The girl, the potatoes, and the thief.

Yesterday Chinua returned from playing a music festival in Sweden and I breathed a huge sigh of happiness, mostly, but also relief, because of the antics the world gets up to while he’s away. There was that time I accidentally adopted a dog, or the the time Kenya ended up in the hospital getting an X-ray of her hand (only a sprain), and this time I had to wonder, What will happen while Chinua is away? (I’m not actually very superstitious--in the daytime--and I’m sure I only notice the crazy things that happen because they are more noticeable when I’m on my own … but still.)

We had dinner with friends right after Chinua left—a small goodbye for a friend who was returning to Holland— and against all the warning voices in my head I decided to make something new. It was a baked rosti, a bad choice anyway because it is Swiss food and my friends were from Germany and Holland, so I was the last person in the room who should be making rosti, if you want to take geographical logic into it. (Actually, no, Leaf was over, so she was the last person. Australia is farthest from everywhere. Sorry guys.) 

But I had thought recently, Hey, I have an oven and maybe I can put things in it for dinner too? Like, bake food? This might seem silly until you remember that I mostly cooked Indian food for four years and now I cook a lot of Thai food and some beans. That’s my scope of food. 

The problem with weird Internet recipes, though, is that they call for things that we don’t have here. In this case, frozen shredded potatoes. No problem! I thought. I can grate some potatoes. I went blithely on my way, my guests arrived and I was in excellent time, putting my rosti into the oven and shutting the door happily, making the salad and dressing it. Until I had to acknowledge, two hours later, that the potatoes in the recipe were probably pre-cooked and mine were never, ever going to cook.

Thankfully, Miriam, Leaf, and Siem are the nicest people in the world to have around if your dinner is a disaster, and they brightened up my kitchen as the sky got darker and darker and night fell. I finally had to make a quick trip for a jar of pesto and some pasta and start over.

 

That was a long rabbit trail, because the point of that story is that I thought, Ha! Chinua goes away and I make a weird potato dish thingy, something always happens when Chinua is gone, ha ha ha! Chuckle. And it was true, our time did go smoothly. The Miriam and Brendan and Leaf force even watched four of my kids so I could take Leafy to Chiang Mai (3 hours away) for a dentist appointment without spending a million dollars and having that twitch in my eye start up again. 

But then on Friday, Miriam and I arrived at the meditation space to find that most of our things had been stolen out of the kitchen. We've been using the kitchen as a storage space until we could build a shed, and so most of our seating mats, pillows, all of our knives, one large pot, a bunch of glasses, the chai and spices, everything out of the fridge, and the worst, Chinua’s djembe, had been stolen. Oh, argh argh argh.

I had my suspicions about who the thief was, a man who has not been mentally well and hoards stuff, so I ended up walking overgrown paths with my friend Sandy, doing our own detective work, peering in abandoned guesthouse huts, looking for a stash of pillows, kitchen stuff, and one much-loved drum. I also spent time talking with the police at our space and in the police station, and even finding the man I suspected and approaching him with the police. Many days later we still have no idea where the stuff is, or how to help the foreign man who has been wandering the streets of Pai and may or may not have broken into our place. Meanwhile, we leave in three days. (Yay!)

But, as I sat in the police station chatting with a lieutenant for a couple hours (in Thai), feeling way out of my depth and also appreciative of the humor of the situation, I thought, This is just the kind of thing that I get up to when Chinua is away. 

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.  

 

I think I have some plant DNA, though.

This was a good moment. A little writing with a banana chai cocoa smoothie and a piece of raw chocolate cake. Chocolate!

This was a good moment. A little writing with a banana chai cocoa smoothie and a piece of raw chocolate cake. Chocolate!

I want to say thank you for your kind words and prayers, my beautiful readers and friends. I wrote on a day that I was feeling rather bleak and overworked, and as the days grow better and we move forward, I feel lighter and less afraid. We will probably send Chinua to Bangkok to get some more tests done, just to rule out any other causes of such a huge spike in blood pressure, and for how he’s holding steady. He's feeling a little better each day, exercising a bit more, doing more. 

I feel (mostly) at peace with my bigger role in our family right now, while Chinua still needs a lot of rest and is unable to do the caregiving. Today was a bit rough, partly because the person whom I would normally turn to when I need to offload a bit of stress is the same person who cannot deal with any stress at all. I realize that I am not very good at taking care of my own self, that I rely on him to talk me through things a lot. And yet, there is peace. It is the grace of God. Perhaps it is also because the rains have come and our ground is drinking them in. Soon the haze will be gone and the mountains will be clear and close. Every shade of green will leap out of the earth. I love the rainy season.

I’ve also come up with a scheme for painting, which is to set my easel up in the main room in the morning and try to catch a few minutes here and there throughout the day, around school and food and toddler-babies who drink from puddles after the rain. (While lying on their stomachs and putting their faces into the aforementioned puddles.) 

