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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The incident with the bus floor.

Way long ago, when we left Vancouver and traveled to Kelowna, we took the Greyhound Bus, about a five-and-a-half-hour journey, because our van was parked in Kelowna and we were picking it up there. It was the best option all around, and I thought the Greyhound would be a breeze. After all, we’ve been traveling all over Asia on trains and buses, buses are our normal mode of transport. Right?

It was inordinately difficult. Why is this so hard? I thought to myself as we tried to coordinate shuttling our many bags (including a guitar and a banjo) to the station. Once the bags were on the sidewalk, Chinua drove back to my brother and sister-in-law's house to get the kids and I stared at the bags and suit and at the stroller that Isaac was sitting in. I rigged a way of pulling a suitcase and pushing a stroller at the same time and proceeded to push/pull all our things in a few trips, asking people to watch our stuff as I went. (At one point, the very last person I would have asked to watch my stuff happily volunteered, sitting close to my things so I could rest at ease. He was probably a delightful person, but perhaps living in a different dimension, and it wasn't very reassuring.)

Long story short, we missed the bus because of a fender bender that didn’t bend any fenders but required the exchange of information, brought all of our things in taxis back to my brother’s house, and waited for our next bus. By the way, the answer to why is it so hard to take the bus in Canada (or the U.S.)? is: lack of porters and other help. I couldn’t even get a trolley. We breeze through Asia (“breeze” being subject to interpretation) because we have lots of help and ways to get our things around: In India, porters wearing red pile our things on their heads and run through the station, in Thailand there are trolleys and porters and helpful bus drivers close to where we can park.

Finally, finally we were ready to board the evening bus, but while I had been ready for the day bus, with nice bagged lunches for everyone, I didn’t have any food for dinner. I planned to go a takeaway sushi place that I had seen earlier at the station, but when we arrived, it was closed. That meant that we had twenty minutes to find food for our children before boarding a bus with hungry kids and driving for five and a half hours. I ran across the street to the only place I could see that would get food ready fast enough: McDonald’s. Oh, yuck. But making life work often requires exceptions, so off I went.

I returned with two large paper bags filled with food, one filled with fries, the other with burgers for the meat-eaters and wraps for the vegetarians. The kids managed to eat a few bites before it was time to get on the bus, and then we boarded the bus. I was carrying the two paper bags, another bag with food, my big everything-bag, and my toddler. Kenya was right behind me as we climbed the extremely narrow stairs. 

I was busy trying to guide Isaac up the stairs ahead of me, squeezing into the narrow opening when it happened: I heard a gigantic riiiiiiiip, as both bags tore open from top to bottom. I immediately collapsed on the floor to keep everything from flying out of the bags, my free arm curled protectively around our fries. And there I was. I couldn’t move. I was sitting/lying on the stairs at the entrance to the bus, my head already into the aisle so that I could see the fifty people in fifteen rows who were staring at me. 

“Chinua?” I called with a faint voice. He was at the very back of the bus, distributing our carry ons in the upper storage. “I could use some help, rather desperately.” 

“Just a second!” he called.

Behind me, people were waiting to board the bus, but my sprawled body was preventing them. I have lost all dignity, I told myself. I tried to smile at the man in a suit who was standing directly behind Kenya, outside the bus, but I’m afraid it looked more like a grimace of pain. Isaac played with the buttons on the bus console. The bus driver came to the door from where he had been loading bags, to see what the hold up was. “What’s… oh.” he said, as he saw me there.

 Eventually, after I had been lying in the aisle for a few minutes, Chinua made his way to me and with the help of a woman who offered an extra grocery bag, we saved the food and I picked my dusty, greasy, embarrassed, barely-a-grownup self off the floor and we made our way to our seats. I felt rather triumphant. I saved our food! And I wondered yet again why this stuff happens. Every other person boarded the bus without lying on the floor. Why not me?

Family photos.

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Oh, hello, poor, dear, neglected blog. 

All these things happen at a speed that feels hard to capture. I have so many stories to tell you. 

Some bullet points:

- Kai and Kenya are away at camp for the week. I'm so excited for them, I pushed hard to make it happen, and I miss them like crazy.

- I've been doing very well in grocery stores. (You would be proud of me.) However, I did have a panic attack while driving yesterday. (Why do drivers have to be so angry? Why don't people just bow and smile?)

- We leave Kelowna today, and I felt very, very sad yesterday. But then I remembered one of my resolutions: to say goodbye well. So Becca, my sister, and I went out for dinner at a place where she had a gift card, and it was amazing.

- My sister's friend, a talented photographer named Jessica Balfour, asked to take some photos of us while we are here, and one sunny day she appeared, shot a few photos, and now we have these delightful memories to keep. 

There are more photos on her blog. Check them out!

The beginning of my world.

I'm feeling speechless and though I know I can't tell you everything, can't describe all of what's happening, I'll tell you a few things.

I'm in Canada. This place was the beginning of the world for me, and as a place on Earth, still retains the deepest, truest love of my heart.

We flew through Korea (highly recommend) and landed in Vancouver one week ago. Vancouverites have been ecstatic about a heat wave in their rainy city. We have been ecstatic that it has been so cool and refreshing outside.

My brother baby-wearing his two-week-old baby.

My brother baby-wearing his two-week-old baby.

We were also excited about my brother, my sister-in-law, the big nearly-four-year-old niece, and the teeny baby niece. They let us crowd into their house and sleep in their rooms. We ate in the back yard together, went to my brother's hockey game, hiked, went to parks, and got over our jet lag while they were patient with our screaming toddler in the middle of the night. 

