Traveling ramblings.

The world is very big. I'm working on remembering it. Traveling has a way of putting you in a jello suspension, taking you out of life in the oddest way, putting you somewhere that has no regard for your goals or normal routines. You'd be better off forgetting them entirely, at least for right now, at least for this bus ride, this train ride, this trip to the train toilet, this seatbelt sign duration on the plane.

This is even truer with kids. The only question you can ask is right now, the only step is the immediate one. Now we're waking up on the train, now getting breakfast and charging devices in a cafe that was quiet before we got here, and so soulless that I wouldn't think of coming here if I wasn't desperate. This is travel, all the normal budgets and standards reduced to, “Wait here, kids, I'm getting us these million dollar chips for dinner."

And just like routines, the normal rules of life are also suspended. For instance, while in general it may be a kind thought to offer a child a balloon, if you give my child a balloon on a night train just before bedtime, you are my sworn enemy. (Sorry, nice curly-haired lady with the flower print shirt- I'll forgive you someday. Also, to be honest, I'm not sure that balloons are ever a parent's friend, more like an instrument of torture, especially if they have the ability to fly away into the sky to be lost forever, but despite that, I buy into them like everyone else.)

Traveling with the kids, without Chinua hasn't been my favorite. He is my traveling partner for life- he keeps us all sane and singing silly songs. But if I hadn't tried this, I might not know that I can do this, I can transport us to India. (Proven at least halfway, to Malaysia, where we are right now.) Also, I might not know the skip in my heart that comes when my thirteen year old boy comes up behind me to take a heavy bag from me and carry it himself, unprompted.

 (I sure wish I had these future children ghosting around, reassuring me of their excellence, back when they were smaller and fell down crying when they were supposed to be carrying something. It would have been very reassuring.)

Ugh, I could just kiss them over and over, the two oldest. Their degree of well-behaved-ness cannot be charted. On the other end of the spectrum is the little guy, who doesn't know it's his third birthday today—I haven’t told him--because nothing in his brain can help him understand the lack of cake. His birthday will happen when we reach Goa.

I knew, I had these prickles of warning that he would be a runner, ala Leafy circa 2009 and Solo circa 2011. I've been trying to put the fear of wandering around Bangkok motherless into his soul, but he blinks at me with unrepentant eyes. I've clamped onto his arm like our dog, Wookie, does on our feet when we dare to wear socks, and so he lets his whole body go limp, and then I have to drag him down busy streets/airports/train aisles. Thankfully his future well-behaved self is ghosting around in the form of Kai and Kenya, politely holding doors open and carrying my bags. So I haven't gone crazy yet, not even when the stomach bug that has been going around hit him at precisely the wrong moment (on the train, poor love) and I'll spare you the details but poo. Lots of it and the train man had to change our sheets. (I know you've been missing poo stories.) 

And Travel, I have missed you and I love you. Chinua told me that he wants to traipse around the world with me and I told him it should have been In our wedding vows, because nothing in our lives has been repeated, with such love, as much as travel. And yet, there have been these times of separation, scattered through our lives, when Chinua travels away from me, and the crazy three year olds run away more than usual. And when Chinua leaves, I'm on a Himalayan mountainside, or a lakeside town in Nepal, or a small town in Thailand, or traveling to India via Malaysia. In the future he'll have to leave while the rest of us are sailing to Australia or something. 

A side note: in a matter of years I'm going to look super young, not because I'm looking younger, but because it turns out that children look like adults over night and soon people will be all, "who are all these adults with you?" This is what I tell myself, anyway. I don't normally travel without Chinua and I take the safety of a tall man for granted, but we still don't exactly look vulnerable, now that we have the man-boy Kai. 

And meanwhile Chinua is in his own kind of limbo- the limbo of a hospital room and the unblinking lights of the hallways, a friend he loves and the meditation of care. My heart is with him, and my heart is also here, in the in between, where plans fade and the moment looms larger than any other thing. He's always been better at it than me, but I'm getting there. 

Those are my traveling thoughts today.  

Home again.

I’m finally back in my chair at my desk, writing in the early hours of the day. I wrote my morning page (like Julia Cameron’s Morning Pages, but mine is just one page because I make my own rules and I only have a little bit of time) and I worked on my hummingbird painting, and now here I am, showing up at the blog.

