"You should write about that." On quirky children and rocket activity.

 Going to Space: The Manically excited phase.

Going to Space: The Manically excited phase.

Often, when something interesting or funny or cute happens, someone will turn to me and say, “You should write that down.” 

Here are the times recently that someone has said that:

***

I drove home from the garden after community lunch, in the chariot, piled with the blender and food I brought to cook the lunch, early that morning. I had arrived at the garden at 10:00 in the morning, after shopping in the market for all the food I need to cook food for forty or so people. 4 kg of black beans. Seven onions. A bag of mangos, a bag of tomatoes, cilantro, a bag of rice, peppers and garlic and some chocolate for the journey. After it was all over and on its way to being cleaned, I left at around 5:30, with Isaac in the chariot beside me. His friend-from-birth, Jazzy, jumped in the chariot as well, and Isaac (who had been melting down after a long day) was so excited about this that I asked Jazzy’s dad Josh if he could swing by and pick Jazzy up from my house when he was done at the garden. Absolutely.

So I drove up the hill with my basket of boys. One of my favorite things in these last five years has been driving around in the chariot with a basket of kids, and though it has grown too heavy to do it with all my (very large) children, it is still just as much a pleasure to drive around with a basket filled with kitchen things and two little boys. 

They chatted away, and I caught a snippet of the story Jazzy was telling Isaac: 

“And a sock can eat it, the whole thing!”

“A sock?” Isaac asked, completely puzzled.

“Not a sock like you put on your foot,” explained Australian Jazzy. “A sark, that swims in the ocean.” He has trouble saying his ‘sh’ sounds. Together, the two of them have quite the speech variations.

Oh, the adorable conversations that have occurred in my basket of kids.

***

Last night we ate fried rice, which I promise was the best fried rice I’ve ever made. It was so good that when I felt snacky later in the evening, I ate another bowl of rice. It was that good. It was so good. I made sure the children understood what good rice they were eating by exclaiming, “This is so good! I can’t believe how good this is!” several times while we were eating. 

“It is good!” Kenya said, humoring me. The boys just blinked at me.

We talked about memories, and I asked if they remembered camping in Turkey. Kai and Kenya had some memories of it. Isaac asked, “Have I been to Turkey?” 

“No,” I said. 

“I’ve been to Thailand,” he said.

“You’re in Thailand,” we told him.

“I want to go to Thailand!” he said.

 “But you’re in Thailand! Our town is in Thailand!” 

And then he cried. So I pulled up Google Earth to try to get him to understand where we were, and how we can be in Thailand but still not be able to see all of Thailand, and that only made it worse. He sobbed and sobbed because he wanted to go to Thailand.

“You don’t understand what I’m talking about!” he wailed. “You don’t understand what I want!” He was inconsolable and we were completely confused. He was thankfully distracted when we discovered this amazing picture of Leafy and Solo waving at the Google car:

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***

While I did something or other in the kitchen (outdoors, remember) the other day, I could see and hear the three younger boys playing. Isaac ran over to me, clearly vibrating with excitement. 

“We’re going to Space!” he said.

What Leafy and Solo did was this: They set a wooden stool on the porch with a shorter bamboo stool in front of it, as though it was a chair and a desk. They put a broken electronic game and a toy walkie-talkie on the taller stool. Then they propped several large sheets of corrugated plastic around the two stools. Over this structure, they draped two Indian print bedsheets and a couple of fuzzy blankets. They told Isaac he needed to be the first one to go to Space. He put his helmet on, got inside, and prepared himself to go to Space.

“Can’t Solo go first?” he asked, sounding panicky. 

“No, it has to be you,” Leafy said, quickly pulling up rocket sounds on YouTube. 

“I’m scared!” Isaac said. 

“Don’t be scared, you’ll be fine,” Solo said. They counted down.

“T minus5… 4… 3… 2… 1… Blastoff!” And Leafy put the rocket sounds on the iPad close to the “rocket” so Isaac could hear them. 

And Isaac burst into tears. Loud, panicky tears. Shrieks, really. Because he thought he was going to Space. He thought he was in Space! 

