Writing it all down.

Something unexpected has happened lately, which is that Kai has started reading my Journey Mama books. And rather than having the response that I might have imagined he would have, which is maybe a kind of teenaged embarrassment, he is riveted by stories of his life and his sibings’ lives. He loves reading about himself as a little kid. He tells me about things I wrote, daily coming up with new tidbits. “Leafy didn’t know what a milk jug was!” It’s always a surprise, because my memory is like a sieve. Starting the blog is the best thing I ever did, because all of  our moments would be gone if it wasn’t for writing it all down. 

And it makes me remember to write it all down now, even though I don’t do it from the sheer necessity of having to make sense of toddler madness, or the drive of needing my crazy to be understood. Because, as we sit around the table together, there are so many hilarious and precious things, so many things that are funny or cute or amazing, and I will forget all about them if I don’t write about them, don’t take the time to marvel over the shiny pile of stones we have been building out here in our wilderness. Like the way I was gone for a week (on a writing retreat of my own making—big sigh of happiness) and I knew on the bus coming home that Isaac would be so very happy to see me, and he might also say that he was “prying for me.” But he didn’t, and when I asked him if he was prying for me, he said, “No Mama, I wasn’t crying for you,” and I realized that his days of switching c’s out for p’s are over and the next time he sees his uncle and cousin who have the same name, he will call them Quran, instead of Poran. The thought made me sad. (I’m the opposite of Chinua, who is always teaching the kids to speak properly. “Don’t tell him popporn isn’t right,” I’m thinking violently, while Chinua is transforming our children into articulate beings. I’m wishing Kenya still said “wheats,” instead of feet.)

More things:

The way that Isaac makes little fans with his hands around his face when he’s pretending to be a baby, looking more like a star-nosed mole than a baby.

The thirteen-year-old voice breaking that is going on around here, and that I swear is more adorable than any other stage of life. Voice! Breaking! Cracking while laughing, while shrieking, while playing with a baby brother! 

Kenya making her best poker face while Kai tells me that “Kenya says that when you make a poker face, you feel dead inside.” Kenya in general, her goofiness, funny faces, silly moods.

Kai telling me that he read that I had a hallucination of the kids throwing berries over me and me dumping yogurt over store employee’s heads. 

“That wasn’t a hallucination,” I said. “That was imagination. There’s a difference.” But it prompted a discussion of my hatred of big stores, which led to us discussing how it was harder to re enter the US and Canada from India because there were no big stores where we lived at all (“We thought the purple store was big!” Kenya marveled) but here in Thailand we’ll go into a store like Tesco Lotus, a big giant store with a whole lot of the same things they sell everywhere, occasionally, if we are in Chiang Mai. 

“I still hate Tesco,” I said. “It makes me confused and sleepy.”

“You hate Tesco?” Leafy asked, incredulous. 

“You only like Tesco because they have that game on the trial tablets,” Kai said, his voice dripping with scorn.

“Well, you have to admit, Kai, that video game is awesome.” Could I ever properly communicate Leafy’s perfect delivery, his comedic timing and goofiness which cracks us up several times a day? 

Isaac dive bombing somersaults onto the mattress that serves as a seating area on our floor, forcing us to watch him again and again.

Solomon doing jumping push ups several times a day, then checking out his biceps and asking me if he can try to pick me up? (No thanks, I don’t want a broken head.) 

The way I call Chinua "Storm crow" with such delight sometimes now, because of the gray beard that he is growing out. (It's a Lord of the RIngs reference.) 

Holding onto Chinua on the scooter on the way to our Thai class, that we take together, romantically.

Isaac being a general pest in the studio while I’m working, but singing to himself so sweetly that I take a really long time to eject him, waiting until he is messing with his dad’s computer and needs to be removed from the premises. 

Before I left for my retreat, I was very, very tired. Life had caught up to me and I was dragging myself around, wishing every day was over long before it was. And my friend Tj is right, sometimes you need to think about leaving and sometimes you need to think about staying. I needed that time away. I needed the quiet. And I was a little nervous about coming back, worried that I would get tired out by all the different hats I wear. But our first dinner back together, I laughed more times than I had all week, and I sighed at drama, and I scolded when needed, and gave lots of hugs, and was alive, basically, the way challenging, incredible families make you alive.