*

I’m a little baffled by the fact that although my kids haven’t really had much outside influence lately, they are as obsessed with Frozen as the rest of the world. They haven’t been clicking around the Internet and seeing all the Let It Go parodies that are out there. But they are constantly asking to watch the songs on Youtube and they have memorized them and they skip around our bamboo trimmed meditation space singing, “Do you want to build a Snowman?” It must be a sign of some really well written songs, and I especially believe this because my oldest son, who hates musicals and any kind of romance, was the one who wanted to show me Let It Go, because “It’s actually a really cool song.” It’s intriguing to me because on Twitter I’m reading about people’s kids singing Frozen songs, and then in my life, my kids are singing the songs (the last song they memorized together was the Dwarves song from the Hobbit… “To Dungeons deep and Caverns old…”) and then I’m walking in the mall in Thailand and a tiny Thai girl, four or five years old, walks by singing Let It Go, and I wonder what makes something so infectious that even people who are out of the center of the fad are caught up in it? Also, Leafy does great Olaf impressions. 

*

And since we are talking about my kids, here are two quotes for you from Kenya: 

Kenya: "You know, a snuggler fish?"

Me: "A what?"

Kenya: "What is it? A cutie fish?"

Me: "You mean a cuttlefish?"

Kenya: "Yeah! A cuddlefish!"

*

Kenya: "Don’t you wish that you had bird DNA in you, so that I was born with hollow bones and wings and I could fly??

Me: "I can’t say that I have ever thought about it or wished for it, no." 

 

Falling away.

(Photo by Tom Heine, Chinua singing with friends at a charity event in Goa this year)

(Photo by Tom Heine, Chinua singing with friends at a charity event in Goa this year)

It’s been rough around here lately. My Superstar Husband was hospitalized for severe hypertension (very very high blood pressure) on Monday and finally came home yesterday. He was on an IV with anti hypertension drugs and it still took a few days for his blood pressure to come down. (It was at 245/135 when he went in to the hospital.) This is his first inkling that he has high blood pressure, and it means a lot of thought about how to make life different. His diet is great, exercise could be better. Stress could be better. So. This precious, precious person is not well. He was sick in the hospital with an IV and it was very scary. Everything else falls away.

 

My week was about cycling or riding the motorbike back and forth between my house and the hospital (thankfully very close together), bringing him food, visiting, staying there at night while Miriam stayed at our house with the kids. My next weeks are about taking care of my family, my husband being one of the people I need to extend all of my care toward. Everything else falls away. 

 

I feel like we’re standing on the edge of a canyon and I can’t see to the other side. I don’t know what I’m stepping into, how our life will change. Last night a very kind American cardiac nurse came over to talk with us. Chinua is still on bed rest and she was lovely and funny and helpful, but also told us how to tell the difference between a stroke and a heart attack and I looked at her and thought, “You’re using naughty words, those words aren’t allowed in this family.” Like she had said stupid, or hate, or ugly, or divorce, words that we are not allowed to say. Heart attack and stroke are naughty words that we’ve never thought of, and what happens now? Does it go back to normal? Is there a normal? How come every time I get my breath I feel like my feet get knocked out from under me? 

 

All of this happened after a trip that was a bit wild, in the insane Laos April heat, with a few too many obstacles, and does it also mean that we can’t be quite the wild travelers that we are used to being? Do we need to calm down? (For instance, Solo’s passport only had three months left on it and I knew this could be a problem at the border to Laos, but I said, “It’s okay, we’ll be able to talk them into letting us in,” which was TRUE, and we were, but maybe talking border officials into letting us do things is too stressful and we shouldn’t do it anymore. Maybe?) And how much of this is my fault, for not recognizing the stress that Chinua has been feeling? How much is it my fault for being a bit of a basket case of a wife? And when the things that are difficult or stressful are things that I can’t change, like quarreling kids or finances or all the unknowns we are constantly facing, then what can I do to help? 

 

I feel like very suddenly things have stilled or quieted, like a movie on pause, and I look around and see all the things I’ve written or declared for myself, the independence I’ve longed to strike out for, the labels I’ve longed to give myself (I'm an Artist. I'm a Writer), and everything is very suddenly quiet and in the quiet I see that God has given me this family, here, in this place, and this is what I have, and this is what I do. The palm fronds are still, the animals are quiet, my hands are full, my heart is full. I’m in love with them, with all of them. They are the art I make with my every day. 

 

And I’m so thankful. Thankful that Miriam came from India the day before Chinua got sick (I don’t know what we would have done without her), thankful that I have a new partner-in-crime (house helper) who is helping me for a few hours a day, thankful for the food we eat and the days God has given us and the goodness of lying in bed with Chinua at night, talking about nothing and everything, laughing at silly things we see on the Internet, thankful for visitors in the hospital, for the sunshine, for love and each other and most of all for God sustaining each breath. For in Him we live and move and have our being. Acts 17:28

We could use your prayers.

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.
 

The story I'll probably never live down.

Sometimes I have impulse control problems, a fact that is usually balanced by the fact that I’m quite an amenable girl, ready to listen and have my impulses checked. That is, until I’m the only adult at home. (Cue the ominous music.)

