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. 

No better place.

Photo by Kenya.

Photo by Kenya.

You would think that as someone who named my blog Journey Mama, I would appreciate the journey. Ironic, isn’t it, that I am so impatient, so ready to get to a destination? Not in real life journeys, actually. When I am really traveling and the landscape is streaming by through the train window, I could stay traveling forever, never get there, be on the way and on and on. (The truth of this statement varies depending on the number of children with me, with 0= very true and 5=not true at all.) 

But as a metaphor? I’m all, hurry up and let’s get there. So when we moved to Thailand to begin a meditation community here, I assumed we would sort of seamlessly build on what had already been merrily humming along in Goa. This was not correct. We were beginning again. We were starting a whole new journey and I had no patience for it. 

The same is true right now for my re-entry into a life of painting. How funny that I can spend four years working on a novel but feel impatient when a piece of art takes a long time, or when I don’t have what I feel is enough time to devote to it. It’s because I’ve learned to value the journey in writing. But I’m impatient with art. Hurry up, let’s go, I want to be there already, let’s have something finished. Oh, silly wrong-headed person.

The truth is that life is mostly journey with only a few arrivals. Even in the arrivals we are already looking to the next landing, so we can’t even count on them. What’s the answer? 

The answer is the act of sitting down and writing, the paintbrush moving on the canvas, the trees rushing past the window, ignoring the way my slippery heart writhes and wants something to satiate it, some exciting event to medicate it, protect from the humbling act of living and how boring and sad and mediocre it can feel when you are doing the work. The answer is the knife on the cutting board, the pile of tomatoes gradually growing, the many meditations you hold before you hit your stride. The answer is remaining, not running when it is uncomfortable in the beginning. The answer is not saying “forget it,” or “it’s too hard, let’s try something else.” The answer is remaining, remembering that what God promises is to remain with us. To be with us in all the discomfort of life, in the fact that we are so brainwashed to expect great things and what we usually receive are beautiful, tiny, normal things. Beautiful, tiny, normal kids squabbling when they need to do their chores, beautiful, tiny, normal paintings that need to be started over, beautiful, tiny, normal empty fruit bowls that need to be refilled and you are the one who needs to leave your work and go to the market again.

Remain, because God is here and there is no better place to be. This is holy ground.

*

Something miraculous is going on over here, and though I am tempted to think we have arrived, I know that we are actually beginning a new journey, one just as tender and brilliant as any other we have been on. Readers, you know that over these last years of being in India and Thailand, I have found a heart friend, my friend Leaf. We have always jokingly dreamed of living close to one another, but in a that’s probably not going to happen kind of way. Then recently, unforeseeable events made it impossible for them to continue with their Jesus Ashram in India and very quickly things went into motion and they made the decision to join us here, and not only them but two other couples as well as a beautiful couple who has been intending to join us this fall. This moving takes time and we’ll all be really together this coming winter, though Leaf and Brendan are arriving tomorrow for some time before they do a bit of traveling.

It is a sudden community and the kind that could make so many things possible so quickly. It is amazing, it is an answer to the deep cries of my impatient soul. I am so very thankful.

Yes. But.

It is also the first step on a new journey, one that takes place in beautiful, tiny, normal moments, moments of love and grief and reconciliation and discomfort, moments when we choose to remain. (God is here and there is no better place to be.)

Dear Solo,

The other day you came with your dad and I, to Chiang Mai, all by yourself. It takes three hours to get there, on a very curvy road. We had rented a car so we could get to the city and back on the same day, and we left really early in the morning so we could get there in time for your appointment at the consulate for your new passport, which is expiring soon. (This means that you are very, very old. Nearly six years old!)

You were an angel. We were rather surprised by how quiet our day was. You read in the car, slept a bit, hummed to yourself, talked with us a little about the radio show we were listening to. Your dad and I had long, uninterrupted talks while you watched the passing trees through the window. In Chiang Mai you sat at the consulate quietly, we talked a bit while we waited. You stood and looked at the man when he was checking that the baby on your first passport was really you. (Hard to tell, really. It looks like a photo of Isaac.) You held our hands on the way back to the car. When we asked you what you wanted for lunch, you said “pizza,” so you and I got pizza while your dad looked for a salad. 

We painted your gloves on, but they started to melt off, all over you!

We painted your gloves on, but they started to melt off, all over you!

