How a Dress with Pockets Can Cure Everything.

Originally featured on Elephant Journal April 26, 2017

I love my dresses with pockets.

I have at least four. One in cream linen with fuchsia and lavender wildflower print, one in white muslin with burnt orange embroidery, one in slippery man-made fabric with hot pink ornate vases, and one in studious black cotton with white lace.

Most importantly, they all have functional pockets.

 Any time I was sick growing up, my mom’s advice always included putting something nice on (after drinking a glass of water, of course). As a teenager, I humored her. I didn’t believe there was any way that getting out of my comfy pajamas would actually get rid of my headache. Until, of course, I got out of my comfy pajamas and my headache went away.

My mom was unwittingly channeling Chögyam Trungpa and his teachings on inner drala. Psychologically, it’s similar to “fake it until you make it,” and I can attest that it works.

When we look good, surprisingly we feel better.

Dressing is a way of communicating with the world around us. For better or worse, we dress according to gender norms, wealth, religious beliefs, activities, culture, age, body shape, and the weather. We most often dress for others before we dress for ourselves. We meet work dress codes, uniforms, and society’s relentless expectations.

Getting dressed each day can quickly become a chore.

But we have a choice. We can choose instead to dress joyfully.

My teenage self would be loath to admit it, but my mom was onto something. In the same way that clearing and cleaning the space around me instantly improves my mood, I always feel better after putting on an outfit and jewelry that I love. It’s like magic. When I lived alone and insomnia kept me up in the middle of the night, I’d try on my fanciest clothes just…

Read the full article here.

Decadent, Raw Vegan Truffles even the Carnivores in your Life will Love. {Recipe}

Originally featured on Elephant Journal April 16, 2017

Many moons ago, I was vegan.

I never adopted a raw-food-only diet, but I surrounded myself with plenty of people who did. Now, not so much.

 My husband proudly tells my family that he “cured” me of my hippie-food ways. He likes to think so. Deep down—actually not so deep—I’m still a pure food foodie. I just camouflage these tendencies by eating almost everything now.

But there are a few holdovers from my vegan-dominated diet that will never disappear from my life. This raw, vegan truffle recipe is one of them.

It was inspired by a friend from college. She made a variation of these and I devoured them, even though they weren’t meant for me. I kind of felt terrible, but not enough to actually stop eating them.

I’m not always good at following recipes. When I cook, I make most dishes based on the ingredients on hand. This drives my husband nuts. He’s an engineer, so when he cooks, measurable numbers rule the kitchen. He will often make a dish without ever tasting it before serving. I find this sacrilegious, but it works for him.

Me? I cook with approximations. I cook based on what I’m hungry for, or what happens to appeal to me. Sometimes, dill makes it into every dish I prepare during the week. Sometimes I crave fresh mozzarella and it sneaks into my shakshuka recipe.

I use a lot of loose guesstimates when measuring too. I make a Moroccan carrot soup, and it’s different every single time I make it. Sometimes, I vary the ratios based on my mood. Because of this, I’ve never actually written down one of my recipes—until now.

This means that I had to whip up a new batch of these truffles—oh no! And sample a few—or a lot. They’re practically vitamins, so feel free…

Read the full article here.

Why I’m Writing my own Obituary.

Originally featured on Elephant Journal April 1, 2017

I once read that big publications ask journalists to keep obituary drafts on celebrities so that they can quickly publish in the event that one of them meets their ultimate demise.

Although this seems morbid, it’s also practical. I was recently reading a 3,500 plus word obituary published within hours of the death of a public figure in Ireland, and I was struck by how deep and thorough it was. In comparison, the obituaries of beloved local members of my community—oft written by loved ones—were rather shallow and fleeting.

This bothered me.

We’re all a bit voyeuristic. I can’t be the only one who reads obituaries of people I don’t know and have never met. The obituaries that I find most touching are the ones that reveal the humanity and uniqueness of a person.

