Facing it.

The world this week is heartbreaking. The small and oppressed suffer, those in power abuse their power, the condemned and the innocent die without fair trial, the very earth shakes and and buildings fall on the people who live in them or are walking beside them. I can’t look. I can’t look away. 

I have spent years looking away. Waking up in the morning has been hard enough for my fragile mind sometimes without adding the sorrow of the world. But today I’m staring sorrow and suffering in the face, trying not to turn away. And the truth is that we get the whole of the world’s sorrow delivered to us, much the same way God does, and we don’t have the heart or shoulders of God. 

Not a sparrow falls without God’s care. And somehow, the beauty that he witnesses, that lives in the universe and in his heart, is enough to swallow the pain. He is joyful and sorrowful, at once, even with all he sees. And the beauty is everywhere, it is in men who sing hymns as they are killed, it is in people who take care of one another when they are left with nothing but rubble, it is in children offering water to police, or people standing in front of police as human shields. It is in simple love between men and women. It is in you, as you care for your children or your parents. Love is more powerful than anything.

*

Nepal is deep in my heart. I fell in love in Nepal, and I held my husband’s hand for the first time there. In Nepal I attended some of the most joyful churches I have ever seen, filled with women who live in more hardship than I can fathom. I have felt darkness, seen madness. I spent a day with Chinua trying to help a madman in the streets of Kathmandu. I met one of the most beautiful women I have ever seen, an older auntie who sells vegetables and dances when we sing songs to Jesus. So many of us love that country, we have fallen in love with its mountains and people, we cringe at the fallen buildings, ancient landmarks. 

And all around the world the unseen sorrows happen. The countries none of us have traveled to, the people who don’t make the news. The people killed by police violence when a video camera wasn’t readily available. And not even a sparrow falls without God seeing it. There are deep mysteries and my understanding can’t hold it all, but I know that the light shines brighter and will break forth like the dawn. All the sad things will become untrue, as Timothy Keller quotes from The Lord of the Rings. 

I usually choose to write about beautiful things. God draws us into Beauty and Love, and because of the evil in the world, we sometimes have to look hard to find it. This is our work—to see and acknowledge the beauty and love in the world, to be thankful, to live simply and give our money away to those who need it, to notice the small, to give a voice to those who can’t normally be heard, to pray, to tell the truth about what we see. It is what I want to do in my life— art is meaningful because it is another voice saying that the darkness does not overcome the light, and to live in the heart of God is to turn our faces to sorrow and then to live in joy. I fight hopelessness every day. And yet I see how prideful hopelessness is: to say there is no hope because we cannot see it ourselves, when all around us, those who suffer more take a stand and say that hope is with us and all around us, they sing as they die and refuse to hate. Do not give into darkness, friends. Light is so much stronger. (And in my next post I'll tell you a little about my travels with my sister.)

A Woman in Pink from Karnataka.

Pink and I have an interesting history together. I hated pink when I was younger, because it represented a kind of femininity that I didn’t want. My grandmother used to sew my sister and I matching dresses. Mine was always pink, while my sister’s was always blue (though once there was a wild peach and green diversion from the norm). Pink was fluff and curls. Pink was not trekking through the ravine in search of rusting old cars. 

Until India. India changed my mind about the glorious color that is pink. From bougainvillea to every shade of sari possible, an Indian man’s brilliant pink shirt, hand block prints of pink camels, it is the pinkest place I have ever lived, and it is glorious. I couldn’t live without the color pink now; it is a bright flower, a wild house, a woman whizzing by on a scooter with jasmine in her hair. It is an enticement to the eyes, and no one is ever too old to wear pink. I met the woman in this painting in a small village in Karnataka, India, sitting for a spell in the late afternoon, blooming quietly and brightly. 

The River

The River, 5"x7" oil on canvas board- Click here to see it in my Etsy Shop

The River, 5"x7" oil on canvas board- Click here to see it in my Etsy Shop

I was on a Nepali river once, with my family and some friends, in a dugout canoe that was so low to the water, we were alarmed by the crocodiles we saw in the water, level with our elbows. The guides were not alarmed. The guide at the back of the boat dipped an oar into the water and smiled. When he pulled the oar out, tiny silver droplets flew across the water.