Most of the time it goes like this: I have a wild idea, I run it by Chinua, he gives feedback to the effect of, “Have you thought this through?” or even, “Have you gone crazy?” and I’ll take a little time to argue the merits of my plan before I make a decision.

If Chinua is not here, I’m forced to have the conversation with him in my head. It doesn’t always go as it would in real life. So, a week ago I was sitting at the table, doing some work and checking email, and I came across a post for a free dog in Chiang Mai. This caught my attention because I’ve been thinking about getting a dog for a long time—we’ve wanted a pet, and now we’re stable here and it seems like a good time. Our chickens all flew away and our little bunny died (so sad). What’s more, this was a hypoallergenic dog—a six-month old Shih Tzu. If I didn’t have such bad allergies to dogs, we could have adopted a dog any time we wanted—there are street puppies around, we even had one of our own for a while, before we found a home for him with some lovely people in the market.

So, reading the post about the free dog, my treasure hunt spidey sense was pinging. I was thinking, should we? Should we?

Chinua had some reservations about getting a dog—mainly around the question of travel. We still travel and we would need to find someone to look after our dog when we went away. I wrote to him, asking what he thought about this dog. However, because he was on a plane at the moment, there was no way he could get my email. I started doing some research and found that there is a woman in town who takes care of dogs for payment, kind of like a very small kennel. I went off to talk to her and found that her costs were reasonable. I asked the man who was giving the dog if he would hold her for me while we made our way to Chiang Mai.

I had now emailed my husband and done all the research I needed to do. I had a good conversation with Chinua in my head where I listed the facts. He agreed with me (in my head). It was time for action. We were now two hours into the school morning. I wrote another email to Chinua. This one said, “I’m doing it! I accept full responsibility!”

“I have kind of a crazy idea,” I told the kids.

Kenya perked up. “What? What? I love crazy ideas!”

This was only fuel for my fire. Heaven help Kenya and I when she gets older and we are traveling the world together, taking Paris, Istanbul, and Hanoi by storm.

I bought bus tickets, and by five o’clock, we were all on vans to get to Chiang Mai. The only thing was that the bus company didn’t have tickets for all five of us on one bus, so Kai and Kenya rode on a separate van for the first time. It was uneventful, except for the fact that the lady sitting next to Kenya had a tiny second thumb sticking out of her first thumb, and Kenya found this very interesting. They did well, and when their van stopped in Chiang Mai, I was at the door to greet them. (This is where the danger part comes in. Or the perceived danger. I knew well and good that they were fine on that bus of middle aged Thai aunties and uncles. I was a nervous wreck, however. I told them they did an excellent job, but for the sake of my heart we’re not going on separate buses again until they are thirty years old.)

By this time, my adrenaline was off the charts. We had to meet the dog’s owner at the bus station, which happened without a snag, and then we needed to check into our dog-friendly guesthouse. It was very late, and we gathered some food and our new dog, who was friendly and delightful, and headed for bed. I was zinging with anxiety and energy, and it was at this point that the conversations I was having with Chinua in my head took a drastic turn. He had been fine about getting a dog before, but now? Now he was furious. He had to live with this dog, of course. Clearly, he was going to hate me forever. Up till this point the dog had been an idea. But with her very real self sniffing around the guesthouse room, it became apparent that she was more than an idea. She was a dog. A dog who was now going to live with us.

I entered a different reality, one of panic and self-castigation and illegible Facebook messages to my husband whose plane still hadn’t landed. How terrible that we had only twelve good years before I ruined it all with a small fluffy dog.

The next day was full of more decisions about whether to drive immediately back to Pai or whether to stay for another night. But our dog-friendly guesthouse was full and there wasn’t anywhere for us to stay. The only reason I was interested was because of Loy Kratong, the amazing lantern festival where lanterns fill the sky like jellyfish, something we’ve seen only on a much smaller scale. I wasn’t getting anything right, we were leaving on the cusp of this amazing festival. But with five children and a dog, I didn’t feel up to the search for a guesthouse, and I wasn’t sure we should spend the money.

We headed back to Pai after I found a van service that would take us with a dog. “Sure!” they said. “180 baht. We’ll meet you in front of the McDonald’s.” We sat for a long time in a row in front of the McDonald’s, to the delight of passing tourists, until a song taew picked us up. A song taew is a truck with benches installed in the back.

“Is this what we’re driving to Pai?” Leafy asked.

“No, this will drive us to the bus,” I said. The driver proceeded to pick up several more people and then deliver us to the very same bus service that we always take, the one that charges 150 baht, the one that said dogs were not allowed. I gather I have to speak to the driver rather than the ticket sellers.

All the way home I fretted on the inside, while being outwardly cheerful about our sweet new pup, who sat nicely on Kenya’s lap and didn’t make a peep. I made lunch and called Leaf, who asked how I was doing. “Not so good,” I said in a voice that sounded like a pepto bismol frog. I told her all about how badly I had ruined everything. How Chinua was sure to disown me and be incredibly angry with me. I poured out my heart. And then I realized we had been disconnected. The phone rang. “Rae? Rae?” Leaf said, frantically. “Tell me, what did you say about a dog?”

