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nayathe quirky way she laughs is a combination of borrowing observed behaviors and the pure joy she gets in repeating an exaggerated gesture: throwing back her head, a wide smile, eyes brilliant, an occasional hand at the mouth, and hearing the sound of her own voice tickle.

with an absurd rainbow-unicorn towel, she envelops herself in music and movement, uninhibited. here she loses the stifling self-consciousness that often comes with viewing eyes, the recording iphone. a hop here, a twirl there. this is raw experimentation and it’s beautiful.

moments in the backseat of the car, she weaves reality and fantasy in breathless story lines that prompt questioning for clarification. her listeners will never truly understand her three year old truth, one that shape shifts and forms organically without effort.

when asked occasionally if she wants to be four, she shakes her head no.
” I don’t want to be old. I want to be three.”

I wonder, then, where does it go? the rawness of life experience, the one I witness in being with my dear niece.

And then, I’m reminded, listening to poet Paul Muldoon explain simply the loss of our natural poets, children, as they grow:
“I’m afraid that, too often, it gets educated out of us.”

when did we learn so wrongly?

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Last October marked a year for us in Laos. As with most big things in life, it feels like yesterday and forever ago, simultaneously. That’s the deceiving thing about time.

Without letting more of it pass, I want to document things that have made the most impression on me in this brief stay.

Craig and I have affectionately called this year “an experiment”. In truth, it was a coping mechanism when things felt really scary. It was our out. Our reminder that decisions are not marked in stone. A way to maintain some lightness, to remain curious of the outcome.

It’s not been easy (far from it) to come to this decision but, our experiment is coming to an end. By mid December, we will say good-bye to Luang Prabang and the illusions we created. There is no doubt, though, that several life lessons follow me out. Here are a few.

1. The outsider’s perspective lacks experience. Living in the place you’ve vacationed is a new reality. Dealing with visas, where to go when you suspect you have malaria, and scrubbing down mold on kitchen cupboards is far from charming. This is not what’s envisioned on a week’s vacation of elephant rides and cooking classes.

2. If you want to work on your marriage, changing everything at once is probably not the best platform. Moving to a new country is difficult; we’d experienced that before. But, the career shift in a new country; now that kicked our asses. And, to top it off, Laos is not an easy place to live. I’ve heard in the last week more times than ever: Oh yeah, this place can cause a marriage to strain. Somehow, that’s comforting.

3. Heed your basic needs. Craig’s is feeling security-health care, a salary you can count on. Mine is feeling connected. While I am capable of making friends wherever we live, I have found that my family/friend connections from home are tugging harder than ever. Meeting those things that make you feel more safe and whole will enable your capability of facing challenges.

4. Mixing your passion with business is not necessarily an equation for instant happiness. Do what you love…is a slogan I can get behind. But, what if doing what you love results in loving it a little less? I can understand now why people are protective of their hobbies or passions.

5. Small town-ness has it’s limits for a city girl. I remember wondering if I would go crazy in a small place like Luang Prabang. Turns out, I do. Having regular city fixes adds to part of my sanity.

6. Opportunity comes in unexpected forms. A chance to design a hotel, open a yoga space, assist in programming a film festival; these things were amazing. Life surprises you when you let it.

7.  Letting go allows for the arrival of what’s next. There were weeks where we sat on the fence. Familiar messages swarmed around. Are we giving up? Shouldn’t we stick this out longer? We just moved our stuff here and have settled in-wouldn’t it be nuts to go now? There was the notion that we had something to prove, even if it caused us unhappiness in the process. Once we decided that it was best for us both to go, the concerns softened and suddenly, there was space.

After a year of piling on, this space is a gorgeous welcome.

My sister has been living overseas for 12 years-a year longer than I have. People often ask how it happened that we decided to country hop for a good chunk of our young adult lives. The short answer is: I don’t know.

Maybe we share a curious spirit or are intrigued with how others live. Perhaps it’s in our genes, remnants of a globetrotter ancestor’s trait we know nothing about. It could be a slight addiction too; new environment = excitement.

A few months ago, Monica and her hubby made the tough decision of leaving New Zealand. Recently, in conversation about NZ, these facts came up: there are no dangerous plants or insects there, you can bet on seeing fluffy sheep and at times, a penguin, and traffic is minimal. We joked, calling it a “fantasy island”. Yes, New Zealand is something else. Geographical gems aside, the people are great and there’s a general chillness about the place that makes you wanna stay. Hence, their three years there.

The Return was inspired by heart-string tugging of being near family and a few other big reasons. As she prepared her suitcases and sold off home items, I understood my sister’s bitter sweetness. There’s an aching in her heart at leaving a place she deeply connected with, the place her baby girl was born. What’s more, there’s a level of sadness at closing this chapter of the living overseas life, even if temporarily.

You see, there’s something that happens when you move internationally. At first, the tie home is taut-you know where you came from, your memories are fresh. Then, the years go by and your life’s experience spins in other places that bring certain growth and awareness. The tie home is still there, but maybe it’s a little looser; maybe more ties are made, creating a weave of identifying stories. Bits of home have been felt in other places, and coming back to where you started has changed for you. While there may be a lasting love of the place you grew up, the definition of home has expanded…globally.

