Burning man for the single parent – (And why we left early this year)

(note: If you have never been to Burning Man you need to read this and if you are thinking of bringing your kids to burning man you need to read this one)

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(other note- Unfortunately my camera was lost in the car for much of the trip but I’ll fill the blog in with some photos from other years)

Burning Man is an incredible experience for families. It is a place where hard-core individuals bring the imagination to reality on a large scale. I don’t say hard-core loosely here either – the environment can be very harsh and one needs to be up for it. My first burning man experience was in 2009 after living outdoors in a treehouse and then a tent for 1 year and 1/2. I had been sure I was tough enough to cruise in to burning man comfortably with my tent and usual camping gear without a problem but was largely schooled upon arrival. The desert sun is HOT, the nights can be very cold, and the dust is no joke. But somehow 70,000 people manage it each year, and the challenge of managing it is 1/2 the fun. “Radical Self Reliance” is one of the 10 principles of burning man. 

For Trekker and I Burning Man has become our big yearly family tradition. Now 3, Trekker has been to 3 burns. Its not easy for the single parent- occasionally one may really wish they had someone else to go get more ice for the cooler – but when prepared, it is all doable (well, except the ice) and totally worth it.

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(Trekker year 1, on a pirate ship)

That said, this year we came late and left early. We usually do come late because we usually get a last minute ticket and get prepared last minute (which I vow to never do again, again) but we usually also stay late because it takes a while to adjust to the dust and once we are finally settled in, the whole thing ends so we stay to make up for the time we missed and avoid the lines getting out. 

But this year we did not adjust. 

This year we had planned to camp with some friends in a camp outside of “Kidsville“, and because of that, and due to an on-the-fly decision to leave a little more space  in the car this year, I didn’t bring a few of the important supplies I usually bring when we create our own camp within the 5 acres of families that is Kidsville.

IMG_5386(Trekker year 1 in kidsville)

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(Trekker year 2 in kidsville)

We arrived at Block Rock City this year to immediately be stuck for hours in white-outs at the gate. Trekker had become a reasonable amount of whiney for a 3 yr old too long stuck in a car-seat by the time we found our friends’ camp. Our friends weren’t at the camp when we were arrived but we met another camp mate and with very few words exchanged it dawned on me that mixing a potentially  whiny 3 year old with potentially hungover adult strangers is probably not the best idea for anyone involved. We got back in the car and drove to Kidsville. We had caught a ride in an RV the previous week with another mom and son duo, Stephanie and Logan, from Atlanta to Salt Lake City, and the Stephanie had mentioned that there may still be room near her campsite in Kidsville. Fingers crossed, we slowly inched our car through costumes, bicycles, dust, and mutant vehicles to Kidsville. We found Stephanie and Logan just before they boarded a pirate ship. To our relief the answer was still yes. 

IMG_9107(Trekker year 3 in kidsville after setting up camp)

We found our spot, got out of the car, and immediately Trekker best-friended the 3 yr old girl in the adjacent plot which allowed me the space and headroom to unload the car and set up shop. I knew we had made the right choice. Kidsville is the best, if you have kids. The adults around are viewing children through the forgiving, parental safety lens and the kids form immediate bonds with each other and run around the campsites like little dust tribes. My friends at the previous camp are also loving, caring , responsible adults who would have been awesome with Trekker but something about having 5 acres of kids around is a real relief at burning man. Plus, the kids love it and you get to meet other interesting parents. 

IMG_9126(Trekker and friends, year 3 at kidsville)

Regardless, this year we were ill-prepared for our own camp and left after a mere 3 mostly dust-filled days. Most of our discomforts were physical. I will outline our major discomforts below as both a reminder to myself for next year and as a real-picture description for others who are researching coming to Bman with kids, solo or not.

discomfort #1 for us was the dryness. Dust is one thing. But Trekker and I have been living in extremely humid climates since his inception so our arrival in the Reno area usually feels a bit harsh on our bodies. My eyes usually puff out and this year my whole face swelled up to the point where I convinced myself I have some sort of desert-induced diabetes or a thyroid disease or numerous other great internet-search finds. Considering the fact that I suddenly gained 20+ pounds over 6 months last year, I might not be far off. (Though this could also be the result of doubling my eating habits during pregnancy and nursing and then stopping nursing… time, and maybe a new exercise routine, will tell.)  But also this year Trekker’s lip also got so chapped that it bled. That is the day I decided to leave. He was happy to stay and play but I had a hard time being uncomfortable myself and seeing his little face crack. Most of these discomforts could have been avoidable if we were better prepared. Trekker’s 1st year I had brought a full misting system that had kept us in the glow, and his 2nd year we used a portable lime-infused weed sprayer for a constant mist and counter balance to the playa’s alkalinity. Both other years I had also set up a large Monkey Hut over the car and more, providing shade, privacy, and now I also believe must have created a bit of a humidity trap. But this year the misting nozzle for the weed sprayer was broken, and the misting system and monkey hut were in storage. I brought a small humidifier but it required electricity so I couldn’t run it at night, lest run the car battery dead. 

#2 discomfort (related to #1) no Evaporation trap. Playa camping is not like normal camping- grey water does not absorb into the playa so you can’t just brush your teeth and spit on the ground, you need to have a proper facility set up.  Trekker’s 1st year we inherited a hanging shower and a baby pool to shower in which captured the water and allowed it to evaporate under the hot desert sun in the day time. We used this system the following year too. But this year I’d planned to use the shower set up at my friend’s camp so I didn’t bother bringing it. This meant that sponge-bathing was our only option, and teeth brushing was confined to smelly port-a-potties, or put on hold. Unfortunately sponge-bathing on the playa is not very effective as the sponge gets filled with dust on the 1st wipe and there is nowhere to wash it off. Some people keep themselves clean with baby wipes. This isn’t a very environmental solution but it is effective and we usually do a mix of both. However,  this year I grabbed baby wipes  last minute from 7-11 on our way out to the playa but it turned out the 7-11 wipes have some percentage of alcohol in them. Drying, drying, and more drying. Another thing about bringing baby skin to the playa-  we usually do a routine of cleansing, then oiling, then balm-ing, especially feet, and it had worked terrifically in previous years. But this year in all his 3 year old rebellion it was nearly impossible to get Trekker to wear shoes for more than 5 minutes so with dusty feet and no way to wash fully them before the balm we were definitely heading towards some cracked feet- another reason to cut losses this year.

