Very special people.

We have a house full of Devenishes, Chinua says. My parents have come for a visit! I drove down to Chiang Mai the day before yesterday to pick them up, and we ate papaya salad, sticky rice, and grilled chicken in celebration before driving back over the mountains to get home. My sister was also here for a few days and will be back after she visits the beaches in the south.  

I see everything through new eyes; how beautiful Thailand is, as well as how sparse our furniture and how differently we live. How strange some of it would appear— no couches, little softness, our mattress on the floor. 

Yesterday we were all up in the dark making coffee in our outdoor kitchen. My parents woke up in the wee-est of hours, jetlagged and body-confused. I was up for work, so we drank coffee and sat on chairs in the kitchen. I went to write for a while, then came back to sit on the porch with them. My dad climbed into the chariot with me to drive to the market. I showed him off, telling all the market ladies that he was my dad, and they exclaimed that he was still so young and strong! Parents are a big deal in Thailand, so it is suitably gratifying to show them off. 

We bought a lot of vegetables and my dad pointed at various things and asked what they all were. He started planning a stir fry. Shopping for vegetables in the market is one of the very best things about living here, so it felt amazing to wander around the market with him. I’ll take him and my mom to the afternoon street market next. 

Yesterday we ate, and cooked, and rested, and talked. Leafy told Becca that her Star Wars name would be Chewbecca. My mom made friends with Wookie, our little white dog. Kai sat and chatted with us, breaking out with his amazing smile often, showing us pictures of what Wookie’s babies would look like and begging for puppies. Solo and Kenya went for a macramé class and when they came back, Becca and Kenya and I had some of our insane cuddles. At one point Kenya “sat” in my lap for a while, and Becca came and joined her, until I was on the bottom of a puddle of my favorite girls. Isaac ran around telling stories and refusing to give hugs. There was a lot of love, a lot of happiness. 

 Brendan and Ruby came over for Pad Kee Mao (a noodle stirfry) at dinner time and we pulled out google maps of Vancouver Island to explain how big it is and how it is oriented. Brendan told them about his retreat on a lake in Ontario, and they told him about living in Australia in the early 80’s, comparing place names and wondering if they knew the same people. 

I love it when people I love meet each other. I think it’s going to be a good few weeks of a lot of chatter and goodness. I want to remember all of it.

***

Now you can support my writing on Patreon. Patrons can give as little as $1 a month, and get extra vlogs and posts. Thanks to new patron, Heather Cavallin! Your patronage shows your support for my writing, and it means so much to me. 

Patrons, send me your questions for January's Q and A video! 

Hard won.

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After a few starts and stops, I am sitting at my keyboard with a cup of coffee, typing my first blog post of the year. It’s going to be a good one, I can tell. Year, that is, not blog post. But actually, I have no idea whether the year will be good or not. But I have right now, and I have today, and those both seem to be all right.

I set intentions, and then I don’t reach most of them, but halfway is better than zero, so I continue with goals and ideas and thoughts about what I want in my life. When I reach for something, I get somewhere. The tricky part is not flailing around because the goal is too high or I’ve mussed it up again. 

For example. This hard won cup of coffee and sitting at my desk.

I don’t make resolutions, but I do use the New Year as a time to shift into a new season of work. Part of this season for me is getting up even earlier, at 5:00 AM now, in order to get more writing and work done before the kids get up. I’ve learned it’s the only way. If I am at home (and not on a writing retreat or something like that) any writing left to be done later in the day does not get done. 

So Rae’s number one tip for creative motherhood? Get up in the dark. Unless you are a night owl. Then stay up and be focused. It really helps to work when you are best, but I recommend getting it done first thing, because you will feel so accomplished later on. Yesterday morning was amazing. I woke very early, wrote out some chapter notes, and then went on a walk and dictated the first two chapters of World Whisperer 4.

But anyway, this morning I turned my alarm off. Great. My body is adjusting to the new wake up time, and I don’t even remember turning it off, but when my eyes opened, I heard the birds (a good signal that it’s past sunrise), so I groaned and reached for my phone, which read 6:28. I blinked into the dark room for a few minutes, reminding myself that there is always tomorrow, that waking up late is not a crisis, and other encouraging things that I have taught myself over the years, after a lot of dramatic behavior about the ruined early start. I’m so mature now. 

In the kitchen I discovered an empty coffee grounds jar, a new casualty of life, due to the fact that three other people in my family drink coffee now. Chinua has started, after sufficient scientific evidence that coffee is healthy, and my teens drink coffee (Kai a cup in the morning and Kenya occasionally). I have raised a parcel of kids who love hot drinks, an accomplishment I am very proud of, especially when my fifteen-year-old is introducing our friends to our tea collection. (Did you know iherb.com will ship tea to you?) But I have been known to mutter that I can’t afford to live now that we all drink coffee. 

