Even if a lot of people stare.

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When I wake up in the mornings to write, the couple across the street are awake also. They make jok, breakfast rice porridge, and sell it on the side of another street, from a cart. So every morning they put all the tables and stools, pots and food, in their sidecar, drive them over, and then push the cart down the street to park it and sell their food. I make my coffee (these days it’s in my stovetop espresso maker) in my kitchen which is outside and open to the street, remember, and all the while I see them preparing for their morning. The couple has one other worker, a young man, and both he and the older man sing while they work. I put cream in my coffee; they sing Thai songs. 

My kitchen. Shall we talk more about my kitchen? I think I am pretty much completely resigned to the very public nature of my life, out here on this street, as I emerge in the mornings and walk down the stairs, meeting the eyes of passing monks who are up early to give blessings, or drunks still out from the night before. The occasional (very occasional) time I snap at a child, “Get out of the kitchen!” when he is racing around underfoot, and look up to see a group of tourists watching me? No sweat. We live in the middle of everything and we aren’t ashamed. Only sometimes we are. But, for the most part, I’m simply happy that my bedroom is tucked away inside my house. 

Every once in a while I am standing somewhere, or doing something, when I realize, I mean, really GET IT. I live in Thailand. The other day it was in the market, while everyone was scurrying because of a downpour. I walked from the tomato seller to the avocado seller, getting soaked in the process, and thought, whew, I’m once again getting caught in the rain. And then I looked up and saw a man wearing Hmong embroidery hurrying to cover his stall, and a Lisu woman moving her greens out of the gusts of rain, and it hit me that I was getting caught in the rain in a vegetable market in Thailand. And that this is completely normal to me. Normal enough that it’s slightly annoying. But not if I stop and look around and see the wonder of my life. It’s like what Kenya said one day: Her life is made of adventures that she loves, and when she gets caught in the rain while we're driving the chariot, it reminds her that her life is amazing. Hmm. May something like getting caught in the rain always remind us that our lives are amazing.

A quick trip (with creatures).

This is not a snake, but it is a creature!

This is not a snake, but it is a creature!

I got back a couple nights ago from a mini writing retreat of my own making. I needed to go to the nearby big city for routine tasks at immigration and thought, well, while I’m there, why don’t I stay an extra day, huddle in a hotel room, and write. So I did. It’s a luxury of living here, since hotel rooms only cost $10 if you know how to scavenge for the deals. They cost less if you don’t mind cockroaches or sharing bathrooms, things I have worked into my hotel-staying life countless times in the past, but I find I’m pickier these days. I think there are actually guesthouses in the big city for less that are squeaky clean, but I haven’t found them yet. 

Now that I’m back from that cheapskate rabbit trail, you probably want to know how the writing went. It went swimmingly, with a near blackout on social media thrown in to boot. My upcoming book, “A Traveler’s Guide to Belonging,” is with my lovely editor, but I’m working on the second draft of another book, the fantasy I was telling you about. I own my word count. It trembles at my touch. Sometimes. 

Back when I decided to go to the big city, I hadn’t taken into account the fact that it was Sunday on a long weekend, and there were no seats available on any of the buses that day. “No problem,” I thought. “I can drive!” And by drive I meant ride a motorbike in the rain on switchbacks for five hours, which I proceeded to do. It was… challenging. And cheap! I’m always looking for ways to justify my choices, unlike just say, making them, like normal people. What positive category could I put this motorbike experience into? Pleasure? Not at all. Beauty? A little, but the world was transformed by rain and gray and I couldn’t see much of it as I focused on the very wet road. Adventure? It was a little too adventurous, the kind where adventure tips into trial. Frugality? Yes! I had a winner and as I collapsed in my hotel room that night, I felt the happy tingle of justifying a hard experience by penny pinching. In my defense, there was no other way to make an impromptu visit to the city, and if it exhausted me a little more than I had been expecting, so be it.

The way back was nicer, with drier roads. However, I stopped to answer my phone on the side of the road when I was nearly back in Pai, and when I pulled away from the shoulder, I saw a little snake wriggling quickly away from my foot. “Awww,” I thought, “a little snake.” But then the sound of my bike startled it and it reared up to strike. It was a tiny cobra! A cobra! I shrieked and drove away quickly. Riding in the rain with cobras. Even when I try to do nothing exciting, excitement finds me.

Gardener's paradise.

It was our own form of shopping spree and we were in heaven. 

“It’s gorgeous… I’ll take four,” is a phrase that doesn’t come out of my mouth very often. Nor do I exult in shopping sprees. Except, unless… I am in the Kamthieng Market, a blocks long garden market in Chiang Mai. Basically, shop after shop has the most gorgeous plants and trees and flowers for sale. It is a hippie’s paradise. We could have spent days there, but we limited ourselves to a few hours, roasting in the hot sun, (Leaf and I bought sombreros to keep our heads cool) while Brendan kept the kids in the air conditioning at the Tesco Lotus nearby. He watched as the kids played in the playground and stormed the arcade. We, meanwhile, stormed the garden market, determined to make the garden of our dreams.

“Avocado trees?” 

“Yes, let’s take more of them!” 

“What about these wildflowers?”

"We have to have pomegranates!"

“Let’s get three kinds of mango tree.”

“What are lamyai?” “Oh, they’re small fruit, really good. Let’s get one!” 

The enthusiasm was crazy. I quickly took photos of all the little trees, labeling them in my phone so we wouldn't forget which was which.

We are planting trees at Shekina Garden, and for the first time ever, all of us in our little community got on the curvy, sick-making bus ride to go to Chiang Mai so that we could buy trees together. We piled into the back of a song taew, which took us through the city to the market. Plants. Flowers. Heaven. We bought a lot of fruit trees that will take years to bear fruit. We bought climbers and ten crepe myrtle trees to stretch along the front of the garden, blocking the view of the new resort that is being constructed directly opposite us. (One day—the crepe myrtles are still pretty short.) When we got home I found a nursery in my yard, trees upon trees. We have planted many of them and every Friday, during gardening time, we plant more. Planting trees is always good, always right, and doing it together is a lot of fun. And a lot of work, but what beautiful work. 

Original chickens.

It was evening and the heaviness of the sky kept teasing us with rain, but none came. The kids were cranky, the little ones not sharing, my two-year-old falling apart over the smallest of insults, injuries, or perceived threats. The tweens were embroiled in a crisis concerning whether they could stand to live with one another any more. The six-year-old was frustrated and whiny. There were beautiful extras around, little ones who call me “Auntie Rae,” little ones whom I love. But all of them were ganging up on me, a big writhing, sweaty, cute mess. I sat on the porch with them, resigned to doing nothing other than breaking up quarrels. Stay. I wished it was the next morning so I could draw hummingbirds with a cup of coffee in my hand. Stay. 

Leafy was the angel of the evening. He spent all day working on writing a book. “Can I watch videos of birds flying in slow motion?” he asked me at one point. “So I can describe the dragons flying in my book.” With five kids, at least one kid should be happy, even on an off day.

The uncle from across the street came to watch the madness. He wanders over daily to have conversations with Isaac about geckos. All of the people on our street are friends with one another, and all of them are kind to us. The uncle leaned on the fence and watched as Isaac took a swipe at Jazzy. He smiled and laughed. I smiled back and wiped sweat off my upper lip. I looked at the sky, hopeful for rainclouds. Nothing that looked promising.

There had been chickens running on the street in the morning, the long-legged, svelte jungle chickens of this region. Original chickens. One crowed me awake in the early hours, a visitor to our neighborhood. While I put the rice on to feed grouchy kids, a man drove into the empty lot next door, looking up into a tree and making cawing noises. Over the half wall in my kitchen, he asked, in Thai, “Did you see any chickens?” 

“I saw them last night,” I said. “And this morning.” 