I sat back and opened my eyes as wide as they would go, as kingfishers and monkeys played around us and the day broke my heart with its beauty. At the time, my whole life felt like that river, crocodile eyes and all. A calm guide knew where we were going, but I didn’t. Every turn in the river was a surprise, and I didn’t know where the river was taking me. I could choose to upset the boat or to sit back and open my eyes as wide as they would go, so I wouldn’t miss the kingfishers or the monkeys. I still am on a river, I suppose, though I’ve reached a long straight stretch for once and can see a fair distance off. And really, I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else, water droplets catching the sun like tiny mirrors.

This and that.

The weather has done that strange thing it does here, where one day we are still cold, and the next dragging ourselves around in the very hot heat. It's reaching the forties, and we occasionally take refuge at the pool. The pool we love has little bamboo salas (the huts in the photo), perfect for sitting, eating watermelon, and watching the river. Chinua work on yo-yo tricks and we take turns in the cold pool and the hot spring pool. 

Sometimes at the same pool, the elephants from the nearby elephant camp come down for a bit of grazing. The elephants come down for a bit of grazing!!! One day Kenya and I will hop on and go off into the distant hills together with our new elephant friend. Maybe, just maybe, we'll come back. If the boys will be good.

Brothers are a thing into themselves. They are loud, wild, sweet, annoying, and heartbreakingly beautiful. They climb on things and fall off things. They tease each other and scream. They teach each other naughty things. They teach each other good things too, like forgiveness and how to behave in a socially adjusted manner, (even if they don't seem to get it themselves, they are excellent at displaying horror at someone else being rude) and how to play The Lord of the Ring scores on the piano. 

And then there are sisters, and these brothers have a good one. She is the one to go to if you need an idea, a picture, a clay figure, a hug, some comforting, or a bead necklace. 

We had the delight of going to a little friend's birthday party at her beautiful home. Her mom and grandma made a feast and it featured a lot of fruit! Hooray, because I only want watermelon and mangos when it's hot. The kids ran around in the grass and bugs bit them and they called wayward ducks and kept themselves from falling into ponds. It was an excellent day.

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And this! I think I am the one receiving the best gift in this piano, because I get to hear the songs my husband plays. By the way, spoiler alert for all those who have googled "Who is Rachel Devenish Ford's husband?" He is not an actual superstar, not in those ways that have people holding their hands up to block the paparazzi, or buying multiple homes. He is a superstar to us. And it is true that he can play almost any instrument and sing any song and that he is the best dad ever. 

Dear Kenya,

We went out for dessert on your birthday, at a restaurant where your dad was playing music. The two of us sat in the resplendent wing-backed chairs (perhaps the only two wing-backed chairs in this part of Thailand) and chatted while we listened to Chinua play. You broke into applause after every song, causing the other diners to also stop what they were doing and applaud. At the end of the evening your dad playing "Isn't She Lovely," by Stevie Wonder, dedicating it to you. You sighed and wiggled and grinned. "He always plays this when I come here," you said, perfecting content in a little circle of love.

All day, you said, "People are so nice, people are being so nice to me." You said it as Naomi lit candles for you and Ro and a visiting traveler wove a crown of flowers for your head. It was such a simple birthday; no presents, we hadn't had your party yet. Just a day to remember that you were born, with a crown of flowers and candles in the cake we ate for community lunch. But you have always received the simplest things with joy. If you have a handful of clay, you are happy. All you need is a bit of something you can sculpt and bake in the sun, you don't need much, my love. And if people are kind to you, you are receiving a little of how people feel when you are so kind to them, when you make them gifts with your hands for goodbye presents, or do small things to make others feel better. 

Once, a traveler asked me if I get used to how beautiful you are. It was a funny question, especially asked right in front of you. And I guess the answer is yes, your face is more familiar to me than my own. But I never get used to the fact that your inner radiance shines brighter than your physical self. That is the gift we have all been given in you. You are an animal rescuer (most recently you have been nursing two baby rats), lover of justice, defender of the small. What a thing to be.

As we sat in our wing-backed chairs, you turned to me.
"Thank you for making me," you said. 
"You're welcome," I said. "But I didn't really make you."
"No," you said.
"I built you," I said. "No, that's not right. I was your house, while God was building you."
"Yeah! You were my house!" 

We sat and chatted for a while longer, you sculpted a bird with the malleable eraser that you always carry with you. A bird with one wing outstretched. And suddenly you lunged at me in a sprawling hug.
"Can you be my house again?" you asked. 
I squeezed you really tight.
"I will always be your house," I said.