How did they live in ways like no one before them? What can I learn from their lives? What stories did they embody in flesh and bone that will live on in the memories and hearts of those still here?

I started considering my own life and what I want to be remembered by. There are the basic facts: name, date of birth, age, eventual death details. But aren’t we all more than just dates and numbers?

My brother and I have had a long-standing pact that we will write each other’s obituaries. He has the same infatuation with language that I have, and a keen ability to reveal truths.

But instead of leaving it all up to my brother (and to chance), I decided to draft my own obituary.

Let me be clear: I’m not doing this because I think we should live in a state of fear that death is around every corner; rather, we should live in the knowledge that life is full and…

Read the full article here.

How the Deepest Massage of my Life Brought me Back to my Body.

Originally featured on Elephant Journal March 28, 2017

A month ago in Dubai, I had the deepest massage of my life.

As the massage therapist stretched, pulled, and pressed on my sore exhausted flesh, I immediately knew this massage was different.

Like so many of us, I often walk around somewhere up in my head and barely notice my feet meeting the earth. This tendency to live in my mind is what compelled me to play competitive sports as a child, then find yoga and dance as an adult.

Although my habit is to live up in my comfy cerebral space, my body craves being lived in. Sometimes vigorously, but mostly just actively, even if it happens in fits and spurts. I’ll spend days not doing much intentional movement and then I’ll get the itch and dream of running—sprinting down my street. Or I’ll get the taste of cobwebs on my skin and I need to move. Now. Jump. Stretch. Shimmy. Climb something until my chest heaves and sweat makes dusty rivulets down my legs.

I love massage and I’ve had my fair share of them—in seven different countries. I adore the ritual. I crave the therapeutic benefits. I need the relaxation. I cherish the self-care.

My mother introduced me to the magic of massage when I was a teenager. After getting professional massages together as a birthday treat, my mom decided on a whim to buy a massage table. Her intention was to give me and my brothers all the benefits of massage from the comforts and ease of home.

I can remember one sunny summer day she set the table up in the grass of our backyard and gave each of us a sugar scrub rub that ended with a run through the sprinkler. Unfortunately her dream was…

Read the full article here.

Do we need another Reason to Adore Prime Minister Justin Trudeau?

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-38960035

Originally featured on Elephant Journal March 15, 2017

About a month ago, while crossing from the United States into Canada, two men lost almost all fingers to frostbite in their desperation to seek refugee status.

“Asylum seekers are illegally crossing from the US into Canada in growing numbers hoping to receive refugee status. One small prairie town in southern Manitoba has become the nexus point for migrants who have lost hope in the US.

Mohammed says he once viewed the US as a beacon for human rights and a place that welcomed newcomers but ‘when we came, we didn’t see that.’”

Where is our outrage?

Like most Americans, I am ashamed to admit that I’ve become jaded to the plight of refugees. We read about climate refugees fleeing water shortages and famines. We hear about Syrian refugees fleeing bombs and desolation. We see boats filled with children drowning on a weekly basis. Rarely does the latest tragedy pierce our comfortable bubbles and actually force us to stop and think about what is happening outside our families and our homes.

I was horrified—stomach in my mouth, tears streaming down my face—while watching the interview with these two men. Being from Alaska, I grew up with a healthy appreciation of the seriousness of frostbite. But that’s not why. This isn’t happening in Europe or the Mediterranean—this is happening here at home.

Instead of finding the “Land of the Free,” and rather than waiting to see what policy changes come next from the new administration, desperate immigrants are leaving the U.S. and walking across the sometimes frigid, snow-covered border into Canada.

Sound familiar?

Many of the undocumented immigrants entering the U.S. from Mexico are Central Americans fleeing from violence in their home countries. It’s an ongoing American delusion to think that we have a monopoly on…

Read the full article here.

Mindfulness in the Pediatric Ward.

Originally featured on Elephant Journal Feb. 2, 2017

Being in the hospital gives me PTSD.

