Maps.

Every morning starts out with birdsong. Lately I wake before my alarm, meaning that I really need to go to sleep early, because it doesn’t seem to matter whether I go to bed at 10:30 or 11:30, I wake up by 5:30. The world is still dark, but the birds are just beginning to sing.

Birds are fascinating, with their fast little heartbeats, the way they rush the power lines, rocking them back and forth in an effort to make the loudest, best songs. They compete and threaten each other. They peck away at insects and steal things to build their nests. We have a lot of mynahs, they are our “crows,” and they are versatile. They growl and mutter, click and belt out notes. They fill the air with the flutter of wings and the trills of songs, and if things get hard, they can just turn a wing, lift up with a rush, and fly.

If I was a bird I could sit at the tops of all my favorite trees. If I was a bird, my heart would beat faster. I would be even more nervous than I am now.

 

I am coming to terms with the fact that I am a creature plagued by fear. I have admitted for a long time that  I struggle with anxiety, but that is somehow removed from me. Anxiety, yes, it is a disorder, it plagues me. But I realized recently that no matter how many good things come to me, I am still afraid. And I will be that way until healing comes or until I am transformed in a flash, a great mystery. The circumstances don’t matter. I think if I succeeded with writing and made a lot of money, I would be worried that it would go away, or that it wouldn’t happen again. 

I can almost draw maps of fear. Cities have places that I have been afraid. That’s where I worried that my father wouldn’t meet Isaac if he wasn’t born that week. That’s the place I cried because we lived in a new place that was so foreign. There I worried that our new friends didn’t really like us. There I was afraid of the bright lights, the rows of products, the crowds, the fish in buckets, the days stretching on forever. I drive through streets and the spots echo back at me. 

The weirdest part is that I struggle with fear when things are the greatest. 

Oh, enough. If I was a bird I could fly up to the highest branches of the trees I love best. 

Maybe you are also often afraid. When fear is like a sickness, like something that flows through your veins, just facing the day is often the bravest thing you can do. Facing the blank page, the blank canvas, the question of what to cook for dinner can require bravery big enough to scale a mountain. I’m sure that even if you are afraid, you are very brave.

But what I know is that I am not made of my fear. And I don’t have to let the maps of my heart be written over in fear’s red pencil. That’s where we learned that Isaac was going to be okay. That’s where I found the best spring rolls. That’s where I spent hours looking at paint colors. I met my husband in that city. My son put his hand in mine on that street. Every single day, just as every morning I woke to hear the bird’s sing. There were hundreds of beautiful evenings, all the birds shrieking from their trees. We are more than emotion. We are more than emotion. We get to tell our story, to decide what is recorded, what will take over, what will be remembered. 

And that is what I am recommitting to, looking forward into the New Year. This place has been a place to remember all the beautiful things, to draw the map in bright blue pencil, making notes, drawing pictures along the way. A map of life, of the childhoods of my family. I’ve may have lost my way slightly, but I’m finding it again. 

Sustained.

I went to Chiang Mai the other day. I shopped and walked through markets, attempting to unravel the secrets of commerce and goods and money and how it flows and doesn't flow. I drove back and forth along freeways on my motorbike several times due to people believing things were located in places that they weren't. I drove and drove, I got really tired and I drove some more. I replaced stolen things, things that had been taken from our meditation space in Pai. 

I ate at a little alley restaurant, and used the tiniest bathroom, squatting room only; concrete and a bucket and a pail, reassuring because it was so familiar. I understand this. 

I saw a man putting socks on while driving a motorcycle. Driving. Putting socks on.

I took deep breaths in the early dusk, just after sunset, with all the birds shrieking from their trees. 

I took a bus home on the second day, when it was already dark. Cows lay in the road, drawing the last of the warmth of the asphalt into their bodies. I understood this too.

And though there are so many uncertain things in the world, whether injustices will be allowed to continue, whether my mind will ever start being a safe place for me, what the next years will hold, I understand and am certain about some things. The place between Isaac's jaw and shoulder, how it is sticky and soft and kissable. The way Leafy will walk for hours in circles, imagining worlds in his head. I know that Kenya draws worlds on paper, pages that become scattered around the room, sometimes crumpled. I find them and smooth them out, rescuing beautiful rejected things. I know that Kai will joke teasingly, his wide smile and I know that light in the corners of his eyes. I know that he will laugh at Leafy's jokes, at least some of them, and he'll meet my eyes wryly over the other ones. I understand Solo's freckles getting darker as he grows taller every day. I know that he loves snacks and will ask me for one dozen frozen strawberries over the course of a day, eaten one at a time. I know that banjo strings will be plucked and strummed, that the voice of my husband is more beautiful than any instrument. I know that I will make food, that it won't taste good enough for me but everyone else will like it. 

*

Come away with me, I heard Jesus say to me yesterday, a day that began to decay with a tiny bit of rot that spread quickly and nearly took me with it. I was panicked and wracked with anxiety, not thinking properly, going over all the ways that I was becoming my worst self, the ways my fears were coming true. My mind was my enemy, but I wanted to think it out, to figure out all the ways I could be better, could do better. Your mind can't help you with this one, I heard. Come away with me. You need to feel my love.

I got on the motorbike and drove and the hills opened up around me like flowers blossoming. There were fields, there were ten thousand kinds of trees and sheer rock faces. Tears and tears. How can I see all this beauty and not be anything like it?

Come away with me. Every time I started obsessing over the mistakes I had made, the things that were done to me or made me feel small, I heard this voice. Come away with me. I love you.

But there is nothing lovable in me, I said back. 

I love you. Look at this beauty. All this is yours.

But I can't feel it. Why can't I feel it? 

Stop fighting it. I love you.

I leaned into the wind. I drove for an hour and a half, then turned around and drove back again. Sometimes I shook with sadness. But slowly I straightened as I realized that I (like all of us) am protected by this love that sustains, invites, accepts, and stands up for me in my moments of weakness. By the time I was home, my heart was steady again and I was ready to dive back into my life.

Some thoughts in the wake of the Ferguson verdict.

I don’t normally write about race. I don’t consider myself any kind of an expert. But the news has been distressing me lately, until it’s almost all I can think about. Michael Brown, gone from his family, his death unnecessary and the wrong not righted by the justice system. Tamir Rice, a boy my own son’s age, gone from his family, taken also by a police officer. It’s heavy, so heavy.

The response of some people on Facebook and Twitter has been so disappointing. I've seen people writing about the fact that there are also black people who kill white people, as though that somehow is relevant to the matter at hand. This is not about that. Yes, crimes are committed by criminals of every race. Yes, media doesn’t cover all of that. Yes, cops of all races are over-stimulated to commit murder. But this is not about that.

This is about our brothers and sisters turning to us and saying, “We’ve had a huge problem for a long time. We are not safe in our own neighborhoods, we are not safe from police.” Is our response going to be “No, no, you must be mistaken?” Because that was the response of the L.A. Times toward my mother-in-law, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, who spent her career in the eighties and nineties trying to expose violence by the LAPD toward the black community in LA. She must have been incredibly frustrated, as the paper acted as a great big gatekeeper of her words, only allowing her to publish what they wanted, turning many of her articles away. And then came the video tapes of Rodney King, and there was proof! America had to take notice. Unfortunately, the justice system didn’t. My mother-in-law passed away in 1999, but I’m sure that today she would be happy about the increased ability of her people to have a voice, to photograph and record violence, to show that the force used against unarmed black people is unnecessary.