I stared at the empty jar. I was too busy bottling kombucha last night to check out the coffee situation and time was already short. I looked at the tea, but nope. So I got on the motorbike and drove to the day market, where my favorite market lady laughed and said, “She’s here so early! Did you wake up early?” “I always wake up early,” I told her. “I just don’t come shopping early.” She showed me the dragon coffee that she was is the best in the shop. It’s the only place open so early and they don’t carry the coffee I normally buy. It’s pretty good, if a bit dark.

But anyway, I sped off in the growing light and ground some beans when I got home. I made a mess with the filter, and added too much cold milk. I reheated it in a pot and finally here I am, sitting with my coffee, my plans for the morning in shambles. 

But this is what life and intentions are like, and this is where the life is. Surprises, plans that don’t work out quite as you thought, crying kids wandering into your workspace, ignored alarms, accidental late nights. My advice is to just keep ticking on. You will not get it perfect, and either will I. If you are a creative parent you will need to take advantage of the moments between moments. Use your frustration. Laugh at yourself. Trick yourself into working by assuring your inner artist that you will only do five minutes, then write (or paint, or sew, or sing) longer. Make goals in order to get halfway there. Reward yourself. 

And make a practice. I am a monk, I remind myself in the early hours, when I don’t want to work. This is my practice. I am the kind of person who wakes in the dark and writes. I don’t finish things for deadlines, I am not polished or punctual. But I practice, and surprisingly enough, as I do, work happens. I’m excited for another year of writing in the mornings, for the beauty of words and for seeing the sunrise from my spot at my desk. 

***

Now you can support my writing on Patreon. Patrons can give as little as $1 a month, and get extra vlogs and posts. Thanks to new patron, Heather Cavallin! Your patronage shows your support for my writing, and it means so much to me.

December musings: Abundance

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It is getting colder and the forecast says we will have a low of 8˚ C. That’s cold for us, riding our motorbikes in the morning, making food in our outdoor kitchen, wind coming in our uninsulated wooden house with no heat. I’m excited. I’ll work more on my ripple blanket, light candles, hold my cold hands around my coffee mug.

Isn’t this a busy time of year? We’re preparing for a thanksgiving/blessing for a friend’s baby tomorrow at Shekina Garden, and for our big Christmas preparation next week. I’m trying to fix the mud walls which are still damaged from the flood and from the overuse they get as large people vault over them. (Frowny face.) All of this requires lists of food to be bought and made, poems to be found or written, prayers to be researched. It’s the best kind of busy work, though I am running from morning till night. Running to guide meditation is not to a hard destination. I am abundant with good work.

Because I knew these weeks would be so busy, I needed to remove an element of work from my life, so I gave my kids an extra week off school. They’ve been playing Monopoly (a.k.a. The world’s worst game about losing your house because you can’t pay your bills) and Dixit in the mornings. The four oldest came with me to Shekina Garden to help me sift the red dirt for the walls. It needs to be sifted because we are doing the fine top layer. My kids saved me hours of work by helping me with an assembly line of dirt sifters, bucket fillers, bucket pourers, and pebble emptiers. They also immediately made names for everything. “Plebble me,” meant “add dirt to my sieve,” and “this needs to be plebbled” meant, “dump the rocks from the bottom of my sieve.” I am abundant with help.

They are all fun and memes and silly videos and laughter these days. Kai has come through some rough years of mind-altering natural substances in the form of his own teenage hormones, and has emerged with a lot of common sense and easy-going humor. It is amazing. And now Leafy is heading into that dark land, but with his Leafy-ness intact. I love these sunshiny days when we can work together. It makes all the difficult mind-wrangling fade into the distance. I am abundant with fun.

I’m working more with Leafy on bringing his mind back to the present. He’s nearly twelve, and I feel that he needs to learn the skill. He’s so often away, deep in his mind of invention or the Marvel Universe, doing his laps around the yard. With our learning environment he has had the gift of space, lots of space to walk and think and talk things over with himself. But I want to teach him skills of focus when it’s necessary. He can do it, he can be a vivid and sparkling part of conversations, but not always when I’m asking him to do something. (Do any of you with non neuro-typical children have advice for me?) I am abundant with quirk. 

And always there is Isaac dancing to make us laugh. He has always idolized Solomon (and fought with Solomon) and Solo went through a phase of trying to make ridiculous phrases with the word “chicken” in them. (Which is an inheritance from his father. And on down the line it goes.) Example: “How are you doing?” “Chickeny! With lots and lots of chickeny chickens!” 

