Dear Ian,

 Radiant.

Radiant.

It has been two years since you died because of stupid leukemia. And I know you are alive somewhere in some amazing existence, possibly storming through the universe, involved in shenanigans on a cosmic level. But we miss you. 

Christy and the girls came to live in Pai, did you know that? It has been the most beautiful thing, to have them near us. I wish you could see Asha reciting the first 26 numbers of Pi, rattling them off effortlessly. She is a sunny, radiant being, irresistible in smile and nature. And Fiona keeps your face fresh in all of our minds—she looks so much like you. She is deep and creative, passionate and lovely. She has a great sense of humor and loves playing tricks on people. Do you remember how it was hard for a while, when she and Isaac played together as toddlers? He was a year younger but strong and not careful with his strength, and she was a tender flower. I remember we had to keep them apart. Now Fiona says Isaac is her best friend, and they play for hours. She runs around with her long braids flying, chasing and running and leaping around him.

I think you would love the fact that Chinua plays trumpet now. You know how he likes to challenge himself, so he picked one of the hardest instruments and pushes himself every day. He could just choose to stick with instruments he has mastered, but he won’t do that. He played trumpet during a concert last month, and it was beautiful. He misses you. I know he wishes he could have those long talks. I know if you were here you would join the guys on their birding expeditions. You would probably order them all special gear. And find some far off place to plan for, a birding trip like no other. I know you would bring the enthusiasm to another level, a special Ian level. One I have only ever seen mirrored in Asha. 

When Asha visits, she sometimes sits on our steps and says hello to people passing by my house. The people she greets seem delighted to see a red-headed freckled angel talking to them. I often look at her like she is an alien creature. Why would you want to bring more attention to yourself? Now people are talking to you! But she loves it. You would be so proud of her and Fiona. They’re resilient and fierce, kind and joyful. You would be proud of Christy, too— the way she greets her life with openness every day, even on the hard days. She is always pushing for more adventure— going camping at a music festival, heading off to Nepal for visas. Sometimes it amazes me that she is not bitter, but I know she works hard to release feelings of anger and bitterness. She stays hard at that work— she is working to be enveloped in love, to stay close to the heart of Jesus. She blesses everyone she comes close to because of who she is and the generosity of her spirit.

I like to sift through memories of you. Christy and the girls look at your photos and videos, nearly every day. I remember when you came to India, how you and Chinua went on motorbike rides and took photos in banjara camps, playing with flashes and slow shutters. I remember how hard you worked for us to be able to stay in Santa Cruz for three months in 2010. I remember you and Chin going on adventures together, diving or just driving. I remember walking through the Chiang Mai Night Safari together. A staff member let you hold a kinkajou and you fell in love with it. You held Fiona when she was too tired to walk. I remember your open questions to me. “How are you doing? Let’s talk about it.” I can hear your voice asking. Sometimes I imagine what you would say in whatever situation I am in. I imagine you putting your arm around Christy or playing with your beloved girls. I imagine laughter. Lots of laughter.

You are probably having a great time, with no more pain, no more misunderstandings or any of the peculiar foibles of the world we are in here. But we still miss you. We love you, and we’re still mad that you’re gone. 

Play time in the sun.

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Everything seems beautiful to me lately. The hazy edges of the mountains, the way the color is bleached out of the landscape. The gentle browns and lilac at the edges of the day. The orange sun, bright as a marigold in the late afternoon, just before it drops behind the mountains. My neighbors, our old blue motorbikes that are so good to us, Chinua’s whole person, jasmine and nightqueen flowers, oh, the flowers everywhere. 

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Maybe things seem more beautiful because of a lot of play, which restores the soul and body and mind and spirit. It’s Song Kran, one of my favorite play times of the year, because everyone I see is playing together, and there is no other time I can be riding my motorbike and have a complete stranger stop me, smile at me, and proceed to dump a bucket of ice water over my shoulders. Ro, Josh, Winnie, Kenya and I went out on the first day, which was a good one because it was crazy hot. We decided to leave the younger kids home so we could have one round by ourselves. We brought our water guns and roamed the town, getting a lot wetter than we ever made people wet. 

Families from neighboring villages went by in trucks, dousing us from buckets and coolers on their truck beds. Our artist friends had a crew by their art shop, and a refined artist I’ve known for many years turned a hose on me again and again. Ro was alternately for us and against us, but then so was I, using boring moments as chances to shoot water at my friends. 

I hope to never forget the sight of her when she got her hands on a hose, the pure glee in her face as she soaked us. The water droplets in the sunlight. Josh and Winnie marching along, united in a quest for fun. The man who grabbed me in a gentle hold and held a gigantic piece of ice to the side of my face, having done away with water entirely. (What? What is happening?) We went back and got the kids and had a great time roaming with them as well, although it was short-lived for Isaac, who screamed his rage when three people doused him with ice water, one after the other. I took him home and got him a towel, then ran out to find my friends and play some more.

Play restores. Let's not forget to play.

Long drives, lots of curves.

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We’re back and we just had our six year anniversary of living in Thailand. No wonder it feels so good to be home. Remember when I was searching for a home around the earth? My friend Winnie reminded me the other day, “You found it!”

