Scenes From My Week 08.20.14 & Book Winners

Cy’s first guitar lesson:
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Notice Dot?

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There she is! Giving dad some licks

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And the WINNING BOOK COVER is:

cover-a

And I decided to select TWO WINNERS of the GIVEAWAY. By virtue of random number generator, the winners of the giveaway are: JAMIE BIRKETT and SARAH COYNE! I’ll be emailing you both soon with details, Jamie & Sarah!

Thank you SO MUCH to everyone who voted and commented! It’s been so helpful to hear everyone’s thoughts and see what worked and what didn’t and I’m so grateful for the support and encouragement you all sent my way. Thank you, thank you!

Little by Little



Scenes From My Week 08.13.14

Three things to share with you this week!

First off, my little ham:_1070329 _1070336 _1070343 _1070344

Second, some fresh flowers and herbs to brighten up the day:
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And third, I’m publishing a book, and I’m inviting YOU to help me choose a book cover design! Head over to THIS POST HERE to find out the details and enter for a chance to win the giveaway too!
three covers

And don’t forget to join us at Communal Global and Little Things Thursday!

Little by Little



Vote on My Book’s Cover!

When I announced last week that I am going to be publishing my novel, I was so thrilled and thankful to receive so many messages of support and encouragement from you all! That really makes this process a bit less scary and much more exciting. I really can’t wait to share with you this thing that has been such a big part of my life for several years now. I want to include you all in every step of the way, and I hope you’ll join me!

The first big thing on the agenda (and one of the most fun, I think!) is choosing a book cover design! My talented husband, Toby, drafted up some design options and we’ve narrowed it down to our top three. I would love for you to help choose the favorite!

So here’s the deal, I’m presenting below our top three candidates, and a draft of the back cover copy for your reference. Please select YOUR FAVORITE ONE and let me know via comment here on the blog, on Facebook, or Instagram (only one comment per person, please), and everyone who comments will be automatically entered in a giveaway for one winner to receive an advance copy of my ebook AND a special surprise gift from Thailand, as a thank you for your support.

Okay, are you ready?

Here is Book Cover Option A:

cover-aAs many potential buyers will be coming across the book online or via their e-readers, here’s what the thumbnail version, in color and black & white, will probably look like:

cover a_thumbBook Cover Option B:

cover-bAnd the thumbnail:

cover b_thumbBook Cover Option C:

cover-cAnd the thumbnail:

cover c_thumbWhich one would you be most likely to pick up? And should I be so lucky as to have captured your attention with my book cover, here is a draft of what you’ll find on the back cover:

In a sleepy riverside town in the heart of Thailand, Ae Lin, a former Bangkok bar girl determined to put a painful history behind her, pours her passions into her new coffee shop and her resolve to create a life of her own making. But the past comes to find her in the form of an estranged and angry sister who insists she fulfill one remaining family obligation: to visit and pay respect to their dying father – which is the last thing she wants to do. As Ae Lin grapples with the desire to flee and the pressures to return, she meets Sai Kyin, a refugee from Burma, who had no choice but to leave home and all he loved behind. Prompted by the guidance of Luang Paw, a rather unconventional Buddhist monk, the stories of Ae Lin’s and Sai Kyin’s traumas converge as their memories unfold, in a tale about what happens to the fallen and what it takes to heal.

The Yellow Suitcase is an exploration of the devastating effects of dark family secrets where the lines between victim and perpetrator, and innocence and guilt, become increasingly blurred. The novel offers a poignant and heartbreaking portrait of the deepest kinds of betrayal, and a thoughtful rumination on forgiveness, healing, and the power of truth.

“…effectively examines the prostitutes’ difficult lives, outlining the terror, boredom, sisterhood and despair of their daily routines….An intriguing fictional look at Third World sex workers.” – Kirkus Reviews

Voting will be open for one week, ending on Tuesday, August 19. I’ll announce the giveaway winner and the winning book cover next week! Thanks again to everyone for your support!

Announcing….My Big News!

Da dadaDA! [Drumroll please]

Da dadaDA! [Drumroll please]

A couple of weeks ago, I decided I was ready to finally share with you all something that has been going on behind the scenes here for…well, years. Are you ready? Here is my big news:

I wrote a book. A whole book! A novel, to be more precise. You’re going to be hearing a lot about it over the next several weeks because I’m publishing it, and it should be out in ebook format sometime in early-mid September. I’ll let you know the exact date soon, and a whole lot more detail over the coming weeks, but I just wanted to let you know:

I wrote a book, y’all. It’s written. It’s been revised {so many, many times}. It’s been professionally edited and reviewed. And next week YOU get to vote on the book cover design!

I promise that very soon I’ll be sharing tons about the story, my process, and lots of other tidbits that hopefully you’ll find fun and intriguing, but in the meantime, just so you know, it’s a story set here in Thailand, and the title is: THE YELLOW SUITCASE.

