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Yesterday was a day of many tasks. This and that, all around the town. It was hot all day, the rain always threatening but never breaking. My poor husband had a migraine all day, so he was lying in a dark room, trying to keep the pain to a dull roar. Poor guy.

Here’s what I did:

I dropped Isaac off to play at a new friend’s house for a few hours. That was a drive on the motorbike up into the rice fields, which are nearly ready for harvest. The grains hang now, heavy on the stalks. Cows in the field nearby. He went happily, which was a good sign, because he is starting at a Montessori school next week. (Egad! My heart might not take it!)

Leafy and Solo were at our house having their Thai lesson with their teacher at the same time. As I came and went, Solo kept trying to get me to tell him what eleven is in Thai. He knows it, but always forgets. I laughed with his teacher (also my teacher) and drove off for more errands.

I bought a new gas bottle for the stove, since ours ran out when I was baking bread the night before. That means heaving the gas bottle into the chariot and driving down to the gas shop. Easy enough, thanks to the chariot.  

I came home and helped with math and did read alouds with my kids and our Russian friend Vrinda. We’re reading Number the Stars right now, as well as poems by Robert Browning. And the book of Ephesians. It’s maybe my favorite time of the day.  

I printed and shipped a painting. I love our post office and the people who work there. I bought bus tickets for the weekend. I’m heading to Chiang Mai for book group, which is reading my book this month, a fact that is exciting and nerve-wracking, both. We’re reading A Traveler’s Guide to Belonging, and the food for the evening matches the book, so I’m looking forward to eating Indian food. I‘m taking an extra day to finish all the details around my upcoming book launch, and things have been so busy around here lately that I’m happy and excited to take the time.

Today at Shekina Garden, Brendan, Chinua, and I are hosting a little English camp for eighteen Thai kids from a local church, so some of my errands were in preparation for that. I went to a local restaurant to order food for lunch. We settled on three trays of curries and we’ll make our own rice. I left a 500 baht deposit, and when the lady saw that it was the last of the money I had in my change purse, she kindly asked if I needed to buy more things, and if it was an imposition to ask for a deposit. I told her it was fine, and there was much arm-grabbing and laughing on both sides. As I left, I heard my name called and saw that my kids’ art teacher, Fo, was finishing with his move across the street. I went and visited with him and his wife, and we talked about the expense of camping in Europe, and hot nights in the tent. (An aside, camping is still very affordable in America, and especially for a seven person family.) Later, I showed Leafy where the new shop is, so he and Solo can ride their bikes there for class today.

I bought art supplies for English camp. I think we’ll make little books with favorites. My favorite color, my favorite food, and stuff like that. I ran into Brendan on the street, and I went to talk with my friend at a local café. When I got home, my elderly neighbor was walking back and asked what I bought. So much! She said. She didn’t really want to know, it was just a way of saying hello. She’s the best.

I went to the plant shop and bought yellow marigold plants so I can put them outside my gate for the King’s funeral. We’re coming up to the last of our mourning period, and there are yellow and orange marigolds everywhere, in remembrance. We’re also wearing black or white or dull colors. By the end of October, mourning will be over. 

Then I went to the afternoon market and bought papaya, bananas, peanuts, and broad beans for snacks for the English camp. I bought tomatoes, eggplant, and cucumbers for dinner, but we ended up eating rice, greens, and fried eggs, (easiest and best Thai food ever) so the tomatoes will be for Persian food tonight. We ate a little of my lethal kimchi (so spicy, so so so spicy) with the rice and greens, and it was perfect. 

Then cuddling in bed with Solo and Isaac, helping Kai with his math work, goodnight goodnight to everyone. Collapsing in bed. Errands days are fun here.

 

***

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The things we say.

My heart is hurting with the plight of the Rohingya people right now. If you would like to learn more and donate to their cause, click here.

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The rain washes the world at night. We lie under thin sheets and listen to it on the tin roof outside our window. 

“It’s really raining,” I say. The kind of thing you say without thinking, without meaning anything at all. Drawing attention to something that is happening, something that often happens, in a murmur. And then going on.