Like actual PTSD. My breathing is shallow and fast, I start feeling trapped and claustrophobic. I sweat. The really smelly kind of sweat. My mind fills with a torrent of fear that drowns out all other thoughts.

And to my horror, when I get angry at not being heard, I cry. When the tears burn down my face, I become even angrier that I’m crying and less able to speak up. 

This is why when I told my husband a year ago that we were going to have a baby, I also told him I’d like to have our baby at home. He was already familiar with most of my hospital traumas, including the discovery that I’m allergic to two common medications—after they were pumped into my IV. Twice.

I’ve been rushed into emergency surgery 3,000 miles away from home and I’ve spent a week as a medical test subject. I also have the type of veins phlebotomists dread. It takes three sticks on average for a needle to find a suitable spot. I once sprayed a two foot stream of blood across a wide-eyed nurse. 

After a month or so of petitioning for a home birth, he finally agreed and we found the most extraordinary midwife. We had a healthy pregnancy and a dream birth at home. Six hours of calm in a safe space with no medical intervention and full-on mindful breathing resulted in a healthy, happy, eight pound, 15 ounce bundle of joy.

All of our intentional avoidance of hospitals has now flown right out the window. 

Today is my second day in the pediatric ward hovering over my three month old son as he struggles to breathe. It’s taken me two days, two long exhausting days to wake up. Entering the hospital through the Emergency Room is like being placed on a…

Read the full article here.

Why Does My Baby Smell Like Tapas? And Other Absurd Questions of Motherhood.

“So how’s being a mother?”

To be fair, I’m guilty of it too. Making small talk is awkward and it seems like a harmless question. I know I’ve asked it without any real idea what I was asking.

It’s really an absurd question. Each time I see someone for the first time since having little one, it’s been close to the first thing out of each person’s lips. I don’t blame them. Maybe it’s me. I never know how to answer. I get a goofy smile on my face and say “I love being his momma!”

Which is completely true. I don’t know how I feel about being a mother in general yet, but I love being my little one’s.

After that, I don’t know what to say. I kind of wrap my arms around myself in an imaginary hug of our son, or if I’m actually holding him when they ask, I look down, smile, and give him a squeeze.

Then I sort of wait. Because how do you explain motherhood in a handful of sentences in the same manner as discussing the weather? Most of the time, I get a smile and a “oh that’s wonderful!” Sometimes I get a quick peek into someone else’s crazy postpartum experience. Raw authentic words that cut quick to the heart of the transition from being Not A Mother to being A Mother. Then the moment is gone and we’re back to discussing the actual weather.

It’s absurd.

It feels like a quick dip into the swift underground river passing under all of our feet. Motherhood. We don’t like to get too deep and be whisked away-just enough to feel the force of the river and then back to solid ground. Now that I know it’s there, it’s hard to ignore.

I’m extremely fortunate. I had the dream labor and birth that we planned. A quick, safe, transformative experience. We have a happy healthy (barring colds-damn you colds) little boy. I haven’t experienced any trauma postpartum or PPD. I know a lot of women do. I’d like to find a better way of honoring their experiences with a better question. And the time to actually hear their answers.

So far, motherhood is full of absurd questions. Like, “is the milk stain surrounding my entire nipple area and half my boob super noticeable?” Or “why doesn’t this outfit come in my size?” Or “did you pee on me again?” Or “why does my baby smell like tapas?”

I found myself saying this last one out loud a few weeks ago. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why little one smelled like a hummus platter. I hadn’t eaten anything nearly so delicious for longer than I could remember. So it wasn’t from breast milk. That also means I couldn’t have accidentally spilt anything on him.

The smell slowly dissipated and I forgot all about it. A few hours later the smell came back while little one was practicing jumps and kicks in my lap. He was warm and I was starting to crave flatbread and small plates.

It took me an embarrassingly long time to realize what was causing the smell. Little one loves bath time. Sometimes I almost think he purposely has poo explosions to get back in the bath. After each bath, I make a nest of towels and give little one a baby massage. With olive oil.

