03 February 2015

I am on retreat - in Anchorage of all places! I’m thankful for this time to put the brakes on and slow down, and yet, it feels quite uncomfortable to do this for any length of time. My life as of late has become overwhelmingly strategic and calculated. With precision, I measure out each day as if it were a recipe, so that I may arrive at the end of the day with a sense of accomplishment. My ducks are all in one line, and while this is briefly rewarding, the bigger and deeper part of me whispers, “You’re missing out, Elise!”

I am lucky to have my spunky little one, Citori Marie, to help me become a bit more imaginative, silly, curious and spontaneous. My faithful sidekick will say, “Hurry up, Momma! Let’s get on the airplane and find an adventure!” For weeks on end, Citori has been packing up her ladybug suitcase to embark on worldwide travels, joining her aunties in Costa Rica, venturing back to South Korea or Japan. As the game has gone, she packs and I unpack, but a few days ago I finally threw my hands up in the air and left her bags untouched.

We received a great gift recently - Q&A a Day for Kids, with space to record responses. It has become one of my favorite conversation starters with Citori. Sometimes she’ll ask, “What does it mean?”, and other times she’ll give an answer that blows me away. The other day I posed the question, “What do you want to be?” Without hesitation she said, “I want to be Momma.” I spoke out loud as I wrote, “I want to be a Momma.”, and Jeff corrected me from the background, “No, she said she wanted to be you, Momma.” All at once I welled up, moved by my daughter’s insights. What a simple statement, and at the same time, how profound.

“Maybe she has forgiven me, after all ”, I thought. Just a few hours earlier I’d raised my voice when the toilet clogged and overflowed. Citori has been trying to become more independent, and this journey has been full of trial and error. And then, the day before Citori went to throw something away and saw that I’d ditched a painting she’d made. I can still see the sadness on her face as she stammered, “Momma, why did you throw this away?!” I felt wretched - I’d failed her again.

And yet, Citori never gives up on me! She showers me with love in so many ways. “Ugga Mugga”, she’ll say, as we rub noses. And, “Here Mom, I made you a present!” This usually involves a ziplock bag with odd and ends stashed inside - Q tips, toothpicks, Dora bandaids, chunks of chaga tea and a treat of some kind. Citori is almost always at my heels chattering away, mimicking my movements or trying to get me to stray from the task at hand. A day at a time, I’m learning lessons of balance - when to say, “Just a minute, love bug” or “I’ll do this later - let’s go on that adventure!”

11 November 2014

When my daughter was born I started writing to her. I don’t write with any frequency, but I try to sit down every couple of weeks and record milestones and memories. More recently, though, I’ve been thinking about what I wish to impart to Citori as she grows. The following letter is part of my reflection, and I wanted to share it with you. Whether you’re a parent or not, at some point, hopefully we all become a little more mindful of the footprint we wish to leave upon this Earth, and then let our lives reflect this.

My Love Bug,

I want to give you the world, and yet I wish to teach you how to balance acquisition with simple appreciation. I want to smother you with love, and at the same time, give you space to become your own person. Each day with you is this amazing gift, and when I can allow time out of the regimentation of task mode, we find ourselves rolling around on the ground giggling, hiding behind corners to pop out at each other, and singing aloud to our hearts’ delight. Your presence is already keen, and this is something I wish to nurture as you grow. Our ability to be present is sometimes lost along the journey into adulthood, and then the onus is solely ours to bring it back into being.

Be gentle, my little one, with all life. Everything is connected now and throughout time. The breath you’re taking at this very moment has been recycled time and again - what your ancestors breathed out, the Earth breathed in, and in turn, what our Earth creates, supports your life today. Be thankful for what touches your lips - who made it and where it came from - and let your touch on this world be one from your heart. Shed the burden of expectations, and lead your life authentically, truthfully, creatively and with joy.

Be willing to yield to the spirit of spontaneity - in its simplest and more complex forms! It’s not as though we jump towards every inclination, but that we foster an awareness of our longings and take leaps of faith when opportunities arise. When we do this, there is a period of time where we do not feel the ground beneath our feet - we’re somewhere in the middle and unsure of where we’ll land. The spaces in between this or that, and here or there comprise much of life. It is good to become more comfortable with not knowing, and at the same time, trust we are exactly where we’re meant to be within our own unique journey.

Take action, my girl, with what impassions your spirit. And, be reflective of your thoughts, words, and doings. Create enough space to hold paradox - no one or nothing is all good or bad. Find grounding, with who you are and what you believe, but understand that what is true for you may be different for someone else. Respect this, and see our beautiful and diverse world through the lens of a kaleidoscope.

Understand that there will be both great successes and failures in life, but that every experience is valuable. Our successes build up our confidence, but our failures create space for greater compassion and connection. Invest yourself in loving and just relationships. Give generously without expectation, and receive gratefully with no sense of obligation. It is good to be selfless, but first and foremost, nurture your own body, mind and spirit. If you are taking good care of yourself, you will naturally reach out with love.

Let yourself laugh wholeheartedly - until your belly aches and your eyes brim with tears. And, allow yourself to feel sadness too, for life is some of both. Learn to give greater acceptance to ambiguity and contradiction, and truly, you will be on a path to union with all. As one ripens into maturity, opposites no longer exist - two things are not separate from each other, but one integrated whole with any number of facets. Life is like a prism, shining its different faces in a plentitude of directions.

Above all, my love bug, please know that I will always love you, and nothing can ever change this. My greatest hope is that you will also feel this way about yourself. The other day I saw you looking at yourself in the mirror. Your face lit up with absolute joy as you admired the image that looked innocently back at you. It was beautiful to be able to stand back and just watch you in this moment, and it’s one that I will never forget!