What has it been like?

It has been the incredible blue of the sky in Canada.

It has been trees- maples, beeches, oaks, poplars, and of course, pines.

It has been flowering trees lining streets in Vancouver, cars on the other side of the road, coffee in the morning with my brother, talking forever with my sister-in-law. 

It has been indoor kitchens, dishwashers and espresso makers, couches and things that don't die from dust and mold. It has been eating salad from my brother's garden while sitting in his backyard nodding at people over the fence. It has been jokes and dry humor, talking quickly in what suddenly strikes me as English that would be unintelligible to people who didn't speak it as a first language. 

It has been walks on suspension bridges, it has been marveling at Vancouver's amazing diversity of Canadians of every race, it has been traipsing through the forest and climbing rocks. It has been long evenings as the deep golden sunshine becomes fingers of light stretching farther and farther until we feel that it should be dark out already, but still the light lingers. It has been summer in Canada. 

It has been piano playing in the park and funny statements from our Asia-raised kids, about how the houses look like the houses in kid's drawings, and the forests are strange, not like forests, but like big bunches of pointy knives (pine forests). Solo's utter joy at the discovery of a water fountain. ("Water comes out of the wall and you can drink it!") Or the time we walked by a school bus and he said, "This is a magic school bus!!!" with excitement in his voice because he had never seen a yellow school bus beside The Magic School Bus. Or the time that Kenya pointed to a vending machine and said, "It's that thing from Over the Hedge!" 

It has been amazing. The day before yesterday we got on the Greyhound Bus to come to the Okanagan Valley to visit my sister in the next stage of our journey, and we are here, and we are happy.

 


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.  

 

Celebration and Show and Tell.

Kai said about us, "You two are the same brand of weird," and Kenya was thrilled by this. This girl is such an amazing girl. I'm so glad she's in my life.

Kai said about us, "You two are the same brand of weird," and Kenya was thrilled by this. This girl is such an amazing girl. I'm so glad she's in my life.

Today I’m celebrating for two and a half reasons. Two and a half! Celebrating!

Reason one: We have raised enough money with our campaign to buy airline tickets to get to North America. This is because of you. I can’t say thank you enough. I’ve never done this before and it was scary and hard but then so many kind hearts came through. Thank you! We’re working out our dates and we’re going to be able to see our beloved families. We’re so happy! I’m leaving the campaign open and any additional donations will go to our other trip costs, which are many.

 

Reason two: I have paint on my clothes again, hooray! I was in the market yesterday and looked down to see that I had purple paint on my shirt. You might think this would embarrass me, but having paint on my clothes takes me right back to some of my happiest moments ever, mucking around in the art studio at my high school, making giant paintings. 

After years of wanting to paint again and saying I’m going to paint and feeling sad in art stores and writing “Paint” on New Year’s resolution lists, and having one dusty canvas sitting in my room, I have worked it out. I have found a way to bring art back into my life and I will keep it there.

Why did I stop? I had many reasons. I didn’t have time, or space, or peace of mind for painting. I had babies and toddlers tearing stuff up. But the biggest reason is that I think I listened to bad counsel about the meaning of art in life, and what works and doesn’t work, and I stopped believing in myself and my own ability to make things. This year I’ve said it: enough is enough. I’ll make things I like and I’ll share them and sell them.

How did I make time for it? I started painting in the mornings. I have a habit of waking up very early, usually before the kids are up, and that’s my time for writing. I started alternating mornings, so I have at least three mornings a week that I can paint, and I have found that painting is such a lovely way to start the day. If I'm working with acrylics (which dry fast) I leave the painting on an easel in our big room, and often find a few minutes here or there to work on it throughout the day. If it's oil, there's nothing for it. It has to stay in the studio. (The little garage room behind our kitchen.) 

Reason Two and a half: I’ve opened my Etsy shop and two of my paintings are for sale there. Right now I have both originals and prints for sale. I’ve started! It has begun! 

This painting is called Nothing Was Ordinary (original here, prints here) and it is the first in an intended series of the same name—a group of paintings that has a kind of playfulness about being a grownup and how the simple domestic things of life can be wild if you allow yourself the richness of imagination. 

This painting is called Bengali Woman (original here, prints here) and it’s first in an intended series called A World of Family, and I guess it’s self explanatory, if you’ve been reading this blog, but I’ve met so many lovely people from many different circumstances in my journey, and I think there is nothing more beautiful than the human face. I will give fifty percent of the profit from this series of small portraits to organizations who are helping those who are in need: in poverty, refugees, exploited or at risk of exploitation.

What will I do to celebrate? I'm not sure. I do have a little brownie hidden in the fridge for later. It's way at the back, where I don't think anyone will find it and ask me about it and then I'll feel compelled to share and sigh about sharing. 

Driving, Flying

Number of days that we had to stay in the capital city of Laos, a neighboring country to Thailand, because we needed extra pages put in Solo’s passport, which didn’t have any more room for visas: 1

Number of days since someone has asked me if I am pregnant: -1

Number of times I’ve asked Chinua to break out his iPad because I don’t understand the conversion between kip and baht: 5

Amount of kip I pulled out of the ATM two days ago (to pay for the visas): 4,000,000

Number of times one of the kids has made a “We’re millionaires!” joke: 6

Degrees Celcius in Vientiane: 40, real feel 49, with a humidity of 84%

Number of times one of us has said, “It’s hot!”: Lost count

 

*

Our Easter was weird this year. It wasn’t what I would want an Easter to be, but sometimes other things intrude into the normal rhythms of the year and this year it was the need for new Thai visas. So we planned and worked our way right through the weekend and Sunday found us driving to the halfway point between Chiang Mai, and Vientiane, Laos. We’ve done this drive before, two years ago, but since we have a whole extra person in our family and everyone else has longer, wider, stronger limbs, we needed to rent a larger vehicle. 