Of course you were still you, delightful, curious, stormy, stubborn, surprising you. When I asked you questions to draw you out, you gave me a “how dare you speak to me,” look. I reverted to one of my oldest tricks, talking casually about something I know you’re interested in, and waiting for you to join my one-sided conversation. It worked and you told me all about a video you had seen for making oobleck out of potato starch, starting with raw potatoes. (Couldn’t we just buy potato starch? I thought.) 

But you were a milder, more thoughtful you. This has been creeping up on us as you morph into the little boy you are. (And it’s hard to call you little when you look like an eight-year-old. I constantly have to remind myself that you’re still only five, you are nearly as tall as Leafy.) 

You are the best at Memory.

You are the best at Memory.

It told me a little bit about how hard it is to be you sometimes, the fourth kid, with the personality of someone who loves to teach, to offer knowledge, to instruct, and to have older brothers and sisters who often say, “I KNOW,” when you try to tell them something. I’m always trying to help them understand that they need to build your confidence by listening to you, but they forget.

They should listen to you more, because the world needs a kid who figures things out for himself, who loves to teach himself how to do absolutely. everything. Who came to me and said, “food is crunchy because the molecules are closer together!” and it was a discovery with enough joy that it could have been the discovery of a new planet. The world needs someone exactly like you, Solo, someone who thinks the way you do and is fiery like you, someone who draws so beautifully and loves people the way you do. 

Over the last couple of years you have had no patience for neighbors who just want to say hello or shoot the breeze. You used to be the chattiest of small talkers, without even so many words. Now it’s a waste of time to you, and no amount of trying to talk you into it will change things. (I know you’ll eventually come around, the way the other kids did.) But you are the first to make a friend when you meet a kid, pouncing on them with all your sharing abilities, telling them all about something you’ve done or seen or made. You practice headstands, you play with numbers in your head. (“Eight take away two is six!” you’ll announce out of the blue as you stand on your head against the wall.) You climb on things, you skip and jump around instead of walking. You get terribly angry when you feel ganged up on. You take really good care of Isaac. You’ve become excellent with Wookie. You adore your father, right now. (I’m kind of a runner up, these days. It’s okay, you had your years and years of shadowing my every move.) You’re a budding geologist, always finding the coolest rocks, always looking for geodes. 

You remind me often of India, the country where you were born, with your highs and lows, the way you can look as though the sun has come out radiantly, or as though we’d better head for cover. And like with that beautiful, maddening country I love, I am entranced by you, my son. You are so purely you, refusing to be anyone else at all. 

It’s wonderful.

Love, Mama

 

(Credit goes to Chinua for many of these photos.)

All the things we have.

There's a girl in my tree, a toddler in my lap, a dog at my feet, a pre-teen sitting not totally close to me but not so far away either, a five-year-old who doesn't want to hold my hand but keeps forgetting and grabbing it again, an eight-year-old washing dishes while standing on a skateboard in my kitchen. There's the most amazing man with his arm around me as we walk down the street, friends on the Internet, family on Skype cameras, beloveds on their way to us, new neighbors and friends around every corner.

There's homemade jam in the fridge, bread (not homemade) in the bread basket, a banjo, saz, guitar, violin, ukelele, djembe, and someone's bass guitar in the studio. There are tubes of paint, canvases, pencils, and pens on my desk. There are blank books in nearly every room of my house. There is fabric in my fabric tote, there's paper in the printer, there are edits to be made on my book. There are seeds (real ones) to be held in our hands and planted. There's soil to be dug, there are walls to be built, there is rice to be cooked, there are dreams to be fed and watered and breathed into existence.

There are days. And hours. And they are not scary. (They are not!) They are open and full of every possibility. There is grace and love that fall from the hands of God, his words that enter my ears in the morning when I wake. There is time, and it is not running out. It is full, and we are rich with it and all these other beautiful things, and we will be brave. 

 

Help my friend Myra bring lasting change to girls in Pakistan.

Today I want to share a project that a friend of mine is undertaking. 

As I write about this I'm thinking about girls in Pakistan who aren't allowed to learn. I look at my own daughter, my smart, funny, creative daughter and I think about the endless possibilities for her. She can read anything and she knows how to find things out for herself. She can learn anything.

But this is simply not possible for the majority of girls in Pakistan, who are unable to access the resources to learn to read or expand their worlds at all.

