In a new space.

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How do you make a house feel like a home?

Our new house is beautiful. It is a sudden rise up, a view and some space, but we have not changed, our money situation has not changed. So how do we reconcile this shift? How do we hold it and live inside of it, expand and live in these spaces? How do we make a home here?

The younger kids roam. They ride their bikes and their scooters. Solo rides his wave board, all geared up with elbow pads and knee pads, looking like a kid in a catalog. They run to Winnie and Josh’s house to hang out with their friends, then all of them careen over here.

The older kids hide out. They find privacy where they can, in their rooms. Kenya draws and reads. Kai tests out the computer he bought with money he saved up, a great bargain when his host family moved away and sold it to him. He throws a football (An American football, Leafy insists. A football, Kai replies, in an old argument between people who feel more rooted here or there) to his siblings with his excellent arm, and they catch it again and again. Or they all go to the basketball court.

(Rumor has it that the village was talking about a certain kid of ours (maybe Solo) who was at the basketball court at 6:00 in the morning the other day. I have a feeling that not much of what we do here will go unnoticed.)

Chinua builds shelves, installs things, and plays his trumpet. I go through boxes. But I can’t wait to finish unpacking before having people over, so people are here among the boxes, in the bones of our new life, not yet settled, not yet complete. It doesn’t feel like home if others are not here. This is the life we have always lived. I don’t know how to make it homey any other way.

So I cook and we eat together outside. We have a covered outdoor table, the delight of my heart, in our carport. Who needs to cover a car? We would rather have a table there—a mystery to our landlords, who protect their car from rain or sunshine. Every countertop in our kitchen is too short for me, so I have embraced the old art of sitting while chopping. We have dinner and Bible circle with our friends over, and everyone is a bit astounded by our new view. The light shows off on the hills. We sit on cushions in the living room, surrounded by bugs, cups, tea, and hot water in the middle of the circle.  We read John 5 together, and discuss. I am always thankful for the perspective people from around the world bring, and this time is no different, as we hear about spirituality in Mexico, Spain, and the Philippines.

I want to try to live in my life, not drift along. Probably writing stories will help. Stories of our life here in this place. And to live in something beautiful, something more spacious than we are used to? I guess it is just thankfulness that helps with that. To acknowledge what we have been given. A view. That’s a mighty thing. I didn’t form those mountains, but there they are for me to see. I feel small in comparison. I didn’t plant these trees, but here they are. It is a vulnerable thing, to learn to receive. Inside I feel used to scrapping along, sure that what I have comes from my own power. Fists up.

How do you make a house feel like a home? Open hands, relaxed shoulders, lights and candles, sitting together. Songs in the house, maybe a dance party. Homeschool and students coming to learn. Figuring out the rhythms of life. (There has to be milk for the morning, because the store is far away.) Comforting crying children. Sorting out arguments. Driving to town for meditation. Cutting flowers for a vase. Planting a vegetable garden. There are hundreds of ways to make a house feel like a home.

Hot Season Days.

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Chinua is back and we are in long days that start off cool and, by mid afternoon, are hot in the way that makes your clothes feel like they just came out of the dryer. Pool time. Sitting under fans eating fruit. Cleaning and painting and writing and planning.

This is the smoky/hot season. A different kind of time.

People give each other nods in the street. I see you stayed. I stayed too. Much of our international community has fled the smoke for the islands. We wear masks sometimes. Sometimes we forget. It’s not so bad, it will be better in a week or so.

At the garden, the grass crunches underfoot no matter how much we water it. Dried leaves pile up. The new leaves are sprouting. Josh and Neil put in a new watering system in the food forest and it’s a delight.

Isaac has a loose tooth and tells me, “I love my loose tooth.” A long time ago Kenya told me she wanted to keep her loose tooth as long as she could because she would miss wiggling it with her tongue. We are a fidgety people.

I finished my final paper and have taken a quarter off to finish writing World Whisperer 5 and other things. I’m trying to pace myself more. It’s a bit nuanced for me: I either want to do all the work or none of the work, but I’m trying to learn how to work in a relaxed, sauntery fashion.

I painted Kai’s room. He moved from the very back of the outer house to the front of the outer house, and his space looks much better. Things I still need to paint: the back outer room, the kitchen, the downstairs back room. Things I need to clean and sort: everything. The car is in the shop getting prepped for a trip to Chiang Mai. The boys washed the motorbikes and themselves.

