Pinnacle Moment {Lenae}

We’re back! Hope you all had a Thanksgiving so yummy it induced a cozy stupor! This week we have a touching story from Lenae at Just Lenae. If you don’t already know this woman, you should because besides being warm and funny, loving and thoughtful, she and her lovely family are on the move. To Azerbaijan. (Where?!) (Yeah, I had to look up how to spell it.) And they’re doing it right smack in the middle of Christmas craziness. So you should follow her on this new adventure – I’m sure it’ll be quite the roller coaster indeed. Anyway, she took time out of the craziness to share a moment that changed her. I hope you’ll take a moment to pull up a chair and join in the conversation.


From Lenae, titled: My Walk With Red

It was meant to be a weekend visit, when I drove up the California coastline to the small Oregon town where my great-grandparents lived, all those years ago.  I was on the cusp of turning 19, with long, black hair I still hadn’t learned how to style, and grand, vivid hopes for all I hoped to accomplish after I left for the Air Force in a few months.

My great-grandpa wasn’t doing well.  His health had been spotty for years, but it had recently been on the downward decline long enough that my dad urged me to go see him in the rehabilitation home he’d recently moved to.  Just in case.

I don’t remember much about the 6-hour trek north.  I sped along the redwood-lined highway I knew so well and reveled in the freedom of my solitude.  I littered the floor of my parents’ car with empty Mountain Dew bottles and rotated through my favorite CDs.  As for what awaited me once I arrived at my destination, I had no expectations or heavy thoughts about it.  I was enshrouded in a bubble untouched by serious illness or death, moving lightly in self-assured naiveté.

It was a bubble that dissolved easily enough the moment I stepped from the cool, Oregon fog into the rehabilitation home.  It smelled as most medical facilities do –stuffy, sterile—and all sound was eerily muffled and hushed.  I was not prepared for the sight of Grandpa Red, as he’d always been called because of the copper-hued locks of his youth.  He was emaciated and unshaven.  He stirred instantly at the sight of me.

I had great affection for Grandpa Red, but my memories of affection from him were mostly hazy, rimmed in his characteristic sarcasm.  He wasn’t gentle; if he wanted to hug you, he pulled you in under his arm and more likely than not gave you a noogie.  He served in the Seabees during World War II, and filled the Navy-stereotype beautifully with entertaining, salty language.  He listened to Rush Limbaugh in the shop behind the house and enjoyed fishing.   He taught me in part how to have the grand and vivid personality I was carefully stoking for myself.

Yet the man in the hospital bed was neither grand nor vivid.  He was a remnant of the person populating so many of my memories, already faded.  Somewhere in my subconscious I recognized that this, truly, was a farewell visit, but I couldn’t wrap my brain around that reality just yet.  I crossed the room and perched carefully in a chair beside him and did something I couldn’t remember doing since I was a very little girl: I held his hand.

I don’t remember if we traded any polite remarks.  Frankly, I don’t remember anything about that interaction other than how very warm his hand was, and that he startled me to my core by asking if I’d attended church yet that week.  “I’ll be at church on Wednesday,” I offered him shakily, information he wouldn’t know because we’d never discussed my budding faith.

“Will you pray for me, Lenae?” he asked.

After a very long pause –because now I was attempting to wrap my heart around the reality my mind had already recognized—I promised him that yes, I would.

Mortality is an interesting, twisted object to try and hold in your hands.  I’d always been very precocious, very mindful of the darker aspect of the humanity I was a member of, but this meeting with my great-grandfather shattered any perceptions I’d built of my awareness.  I was a typical 18-year-old in that I was quite sure I knew exactly what I was doing… about everything.  And of course, nothing will tear up the roots of false confidence like confronting death.

The rehabilitation center he was in was not ideal.  My great-grandmother was fretful and alone there, pacing the halls of the home they shared not far from the beach.  But I wanted to leave.  I wanted to return to the warm security of the car gliding down the highway, and sing my heart out and slam down junk food and think of how cute I’d look in an Air Force blues uniform.