The drive was nice and we did it in two days. We don’t drive much anymore—we don’t have a car and in Pai we drive the chariot and scooter, or we ride our bicycles. If we need to go to Chiang Mai we take the bus and then take song taews and tuk tuks around the city, so a good old fashioned driving road trip feels special. 

The Laos language is so close to Northern Thai that we’re getting points for speaking it when we don’t actually speak it. I’m sure it would be hard to understand if we only heard Central Thai, which is what we’ve learned in our Thai classes, but we’ve had a lot of practice speaking and trying to decipher Northern Thai in Pai, so we’re getting pretty good and we can understand a lot of the Laos language. 

But at the end of the day, it’s just a visa run and we are in and out without a lot of time or money to explore. Maybe next time, I think, as I look longingly at pictures of places deeper in Laos. It’s gorgeous here, even at this non-gorgeous time of year. 

 

It’s a new season, I keep reminding myself. This is resurrection, that something can come from what seems to be nothing, but is really lying dormant, ready to spring forth, new and more beautiful than ever before (as things are each time they reappear- the yellow flowering trees more beautiful than the year before). 

I was made to live in community, not apart from it. This community will gather and work together, more beautiful than before. 

 

Today we pick up our visas and go home to Pai, driving down highways flanked by trees in full bloom. The air is dusty and often smokey, everyone waiting for the rainy season. Our car full of kids moves quickly and slowly all at once, like our dreams and our lives. 

Still life with ants and dog hair.

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

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

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


I read this on Brown Dress With White Dots yesterday:


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

Jonathan Carroll

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

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

In Goa.

Ahhh. This place. Oh, my heart.


How to describe it? We are in Goa, staying for six weeks in the very same house we lived in when we were here, with the very same furniture, dishes, pots and pans. It is like a little piece of time travel (how clever of us!) except that everyone is taller and we have a toddling addition who is busy capturing the hearts of our neighbors. My heart is doing complicated things. I’m trying to observe the emotions and let them slide on over me. It’s everything, you know. I love so many places. I don’t miss only my home country, I’m all tangled up in this one here too. I dug into California, once upon a time. There are places, the smell and feel of them, in the folds of my skin, in my pores.


It is lovely to be here with Miriam and Johanna again, and there are new community members, delightful both of them. The children in the village are all taller, I exclaim over it with the villagers. Stop and exchange greetings with all the people I have talked to over the years. It took a while to earn their respect, it was not easily given, but they are all very kind.


I walk the beach in the mornings with my early waking baby in the baby carrier. He is heavy, but it is better to be out than trying to keep him quiet (there is no way) so the other kids can sleep. The beach is already populated. There are joggers with big sticks to keep the big dogs at bay. A group of people doing some kind of exercise (I think they are Osho people) where they jump and growl and shout and shake. A group of people doing a slow dance. The older Indian man doing his morning yoga. The fishermen out in their boats.


This shore is so familiar to me. All the lines of it. Every smell, the sounds of this house, the squeaky fan in my bedroom, the way my bathroom opens to the bathroom on the guesthouse beside, so I can hear when someone is peeing, or showering, or throwing up. The porch, where I sit right now, looking out into the garden (it’s doing very well, everything tall and growing) the well where they used to butcher pigs (they don’t do it there any more). The marble everywhere, my kitchen and all the things I have designed and bought in this house.


Is it any wonder that my heart is doing somersaults? I remind myself that I always loved living here—it was the moving around that we had to do the rest of the year—that is why we left. I remind myself that it is easier to enjoy it now, when I am not trying to cram all of our practical things—our schooling, our business things, into the four months of the year that we could be here. We are on vacation now, barely touching school. We have a home that is there for us all year. This has been so healing for us. Of course we love it here. That has never been in question. The texture of this place is like no other, with the gathering of so many nations.


The kids are delighted to be here. We are joining in with helping in the meditation center here for these weeks, and then we will be going back to Pai to continue work on our meditation center there. Miriam will join us in May, (or late April, I’m not sure) and more people later in the summer. We are building there, just like we have built here. We are digging a place for ourselves there, marking a way, just as we did here. We are on a long path, I’m sure we’ll do this in more places on the earth, opening places of contemplation, faith and rest.


Be at rest once more, Oh my soul, for the Lord has been good to you.

PS: Leaf and I are still posting daily photos at I Wanted To Tell You. It's been so amazing to see what she sends everyday, and such a great chance to take a lot of photos.

 

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

*

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

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

*

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

Retreat

My friend Leaf and I went on an art retreat last year in Kerala, India and it was beautiful. Over the last few months we've talked about whether something like it would be possible this year and happily we decided yes.

I traveled down to South Thailand by bus.

Next, the VIP night bus.

Leaf flew from India. In her home city she waited for a train, but it still hadn't come after five and a half hours and she only had a six hour window. So she jumped on an express train and barreled across the country, hiding out from the conductor's eyes, jumping in a taxi and racing across Kolkata to reach her flight in time. (On her way to the airport in Kolkata, she witnessed a car crashing into a bus and lighting on fire.)

She literally fought her way to us.

Isaac is getting to know the reason for this trip: his beautiful Auntie Leaf.