Here are some statistics from Myra's Indiegogo page:

  • 6.5 million children  under the age of 9 are not receiving any education at all

  • The female literacy rate for Northern Pakistan stands between 3% and 8%

  • UNESCO  places the overall literacy rate at 26% and the rate for girls and women at just 12%

  • Of 163,000 primary schools in Pakistan, only 40,000 serve girls. Only 8000 of these are in Northern Pakistan 

  • The severe lack of education in Pakistan is causing increases in ignorance, discrimination and religious extremism. Since 2006 Pakistan has had an average of 30 bombings per year

  • The Taliban has destroyed more than 400 schools in the north - 70% of them were girls' schools

  • Pakistan spends only 2.1 % of its GDP on education
  • Poverty is a big hurdle in girls' education. According to UNICEF, 17.6 % of Pakistani children are working and supporting their families. Children working as domestic help is a common phenomenon in Pakistan, and this sector employs more girls than boys.

I met Myra a couple years ago and we immediately connected because of our mutual love for South Asia. (Though at complete odds with one another, India and Pakistan are culturally very similar.) She is a generous hearted, smart young woman and I've had great talks with her about her early life with her parents in Pakistan, where her father founded a charity hospital in a village. 

 It would be a radical thing for a woman like Myra, a young Pakistani woman, to receive a Harvard education and return to her country to begin reforming education. I can totally imagine her doing it. She has a combination of confidence and humility that is striking, and her love for the people of the villages of Pakistan shines through her. She has been accepted to Harvard, but since she comes from a family of people who have devoted themselves to serving those without money, she cannot fund this education on her own. Again the people of the world, connected by the Internet, can band together to seed educational change in Pakistan in the shape of one woman, armed with a degree and the status that will bring her with the government in Pakistan. 

Here is Myra's video:

Here is Myra's IndieGoGo Page. It's well worth a read. I'm sharing this with you because I see it as a real way that we can help with change for Pakistan, for all those young, smart, creative girls who don't get a chance to learn. Please share, especially with people you may know who love this area of the world and long to see its people flourish. 

Dear Isaac,

This morning you woke up at 5:30 and began shouting “UP!” “UP, UP, UUUUP!” you said, as though I was late already and you’d been waiting for hours for your slovenly mother. If Kai tried something like lying in his bed and shouting “UP” at 5:30 in the morning we’d probably bring him to the doctor to get his head checked and then if everything was okay, Minecraft would be over for the year. But this is being 16 and a half months old. You get to do stuff like crazy shouting at odd hours, and instead of bringing you to the doctor, I haul myself into your room, pick you up, and kiss you all over your face.

Living with you in Thailand is like bringing a celebrity everywhere I go. When I walk into a shop heads turn and faces light up and sometimes (for instance, in 7-11) a group of women will hustle over and begin chatting with you. You LOVE it. You love talking to people, smiling at people, blowing people kisses. You love saying Sawadee Krap with your hands together and a sometimes exaggerated bow (once you bowed until your head touched the ground and you fell over). You love standing outside our house and having hollered conversations with our neighbors, who enjoy it almost as much as you do. The other day you were in the carrier on my back when we went to the hardware store to buy black paint and a large group of ladies surrounded you to talk with you. You put your hands together to make a wai and say Sawadee Krap and they were delighted. They asked you in Thai whether you speak Thai, and in your excitement to repeat what they said, you told them you did. (“Poot Dai,” you said.) That was exciting. 

Living with you in general is like living with the most delightful and destructive person on the planet. You alternate between giving me kisses and hugs and pulling things apart. Did I just put all the colored pencils back in the metal cup? You would like to carry them to all the ends of the house. Are there bags of lentils in the cupboards? Only for you to try to open. Did I give you a cup of water? You’ll drink it nicely and then pour it over your shirt and watch it puddle at your feet. 

Isaac-mess.jpg

You can say all of our names now, though somehow you still get Daddy and Mama mixed up. I love how your relationship is different with each one of us, and I think you are such a shining star in each of our lives. You calm and elevate your tween brother and sister. You play with Leafy and you are wildly delighted by Solo, whose empathy is growing daily through his love and care for you. 

You were what we needed, son. We didn’t know it, but God did. Walking, running, smiling with those dimples, sitting on us, hovering over us, getting into things, singing in your crib, laughing along at the books we read, dancing, making silly faces to make us laugh. 