In the end, there were a few things that compelled me to do otherwise: compassion bred beneath an umbrella of intentional parenting; a heart leaping and jumping in new faith, and ideas of what vibrant service and selfless love actually looked like.  I quit my job back in my hometown to stay there in Oregon, and help my great-grandparents.  The ensuing weeks were an education in one of the most grand, vivid transitions of life – as it were, the exit from life.  It was a privilege to dole out medication, to hear tales told one last time, to observe gratitude delivered in unchecked fullness.  It was shattering to be present for the physical breakdown of a body that was, at a time, strong and streamlined.  I held those warm hands that grew ever warmer as he –we—neared the end, and it seemed he was burning the truth of existence into my soul.  I’d never shared anything very deep with the man, but I was honored to be there with him as he grappled with the inevitable questions we weigh as we contemplate being no more.  I was humbled to be able to pray with him, blessed to see evidence of a peaceful heart just hours before his breath came and went and then did not come again.

It was not graduating from high school or taking the oath at the end of military training that propelled me into adulthood: it was this – the overwhelming, breaking, final walk I took hand-in-hand with my great-grandfather.  I felt in his grip all the love he was never able to convey in words, and when my eyes had cleared, I looked up to the see the sunrise of eternal life as I’d been unable to view it before.


I hope you enjoyed this moment, and that beautiful juxtaposition she created between youth and death. I hope you’ll join us once more next week, for the conclusion of our series. Thanks so much for connecting with us along the way!

Grateful Indeed

We could ask for no greater reason to inspire gratitude than the one we were served on the night of Thanksgiving. My husband’s father has been in the hospital for a week. He had lost all feeling in his legs, and when the doctors went to look, they found several growths along the spine, ones they feared might be related to cancer. The news sent our family into a head spin; we were so unprepared for such a prognosis. Not that anyone’s ever really prepared to hear such a thing. But after many days of anxious waiting, we heard the results of the biopsy: in surgery, they were able to remove all of the growth, and no sign of cancer could be detected.

If my husband hadn’t already been sitting down, he might have collapsed in relief.

We had much to be thankful for, and we celebrated, our little family of two.

I surprised my husband with a miniature Thanksgiving dinner. I laid out the table with flowers and candles.

No turkey for us, but I did make a traditional green bean casserole and of course sweet potatoes topped with marshmallows, along with pork loin that I had marinated in a balsamic & Dijon sauce. Plus a slice each of some amazingly decadent, but not too sweet, almond-coffee-cream-cake and German chocolate cake for dessert.

(Our oven is on the blitz, so I did have to improvise a bit.) It wasn’t much, but it felt festive. And after dinner, my husband pulled me into an embrace, the kind that tells you more strongly than words that you’re appreciated.

And then we watched Cowboys & Aliens. ‘Cuz we’re traditional like that.

Anyway, I hope your Thanksgiving was lovely, fun, and full of warmth. Much love to all of you in the holiday season!

Thursday Morning Coffee

There’s no place like home.

Hi everyone! I missed you all. This has been one trying week. I went down to Bangkok to meet my parents, who were flying in from the U.S. It was so good to see them walking towards us after they got off their flight! But soon after they arrived, one of my mom’s very good friends (who lives in Bangkok) gave us the news that her husband had passed away that day. So what was supposed to be a quick jaunt in Bangkok and back up to Chiang Mai by the weekend turned into a frantic scramble to rearrange our flights, pop over to the mall and buy fine funeral wear (which must be either black or white) for several days’ worth of Buddhist ceremonies. Plus the condo where we stayed didn’t have hot water for showers, so we had to take cold showers. (But we cheated and went to the hair salon to get our hair done in comfort at least.)

We also had to take care of a bunch of business for my mom: getting her national ID card, setting up banking for her, getting internet and cell phones set up, and a few other sundry things.

Also we wanted to get a chance to visit family, which was complicated by the fact that they live nearly an hour outside of where we were staying in the city. Oh yeah, and it’s flooding in Bangkok.

