Now, Part 3.

I wrote the following post while I was still in India, and though I landed in Thailand at 3:00 this morning (hello red-eye flight with five children!), I'm posting it now. I also want to say thank you for your generous and loving comments and emails in response to my last post. I am glad you understand, and even resonate with the crazy things I write sometimes.

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The people in my Goan village like to practice tooth hygiene in public. Each morning I say hello to people who are brushing their teeth outside. One of my neighbors has a toothbrush in his mouth for what seems like much of the day, and I even pass people driving scooters with toothbrushes hanging out of their mouths. Recently Johanna saw someone hammering at a wall and brushing his teeth at the same time. In parts of India, using the facilities is a social event (and I’m using the word “facilities” lightly, because the facilities are a field or the train tracks) but in this Goan fishing village, the cleaning of one’s molars is the social event.

I went to the Mapusa market a couple weeks ago, to buy fabric for Kenya’s birthday dress. I fall in love with India again every time I go to the market— there are just so many moments of quirkiness in every excursion. This is what I miss about India, when I am in Thailand. The quirk. It’s there in Thailand, of course, but you have to dig for it a little more.


There’s the slightly outrageous Romeo of a perfumer, carrying a respectable paunch and sporting a mustache to be proud of. “This perfume is completely you. I know.” he was saying to a woman sitting on one of his stools, when I walked up to buy perfume oil and handmade incense. He applied some to her hand, and she sniffed at it. She seemed skeptical. “No, I know,” he assured her. “This is you. You are from Italy, yes?” “No,” she said. “From Mexico.” “Oh,” he said. “Well, this is for you, I can see.”

I bought some oil, he had prescriptions for me, too—though he always wants me to buy light, floral things, when I like stronger, fruity scents—people are always judging me by the color of my hair. As I left the shop, he was talking to some Russian women about perfume and wowing them with his Russian words. He’s the kind of Indian shop proprietor from olden days in Goa, the kind who buys chai for his customers. A little more outrageous than normal, but he always keeps it on the right side of respectful, despite the flirtatious eyes.

At the cloth shop the polite elder man who is the father of the shop called to me from the door. “Yes madam?” He helped me find the satin I wanted, and then asked, “You are from Denmark?” I can honestly say it was the first time anyone has ever assumed that I was from Denmark, though people often ask if I am Dutch and sometimes speak to me in German. (My makeup is actually mainly British Isles- all the United Kingdom’s countries in one- with a splash of German.) This cloth shop owner is a certain type of Indian man, the kind that reminds me of my own grandfather, exceedingly refined and rather elegant in his simple way. “We are famous in Goa,” he said. “Shop number 10. Outside, also.” In Goa, everything is “In Goa,” or “Outside.”

At the craft shop where I bought ribbon and zippers, the owners were just as contemptuously dismissive of me as ever. Comforting. I drank a mosambi juice and drove home in the golden light of the end of the day.

*

This week I have been paying my dues to the gypsy community by looking at various pieces of fabric that the gypsy beach sellers call “sarongs.” I made friends with some of them years ago, and so each time I come I have to look at what they are selling at least once. We talk about our children and how life has been for them this year (hard) and how much they have to work (a lot) and then, after a significant pause during which we sit together and watch the sea in silence, because it is their job to hustle and to live they have to do it, they ask, “Look at my sarongs today?” I usually put them off with “not today,” until a day close to when I will leave. This week I found a couple of sarongs from each person, a string of lotus seeds, a string of blue glass beads, and two scarfs for Chinua. I bartered, but not down to the ground.

A new road is being built in front of our house, blocking us in so that we live on a sort of island now. The villages pulled out all the coconut trees that were in the way, hiring a backhoe to do it, and in the process broke half our front wall down. Right now the rock breakers are breaking huge piles of the Goan volcanic rock to form a sort of rock road which will be covered in sand and then asphalt. In true Indian style, no one told us anything about this, (you have to take care of yourself in India, no one will deliver a letter to your door saying that the road will be closed from this date to that date) and one day it just occurred to me that I had better park our scooter somewhere else, because I wouldn’t be able to get it out of our yard after the rocks spread to the front of our gate. So I moved it, and this morning the first pile of rocks were dumped right in front of our gate. The rock breakers are migrant workers— and they have made a little camp under the banyan tree in the coconut grove, including a toilet area made by forming a triangle of privacy with an old sari and digging a hole in the ground.


In our community we are closing up the houses for the season and Johanna from Germany (we also have Johanna from Switzerland) and I brought bags of stuff to the recycling place, where men sort through all the plastics and bottles and paper and cloth and get what small amounts of money they can. In the caste system, this is a low job, and these men are poor and work very hard. One man took our things from us and Johanna had brought some of her recycling in a cloth bag. The man took the bag and emptied it, and when I started to take it from him, he pulled it back and folded it very carefully, smoothing the fabric together before he gave it to me. This small act of courtesy touched me more than anything has in a long time. I go about my days never knowing what small thing will reach deeply into my heart.

I have chopped endless tomatoes and onions in my old kitchen and cooked the food that I am most comfortable cooking. Cooking Indian food is like a long happy sigh, though my feet have ached on the marble floors. In these last weeks, people in our community here have daily walked by my window, popped their heads in our doorway, have come in to help while I make community lunch on Wednesday. This is something I can do. I can cook for a big group of people. I can make chai.

In many ways I tried to make myself into a proper Indian woman in the years that I lived here, and in many ways I shrugged that idea right off of me (running away alone on my scooter, scandalous!) but when I moved to Thailand I didn’t know what kind of woman to be. I look around me always, searching for a template or a form to pour myself into. This friend does life like this and this one does life like that, and I’m always watching. Lately I’m thinking that I need to stop the looking around, stop trying to find a culture to fit myself into, stop thinking about other people’s kitchens when I am in my own. What are you, Rachel? What kind of woman are you?

The kind who is more comfortable reading and writing and drawing than making grocery lists or remembering more than one day of shopping at a time while at the market. The kind who has a big family but has never been a very organized mother, who loves spontaneous things most of all and can’t seem to get her kids to bed before ten these days, because they read quietly and she forgets to check on them. The kind whose temper flares up quickly, causing her eleven-year-old son to use his “let’s appease mother quickly” voice, but who makes up for it by spending all her hours with them, beside them, reading to them, cooking for them. The kind who can be very selfish inside. The kind who loves beauty and making beautiful things for her home, but when given the choice, will always choose to write or read.

Truthfully, I have always wanted a set of rules for what I should do or be. This is one of the reasons I like traditional cultures so much. I can get through any interaction in Thailand gracefully. In Canada or the U.S., it’s anyone’s guess. Chat? Don’t chat? Make eye contact? Don’t make eye contact? Sigh. But I am a girl from a country that prides itself on being multicultural, on being a collection of cultures rather than one assimilated culture, and there is no such thing as a proper Canadian woman. Unless, of course, it is a woman who watches and observes, and love and learns. And then, I guess, I’m doing okay.


