A pic, a memory, and a new blog.

Isaac and Wookie.jpg

* I posted this on Instagram with the caption: These two follow me everywhere. Everywhere! I am an Isaac and Wookie magnet! I'm blessed.

* The list I wrote yesterday, of people who came to Pai this past year, was by no means exhaustive. Other beloved people came and lit our hearts with joy, then went again. And topping that list were my parents. The fact that my parents were able to come and see us in Thailand sent a glow into our entire year, and certainly into the first months of Isaac's life. I miss them and hope they can come again soon. I never stand on my porch without remembering my mom there with her coffee and a book in the morning, or tea in the afternoon.

* I'm announcing a new blog! I had an idea lately, inspired by other, similar blogs, of posting a photo a day for my dear friend who lives in a different country, while she shares a photo with me. I asked my friend what she thought of it, and she responded with excitement!

So here it is: I Wanted To Tell You (A Friendship in Pictures). You know Leaf by now, who lives in India and has a wild and colorful life and who has become dearer to me as the years go on. Well, I'm proud to have been the one who toppled her into blogging. It's a simple little blog, with a couple of images every day and just a few words. We're calling it a love letter to each other. Subscribe and email subscription options should be up tomorrow.

Christmas Day-- Updated

We have beautiful new beginnings around here. On the eve of Christmas Eve, Isaac took his first step, and on Christmas Eve his first tooth shone up at us when he was eating his dinner, making him our earliest walker and latest teether. (Seven months- no teeth, eight months? Still nope. Nine months, ten months, nary a tooth to be found! But at nearly eleven months, one little white spot shines forth like a star.)

The temperature dropped about a week ago, making us all shivery and blue. It doesn't get that cold- the lowest has been about 6 degrees Celsius (43 Fahrenheit) but we have no heat and a very drafty, non airtight house with gaps between the boards--also, an outdoor kitchen-- so we shiver all over the place until the sun comes up at 10:00 and the temperature goes back up. We have headcolds. I had a hot toddy last night and my life was changed.

And Christmas is here. I have not cried, neither do I feel like crying, breaking tradition in a huge way, and I keep wondering why on earth I feel so good. I think I have put my finger on the November-December fast of Chinua and ease of life that living with the back up parent gives, and the relief and love I feel now that he is here. (He arrived on the 20th and we kissed the bus driver who delivered him to us. Not really.)

I feel like all my world shines with a bright light, I am not worried about whether I have done enough this year (I'm sure I haven't) or whether my kids are experiencing the Christmas of my childhood (they're definitely not) or anything at all. There is a fine glow all around, and perhaps it is that I focused on Advent more this year, though not in any craft-oriented way but in an inner constancy, every day waking up a little more excited. Jesus is coming, we get to live it again. And he has come and he is coming and the weary world rejoices. This is my life, to live a life of devotion to the one who shines such a bright light back into my little life, through fasting and feasting, through Christmases when I could barely stop crying from homesickness and anxiety, to ones like this one, where I keep checking my mental state like a watch, wondering why on earth I feel so normal, to live this life and invite others into it, to invite them into meditation and the warmth of God's spirit and the magic of God in a person who lived and lives and will live forever. And though sometimes it is very hard, and my loneliness feels like a tangible person, like a person standing beside me while I'm cooking outside in the dark on a cold night, or when I'm using the wrong Thai words in the market and embarrassing myself, or when I think of Goa with physical longing, it is such a genuine privilege, and I'm finally getting it (is this thirty-three?) that it couldn't matter less whether I do it all right or the same as anyone else, or whether this Christmas resembles all the Christmases before or whether it is only itself, a day like no other. We are here, we are loved, the wide blue sky is radiant with the generosity of God's spirit, the kids are happy, they're going to be fine, the presents are great, the food will nourish us, we'll keep trying to love each other, we could do it all better, and we're going to have all the days ahead to try.

And now I will go play Monopoly with my family, even though Chinua claimed the iron piece just minutes before I could.

Have the very best, most restful, joyful Christmas you can, beloved ones.

Update: I spoke too soon. There were tears, at the very end of the day, as I stood watching a fast-moving river with Isaac in the baby carrier and a frantic, not well-handled get-out-the-door-now exodus to a Christmas party behind me.