I can be forgetful sometimes. It seems as though as soon as I leave my home I forget it. I start searching for it. "Where is it?" I panic. "Is it here? Is it there?" I am working lately on finding a home in my heart.

But here we are, back at our physical home. When we first got back to Thailand, we spent time with our friends who have a kids’ home here in the city. They are like family, hospitable and easy with their hospitality, and it’s a good place to land. Two large families live on the same property and when we arrive we bring the kid count up to 19! They all play together well, and I find it so soothing to be around big families and feel normal and not compare myself to single people’s time management skills. (I shouldn’t compare myself to anyone at all. I’m working on it.) 

The families flow effortlessly between English and Thai all day long and I love the music of it. I’ve borrowed a Thai story book and a Thai Bible from my friend to practice my reading. 

After we spent some time with the families—Chinua teaching some of the kids how to make a trumpet make a sound (you’re welcome, parents) and Leafy and Solo effortlessly absorbed into a group of eleven-year-old boys—we drove home. We dropped Kenya and Leafy off at camp first. (More on that later.)

We arrived home in Pai to rediscover the furniture that our dear friend gave us after she downsized from a family home to a condo. (All of her own kids grew up.) It was delivered on the day we left for India, so we had just put everything in the house and locked the door behind it. Arriving home to find it was like a very grown up Christmas. I’m most excited about the bigger dining room table and the dresser in my room. (No more pile of clothes to tear through when I’m looking for something to wear.)

In going through new stuff, Chinua and I thougt we should use our fresh eyes to do a whole spring cleaning and rearranging. So we moved the school stuff from the front room to the back, and made a table space outside under the tree. (Finally! I have been wanting a table under the tree forever. When we first moved in, there were a couple of falling-apart tables that I used to sit at till they truly fell apart. Now I have one again and we’ve been eating every meal out there. So happy.) 

After two days, I had to leave home again (what?) to pick up some Kenya and Leafy from camp and drop off Kai and our friend Vrinda for Senior High Camp. I left Solo and Isaac with their Superstar Dad and keep looking around to see if my kid is yelling, only to remember I left the yelling ones at home. The camp didn’t quite live up to Maple Springs fame, (nothing does) but it was fun and they had a great time. Leafy missed me, and today he seems a little like he needs to go home. To be fair, it was weird to land in the airport and then be dropped off at camp without even getting back to Pai. Yesterday we roamed the mall like a bunch of teenagers (well, they are teenagers and I'm sort of like one sometimes) and wandered through the art store and book store. We’re in a SPENDNOTHING month, so I restrained myself to buying two pens and an eraser, and a pour-over coffee filter. Which isn’t nothing, granted, but I’m out of pens and our coffee filter broke in the travels. 

My friend Prang and I went for a long walk around the neighborhood last night, and talked and talked and watched starlings darting around in the dusk. Leafy played Settlers of Catan with three of the girls, and Kai, Kenya, Leafy and I played Taboo with my friend Cindy and the other kids. We did away with points and competition and just yelled out guesses.

This morning I woke up to the sound of spotted doves, bulbuls, and koels, and soon kids were playing in the yard and I heard those sounds too. We may or may not be able to drive home after Kenya’s dentist appointment this evening (I’m not so great at making myself drive at night, not because I can’t but because I don’t want to, but this time I may do it, just because I want to be home so badly) and I can’t wait until Thursday, because it's art day and Kai and Kenya and I have plans. Right now four little girls in this house are preparing for a birthday party with scissors and tape and lots of paper folding, while listening to Zombie by the Cranberries. They're not so little anymore, these girls, but they are the same ones who told me they loved eating fish eyes, back when they were adorable five-year-olds in princess dresses. And I realized, I am in another country. And I realize I am now again, and all the little details of life—the shopping and chopping vegetables and cleaning out the old stuff— they all feel new and beautiful. Traveling does that, I guess, helps you to see your home through new eyes. Helps you to fall in love again.

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.

The Trains

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Our last days in Arambol were a flurry of visits, community events, and shopping— buying incense, spices and bedsheets, going to a beautiful movement meditation, guiding art meditations and devotion circles, and sitting with friends trying to get the goodness from every moment. There were also many visits to the toilet as we all got hit with some kind of belly sickness. We drank coconut water and bottles of water mixed with rehydration packets, and slowly felt better.

I drove down all the roads I could, finding villages I had never seen before. Through cashew forests, surrounded by the heavy fragrance of fermenting cashew fruit. I said goodbye to the neighbors and shopkeepers who have been so kind over the years. We spent as much time as possible with Miriam; the kids played games with her on the porch and they swam together in the sea. We ate a last breakfast with Sarah and Miriam and Laura, and waved goodbye to everyone when our taxi came for us. 

Then it was time to board a train. We went to the tiny train station and waited with our luggage, but the train was late. When I asked about it, the man said that we could jump on the general class of the next train in five minutes. 

“Right here,” he said, pointing out in front of the ticket office. 