“Mom?” the kids ask, twenty times a day. Telling me little things like these… things that mean that we are here together, and they are checking on me, checking to see that I am still here. I realized, when I was away, that though my Leafy boy is often dreaming, he checks on me often. And when I wasn’t here, some pillar of security was gone. He missed me the loudest, sending me gifs and messages, and once, a video of himself telling me he missed me. 

All the kids do it.

Mom?

“Can I have a Wednesday market snack?” 

“I played the high D on my trumpet!

“Mom? Isn’t it interesting that some people live by their extended family all their lives?” My Mom radar tells me there is something different beneath the surface of this question, couched by laughter. I miss them. I would like to try that other kind of life, the question says.

Kenya and I have our own way of checking in with each other. A mother and daughter way. 

“Oh!” one of us says. “It’s you! I have a mother!” Or “Oh look, I have this person who is my daughter!” Hugs and kisses. We are a physically affectionate family, I realize, and I can always hug Kenya. She doesn’t wriggle away. I get hugs from Kai now too. Solo is squirrelly. Leafy I have to catch. With Isaac, we're led by his whims. He is either running away or all over me. 

I forgot how crazy my life here is. Normally it’s good crazy. I am teaching four or five different kids, riding the motorbike to the market, fielding emails and riding a unicycle. I have somewhere to be at 2:00 or 4:00. I am meeting a friend or the landlords drop in. I am launching a book. The wall fans are broken again. The lightbulb is out. Parts of the house are so dusty that Kai cannot go near them because of his allergies. The school drawers are a mess. I need to pick up my sewing machine. The garden is calling. The roses need to be trimmed. Are the kids on task? I should really bake some bread. 

And sometimes, it is a wild ride. It all depends on whether I am up for the challenge. 

I pin photos of artists in their studios. I follow people on Instagram who have space and time and paint. And I endeavor to love my life with every cell.

“Mom? Do you know where my superhero mask is?” 

“Do you think dorm living at UBC would be good?” 

“Can I make bread today?”

“I made you dessert, with bread and bananas and icing. Here you go. You have to share with Dad because a guest just turned up.”

The rain washes the world clean. I turn to Chinua in the evening and sigh. Remember not to complain about any of it. Remember that it is the best kind of love, the best kind of problem. A home that gets beyond me. A life that is very full. 

“It’s really raining out there,” I say.

He smiles. “It is.” 

Close.

(I wrote this post a few days ago. It's a bit hard to get wifi on the road!)

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Today is gorgeous. Sunshine and blue sky. Hay fever. Trees everywhere, rosemary, sage growing where I can pluck it and smell it. There are birds we have never seen before. Family and all its messy spilling over of love, misunderstanding and stretching, growing. When we are traveling like this we don’t have the normal rhythms of separating and coming back together. It puts pressure on us and builds lasting memories in us.

Since the family arrived, we have been traveling from place to place. We started at Christy’s house in Santa Cruz, as they recovered from jet lag and adjusted to the chilly weather with groans and expressions of disbelief. “This is summer?” Kenya kept asking. “Are you sure?” Christy took us to Wilder Ranch, a beautiful spot where the kids climbed an enormous, sprawling spruce tree and ran through the root systems of gigantic aloe plants.

Then we drove to Nevada City, where we spent an intense and very cold three days at a campground for a gathering of communities like ours (Christ-centered, created for travelers). Chinua has helped to focalize these gatherings for the last few years along with our friends Heather and Gabe, but this is the first I was able to attend.

I loved it. Every minute. We set up our tents for the first time on this trip, and huddled by the fire. There was another family that we’ve known for a long time but haven’t seen in forever, with kids who are the same ages as ours, and my kids were in bliss. Board games, movies, drawing time, even a wildly mismatched game of Red Rover… the big kids watched the little ones and I was able to attend nearly all the seminars.

Then we went to Claire’s house, Innerchange Outer Circle in San Francisco, one of the most love-soaked houses I’ve ever been in. I’m often effected by the feel of a place, and that place was heavenly to me. Outer Circle in an order that reaches out to homeless and disenfranchised people in San Francisco, so it is mercy-soaked, and also familiar, as we spent years in San Francisco doing the same.