I told her the whole story again.

And she made a good point. She said that the angry Chinua didn’t sound very much like the real Chinua.
(True, I thought.)
And that he adores me and loves me.
(Also true.)
So that while he might (understandably) be annoyed, he wasn’t going to hate me. Or disown me.

Later that night I spoke with Chinua and found that what Leaf suspected was true. He loves me. He’s a bit surprised that I got a dog, and he’s been teasing me non-stop about getting a dog when he'd been gone only one day. (He was thinking about getting a hamster, and I told him he should just think of her as a really big hamster.) But he loves me. Even though I have impulse control problems. And as soon as I talked to him, I calmed right down. I really, really love him.

We’ve named the dog Wookie and she is amazing. If there was going to be an instance of bad impulse control, it couldn’t have turned out better. I love having her. She’s smart (in the last couple of weeks she’s gone from completely un-housebroken to only having a few accidents) and loving, and mellow, and sweet. And she’s given us quite a bit less drama than the crazy flying jungle chickens did in one hour of their little chicken lives. The kids love her, especially Kenya, and I think Chinua will love her too, once he can look past her undeniably small-fluffy-dog exterior.

5 Things Day Seven: Snake Headaches and Pirates

1. This morning I woke up with an iron snake headache. There was an iron snake curled all the way around my brain and it was squeezing me up. Normally I don’t like to even acknowledge headaches, I don’t like anything that stops me for any length of time. But this was something I couldn’t see through, like a too small grey sweater that you can’t get over your head. I went back to bed.

2. I proceeded to sleep all morning, pausing my sleeping to drag myself back to the surface of the day and nurse my baby wallaby (he likes to kick and punch, lately, while nursing. I hold his little hands and coach him in gentleness, but he smiles and waves his wallaby paws around) and then be dragged back to sleep. At lunchtime, Chinua brought me this.

Chinua's lunch.jpg

He loves to make food beautiful (especially when it's for me) and I find that very romantic, but also very inspiring. (I tend to be more of a "throw it on a plate" girl myself.)

3. I’m feeling marginally better this evening, which is good because I’m trying to keep a rhythm going, don’t you know, headache, you usurper? I blame today’s sickness for yesterday’s fits of fear and lack of belief in myself. It could be today’s sickness or it could be the ant bites. I stepped in yet ANOTHER red ant nest the other day, trying to hang laundry behind the kitchen building. They were the type that climb on your legs and then somehow all bite at once. Not that my legs were ever all that beautiful, but lately they’re all covered in bites and it’s painfully evident on their pale white moon-brightness. Also, mosquitoes love me best of all. I don’t even have to spray Isaac with bug repellent, I only have to stay close to him. I am the perfect bug repellent— where I am, mosquitoes want no one else. It’s a reason you want to have me at your party, even if I’m not the best at small talk.

4. I think there are pirates that live in this neighborhood, because sometimes I’m scootering down the street and I swear I see pirates sitting at tables and talking to each other. Or maybe they are only my idea of pirates and I shouldn't judge people and say, “You look like a pirate” anymore, but if you have a peg leg and your nose is smushed all to one side, I might think you’re a pirate. Except I don’t know if this guy had a peg leg because his legs were under the table, but his arms made him look like the kind of guy who has a peg leg.

And there is at least ONE pirate in the neighborhood, and his name is Captain Jack Sparrow, and every night he sets up a little stand at the end of my street and sometimes even poses for pictures. One day when I was scootering by he winked at me. (Have I told you that before? It was an exciting day.) Perhaps I’ll see if he’ll take a picture with me, one of these days.

5. Speaking of peg legs, there was a rat with a peg leg in my ceiling the other night and it was keeping me awake at the 3:00 hour, which enraged me. Tap tap tap echoed the rat on the teak ceiling. Our house is made of the same material that drums are made of. We live in a large drum. We caught one of the rats in our live trap and Leafy got incredibly worried about setting it free in the jungle. “That’s basically sending it out to get killed,” he said, and I had to assert that there is only so far that our charity goes- we can’t set him free in a house rat retirement community or something. The kids fetched him food and water while we waited for Chinua to get up and take him out to the jungle, because that’s how it goes when we catch pests in the Ford home. We also don’t kill flies or spiders. We kill ants and mosquitoes, and sometimes Leafy and Kenya even get upset about that. But later Leafy cheered up and said that it would be more like the rat was Bear Grylls.

This and that.

Rae and Chin.jpg

1. Chinua is back and when he came, the kids wriggled all over with joy. So did I. I think we still wake up thinking, Is he? Yes, he's here! He came bearing gifts, both things he bought and things that dear friends sent to us. My favorites are the cast iron pan that he hauled in his backpack, and the juicer that was a very thoughtful birthday gift from our friends. And then there is the mountain of thrift shop kids clothes... so wonderful, so needed.

