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

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

I love this weather.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here and over there.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seasons.

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

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

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

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

New things: 

The knives have colored blades.

People use avocado oil now.

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

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

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

Cars talk to you.

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

 

But some things never change.

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

I don't want to forget.

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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Alrighty then.

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

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

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

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

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

Family photos.

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Oh, hello, poor, dear, neglected blog. 

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

Some bullet points:

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

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

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

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

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

The beginning of my world.

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

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

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

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

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

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

What has it been like?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


The girl, the potatoes, and the thief.

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Welcoming, creating, editing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

No better place.

Photo by Kenya.

Photo by Kenya.

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

Yes. But.

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

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

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

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

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

Here are some statistics from Myra's Indiegogo page:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is Myra's video:

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

Celebration and Show and Tell.

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This and that.

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sharing a need today.

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

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

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

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

Thanks, beloveds, and much love to you. 

Driving, Flying

Number of days that we had to stay in the capital city of Laos, a neighboring country to Thailand, because we needed extra pages put in Solo’s passport, which didn’t have any more room for visas: 1

Number of days since someone has asked me if I am pregnant: -1

Number of times I’ve asked Chinua to break out his iPad because I don’t understand the conversion between kip and baht: 5

Amount of kip I pulled out of the ATM two days ago (to pay for the visas): 4,000,000

Number of times one of the kids has made a “We’re millionaires!” joke: 6

Degrees Celcius in Vientiane: 40, real feel 49, with a humidity of 84%

Number of times one of us has said, “It’s hot!”: Lost count

 

*

Our Easter was weird this year. It wasn’t what I would want an Easter to be, but sometimes other things intrude into the normal rhythms of the year and this year it was the need for new Thai visas. So we planned and worked our way right through the weekend and Sunday found us driving to the halfway point between Chiang Mai, and Vientiane, Laos. We’ve done this drive before, two years ago, but since we have a whole extra person in our family and everyone else has longer, wider, stronger limbs, we needed to rent a larger vehicle. 

The drive was nice and we did it in two days. We don’t drive much anymore—we don’t have a car and in Pai we drive the chariot and scooter, or we ride our bicycles. If we need to go to Chiang Mai we take the bus and then take song taews and tuk tuks around the city, so a good old fashioned driving road trip feels special. 

The Laos language is so close to Northern Thai that we’re getting points for speaking it when we don’t actually speak it. I’m sure it would be hard to understand if we only heard Central Thai, which is what we’ve learned in our Thai classes, but we’ve had a lot of practice speaking and trying to decipher Northern Thai in Pai, so we’re getting pretty good and we can understand a lot of the Laos language. 

But at the end of the day, it’s just a visa run and we are in and out without a lot of time or money to explore. Maybe next time, I think, as I look longingly at pictures of places deeper in Laos. It’s gorgeous here, even at this non-gorgeous time of year. 

 

It’s a new season, I keep reminding myself. This is resurrection, that something can come from what seems to be nothing, but is really lying dormant, ready to spring forth, new and more beautiful than ever before (as things are each time they reappear- the yellow flowering trees more beautiful than the year before). 

I was made to live in community, not apart from it. This community will gather and work together, more beautiful than before. 

 

Today we pick up our visas and go home to Pai, driving down highways flanked by trees in full bloom. The air is dusty and often smokey, everyone waiting for the rainy season. Our car full of kids moves quickly and slowly all at once, like our dreams and our lives. 

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.

*


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.

Kite.jpg

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!