Gardener's paradise.

It was our own form of shopping spree and we were in heaven. 

“It’s gorgeous… I’ll take four,” is a phrase that doesn’t come out of my mouth very often. Nor do I exult in shopping sprees. Except, unless… I am in the Kamthieng Market, a blocks long garden market in Chiang Mai. Basically, shop after shop has the most gorgeous plants and trees and flowers for sale. It is a hippie’s paradise. We could have spent days there, but we limited ourselves to a few hours, roasting in the hot sun, (Leaf and I bought sombreros to keep our heads cool) while Brendan kept the kids in the air conditioning at the Tesco Lotus nearby. He watched as the kids played in the playground and stormed the arcade. We, meanwhile, stormed the garden market, determined to make the garden of our dreams.

“Avocado trees?” 

“Yes, let’s take more of them!” 

“What about these wildflowers?”

"We have to have pomegranates!"

“Let’s get three kinds of mango tree.”

“What are lamyai?” “Oh, they’re small fruit, really good. Let’s get one!” 

The enthusiasm was crazy. I quickly took photos of all the little trees, labeling them in my phone so we wouldn't forget which was which.

We are planting trees at Shekina Garden, and for the first time ever, all of us in our little community got on the curvy, sick-making bus ride to go to Chiang Mai so that we could buy trees together. We piled into the back of a song taew, which took us through the city to the market. Plants. Flowers. Heaven. We bought a lot of fruit trees that will take years to bear fruit. We bought climbers and ten crepe myrtle trees to stretch along the front of the garden, blocking the view of the new resort that is being constructed directly opposite us. (One day—the crepe myrtles are still pretty short.) When we got home I found a nursery in my yard, trees upon trees. We have planted many of them and every Friday, during gardening time, we plant more. Planting trees is always good, always right, and doing it together is a lot of fun. And a lot of work, but what beautiful work. 

Do you know how beautiful you are?

When my friend Leaf pops into my house with her baby, they fill my eyes with beauty. The two of them together are so stunning, such a picture of love and sweetness and the beauty of a mother with a small baby. When I told Leaf this the other day she laughed and said, “I know I used to tell you and Winnie that all the time, but it’s strange how you don’t really feel it when you're in it.”

It’s true. When you are in the midst of mothering that small baby, you feel tired and worn out, sleepless and like your body is permanently curled into a ‘C’ shape from the weight in your arms. From your sleep-deprived, foggy brain, you can’t see just how beautiful you are. And isn’t that the truth about so much of life? At our most difficult moments, we are the most radiant, because something of the true character and nature of God shines out of us, but we can't necessarily feel it. Mothering is such a part of God’s heart, a little piece of the Supreme Nurturer, there on display for us every time we see the look of complete trust a contented baby gives her mother. There it is, a lesson through the most difficult and complicated of God’s creation: people. A beautiful lesson, a lesson like a jewel, because God is no boring lecturer; he teaches us about himself in startling flashes of light.

You are beautiful in the same way when you are at your lowest. When you feel that you might not make it, you shine with something more lovely than any of your effortless moments. Yesterday Chinua talked with our friends, Ian and Christy, for hours, on speakerphone from their hospital room where Ian is getting antibiotics for a mystery fever. I was supposed to be homeschooling, so I was only wandering in and out of the studio, but I kept catching bits and pieces of their conversation. Perhaps they don’t feel beautiful, Ian at times foggy with what he called Chemo Brain, both of them in the dullness and hyperawareness of hospital life. But I don’t know that I’ve ever heard anything as radiant as those two, Ian with his heart full of hope and trust, Christy’s laugh ringing out in the hospital room, or the times she spoke passionately with tears in her voice. 

You are so beautiful. In your honesty, pain, weariness and love. You are beautiful to God, he reaches for you when he sees you walking through the grocery store, mulling over which tomatoes to take and which to leave behind. You are beautiful in your honesty before him, when you reach out for him, and that is all that you are able to do. You are beautiful in your stronger moments, too, but know deep in your heart that God finds you beautiful in your weakness. 


