Archive | The Year of Creativity

The Reason I Write

The Reason I Write | kaileenelise.com

“The universe buries strange jewels deep within us all, and then stands back to see if we can find them.”
(Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear)

I have been writing for as long as I can remember. In journals. In letters. In essays and poems. In newsletters and blog posts. I started kaileenelise.com in 2009 as an escape from my day job. I wrote from coffee shops before going into work. On my lunch breaks I scrolled through Twitter and read the archives of my favorite sites. I connected with women from all over who were also seeking creativity, inspiration, and a little peace in our everyday.

Writing has always been there for me. I like how it transports me back in time to revisit memories through a new lens. How it propels me into my future hopes and dreams. How researching an idea feels like swimming far below the surface. How sharing what I’ve written can feel like coming up for air.

When my hands are on my keyboard, or my pen is pressed firmly onto the page, the chatter in my mind slows down. When I’m searching for the thoughts, the words, the details and feelings, I take deep breaths. The kind that lift my chest, expand my rib cage, and expose my heart.

I write because it’s cheap therapy. I write because I like to hear myself talk. I write because it feels good to start at zero and end up somewhere else. I write because of the rare occasion when the words magically spill out onto the page or screen and leave me feeling like they came from somewhere else. I write because whenever I take a break from writing, my mind gets soggy and my heart starts to harden.

All of these reasons are insignificant compared to the biggest reason of all. And it’s the one I always forget about, like when you’ve seen a movie a thousand times, but aren’t quite sure what happens at the end until you watch it once more.

I write because revisiting my words – weeks, months, or years later – grounds me, roots me, connects me to myself and the universe in a way nothing else ever has.

A few days ago I was cleaning up my files and sorting through a dozen half-written essays when I came upon this,

My sweet Baby O is seven weeks and two days old and our lives as a family of three have settled into an unpredictable rhythm. We can count on the sunsets and sunrises to mark time. There are coos, smiles, diaper changes, cries for help, endless feedings, and moments when I stop to wonder how we got so lucky. They say having a child will change you, and of course I knew that the very second the pregnancy test was positive, but it’s impossible to know how.

I am so new at this. I don’t know what I’m doing or what’s around the corner. But lately I’ve noticed a voice within that is calling me to be better. Ground, calm, gentle, nice. These aren’t traits at the top of my list of strengths, but now that I’m this baby’s mama, all I want to do is shed my rough edges and be soft.

This, my dear friends, is the reason I write.

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Soothe Yourself

Soothe Yourself | kaileenelise.com

“The life of a mother is the life of a child: you are two blossoms on a single branch.”
(Karen Maezen Miller, Momma Zen)

I babysat a lot growing up. In high school I was one of the only older girls in a neighborhood full of young families. Any weekend I was free and wanted to work, I had a job. I loved playing with the little kids, but babies were my jam. I spent so many nights rocking sleeping babies and dreaming of what my life might be like someday.

When I imagined being a mama, I thought of soft blankets and board books, bouncing balls and towers of blocks. In my imagination, the diapers and messes, tantrums and late nights were someone else’s problem. In my imagination, I decorated the nursery and playroom while someone else handled the mounds of laundry. In my imagination, I cooked delicious, organic baby food. Someone else went to the grocery store and washed the dishes.

When I was pregnant, I did a lot to prepare for labor and delivery. I took classes, read books, and listened to podcasts. I went for long walks, did special stretches, and practiced breathing techniques. I hired a doula and wrote up a birth plan. I started each morning with positive mantras and went to bed each night visualizing a smooth birth.

I filled our freezer with home cooked meals, made postpartum baskets for the bathrooms, and stocked my closet with cozy clothes. I decorated the nursery to please myself… not my baby. It felt like a selfish indulgence, but this was a room I’d been dreaming about for years. I figured he’d eventually have opinions about these things. Best take advantage of being able to choose a theme of neutrals with pops of gold over a clashing mix of trains and trucks and PAW Patrol.

In college I earned my degree in Elementary Education. I loved organizing supplies, creating lessons and leading the classroom. I was good at breaking down big ideas in ways the little ones could understand. I didn’t have to teach to a test, interact with parents, or deal with school politics. Instead, I got to sparkle with the brilliance of a shiny, young student teacher.