You guys. He thought he was in Space. He had that much faith in Leafy and Solo’s rocket-making abilities. I went and pulled him out. He was all sweaty after being in a blanket tent in our tropical weather. I kissed him and he cried. 

“Was that scary?” I asked. 

“Yes!” he said. 

“It was pretend,” I said. 

He stared at me for a minute, then hopped off of my lap. “Leafy! Solo! It was pretend!” he yelled, running to find them. 

So, when you are sad, or overwhelmed, or burdened by too many scattered thoughts, too much disaster, fear of the future, unraveling dreams, just remember Isaac, who believed a blanket fort could take him to Space.

 

PS: Oh how close we are getting to the launch of Shaper's Daughter, World Whisperer Book 3! I'm so excited to share this book with you!

PPS: I'm a few days away from launching my Patreon page. Have you heard of Patreon? It's a beautiful thing in the Internet age: a way for artists and writers to be supported by fans and readers. It's not easy to make money from writing these days, so this little tip jar of sorts feels like a great partnership. I'll let you know when my page is up.

The container that doesn't work.

 Sometimes it's all just too much.

Sometimes it's all just too much.

The sky looks as though it is anticipating a storm, but no storm comes. It’s only haze, and we have to get used to a weak, filtered sun again, one that can burn us, but can’t quite turn the world to color. Yesterday I was watering at the garden and two things happened. One, I was trying to fix the pump without unplugging it, and I got quite a big shock. (Always unplug the pump before trying to fix it.) And two, a flock of bulbuls startled out of the bamboo, all rising up together as I walked past. I have never seen so many bulbuls together, and I felt like they were saying hello.

And the sky was like a giant melon colored bath. It pinched my throat.

I saw a boy, too, with his toy truck tied behind his bike. He rattled along joyfully, the truck trying to keep up as he peddled along the road. Kicking up the dust behind him.

***

Here is a non-exhaustive list of the things I have:

A family in Thailand who love me.

A family in Canada who love me.

A family in the US who love me. 

A large, heavy bag of grief.

A fear of things turning back to the way they were before. Before I felt freer of expectations.

A chariot and a motorbike.

Another year’s curriculum. Boxes of books and a frog in formaldehyde. 

Four boys and a girl.

A blog. Seven books.

Some paintings.

A house that I rent.

A devotional community and garden. 

A lot of questions.

A jar of stones. A jar of pine cones. A Russian doll. Several bottles of essential oil. Paints and books and a clarinet.

 

I am rich, in other words.

***

Everywhere I look on the web, I see people planning their ideal work days. The hours they would work, sleep, make a second cup of coffee, work out, sit at a lovely setting and dream. I’m sure many of these people don’t actually get these ideal days. Their work days may become railroaded by underwear that itches, an angry man with a parking space issue, or a doctor’s visit that causes anxiety. And sometimes maybe they really do go to the gym, eat some muesli, and then have four hours of uninterrupted painting time.

But the very concept of writing out my ideal day escapes me, makes my palms sweat. Because as soon as you reach for something, that means you want it, right? And that means it can disappoint you. Does that sound fatalistic? I don’t mean it to. I just mean that as a homeschooling mom of five and someone who lives the way I do, (overseas, doing life in community, with a musician husband) it makes more sense to write the day down after it has already happened. Only then can you know its true shape.

Today, for instance, I sat down to write, only to remember that I needed to pick up 30 liters of raw milk- 20 for my friend and 10 for me. So I put the baskets on the motorbike and picked up the milk. Then I sat down again and remembered that I have to buy a bus ticket for tomorrow for Kenya. So I did that, then I came back. And there were no more things, so I started to write, but then Isaac was there, in his four-year-old glory, and he wanted me to know that Solo was asleep, and Solo wanted me to come and see that he was asleep.

“I’m working,” I said. “I can’t come to see Solo fake-sleeping right now. Show Daddy.” I could hear Chinua playing the piano, I knew he was there. Two minutes later, Isaac was back. “He really, really needs you to come and see that he’s sleeping.” 