Since the verdict that Darren Wilson will not be indicted was announced, there have been peaceful protests around the country. There has also been violence and rioting. (Let me be clear that I am not describing the previous peaceful protests as "riots" as many news channels did.) 

Here’s the thing about riots. When a system is against you, and the justice system you are supposed to trust it continually works against you, you protest. And sometimes your protest turns to rage and you say Jeff it. That’s it, just eff it. Nothing is going to work for us anyway. Because for white Americans, it’s just a verdict. But for people living in projects or the ‘hood, it is another nail in their coffin. Another time that someone says, “No one is going to stick up for you, even in death, even if your death, or the death of your child, or the death of your father, is unjustified and at the hands of those sworn to serve and protect.” 

And here’s the thing about crime. You don’t need to tell black people that crime happens, by black people, in ghetto neighborhoods. Believe me, they know. Housing segregation is part of an ongoing, difficult reality that most white people will never have to know. (Here's a good podcast to read to learn more about that.) But here’s the question, what do you tell people to do when they’re in trouble? Should they call the police? Because when I was a young white girl in Canada, my parents told me to find a police officer if I was lost or in trouble. We don't tell our kids to do that. We tell our sons, (if we’re in the U.S.) be careful of the police. I tell them, be wary. I tell them to find a nice business owner or woman if they are in trouble. 

“The police?” My husband would say about his childhood. “Why would we call them? For one thing, they wouldn’t come for ages. For another, it’s dangerous. Who knows what would happen?” (I'm paraphrasing.

He has stories. Once, when he was a kid and running through a neighborhood in L.A., he and his brother found themselves surrounded by squad cars and screamed at to “Get down on the ground!” Do you think that should happen to any kid running through their own neighborhood? That they should find themselves with their faces in the dirt? For running? Do you think Tamir Rice’s parents told him, “Be careful of your new BB gun? If you play with it in public, you might get shot and killed? By the POLICE?” 

Just recently this issue came home to me very clearly. We were in L.A. on our recent trip to the U.S. and one day we went to visit a friend. When we arrived at his house, we decided to walk with the kids to the playground nearby, and as we were sitting and playing there, a man came running out of our friend’s grandparents’ house, screaming, “He’s got a gun! Hide your kids! Call the police!” Behind him was another man, following, with his hand behind his back. (Neither of them were black.) We gathered the kids quickly and headed to the other side of the park. A woman next to us called the police. Chinua and his friend decided to pull our cars away from our friend’s house so we could leave. They drove the cars to the other side of the park and stood in the street there, far from the house, as the police pulled up from our side.

When the policemen saw Chinua and our (Asian) friend, they made some quick assumptions and stopped near them, jumping out of their cars, guns locked and loaded. Chinua and our friend made some quick motions, gesturing at the house on the other side of the park. “Over there! Over there!” It felt tense for a moment, as the police officer weighed what they were saying, then turned and drove toward the house, other officers following by running through the park. We left quickly.

It was only later that I saw the danger Chinua was in. Officers saw my husband, a tall black man in a mostly white neighborhood, and immediately assumed he was the gun threat. Thankfully, they were quickly convinced otherwise, or things could have gone very badly.

Here’s the fear that exists if you are a black male: if the circumstances are slightly off, if the people around you feel uncomfortable, if you are walking through a white neighborhood, if you are too close to a crime being committed, if you put your hands near your waist, if you are wearing a hoodie, if you walk a certain way, if you are too tall, too big, too black, you could end up dead. The likelihood of you being killed by an officer are much higher than you being killed by terrorists. We don't execute without trial in the U.S., except, sometimes we do.

And it feels like an accusation to white people. Being called privileged feels like an accusation. White police officers being held accountable in the media feels like an accusation. But no one is accusing you of anything. What people are doing is revealing a wrong. And what can we do in response? As white allies of our black brothers and sisters, we need to not begrudge the media attention these tragedies are getting. It is warranted, and white rights are under no threat. Police rights are under no threat. What is under threat is the same thing that has always been under threat. The lives of black children, youth, adults, and old people. For hundreds of years.

Here’s what you can do, America:

Don’t say it’s not a problem. Don’t listen to the cries of our brothers and sisters for help and turn to them and say, “You’re wrong. Racism doesn’t exist.” 

Stop being afraid of black people. I’m here to tell you that you don’t need to be afraid. Next time you see a group of tall black men, think, “That’s probably Rae’s husband, cousin, and brother. They’re the nicest guys you’ll ever meet.” Because it’s true. Being tall, being big, being black, doesn’t equate to being violent, being a criminal, or being scary. Every black man has a story of a woman clutching her purse while he simply was trying to walk by. Of being side-eyed while walking down the street. It happens to Chinua all the time. The kindest, gentlest person you will ever meet. 

Stop letting your kids watch movies that vilify black men. I wasn’t ever allowed to. My images of black men growing up were Bill Cosby and Donovan Bailey. (A Canadian Olympic runner, one of the fastest sprinters in the world. In Canada, we don’t have nearly the same amount of racial tension, so I didn’t really grow up around racism in the same way. I notice it now as soon as I cross the border into America.)  (And here's a good podcast about being profiled.)

Oh, I hate racial tension. It makes me crazy. And I know, I know that it doesn’t need to be here. I know there are deep, old stories, frustrations that go back for centuries. But God has deep forgiveness and love for all of us toward one another. I know because I have the blessing of being within a family that contains people who have been wronged,  and hurt by white people, who completely accept and love me without question.Let’s not use our black friends’ grief as an opportunity to polarize each other. Let’s try to understand, to grieve together, to make amends. Let’s tell the police that they may not take any more of the lives of our citizens. The good news is that because this has been going on since forever, though media coverage may make it look like it’s getting worse, it’s not. It is coming into the light. And that means it will get better. It must. But it starts with the rest of us not daring to invalidate, contradict, or negate the cry for help from our brothers and sisters, who are trying to tell us that something is desperately, terribly wrong in the world, and it takes all of us to make it right.

I'd like to know what he'll name his first band.

The mornings are cool now, cool enough to wear a sweater, especially on the scooter. The sun still burns strong in the middle of the day, so that you look down at yourself suddenly and wonder why on earth you are wearing a sweater. It’s hot! you think. Why am I wearing this? Because the chill of the morning is a vague memory, and you don't even remember how uncomfortable it is to wash dishes in cold water on a cold morning.

I love this weather.

Tonight I lost it and shouted at the kids a bit, because they were fighting over turns on the computer and it drives me batty. Batty enough that I tell Chinua, "you'd better come in her because I'm pretty sure I'm not cut out to be a mother. I don't know why I'm realizing that right now." 

We worked it all out, and I apologized for shouting. We shared our vision again, of a family that helps the younger ones and looks out for each other, and spends time together and doesn't get rigid and miserly over things like computer turns. Most of the time my kids are the farthest thing from miserly, practically showering affection on our friends and visitors, the first to invite people over or suggest more hang out time or set their friends up on the computer. But with each other? Well, it's hard to live with a lot of siblings. (Great preparation for the real world.) 

Kenya suggested a game of Phase 10 after dinner, which turned into Phase 3 when Isaac was too sleepy for us to finish. Not that he was playing, but I needed to get him to bed before he keeled over. Suggesting Phase 10 was a good idea on Kenya's part. My kids love the crazy goofy mood I get into when playing any board game; part evil competitor, part wild encourager. I'm known to gloat a bit and also to start singing songs like, "I think you're amazing!" to the tune of Crazy by Gnarls Barkley, if anyone gets down on themselves for not finishing a phase. It's a strange combination, but it works for us. They love it. They basically love it when I leave off of being the super serious, slightly frazzled mother that I can be, and start having fun. It's a lesson to all of us. They also love it when I lie in bed with them at night, for the same reason.