Before becoming a mama, I had a secret thought about motherhood. I believed my babysitting experience and college degree were excellent preparation, advanced studies for the well-adjusted parent. I wiped poopy butts and snotty noses. I answered silly questions and commanded the attention of twenty kindergarteners. Deep inside, I was smugly confident I wouldn’t just be good at mothering, I would totally rock it.

These pieces of me float around my mind, each one trying to reconcile the other. All the things I thought I knew. All the things I imagined I’d become. All the stories from my past. All the dreams for my future. I never realized motherhood would bring about so much learning. I thought for sure I would be the one teaching my son, but now I see it’s the other way around. I’m clueless. I’m a beginner. There is so much I do not know.

When things are hard, I see myself trying everything to soothe my baby. I tell him he’s ok. I say it’s alright. I’m sorry your teeth hurt, that you bonked your little head, that the yogurt tastes too sour, that the grass itches your feet, that you are scared of that ball. I’m sorry I don’t know what to do, but I’m here and I’m trying.

As I bounce him and sing to him and try to soothe him, I find that I’m soothing myself. All those past versions of me line up and wait for a turn… for a hug, a kiss on the cheek, a bolstering up, a song to fall asleep to. And even though I am nearly 32, I realize that as I’m raising him, I’m raising myself.

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Eating in Tokyo & a Lesson in Perspective

Eating in Tokyo & a Lesson in Perspective | kaileenelise.com

“Perspective is the way we see things when we look at them from a certain distance and it allows us to appreciate their true value.”
(Rafael E. Pino)

We got off the elevator on the 45th floor and I immediately remembered coming here for drinks the last time we were in Tokyo. It had somehow slipped my mind when we were booking the trip. I remember feeling out of place. We were two youngish foreigners, indulging in overpriced drinks to catch the city views from the fancy Ritz-Carlton lounge. My cocktail was some tea infusion served with dry ice that bubbled like a witch’s cauldron. After our first round, we went straight to Havana Cafe, a dive bar that’s known on TripAdvisor for having the cheapest happy hour in Tokyo.

We weren’t married. We were child free. He went to a conference during the day. We explored the town at night. We went to the Tsukiji Fish Market, a crazy place called the Robot Restaurant, and the Park Hyatt’s New York Bar from Lost in Translation. We visited countless shrines and enjoyed many delicious meals out. We had no clue we’d be back in a few years with our eight-month-old who would learn how to crawl in our hotel room.

This visit to Tokyo has been different, but that’s true of most things these days. As a rule, life is more exhausting, more surprising, and more sweetly amazing with our baby. Bringing him to Japan has given me a fresh perspective on a few things I did not know before he came into our lives.

Going out to eat was a major focus of our first time in Tokyo.

The morning after we arrived, we waited in line for 30 minutes to have sushi for breakfast at Daiwa Sushi. It was a shock to the system, especially for my husband, but a true sign that we had arrived. On our second night we went to a fancy shabu-shabu restaurant where we cooked strips of raw Kobe beef in a traditional Japanese hot pot at our table.

In a tiny basement restaurant named Agaru, we sat at the counter and watched our chefs prepare ten Kaiseki dishes, each more refined and delicious than the last. We also discovered our love for the simple, but satisfying combo of draft beer and ramen at Kyushu Jangara in Harajuku. Of all the places we tried, our favorite was a smoky neighborhood yakatori bar called Ganchan where we shared 13 plates and 2 rounds of beer.

During that trip I took pictures of all our meals. I ate with both hands and actually tasted my food. I was unencumbered… and unable to appreciate the simplicity of dining without a small person on my lap, grasping for my attention and the food on my plate.

Coming into this trip, I set my expectations low when it came to eating out. I tried to be realistic, knowing our days (and nights) of being foodies are on hiatus… at least until our travel companion can feed himself.

We continued our “first meal in Japan must be sushi” tradition at Sushi Zanmai. The fresh fish and draft beer were as delicious as I remembered. Seated in a small restaurant amongst locals, a familiar feeling rushed over me. We were again outsiders in a foreign place, but this time as a family of three.

When my husband was away at his meetings I skipped lunch or had a small bite at the hotel’s lounge. The idea of getting to a place and eating alone while managing the baby in a foreign city is overwhelming to me. Perhaps I should’ve put on a brave face and given it a try, but instead I ate through our stash of “emergency” Larabars.