Abby and the kids.jpg

2. Last week a new/old friend, Abby, arrived. She's going to stay here for a few months, helping with different things, and especially with the kids on a brief detour from the time she's been spending in Europe. We first met Abby in Santa Cruz when we were living there in 2010, but we're getting to know her much better now. We're all smitten with her. She's been reading The Hobbit to kids. I mean, the girl is a champion reader. Three chapters of The Hobbit? In one sitting?

Also, as a side note, I think Leafy may be gaining an obsession to rival his Star Wars obsession. He now wanders around after me citing facts about elves. "Isn't it funny," he says, "that there's an elf called Legolas? And he's in Lego Lord of the Rings? Get it? LEGOlas?"

Puppy.jpg

3. We gave the puppy away yesterday. I came up with a plan to take him down to the Wednesday Market, a local market with tons of people. Almost immediately, as Miriam was carrying the box, a couple who ran a market stall said they would like to have him. They seemed really nice, and they were very happy to get him. "Thank you!" they said in Thai, and I said, "No, thank you!!!" because I was worried about what I would do if I couldn't find someone to adopt the sweet little guy. I wish we could have kept him, he was so sweet and very smart. Alas, allergies. 

Red flowering tree.jpg

4. The drives have been beautiful lately. I hop on the scooter and drive away, and I'm immediately surrounded by beauty, it's all around me, flung like jungle vines. All the green is coming back now that the rains have begun. There are the hills, and the trees, and the sky is alternately blue or glowering with low hung clouds (beautiful in their own way.) It is a path through my myriad moods, sometimes ecstatic, sometimes grumpy, sometimes ringing with what feels like the saddest sadness. In times when I wonder what exactly I've done, allowing these countries around the world to have pieces of me, when I wonder in panic how I could ever have left any of them, India, Nepal, America, Canada, I am brought back by a flowering tree. The pieces return to me. I remember that I am in the hand of God, that all the world is mine to watch and love. God calls me back, "Be here and not away," he says, and I re-enter my life with love.

And I truly love it here. With each word that I remember and understand, with every familiar face, I am a little more etched into this place. I can turn in the market and see half a dozen people I know, and I am not afraid. The drives have been beautiful lately. 

Isaac 1.jpg

5. These days, when I pick Isaac up, I think "Oh, I love you. I LOVE LOVE LOVE you." He has become more chunky, less fragile, the cuddliest bear. He almost clings back, there is his soft head on my shoulder, he presses his cheek along my neck. He is the cutest thing ever and he drools and drools and drools. He smiles and makes odd dolphin noises and we are just in love. There are of course all the times when I'm carrying him for hours (he's huge-- another Solo!) or he won't go to sleep and I feel like my back is breaking, and I sometimes think, in a month or so it will be better. But then I think, I can't bear for this month to pass. Both are true, as it is true that I love him now and I will love him then, and I will always love him.

Isaac 2.jpg

Comings and goings.

Isaac in the water 3.jpg

The heat is getting away with me. It carries me off with it sometime in the late morning and doesn't let my brain go until around 3:00 am, when I turn over in my sleep and sigh into the cool air from the window. It's been over 40 degrees for a long time. I like to cheer the clouds on when I see them peeking into the edges of the valley.

"Come on guys! You can do it!" A little rain would be lovely.

Until then, we flee to the pool in the late afternoons, when we can no longer function, when play fighting among the kids turns to real fighting.

Isaac in the water2.jpg

I am back home from my retreat, back among my family. When Chinua and the kids found me in Chiang Mai, they pulled up and spilled out of the car, all of them tall and radiant. I unloaded Isaac's stroller out of the back of the song taew and turned to hug them all.

But I wasn't alone.

Miriam.jpg

Miriam is here! The Goa season is over and she has come to be with us for a couple of months in Thailand. I surprised her at the train station in Bangkok and we took the most delayed train ever up to Chiang Mai together.

"The train is so quiet," she said. It's been fun to see what she notices, what things are so different from India.

Today marks more new beginnings. Isaac is three months old today. Three months! Only recently he has been eying things with frustrated fervor, determined to get them into his hands and then into his mouth. He wants to join the world, now. He's decided it's a good place for him, he'll swim on in with all the others.

But also, my Superstar husband is going away today. He'll be away for five weeks, and I feel a little as I might feel if I knew the sun would be hidden for five weeks. Or if I could only drink Tang for five weeks, no clear water.

Last night we stretched out together and talked, looking at each other and away. Five weeks is a long time, we agreed. His reason for going away is very important... he wouldn't do it right now if it wasn't.

I have all sorts of thoughts and hopes for how to make it through the next five weeks without him, but in the end I know that I really don't know. The larger our family becomes, the older everyone becomes, the less and less I feel I know. I know we have a whole lot of love, and that we will go day by day. I know that I will make many mistakes but that we are all well versed in forgiveness and in hugs. And I know that mother does not mean perfect, that a good day doesn't have to be a flawless day, and that my family loves and needs me.