.

We knew this trip might not take the shape of an art retreat completely, since we have a little friend with us. (Leaf says he is just our kind of guy.) But it is a rest, a time to grow our friendship, to believe in each other and this crazy inter-country friendship we have.

And I have to say that he is the perfect age for this, just between sensitive newborn and active land, when nothing is safe. Of course you can travel with older babies, but it isn't exactly restful.

We came to Koh Samet, a little island not far from Bangkok. We've watched people posing in the surf, lying on their stomachs like mermaids while their friends or husbands take pictures. I've considered posing like this myself, I'm sure Chinua would like a mermaid picture of me as a souvenir.

A boat, and an island. And after a full day of travel we found a guesthouse and are settling in for our art/friend retreat. I'm so thankful.

There are many many tourists here in our little cove, and truth be told, I'm not sure that I would recommend this island. The coves are small and when it's crowded there's not much of a way to get away from the crowds.

But it has been beautiful for us. It's all we need-- some space to sit and talk, some food to eat and a little room for dreaming and writing or singing. There's nothing like writing in the morning while Leaf is singing.

This forested, jungly island is so different from the coconut trees I know in Goa.

I take Isaac for walks in the early mornings, since he is a six-o'clock kind of baby. The sun is already hot, since we are on the eastern side of the island. The sand is very white and the jungle comes right down to the beach. There are no coconut trees. It's very different from Goa, with turquoise water.

I find that I am sad. Sadness runs underneath everything like a stream these days. And I'm dealing with more anxiety than I like. The postpartum time is no joke, for me. So I worried a little about coming here with Leaf, not sure if I'd be pleasant to be around.

Detritus.

I'm messy now, and as we talk and talk, my eyes often fill with tears.

But Leaf doesn't mind. We talk about sad things and then we're laughing again and deep down I'm anxious but I know it will pass. How can I express how thankful I am for my friend.

She has had her own sorrows and there are times when her eyes fill with tears too.

But in no time at all, we are laughing again. Laughing and cooing over the little friend.

I love swimming with my baby.

This and that.

When we left the last airplane, we were greeted by a group of Thai airport workers, ready to scrub it down. (We're always the last to leave the plane.) YaYa and I turned to each other, eyes wide with surprise. We forgot that everyone would be Thai. We forgot we were arriving somewhere familiar.

That day was hard, about as hard as I expected. We woke at 3:00 in the morning in Goa and spent the whole day traveling, finally arriving in Bangkok at midnight. It was the kind of itinerary that I look at and shudder. We made it with a lot of goodwill, love , cheeriness, and our senses of humor (including a wee bit of sarcasm). This is the blend that every traveling family needs, an aromatherapy of the will.

I'm thankful to be back in Pai, back in our house, which we've been cleaning and unpacking in.

I'm daunted by preparing for a Christmas without our community.

I'm happy to not be traveling anymore in this pregnancy (other than the three hour trip to Chiang Mai and back, not sure how many times, as I prepare to have my baby there).

I'm happy that the sky is so blue here. Cold sometimes, with cold feet and a cold nose, as the temperature drops to 10 degrees. (Though last night and tonight have been warmer.) Ten degrees is not that cold unless you have no heat and no water heater in the kitchen when you're washing dishes. Thankfully it warms up amazingly in the daytime. I like cool weather.

And I'm so very excited that my parents are coming in the fourth week of January. We have so many good things to look forward to in the months ahead.

Wet air and the welcoming sea.

Crowned with love and compassion.

(As requested, a photo of camera-shy yours truly, still in Varanasi when this was taken.)

We arrived in Goa five days ago and walked into our old, familiar house late at night. Miriam had given a lot of her own time and cleaned our bedrooms so they wouldn't be horribly moldy. There was a sign that said "Welcome Family!" with a frangipani flower from the garden, sheets on the bed. Truly, she's a wonder. I was tired from the night train, a day in Delhi, a flight that was cut in half by a stop in Mumbai. My heart was thumping all over the place, confused by a long, skinny ribbon of feelings.

We hugged and kissed Miriam, then collapsed into bed.

The next day Jaya was here in the morning, which was unexpected. I thought she was getting married, thought she wouldn't be around. But the wedding is off. It was her choice- she found that the man was untrustworthy. She walked over ready to work. It didn't take long for me to say yes.

The sea welcomed us like old friends.

My heart is like a small confused child, not sure whether she is happy or sad, tired or hungry. We slip back in here, almost like we didn't leave. Except now most of our things are gone from this house. The only things that remain will stay with the meditation center when we are gone: the furniture, kitchen things. We have a few toys with us, a few books.

And we have this new Thai class twice a week, over Skype. We are sluggish, far away from hearing all the sounds of Thai spoken in the street every day. But these lessons are signs that our life has changed, though we turn in circles, linking old days with new ones.

"You were born here," I tell Solo.

The garden is wild, needing some hedge clippers to turn it back from a jungle into a garden. I love how quickly trees grow in the tropics, if they can escape fungal disease, that is. The mango has grown another foot. Some of the climbing flowers are dead. The landlord once again mistakenly carted away my precious compost pile. In the next days we'll sit and plant seeds together.

The air is wet, wet. It is so unbelievably humid, and I've come to realize that humidity is sensory overload for me. I've learned to stand it, not to react too much, but it's like soft touch, all the time. It is deceptive. I can't tell whether I'm cold or hot. My body has reacted by getting coming down with sickness right away, and I am resting, now, trying to keep from getting sicker, from letting any kind of bronchial cough invade me again.