“I got two this morning,” he said. “But I heard that the last one, the big black one, flew into this tree.”

“I didn’t see it,” I said. “But I will watch for you.” He continued to make cawing noises in the tree, then drove off.

After dinner I sat on the porch again. When kids started yelling at each other, I pulled them into my lap and hugged them, then said, “please try to stop screeching.” Holding them made me remember just how cute they were. I stretched out and lay all the way down, while they rolled themselves around on skateboards and the tweens quarreled over the dishes. I looked up at my house and the sky and noticed again just how pretty the lattice work on my roof is. It took my breath away. What a privilege to live here. Isaac came and lay down on top of me, then jumped up a moment later to play ball with the other two littles. They passed the ball nicely back and forth for a few minutes while I looked at the tall building above me. I sat up and saw the chicken man looking hopefully up into the tree again. It brought back memories of looking for our own jungle chickens and Kenya’s panic when we couldn’t find them. I shuddered, but smiled at him when he drove away on his scooter again. 

Naomi came and picked up her kids and gave me a hug of sympathy. We dreamed of running away from it all. Stay.

Chinua came home and he finished up with bath (bucket) time while I worked on painting the schedule sign for Shekina Garden. I had been working on it all day, on and off, painting a few letters and then jumping up to cook something or pour someone soy milk. Soon the wind called me outside, gusting up and teasing with hints of rain, lightning in the distance. The chicken man came by again and peered up into the tree, which was blowing wildly. I took a big, giant gulp of the cool breeze on my porch, part of me out there in the wild sky, dancing with clouds and messing things up. Leaves blew past, rolling down the street, and a towel flew off the bamboo fence around my kitchen. I let the wind take the weariness of the day and went back to paint a few more letters. 

This and that.

The weather has done that strange thing it does here, where one day we are still cold, and the next dragging ourselves around in the very hot heat. It's reaching the forties, and we occasionally take refuge at the pool. The pool we love has little bamboo salas (the huts in the photo), perfect for sitting, eating watermelon, and watching the river. Chinua work on yo-yo tricks and we take turns in the cold pool and the hot spring pool. 

Sometimes at the same pool, the elephants from the nearby elephant camp come down for a bit of grazing. The elephants come down for a bit of grazing!!! One day Kenya and I will hop on and go off into the distant hills together with our new elephant friend. Maybe, just maybe, we'll come back. If the boys will be good.

Brothers are a thing into themselves. They are loud, wild, sweet, annoying, and heartbreakingly beautiful. They climb on things and fall off things. They tease each other and scream. They teach each other naughty things. They teach each other good things too, like forgiveness and how to behave in a socially adjusted manner, (even if they don't seem to get it themselves, they are excellent at displaying horror at someone else being rude) and how to play The Lord of the Ring scores on the piano. 

And then there are sisters, and these brothers have a good one. She is the one to go to if you need an idea, a picture, a clay figure, a hug, some comforting, or a bead necklace. 

We had the delight of going to a little friend's birthday party at her beautiful home. Her mom and grandma made a feast and it featured a lot of fruit! Hooray, because I only want watermelon and mangos when it's hot. The kids ran around in the grass and bugs bit them and they called wayward ducks and kept themselves from falling into ponds. It was an excellent day.

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And this! I think I am the one receiving the best gift in this piano, because I get to hear the songs my husband plays. By the way, spoiler alert for all those who have googled "Who is Rachel Devenish Ford's husband?" He is not an actual superstar, not in those ways that have people holding their hands up to block the paparazzi, or buying multiple homes. He is a superstar to us. And it is true that he can play almost any instrument and sing any song and that he is the best dad ever. 

Fire and earth.

1. The burning season has begun. Last night a line of fire glowed off a nearby mountain as local villages began their yearly burning of the forest undergrowth. It looked volcanic, or ancient. It looked like something out of the ordinary, a dragon maybe, or a fire flood. It looked like a burning wave, cresting on the mountains. I drove up and watched and could nearly hear it crackle. This morning the sunrise is very smoky.

2. Chinua and I are running together now, aiming for three times a week. We ran together for the first time on Sunday, up to the Buddha statue because of its amazing stairs. "I don't know why I believed you when you said it was close," I gasped as we ran. "It is close," he said. "It's high though." I walked the stairs of course. "How many do you think there are?" I asked. "Around 400 or so," he said. "One day I'll be able to run all of them." 

It reminded me of when we used to do Kung Fu together on rooftops in Nepal, back when we were really young (I was nineteen.) He had this one exercise that involved holding a bucket of water with arms outstretched and alternately pouring from one bucket to the other. How I cursed him as my arm muscles trembled and burned. I felt the same way about those stairs. But I'd run anywhere with him, any moments alone together are precious.

3. The big wall is nearly finished. We have to add the highest part, and I have to make the niches for candles, and then we have to make a slurry to cover all the walls. This has been the most ambitious project I have ever undertaken. It's a bit like those stairs, but stretched out over a month or more. And more beautiful than stairs. Shaping the walls with our hands has been wonderful. My house is falling apart slowly, though, and I am ready to be done with building. 

4. Isaac is a belly-greeter. You know belly laughs? Well, Isaac greets with his belly. Everyone who comes to our house gets a huge hello, the most excited, over the top "Hi!" he can muster. Even me, after just twenty minutes of shopping. I pull up on the scooter and he skids out of the house and shouts, "Hi Mama!" It's pretty wonderful. 

5. We are finishing with the cold season and coming into the heat. The cold has been hanging on longer than usual, and I am ready for the heat. I realized recently that I love this season, with its muted colors and hot, dusty breezes. Everything is gold and pale brown, dry leaves gust along the streets, dust devils briefly rise into the air, carrying a swirl of detritus with them. The sounds are clatters and dry wheezing. The spaces between things widen, as jungle falls back and dries up. The heat is a desert heat, not so hard to take. I love it because it is seasonal, and in three months or so, the rains will come back and the shells of things will burst open again to become their vibrant selves. I hope the same for me.

Building walls together.

Everyone gets into it, from big to small.

Everyone gets into it, from big to small.

 I finally borrowed some photos from a new friend who is visiting for a few weeks, so all but this first one are Josh’s photos- thank you so much Josh! When I went to look at what Chinua had taken of wall-building, I found, egad, that it was all video. On the unedited video I watched I saw myself make this statement: “I’ve never been happier than I am building these walls.”

What can I say? It has been a lot of work for a lot of days, and I have made mistakes and floundered a little, but sitting there in the afternoon at our beautiful garden space, the trees on the hills in the distance slowly turning red, using our hands to grab mud, smoothing it in between the bamboo lattice of our wall—oh, I am truly happy as I tell the wall that I love it and the wall tells me that it loves me too, somehow in Ro’s creepiest voice.

(There is a cast of characters that has come riding into our lives on white horses, singing loud songs. We are smitten with them, and their names will litter these pages from here on in. Get ready.)

But the mud, the mud. We take earth, beautiful red earth, and we add water to it, smoothing it and stomping it with our feet until the hard bits are gone and it is the loveliest soft mud. The kind that Kenya desires to swim in, and does. Then we add a lot of straw and rice husks and stomp more and more and more until we all fall over because mud stomping is very tiring. But what we end up with is something very pliable and soft and buildable, with long strands of straw that catch on the bamboo lattice and hold the whole thing together. 

And then we build, taking handfuls of it and moving up the walls. Neil coined the term “poo-shaped slug” to describe the shape of the mud that we form to push into the wall, and soon after the words poo-shaped slug came into our lives, a song was created, and that song worms its way through my mind for days and hours on end.

Sometimes Little Gem and Leaf come along to brighten our lives. One time Leaf stomped mud with us and it sucked two of her toe rings off, so we have silver in our walls as well.