And then we spent time in Mill Valley, spending time with Cate and our other friends, hiking along Muir Beach Overlook, and driving out to see the elephant seals in Point Reyes, as well as the carcass of a beached blue whale. (Very large, very amazing, very stinky.)

And now we are in Yosemite, living in our tents, cooking oatmeal on a little camping stove in the forest. It feels like the land, except for the tents part. We drew close to the park on the first night, but stopped at a place called Moccasin for the night, as it was getting dark. We set up our tents right next to Don Pedro lake, and the kids swam while I cooked dinner. Later that night, after everyone was in bed and the dishes were done, the food in the bear locker, the valuable stuff locked away, I swam. I waded into the water in the sight of thousands of stars, and the only thing I could see, other than the stars, was a cross on the hill, outlined in white twinkle lights. The water rippled out from me, black and silky and quiet. Bats winged over the surface.

It has not been easy, in some ways, to re enter my life. My beliefs on the sanctity of motherhood are challenged as I move from morning till night, taking care of the needs of many other people. They are the most beautiful, joyous creatures, leggy and hilarious. They make me laugh more than I have ever laughed, I forgot how much I laugh when I’m with them. 

But it is a road trip with five kids in a van, ages four to fourteen, you can fill in the blanks. I am floating in a pool of people and it is sometimes hard to remember the closeness I felt to God on my pilgrimage. My life lesson is to bring my solitude-starved self to God at the end of the day, allow him to smooth the creases, correct the false identities, soothe the indignity I feel at being a servant, and bring me back to the center. I am his and he is mine and look at this beautiful life. I swim and I swim, the night is all around me. The stars are everywhere. The cross on the hill reminds me that this is a suffering kind of joy and that is right, that is good. I’m in the right place.

A birthday.

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There have been wildflowers everywhere along the way on this journey. And they nod and greet one another and me, an undulation of color on every hillside. Purple lupine, orange poppies, and every kind of tiny yellow flower. There were flowers along driftwood beaches in Victoria, flowers in the forest in California, flowers in every meadow or field.

And, like wildflowers, small kindnesses from people I have met. The security officer who watched my things so I could use the bathroom. The bus driver who made the experience of breaking down on our Greyhound bus and sitting in a McDonald's for four hours like a Breakfast Club situation, where we all knew each other and understood each other by the end of our McDonald's detention. (She got on the phone and demanded that Greyhound pay for food for us. "I take care of my people! You need to help my people!") The coffee shop worker who asked if I had noticed the mountains that day. ("Yes!" I said. "I could barely believe them.") And my parents and friends, of course, caring for me in a way that makes me worried that I'll be spoiled for my real life.

I lost a post yesterday. Of all the things, losing something I've written is an event that can turn me back into a six-year-old child. I've been realizing just how strongly writing grounds me, that without it, experiences don't feel real. I'm not sure that I feel real. But that piece was just a note to the wind. And losing it doesn't mean that I have disappeared. No need to panic. I lost some words, that's all. These are the things I tell myself.

I had a birthday, and I spent a lot of it on a ferry and in a car and on another ferry, on my way to visit dear friends, Dori and Chad. I left the home of my parents, who nourished me and celebrated with me, and arrived into the arms of my friends, who danced around my car and took me out for dinner, more eating, more fun. I had two birthday dinners with people I love and miss every day. I couldn't feel more blessed. 

On the ferry, the water sparkled with a million lights. The ocean seemed to go forever, and I wanted to be there, on that grey line, barely visible on the horizon. It looked like peace. I felt that I had never been anywhere more beautiful.

I thought about turning thirty-seven and about being alive on the earth. About the ways that I'm changing, the ways grief changed me this last year. How I have had to force myself to be hopeful in things that I might have easily found hope, before. 

I thought about the limits I am learning about myself. How life leads us toward humility. How I can fail as a friend, a mother, a wife. I find it hard to be nuanced, but my friend Leaf told me that it is possible to be a good friend and do hurtful things, to be a good mother and make mistakes that you wish you could take back. It is possible, as people, to be both good and bad. I find this hard to believe. 

