Always here.

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Kenya is watching the birds and I am watching Kenya. She sits on the porch railing with a cup of tea, watching the sun rise, and she is lovelier and more colorful to me than any bird, though I love watching them too. Her eyes follow a tumble of feathers as two birds quarrel and peck, flying through leaves and under branches. I know she is trying to identify them, as I did a moment ago.

“Do you like seeing birds you have already found?” I asked Chinua yesterday. He carries his bird book from country to country, checking apps and pulling out his binoculars at every chance. 

“It depends if I like the bird,” he said. There is a collector’s obsession to birding, and then there is the joy of calls and feathers.

I know I have seen a million bee eaters here in Arambol. They fly over and around me as I walk through the coconut grove, and I will never grow tired of them. Each one is perfect. There are weaver birds, magpie robins, parrots, tailor birds and crows. And more. The grove is alive with flying things. 

We arrived in Goa a few days ago, after a couple days in Chennai, walking through traffic, eating South Indian food and marveling at how the smells and sounds make us feel at home. Kenya cried tears of joy when we left the Chennai airport and came upon a row of taxi men, a stretch of auto rickshaws, and smoky, cluttered air, filled with a thousand different fragrances. To understand her joyful tears, you have to understand India, how it gets in your blood, how Kenya was raised in this land that seethes with life and every smell carries a memory. 

I am more complicated than my daughter. I am joyful in this place, and then also conflicted, feeling how my loyalty and longing for my home in Thailand ripples inside of me. I notice the constant change in my village and mourn the way the giant hotel crashes into our view of the hill I have always rested my eyes on. I love the sea and throw myself into it, and I stop to talk to an old friend who tells me her husband died recently. I enjoy my old house here, and feel penned in by the three story houses that have continued to grow around it. Life in India is change, constant and out of my control. 

The coconut trees are still here- the same ones Leafy hugged when we returned after our time in the mountains of North India. They were small here, and memories of their tiny bodies and chirpy voices are around each corner. And now my leggy daughter sits on the railing (the same marble porch where Leafy cut his head and turned into Optimus Prime) and her eyes seek the birds. Isaac throws himself into the waves. The coconut grove seems small now that no children cry as we walk through it. Rather, their long legs eat it up and we are home in moments. The morning is everything here, the orange sun lighting the trees with golden light. The birds are here with us. They are always here. 

A travel day.

This morning I am sitting on the porch at a friend’s house, listening to the calls of the koel birds and spotted doves and feeling completely content. A dog is licking my toe, my boys are swinging in the yard, and the air is still fresh, though it will be hot later.

We are on our way to India. We’ll be in Chennai tonight and Goa tomorrow night. I look forward to those extra senses that get awakened every time I go to India. I look forward to the coconut grove and the sea, to the fishermen and people in the village that I have known for years. I look forward to their expressions of awe when they see how tall Kai and Kenya have become, not so much to the inevitable comments about the weight I have gained. 

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We’ve had a lovely and eventful week. We left last Thursday for the Shamballa in your Heart festival, which is a Japanese music festival in the mountains, with Thai, Japanese, and international musicians. We camped in several tents and brought another friend along. To get everything there, we made a big tarp package on the roof of our car and then tied it up with bungee cords like a present. This is the second year that we’ve gone to this festival and we love it. The kids love being outside the whole time. It’s easy camping with bathrooms and foodstalls that are affordable. The vendors remembered us from the year before and one even had pictures of us on a little board that she had made. Our dear friend Aya is one of the organizers and she found ways for all of us to be involved. Chinua led a couple Open Voice Project workshops (teaching choral singing) and I got to do some live painting, collaborating with Kenya for the first time. 

The finished painting.

The finished painting.

I’ve dreamed of collaborating with her for a while, because our styles are so different (she is very much an illustrator, more talented that I can believe) and I think they would complement each other well. So it was a dream to do a live painting at one of the stages, listening to music and painting alongside my daughter. It felt like a dream I wouldn’t even have dared to have. So lovely.

I also remember going to the hotsprings with Ro, Lilli, and Becca under the stars, walking in the night to the little pools, getting back to the tent, sleepy and warm despite the chill in the air. Drinking coffee with Leaf in the morning. Listening to amazing jams with Chinua on mandolin, lovely guitarists, and a talented fiddle player. Guiding and attending Christ-centered meditation in the sleepy heat of the day. Music and dancing. The way Solomon loves festivals and music, joining in with Chinua’s workshop, singing and dancing his heart out. The kids running around all day, through rivers and to the top of giant rock piles. Bible circles as a bunch of people read through the book of Romans outside, beside a stream. 

I loved looking out at the stars above the tent flap. Sitting and watching and talking with people from all over the world. Ah, it was beautiful. 

Now we head off to the land that always holds part of my heart, off to dear Miri and the rooftop meditation space, to the sea and delicious food. It's a travel day, just one of many in our lives.

In Between.

Visa photo of a tired girl.

Visa photo of a tired girl.

It’s been rough. I feel burned out. And we are getting ready to go to India, which is restful and not, all at the same time.

This morning I have been taking some time just to feed the artist girl. Watching videos and listening to songs that inspire. I’ve had a lot of tasks lately. Marketing and bookkeeping. Making lists and travel plans. Family and homeschool. This is my home, but I sometimes I crumble under it all. 

The artist girl needs to be free. Rides on the bike. Running, listening to birds call in the morning. The darkness that calls me awake. Coffee. Sleeping in tents. Sleeping under trees. Watching the sky in all its different colors. Pictures keep me awake. I make mistakes in my words and with my own voice. I would rather sing than do anything.

