A little extra care.

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On Sunday I made community lunch, but first I had to shop. I bought 10 kgs of mountain rice, eight cabbages, a whole bunch of vegetables, and toor dal (to make sambar.) I need coconut, so after I bought everything else, I drove over to the coconut shop to pick up some fresh grated coconut.

Leaf told me about this shop when I thought there was no more fresh grated coconut in town, and I had despaired over it. The man who used to do it in the market shut his operation down. What to do? But then she told me about this place.

It’s a sort of warehouse-y home, with a collection of family members of all ages. I never know who belongs to whom. There are some babies, some women around my age who know everything about me (where I live, how many children I have, but they exaggerate how long I’ve been here—”10 years!” they say) and a few snoozing older men and women in cane reclining chairs.

On Sunday, however, only one person was there; one of the old men. I sat down to wait after I told him that I needed a kilo and a half of ground coconut. After a moment at the machine, he brought me a pot of coconut water and told me to drink it.

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“How should I drink it?” I asked, looking around for a cup or a straw.

“Just like that,” he said. “Out of the pot.”

So I did. I drank and drank and drank. It was from mature coconut, nearly like water, not as flavorful as young coconut. But I was thirsty, and it was good, and I drank about half the pot. When he was ready with my grated coconut, I stood to go, and he told me about the benefits of coconut water. “It’s good for your liver, your stomach, and all of your insides. It prevents cancer. It keeps you strong. (He popped his muscles for me.) It keeps you young. I am eighty-one years old!”

I told him that he looked remarkably young and strong. I went to pay and leave.

“What are you doing?” he asked. “Drink all of it.”

So I stood there and drank the rest while he watched, and when I was done, he nodded in approval.

It had been a more difficult kind of morning, one filled with self doubt and recrimination.

But God knew that I needed someone to extol the benefits of coconut water to me, and then make me drink a liter and a half of it, for my health. I needed some extra care, and that day, it came in the shape of a old man and a very large pot of coconut water. 

Links to here.

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Morning is light and cool air, cup of coffee, more edits. When I walk into the studio I light some incense and pray for God’s words and thoughts in me and through me all day long. The studio is messier than it should be. I am a messy artist, not a neat one, my mind is not tidy and neither is my workspace. I wish it was, but even if the space is not beautiful, beautiful things happen here.

We had an amazing conference last week. Introvert and sensory person that I am, I have needed some recuperation time, even though the conversations were lovely and the thoughts were deep. We were at a resort in Chiang Mai, which is a sort of floating space, not real life. Taking food from trays, not washing dishes. 

Back at home I drove to the market yesterday and on the way I saw an old friend who has moved to Australia. She used to work with her sister and mother at the noodle shop that is my second home. She waved me down and I hopped off the motorbike and hugged her. Her sister, whom I see several times a week, came and slipped her hand into mine and said “Rachel is my little sister now.” We clucked over one another, me over how big her little boy is, what Australia is like, and her over how tall my children are. (None of us can believe it, I hardly go out without someone remarking that they saw my son or daughter and couldn’t believe their eyes.) 

At the market, there were more friends. We talked and squeezed hands and touched each others arms. I bought things for salad (these greens are so beautiful, my friend said) and many bananas. I went to the laundry place later (I came home to find that my washer is broken) and told the lady that I had been away for a week and that was why I had enormous bags of laundry. “I know,” she told me. “Brendan has already been here to pick up his laundry and Christy has not come yet.” We talked about the best repair person in town. 

All of these things are links to here. Each neighbor, each smile. In this place there are one hundred kinds of smiles. Kind ones, cheeky ones from the motorbike, apologetic ones, ones that relieve tension. 

My landlords brought Wookie back after watching her for the week and she tore around in circles, yipping. My househelper brings her daughter over every day because it is term break for school. Yupa is four years old and a delight. Whenever Isaac comes to tell me something, she is right behind him, telling me a story in Thai, so that I have two kids talking to me at once in two different languages. 