Now, Part 1.

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I don’t want to let a single thing go.

When Isaac wakes up, he smiles and starts talking immediately. Sometimes he starts talking before his eyes are open, or sometimes even while he is asleep at night. “Badababadajajamaja?” we hear from the bedroom, and we wait for more, but he goes back to sleep. He wanders around grabbing things and trying to put them into other things, a piece of bread into someone’s water glass, a baby book into a bucket of water. Yesterday I went to pay my bill at a café and found a half-eaten piece of watermelon in my purse. He is extremely good natured and only gets angered by barriers, like the closed bathroom door when I’m trying to use the toilet for five minutes please just let me use the bathroom without screaming, Isaac.

At the beach the kids are transformed into shining wet sea people. They shake their wet hair and the droplets fly off and gleam in the sun, and they laugh and dive under the waves. They are tall and healthy, heat and crankiness forgotten. The sand is in its proper place, rather than under our feet in the house. Solo rolls and dives, he is a sea creature. Isaac is a sand creature, covering himself in it before crawling head first into the surf. He stands up and runs back, getting knocked down, grabbing my legs and putting his cool face against me for safety. I follow him as he toddles around the beach, chubby and brown, naked and adorable. A strawberry vendor walks up and offers me strawberries. When I shake my head no, he opens one of his boxes and takes a strawberry out, putting it into Isaac’s mouth. Isaac chews it, toddling after the strawberry man as he begins to walk away. The man turns around and sees Isaac still following him. Isaac signs “please” at him, and the man stops and squats down again, putting another strawberry into Isaac’s mouth and then walking off down the beach with boxes of strawberries balanced on top of his head, looking for someone who will buy them.

Kenya spends her time feeding Viktor Krum or drawing, reading and writing comics or stories. Solo and Leafy work on their fort in the yard, mixing red earth with water to make paint. They use the paint to cover the  broken marble pieces they have found to make a tiny table. Solo picks up half a coconut on the way home from the beach to hold his collection of stones. They have about a dozen sticks, each one spoken for, fiercely protected. I walk out one morning to find that Kai has used the red earth paint to paint half of his face, warrior style. He looks fierce and beautiful, up for air from the books he dives into for half the day.

We live simply here. We guide meditation and meditate, write, read, sing worship on the beach, and swim. Chinua is doing a lot of filming, to make a video. He's also playing a lot of concerts. We make food for people to share with us on our rooftop. We have a full schedule of meditation, devotion circles, community lunches, dinners.  It is a very good life.

The villagers are paving a new road in front of our house and I take Isaac out to see the tractor (Tractor! And India moves along into the 21st century) while half the village stands and watches as well. I tell Isaac all about what the tractor is doing and he points at it, saying his words in his language and looking at me as if wondering whether he got it right. All of these people are so familiar, the families with children we’ve known for years. This home in India is the longest home I’ve ever known—I moved so much as a kid growing up and afterward too. In our hearts we are travelers, travelers with a history in many places, our kids forming their earliest memories in a place that smells like sunlight and burning coconut fronds, cashew flowers and incense. Now we live in another beautiful place, and we all grow together, learning who we are in the different places of our lives. I don't want to forget a thing.

 

In Goa.

Ahhh. This place. Oh, my heart.


How to describe it? We are in Goa, staying for six weeks in the very same house we lived in when we were here, with the very same furniture, dishes, pots and pans. It is like a little piece of time travel (how clever of us!) except that everyone is taller and we have a toddling addition who is busy capturing the hearts of our neighbors. My heart is doing complicated things. I’m trying to observe the emotions and let them slide on over me. It’s everything, you know. I love so many places. I don’t miss only my home country, I’m all tangled up in this one here too. I dug into California, once upon a time. There are places, the smell and feel of them, in the folds of my skin, in my pores.


It is lovely to be here with Miriam and Johanna again, and there are new community members, delightful both of them. The children in the village are all taller, I exclaim over it with the villagers. Stop and exchange greetings with all the people I have talked to over the years. It took a while to earn their respect, it was not easily given, but they are all very kind.


I walk the beach in the mornings with my early waking baby in the baby carrier. He is heavy, but it is better to be out than trying to keep him quiet (there is no way) so the other kids can sleep. The beach is already populated. There are joggers with big sticks to keep the big dogs at bay. A group of people doing some kind of exercise (I think they are Osho people) where they jump and growl and shout and shake. A group of people doing a slow dance. The older Indian man doing his morning yoga. The fishermen out in their boats.


This shore is so familiar to me. All the lines of it. Every smell, the sounds of this house, the squeaky fan in my bedroom, the way my bathroom opens to the bathroom on the guesthouse beside, so I can hear when someone is peeing, or showering, or throwing up. The porch, where I sit right now, looking out into the garden (it’s doing very well, everything tall and growing) the well where they used to butcher pigs (they don’t do it there any more). The marble everywhere, my kitchen and all the things I have designed and bought in this house.


Is it any wonder that my heart is doing somersaults? I remind myself that I always loved living here—it was the moving around that we had to do the rest of the year—that is why we left. I remind myself that it is easier to enjoy it now, when I am not trying to cram all of our practical things—our schooling, our business things, into the four months of the year that we could be here. We are on vacation now, barely touching school. We have a home that is there for us all year. This has been so healing for us. Of course we love it here. That has never been in question. The texture of this place is like no other, with the gathering of so many nations.


The kids are delighted to be here. We are joining in with helping in the meditation center here for these weeks, and then we will be going back to Pai to continue work on our meditation center there. Miriam will join us in May, (or late April, I’m not sure) and more people later in the summer. We are building there, just like we have built here. We are digging a place for ourselves there, marking a way, just as we did here. We are on a long path, I’m sure we’ll do this in more places on the earth, opening places of contemplation, faith and rest.


Be at rest once more, Oh my soul, for the Lord has been good to you.

PS: Leaf and I are still posting daily photos at I Wanted To Tell You. It's been so amazing to see what she sends everyday, and such a great chance to take a lot of photos.

 

Poured out.

Morning is here and full of hope. It is five degrees Celcius (42 Fahrenheit) outside, and maybe a degree more in my wooden house with many windows and no heat. And yet, the hope, soft as gentle, heavy bubbles rising on a summer day, the kind that you make with a big string and a tub full of soapy water. Hope for creativity in this day, for kindness, for good food and moments with the crystalline knowledge of the love of God, all around us and in us. And the happy hope that Chinua will be home in two days’ time, falling into all of our arms.

Christy and the girls have gone, crossing airplane paths with Chinua in the sky, after a day of seeing animals and feeding parrots in Chiang Mai. It was so good to have Christy here: a much needed boost for the kids (she loves them, and they need that love of others in their lives, as all kids do) and a much needed grownup friend for me. We’ve already begun plans for a little monastic retreat in California whenever I get there next, since for two deep and spiritually minded girls, our conversation was rather limited to “Does vegetable soup sound good—Solo stop hitting Kai!” and “Sure—Fiona, do you need to potty?”