But really, it's probably good, because although we had a peaceful Christmas, it's good to know that I'm still Rachel after all. I might not even be me without the annual Christmas cry.

Also, a lot of my new, shiny! Easy-going nature! might be put down to the fact that Chinua and I were home by ourselves with the kids all day. The word "social" is in "social anxiety" for a reason, you know! But I'm still claiming it as a triumph! And everything else in the post still stands. Love to you all.

The second Journey Mama book is nearly ready for launch

Launch day for Oceans Bright with Stars is this week! It will be available on November 5th in digital format at all venues, and I hope to have the paperback ready at that time as well.

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Here's the blurb:

In her Journey Mama Writings, Rachel Devenish Ford uses radical honesty to illuminate the beautiful, funny parts of life that are so often forgotten or missed.
Picking up where Trees Tall as Mountains left off, Oceans Bright With Stars is a true journal about one family’s gutsy, wild decision to move across the world and make their life in a village in India, navigating water problems and power cuts, beating back the jungle and embracing a new culture. In the first months, Rachel is blindsided with what it truly means to leave everything behind, experiencing panic and a strong sense of dislocation, but as she seeks to trust God and searches for beauty in her new home, she finds it in unexpected places. From the ocean to the mountains, Rachel records her family’s encounters with insects and snakes, holy cows and yaks as they grow and flourish in an unlikely environment.
The Journey Mama Writings series is about overcoming difficult circumstances to reap the joy of belonging. This collection of posts from Rachel’s blog is a hilarious and evocative account of learning to love a new country, and with it, a new way of life. 

 

When I first started putting these books together and found that in all my rambling, there was an actual storyline that was developing, I was surprised and happy. (It's interesting to see the shape of things later on... the story that God is building in your life.) This book might be my favorite of the three because learning to love India again was one of the best things that has ever happened to me.

If you know me, and I think you do, you may know that photos of me are not my favorite thing in the world, hence the fact that I don't put many up here. And then I agreed to have three books with sorta kinda photos of me on the cover. (!) But I agree with my Superstar Husband that it's a good thing for a memoir, like a handshake or an invitation to come on in. And it works well graphically. We must think with our business minds sometimes, friends.  

But oh, I love the covers he's doing for this series. And I love the little friend I have on this cover. Can you spot him? 

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.

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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.

Still true.

Happy Easter, lovelies.

Today I thought I'd pull from the archives and repost what I wrote about two years ago at this time.

*

How was your Easter?

Ours was... quiet. And glad. And sweet.

We got up and made pancakes with the couple who lives here in the house with us. We talked about the Resurrection with the kids. There was chocolate involved. And the tiniest of hunts, out in the garden.

We went on a walk, up to a nearby hillside where we could see much of the lake. It was hazy. Everything was soft and lovely. One boat sat in a still circle of blue.

I thought a lot about a meditation I guided in January. It was of Mary Magdalene at the tomb of Jesus. We dove in. It was an imagination meditation, so I encouraged the people in the circle to use all their senses, to find the scrubby bushes beside, to stand in the dust she was standing in. To feel her despair. He may have been the first person ever to see value in her, to love her. She was left unloved, without him. She had been out of her mind, before. A used-up, broken woman who talked to herself in the streets. You know the type, you've seen them. He healed her. She traveled with his followers. She stayed with Him to the end.

And she went to the tomb to prepare the body, but then her heart went crazy! He was gone. This was the absolute end of her. She only wanted to care for the broken, empty body. And it was gone.

There was a lot of running. Running to find the men, the disciples, running back to the tomb. (Cool air of the morning, sun rising in the hills.) The men saw that she was right, ran off again.

And from Mary, weeping. Despair. Anguish and the worst kind of loneliness.

I want to truly find that moment, capture it, live it, when he identified her and she knew him. After she mistook him for the gardener, all he said was her name, "Mary." And she knew him.

"Rabboni!"

Anguish to beauty. She would never be unloved again.

Although I'm sure she always had to remind herself of that. And that is what I am doing this morning in meditation. The garden, the cool of the morning. The dust under her feet, the rocks sticking out of the earth. The earth under her knees, her despair, and then Him. His face. His radiance.

