I like what you have made.

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I love to cook for big groups of people. It’s something I just love, what can I say?

Maybe it’s because cooking is one of the most sensory of the tasks of our lives: cut tomatoes. Cut six kilos of them. Keep your fingers out of the way. Cut onions. Cry at the doorway. Come back and cut some more.

Cooking on Sundays is smell, taste, organized work. I line the vegetables up in the order they need to be cut. I set a timer and go as quickly as I can. Later I slow down and go carefully. Seeds in hot oil: Fennel, coriander, cumin, mustard. I add turmeric and a spice with the magical name of Kitchen King. Suddenly, the kitchen is alive with fragrance, with memories of jungle days.

Abundance. We have enough and plenty to share.

Holy work. I couldn’t do it if it wasn’t art. But every color, every texture, truly is beautiful. It’s holy work to cook for others. Before anything, God is Creator. Whenever I respond to what God has made, I feel as though we are in an act of making something together. I appreciate this, I whisper. I like what you have made. Especially purple cabbage. Especially the glorious tomato.

Holy work is always messy. True holy work, that is.

So there are stacks of dishes. There’s a chunk of dhal that has spilled on the stove and is blackening at an alarming rate. And there are friends; here they are helping, here they are chopping, creating, we are making things together. We are saving the sambar from burning in the pot by ever more ridiculous and ingenious methods. I am asking Sonal to make the chutney because hers is the best. Keren is cutting a mound of cabbage that nearly engulfs her.

And then somehow, it all disappears. The two rice cookers are empty, the giant pot is being scraped, the salad is long gone. People are walking around with the food we made in their bellies. Fed. I love it. What can I say?

***

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Swan dives on shark slides.

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Yesterday we all sat around the table and ate stir-fried vegetables and rice, with fried eggs and kimchi on top. Taran and Vrinda, our teenaged friends, were over, and my dad (Mom has been sick, poor thing, so she was resting) and of course my own kids and Chinua (the very best Superstar husband in the universe, according to myself). 

Our table is small (it seemed huge when we bought it five and a half years ago) so it makes for an intimate dinner. Discussions varied from the sublime to the ridiculous.

Sublime:

Kenya mentioned that she had taken a closer look at the word chocolate, and noticed that it sorta-kinda contains the word “latte.” Maybe that’s where it came from? Cocoa and milk, since it was always a drink at first? I thought it was a pretty good theory. But then Leafy spoke up.

“No,” he said, gesturing with his hand the way he does when he’s explaining something. “It comes from an Aztec word, I’m not sure how to pronounce it—it has a lot of ‘x’s’ in it—xoxocatl? But they mispronounced it “choclat,” so that’s where chocolate came from.” 

(?!?)

Leafy is turning into this sort of genius encyclopedia that I can ask anything. He was explaining tesla coils to us the other evening. I am constantly asking him, “How do you know that?” This is a cool thing about homeschooling. You begin by plugging in the right skills (reading, research, an understanding of numbers) and eventually they outrun you. We are not perfect homeschoolers by any means. I’m sure I let any number of opportunities race straight by me. I have two other jobs, it doesn’t capture all my focus. But then Leafy knows the Aztec root to a word and I figure that despite all my failures, despite the fact that I can’t claim any credit, the kids are all right. 

(“Isaac’s reading is excellent!” his teacher told me when he started school. “I didn’t teach him a thing,” I said. “That was all Kenya.” Homeschool tends to trickle down after a while.)

Ridiculous:

First of all, the above egg was hanging out in the egg flat this morning. No one knew who created him. Of course I assumed Kenya, but it turned out to be a combined effort from Kai and Chinua. Kai drew the face, and Chinua came along and taped on the onion skin hair.

Then, in the afternoon, my mom and I took the kids to the local “water park,” which is their newest, beloved discovery. We had three extra kids with us, but all of the bigger kids rode their bikes to get there, so it was just Isaac, Solo, Mom and I in the car. The water park is a pool with those inflatable climbing things on them, and one giant inflatable slide. After I was there for a while, I figured that I was mainly there to call an ambulance if needed, with the way the kids jump from the top of the slide to the bottom. It’s very soft, but Solo did a head first leap that made me shriek for five minutes. I have these brave and athletic kids, and their friends are the same, and I’m always flapping my arms on the edges: “Careful! Oh! Careful!” Anyway, no injuries yesterday.

Mom and I sat in chairs and watched the light change on the mountains around the valley, and the cows and egrets in a nearby field. (Sublime.)

Then we got home and had the aforementioned dinner, and found out that when my dad, Chinua, and our friend Neil had been building a work table at Shekina Garden, Dad had hammered his thumb. Only Chinua made it sound like his thumb had been cut off, and Vrinda’s eyes got wider and wider. “We taped it back on,” Chinua said. “They reattach well if you get to them in time.”

“Cut off?” she asked.

“Yes,” I said, “and it will grow two heads when it heals.” 

Realization dawned, and she smacked Kai, who was in a fit of laughter beside her.  

I also thought the picture of Neil, my dad, and Chinua riding around in Hot Daniel was a nice one. Hot Daniel is our community truck, a tiny little thing with stars painted all over it. Chinua rode in the back, and at the hardware store they had to push it to get it started again. “Also,” my dad said, “we had to pass the handle back and forth to roll the windows down.” 

Oh Hot Daniel. Such a cute mess. 

Such beautiful days. Sublime and ridiculous.

***

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Music and hugs and long summer nights.