Seriously. Two women who haven’t seen each other for years, who have traveled the world together, through India and Nepal, into the Andaman Islands and the far reaches of the Himalayas, who have talked and journaled together, shared tiny guesthouse rooms with toilets that stank to high heaven, have taken buses with chickens and Nepali villagers, have cried together, have sat together by smoky fires at the largest Hindu gathering in the world, have washed travelers’ feet together in the plains of India, street kids’ feet together in the gullies of Delhi, have slept in the woods near Santa Cruz together, helped people tweaking on drugs together in San Francisco… give us seven kids and no dads and we will have surprisingly little time to talk. (Wow, writing that list out, and it is by no means exhaustive, makes me realize what an incredible history we have!) Our eyes have had to say it all. (And bedtime, let me tell you— you mothers of older kids already know this, but it stops being a thing where you can have everyone sleeping at 8:00 pm and go and drink wine together. Bedtime: it goes on and on my friends, and anyway, Christy’s jet-lagged kids had her up at 4:30 nearly every morning.)

So we have a good long weekend coming to us, someday. Christy is one of the sharpest minds on Christian and Eastern Spirituality that I know, I love to sit and here her thoughts, and traveling with her has always made me go deeper in my writing and thoughts. Hmmm… maybe we have a writing project together in our future?

But it is the beauty of seasons, isn’t it? We who have traveled as a young teenager and twenty-something, now with our abundant families flocking all around us? Pouring ourselves out in this different way? We will travel farther down this road into a future of older kids and then our empty nests and we will always be able to point back to our memories together. Being poured out as mothers now. It is a scripture and thought that has come to me often in these last five weeks, as I have pushed myself to get up after all the kids are in bed and finish those last few dishes in the cold outdoor air (because I know it will be colder in the morning): “I am poured out like water,” from Psalm 22, which Jesus quoted in his suffering, referencing the suffering of David. As a mother, I suffer only my own undoing, unmaking, and it is a very rewarding suffering, with a house full of people around me. But I relate, I am poured out like water, like other mothers everywhere, we are poured out. We relate to Jesus in this way, even when we don’t have time to sit and reflect and go deep, when we are responding to fights and the endlessly needy stomachs of growing boys. Poured out.

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If you were crossing a high-swinging bridge and trying to aim for the other side, if you were trying to have beautiful eyes, to wake up in the morning with a smile on your face, and you were sometimes succeeding and sometimes not, missing your husband like crazy while trying to be upbeat and content as a good example for your kids, what would be an extremely encouraging event for you? Do you know?
Because I think that having a good friend, a friend that you have known and loved for years and years, come to visit you with her two little ones would be just the ticket.

Everyone in our family lights up when friends visit us. We come alive. And these friends are so dear to our hearts. Christy and her kids are here! Chinua went to help take care of his friend Ian when Ian was in quarantine after he had a bone marrow transplant, and now Ian’s wife, Christy—who is a long time friend of ours, from even before we knew Ian—and their kids, Asha and Fiona, have come to keep us company and make us laugh. I’m a very blessed girl.
We have six more days or something until Chinua gets back. I’m not sure because Chinua doesn’t know exactly when he will be on the bus to Pai, so we’ll continue to estimate on the long side.

The other night I was on the street, talking to someone I know about when Chinua would be coming back, and I kept saying, “In a week or more, hopefully,” as though there was a question about whether he was coming home or not. And I couldn’t stop saying it, giving the person the wrong idea entirely.

It’s like the time Chinua was singing his beautiful song “Ouagadougu” that he wrote for me, and he introduced it by saying, “One time my wife went to Africa and she was pregnant when she came back,” and I could feel everyone’s eyebrows shooting back into their hairlines, and they were all thinking, “floozy,” and I turned bright red. “You have to be careful how you say that,” I told Chinua afterward. “Let them know I was also pregnant before I went away.”

And from then on, he was careful. I have to learn the same lesson. Everyone, Chinua is definitely coming back! I’m just not sure what day because we’re no good with itineraries and we don’t want to do the airplane math because the international date line confuses us!

Oceans Bright With Stars Now Available!

Hooray, it's Launch Day for Oceans Bright With Stars!

In her Journey Mama Writings, Rachel Devenish Ford uses radical honesty to illuminate the beautiful, funny parts of life that are so often forgotten or missed. 
Picking up where Trees Tall as Mountains left off, Oceans Bright With Stars is a true journal about one family’s gutsy, wild decision to move across the world and make their life in a village in India, navigating water problems and power cuts, beating back the jungle and embracing a new culture. In the first months, Rachel is blindsided with what it truly means to leave everything behind, experiencing panic and a strong sense of dislocation, but as she seeks to trust God and searches for beauty in her new home, she finds it in unexpected places. From the ocean to the mountains, Rachel records her family’s encounters with insects and snakes, holy cows and yaks as they grow and flourish in an unlikely environment.
The Journey Mama Writings series is about overcoming difficult circumstances to reap the joy of belonging. This collection of posts from Rachel’s blog is a hilarious and evocative account of learning to love a new country, and with it, a new way of life.
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Right now you can buy the ebook at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, the iTunes Store, or Kobo.  

The paperback will be coming very, very soon. I'll be sure to let you know.  

I really hope you enjoy this book-- it was amazing to put it together and relive all these blessed days. It made me realize again just how wild it all was--how we had a baby and three young children but there were snakes and bears and scorpions involved, as well as jellyfish stings and painted cows. I wouldn't miss a minute of it for anything. 

Some feedback that I'm getting from Trees Tall as Mountains is that people have found it healing. This is the best feedback ever. I hope this book treats you the same way. 

I'm of course so thankful for any reviews or sharing you can lend this book of mine as I launch it out into the world. It all makes a huge difference--you have no idea. Thank you as always for reading and for being the kind, incredible readers and commenters that you are. I really love you!

Healing words

Lately I’ve been dwelling in a broken down cardboard box with a few scraps of newspaper and items of canned goods around me. I’ve got nothing but one can of peas left, and an opossum just stole my can opener. It’s time to come out. I carefully put my head up over my box, peek out to see if it’s safe, but no, it’s not. The sun is out there.

The whirling and seething of the broken lands are all inside me. I find myself watching people, wondering, “How do you do life? How is it possible for you to keep going, to do things so effortlessly?” Every night when I go to sleep, I think tomorrow I’ll do better. But every day I mess it up: I snap, I despair, I leave things undone that should be done, I make the mean face at my kids, I hold pity parties for myself, I retreat, I retreat, I retreat.

It’s not that I’m a perfectionist. I don’t like to live with myself in the darkness. I don’t want to be with me, who could want to? I want to approach something like consistency—to wake up and be the same everyday, not on this emotional roller coaster.

