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.

02 July 2011

Peach Update

Moving into month nine of Peach's pregnancy, everything is starting to loosen up, and I wouldn't be surprised if I were to develop the characteristic “waddle” by week's end. My bursting belly feels increasingly weighted down, and at an appointment today my midwife agreed, Peach's head is dropping. This brings me running to the bathroom even more frequently – imagine a five pound weight constantly pressing on your bladder, and the ever-persistent urge to pee that would result! In earnest I must say, sitting on a toilet has never felt so wonderful.

For those in wonderment, we don't plan to follow Gwyneth Paltrow's lead in naming our baby after a fruit. “Peach” is a term of endearment that stuck while reading up on fetal development literature – it's more likeable than “prune” – and, is more or less gender neutral. We've opted to wait and see whether we're having a bambino or bambina, which according to statistics, approximately only 5% of parents ultimately decide to do. I find myself buying more blue though – it's my favorite color – so if we end up with a little girl, I'll have to at least put a headband on her.

I recently read an article about a Canadian couple who decided to keep their child's sex a mystery – even after the birth. Their hope is for “Stormy” to formulate his/her own identity, free from gender role ideas that we – as a society – intentionally and unintentionally place upon our growing children. The story stated that this parental decision has sparked a lot of controversy, and, I think it's quite the interesting discussion to delve into.

Jeff and I were pleased to learn about Alisha's Care Center, a farmhouse twelve miles west of Long Prairie on County Road 38 that has been converted into a birthing center. We'll be in one of two units, attended by a nurse/midwife, and my friend, Sara, who is a doula. It is the ideal of what I've always dreamed of – relaxed, intimate, and well-equipped to handle emergency situations we'll hopefully not have to deal with. MPR – Minnesota Public Radio – news featured a story on Alisha's Care Center, and here's a link to it if you're interested: http://minnesota.publicradio.org/collections/special/columns/ground-level/archive/2010/09/the-other-end-of-the-aging-spectrum-todd-countys-birthing-center.shtml

Jeff returns to Minnesota on July 17th, and I've kindly asked Peach to wait until then before s/he decides to arrive! We've got somewhat of a tight time frame though – Jeff's principal contract at Ninilchik School officially commences August 1st. The district supports priority to his family, but with Jeff beginning a new school year in a new place, we don't wish to tarry too long. My adorable sister, Erika, Peach and I will follow Jeff to Alaska mid-August, and I'm ever-so-lucky to have my sweet sister's company for awhile thereafter – perhaps until Christmastime! Meanwhile, stay tuned in – this is Elise, signing out from Little Falls, Minnesota.

15 June 2011

NPR - A submission for "The Baby Project"

I recently responded to a request from NPR calling for baby stories - and here it is, for your reading pleasure as well.

Our story begins in southwest Alaska, in the remote village of Aleknagik. After globetrotting through most of my 20s, the last place I expected to fall in love was bush Alaska, where there are seemingly more ptarmigan than people, but I suppose crazier connections have happened in life. I met Jeff on the south shore of Lake Aleknagik the fall of 2009; that October rainy day he was dressed head to toe in Helly Hansen gear, and as I was wearing something totally inappropriate for the weather – probably a yoga outfit of some kind since I'm an instructor.

Jeff knows my uncle, Rex, who I was visiting at the time, and had contacted me to see if I was interested in teaching at his school. "Don't drink the water here," he said "I've got two teachers who are pregnant!" Ha, in hindsight perhaps there was a bit of truth to this off-the-cuff joke, though who would have known it then. I said, "yes".

One year and two months later we found out – much to our surprise and delight – that we were pregnant! We're absolutely thrilled, and yes, slightly nervous too, welcoming this little precious one into our lives. We both come from different places – Jeff from Colorado, and myself from Minnesota – but are happy to call ourselves Alaskans.

Jeff has lived here a lot longer than I have, and is what I would consider a model "Alaskan". Like many other Alaskans, he's a pilot, and co-owns a PA-12 with a friend. Jeff is also a subsistence hunter, and invited me (a vegetarian!) on his fall moose hunt last September. It was an unforgettable experience, and Jeff said I was such a sport for holding the hind leg taut while he field dressed his bull.

In many ways, Jeff and I are like "yin" and "yang" – two polar energies that somehow complement and bring balance to each other. I'm a devout yogini, and feel passionate about yogic philosophy. A concept I seek to both live out and teach is "ahimsa" – showing reverence for all life. With this in mind, imagine my initial shock (and more-than-slight horror) when Jeff asked me if I'd like his bearskin to be made into our bed comforter! I thought it was enough that it was hanging on the wall over our heads each night, along with the other fox, marten, mink and ermine furs.

Jeff is also a runner, but not necessarily a yoga enthusiast. Still, he regularly attends my classes, twisting himself into pretzels and trying to figure out what exactly it is that draws me to my yoga mat almost every day. All in all, I think it's this – that we seek to understand and enjoy each other's interests – which keeps our ironic relationship connected. The idea of "ahimsa" not only applies to our actions, but also extends to words spoken and thoughts processed. It asks that we be respectfully open, being both authentic to ourselves, as well as granting others an authenticity as well.

So much is in flux for us right now – not only are we expecting a baby, but we recently “tied the knot”, and are also in the midst of moving out of bush Alaska, to Ninilchik on the Kenai peninsula. Jeff will be the principal of Ninilchik School next year. With so much change in the mix, we've decided to go to Minnesota for the baby's birth, where I'll be surrounded by family and friends. We've yet to solidify a birth plan, but I hope to avoid a hospital and interventions if possible, and be attended at a birthing center by a nurse/midwife and my very good friend, Sara, who is a doula.

We've kept the gender a surprise – even for ourselves – but boy or girl, Jeff is excited to give the baby two unique gifts: a necklace made out of a wolverine toenail embedded in ivory, and a parka from the marten he trapped last winter. And, I'm on the hunt for a baby-size yoga mat.