Isaac is going to a bilingual gentle learning school now, which has about 24 students, and English and Thai teachers, and when I dropped him off at the gate the other day, one of the Thai kids shouted, “Isaac! Chicken chicken!” And they both squawked at each other like chickens. I gave of teachers, Kruu Lucy, big eyes and said, “So that has spread, has it?” And she said, “Oh, it has!” Oops. Poor teachers. Later I asked Isaac if he had taught everyone to talk about chickens, and he told me not everyone, then listed about half the school kids. Agh. We are abundant with silliness.

Whenever I can, which is a few times a week, I take a drive on my motorbike, into the light of the hills around me. It is so golden, so slanted and perfect in the afternoons, highlighting the falling teak leaves and the ripples and dips of the hills. I can drive all the way around the valley, stopping to talk with farmers along the way. There are clouds and more trees than I know the names for. How could I ever feel poor when I can find these views? How could I ever doubt the sustenance and joy that comes straight from the heart of God? I am abundant with beauty.

I am not lost, and either are you. We are held in his heart, very found, very safe. The road is unknown before us. Sickness undoubtedly waits for us, even if there are many years of wellness before it comes. There will be loss, and there will be more sad days. But today there is some window of beauty, something that gives rest and comes from God himself, who is always surprising and full of light. We are abundant with light.

***

Now you can support my writing on Patreon. Patrons can give as little as a dollar a month, and get extra question and answer videos and day in the life posts. Your patronage shows your support for my writing, and it means so much to me. Thank you.

Patrons, send in your questions for this month's Q and A video! xoxo

Suddenly choreography.

 It's almost as impossible as photographing a group of kids. Someone is always making a face.

It's almost as impossible as photographing a group of kids. Someone is always making a face.

I woke up today and walked into my friend's kitchen to make a cup of coffee. Dreams of meeting with almost everyone I ever knew were still clustered behind my eyes. We were having some kind of gathering, and everyone was taller than I remembered. Taller and still alive, some of them. There was dancing. More than one person asked me to dance with them because they were too shy on their own. 

Waking up was a like climbing a mountain. The alarm annoyed me but the birdsong invited me to join the wakened world. All these birds! My friends live in the city, but their neighborhood must be some kind of bird sanctuary. I did once see a lovely older birding couple here, binoculars around their necks. I am thankful to have beings awake before me, to coax me along. It's right that they are birds, I have followed them around the world.

I'm on a last minute trip to Chiang Mai, as part of our on-going raising-kids-in-remote-places gig, we have begun sending or driving the teens (my two and two friends) to youth group every other week when we can. Sometimes we put them on a bus and a friend meets them there. Sometimes I bring them. Yesterday I had extra inspiration, as we wanted to see Thor Ragnarok.

It did not disappoint, and at one point, at the introduction of a new character, I nearly stood up and cheered, stopping only when I remembered that I had four teenagers sitting next to me. I was glad we were able to see the movie. It was iffy for a while. There was a power out five minutes into the opening scene, after we had already sat through the half hour of trailers and commercials, and stood for the King's song. We sat in darkness for a long time, and finally the power came back on and we watched our movie.

There is a special delight in driving a long distance with a car full of happy teenagers. I don't feel very old, but I have children who are taller than me or as tall as me, and are really very nearly full fledged grown ones. At least, they seem full grown until certain moments when I stare at them, wondering if they can really think the thing they just said. A teenager is like a grown person talking to you, telling you a story, then looping it into the logic of an eight-year-old. Flash, I'm an adult. Flash, I'm a kid. My brother loves to joke with Kai, patting him on the head and saying, "It's okay, you don't have a frontal lobe." It is still developing, one has to hope.

We talked about many things. We listened to Arcade Fire and Imagine Dragons. I started a silly dance to a song and Kai imitated my actions so it was suddenly choreography. I saw Kenya join in in the rearview mirror and I felt buoyed up by goodness, by the gift of these kids. A teenaged son dancing with his mother is very nearly a miracle of God. I am thankful for the miracles I receive. 

We talked about their generation and mine (the tiny 7 year group called X-ennials) and Generation X, and what it was like to grow up without the Internet, and how they can't imagine not having touch screens anymore. We talked about the Nintendo 64 I played at my friend's house when I was small. We talked about learning to speak a new language, and settled on the fact that it is easier to learn a new language if you have already learned a second one. Vrinda and Taran speak three languages each. 

All four are proficient little world travelers, used to buses and planes, to backpacks, to finding your way around places when you can't read the signs. Kai told us a story about a Youtuber who got stranded in Thailand after he lost his debit card and couldn't get a replacement. We talked about ways you could prevent that from happening. (By making sure that your bank mailing address has people who can forward you your card, for those who are interested. Travel tips.)