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.


I don't want to forget.

selfie bike.JPG

It isn’t easy, sometimes, with five kids, to have quality sister time. We have lots of quality time, mother time and auntie time, and it’s all so much fun, but it’s nice to do something as the two of us. We were able to go out on my last night in Kelowna. We drove through the orchards and vineyards on Becca’s scooter and the light was all around us, beautiful. Becca had a gift card  for a restaurant that had really good food. We talked and talked, and on the scooter going home the sky was black and we turned a corner and saw a giant orange moon over the trees. We stopped and tried to take pictures, but the moon looked like a tiny dot in our photos. So we’ll have to remember it forever, all the laughing and the wind on us, the sun in the orchards and the sky. 


One day Chinua, the kids, and I piled into our van and drove to the place we got married; a park on a peninsula that juts into a small, bright green lake. It was even more beautiful than I remembered. “We got married under that tree!” I told the kids, and they raced toward it. I’m not sure if it was Leafy or if it was Kenya who called it "the tree of life, because we all came from that moment," but it was apt, and the place was gorgeous, and I felt very blessed with my half grown children and the man of my heart beside me. 


This past weekend, we took two ferries to the Sunshine Coast to visit my brother and sister-in-law in a little cabin they had rented for a month. The Sunshine coast is on the west coast of Canada, but is protected by a string of islands that line the Georgia Strait. It's one of the most beautiful places in the world. To get our energetice children out of the cabin, we drove an hour to a small lake where we set up on the beach, Lara nursing her sweetheart of a newborn (baby niece!) under an umbrella, the kids in and out of the water, jumping off the docks, screaming while they were thrown around by their uncle.

At one point I took an inflatable mat and set off into the lake. I lay on my back and drifted, dragonflies zipping in and out of my range of vision, the tall trees like feathered guards all around the lake. There were some dead trees, too, unearthly bare silver trunks spiking into the blue sky. It was all I wanted from life at that moment, to float on that lake and dream.

 Later we caught a swimming snake and looked at for a while before letting it go. Turtles poked their heads out of the water at us. It was all love, pure love from God. 

Solo finally convinced us that he was really, really serious about wanting to cut his hair, so Chinua pulled out my mom’s ancient clippers (they work really well- oh, they don’t make things the way they used to) and we shaved him bald. I don’t know if you remember how hard Leafy cried after he cut his hair and had dreadlock regret, but Solo hasn’t looked back. Kenya has had plenty of regret for him. When she was crying about it, I asked her, “What will you do when I cut my hair?” “You’ll never cut your hair!” she said. “I won’t cut mine until you cut yours,” I said. She shook her head. “I’d rather cut off my legs.” 


Alrighty then.

Solo looks great, though surprising at first. I miss his hair but love seeing more of his face. He’s kind of awesome. 

After a full day’s drive from the Sunshine Coast we showed up here in Victoria. My parents had reserved us rooms in their timeshare for a few days, which is beautiful, right on the harbor with seaplanes taking off all day. ("Mame!" Isaac says, pointing. "Mame!") My parents had brought food things that they knew we would need, including a bottle of their homemade port, which was sitting on our night table. They made us a simple dinner, including a fruit salad, and then my mom said, “Oh, I brought you coffee, here’s the grinder and the cone filter for the morning.” Did you ever? My heart swelled and was full. Being taken care of! I have a mom and she stocked me up with coffee for the morning. Big sigh of happiness.

My older brother and sister-in-law came yesterday and we went to the beach with them and their two adorable girls and my sister-in-law’s mother. My sister-in-law is Filipino, so I had a nice talk with her mother about life in the Philippines, all the familiar things from Asia; fishing in the sea, coconut groves, rice paddies and life outside in the heat. We compared foods from Thailand and the Philippines, possibly very similar, at least in concept. Rice and fish or pork with vegetables. I got a craving for papaya salad while I was describing it to my sister-in-law. I love Asia. 