I don't want to be sick- we have only six weeks here and so much to do, so many people to see. So many old familiar places to visit. These are the things I can't plan. Maybe rushing in would have been a bad idea. I would have been off on my scooter, in search of the perfect fish curry, rice. Maybe a couple of slow days will be okay, my mind tells me, and if my sinuses would just calm down and stop hurting, my body would agree. (It was nice to lay around and check out election news today (as well as crazy tweets from Donald Trump). Over here in India, we're happy about the results.)

We've seen all the neighbors, spoken with the shop owners, hugged old traveling friends. Today I found my friend somewhere along the road when I was off to buy the palak. We both stopped our motorbikes, got off and hugged, hard. She spoke of going back to her home in Iceland this summer, after three years, how she found that she loved the North again. How the Autumn colors delighted her. Canada, I think. My heart breathes it out. If only I could go for just a few moments, just to feel the air on my skin, air like nowhere else.

Just as my heart breathes India when I am away, breathes Thailand now, looking forward to get back and nest and get ready for this baby. I am all caught up and tied into the air from many different places. I write it down and remember it all, but I can't have it all at once. I am so blessed to have any of it at all.

It has occurred to me, friends, that my life is very weird and very wonderful.

A beloved place.

A cuddle on the train

Indian train

Morning peace in my friend's courtyard

Morning light

Washing dishes 1    

Women in a window

Cycles in Varanasi

Leaf's beautiful courtyard

Leaf's baby plants

And we're here. Been here for a few days, actually, after a bus, an overnight train, a plane, and another overnight train. On the second train, the Indian one, I had what can only be termed as an emotional catastrophe, exacerbated by the fact that about eight men were avidly watching me have it. I was just too tired and I didn't want to be watched. I sat and had tears pouring down my cheeks, trying not to have tears pouring down my cheeks, and I was in a public place, and there was nowhere to go to hide!

It was terrible. There was too much scrutiny, and trying not to melt down only made me melt down all the worse. And then it was quite humorous in the morning when I woke up feeling better. Crying in public places while pregnant is a past time of mine.

The kids and I got chai from the chai wallas (our very favorite part of traveling on Indian trains) and I stood at the open door of the train, feeling the cool breeze and the air and light that I have only ever felt or seen in India. This place is truly like nowhere else.

We arrived at the home of our friends and were welcomed with cinnamon rolls and love. Since then, there has been gardening, singing, eating, talking, and hugging. This place has been such a safe place for us over the years. Walking in, we feel refreshed and inspired. We've had such moments of creativity and blessing here, and now those memories have all soaked in to the smells and the sounds and some inspired door unlocks as soon as we arrive.

I feel very, very blessed.

(Yesterday we even went to an Indian Mela. More pictures soon.)

Onward.

This morning the first words Kid A said to me were (insert drama), "The sun is getting weaker and weaker!"

They don't like cool weather, these kids of mine. I was in bliss, however, because it was the first crisp morning I can remember in many months. With the sun coming up, the air a little fresh, and people bustling all around in their morning routines, it was so beautiful.

And, oh, hello, we're headed to India in three days. Wait, what?

We're leaving for a little less than two months, to visit our friends in Varanasi as well as working with Miriam at the meditation center in Goa for around six weeks. We are very excited, especially YaYa, who insists that India is her true home. The kids all stand differently on that subject, actually. Kid A really likes it here and is very happy, but every so often insists that he wants to move back to the U.S. YaYa says she loves India more than anywhere, and Leafy is very torn, flip-flopping between saying that he loves Pai more, and Arambol more. Solo is blissfully unaware of most reality. He loves everywhere. Everyone is definite on the fact that they can't wait to see Miriam and be back in all our Goa rhythms- preparing the roof space for devotion circles, swimming in the sea.

I like that they hold different opinions and talk them over with each other. It makes me feel as though none of them will be pushovers. Sometimes I feel like they polarize each other too much, and Chinua and I are often telling them that things don't need to be in competition with each other- that there is enough space in our hearts for loving many things. Kid A often insists that YaYa is the artist and he isn't, as though there is no room for both of them. I think part of it is his own true feelings about drawing (never, in his whole life, did he seem to truly enjoy coloring or drawing) and part of it is his desire to put everything neatly into categories.

So. My sciatica has taken a turn for the worse and I am preparing my house for leaving and packing to go. As far as I remember, sciatica was something I had in mid-pregnancy- I don't think it continued into the third trimester. At least that's what I tell myself as I look into the near future and see a lot of travel, on buses, trains, and planes.

I am also very much looking forward to being in India, for two weeks in incredible Varanasi with the dearest of friends, and for Goa and singing on the beach, sitting on the porch with Miriam and Johanna, puttering around helping to get the garden planted. But there is a part of me that hates to leave just now, when the weather is getting cool and things are changing in the air. I take that as evidence that I am truly becoming rooted in this place. It is getting under my skin, like India did before it.

After all these months of looking for the familiar, I am heading back to familiar places, which is wonderful. And when we return to Pai in the middle of December, it too, will be familiar, and that is the best of all.

My thanks, a long walk, and our Canada Day.

Morning. Birdsong all around. Roosters in the distance.

I want to give you thanks from my heart , for hearing me, for receiving my words in whatever way they reach you. I'm putting the hurt I felt from unkind words behind me now. I'll just dump it in a large field and let the cows graze nearby, climb on my scooter and drive away. It's hard, you know, when words are dire for you and your family, letting you know you're messing everything up. You wonder. Am I? You dwell there for a while. And then you snap out of it. I don't live there. I refuse to.