Halfway through our game of Phase 3, Leafy went to get a glass of water. He's a budding chef, and he came back into the room and announced, "This is my famous drink, called Disheveled Puppy." 

I lost it. Wha? Leafy only gets quirkier as he gets older and he is always good for a lot of non sequiters. It turned out that I had heard him wrong and he had said "Shoveled puppy," because the spoon in the glass of plain water he brought in was the shovel and the water was the puppy. Still strange. 

I've started enlisting one kitchen helper per night so I can teach them more about cooking, and the way that I can tell Leafy is a budding chef is because he can't leave the food alone. "We have to sauté the onions and garlic slowly until they are really soft and almost see through," I tell him, and he says, "That looks and smells so good, can I eat a little bit of that plain, right now? Can you put it in a bowl for me?" And then when we add the tomatoes he's hopping up and down, he can barely wait to taste it.

He also comes up with good names, like Disheveled Puppy. 

Our friends from Australia arrived a couple days ago, two couples who are coming to be part of this budding community that is starting here. Of course, today I discovered that a weed whacker in Australia is called a whipper snipper, and though I have promised myself to stop laughing at what things are called in Australia, I couldn't help myself. Whipper snipper. Snort. I'm so happy I can barely contain myself. 

I've also been battling depression and extreme feelings of unworthiness and despising myself, so hey, how's the roller coaster? It's all over the place. I found myself googling "signs of depression" the other night, and I don't know what I was expecting to find. Maybe "Number of times per week it is normal to drive through countryside sobbing on a scooter?" or "degree of self loathing permissible for food that doesn't taste quite the way you wanted it to?"

I'm teetering. I'm not deep in it, but I tip over into it easily. I'm working on it, and I'm always afraid of writing about shame and depression, because that is what it does to you. But I'm going to continue, because I know it helps someone out there somewhere. And for all the reviews I get that say I'm too whiny, I get twenty more that say, thank you, you helped me. That's what matters. I'm glad that there are people out there who don't know what it feels like to be crippled by anxiety or depression, but I am not one of those people. 

I'll tell you the truth, because I can't always believe it myself, and in telling you, I'll tell myself. You are beloved by God and you don't need to be ashamed. Every day, every beautiful thing is a gift from His heart to yours, and you need to learn to reach out and take them. Take the Disheveled Puppy and the game of Phase 3, take the hug from your husband and truly feel it. Don't tell yourself you need to justify your existence by making money or giving a lot or being wise. Take the love from your kids or your parents, take it openhanded, because it is from God. Don't let the shame pit drag you down into it. You don't belong there, just because you got a little shouty, just because you over salted the food. You belong in love, and friendship, and safety.

I'm about to show you a scary picture, but everything turned out all right.

On Tuesday, I wrote this:

I know I go on and on about how awesome it is to have a fifth child, or perhaps I really mean, a later child, but it really is. We are always shaking our heads over Isaac. The other day Kai said, "I really don't know how we were even happy without him." And I said, "That's how I feel about all of you."

But I know what he means. 

I think my favorite thing about this late baby is how everything toddler related falls into perspective in a bigger family. When Isaac is protesting at the top of his lungs because he wanted to brush his teeth a little longer, it can't help being funny. Even as I'm guiding him toward calmer, saner behavior, I'm laughing inside, because he's trying so hard to run the show, but he's, like, two inches tall. 

When I had my first kids, I was young, and I think they did seem big to me, even at 21 months old. But with a twelve-year-old in the house, a nearly two-year-old seems like the tiniest of guys, so him asserting himself with all his might is adorable. 

"A bath! A bath!" he yells as I wrap him up in a towel and carry him away from the bucket we call a bathtub. It's time for bed. And as he continues to yell "A bath! A bath! Brush teeth! Brush teeth!" (he has a love of grooming) I look up and my eyes meet Kai's and we straighten our twisting lips and I say, "You really liked that bath, didn't you? Don't worry, you can have another one tomorrow." 

And don't worry kid, even though heartbreak over bath time ending feels like the worst kind of tragedy, the other six of us will be here to reassure you that it's not. 

*

That is what I had written, and then what happened is that Isaac found Chinua's blood pressure pills and was playing with them. Usually, of course, Chinua keeps them far out of his reach, but he had taken them earlier and left them on the bed in our room. I was in there with Isaac, reading to him and playing with him. I turned away to write an email and when I turned back, he had the daily medicine container in his hands. 

There was half a pill in his mouth, and then when we counted the pills, we found that one was missing. I still don't know if he ate that other pill, or if it disappeared, but when I googled it, I found it on a list of the most lethal drugs to kids, medications that can kill in one pill.

The. horror.

Chinua immediately took him to the emergency room here in Pai, and I stayed on the phone with him to figure out how they were treating him, googling madly as we went. It was terrifying. "Have they given him activated charcoal?" I asked. I heard Chinua ask the doctor the question. "He says he's too young for charcoal," he told me. "No he's not!" I cried, looking at a page where it listed the dosage of charcoal for kids over one year. "Tell them to give him charcoal." 

"We have to take him to Chiang Mai," we decided, realizing that the care here was not sufficient. They began to get the ambulance ready. He was growing very sleepy from the side effects of what he had taken, and at one point, Chinua told me, "We can't wake him up." "I'm on my way," I said. "Tell them to give him the charcoal. Right now! Right NOW!" 

When I got to the hospital, they had just inserted a nasal tube and were pumping his stomach out through it. They then gave him the charcoal. He was very sleepy but protesting the tube. The fear was like long waves of water that doused us. I thought we were going to lose him and I so desperately wanted to rewind, rewind! How could we have been so stupid? The doctor told me that he would be very sleepy from the medication but that they would monitor his pulse and blood pressure in the ambulance. I decided to go along, and flew home on the scooter to get passports and diapers-- the necessary things. 

We took a three hour ride in the back of an ambulance, and when things like this happen, I find out how superstitious I am, despite the fact that I think I'm logical and trusting. I watched the pulse monitor excessively and it was very reassuring because I could see that his pulse and oxygen were normal and steady. But when I thought of closing my eyes (it was near midnight by this time) I felt that if I even took my eyes off him for a second, he wouldn't be okay. So my brain was somehow telling me that I was keeping my son alive with my attention. And I don't think that's how that works. I thought and prayed deeply about it, and had a moment of release there, in the back of the ambulance. Whether or not I closed my eyes or stopped praying, he would be in God's hands. I closed my eyes. I managed to keep them closed for about five minutes. I may still have some growing to do.

At the hospital things immediately got better. It was still very very scary, but point by point and hour by hour we checked everything out and as time passed, we realized he was going to be okay. He had an EKG and some blood work. He woke up a little more and said, "Up peese Mama." He got mad at the tube in his nose. They admitted us into the ICU and kept him on the heart monitor all night, with a blood pressure cuff on his leg to take his blood pressure periodically. Every once in a while it would start up and he would wake up long enough to lift his leg straight in the air and stare at it, like what on earth? I slept in the bed beside him, and with the beeping and the nurses coming in, I didn't get much sleep.

In the morning, he was his spunky, active self. Pissed off at the tubes coming out of his arms. He was so annoyed with his nose tube that he just pulled it out, and we didn't bother putting one back in. 

