PHFR - First month in Thailand


So Thailand is a pretty place.

This is a national forest preserve, and a lovely place to swim.
The street we live on right now. But way down at the end of it from here.

Check out the trash cans made from recycled tires.
Even the noodles from the grocery store are pretty.


BamBam was overjoyed to discover I packed his trains.

baby gecko
Stopping at the little neighborhood shop to buy ice cream
It rained! Everything cools off when it rains.


I don't actually have any pictures for funny.


A touch of heat stroke last week.
A gas station bathroom.
How we all all these kids around. Totally not as safe as back home.
Bitey bugs and mystery rashes.

round button chicken


100 Millions Bits of Kindness

Sometimes the kids and I get into these conversations about why we're here and what our job is while we are. (I'm not talking about Thailand, but about the larger cosmic issues of existence and meaning, etc. Which does eventually tie into why we came to Thailand, but anyway.)

We teach them, because we firmly believe that it's true, that the purpose for which humanity was created is the completion of the creation. We were placed here, made in the very image of the creator himself, to carry out the work of completion, to bring the creation to it's greatest height and achievement. We're designed to create ourselves, each of us in the way we are given the ability to do, to bring order out of chaos, beauty out of brokenness, to participate in redemption. We were given a great deal of power in order to accomplish this mission, real power that can be used for good or ill.

(If you've ever wondered why it is that people are capable of hurting each other so and why would God allow that, just remember that people are also capable of loving and healing and building and doing incredibly great, selfless, things and they wouldn't have the power to do those incredibly good things if they didn't also have the power to use it to harm as well. You get to choose what you do with your power. You get to decide if the words you say to a child will destroy or build him stronger. You get to decide if your hands will be used to gently encourage and build up, or harm and hurt, damage and destroy. We teach our children this as well, knowing that every choice is building habits and inclinations, in one direction or another. Choose to be kind now, it will be even easier to do it again. Choose to indulge your desire to get back at someone today, tomorrow it will be an even stronger urge and harder to choose not to.)

So I asked the kids, "How do you think we finish creation, what can we do?"

I think we accomplish our mission in a myriad of different ways, like choosing forgiveness instead of hate, to pass through suffering with grace, choosing gratitude rather than self pity and complaining, to care for others rather than ourselves, to give instead of take, to love and serve instead of expecting to be served. We do this by unselfishly giving our lives for others, in grand gestures that cost us the rest of our time here on earth, and in the ongoing sacrifice of living every day more for others than ourselves. (Mothers know a lot about this one, so do fathers, and husbands and wives and teachers and all sorts of people who choose to give what they have to others.) I am convinced that daily we all hold in our power a portion of creation and it is affected by what we do with it. There is always something, right now, to be done to bring peace, life, light, and love to the world around us. (Even if the world around us is a house covered in toy trains and a poopy toddler. Or especially there. Who knows what that child will grow up to do and be.)

They thought about it for a little while and then the Girl answered, "Maybe if we say and do 100 million kind things we can get the job done."

I woke up last week to see that while we slept here on the other side of the world, someone had intentionally targeted civilians at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. Very soon after I saw a report that a US bomb had accidentally landed on a wedding party in Pakistan, killing 35 people. And after that there was an explosion, and a manhunt for terrorists, and people rejoicing over the death of one and the capture of another, and someone posted on facebook how disappointing it was that the attempt on the president's life failed. And then I read about the Central African Republic, what is largely a Christian nation, where now Muslim radical groups and the new rebel government are daily bombing Christian homes and churches and killing the children of pastors while they are out and my screen was filled with images of death, and dismemberment and destruction. I don't want to see any more pictures of blood and blown off limbs, and dead children, of bodies twisted and mangled and burned and destroyed.

And I thought, "How far we have to go! How deeply we have gone off course in our mission as humanity."

For the creation eagerly waits for the revelation of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility – not willingly but because of God who subjected it – in hope that the creation itself will also be set free from the bondage of decay into the glorious freedom of God’s children. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers together until now. (Romans 8:19-22 NET)

Newsflash, by the way, that's us. We're supposed to have God's spirit in us and be continuing the work of reconciliation that Jesus began. This healing thing is our job now people.

But as I caught up on all the coverage, there was a lot more being said about the people who ran to help. Just as with every tragedy in recent memory, there are stories of heroes, and people who put themselves in harms way to save someone else. There is a generosity of spirit and unselfish giving of resources and care in so many different ways. If we could only focus on continuing to do that, rather than the blaming and finger pointing we inevitably shift to, maybe we could keep this healing thing on track.

I think the Girl may be on to something. One hundred million kind things, deliberately unselfish words and actions, (including politicians and tyrants and people who direct multinational corporations and generals, imagine if those people did deliberately kind things in their daily decision making,) that may be how we all finish this thing called creation, and make it a worthy place for all of us to live.