Each time he was getting warm, the olive oil was too. Mystery solved. Go figure. If it’s good enough to eat, it’s good enough to put on the skin.

I blame the delayed realization on the absurdest question of all:

“Is your baby sleeping through the night?”

Bwahahahahahahahaha.

10 Things to Do Instead of Yelling at the News

I’ve spent a lot of time the past few days huffing and rawring at the news. Crying even. All of my sacred cows are being slaughtered in this new administration. I expected to be incensed, but I thought I’d get at least a few days respite in between each time I need to donate or make a phone call to my Senators or get out and protest. Apparently not.

So in order to stay sane since we are only ten days into the next four years, I’m going to commit to doing these ten things when I. Just. Can’t.

  1. Hug my little one. With the overwhelming despair that comes crashing down on my shoulders each time I open BBC News or the NYT or my Facebook feed–I’m recommitting to spending quality time with our three month old. During the day too often I turn to my phone, or CNN, or my laptop for a distraction. After the first few weeks of breast-feeding a newborn at all hours of the night, I stopped turning to my phone while nursing at night. For one, my googling was diagnosing my new baby with all manner of rare disorders and second, I was having a hard time getting back to sleep in between feedings. When your little one eats every hour and a half at night, those few minutes of sleep are precious. I’m fortunate to be able to stay home with our son. Even when I’m exhausted and my nipples are sore, I have been peed on for the second time in two hours, and my hair is a frazzled halo around my head–I’m trying to stop and remember that these precious moments won’t last. I’m savoring them while I have them. No matter what is going on in the world, taking the time to make my little one giggle is good for both of us.
  2. Eat. As a new mom I’m good at forgetting this one. I was good at forgetting this one when I was working before baby came too. Having a small child just compounds the consequences of not putting something in my mouth. Now. I get hangry. Niall is good at gently suggesting food or even better, putting something in front of me when I get so hungry that I think I’m no longer hungry and I feel weepy because the world is a disaster and everything hurts and I just don’t know what to do. Food. Put. It. In. My. Mouth. It’s simple and I guarantee that when I eat, the sun also comes out. The world is easier to handle on a full stomach. Preferably a slowly made, organic, free-range, in season, artisan meal. Or just a pickle. Really, I practically live off of condiments at the moment. That’s what I have time for. Surefire way of waking a sleeping baby? Make a cup of tea.
  3. Watch comedies. Seriously. I read constantly. I read a lot of depressing things. Niall is quick to point that out when I start telling him about all the things I’ve been reading. For my sanity’s sake I watch funny tv, funny movies, funny news shows.  Top of my list at the moment:@ Midnight, Blackish, Modern Family, Sherlock, and Full Frontal with Samantha Bee. I also sprinkle in The Daily Show, Top Chef, Project Runway, and lately a healthy dose of turning off the tv. I listen to podcasts too. Mostly Radio Lab, Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me, and This American Life. Alright, they’re not all comedies, but they do nourish me. Watch, listen, read for nourishment. Laugh. We have to laugh right now. Also, it’s all just filler until the next Outlander season starts.
  4. Surround myself with good people. Sounds obvious right? Spending time with people that bring out the best in me is good for everyone. They can be family, chosen family, even complete strangers in a place you feel welcome. At the Women’s March, I looked around and said “Yes! You are my people.” There were 1000 people marching in our small Palmer and I knew most of the them. It’s a comforting feeling to know that so many of my neighbors share my values. Even the complete strangers were good people. That includes online communities too. Fighting on social media tends to lead to fights in my real life. I take my online frustration out on those nearest my computer or my phone. Laugh with real people in real life. When our little one spit up all over Niall’s face while he was playing “Super baby!” I laughed so I hard I think I added five years to my life. Children are good for laughs. So is The Onion and Waterford Whispers News. 