He. was. fine. And the nurses and I scrambled to find ways to occupy my twenty-two-month old in an ICU bed for the hours before we could be discharged. They came up with latex glove balloons, which were a big hit. And before we left, nurses took turns taking photos with him and playing with him. They were so kind.

Here's the thing. Every doctor I talked to said, "Oh, well, he only ate one pill. He should be fine." But then when they researched that medication, they got very serious very quickly. Because I think we feel that kids taking a whole bunch of medication is dangerous, but one or two pills is no big deal. Did you know that there were medications, prescription medications, that could kill a child with one pill? I didn't. I had no idea. 

This terrifying incident has made me realize, no, hit me over the head with the realization that I need to know every medication in my house and what it can do. We all need to know that. And then of course, we need to keep medication out of reach, all the time, even in our bedroom, where the kids don't normally hang out. 

I am so, so thankful that Isaac is all right. I am so thankful that some stupidity on our part didn't hurt him. I'm so thankful for this beautiful boy in our lives. I hit a point when I thought there was no going back, that everything was going to change terribly, but then, very quickly, it did go back to normal, and we were allowed to start again.

Isaac recovered very quickly but I think it will be a while before I do. 

 

Kids love me. Dogs too.

We got back to Pai a few days ago, in the evening, and when we arrived, the house smelled a bit moldy. It’s been rainy season here while we’ve been away gallivanting in the sun in North America, following the good weather like birds. Here it’s still raining big heavy rains with lightning and thunder, which is odd for this time of year, but nice, since it’s also quite hot and the rain cools things down. The clouds form overhead, gigantic puffy things, and when the sun sets, they light up like flames. It’s breathtaking.

But back to arrival. I have noticed that there are a few days that are jarring after visiting home and re-entering Asia. It’s like a little brain shake, like vertigo. Nothing looks quite right and that feels a little scary when you are meant to be returning home. I don’t think anyone looks forward to the dizziness of it. But the thing that anchored me that evening, while we pieced our kitchen back together (when I say “we” I mean Chinua) and bathed the baby and oversaw showers and settled everyone in for bed after our overseas flight, the thing that was my bag of smelling salts when I got too dizzy, was that scent of mold. It smelled like home, because it reminded me of India. It calmed me. 

I thought back to when I first arrived in India in the monsoon and everything everywhere smelled like mold, stinky wet clothes, or mothballs. I used to get up in the morning to have chai and I would open the bottle of cardamom and shove my whole face in it, breathing in the fragrance of something herbal and strong and sweet, something that smelled nothing like mold.

And now mold is simply one more smell that brings a wave of nostalgia to me, one more thing that points me to home. My life is strange.

I’ll still try to get rid of it, don’t worry.

*

I went for a run this morning for the first time since we’ve been here. I hadn’t gone before because I’m doing NaNoWriMo this year, trying to get 50,000 words of a middle grade fantasy rough draft done in the month of November. That means I write for a happy hour in the morning, something I’m finding easy because I’ve plotted this book out, and because over the two and a half years that I've lived here, I’ve carved out a pretty solid habit of writing in the mornings. So despite the fact that I was finding it almost impossible to write while we traveled, I popped out of bed straight away on our first morning here and thought, Get me my laptop, Wookie, I’m sitting down to write.

But I’ve also committed to the running thing. To that thing called exercise. I have NO habit of running in Thailand, so I had to force myself out of the house at around 5:30 in the morning, when it was still dark and cool, and push my sorry limbs down the road. It’s different from running in California. The roads are a little less smooth, so I have to watch my feet more. And this morning I was adopted by a street dog at the end of my block, only about a minute after I left the house. He was all, It’s great that you’re here too! Stoked that you wanted to run with me this morning! Nothing like an early morning run, eh?  He was super happy that I had chosen him as my companion. Except that I hadn’t. But I didn’t mind too much, even though his presence meant that other dogs kept running out to guard their territory as we went along. 

When I turned into my block at the end of my run, he said See ya next time! and trotted off. 

I’m happy to be home. 

Floating.

Traveling is a little like floating. All the water flows along under us and we skim along the surface, watching the sky until we will finally bump into home. 

We tell the kids to get into the car. “Who are we going to see today?” they ask. They float along with us. 

We’ve been driving through desert, the brushy landscape of Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, Ojai. Coastal and inland, blue and browns, with dark green smudges and brilliant flashes of pink bougainvillea. Old mission-style buildings, greebs in the water. We land with friends and they have dinner waiting, smells greeting us as we climb out of the car. We skim through neighborhoods with estates like small villages. We walk beaches and I walk to an old spanish courthouse with my dear friend Joy. We talk and talk and our talk about the wide world has sorrow laced in and behind it, but we pray at the end and I know that God has the difficult, heartbreaking issues in his hands. We drive again and land in another desert town in a time of drought. 

There are brilliant points as we float along our river. Chinua and I sleeping on couches under the stars, fed and fed again, our cousin flying up to Detroit from Alabama to see us, my sister-in-law making the mac’n’cheese that I’ve raved about in the past, going out to paint and drink wine with my sisters-in-law, beach days, a day at the lagoon in Long Beach, this house in Santa Cruz where we are now. Sitting here with love in our hearts and a few days of rest ahead of us. 

And there are funny moments. We saw President Obama’s motorcade one day when we were in L.A. Because we are basically babies when it comes to the USA, we accidentally got ourselves searched by the Secret Service. It happened like this: we were leaving Hollywood and came upon an intersection where the police were stopping cars. An officer approached us and told us we had happened to get stuck right as they were closing the streets. “You can turn around,” he said. “Or wait it out. It’ll be about twenty minutes before he comes through.” 

“Wait it out! Wait it out!” the kids cried. We all wanted to see the President drive past. I thought of when the princess visited our town in Thailand and she stopped and chatted with people on the streets. Maybe he’ll stop and chat with us. Yes, and then he’ll invite us to his dinner and we’ll be the guests of honor, hooray!

So the kids and I poured out of the van and crossed the intersection to stand with other spectators who were waiting. Chinua grabbed his camera and stepped out of the van to join us. Our van certainly wasn't going anywhere until after the motorcade passed by, so he figured he could just leave our vehicle there. 

Um. Mistake. We watched from across the courtyard as cops and secret service agents asked Chinua to step away from the van and at least five of them and a german shephere searched it. I was talking with other spectators and watching this (I wasn’t allowed to cross the street to get back to the van) wondering what on earth was happening. Turns out you’re not allowed to get out and leave your van when a president’s motorcade is about to pass through. 

We waved like crazy in the two minutes that the cars were passing by, and then I felt incredibly uncomfortable at the sheer force that surrounded the president.  I hadn’t registered that a motorcade is comprised of cars, but also about a hundred motorcycle cops with large guns. Yuck. This wasn’t the princess’s visit to Pai.

Exciting times, though, and everyone was very polite throughout. 

What else? I’ve been enjoying Pandora, which doesn’t work in Thailand. I’m collecting the things I need for going back. Teas and nutritional yeast are still on my list. I really am so excited to get home, but we’re still floating along, watching the trees go by overhead, enjoying all the moments of being in this beautiful country.

Here and over there.

I'm running again. Ask my new fifteen pounds why. How is it possible to gain that much weight in just two months? The answer is bread.

It very quickly became wintery here and I don't have the proper clothes for running in the cold, so I'm taking a hiatus until we get back to California, but soon we will be there and I'll be running again. I have over-pronation (my ankles roll inward), so I bought a pair of shoes that fixes that and now I can run without pain, which is amazing. I have loved running through these neighborhoods first thing in the morning, watching as people leave for work, waving at people as I go by. The leaves are falling and they crunch under my feet. I feel myself growing stronger and faster. 