So I went and watched him fake sleeping and congratulated him on how realistic it looked. But this was my day to work and be creative. So I went back to work. Then I accidentally read the news and had a minor emotional crisis and went for a scooter ride, driving through forests so dry I might be able to push them over if I tried. Leaves as large as small animals flew around me, crackling in the air. That wasn’t in the plan, either. 

If it is a school day, I might start the day full of verve and pep, only to find that I am the only creature left in the world who has verve and pep, and that everyone else in the family has decided to throw in the towel on life. Perhaps there is teenaged sibling stuff. Or big questions about God before coffee. Perhaps I am trying to draw a line on when the kitchen is closed to snacks and breakfast, but I can’t quite bring myself to enforce the rule. Maybe Leafy has decided that baking tiny loaves of bread is the goal of the day, when I had thought it was math. (For Kenya it might be drawing one thousand dragons.) Maybe I want to read to Isaac, but he wants to fall apart because Solo told him that Hulkbuster Sword can’t tell God what to do. (“He can! He can! He CAN!”) Maybe I have all the intention in the world to be excellent, gracious, and undramatic, but at some point Chinua gives me an irritated look, so I decide he hates me and the year is ruined and the only thing that will help is burning the house down. Maybe I think I’m going to water the garden in peace, but people come and take a series of photos of me watering the garden, standing beside me and posing. Or the pump doesn’t work. 

In other words, when life is full, when I am the richest I can be, it seems that I can’t keep everything in its container, or decide what will happen and when. And so the only thing to do is decide to embrace it all, to flow with it, to get in the middle of the argument about Hulkbuster Sword telling God what to do, and engage the question of whether God connects more with people who aren’t skeptics, and smile for the picture, and fix the pump, and greet the visitor, and cry when I want to cry and go chat with the raw milk man. We make plans, and the plans don’t always work. I know that in this season of my life, I have only marginal control over my days. But I guess it’s always that way, isn’t it?

My dad just got very sick and wound up in the hospital, (my dad! I can barely write that without wanting to cry) and I know he and my mom are scratching their heads over what it means for their plans. It happens to all of us, in every stage of our lives, but in all these interruptions, the emotional outbursts, the broken pens and flat tires and burnt chocolate, there are gifts, if we are willing to receive them. The gifts are from God, things that say, “Hello, I love you, you’re small and human and I love you.” 

This is part of what it means to be a monk in the world, I think. It’s part of the reason people think monastic motherhood is not possible. But the lack of control, if we can accept it, sink into it, and allow it to lead us to God, can be equal to all the ways people try to impose deprivation on themselves. Solitude, fasting, simplicity, or not being able to foretell one single thing about how the day will go,  all of it brings us to our own nakedness, our lack of power, our need to abide in God. Life, in all its chaos, its twists and turns, can offer this truth to us. We only have to allow it.

Short-circuit.

 Isaac and Fiona, being super cute. Not arguing. 

Isaac and Fiona, being super cute. Not arguing. 

 My kids give me many lessons, but Isaac gave me things to think about recently, perhaps reinforcing things I already know.  

He loves Memory, the game where you turn over pairs of cards, trying to get a match. In all my life I may not experience anything as delightful as playing a game with him. He laughs at every pair he finds. "Did you SEE that? How did I know it was THERE?" He gets excited when I get a pair. He gets super excited when he knows, or thinks he knows, where a pair is, hopping around on his knees and getting all trembly-cute over it. 

We have a Memory game that Miriam brought us from Germany, many years ago. The cards are adorable sets of baby animals and Isaac loves them. But the cards have been dwindling over the years, due to Isaac's habit of throwing things around (we're working on it), and the little grid of cards is really small now.  So, this Christmas I bought him a new game of Memory. I picked a Dr. Seuss set, since One Fish Two Fish is the one of the five books he wants me to read to him, ordered it, and Christy brought it over with her when she came. (Side Note: I have discovered that despite what I thought ten years ago, it actually is possible to get tired of reading One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish. One might even be tempted to speed read through the Gox, and the Zans who opens cans, and even the Gack. Who knew?)

