Swimming through my gold.

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Leaf was at our house the other day, and asked Leafy what projects he has planned. (Is that too confusing? Leaf is my friend and Leafy is my eleven-year-old son.) 

"I'm back to my computer project," he said. "And if I can get a paraglider, I'm going to build a foot-powered airplane."

Both of our jaws dropped. 

Everyone needs a Leafy in his or her life, I think. Someone who is so completely unexpected, who doesn't see any limits to what he or she can do. Some of us are crocheting blankets, others are planning foot-powered airplanes.

I was having a hard night and my friend Winnie told Leafy he should do a crab dance every day (you open and close your hands like crab claws and shuffle from side to side) and chant "Mama is the best, Mama is the best!" So sometimes he does it. It always makes me laugh. He is pure gold.

When the things I love get broken, when I have only five minutes of time to myself in the morning, when the mess doesn't stop or it is a quarrel-filled day, I like to run through the things I love about my kids. It's my version of swimming through my money. 

I love Solo's wild interpretive dancing. On Facebook I saw this video of a bearded man doing a ridiculous dance in a woman's one piece bathing suit, and I commented that I won't be surprised if someone sends me a video of Solo doing that one day. When I told him this, he acted shocked and offended, but later in the evening, his dancing became so wild that he was rolling on the ground and leaping into the air. He loves to shake things up, and I love that about him.

Kai gives the best hugs. He has come back to himself in a beautiful way, after having a difficult couple of early-teen years. He is gracious and wise, and still has the biggest eyes and the widest smile.

Isaac is fuzzy and sweet. Now, when we lie together before he goes to sleep, he reaches out and rubs my back with his little hand. There's not much I love more than holding his hand, walking somewhere together. He is straightforward and funny. He dances with Solo. He waits for laughs. When he gets angry, it's hard not to find it cute. He has ridiculous dimples.

Leafy never says what you expect a person to say. He is always surprising, and I love it. When I work, he gets so excited by the act of creation that he has to jump up and walk around the room. He tells me he loves me when the love wells up so big, and that often happens when I'm working on something creative. He just loves to see people making things. 

And Kenya dances now with headphones on. She is shooting up, nearly as tall as me, but wants to be shorter, so she bends down to hug me with her head against my chest. She carries the posture of the responsible girl with a wildness all her own. She loves every creature. She is a living poem.

***

There are so many things I cannot do. Numbers and tasks elude me. I can be easily duped. My lists evade me. But I can see beauty, so much beauty. I can see fun and quirkiness. I find the ridiculous. I may be grumpy in the morning, but I can stop to listen to a bird. And I have made countless mistakes as a parent, but I see the beauty in my kids.

I think we all have these things. Maybe one of you can't put words together, but finds worlds in numbers. Maybe some of you know all the constellations. Maybe some of you are able to be even-keeled. (This is absolutely miraculous.) It's easy to be hard on ourselves. Make yourself a list, today, of all the little things you are good at. Muffins, kung fu, making beds? And make a list of the things you love in your people. Your spouses and kids, your uncles and aunts. None of us are quite whole, and we are far too ready to focus on what we can't do. Change it up today. Focus on what you can. And then tell me about it. I'd love to hear.

***

Now you can support my writing on Patreon. Patrons can give as little as a dollar a month, and get extra question and answer video posts and other content. Thanks so much to this month’s new patrons: Brittani Truby, Alicia Wiggin, Kathleen Anderson, and Timothy Silva. Your support keeps this writer going!  

Patrons! The first Q and A video is up! I have a little monologue for you on friendship. I hope you like my rambling. It's my first vlog ever. Find it here.

The veil.

 My friend Leaf tagged me in a photography challenge and I couldn't get up, so I took a photo of my wall while lying on the floor. 

My friend Leaf tagged me in a photography challenge and I couldn't get up, so I took a photo of my wall while lying on the floor. 

I'm always surprised by how a bad neck day can change the way I think and feel, even the way I speak. Today was a bad neck day. I have chronic pain from a car accident that happened when Kai was three months old. That's fifteen years ago in December. It was a teardrop fracture and it hurt for a long time, especially because I was supposed to rest but I had a baby to care for, so rest was not possible, at least in terms of not using my arms. And then I went and had another baby right away.

All that is long in the past, but the pain is very much in the present. It's rare to have a day without pain, but some days are worse than others. Bad neck days. If I'm squinting a lot, or moving my head around, or you find me lying on the kitchen floor; chances are it's a bad neck day.

I've been thinking about chronic pain over the last year, more ready to call it as it is. (I think I spent the first fourteen years assuming I would be better in a month or so.) I'm doing more these days (some days) about exercise, massage, and supplements. (Magnesium citrate, and it has to be citrate.)

But mostly I want to enjoy my days and want to learn how to think past pain. Today was rough. I had a Thai lesson and could barely gather my thoughts. I forgot English words too. And I felt like moaning along, rolling instead of walking, not like cooking or being a standing and walking human being. Because on bad neck days, my neck doesn't feel capable of holding my head up, and really that's the least a neck should do. (You had only one job!)

It's less like a little piece of the day, and more like a puked on filter that drops over the world. Kids are more annoying with their fingers tapping on the table (little annoying tappy fingers) or their voices and faces. Food is an issue, rather than a joy. Work is hard because it requires sitting or standing or looking at things.

But I am aware that many people live with pain, or with sickness, and do it well. I want to live well, whether or not I get rid of this completely.

Today I tried being aware of pain and how it was effecting me, noticing it and then moving outside of it and into the rest of the world. So, guiding meditation this morning, I realized how much of my mental space was taken up by my bad neck, then moved out into the bird song I could hear, especially those gorgeous spotted doves cooing on the grass roof. I watered seedlings and thought about how pulling the hose hurt a bit, but how the earth smelled so good. And then on the scooter I thought about how the day felt endless when all I wanted was to crawl back into bed, but how the air was my exact favorite kind of air; full of golden light, cooling at the end of the day, reminding me of poems I have read in other places in the world. 

This evening I made patterns with shape blocks with Isaac, and I asked Chinua to give me a quick massage, and I send Kai for takeout on the street, because the kitchen seemed like too much to handle. And I guess pain can make life less easy, but it can't really take away beauty or love, and it can only take away my sense of humor if I let it, so pain can't win. Even chronic pain. 

What about you? Have you found anything that helps with pain?

***

Support me on Patreon. Patrons can give as little as a dollar a month, and get extra question and answer video posts and other content. Thanks so much to this month’s new patrons: Brittani Truby and Alicia Wiggin. Your support keeps this writer going! 
Patrons, I am working on November's video post, and third tier patrons, your copy of Shaper's Daughter will be emailed to you tomorrow instead of today. Yay!

"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!