Increasingly I know that I cannot predict the future as a parent. And there are too many stories from those who have gone before me, of the ways our children can take unexpected forays into the deep, unrelenting strangeness of the world. But I pray and I pray, and I have every gift of each day. Moments of dancing and laughing. 

We ate at the Burmese restaurant. Taran was happy to find that it tasted better than he remembered, but Kai was sure it didn't. Vrinda was in heaven. So was I. And Kenya was too polite to complain either way. Taran told us a story about a joke he and his father have, that makes them laugh so hard when they are watching a series together that they can't focus on the show. They started to get a bit irritated with each other, as jokes became sharper, and I waded with all my Auntieness and Mommishness, asking them to be patient with one another. And then I dropped them off at youth group, sighing with relief at the silence after the precious, precious noise. 

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! 

This and that.

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This last week has been full in all the best ways. Food and singing, writing and school. Trick or treating. A birthday party. And now a book group retreat.

The week started off with community lunch, and I made sprouted moong dal coconut curry, a Mangalorean dish that Jaya used to make. Then on Monday we started school and I read chapter after chapter of books to the kids, drew out their schedules, and introduced the oldest two to my way of scheduling in time chunks. Which they love. They’ve been doing it every day to get their work done, and I think it’s giving them a feeling of control of their day. That’s what it does for me, though I may be deceiving myself there. I seem to have very little control over my day in reality. That’s a half joke.

We sang Jesus bhajans in the afternoon at Shekina Garden, in the golden light that comes in November, and I watered my new seedlings in my garden bed. Tuesday was more watering and trick or treating in the evening. Most people hadn’t remembered Halloween, as it isn’t really a Thai thing, but some people had and gave the kids treats. They caused a lot of joy, walking around the Walking Street (our night market) in their costumes.

Wednesday was my day to guide meditation, and then I had Thai class, and then we drove around looking for a person’s house, and we never did find it. I drove the chariot with the kids, since Chinua had the car in Chiang Mai, and we wove in and out of villages, through rice fields and jungles. Though we didn’t find the house, it was very, very beautiful, with cool November air in our hair as we drove. Eventually we gave up on looking for the house, and went home.

And Thursday was the best day of the week, as it was my friend Leaf’s birthday and I had the privilege of helping to throw her a birthday party. Solomon and I baked a cake, getting every dish dirty, and I bought a new dress at the second hand shop in town. It was a dress up party, so in the evening, Chinua and I had fun getting dressed and putting feathers in our hair. We had the party at a nearby, beautiful restaurant, and there were candles and lights, cushions on the grass, the river rushing nearby, music and dancing. We had the tiniest soul train in the world and Chinua danced with me, which happens very, very rarely. It was beautiful. People from around the world had sent Leaf snippets of thoughts and blessings, and as we read them out, the love piled up. It’s rare that so much appreciation of a person’s care accumulates in one evening. It’s beautiful when it happens. It was a true celebration of her, with many friends. And she has given to so many people over the years. Her wisdom, creativity and generosity is renowned. How beautiful to have it spoken out. 

The next morning, I worked on my launch info and final formatting of my new book, and then I drove three hours down the mountain to get to my book group retreat. I’ve been part of a book reading group for the last three years, though I haven’t made it to meetings as often as I should, because of my distance and busy life. This was their 24 year anniversary retreat, and I was determined to make it, so I drove around curves and up and down mountains. The drive was beautiful. The Mexican sunflowers are blooming on the sides of the roads, and the yellow flowering trees are in bloom. Marigolds were planted everywhere for the king’s cremation, so the entire stretch of road was glowing in different shades of yellow.

The retreat has been lovely. Today is the last day, and I’m finally taking a moment to write. We hiked, and talked, and ate. People shared memories of their time in the group, and talked about life back when they first came to Thailand. (It’s an expat group of women.) There is a lot of wisdom in the group. I’m more than twenty years younger than any of the other women, and I love to hear their experiences in Laos, India, and Thailand in the seventies and eighties. Life here was so different then. I wish I could catch a glimpse of it.

We went for a hike yesterday, among pines and along a mountain ridge. I have been weary, doing so many different things since before I left for America. But being outside in the golden air, surprised by flowers that appear suddenly in the jungle, weariness slips away. We stepped on pine needles and through baby mango tree orchards. We walked through a Hmong village and saw rose farms. It was beautiful.

I’m hoping the coming week will be a little less full, to be honest, but I treasure these ones that are so busy, because they are filled to the brim with good things: with life and God and people and work. And there are flowers everywhere.

 

I’m thankful for the flowers.

 

*** 

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, and Kathleen Anderson. Your support keeps this writer going!  

Patrons, your video will be up this week. Books have been sent to third-tier supporters. The link is in your Patreon messages. Thank you so much!