I was pretty excited to play it with him. I can't remember what day we first broke it out, but it was sometime in the days after Christmas. Fiona was with us. I could have predicted that there would be a little extra competition, since Fiona are Isaac are passionate kids who love to compete with each other about every single thing. They spent the three weeks they were together joyfully happy-taunting each other to see what would happen. (Tears is what would happen. Lots of "It's not." "It is." "It's not." "It is." They're totally getting married someday. JUST KIDDING. I hate it when people matchmake kid friends. Drives me crazy. But the bickering was pretty funny, when it wasn't making me want to dig into my own eardrums.)

If I was expecting anything, though, it was that Fiona would be offended by the way Isaac gloats over his growing pile of cards when he plays. "I have more than you! I have three and you have two!" He comes by the piles without any backwards-cheating on my part, too! Is it normal to be this bad at Memory at the age of 36? My focusing skills need work. I don't correct his gloating because I find it adorable, he's so utterly bewitched by his own expertise. I figured a younger kid wouldn't find it as cute.

What I couldn't have predicted was the way he would be incapacitated by the game. The new set of Memory cards was twice as big as our old set. (Yes, we lost a lot of them. Did I mention that our househelper sometimes pulls toys out of the trash she sweeps up and sometimes it's all too much? No part of my life is organized or in place, people. Don't ever think it.) 

Spread in a grid, the game looked huge. This fact took Isaac's little brain, twirled it around, and hit some sort of fuse, shutting him down completely. He was paralyzed. I mean, absolutely, completely paralyzed. He couldn't focus when either of us took our turns, he lay on the ground and cried when Fiona scored a pair. When it was his turn, he randomly flipped over two cards in a frenzy, then cried when they weren't a match. It was the game. The game was too big, the cards were different and harder to recognize. It was too much of a leap. Fiona, on the other hand, did fine. She said it was her first time playing Memory. She had nothing to compare it to, no previous triumphs to fall from.

It made me think of life and creativity. Isaac playing a new game of Memory was like my own little experiment, without a control, really, so I can't go publishing any papers, but it makes me think. I'm learning about procrastination, self-sabotage, and good habits all the time. Allthetime. I teach five not-easy kids, all of whom are brilliant, with as many procrastination, self sabotage, short-circuiting habits as you can imagine. I'm trying to teach the older ones about how to accomplish big projects without falling apart (they're getting there). And I have to do it myself, with every book I write or painting I undertake. I still have projects I need to get to, things that are still causing me to curl up like a snail in my shell because I haven't figured out how to tackle them yet. I learned a long time ago: write out all the little steps. Go bit by bit. Take a piece and then take a tiny bite of that piece. Buy the paper. Write for forty-five minutes.

For Isaac, I'll divide the cards in half and we'll play that way, slowly adding cards until he feels like the champion of Memory again.

As someone who often feels like barely a grownup, and who still can't figure out how to clean her kitchen at night, I would still offer you advice, if only because I get things done. (Sometimes.) If you have creative projects that you're working on this year, or even ones you want to do, write out all the little steps. Then make them into smaller steps. Begin checking them off. Set timers. Force one thing, then take that pleased feeling and build on it until you are the champion of creative things.  

Examples of first steps:  

-Buy the yarn

-Watch a video on drawing

-Write out the thoughts you've been dreaming over the dishes

-Make a Pinterest board of art you like

-Take a picture

-Buy a book on writing

Bonus: Here's my writing chart right now. I have to color things in to keep myself writing. I hope that makes you feel better.

 Yes, those are odd increments. I got confused! I'm not a graph maker! 

Yes, those are odd increments. I got confused! I'm not a graph maker! 

Five Things

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1. Wow, it's been a while. Let's blame bronchitis, shall we? Bronchitis, you are to blame!

After a rather long while where I didn't feel well at all, Chinua, my most beloved friend and soulmate, also my Superstar Husband, went to Australia on a little two week trip. That very night, the sickness that had been threatening began pouring buckets; I had such a scratchy throat that I couldn't sleep. It got progressively worse until it reached my bronchial tubes and turned them into a kind of wheezy flute. Seriously, there were at least six different notes harmonizing when I tried to lie down at night. It was beautiful. And scary. I considered recording it, but I was too busy trying to breathe. 

Did I mention that my husband is in Australia? Is this a rerun of some other part of my life? It wouldn't be hard to find out, it's all written down here. 