#3 discomfort: (though this could easily be bumped to #1 in the moment) – No camping toilet.

While the majority of Burners on the playa are using the port-a-potties with no real issue other than the expected temporary disgust, the majority of parents on the playa bring their own RV, with good reason. You can’t really time adult and child bathroom needs to match up, so double the trips to the port-a-potties = double the disgust. But worse- we were 2 blocks of dusty winds away from the port-a-potties which is very inconvenient if your child is sleeping and you need to go, and also very inconvenient if your child needs to go after you’ve done your best to clean both of you up before bed time. And then there’s the “don’t touch anything” stress while being crowded in the port-a-potty together which usually beats out the “stand right outside this door and don’t wander off” stress that would arise from using the loo by yourself while potentially inebriated strangers fumble around in line near your child. We never had any thing go wrong but our port-a-potty dependance was altogether inconvenient and uncomfortable. We usually bring a camping toilet of some sort but this year did not plan that right.

#4 discomfort: getting around.
Trekker’s 1st year (when he was one) I pulled him around in a bike trailer. It wasn’t easy, but he was small enough so it was doable and worth it. He could fall asleep in there while we were out, and it was a safe place from the dust and wind when he was too young to keep his mask on by himself. His 2nd year I made one of my best parenting investments thus far- the tike toter which turns a bicycle into a two seater for up to 50 or so pounds. Our misting weed sprayer fit right under the 2nd seat, attached via bungee, I wore a sombrero that shaded both of us, and with his dust mask easily adjustable within my reach we cruised effortlessly all over the playa, chasing mutant vehicles, pointing at and discussing the art as we went along. It was awesome.

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 (year 2 double seater- tike toter. best)

IMG_3178(bungee a weedsprayer onto your bike bar and your an instant mobile misting station!)

This year that tike toter was back in India so we were back to the trailer. Trekker is bigger now (40 pounds) and my knees hurt! I tried to embrace the challenge but getting around this year was sluggish and not nearly as enjoyable.

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#5 discomfort: no monkey hut this year. In truth I would like to move away from the traditional Burning man “monkey hut” I’d set up the previous 2 years, mainly because they aren’t always stable during dust storms and because the giant tarp and long pvc ribs take up a lot of space in the car when en route, but that said a monkey hut would be preferred to no hut/ shade structure at all. This year’s set up was to transform the Honda Element seats into bed for sleep at night, and keep supplies in a tent. This left us with a shadeless outdoors as our “lounge.” While this was doable since the neighbor’s RV provided shade at the right time of day, it was less comfortable than the previous years when supplies, car, and “lounge” were all sheltered under the shade and privacy of our monkey hut. Plus, having no dust free place to play during storms other than the car was a bummer and Trekker ended up playing in other kids’ RVs a lot of the time. Renting an RV would definitely be the most comfortable option but they are costly and there is something about getting to and from the playa in a small car with everything we need to survive that is more appealing to me. A van might be more practical though.. I’m also looking into these shiftpods which seem to offer the same dust-free insulation as the traditional burning man hexi-yurt but are much smaller to travel with. Might be worth the investment in the long term.

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(our monkey hut and setup year 1 in kidsville)

IMG_3005IMG_3140(inside monkey hut with Honda Element set up, year 2)

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(only pic I had of our scene in kidsville year 3- just a car, and a tent on the other side)

#final discomfort: So, besides issues with using the toilet, bathing, shade, privacy, and getting around, the final discomfort due to unpreparedness I experienced on the playa this year was cultural. Not with the culture of burning man but with my lack of preparedness to integrate within it. Burning Man culture is about radical self reliance but is also much more than that. It is about creativity and a culture of gifting.  Radical Acceptance is also a major tenant and so I doubt many are spending much time judging each other (though some people do actually walk around with megaphones dissecting other’s costumes and behavior and this is usually pretty hilarious, and Radically Accepted.) But if one were to judge one’s own self on their burn, it would be based on what they bring. With no money exchanged, what one brings to burning man can be in the form of gifts, volunteering, creativity, joy, or whatever else one puts value in and wants to share.  Parallels between the non-monetary culture of burning man could possibly be drawn with the non-monetary culture of Auroville, though volunteering may be considered somewhat of a currency in Auroville, whereas in burning man there is no trade at all, only gifting.  Sometimes just being one’s fully expressed self is gift enough. Some people arrive to the playa via parachute and I consider their graceful flight down a visual gift to us all.  This year at burning man, though we did enjoy some magical moments on the playa, I felt the joy I had to offer was too often limited by my physical discomforts. I did not feel 100% my fully expressed self. For gifts we brought our usual Whole Foods baby-food veggie juice pouches, which though not creatively handmade, I do see as valuable as they provide quick nutrients and liquid in a physically hostile environment. But I’d wished to bring more creativity this year now that Trekker is less work (in some ways). I’d had dreams of creating an art car last year for this year but of course there was no time to apply nor prepare for that this year. So it came down to costumes. Trekker is still just small enough to fit in a bicycle basket and having recently introduced him to E.T. I really, really wanted to ride around the playa on a bicycle dressed like Elliot with  Trekker riding in the front basket dressed as E.T.  I found my Elliot outfit the night before arrival at Walmart but the sturdy baskets I’d found online were all sold out in stores when we arrived. 🙁  So no ET this year and considering Trekker’s rapid growth rate I suppose I’ll have to lay that dream to rest (unless I have another one 😉 !)