I love you, Itty Bitty,

07 October 2014

Autumn is quickly turning into something that looks a little more winterish in Ninilchik, AK. I can tell it’s getting colder when cinnamon sounds good in just about anything, and I reach for a toque before walking out the door. Frost now greets my windshield every morning, and forecasts predict temperatures will continue to drop. With mountains all around us, people look to the peaks for signs that winter has arrived. Freezers are chock full of fish and wild game, woodpiles stocked, and propane and oil tanks are filled to the brim.

A quality of imminence characterizes general sentiment while we are on the vanguard of waiting for white fluffy stuff to fall down and blanket the ground. Some of us wait excitedly, waxing skis and snowboards, while others are euphemistically less enthusiastic about all that accompanies the season of winter. It’s true, there is more gear to put on and tote around, it takes longer to get anywhere, and there are days when it just won’t stop snowing and blowing. On days like these, getting cozy with my Kindle and steamy mug can be especially helpful.

There tends to be a lot of hype about life in Alaska from people who have never been here, giving popularity to shows like “The Last Frontier”. I find the dramatization of our “rustic” life is quite humorous, actually. I cannot speak for all of Alaska, of course, but I can say that day-to-day life on the Kenai peninsula - where “The Last Frontier” is filmed - is relatively comparable to most small towns in the United States. Almost anything is accessible within a 60 mile radius, or with the click of a button if one can patiently wait for their package in the post.

I think that there is something substantial about subsistence living and Alaska, though. It’s not that people have to live off of the land anymore, but that many of us choose to do so in one way or another. It’s an integral part of Alaska’s past, and these values have been carried forward to today. I feel a little bit silly writing about Alaskan sentiment, because many people would call me a “cheechako”, or newcomer. I don’t know how long it takes for one to obtain “sourdough” status, but I sure hope that I do some day, and that it won’t require proficiency with an ax!

19 September 2014

Citori recently took her second trip to Japan, and after one month she came home with at least two more words to add to her repertoire , “onigiri” - a Japanese rice ball traditionally stuffed with fish or seaweed, and “gokiburi” - a cockroach! Needless to say, we dealt with a few more creepy crawlies than we would have liked to during our stay. After one sleepless night on my futon, however, it dawned on me that there are greater concerns in life than a - relatively - harmless bug.

This shifting of perspective is something that I have found to be true time and again during travels. Even on the smallest of scales, the insights that come to me while I’m living out of a suitcase seem grand and life-changing. On a personal level, there is something revolutionary about plopping down in the middle of somewhere else and becoming part of the fabric and feel of everyday life. It’s as if I’m stepping out of the shoes I ordinarily walk in, and finding limitless freedom to try on as many pairs as I like. I feel more spontaneous, carefree and present - it’s completely, marvelous.

Our corner convenience attendants at 711 soon knew us well, and the roadside produce stands in front of Tama train station quickly learned that Citori and I are quite fond of avocados. The moment we’d walk into Parivaar, a local Indian restaurant, our palak paneer and kabocha naan was in the making, and I’m pretty sure that the bakery we frequented had to increase their daily production of sugar donut twists in order to keep pace with our demand.

Scorching temperatures kept us inside during much of the day, but a late afternoon breeze and the cool of the night called to us, “Come out and play!” It was then that we hopped on our bicycle for an adventure to search for ice cream, or strapped on our sandals for a skip through the streets. It’s really something to travel with a child who has bright blue eyes and blond ringlets - Citori drew smiles wherever we went, and most of the time, thank goodness, she was gracious enough to smile back.

While we were in Tokyo, Citori fell in love with cold drinks from ubiquitous vending machines - milk ice teas, sweet peach juice and Japan’s popular sports drink, Pocari Sweat. I bought her a coin purse at the 100 yen store - which is the equivalent to the dollar store in the U.S. - and she almost always left the house with it in one hand, and her baby doll in the other. The coin purse and baby doll made their way to Tama Zoo, Shiraitodai Pool, south to Yokohama and north into Shibuya.

We’ve been home for almost a month, and Citori is still jabbering on about Japan. I cannot help but to secretly smile at her comments and questions, because conversations were all about Alaska while we were away. I guess she’s already learning that while explorations away from home can open up our hearts, the consequence of this is that we will forever yearn to be in multiple places at the same time. The balance, then I suppose, is to give some space to memory and dreams, but place even greater intention to being present with whatever lies in front of us at a given moment.

21 October 2011

Postprandial Musings

I find myself swaying – with and without baby Cito in my arms. It's marvelous to feel her close to me; sometimes, at night, we practically touch noses. She is my inch worm, and no matter where I place her on the bed, shortly thereafter she is at my side.

Citori is finding her smile. Sometimes I'm given a lop-sided goofy grin, other times it's full fledged – almost ear-to-ear. These moments enthrall and amaze me, captivate and make me, mirror her uninhibited glee back to her. Babies have this remarkable gift – people cannot help but to gravitate towards and be positively affected by them.

Citori's trusting innocence is something I wish to protect forever. She gazes into my eyes with absolute assurance that she is unconditionally loved and well taken care of. She looks at me with admiration I sometimes feel I don't deserve, and is ever forgiving of my endless mistakes. Babies are not capable of holding grudges – they're entirely in tune with the present.

Citori's latest great interest is light. Sensing it in any direction, Cito will try to turn full frontal towards it. Each morning she awakes, I usually find her rolled on her side, serenely looking out the window. This is one of many moments I wonder to myself, what is she seeing? What is she thinking? At 2 ½ months, I'm know my girl already has much to say.

And wow do we talk, exchanging babbling sounds of buzzing lips, clicking tongues, throaty growls and high-pitched squeals. While words impart structure – concrete ideas, Citori and I share a spectrum of emotion in our own little world. It's lovely. And this is Elise, signing out from Ninilchik, AK.