Dinner was much less glamorous during this visit to Tokyo. Most days, I put the babe down for his afternoon nap at 3:30 or 4pm, only to learn that he was down for the night! Jet lag is a whole new beast with a small baby who has yet to reliably sleep through the night and can’t tell you what time of day it is.

Since going out to dinner was off the table, we resorted to takeout most nights. The Tokyo Midtown shopping mall was in the same building as our hotel, so the hubs picked up pho and curry after work. We ate quietly, sharing stories from our days while the baby slept. Fortunately, the bathroom in our hotel room was big enough to roll the crib into. Every night we put the baby to bed in his makeshift nursery so we could hang out with the lights on for a few more hours.

On our final night in Tokyo we managed to keep the baby up late enough to grab dinner at 5pm. On our walk back, I realized it was the first time I’d seen the city lights from outside our hotel room.

Being out of place and out of routine is disorienting. It is one of the things that makes travel hard. It’s one of the things that makes travel so wonderful. In these past 8 months of baby-raising, I have learned to cozy up with discomfort. I have nestled into the unfamiliar.

That youngish woman in the hotel bar would have smiled and nodded if I told her about our life in a few years. She would be excited, perhaps a little envious about the prospect of marrying the man she loved and raising a little baby together. She might even mention that it looks like “future me” has my act together. I would assure her that we’re all just making this up as we go along.

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Departure Times

Departure Times | kaileenelise.com

“Wherever you go becomes a part of you somehow.”
(Anita Desai)

My husband and I went on our first international trip in 2013. It was a celebration of his graduation from business school, our recent engagement and cross-country move to Austin. I had never left the country and he’d only been on a few spring break trips.

We traveled to London, Paris, Rome, Cinque Terre, and Lucerne. We ate fancy dinners and toured museums. We wandered through parks and got lost a few times. We went on an epic hike along the cliffs of Cinque Terre and road a train through the Swiss Alps.

While we were in Paris, we had lunch at a small bistro with great TripAdvisor reviews. We arrived early and were the only people there besides the chef and server. It was a magic and memorable meals. The food was simple and delicious. The wine went down easy. The ambiance and service were comfortable. And we reveled in having the whole restaurant to ourselves.

At the end of the meal I asked my mister if we could come back next year. To the restaurant. To Paris. Or Europe. Or anywhere else on the map. This trip unlocked a new aspect of our relationship.

Removed from our everyday routine, we connected on a deeper level. We had to rely on each other in new ways. Even through delays, mishaps, and jet lag, we thrived.

So when I asked, it was with hopeful expectation. Even before our trip was over, I wanted to be back. But he was starting a new job and we had a wedding to plan. There were no signs that we’d have the time, money, or ability to travel again soon.

And yet. Life works in mysterious ways.

It ended up that my husband’s work took him across the world and since I worked from home, I was able to travel along. We visited more than 10 countries since our first big adventure. And we went back to our favorite restaurant in Paris every year for three years in a row.

In 2016 we took a break from our travels for a different kind of adventure. We welcomed our baby into the world last July. And just like that first big trip, our bond has grown deeper with each challenge and surprise.

We’ve taken a handful of trips to introduce our babe to family and friends who live in other states. but today we are leaving for two weeks in Japan. As we embark on his first big adventure I am filled with nervous anticipation. Door-to-door our journey will be nearly 24 hours! For a seven month old, that’s a lot to ask!

And yet. I have to believe.

I have to believe this baby, who traveled to Australia in utero, will surprise us and amaze us and rise to the occasion. And I have to believe that as his parents we will make this trip magical… like that lunch we shared in Paris. Unexpected. Wonderful. The three of us together out enjoying the world.

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Love Letter

Love Letter | kaileenelise.com

“We are shaped and fashioned by what we love.”
(Gothe)

Years ago when my husband and I first started dating, we liked to watch YouTube videos together. Most of our favorites were funny or inspiring and my husband always found the best ones to share with me.

I will never forget the first time we watched Carl Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot video. We were in his first apartment out of college. A tidy, well-decorated bachelor pad with a cushy tan sofa and glass coffee table. He had a desk in the corner of his bedroom where he played hours of online poker after work.

We sat at the desk with me perched on his lap and listened to Sagan’s perspective-bending words. The world and all its existence feels so very big, but relative to the universe it is all very small. Watching the video together made me realize that we saw the world better looking at it side by side, hand in hand.