Have a sweet journey, my beloved. We'll be here, waiting for you.

Isaac in the water1.jpg

A Song by Chinua.

It's the last day of 2012! And we're still here! Imagine.

*

When we were in Goa, Chinua did a couple of small concerts on our rooftop. I recorded a couple of the songs, and though they are live and a bit echoey, they came out well.

Here's a beautiful something for the end of the year, a song Chinua wrote for me called Ouagadougu. Enjoy!

Ouagadougu- Chinua Ford

Rice

The rainy season has started in earnest and we haven't seen the sun in days. Part of me is sure that we'll never see the sun again, but the well-seasoned part of me has seen rainy seasons in many different countries and knows it can't last forever.

Yesterday, true to my current obsession with pickled and fermented things, I made kimchi. It's still in the fermentation process. I keep eyeing it, thinking that I should eat it now anyways, but when I go to unscrew the lid on the jar, my Superstar Husband says, "Rae, uh uh, it's not ready." He's always there, just over my shoulder, floating around making sure that I don't eat unready kimchi. I don't know what I would do without him.

The other day he went out to take photos with our landlord. Khun Thanom, his name is. They were planting rice in the paddies around his house and he thought it would be beautiful to photograph, so he came to fetch Chinua. This endeared me to my landlord even more, because people planting rice are one of my favorite sights in the world, lovely and photogenic.

Our Canon DSLR camera body is broken. It still sort of works, but the shutter sensor (something, don't ask me) is so slow as to make it almost unusable. We have good lenses, we just need a new camera body (ours is the 10D, from 2004, a dinosaur in digital years--and we did get a LOT of shots from it) but haven't been able to afford it yet. This means that Chinua hasn't been taking photos, which is so sad, almost tragic.

So it was wonderful to see some new stuff from him, as he persevered with the not-working-so-great camera.

Rice Paddy Portrait Smoker

Oh, how I love the rice planting. People do it in big groups, here and in India. It must be hard, bending your back all day. Rice planting during the rainy season is one of my first memories of moving to Goa. After the rice is first seeded, close together, it is pulled up and replanted with plenty of space for the plants to grow.

Rice Paddy Portrait Posing-8004

I'm falling more and more in love with this place.

Photos courtesy of Chinua Ford.

Ten Things on our Tenth Anniversary

1. He sings all the time, even while we're driving on the scooter in the rain.

2. His neck (just under his hair) is the safest place.

3. When he laughs hard he brings me into the joke by grabbing me and falling on me. But if it's really really funny, he runs out of the room completely. In Mr. Bean's Summer Holiday, he ran so far, laughing, he nearly left the theater.

4. He is tall and strong and his arms go right around me.

5. Yesterday I wasn't coping with things well, and he went to get me ice cream and bottled green tea. He's excellent at pinpointing solutions in difficult situations. (Like a crying wife on the bed.)

6. He and I have grown up so much in these ten years! He is easily irritated and I am easily offended, but more and more he listens and understands, and more and more I try hard to be reasonable. We've become quite the old pros. (With the occasional fallout to keep us humble.)

7. He makes up the craziest stories or songs and tells or sings them to us. He plays with the kids like a kid.

8. We love each other more because of all the deserts and storms and jungles we've come through. We've been weathered, burned, and soaked, and oh, we are blissed out on love.

9. His music is so beautiful, it gives me goosebumps. He is the best guitar player in the world, with the most beautiful voice.

10. He loves me!

Week in the Life- Wednesday

Wednesday was Cave Day.

We originally planned to go all together, as a family, but Chinua said he wasn't feeling well and he'd wait back at the guesthouse with the two younger boys.

When we saw what a hike we had, and how difficult the cave was, I was glad the little boys hadn't come.

(I wasn't glad when I got back to the guest house and saw that Chinua was burning up with a high fever. Poor guy.)

The very first thing I did on Wednesday, though, was go for an early morning walk.

In the fog.

Really, there were chickens everywhere in Nepal. They share the streets with dogs.

It was sort of like walking around the old parts of Kathmandu or Patan, but without crowds. It was beautiful.

I love these old style houses.

Nepal has a Maoist government, after the 8 year People's War that decided it.

I went back to the guest house and the kids and I left and boarded a jeep taxi. Fit as many people in and out of the jeep as you can, is the M.O. I counted 27 people below, and there were people on the roof.

We left the jeep and were argued into taking a young guide to show us the way to Siddhi Gufa, the cave. We walked 2 km along the highway. It started raining on us.

The jolly chaperone.

We cut alongside fields and started up the mountain, toward the cave.

Making our way to the long sets of stairs.

Here's our "guide." He was around twelve, and spoke no English. We spoke in my tiny bit of Nepali.

Finally we reached the mouth of the cave.

Here's the view. We came from all the way down there!

Inside the cave. It was beautiful and grotesque.

The kiddoes were very brave. We left our young guides outside and trusted ourself to the experienced hands of a grown up cave guide. He was probably in his early forties, and he was incredibly strong.

We had to crawl through this opening. I'm telling you, I almost turned back several times.