In my life on this earth I have been asked so many times, why I follow Jesus. Merely stating that I do is enough reason for people to tell me why I shouldn't. They tell me of the travesties that have been done by Christians, they tell me of historical inaccuracy, of relativism, of how mistaken I am. I have loads (heaps!) of thoughts about all these things. I can talk, I can discuss, and I do.

But there is only one real reason that I follow Jesus. It is because of him. Because of his radiance, his gentle beauty, the sweetness of His WHOLE Being. My Guru, my Master. "Rabboni!" Mary said. This moment is overlooked sometimes, but is one of the most important of his whole life on earth. No other god, no other teacher compares.

Because in his most triumphant moment, finally justified as the One who could destroy death, the first thing he did was comfort a girl, a broken ex-prostitute who nobody cared about. It was the first thing he did.

I had no idea what I was going to write about this morning. But there it is.

My parents in Thailand.

My mom left on Monday. She flew first to Seoul, where she had a twelve hour layover, yuck. If Leafy had his way, she wouldn't have gone at all.

"I hope you miss your plane," he told her very seriously.

It was a beautiful visit, so crazy and full of emotion and outside of the ordinary of our lives, both for them and for us.

Dad with the birds

My dad could only stay for a week because of work, which he could barely get away from. After two and a half years, a week seemed much too short.

But we squeezed as much quality time into a week as possible. We went back to the Chiang Mai Night Safari- this was while I was still pregnant. And of course we went back to feed the birds. The first time we went to feed the birds, with the kids, they were very satisfied. They'd been eating sunflower seeds all. day. long. They were all, more sunflower seeds? NO thanks. And eventually they warmed up to us and started licking our cheeks and playing with our dreadlocks. But when we took my parents, they hadn't had any visitors, it seemed, and they were wild ravenous feral birds. They attacked us. It was way more Alfred Hitchcock than we were comfortable with.

At the Night Safari

So we continued on and looked at more animals.

I went into labor after walking with my parents through a wood-carving village, the very sort of place I remember spending time with them in many times, over my life. Antique shops, thrift shops, artsy places. They love it. And we can all look and look without having to spend.

Isaac with his grandpa, only a few hours old

Then Chinua and I left them with our kids for forty-eight hours while I had a fun little jaunt in labor land. In the end I scored an absolutely lovely baby, so I don't hold a grudge over missing forty-eight hours of my dad's week. 

Dad and Isaac.

Can I say how impressed I am with my parents? They came to stay with us in a house that isn't ours and just fit right in, cooking in a kitchen they weren't familiar with, in a country they weren't familiar with, taking care of four children. My dad took the motorbike out, for the first time, to get groceries in a busy city.

Out for a quick drive with my  mom.

My mom then spent another three weeks with us in Pai. It started with a wild taxi ride from Chiang Mai, in which we didn't have enough space, and you know there are 762 curves or something like that. We were mostly at home, since I was obviously in rest and recover mode, but I managed to take her for a couple drives.

Last night we sent off a lantern for Isaac. A prayer of thanks.

And we sent a lantern off, as a prayer of thanks for Isaac. It was the biggest and best we've sent so far. I so love this picture.

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My mom sat on our porch, which is beautiful though I never seem to find time to sit there, and she held Isaac whenever she could, and she talked nicely to him and cooed at him. She even got some coos back. The boy has smiled occasionally since he was two weeks old, and I'm so glad she got to see his first smiles.

My mom like a light.

In the afternoon she made us a cup of rooibos and we sat on the porch for a while longer. If it was too hot, we sat inside, under the fan. We talked and looked at Isaac.

The feeling of a newborn against your shoulder is like nothing on this earth. # grandma

These were peaceful days, full of grace for each other. Mom fit into our lives here so easily, it almost seemed as if she couldn't go. But she had to, though we are already talking about when she can come back.

*

I wrote a post at the Shekina Blog, part of a short series on Beautiful Community.

And in all the Isaac-related bliss and chaos, I forgot to mention a thank you to the Canadian Weblog Awards. I placed third in the expat category, with Finding Me in France in first place and Planting Dandelions in second place. Lovely company, I'm honored!