That said, we have also recently opened up the world of original Star Wars movies in our family which did inspire another height-appropriate costume. I worked as fast as I could at the picnic table of a KOA campground en route to the playa to create R2D2 and C3PO outfits for us from duct-tape, foam, cardboard and a trash-can lid. These outfits proved to be fun in moments, like while standing in line for lemonade at Center Camp and when searching for a Jedi Temple we’d heard that a 5 year old kid had received a grant to build, but they weren’t quite sustainable enough to last through the burn. C3PO was incomplete at best, and constantly in need of re-duct-taping (which isn’t easy when the tape gets dusty) and R2D2 was a little top-heavy so Trekker usually only lasted in that for about 7 minute spurts. While I’m not completely dissatisfied with the outcome, I do believe with further advanced planning (i.e. not getting a last minute ticket again) I could probably pull off a more refined and comfortable-to-wear-for-longer-periods version next year, depending on how much Trekker grows…
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(
R2D2 and C3PO in front of child designed “Jedi Temple”)

IMG_9152(Later that night we got to watch the Jedi Temple burn down)

In final, I am glad we cut our losses in the name of comfort and that I got to see FIVE rainbows on the drive the next day – one of them a double! (too bad trekker was asleep),  but I do regret that we didn’t get make the usual rounds to catch up with old friends and continue certain traditions like watching the temple burn with our friends on the Dusty Cobra.  Fortunately we did get to hang with some friends at our friend Shilo’s latest piece and we made new friends with a family from Vermont who we rode around the playa with on our last day, which happened to be beautiful and dustless, to see all the art.
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(T
he fine folks of the Dusty Cobra pictured above gave Trekker his playa name “Hummus”, year one, then made Hummus an honorary member complete with badge, year two. We usually watch temple burn with them and were sad to miss that this year.)

IMG_9147(Trekker making friends in our friend Shilo’s latest art piece, “Grove”)

IMG_9139(a hilarious lady dressed as a French Maid, “dusting” the art piece. I asked “are you dusting?” she responded, while dusting away, beer in hand, between dust storms “I’ll tell ya, I’m not taking on any more contracts this year, this weeks been too much!”

 Notable moments from previous years:

IMG_3163(stilted butterfly guy walking down street)

IMG_3112(Trekker pressing big green buttons to send giant fireballs into the sky)

IMG_3008(Trekker playing “ball” at center camp with another ball fan)

IMG_3225 (Trekker climbing around in giant pile of snakes)

img_2997 img_3158(Trekker and Logan in Kidsville, year 2)

IMG_3245(Trekker and new friend watching the man burn from trailer year 2)

IMG_3313 (Trekker in Kidsville year 2)

IMG_3188 (Trekker eating a popsicle on the playa year 2)

IMG_3063(Trekker eating a popsicle at center camp year 2) 

IMG_3206   (The old lady who lived in the shoe and her kids)

IMG_5527 (mom and son and shark year 1)

IMG_5463 IMG_5466 (Trekker doing yoga at center camp year 1)

IMG_5423  (Trekker staring down local dragon, year 1)

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(year 2, center camp, a much appreciated polaroid picture gift from a passerby burner)

The end. IMG_9177

Ko Samui, Thailand

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I have a problem in that I never want to leave the place I’m at but always must for some reason like a visa, or new passport, or family visit, an unbearable hot season, or most recently because a deep meditation strongly showed the words “Summer in Siam” just after I’d decided to decide whether we should stay in India for the hot season this year. Siam is the old name for Thailand so a couple of weeks post meditation we hopped on the 3 hour flight from Chennai just as India’s summer (which begins in May) began. Now with one week left on our 1 month + 1 month extension visa I figured I’d add a quarterly update to my blog.

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This place will be particularly difficult to leave because it is just so EASY here. For one thing I do enjoy wearing whatever I want again. I forgot how much I like to feel the breeze on my skin. In Auroville I don’t have to worry too too much about standard Indian dress codes like I would in Varanasi but it would still be possible to offend someone by showing too much shoulder or sporting too short of shorts. But not here! It would be perfectly acceptable here to ride around on your scooter in a bikini (not that I do, but I could!) and not get a second glance.  Ah freedom…
It is more expensive here than India but still much cheaper than the US. For <$400 USD (low season monthly rate) we have called this tiny home on the beach our home for most of the past 2 months:
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Our house is inside a colorful little bungalow village hotel we heard about from a friend in India called Silent Beach Treehouse. I’ve been wanting to try out a tiny home with Trekker and live in a tiny home community on the beach, so this was a good find. The inside has room for a bed, a fan, countertop, and a small bathroom. The porch is bigger than the inside of the house and that is where we mostly live. You can see why here:
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The restaurant at Silent Beach Treehouse offers 3 giant laundry baskets filled with beach toys and little toy trucks so Trekker made an easy transition to calling this place home upon arrival.
Trekker also made friends with a 5-year-old Ukrainian girl whose parents spent every day way out on the sea on paddle boards while she and Trekker scale the boulders lining the bungalow hotel property. I read in the hammock, swim, or work on the app. IMG_7530