I'm doing much better, thanks to friends who took my kids and let me rest for a couple of afternoons, and thanks to ginger, holy basil, lemon, and honey. I have some very sexy phlegm hacking that I routinely have to get out of the way in the morning, and then I can get on with my day. 

2. The fruit lady has been looking rather smug lately.  

There is a lady who walks around our neighborhood with a little pink plastic basket of fruit that she sells. We often buy fruit from her because my rule in Asia is that if you can buy something (something you actually want) from someone wandering by hawking it, you are really living! This is as good as it gets! Baskets! Flowers! Brooms! So we buy fruit from this lady.

For years, (years ) she has been trying to get me to buy peanuts from her. But I pass them by every time. If I see that she only has a basket of bags of roasted peanuts in the shell, I say, "No, thanks! I don't want peanuts." 

But then I got a whiff of the truth. These peanuts are not roasted peanuts in the shell. They are BOILED peanuts in the shell. I tried some that belonged to someone else and I was instantly enamored with the beany, soft, edamame-like goodness of boiled peanuts.

So the fruit lady came back the other day and had bags of peanuts, I was a little wiser than I had been in my foolish, non-peanut-buying youth. "Are they boiled?" I asked. She didn't roll her eyes, bless her. "Yes," she told me. 

So I bought two kilos. And then next day I bought another kilo. And she said, "Good, aren't they?" And I said, "Yes! They are very very good, and I will eat them in a boat and with a goat and on a train and in the rain. .." and she didn't say "I told you so," but her smile was very satisfied and smug and now she gets a little glint in her eye whenever she sees me because she knows I am addicted to her boiled peanut line of work.

3.  October is my favorite month here, with a hint of coolness in the air, green everything everywhere, and skies so blue they could hypnotize you. I've been caught up in kids and sickness, but I'm looking forward to Chinua coming home so I can go on scooter rides past rice paddies, into hills, through huge stands of bamboo. 

We drove to clay day at homeschool co-op the other day and had to take the long way round because of some road work we got stuck in. The long way round is ridiculously scenic, and at one spot I looked out at the whole valley. Light, a million different shades of green and blue, rice and coconut trees and distant hills.  

"I can't believe that's real," I said to the kids, who were crowded into the chariot. They agreed. It makes the smoke season, the heat, the floods all worth it. I love where I live.

4. Isaac has new levels of imagination and silliness spouting from every pore. Everything is pretend, everything is a game. 

"I pretended I was teeny tiny," he says, "and I could get in the egg game and be teeny tiny in all the eggs and they were all big around me." He's my constant companion. He comes to the market and the fruit lady (a different fruit lady) hugs him with her elbows and gives him a rambutan to eat. He works on being polite. He is all boy, all fun and running and shouting and getting kind of angry when he doesn't get his way. He's my little bear.  

5. Since I started writing this, we've had a really sad event in Thailand. I can't write too much about it because of the laws here, but the beloved King of Thailand has passed away. We are wearing black and entering a period of one month of mourning. It feels sad and the future is a bit unknown. We go from day to day, and I am praying with all my heart for the people of Thailand.

 

Fevers.

Remember that one time when the flood happened? And after we were all happy because we knew that all it would take was some good strong elbow grease and everything would be back to normal? 

Well. Then the fevers came. Dun dun dun duuuuuun. Brendan, Neil, and Heather came down with fevers and chills, and we learned about a little thing called Tropical Infection. Or Mud Fever. Or Swamp Fever. Or Swine herds’ disease. It has many names, and all of them have to do with water and mud because—dun dun duuuunn—it comes from water and mud. Or wading around in floods, looking for lost motorbikes or helping your friends try to salvage their home.