Here he is, the most amazing baby ever.

Wow, that was intense. And I'll write the whole story out for you soon, but for now, here is our son, Isaac Ayotunde Ford. He was born on January 27, at 2:37 in the afternoon, and he's 3.95 kilos, or 8 lbs 10 oz.

(Real name! I'll be bringing the names of the other kids out soon, so I figure I'll just let you know right from the start.)

Isaac means laughter, and Ayotunde means Joy has Returned. I think we'll call him Iz or Izzy for short.

It took 48 hours, it's true. It was a record breaker for my doctor-- she said she's never had it happen before. She told me all the women she's had as patients make the decision to get a c-section far before their labor gets to that point. But I'm stubborn. And she was willing to go along with that stubbornness. And there were a few moments of doubt, but we got through. Chinua is such an amazing birth companion and he told me again and again that he knew I could do it.

Ahh, the smell of him! The first two hours with my baby are the sweetest in the world. We looked at each other and discovered each other.

Then, a few hours later there was a little drama with a whole lot of bleeding. Apparently my uterus was very tired after 48 hours and couldn't shut the bleeding down. There were a lot of nurses and some painful interventions and I cried and shook and panicked as I felt blood gushing out of me, but now I'm okay.

I am anemic. Time to get on those green smoothies.

Of course we all try to figure out who he looks like. He looks like Leafy, but then there's some Kid A in there, and some YaYa, and something all his own. I can't believe we have another beautiful child.

I'm getting sprung today. My camera ran out of batteries, and in my plan to get to Chiang Mai, have the baby quickly and get right back home to Pai, I didn't bring the charger, so these are all mobile photos I took from Chinua's facebook account. But home is in sight! Today I leave the hospital, and within the next couple of days we'll head back to Pai, and I'll charge my camera and take a mountain of photos, and there will be milky snuggles. The kids are smitten, I'm smitten, Chinua is smitten, and my parents are smitten. (They're here!)

One complaint. I'm in a country that has some of the best fiber filled foods in the world. You can't walk down the street without finding green papaya salad or cut up fruit on ice! So why is the hospital feeding me bread, pasta, and meat? A word to the wise, hospitals: If you want your postnatal women to be able to poo, you have to feed them fruit! Or fresh vegetables. That is all.

Long time friend.

Leaf at the waterfall.

This wonderful girl dropped into my life for four blissful days last week. I was sicker than I wanted to be, and it didn't seem fair at all, since we don't get to spend time together more than a few times a year. (Which is a lot with best friends, these days, and I don't take it for granted.)

She was excellent medicine. I slowly got better, feeling almost normal on the day before she left. So we packed a tiffin lunch with Som Tam (spicy papaya salad) and sticky rice, and drove to the waterfall. We bought two drinking coconuts and sat near the loud spray, talking over it, talking and talking.

We packed a lunch.

I have been lonely, and listening to lies a bit, and I feel revived by friendship and laughing. By someone who knows me already, who has accepted me. Who sits on my kitchen floor, drinking hot ginger and lemon into the night.

It's what friends do for each other. We tell each other stories of one another and lift each other up.

I saw the way you handled that. You're so graceful in difficulty. Your sense of humor is the best. You're lovely and lovable.

And from the outside, there it is. Another soul who understands, who speaks love and truth and kindness into existence until we can begin again and be our best selves.

Catching Up.

Lotus

I'm sick, sitting in bed with a mound of scrunched up pieces of toilet paper beside me, a little dizzy from sleep deprivation due to the sick kids in and out of my room all night. There is a tiny angry man pounding on the inside of my left sinus cavity, the one behind my cheekbone. Perhaps it is a good time to write a little about what we've been up to in the last week.

YaYa in the restaurant.