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If you are single mom with a little one looking to be on-the-loose I do recommend the Thailand Islands and this place in particular. The beach is beautiful and the ocean is shallow with very little waves so perfect for little ones. And the Thai people in general are so gentle,  loving,  accepting, open, warm, and compassionate… they are really great with kids. (well, except that they tend to laugh at the little ones when they are crying.. I hypothesize this is somehow tied to Buddhist roots since in Buddhism one seeks to acknowledge the temporal nature of things, and the “this too shall pass” of emotions. And maybe this ideal, being at the root of Thai culture, has influenced the adults’ response to children’s cries? Like if you laugh at their sad feelings they will also learn to not take their feelings so seriously? Not sure… Thai people do, as I mentioned, have a wonderfully peaceful manner about them as a whole so their approach does seem to be working for them but there is something about this laugh-at-crying-children thing that doesn’t feel right to my Western self. I do get that children, esp 3 yr olds, have dramatic breakdowns for the most ridiculous (and often, annoying) reasons and so it is difficult to empathize at times but I’ve made the decision to attempt (as much as I am capable of) to validate my child’s emotions, no matter how inappropriate they seem to me. My personal feeling is that if I validate my child’s experience he will consider his emotions valid and deal with them squarely in life. Repressed emotions are a strong root cause of most of the ills of society- from substance abuse to psychopathic behavior. And considering the recent news of rape and mass shootings I have a strong intention to raise my child with a healthy mind, heart and soul. But also I think it is different for Westerners. If I was raising him in Thailand long term, and we spoke Thai and we fit into the culture more, AND I kept MY feelings to myself like a normal Thai then he would probably grow up healthy and peaceful like the rest of the Thais even with invalidated crying as a child. But I express my feelings pretty regularly so to deny this in my child would probably not be a good thing. But anyway, I digress…)

For the other SMOTLs out there- this hotel is also totally accepting of kids being kids and they have a great $9 masseuse overlooking the beach. This means mom gets 2 or 3 massages per week while son plays in the sand nearby and is looked after by many warm eyes.  Here is the view from the massage table:

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It’s the same in pretty much any massage place you arrive at in Thailand with a small child – no need for babysitters at all, especially the ones on the beach. Thai culture is in general is incredibly loving to little ones (more on crying- if the cry is actually merited, or if the child is actually a baby, they would no doubt step in to comfort them. And generally they give so much attention to small children that crying gets avoided altogether.) There are also some decent playgrounds I’ve written about here  around Ko Samui as well. And perhaps best of all, there is an adorable little ex-pat/thai mixed school in the adorable town of Mae Nam a 1/2 hour walk down the beach from where we stay. This is the street the school was on and the community Sala at the end of the street I sometimes practice yoga in when waiting to pick up Trekker (respectively):

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I will write up my take on schooling in general soon but from my limited school exposure during  Trekker’s short career as a school kid this Mae Nam school is tops. And they do take visitor kids by day/week/month/ and term. And we could walk there via the beach (when I wasn’t feeling lazy.)

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Here are some of the kids frolicking about in nature at one of the kid’s birthday parties:

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Admittedly this has been a very vacation oriented couple of months. I have been working on a new version of my app so it’s not all play but what I haven’t done is learn more than 2 words of Thai nor learn much about Thai culture other than people seem to really take it easy and that there are definitely more than 2 genders here which makes life more colorful. I saw one live Thai band and they covered Sweet Home Alabama. Was quite bizarre to hear a Thai accent singing in “I hope Mr Young will remember a southern man don’t need him around anyhow.” I assume the singer was unaware of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s intended reference to Neil Young’s song ‘Southern Man’ which calls out white supremacy in the USA’s south, or maybe he just didn’t care. But Anyway! It has been a great trip for us as a family. There is surely a strong correlation with a relaxed mama equating to a relaxed child, and this makes parenting exponentially easier.

IMG_8336 Plus they have Gatorade at 7-11 and there is a 7-11 every other block.. (after being based in India for so long, Gatorade is really special to me/us.) All in all its been a wonderfully relaxing 2 months and I would totally live here but I don’t know that we ever will. Who knows. Next stop is NYC where I intend to promote the app and dance a lot.

Auroville

(note: again its been months since I’ve written. I may later post about our relaxing weeks in the Dominican Republic, and the exhausting weeks of fevers, rats, leaks, sleep deprivation, relentless rain and passport/visa expiration that had brought us there, but this post is about why I love living in Auroville.)

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I haven’t written much about the town of Auroville since we arrived here a year ago. Until recently I was focused 99% on the day-ins and outs of surviving with a 2 year old and it took me a while to get a handle on what this place actually is. But now Trekker is nearly 3 and though his budding independent streak occasionally leads to a battle of wills which must be navigated, life as a single mom of a little one has become exponentially easier. The number one reason for this is that I am finally (generally) getting a solid nights sleep.  Our lifestyle of long active days in Auroville seems to be the major impetus for this.

 

While “lifestyle” is currently the major driving force for us to be in Auroville at this time in my mothering, lifestyle is only one aspect of this place which was founded 48 years ago on a deeper philosophy and hope for a “new” society.

 

I will rate Auroville in each of the lifestyle categories I’d set out in the previous post Searching for the Best City for Single Moms with Toddlers, but I would do everyone a disservice to not also include at least one paragraph summarizing the uniqueness that separates Auroville from all other cities.

 

Firstly, Auroville is more of a small town than a city, though it does offer much of the international culture one might find in major cities. Here’s a brief self description, from the website-

“Today Auroville is recognized as the first and only internationally endorsed ongoing experiment in human unity and transformation of consciousness, also concerned with – and practically researching into – sustainable living and the future cultural, environmental, social and spiritual needs of mankind.”

yadda yadda, but it actually is truly interesting.

While environmentalism/sustainable living wasn’t on my original criteria, it should have been.  Auroville was started in 1968 when 5,000 people from 124 nations came together in ceremony to inaugurate a large, mostly scrub-brush area which would be the future township of Auroville. The early pioneers came to Auroville when it was nothing. They planted trees and dug wells and now 48 years later Auroville is situated in a thriving forest made up of a hundred+ communities. And though the current population is only around 2,500, Auroville has managed to survive all these years and the dream still exists.
As for the spiritual stuff- well, no one has pushed that on us at all and without reading up on it I probably wouldn’t have noticed that most of the people around me are so ‘deep.’ The philosophy behind Auroville is based on the teachings of a spiritual teacher called Sri Aurobindo who lived from 1872 – 1950.  I honestly haven’t read too much into him but in skimming the surface of his beliefs, via quotations around Auroville’s Visitor’s Center and from reading wikipedia, I see no reason to flee the place. Here’s my simple interpretation of Aurobindo’s directive: Practice meditation to get past your ego/ junk in your mind, and you may eventually connect with something more divine. Same principle could be applied to practicing art or music really. And I’ve found the same to be true in my TM practice. But again, I take a “keep it simple stupid”  approach to my spirituality. I might add that the 34 thick, large sized, hard–covered volumes from the “Complete Works of Sri Aurobindo” left in the apartment we are renting imply that there may be a bit more to it..  But for now I’m happy with my KISS version and the Auroville lifestyle.