There will be some challenges to this return. Like any other transition, the change of culture, environment, and values will require time for adaptation. Even though she’s from California, she’ll probably experience some culture shock.

But, like any other transition, time helps. Life fills up with settling in, sharing with people you love, and finding your way to contribute positively to the place you now call home.

i have a delicious memory.

it happened months ago when i was visiting monica, naya, and chris in new zealand. the two weeks were about spending time with them and i was in need of a good dose of family.

one afternoon while monica was making jewelry, i sat in the living room with my niece. on the floor, we went through her books, her toys, her stacking boxes. the bedsheet i was using on the couch was crumpled up beside me and i decided to lift it in the air above us. a parachute of bed linens. a small bubble from the space outside.

for a few seconds it ballooned around us and then slowly collapsed on our heads. naya’s reaction was a giggle.
i did it again.
the next was a squeal followed by laughter.
again.
a belly sound. eyes bright, smiling.
i couldn’t help myself; i laughed too.
time and time again, i joined her in unadulterated joy.
the high pitched  amusement tipped over into hilarity.
this was a purely present moment. nothing held back. nowhere else in my mind but there.

i have to say…those moments of mirth are special, unique…nothing short of a little angel to bring them out.

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Waking up to the call to prayer in the early light of day is really something. So is watching hundreds of monks collecting alms in their brilliant orange robes, a quiet ritual that elevates the senses. Having private salsa lessons in your living room, sharing an exchange with the rice cakes lady at the corner market, taking your shoes off before entering any interior, eating fresh fish and couscous offered by a neighbor, and riding a bicycle with the view of the Mediterranean are all experiences very high in life value.

These and countless other things have filled my life living overseas the past 11 years. Sometimes it seems there are no drawbacks to living this way. But, there is a cost. An experience like this could not be entirely free. Something is given up.

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I’ve had many conversations with others and myself (this usually happens when I’m riding a bike) around this concept of what we give up in any given chosen situation. At this moment as we weigh our options here in Laos, what comes up for me most is the incredible cost of missing family and friends. This has gone on for years! In some ways I feel plagued with this dual need of being in California and abroad. For the sake of simplicity, I wish I was someone who felt strongly drawn in one direction. The fact that I’ve had this split need has been limiting.

I lack being present. I lack genuine gratitude. In the longing of the “other” reality, I miss out.

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Recently in sharing this with a friend, she offered: Maybe you are simply a person who needs both. What? Is that just it? I’ve been hard on myself all this time for not leaning more to one side than another…disappointed that I wasn’t clear on that. Well, what if I’m just someone who finds equal value in both realities? Does that make me greedy or a lost soul? Maybe. But, maybe it makes me fortunate, lucky to have such opportunities, a richness in life.

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It all comes down to acceptance. Relish in the moments that nurture the heart. Carry that around.

(photos courtesy of my sister; model:  my niece, Naya Lucia}

Do you think this is just another day in your life? It’s not just another day. It’s the one day that is given to you. Today. It’s given to you. It’s a gift. It’s the only gift that you have right now and the only appropriate response is gratefulness. ~Brother David Steindl-Rast

Yesterday morning Craig replayed a TEDxSF – Louie Schwartzberg on Gratitude. In the middle of maneuvering open tabs on my computer, I stopped.

Gratitude. It’s a word shared loosely. Said often. Scribbled as a mantra on a wall. How many times have we heard our parents/mentors begin a sentence with…”Just be grateful that…”? It hangs at times as a reminder of obligation, much like needing to exercise or floss your teeth. Often, it is an effort, a conscious practice.

But, good things normally are.

Sitting on the balcony of our Chiang Mai hotel, it is day 3 since we left home to start the journey to Laos. It is overcast and breezy. At the back of the building, our view is of the trees and tin rooftops, the golden pointed peaks of Buddhist wats against rounded hills.

I am grateful for this and for…

…our health and pain-free living

…the love of family and friends who support even when it hurts

…opportunity, courage, and trust.

And you? What is your “thank you” for the day? 

Recently one of my best friends had a baby boy. This happened two months after my sister had a little girl. Everyone jokes that the two infants will grow up and be each other’s boyfriend/girlfriend. The idea delights me to pieces.

We can easily muse over an idea that seems so many years away. Thing is, time flies like crazy. Even though I still feel like I’m 26 years old…sometimes 13…okay, sometimes 5…I can see time make its mark on me and those around me.

The biggest time keeper is growing kids. I still can’t believe that my little cousins are as old as they are. I remember holding their hands to cross the street and calling them silly names like “my little pookie”. Try that now, and they’d shun me forever. These days, they are cool. They wear skinny jeans, sweep their skater hair from their face, and write Facebook statuses I can’t quite make out.

Yikes.

So, what does this mean?

That time is impermanent.That every single cliche about how “every second counts” and “there’s no time like the present” is down-right true. That waiting for the “right time” to quit your job, get in shape, change that relationship, pursue a new career, tell that person you love them, sell that house, start a family, stop smoking, tell that person to back off, book that flight elsewhere, write that novel, start dating again, sign up for that marathon, speak your truth, reach your stars, honor your journey…is the biggest piece off bull-shit ever because things keep happening even while we’re not looking.

And,

before we know it…

…our whole entire lives can be viewed in a 15 minute time lapse video.

So, here’s the question:

Is now the right time?

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