was here that I found our two-year-old daughter her very own, pint-sized yoga mat. Actually, Adela had been exposed to yoga since she was an infant.

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A valuable baby gift we’d received was a beautiful and useful book called Itsy Bitsy Yoga: Poses to Help Your Baby Sleep Longer, Digest Better, and Grow Stronger. This is a great book and a great gift! We’re still using some of the moves and principles (like “divine drops”) almost three years later.

My latest discovery has been key to a daily practice. It’s a web site called YogaGlo. For $18/month you get unlimited classes over video ~ and they’re top quality. You can sort by level, style, teacher, and duration. This lets me squeeze a 20-minute yoga sequence in when I’m pressed for time, or attempt a 60-minute class when possible. Adela has been pretty good at following along with me on her yoga mat. But lately her attention and patience have been limited (she’s just shy of three years old). She’ll start out in standing poses with me, do a few downard facing dogs, then climb on me, then pull my hair, then get ornery and demanding. Lately I’ve been able to do about 10 minutes of yoga before the antics start and my practice is cut short.

One recent morning, she was discouraged by the difficulty of the class I’d chosen. “I can’t do it,” she said. “You’re doing great,” I said. “I’m not as good as you are,” she said sadly. And she said it twice.

I heard her. My heart heard her. My memory heard her. I was reminded of the time I tried to go running with my husband. He was just faster and it came easier to him and I felt inadequate and insecure and irritable. (I’d been jogging decently on my own, but our bodies and paces are mismatched and it’s nobody’s fault.) (I prefer to run solo; I have no desire or ability to carry on conversation while running ~ and that same nagging inferiority complex bubbles up.)

Instead of stubbornly putting my needs first, I remembered I’d been saving Yoga Kit for Kids in the closet for a rainy day. SHE LOVED IT! I fanned out the flash cards, each showing a child doing a yoga pose with a cute name assigned to it (Flower, Bug, Frog, Peacock, Waterfall, and more), and asked her to pick a random card. Then we’d perfect the pose together, on our individual mats. I thought we’d do 10 cards, but we ended up doing all 25! She held her concentration for half an hour. We both felt great when it was done. Our plan is to keep practicing and put on a yoga demonstration for daddy when we’re ready. Bug and Turtle poses are hard and will require more practice!

This is where I reflect on a useful concept called the zone of proximal development—the sweet spot where a task is neither so easy it bores the learner, nor so difficult that achievement is impossible. Yoga Kit for Kids, plus my willingness to tune in, pay attention, and spend quality time teaching and learning with my daughter, gave me the wonderful feeling of being in the sweet spot, in the zone.

It’s so rewarding when you put down the phone, computer, or other distraction and just connect with your kid over something they’re interested in. It’s an accomplishment to receive and act on their signals.

It’s hard to put a name to the combination of love and magic and responsibilities fulfilled when a good connection is felt by parent and child. But you know it when it happens and it’s worth sharing. I would love to hear about times when other parents felt synchronicity with their kids. What was the setting and were there any props or tools that facilitated learning on both your parts?

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Summer Highlights

I thought last summer was the most amazing summer of my life, but looking back through the pictures from this summer, I’m convinced that this one may have been the best.

We visited Hart’s Brook Nature Preserve, where we tasted a dozen varieties of tomato grown by expert botanists, and we saw a snake eating a frog! That day we enjoyed apple cider donuts at Westchester Greenhouse, and had fun exploring the fields and tractors out back.

I participated in a political rally organized by ImprovingBirth.org. About a hundred women gathered in front of Beth Israel Hospital with signs and chants to promote women’s freedom of choice and better education around birth, for better outcomes.

I took an art class in Brooklyn and made a beautiful, living terrarium. This was rare, dedicated “me time” with a creative product as a memento, and a new skill I could use again and again. Here’s a collage of the class that shows my terrarium in the bottom left corner:

My parents came to visit. The whole family went to Stepping Stones Museum. That week I also visited the 9/11 Memorial, which was on my list of things to do for a long time. I hosted my parents’ friends from Australia for dinner and made my famous stuffed peppers.

We explored a cemetery near our house that I’d been curious about for two years. Some of the tombstones are more than 200 years old. There’s history in my neighborhood. Though Adela attended an unveiling with us once, this was her first exploration of a cemetery, and not for any sad reason. To her, it was just another environment to discover.

