December musings: Abundance

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It is getting colder and the forecast says we will have a low of 8˚ C. That’s cold for us, riding our motorbikes in the morning, making food in our outdoor kitchen, wind coming in our uninsulated wooden house with no heat. I’m excited. I’ll work more on my ripple blanket, light candles, hold my cold hands around my coffee mug.

Isn’t this a busy time of year? We’re preparing for a thanksgiving/blessing for a friend’s baby tomorrow at Shekina Garden, and for our big Christmas preparation next week. I’m trying to fix the mud walls which are still damaged from the flood and from the overuse they get as large people vault over them. (Frowny face.) All of this requires lists of food to be bought and made, poems to be found or written, prayers to be researched. It’s the best kind of busy work, though I am running from morning till night. Running to guide meditation is not to a hard destination. I am abundant with good work.

Because I knew these weeks would be so busy, I needed to remove an element of work from my life, so I gave my kids an extra week off school. They’ve been playing Monopoly (a.k.a. The world’s worst game about losing your house because you can’t pay your bills) and Dixit in the mornings. The four oldest came with me to Shekina Garden to help me sift the red dirt for the walls. It needs to be sifted because we are doing the fine top layer. My kids saved me hours of work by helping me with an assembly line of dirt sifters, bucket fillers, bucket pourers, and pebble emptiers. They also immediately made names for everything. “Plebble me,” meant “add dirt to my sieve,” and “this needs to be plebbled” meant, “dump the rocks from the bottom of my sieve.” I am abundant with help.

They are all fun and memes and silly videos and laughter these days. Kai has come through some rough years of mind-altering natural substances in the form of his own teenage hormones, and has emerged with a lot of common sense and easy-going humor. It is amazing. And now Leafy is heading into that dark land, but with his Leafy-ness intact. I love these sunshiny days when we can work together. It makes all the difficult mind-wrangling fade into the distance. I am abundant with fun.

I’m working more with Leafy on bringing his mind back to the present. He’s nearly twelve, and I feel that he needs to learn the skill. He’s so often away, deep in his mind of invention or the Marvel Universe, doing his laps around the yard. With our learning environment he has had the gift of space, lots of space to walk and think and talk things over with himself. But I want to teach him skills of focus when it’s necessary. He can do it, he can be a vivid and sparkling part of conversations, but not always when I’m asking him to do something. (Do any of you with non neuro-typical children have advice for me?) I am abundant with quirk. 

And always there is Isaac dancing to make us laugh. He has always idolized Solomon (and fought with Solomon) and Solo went through a phase of trying to make ridiculous phrases with the word “chicken” in them. (Which is an inheritance from his father. And on down the line it goes.) Example: “How are you doing?” “Chickeny! With lots and lots of chickeny chickens!” 

Isaac is going to a bilingual gentle learning school now, which has about 24 students, and English and Thai teachers, and when I dropped him off at the gate the other day, one of the Thai kids shouted, “Isaac! Chicken chicken!” And they both squawked at each other like chickens. I gave of teachers, Kruu Lucy, big eyes and said, “So that has spread, has it?” And she said, “Oh, it has!” Oops. Poor teachers. Later I asked Isaac if he had taught everyone to talk about chickens, and he told me not everyone, then listed about half the school kids. Agh. We are abundant with silliness.

Whenever I can, which is a few times a week, I take a drive on my motorbike, into the light of the hills around me. It is so golden, so slanted and perfect in the afternoons, highlighting the falling teak leaves and the ripples and dips of the hills. I can drive all the way around the valley, stopping to talk with farmers along the way. There are clouds and more trees than I know the names for. How could I ever feel poor when I can find these views? How could I ever doubt the sustenance and joy that comes straight from the heart of God? I am abundant with beauty.

I am not lost, and either are you. We are held in his heart, very found, very safe. The road is unknown before us. Sickness undoubtedly waits for us, even if there are many years of wellness before it comes. There will be loss, and there will be more sad days. But today there is some window of beauty, something that gives rest and comes from God himself, who is always surprising and full of light. We are abundant with light.