*

Last night I looked up from my saddened shuffle around the kitchen, where I was washing dishes and clearing up after dinner. Some spark had entered my dull brain. Isn't exercise supposed to be good for depression? I thought. I've heard rumors. So I left. I put my running shoes on for the first time in years. Socks felt weird on my normally bare toes. I remembered my iPod at the last minute and walked down our soi, wondering which way to turn.

The music helped. Sometimes a terrible part of social anxiety for me is that disapproving voices loop in my head, an old, broken record. A corrupted file.

I started with Arcade Fire's Funeral, which is what I listened to for weeks in Goa, barreling through the jungle on my scooter. Of course the songs bring me back there, which is both good and bad. Because here's a confession: I'm homesick. And it's to be expected, especially from me. I've never made a move without being homesick, without a strange transition time where my arms and legs don't seem to work properly.

We're so absolutely blown away by how wonderful and right this place feels for us. That's without question. So what's the problem, when I'm driving here or walking along in the dark? Only that it's not Indian enough here. There is some smoky, scarlet colored, ancient quality that is missing. Here will never be there.

I need to get acquainted with here. I walked and walked. Walking at night is so nice in Thailand, with night blooming fragrant flowers and clouds racing across the moon. I realized at one point that I was pretty close to Vieng Nuer, a nearby village, and that I could make a huge loop back to Pai if I just kept walking. On I went, through fields planted with unknown vegetables, waving their leaves at me in the darkness. And on, and on. I remembered the cobra we had seen the day before, out with new friends, and turned the tiny light on my phone on, to better see my feet.

At one point a woman pulled up beside me on her motorbike. "Pai nai?" she asked. Where are you going? I didn't have the Thai words to reply. "Just walking," I said, pumping my arms in a parody of speedwalking, so she would understand I was out for exercise. She patted the back of her bike seat. I thanked her, tried again, pointing at my white running shoes. Would I be wearing these ridiculous shoes if I wasn't trying to walk the funk out of my bent shoulders? I thanked her again. She drove off.

The moon was beautiful with the clouds covering and uncovering it swiftly. It was truly a long way, one of those things that is an impulse but that turns out to be the best thing, as I walked, and walked, and listened to the rhythm of my breath, and walked. Something shifted as I walked. Something I've been thinking about the wrong way. There was a click. I held my head a little higher.

I walked about three miles, got home, kissed my kids, showered, slept like a stone. This morning, when I woke up, I actually felt like getting out of bed. I wanted to see what would happen with the day. It felt good. I think I'm going to be covering more miles, in the days and weeks to come.

*

On Canada Day, we had a beautiful family show up on our doorstep, friends of my dear friend Rebeca. They were in Pai for just a day, and had learned that we live here. They wondered if we wanted a meetup. We did. They're a traveling family, homeschooling as they travel the world.

And then I discovered that Jenn, the mother (and writer) of the family, is Canadian. God literally dropped a Canadian out of the sky for us on Canada Day. It was going to be a good day, we could tell. Their children came striding up, as tall as mountains, as their youngest is ten and oldest is nearly sixteen. Tall people!

Have I mentioned how I adore teenagers? They seem as sweet and radiant as three-year-olds to me. Three-year-olds are entering the world of kids, teenagers are half in and half out of the world of adults, and they shine with it, with their personalities. Hannah and Gabriel were no different, they were some of the loveliest teenagers I've ever met. A little shy, but talkative, generous and well-spoken. Leafy adored Gabriel, the fourteen-year-old. "Whatever car you're going in, that's what I'm going in," he declared. And the other kids were wonderful, too.

After we ate lunch and discovered each other a little, we came up with a plan. First, to pick up Hannah's mandolin so she and Chinua could play music, then the waterfall, then the hotspring pool. We got in their car and our bike and sidecar to head to the waterfall. Chinua's bike overheated on the way. We had to take a few more of the long-legged children to make up for the weight overload in the sidecar.

(Yes! That IS Superman climbing the rocks in his cape.)

The waterfall was beautiful as always, and the kids (except the littlest two) swam in the high rock pool. I didn't climb up- heights are not great for me at any time, and my balance is off now, with my rounding belly. Then we were off to the pool for some swimming, and Chinua gave Hannah a mandolin lesson, which they both loved.

It was simply a beautiful day, filled with conversation and meaning, sharing experience and getting each other right away. I loved hearing from Jenn about her experiences with travel and homeschooling. She and Tony are a gracious, fun-loving couple. It was a treat to spend the day with them.

In the night we set off some firecrackers that Tony bought for Jenn for Canada Day. They turned out to be much more explosive and loud than we were expecting, and the evening culminated in flashing lights as the police arrived. Someone thought a shooting was happening, I guess. The police were lovely and friendly, the one who spoke English cracking jokes. We told him we were studying Thai. "Thai is very easy," he pronounced, deadpan. "Yes, very easy.... for me!" His smile lit his face, and he jumped back in his truck. They all drove away and we headed home as well, done with trouble making for the evening.

*

Things to do when hit with depression: (an on-going list.)

Walk for a long, long time.

Make plans with people and keep them. (This one is hard.)

Listen to music.

 

Oh dear. I seem to have fallen in love with Laos.

And I've barely gone anywhere! We're just here, sitting in the capital, waiting for our Thai visas to be ready. And instead of being ready to go back to Thailand, my heart wants to travel farther into Laos and see what it's really like.