It's a start anyway.

Who knows what kindness your single act may inspire another to do for someone else.


Some days...

Some days being a mother is standing in the kitchen on tired legs making dessert for children who have asked for it.

Some days it's not reading a bedtime story and instead helping them see all the things they should have seen earlier, when they were supposed to be cleaning up while you made that dessert. It's holding your tone as even as you're able, knowing that it's not as even as you want it to be.

It's mopping the floor while they shower, to get the stickiness off before the ants find it.

Some days it's looking wryly at your feet and ankles, swollen to twice their normal size, when they ask you to rub their feet when you are tucking them into bed for the night, and then doing it, wishing you had someone around to ask to rub yours.

Some days it's counting days to when you are no longer parenting solo and thinking of all the moms you know who have no end in of solo parenting in sight.

It's reminding a son, again, to get ready for bed when he's distracted, and saying "Because I told you to," for at least the hundredth time since breakfast.

It's picking up toys with a toddler, all over again.

It's firmly putting the pajamas on a wriggly two year old boy, lacking the energy to make it a game this time, just setting the jaw and getting it done. And then doing it all over again because he has to take them off to go pee. It's apologizing for not making the teeth brushing fun tonight, as you hold his head and just do it. It's all you have left in you to do.

It's telling a 6 year old to get back in bed, as she complains about something silly, and practically hollering it over the screams of the toddler, still angry because you held him down and cleaned his teeth.

It's calming the toddler down, and getting him to lay still in bed looking at books, only to have it all undone by someone turning on a movie just as he's near to sleep and spending the next half hour in the bedroom with him, saying no, as he wails again and again and again, "Pwease watch movie mama."

It's letting tears of frustration fall as you simply remain at his side, and refuse to give in.

It's hauling your heavily pregnant body all the way back upstairs on those hurting swollen feet to keep a promise to little girls that you would return when you were done getting the toddler to sleep. It's gently rubbing their foreheads so they wake up just enough to know you were there, and then, hopefully, have no reason to wake at night and need you again.

It's walking back downstairs with 6 water cups and a misplaced pot in hand, past the able bodied people on the couch watching a movie, and into the kitchen that looks just as it did when you left it after cooking dinner and dessert for everyone.

It's washing dishes, and choosing not to feel sorry for yourself, today you will just get it done rather than delegate.

And finally, a few hours later than you had hoped, it's sitting down with some chocolate, and maybe something enjoyable to read, just for a few minutes, before getting ready to go to sleep yourself.

Some days motherhood feels only like sacrifice, and you realize that's ok, because you are stronger for it, and it's not always like this.

Tomorrow you'll make someone else clean the kitchen.


A Few Notes About Thailand

So we've been in Thailand for more than 2 weeks now. As expected, hot season is super hot and people speak a different language here and it's a very different sort of place.
This was at 9:30 in the evening. Still 90F.
But for those who find this sort of thing interesting, I've been compiling a list of sorts of the particularly unusual, to me as a westerner, things I've discovered.

First, to understand how a lot of things work in Thailand just take yourself back about 15 years in terms of technology. For instance, you can get cash from ATMs every where, but you can't pay with debit or credit at the check out counter in most places. Your receipt at the grocery store will print very slowly on an old school printer, the kind that has the tear away paper with the holes in it on the sides. Oh and a friend discovered you can't buy alcohol except between 11-2 or after 5pm, unless you buy it in quantities larger than 10 liters. This is supposedly to keep people from drinking all afternoon instead of only at lunch and dinner. I hear it doesn't work very well.

Also at the grocery store, which isn't that much different price wise from the US, though some local things are way cheaper, and because it's Chiang Mai you can get a ton of western items, they have these weighing counters at the meat and produce sections. So once you've selected your fruit you take it to the weighing station and they weigh it and put a little sticker on it with a bar code that says it's price for the people at the check out. It's basically like a deli counter, only for all of your fruits and vegetables, and another for your raw meat, which lies open in giant bins and you just put the cuts you want in plastic bags to be weighed. I've twice forgotten to weigh my produce before going to check out and had to turn around and go back to get it done. It's a good job for any kids you take with you to the store though. Then you can keep shopping while they stand in line waiting for things to be weighed.

Here's a really weird one. People park their cars behind the regular parking spaces in parking garages, which is perfectly legal, as long as they leave it in neutral with the parking brake off so their cars can be pushed aside when someone needs to leave their space. There are even garage attendants who push the cars around for people so they can get their own car out. I can't even imagine anyone in the US being comfortable with leaving their car in the hands of someone else to push it around while they are gone.