It doesn’t help that we’ve been sick, including Isaac, (whom Leafy suggests we should call Isick) which means that nights are not times to sleep anymore, but times to fall into a deep pit of slumber, only to be pulled back out every hour or so. Isaac and I do a non-sleeping dance together, he finally falling asleep only to be woken by his own coughing. He hasn’t had croup, which I am extremely thankful for. It’s just some bronchial virus. Healing is onits way, but it’s taking its sweet time.

Yesterday I watched some bits of The Two Towers with the three older kids. Abby, the superhero reader champion managed to read The Hobbit, The Fellowship of the Ring, and The Two Towers to the kids in three months, which is a marathon of reading. I’ve allowed them to watch the movies, now that they’ve heard the books.  I love the movie The Two Towers (except for its rendering of Faramir— so unjust to Faramir, who is supposed to be the shining antithesis of the more fallen men in the book) and especially the part in the beginning when Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli are running for three days to save Merry and Pippin, who have been carried off by the urukhai.

The orcs pick up the scent of the following three and begin running faster. Oh no! We worry. Our heroes won’t know that they are going faster. But no worries, because Aragorn has his ear to the ground. He’s listening to the deep sounds. “They’ve quickened their pace,” he says. “They know we’re following.” He goes on to tell the story of everything they’ve done and are doing. He pieces together the truth based on his sharp eyes and finds hope in the midst of despair.

Ah, the magic of fantasy. The heroes face the biggest obstacles, but they have exactly what they need to combat them. At every turn we worry for them, only to be reassured by the fact that Aragorn is not only a man, he is a man who has skills beyond anything that any dark and deadly orc can throw at him.

 *

I’ve been thinking about healing words for a while. It came up when I was having a really rough day after losing my temper with my kids. I told a friend of mine, “I so often feel like I’m not a good mom.”

“I would love to have you as a mom,” she said.

I stared at her in shock.  “Seriously?”

She was someone who knew me and observed me as a mother from a close place. I knew she couldn’t be faking it. With her words she put a healing balm over a sad, lonely place in me, where I never know if I’m doing a good job or if I’m messing it all up.

I received an email from someone this week that did the same thing. A little scared sad place in me was comforted by the words this person took the time to write to me. Her words spoke directly to the wounded place in me.

We all have an enemy of our souls, and he would like nothing more than to destroy us and drive us out of the arms of our Maker. Our Maker’s love should appear to us to be brighter than any dim and frustrating day that we have, any old wounded place within us, because it is blinding in its brilliance. But we are forgetful and we hide in broken down boxes. We peek out and are afraid of the sun. God has made us to need the healing words of our friends.

We can look at each other and speak the truth, like Aragorn stooping to the ground to hear the deeper sounds that echo in the earth. We tell the real story, with our deep understanding and the eyes that God has given us to see the beauty in one another.


You are doing okay.
You are loved.
You are lovable.
You are blessed.
You are beautiful, blinding really, in all the brilliance of who you are, who your Maker has made you to be.

Never underestimate the power of healing words. They are as strong as a hero reaching into their strength at the moment when you think all is lost, pulling the truth of a greater story out of the rocks and the earth, finding signs of hope when all you can see are the edges of your fraying cardboard box.

We need to speak healing words to one another. We also need to hear them, really hear them when a friend stops, opens her beautiful mouth, and speaks words that will comfort our souls.

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.

5 Things Day Two: Robot Heart

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1. The other day was one of those days when I can’t seem to get ahead. I ran from thing to thing, never finishing any job, I was unsuccessful at getting the baby down for a nap, and the older kids rollicked and shrieked downstairs while I tried. I desperately needed a shower, and finally locked myself in the bathroom, sighed, and turned the hot water on. I rubbed shampoo into my hair and then… I heard a voice. “MaMa!” the voice said, and it wasn’t one of my kids. It was Nuan, the lady who comes and helps with cleaning one day a week. It wasn’t her day, but she had been helping us clean up the meditation center the day before. I went to the door, but she was down the hall, still calling me. (I don’t know why she calls me Mama. Ma means come in Thai, so I kind of think she’s telling me to come, but I’m not sure.) I wrapped myself in a towel and stood on my front porch, soaking wet, hair full of soap. She wanted the keys to the kitchen at the meditation space because she had managed to get a friend to loan her the use of a truck to pick up some bamboo siding that we didn’t want anymore. I told her I would finish showering and then try to help her. It was the crowning moment in a morning that wanted to thwart me.

2. Later in the day, though, Leaf and I rolled out into the countryside on my scooter, driving away on a two to three hour escape plan. I left all the things that needed to be cleaned still, the unchecked things on my list. I let it be known that I wasn’t going to cook dinner, and we left! We drove past rice paddies in full green explosion, past purple flowering trees. We passed hills with clouds over them, bridges over rivers, graceful bamboo stands, tall chickens in villages, young monks in orange playing soccer. We had a long talk, we caught up, and we wound up in a little café with a tea and a smoothie in front of us. It was a complete turn around. My interrupted shower was in the distant past. I forgot all about it as patches of sun and cloud rolled over us on the motorbike.

3. That night, I snuggled with Leafy and Solo before we went to sleep. Here’s a little sample of our conversation:
Me: “I’m going to go, but I have put so much of my love in your heart that you always have it. If you need it, you can just reach in and find it, and say, ‘My mama loves me.’
Solo: (Puts his hand in his mouth to pretend to reach down his throat.) “I’ll reach down and pull out my heart and give it to you.”
Leafy: “Yeah, Kai said sword swallowers have to move their hearts to the side so they can swallow swords. We have a joke where we say that they could put their hearts at the back of their throats and take them out and give them to their girlfriends.”
Solo: “NO! To their Moms!”
Leafy: “Yes, but if they had a broken heart, and they took them out and really broke them, they would die.”
A short silence falls.
Leafy: “Unless they got a robot heart.”

(This is having sons. Talks of love take weird and delightful turns that always entertain me, especially when I’m really listening.)

4. Isaac is so close to crawling. He has this large radius, he can flip himself over and spin in circles, but he can’t get his belly off the floor and pull himself along, once he’s on his stomach. It will come, though, very very soon. He is a complete delight, the love of everyone’s life, the small smiling pile of cuddle that we all turn to, throughout the day. He has us all at his beck and call, including Brendan and Leaf or Maria and Issa when they come over. He is the chubbiest chubber, a slobbery, gummy smiled, delicious baby. How did we live without him?

5. Yesterday in the morning I left my house and walked over a bamboo bridge to get to the meditation space. I got a broom out of the kitchen to sweep the floor of the big building (we need to come up with names for these buildings) and pulled the cushions out. Brendan and Leaf and their son joined me. We sang and read Psalm 5 together. We prayed, I wrote, the birds sang around us. I’ve missed this, friends. This is an excellent new beginning.