 

On to lifestyle:

 

Affordability:

Well firstly I should explain that I am in Auroville as a “guest”. There are 3 types of people in Auroville- guests, volunteers, and Aurovillians. The price of everything gets slashed for volunteers and costs almost nothing for Aurovillians. To become a volunteer and / or an Aurovillian, one must dedicate 35 hours of volunteer time per week in some capacity to Auroville.  I have been volunteering here and there since we arrived, but I’ve yet to find the time to dedicate 35 formalized hours per week to the cause. This is largely because of single parenting and because I’m attempting to create an online business to keep us afloat. Trekker is only in school for 15 hours a week. Additionally, I have creative project ideas out the wazzoo that sideline me daily from the tasks at hand. But that’s a whole other topic for another blog post. Anyway the point of NOT living in a big city with a full time job was so that I could raise my own kid… Now for the bottom lines:

Our studio apartment

costs about $175/ month, including utilities.

 

Kindergarten
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costs about $150 / month.

 

My favorite restaurants

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average < $4  per meal and often provide large enough portions for Trekker and I to share. (And of course I could save a bit of money by eating at home or going to the cheaper restaurants.)

 

Transportation- currently we rent a scootie for $35/ month but since we mostly ride our bicycle we could drop that cost.

Yoga classes cost < $4. Tango, salsa, singing, and pilates classes, (if I could only find the time to attend them) cost even less. Mind you, all of this seems cheap when compared to the cost of living in states but for here I live a somewhat extravagant life.  And as I mentioned, if I were to become Aurovillian, all of these prices would be slashed greatly. But for now, I should be able to make enough money from outside sources to maintain this lifestyle in Auroville as a guest. Oh, and one more monthly cost- Auroville “guest contribution” = $65/ month.

 

Music scene:
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Outside of the scene pictured above, not so much. There are some musicians around and even a few bands so there is something happening but …. This is definitely not Williamsburg, Brooklyn c. 2002.. But no where is in the world is either, including Williamsburg. Brooklyn crying_emoticon .. Anyway Auroville does seem like a good place for talented (or otherwise inspired) individuals to dedicate some time to their craft and /or get exposed to something they might have never considered. I saw a guy play “the bones” at an open mic night recently..

 

Plenty of weirdos: 

Yes! Auroville isn’t exactly bustling with weirdos in the down-town-big-city,  old Coney Island, nor golden-hearted, queer, Bowie-esque kind of way,  but the place does boast some very special originals indeed.

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In perspective- the place was built out of nothing as a “new society” by pioneers from the late 60’s = the founding mothers and fathers were/ are idealistic hard-core radicals with original ideas, practical knowledge, and skills. That any city was built by and is still inhabited by these types of people from that era is rare and absolutely refreshing to me.

And where else can you live next door to a house that looks like THIS

 

Active street life/Walking city:

I grouped these two categories together for this post because Auroville neither has an active street life nor is it really a walking city. However it does offer something different, and perhaps more enjoyable, that I hadn’t considered in my previous rating system: beautiful bike paths through a forest!

We ride this contraption to and from school:IMG_5728

on this path:
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And we love it. Its a great way to start the day and have a little exercise built into the day.
Hardly anyone walks from place to place here, But also hardly anyone drives a car. smiley-face-clip-art-thumbs-up-clipart-two-thumbs-up-happy-smiley-emoticon-512x512-eec6

Auroville is a magical 2 wheeler town where people navigate windy dirt roads through the forest by motorcycle, scootie, moped, and bicycle.  Just getting from one place to another can feel like a leisurely stroll through a botanical gardens. Not a bad way to get around.

 


Art scene:
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There do seem to be artists around- I’ve noticed flyers for art openings here and there- and have even been to a really great show at a beautiful gallery, but as is the same for the music category above – I wouldn’t call it a “scene”.  As far as I’ve noticed, Auroville, in it’s non-competitive glory,  lacks the camaraderie created when struggling artists slug drinks or coffees together for minimum shift pay to buy enough time to dedicate their souls to their art-form in attempts to some day “make it” in the capitalistic “Art World.” Of course its hardly true that a person has to be a barista to be an artist (teachers and museum security guards get pretty crappy pay too 😉 ) but there is something to say for creating work from within the cultural context of a creative community of struggling dreamers. There is a certain edginess there and maybe boundaries get pushed a little further…Or this may be some outdated romantic notion left over from my 20s. This is a subject to be explored further in a later blog. As is the whole notion of the “The Art World” and the value of location.

But all that said, if one’s soul calls for them to be an artist, solely, Auroville could be a peaceful place to hone one’s craft as an outsider but he or she may not end up as an Aurovillian unless her/his art-form also happens to be seen by the community as being for the greater good -ie if she/he can make at least some of their artwork count as volunteer hours towards the 35 hour work week. But “Art World” aside, creativity does abound here and can be seen in much of Auroville’s architecture and many theatrical performances that are regularly put on. My neighbor’s new house could also be viewed as a work of art.

 

Strong culture of dancing:

I’ve yet to attend a freestyle dance party but Auroville does boast a Tango scene, a Salsa night, ballet classes, flamenco, and capoeira (which could count as a dance.) The most fun I’ve had dancing so far was while emulating a boyband dance from a “Just Dance” youtube video with my 9 Year old neighbor. And it was genuinely fun. But I’m a mom and I choose go to bed around 9pm, so there may be something else more freestyle going on somewhere in the dark hours… Or perhaps a family oriented early evening dance party could be started…

 

Kid-friendly restaurants and culture: totally. all of them.