You have to carry toilet paper with you in Thailand. In some places, they will have water beside the toilet for you to wash yourself with, often in the form of a little spray hose. It's a country full of bidets. Other times there will be nothing at all in the bathroom but a toilet and a trash can. Unless there is a sign saying otherwise, the toilet paper has to go in the trash. But I have always wondered what women do about the wetness situation after using the water to wash themselves. Aaron tells me you just get wet, but that seemed unlikely. Since he's a man, he would only need avail himself of the water part of the toilet routine once or twice a day. We women on the other hand, we know just how often we would be walking around very wet and uncomfortable if water was our only option. I figured that this could work in India, with the more traditional clothes, very low crotched pants, or skirts, etc, but the Thai women are very stylish, and wear pants and fitted clothes and I've never seen one of them walking out of the bathroom with a wet crotch. So I finally asked Prang how they managed that, and she told me they all carry toilet paper to dry themselves off with. Mystery solved! Also, every time one of the women living here goes out I see her stuff a roll of TP in her purse, and I've started doing the same. Sort of like camping, only not.

Here in the middle of hot season it's also burning season. People burn their fields to prepare them for the coming rainy season and new crops, and people also just burn wild fields, because that makes mushrooms grow and they go back in a few months and pick them. Add to that the exhaust from vehicles, and that Chiang Mai is in a valley, and the air quality is pretty poor. It smells like forest fire almost all the time. So people drive around with their faces covered. There are these nifty sun hats that have a bit that goes across your nose and down over your mouth and neck that everyone wears to keep from inhaling as much of the air. I've even seen people with cloths wrapped across their faces over respirators. So basically half the people you see outside look like terrorists. And you just get used to it.

Everyone is waiting for the rain, which will wash away all the smoke and make it so we can see the mountains and take away some of the heat. The Thai new year, Songkran, started yesterday. It's basically a three day long country wide water fight. I think it has something to do with looking forward to the rainy season. But everyone gets everyone wet. Driving down the road there are people on the side with buckets and hoses and they will spray you down. This is awesome, especially when it's so hot. Though I've been told that you never know where the water came from, and some people get sick. The kids loved it when they got wet in the back of the truck driving around.

You also see what look like gangs, roaming the streets, packed into the back of open pickup trucks, with giant barrels of water that they keep filling up water guns and buckets from to throw on people. Sometimes several trucks will just keep pulling up beside each other as they drive down the road, just for a chance to get each other wet again. It makes for interesting driving.

I went out by myself in a friend's truck during Songkran, and watched the truck action as I went. It's not that hard to drive here. As long as you can wrap your brain around the fact that you are on the wrong side of the road, you turn into what feels like it should be oncoming traffic, you are on the wrong side of the vehicle, and you are using the wrong hand to shift and operate the signal light. Once you get comfortable with all that, you just have to remember that lanes are more of a guideline than anything else, there are hundreds of people on motor scooters coming up on both sides of you, and that people stop and park in random places that you have to drive around all the time, and you have driving in Thailand figured out. I'm hoping to get my Thai driver's license in a few weeks. So far, no one has died on any of my driving attempts. I'm planning to keep it that way.

Thailand has this interesting cultural phenomenon called lady boys. Basically, cross dressers. Guys who look like girls. I walked into the store beside 7/11 one day, because I thought it was the door to the 7/11, and realized quickly that all the young ladies dressed in the red polo shirts who tried to understand what I was asking for were not ladies at all. But their eyebrows were impeccably drawn. They even have their own polite designation. At the end of each sentence in Thai, to be polite, men say "krap" women say "kaa", which is basically "yes". And ladies boys? They say "ha-a" and it sounds exactly like you would imagine it would, if some gay guy in New York said "holla" with his hands in the air and ended it with girlfriend.

But the weirdest thing to get used to of all of them is the internet. You can get relatively fast internet connection here, but you get different pages. I guess I thought the internet was the same worldwide, except for places like China and the middle east, but it's not. Google bumps me to their international products page, which is not the same as their products in the US, same with skype, and many other sites that I just thought would look the same here as they do back home. Of all the different things to adjust to, this, in the end, was the one that made me cry a few days ago in frustration, because it just doesn't work the way you expect it to, and you just can't see or do the same things from here as you can from the US. Which is telling I suppose. I guess I live more of my life online than I thought if the difference in website pages made me more upset than the difference in languages. It's expectations I suppose. I thought that if I had wi fi, I would have everything I needed at my finger tips, and that's not true, not for everything. So I don't have a google voice number like I planned, because you have to set that up in the US and attach it to a US number. They don't let you do it here.

But overall, it's a way easier place to adjust to being in than some I could think of. For one thing, the food is amazing! My kids don't always agree, and would prefer to just eat bread and peanut butter, especially BamBam, but it is amazing, trust me. So much yumminess. I'm trying to figure out what the ingredients are, especially the vegetables, so I can make more dishes. And like everyone else, I'm looking forward to the rain and the end of hot season. They say it's coming soon. Until then, I'll be sitting here under a fan, wiping my dripping face with the hanky I bought for just that purpose at the store today.
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