The Smallest Bird

The smallest bird- 5" x 7" oil on canvas - click to see it on etsy

The smallest bird- 5" x 7" oil on canvas - click to see it on etsy

The sound of birds wakes me in the morning. Their songs and calls are what pull me out of bed. I lie there for a while, listening, and then think, "You are making something so beautiful; I should join you." And I do. Or I try, anyway. They are effortless in beauty.

Living with an anxiety disorder is hard, sometimes harder than others. I've been climbing back out of a long, dark pit. I'm very nearly out, but in the moments when I'm still on the bottom, gazing wistfully at the top, my head loops along strange pathways. One of these is the fear that I'll somehow ruin everything. It sounds silly in writing, but it can crush me. If I don't do or say the right things, I will burn it all down: family, community, relationships. On the other hand, if I can say or do all the right things, I will be able to keep everyone happy. 

I was telling a friend about this deep fear the other day. "Well, you're certainly very powerful if you can do that," she said. "Even God doesn't keep everyone happy." 

I sat back. Rationality doesn't really help in the deepest reaches of the pit, but I sensed the truth of what she said. Can I really ruin everything? Can I fix everything?

There is a beautiful Innocence Mission called a Wave is Rolling, that says, 
"A singing bird, I call your name
in the middle of the nighttime. 
I'm the smallest bird who calls your name
In the middle of the day."

Birds eat, they sing, they fly. They stretch even the tiniest wings and rise above it all. Maybe you also know the dangers of feeling over-responsible. But settle down, lovely one. You are the smallest bird who calls His name, in the middle of the day. 

The Long Labor

The Long Labor- Oil on Canvas Board- See it on Etsy

The Long Labor- Oil on Canvas Board- See it on Etsy

My fourth child was born in a monsoon after a long labor. Somewhere after the 35th hour of walking, I rested and my husband took a photo of me. I felt that I would be walking forever, waiting forever. Not knowing when it would end, I somehow had to get up and keep walking.

It reminds me of the long endurance of life with God- When I don't feel like I'm changing. When I am lost in my own tricksy mind. When I cannot love myself, from my heart comes a prayer for endurance, for the ability to get up and keep walking. 

In birthing Solomon, what carried me through was the memory of how precious the first moments with a new baby are. I thought about when we would meet and I would kiss him all over his face. Love, in other words, and rarely do we get to have a love as pure as between a newborn and a mother, but it is truly love that will carry us through the long labor of life. Love, the ability to soothe, to illuminate all the best things in someone else, to take great joy in seeing the best in one another, to look forward to the days to come. We are surrounded by love and the great love will carry us through.

Grandma

Leafy and his Great-Grandma, just before he turned two. 

Leafy and his Great-Grandma, just before he turned two. 

It was nearly a month ago that my grandmother died at the age of ninety. I wrote this poem for her. 

Grandmother

I remember water.
A lake, to be precise, 
a clear one, large, but not so large that we couldn’t see the other shore.
I was twelve years old.
My grandmother was thigh deep,
wearing her bathing suit, a one piece,
the kind of old woman who swam
in the cold, clear water of a Canadian lake. 
The cousins and my sister and brother and I rowed a canoe out.
We found a small rocky island, 
and it was like we were the first who had ever been there,
we clambered onto it, lay on the sunny rocks
fell asleep and woke up burned by the sun
red as flames

I remember the canoe making its way through the rushes
thigh deep, my grandmother laughing with my mother
and later, consoling us
when a water snake decided to swim alongside
without our permission.
It came onto the land
“Don’t worry, it’s harmless,”
my grandmother said, and I wouldn't be surprised if
she whispered the same to the snake:
“Don’t worry, they’re harmless."
 

There were leeches in the pools, mosquitoes in the dusk.

I remember water.

I remember the screened-in porch of the cottage,
sitting together, books and old magazines
afghans and the smell of warm wood,
My grandmother playing checkers with me.
Rain came one night and dashed itself against the wood boards 
of the little cottage
but we were dry inside, towels strung everywhere
from the day’s swimming. 

“King me,” she said. 
And I did.

Transplanted.

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Pothos on Red. Click to bid.

I used to admire my friend Leaf’s plants in India (that could be a confusing sentence- the name Leaf closely connected to the word plant, but that is the real way of it) and she told me they were called money plants, and that they grow and grow.