 

Lots of playgrounds/ kids stuff:

Indeed!! skate ramp, dirt piles, granite piles, trampolines, no shoes necessary ANYWHERE, trees to climb, kids everywhere, responsible pre-tween neighbors that play with Trekker, older kids everywhere that know little ones by names and treat them like family, swimming pool, playground at the sports ground, sports ground includes tennis, bad mitten, basketball, volleyball, ping-pong, cricket, and football (as in soccer). For the record I have never been much of a sports fan but Trekker seems to be heading that way so this place may be a good fit. As of now though he seems to prefer the dirt and granite piles above all else..

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Auroville also boasts more than one horse-back riding school as well as circus classes. And something of note for later- many of the Auroville teens move out early and live together in a community of treehouses…hello teen RADness…

So is Auroville the best city for single moms with toddlers? I’m starting to realize that the answer to this question really depends on the mom. In my world view it is an incredible place to raise a kid but I should touch on a few negatives before all the single moms of the world pack up and head over-

1) climate is H-A-R-S-H. Like seriously. It gets reallly really hot in April/May/June. The humidity is uber high. The rain pours relentlessly for a month+ in fall (like it really does not stop raining. at all. Google “chennai flood 2015” to get a better picture.) The sun is extremely strong at this latitude and because the humidity is high its impossible to find a decent sunscreen that will stay on your face so if you have sensitive skin like I do you may soon find yourself with a leathery orange-peel look if you don’t constantly wear a hat (beauty side note- I’m currently experimenting with replacing all soap with a fancy bacterial spray to compliment my membership in the shampooless  “no-poo” movement for the last 3 years- its been 2 weeks of spray so far, so good. post coming soon!)

2) outsiderness – if you aren’t from India and you aren’t an Aurovillian you will have to deal with being an outsider. Auroville does not boast that everybody-hugs-everybody Northern California vibe. Outsiderness is the case in most ex-pat settings and is easier for some than others, depending largely on one’s personality and nature. That said, Auroville is a multinational town so culturally you won’t be too unusual here no matter where you are from, as compared to when traveling elsewhere in India. However, due to the high number of transients and tourists that come through Auroville, especially during the nice season (Dec- March,) the long-termers here have naturally developed a fairly tight-knit community amongst themselves, and this *could* feel slightly alienating to the average passerby. Naturally this becomes less the case the longer one stays.

3) language – everybody here speaks a zillion different languages and one of the more common ones is broken English. This means that Trekker, nearly 3 and in his prime time for picking up other languages, is hanging out with his bi- and tri- lingual Spanish,  Taiwanese, Tamil, and Russian friends but only developing his bilingual capacity with English and Broken English. This is the #1 most frustrating part of being here for me at this time and we may need to head to a Spanish-speaking country for the summer just to take advantage of this special window of effortless language absorption in Trekker’s life.

 

 

 

The Making of The Molecule

We last returned to Auroville to find these strange,  curvular, giant megaphone-looking shapes scattered around the field behind the apartment we rent. (2 pictured below)IMG_5725

It turned out that these sculptural pieces were once the roofs of an old school in Auroville and Auroson Bystrom, Auroville’s first born, was planning to repurpose them as walls for a tiny home he was building for himself.  Auroson would soon refer to his home as “The Molecule.”

I promptly volunteered myself as documentarian to this sublime dwelling’s construction.

 

Soon after our arrival, I noticed that the inside of these “walls” had been painted an insanely bright, museum-quality stark white, which looked very odd against the natural landscape. As did the large metal cube which would soon emerge as the frame for The Molecule.

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Auroson and his team, Pim and Shivarag, constructing The Molecule’s frame:IMG_5309

Pim welding the frame together:IMG_5322

Next was the test run- putting it together to see how it held up.    Wall #1 on:
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then two:
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etc

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It held up.

 

But then a realization dawned upon Auroson:

The Molecule Must Be Painted Gold.

 

And so it was disassembled, and a painter arrived with a pressure painting machine that looked like it was from 1942:IMG_5392

First, by Auroson’s generous recommendation, the painter painted Trekker’s Thomas train gold:
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Then he moved to the “atoms.” (By this point the molecular theory was developing fast and the walls had become atoms.)

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The golden glow glistened its way across each atom, one at a time…IMG_5439

until each was a magical white and gold perplexityIMG_5420

strewn across the natural landscape.IMG_5587

As strange and beautiful as it was to watch these golden atoms scattered about the lands, and seemingly repositioned daily against new corners of nature, I knew their epic migration was only temporary- they were on a mission to soon join each other in an energetic synthesis, to be chemically bonded for life as one molecule.

 

Auroson chose this spot for The Molecule’s final resting place:IMG_5474

and gathered friends and family to move the cube:

pictured below, Auroson and his father Frederic, one of Auroville’s first inhabitants:
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The cube was set on granite footer stones and a pooja was performed.IMG_5488

An alter-like cross-section from a branch of the Mantramandir Banyan tree was hung inside, near one of the atoms,  its center perfectly aligned with the geometric cross-section of The Molecule’s many triangular forms.  Auroson said that he had planned to hang this piece slightly off to accentuate the geometric forms but that his idea had changed during the process.  “The idea is there but the physical reality needs to be alterable because in a sense its all about proportion, ” he explained.

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then they bonded the atoms…
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And the floor was prepared-

Here Auroson sands The Molecule’s repurposed floorboards which once had served as the Mantramandir‘s scaffolding system during it’s construction.IMG_5719

And finally the door was installed:
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Pure perfection! A molecule amongst molecules…
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From Auroson:  “The thing about molecules is that there is always something at the centre of something else. (this could be the form for groupings and or construction) The function of housing as a reflection of the a social structure is it would have these qualities – freedom, while being part of the whole, individual in identity, but collective at the same time. Harmony. These structures are only symbols.. Another thing about molecules is that they are built on a harmonic framework, the division and multiplication within and without is based along harmonies just like music, the division of halves, quarters or thirds etc.”