Oh I love you.


Love,

Mama

Celebration and Show and Tell.

Kai said about us, "You two are the same brand of weird," and Kenya was thrilled by this. This girl is such an amazing girl. I'm so glad she's in my life.

Kai said about us, "You two are the same brand of weird," and Kenya was thrilled by this. This girl is such an amazing girl. I'm so glad she's in my life.

Today I’m celebrating for two and a half reasons. Two and a half! Celebrating!

Reason one: We have raised enough money with our campaign to buy airline tickets to get to North America. This is because of you. I can’t say thank you enough. I’ve never done this before and it was scary and hard but then so many kind hearts came through. Thank you! We’re working out our dates and we’re going to be able to see our beloved families. We’re so happy! I’m leaving the campaign open and any additional donations will go to our other trip costs, which are many.

 

Reason two: I have paint on my clothes again, hooray! I was in the market yesterday and looked down to see that I had purple paint on my shirt. You might think this would embarrass me, but having paint on my clothes takes me right back to some of my happiest moments ever, mucking around in the art studio at my high school, making giant paintings. 

After years of wanting to paint again and saying I’m going to paint and feeling sad in art stores and writing “Paint” on New Year’s resolution lists, and having one dusty canvas sitting in my room, I have worked it out. I have found a way to bring art back into my life and I will keep it there.

Why did I stop? I had many reasons. I didn’t have time, or space, or peace of mind for painting. I had babies and toddlers tearing stuff up. But the biggest reason is that I think I listened to bad counsel about the meaning of art in life, and what works and doesn’t work, and I stopped believing in myself and my own ability to make things. This year I’ve said it: enough is enough. I’ll make things I like and I’ll share them and sell them.

How did I make time for it? I started painting in the mornings. I have a habit of waking up very early, usually before the kids are up, and that’s my time for writing. I started alternating mornings, so I have at least three mornings a week that I can paint, and I have found that painting is such a lovely way to start the day. If I'm working with acrylics (which dry fast) I leave the painting on an easel in our big room, and often find a few minutes here or there to work on it throughout the day. If it's oil, there's nothing for it. It has to stay in the studio. (The little garage room behind our kitchen.) 

Reason Two and a half: I’ve opened my Etsy shop and two of my paintings are for sale there. Right now I have both originals and prints for sale. I’ve started! It has begun! 

This painting is called Nothing Was Ordinary (original here, prints here) and it is the first in an intended series of the same name—a group of paintings that has a kind of playfulness about being a grownup and how the simple domestic things of life can be wild if you allow yourself the richness of imagination. 

This painting is called Bengali Woman (original here, prints here) and it’s first in an intended series called A World of Family, and I guess it’s self explanatory, if you’ve been reading this blog, but I’ve met so many lovely people from many different circumstances in my journey, and I think there is nothing more beautiful than the human face. I will give fifty percent of the profit from this series of small portraits to organizations who are helping those who are in need: in poverty, refugees, exploited or at risk of exploitation.

What will I do to celebrate? I'm not sure. I do have a little brownie hidden in the fridge for later. It's way at the back, where I don't think anyone will find it and ask me about it and then I'll feel compelled to share and sigh about sharing. 

This and that.

Photo courtesy of Solo. Shopping with my kids is both fun and maddening. 

Photo courtesy of Solo. Shopping with my kids is both fun and maddening. 

It’s a beautiful cool morning after a long rain yesterday and I’m collecting my thoughts and thinking about the events of the last days.  There has been this and that and lots of beauty. Lots of love for my family. I am well out of my anxiety crisis and feeling better daily, although my heart still thumps away when I’m running errands or shopping. Oh, who am I kidding, it always does that! 

 

* I sent my manuscript out to some beta readers and have been wringing my fingers and chewing on my hands. I’m so glad to have it out in the world even a little bit, though. It’s time for that baby to be born.

* I’ll be showing you some finished paintings in the next couple of days. I decided to live one of my dreams and bring art back into my life, and I’m so happy I did.

* I’ve also been setting up for selling originals and prints online, which has been kind of fun, because it’s Thailand and I was running around Chiang Mai (heart thumping away) making orders for mats in Thai, measurements in Thai, perusing gigantic markets for the supplies I need. Outdoor markets do help the thumpy heart calm down. Target-like shops and malls- no.