You can cut them and stick them in water and they grow some more. There’s nothing you can do to stop it, they just grow, and perhaps in a desert they would die, but perhaps not, perhaps they would find the perfect bowl of water. I would like to be like a money plant, or a pothos plant, as they are also called. Maybe I am, heaven knows I’ve been transplanted enough.

This is a painting of my own little pothos plant, sitting on a scarf that I found in South India on a hunt for the perfect red. I painted it a couple days ago, outside under the hazy sky, with leaves falling around me. The things that touch us often go unexalted. This plant reaches me every time I see it. Growing and growing.

A long loop.

I drove a long loop on the motorbike tonight. The moon was ripe and waxing. There were ropes of fire on the mountains; the ones nearby, and the ones in the distance as well, at the very tops. 

When the moon hangs like that, like a gold piece of fruit ready to fall, it seems to be calling to be seen. So I stopped and looked. 

Can I actually be loved? This is my eternal question. Some days I dive into the question with joy, with the promises of God spooling out behind me; all the days of sunshine and love. But other days, with the weight of my peculiar anxiety curving my spine, I can barely believe it. I can't believe it. 

I drove again. Sweet frogs chirped in the fields, and I tried not to run them over when they hopped up onto the road, though a few came very near, mindlessly approaching me, perhaps to say hello. I read today that one reason the forests are burned in Northern Thailand is because of the fast-growing kudzu vines that take over and choke everything out, including the light. 

There is some kind of analogy here. We will be cleared, we will be scorched. John the Baptist eating wild honey in the wilderness, scorching the way to Christ. 

If anxiety was something that made me cool and brooding, well, that would be something. But it isn't. It often makes me immature, fearful, and petulant. Inconsistent. It is the worst part of me. (Is it a part of me?) These are not attributes you want in your wife, your mother, your friend. And this is the truth, and this is what I face as I drive under the moon, the smoke from many fires stinging my already tearful eyes.

I would like to write a poem for everyone I lived with, everyone who has been touched by my anxiety. 

Hello (the poem would say)
I'm sorry about the times I was fighting
when there was nothing to fight
but the empty air of my fears,
and you blinked at my fists in confusion.
"Oh," you must have thought. 
"I didn't know we were boxing." 
I wish I could stop the constant hum
the thousand cicadas in my veins.
But anyway, I love you.

This is it, here, because as much as I have learned and adjusted to what it means to be myself in this unsafe mind, I don't want to bring my friends into it with me. I look at my friend Leaf's eyes looking back at me and I think, No, no, I don't want this near you.
I don't want these beautiful new friends to be scorched. And it is worse somehow, that they meet me with love, because I can't run from love.

But this is the great mystery. That I greet God with my tiny fists raised, and he sends back love, in the form of sweet singing frogs, a waxing moon, my friend's kind eyes, and the inky night with its ropes of fire beating back the encroaching jungle. This is the great mystery, this is what redemption means, this is my question, Can I be loved? And somehow, the answer is, "Yes."

Fire and earth.

1. The burning season has begun. Last night a line of fire glowed off a nearby mountain as local villages began their yearly burning of the forest undergrowth. It looked volcanic, or ancient. It looked like something out of the ordinary, a dragon maybe, or a fire flood. It looked like a burning wave, cresting on the mountains. I drove up and watched and could nearly hear it crackle. This morning the sunrise is very smoky.

2. Chinua and I are running together now, aiming for three times a week. We ran together for the first time on Sunday, up to the Buddha statue because of its amazing stairs. "I don't know why I believed you when you said it was close," I gasped as we ran. "It is close," he said. "It's high though." I walked the stairs of course. "How many do you think there are?" I asked. "Around 400 or so," he said. "One day I'll be able to run all of them." 

It reminded me of when we used to do Kung Fu together on rooftops in Nepal, back when we were really young (I was nineteen.) He had this one exercise that involved holding a bucket of water with arms outstretched and alternately pouring from one bucket to the other. How I cursed him as my arm muscles trembled and burned. I felt the same way about those stairs. But I'd run anywhere with him, any moments alone together are precious.

3. The big wall is nearly finished. We have to add the highest part, and I have to make the niches for candles, and then we have to make a slurry to cover all the walls. This has been the most ambitious project I have ever undertaken. It's a bit like those stairs, but stretched out over a month or more. And more beautiful than stairs. Shaping the walls with our hands has been wonderful. My house is falling apart slowly, though, and I am ready to be done with building. 