***

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"You should write about that." On quirky children and rocket activity.

 Going to Space: The Manically excited phase.

Going to Space: The Manically excited phase.

Often, when something interesting or funny or cute happens, someone will turn to me and say, “You should write that down.” 

Here are the times recently that someone has said that:

***

I drove home from the garden after community lunch, in the chariot, piled with the blender and food I brought to cook the lunch, early that morning. I had arrived at the garden at 10:00 in the morning, after shopping in the market for all the food I need to cook food for forty or so people. 4 kg of black beans. Seven onions. A bag of mangos, a bag of tomatoes, cilantro, a bag of rice, peppers and garlic and some chocolate for the journey. After it was all over and on its way to being cleaned, I left at around 5:30, with Isaac in the chariot beside me. His friend-from-birth, Jazzy, jumped in the chariot as well, and Isaac (who had been melting down after a long day) was so excited about this that I asked Jazzy’s dad Josh if he could swing by and pick Jazzy up from my house when he was done at the garden. Absolutely.

So I drove up the hill with my basket of boys. One of my favorite things in these last five years has been driving around in the chariot with a basket of kids, and though it has grown too heavy to do it with all my (very large) children, it is still just as much a pleasure to drive around with a basket filled with kitchen things and two little boys. 

They chatted away, and I caught a snippet of the story Jazzy was telling Isaac: 

“And a sock can eat it, the whole thing!”

“A sock?” Isaac asked, completely puzzled.

“Not a sock like you put on your foot,” explained Australian Jazzy. “A sark, that swims in the ocean.” He has trouble saying his ‘sh’ sounds. Together, the two of them have quite the speech variations.

Oh, the adorable conversations that have occurred in my basket of kids.

***

Last night we ate fried rice, which I promise was the best fried rice I’ve ever made. It was so good that when I felt snacky later in the evening, I ate another bowl of rice. It was that good. It was so good. I made sure the children understood what good rice they were eating by exclaiming, “This is so good! I can’t believe how good this is!” several times while we were eating. 

“It is good!” Kenya said, humoring me. The boys just blinked at me.

We talked about memories, and I asked if they remembered camping in Turkey. Kai and Kenya had some memories of it. Isaac asked, “Have I been to Turkey?” 

“No,” I said. 

“I’ve been to Thailand,” he said.

“You’re in Thailand,” we told him.

“I want to go to Thailand!” he said.

 “But you’re in Thailand! Our town is in Thailand!” 

And then he cried. So I pulled up Google Earth to try to get him to understand where we were, and how we can be in Thailand but still not be able to see all of Thailand, and that only made it worse. He sobbed and sobbed because he wanted to go to Thailand.

“You don’t understand what I’m talking about!” he wailed. “You don’t understand what I want!” He was inconsolable and we were completely confused. He was thankfully distracted when we discovered this amazing picture of Leafy and Solo waving at the Google car:

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***

While I did something or other in the kitchen (outdoors, remember) the other day, I could see and hear the three younger boys playing. Isaac ran over to me, clearly vibrating with excitement. 

“We’re going to Space!” he said.

What Leafy and Solo did was this: They set a wooden stool on the porch with a shorter bamboo stool in front of it, as though it was a chair and a desk. They put a broken electronic game and a toy walkie-talkie on the taller stool. Then they propped several large sheets of corrugated plastic around the two stools. Over this structure, they draped two Indian print bedsheets and a couple of fuzzy blankets. They told Isaac he needed to be the first one to go to Space. He put his helmet on, got inside, and prepared himself to go to Space.

“Can’t Solo go first?” he asked, sounding panicky. 

“No, it has to be you,” Leafy said, quickly pulling up rocket sounds on YouTube. 

“I’m scared!” Isaac said. 

“Don’t be scared, you’ll be fine,” Solo said. They counted down.

“T minus5… 4… 3… 2… 1… Blastoff!” And Leafy put the rocket sounds on the iPad close to the “rocket” so Isaac could hear them. 