And I’m really hoping you’ll have as much fun reading it as I had writing it…and I really hope we can talk about it when you’re done!

Momma Chat: The Fun Really Starts at the End of the Fourth Trimester

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Having a 10-month-old (almost 11-month old!) baby is the most fun ever. I mean, obviously, there’s been lots of fun times up until now, but suddenly almost overnight it seems, Cy became just stoked on life.

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This photo is just begging for a caption.

They say “9 months in the womb, and 9 months out of the womb” for a baby to really develop, and in Cy’s case it was totally true. All the battles and worries of the early days just one by one resolved themselves (regardless and possibly in spite of many of my efforts). The sleep drama ended, he weaned himself off pacifiers, the swaddle, almost all sleep aids (only nursing left), and is even now starting to request solid food instead of breast milk for some meals. (If I could talk to my earlier mom self, I would tell her to stop worrying so damn much. But then I know she probably wouldn’t listen anyway.)

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He’s curious, engaged, loving, and fun. I wish I could tell you about all the times he’s made us laugh with his funny faces, perfectly timed declarative noises, and exuberant display of personality.

And he can suddenly do so much more now: standing strong on his own; climbing up AND down the stairs (and furniture); saying a few words like Mama, dog, mam-mam (a Thai word for food), house, and ball; understanding simple directions; helping me brush his teeth; or peeling fruit to help Mama infuse her iced tea.

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He has this game he likes to play, where he’ll grab a few items (like a couple of his toy cars), and he’ll sit by a ledge or shelf or the threshold of a door and, one by one, place the items on the shelf, and take one down, and place another one. Like organizing, but by the guide of principles only he knows. I wonder what he is thinking while he does this, but then, as I describe this now it occurs to me: perhaps he’s just copying Mama, as she goes about the house sorting items by some generally indiscernible whim.

Where he was clingy and fussy before, he’s now growing in independence and sense of self. It’s like he was a baby bird cooped up, often squawking, in the nest, and then suddenly he stood up, peeped over the edge of the nest, and discovered he could unfold his wings. He’s been taking off ever since.

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Before Cy was born, I used to ask Toby or my parents what they looked forward to most about Cy. To answer that question myself, I always imagined reading together, taking trips to the zoo, baking cookies for him and listening to him talk. I couldn’t wait to hear what he would say. Now, I realize what I really was looking forward to was having a relationship with my son. I was looking forward to loving him.

I loved him from the beginning, and every moment since, but it started as a little seed of awe and wonder. And out from that planted seed came one tiny, thin little vine sprouting, pushing through the mud and dirt and rain, finding the sunshine. Somehow, without my knowing or noticing, it’s become this multi-petaled flower, with new dimensions continually unfolding and unfolding, getting deeper, denser, and fuller…and I know it’s only just begun.

Such purple prose, I know. But I don’t know how else to put it. The more I get to know this little guy, the bigger he grows my heart.

Thing I Love About Cy Today: The way he waves goodbye–by reaching out and grasping.

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CHECK BACK HERE ON FRIDAY FOR MY BIG ANNOUNCEMENT!!

Scenes From My Week 08.06.14

I’d like you all to meet Lian._1070232

His mama is my neighbor, and she so graciously let me take pictures of this precious little angel baby.

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This is his guardian protector. He does a good job.

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I’m so thankful to have a mama friend so close by too! It makes such a difference; so much less lonely. I just can’t wait to get to know little Lian too.

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He’s got some big footsteps to grow into.

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But loving hands to hold him.

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And toes just begging to be nibbled.

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They sure do make a beautiful couple, don’t they?

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A couple of weeks ago I mentioned I had some big (for me) news to share…Well, I just want to say: I will be making my announcement THIS WEEK! Check back here on FRIDAY and I will let you know what bee’s been buzzing around in my bonnet! I can’t wait–hope you’ll be half as excited as me!

In the meantime, join the party at Communal Global & Little Things Thursday!

Little by Little



Momma Chat: After the Homesickness

_1070181I’m still grasping at that mirage of ideas called routine. We’ve been home nearly a month, and I’m swinging from thing to thing, but not really “in the swing of things.” I have mini routines: like getting up, and plunking Cy on the bathroom counter and entertaining him with one toothbrush while I brush my teeth with the other, changing his diaper while he plays with his blocks, changing my clothes while I distract him with my makeup bag, then balancing him up on my hip as I wash dishes, make coffee, and snag a bowl of muesli. But I’m missing the over-arching structure. I never know when I can write these posts, for example. Tonight, I’m writing it after everyone is asleep. I’m imagining what I would tell you if we were chatting over coffee, but after a hot, hectic day and getting Cy down for the night, I’m also thinking longingly of bed.