Sometimes being a mother feels like being a nucleus, with different people whirling around with positive and negative charges of different intensity. Joe came over as well yesterday, a twelve-year-old friend. Later another friend, Siam came. And then our Japanese friends. And my landlord. So there they all were, each coming to talk for a few moments at a time. The teenagers. The dog. The little kids who spoke with words tumbling over one another. All linking me to the world, keeping me from floating off. God hemming me in behind and before.

Later I bought a canvas at an art store, ready to paint during my friend Leaf’s beautiful Devotion Circle. I found some white orchids and bought them too. Small conversations in each place. I went to get petrol and found the basket men sitting at the petrol station. One of them saw me and his eyes lit up. He walked toward me with his basket while I was taking the lid off the chariot’s petrol tank. He held a beautiful type of basket, hard to find around here, so when people come selling them, I usually buy one. (They’re nice and large and I use them for hampers—they slowly fall apart over time.) We chatted about price and I talked him down a bit. We joked back and forth. He went to get change for me, and I talked with the gas station attendants. “How much would you pay?” I asked. “You got a good price,” they told me. “Those are rattan, and handmade.” 

When he came back I gave him his original price. He ginned, the gas station attendants smiled, and he gave a little skip as he walked off. The light was very beautiful, then, making the trees glow as I drove over the bridge and up the hill in the chariot, my side-car holding one canvas, one basket, and dozens of small, shining moments. 

***

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. Thank you to this month’s new patrons, Jemma Allen and Julie Wells. The patron extras from last month are up. Here are last month’s extra blog post, Thoughts after 17 years of marriage, and the September Creative Update Video.

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. 

***

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.

They are teaching me.

Lately there is an occasional person who asks me how I’m handling all my freedom now that my kids are at school. And I laugh and laugh, because I am still homeschooling three kids. Which is only a small amount of kids to homeschool if you have been teaching more than three. I’ve been doing this four about thirteen years. It’s a commitment.

We’re having fun, just the four of us at home during the day. It’s a quiet bunch. They like to draw and create things on the computer. They need to be nudged back into study sometimes. Sometimes other friends come and learn with us. Another friend comes and gets a guitar lesson with Chinua. The house flows with learning.

Wookie is always around, cuddling with someone while they read or work. Often she’s with Solo. Those two love each other. I started a new English class so that I can really use the time wisely. After yesterday’s class, where we started the book “Elijah of Buxton,” and talked about the first chapter, which offered us a glimpse at our protagonist, Leafy started thinking about protagonists.

He came to me at 9:30, just before I fell asleep, to tell me what he had discovered. 

“I realized that almost all protagonists have more than one syllable in their name,” he said. “I've been counting them up and I would say nine out of ten.” 

I think I’m teaching them, but they are teaching me. 

“What is this chapter doing?” I ask. “What is it settling for us, right off the bat?” The family is warm, funny. Loves each other.

The family is warm and funny. Loves each other.

I cried, yesterday, missing Kai. It’s starting to sink in that he’s far away. I'm so, so happy for him, and I think he's thriving. but I am still his mother, and I miss him.

***

A few years ago,  I brought a few sticks of curry leaf tree home with me from India. One of them seemed to take, and I brought it to Devotion Circle to illustrate the concept of hope. 

“It doesn’t look like much,” I said. “It’s just a stick. But look at these tiny leaves. There is the hope.” 

Then I brought it home and killed it by forgetting about it. It wasn’t the most auspicious thing to do. I’ve been looking for a curry plant ever since. Leaf successfully transplanted a couple from India, but they are small and not mine to harvest, so though I have enjoyed watching them grow, I haven’t used their leaves more than once.

Yesterday, on my way back from driving Isaac to school on the motorbike, I saw a couple driving in front of me. The lady on the back was holding a big tree, and the leaves looked like curry leaf, but I’ve seen other similar plants that have fooled me here. Then the smell wafted back to me and I realized it was curry. I sped up so I could drive beside the couple and called out to them. 