Wow, totally!

And to me, when looking at The Molecule, I can’t help but wonder what kind of element would be formed were this molecule to find other molecules to bond with. Like imagine a housing project full of these things… Trekker and I would surely like to inhabit one, at least for a time… For now I am just overjoyed that we get to live next door to this thing.

SMOTL <3  The Molecule 4Ever
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projects and personal goals

I get distracted a lot. Naturally this is the case for most anyone in fulltime care of an almost 3 year old. But also, even when I do manage to balance my attention towards a non-mom project, I very often get distracted from that non-mom project with another non-mom project, or new idea. If someone would just pay me to sit around and write about my plans and ideas I would be all set, I have no shortage of ideas. But following through when your mind is jumping from one idea to another WHILE answering to the term “mama” every two seconds (maybe 3) is a big hurdle to productivity.

 

So, since “blogging” is one of my projects, I figure I may as well use a blog post as an opportunity to organize some of my other projects and current personal goals. After all, the point of this blog was to document our real life while organizing my world. And somehow allowing my personal goals to live in the public sphere may just lead to more accountability on my part.

 

I’ll start with a list of goals for this year, in no specific order:

-Get in shape before 40 (I have 2 months)

-Learn to do the worm before 40 (breakdance move from the 80s I’ve always admired)

-build a giant music box that people can walk in, and adjust the songs from the inside

-build a hand-pump rail cart before Trekker’s birthday (one month and 1 week away)

-create charts for gardeners as in-app purchases for my garden app

-learn to play piano better

-learn to dance tango better

-master salsa (the dance)

-convert my neighbor’s garden to a productive permaculture mini-farm

-cure the psoriasis on my elbows

-fix my dead tooth

-master the Progressive Steps to Syncopation for the Modern Drummer book (under the tutelage of Jim White- reignite the skype lessons if available)

-create documentation posts of my previous projects, and friend’s projects I’ve followed

-convert shipping container to camper like this but on a flatbed

-be a better mom

 

OK, now to prioritize and break down each goal into achievable micro-actions:

1) be a better mom
While I will dedicate a separate post to this topic soon, one thing I know- I am always a better mom on the days I feel healthy and get adequate sleep. So in this case we can group “get in shape before 40” in this #1 spot too because exercise always makes me feel better and sleep better. So, the micro-action = daily exercise, whether I find a babysitter so I can go to a yoga class, or I take Trekker on a jog with the jogging stroller, daily exercise is now a requirement (except maybe one day a week.)

2) build a hand-pump rail cart – Trekker’s birthday is only a month and a week away AND we have to leave Auroville on a visa run for a week+ so I need to get cracking on this one stat. most of the action will consist of finding and assembling parts. I have the wheels already. micro-action = collect/find/build one of these parts every 2 days: platform, right-angle wheel attachment pieces, connecting rod, handle, gears, axle. This sort of thing can be done with Trekker, in the afternoons.

3) App monetization: in-app purchases- this also needs to be done stat as garden season season is rapidly approaching in the northern hemisphere and I am paying monthly for the app platform I built it on. Micro-action: each morning while Trekker is in school, complete one more step towards monetization

4) learn to dance the worm- after Trekkers birthday, once I am well on my way to being in shape, I will have a little over a month to learn to dance the worm before 40. I can incorporate this into my daily exercise routine, perhaps starting out on the neighbor’s trampoline with Trekker jumping along beside

5) convert my neighbor’s garden to a productive permaculture mini-farm- this is a longer term project but a few beds and banana circles can be created in the next month or so. micro-actions: alternate daily digs and bed prep days with the hand-cart collection days, ie- every 2 days work in the garden in afternoon while Trekker digs in the mud (or early mornings)

6) psoriasis- This stuff appeared on my elbows when I was 22, it is annoying but not debilitating, however it is a high priority. There is no “cure” in western medicine but I have seen it completely disappear twice during long camping sojourns so there must be a way to rid it with a lifestyle change. Lets just set the micro-action for now to: see an aryuvedic doctor

7) fix my dead tooth- this may relate to #6 above. when I was 18 I practiced Taikwando for like 2 months until I got my front tooth knocked out by someone’s head. It was hanging by one root. Fortunately, my Sensei’s brother happened to be an orthodontist so we rushed over to his office where he put it back in. He gave me a root canal. The tooth has been dead ever since. It turned brown a couple of years later so I would go and get it dyed white from the inside every couple of years. I did a few rounds of this until I turned 31 and decided to go live as a street astrologer in Costa Rica- at that point it seemed to me that a front brown tooth would lend more authenticity to my brand. But further into my 30s, once the grey hairs started to come in, and a few wrinkles, I decided that the brown tooth was overkill so I attempted to have it dyed again. Unfortunately the dye didn’t stick. Apparently that process stops working after awhile. But also, it is not good for one’s body to keep holding onto something dead, and root canals can be a major source of toxins. now studies are showing that root canals can actually lead to psoriasis (see point 6).  So, my first micro-action on this point: Get opinion from Ayruvedic Dentist on what to do about dead tooth issue.

8) create a giant music box that people can walk in. –this can be done when I begin the next project- converting shipping container, as both projects will require the same diamond blade steel cutter that can be rented in the town in South Carolina where my shipping container rests. We will go there when the season ends here, further advancing our perpetual spring. Should I happen to complete these two steel-based projects in a timely manner, I may also throw in a new project: make a steel pan drum. Trekker and I saw one being made on Mr Rogers last night, and it seems like an achievable pursuit, as well as a fabulous instrument for us both

9) tango/salsa, these are ongoing projects. There is a Tango class on Mondays in Auroville and a salsa class on Wednesdays, so depending on Trekker’s mood and my energy level after my now required daily exercise I’ll just mark these spots tentatively into the schedule.