I have a lot of day dreams. Being home with a child gives you a lot of time to think, even though there’s not a lot of time to do (anything not related to taking care of said child). Before I went to the U.S., I spent that time feeling homesick, mostly tired of the heat and mosquitos here, worried about the political situation, and missing family and friends. While there, I took advantage of every possible minute of California sunshine and cool nights, ate my weight in peaches and berries, luxuriated in the company of friends, and thought about what it would be like to be back home more permanently.

When we came back, though, I knew there were so many reasons to stay here in Thailand for quite a good deal longer. The homesickness faded, and what I was left with was a real intense need to reinvest in our life here. Though there’s no guarantee we can ever stay for longer than a year at a time (What if they don’t renew T’s visa for some reason? What if something happens to his job?), we have to push those questions aside and make roots somehow. We make contingency plans all the time, and save money for just such possibilities, but now we’re making different choices. Instead of continuing to put up with the cheap, sure-to-break-within-two-years couch, we’ll buy the well-made one meant to last. Instead of paying rent, we want that money to be towards a mortgage. We no longer want a home, we want our home.

Instead of always relying on take-out, I’m cooking and baking more again.

And I’m making a bigger effort to make more Thai friends. It’s so easy to make acquaintances. It’s so hard to find friends, especially when you’re home most of the day. Almost all my friends are at SOLD in Chiang Rai. Since I’m on hiatus, I hardly ever see them, and it’s so much more clear to me how few friends I have here in Chiang Mai. So I’m trying to change that. Becoming a hermit is easy, but what’s the point of living here if I don’t make a life here?

Every day, I go through our house and make little changes. Clean this spot here, re-organize that spot there, re-envision a new way to set things up, no longer putting up with the minor annoyances.

I plunked Cy on my vanity one afternoon and stared at myself in the mirror as he played with the items collected there. After losing much of my hair post-childbirth, some new hair growth had been coming in around my hairline, but it was coming in so slowly, and was so unkempt and unruly, it always made my hair look like a mess. I was so sick of seeing it, fighting with it, hating it, that I grabbed scissors (not even proper hair cutting scissors–I know, the horror!) and whacked it off, leaving a short but at least moderately even fringe.

photo(10)I figured it might be one of the crazier things I’ve ever done, but I could always pin it back if it really didn’t work it. Turns out, I kind of like it.

I’m itching, but I’ve got a plan, and every day a little more falls into place. And in the meantime, there’s chai spiced scones.

Thing I Love About Cy Today: Honestly? So much! He is getting to be so much fun. Ten month old babies are awesome. He makes funny faces, engages in more interactive play, can entertain himself for long stretches, and is starting to show even more personality. He’s generally more chill, babbles constantly, is addicted to books, and becomes quite the comedian when bath time rolls around. When he’s in water, he’s got us in stitches. Here’s his Jack Nicholson impression:

cy shining

Photo by Toby Keller

That’s his “I’m having so much fun I can’t contain myself” grin, I swear.

Scenes From My Week 07.30.13

As a birthday present, my family treated me to a massage at my favorite spa in town._1070212

It’s a great place for R&R, they do a wonderful job, and part of what I love are all the little details, like orchids on the pillows, candle lanterns to light your room…_1070214

…and pretty cups of tea to soothe you before and after._1070216

Little details go such a long way!

Little by Little



More Beautiful

newborn

More Beautiful

There’s a scar, an itchy little gray line from where he came
Flab, a touch of saggy loose flesh that won’t shrink
Hair loss
Tired eyes
And breasts that have fallen from grace.

And still I feel more beautiful than I’ve ever been.

When little fingers intertwine in my hair
and examine the contours of my lips, I feel beautiful.

When I hold him close and hum

When I slow dance him down to sleep

When we snuggle to read a story

When he smiles at the sight of my face
I am the star that kisses the crescent moon at dusk
The sparkle of evening sun on the rim of a glass.

When his head nestles against my chest and I kiss the top of his hair,
I’m the cover of Vogue, the Leibovitz, the image on the gallery wall.

When he crawls in my lap
to blow raspberries on my breast
and tries to eat my nose

I am more beautiful than I have ever been.

Beautiful is measured not in body shape or fashionable jewels
but in glittering moments
Gauged not by what looks back at me from the mirror,
but in the totality of who I am because of him.

I carry myself like the world is mine
Because I am his.

It doesn’t matter what I look like
I feel the most beautiful I’ve ever been.

I am more beautiful than I’ve ever been.

I am more beautiful than I have ever been
because I became his mother.

samui

I wrote this piece several months ago for a project between several collaborators that was supposed to come together in time for Mother’s Day. I haven’t heard anything since, so I think that project probably died on the vine, so I decided to go ahead and post this anyway.