Sometimes Little Gem and Leaf come along to brighten our lives. One time Leaf stomped mud with us and it sucked two of her toe rings off, so we have silver in our walls as well.

Travelers come to help us build and we initiate them into the methods of building. There is a lot of laughter. And the golden light moves across the hills and our hands are in the dirt and it’s rather hot in the middle of the day and the sun feels good on our backs. And I feel so blessed to be doing this work— I wake up thanking God for it- this work, this community, the hills and the future garden plans and the wide sky that surrounds us. 

Adventures in losing things.

It might be a two cups of coffee kind of morning. Usually I'm pretty strict at sticking with just the one, but this morning... well. Yes, I'm headed to put the kettle on. Be right back.

Okay, here I am. It's still cold here, though not storming the way I hear it is in parts of the world. I hope you're all keeping warm. Here it gets hot in the middle of the day. Near 30 degrees celcius hot, which is a big difference from the 10 degrees or so it is in the morning. 10 degrees isn't that cold, but we don't have heat and our kitchen is outside, so it feels chilly.

The past week has been beautiful and wild with a tinge of annoyance or sadness depending on how you look at it. We took a really quick trip to the big city to extend our visas, which is an all day event that started at 4:30, when I got up and shivered myself across the city on my motorbike to sit in a line for two hours, waiting for my first queue number that would enable me to get my real queue number and so on. We had rented two motorbikes to make things smoother and faster, and drove around, back and forth, picking up documents, visiting the doctor for Chinua's check up, buying our bus tickets back to Pai, sitting in line at the visa office. It was a full day, and successful, as we left the office with visas. The kids were great. They sat, and rode, and sat again, and rode again with expert patience. Even Isaac did pretty well.

The tinge of annoyance or sadness came when I discovered that my iPod touch (very similar to an iPhone without the phone part) had most likely fallen out of my bag while I was driving the motorbike on the last drive to catch our bus. I had pulled it out to check the time at a stoplight and not pushed it back down enough I suppose. Bad mistake. For the last two years I have been using it to take every single photo you see. I read on it. It is the device for me. I have thought about upgrading to an iPhone, but it will be a couple months before that can happen. Oh well. Tears may have been shed but I remembered that it is just a thing. A very useful thing for art, but just a thing. 

I had just edited a photo of Leafy, our family's newest nine-year-old, for you, and hadn't been able to upload it yet. Bummer. You'll have to take my word for it: he's gorgeous. The sweetest, most imaginative boy, the one who always gets my heart in a different place than any other. How can Leafy be nine? Time, that's how. Also, Isaac turned two yesterday. Two! 

Birthday parties have been postponed due to wall building. We put our first mud up yesterday and it was a lot of fun. It's a big learning process, and I'll have some photos to show you once I get them from others. 

It's a full, strong, wild time! I have to prepare for meditation this morning as well as get the groceries for the day and prepare for another day of building. Definitely a two cups of coffee morning. 

 

 

 

I'm about to show you a scary picture, but everything turned out all right.

On Tuesday, I wrote this:

I know I go on and on about how awesome it is to have a fifth child, or perhaps I really mean, a later child, but it really is. We are always shaking our heads over Isaac. The other day Kai said, "I really don't know how we were even happy without him." And I said, "That's how I feel about all of you."

But I know what he means. 

I think my favorite thing about this late baby is how everything toddler related falls into perspective in a bigger family. When Isaac is protesting at the top of his lungs because he wanted to brush his teeth a little longer, it can't help being funny. Even as I'm guiding him toward calmer, saner behavior, I'm laughing inside, because he's trying so hard to run the show, but he's, like, two inches tall. 

When I had my first kids, I was young, and I think they did seem big to me, even at 21 months old. But with a twelve-year-old in the house, a nearly two-year-old seems like the tiniest of guys, so him asserting himself with all his might is adorable. 

"A bath! A bath!" he yells as I wrap him up in a towel and carry him away from the bucket we call a bathtub. It's time for bed. And as he continues to yell "A bath! A bath! Brush teeth! Brush teeth!" (he has a love of grooming) I look up and my eyes meet Kai's and we straighten our twisting lips and I say, "You really liked that bath, didn't you? Don't worry, you can have another one tomorrow." 

And don't worry kid, even though heartbreak over bath time ending feels like the worst kind of tragedy, the other six of us will be here to reassure you that it's not. 

*

That is what I had written, and then what happened is that Isaac found Chinua's blood pressure pills and was playing with them. Usually, of course, Chinua keeps them far out of his reach, but he had taken them earlier and left them on the bed in our room. I was in there with Isaac, reading to him and playing with him. I turned away to write an email and when I turned back, he had the daily medicine container in his hands. 

There was half a pill in his mouth, and then when we counted the pills, we found that one was missing. I still don't know if he ate that other pill, or if it disappeared, but when I googled it, I found it on a list of the most lethal drugs to kids, medications that can kill in one pill.

The. horror.

Chinua immediately took him to the emergency room here in Pai, and I stayed on the phone with him to figure out how they were treating him, googling madly as we went. It was terrifying. "Have they given him activated charcoal?" I asked. I heard Chinua ask the doctor the question. "He says he's too young for charcoal," he told me. "No he's not!" I cried, looking at a page where it listed the dosage of charcoal for kids over one year. "Tell them to give him charcoal." 

"We have to take him to Chiang Mai," we decided, realizing that the care here was not sufficient. They began to get the ambulance ready. He was growing very sleepy from the side effects of what he had taken, and at one point, Chinua told me, "We can't wake him up." "I'm on my way," I said. "Tell them to give him the charcoal. Right now! Right NOW!" 

When I got to the hospital, they had just inserted a nasal tube and were pumping his stomach out through it. They then gave him the charcoal. He was very sleepy but protesting the tube. The fear was like long waves of water that doused us. I thought we were going to lose him and I so desperately wanted to rewind, rewind! How could we have been so stupid? The doctor told me that he would be very sleepy from the medication but that they would monitor his pulse and blood pressure in the ambulance. I decided to go along, and flew home on the scooter to get passports and diapers-- the necessary things. 

We took a three hour ride in the back of an ambulance, and when things like this happen, I find out how superstitious I am, despite the fact that I think I'm logical and trusting. I watched the pulse monitor excessively and it was very reassuring because I could see that his pulse and oxygen were normal and steady. But when I thought of closing my eyes (it was near midnight by this time) I felt that if I even took my eyes off him for a second, he wouldn't be okay. So my brain was somehow telling me that I was keeping my son alive with my attention. And I don't think that's how that works. I thought and prayed deeply about it, and had a moment of release there, in the back of the ambulance. Whether or not I closed my eyes or stopped praying, he would be in God's hands. I closed my eyes. I managed to keep them closed for about five minutes. I may still have some growing to do.

At the hospital things immediately got better. It was still very very scary, but point by point and hour by hour we checked everything out and as time passed, we realized he was going to be okay. He had an EKG and some blood work. He woke up a little more and said, "Up peese Mama." He got mad at the tube in his nose. They admitted us into the ICU and kept him on the heart monitor all night, with a blood pressure cuff on his leg to take his blood pressure periodically. Every once in a while it would start up and he would wake up long enough to lift his leg straight in the air and stare at it, like what on earth? I slept in the bed beside him, and with the beeping and the nurses coming in, I didn't get much sleep.

In the morning, he was his spunky, active self. Pissed off at the tubes coming out of his arms. He was so annoyed with his nose tube that he just pulled it out, and we didn't bother putting one back in. 

He. was. fine. And the nurses and I scrambled to find ways to occupy my twenty-two-month old in an ICU bed for the hours before we could be discharged. They came up with latex glove balloons, which were a big hit. And before we left, nurses took turns taking photos with him and playing with him. They were so kind.