On the weekend we took a little trip to Chiang Mai for computer repair, dental work and brie. Well, no, we didn't take a three hour sick-making bus ride for brie, but it was handy that it was there because my Superstar Husband and I happened upon the eleventh anniversary of our wedding day. We're in those lovely mid decades, not newlyweds by any stretch. We know each other well, we're still learning about each other, and we're in a season of life I never could have predicted, living in Thailand, married for eleven years with a ten-year-old, a few other kids, and a pregnancy that is halfway through. I think my twenty-one-year-old self would have been a little afraid, had she known the future, but as it turns out, this isn't scary at all. ( Well, maybe a little.) I can say now that Chinua has been a husband who has exceeded all of my expectations. He's ridiculously wonderful. On our anniversary, we didn't have a babysitter, so we had an after-the-kid's-bedtime picnic date, cross-legged on the guesthouse bed with the kids sleeping in the next room, warm brie and crackers, a few tiny sips of red wine for me. It was perfect.

Very relaxed cat in a market in Chiang Mai

In Chiang Mai I was already run down. I had expected a day out with some of our new friends but I ended up staying at the guesthouse by myself. It was wonderful rest, I slept for hours and then woke up and read a whole book. By the time I was finished with the book, though, I was ready to not be alone anymore. It was an emotional book, and that thing happened, that sometimes happens to me, where I felt like I was the girl in the book, with all her sorrow and tragedy and failure at being a parent. Some tears happened, but then Chinua called and wondered if I felt up to going to a family's house for dinner. I did!

What people here eat for breakfast.

I hopped in a tuk tuk and guided the driver with my broken Thai. Speaking broken Thai is such a milestone in my whole language learning journey, after arriving knowing nothing except a few numbers and Hello and Thank you. I vacillate, in this journey, between feeling elated that I can brokenly communicate, and feeling like I'll never, not ever, get it right. In what order do the words go, again? It is not like English, French, Spanish, or Hindi. It's not like any language I've ever had a rudimentary grasp at. (Don't get the wrong idea- I'm not fluent in anything but English, but I understand the grammar of French and Spanish and a little bit of Hindi grammar.) In Thai, I feel like words are repeated several times in a sentence and I don't know why.

 

Just keep studying.

Cycle rickshaws and pigeons

Anyhow, we had a nice dinner (or a lovely supper, as I might say if I was in Canada) with the family we recently met. They were sweet and made us pizza, and after it all, when we were ready to go, they drove us out to a good spot to catch a songtao- a type of Thai taxi which is a truck with benches in the back- to the city. (The family lives in a nearby suburb.) After we were dropped off we stood on the side of the highway for a while, a little worried with one feverish, sleepy boy (Solo was just starting to get sick) and waiting for the yellow songtao to come by, like it should, every fifteen minutes. There were a couple of angry barking dogs who were near us, protecting their property, and I wanted to get some children's ibuprofen into Solo, but no songtao came. A couple of ladies kept poking wandering out of their house and having a look at us, until one lady approached. "Pai nai?" she asked. Where are you going?

I whipped out my broken Thai and told her we were waiting for the yellow songtao to take us to Chiang Mai. "Mai mi!" she said. It's not there. It was a holiday, apparently. And that's when she told us her sister would take us to the city in her car. I protested, she insisted, I protested (not very hard, just to be polite) she insisted.

Her sister, a perfect stranger, drove us all the way to the city, and wouldn't take any money from us. It was one of those moments when I wonder what country we've come to. How is it that people are so kind?

So the weekend went on and there were dentist appointments and a computer appointment and I ended up coming back to Pai with Kid A and Solo, a day earlier than the rest of the family. When I got to the bus station, the last van had just left for Pai, so they set up a special van for us. It was only the three of us, with one other lady. Another act of grace for us. The driver was lovely and careful on all the curves into the mountains, so I didn't get car sick like I have been on that drive ever since I've been pregnant.

Mor Paeng waterfall with the boys

We got home late, and the next day Chinua ended up being a lot later than he thought he'd be. I had the boys who were both moping a bit because being split up from the rest of the family, (tears! And it was only one day!) so we took a drive to the waterfall. I thought we could look around and walk and let the waterfall breathe on us, but as soon as we got there, Solo waded in.

Mor Paeng waterfall with the boys

I was kind of hoping not to get him wet, but it was too late. Ahhh.

