Five things

1. There is a market baby and the market baby makes my day. I go to the vegetable market in the mornings and the market baby is often there, walking around in squeaky shoes, or trying to eat food off the ground, or being passed from stall to stall. Her mother works in or near the market, and I remember when she was pregnant with this little one. Now the little one is just over a year old, she has grown up in the market, and everyone loves her. The man at the fresh coconut milk chases after her and pretends to bite her fingers. The fruit ladies call out to her. Her life is a constant smile directed toward her. Also, her name means New Rice, which is just beautiful.

2. There are a lot of emotions in my house lately. I have two children entering the wild world of emotional rollercoaster at roughly the same time. Thankfully card games and silly talk still work on everyone.

3. Recently I took a trip to Chiang Mai and was driving around a little neighborhood with my friend Naomi. We were on two scooters, and came across a couple who were embracing in the road, standing and leaning into one another. They were an older, hippie-looking couple. She had long gray hair and a skirt that brushed the ground, and he had a beard. As we reached them, they moved apart and turned to look at the sky. The man lifted his binoculars to his eyes and that was when Naomi and I both realized that not only were they a beautiful, loving couple having a sweet moment in the middle of the street, they were also bird-watchers. Birders! My heart gave a great leap. Naomi and I looked at each other. We were thinking the same thing-- We loved them. The end.

4. Here’s another story of witnessing a sweet moment. Recently I saw a woman I know only a little, a kind woman who once visited me in the hospital. We said hello and then I watched her cross a bridge over a pond in a beautiful garden. I knew that she had been walking and praying. When she reached the end of the bridge, she lifted her arms and threw her head back as if to say, “All of this!” All of this. I saw the response and recognized that moment. This is the response my heart gives to God when I see the world and all the beauty that I forget to see if I’m racing from thing to thing like a mad beast. I’m here and all of this is here and God says, “All that I have has always been yours.” That bird that you might glimpse in your binoculars, that cloud, the blue of the sky, a night of unseasonal rain. I recognized joy in that woman and I loved her. The end.

5. I'm at less than ten days to book launch! Releasing a new book is such a combination of excitement and anxiety that I would like to zip myself up in a suitcase and throw myself in the ocean. Bob around on the waves for a while, let a warm sea take all my thoughts and smooth them out. This kind of thought reminds me of a conversation I had with Kai, after he had read Trees Tall as Mountains for the first time, just a couple of months ago. Surprisingly, he loved it. He loved reading about all the little things he used to do when he was only three years old. And he told me, “I liked when you hallucinated.” 

“When I did what?” I said. I didn’t remember any hallucinating in the book.

“When you were hallucinating about us going wild in the store and you dropped yogurt on people’s heads.” 

“That’s called imagining,” I said. 

He shrugged. “It’s pretty much the same thing.” 

That's me then. Hallucinating since 1980. 

5 Things: Hospital

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1. One treatment for Isaac when he was really sick was a nastrogastric tube down his nose and throat and into his stomach. It drained off the excess gas and gastric fluid and bile that was building up inside him. On the other end of the tube was a little plastic ziploc bag that gathering the contents that drained out. His intestines had stopped working, so a lot of bile was coming up at first- bright green in color. I had to maneuver him around with this tube and bag for many days, holding the bile bag in my hand so that it wouldn’t spill, or drag, or tug the tube out of his nose. Oh, how I hated the bile bag. Isaac hated it, too. He pulled it out the first night he had it, which earned him a mitten hand. After a couple days, we took the mitten off and he didn’t pull it out again— he learned to navigate around it. Clever baby.

2. In Thailand, everyone has a nickname, and everyone goes by their nickname rather than their real name. When nurses were filling out forms, they would ask, “What is your baby’s nickname?” or, “What do you call him?” I would always reply that he doesn’t have a nickname, or that we call him Isaac. (Izzy just hasn’t stuck. Yet. Chinua calls him Zacky Zac sometimes.) But later I thought, well, he’s our Thai baby, maybe he needs a nickname! So I asked one of the nurses to help me come up with a chu lenn, a play name. Together we came up with Mee Noi, which means Little Bear. It seems appropriate. He’s little, but so so big. (He’s as big as all the eighteen-month-olds around here.) Now the nurses call out “Mee Noi,” when they come into the room. I love it.