Here's the thing. Every doctor I talked to said, "Oh, well, he only ate one pill. He should be fine." But then when they researched that medication, they got very serious very quickly. Because I think we feel that kids taking a whole bunch of medication is dangerous, but one or two pills is no big deal. Did you know that there were medications, prescription medications, that could kill a child with one pill? I didn't. I had no idea. 

This terrifying incident has made me realize, no, hit me over the head with the realization that I need to know every medication in my house and what it can do. We all need to know that. And then of course, we need to keep medication out of reach, all the time, even in our bedroom, where the kids don't normally hang out. 

I am so, so thankful that Isaac is all right. I am so thankful that some stupidity on our part didn't hurt him. I'm so thankful for this beautiful boy in our lives. I hit a point when I thought there was no going back, that everything was going to change terribly, but then, very quickly, it did go back to normal, and we were allowed to start again.

Isaac recovered very quickly but I think it will be a while before I do. 

 

On the town with the Leafy boy.

A couple of weeks back we had a community dinner at the Shekina Garden. A family joined us, and I was very inspired by their practice of making one minute videos of their days while they traveled. I'm always a bit daunted by all the video I take and never use, but my new friend showed me what he had done, and he made it look easy. 

So, when my Leafy boy and I went to Chiang Mai together to visit the dentist, I made a short video. This is what it feels like to be out with Leafy for the day. 

(I'm still learning about Youtube and copyright, so if you can't see the video, please let me know.) 

Seasons.

I love to know a place and its seasons. We're in the rainy season now, and I love it even though my kitchen floods every time there is a heavy rain, because the farmers are planting the rice and when the sun comes out all the world seems to be a reflection of blue sky and white clouds and the purest, infant green. Lush is too mild a word. 

Today Chinua left to play music at a festival in Sweden. His good friend asked him to come play and flew him out there, so off he goes to the far north, to play music late at night when the sun is still up and after it sets. When he gets back we'll have a few days before we all leave for our big trip back to North America. 

Since he is away and I will be traveling, I took the opportunity to make the largest edit on my book last week. I went away for a day and a night, stayed in a lovely bungalow (it may be my favorite place in the world) and dove straight into my book. To do an intense edit like that I needed to surround myself completely in the book, so it was excellent to have the complete focus that going away gave me, in a room that had nothing but my computer in it. I did go out for papaya salad with Leaf halfway through the day, a breath of fresh air (and she helped me with a few Hindi words in the book) in the middle of peering over words and ideas and plot and pacing.

And it was good to come home as well. To be attacked by a fiercely loving toddler, to cook again, to settle into being mom.  

 

Still life with ants and dog hair.

We’re home, after a red eye flight and a night bus and a couple of leaky pocket days in Bangkok. (Leaky pocket? Bangkok seems to turn our wallets into funnels.) The night bus and red eye flights confirmed what I already know—the only part of traveling I really dislike is sitting in any sort of upright position while I try to sleep. On the night bus (which was luxurious for a night bus) my legs rebelled from being in a weird position and flooded me with sneaky aches and pains. I’m eighty. I also travel on night buses with a huge teddy bear named Isaac who has to sleep on my chest the way he did when he was a newborn, only several kilos heavier/head sizes larger. Oh I love that baby, though. I’m alight with love for him.

I’m washing all the curtains and wiping down all the walls and ledges because dust would like to take over our world. Dust or ants. We returned to a large population of ants that had moved into Kenya’s collection shelf with all their ant babies and particularly into her tiny Calico Critters (Sylvanian Families) living room set. (“Someone’s been sitting in my chair!” said the father bunny. “Someone’s been moving their ant baby eggs into my tiny plastic refrigerator!”) These ants also enjoy congregating in our toilet bowls. I discovered this on a dark groggy night run to the bathroom.

It’s home and at home we attend to the myriad things we need to do simply to keep living, and we attempt to do it in a way that gives us comfort and welcomes others in. In travel we watch and we let go as we move on. At home we stay and stay.


I read this on Brown Dress With White Dots yesterday:


Home is the invisibles, the take-it-for-granteds: The tarnished brass hook where you hang your keys, the spot low on the white porch wall smudged a hundred times by bicycle tires. The bent fork in the drawer, the half-filled bottle of cologne in the bathroom… Things you know by heart, things you never pay attention to.

Jonathan Carroll

Wookie was so excited to see us and come home. She was happy as a clam with her dog-sitter, who was very sad to give her back, but she seems particularly joyful to be with us again. Her fur was long and it is very hot here now, so I bought a pair of clippers and gave her a haircut yesterday, after watching a few Youtube videos about grooming Shih Tzus. The videos were great! What they failed to reveal was that if one has bad allergies to dogs, and one has a hypoallergenic dog, the fur of the hypoallergenic dog will cease to be hypoallergenic as soon as one releases it from the dog with clippers in a white storm of seizure sneeze-inducing hairs. Perhaps the video makers took it for granted that one would think of these things. One did not.
I suppose I’ll send her back to the groomer next time. I was hoping to save money as well as groom her in a slightly less Japanese doll-dog manner. Maybe I can bring a picture and say, “Like this. Just… a dog, not a teddy bear or a luck dragon or a piece of cotton candy.”

In other news, I’m scheduling a week or more of kid letters. For whatever reason, I haven’t written a birthday letter in a year and it weighs on me. I’m catching up with some letters to my kids in a grand letter festival. If you like the kid letters, you’re in for a treat. If you don’t, tune back in after the storm.

Things I've observed, part 1.

Since this is sort of a random items post, I thought I'd include this photo. I took this in a Bangkok mall. Is this not the worst design of a bathroom sign that you have ever seen? Why is the woman so small? Why is she being crushed by the elevator? Why why why?

Since this is sort of a random items post, I thought I'd include this photo. I took this in a Bangkok mall. Is this not the worst design of a bathroom sign that you have ever seen? Why is the woman so small? Why is she being crushed by the elevator? Why why why?

I just opened up a page of notes of things I’ve wanted to remember to write about this week. The page says:

Chinese tourists dressing in matching outfits and coming to our house
Stomach trouble
Racism bikes
Cha chas
Getting on buses with my kids
Pink hijab
Dentist glass tables bikes
Middle aged dancing man
Spanish people durian

Do you want to know? Are you ready? Are you afraid? Because I’m going to tell you about all those things, one at a time. Today I’ll tell you about Chinese tourists, Stomach trouble, and Racism bikes.

Ever since a Chinese movie called Lost in Thailand came out, there has been quite the influx of Chinese tourists in Thailand, which is often very comforting to me, especially when I see women of a certain age in hats, walking with their hands behind their backs, slightly stooped. It reminds me of growing up in Edmonton (going to a school that was partly Mandarin immersion) and near Vancouver. It feels like a big, hearty sigh of relief, like the way I feel when I meet Canadian people my parents’ age, it is so pleasant and familiar.


Because Eastern cultures typically have less rigidity around the concepts of personal space and privacy than Western cultures do, Asian tourists are particularly gleeful in the role of tourists. This is increasingly evident in the advent of our “everyone on the globe has a camera” times. It feels wrong to generalize the concept of “Asian” anything, since the differences between say, Thai and Japanese cultures, or Chinese and Korean cultures are so very striking. But it’s true that while I have NEVER had a European tourist ask to take my family’s photo (Wait, maybe there was one photographer in Goa?) we get requests (or non-requests—just photos taken) from Indian, Chinese, Thai, Korean, and Japanese tourists frequently. It’s something that would feel like a rude request in Western culture, but in Eastern culture is not considered the least bit rude.