  5. Make a list of my priorities. I’m not talking about a clean house or groceries or whatnot, I’m talking about my political values. I write them down. I sometimes create a hierarchy when it helps. I also add what I can do about them and organizations I care about to donate my time and money. Also get to know your elected officials so they can enjoy hearing about your priorities. Here are a few of mine:
    1. Reproductive health: Planned Parenthood
    2. Immigration: ACLU
    3. Refugee assistance: RAIS
    4. Community building: Radio Free Palmer
    5. News: NPR
    6. DVSA: Alaska Family Services
    7. Global education: Alaska World Affairs Council
    8. Community gardens: Grow Palmer
  6. Dress up. This is one from my incredibly insightful Momma. When I was sick growing up, her advice (after drinking a glass of water) always included putting something nice on. Something that made me feel good. Because when you look good, surprisingly you feel better. She was unwittingly channeling Chögyam Trungpa and his teachings on personal drala. It’s similar to ‘fake it until you make it’ and I can attest that it works. I always feel better after a shower and putting on an outfit and jewelry that I love. It’s like magic. When I lived alone and I was up in the middle of the night, I’d try on my fanciest clothes just because it felt good to do so. Now, when I can’t possibly drag myself off of the couch and out of my pjs, I put on a cute dress and earrings that hopefully I can a) breast feed in or else I flash whoever else is nearby and b) my baby doesn’t rip out of my ears. Sometimes I can only wear said outfit until the next hungry cry or watery burp, but even those few minutes are enough to shift my mood for the better.
  7. Move. Any kind. When it’s -25 degrees F, I dance around the house with my little one in my arms. Sometimes I ski. Sometimes walking up and down the stairs fifteen times to get another baby outfit or wash another load of baby blankets is enough. When I have a cooperating little one, I practice yoga. With or without the baby sitting on my sternum. I try to get outside as much as possible. Fresh air is almost as important as moving. But not when it’s psycho cold out, that’s what the treadmill is for.
  8. Make something. It can be anything. I excel at approx. 10 rows of stitching. The last thing I knitted to completion was a baby hat two days before our little one was born. The keys to its completion were that I had a pretty fast approaching deadline and that it only took me about an hour. I’m a fan of surrounding myself with pretty things. I like to make journals with old magazines and some cardboard and a lot of blank paper. Sometimes I sketch, mostly I make plans to make something, but when I do–oh the feeling is like a mini victory. Mini because I usually only have time for something small. Sometimes I arrange the magnets on the fridge into a pleasing pattern and that feels like enough.
  9. Clean my ears. This is probably just me, but cleaning my ears with a q-tip is one of my absolute favorite things. I don’t know what it is. Maybe it feels as close to swiping out the cobwebs from my brain as I’d like to get physically. There is something just decadent about cleaning my ears in the middle of the day. I also have to pause and stand still for a moment. I’m not the type to clean on the go. I really savor those few seconds. Especially when I don’t get a whole lot of alone time these days.
  10. Sleep. Haha. This one is a joke. Sleep. Yeah, everyone knows that sleep is necessary/divine/better than sex–elusive. This is wishful thinking on my part. 