Momma Chat: On Traveling With a Baby

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 presetIn the span of one month, we have been on nine flights with Cy, if you’re counting layovers at least–and when you’re traveling with a 9-month old baby, you’re definitely counting layovers. That’s nine times we had to get him through take-off, keep him quiet and entertained while other passengers ate, watched movies, read, and slept around us, and then get through landing, security, transfers, and baggage claim. Seven of those nine flights went really well. One was kind of touch-and-go. One involved nearly 5 hours of crying. We got the gamut of reactions from fellow passengers: glares for daring to bring a child aboard, looks of sympathy or hatred when he was crying, and compliments for what a well-behaved child we had. There’s no anonymity when you’re traveling with a baby. Even the flights that go well are stressful because you’re hyper aware of how quickly it can descend into mayhem.

Cy did amazingly well with adjusting to cabin pressure. Truthfully, the only times he gave us trouble was when he was really tired and couldn’t go to sleep (The one really bad flight happened to be his third flight in the same day…can ya’ really blame a fellow for that? I don’t.)

Still, the hardest part of traveling with an infant wasn’t the flying. It was the adjustment period after. Jet lag affected Cy for at least a week after each haul across time zones, and just as soon as he got adjusted it seemed, we would whisk him away again, from Thailand to California, from California to South Carolina, and back. Each time, his little body clock would take forever to adjust, which meant many nights we were up with him until 3, 4, or even 5 a.m. because he’d be wide awake. As exhausted as we were from the travel, regardless of our own needs, our priority was to help him through it.

All the newness was bewildering to him too. We live a quiet life at home. In the States, suddenly there were so many more people! And noises! And laughter, and attention, and sweets everyone wanted to feed him. He was curious and interested and fascinated by it all, but he was also uncertain and nervous, which made him clingy. For much of the time, he held onto me for dear life, refusing to be held by anyone else, playing for only short spurts before he’d need me to pick him up and carry him around. Let me remind you: this boy weighs 20 pounds. I deserve an award or at least a lot of chocolate for all that heavy lifting.

We learned a lot of tricks for traveling with Cy. For instance, book an aisle and middle seat on one of the sides of the plane rather than taking up the offer for the bassinet. We never used the bassinet, and the flight attendants were all too eager to offer the person sharing the row with us a different seat whenever possible so we often ended up with an extra seat for free. Bringing a pillow for added comfort is key. And plenty of food: cereal, puffed rice, baby food pouches, water bottles…all became key distractors. And major points for baby wearing. The Ergo saved us in the airports (no heavy strollers to lug around), and it saved us many a night when Cy couldn’t sleep and could only be calmed by going on a walk. There were a lot of midnight walks through the neighborhood.

It might sound crazy, but for all that hardship, the trip was totally worth it. Of course, it was worth it for us to see our friends and family again, and for them to get a chance to meet Cy. But I think, more than that, traveling for babies is valuable for the same reasons traveling as adults is worthwhile. Being in a new environment teaches so many things, including about yourself–and in this case, it taught me a lot about Cy too.

Cy blossomed in that month. Aside from discovering the awesomeness of Cheerios and fresh berries, he learned so much about being around other people. Normally, he’s home with just me and Toby and our dog Dot. Visitors come once in a while, for an hour or two. He sees his grandparents about twice a week (but they had been gone for the two months prior), and the rest of the people he meets are just random strangers who say hi for a few minutes and then are never seen again. In the U.S., he was surrounded all day by cousins, aunts, and uncles, friends, and his grandmom, and he soaked it up. He watched the interactions with avid curiosity, and you could see the little wheels whirring away in his head as he tried to make sense of it all, watching others play and talk together. As long as I remained close, a safe harbor for him to venture from, he was delighted to play with the various kids, adults, and dogs in his midst.

It was this way that I learned he just doesn’t like to be held by people he doesn’t really know, but otherwise he really is quite social. As long as people don’t insist on pushing themselves on him, he’ll happily play with them. It was so good and so healthy for him to have so many other people around, of so many different ages. I’m sure if we were there for longer, he would have only opened up more.

As hard as travel is, you learn to cope too, and you get stronger as a parent. It’s the middle of the night, you’re exhausted, and your child is keeping up the whole house (and possibly the neighborhood). You proclaim loudly that you cannot and will not carry your child all damn night. And then you do anyway. You learn your limits. And then you learn how to push past them because you don’t have any other choice. Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right?

Either that, or you find yourself doing things like feeding your child a spoonful of cheesecake at 9 in the morning so you can have 5 blessed minutes to drink your coffee so you can survive the day. (That may or may not have actually happened.)

It’s hard, but like most of the best challenges in life, rewarding in ways you never anticipated.

That said, I’m in no hurry to get on a plane again.

Thing I Love About Cy Today: He has started making funny faces, scrunching up his face and, when he’s really excited (like at bath time), squawking. Did you know there’s actually a term for baby pterodactyls? They’re called flaplings. Cy, bless him, is a flapling.

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