And Isaac burst into tears. Loud, panicky tears. Shrieks, really. Because he thought he was going to Space. He thought he was in Space! 

You guys. He thought he was in Space. He had that much faith in Leafy and Solo’s rocket-making abilities. I went and pulled him out. He was all sweaty after being in a blanket tent in our tropical weather. I kissed him and he cried. 

“Was that scary?” I asked. 

“Yes!” he said. 

“It was pretend,” I said. 

He stared at me for a minute, then hopped off of my lap. “Leafy! Solo! It was pretend!” he yelled, running to find them. 

So, when you are sad, or overwhelmed, or burdened by too many scattered thoughts, too much disaster, fear of the future, unraveling dreams, just remember Isaac, who believed a blanket fort could take him to Space.

 

PS: Oh how close we are getting to the launch of Shaper's Daughter, World Whisperer Book 3! I'm so excited to share this book with you!

PPS: I'm a few days away from launching my Patreon page. Have you heard of Patreon? It's a beautiful thing in the Internet age: a way for artists and writers to be supported by fans and readers. It's not easy to make money from writing these days, so this little tip jar of sorts feels like a great partnership. I'll let you know when my page is up.

One Thing: Be like Isaac.

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We're on a vacation down south in Thailand for a break from the smoke in Pai. A short break. We drove for two days to get to Koh Chang, and will drive for two days to get back, and it's so worth it. We have five days of restful bliss in an Airbnb on this lovely island. There are mangroves in front of our house, and a rocky quiet beach. Birds everywhere. Lanky teenagers and big kids. And one little four-year-old guy. 

Now that I have all these big kids (which I love) I find I have all this nostalgia for the little ones. And I still have one little one, so he gets a bucketful of nostalgia mixed in with his parenting. I think four might be the perfect age. He's whimsical, perpetually delighted, bubbling over with energy, and overwhelmingly cute. On the way home yesterday, Chinua and I agreed that we should be more like Isaac.  

For example. He ate pad see ew for dinner yesterday (fried wide noodles with vegetables and soy sauce) and he looked up after his dinner came and said, "Oh! I got corn in my pad see ew! I'm getting so much corn in all my pad see ews!" (Delight, awe, a feeling of being bountifully blessed with corn.) 

Or, halfway through the meal, he discovered his plastic wrapped chopsticks. "Oh! It's so good that I have these sticks! I'm going to open them!" (Delight, discovery, a feeling of being entrusted with big kid things like chopsticks.) 

Or, also during the same dinner, when a beach dog made its way over to him as a potential dropper of food (smart dog). "I'm so lucky. I'm always so lucky because this dog came and sat by me again!" (Joy, and a feeling of being chosen.)  

Or earlier in the day, eating an apple. "Mama! Mama! Apples have apple juice in them!" (Delight, discovery, culinary bliss.) 

But my favorite moment yesterday was when we went to a waterfall, and he was mulling it over as we left to hike out. "That wasn't very fun for me," he said. "I didn't swim much, there weren't very many animals, and it wasn't very fun."  (He was afraid of the fish, so didn't get in the water.)

"Well," I said. "Some things we do because they're beautiful, not because they're fun." 

But his fun meter needed some help, so on the way back through the forest, he jumped off a big rock. "I have half a fun point," he said. Then he jumped off another rock. "Now I have a full fun point." And all the way back to the car, he jumped off rocks to fill up his fun. 

That's why we want to be more like Isaac. 

Short-circuit.

 Isaac and Fiona, being super cute. Not arguing. 

Isaac and Fiona, being super cute. Not arguing. 

 My kids give me many lessons, but Isaac gave me things to think about recently, perhaps reinforcing things I already know.  

He loves Memory, the game where you turn over pairs of cards, trying to get a match. In all my life I may not experience anything as delightful as playing a game with him. He laughs at every pair he finds. "Did you SEE that? How did I know it was THERE?" He gets excited when I get a pair. He gets super excited when he knows, or thinks he knows, where a pair is, hopping around on his knees and getting all trembly-cute over it. 