World on fire.

This summer everywhere I look, I see fire. Fires rage in California and in my own B.C., the skies are filled with smoke and towns are evacuated. My heart hurts for the forests and people there. I pray for rain, for a year of rain that would wipe away this drought. 

And there is war, and people fleeing war, and people without homes, too many of them, overwhelming numbers. The numbers of displaced people alone cause people to say hurtful things, to tighten their borders out of fear, to determine to look out for themselves. I’m from a country formed by immigrants and refugees. Canada doesn’t really have its own identity, other than the identity that comes from collaboration of many different races. So it’s easy to forget that this is new to Europe- that each country has an identity that they fear for. Someone I was talking with recently said, “But the immigrants want to change things, threaten the way of life of the people of my country.” Of course, I thought, because countries are shaped by the people who come to them. That’s the way it works. But that’s the way Canada works. Vancouver is Indian and Chinese and Indigenous and a bunch of other cultures and all the second and third generation people of those countries and hipster of every race. This is who we are. But Europe is used to being a place of origin, not of landing, the countries there don’t have as much history with navigating multiculturalism and navigating citizen rights of many races. There is no one kind of Canadian who is more Canadian than someone else (other than an indigenous person, perhaps) but there are plenty of people who consider themselves a true German, or a true French person. It makes it complicated, but I hate the vitriol I see on the Internet. Let's extend compassion and kind words toward the people who have fled for their lives. As someone told me in West Africa, "That person is my brother. That person could be me." 

Here in Northern Thailand there are people of many origins too. Tribal people, Muslims from China, Burmese people, Thai people, foreigners. It mostly seems to work. But there are always things. “The owner is Lisu,” a Thai friend said to me when I was looking for a house for somebody else. “But that’s okay, right?” Him saying “That’s okay right?” was indicative of his open mind, and I don’t say that sarcastically. For the most part, people seem to get along, despite huge differences in lifestyle, dress and culture, but it’s messy, and people say hurtful things, and this is a result of many people living together. It's always going to be messy, like communities, like families. People are there, and where there are differences, there is mess. How we respond to differences says a lot about who we are and who we want to be.

I don’t know what the answer is for Syrians or Europe or the refugee crisis. But I know that we can’t hold back tragedy with fear and control, at least I don’t think we can. Opening our hearts changes us most of all. Refusing to give into fear for the future by clutching what we have keeps us open and human and good. But these are hard days, and I think everyone is being called on to be their best selves. I am praying. We’re having a benefit next Friday, to do our little bit of raising money for refugees. I’ll let you know where we’re sending money when I know, (our dear Naomi is researching NGOs) so that you can join in if you want to. 

With a hamster.


Yesterday was one of the best days I’ve had in a long time. School went well with kids who were cooperative and sweet. I taught Kai and Kenya how to make rajma, Indian kidney bean curry. They’re studying India and were supposed to make an Indian dish. Lucky them- it’s their mother’s specialty. It was a delight to work with them in the kitchen, and we had plans for hiking, so we got the rajma done and put the rice on so it would be ready when we got back. (Rice cookers are the world’s best invention.) 

We all piled into the chariot and drove out into the countryside. Our beautiful house is surrounded by buildings, so we always breathe in happily when we leave the town behind and find ourselves in rice fields. Everyone was excited to hike. The rains have slowed, and it is the most beautiful time of year, so driving was heaven. Slow, because the chariot doesn’t go very fast. We saw a rainbow that was very close to earth as we got a light sunshine sprinkle on the way. Then, hills, corn fields, rice paddies, bean fields. Tall white trees with limbs bright against the green of the hillside. Little bamboo houses and friendly farmers. Brahmin cows. Flowers on the side of the road. The light smiting all of us, so that we kept exclaiming over the beauty. I seem to have kids who appreciate the beauty of nature as much as I do, even the young boys, even the two-year-old. 