I’ll be practicing these ten. They’re good for the soul even without the shadow of the next four years looming.

Gahhhhhhh! I just made the mistake of looking at the news. I’m going to go do #9, #1, and maybe, just maybe #10. Here’s to retaining my sanity and maybe becoming a better person in the process.

 

Whispers

Havelock whiteout

June 2012

In need of a welcome distraction from the heavy law homework I should be completing, I have chosen instead to ruminate on this last year. It has been quite epic. Not an obnoxious exaggeration I’m afraid.

As those who have braved my previous verbose blog entries, or those who have suffered through my long drawn out in-person verbal soliloquies can attest, a lot has happened.

It has been the most simultaneously exhilarating and terrifying year of my nearly quarter of a century.

It began with the serendipitous and charmed introduction of a special someone on a beach in India. A handsome someone. A funny someone. Someone whom I fell madly in love with. After 3 months of heart opening study of Odissi dance, this Irish someone stepped in and captured said heart with ease.

Since this extraordinary moment, we’ve travelled, we’ve laughed, and we’ve cried. We’ve said hello and goodbye too many times to count. We’ve kept track of time zones and schedules, immigration policies and transatlantic flights. We’ve made skype dates and lunch dates. We’ve spent harrowing times apart and blissful moments together. And yet, we keep choosing the efforts of love.

This is despite the interference of immigration and legal authorities. Despite two cancer scares in 6 months and numerous court dates. I have a new constellation of surgical scars scattered across the canvas of my belly and he  sports new grey symbols of a stressful year hidden amongst dark curls.
~

Sometimes the boundaries of the world are deceptively thin. At times I believe I can reach out and touch the confines, beguile the world to reveal her secrets and her charms.

Other days, the world is a positively strange and terrifying place.

Besides the pain or loss of a loved one, my deepest fear is quite simply:

Immigration.

There is nothing more upsetting then being threatened with deportation for multiple hours.

This is after being detained by immigration and threatened with deportation for multiple hours.

So much to write…

Fields of Sunflowers and Morning Spirits Part I

Ok, so I lied. You did have to wait longer for this one. What can I say. Well, a lot as you might imagine.

Much has happened since last I wrote. Of course. Before I get to the new (and oh is there new), I will share my travels to my ancestral homeland in July.

~

Slovakia. Ahh..I love the syllables. Four. I counted. Not the kind of country you can say quickly. You pause. Letting the sounds rest on your tongue. Like savoring a square of deep dark chocolate. Allow it to melt. Contemplate the complexity, appreciate the richness. Finished with a sigh *ahh* on the out breath.

My cousin Roman describes the difference between the Czech and Slovak languages in the way of cadence. Czech is spoken with a continual rise in intonation until the end of a sentence, like climbing to the zenith of a mountain peak, over and over. Slovak is spoken with the cadence of one strolling over the hills and valleys of the Orava region. Picture a sine graph, rising and falling like the gentle sounds of a bubbling brook. In one word, soothing.

Imagine: fields of sunflowers with upturned faces. Rugged mountain peaks. Wide river valleys. Cliff top castles. Alpine cottages. Accordion serenaded garden parties. Central/Eastern European life, post-communism. Roman Catholicism. Slovak. Beautiful family and friends.

Slovaki-wha? Don’t be ashamed if you just looked up Goggle maps to locate this gem of a country. You aren’t the only one.

Niall: “How is Slovenia today?”

Kenni: “You mean Slovakia?”

Niall: “Yeah, that’s what I said, Serbia.”

~

My journey to Slovakia is a complex one, yet fundamentally so simple. A desire to unearth a lost branch of my family.

Last summer (2010) I was conducting family research. Easier said than done when the majority of your family comes from a non-English speaking part of the world. Identity is central to my studies at university (Naropa University, www.naropa.edu). What better place to start than to unravel the multi-colored quilt of my own?

Psenak. Most if not all of you, know how to pronounce my surname. It’s unique (until I found a village of Psenaks in Slovakia, but more on that later). Growing up with an unfamilar surname was a blessing and a burden at times. (Often compounded by being a girl named Kenni. Thanks Mom and Dad. It built character, I’m sure. ) Mispronunciations are common, only to be expected. “Pisshnack?”

But on the brighter side, I can categorically say I am the only Kenni Psenak in the world. I think that’s quite nice, although I was always a little sad when doing name meanings, family crests and such in school.  My teacher would invariably come back with a sympathetic look and “sorry, we can’t find any information on your name.”

But I did.

The next bit is a bit dense. Family trees tend to be that way.