Mor Paeng waterfall with the boys

We stayed for a while, until I felt that we should really get back and get Solo dry. But the drive out to the waterfall, and the drive back as well, was filled with such grace and beauty that I felt like I would float off the motorbike. It was the fresh (not humid for once) air and the sun on my back. Feeling the sun on your back is so different from merely being hot. The smell of the trees and the grasses and the road, warm in the sun... everything felt summery and light. We're coming to the end of the rainy season, after a couple of months of mostly clouds, the sun is so welcome. There were fluffy clouds and I had two sons that I love on the bike with me and it was amazing.

View on the way to Mor Paeng Waterfall, Pai, Thailand

It was a high moment.

Since then I've been doing one thing at a time, trying to do things like cleaning and writing in short chunks, saving energy, sneezing and coughing. Everything is a blessing, I'm reminded that I am beloved, and even silly colds and coughs and sinus infections only remind me of our usual good health.

Let's just hope that everyone sleeps all the way through the night tonight. That would be nice, considering that everyone is over four years old. I'm not always as sarcastic as I sound there, I actually prefer having feverish little ones in bed with me because I worry about them and have to keep getting up to check them anyways. But the middle of the night restlessness from the ten-year-old and the eight-year-old? Wha???

My mother....

...reads my blog and comments. Always with love.

...supports me even though I live far away, which is hard for her (and for me).

...is generous and loving.

...is a wonderful grandma. The other day, Leafy found a frangipani flower. It was a large white one, very fragrant, and it captivated him.

"This reminds me of Grandma and Grandpa," he said.

"Yeah, because there are flowers near Grandma and Grandpa's house!" YaYa said.

"No, not of their house. It reminds me of Grandma and Grandpa. Because it's so nice."

They are very high on the list of favorite flowers for me, and I thought it was so special that it brought him back to them. But I digress.

...tells me kind and loving things constantly.

...has always loved me, even when I was a teenager who had difficulty controlling my emotions.

I love you, Mom. Thanks for being you.

 

Bliss

I am on my way out the door for an adventure with a dear, dear friend.

Can you believe it? We get three full days of friendship and art, thinking and speaking, in beautiful Kerala.

I've never been to Kerala. I've never had this kind of time with Leaf.

I love India, I love travel, and I love the rare traveling without kids. I love friendship and art and eating new things.

I am very, very excited.

If I can get the wifi and get my iPad Squarespace app to work, I'd love to bring you along. Let's keep our fingers crossed.

The giant garden post.

I have finally gone through the hard drives and found the necessary photos for the big garden post.

This is what our house looked like on the day we moved in.

This is jumping forward a bit, to the second year we were in the house. This is looking out at the yard from the porch. I can tell it's the second year by the length of Leafy's dreadlocks and the small fence in the front of the yard. When we moved in there were no fences, but gradually, every year when we returned there were more fences, until the seven food stone and concrete fence that keeps us in now.

It started to feel ridiculous to have a fenced in piece of dirt, especially at a meditation center. Back when it was just a piece of the village it was one thing, but now that it was our "yard," well. Well.

 

So last year I came up with a big garden plan. It included grass. That meant that all the top soil needed to be removed and new soil put in. I drew a plan for a path and some spirals around coconut trees.

These lovely ladies from Karnataka worked on sifting the new soil and mixing it to fill it in. In their off time (a lot of off time, work in India requires a supervisor to encourage everyone to keep working, and I'm not so good at that) they played with YaYa's hair. She would run in and have her hair all up or braided.

They also helped her find tiny shells for her collection.

And this year, when we returned, we found this bit of loveliness.

This is looking out from the front porch. I love this little corner. And unwanted fences are certainly better with climbing flowers on them.

Don't let me forget about the beauty of brown stone and climbers.

Those palms are some of the greenest and easiest things to grow. The bougainvillea, also. Oh I love that color. I want a scarf in exactly that color.

The last plumeria flower until the next time it blooms. I need to get some cow urine to fight the fungus that wants to take this plant over.

No matter where I live, I want growing things around me. Here we fight fungus and ants as well as strange moths that burrow into the ground. (If fighting means occasionally putting neem onto the grass and sighing as I pull away at the grass they've eaten. I've given in a bit. Other than putting DEADLY CHEMICALS into the ground, it seems that my only option is to try a few natural things and then live with them. Jungle garden.)