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Making sense.

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It feels like forever that I've been tweaking my days and my schedule, trying to find the best, most peaceful rhythm. I will keep trying, though it often feels like running against the wind, and often the wind is of my own making, as I get sidetracked by emergencies, my own anxiety, and the internet.

Sometimes I only consume, when I would rather be creating. 

I have a set of words that I want to form the essence of my days:  Creative, Sacred, Peaceful, Together. Now that my kids are older, we do so much together. We talk together, work together, make things together. But sometimes I forget how to really be together when I want to work on things on my own. When my novel is waiting and I really want to get back to it, am I fully aware of all the minutes we can spend on making things together?

Abby is our friend who came to stay here for three months to help with our kids. I can't even express what she has given me during this time. We were building at our new meditation center, and she gave me the freedom to mull over things with Chinua, to drop everything and hop over to the space for opinions and dreaming. She's lifted the weight. I haven't felt like "everything is too much" for a long time.

In a couple days she is leaving, this sweet girl who joined our family for a few months. (I cannot say enough about Abby- what a wonder she is. She couldn't be more fun, more interesting, more easy-going, more considerate. It's always an adventure to invite someone into your home for an extended period of time, and in this case, it couldn't have gone smoother. Abby is a treasure, and her leaving is going to sting.)  

I am casting my thoughts forward, thinking of how I can arrange and rearrange things in my life to make them more doable. More peaceful, more like the life I want to create.  

These are the things I'm working on right now: 

* Homeschooling my kids. We go year round, taking time off when we travel.  

* I just finished the third draft of my current novel and am writing the fourth draft. (I got a tattoo from a friend recently, a rather large tattoo which took 12 hours of work. I wrote the last two chapters, previously unwritten, longhand in my notebook while my friend was working. They were emotional chapters, and my thought was that pain would help me to write them. The other thing was that I was stuck in a chair! I wrote and wrote. See? All I need is to be restrained.)

* Painting

* Learning Thai

* Working on the meditation center- we have to build the earth walls and do the landscaping. 

* My own spiritual life- the life of prayer, contemplation and study that I want to cultivate. 

* This blog, which suffers neglect, (not from painting, as some of you feared in the last post, but from general lack of focus and time). 

* The Shekina Community blog, which has a string of drafts that I have started and need to finish. 

* The meditation e-course that I have been meaning to produce. 

* My bookcase. The wood is still sitting in the studio. 

* And of course, life. All the emails, phone calls, cooking, shopping, laundry, housecleaning, fighting back armies of ants, gardening, documenting, and time spent with my husband, kids, and people I know in this town.

Put all together, it sems like a lot. It adds to my sense of defeat, sometimes, that I give myself more than any person can accomplish in a day.
I have some ideas on working this through. I'll share them in the next couple of days. For now, I'm thinking and drawing some things out.

What do you think? How do you put rhythm and sense into your life so that it doesn't feel like a series of things that only happen to you? 

 

 

This and that.

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1. Chinua is back and when he came, the kids wriggled all over with joy. So did I. I think we still wake up thinking, Is he? Yes, he's here! He came bearing gifts, both things he bought and things that dear friends sent to us. My favorites are the cast iron pan that he hauled in his backpack, and the juicer that was a very thoughtful birthday gift from our friends. And then there is the mountain of thrift shop kids clothes... so wonderful, so needed.

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2. Last week a new/old friend, Abby, arrived. She's going to stay here for a few months, helping with different things, and especially with the kids on a brief detour from the time she's been spending in Europe. We first met Abby in Santa Cruz when we were living there in 2010, but we're getting to know her much better now. We're all smitten with her. She's been reading The Hobbit to kids. I mean, the girl is a champion reader. Three chapters of The Hobbit? In one sitting?

Also, as a side note, I think Leafy may be gaining an obsession to rival his Star Wars obsession. He now wanders around after me citing facts about elves. "Isn't it funny," he says, "that there's an elf called Legolas? And he's in Lego Lord of the Rings? Get it? LEGOlas?"

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3. We gave the puppy away yesterday. I came up with a plan to take him down to the Wednesday Market, a local market with tons of people. Almost immediately, as Miriam was carrying the box, a couple who ran a market stall said they would like to have him. They seemed really nice, and they were very happy to get him. "Thank you!" they said in Thai, and I said, "No, thank you!!!" because I was worried about what I would do if I couldn't find someone to adopt the sweet little guy. I wish we could have kept him, he was so sweet and very smart. Alas, allergies. 

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4. The drives have been beautiful lately. I hop on the scooter and drive away, and I'm immediately surrounded by beauty, it's all around me, flung like jungle vines. All the green is coming back now that the rains have begun. There are the hills, and the trees, and the sky is alternately blue or glowering with low hung clouds (beautiful in their own way.) It is a path through my myriad moods, sometimes ecstatic, sometimes grumpy, sometimes ringing with what feels like the saddest sadness. In times when I wonder what exactly I've done, allowing these countries around the world to have pieces of me, when I wonder in panic how I could ever have left any of them, India, Nepal, America, Canada, I am brought back by a flowering tree. The pieces return to me. I remember that I am in the hand of God, that all the world is mine to watch and love. God calls me back, "Be here and not away," he says, and I re-enter my life with love.

And I truly love it here. With each word that I remember and understand, with every familiar face, I am a little more etched into this place. I can turn in the market and see half a dozen people I know, and I am not afraid. The drives have been beautiful lately. 

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5. These days, when I pick Isaac up, I think "Oh, I love you. I LOVE LOVE LOVE you." He has become more chunky, less fragile, the cuddliest bear. He almost clings back, there is his soft head on my shoulder, he presses his cheek along my neck. He is the cutest thing ever and he drools and drools and drools. He smiles and makes odd dolphin noises and we are just in love. There are of course all the times when I'm carrying him for hours (he's huge-- another Solo!) or he won't go to sleep and I feel like my back is breaking, and I sometimes think, in a month or so it will be better. But then I think, I can't bear for this month to pass. Both are true, as it is true that I love him now and I will love him then, and I will always love him.

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What I'm loving right now.

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* Railroad tracks. I will always love them.

* Cool mornings. Today my alarm went off at 5:30 because the coolest, quietest hours take place even before the sun lofts itself over the mountains. When I stop to listen, there are actually roosters all over the city, I can hear a chorus of them in the distance, some of them close enough to pick out individually. There are the plentiful Common Mynahs, grunting and clicking and singing, and there are people pulling their food carts out to the street.

But this falls into the background of morning sounds--none of this noise applies to me, I don't have to address any of it, so I will soak in my own silence.

* Old friends. Carrien came to Pai and stayed for a couple of nights. She arrived with her kids just a few hours after Chinua left and the two of us did our best to harness the delightful chaos that ensued. Nine kids in a not-so-big house. There was a lot of laughing and shrieking and bonding.