We have a Memory game that Miriam brought us from Germany, many years ago. The cards are adorable sets of baby animals and Isaac loves them. But the cards have been dwindling over the years, due to Isaac's habit of throwing things around (we're working on it), and the little grid of cards is really small now.  So, this Christmas I bought him a new game of Memory. I picked a Dr. Seuss set, since One Fish Two Fish is the one of the five books he wants me to read to him, ordered it, and Christy brought it over with her when she came. (Side Note: I have discovered that despite what I thought ten years ago, it actually is possible to get tired of reading One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish. One might even be tempted to speed read through the Gox, and the Zans who opens cans, and even the Gack. Who knew?)

I was pretty excited to play it with him. I can't remember what day we first broke it out, but it was sometime in the days after Christmas. Fiona was with us. I could have predicted that there would be a little extra competition, since Fiona are Isaac are passionate kids who love to compete with each other about every single thing. They spent the three weeks they were together joyfully happy-taunting each other to see what would happen. (Tears is what would happen. Lots of "It's not." "It is." "It's not." "It is." They're totally getting married someday. JUST KIDDING. I hate it when people matchmake kid friends. Drives me crazy. But the bickering was pretty funny, when it wasn't making me want to dig into my own eardrums.)

If I was expecting anything, though, it was that Fiona would be offended by the way Isaac gloats over his growing pile of cards when he plays. "I have more than you! I have three and you have two!" He comes by the piles without any backwards-cheating on my part, too! Is it normal to be this bad at Memory at the age of 36? My focusing skills need work. I don't correct his gloating because I find it adorable, he's so utterly bewitched by his own expertise. I figured a younger kid wouldn't find it as cute.

What I couldn't have predicted was the way he would be incapacitated by the game. The new set of Memory cards was twice as big as our old set. (Yes, we lost a lot of them. Did I mention that our househelper sometimes pulls toys out of the trash she sweeps up and sometimes it's all too much? No part of my life is organized or in place, people. Don't ever think it.) 

Spread in a grid, the game looked huge. This fact took Isaac's little brain, twirled it around, and hit some sort of fuse, shutting him down completely. He was paralyzed. I mean, absolutely, completely paralyzed. He couldn't focus when either of us took our turns, he lay on the ground and cried when Fiona scored a pair. When it was his turn, he randomly flipped over two cards in a frenzy, then cried when they weren't a match. It was the game. The game was too big, the cards were different and harder to recognize. It was too much of a leap. Fiona, on the other hand, did fine. She said it was her first time playing Memory. She had nothing to compare it to, no previous triumphs to fall from.

It made me think of life and creativity. Isaac playing a new game of Memory was like my own little experiment, without a control, really, so I can't go publishing any papers, but it makes me think. I'm learning about procrastination, self-sabotage, and good habits all the time. Allthetime. I teach five not-easy kids, all of whom are brilliant, with as many procrastination, self sabotage, short-circuiting habits as you can imagine. I'm trying to teach the older ones about how to accomplish big projects without falling apart (they're getting there). And I have to do it myself, with every book I write or painting I undertake. I still have projects I need to get to, things that are still causing me to curl up like a snail in my shell because I haven't figured out how to tackle them yet. I learned a long time ago: write out all the little steps. Go bit by bit. Take a piece and then take a tiny bite of that piece. Buy the paper. Write for forty-five minutes.

For Isaac, I'll divide the cards in half and we'll play that way, slowly adding cards until he feels like the champion of Memory again.

As someone who often feels like barely a grownup, and who still can't figure out how to clean her kitchen at night, I would still offer you advice, if only because I get things done. (Sometimes.) If you have creative projects that you're working on this year, or even ones you want to do, write out all the little steps. Then make them into smaller steps. Begin checking them off. Set timers. Force one thing, then take that pleased feeling and build on it until you are the champion of creative things.  

Examples of first steps:  

-Buy the yarn

-Watch a video on drawing

-Write out the thoughts you've been dreaming over the dishes

-Make a Pinterest board of art you like

-Take a picture

-Buy a book on writing

Bonus: Here's my writing chart right now. I have to color things in to keep myself writing. I hope that makes you feel better.