The ruts from the mud were bad, so the kids kept having to climb out of the chariot and run along behind, while I tried to navigate through the massive crevices in the ground. When we were very far from home I realized that I had neglected to check the gas on the motorbike. It was very low. “Hopefully we’ll get home after our hike!” I said. “Adventure!” crowed Kenya.

We left the chariot at the point where the first creek crossed the road, and waded through it. The jungle rose up around us and vines threw themselves from trees, spilling from branches like water. Sometimes the jungle cleared a bit and we could see the trunks of tall trees rising up. 

“How is this a jungle?” Kai asked, thinking of the thick jungle we couldn’t even walk into in Goa. 

“Trust me, it is,” I said. It's the vines that do it, the humidity and frog eggs and one million types of plant life. Leaves as large as Isaac on certain plants. Tall banana trees. The fire ants that bit us if we stopped for any length of time. The low call of jungle birds. We crossed three more creeks, and then nature called me very urgently and I took shelter behind a tree. “Never say you have a mother who won’t poo in the woods!” I called as I walked back to the kids. 

They looked at me blankly. “Why would we say that?” Kai asked. Why indeed. I have never given any sort of indication that I would not poo in the woods.

We were aiming for a waterfall, but we had left home too late, and a hilltribe man who we met in the forest, long logs tied to his motorbike (he drives through those creeks) told us that we didn’t have enough time before dark to get to the big one and back. So we stopped at a short little fall and the kids didn’t waste time diving in. I sat and dreamed while they shrieked and played in the little pool. Isaac threw rocks into the water diligently, like it was very important work. 

When I see water lately, I think of refugees and homelessness, of boats on the wind and tragic accidents. And my heart hurts, and then I’m not sure whether it’s okay to be as happy as I was, sitting beside the waterfall, wrapped in my good parenting moment. But recently I came to the conclusion that we have two responses to the goodness God gives. One is giving to those who are in need. And the other is happiness in what he is giving us. Jesus directs ardent love toward us, and this love can take many forms. Yesterday it took the form of a day of harmony with my family, and I have to respond with joy. Joy is always an act of worship, despite the hardness of the world. 

On the walk back, the kids played twenty questions and I dreamed some more, thinking about all the forest paths I’ve been down. Some I would like to see again. Some I would not. Sometimes life feels hard and overly demanding, from the wee hours of the morning when I’m writing, until I finally have the last conversation with the last child, and I fall asleep, exhausted. Homeschooling is a whopper, and our life here at Shekina Garden is relational and takes our full hearts to make it real. There is very little that I can do while thinking of something else, these days, all of it takes all of me. But this is the work of dreams, to put your whole heart and soul into people and writing, and I couldn’t be more blessed. This is what I was thinking about yesterday, so thankful for my rented Thai house and our belongings, for the things that we do together, for the fact that I can hike with my kids and have a day where no one complains about it. Those of you with many children know how rare and precious these days are, that usually you offer some outing as a happy gem, and so often it doesn’t suit the whims of at least one child.

But then there are days like yesterday, when we drove home and every roll of the wheel made it a little less far to walk, if we had needed too, (our gas situation was that unsure), and we rolled along in the open air, and the sky rejoiced, and the whole way home the kids shouted out shapes they saw in the amazing clouds in the sunset sky, and I went past views that I’m sure I’ve never seen the equivalent of, and the chariot made it all the way without running out of gas or getting a flat tire, as it sometimes likes to do to challenge us. In the clouds, someone spotted a pig riding a slug with a hamster, someone else spotted a fiery dragon, there were elephants and planes and birds and houses and Pokemon. All I saw was love, the immense, deep love of God for me and everyone else under that sky. 

The mundane beautiful.

Sunday was a lovely, lazy day. I did wake up early, because I’m trying to do a bit of writing every day these days, but it was a sleepy, gray morning with a second cup of coffee. The rain poured straight out of the sky, completely vertical, it was not fighting rain or blowing rain. It fell, it gave itself up to gravity. I tried to cease my striving as well. 