By the way, some people have been asking about both Chinua and Ian's health. They're both doing pretty fantastic. Chinua is managing his blood pressure with medication, hoping to get to a point where he can drop some of it (four different kinds right now). He did more testing and nothing came up as a cause, so we assume it is genetic and simply something that popped up at this age. Ian went through quarantine after his bone marrow transplant and it took spectacularly. He's really healthy! It was quite a journey but he is recovered and they are coming to visit us in Thailand this winter. 

It has been good to be here for so long. Chinua has approximately one zillion relatives and this is the first time we've been out here in six years. He tells me we've barely scratched the surface with the family we've seen so far. All I know is that I'm happy to be here, and especially since Khalifah got back. Remember Khalifah? She came to India to visit us, so we have that special bond of scooter rides in the hot sun. Sometimes it takes time to really settle in with people and visit, and I feel like we've done that. Detroit is the most foreign of countries I've been to on this trip, since I have no experience of living in the midwest of America. From basements to carpet, auto factories to abandoned houses, it's all a new world. 

We drove up to Canada for a couple of days to see my grandmother and step-grandmother. We also got to stay overnight at my aunt's house, which was cool since I haven't seen her for twelve years. 

I was not prepared for the way my grandmother had altered. She is turning ninety this year and has dementia. When we arrived at the home where she lives, she was napping and we startled her a bit. "I don't know these people," she said. She never did remember us, but she was clearly delighted and baffled by the fact that she has great-grandchildren. "I must be very old!" she said. She lit up, watching them. She was sweet and lovely, but it was hard. How can pieces of our memory just go away like that? My grandmother was strong and smart, an independent woman who took care of her own house and was fixing her roof at eighty-four. When we visited, she was so different from the woman I remember, but every once in a while my grandmother shone through, in her laugh or her dry sense of humor. I find that as I write this,  I'm having a hard time remembering the woman who I saw the other day, frail and a little confused. I'm remembering her from before. 

I'm starting to miss home like crazy, but we're still soaking in the time with family and friends. (I miss Wookie and the market, our friends and our sweet town. I miss speaking Thai.) The kids are doing well, though we're all floating in a vacation world. "What are we doing today?" they ask us in the morning. "Seeing one of Daddy's cousins," we say. "Another one?" They are bonding with their granddad and throwing a football (Kai is surprisingly good), watching TV, (which doesn't happen at home) and playing laser tag for the first time. 

Detroit is late nights in the kitchen, a lot of laughing and goofing around, wine and painting with my sisters-in-law, baby nieces, cousins everywhere, playing on the wii, sleeping in the family room in the basement, greens and black eyed peas, graffiti gorgeousness, crisp air, running in the mornings. I love our family here so much it hurts. 

Seasons.

I want to tell all the stories but find that my voice is quiet because of all the talking and listening and child-rearing I’ve been doing. We’re in Detroit, swimming in family. It’s amazing; all the aunties and uncles and cousins and sisters and brothers. Everyone picks out all the people that our kids look like. He looks exactly like you when you were a kid. He’s got his uncle’s head. It’s that upper lip. 

I’m at a coffee shop right now to try to get some brain power back. I’ve been spending a lot of time trying to keep Isaac from eating my stepmother-in-law’s fake flowers while I prepare breakfast or wash dishes. He likes to eat the little pastel foam “berries,” while I die quietly because he’s killing me. 

A woman wearing pants and high heels just walked by my table. She has either a fake or real Louis Vuitton handbag, I wouldn’t know which. This coffee shop is a little odd, very suburban, but I don’t know my way around the city, and I needed a place to write. 

It wouldn’t seem like a country would change much in four years, but this land of plenty certainly changes fast. 

New things: 

The knives have colored blades.

People use avocado oil now.

The grains and cereals and flours are out of control. This is a good thing, but it still surprises me to walk into any old grocery store and find a chia/quinoa flour mix. 

You can buy something at Taco Bell that says taco on the inside, dorito on the outside. The billboard caused me to turn to Chinua and say, “I don’t want to live on this planet anymore.” It’s like everything has simultaneously become more healthy and less healthy. We’re polarizing more, perhaps. It’s a bad habit, the polarizing.

It is possible to pick up a pack of licorice and see Gluten free written on the package. 

Cars talk to you.

The streets are red in San Francisco: the bus lanes are red and glittery downtown. Red streets! What will they think of next?

 

But some things never change.

The sky is large and blue, the trees gorgeous. Freeways are full of cars, people here like big flags. I still need to sit facing the room in any restaurant or coffee shop, or I risk crawly back syndrome. Old men fall asleep in the coffee shop’s arm chairs. People are kind and friendly, sometimes in surprising ways, or rude, sometimes in surprising ways. I still hate shopping in America. 

I’m doing better with grocery stores because of my newfound skill of pretending that I’m a superhero when I go shopping. I know it freaks people out when I talk about my wonder woman cuffs, (I over-share with new friends) but it’s not that I think they have actual powers, it’s just that they remind me that I am a superhero and my name is Mighty Provider and my super skill is the ability to walk into a too-large store and peruse its over-complicated shelves in brightly lit cattle lanes and extract only what is needed to feed my family—no more, no less—without crying. I read labels! I pass the weird products without a second glance! I don’t melt down!

One thing I’ve noticed about anxiety, or neuro-atypicalness, or whatever it is that I have, is that my propensity to think that I should be able to do things that other people do makes me feel a lot worse. If I stop thinking about giant stores as something normal that I should be able to handle and start thinking about them as a large mountain that I need to scale, I find I have the power for it. 

You might try the same trick with whatever it is that you are afraid of. Instead of wondering what is wrong with you that you can’t do this easy thing that everyone else can do, think of yourself as a giant bird, able to glide into the situation and glide out without being harmed. Or put on your wonder woman cuffs and your superhero persona.

 

And then there are trees. A bad situation caused a meltdown in me the other day— the first truly public one I’ve ever had. Afterward, I lay under the redwoods and watched the the needles shining in the sunlight. I broke off needles and smelled them. The branches moved and I tried to let my embarrassment and sadness wave off into the sky with them. 

 

Now the leaves are changing here. It’s been a long time since I’ve been in any kind of autumn, let alone an autumn where leaves turn colors. Every morning I look at the leaves to see the changes that have occurred overnight. I also check on Kai, who is going through some kind of massive growth spurt, watching to see the inches he’s leaping through. And I see again that some things change, and some things never change and seasons of change are deep in the heart of God, he put the seasons and the years into place, the eras of a person’s life, the way we sometimes change slowly, sometimes not at all, and sometimes in giant, man-boy strides. There are things about myself that I wish I could change. I probably never will, and sometimes that knowledge makes me want to curl up in a corner and vow to never talk to anyone again. But other times I sit and look around for my shoes and my cuffs because it’s time to scale a mountain.

Full.

Sometimes it’s a pile of dried bay leaves rustling in the wind as I pass, or sun-warmed pine needles on a forest path. Sometimes it’s a patch of lavender, or a rose bush in the sun, or a giant rosemary bush outside my friend’s house. Fragrances are like old friends; they tap me on the shoulder and whisper, Remember when…? Yes, I say. I remember. I remember being a child in the forest, I remember days as a teenager, dreaming into the sunset, I remember country walks. I remember the old feelings of joy, the sharpness of the wind, the pangs of sadness. I remember the days that I was me here. In this place, or in this, or in that one. The home of my childhood, the beautiful landscapes of my homeland, or America, the country I adopted.