* I can’t think of much that makes me happier than buying a new canvas or tube of paint.

* I made an appointment with a woman here in Pai for earth building at the meditation space, starting on the 25th of this month. We’re going to have walls! Just one full wall, two half walls, and about a meter around the rest so we can still see the beautiful hills. But we’ll be able to put our backs against the wall and be sheltered from the crazy hot afternoon sun.

* Also on my to-do list: find a really good concrete guy to make the countertops in the meditation space kitchen. Right now we have no counters and no shelf space. We need lots of work space so we can make community meals together in the kitchen with music and talking. 

* Let’s not talk about my to-do list. It’s crazy.

* My children are delightful. I really, really like them. They’re quirky, too, and quirkiness is one of my favorite characteristics, so I’m glad about that. 

Kenya in the car on the way home from Chiang Mai: “Daddy? You know how you say we should enjoy the short moment of having a cookie in our mouth? I feel the same way about a wiggly tooth.” 

Chinua: “I get that! Free entertainment in your mouth!”

Kenya: “It feels so good to twirl it around!”

Hmm, perhaps it’s clear where they get their quirkiness from.

* One morning last week, I was sitting with my coffee and writing emails when my friend Kaveh came over. Isaac ran straight to him for a hug, which was beautiful because Kaveh had had a rough night. His wife had just given birth to a baby and there were some complications, so she was being treated at the small village hospital and Kaveh couldn’t understand what they were telling him about what she needed. He had come for help.

Off we went to the hospital, where we talked to the doctors and nurses and decided on a plan of action. Julie was in a general labor ward, so we got her in a private room and everything started to feel more normal again. I saw the beautiful baby and beautiful mother and felt the warm and happy feeling I only get when I am able to be present at the beginning of a little family— the warmth and confusion, the exhaustion and beginnings of falling deeply in love. It always reminds me of having Kai, of blearily watching Star Trek episodes with Chinua in the hospital and glancing down at our gorgeous baby thinking, “What just happened to us?” Having Isaac, in comparison, felt so normal, so easy to tuck him into our family, because we have a family with kids now and we know how we do these things. But that first child is very, very special. The little family is home now. I hope to visit with some love and food.

* The big rain yesterday flooded my storage room. How thrilled I am to clean that up! (Not really.)

* Our trip home fund is at 80 percent! I'm starting to allow myself to get excited about visiting home. Over the last years, every time I’ve thought of it, I’ve stuffed that thought away. “You can’t have that.” It’s one of the refrains of those who live far from where they originated. “You can’t have that.” You fold up the desire and tuck it on a shelf somewhere. But I’ve been unfolding those things and looking at them again. Some have crumbled to bits—it’s been so long I don’t even remember them, like foods I may have missed or coffee I wanted to drink. Some, like the driftwood beaches of BC, the laughter of my brother and sister, the red hair of my niece and kindness of my sister-in-law, the hugs of my parents, the welcome and laughter of Chinua’s family—these are intact, and I am holding them close to my heart. Thank you so much for donating and sharing.

Sharing a need today.

Living away from your home country can be hard, and even when you know deeply and truly that you are doing what you are meant to do, living the life you are meant to live, the longing you feel for things that you grew up with, for your family, for your friends, for the smells of your home air can envelop you at times and threaten to overwhelm you. 

Most of the time, I put all my energy into loving where I live, and it often comes easily, because I live in a beautiful, friendly place. Other times, especially when we're a bit more vulnerable, I feel stuck. Stuck because though I miss my family, I can't hop in a car and go to see them, or onto a plane to get to them. Stuck because it has been four years and I feel sick over it sometimes.

We finally have reached the point where we are asking for help from our larger Internet community. I'm so thankful for my readers here at Journey Mama, for the love and support I've received over the years in this place, for the way you've read my words and said, "Yes, I understand, I'm there with you." I love writing here. The beautiful thing about asking for help in this way, from you, is that it feels safe, and it feels doable, because even if everyone gives just a little, it adds up. 

Anyway, I won't belabor the point. You can click below to read more about what we are trying to do-- in short, to raise money for a trip home this summer/fall. We appreciate every donation and every time our need is shared. 

Thanks, beloveds, and much love to you. 

Any reason is a good reason to celebrate!