 

And there's this guy. He likes to run into the spray of the hose while I'm watering. He's a general pest. An adorable one.

In the vegetable garden, the Bok Choy was really easy to grow. A lot of my vegetables disappeared when the ants carried the seeds away. But we got a lovely giant community salad out of it.

I will rewrite the parable of the seeds and include "some seeds fell in the jungle, and ants carried them away..."

I love that I'm making mistakes and learning. Plants are such beautiful object for meditation. The garden of the soul. It heals me, sitting and working with plants that are eaten or need water or trimming. All these lovely things that need a little help, some care and hydration and guidance.

Every. Single. Day. Just like me.

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!

Time travel

You'll never guess what I did last night.

I got on a water taxi, transferred to a Skytrain, got off and walked a few blocks to a gigantic, air-conditioned mall. Then I rode to the seventh floor and bought a ticket to see Harry Potter 7.2 (which was great).

I sat through the hour of trailers and commercials (maybe I exaggerate, but REALLY. There were SO many... they just went on... and on...) and watched a movie in sharp clarity, in a comfortable chair, ALL by MYSELF.

I'm in Bangkok. It's a city. A really big city, a really big modern city. It's amazing. It's astounding. We've shifted worlds again. Everyone has a smartphone. People text on the skytrain. It's so weird.

I can't tell you. Just a few days ago, we were here:

And now we are here:

But I didn't get a picture of the skyscrapers.

Sometimes world travel is like time travel.

I'm going to be working on putting together some highlights of my "Week in the Life," last week. Stay tuned.

We are cringing a little, on our Indian budget, at Bangkok prices. But while there isn't much we can do about guest house room prices, we CAN eat noodle soup and papaya salad on the street, and take the water taxi (only 15 baht, or 50 cents) which is a river boat. (Way better than traveling through the smoggy city by tuktuk or taxi anyways.)

And there is the skytrain, also cheap, and up in the air! My Superstar Husband is much better, by the way. That was a rough one- three days of fever, while traveling.

Anyways, we are saving money where we can. And it's fun, because trying new street food is amazing, especially because it's mostly safe here. (Though sometimes weird and seafoody or entraily- we avoid the entrails.)

*

Book News

Rebeca posted a wonderful review of The Eve Tree on her blog.

And Suse has another lovely review of The Eve Tree up at her blog, with a giveaway!

Thank you both!

 

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.)

There are so many good things, who can count them?

This morning I am sitting with my coffee and feeling very blessed. It's a beautiful, clear morning. I can see the details on the trees across the lake, and the water is still, reflecting the hills and sky.

God has always taken care of us, through storms and bumps and in the sweet, smooth places. Chinua and I have had dark tunnels, but God was with us and beside us and ushered us into wide fields. I feel astounded by the knowledge of this. Like a sudden gust of wind in my face, it overwhelms me today. How He has kept me, kept me.

As we've spent more time in this house, we realize we really love it here. Love it. We have privacy in our rooms, and friendship in the kitchen. The Nepali manager of the house is always friendly and cheerful, and our New Yorker roommates are wonderful. Sweet and fun and easy to be with. We always end up chopping vegetables together in the kitchen. Sometimes we eat together. Sometimes we make our own food, and then we do the pots and pans dance around each other.

But I am prepared for this. I have been prepared, because I have done this before, in many houses, in many places. This is familiar. We are in Nepal, but on familiar ground, sharing a kitchen, doing things in the simplest way we can. I come up at 4:30 so I have plenty of time to cook dinner without getting myself stuck in the kitchen Rush Hour.

We've even had constant power for a couple of days, for Nepali New Year. The government has a schedule going on, and I guess they allotted twenty hours of power a day for New Year. It feels incredible, like something magical. But I've confirmed what I suspected. It is much easier to go without electricity than without water. Here, especially. We use big jugs of purified water rather than an electric filter like we have in Goa. It's not hot and humid here, so we don't need the fans. And we don't have a refrigerator. The hot water is solar powered. (Which has its own issues on a cloudy day, but that's another story.)

As for the fridge thing, it is working out beautifully. We buy enough milk for the day, right across the street. And it's cool enough that vegetables keep for a couple days, and dinner leftovers keep until next day's lunch. It's definitely keeping us simple.