3. One incredible thing about the hospital in Thailand: the food. They started feeding me yesterday, when the “No Food, No Water” sign was removed from our door. (I guess I had been sent to my room without dinner as well.) I received a menu and saw that I could order a choice of any number of 1.)Depressing Western hospital meals, such as macaroni or weird steak fillets with mashed potatoes and tired carrots, or 2.)Delicious Thai meals, including meals from many regions. I was wracked with indecision. (No I wasn’t.)

Before they started feeding me, I was dependent on someone helping me by bringing me food or sitting with my baby so I could head down to the third floor to get some food. Down there they also serve Thai food: very affordable Thai food. And in the little shop there are things you can pick up, like really yummy fresh spring rolls or deep fried seaweed. (So good.) There were a couple times when I didn’t have much food and ate rice cakes for my meal, but it’s mostly been really good. Since Isaac’s bile bag was removed, I’ve been able to take him along with me, wheeling his little IV trolley alongside. I also found this book in the shop. I was surprised, and though I was tempted, I didn’t buy it.

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4. Before Isaac was admitted to the children’s hospital ward, we were at the children’s clinic here. It has been built to look like a space alien station, with space-age silver rounded couches and blue lights in the ceiling. I didn’t like it. It felt like too much, like, we’re sick! Blue lights are weird! I really appreciate the quality of medical care in Thailand, but I don’t like the whole commercial feel it can have. I don’t want a woman who looks like a flight attendant with whitened skin, and contact-enlarged eyes to lead me to the doctor in her high heels. My baby is sick, give me someone in scrubs and comfy shoes and I’m happy. But it is a popular trend here as part of the health care process. The women are the equivalent of a hostess in a restaurant taking care of people, only there are many of them, and they don’t look like normal people. (To me.) I was happy, arriving at the children’s ward, to see that the nurses look like the nurses I’m used to, with regular ol’ scrubs on. The only difference is that they take their shoes off to enter the room. And the doctor comes and sits on the floor with us to talk to us. (Love. They took the bed out when I arrived and put the mattress on the floor so Isaac would be safer.)


5. During the last few days that we have been here, when Isaac has been doing better and I’m not worried, I feel like I’m at a very strange resort, where I cannot leave the building and the decorations are institutional, and I’m having forced rest. It’s a gift. I’ve been editing the next Journey Mama book and have completed so many months, and I’ve been reading and watching a movie here and there. We get sprung today, (yay!) and I’m praying for a gentle landing as Isaac and I re-enter the wild, wonderful world of our very busy home.

5 Things Day Seven: Snake Headaches and Pirates

1. This morning I woke up with an iron snake headache. There was an iron snake curled all the way around my brain and it was squeezing me up. Normally I don’t like to even acknowledge headaches, I don’t like anything that stops me for any length of time. But this was something I couldn’t see through, like a too small grey sweater that you can’t get over your head. I went back to bed.

2. I proceeded to sleep all morning, pausing my sleeping to drag myself back to the surface of the day and nurse my baby wallaby (he likes to kick and punch, lately, while nursing. I hold his little hands and coach him in gentleness, but he smiles and waves his wallaby paws around) and then be dragged back to sleep. At lunchtime, Chinua brought me this.

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He loves to make food beautiful (especially when it's for me) and I find that very romantic, but also very inspiring. (I tend to be more of a "throw it on a plate" girl myself.)

3. I’m feeling marginally better this evening, which is good because I’m trying to keep a rhythm going, don’t you know, headache, you usurper? I blame today’s sickness for yesterday’s fits of fear and lack of belief in myself. It could be today’s sickness or it could be the ant bites. I stepped in yet ANOTHER red ant nest the other day, trying to hang laundry behind the kitchen building. They were the type that climb on your legs and then somehow all bite at once. Not that my legs were ever all that beautiful, but lately they’re all covered in bites and it’s painfully evident on their pale white moon-brightness. Also, mosquitoes love me best of all. I don’t even have to spray Isaac with bug repellent, I only have to stay close to him. I am the perfect bug repellent— where I am, mosquitoes want no one else. It’s a reason you want to have me at your party, even if I’m not the best at small talk.