Lately I’ve taken a lot of joy from something new I’ve noticed from Chinese tourists—it fits into the gleeful tourist category. I keep running into whole large groups of people walking around wearing the exact same thing, some kind of Thai tourist outfit bought in a night market somewhere. For fun! Let’s all get red elephant print pants and white Thai shirts and wear them at the exact same time! It looks amazing. Yesterday I saw two women wearing the exact same outfit, a black and white print dress with a large white hat, espadrilles, and black sunglasses on. I love the fact that other people do this—something that would never occur to me as a thing to do—in this world there are so many options for fun that I don’t know about. I’m going to see if Chinua and Kai would like to try it. (Ah ha ha ha ha ha.)


Chinese tourists in Pai often mistake our house for a guest house. Sometimes they stop at our house because the guest house they have a booking with is just one more building down the street. The funniest example of this was the girl who was holding out a sheet of paper to ask me if she had the right place, but was terrified of Wookie and hopped backwards on one foot all the way out of our courtyard and into the street where she hid behind her friend, all because Wookie sniffed her leg. When she was gone the kids and I just looked at each other. “Did that just happen?” I asked. “That was like a movie,” Kai said.


But sometimes people are still looking for a room, and they come and peer into our windows. It happened the other day. A girl came and held her hands to her face as she looked in the window, then walked back out to the road. “I think she got the point,” I said. I mean, there are toys all over the floor and sometimes dog food dumped out where Isaac has been trying to eat it again, and maybe somebody’s half finished lunch has still not been cleaned off the table. But she came back to look in the windows again.


“It’s not a guest house!” I called to her. “It’s just my house!”


Then Kai told me about a day when he was working on his math at the table and a man came into the door and began speaking to him in Chinese. After a few minutes, when it became clear that Kai didn’t understand, the man said, “One room please.” It would be weird if it happened once or twice. The fact that it happens often, like really often, just makes it hilarious.


You darling readers think I should be chill about housework. What you do not realize is that not only do I have friends in and out of my house, and landlords in and out, but I also have the whole world looking into my windows, my neighbors stopping to pull kafir lime leaves off my trees and ask me what I’m cooking for dinner, random people taking pictures of me as I’m walking up my stairs, men yelling “Hello!” at Solo, who, Solo-like, disdains to answer. I am a hippie foreign mother poster child. I hope that I’m doing okay.

*
The stomach trouble thing is small—it’s just that I got sick with a terrible stomach ache and that brought a lack of appetite so complete that every kind of food I think about sounds distasteful. It makes cooking hard. Shall I make green curry? I think. No, because green curry is the most disgusting thing in the world. How about fried rice? Fried rice is clearly foul. Pasta? Pasta tastes like worms. I have to force myself to cook. Hopefully I’ll get my appetite back soon.

*
That brings us to racism bikes. This is a long story.


When I bought my bike I bought it from a place I’d been eying in town that had a few used and new bikes sitting out for sale. I walked in and fell in love with the purple city bike. The man who ran the shop immediately pulled it out, adjusted the seat a little, and told me to take it for a ride. I rode away with it, I was smitten, I bought it, and the whole exchange was the kind of fairy tale shopping experience that I dream about. I’ve been riding everywhere and it feels amazing. (Bicycles! You get places fast and get exercise!) Chinua borrowed my bike a couple of times, and started thinking he should get one. So I told him where the place was (down that road on the right hand side) and he went off to look around.


When he came back he told me the guy at the shop had gotten really upset when he wanted to adjust the seat of the bike he was looking at. He asked him if he could test drive the bike and the guy refused. What?


“He must be racist,” I said, kind of joking, kind of not. It was the only reason I could think of that his response was so different. Let me clarify that in the years since Chinua and I have been married, our life has been charmed, race wise. We’ve never had hurtful things said to us about being married to each other, and living in Asia provides a special buffer. (Although if I hear someone express shock that I think dark skin is beautiful one more time I will scream). But it has happened (mostly in the States) that when I walk into a particular store, people are friendly and relaxed, while if I walk into the same store with Chinua, people are different- tense, guarded, less chatty. It doesn’t happen all the time, or even very often, but it does happen. I thought the bicycle story was this kind of phenomenon, and it made me sad.


Chinua bought a bike and it broke on the first day, obviously flawed. He replaced it with the same type, and it broke again. He returned the second bike and said he would take more time and find a better quality bike. The man at the bike place had been a bit of a jerk about the crappy quality of his bikes, saying that it was because they were only made for Thai people, not big foreigners.


Then the other day, Chinua said, “I found another bike place, directly opposite of the stupid place, but great! With a really friendly owner and really nice bikes.”


“On the left hand side of the road? With the fridges?”


“The fridges are on the other side, that’s the stupid bike place. This is the left hand side.”


“That’s your right hand.”  (We get left and right mixed up more than we used to, and I think it had something to do with the fact that a right turn in traffic is essentially the same (crossing the oncoming lane) as a left turn would be back in North America, and vice versa.)


It turns out that Chinua had been at a different bike place the whole time! My bike guy hadn’t snubbed him at all. In fact, as Chinua looked at the most expensive bike in the shop (just for looking, not for buying) the guy insisted that he take it out for a ride! Bike guy isn’t racist! Hooray!


Whew. I didn’t even realize how stressed out I had been about bike guy being a completely different person to my husband until it turned out it wasn’t the case. Bike guy is just a nice guy.
 

Also, when given a choice of candy or fruit, choose fruit.

 I rode a rental motorbike from Pai to Chiang Mai over the weekend. It’s quite a ride— taking anywhere from three to four hours by bike (the way I drive anyway, which is safely, thank you very much—besides I don’t have a big motorcycle, only a little automatic) and I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to drive back or not. I thought maybe I’d turn the bike in and take the bus back- much more comfortable, less cold, less tiring.

But I felt indecisive. I stood in the bus parking lot for a while, going back and forth in my mind, putting myself in each situation, going over the details. Finally I needed to reach for another source, I was too indecisive. So I reached for a life rule of mine. I’ve formed a few of these for times when I’m too paralyzed by my tendency to think that no matter what I choose, it will be the wrong thing— a result of anxiety.

The one I reached for was “When given a choice of comfort or adventure, choose adventure.”

The thing is, if I knew what I wanted I could do it. If I was desperately tired, I would choose that bus in an instant. (Not that the bus is so refreshing, but it is a little less tiring than the motorbike.) But sometimes I don’t know exactly what I need, and I know that I never regret certain things. I never regret adventure.
 (Another good rule that I use is “When given a choice of isolation or connection, choose connection. Sometimes I’m desperate for solitude, but if I’m on the fence, I try to choose to stay with friends instead of a guesthouse, or invite people over, or bring a kid along with me.)

*

Things I saw on the road on the way to Pai:

-Three monks hitchhiking in yellow robes
-Pines that smelled like heaven
-Around twenty-five Mini Coopers (mini coop coop cooper)
-Nearly three hundred Vespas (I lost count at around two hundred)
-Two Lamborghinis, three Porsches, three Audi sports cars, and various other luxury cars
-A few Harley Davidsons and numerous other motorcycles that I don’t really know about, including big ol’ Hondas and dirt bikes. Apparently there was a ginormous car festival going on in Pai over the weekend.
-I was shivering on my bike in a sweater and a down jacket, but I saw a man drive by with only a short sleeved shirt on, then I saw a Canadian flag on his backpack. I’m not a real Canadian anymore. Khon Thai leow, as they say here, when I mention my love for chillies or Som Tum. I’m Thai now.
-A couple of Hmong men in gorgeous embroidered pants, pouring water into their radiator to cool off their little old truck that was filled to overflowing with neatly stacked cabbages, and overheating on a hill.
-A guesthouse called “Road View.” Who needs Hillview, Seaview or Greenview when you can have RoadView?” I’m asking you.

*

It was the right choice. It was warmer on the ride home and the trees whispered to me.