We have a beautiful bakery (called "Hungry Feel Bakery and Juice Style") just four or five doors down, where we can get the most beautiful fresh bread. I've explored and explored and I think I've found a great vegetable place, a bit of a hike away. Chinua has made a lot of friends and is hanging out and playing music every night at a nearby café. And the lake!

But here. Here are some pictures for you. I need to get out with my camera more, trek into surrounding villages, take more photos of the town. I've been really focusing on school with the kids. It's nice to have all the focus time.

This is the view out of our doors on the back steps.

And this is looking in the other direction.

 

A little bit of candid YaYa motion. This is the room that the kids sleep in. We also use it as a everyone hang out room... school room, etc. We really need a table. I'm hoping to find a low one, so we can sit on the floor around it, and we won't need any chairs.

 

And this is Chinua and my room. We're cozy in a tiny bed that barely fits us. You should see us when Solo comes to squeeze between us in the mornings, usually between 5:30 and 6:00 because of our lovely giant windows that let in SO much light. We've been waking up a lot earlier here. The kids don't have curtains.

And here's a photo that I took on a walk along the lake the other afternoon, after heavy rains.

Truly beautiful.

Week of Beauty: The YaYa Sister

 

She is, undoubtedly, one of the most beautiful creatures I have ever seen.

When I asked her what kind of things she thought were beautiful, she said, "THE WORLD!" When I asked her to be more specific, she said, "Everything! The plants, the sky, the trees. Everytime I look outside, it is just so BEAUTIFUL!" Deep dramatic sigh; arms flung open.

She is so loving. She never stops making things. I cannot believe the gift she is to my life.

 

The other day we were cuddling and she was being all mushy (that's what I grew up calling a lovey, sentimental moment) and I told her I was so glad I had her, and she told me I was beautiful, and I told her she was beautiful, and she said, "Oh! I'm so glad I came out of your body!"

And I was immediately taken back to that moment, almost seven years ago, when she was born, my little slippery perfect girl, and how at that moment I could never have known just how incredible she would really be. That she would be someone we are all glad to see, every single time. That she would make up songs, and cuddle hurt people, and have a will of steel, and be sassy sometimes, and then say sorry, and make boats out of leaves and mud, and make turtle sand sculptures, and draw stories, and dance.

I just had no idea.

 

Singing While Planting

When we were in Hampi, I filmed the tiniest of segments of some women transplanting rice in a paddy. I stopped only for a moment; we were looking for a guesthouse, friends were waiting. I thought surely I'd see them again, but they didn't transplant again while we were there.

Later, after a little research, I found that it is a practise that is fading away, that in Karnataka they always used to sing, but fewer and fewer people do.

I'm really glad I got this snippet:

 

 

Some words that I found online (I don't know if they are to this song, but just to give a general idea) went like this:

“Fly, fly away crane” “What shall I do if I don't fly away?” “O crane wear my bangles” “What shall I do if I don't wear bangles…"

Just the perfect inspiration for my day (and yours!)

Here's something I'm happy to pass along.

 

 

A beautiful video made by the guys of Aradhna ~ filmed in lovely Varanasi, at the home of true friends, as well as spots around the city. Ahhhhh. Here is the translation for the song:

MUKTESHWAR by Aradhna. Verse lyrics by the late Anand Kumar.

Blessed are the merciful for they will be shown mercy
Praise the name of the God of Liberation!
Sing my soul, Sing my soul
Those who are poor in this world
Blessed are they, blessed are they
For the kingdom of heaven is theirs
Blessed are they, blessed are they

Praise the name of God of Salvation!
Sing my soul, Sing my soul

They who mourn in this world, will have peace
The meek in this world, will rule

Blessed are the merciful for they will be shown mercy
Those whose hearts are pure in this world will see God
Those who make peace will be called the children of God

Praise, Praise, Praise, Praise

Our Father, who is in Heaven
Holy is your name
Your kingdom come your will be done on earth as it is in heaven

Praise the name of Mukteshwar Ji
Praise the name of Yeshu Ji
Sing my soul, Sing my soul