So we waited there and the train came quickly, but the general class car stopped well ahead of where we were standing so we ran for it, with all our bags. These trains stop for only one minute, so getting on and off can be a bit of a fluster with five children and all our luggage. Thankfully our kids are bigger now and can jump on and off themselves.

Once we were on we found seats and looked around at our companions on the train. There were many of them! One came and took a few selfies with Chinua. The train moved through jungle and over bodies of water, inlets and river deltas, over mangroves and past many water birds. Kenya was feeling terrible, and she lay on the top berth while the big boys stood at the doorway with Chinua, looking out. The poor Kenya girl ended up vomiting in one of the most disgusting toilets I have ever seen, while I rubbed her back. She curled up on my lap, trying to feel better.

We reached a station somewhat near our destination and wound up outside the sleepy hot station, looking for a nonexistent taxi. Someone called one for us and as we waited, Kenya lay on the big duffel bed on the ground. The boys and Chinua took photos of a dog with a perpetually smiling face. When the taxi arrived, we piled in like a bunch of puppies, and went through some complicated car changes because of police stops and car authorization (ours was not authorized as a tourist vehicle. Kenya napped in the taxi and woke up feeling much better, thankfully, since most of the work was still ahead of us.

When we got to the hot, lovely little village, we were scruffy, sweaty, and tired. We found a little restaurant, known for its cheap clean food and homemade ice cream, and ate dosas. Then we found a rickshaw who told us he would take us to Kudle Beach, the next beach over. Two rickshaws drove us along lovely bumpy roads, and dropped us off at a point that was high on a hill, like the top of a cliff. 

“There are stairs,” they said, cryptically, and so we hefted our bags onto our backs and started walking down the giant stone steps. The only thing is that we have started traveling with one rolling suitcase (egads, scorn of backpackers!) which contains all the books I thought we might work on for homeschool (why do I do this every time? Every. Time.) and a year’s worth of incense that I bought in Goa, as well as several bedsheets, some shoes, and other odds and ends which were heavy. Kai bumped, lugged, and carried it down the stairs, down and down and down, until the stairs were more like boulders to climb over, and then we were at the beach, confronted by a beautiful expanse of sand. And a rolling suitcase. Ha!

Anyway, after looking through many different huts, we settled on three that were far across the beach, because they were cheap, pretty clean, and had a view of the sea. And there we stayed for three nights, swimming and walking and eating and playing cards. It was lovely and restful. The first night, Chinua joined a music circle of travelers who were delighted with the sound of the mandolin. “What is that?” one man asked. “It is the most magical instrument!”  But Chinua got sick again (he’s been fighting bronchitis) so the kids and I walked back and forth across the beach. I swam with my slippery fish children and we sat in restaurants, sketching, reading, and writing. 

Then it was time to get on our next train, and we chose an easier way back to the village, knowing that it would take us hours to get back up the mountain with all our stuff. We hired a boat, and it was the best investment of the month. When we got back to the main beach, I hiked into the town to get a couple rickshaws and then we drove back out to the point in the road where Chinua and the kids waited for us with the bags. The rickshaws drove us to the restaurant where we had lunch, and then we split up- the boys going to the most dystopic playground ever, and Kenya and I going into the town to explore. Lately Kenya and I like to dream about more travels together. She is such a great travel companion. I took some photos, bought a magnet for my fridge, and some snacks for the train. Then more rickshaws out to the train station. A bit of a wait, and we boarded a train that was much much better than the last one, with 3 tier AC seats. Isaac has been panicking a bit because we have to get on the train very fast- they often only stop for one minute- and he is worried that someone will get left behind. But everyone has made it on and off every train.

I got my very, very favorite seat on any train. It’s the lower side seat, out of the berth. You can sit or lay down, and you have a beautiful big window. With the AC and the comfy seat, I sat and dreamed and wrote notes of things to write. A few women came and sat on my seat and chatted with me for a while. One woman told me her husband worked at a nuclear energy plant, she played badminton for fun and stitched clothes in her spare time, and she loved traveling in India and practicing her English. She sat close to me, leaning on my bag on my knees. I loved every second of our long talk. 

The kids spread out and happily read or talked or played on devices. We ate samosas and biscuits and had beautiful train travels that day. The next day’s train was not quite as nice as we were split up a bit, but we have arrived at a homestay in Fort Kochi, South India.

I chose this place because Chinua is away for a couple of nights at a pottery workshop. It has been his dream to build a pottery workshop at Shekina Garden, as a form of meditation and a teaching tool for local kids. So he is there, and we are here. Fort Kochi is a soft and easy spot to be with the kids by myself. We are walking, and eating, and chatting with people we meet. It’s good to be here after a busy month in the community in Goa. 

I am planning to take a writing retreat to catch up on my writing at the end of April. Knowing this is helping me not to fret about the writing I’m missing, or my horrible word count, but just to be here, soaking it all in. Dreaming of Isika and Benayeem and Jabari. Watching the people walk by. Listening to my kids and all the funny things they say. It is good.

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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'm so thankful for my patrons! The Day in the Life video for February/March IS FINALLY UP! Ah, slow Internet makes me more patient. Thanks to new patrons, Jessie John and Donia Goodman. Love love love.