Fermented turtle feet.

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I am finally home after my unexpected trip. 

I walked home from the bus station with my lugguge and could hear Chinua playing trumpet as I got close. Wookie whined at the gate when she realized it was me. Then there were all the hugs, sweaty ones from kids at the end of a long hot day. I sat beside Chinua at the piano and we talked about music. I lay beside Isaac as he went to sleep. “Just one time this week, okay?” I said. He threw his arm over me and drifted off.

This morning I stepped over Solo, Leafy and Kenya, all asleep on the front porch. This is a new thing, the sleeping on the porch. I like it. I wouldn’t do it, when my bed is only a few feet away, but I like it. I like them creating adventure wherever and whenever.

Yesterday I finished my most recent edit of Demon’s Arrow. Today I sent it off to my new editor, a friend who lives here in Thailand. The book is nearly finished, although we have to hurry if we’re going to have it out on release date: October 25th! 

I have been floating, not always in the safest of spaces. Old wounds have reopened, my anxiety cat has woken me at night, sitting on my chest. And when I am away from home and family, it seems as though I am untethered. I’m not, of course. But that is easier to remember at home. 

I have wondered, at times, how it is that someone like me came to be surrounded by so many people. Such an introvert, such a strange mind. But I see it more and more clearly; I couldn’t do without them.

Here is Isaac with another sweaty hug. Here is Solomon, rushing into the room dancing while Chinua is showing me songs on the speakers, telling me his theories on the connections between jazz and rap. Solo pulling out everything he has drawn while I have been away. Leafy reminding me that he is going to be thirteen in January, as though perhaps I have forgotten. (I know, it’s impossible.) Kenya and the menu she created for dinner (I was too late for it.) Megalodon stew (sold out.) Fermented turtle feet soup. (Sold out.) Pasta with white sauce. Available for about $300. 

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Here is morning. The neighbors pull their carts out onto the street to sell rice porridge or coffee. Children on the porch. My plants need watering. A pup who needs a haircut. We’re out of eggs. I need to buy bananas for smoothies. The ladies at the market will ask me where I’ve been. They’ll pat me on the arms and tease me and the gentleness of these greetings will nearly make me cry. 

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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. Last month’s patron-only post: At Home.

Relating.

Some true things:

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(Chinua gets credit for all of these photos.)

These people are now 6’3” (190.5 cm) and 5’10” (177 cm), respectively. They have always been the best of friends, something I have had to remind them of in the last couple of years. Their relationship is one of opposites, and though it hit some turbulent waters, it seems to be smoothing out a bit. It has to be so beneficial to have a sibling like this; only a breath away, but so different that it is sometimes difficult to find ways to agree.

I didn’t know that parenting would be so much about teaching good conflict skills. (Learning good conflict skills.) Relating is hard. But it is lovely to find them laughing together more often than arguing again.

They are some of the best people I know.  They are deep, kind, wise, and thoughtful. But they are different in the ways they process information, think about the world, think (or feel) about God, approach conversations, make sense of things around them, and approach people. Relating is very, very hard for everyone. It's interesting to have a study of relating in my own home.

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There are many different ways of relating. Here are some: 

Walking side by side. 

Talking about your day.

Not talking about your day.

Cooking without talking, in happy silence.

Discussing Science.

Noticing things together, like moss, mushrooms, or flowers, tall trees or crooked-legged dogs.

Listening to invention ideas.

Writing letters.

Drawing pictures.

Listening to music, noticing lyrics and melodies you haven’t before.

Washing dishes.

Looking at birds through binoculars.

Riding motorbikes near each other.

Singing or learning a new song.

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When I am having a hard time with social skills or relating to people, I sometimes wonder how God can relate to me, and whether I am too hard for him to relate to. Silly in a way, but it is a real fear. Lately I think about all the different ways God relates to us: Through the living breath of Jesus in the world (that mystery), through the words and poetry of Scripture, through Science and the billions of carefully crafted molecules drifting through the world in gorgeous arrangements, forming clouds and butterflies and mold and mountains. Through our breath, expanding and deflating our lungs. Through our love for each other, clumsy though it may be. Through music and symmetry, air, ground, design, life itself.  