4. Isaac is a belly-greeter. You know belly laughs? Well, Isaac greets with his belly. Everyone who comes to our house gets a huge hello, the most excited, over the top "Hi!" he can muster. Even me, after just twenty minutes of shopping. I pull up on the scooter and he skids out of the house and shouts, "Hi Mama!" It's pretty wonderful. 

5. We are finishing with the cold season and coming into the heat. The cold has been hanging on longer than usual, and I am ready for the heat. I realized recently that I love this season, with its muted colors and hot, dusty breezes. Everything is gold and pale brown, dry leaves gust along the streets, dust devils briefly rise into the air, carrying a swirl of detritus with them. The sounds are clatters and dry wheezing. The spaces between things widen, as jungle falls back and dries up. The heat is a desert heat, not so hard to take. I love it because it is seasonal, and in three months or so, the rains will come back and the shells of things will burst open again to become their vibrant selves. I hope the same for me.

A poem for my daughter

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how could I have known
when i pulled you to me--
shaky as i was with that last effort--
that i had given birth to such a friend.
we were strangers,
but immediately
your heart caught at all of me. and i was gone.

you have this way
of gazing off toward the sky
and the look on your face has 
the very same wedge of longing and joy
i often feel in my own heart,
when the evening blue slips over the sky
or a flock of birds rises
or the branches of a tree shudder with happiness.

i am growing older as we speak
my face surprising to me in the mirror
and you surprise me in a different way,
no more roundness to your cheeks
as your bones show us who you will be.
growth like a sudden crash,
an outburst of shouting,
that flock of birds.

strength, is what i want for you
my daughter,
and hands that race across your pages,
you the master of your land,
your thoughts, your paper.
and i think, as i come across you 
in the tree with your book again,
that you will have these things,
that i couldn't wish them for you any more
than they have been written for you,
in the heart of who you are.
 

(I read this poem at a spoken word evening in my town, and just after I read it, my friend Jay told me that she had taken a photo of the very look I talked about in my poem. So this photo comes from Jay.) 

Building walls together.

Everyone gets into it, from big to small.

Everyone gets into it, from big to small.

 I finally borrowed some photos from a new friend who is visiting for a few weeks, so all but this first one are Josh’s photos- thank you so much Josh! When I went to look at what Chinua had taken of wall-building, I found, egad, that it was all video. On the unedited video I watched I saw myself make this statement: “I’ve never been happier than I am building these walls.”

What can I say? It has been a lot of work for a lot of days, and I have made mistakes and floundered a little, but sitting there in the afternoon at our beautiful garden space, the trees on the hills in the distance slowly turning red, using our hands to grab mud, smoothing it in between the bamboo lattice of our wall—oh, I am truly happy as I tell the wall that I love it and the wall tells me that it loves me too, somehow in Ro’s creepiest voice.

(There is a cast of characters that has come riding into our lives on white horses, singing loud songs. We are smitten with them, and their names will litter these pages from here on in. Get ready.)

But the mud, the mud. We take earth, beautiful red earth, and we add water to it, smoothing it and stomping it with our feet until the hard bits are gone and it is the loveliest soft mud. The kind that Kenya desires to swim in, and does. Then we add a lot of straw and rice husks and stomp more and more and more until we all fall over because mud stomping is very tiring. But what we end up with is something very pliable and soft and buildable, with long strands of straw that catch on the bamboo lattice and hold the whole thing together. 

And then we build, taking handfuls of it and moving up the walls. Neil coined the term “poo-shaped slug” to describe the shape of the mud that we form to push into the wall, and soon after the words poo-shaped slug came into our lives, a song was created, and that song worms its way through my mind for days and hours on end.

Sometimes Little Gem and Leaf come along to brighten our lives. One time Leaf stomped mud with us and it sucked two of her toe rings off, so we have silver in our walls as well.

Sometimes Little Gem and Leaf come along to brighten our lives. One time Leaf stomped mud with us and it sucked two of her toe rings off, so we have silver in our walls as well.

Travelers come to help us build and we initiate them into the methods of building. There is a lot of laughter. And the golden light moves across the hills and our hands are in the dirt and it’s rather hot in the middle of the day and the sun feels good on our backs. And I feel so blessed to be doing this work— I wake up thanking God for it- this work, this community, the hills and the future garden plans and the wide sky that surrounds us. 