Now I am in the last home I had in America, in the hills of Northern California. Lovely despite the worst drought in 185 years. I remember things here too. I remember herbs in the sun, the bay tree at the Land. I remember the births of my children, the way springtime made us all feel like dancing after the long winter rains. I remember the yellows of the hills in the autumn. I remember the breezes, the graceful green river. I remember joy and sadness. I remember so many friends. 

There is pain. My good friend took her own life over four years ago and tears fill my eyes as I drive past her old house. There are places where I remember harsh words, or depression, or confusion. But there is more joy, so much more joy. It’s impossible not to dig deep and see the overflowing blessings that God has given us in our life.

Chinua and I just celebrated our 13th anniversary and we talked a little about the places we’ve lived. From urban San Francisco, to the redwoods, to a mountainside in the Himalayas, to a marble house beside a lake in Nepal, to the beach in Goa, to our little Thai town now. We have had a rich life. We have all made many sacrifices to live the way we do. But there is so much joy.

I’m thinking about joy a lot lately, how I want more of it in me and in my life, more in our family and community—sustaining us, growing us. I want to continue to learn to serve out of joy rather than obligation, in my family and community. In the world. 

Sometimes it’s the air— the way it can be cool while the sun is hot. Or the colors, the way the roses fill my eyes, the butterflies in flowers, the different shades of brown and green on the hills. Joy everywhere.

I struggle at times, with a scarcity mentality, believing wrongly that because others have plenty (of talent, success, money) there is not enough to go around. I was trying, recently, to understand the concept of abundance, and I remembered the parable of the Prodigal Son. When the father threw a party to welcome back his ungrateful, wasteful son, the good, obedient son responded with the view of scarcity: “But I’ve been here this whole time serving you and you’ve never thrown a party for me.” In other words, what he’s getting right now—love and celebration—somehow takes something from me. There is a delicate balance in what everyone has, and if something good is bestowed on someone else, there’s less for me. The father looked at him and responded with such kindness. 

“All that I have has always been yours.” This is what God says to us.

All that I have has always been yours.

Sometimes it’s my mother’s hand on my shoulder, Leafy hurling himself at me for a hug in the morning. It’s a hawk circling the highway, a full tank of gas, the whistle of our van that runs after so many years. Aging boards on an old fence, oaks in silhouette against golden light. Sometimes it’s a cup of coffee in the morning, Isaac’s face when he first sees me, another meal. Golden afternoon light, my oldest son’s delight in driving an ATV for the first time, my daughter’s delight in every. single. animal that she sees. How Solo can never stop jumping and standing on his head, the thirteen beautiful years of marriage that I’ve been given, the stirrings of longing for my home in Thailand that I happily feel now that I’m away. Sometimes it’s only the sky and the blue that seems to go on forever. 

All that I have has always been yours. 

There is so much joy.

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I don't want to forget.

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It isn’t easy, sometimes, with five kids, to have quality sister time. We have lots of quality time, mother time and auntie time, and it’s all so much fun, but it’s nice to do something as the two of us. We were able to go out on my last night in Kelowna. We drove through the orchards and vineyards on Becca’s scooter and the light was all around us, beautiful. Becca had a gift card  for a restaurant that had really good food. We talked and talked, and on the scooter going home the sky was black and we turned a corner and saw a giant orange moon over the trees. We stopped and tried to take pictures, but the moon looked like a tiny dot in our photos. So we’ll have to remember it forever, all the laughing and the wind on us, the sun in the orchards and the sky. 

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One day Chinua, the kids, and I piled into our van and drove to the place we got married; a park on a peninsula that juts into a small, bright green lake. It was even more beautiful than I remembered. “We got married under that tree!” I told the kids, and they raced toward it. I’m not sure if it was Leafy or if it was Kenya who called it "the tree of life, because we all came from that moment," but it was apt, and the place was gorgeous, and I felt very blessed with my half grown children and the man of my heart beside me. 

 

This past weekend, we took two ferries to the Sunshine Coast to visit my brother and sister-in-law in a little cabin they had rented for a month. The Sunshine coast is on the west coast of Canada, but is protected by a string of islands that line the Georgia Strait. It's one of the most beautiful places in the world. To get our energetice children out of the cabin, we drove an hour to a small lake where we set up on the beach, Lara nursing her sweetheart of a newborn (baby niece!) under an umbrella, the kids in and out of the water, jumping off the docks, screaming while they were thrown around by their uncle.

At one point I took an inflatable mat and set off into the lake. I lay on my back and drifted, dragonflies zipping in and out of my range of vision, the tall trees like feathered guards all around the lake. There were some dead trees, too, unearthly bare silver trunks spiking into the blue sky. It was all I wanted from life at that moment, to float on that lake and dream.

 Later we caught a swimming snake and looked at for a while before letting it go. Turtles poked their heads out of the water at us. It was all love, pure love from God. 

Solo finally convinced us that he was really, really serious about wanting to cut his hair, so Chinua pulled out my mom’s ancient clippers (they work really well- oh, they don’t make things the way they used to) and we shaved him bald. I don’t know if you remember how hard Leafy cried after he cut his hair and had dreadlock regret, but Solo hasn’t looked back. Kenya has had plenty of regret for him. When she was crying about it, I asked her, “What will you do when I cut my hair?” “You’ll never cut your hair!” she said. “I won’t cut mine until you cut yours,” I said. She shook her head. “I’d rather cut off my legs.” 

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Alrighty then.

Solo looks great, though surprising at first. I miss his hair but love seeing more of his face. He’s kind of awesome. 

After a full day’s drive from the Sunshine Coast we showed up here in Victoria. My parents had reserved us rooms in their timeshare for a few days, which is beautiful, right on the harbor with seaplanes taking off all day. ("Mame!" Isaac says, pointing. "Mame!") My parents had brought food things that they knew we would need, including a bottle of their homemade port, which was sitting on our night table. They made us a simple dinner, including a fruit salad, and then my mom said, “Oh, I brought you coffee, here’s the grinder and the cone filter for the morning.” Did you ever? My heart swelled and was full. Being taken care of! I have a mom and she stocked me up with coffee for the morning. Big sigh of happiness.

My older brother and sister-in-law came yesterday and we went to the beach with them and their two adorable girls and my sister-in-law’s mother. My sister-in-law is Filipino, so I had a nice talk with her mother about life in the Philippines, all the familiar things from Asia; fishing in the sea, coconut groves, rice paddies and life outside in the heat. We compared foods from Thailand and the Philippines, possibly very similar, at least in concept. Rice and fish or pork with vegetables. I got a craving for papaya salad while I was describing it to my sister-in-law. I love Asia. 

I began collecting the white pebbles from the beach. Looking for beautiful rocks is super fun for me, I could probably spend the whole day alone on the beach, looking through piles of pebbles for treasure. My sister-in-law’s mother caught on to what I was doing and joined in, walking over to me and dropping rocks into my hands periodically. Kai and Kenya did too. “This one?” Kai would say. “Nope,” I said. “I’m being picky.”

There have been so many beautiful things. Back in Kelowna, Chinua played a concert in the orchard, just as day shifted to dusk, then dusk into night. The music swelled around us and slipped into my heart, healing just one more little part of me.

The incident with the bus floor.