We are low on funds and low on energy for travel (seeing as we have a two day drive ahead of us, just to get back) so we didn't do it this time. We realize there are limits to what we can ask of our children. But one day... For sure.

If Bangkok is the ultra modern teenage version of a South East Asian capital, Vientiane is its old auntie. Beautiful, still caught a little in post-colonialism, with big trees and shady streets. Vientiane is quiet, calm. She's let herself go a little. She's not sleek, but she's lovely. I'm reminded of Panjim, the capital of Goa.

Laos was colonized by the French, so everywhere you look there are French restaurants and baguettes. In fact, I'm willing to believe that the most influential thing the colonialists left behind in various spots in Asia was bread. In Goa, the Portuguese rolls, Pao, that are a staple of Marathi and Goan food now. In Laos, baguettes.

I'm not thinking of baguettes, however, because Laotian food is divine. Why waste time on French food when you can have a mung bean shake or the most divine fried rice you've ever tasted? Or bamboo stalks that taste a lot like asparagus, and the list goes on. And I feel like I've barely scratched the surface. But it's already time to go.

Chinua and the kids even ordered something on the menu called "Ginger Frog." And they ate it. (Even YaYa!) And liked it. I couldn't do it. I'm a long way from my nineteen-year-old cockroach eating self, friends. You can find frog in Pai. Not on most menus, though.

The people here are lovely and soft-hearted. One woman let out a shriek of delight as she saw our kids walking along the street. "Sabaidee!" you hear everywhere. It's a greeting, but I think it more literally means "How's it going?" Poor Solo has just learned Sawadee Krap in Thai... and when people speak to him in the Laos language, he answers them in Thai. Which may be like being called American when you're Canadian. But they love him anyways. It's got to be confusing for the poor guy. He can't tell that we've crossed a border.

Morning musing

Morning. My favorite time of day. The sun peeks over the hill and the air is cool for now. A little breeze, coconut trees waving. I look to see whether any papayas are close to ready. No. They're all still green. The basil in the garden is doing well, springing up. I used origami seed pots for my latest planting, and it worked well at keeping the ants from carrying the seeds away, though when I broke the seed pots open in order to separate the seedlings and plant them, I found a couple of ant nests. Seething, writhing nests of ants with all their eggs. They weren't the biting kind, so that's okay.

I check on the plants. What's blooming? What needs pruning?

I make coffee. This is undoubtedly the morning ritual that gets me out of bed. Little Italian stovetop espresso maker. Cream. Sugar. Strong coffee.

If I had managed to wake up early today I would pound out a thousand words in my novel. But, alas, I kept pressing snooze this morning. I'm showing up at the blog instead. I've needed more sleep, these last few days. I'm not sure why. That time of the month? I'm just going with it.

Soon it will be time for breakfast, school. I'll run to the shop for milk, to the veggie stall for cauliflower and fruit. (Cauliflower for lunch, not breakfast.) I'll say hi to the veggie stall brothers, good morning to the shop owner. We'll ask how the other is doing. Making sure everything is still okay. Since yesterday.

It's election time. That means the shop owner and her niece will be hauling all the alcohol back out from the night before. During election time there is no sale for alcohol after 9:30, and then for a few days there is no sale of alcohol at all. This is because sometimes politicians use alcohol to buy votes. And I believe it's to stave off riots, as well. Get a lot of men together with a big cause, add a bunch of alcohol and watch the whole thing burn. The police are around a lot as well. They seem to be very arbitrary. They shut concerts down, close the night market. I don't even try to understand. Just try to avoid being shaken down for money.

It's hot season, now. The beginnings, anyways. It's also moving time. We go in four weeks. I'm packing again.

Here's a tiny announcement. We're moving to Thailand. We're heading back to Pai, where we were before, with the hopes of having a year round home. Our friend M will continue with the meditation center here, and we'll begin meditation practice in Pai. We can't give Goa up entirely, so our plan is to come back here for January and February. Sing on the beach, join in meditation.

I'm very excited. We need more continuity, less travel. Six months of travel has been entirely too much, and I realize that this season I've been struggling with a low grade depression the entire time. Not more than I can handle, just enough to keep me from things I love. Writing, art.

I'll be learning Thai. We'll all be learning Thai. And there are moments when I feel panicky about leaving India, like how can I do it? India has a way of making me feel that there is no world outside of it, that nothing but India exists anywhere. But of course we're never leaving anything for good. We can't leave things behind. They travel with us. And we'll always come back.

Beautiful moments

Here are some of my favorite moments from the ten days that we were in Varanasi.

Sitting under the mango tree in the early morning. Perfect for writing/dreaming. (It's the best time of day... before it gets hot!)

Chinua playing music on the roof. Is it the guitar? The banjo? I can't tell.

Leaf took me to her favorite places, including this place, which has the incredible name of Gupta's Zarda.

See?

On a date with Leaf. Despite all the madness surrounding the house (mostly madness of my family's making) we stole away and off we went on a cycle rickshaw.

We walked through bright gullies and sat talking and eating. Wonderful.

An early morning walk through the gullies.

And down to the ghats, where I watched people doing the morning bathing in the Ganga.

A cup of chai on the ghats.

Walking down streets lined with vegetable sellers.

On the way back to the house, this little sweetie was always there for a cheek smushing. Her parents are dhobi wallahs (laundry washers).

Chinua and Kid A at the beginning of a mural project.

The YaYa sister, helping Auntie Leaf make a rangoli out of flower petals as a centerpiece for our acoustic night. There were so many moments at the acoustic night, when travelers from around the world were singing together. It was incredible.