When I notice these things and my heart is remembering, I am relating to God. He will always be infinitely better at relating to me than I am to him, and some people are better at relationships than I am. They read people more easily and don’t melt down as much. But God is so much better than any of us that the distance doesn’t matter. It only matters that we hear his particular voice for us. He shaped us to relate to us as we are. For me, I hear his voice in nature, color, and the rhythm of words and that is a good way of relating, after all.

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Life often feels confusing, unlike a handful of stones. Or like a handful of stones if a handful of stones had thoughts or ideas branching out to other stones and then those stones didn’t necessarily get along, or they had beliefs that built themselves tiny houses and walled off from each other. So it is nice, at times, simply to hold a handful of stones and look at them for a while. To quiet my heart and listen for the simple ways God reaches out to me. He is always singing to us and over us, if we can only hear him.

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Now you can support my writing on Patreon. Patrons can give as little as $1 a month, and get an extra post each monthA special thanks to new patron, Karen Engel! I really really appreciate your support, it helps me to keep going with writing and publishing my work. The Prologue draft for World Whisperer 4 is now up for patrons in the Blue Whale Tier and above! Thank you so much for your support.

A beautiful gift.

Getting back to school at the beginning of our school season has taken my breath away, to say it in a somewhat dreamy way. I feel like I run from morning till night and sometimes we are doing spelling words or discussion questions at 9:30, right before bed. It is worth it, and I know that I just have a few years ahead of me that are very full, and I won’t wish them away.

They are full of the beauty of bad puns,

Cups of coffee under the white flowering tree,

Teens who sing me happy birthday (my own and others that I love)

Good discussion,

Endless discussion,

Discussion first thing in the morning when I’m still making smoothies,

Trips to the market,

Pencils and pens,

Being read to by a nine-year-old,

Love,

And fairy dust.

And sometimes I am very tired from it all. Even good gifts can make you tired. And sometimes good gifts take your breath away in even dreamier ways.

I just had a birthday and my beautiful, tall, kindhearted daughter gave me this as a present:

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I wish someone could have taken a picture of my face, because I couldn’t speak for several moments. I couldn’t figure out what I was looking at for a minute, because it was a print of Isika, a character that I made up in my own head, and how did that happen? But as it turns out, Kenya drew it, had it printed, and gave it to me, rendering me speechless. 

It bodes well for a magical year. I’m praying it is so. 

On our way.

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It's beautiful Easter Sunday and I’m writing from a hotel in Chennai that looks delightfully as though it was designed in the seventies and then never updated. It’s old Indian fancy, once of my favorite kinds of fancy. There is a shoe shine machine in the lobby that boasts white, black, and cream shoe polish. It makes me wish I had shoes to polish. In Madurai we stayed in a “boutique hotel,” which I believe meant that the lampshades were Ikea-style. 

What people don’t tell you about traveling is the struggle to find the cheapest hotel humanly possible that doesn’t have bedbugs. We have managed it, but I now have two grey hairs instead of one. (I could well have many more, but since my natural hair color is very ashy, it’s hard to tell. Chinua has lots of grey hair and a grey beard. When he grows his beard out I call him Greyhame.) ((I just went back and changed all the words I has spelled “gray” to be “grey.”)) We are so close to returning home. The first part of our trip was work-related. We come back when we can to visit and help Shekina community in Goa, helping our communities to stay healthy and connected. The last couple weeks was an exercise in refreshing our traveling muscles. We haven’t really traveled in India (we usually just come to Goa and then head home) since 2011, so it felt like time. Working at a Jesus Devotional Community for travelers includes remembering what it is to BE a traveler.

So we boarded trains and then taxis in a combination of travel and vacation. We traveled from Kochi over the mountains to Munnar, which was more beautiful than we could have imagined. Mile after mile of tea plantation hills stretch into the distance, and when we were there, it was a bit hazy, but the jacaranda trees were blooming, which more than made up for the haze. We huddled in our tiny taxi, guitars and trumpets jamming into our shoulder bones, gape-jawed in awe. Kenya had her birthday (she’s fourteen!) and got a pair of binoculars for her present and we each had a scoop of chocolate ice cream instead of cake. We planned to go to a wildlife sanctuary on her birthday, but we drove two hours in a jeep on a crazy bumpy road to get there and then found that the sanctuary was closed due to a fire in a different national park (?) and no amount of pleading would get them to allow us in. It was a beautiful drive, though. We sighed and watched monkeys for a while, then began the long drive back to our guest house. 