Kenya made a doll, hand sewing stuffing for the head into a piece of cloth she dyed at our homeschool co-op. I made a note to help her find some tutorials. The kids lay around and read, watched Ninja Go, played games on the computer. I made noodle bowls for lunch. In the evening, I had a circle at the garden with Nay and Ro and another dear friend who is reading the Bible with us. In the dusk we swatted at mosquitos, ate passionfruit and mangosteens, drank rooibos chai, and read the first two chapters of Philippians. As the sky grew dark, the mosquitos lessened. I find myself aware of the beauty of the Bible in a new way lately. It is something I return to from my own frail attempts at depth and beauty and truth, and it is always home.

Monday was gray as well—we are in the month of gray, drinking the cool rain. It was a school day. I helped with math, read aloud to the kids, cuddled and tickled a very grumpy Isaac. For lunch, I loaded up on curries from the local vegan restaurant for lunch, as well as the vegetarian fried chicken (soy protein) at the request of my vegetarian son. My favorite was the green curry. 

Our other friends from the community are away for a week and a half and there were big goodbyes as all the Ford kids basically attacked the friends, hugging them, trying to keep them. We’ll miss them. I’m trying not to panic, but to think of the extra time to catch up on things I’ve been putting off at my house. My dear Leaf is away as well, one month down, only three to go. I miss her.

In the afternoon I went to the market. I bought three kilos of tomatoes for spaghetti sauce in the next days, as well as fruit and avocados. The steamed buns were tempting, so I bought a few of them as well. We ate bean bowls for dinner and the kids played Simon Says. I walked into the room to find Isaac as Simon, instructing his very large siblings. It was adorable. We watched an episode of Chopped before bed. Isaac leapt from my lap to the floor, dancing and hopping from foot to foot, barely able to sit for any amount of time.

The rain pours steadily this morning. Birds woke me; bulbuls and spotted doves, roosters and mynahs. The white flower tree in our courtyard is loaded with flowers, and the yellow flower tree down the street fills the neighborhood with fragrance that makes me dream. I’ll work on some editing soon. There are a thousand mundane, beautiful things to fill the day. Cleaning, cooking, sweeping up the white flowers. Stay, I tell myself. Stay.

Home again.

I’m finally back in my chair at my desk, writing in the early hours of the day. I wrote my morning page (like Julia Cameron’s Morning Pages, but mine is just one page because I make my own rules and I only have a little bit of time) and I worked on my hummingbird painting, and now here I am, showing up at the blog.

Chinua’s brother and sister-in-law came to visit us in Thailand, along with his niece and nephew and a family friend. We met them in Bangkok, spent a couple days there, then traveled to Krabi, where the water is blue and the rocks look like they’re from another world, then traveled back up to Chiang Mai and into the markets, then drove through the curvy roads until we got home. We’ve been talking and shopping (I was translating, not buying) eating and swimming. It’s been a crowded, noisy, fun, happy time, as we took taxis that we really couldn’t fit in, and put way too many people into hotel rooms. I’ve been impressed by the way our brother and sister have thrown themselves into travel here in Thailand, trying all new things and dealing with heat and language issues. It makes me thankful for the way we acclimate, too. It’s all so normal to me, and I’m happy to be on this side of the adjustment. When visitors come, we see things through their eyes, new again, things we take for granted. The heat, the shape of the cars, the way Thai people smile and laugh all the time. And coming home is so sweet, because I see again just how lovely our town is, how we know our neighbors and the shopkeepers. I mean, we were only gone for eight days, but we missed our little town. 

One interesting moment was when our plane was landing and Solo threw up, but not in a bag because I didn’t get a bag to him in time, so we were just sitting in it, and we couldn’t get out of the seats. I have never been more thankful for a pack of baby wipes, and also, now I can say that I cleaned up a lot of vomit on a landing plane with a pack of baby wipes. My life is complete.

Today is diving back into homeschool, meditation, making shopping lists, bathing my stinky dog, watering plants, reading aloud to my kids, making to do lists that try to seem like they can be accomplished, and living in the light and love of God while trying to keep my cool with my beautiful, wild kids. Just life.