Looking at that water, I wished I could be a whale. A big, motherly humpback whale. I know I could be a good one. I would sing the saddest, longest songs, and the other whales would like me, I just know it. "How cold and sad her songs are," they would think. "Like dark water, the deepest places."  Sometimes I could go to the surface, and get to the place where the water shines with light. (Though singing good sad whale songs is not always the most desirable trait when you are the mother of many kids and maybe need to be a little more dolphin-like.)

How we are loved! Why do we even get to have beautiful things like the ocean and the sky? Because we are loved. I am learning to understand nuance, and also living in the moment. Receiving every gift, not letting them slide by. This was something Ian and Chinua talked a lot of about, and I'm learning from them. (I'm thinking about Ian a lot because I've dreamed about him often since arriving back in North America. In my last dream, he was still alive, though we knew he was sick, and he and Christy were renewing their wedding vows. He gave me a big hug, and it all felt very, very real.)

I thought about work, and art, and writing. Life is good when there is writing to do. All the days of sitting down and writing ahead of me... wow.

I thought about motherhood. I've been meditating on service lately, on the beauty of offering devotion to God through serving. Motherhood is a deep kind of serving. There are more ways of being a mother than having children of your own, too. Nourishing, nurturing, encouraging things and people into the world. And I just spent time with my own mother, and she cooked for me and we sat and talked and that was a kind of nurturing that I felt. I'm thankful for the ways motherhood has changed me, and the ways that being a mother makes service imperative to me, to all of us. 

I thought about my kids, and how they make me laugh, how rich they make life. And my community. And all the gifts. And this trip, the privilege of meeting so many people, sharing things I love with them, being on a pilgrimage, getting inspired. That ferry, on my birthday, was a nearly perfect place to be.

 

Dear Leafy (A letter to my eleven-year-old son.)

And now you are eleven.

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Not possible.

But, somehow possible. Funny how time is like that, hm? Inexorable, I believe they call it. Or just real, a real thing that ticks along until babies are tall and wide shouldered, grinning and creative.

Every morning you come into the studio to say hi to me. I've been working for a couple hours and you have some questions for me. You might ask:

"Can I work on Omega 9?" (the video game you are designing with a friend)

Answer: "No, have breakfast first."

Or: "Can you make oatmeal?"

Answer: "In a minute, when I'm done with this scene."

Or you may tell me about your dream, or ask me a question about writing, publishing, designing, or whether we have milk and if you can have your friend Caelen over later.

Almost always, you are the first person I see in the morning. I love it.

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You are an eleven-year-old version of the sweet, kind, hilarious Leafy boy you've always been. You are handsome, giving, goofy, punny, and you are working on what seems to be stand up delivery. You are always surprising us with what you think of, what you say. The quirk bubbles out of you, and spills over onto the rest of us and makes our life more like an adventure. An adventure where we sometimes travel in Leafy's mind, which has a lot of superheroes and jokes that don't miss a beat.

You are inspired. The minute you wake up every day, you are thinking of what you will do that day: writing, reading, creating. You dream in class, you dream while asleep, you dream while walking, eating,  and when you are supposed to be doing other things.

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You are currently working on writing a book, creating a video game (the aforementioned Omega 9), a YouTube channel for gameplay, and a YouTube channel for animation. You never feel that you to be perfect at something before doing it, or making it public, and I think nothing will carry you farther in life than that; the ability to make something and pass it along, getting better as you go, without perfectionism.

You are kind, generous, and mostly easy-going. In the last year we've seen more of your temper than ever before, which is to be expected, I suppose. You're learning to control it, I think. It takes a lot, and a very certain type of thing, to rile you up. You have no tolerance for injustice, and you don't like being interrupted when you are deep in your thought world. (This one is hard in a big family.) You're amazing at drawing people in, making sure they feel included. You have no strict perimeters about who gets to be your friend. You're kind to young kids and sweet with adults. You have a bad habit of laughing while we're scolding you. But you are mostly a laughing boy, so I guess it makes sense. 

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You're a bit of a secret, I think. We don't know yet just how wonderful you are. We see glimpses all the time, but I believe some day we'll all be dazzled. There will be a flash and we'll be sitting there saying, "Did you see that? That was Leafy!" And we'll be telling everywhere we knew you when you were a baby.

I'll be the most proud of all. I love you and I have always loved you so much,

Mama.

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