My kids have invented a new holiday. The other day they told me about the holiday in the morning, we talked about it all day, and when I brought pizza home for dinner, they said, "Yay! Pizza for celebrating Sun One Jun!" That's our new holiday. Sun One Jun. "We should get pizza for every Sun One Jun," Leafy told me, which I'm not sure if I'll remember, because the next Sun One Jun doesn't happen for another eleven years. 

It seems that Leafy looked at the computer in the morning and noticed that in the top right hand corner it said Sun 1 Jun, or Sunday, the 1st of June, since it abbreviated June--which doesn't strike me as a month that needs abbreviation, but I digress--and was thoroughly tickled by this. This would tickle Leafy, he is a little word play addict, constantly working on rhyming things or making word matches in his head. And although it was Leafy's idea, the other kids supported him in his Sun One Jun bliss, wondering what exactly they could get for Sun One Jun. Could they get ice cream? (Didn't happen.) A break from school? (Well, yes, but not for that reason.) Pizza? (Yes.) 

And where will we be when we are eating pizza in 2025 for Sun One Jun? I have no idea, but I do know that Kai will be twenty-two years old and Isaac will be twelve. Leafy himself will be nineteen and I'll call my tall, broad-shouldered man boy up and remind him that he needs to take his mother out for pizza, it's Sun One Jun.

If we get a hankering for a holiday before that, well, next year is Mon One Jun. 

 

The water fell and my heart got lighter.

The joy part of this year hasn’t been going very well, unless by joy you mean Falling Completely To Pieces, which actually wasn’t the idea at all, but tell that to my body, which reacted to the flu by throwing me into an anxiety meltdown tailspin car crash, BAM, your brain hates you. 

It seems I’d been saving it up. Truthfully, the past month was rather strange. Chinua was hospitalized, we had an earthquake, I got the flu and so did Isaac, and we are in the middle of a coup. I saved it up until it was too much and it came pouring out and my mind was in the dark place, the one where I am like a small child cowering on the sidewalk and every car and stranger that goes by is exaggerated and looming. “I need to buy milk,” I might think, opening the refrigerator, and the words leave my  brain as creepy silent shapes mouthing “milk failure, milk failure.” “That doesn’t even make sense,” I say back, but it doesn’t matter because I feel afraid of everything: the sky, the idea of a day, the country I live in, the people on my street, my dog, the fact that my children depend on me. Dread, really, I feel dread. The huge thing that loomed up during this time was how much I miss my homelands. Both of them, the wild northern country of my birth, and the one I adopted when I married Chinua. (Let’s not even start with India, better to not go there.) It became unbearable in my broken mind. The milk and the fact that I couldn’t get on a plane right that second mocked me. The fact that Wookie needed a bath nearly sent me over the edge.

What was there to do? I couldn’t even taste food, the inside of my mind wasn’t safe. One day I cried in my bed until I sat up and said “enough.” I got on the bike and drove. I went up the mountain, I wanted to go to the very top, so I could see everything from a distance, but I couldn’t find a road high enough, so I went to the waterfall. Perhaps a poem will come out of my mouth, I thought, perhaps I can get this bike to fly. Maybe I can go through my days and collect all the scraps of beauty, hold them close to my heart, protect myself from wandering eyes, convince myself that I am not sad. Oh, it has been a long loneliness and there have been so many times that we’ve said, we’ll get back somehow. 

I sat and looked at that water throwing itself down the rocks, and I watched the kids who let the water sweep them down along the rock slides, unhurt, incredibly, every time. How do I get bravery like that? I wondered. The water washed the rocks and it washed my mind. I closed my eyes and asked God to fit himself in all the strange creaking places in my brain and my heart. 

The beautiful things are these: 

1. I am coming out of it. Yesterday was nearly normal, today was a bit wobbly. 

2. My mind hasn’t been sick like this for a long time. The last time I can remember it being this strong was when we first moved to India (I wrote that it felt like a large cat sitting on my chest every morning), but it’s possible that I’m just forgetting. I know it’s been a long time, though. 

3. I held it together for my kids. There were no fits of rage, the Crazy Town girl was successfully kept on the inside, I probably seemed normal to them, though a bit tired and recovering from the flu. 

4. There will be so many more days of light and joy in my life. I feel like a newborn baby right now, raw and vulnerable, but close to the heart of God and needy of him. I told myself the story over and over, remember when you felt like this before? And God brought you out of it, he has you, he won’t let you go.