4. I think there are pirates that live in this neighborhood, because sometimes I’m scootering down the street and I swear I see pirates sitting at tables and talking to each other. Or maybe they are only my idea of pirates and I shouldn't judge people and say, “You look like a pirate” anymore, but if you have a peg leg and your nose is smushed all to one side, I might think you’re a pirate. Except I don’t know if this guy had a peg leg because his legs were under the table, but his arms made him look like the kind of guy who has a peg leg.

And there is at least ONE pirate in the neighborhood, and his name is Captain Jack Sparrow, and every night he sets up a little stand at the end of my street and sometimes even poses for pictures. One day when I was scootering by he winked at me. (Have I told you that before? It was an exciting day.) Perhaps I’ll see if he’ll take a picture with me, one of these days.

5. Speaking of peg legs, there was a rat with a peg leg in my ceiling the other night and it was keeping me awake at the 3:00 hour, which enraged me. Tap tap tap echoed the rat on the teak ceiling. Our house is made of the same material that drums are made of. We live in a large drum. We caught one of the rats in our live trap and Leafy got incredibly worried about setting it free in the jungle. “That’s basically sending it out to get killed,” he said, and I had to assert that there is only so far that our charity goes- we can’t set him free in a house rat retirement community or something. The kids fetched him food and water while we waited for Chinua to get up and take him out to the jungle, because that’s how it goes when we catch pests in the Ford home. We also don’t kill flies or spiders. We kill ants and mosquitoes, and sometimes Leafy and Kenya even get upset about that. But later Leafy cheered up and said that it would be more like the rat was Bear Grylls.

5 Things Day Six: Stories and Writing

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1. Fried rice might be the most ordinary food in all of Thailand, and it might be my favorite.

2. This week I’ve been menu-planning and planning for shopping so that I don’t need to go to the market every day. It’s been amazing. I need to keep it up. The afternoon market is just a block away, so it is easy to forget about dinner until about 4:00 (or sometimes even 5:00) and then walk over there and shop and get back and cook. But I’ve discovered that when I do it that way, I do it with a lot of stress. It seems to be better to do a couple of big market runs twice a week or so, with little shopping trips (because I always forget things) in between. You may be surprised to find that I’m just figuring this out now. I’m not a grownup, remember? I’m a writer.

3. Speaking of writing, I’m happily working through my fourth draft of my current novel. Once I get this fourth pass done, it will be ready to send to beta readers, and after another quick pass, to an editor. I can’t wait for you to meet Timothy and Prema. Oh, and Isaac. You see, there is a baby in my book named Isaac, and he was named Isaac before I was even pregnant, but then I liked the name so much I named my real baby Isaac, but the book baby can’t be changed. So I have two Isaacs. And here’s a tip: If you’re writing a book about a baby, there is no more excellent method of research than to have another baby yourself. He is my research baby.

4. I have all this time when I’m either nursing or getting Isaac to sleep, and I have my little iPod touch that I can use, carefully, quietly, behind his back while I’m doing that. (Carefully and quietly because he gets soooo distracted if he knows I’m doing anything at all.) Usually I read things on the internet, or read books, or even play games. But recently I’ve started to use this time to brainstorm my next book. For those of you interested in nerdy writer things, I’ve always been what’s called a “pantser,” meaning that I begin writing with little more than an idea in mind and through writing and rewrites, find my story and all it’s characters. This usually means a LOT of rewrites. With my next book, I’m going to try to plot it first, which should save time on rewrites, and also leave a lot of room for play and imagination without the added responsibility of good writing. Get all the ideas out, sketch it out, and then call forth the writer. You are almost bringing three people into the work room: the story dreamer, the writer, and the editor, each at different times.

So my story dreamer is going wild during this time of nursing and as I told Chinua yesterday, I haven’t had this much fun in a long, long time. Part of the fun is in the fact that I’m dreaming up a story in the only other genre that I love as much as the mainstream fiction that I normally write, which is fantasy, bent toward young people. Fantasy! But do not worry, my friends, there are no vampires.

I’m bubbling over right now, writing this. I genuinely love this new story. (And it’s going to be a series.)

But I’m getting ahead of myself, because that’s a long way down the road, and what you are going to be reading much sooner is all about Timothy and his travels through India. There are trains (how many train scenes are too many in one novel?) and boats, and lots of chai.