On another evening we watched some Kathakali Dance Theater and went backstage to see the actors get ready. Afterward came some traditional Keralan martial arts, which rendered us speechless because they were so dangerous! Sword fighting with metal swords that shot sparks when they hit one another hard. Lots of flips and jumps and spears and a knife fight and the kids were ecstatic. Kai, Kenya and Leafy were called to be volunteers as one man long jumped over ten people. 

We got in another car and drove to Madurai, down the steep mountains of the Western through long South Indian plains covered with egrets and herons, past giant trees filled with bats, past churches and temples, through dusty hot towns. In Madurai we stayed the night, then flew to Chennai (no train tickets available.) And now we are almost home. It has been beautiful- that kind of restful, unifying trip that we love. But we are all eager to get home and be in our sweet wooden house in Pai, reunited with Wookie and ready for normal life to begin again. I want to work in the mornings, to cook my own food, to eat salad (all the salad!) To speak Thai and to be back with our friends. 

Today I'm thankful for:

- Resurrection- Jesus who cannot be suppressed by death or earth or stone or any force. 
- Girls who turn 14 in a jeep and don't complain.
- Amazing South Indian accents and mannerisms.
- The best food I have eaten, ever, in life, ever.
- Ideas, dreams, words, and poems. 
- Chinua, who is beautiful and wise and such a good husband for a girl like me.

Always here.

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Kenya is watching the birds and I am watching Kenya. She sits on the porch railing with a cup of tea, watching the sun rise, and she is lovelier and more colorful to me than any bird, though I love watching them too. Her eyes follow a tumble of feathers as two birds quarrel and peck, flying through leaves and under branches. I know she is trying to identify them, as I did a moment ago.

“Do you like seeing birds you have already found?” I asked Chinua yesterday. He carries his bird book from country to country, checking apps and pulling out his binoculars at every chance. 

“It depends if I like the bird,” he said. There is a collector’s obsession to birding, and then there is the joy of calls and feathers.

I know I have seen a million bee eaters here in Arambol. They fly over and around me as I walk through the coconut grove, and I will never grow tired of them. Each one is perfect. There are weaver birds, magpie robins, parrots, tailor birds and crows. And more. The grove is alive with flying things. 

We arrived in Goa a few days ago, after a couple days in Chennai, walking through traffic, eating South Indian food and marveling at how the smells and sounds make us feel at home. Kenya cried tears of joy when we left the Chennai airport and came upon a row of taxi men, a stretch of auto rickshaws, and smoky, cluttered air, filled with a thousand different fragrances. To understand her joyful tears, you have to understand India, how it gets in your blood, how Kenya was raised in this land that seethes with life and every smell carries a memory. 

I am more complicated than my daughter. I am joyful in this place, and then also conflicted, feeling how my loyalty and longing for my home in Thailand ripples inside of me. I notice the constant change in my village and mourn the way the giant hotel crashes into our view of the hill I have always rested my eyes on. I love the sea and throw myself into it, and I stop to talk to an old friend who tells me her husband died recently. I enjoy my old house here, and feel penned in by the three story houses that have continued to grow around it. Life in India is change, constant and out of my control. 

The coconut trees are still here- the same ones Leafy hugged when we returned after our time in the mountains of North India. They were small here, and memories of their tiny bodies and chirpy voices are around each corner. And now my leggy daughter sits on the railing (the same marble porch where Leafy cut his head and turned into Optimus Prime) and her eyes seek the birds. Isaac throws himself into the waves. The coconut grove seems small now that no children cry as we walk through it. Rather, their long legs eat it up and we are home in moments. The morning is everything here, the orange sun lighting the trees with golden light. The birds are here with us. They are always here.