They LOVED it.

We were often climbing in the dark, over wet and slippery rocks. The camera flash makes it look so well-lit, but really we were confined to the beams of our flashlights.

The ladder. Oh goodness.

Ahhhh. Back in the light of the beautiful outdoors. The nice thing about railings? You can slide down them.

Back down the hill, we boarded a bus and drove home. I like the three Nepali hats peeping over the seats in this photo.

We got back to the guesthouse to find Chinua sick. I got him some fever reducer and tried to make him comfortable, then left with the kids to find food, and play more chess.

And that was Wednesday.

 

He's back.

Yesterday Chinua got back to us. From Brighton to London, to Delhi, to Kathmandu, to Pokhara. A long trip.

We're thrilled.

 

We celebrated by going out for Korean. There are several Korean restaurants in Pokhara, but we believe we have found the best.

We all love Korean food. And we all love Chinua.

(Leafy's shot of his dad.)

Snippets in Photos and Captions: Part One

I was going through some of our photos from the last month or so and found a bunch that didn't make it up here.

There's nothing like a pile of random photos to show what life is like (somewhat).

Baby fern fronds. They're what's for dinner. (Grammar! Grammar!) Seriously, I don't know why we don't eat these in Canada, in BC, where ferns are taking over the woods. Someone needs to do something about those ferns, like EAT THEM. I bet the Haida ate baby fern fronds.

Wait a minute. Let me google it. What the? Answers.com did not help. Somebody said they ate roots and berries and now junk food. Stupid answer. Let's try again.

Okay! That's better. Wow, I had no idea. Not only did the Haida eat baby fern fronds, or fiddlehead ferns, as the more knowledgable call them, apparently they're a hot ticket in parts of modern Canada and the US. Well, we love them. But you have to get them when they're really young, or they taste like wood.

Sweet little house with goats and a cat.

Man herding cows. It always seems like the grandpas and grandmas get this job, here.

Kid A drawing from observation. That day we headed out with sketch books to find something to draw. The kids sat down and started sketching the tents of the lake constructions workers that were set up in a field. They live in those tents for months while they work, little more than tarps draped over sticks.

I love this kid. He is so smart and witty, he tells terrible punny jokes, and he memorizes everything about geography or science that he hears. But try to get him to draw something and he dashes it off in two seconds and says, "Done!" He and YaYa are opposites in schooling. When we learn about science, she gives me this blank stare that means, "My brain. Has shut down Now," while Kid A tenderly and lovingly traces the photos of cells. But they are both excellent at math. And they both love to write.

Here's the YaYa sister making her much more detailed drawing. She just loves to draw. Always has. Kid A never has. It's so funny, how kids are so different. But still, you never know what will develop. I didn't much like drawing when I was a kid, for some of the same reasons that Kid A has. I wanted it to be perfect, and it didn't turn out looking like I wanted it to, so I would quit. And yet I still ended up painting when I was older.

Yum. A BIG pile of litchis. I love how Solo begs for them, calling them Wee chees.

Crowded Nepali town.

Out the back door. They are so beautiful. And so hard to photograph.

Ooooh. Baby fern fronds. They're what's for dinner again!

World's cutest garlic peeler and chopper.

And the world's most incredible, handsome, beautiful, wonderful person. I love him! Currently, he's up to his knees in mud with his banjo at Glastonbury Festival. Only two more weeks... sigh.

YaYa making a tipi. When she got done she stood back and said (with huge satisfaction) "It's a house made of all natural things!"

Oh, look! It's that guy again! The one I LOOOOOOVE. He looks awesome rowing a boat.

And sanctuary. The forest across the lake is SO beautiful.

I'll continue this on Monday. But for now, here's a list of things that I never photograph:

1. Solo refusing to walk every time we try to get out of the house.

2. Me carrying Solo who is far too heavy to be carried.

3. Solo sitting down in the middle of the path, or sidewalk, or street, shrieking because I don't want to carry him.

4. Solo running off because he suddenly changed his mind.

5. Me chasing Solo because now he's too far away.

Two nights away

On the bike, we point out green rice paddies, the magnolia tree that is my favorite. A man passes, drenched in cologne. The scent lingers. I tell Chinua to take a road. It is the wrong road. We are on the bike for hours, have to cross by ferry in the dark. We reach it just in time, it pulls off just after we arrive. When we get to the eucalyptus forest, it has been dark for a while, and the trees are tall ghosts beside us.

He never says a word of blame about my wrong road. That's the kind he is.

We sit together, look at each other. We sleep and when I wake the hut is quiet. He is still sleeping. I drink my coffee, let him sleep. I write, I read. I wake him later.

We go for a walk on the beach, then wander down a village road. I find a magnolia tree that has red tipped flowers. I pick one off the ground. It smells like roses. This village is tiny, lovely.

We sit together, look at each other. It has been so long since these uninterrupted periods of talking and silence existed for us. Our small house, with our three boys and one exuberant girl, rings with sound! It echoes, it reverberates. It is almost never quiet. We almost never have a conversation without a small, lovely person interrupting us.