Way long ago, when we left Vancouver and traveled to Kelowna, we took the Greyhound Bus, about a five-and-a-half-hour journey, because our van was parked in Kelowna and we were picking it up there. It was the best option all around, and I thought the Greyhound would be a breeze. After all, we’ve been traveling all over Asia on trains and buses, buses are our normal mode of transport. Right?

It was inordinately difficult. Why is this so hard? I thought to myself as we tried to coordinate shuttling our many bags (including a guitar and a banjo) to the station. Once the bags were on the sidewalk, Chinua drove back to my brother and sister-in-law's house to get the kids and I stared at the bags and suit and at the stroller that Isaac was sitting in. I rigged a way of pulling a suitcase and pushing a stroller at the same time and proceeded to push/pull all our things in a few trips, asking people to watch our stuff as I went. (At one point, the very last person I would have asked to watch my stuff happily volunteered, sitting close to my things so I could rest at ease. He was probably a delightful person, but perhaps living in a different dimension, and it wasn't very reassuring.)

Long story short, we missed the bus because of a fender bender that didn’t bend any fenders but required the exchange of information, brought all of our things in taxis back to my brother’s house, and waited for our next bus. By the way, the answer to why is it so hard to take the bus in Canada (or the U.S.)? is: lack of porters and other help. I couldn’t even get a trolley. We breeze through Asia (“breeze” being subject to interpretation) because we have lots of help and ways to get our things around: In India, porters wearing red pile our things on their heads and run through the station, in Thailand there are trolleys and porters and helpful bus drivers close to where we can park.

Finally, finally we were ready to board the evening bus, but while I had been ready for the day bus, with nice bagged lunches for everyone, I didn’t have any food for dinner. I planned to go a takeaway sushi place that I had seen earlier at the station, but when we arrived, it was closed. That meant that we had twenty minutes to find food for our children before boarding a bus with hungry kids and driving for five and a half hours. I ran across the street to the only place I could see that would get food ready fast enough: McDonald’s. Oh, yuck. But making life work often requires exceptions, so off I went.

I returned with two large paper bags filled with food, one filled with fries, the other with burgers for the meat-eaters and wraps for the vegetarians. The kids managed to eat a few bites before it was time to get on the bus, and then we boarded the bus. I was carrying the two paper bags, another bag with food, my big everything-bag, and my toddler. Kenya was right behind me as we climbed the extremely narrow stairs. 

I was busy trying to guide Isaac up the stairs ahead of me, squeezing into the narrow opening when it happened: I heard a gigantic riiiiiiiip, as both bags tore open from top to bottom. I immediately collapsed on the floor to keep everything from flying out of the bags, my free arm curled protectively around our fries. And there I was. I couldn’t move. I was sitting/lying on the stairs at the entrance to the bus, my head already into the aisle so that I could see the fifty people in fifteen rows who were staring at me. 

“Chinua?” I called with a faint voice. He was at the very back of the bus, distributing our carry ons in the upper storage. “I could use some help, rather desperately.” 

“Just a second!” he called.

Behind me, people were waiting to board the bus, but my sprawled body was preventing them. I have lost all dignity, I told myself. I tried to smile at the man in a suit who was standing directly behind Kenya, outside the bus, but I’m afraid it looked more like a grimace of pain. Isaac played with the buttons on the bus console. The bus driver came to the door from where he had been loading bags, to see what the hold up was. “What’s… oh.” he said, as he saw me there.

 Eventually, after I had been lying in the aisle for a few minutes, Chinua made his way to me and with the help of a woman who offered an extra grocery bag, we saved the food and I picked my dusty, greasy, embarrassed, barely-a-grownup self off the floor and we made our way to our seats. I felt rather triumphant. I saved our food! And I wondered yet again why this stuff happens. Every other person boarded the bus without lying on the floor. Why not me?

Family photos.

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Oh, hello, poor, dear, neglected blog. 

All these things happen at a speed that feels hard to capture. I have so many stories to tell you. 

Some bullet points:

- Kai and Kenya are away at camp for the week. I'm so excited for them, I pushed hard to make it happen, and I miss them like crazy.

- I've been doing very well in grocery stores. (You would be proud of me.) However, I did have a panic attack while driving yesterday. (Why do drivers have to be so angry? Why don't people just bow and smile?)

- We leave Kelowna today, and I felt very, very sad yesterday. But then I remembered one of my resolutions: to say goodbye well. So Becca, my sister, and I went out for dinner at a place where she had a gift card, and it was amazing.

- My sister's friend, a talented photographer named Jessica Balfour, asked to take some photos of us while we are here, and one sunny day she appeared, shot a few photos, and now we have these delightful memories to keep. 

There are more photos on her blog. Check them out!

The beginning of my world.

I'm feeling speechless and though I know I can't tell you everything, can't describe all of what's happening, I'll tell you a few things.

I'm in Canada. This place was the beginning of the world for me, and as a place on Earth, still retains the deepest, truest love of my heart.

We flew through Korea (highly recommend) and landed in Vancouver one week ago. Vancouverites have been ecstatic about a heat wave in their rainy city. We have been ecstatic that it has been so cool and refreshing outside.

My brother baby-wearing his two-week-old baby.

My brother baby-wearing his two-week-old baby.

We were also excited about my brother, my sister-in-law, the big nearly-four-year-old niece, and the teeny baby niece. They let us crowd into their house and sleep in their rooms. We ate in the back yard together, went to my brother's hockey game, hiked, went to parks, and got over our jet lag while they were patient with our screaming toddler in the middle of the night. 

What has it been like?

It has been the incredible blue of the sky in Canada.

It has been trees- maples, beeches, oaks, poplars, and of course, pines.

It has been flowering trees lining streets in Vancouver, cars on the other side of the road, coffee in the morning with my brother, talking forever with my sister-in-law. 

It has been indoor kitchens, dishwashers and espresso makers, couches and things that don't die from dust and mold. It has been eating salad from my brother's garden while sitting in his backyard nodding at people over the fence. It has been jokes and dry humor, talking quickly in what suddenly strikes me as English that would be unintelligible to people who didn't speak it as a first language. 

It has been walks on suspension bridges, it has been marveling at Vancouver's amazing diversity of Canadians of every race, it has been traipsing through the forest and climbing rocks. It has been long evenings as the deep golden sunshine becomes fingers of light stretching farther and farther until we feel that it should be dark out already, but still the light lingers. It has been summer in Canada. 

It has been piano playing in the park and funny statements from our Asia-raised kids, about how the houses look like the houses in kid's drawings, and the forests are strange, not like forests, but like big bunches of pointy knives (pine forests). Solo's utter joy at the discovery of a water fountain. ("Water comes out of the wall and you can drink it!") Or the time we walked by a school bus and he said, "This is a magic school bus!!!" with excitement in his voice because he had never seen a yellow school bus beside The Magic School Bus. Or the time that Kenya pointed to a vending machine and said, "It's that thing from Over the Hedge!" 

It has been amazing. The day before yesterday we got on the Greyhound Bus to come to the Okanagan Valley to visit my sister in the next stage of our journey, and we are here, and we are happy.

 


The girl, the potatoes, and the thief.

Yesterday Chinua returned from playing a music festival in Sweden and I breathed a huge sigh of happiness, mostly, but also relief, because of the antics the world gets up to while he’s away. There was that time I accidentally adopted a dog, or the the time Kenya ended up in the hospital getting an X-ray of her hand (only a sprain), and this time I had to wonder, What will happen while Chinua is away? (I’m not actually very superstitious--in the daytime--and I’m sure I only notice the crazy things that happen because they are more noticeable when I’m on my own … but still.)