Back to last summer. I had been scouring online for information on my Dad’s family for months when I brought a packet of printed out documents to my Grandfather with information on the birthplace and immigration of his father, John (Jan) Psenak. My Grandfather had always been told that his parents were from Czechoslovakia (Mother) and Austria (Father). After wading through countless ship manifests and naturalization, census and draft records I found my Great Grandfather Psenak. According to the documents, my Great Grandfather Psenak was born in Medzibrogy, Hungary which at the time was part of the Austria-Hungarian Empire, later found in Czechoslovakia and finally a small village in the Orava region of northern Slovakia. I was elated.

I brought the information to my Grandfather and shared while my cousin was visiting. We began asking my Grandfather more about his elusive Mother’s family, the Pohancenys, the ultimate mystery. All that my Grandfather knew, was that his Mother (Margaret Pohanceny) immigrated to the US with her family from Czechoslovakia. As a teenager in Ohio, she returned home to an empty house and suspected that her father, stepmother, and baby half sister had returned to Czechoslovakia, leaving both her and her younger sister Josephine in Ohio.

My Grandfather also mentioned a cousin Don (son of his Mother’s sister Josephine) that my Great Grandmother briefly raised in Ohio after the death of her beloved sister (Josephine).

Fortified with this new information, my cousin began to search for my Grandfather’s cousin Don (the only one we knew of) somewhere in the US. Serendipitously she found him. Not only did she find Don Sole, she found a newsletter he had written about his search for his mother’s family (my Great Grandmother Margaret Pohanceny’s family). Lo and behold, they were alive and well in the village my Great Grandmother grew up, Medvedzie, Slovakia (once part of Czechoslovakia) a stone’s throw from the village of my Great Grandfather Jan Psenak.

My aunt contacted Don and a whole new family blossomed across the US and Slovakia. My Grandfather’s aunts (including the baby half sister that was born in the US) were recently passed, but the descendants (my Grandfather’s first cousins and children) were living in Slovakia, mostly in or near Medvedzie. Don had been in contact with the family for the past decade, including multiple trips to visit. All that had been missing from Don’s research were the whereabouts of our family, the descendants of Magaret (Margita) Pohanceny (Pohancena). Like the final piece of a jigsaw, the puzzle finally made sense.

I, of course, started to plot.

Not in the sinister evil doer sort of plot (I watched “Despicable Me” for the second time last night), more the “how do I work travelling to Slovakia to visit my family into my studies?” sort of way. As you do. I’m sure everyone has been there.

I found a way.

A year ago, my aunt put me in touch with Don’s family and from there in touch with the family in Slovakia. Specifically, the brilliant Roman. My cousin of the same generation, the sole fluent English speaker of our family in Slovakia. Not only was Roman absolutely indispensable as translator, guide, event coordinator and general wealth of information, we soon found that we had much more in common than mere blood. I could not have asked for a better resource or friend once I reached Slovakia. Thank you Roman.

I spent last fall semester drafting and implementing my master plan:

1) Take Spring 2011 semester to fulfil independent study and Honors Directed Research and Reading credits for my interdisciplinary studies

2)Complete these studies abroad while being enrolled 6 credit hours

3)Spend the semester (Jan-April 2011) studying Odissi Classical Indian and Kalbeliya Gypsy dance in India (independent study of devotional dance and folkloric dance) and Honors Directed Reading of Performance as a Means of Social Change in the Balkans

4)Leave India and follow the Roma migration from India into Eastern Europe conducting research (Honors Directed Research)

5)First stop; Turkey May 2011

6)From Turkey overland into Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary and finally Slovakia June 2011

7)Visit family in Slovakia July 2011

8)Return to Boulder Aug 2011

9)Back to Naropa Fall 2011

 

As you might gather from previous posts, steps 6,8 and 9 were a bit compromised by the introduction of a certain tall, dark, handsome Irishman. As he likes to say, “the best laid plans….” (Robert Burns)

Instead of continuing to travel through Turkey and up through the Balkan Peninsula, I found myself in the Channel Islands. Soon to feel unwelcome by the immigration authorities and left with no choice but to leave and resume step 7 of the Master Plan.

Enough background. Feel free to comb through previous posts to fill in any holes. If after that there are still glaring omissions and you are like me and like to know the details……. tough luck.