I'm pretty sure that Carrien is a superhero. She's just made an international move pregnant while her husband back ties things up in the U.S. She's been here a month now, and is handling everything with stamina and grace. Even the bus trip to Pai with all her kids, including a two-year-old. I've been doing this sort of thing so long that it's second nature to me (and to the kids), but everyone doesn't live their lives on buses and it can be so challenging at first. She's amazing, and very, very kind.

* Solo standing at the window in my room, saying, "Those are beautiful clouds, those are beautiful clouds..."

* Miriam's help. She is so kind and helpful. And when a German woman cleans your kitchen, your kitchen knows it.

* My landlady. Now she has gone and installed an air conditioning unit in my bedroom, because she is worried about Isaac being too hot. (She took it from another house, where she said they weren't using it.) We won't use it all the time, partly because I don't like the huge jump between air conditioned temperature and outside temperature, and partly because this house has too many gaps between the boards for it to be economical to cool. But I have felt badly about putting Isaac to sleep in my room, which feels like an oven in the afternoons. When I wake him up he's a puddle of sweat. It will be so nice to cool it down for him.

* A new thought. I started reading the book The 10 Habits of Happy Mothers, and I read recently about the importance of believing in our value as mothers. I've been mulling it over and carrying it around in my heart. Sometimes I feel as though my life and job as a mother is limited to breaking up fights and dealing with attitudes. It's been getting me down lately, despite how wildly I love my kids.

Thinking about my value as a mother has me contemplating how much they love me. They need me and love me and that makes everything I do important. I try to imagine how I look through their eyes, and I look necessary and lovely and lovable. And tall. So when I'm doing laundry or washing dishes, I think about this, about the necessary work of motherhood and about how I can do it with joy and contentment. Seeing myself through my kids' eyes is changing the way I feel about what I do. I'm their mom. They need me, and it's important to remember that, especially with the bigger kids who aren't as reliant on me in physical ways anymore.

It's Day 3 of the Chinua absence and I'm telling you, people in villages do not miss a beat. I was walking to the store last night and an older man at the end of my street asked me where my husband went. Since the people on my street are so kind, I told him. I think they will be the sort of people who will look out for me while Chinua is gone.

And with that, I'm off to start the day. The sun is about thumb height above the mountains. I think I'll get some lettuce out of the garden before it gets too hot, so we can have salad tonight.

Comings and goings.

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The heat is getting away with me. It carries me off with it sometime in the late morning and doesn't let my brain go until around 3:00 am, when I turn over in my sleep and sigh into the cool air from the window. It's been over 40 degrees for a long time. I like to cheer the clouds on when I see them peeking into the edges of the valley.

"Come on guys! You can do it!" A little rain would be lovely.

Until then, we flee to the pool in the late afternoons, when we can no longer function, when play fighting among the kids turns to real fighting.

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I am back home from my retreat, back among my family. When Chinua and the kids found me in Chiang Mai, they pulled up and spilled out of the car, all of them tall and radiant. I unloaded Isaac's stroller out of the back of the song taew and turned to hug them all.

But I wasn't alone.

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Miriam is here! The Goa season is over and she has come to be with us for a couple of months in Thailand. I surprised her at the train station in Bangkok and we took the most delayed train ever up to Chiang Mai together.

"The train is so quiet," she said. It's been fun to see what she notices, what things are so different from India.

Today marks more new beginnings. Isaac is three months old today. Three months! Only recently he has been eying things with frustrated fervor, determined to get them into his hands and then into his mouth. He wants to join the world, now. He's decided it's a good place for him, he'll swim on in with all the others.

But also, my Superstar husband is going away today. He'll be away for five weeks, and I feel a little as I might feel if I knew the sun would be hidden for five weeks. Or if I could only drink Tang for five weeks, no clear water.

Last night we stretched out together and talked, looking at each other and away. Five weeks is a long time, we agreed. His reason for going away is very important... he wouldn't do it right now if it wasn't.

I have all sorts of thoughts and hopes for how to make it through the next five weeks without him, but in the end I know that I really don't know. The larger our family becomes, the older everyone becomes, the less and less I feel I know. I know we have a whole lot of love, and that we will go day by day. I know that I will make many mistakes but that we are all well versed in forgiveness and in hugs. And I know that mother does not mean perfect, that a good day doesn't have to be a flawless day, and that my family loves and needs me.

Have a sweet journey, my beloved. We'll be here, waiting for you.

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Retreat

My friend Leaf and I went on an art retreat last year in Kerala, India and it was beautiful. Over the last few months we've talked about whether something like it would be possible this year and happily we decided yes.

I traveled down to South Thailand by bus.

Next, the VIP night bus.

Leaf flew from India. In her home city she waited for a train, but it still hadn't come after five and a half hours and she only had a six hour window. So she jumped on an express train and barreled across the country, hiding out from the conductor's eyes, jumping in a taxi and racing across Kolkata to reach her flight in time. (On her way to the airport in Kolkata, she witnessed a car crashing into a bus and lighting on fire.)

She literally fought her way to us.

Isaac is getting to know the reason for this trip: his beautiful Auntie Leaf.

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We knew this trip might not take the shape of an art retreat completely, since we have a little friend with us. (Leaf says he is just our kind of guy.) But it is a rest, a time to grow our friendship, to believe in each other and this crazy inter-country friendship we have.

And I have to say that he is the perfect age for this, just between sensitive newborn and active land, when nothing is safe. Of course you can travel with older babies, but it isn't exactly restful.

We came to Koh Samet, a little island not far from Bangkok. We've watched people posing in the surf, lying on their stomachs like mermaids while their friends or husbands take pictures. I've considered posing like this myself, I'm sure Chinua would like a mermaid picture of me as a souvenir.

A boat, and an island. And after a full day of travel we found a guesthouse and are settling in for our art/friend retreat. I'm so thankful.

There are many many tourists here in our little cove, and truth be told, I'm not sure that I would recommend this island. The coves are small and when it's crowded there's not much of a way to get away from the crowds.

But it has been beautiful for us. It's all we need-- some space to sit and talk, some food to eat and a little room for dreaming and writing or singing. There's nothing like writing in the morning while Leaf is singing.

This forested, jungly island is so different from the coconut trees I know in Goa.

I take Isaac for walks in the early mornings, since he is a six-o'clock kind of baby. The sun is already hot, since we are on the eastern side of the island. The sand is very white and the jungle comes right down to the beach. There are no coconut trees. It's very different from Goa, with turquoise water.

I find that I am sad. Sadness runs underneath everything like a stream these days. And I'm dealing with more anxiety than I like. The postpartum time is no joke, for me. So I worried a little about coming here with Leaf, not sure if I'd be pleasant to be around.

Detritus.

I'm messy now, and as we talk and talk, my eyes often fill with tears.

But Leaf doesn't mind. We talk about sad things and then we're laughing again and deep down I'm anxious but I know it will pass. How can I express how thankful I am for my friend.