We had dinner with friends right after Chinua left—a small goodbye for a friend who was returning to Holland— and against all the warning voices in my head I decided to make something new. It was a baked rosti, a bad choice anyway because it is Swiss food and my friends were from Germany and Holland, so I was the last person in the room who should be making rosti, if you want to take geographical logic into it. (Actually, no, Leaf was over, so she was the last person. Australia is farthest from everywhere. Sorry guys.) 

But I had thought recently, Hey, I have an oven and maybe I can put things in it for dinner too? Like, bake food? This might seem silly until you remember that I mostly cooked Indian food for four years and now I cook a lot of Thai food and some beans. That’s my scope of food. 

The problem with weird Internet recipes, though, is that they call for things that we don’t have here. In this case, frozen shredded potatoes. No problem! I thought. I can grate some potatoes. I went blithely on my way, my guests arrived and I was in excellent time, putting my rosti into the oven and shutting the door happily, making the salad and dressing it. Until I had to acknowledge, two hours later, that the potatoes in the recipe were probably pre-cooked and mine were never, ever going to cook.

Thankfully, Miriam, Leaf, and Siem are the nicest people in the world to have around if your dinner is a disaster, and they brightened up my kitchen as the sky got darker and darker and night fell. I finally had to make a quick trip for a jar of pesto and some pasta and start over.

 

That was a long rabbit trail, because the point of that story is that I thought, Ha! Chinua goes away and I make a weird potato dish thingy, something always happens when Chinua is gone, ha ha ha! Chuckle. And it was true, our time did go smoothly. The Miriam and Brendan and Leaf force even watched four of my kids so I could take Leafy to Chiang Mai (3 hours away) for a dentist appointment without spending a million dollars and having that twitch in my eye start up again. 

But then on Friday, Miriam and I arrived at the meditation space to find that most of our things had been stolen out of the kitchen. We've been using the kitchen as a storage space until we could build a shed, and so most of our seating mats, pillows, all of our knives, one large pot, a bunch of glasses, the chai and spices, everything out of the fridge, and the worst, Chinua’s djembe, had been stolen. Oh, argh argh argh.

I had my suspicions about who the thief was, a man who has not been mentally well and hoards stuff, so I ended up walking overgrown paths with my friend Sandy, doing our own detective work, peering in abandoned guesthouse huts, looking for a stash of pillows, kitchen stuff, and one much-loved drum. I also spent time talking with the police at our space and in the police station, and even finding the man I suspected and approaching him with the police. Many days later we still have no idea where the stuff is, or how to help the foreign man who has been wandering the streets of Pai and may or may not have broken into our place. Meanwhile, we leave in three days. (Yay!)

But, as I sat in the police station chatting with a lieutenant for a couple hours (in Thai), feeling way out of my depth and also appreciative of the humor of the situation, I thought, This is just the kind of thing that I get up to when Chinua is away. 

On the town with the Leafy boy.

A couple of weeks back we had a community dinner at the Shekina Garden. A family joined us, and I was very inspired by their practice of making one minute videos of their days while they traveled. I'm always a bit daunted by all the video I take and never use, but my new friend showed me what he had done, and he made it look easy. 

So, when my Leafy boy and I went to Chiang Mai together to visit the dentist, I made a short video. This is what it feels like to be out with Leafy for the day. 

(I'm still learning about Youtube and copyright, so if you can't see the video, please let me know.) 

Seasons.

I love to know a place and its seasons. We're in the rainy season now, and I love it even though my kitchen floods every time there is a heavy rain, because the farmers are planting the rice and when the sun comes out all the world seems to be a reflection of blue sky and white clouds and the purest, infant green. Lush is too mild a word. 

Today Chinua left to play music at a festival in Sweden. His good friend asked him to come play and flew him out there, so off he goes to the far north, to play music late at night when the sun is still up and after it sets. When he gets back we'll have a few days before we all leave for our big trip back to North America. 

Since he is away and I will be traveling, I took the opportunity to make the largest edit on my book last week. I went away for a day and a night, stayed in a lovely bungalow (it may be my favorite place in the world) and dove straight into my book. To do an intense edit like that I needed to surround myself completely in the book, so it was excellent to have the complete focus that going away gave me, in a room that had nothing but my computer in it. I did go out for papaya salad with Leaf halfway through the day, a breath of fresh air (and she helped me with a few Hindi words in the book) in the middle of peering over words and ideas and plot and pacing.

And it was good to come home as well. To be attacked by a fiercely loving toddler, to cook again, to settle into being mom.  

 

The week ahead.

My weekend was lovely and relaxing, with a little bit of sewing, a little bit of painting, some cooking, some eating, some singing, and some board game playing. Now I'm diving into a verybusyweek head first. 

Sometimes it's not the number of things that I have to do in a week, but the diversity of things that messes with my head. From caring for a toddler, to homeschooling, to preparing for guiding meditation, to preparing for our upcoming trip (car insurance and registration, plane tickets) to writing, to painting, to spending time with friends, to cooking for a community dinner. I am constantly switching gears (I know many of us are, if we work out of our homes and in a number of creative areas). It makes my brain hurt, but I love it, and I chose it, so I will learn to live it well.

My reminders to myself are to pray and journal a bit every day, something that is only for God and for my own eyes, to play whenever possible, to remember joy, to take a deep breath when I need to. I think it's going to be a good week.

What do you have planned? 

Welcoming, creating, editing.

Our dear friends have arrived and the last few days have been a mishmash of talking, meals, and driving around on scooters to look at houses. There are kids who are happy to see each other. They run in and out of the house, climb into and out of the white flower tree. I did find two boys sitting on the roof of the studio/kitchen the other day. My own boy seemed shocked when I said he wasn’t supposed to be up there. I’m pretty sure his shock was due to his talent for acting, but I also know that these boys who have lived in India for so long see nothing wrong with sitting on rooftops. I have drawn a line at our slightly slanted, shingled rooftop (and even I question myself). For now, no sitting on the roof, at the very least because it will make our neighbors nervous.

 I haven’t felt much prouder than I did when I drove Brendan and Leaf around in the chariot to peek at a few houses. Precious cargo. They found a house quickly and move in today. My heart is happy.

The fields around our town are greener and greener now that beans have been planted and the rice is going in. Yesterday I rode my bicycle out to a favorite coffee shop and sat writing, surrounded by green, my plant-loving heart full and inspired.

Some of you dear readers have remarked that I sound happier. I think I can’t really express how much the lack of ability to go back for a visit was weighing on me, how it invaded my dreams and made me feel so heavy, so trapped. We have our tickets (thank you again, so much!) and are planning our itinerary and that weight has lifted. I feel light and free. 

I’ve been painting and writing, always wishing I had more time for both but happy with what I have. Two days ago I started the rough draft for a new book, an upper middle grade fantasy book, which is such a different genre from what I’ve written so far, but one of my favorites. They say to write what you love, and I read kids’ fantasy excitedly--I am just as much a Narnia or Harry Potter nerd as I might have been at twelve. It’s fun to start writing a new book. As for my last edit of my finished novel (which is called Sing Like Water), I think I’ll take a little retreat soon and hole up in a room somewhere. I can attack it, pace a little, eat some chocolate, work on it more, and get it done in a couple of days, rather than stretching it out over four more months in my spare moments. (Shudder.) I still haven’t decided how I’ll publish it, whether I’ll try for traditional publishing or do it myself again. We’ll see. 

Happy belated Canada Day, by the way, and Happy Independence Day to my American friends and family.