Life during a break is good. Ordinary grumpiness in the heat. Teenager stuff. Everyone tripping over each other. The good kinds of irritation, springing from a full house and a lot of love.

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Lessons, then and now.

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I love koels. They’re not so much to look at, just a non-descript medium sized black bird, but their calls do something to my soul. They remind me of our first days in the jungle house in Goa, sitting on the porch, listening to the new strange sounds all around me, and the night that is never quiet. For a time, there, I thought I would die of homesickness. But I didn’t die, and I have found a sort of home in the world.

But back then, with all my little children, so cute and sticky, I studied the hard lesson of finding a home in myself. This is a lesson that continued, even now, with all the teenagers. With the terse language and independence, with the support of tall people. How to make a meal, offer something, perhaps be rejected, and then come back home to dwell inside my own house, my skin and bones and muscles. 

Not that my kids reject me. They’re the kindest people I know. It’s the shifting landscape of need that I find tricky. They need me in different ways. And I see the gaps in their experience, the ways we have not been all they need, and I can only pray that grace fills all the holes.

It’s no use to wish yourself different. I think the Internet is bad for this. A few hours on Facebook can have you wondering why you are the way you are, why life seems so effortless for everyone else. It has you second-guessing yourself as a parent, friend, human being. Other people seem to relax more, be less introverted, less intense. 

Come back to yourself. Sit easily here, you are made as you are, and you are allowed to be that particular bird, with your own call, sitting in your own tree. No one is as easy as you may perceive. We all wonder how to make our mouths do the right thing sometimes. (Is this a smile? Or am I grimacing again. Which words are meant to come out next?) 

God comes home to himself on a day of rest. He creates and then sits and regards his work. He makes a way for us to be at home in ourselves. At rest in creation, walking the woods, listening to birds, marveling at the veins under our skin.

***

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Dear Leafy, (to my 13-year-old son)

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Dear Leafy,

When you have this expression on your face, we know the next thing that comes out of your mouth is going to be good.

Is the world ready for you?

You’re thirteen. (A sixteen-year-old, fourteen-year-old, and thirteen-year-old is a lot of teens.) 

Your hands, feet, and shoulders are bigger than any I have seen on a kid your age. I’m calling it: 6’5”. Let’s see if I’m correct. I’ve been taking a lot of photos and video of you. I want to capture you before you change. 

Here you are in this magical moment, living on the line between boy and man. You’ve traveled well this last year, blooming and exploding into confidence. You have a natural, lovely way of looking at the world, as if you expect it to offer you good things. And it does. It offers you humor, light, invention ideas, and new flavor combinations.

You love: creating food, seeing how things mix together, one-liners, Stephen Universe, singing and playing ukelele with Kenya, baking hard-tack or frying biscuits, and your family. You don’t love bees or being unsafe. You may be the one on the ground, telling the others to come out of the tree. You love justice. You hate injustice and you always have. 

We have some moon clay or something like that, that someone gave you for your birthday, and you brought it to me and said, “Look, Mom! It has almost no tensile strength but incredible compressive strength.” You love Science. You still walk in circles when you think. You don’t love it when someone interrupts your thought process. (Especially a younger sibling.) 

Also, you are hilarious. You always, always make us laugh, and your timing is amazing.

You’re just the most incredible kid. I really love you, Leafy. Life would be boring without you.

Love,

Mama

***

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Don't Let Your Wildness Go.

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We went to the park (the new playground, a dream come true) and I sat under a tree with my books. Isaac and Solo played, but Solo had a hard time enjoying himself.

He wanted to make sure Isaac was playing well, not being unfair, that everyone had a chance at the slide. He kept running back to me to report on the slide situation.

He was taking on all the weight again. It’s a bit too much for a ten-year-old boy.

Oh, Solo.

I want to tell you this:

Try to stop worrying.
Let the others mess up their own fun and then figure it out. Only step in if someone is in danger.
Swing as high as you can.
Go and watch ants in the grass.
Dream your own dream.
Be a kid.
Learn it now,
before it becomes a habit written in the lines in your forehead,
before you can’t let it go
before you have to unlearn decades of trying to control outcomes,
and people
and whether anyone gets their feelings hurt,
and whether anyone is unhappy,
before you have built the entirely wrong idea of your role in the world,
Wise, beautiful artist son,
Wild One,
don’t let your wildness go.
Go and watch the clouds drift by.
You’re allowed.

Trust me.

***

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.