Traffic jam. I didn't actually like being IN the traffic jam--it was scorching hot. But the photo is nice.

Chole puri in the courtyard. So delicious. A garbanzo bean masala with fried roti.

I loved all our meals in the courtyard, eating together and then sitting and talking, talking, talking until a cup of tea was needed and then saying, "Oh, look at the time!" and our friends scurrying off to do all necessary things to keep life moving in this Indian city.

Home and in the right place.

Morning and I need goals. Writing goals. Lists of what is the next step with my book, ideas for things to write, lists and lists and dreaming.

I'm so happy to be here, so happy to be back in Goa, in our little house, with all our little things to do. Light bulbs that need to be changed, all the scrubbing of mold, getting ready for the season. Putting the toys back in their boxes, putting the pictures back on the walls. We will paint the table this year, finally. It's made of some cheap plywood, and the top has been getting worse and worse until it really is time to paint it. We'll probably paint the stools, too. Chairs and stools, getting a re haul. It really is time for new cushions on our low couches, but I don't know yet if I want to spring for it. Perhaps.

All our village neighbors are so happy to see us and we are so happy to see them. Everywhere I go people wave and smile and ask when we arrived and if everyone is well. I love this place.

The kids have their bunk beds, their own beds! All four have been sleeping in a king size bed for many months. They lay like puppies. I know it doesn't hurt them, that they will grow up and remember it fondly, ("remember when we all used to sleep in one bed, and we would wake up to find that YaYa was perpendicular to the rest of us again, and that Solo was turned completely around?") but it is so much more peaceful at bedtime when they are all on their own in their little bunks.

Jaya greeted us late at night when we arrived. She had washed the worst of the mold off of our bed and there were sheets. Nothing could be more welcome after that trip. That trip!

Let's just say that my trepidation was warranted. On the first train, for some strange reason, there was no pantry car, and we were on the train for 31 hours! We brought snacks, but we usually eat the train food, since it is difficult to pack for three days of travel (and carry everything else we have been carrying for the last six months). Sometimes the train food is really good, and there are always the guys coming by with "Veg Cutlets!" "Veg Pakoda!" Omelet!" and "Chai, chai, garam chai!"

On this train, there was none of that. I found myself in a mild state of panic and disbelief, as I realized I needed to feed my family over the next day and a half with fried moong dal and Parle G's. We figured out that we could wait for a longer stop (at a station) and hop off to find out what food was for sale at the canteen there. In this way we ate some Paratha (fried roti), some strange samosas, and some interesting omelets. It was a bit scary, getting off the train at a station in the middle of the plains of central India. Especially because I have a bit of a reputation of getting left behind by moving vehicles. On the train to Nepal there was a moment when my back was to the train and I was buying bananas when the man said, "Your train." And I looked behind and there it was, rolling off. So I ran and grabbed the hands of the people at the door and jumped aboard.

I prefer not to do it. It gives my husband a fright. So this time I kept the train firmly in my range of vision while buying greasy foods. Let's add that to the list of things I am blissed out about right now. Eating real food in a stationary house.

We spent a night and a day on the train and then we needed to spend a night in Mumbai before we caught our next train, the next morning. We were very tired and at first I thought we would just find a little corner of the station and lie down to sleep, but that started to seem like torture. So we headed out of the station with some strong porters and looked for a guesthouse. At the first one, they didn't want us. They said they had no rooms, but it was obvious that they looked at us and didn't want us. It was a fancy* hotel, and to give them credit, I'm not sure that I wanted us, just then, tired, dirty and sweaty, with crying kids and all of our luggage and porters. There aren't discrimination laws in India. Yet.

One man who worked at the hotel, a cleaner or something, kindly took it on himself to find us a place. So we waited. And then we walked to a guesthouse and then we sat in the hallway and waited again. It was so hot and so humid that sweat was pouring down us. And it was so late, and I remember thinking, "This is the nightmare I was afraid of. We're in it now, I'm glad. Soon it will be over." Finally, we got rooms and beds and we slept until morning when we went back to the station and got back on the train.

The next train was a normal one, with food and chai wallas coming by all day long. We felt refreshed from sleep and happy with the knowledge that we would be in our very own beds that night. We talked and laughed and the kids got a little wild, and we tried to calm them down. Solo spent a happy hour galloping all the way down the car and back, pretending to be on a "scootermichael." He flirted with a large group of friendly ex naval officers and their wives, mostly from Punjab, who were happily on their way to a reunion in Goa. They gave him biscuits and tried to talk with him, but he was silent. He was only there for flirting and biscuits.

But have I mentioned that my kids are superheroes? You should see them, when we reach a station and they pick up their bags and head off the train, navigating through the crowded station, sticking like leaches to Chinua through masses of people. They are truly amazing.

The train stopped for around two hours just when we were one stop away from our own. This was an exercise in patience, and I'm not sure I passed. I want to say that among the many paradoxes of people in India is the fact that they are impatient and infinitely patient, in one. They are not of the sort of culture that will stand around in long lines, waiting. If there is something to do to get helped sooner, like crowd to the front to be first, that's what will happen. But if there is nothing for it, if we just have to wait, then there is no one more patient. Among all the people on our train car, especially the big group of naval officers and their wives, there was no fretting, no anxiety, no storming about wondering what the problem was. Singing, eating, talking, laughing, listening to music. Knowing the train would get there eventually.

It's just one of the many lessons I think I can learn here.

*What I mean by "fancy" across the street from a railway station in a dodgy part of Mumbai and what you are thinking of when I say "fancy" may be two very different things.