Chinua’s brother and sister-in-law came to visit us in Thailand, along with his niece and nephew and a family friend. We met them in Bangkok, spent a couple days there, then traveled to Krabi, where the water is blue and the rocks look like they’re from another world, then traveled back up to Chiang Mai and into the markets, then drove through the curvy roads until we got home. We’ve been talking and shopping (I was translating, not buying) eating and swimming. It’s been a crowded, noisy, fun, happy time, as we took taxis that we really couldn’t fit in, and put way too many people into hotel rooms. I’ve been impressed by the way our brother and sister have thrown themselves into travel here in Thailand, trying all new things and dealing with heat and language issues. It makes me thankful for the way we acclimate, too. It’s all so normal to me, and I’m happy to be on this side of the adjustment. When visitors come, we see things through their eyes, new again, things we take for granted. The heat, the shape of the cars, the way Thai people smile and laugh all the time. And coming home is so sweet, because I see again just how lovely our town is, how we know our neighbors and the shopkeepers. I mean, we were only gone for eight days, but we missed our little town. 

One interesting moment was when our plane was landing and Solo threw up, but not in a bag because I didn’t get a bag to him in time, so we were just sitting in it, and we couldn’t get out of the seats. I have never been more thankful for a pack of baby wipes, and also, now I can say that I cleaned up a lot of vomit on a landing plane with a pack of baby wipes. My life is complete.

Today is diving back into homeschool, meditation, making shopping lists, bathing my stinky dog, watering plants, reading aloud to my kids, making to do lists that try to seem like they can be accomplished, and living in the light and love of God while trying to keep my cool with my beautiful, wild kids. Just life.

The River

The River, 5"x7" oil on canvas board- Click here to see it in my Etsy Shop

The River, 5"x7" oil on canvas board- Click here to see it in my Etsy Shop

I was on a Nepali river once, with my family and some friends, in a dugout canoe that was so low to the water, we were alarmed by the crocodiles we saw in the water, level with our elbows. The guides were not alarmed. The guide at the back of the boat dipped an oar into the water and smiled. When he pulled the oar out, tiny silver droplets flew across the water.

I sat back and opened my eyes as wide as they would go, as kingfishers and monkeys played around us and the day broke my heart with its beauty. At the time, my whole life felt like that river, crocodile eyes and all. A calm guide knew where we were going, but I didn’t. Every turn in the river was a surprise, and I didn’t know where the river was taking me. I could choose to upset the boat or to sit back and open my eyes as wide as they would go, so I wouldn’t miss the kingfishers or the monkeys. I still am on a river, I suppose, though I’ve reached a long straight stretch for once and can see a fair distance off. And really, I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else, water droplets catching the sun like tiny mirrors.

Floating.

Traveling is a little like floating. All the water flows along under us and we skim along the surface, watching the sky until we will finally bump into home. 

We tell the kids to get into the car. “Who are we going to see today?” they ask. They float along with us. 

We’ve been driving through desert, the brushy landscape of Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, Ojai. Coastal and inland, blue and browns, with dark green smudges and brilliant flashes of pink bougainvillea. Old mission-style buildings, greebs in the water. We land with friends and they have dinner waiting, smells greeting us as we climb out of the car. We skim through neighborhoods with estates like small villages. We walk beaches and I walk to an old spanish courthouse with my dear friend Joy. We talk and talk and our talk about the wide world has sorrow laced in and behind it, but we pray at the end and I know that God has the difficult, heartbreaking issues in his hands. We drive again and land in another desert town in a time of drought. 

There are brilliant points as we float along our river. Chinua and I sleeping on couches under the stars, fed and fed again, our cousin flying up to Detroit from Alabama to see us, my sister-in-law making the mac’n’cheese that I’ve raved about in the past, going out to paint and drink wine with my sisters-in-law, beach days, a day at the lagoon in Long Beach, this house in Santa Cruz where we are now. Sitting here with love in our hearts and a few days of rest ahead of us. 

And there are funny moments. We saw President Obama’s motorcade one day when we were in L.A. Because we are basically babies when it comes to the USA, we accidentally got ourselves searched by the Secret Service. It happened like this: we were leaving Hollywood and came upon an intersection where the police were stopping cars. An officer approached us and told us we had happened to get stuck right as they were closing the streets. “You can turn around,” he said. “Or wait it out. It’ll be about twenty minutes before he comes through.” 

“Wait it out! Wait it out!” the kids cried. We all wanted to see the President drive past. I thought of when the princess visited our town in Thailand and she stopped and chatted with people on the streets. Maybe he’ll stop and chat with us. Yes, and then he’ll invite us to his dinner and we’ll be the guests of honor, hooray!

So the kids and I poured out of the van and crossed the intersection to stand with other spectators who were waiting. Chinua grabbed his camera and stepped out of the van to join us. Our van certainly wasn't going anywhere until after the motorcade passed by, so he figured he could just leave our vehicle there. 