“What is that?” I asked in Thai.

“It’s a curry tree!” the woman called.

“Are you selling it?”

They pulled over and I bought myself a giant curry leaf tree. 

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Leaf saw me and stopped to share the excitement. I put the tree in my basket and brought it home.

It’s as though God is telling me something. I am quick to lose (kill) hope. I despair over small set backs and slights. I grow disappointed, worried that God doesn’t see what is going on, what’s happening with my kids, what we need. But then the thing I need falls into my lap, and it’s almost as though that little hope tree has been growing the whole time. I didn’t lose it after all.

Wet Season

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The air is wet and old and full of life. It feels ancient even though it must be brand new, though maybe it has wound its way through ancient places, into the caverns, deep crevices of the earth that hold memories that go way, way back. 

It helps me to think of the air like this.

This morning Isaac woke up in a mood. Anything I asked him to do, he couldn’t do, because he was too tired. Getting dressed? Too tired. Using the front bathroom instead of the back bathroom (because it was occupied by a teenage sister who wasn’t delighted by his loud demands that she get out)? Too tired, and plus he doesn’t like that bathroom, not even a little. I was in a bit of a hurry, needing to drive for three hours for a morning appointment, so I had to turn over his small grumpy self to his aforementioned, long-suffering sister.

Our friend Claudia is visiting. She has appeared in these pages before, our dear friend Claudia who lived with us for a month in Nepal, dealing with children all little and amazing. She held Solomon a lot when he was a baby, played with him when he was three, ran down to the lake when he got lost, to look for him and now she gets to see him as a lanky almost-ten-year-old. “I love Solomon,” she told me. “He told me stories for an hour on Sunday, in the kitchen. About bears and America.” 

I know the stories. They are the same stories Solo often tells when he meets someone he hasn’t seen in a while, or someone new. He opens up by telling stories. And he loves hearing stories. I love this about him. It’s like he’s saying, “This is me and these are some things that have happened to me.” I remember when he was a little guy and he didn’t really know how to join in with family stories around the table, so he would say, “When I was on the mountain…” and launch into a long-winded imaginary happening. Yesterday, we were sitting around the table with Olga and Vrinda, and we somehow got into talking about toilets. Solo told us a bit about how he hates the loud toilet sound, so he gets up from the automatic ones and just runs out the door! But then sometimes it is hard to get the door open. It’s difficult, getting out the door ahead of the loud toilet sound.

Everything grows in this season. Things feel perpetually wet. The air is full of life: spores and molds, living things that land and grow and spread new life in new places. On walls, under cars, in the sponge of my motorbike seat. You have to admire it. It doesn’t stop.

When the rain pours hard, it feels cozy in the house, but not the kind of cozy where you are warm and insulated. It’s in the house (not well sealed) with us, fresh rainy air that isn’t enough to get us wet, but has us breathing in the mountains, the season. We are not insulated. We are in it, all the struggle of living things, the streams rushing down steep hills.  We are in the wet. And once you are wet in living things, it is hard not to be.

Like the heart. Like living where you allow difficult things to touch you and change you. Where you live among the stories that people tell you and the hurt or excitement of those stories come wafting to you on spore-filled air. You sit in the midst of joy and pain and feel what God always feels. And sometimes this is the air and the season of your work. It’s wet season.

And then sometimes, even in wet season, there is the clearest light that comes at the end of a soggy day. It turns all the water into diamonds, every tree is edged in light. You take a breath and feel the love of ancient things, the cloud of witnesses, the Eternal Love that remains throughout all the stories. Ancient and brand new, all at once. You can remain here in all this teeming life, because he is here as well. Transforming and making all things new. There is mold, yes, but also  there are flowers.

***

Now you can support my writing on Patreon. Patrons can give as little as $1 a month, and get extra vlogs and posts. A 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. A new patron-only post went up today: Things I Collect (A Reminder).