Barn owls and muddy feet.

Friends I am eating, sleeping, and living earth walls right now, mud, basically. There is mud everywhere and I am loving it, with barely a minute to spare for anything else.  Happiness. I will share as soon as I can get photos from Chinua's camera (such bad timing to lose my ipod, I had planned to Instagram the whole thing).

For now here is another print- available in my Etsy shop. For Kai's twelfth birthday this summer/fall, we went to a birds of prey center outside of Victoria and the barn owl stole my heart, so I played around and made an illustration to keep a tamer version around. 

 

Adventures in losing things.

It might be a two cups of coffee kind of morning. Usually I'm pretty strict at sticking with just the one, but this morning... well. Yes, I'm headed to put the kettle on. Be right back.

Okay, here I am. It's still cold here, though not storming the way I hear it is in parts of the world. I hope you're all keeping warm. Here it gets hot in the middle of the day. Near 30 degrees celcius hot, which is a big difference from the 10 degrees or so it is in the morning. 10 degrees isn't that cold, but we don't have heat and our kitchen is outside, so it feels chilly.

The past week has been beautiful and wild with a tinge of annoyance or sadness depending on how you look at it. We took a really quick trip to the big city to extend our visas, which is an all day event that started at 4:30, when I got up and shivered myself across the city on my motorbike to sit in a line for two hours, waiting for my first queue number that would enable me to get my real queue number and so on. We had rented two motorbikes to make things smoother and faster, and drove around, back and forth, picking up documents, visiting the doctor for Chinua's check up, buying our bus tickets back to Pai, sitting in line at the visa office. It was a full day, and successful, as we left the office with visas. The kids were great. They sat, and rode, and sat again, and rode again with expert patience. Even Isaac did pretty well.

The tinge of annoyance or sadness came when I discovered that my iPod touch (very similar to an iPhone without the phone part) had most likely fallen out of my bag while I was driving the motorbike on the last drive to catch our bus. I had pulled it out to check the time at a stoplight and not pushed it back down enough I suppose. Bad mistake. For the last two years I have been using it to take every single photo you see. I read on it. It is the device for me. I have thought about upgrading to an iPhone, but it will be a couple months before that can happen. Oh well. Tears may have been shed but I remembered that it is just a thing. A very useful thing for art, but just a thing. 

I had just edited a photo of Leafy, our family's newest nine-year-old, for you, and hadn't been able to upload it yet. Bummer. You'll have to take my word for it: he's gorgeous. The sweetest, most imaginative boy, the one who always gets my heart in a different place than any other. How can Leafy be nine? Time, that's how. Also, Isaac turned two yesterday. Two! 

Birthday parties have been postponed due to wall building. We put our first mud up yesterday and it was a lot of fun. It's a big learning process, and I'll have some photos to show you once I get them from others. 

It's a full, strong, wild time! I have to prepare for meditation this morning as well as get the groceries for the day and prepare for another day of building. Definitely a two cups of coffee morning. 

 

 

 

The week in pictures.

This week has been about learning, creating, planning, and wandering-- all favorite things. We received two loads of red earth last week and are nearly ready to begin building the earth walls on our meditation space. Most of the walls will only be a meter high, to preserve the view, but one wall will be tall with windows. I'll certainly tell you about it. 

We dug into school last week, beginning our year with study of China, which the kids love. It's often chaotic, schooling with four kids and one toddler who is pulling the room apart around us while we work ("Hey," Isaac says, "It seems like a good idea to pull every colored pencil out of the pencil cup and throw it, and then maybe eat one. Sunscreen? Why thank you, my shirt could use some sunscreen. And the walls, too!") but I love it. Calls for help come from every direction and I dance from kid to kid (ever so gracefully) and redirect distracted ones as well (Leafy). Our curriculum focuses on reading aloud, and I am working through two different years, adapted for different ages (Kai and Kenya learn together and Leafy and Solo learn together) so I am always reading aloud. I read in snatches throughout the day and bring the books into our bedtime routine as well. Homeschooling is such a privilege. I love seeing how the kids grow their minds and figure new things out. Solo in particular is exploding into new learning.