 Yes, those are odd increments. I got confused! I'm not a graph maker! 

Yes, those are odd increments. I got confused! I'm not a graph maker! 

Five Things

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1. Wow, it's been a while. Let's blame bronchitis, shall we? Bronchitis, you are to blame!

After a rather long while where I didn't feel well at all, Chinua, my most beloved friend and soulmate, also my Superstar Husband, went to Australia on a little two week trip. That very night, the sickness that had been threatening began pouring buckets; I had such a scratchy throat that I couldn't sleep. It got progressively worse until it reached my bronchial tubes and turned them into a kind of wheezy flute. Seriously, there were at least six different notes harmonizing when I tried to lie down at night. It was beautiful. And scary. I considered recording it, but I was too busy trying to breathe. 

Did I mention that my husband is in Australia? Is this a rerun of some other part of my life? It wouldn't be hard to find out, it's all written down here. 

I'm doing much better, thanks to friends who took my kids and let me rest for a couple of afternoons, and thanks to ginger, holy basil, lemon, and honey. I have some very sexy phlegm hacking that I routinely have to get out of the way in the morning, and then I can get on with my day. 

2. The fruit lady has been looking rather smug lately.  

There is a lady who walks around our neighborhood with a little pink plastic basket of fruit that she sells. We often buy fruit from her because my rule in Asia is that if you can buy something (something you actually want) from someone wandering by hawking it, you are really living! This is as good as it gets! Baskets! Flowers! Brooms! So we buy fruit from this lady.

For years, (years ) she has been trying to get me to buy peanuts from her. But I pass them by every time. If I see that she only has a basket of bags of roasted peanuts in the shell, I say, "No, thanks! I don't want peanuts." 

But then I got a whiff of the truth. These peanuts are not roasted peanuts in the shell. They are BOILED peanuts in the shell. I tried some that belonged to someone else and I was instantly enamored with the beany, soft, edamame-like goodness of boiled peanuts.

So the fruit lady came back the other day and had bags of peanuts, I was a little wiser than I had been in my foolish, non-peanut-buying youth. "Are they boiled?" I asked. She didn't roll her eyes, bless her. "Yes," she told me. 

So I bought two kilos. And then next day I bought another kilo. And she said, "Good, aren't they?" And I said, "Yes! They are very very good, and I will eat them in a boat and with a goat and on a train and in the rain. .." and she didn't say "I told you so," but her smile was very satisfied and smug and now she gets a little glint in her eye whenever she sees me because she knows I am addicted to her boiled peanut line of work.

3.  October is my favorite month here, with a hint of coolness in the air, green everything everywhere, and skies so blue they could hypnotize you. I've been caught up in kids and sickness, but I'm looking forward to Chinua coming home so I can go on scooter rides past rice paddies, into hills, through huge stands of bamboo. 

We drove to clay day at homeschool co-op the other day and had to take the long way round because of some road work we got stuck in. The long way round is ridiculously scenic, and at one spot I looked out at the whole valley. Light, a million different shades of green and blue, rice and coconut trees and distant hills.  

"I can't believe that's real," I said to the kids, who were crowded into the chariot. They agreed. It makes the smoke season, the heat, the floods all worth it. I love where I live.

4. Isaac has new levels of imagination and silliness spouting from every pore. Everything is pretend, everything is a game. 

"I pretended I was teeny tiny," he says, "and I could get in the egg game and be teeny tiny in all the eggs and they were all big around me." He's my constant companion. He comes to the market and the fruit lady (a different fruit lady) hugs him with her elbows and gives him a rambutan to eat. He works on being polite. He is all boy, all fun and running and shouting and getting kind of angry when he doesn't get his way. He's my little bear.  

5. Since I started writing this, we've had a really sad event in Thailand. I can't write too much about it because of the laws here, but the beloved King of Thailand has passed away. We are wearing black and entering a period of one month of mourning. It feels sad and the future is a bit unknown. We go from day to day, and I am praying with all my heart for the people of Thailand.