I want to see everything, to live on every hill everywhere, to come alive with the strain of travel, to be sweaty in train stations, to ride across India with Chinua when we’re old. We have never been flashpackers- we stay in the simplest guesthouses, we ride buses and trains, we don’t plan ahead (we’re not so good at it) we walk long distances, we squeeze all of us into rickshaws and tuk tuks, we eat street food. Sometimes I’ve needed a lot of recuperation time after particularly difficult travels but do I regret them? No, not one bit. I’m glad for every moment, for every difficult thing. We’ve been building a life of adventure, and it’s hard, I’m not going to lie. It is very, very hard with children, 37 hours on an Indian train is no picnic, but it is so worth it. (They love it too- they’ve been begging to go somewhere. A plane! They say. A train! What are we doing? We need to travel!)
I can’t wait to see where we go in the future, and in the meantime, I’ll choose adventure wherever I can get it.

*

Below you can see about a minute of the drive. (I apologize for the terrible vertical video- I attached my iPod to my backpack, and this is what it captured.) The drive is about two hours of curves like these, and one hour of straight road.

Maybe convoluted, but not leaky.

Solo and the sticky rice.jpg

We love Thai street food.

Sometimes I pick up little sticky rice treats for breakfast, but this morning I walked down the street to the place where the morning vendors have their doughnut carts. The vendors make Chinese doughnuts, breakfast food that is eaten with soy milk or condensed milk here. (They seem to be eaten in the evening too, but they're only sold first thing in the morning or in the evening.) They aren’t sweetened—they’re even a little salty, and have sesame seeds on them—and fresh out of the oil they are amazing with coffee. Every once in a while I pick up a few for breakfast, and this morning I looked at the cup of coffee in my hand and thought, “A doughnut would go great with this.”

I went to the man who always seems to be singing as he works. When I arrived, he didn’t have enough for my large order, so he told me to sit down and wait while he cut up and fried ten more doughnuts. There happened to be a woman already sitting and chatting with him, and the only thing odd about her was that she was holding a large rooster under her arm, stroking him to calm him down. We sat; the lady with the rooster and I, while the friendly man cut dough into long strips and threw it in oil so I could bring doughnuts back to my family.

*

Yesterday it rained steadily all day long, which means that the river has certainly risen and I’m concerned about the bridge that leads to our space. It was already damaged. It’s a simple bamboo bridge, built by the guesthouse owners across the river, and this year it had been fortified with iron to get it through the rainy season, but still, it wasn’t doing so well. I’m hoping that it will be replaced soon.

The rain brought snails and worms into the open, and Kenya showed me a chart she had made. The title was: Saving Worms and Snails Club. Underneath were two columns. Worms Saved: 1 / Snails Saved: 3

It was a very exclusive club, with just one member. Kenya is very proud of her worm and snail saving abilities, she tells people about all the worms she saves often. This morning she asked me if she could start a project about birds around our house, and was soon busy with the iPad, looking up birds of Thailand. Her love for animals of every kind shows no sign of waning.

*

The day ahead is a typical Saturday, with cleaning and organizing and work in the plans. I need to make this weeks meal plan and go shopping, sort through toys and get my room in order. I need to see to the gardens at the meditation space. I’ve been working hard on the second Journey Mama book and it’s nearly ready for publication! The only thing we need is a title, and the search for the perfect title has my brain in knots. The arc of the book is from traveling and arriving in India (and panicking) all the way through that first two years of living in India (and learning to love it) until getting ready to travel to North America for a visit.

Some contenders are:

Shores Wide as the Earth (follows the formula of the first book)
Falling Into Flying
Moments of Truly Flying
A Different Way of Walking
Greener Than You Can Imagine
A Home as Wide as the Earth

What do you think? Have I overwhelmed you yet? Chinua and I were tossing ideas around, and with a couple of them, I said, “These are too positive. I mean, it’s positive writing, but it’s still me, you know?”

So he suggested, A Convoluted and Leaky Black Brain.

Well. There’s no call to go that far.

I’d love for you to weigh in. Comments ahoy!

Today. Now.

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I'm doing better, the last few days. It's an up and down journey, life, especially in this web of emotions. I won’t forget to hang on,  to hold tight, even when I feel like I’m slipping. But the air is doing something to me these days, and it's a good thing. The rains have stopped. The sun is around all day, rising through the fog in the morning, warming up the streets so that when I go to buy apples and coconut in the market, the breeze is still cool but the sun is warm. In places where we have such a strong rainy season and such a long dry season, the first rains are always welcomed with joy, but the first days of sun are also cause for rejoicing. All around me it seems as if people are waking up; repainting, putting concrete down, cleaning out the weeds, freshening up for the sun.

Thailand, I say, I will meet you. Somehow Thailand is at once more accepting of me than India, and keeps me farther off. It’s been more of a journey, getting to know this place, and I think it’s because while India is in your face at every moment, forcing you to pay attention, Thailand is quieter, softer, forcing you to lean in if you really want to hear it. I’m learning how to listen.

Thailand is fragrant drafts of air from hot woks, food stalls on the street, tiny alleys, and snacks everywhere. It is the sound of small motorcycles, birds and monks in the morning, people calling to one another on the road, "Bai nai?" Where are you going? A ubiquitous question that I have encountered in India, Nepal, and Thailand alike; here it means something like "What's happening?" or "What's up?" "Bai tee ow," you might say. "Just going to hang out." Or you might get into more detail. Today, when my neighbor asked me, I told her I was going to the papaya salad (som tum) place.

I go to a certain som tum lady because I think she makes the best som tum in town. It’s a simple food to make, but you have to get the right balance of fish sauce, palm sugar, and lemon. Plus, you use sticky rice to soak up the juice, and we all hate it if people skimp on the juice. Our som tum lady makes som tum that is swimming in juice—she’s no skimper.

Today the lady who usually makes it was gone and her daughter was there instead. I could tell she was her daughter because they have the same cheekbones, high and round, like apples under their skin. Their restaurant is a long, airy bamboo stall, open on all sides except the kitchen side, which is closed with more bamboo. There are wood tables, ten or so, that are never completely full, giving the impression of a lot of space. At the front is the glass case filled with tomatoes and green beans that signifies som tum. I have been known to drive through neighborhoods in Chiang Mai slowly, searching for one of these glass cases. My som tum lady doesn’t keep her case filled with tomatoes anymore. Perhaps she doesn’t need to advertise what she is making, because she is always busy. In the glass case there are instead some discarded bamboo baskets that are made for holding sticky rice, but don’t at this restaurant, because they put the sticky rice in plastic baggies. To the left of the glass case is a faded pink electric fan, positioned to cool the person who is pounding the som tum in the large wooden pestle. Off in the back of the restaurant, pots and pans are strewn hanging on the walls or piled in the sink.

Lately I’ve been trying to soak everything in, when I go there to order som tum. This is here, I tell myself. Feel this. I sit on a worn wooden bench while the lady throws garlic and green beans into the pestle, squeezes lemon, slices tomatoes. I would normally ask for just one chili, but I’m still not eating it, for Isaac’s sake. The ground is dusty under my bench and I draw shapes in the dirt with the toe of my shoe. The lady keeps one eye on her work and another on the karaoke show that is playing every time I visit. It seems to be some sort of karaoke competition, and she loves it. Why, I couldn’t say. The show is comprised of one fancy-dressed woman or man after another approaching the microphone to sing wildly off-key to the praise of all the people in the audience. I am starting to equate som tum with off-key singing.

The sun is directly overhead and the tamarind trees cast their shadows beneath them. The air is bright and dry, and when I look through the covered restaurant to the field beyond, it seems brilliant and hot. Out front, chicken and fish are grilling on a metal grate stretched over charcoal. Another lady is making something in a wok and I cough as frying chili oil enters my lungs. I stand and pull small bags of sticky rice out of a container that is keeping them warm and pile them beside some whole grilled fish that are sitting on the counter.  An elderly lady calls out a list of what I am buying, just for the sake of it. She gestures at a pile of fried pork rinds. “Do you eat this?” She asks me in Thai. “It's good.”
“I don’t,” I say, and she laughs. The som tum lady’s daughter is now packing up my food. She puts whole cabbage leaves and pumpkin vines in the bag, to be eaten with the salad. I pay, get back on my scooter, and drive away.