We went to Greenburgh Nature Center with almost all of the moms from Adela’s pre-pre-school class. It was the culmination of our self-determined cohesion that lasted after the program ended. Class had met every Monday, and we decided to continue meeting Mondays for most of the summer, at different playgrounds or people’s houses. In addition to outdoor enclosures for bald eagles and owls and hawks, the Nature Center has an indoor live animal collection, where the children were able to pet chinchillas, snakes, turtles, lizards, and hedgehogs. We also enjoyed a small butterfly enclosure with tons of monarchs landing on us. I had as much fun as the kids did–maybe more. Look at my face in this picture:

We visited our good friends upstate and went fishing as a family for the first time. My husband got a video of me trying to release a squirmy fish from the line. He took a still from the video that shows me sticking out my tongue in a horrible face that I’ll never be able to live down. Our daughter learned a lot of new language and skills that weekend. We even came home with a child’s fishing pole that I’d hoped to use again this season, but never got a chance to.

We went blueberry picking for the first time, in Massachusetts. We went swimming at a water hole, and I regret not diving in, but sometimes you’re just not in the mood to get your head wet.

We went to a Mets game as a family and met Eli Manning. It’s the beginning of daddy-daughter bonding over sports. We as parents both hope it lasts, because he’ll get to share his passion while I will probably claim some “me time” while they attend sporting events or watch on the big screen. I like meeting the athletes and sitting in box seats; I just don’t tolerate crowds and noise like I used to.

We went to the Bronx Zoo as a family. This may be a common pastime for many, but we only went once, and it was special and memorable—especially since we’d made up a song with the following lyrics, and sang it all the time until we finally went:

Mommy, Daddy, and Adela

Mommy Daddy and Adela Ru

Together we go to the Bronx Zoo

So, when we finally went, it was the fulfillment of a prophecy and it was exhausting. Some of my friends have memberships to the zoo and go all the time. I’d like to go more often, but not that often. Adela was scared green by the carousel, and it will be nice to revisit and see her enjoy it next time (hopefully). I’ve never ridden the monorail, and I’d like to, in spite of or maybe because of the recent psycho stunt a guy pulled when he jumped off the monorail into the tiger enclosure and lived to tell the public, “I’m not crazy. I just wanted to be one with the tigers.”

I planted a garden. This is something I’d conceived of probably as early as 2008 when I started hunting for a place to live with private green space. I had the option of using Big Apple Edibles to “install” a garden from the bottom up. A friend had given us a generous invitation to use their services. As it turned out, the basic service varied greatly in price from the full service, which would include a necessary fence to keep out deer, since we are in the deer’s migratory path and our neighborhood is adjacent to a forest preserve. So, along with the huge project of cleaning up the property buffer at the rear of our property, I took it upon myself to establish an 8′ x 14′ garden where there previously had been lawn. I turned over the earth myself, scoured local nurseries for organic seedlings to plant, and built an elaborate fence around and tent covering the whole thing. My daughter was by my side every step of the process, and it was a fantastic fresh-air activity for us to do together. The pleasure of eating the vegetables that succeeded is immeasurable. We’re still enjoying tomatoes almost daily in October.

I tore my ACL and my meniscus and did about 9 weeks of physical therapy all summer. That sucked! I did quite a bit of hiking with my papoose in spite of the injury, but was not as ambitious or active as I’d hoped to be at the outset of summer.

Why would I replay the highlights of my summer for you? Because, details and destinations aside, what made it the most amazing summer was seeing all the sights through a two-year-old’s eyes…. and ears and nose and mouth and delicate fingers. I don’t know if every parent feels this way about their own kid, but ours is marvelously sensual. To watch her get to know her world through taste and touch and smell is just a wildly sensational trip for me!

When I started shooting with a macro lens a handful of years ago, I knew I’d found a good medium to express my vision; my child, as en extension of myself, is like another macro lens, that enables me to see the world up close and experience it in vivid detail—more than my own naked eyes could ever see unassisted.

I just want to feed her hunger for tactile stimulation by showing her bumpy gourds and furry caterpillars and ice cold ponds. I want to teach her the skill an amazing music teacher taught me: how to dissect the layers of the soundscape and be an active listener, able to parse out the individual instruments in a symphony—either a musical symphony or an impromptu symphony of environmental sounds. I have a strong agenda to impart a love of nature to her, and it seems to come easily, which delights me to no end. I want to grow her brain and multiply her synapses and thrill her and soothe her and endow her with a diverse and healthy palate.

I want another summer like this one. I want another child to do it all again with. To keep me young and experiencing things for the first time, making the mundane seem miraculous. I’ve always sported insatiable curiosity—if I see an intriguing door, I just have to open it, or an alluring ladder, I just have to climb it—and the suburbs, believe it or not, are an adequate playground for these exercises, with child in tow.

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