Jungle neck.

In my dreams I’m climbing mountains, but in real, true life I’m a bit of a wreck. You know when a good chest cold comes, looks around, and decides to get comfortable in your lungs? Stretches, yawns, scratches its bum, and settles in? That’s my chest cold, just a mooch, unwelcome but persistent. So I’m not climbing mountains in my real, true life. I did go on a hike last Friday, a breathtaking, soul inspiring, humid, jungly hike. Our little homeschool co-op went together, after my friend Alisa and I were lamenting the fact that we don’t hike enough, despite the fact that we are surrounded by mountains. The jungle is a little intimidating with its poisonous plants, spiky caterpillars and ants that will eat your leg right off, or if not, at least bite you a lot. But we were determined, and off we went, into the most beautiful landscape, with giant, unidentified trees that lifted their branches out of the reach of the vines that wanted to entangle everything. Sometimes the trees didn't lift their branches out of reach and became completely enveloped in vines, like me with this chest cold, only much more beautiful.

I did make one minor miscalculation, which I am still paying for. The hike was on a trail I had taken before with the kids, and Isaac did fine, so I brought him along for the co-op hike, not realizing that the waterfall we were aiming for (Elephant’s Head Waterfall) was so much, much farther along. There was a point, as I was carrying Isaac further and further into the jungle, when it occurred to me that I had gotten myself into a bit of a predicament. Because I don’t carry Isaac, as a rule. It jacks up my old war wound of a fractured neck for weeks. And yet, there was no other way. I needed to carry him. And then I needed to carry him out. Because it took us about five hours, round trip, and no two year old who has missed his nap can walk that. He did walk a lot, mind you, walked and ran and sang and danced. And needed to be carried. 

There were two things this made me think about deeply. One was that I am forever capable of getting myself in over my head, and it doesn’t seem to matter how much experience in parenting I am racking up, I will still think, four hour hike, two-year-old? Great match! I’m the worst person to ask about whether something is doable because some stubborn part of my mind insists that everything is doable. (Examples include but are not limited to: sleeping in an Indian train station, rainbow gatherings in the mountains with an infant on my front and a toddler on my back, walking until I put myself into labor, moving to a developing country while pregnant with three children, without even a guidebook along.) The other thing, the main thing that swam around my brain as my arms and shoulders rebelled against the 17 kgs of cuddliness I carried, was that meditation has changed me. Because the meditation we practice is all about directing your thoughts to where you want them to go, being the master of your mind and your wandering brain, and waiting in the silence that ensues, for God to speak. I was determined to enjoy the day, and I did. I directed my thoughts. It was amazing, truly, with funny, smart kids, and jungle flowers, and birds that called to each other through the trees. 

(“What are they saying?” Isaac asked. 
“They’re saying, ‘Hello! Are you there? How are you?’” I answered.)

It was helpful that I have been meditating on something very specific lately. And that thing is a piece of advice that I would like to throw out there, to the world, and it is very simple, yet it is profound if you really hear it. I would have liked to understand it better before now, preferably when I was much younger, but I learn slowly. Here is the thing:

Find a way to separate your identity from your circumstances. 

Just soak that in for a while, and I’ll write more about it next time. Tell me how you think it plays out, or how you have failed or succeeded at doing it.

Meanwhile, I dream of mountain climbing, but in reality I wake up coughing myself into a fit several times a night and have to reach for my inhaler. I’m paying for lugging Isaac around; my payment being a week of muscle spasms in my neck. I dream of the snow white peaks of the Himalayas, but drift down to the dingy white of my outdoor kitchen, dishes in the sink, lovable dog asking for a treat, dark early morning, time to write, and a hot cup of coffee. Life is good.

A month of cooling.

I’m recovering from a few bad days of sickness and some nights which included the sudden start (in my life) of sickness-related asthma and a couple of middle-of-the-night trips to the hospital. Our town hospital. Argh. What can I say. I may have ended up in tears when I couldn’t breathe and the doctor was still insisting that nothing was wrong with me. I cried them into letting me use the nebulizer and then I could breathe again. I don’t know where the doctors I saw learned, or whether they want to be doctors, but they seem to have a grudge against people who are sick at 3:00 am. Which, fair enough, is a pain of a time to be diagnosing anyone. But to my credit, I don’t make a habit of dancing around village emergency rooms at 3:00 am for nothing

All is well. I now have an inhaler for my imagined inherited asthma, and I slept last night for the first night in days. 


And what I really want to talk about is the way that October has snuck up on us and given us a big bear hug from behind. October. I love October, and I don’t think it’s for the same reasons that you love October, because mine is probably different from yours. I love any new month, really, especially since I have begun making little creative goals for myself and have been mostly fulfilling them. And this is the month where it will cool down a little but it still isn’t really cold, and the rice is tall and green, and things will start picking up and getting exciting in the walking street market (by which I mean: food! Interesting food, right down the street from me!) and I will catch glimpses of our town’s Jack Sparrow, and the statue man who lets people paint on him and who Solo thought for years was a real statue. And people will take pictures of my house and I will try not to be annoyed, and the sky will be impossibly blue. 

October is rewriting, watching Skillshare videos (so exciting!), drawing and making mood boards, fall cleaning (Out, clutter! Out!), walking, running and riding my bicycle, better morning habits, living in joy, playing board games, going for hikes, cooking and cooking and cooking with no waste (my new goal), reading aloud to my kids, popcorn and tea and homeschooling. I think October will be good. 

With a hamster.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Even if a lot of people stare.


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.