She has had her own sorrows and there are times when her eyes fill with tears too.

But in no time at all, we are laughing again. Laughing and cooing over the little friend.

I love swimming with my baby.

Giving my blog a bit of love

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You're probably noticing that it looks different around here, with the lovely YaYa up there (photo courtesy of Chinua). I made the switch from Squarespace 5 to Squarespace 6, and spruced things up a tiny bit. I rearranged the furniture.

It was time. And also, there are a couple new features that I'm really excited about.

One is the threaded commenting on this system. I'm looking forward to being able to respond to your comments more easily and also to see conversations develop in the comments. (The commentbox, as Eleanor would say.) You can click reply on any comment to respond to what anyone has to say. Please hang out, you are all so beautiful, you need to get to know each other. (Some of you know each other already.)

The second thing is that it is now possible to subscribe to this blog by email, if you like. Over there in the right sidebar is a link that you can click on to subscribe to Journey Mama by email as well as my newsletters (you can choose either or both) that I will be using to communicate about books or promotions. Please sign up! I won't be flooding your inboxes or anything.

To kick off this rearranging of the furniture, I'm inviting you to comment here, even those of you who normally don't. I'm warmly inviting you, imagine me with some Thai iced tea in my hand, (or some hot tea, if it's cold where you are.)

To make it easier to respond, here's a question: What's one new habit you have started or would like to start?

Mine is daily Pilates. I started today and I'm hoping to get a 30 day streak. (Must keep people from trying to push my belly in in public.) I remembered today that Pilates makes me feel like I've just had a full body massage, and that I love it. And that it only takes 15 minutes.

Please pray for my friends.

I'm throwing this out there for all my praying readers.

I've written about my dear friend Christy more than a few times.

Here, I wrote this:

I remember that it was something that my friend Christy always did while we traveled. She would talk about overcoming evil with good while she sat cross-legged on her bed in our guesthouse room, making small beautiful things for people that she met. She took verses from the Bible and wrote them on pretty paper with butterflies or flowers, the size to fit in someone's palm. And so we wove our way across India, fighting to break open the sense of defeat that often followed us, Christy's butterflies sown in every town we visited. "Overcome evil with good."


This is my beautiful friend, our beautiful friend. And her husband Ian, who is Chinua's dearest friend, is in the hospital fighting leukemia right now. He's had a bone marrow transplant and an unexpected reaction is happening in his liver. It's not comfortable, it's dangerous and scary and rare, and the treatment is a medication which is dangerous and scary and rare.

The other day Eva reminded me of the time I flew off a cliff with three of my kids in the van with me. The lesson I learned that day is that even in the most dangerous times, we are truly in God's hands. We all came out of that with barely a scratch and Oh, Ian, I know you can come out of this, despite tubes and hospitals and unexpected liver problems and dangerous times.

So this is my prayer for Ian and Christy, people who have such great kindness that you almost can't believe it. I pray that God the Almighty would surround them with singing, would bring peace in the storm, would calm the war within Ian's body, would show his love to be palpable, pulsing, and almost more than they can bear.

Please pray for my friends. And tell your praying friends. And we can build a wall of prayer around them to support them as they walk through this together.

My parents in Thailand.

My mom left on Monday. She flew first to Seoul, where she had a twelve hour layover, yuck. If Leafy had his way, she wouldn't have gone at all.

"I hope you miss your plane," he told her very seriously.

It was a beautiful visit, so crazy and full of emotion and outside of the ordinary of our lives, both for them and for us.

Dad with the birds

My dad could only stay for a week because of work, which he could barely get away from. After two and a half years, a week seemed much too short.

But we squeezed as much quality time into a week as possible. We went back to the Chiang Mai Night Safari- this was while I was still pregnant. And of course we went back to feed the birds. The first time we went to feed the birds, with the kids, they were very satisfied. They'd been eating sunflower seeds all. day. long. They were all, more sunflower seeds? NO thanks. And eventually they warmed up to us and started licking our cheeks and playing with our dreadlocks. But when we took my parents, they hadn't had any visitors, it seemed, and they were wild ravenous feral birds. They attacked us. It was way more Alfred Hitchcock than we were comfortable with.

At the Night Safari

So we continued on and looked at more animals.

I went into labor after walking with my parents through a wood-carving village, the very sort of place I remember spending time with them in many times, over my life. Antique shops, thrift shops, artsy places. They love it. And we can all look and look without having to spend.

Isaac with his grandpa, only a few hours old

Then Chinua and I left them with our kids for forty-eight hours while I had a fun little jaunt in labor land. In the end I scored an absolutely lovely baby, so I don't hold a grudge over missing forty-eight hours of my dad's week. 

Dad and Isaac.

Can I say how impressed I am with my parents? They came to stay with us in a house that isn't ours and just fit right in, cooking in a kitchen they weren't familiar with, in a country they weren't familiar with, taking care of four children. My dad took the motorbike out, for the first time, to get groceries in a busy city.

Out for a quick drive with my  mom.

My mom then spent another three weeks with us in Pai. It started with a wild taxi ride from Chiang Mai, in which we didn't have enough space, and you know there are 762 curves or something like that. We were mostly at home, since I was obviously in rest and recover mode, but I managed to take her for a couple drives.

Last night we sent off a lantern for Isaac. A prayer of thanks.

And we sent a lantern off, as a prayer of thanks for Isaac. It was the biggest and best we've sent so far. I so love this picture.

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My mom sat on our porch, which is beautiful though I never seem to find time to sit there, and she held Isaac whenever she could, and she talked nicely to him and cooed at him. She even got some coos back. The boy has smiled occasionally since he was two weeks old, and I'm so glad she got to see his first smiles.

My mom like a light.

In the afternoon she made us a cup of rooibos and we sat on the porch for a while longer. If it was too hot, we sat inside, under the fan. We talked and looked at Isaac.

The feeling of a newborn against your shoulder is like nothing on this earth. # grandma

These were peaceful days, full of grace for each other. Mom fit into our lives here so easily, it almost seemed as if she couldn't go. But she had to, though we are already talking about when she can come back.

*

I wrote a post at the Shekina Blog, part of a short series on Beautiful Community.

And in all the Isaac-related bliss and chaos, I forgot to mention a thank you to the Canadian Weblog Awards. I placed third in the expat category, with Finding Me in France in first place and Planting Dandelions in second place. Lovely company, I'm honored!

How it goes.

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You guys are so picky. I give you photos of pillows, and it's not enough. You need a baby.

I'll kill the suspense and say, nope. There won't be pictures of a gorgeous baby in this post either. I know. I've adjusted and moved on. I really thought it was going to happen quickly, that I would arrive in Chiang Mai and boop! Out comes a baby. But we're playing the waiting game.