Um. Mistake. We watched from across the courtyard as cops and secret service agents asked Chinua to step away from the van and at least five of them and a german shephere searched it. I was talking with other spectators and watching this (I wasn’t allowed to cross the street to get back to the van) wondering what on earth was happening. Turns out you’re not allowed to get out and leave your van when a president’s motorcade is about to pass through. 

We waved like crazy in the two minutes that the cars were passing by, and then I felt incredibly uncomfortable at the sheer force that surrounded the president.  I hadn’t registered that a motorcade is comprised of cars, but also about a hundred motorcycle cops with large guns. Yuck. This wasn’t the princess’s visit to Pai.

Exciting times, though, and everyone was very polite throughout. 

What else? I’ve been enjoying Pandora, which doesn’t work in Thailand. I’m collecting the things I need for going back. Teas and nutritional yeast are still on my list. I really am so excited to get home, but we’re still floating along, watching the trees go by overhead, enjoying all the moments of being in this beautiful country.

Full.

Sometimes it’s a pile of dried bay leaves rustling in the wind as I pass, or sun-warmed pine needles on a forest path. Sometimes it’s a patch of lavender, or a rose bush in the sun, or a giant rosemary bush outside my friend’s house. Fragrances are like old friends; they tap me on the shoulder and whisper, Remember when…? Yes, I say. I remember. I remember being a child in the forest, I remember days as a teenager, dreaming into the sunset, I remember country walks. I remember the old feelings of joy, the sharpness of the wind, the pangs of sadness. I remember the days that I was me here. In this place, or in this, or in that one. The home of my childhood, the beautiful landscapes of my homeland, or America, the country I adopted.

Now I am in the last home I had in America, in the hills of Northern California. Lovely despite the worst drought in 185 years. I remember things here too. I remember herbs in the sun, the bay tree at the Land. I remember the births of my children, the way springtime made us all feel like dancing after the long winter rains. I remember the yellows of the hills in the autumn. I remember the breezes, the graceful green river. I remember joy and sadness. I remember so many friends. 

There is pain. My good friend took her own life over four years ago and tears fill my eyes as I drive past her old house. There are places where I remember harsh words, or depression, or confusion. But there is more joy, so much more joy. It’s impossible not to dig deep and see the overflowing blessings that God has given us in our life.

Chinua and I just celebrated our 13th anniversary and we talked a little about the places we’ve lived. From urban San Francisco, to the redwoods, to a mountainside in the Himalayas, to a marble house beside a lake in Nepal, to the beach in Goa, to our little Thai town now. We have had a rich life. We have all made many sacrifices to live the way we do. But there is so much joy.

I’m thinking about joy a lot lately, how I want more of it in me and in my life, more in our family and community—sustaining us, growing us. I want to continue to learn to serve out of joy rather than obligation, in my family and community. In the world. 

Sometimes it’s the air— the way it can be cool while the sun is hot. Or the colors, the way the roses fill my eyes, the butterflies in flowers, the different shades of brown and green on the hills. Joy everywhere.

I struggle at times, with a scarcity mentality, believing wrongly that because others have plenty (of talent, success, money) there is not enough to go around. I was trying, recently, to understand the concept of abundance, and I remembered the parable of the Prodigal Son. When the father threw a party to welcome back his ungrateful, wasteful son, the good, obedient son responded with the view of scarcity: “But I’ve been here this whole time serving you and you’ve never thrown a party for me.” In other words, what he’s getting right now—love and celebration—somehow takes something from me. There is a delicate balance in what everyone has, and if something good is bestowed on someone else, there’s less for me. The father looked at him and responded with such kindness. 

“All that I have has always been yours.” This is what God says to us.

All that I have has always been yours.

Sometimes it’s my mother’s hand on my shoulder, Leafy hurling himself at me for a hug in the morning. It’s a hawk circling the highway, a full tank of gas, the whistle of our van that runs after so many years. Aging boards on an old fence, oaks in silhouette against golden light. Sometimes it’s a cup of coffee in the morning, Isaac’s face when he first sees me, another meal. Golden afternoon light, my oldest son’s delight in driving an ATV for the first time, my daughter’s delight in every. single. animal that she sees. How Solo can never stop jumping and standing on his head, the thirteen beautiful years of marriage that I’ve been given, the stirrings of longing for my home in Thailand that I happily feel now that I’m away. Sometimes it’s only the sky and the blue that seems to go on forever. 

All that I have has always been yours. 

There is so much joy.

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