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I had a post office run this week and I took a moment to admire our post office. The fake flowers are a bit kitchy, but the real ones are beautiful, and it's colorful!

At some point I made Vietnamese vermicelli bowls for dinner, with grilled tofu. One of our favorite things to eat is a good bowl of noodles or rice with fresh ingredients on top.

Then some of us (in our community) went exploring to be inspired by earth buildings in the surrounding villages. There are a lot of creative people making beautiful things around here.

This place is a little guest house with all earth buildings, as well as a little restaurant. I'm always inspired when I visit.

I also had to go to Chiang Mai for a few days on my own, which I took as a sort of artist's retreat in between appointments and errands. I'm really into Julia Cameron's idea of the Artist Date, and when I'm looking for inspiration I search for vistas, flowering trees, and markets full of cloth or handcrafts. I also love the flea market for inspiration. 

When I'm away from home, morning coffee is always an issue, if I don't want Nescafe. But I found a little "coffee in a bag" place and my problem was solved.

I worked on a few different paintings, including this barn owl.

And I watched the trees and the sky and listened to birds and dreamed about God and a day when I will know him better. The longer I live, the more I need him.


What we've been up to.

And a week has passed! I can't believe how quickly time goes lately, it seems that I blink my eyes on Monday morning and it's time to make lunch, blink them again and it's Saturday. Now that our meditation center is fully up and running, our lives are full of good things! It's the way I love to be. Cooking things, making things, caring for little people, teaching, meditating. If I get flustered I always have to stop and remind myself just how blessed I am, that this is my life.

For instance, I get to hang out with this little guy. He's all about bubble baths in our bucket, lately. He hides his hands in the bubbles and asks the room at large, "Where go hands?" then pulls them out and answers, "There go hands!" He is into everything, full time, full tilt, happy and talking and speaking a bit of Thai and learning everyone's names and greeting everyone by name and shouting "Bye bye!" at random people walking down the street. You know how our house is right on a well-trafficked street, and windows make up our walls. Last night he chopped Solo in the neck with a plastic sword, just as a man was walking by. Solo cried and the man cackled all the way down the street. Ah. 

Modeling clay was a theme of the week, as Chinua held some "competitions." Here was Solo's entry. Two little pots and a platypus. I love that of all things he chose to make a platypus. Love it. 

Kai made lungs, which was extremely impressive to me because he was using modeling clay! He is often so very adamant about the fact that he doesn't do anything artistic. He loves to box himself up and I am always trying to tear that box open. But he was tempted into this competition and he managed to make his entry very "Kai" by making a model of human anatomy. Hmmm... my brain is mulling over future project possibilities.

The only time Kenya doesn't have modeling clay in her hands is when she doesn't have pen and pencil in her hands. She is a non-stop creative factory, her mind a non-stop story, a delightful one, full of animals and animal families and quirky cartoons and beautiful dreams and poems. If she can find actual clay in the earth she will form pots, bake them in the sun, and then paint them. No one showed her how to do that. She's amazing.

We planted some arugula seeds in a pot this week and will replant them soon, to give them more space. First I have to get some compost from my compost pile because the little bit of soil I have in my square inch of garden space is not very good, and needs a healthy dose of compost. The globe amaranth flower seeds we planted did nothing at all. They were duds. I need to find some good ones, because I need some globe amaranth in my eyeballs.

This is the basil and marigolds we planted a few weeks ago. We have some in the garden bed too, but it's not doing as well, see soil complaints above. Soil is everything, guys. Everything.

I managed to get a little bit of painting in as well. First I asked my friend Naomi to model some striding for me for a painting I'm working on (not pictured here). I take so much joy from directing photos that I sometimes think I need more of that in my life- putting photoshoots together. Of course, I think that about a lot of things. 

I've had some ideas about paintings I want to work on, featuring animals in watercolor and ink. So I played around a bit and had a lot of fun. Watch this space for paintings going into my shop. Cows or water buffalos with egrets are beautiful images that have been all over the place in my life for years now, so I started with them. The gentle cow, the cheeky bird, the relationship between the two. I love them. I also think brahman cows are gorgeous.

Finally, we unboxed our next year's curriculum. Details: Kai and Kenya will be doing Sonlight's Core F, while Leafy and Solo are working on Core B, but Leafy actually flip flops between the two. Sonlight is made up of read-aloud books, and he listens to both. Solo, Leafy, and Kenya are working on Singapore Math, while I just switched Kai over to Teaching Textbooks and will switch the others over in seventh grade too. After Singapore 6, I was able to put him directly into pre-algebra, since Singapore is a little ahead. 