Here's where I'm a lot more mature than I was ten years ago, waiting for Kid A at the tender age of twenty-two. I cried about it. I barely restrained my irritation with our housemates when they would breathe too loudly or talk or exist. I got my hopes up and then dashed innumerable times. Because I putz around for weeks, having contractions, ceasing to have contractions, and so on and so forth. It's how I do labor. Everyone has their special way. This is mine. (Grrrrrr...)

Of course at the end it doesn't help that one gets daily more uncomfortable. I was telling my friend Leaf that it feels like I have the opposite of a corset. My ribs hurt, they're being pushed out from the inside. My back is out and by the second half of the day there is no position in the known universe that feels comfortable.

But I'm calm about it. That's what it means to be thirty-two. In my life anyways. My new line of logic is that there's no cause to get dramatic. "Don't get dramatic about it," I tell myself as I drive along on my scooter (which I'm still driving). "It's a baby. It will come out."

Speaking of being over thirty, the other day I was on the bus from Chiang Mai to Pai (of course- I spend a lot of time on that bus) and I was talking to a couple of girls who were twenty-one and twenty-two, respectively.

"Just wait till you hit thirty," I said, probably for no reason. "You'll love it. All your angst and self loathing will disappear."

They looked at me like, Who said we had trouble being twenty? We're having the time of our lives, traveling the world, you wrinkly-eyed mad woman.

Is it too much to assume that everyone struggles with anxiety disorder and many babies in a few years and too little money and self loathing in their early twenties? Yes? Hmmm.

So anyways, here we are, and I was telling Chinua that the place where we're staying is such a perfect place to be when you are expecting a baby. There are two families, one with four children and the other with a children's home, so they have ten kids. Then there are ours, and this is just child heaven. The trees are ripe with children, they are falling from the branches.

The couple who are fostering eight kids were commenting on my kids the other night. Everyone had cake and my kids asked for more. "Oh I get it," they told me. "Your kids come from a small family, so have the idea in their minds that there's a possibility of seconds."

It's nice to be staying in a place where my family is considered small. Especially in Asia.

I've been going for walks. Looking at flowering trees, my most favorite things. 

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This one is a night-blooming fragrant tree and it smells sooooo good.

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And of course, bourgainvillea. God's perfect shade of pink.

I went for a walk with the little kids, and my big ones.

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Other than one boy accidentally dropping his five baht in the sewer, it went perfectly.

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The boys showed us how certain seed pods explode when you drop them in water.

And then one day the radiant ten-year-old girl who lives here turned all the little girls into princesses.

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The ten-year-old declared it dance time, but the princes were skeptical and reluctant to dance.

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"Not us," they said.

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In conclusion, it's been beautiful. We are blessed. But I realize I still don't have a picture of a baby for you, so I'll give you this: A picture of me with birds on my head.

I love these birds.

(I was very happy, this was the most fun I've had in a long time.)

Still no good?

How about my kids holding a seven-month-old tiger? No?

At Chiang Mai Night Safari

I'll do my level best to get you a picture of a baby very soon.

 

O Come, O Come Emmanuel.

I've been running and running. Buying things, cooking things, cleaning things. A burning bush in my ribcage. Love and hope and sorrow. You know, the usual.

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This year's tree was my favorite ever. We potted it, so we can keep it. What will it look like next year? We planted our Christmas tree in Goa in the garden after we got it and now, three years later, it's almost as tall as the two-story house. It was a tiny Charlie Brown tree that first year, so how surprising when it grew and grew, grew and grew, till it was a giant, ready to pull up roots and go stomping down Goan streets. To keep it happy, we decorated it every year outside, rather than having an indoor tree.

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This year's tree was a Dr. Seuss tree. The kid's loved it on sight, dancing around the plant shop where we found it, hopping from one foot to another. "Can we get it? Can we get it?"

I love that they have no "normal" for the shape and size of a Christmas tree.

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Then there were the lanterns, a whole river of them, on Christmas Eve. They went up just before midnight and Chinua and I stood and watched and wished we could capture how beautiful they were. They swirled into air currents like a ribbon of smoke.

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There was Sufjan on the computer, singing "O Come O Come Emmanuel," bringing tears to my eyes. And the Messiah by Handel. A swelling in my heart like the lanterns rising.

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Carrien's husband Aaron and their oldest son stepped off a bus yesterday, here to visit for a couple of days. We went to meet them in the chariot. Hopping from foot to foot.

In the evening, Chinua bought us our own lanterns, and we released them on our street (YaYa overwhelmed by anxiety over each one until it was safely into the sky.) The very last one was heavy, as Carrien's son said, with our prayers, carrying our burdens.

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That very last one was for our dear Ian, brave hero fighting a valiant fight against stupid cancer. Our prayers and love for him growing and growing, while the poor little lantern had to struggle along with all our carefully whispered and shouted words making it bob until finally it found its way through the low air and headed straight for the moon.

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YaYa hopped from one foot to the next, willing the lantern to fly. I hop from one foot to the next, willing Ian to be well. And I know that deeply, truly, he is well. And all is well. And our prayers will stomp their way through the heavens. They are heard.

An unexpected gift.

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One thing you should know about me is that I adore South Indian food. When I was in Varanasi, I ate idli and sambhar every morning for breakfast with Leaf, whose wonderful husband brings it back for her from the idli walla, in a beautiful shiny tiffin after taking their son to school. (A metal container with different compartments.)

When I got to Arambol, however I found that the only idli dhosa place in town had closed shop and moved out. Goan people favor the Mumbai breakfast- pao bhaji or puri bhaji (different kinds of bread with potato curry) and don't really eat idli or dhosa unless it's a special meal. 

Idli is made of rice and white udid dahl which is soaked and blended together, then fermented. It's spongy and sour, and you use it as a vehicle for sambhar, a tomatoey broth that may or may not have dahl or various vegetables in it, and coconut chutney. (Oh, coconut chutney!)  Now people usually make idli with a special contraption that steams the idli into little round shapes. (Think of an egg poacher.)

But the other morning, Jaya arrived with two hot banana leaf wrapped loaves of idli- a gift from her sister for me. (Jaya and her sister are from Karnataka, and tend to eat more South Indian style food.) Just scads of idli! Heaps of idli! It's the old way, I think- she cooks it over a fire in the banana leaves. I mean- really! Could I receive a better gift, especially since I haven't had idli since leaving Varanasi? And wrapped in banana leaves?

I looked at the mounds of idli, thought for a moment, and asked Jaya, "Could you make sambhar and chutney for lunch?" I'd have to say she nodded gleefully. She made the most delectable sambhar, with okra and eggplant and cauliflower. It was really good.

The point of this story is- well, there is no point, but even if your local idli place closes down, be on the lookout for a kind gift from a South Indian woman, wrapped in banana leaves.

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Your comments on the last post were kind and insightful. I get so impatient with resting, sometimes. But I need to remember to be thankful for it, for the ability to sleep, to rest, to prepare, to make this little baby. (Who seems to be another large one!)