A Work Day

Yesterday I was hard at work in our studio, the detached room right behind our outdoor kitchen that Chinua or I lock ourselves in for focus and concentration. It sort of works. I get visitors like the one above, who want me to make them tea. (That's the door, which has a large gap at the bottom perfect for Isaac or Wookie to peer through, or mosquitos to flood through.) 

And I get lovely visitors like geckos, or cats who look at me through the window, or, on days like yesterday, sons bearing special drinks. In the morning Kai knocked on the studio door with a cup of strawberry smoothie, and in the afternoon it was Leafy with a lemon ice drink. 

And I worked away and thought that I am a very blessed woman, to have such lovely office deliveries. Iced drinks on a hot day, "I love you's" called under the door... even when it feels like there is a lot to do, the day brings its gifts. 

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.

Writing it all down.

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

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

More things:

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You hate Tesco?” Leafy asked, incredulous. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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. 

Awash with kittens and books.

(From Saturday)

The rain is pouring steadily as I sit in my studio, and I can hear cats thumping around in the roof. Somehow all the cats on our street have pegged the empty space above the ceiling in our studio/kitchen as the ideal place to give birth to their kittens. They then raise them until they are big enough to get into trouble and move them to a safer, less gravity-vulnerable location. So there are a lot of little mews and squeaks, some claw scraping, some thuds. 

Today is Saturday, our busiest day at Shekina Garden. We eat community lunch together and later in the afternoon, have a devotion circle. Lately a lot of friends and travelers from around town have been coming to eat lunch with us and many people have been sticking around for the circle in the afternoon. Today I’m sharing. So the wet, gray morning is lit from within as I think about what I want to share. 

Yesterday I went to my friend Naomi’s house and we cooked together with our friend Fon. The rice paddies around Nay’s house are brilliant green again, the stripes of the earth around the paddies a deep brown. Everything is beautiful, everything is alive. Ants are alive too, and trying to take over our houses and bite our children. Fire ants are the downside to the rain filling the earth and turning it green. There is drought in much of Thailand, as well as in our beloved California and even my home in B.C., Canada. We don’t take any of this rain for granted, we’ll take the ants and the mosquitos. I am thankful for the rain.

So we cooked. Fon ordered us around the kitchen and we sliced banana flowers to make salad, and chopped vegetables to make stir fry and curry. Then we sat and ate together and I was glad I had skipped work to meet with friends and cook.


(This morning.)

Saturday was beautiful. It’s our most beautiful, busiest day. Many people came for lunch and the devotion circle afterward was inspiring as people discussed the words manifest, incarnation, and atonement, and we talked about God’s love as evidenced in the incarnation. 

The cat has moved her kittens to the grandmother’s house next door. The grandmother next door is already overrun with stray kittens that she has taken in. They like to break into our house in the evenings and steal Wookie’s food, so we have to padlock the door downstairs (there is no other way to keep it closed) and the other night I accidentally padlocked the door while Chinua was in the bathroom and he had to climb out through the window. Our upstairs is not connected to our downstairs, you know, so all the doors are separate and when we go out we have to lock three doors.

Today I have an early, two-year-old waker who is eating cereal opposite me at the table. A lot of it is on the table and some of it is making its way into his mouth and belly. He woke up saying, “I’m hungry Mama, can I have some pizza?” Which was odd. He settled for cereal. 

In work, I am finishing up with my big commissioned hummingbird painting, getting ready to send it off to my friend Linda in California. And now I turn to writing for a time. I’ve decided to self-publish my novel, A Traveler’s Guide to Belonging, and that should be coming out sometime in early fall. Finally! I’ve been waiting on agents for months and finally decided, no more. Let’s do this, I believe in creating things, making them as lovely as possible, and then making them available to the world. I’m not waiting on someone to do it for me any longer. 

The tree outside is again covered in white flowers and after I'm done with this post, I'll work on revising the first book in my fantasy series. I’m over the moon to be working on fiction again, and especially fantasy--getting up in the early hours of the morning to enter the world I’m making and write about all that people are doing in that world. I think you’re going to like it. It’s a lot of fun to work on this book. I get annoyed when I have to leave it.

Our life is made of books, actually. The kids read for school, they read for play, they write books, I write books. I read books to them in the evening, read alouds from school. Sometimes I don’t get finished until 9:30, and then I read myself to sleep. People ask me how I find time to read. Reading is my obsession, and I have transferred my obsession to my kids. Kai and Kenya count down days before their favorite authors release new books. We are swimming in books.