So there I was, July 6th, 2011 leaving Jersey in the Channel Islands and flying into Bratislava, Slovakia. Completely unprepared. I had been resolute about learning Slovak before reaching Slovakia, yet all I managed to accomplish was the ability to count to 10, say hello and notice the similarities with Russian (which I took a year of). Not even “thank you.” It was a bit pathetic. On top of it all, this was my first venture into continental Europe. I must be in a very select club of North American people whose first taste of Europe is Slovakia.

I was a combustible mixture of terror and elation upon arrival in Slovakia. I felt honored to be the first of my Grandfather Psenak’s family to return. I also felt the weight of that responsibility. In the taxi from the airport to my hotel in down town Bratislava, it was all I could do not to break down into a sobbing basket case in the back seat. Not because I was sad to leave Niall in Jersey (which I was), not because I am scared to travel on my own (which I’m not), not because the driver was playing terrible techno club music (which unfortunately he was) but because I remembered the little girl I had once been. Dreaming of finding family on the other side of the world, about as far away from Palmer, Alaska as you could possibly get.

As I gazed up at the beautiful, rubenesque moon that night, filling the sky above Bratislava with warm lunar light, tears silently escaped the confines of my normally less sentimental tear ducts. Tears for my Great Grandmother Maragret who never knew what became of her parents. Tears for my Grandfather who has never met his family or seen the land of his parents. And tears for the little girl I once naively was. The one who dreamt of one day travelling to the land in her imagination where Psenak is easy to pronounce and family mysteries would be easily revealed. She was soon to discover that she was the one pronouncing Psenak incorrectly and family mysteries only deepen.

As cliche as it sounds, I genuinely could feel the embrace of the land of my ancestors. I knew I was home.

~

I’d like to think it was the spirit of the land and not the familiar stop signs in English. Or cars driving on the right side of the road. Or the friendly hotel clerk looking at my passport in confusion. “You are from Alaska? But you have a Slovak name.”

These were my impressions of Slovakia, night one. I still had another two weeks of exploring Bratislava (attempting to walk to Vienna, not the brightest idea), meeting beautiful family in Orava, eating meat for the first time in over three years (sausage no less), wandering the old church cemetery looking for relatives, drinking whisky at 11 am (quickly followed by being pissed by 3 pm), speaking with gestures and smiles, soaking up the mountains, and learning the essentials of Slovak (pivo, vino, klobasa, dakujem, dobry den: beer, wine, sausage, thank you, and hello respectively sans the appropriate accents. Not necessarily in order of importance).

Well, I’ve written quite a lot without actually saying much. This must mean Part I is finished. In that case, I’ll leave you with a bit of food for thought.

I had a frightening realization while residing at Hotel Kyjev in Bratislava. Although my room was on the 17th floor, I rarely took the elevator. I made a point of taking the stairs. Some would interpret this as a phobia of elevators. If only it was so easy. Unfortunately, it’s a symptom of something much more sinister. *Cue old black and white horror film close up of a woman holding her face and screaming: I am becoming my mother.

I’m beginning to think like her. Don’t take the elevator, take the stairs. It’s good for your butt, she whispers in my ear. Thanks Mom. For those of you who know my Mom, you understand my concern. Just kidding. No really.

Perhaps it was foresight. The next two weeks did consist of large amounts of sausage, beer, gulas (pronounced gulash) and kolace (pronounced kolachies, pastries). I needed all the help I could get to keep those fatty calories off said bum.

But I digress. Next instalment will be sure to cover three very important things:

1) whether Kenni could still fit in her jeans when leaving Slovakia

2) how she lost a new pair of sunglasses the same way as the previous pair in Turkey

3) how absolutely extraordinary it was to finally meet the Pohancenys and the Psenaks

Stay tuned. But don’t hold your breath. Soon, I promise part II will come soon.

Lots of love.

Dovidenia (until we see us again)