10) Piano/drumming-also a long-term pursuit. both of these could be achieved via brief daily micro-practices, like 15 minutes a day, perhaps alternating days. I may also be able to entice Trekker into this “music practice” routine with me, thereby providing more structure to our day and feeding into #1 be a better mother.

11) Create documentation posts for my previous projects, and friend’s projects I’ve followed – this one falls into the “someday when everything else is checked off” category

 

Welcome to my world. Feel free to help hold me accountable

 

 

 

ch-ch-ch-ch-changes

things have been changing in mom-ville. it has been 4 months since I last posted and of course things will change a bit in any 4 month period for most people but the thing that is changing the most this time seems to be from my own internal maternal. maybe it’s because after the 4 months we spent camping in a field we moved into a cabin-ish house with a shower and toilet and a roof and a porch and that alone caused changes in the way that I “mom”. or it could be that because not long after we moved into said house we also took a trip west for a 2 week family gathering and stayed in a ‘house’ house (the kind with AC, hot water, TV, clean sheets on a real bed – all that stuff) and perhaps the experience stirred a latent greed inside me.. or maybe because when we were in that house-house Trekker also had 5 cousins under the age of 10 in the house-house to play with and these cousins introduced him (and me) to the digital babysitter known as ‘cartoons’ who I had been avoiding for ideological reasons but have now started to lean on.. or maybe the fact that these cousins would also come steal Trekker from our room first thing in the morning, just before the moment when he would normally pry my eyes open, and I actually got to sort of almost sleep in a few times – that was a major change right there – the notion of sort of almost sleeping in – that may even have been the main thing – not sure – but something has definitely re-acquainted me with a more individualistic side of myself lately….

maybe it’s because after we went west, we then went even further west and rented a Honda Element (great camping vehicle btw) and proceeded to take a road trip from Los Angeles to Northern Nevada to attend Burning Man where we were surrounded by complete decadence and audacious individualistic artistic expression for a week and perhaps this shocking difference from the previous months of living quietly in nature, tuned into only my baby and nature, might have awakened an inner daemon in me…or perhaps  I got possessed while there…

Or maybe all of the change I feel is due to the fact that Trekker is not a baby anymore and amazingly, though still only 2.5 years out of the womb, I don’t think he even qualifies as a toddler now, and so maybe change is a natural thing all mommies go through as their children grow…

I do know that I started to feel the change when we moved into a house. The house, which is more like a cabin which boasts walls with large, seemingly intentional gaps, was/is very much like camping, but with more to look after and less for Trekker to entertain himself with. The month we were in the house before we went west was maybe my hardest time yet as a mother. I thought about writing but I was always too tired. Suddenly we had the newfound ability to leave a light on at night, but that brought with it a desire in Trekker to stay awake long past sunset. And Trekker speaks fluently now, he voices his desires very well. so that voicing of his desires which conflicted with my own desires (which at the end of each day was simply to rest) started to bring some dissonance into our relationship. The “terrible two” tantrums I had managed to (mostly) avoid while camping were starting to flare up which was stressful on both of us and plus now there was more to clean up. A lot more – besides now having to clean up after ourselves in a way that I’d been able to avoid while camping, I soon came to learn the differences between lizard, frog, bat, and rat dookies. Anyway, I’m grateful that this house was offered to us for the month or so that we’ve spent in it. but I’ve also now confirmed that I much prefer to live in a tent, a car, a boat, or a tiny apartment over a house. (we are moving soon.)

But besides the changes of our environs, and the change of Trekker from being a baby then a toddler and a now small child, the major change I am experiencing inside of myself is of a nagging temptation for pure selfishness. I’ve begun to hear a voice inside screaming ME ME ME! maybe its the super-moon lunar eclipse that just made a partile conjunction to my natal aries moon in the 11th house, or maybe the fact that I just started painting again has rekindled a previously forgotten internal flame, or perhaps I’ve now simply heard the song “wheels on the bus” one too many times, but whatever it is there is a change going on inside and suddenly I want to do much more in my day than be a mom. and I’m feeling the need for a break from some of the mom stuff, at least for this week. I have even enlisted the “Grandies” to read the bedtime stories to Trekker via Skype the last few nights simply because I. don’t. feel. like. reading. those. books.. (dear future Trekker, as you study your own life in the future and look back on your past at the ways your mother may have f’d you up, please realize that this blog entry is not an exclamation of me having stopped loving you, in fact I love you more now than ever (though i may have occasionally envisioned taking a cartoon slingshot to your friend Dora the Explorer, this is no reflection on my love for you.) In truth this post is about the realization I am having which is that I will be a much better mother to you in the future if I start getting some ME TIME in now. Love forever, mom)

The great news is: Trekker has been accepted into the school I want him to go to and he starts next week! And he really wants to go. This will be wonderful for both of us.  AND I have a meeting lined up next week to talk about potentially working with an Auroville farmer’s org to implement my dream app (a related project to the worldfoodgarden.org dream- but this time I would be working with others between a real desk in a real office and regular visits to real farms rather than trying to hold it all together myself staring at a computer from a couch-slouch in some distant, remote, distracting cafe.) And I have other projects on the fire as well (stay tuned!)  Also this week I have finally hired an evening sitter (seriously! 2.5 years later!) who Trekker so far loves and who has so far allowed me to partake in one tango dance class and one flamenco dance class, both of which have felt like a small sip given to a very dehydrated inner diva.  So selfishness accepted.

But don’t worry dear reader, Trekker will not go neglected. A balance will be found. Friends at school will replace Daniel Tiger and Dora the Explorer, and bedtime stories will soon make a zest-filled come-back. Once school begins everything will change. Again. For now I will reframe my new desire to seemingly rebel from mom-hood with a re-appropriation of the oral tradition passed on by stewards and stewardesses across the skies “Put the oxygen mask on yourself first before you put it on your child.”

Sincerely,

The Little Engine that Could also dance the Tango…

(photo highlights of the past few months coming soon)