They are our greatest gift. We wouldn't have it any other way.

But I am so thankful for the chance to do this, right now. A dear friend watching them for we can get away for a couple of nights and just be together.

Later, swimming, fish curry and rice... more talking. More being together.

Week of Beauty: Superstar Husband

I am so blessed by him.

 

Best friend. My bard husband. Superfather. Thrower of children.

 

 

Super beautiful. Love of my life.

PS: Thanks for playing along yesterday!

PPS: Another voting opportunity, if you are so inclined, at Circle of Moms for Favorite Creative Mom. Winners get to share a favorite craft on their site. I would love to have your votes!

A great way to spend a Sunday night

The first time we walked into the Irish Times Pub on a Sunday night, Chinua and I were pinching ourselves. We'd heard about an open Irish session, so Chinua packed up the banjo and we drove to downtown Victoria. I don't know what I'd expected, but as I sat and listened, the thought that stood out the most was: This is what music is supposed to be.

I was in heaven. Chinua was pretty near bliss as well. Last night we went again.

Surrounded by warm brass fixtures and supported by old scarred wood floors, the music lovers crowded into a corner space on the dark wood stools and chairs, leaning in to focus. All those usual pub sounds were there, the clinks of glasses, the pitching hum of voices, the lulls in noise that allow one loud voice to suddenly pierce through. But for those of us zoned into the stage and the circle around it, there was only the music.

What was right about it? It was inter-generational, for one. The young brilliant talents who lead the evening are Qristina and Quinn Bachand, breathtaking on fiddle and guitar/banjo. Truly, I mean, truly, I was astounded by the maturity, talent, and grace in these two. Quinn is only fourteen, a guitar prodigy who smiles and greets each musician who comes to join the circle, and Qristina is barely twenty, studying biology in university and unflagging in two hours of steady fiddling. Felix Prummel, a young whistle player, kept pace so quickly his fingers were almost invisible, and Marty Haykin and Larry Frisch were the long-time players who deepened and expanded the music with the mandolin and melodeon. Quinn called Graham Metcalfe to the stage to sing, and if we hadn't already been wide awake, the true old-timer Irish musician would have blasted away any sleepiness.

It's incredible to be in such a small space with such skilled musicians. The walls literally pulse with it, and we all are carried along.

This event happens every Sunday night from 9:00 until 11:00. If you are anywhere near, you should check it out.

You can find Quinn and Qristina's website here, and their videos here.

And here for you, just a little taste of the evening:

At the Irish Times from Rae Ford on Vimeo.

Day Six: There is a missing day

The fifth day slipped through my fingers.  And again I fell asleep when the kids did, which was very romantic on my husband's first evening home. I think I felt safe and my body just collapsed. I'm still fighting some sickness. But I'll keep trying to post every day this month.

Renee was an angel and watched the kids while I went to the airport with Cypriano, my house owner and the taxi driver.  I grow exhausted driving so far here, so I took the easy way out, and spend an hour catching up on reading.  I was reading a novel about the U.S., and blinked whenever I happened to look up, very surprised to find myself in India.

I find the local airport a very odd place to hang out. I've spent some time there, over the last year and a half, waiting to greet beloved people, noting all the strange shapes of people whom I haven't seen before.  I stand outside, trying to get a piece of shade, hot in the sudden humidity that has returned. People spill out of the doors, everyone grumpy in the inconvenience of flight, noses wrinkled as they withstand the calls of taxi drivers and hotel touts.  This is a mild airport, nothing like Delhi, or Mumbai.  Even the taxi drivers are fairly lackadaisical, falling back when you tell them you're not interested, rather than pursuing with increasing volume.

I've been living in one village or another for the last year and a half, used to people who mostly dress alike.  Here it is Indian housedresses or little Catholic dresses. In the Himalayas, it was Salwar Kameez with a dupatta tied around the head. The men here wear towels most of the time, towels or shorts. The men in the Himalayas wore Gaddi hats and vests over white shirts, herding their goats and cows.  So it is strange to see all these modern Indian people.  They seem very pale, and they wear many different things, not just one traditional costume.  Many women wear glittering saris and have perfect pedicures, while some have cropped hair and are wearing jeans and t-shirts. One woman is wearing a toque with a button up shirt and a swishy skirt.  She seems odd here. Just as I seem, to the people around me.  She and her husband, who is wearing many gold chains around his neck with a pink shirt that is slightly open at the collar, welcome two irritated-looking men who seem to be hardly able to walk.  The two that are oddly dressed walk quickly after taking the suitcases, leaving the two other men toddling in their wake.

I watch, and watch, and wait.

And then there he is, and he is beaming. "I hardly wanted to expect that you would be here," he says, "just in case you weren't."

On the way home we eat baklava that he brought from Israel, and we look at each other.  I tell him my strange experience of reading the book in the car and feeling like I left the country, and he nods and exclaims, "I know!  Isn't that strange?"

It is good to have him back. He is my perfect grown-up.