Brendan was in Chiang Mai with chills so strong they were shaking the bed. Neil needed to visit immigration for a visa extension and sad miserably through that, trying to hold it together. And Heather was throwing up in Pai, thinking that perhaps it was just a little sickness, just something that would go away… maybe tomorrow? But thanks to the grace of God, Brendan made his way to the hospital and found out about this infection and, being a very thoughtful nurse, passed the news along to the rest of us. Untreated, it can cause bad things to happen in your body. Like not good things at all having to do with liver and kidneys and lungs and stuff. Neil was admitted that day with a fever of 104.3 (40.2 for you Celcius people—I am a Celcius person who still doesn’t understand body temperature in Celcius.) And in Pai Winnie brought Heather to the hospital, did some blood work, and we got worried. The Pai hospital was full of sick people and it took five hours for her to arrive, get blood work and get the results. The rooms were full, and Heather was dehydrated. So with the help of Winnie (who took care of my kids for the night, since Chinua was away on an epic birthday adventure with Kai) I rented a car and drove the four hours (because I was slow) to Chiang Mai with Heather trying not to throw up in the passenger seat. 

Helpfully, the sky decided to get dark and then pour down rain, what we call “heavy rain” in asia. That means there are no gaps between the drops. There is just water in buckets. With a sick girl in the car, I drove very, very slowly, which was good because 1. I couldn’t see, and 2. I rounded a few corners to find rivers crossing the road. At one such river there was a man with an umbrella standing under a street light, directing us to the one safe place to cross. 

“Man with the umbrella just going to stand there all night?” Heather asked sleepily.

We got to the hospital and I tried to relax my shoulders, which felt like they were glued to my ears. We walked into the beautiful, cool, dry, spacious hospital where the people cared for Heather tenderly and with much confidence. They tsked over her dehydration as they tried to take her blood. They examined her carefully. It all felt very heavenly, except for the part where Heather and I were clutching hands and looking away because it was taking so long to get a blood sample and they were milking her arm like a cow udder. I got light-headed, which was embarrassing but typical for me. 

And then we were admitted, after midnight, ushered into another spacious room with a nice sofa. I put some lavender drops on our pillows and we slept. For a few minutes and then the doctor came. You know how it goes. But we were happy! Because that was what we signed up for! All night care, monitoring, people coming in and out of the room, all there to MAKE SURE HEATHER IS OKAY. Phew. 

Heather is young, talented, Canadian, and little (though mighty, as you know if you have teased her when you are too close to her). We sometimes shorten her name to HH. I like to call her the DLF, or the Dear Little Friend, although she is not a grumpy dwarf. She is Dear, and Little, and our Friend, and that is three for three. She’s better now, and we’re leaving the hospital today. (We were here for three nights.) 

Thoughts about the hospital here.

There is no Pokemon Go allowed in the hospital. This brings up questions of why rule needed to be implemented. People roaming around the ICU with their phones held in front of them? Hmm.

The nurses are unbelievably kind. Same with the doctors. 

After a week of lying in bed, Heather’s hair was a bit of a mess. One nurse volunteered to help her wash it. I left to get some lunch and came back to find Heather sitting on the bed with her hair in a wild cloud of knots around her head. The nurse stood with a hair dryer in one hand and a tiny comb in the other. 

“How do you do this?” she asked me in Thai. “I have no idea.” 

“I can do it,” I said. And then I combed Heather’s hair like we were at a sleepover. It was awesome.

Ro and Neil came to visit. Neil looked a bit rough. They helped themselves to the Ovaltine in our room and in the space of half an hour, Ro said more words and made us laugh more than we had laughed in forty-eight hours. Every introvert should have an extrovert friend. Neil married his very own and he is lucky. They bring the verve and fun. They blow into a space and with them comes something that smells like Himalaya mountain air. Adventure, in other words.

Our plucky sick friends are spread around Chiang Mai. My family and Josh and Nay’s family, and our dear Pai friends are back in Pai. This is all very strange. We are used to community rhythms of meditation, gardening, and food together, nearly every day. We’ve had a lot of joy lately, a lot of dancing (even Brendan in a tiger suit) and fun. We’ve gone through some difficult talks and decisions and still came out laughing. And then came floods and fevers, making us live life on the survival level as we are all separated and helping our recovering patients.

Today we’re leaving the hospital. I’m traveling back to my family full up on love, ready to help my oldest boy celebrate his birthday. I think in some ways weird moments make you feel brand new, make you realize God’s love in different ways. I can totally see his love in these moments, and I am thankful.