The other day I set out to write a love letter to anyone, anything, an idea, a concept, a moment, an item, a noun, a verb, a phrase. There are a million things to love and I’m too tired to pick just one.

I sat on the couch in black leggings and a top knot with my husband snoozing next to me and our baby napping upstairs. Out of the three of us, I am the most sleep deprived. Yet, I found myself awake, watching my two favorites sleep, and thinking about a love letter.

Should I write to coffee? It has always been special to me, but we’ve become even closer since I became a mother. Or should I write to chubby baby thighs? They are squishy and delightful in every way. Should I write a letter to my grandmother? To sunshine? To quiet stillness?

I ought to write a letter to my pillow. Or wine. Or a good book. Or a hot bath with epsom salts and essential oils. Or to the color gray. Or stripes. Or, even better, gray stripes.

Perhaps I should write to those evening dad’s-home-from-work kisses. Or delicious home cooked dinners and Saturday nights in. Or to gratitude, forgiveness, luck, and hard work. Or to being in the right place at the right time.

Or maybe I should write to the terrible things that we survive and learn from… like cancer treatments, surgery, hard decisions, and fateful coincidences.

There are too many things in this life to love and I am too tired to pick just one. Fresh air. Clean water. The Eiffel Tower, Amsterdam canals, or the bustling streets of Hong Kong. Neighborhood restaurants and friendly grocery store cashiers.

I could write a love letter to love letters. Exchanged between two young souls, or an aunt and her niece, or friends who met through their blogs. Or the post-it notes scribbled between a busy husband and wife, always signing off with an ‘xoxo’.

I should write a love letter to the universe, this tiny pale blue dot and everything within it. To having a life that’s full and busy and happy and tiring and to the people that make it all worthwhile.

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Run Like Hell

Run Like Hell | kaileenelise.com

“Movement is the best form of medication. Anytime you move, it makes your brain sharper. It makes your mind sharper.”
(Conon McGregor)

There was a time when I took up running and I was always astonished by how much ground I could cover with my own two feet. Of course, many people have discovered this before me. Humanity has run, walked, and meandered all over… for all of time.

Yet, I was often surprised by how I could start in one place, go go go, and return to where I began. Running taught me to rely on myself, to trust my body, to listen to my intuition. Running was a mirror that revealed parts of me I never knew were there. Running became a time to let my thoughts tumble around in my mind. Sometimes the worst ones would shake out onto the pavement, leaving behind a therapeutic trail of sweat and bad ideas.

There were mornings when I hated running. My angry feet pounded the ground in a clear display of their disapproval. My lungs burned, my head ached, my feet bled. Each quarter mile was a struggle. But I had other experiences that made the hard runs worthwhile. Those magical mornings made me love running. My muscles were spring loaded and my lungs were balloons that lifted my whole body a few inches above the ground. I felt like I could go forever. On and on and on, my thoughts like tiny sparkling pebbles jingling beautifully in my mind.

I stopped running two years ago, a few months into my pregnancy. I dreamt of being one of those women who runs a half marathon at eight months pregnant, but that dream was better left on my pillow. As my belly grew, the physical discomforts of running outweighed the mental benefits. So I trusted my body, listened to my intuition, and started walking instead. I walked and walked and walked, my thoughts clattering around as I navigated our neighborhood. Walking became such an integral part of my pregnancy that on an especially hot summer afternoon, I walked 2 miles and gave birth exactly 12 hours later.

I dreamt of being one of those mamas who loads her baby into the jogging stroller and trains for her next big race. But I still have no desire to run, so I’m leaving that dream on my pillow for now. My baby and I walk and walk and walk through our neighborhood while my thoughts rattle around. Some of the worst ones still shake out like they did during my runs years ago. But I’ve noticed the best ideas bubble up to the surface more easily, maybe because I’m moving much slower these days.

These ideas of mine, the worst and best, the bad and good, the ugly and beautiful, need a new place to go. Instead of hitting the pavement, I am sitting down at my computer, but I am still running like hell. As I let my thoughts spill onto paper, I am reminded that writing is also a good mirror. It can feel scary and hard and leave marks and bruises, but the words can also pour out magically and effortlessly and answer questions I didn’t even know to ask.

Maybe I will look back someday and say, there was this time when I took up writing. Because I am astonished by how much ground I can cover with my thoughts and words. Of course, maybe people have known this truth before me. Humanity has written, rambled, and shared stories all over… for all of time.

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