And as an aside, I finally got the review on Trees Tall as Mountains that I was previously nervous about, where the reviewer found me "whiny and dysfunctional," and I'm pleasantly surprised by how little it touches me. My heart is well guarded from bad reviews, friends, and I think that is largely in part to the encouragement of Journey Mama readers. And personally, I think dysfunctional is a mild word for what I am--that's kind of the point. :) But I've learned that some people don't like to read about people who are dysfunctional- it's a matter of taste. I do, I always have. And if you're still here, I guess you do too. (By the way, I share this hesitantly, as part of my journey, but don't want anyone here to react by commenting on the review or anything. I hate internet pile-ons. Let's just say I share this because I trust your judgement as readers, and that I'm happy to have people with different tastes read my stuff and even to have negative reviews. It's all part of it.)

5. Isaac has learned to play peek-a-boo and you’d never have guessed, I know, but it is the cutest thing ever. My heart hurts with all the love I have for this dear baby. And I feel like such a different woman than I was eleven years ago with my first sweet Kai baby. Isaac feels so simple, he is with me almost always and caring for him is like breathing. What a gift God gives us-- this bond between mother and baby. It goes so deep, deep into the quietest, most nourishing parts of me. I do love my baby so.

5 Things Day Five: Circles

1. My friend Brendan left today and I was remembering a moment that happened when he first arrived here a couple weeks ago. I was looking out for him and Leaf all day, imagining that they’d show up in the afternoon, and planning dinner for all of us together. But when they hadn’t shown up by dinnertime, I just stuck my headphones in and started cooking. Through a mist of music I heard my name called and suddenly my dearest friends were in the kitchen with me! There were hugs and squeals and then I kept on cooking, until Brendan asked, “Rae, is this a veg meal?”
“Yes,” I said, thinking, of course it is. Then Brendan leaned over and pulled a giant insect out of the pot. It was about an inch long and half an inch thick and had made a suicidal dive for my food. It would have made the meal decidedly non-veg, so Brendan saved the day!

2. The other night Isaac slept all the way through, which he isn’t prone to doing. There is nothing like waking up to his noises and realizing that it’s 5:30 in the morning and it’s the first time I’ve opened my eyes. I nursed him and he went back to sleep, then I got up to write. I felt so rested.

3. Buying ground cumin rather than ground cinnamon this morning was a story that began last night, when I went to the store to get pasta and promptly got drunk on the smell of freshly baked bread. Forgetting that my family doesn’t ever really eat bread with pasta, I just had to buy some french loaves. I skipped home with it and we sliced it up, but there was a huge plate of it, uneaten, after dinner. No problem, thought I, that’s why french toast was invented: for bread-smell drunk mothers who try to overload their families with starch. So this morning I made oven french toast, getting all the way to the last step, when I realized that I had no cinnamon. No problem, thought I, again, I’ll just pop off to the store and get some. But I wasn’t popping in a very poppy way, as I didn’t get as much sleep last night. Isaac only woke up once, but there was some eleven-year-old stumbling around, telling me he couldn’t sleep at 2:00 and then 3:00 and then 4:00 in the morning. I woke up tired, and I hobbled into the store, picked up the first spice jar with a “c” word and brown powder that I saw, and rushed home.
The good part is that I noticed it was cumin before I put it in the french toast. Another trip to the store and it was all sorted.

4. Leaf is still here for a few more days, and today we snuck out for lunch at a nearby restaurant. We bought some already prepared, VERY spicy food. (Isaac seems to be okay with it, these days.) I sweated and drank water and we talked and talked. What a gift this visit has been.

5. Another friend dropped in for a visit. We’re receiving friends like dearly needed rain, and it’s coming in buckets. This friend is the daughter of some very dear friends of Chinua and mine, and we talked today of the lovely circle that this visit completes. I stayed with her mom and helped her with the kids back when I was twenty-one and Dannah was nine. Chinua was on his first trip to Israel with Dannah’s dad. Now Dannah is here, visiting me and my kids, and she is twenty-one while my daughter is nine. We know where we’ll be sending Kenya when she turns twenty-one. Wherever Dannah is in the world, she’ll be getting a visit from Kenya. The weird thing is that it doesn’t feel very long ago. I was six months pregnant with Kai and reading Bird by Bird for the very first time. Reading Bird by Bird suggested to me that I might be able to write a novel. Ten years later, I published The Eve Tree. And that, I assume, means that Kenya will turn twenty-one in a week or so.