And with that, I'm off to prepare for the school day! 

New Year Dreams.

"Good work finds the way between pride and despair.
It graces with health. It heals with grace.
It preserves the given so that it remains a gift.
By it, we lose loneliness: we clasp the hands of those who go before us, and the hands of those who come after us; we enter the little circle of each other’s arms, and the larger circle of lovers whose hands are joined in a dance, and the larger circle of all creatures, passing in and out of life, who move also in a dance, to a music so subtle and vast that no ear hears it except in fragments."
 Wendell Berry- What are People For?

What a beautiful thing: the gift of a new year. In a way it is a fake construct, in a way it is as real as it could be. There is something so exciting about looking forward and saying, What work will I do this year? Last year I took on a photo project with my friend, what creative things will I do this year? 

I don't really set resolutions in a strict way, but I do find things that I want to focus on in my life, and looking over my past journals, I'm happy to see that these intentions have born fruit. Slowly, slowly, it's true. But with one small step in front of the other, I am building a creative life, for myself and my family.

This year I want:

* More art in my life. From pictures on my walls, to my own paintings, I want to continue to sketch, paint, make things. Sew things. Fill our lives with color. 

* More beauty here at Journey Mama. I want to breathe more life into this blog and when I think of what I want it to be, it's very simple. I want it to be a space of beauty here on the web-- a place where people can come to rest and sigh and dream. It also has to be honest and representative of my life, a little journal.

* My hands in the dirt. More gardening. 

* Creative schooling. We are headed into our next school year, a little later than usual, but we have lots of time, days ahead of us to learn. Solo, who has been slower with reading than the others, is diving into reading. Kai needs to work on his writing. Kenya on her math. Leafy is blooming and thinking creatively. I want to talk about homeschool a little more on this blog, give you an idea of how it shapes our days.

* Deeper friendships. I am putting time into connection this year. We have a beautiful community and lovely family and friends far away. I want to be a good friend, sister, and daughter.

* To live without fear. My words for the year are Do not be afraid.  I'm undertaking some counseling this year to get a little more close to healing the deep fear in me. (Ironically, I'm terrified of counseling.) Will I ever really be fixed? Probably not in the way I wish. But I have a deep desire to grow, and I pray that I will.

* To have deep spiritual practice. My life work is to know that I am loved by God and to love others. To do that, I need to grow in my spirit and spend time close to the knowledge of God's love, in prayer, in dreaming, in reading, in meditation, in fasting. 

* To continue a good writing practice. I am attempting to publish my new book traditionally. We'll see what happens. In the meantime, I have finished a first draft of a middle grade/YA fantasy, and am scheming up a series. I also want to hone my non-fiction, to write with clarity, to remember how to tell a good story, and to not get complacent or stagnant with writing. 

* On that note, to broaden and deepen my journaling practice. 

Oh, and there are so many things. I take the opportunity often to review what I want to do, a month at a time, a week at a time, a day at a time. In fact, the plans we make at the beginning of a new year won't have much effect without taking stock at other times of the year. I rarely get all I want to do done, but if I set some things forth, I always get some of them done, whereas if they go unplanned, nothing may happen at all. 

What about you? What are your desires for the year?

It was a good year.

I hope you had the most beautiful Christmas and are gearing up for a wonderful New Year. We had a beautiful evening with dinner together in the meditation space on Christmas Eve, and presents with friends on Christmas morning and evening. A few travelers came to share with us, and there were lights, and candles, and a lot of good food. 

It was almost a year ago that Leaf and I started our photo blog, an idea of mine to bring us closer together. Little did I know just how much closer together we would become, as the year brought so many surprises. She just arrived yesterday, and after this year of moving and traveling and having a new baby, we are together here in this place, and we will be ending our blog today. Wow. I'm going to miss it.

It was a quiet blog, but mighty, I think, in that we documented something unusual: the lives of two friends from Australia and Canada, living in different countries, visiting different home countries, exploring the world with their cameras. I felt very honored to receive Leaf's photos, to see the world through her eyes. 

Here are just a few of my favorites. 

Don't forget to check out the rest at http://iwantedtotellyou.com to see 365 photos shared between us.