At home the across-the-street neighbors are laying bricks in the new entry-way to their little house. They’ve covered half in concrete and half in brick and have made a shade covering with sheet metal, hammering it until my brain rang in my skull. While they’ve been doing this building, other neighbors come and go. They sit for a while and watch the workers, who do not stop. They chat, and call out helpful advice. The down the street neighbor who always feeds her scraps to stray dogs, yelling for them in the evenings. The Muslim neighbors who have three kids. The new across the street Muslim neighbors who have one ten-month-old baby whose cry sounds exactly like Isaac’s, fooling me almost every time. The aunties from next door, who are my landlord’s sisters and who come to talk often. The whole street has come by, at one point or another.

I nod at the brick laying neighbors and walk into my house. It’s clean today, shady after the sun. I call the kids to the table, and we eat.

5 Things Day Four: Table

I love to eat with friends. There is nothing like opening up the table and eating together, and right now I feel chock full of the goodness of eating together after this little run of birthday parties (Solo and Kai, more on that later) and guests. Five notable tables:

Reserved.jpg

1. I already spoke of this one: a night when we were invited to go to a beautiful restaurant. I didn’t mention that when we arrived, the table was all ready for us with a sweet little Reserved sign on it. It felt very special.

Carrot Juice.jpg

2. Chinua and I went away for a night for our anniversary. This is the second time that Leaf and Brendan have made this possible for us (once was here in Pai as well, two years ago). We took Isaac, but warned him, “Enjoy yourself, because this is the last anniversary get-away that you’ll be invited to.” We were able to leave him with Leaf and Brendan for a few hours on Saturday and a few on Sunday morning. I didn’t take pictures of all the tables or all the goodness on them because I was all wrapped up in my Superstar Husband, but there were smoothies and cheesecake, carrot juice and coffee and late at night, another cheese board with some wine. Good tables in and of themselves, but mostly because of the company (and lack of company, if you know what I mean).

Solo and Brendan.jpg

3. When we got back, on Sunday, Leaf had made a beautiful sweet potato, pumpkin and carrot soup, so we settled around the table again and heard the stories of all the fun things they’d done since we were gone. But we weren’t jealous.

Thai table.jpg

4. And then, on Sunday afternoon, I had invited some friends over to teach me some Thai cooking. I’ve gone to a few Thai classes, but they always teach the same things: curries, pad thai. That stuff is useful, but what I want to do is crawl right inside the philosophy of cooking in Thailand, the same way I was able to in India. I want to be able to wear it, to walk into my kitchen and cook blindfolded. It’s a tall order, but I simplified it by asking my friends to show me the usual things: the things that people cook everyday. So we started yesterday. They have young children, so there were three babies and four preschoolers, and all my older kids.
We cooked and I tried to learn the Thai names for different foods. And then we laid it all on the table and ate:
We made fried rice, mushrooms with basil, egg tofu soup, and fried tofu and green beans. My friend Su made pumpkin in coconut milk for dessert and that blew my mind. I am always looking for ways to improve my table, to understand cooking and food and this endless business of keeping my family fed. It’s a long project. And I hope to begin writing some more food posts soon.

Kitchen.jpg

5. And the last is not table but kitchen. My Superstar Husband has taken on the reorganization of our kitchen and he’s rocking it with all these hooks and pails. I passed on the pail idea to him for the random sauces that we need to use all the time, which I got from Pinterest, making it a completed Pinterest idea! Whoo! But only because he ran with it. The bottles of soy sauce and fish sauce and everything else were cluttering our countertop and therefore our life and our brains and our universe. Now they are nicely put away. I am very, very happy with him.

All of them, off into the night.

One white egg.jpg

(Our hen's one white egg, mixed in with some larger store bought eggs.)

When we started our chicken project, (that's putting a bigger name on it than it deserves-- really, we thought "we should get chickens!" and then two days our landlord brought us some chicks) we had no idea how much drama would be rolled up in the tiny balls of fluff that Thanom handed to us. First there were the chick diseases picking babies off, the night waking, then the young chicken mystery disappearances. There were tears and burials and being generally flummoxed. Goodness.  
 
These are jungle chickens—they are chickens that fly off into the sunset if they so desire. You can’t pen them in without a full roof. So when our landlord brought us three nearly grown chickens after much of our chicken drama, we had a carpenter build a bamboo pen for them, and we kept them in it. They lived in there, growing and being domestic, until one day when I decided it was enough like home for them and they'd probably return again and again.  I wanted to open the door—let them be a little more free range.

But they are not a little more free— they are extremely free range chickens. Our two hens and a rooster cruise the neighborhood, hanging out with their friends, playing video games, drinking coffee and eating scraps. They mix it up. They check out the government buildings, listen in on meetings, check on their favorite trees. Occasionally they come home to eat, change clothes, brood, lay an egg, and then leave again without washing their dishes. Urban extreme free range jungle chickens. Leave it to us, I think. Only us.

Our hen.jpg

In other news, I wrote about another, more important new project on the Shekina Community website. We're building! And we're so excited.

What's that called? Perspective.

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I got sick on Saturday morning as swiftly as two truckers speeding by each other on the highway. There’s almost no way you can recognize who’s coming. The first time that I got out of the house, or far from my bed at all, was to creep my way to the hospital on Tuesday. The second time was to take the kids to 7-11 to spend their allowance.

“No candy,” I said, as we entered the store. When I said “No candy,” it sounded like someone had replaced my throat with a jar of snails, that’s how big a mess my throat had become, no longer good for normal throat things like drinking, swallowing, breathing, eating.

 Kenya picked a pack of gum and some good chocolate (chocolate is okay), Leafy picked a little container of ice cream, Kai bought a muffin, and Solo bought a pack of gummy colas (that is candy, but my brain was addled—did I mention I was sick?). Solo handed his ten baht coin over to the teller very seriously. Whenever he buys something and gets change for it, he runs up to one of us and says, “She gave me more money!” with the most excited voice ever in the history of the world.

Kai and Kenya biked home and the little boys ran ahead of me. I can really barely call Leafy a “little” boy any more. These last few months he has stretched out and smoothed out like crazy. Seven has been awesome to Leafy. Still, he was wearing backwards pajama pants, I noticed as I walked slowly behind them with Isaac in the stroller. Which is fairly typical for Leafy—I believe he gets clothing on the right way 20% of the time, which doesn’t even make any sense, because that’s not how the odds of backwards or forwards works, but it’s true. Usually, though, I catch it before we leave the house.

As we walked home I saw a man on a motorbike, carrying a flat of eggs on the open palm of his hand, which faced outward, head height, like a waiter in a fancy restaurant. He was driving the motorbike with one hand, holding the eggs with the other and what can I say? I love this place.

The reason I took the kids to the store was because I sent Abby away on a little scooter ride. She and my Superstar Husband ran Baan (you need to know this word: it means house, and I will probably use it a lot more) Crazy Town for my three fever addled days, and I felt like Abby was getting a little more than she bargained for when she decided to come and help us here. And then I thought, hey, I can walk, I should try doing it with everyone. Mostly I wanted to get the morning of sitting on a bench in the hospital (waiting in this queue, waiting in that queue) out of my pores.

