A Tangle of Cousins

IMG_6316.JPG

It’s a tangle of people, a pile of cousins. It’s beautiful and sad, because we live far away from one another. Distance heightens our happiness at being close to one another, and brings a sadness that a goodbye is coming.

Nieces are: help in the kitchen, talks about books, Harry Potter trivia, warm squishy hugs, a little hand pulling mine, being called “Auntie Becca” (not my real name), making big batches of mango shake, imaginary land rules (Dragon only breathes fire and ice, not water), quirk for days, and a lot of laughing. I love watching the cousins together, the older ones being great older cousins to the younger ones. It’s a mishy mashy pile of love.

Time with my brother and sister-in-law is: quickwitted jokes, quips and laughs and their very generous hearts. Lara looking out for me, my brother equal parts wisdom and stupidity (little brother forever). Chinua and Matty wrestling, a more even match than they have ever been. Game nights of wink murder and charades, Seven Wonders and Monopoly. Street food and water play for Song Kran.

We cram every possible moment in, because we only have two weeks. We lose sleep, the kids get grumpy, we keep them up too late and eat under the fairy lights strung in my tree. We invite our friends over to show each other off. (These are our amazing friends- this is our amazing family.) We swim nearly every day, because the heat is incredible.

Sometimes the joking or sarcasm becomes too much and then we return to softness. We check in with each other and reassure each other.

I love them so much I feel like my heart will burst with it. Love touched with sadness.

Thanks for coming, beautiful family. 

IMG_6318.JPG
IMG_6317.JPG
IMG_6319.JPG
IMG_6320.JPG
IMG_6323.JPG
IMG_6321.JPG
IMG_6322.JPG
IMG_6315.JPG

***

Now you can support my writing on Patreon. Patrons can give as little as $1 a month, and get extra vlogs and posts. I really really appreciate your support, it helps me to keep going with writing and publishing my work. A new Patron only post (An Illustrated List of Good and Inspiring Things) is up now.

I like what you have made.

IMG_4747.JPG

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?

***

Now you can support my writing on Patreon. Patrons can give as little as $1 a month, and get extra vlogs and posts. I really really appreciate your support, it helps me to keep going with writing and publishing my work.

Swan dives on shark slides.

IMG_9812.JPG

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.

***

Now you can support my writing on Patreon. Patrons can give as little as $1 a month, and get extra vlogs and posts. I'm so thankful for you! 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! 

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.