Detroit is brick and green grass, people mowing lawns, oak and maple trees, late summer evenings. It is cousins and uncles and aunts, babies and grandparents. Detroit is suburbs and sidewalks, as well as downtown with its blocks of empty, grass grown fields where stately houses once stood. Detroit is autos and engineers, late nights, sleeping in, Belle Isle, museums, huge breakfasts, and drumming. Detroit is pool tables and laughter. 

We got into Detroit late on the night of the 13th, after leaving the house of a very kind reader, Sandwich, who opened her home to us when she found that we were driving through her state. It was already about 8:00 but the sky was very light, and Quran, one of our kids’ cousins, was already at Chinua’s parents’ house. We gave Roxanne, Chinua’s stepmother, a big hug, and then there was his father, and we all hugged him. Then sisters, more nieces and nephews, brother, sister in law. We ate mediterranean food and talked for hours. We felt as though we had stepped straight into a huge circle of love.

The next day was the start of the Bragg family reunion. It is the family of Chinua’s father’s mother’s parents. Their reunions began forty years ago and included all of the remaining siblings (I think there were ten or so) of Chinua’s father’s mother. Now there are three of the siblings that are still alive, and many descendants. Aunt Hattie and Uncle Bo, two of the three, were at this reunion, looking fit and amazing. We haven’t been to a reunion since Kenya was a baby. Can I say we were over the moon to attend this one? We planned our trip around it, actually, deciding to be in Detroit in July so we could go. 

Chinua's very well-dressed Great Uncle Bo, one of the elders of the Bragg family.

Chinua's very well-dressed Great Uncle Bo, one of the elders of the Bragg family.

It started with a bone-crushing hug from Chinua’s cousin Derek, and all the family exclaiming over how grown up our kids are now. (They are!) We ate, danced, walked around downtown Detroit, we went to museums and one park. We talked a lot and hugged a lot. I have always felt privileged to be brought into Chinua’s huge, welcoming family, and I felt it all again. There is something about a family, especially one like this, who have had reunions every year for forty years straight. 

One night I babysat my nieces and nephew in the hotel while all the others went out for karaoke. The girls began calling me Auntie Rainbow, because they forgot Rachel a few times and I told them they could call me Auntie Rainbow. To be honest, I don’t know why this is the first time I thought of it. There’s something so sweet about a little niece saying, “Auntie Rainbow? I can’t sleep.”

Other highlights included 

* Many games of pool, which Solomon discovered he both loves and has a lot of talent for. Some of it might be his Granddad’s gentle encouragement. 

* A trip to Belle Isle for drumming, swimming, a giant slide, and a picnic

* A campout at our brother and sister-in-law’s house: more drumming, roasted marshmallows, dominoes.

* A grandchildren photo session too cute for words

* Long talks with sisters

* Seeing more of Chinua’s childhood spaces

* A walk with one of our auntie’s, hearing her talk about her childhood in Alabama

* A visit with our friend Amy.

Detroit is beautiful and full of family and good things. We’re in Canada now, making slow progress across a land of a hundred thousand lakes. But that is a story for another day. 

A Work Day

Yesterday I was hard at work in our studio, the detached room right behind our outdoor kitchen that Chinua or I lock ourselves in for focus and concentration. It sort of works. I get visitors like the one above, who want me to make them tea. (That's the door, which has a large gap at the bottom perfect for Isaac or Wookie to peer through, or mosquitos to flood through.) 

And I get lovely visitors like geckos, or cats who look at me through the window, or, on days like yesterday, sons bearing special drinks. In the morning Kai knocked on the studio door with a cup of strawberry smoothie, and in the afternoon it was Leafy with a lemon ice drink. 

And I worked away and thought that I am a very blessed woman, to have such lovely office deliveries. Iced drinks on a hot day, "I love you's" called under the door... even when it feels like there is a lot to do, the day brings its gifts. 

A month of cooling.

I’m recovering from a few bad days of sickness and some nights which included the sudden start (in my life) of sickness-related asthma and a couple of middle-of-the-night trips to the hospital. Our town hospital. Argh. What can I say. I may have ended up in tears when I couldn’t breathe and the doctor was still insisting that nothing was wrong with me. I cried them into letting me use the nebulizer and then I could breathe again. I don’t know where the doctors I saw learned, or whether they want to be doctors, but they seem to have a grudge against people who are sick at 3:00 am. Which, fair enough, is a pain of a time to be diagnosing anyone. But to my credit, I don’t make a habit of dancing around village emergency rooms at 3:00 am for nothing

All is well. I now have an inhaler for my imagined inherited asthma, and I slept last night for the first night in days. 

 

And what I really want to talk about is the way that October has snuck up on us and given us a big bear hug from behind. October. I love October, and I don’t think it’s for the same reasons that you love October, because mine is probably different from yours. I love any new month, really, especially since I have begun making little creative goals for myself and have been mostly fulfilling them. And this is the month where it will cool down a little but it still isn’t really cold, and the rice is tall and green, and things will start picking up and getting exciting in the walking street market (by which I mean: food! Interesting food, right down the street from me!) and I will catch glimpses of our town’s Jack Sparrow, and the statue man who lets people paint on him and who Solo thought for years was a real statue. And people will take pictures of my house and I will try not to be annoyed, and the sky will be impossibly blue. 

October is rewriting, watching Skillshare videos (so exciting!), drawing and making mood boards, fall cleaning (Out, clutter! Out!), walking, running and riding my bicycle, better morning habits, living in joy, playing board games, going for hikes, cooking and cooking and cooking with no waste (my new goal), reading aloud to my kids, popcorn and tea and homeschooling. I think October will be good.