I am a mother, artist, and wife. I am a writer, monk, and mystic. I am a follower and a leader. I wait in the morning for inspiration. I claw words out of my brain. I censor myself. I try to be true. I am always relating. Always a friend. Always longing for paint or pencil. Always a mess.

The blue sky calls me, asking me to fly in this dance between surrender and freedom.

Sometimes it is all too much. 

Sometimes I cannot hold myself to the schedule. Get the tasks done.

Sometimes all I can do is pray and wait.

Sometimes there is no action point, no way to fix it all. Just a way to live here and there. In the space between what God is calling me to, and what I am now. 

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Now you can support my writing on Patreon. Patrons can give as little as $1 a month, and get extra vlogs and posts. I'm so thankful for you! Your patronage shows your support for my writing, and it means so much to me. Patrons- the vlog and day in the life videos for January are up!

Dear Leafy Boy (a letter to my twelve-year-old son),

Goofball on the left.

Goofball on the left.

You are twelve and that is impossible. My dear, shining glittery one. The two year old who used to tell us, “I have so much love in my heart for you,” in your funny voice. My quirky boy, walking on furniture, dreaming your heart out. Twelve years old. Okay, deep breath, how strange it is—simultaneously—that you weren’t there twelve years ago, and that you have been in my life twelve years. 

(End mother rant about time passing and age, the stuff your dad says, “Yeah, Rachel, yes, yes, they are older, it’s true, that’s how it works…” about.) 

Everyone should have a Leafy Boy in their lives. Here are some of the things a Leafy Boy offers in our lives. 

- Humor (You wanted to cut a slice of pizza the other day and asked, “Does anyone have a knife… or a sharp hand?” and we all died. It’s your timing, the way everything you say is unexpected and funny.) 

- Quirk (Life would be boring without our Leafy boy.)

- Encouragement (the amount of times I have heard you pipe up in someone’s defense lately… even if they are just down on themselves) 

- Someone to explain all the things, including scientific things, to me. Lately I ask you more and more, “Where did you learn that?” after you explain tesla coils, or electricity, or the way boats work. “I read about it,” you say. 

- Someone to hug me first thing every morning. We call it my Leafy Hug. “Here’s your Leafy Hug,” you say, as you come into the studio to greet me and the day. 

- Quiet inventions. I expect great things in the future.

- A constant, loyal friend. 

- A fan. (You asked me yesterday if we couldn’t just give the immigration officers signed copies of my books instead of doing all this work and paying all this money, as though I am a star.) 

- Someone who makes great videos.

 

It is the very Leafiness of you that I love so much, the way you take the world in, the way your heart works in compassion, the focus you have, your belief that you will be able to build anything and everything. Your life in superhero worlds. The fact that Naomi told you to sing a little encouraging chant (“Mama is awesome”) while shuffling sideways like a crab and clacking your hands, and you did it. More than once. I love seeing you walk along with your arm looped around your sister's neck, hers around yours. I love the way you exploded with joy when you found out that Auntie Becca is coming to India with us. You have a big heart. Goodbyes mean a lot to you, and so does time that we get to spend with people we love.

A friend of yours moved away this year and it has been hard for you. I long for you to find another friend like him. There will be one. I know it. One of the best things about the friend you had was the way his family took you in and enjoyed who you are. It’s what want for you, for others to get to experience what I know about you, to get the Leafy zing and sparkle. Your three year old cousin gets it. As she said the other day, "Leafy, your magic comes from your nose." I would have to agree.

I think this year is going to be amazing. I love to see you marching through the world, walking your circles, thinking your thoughts. I can’t wait to hear more of them. I am so so so glad to have you dear one. You have a place in my heart that no one else does.

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Love,

Mama

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Now you can support my writing on Patreon. Patrons can give as little as $1 a month, and get extra vlogs and posts. I'm so thankful for you! Your patronage shows your support for my writing, and it means so much to me.

I don't want to forget...

Mom and Dad at the National Children's Day festivities. Dad is holding Isaac's balloon. (Not his own.)

Mom and Dad at the National Children's Day festivities. Dad is holding Isaac's balloon. (Not his own.)

Bad jokes from my dad that Kai always laughs at. 

Sitting with my mom at the bamboo bridges over rice fields, laughing at water buffalo who escaped their pen after a woman gathered them up and locked them in.

Devotion circles with my parents attending, singing and sharing in the circle. Hearing their voices in such a familiar way, in such a familiar place, but after a long time of being apart.

Having a second cup of coffee together in the late mornings.

My dad helping Solo get his bike fixed, Leafy build a project, or Neil and Chinua build a work bench at the garden.

My sister, Becca, turning up yesterday, all beautiful and laughing, getting hugs in the street as the younger boys caught sight of her. 

Dinners at our house, around our too-small table, cozy and happy. Papaya salad and fried chicken, sticky rice and corn on the cob. 

Eating cake for Dad's birthday and talking about what we love about him.

Sitting on the porch outside my house every afternoon together. 

Making quesadillas together in the kitchen. Brendan and Dad bonding over jokes. 

Going for a motorbike ride with my mom on the back, through rice fields and on narrow streets, looking at cows and flowers. 

A special dinner with the four of us last night.

Seeing Dad and Chinua walking up to the garden together, ready to work on building the work bench. Talking and walking together. 

My landlords trying to convince my parents to move here, doing their very best. Welcoming and kind. 

All the tiny, lovely moments that are beautiful and rare. I am so thankful for this visit.