No one but a crazy woman shows up at the small hospital in our town on Pregnant Tuesday when she is not pregnant. It was a long wait, because on Pregnant Tuesday, everyone who is pregnant in villages for miles around Pai comes in for all their routine pregnancy needs. It’s colorful, which is wonderful. Of hill tribe women, I counted Keren, Lisu, Lahu, and Hmong. I was there because I was concerned that I had dengue fever, which is endemic in Thailand. There were two young Chinese women there for something else that has become endemic in Thailand, which is young Chinese tourist motorbike accidents. I’m not pulling this out of the air, a friend of ours who rents motorbikes out told us that the Chinese consulate sent him a letter explaining the problem, saying there were over a hundred injuries last season, or something like that, some number large enough to send a letter out. Mild, because people here drive so slowly, but banged up arms and legs and things. The reason is that most young tourists who come here from China are from big cities and have never driven before. So this motorbike in the hills in Pai is often a tourist's very first driving experience and among hundreds or thousands of unaccustomed drivers, you will have a few casualties. The other motorbike rental place has apparently responded to this letter by replacing their sign with a sign that now says “Motorbikes for rent” in Chinese as well as English.

At the hospital I sat for a long time while Isaac napped at home. When he woke up I went home and picked him up, brought him back to the hospital to nurse him and hang out with him, and he acted shy for the first time ever as people tried to talk to him, swiveling his torso back to me to hide in my shirt. One very tiny lady approached us. Her left hand was missing and her right arm ended at the elbow. When she squatted down in front of us, she was so tiny she was about the size of Kenya. Isaac liked her. He flirted with her shamelessly.

I was there because I thought I had dengue fever, but it turned out to be Strep throat, misdiagnosed by the doctor as tonsillitis, but taken care of by a round of antibiotics, just as it was entering my ears. It’s a long story and involves a lot of my own googling, and finally a check of my own throat in the mirror with a flashlight and a butter knife as a tongue depressor. White streaks. Strep. Okay, then, we can take care of that. (There was also a night that I woke up with Isaac and was in great pain, so I took some more Paracetemol, (Tylenol) only to find that it wasn’t time to take another dose yet, upon which I calmly handed Chinua the baby and made myself throw up. If you’ve ever googled Paracetemol overdose, you will know why. Liver failure, people. Liver failure.)

The funny thing about a throat is that you give it almost no thought at all, all those nonchalant swallows you do all the time, merely for the smallest bit of saliva building in your mouth. You don’t even think to yourself, “I should swallow this sip of water, you just do it. But when it breaks down and becomes knives in the back of your mouth, knives that feel like they reach your heart, you do. You do think it. You think, “Rachel, swallow the water.” And you steel yourself. And you swallow it. For five days like this.

When I think of throats hurting, though, I think of my friend Ian, who has gone through quite a lot of chemotherapy in his fight against leukemia. I think of the “misery charts” that his doctor makes him and the days of mouth sores that he gets to look forward to, and I think, how? How? I don’t know. (Did I ever tell you that that’s where Chinua went? He went to be Ian’s caregiver for his third month in quarantine after a bone marrow transplant— that’s the only reason, really, that he would leave for five weeks when Isaac was only three months old. When he came back I felt sad, knowing how Ian would miss him.)

But it’s the same with a fever— you just don’t walk around thinking about how non feverish you feel. You accept your lack of chills or weakness. You strut around easily, not ever thinking about the possibility of tossing and turning in a messed up bed.

Except. Except there is one day that you notice, that you really really think about it—the day after being sick. Or even the last days of sickness, throat hurting but not feverish, toddling down the street to 7-11, feeling like the whole world is singing and that the man holding a flat of eggs and riding a motorcycle is the most beautiful person you’ve ever seen.

Adventures in eating.

Isaac at 3 months.jpg

(Photo by Kai)

I've discovered by experience that Isaac is really, really sad if I eat chillies.
This is tricky in Thailand. If we're out eating at a market stall type of place and I ask for food that's not spicy, people think, "Sure, of course she wants it a little less spicy," and give me only one chili. So then I ask for no chillies at all, and somehow, there are still chillies in my food. I think it's reflexive... the hand reaches out for the chillies right after the fish sauce. The hand is putting the chillies in the pan! There's no calling the hand back!!

My new plan is to only order food that never has chillies included, ever, not ever.  Food like fried rice or pad thai or stir fried kale. It means that a lot of my favorite foods are dead to me (dead to me!) at least for the time being, but it will cut out days like the horrible one this week, when Isaac couldn't stop crying and I walked the floor with him for hours.

This is what my kids are like: They had no help from me, I couldn't do many of the things we were supposed to do, they got themselves ready for bed and waited for me patiently, they dealt with my grumpiness and tiredness from walking a screaming baby, and at the end of the day they all said, "Poor Isaac," as they stroked his face and cooed to him. They don't get annoyed with him, or jealous, or frustrated because his crying is loud. "Poor Isaac," they say. "Poor, poor Isaac."

Since that bad day we haven't had any more, which is wonderful because when Isaac isn't gassy he is an angel. He is a happy, jolly boy who is growing like crazy. He smiles and drools and wriggles. To keep him ungassy, I have dropped milk, eggs, almonds, and chillies from my diet. I also haven't been drinking coffee, ever since he was born, although in the last three days I've had a cup of tea in the afternoon.

I notice immediately if I've eaten something that is bothering him. So it is mind boggling when I go to health or parenting sites and they say that it makes no difference to babies if you eat certain things while breastfeeding. ("It does!" I shout at the computer screen. "It does!") Even here, chili capital of the universe, when I told my landlady one day that Isaac's tummy was hurting, she asked if I ate chillies. And frowned at me. "Yes," I said, and begged her forgiveness.

The only problem is that I am so very forgetful these days, and I feel that I need to tattoo my diet restrictions on my hands. A while back I was at a friend's house and we were eating spicy Mama noodles. I looked at the noodles and thought, why is there something lurking at the back of my brain, telling me I shouldn't be eating these? That's silly, I love spicy food. Huh. And then I ate them, and Isaac had a hard day the next day. Doh!

This is the way my brain is with me lately. Yesterday it was almost scary, as I read through my to do list and found something that didn't make sense to me AT ALL. Right in there with things that did make sense was a line that said,

Send book to Mom.

But I have no book to send to my mom-- not even a dream of a book to send to my mom.  And I couldn't figure out why it said, in my own writing, send book to Mom. What book did my subconscious brain think I have? This morning, a whole day later, it clicked. She said she would do some proofreading for me. There is no physical book to be put in the mail, Rae! You're talking about a book file! Doh!

Why is my brain standing back and withholding information from me? I can only assume that it's mad at me because I have too many things going on, as well as nursing brain. I turn thirty-three on Friday and this is too young for dementia.

On the day that Isaac was screaming I had promised the kids I would make them mango sticky rice, so, tenderhearted mother that I am, when I couldn't get him to sleep in the evening, I put him in the baby carrier and made the sticky rice with him riding around on my front, burrowing his head into my chest.

There was a box of coconut milk in the fridge-- a brand that I never felt comfortable with, as it was called "Scented Candle Coconut Milk." I believe the box appeared in the fridge at the same time I was on my retreat with Leaf. Which is to say that I didn't buy it. I didn't trust it. Really lost in translation, thought I, briskly stirring ingredients together. That name makes it seem as though the coconut milk will taste like scented candle. They need to hire a new marketing expert. But, there it was, and what better way to use it than making this coconut rice.

Oh, but Thailand never stops surprising me, because I was wrong and the marketing people were right. I tasted the sticky rice and it tasted exactly, I mean, exactly, like a candle. Because dessert that tastes like candles is a thing in Thailand. Because this is an alternate universe where people like to eat things that taste like candles. I mean, really. The coconut milk is placed over a smoking candle to infuse it with the delicate taste of smelly floral wax.

It makes total sense. Who wouldn't want that?

You know, especially after a long day of walking a sad baby, when one is lovingly trying to make a treat for one's children, one would certainly like to make it taste like the bottom of a candle holder. Of course.