I began collecting the white pebbles from the beach. Looking for beautiful rocks is super fun for me, I could probably spend the whole day alone on the beach, looking through piles of pebbles for treasure. My sister-in-law’s mother caught on to what I was doing and joined in, walking over to me and dropping rocks into my hands periodically. Kai and Kenya did too. “This one?” Kai would say. “Nope,” I said. “I’m being picky.”

There have been so many beautiful things. Back in Kelowna, Chinua played a concert in the orchard, just as day shifted to dusk, then dusk into night. The music swelled around us and slipped into my heart, healing just one more little part of me.

Family photos.


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.


No better place.

Photo by Kenya.

Photo by Kenya.

You would think that as someone who named my blog Journey Mama, I would appreciate the journey. Ironic, isn’t it, that I am so impatient, so ready to get to a destination? Not in real life journeys, actually. When I am really traveling and the landscape is streaming by through the train window, I could stay traveling forever, never get there, be on the way and on and on. (The truth of this statement varies depending on the number of children with me, with 0= very true and 5=not true at all.) 

But as a metaphor? I’m all, hurry up and let’s get there. So when we moved to Thailand to begin a meditation community here, I assumed we would sort of seamlessly build on what had already been merrily humming along in Goa. This was not correct. We were beginning again. We were starting a whole new journey and I had no patience for it. 

The same is true right now for my re-entry into a life of painting. How funny that I can spend four years working on a novel but feel impatient when a piece of art takes a long time, or when I don’t have what I feel is enough time to devote to it. It’s because I’ve learned to value the journey in writing. But I’m impatient with art. Hurry up, let’s go, I want to be there already, let’s have something finished. Oh, silly wrong-headed person.

The truth is that life is mostly journey with only a few arrivals. Even in the arrivals we are already looking to the next landing, so we can’t even count on them. What’s the answer? 

The answer is the act of sitting down and writing, the paintbrush moving on the canvas, the trees rushing past the window, ignoring the way my slippery heart writhes and wants something to satiate it, some exciting event to medicate it, protect from the humbling act of living and how boring and sad and mediocre it can feel when you are doing the work. The answer is the knife on the cutting board, the pile of tomatoes gradually growing, the many meditations you hold before you hit your stride. The answer is remaining, not running when it is uncomfortable in the beginning. The answer is not saying “forget it,” or “it’s too hard, let’s try something else.” The answer is remaining, remembering that what God promises is to remain with us. To be with us in all the discomfort of life, in the fact that we are so brainwashed to expect great things and what we usually receive are beautiful, tiny, normal things. Beautiful, tiny, normal kids squabbling when they need to do their chores, beautiful, tiny, normal paintings that need to be started over, beautiful, tiny, normal empty fruit bowls that need to be refilled and you are the one who needs to leave your work and go to the market again.

Remain, because God is here and there is no better place to be. This is holy ground.


Something miraculous is going on over here, and though I am tempted to think we have arrived, I know that we are actually beginning a new journey, one just as tender and brilliant as any other we have been on. Readers, you know that over these last years of being in India and Thailand, I have found a heart friend, my friend Leaf. We have always jokingly dreamed of living close to one another, but in a that’s probably not going to happen kind of way. Then recently, unforeseeable events made it impossible for them to continue with their Jesus Ashram in India and very quickly things went into motion and they made the decision to join us here, and not only them but two other couples as well as a beautiful couple who has been intending to join us this fall. This moving takes time and we’ll all be really together this coming winter, though Leaf and Brendan are arriving tomorrow for some time before they do a bit of traveling.

It is a sudden community and the kind that could make so many things possible so quickly. It is amazing, it is an answer to the deep cries of my impatient soul. I am so very thankful.

Yes. But.

It is also the first step on a new journey, one that takes place in beautiful, tiny, normal moments, moments of love and grief and reconciliation and discomfort, moments when we choose to remain. (God is here and there is no better place to be.)

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. 

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.


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? 


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.


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.


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.


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.


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). generous and loving. 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.



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.