But we made it. After a mad shopping spree, we got what we needed and were able to attend the funeral services. We went three separate days. The first day involved a viewing of the deceased, where each person would pour a tiny bit of holy water on the deceased’s hand in a symbolic washing away of sins. Our friend’s husband was the former deputy minister of the Department of Transportation, a position that is considered to be a servant of the King of Thailand. So representatives from the King’s Palace brought holy water from the palace and, on the behalf of the King, poured the holy water on his hand. Then the body was interred in a coffin, while drummers and a flautist from the palace played a traditional beat.

Traditionally, Thai royalty used standing coffins and the circular umbrella-like things you see in this picture below are symbolic of royal processionals.

Following that, there was a group of monks who came in to chant and give blessings. The second day involved more chanting by monks, followed by a final set on the morning of the third day.

The third day was a full-day affair, starting with the monk’s blessings and a light lunch. Then the coffin was moved to a special temple that housed the incinerator for cremation. There was a royal processional that circumnavigated the temple three times. Then the vast majority of the guests arrived, including several current and former officials.

We each were given one of these flowers carved from a special wood to place, with our final respects and blessings, in the incinerator where they light the fire to burn the body.

It was quite something to see and I’m glad my mom was able to be there with her friend during this process. Then, finally, on Tuesday night we arrived back in Chiang Mai – a full week after I had left. The whole time we were gone, we really didn’t have internet service. We managed to get a short term aircard for my mom’s laptop so we could take care of the most important business, but it didn’t leave enough time for any of my usual work.

Then, just on the day we were coming back up to Chiang Mai, I caught a bit of a cold. So since we’ve arrived I’ve been trying to catch up on what I’ve missed, but it’s been a bit difficult with a head cold and while trying to get my parents settled in and situated, plus showing them around our city. I logged into my feed reader and found 980+ posts I’d missed. Nine hundred and friggin’ eighty. I started to go through it…and got to about 600 then just marked it all as read. I’m going to try to go to individual blogs and see what I missed, but if there’s anything in particular you’d like me to see, just leave me a link in the comments and I’ll be sure to check it out!

Ok, I’m beat. But I missed you all and just want to say hi. I hope everything is going well for you! I missed out on Virtual Coffee this week (and didn’t even get a chance to link up last week either), but if we were really meeting for coffee, I’d tell you how much I want to hear about what’s going on with you. So drop me a line and tell me what’s going on in your part of the world!


Virtual Coffee

Happy Tuesday everyone! While you’re sipping your collective coffees, I’m going to be bouncing between airports BECAUSE…today my parents arrive in Thailand! And I’m flying down to Bangkok to be there when they arrive.


A few days ago, my sister and her husband held a Bon Voyage/Happy Retirement party for my parents at their restaurant and I totally crashed the party via Skype. And you could tell my dad was uber happy and excited because he carried around his iPad so I could wave at everyone at the party. They could all see me and I could see…well, mostly I saw the ceiling because he was carrying the thing horizontally. But whatevs. It was totally cute to see him that excited.

Let’s see how many times I can use the word excited, shall we? {Backslash…must use my thesaurus.}

Also big news: I finished the first draft of my novel, The Yellow Suitcase! \o/ I bust the finale out this weekend and it’s DONE. Except not done, because I gotta’ do that whole “revision” thing. But the heart of it is down on paper. Now I just need to find guinea pigs to test-read it for me…. mwhahahaha

Anyway, that’s what’s going on here. I probably won’t be online much this week because I’ll be with my parents as they take care of some bureaucratic stuff and shop in Bangkok. (Mostly shop. And eat.) But we’ll be coming back up to Chiang Mai this weekend so I PROMISE – double pinky swear – I’ll stop by to say hi at some point in the near future.

P.S. If you get a chance, stop by here on Wednesday, because I have something fun to announce!

Join in the fun at Amy’s and Communal Global!

Faces {Remembered}

I almost never repost posts I’ve written, but at Hyacynth’s suggestion, I felt compelled to see what I wrote this time last year. I knew I was getting prepared to make our big move to Thailand, but oh, the bigger memory is of a couple of the faces I really miss seeing around.

I suppose I should have something witty, insightful or charming to say, but I’ve been playing the Bureaucracy Game going back and forth with the embassy (driving two hours each way) and now I’m pooped. But instead of words, I’ll show you sweet and charming faces. And hopefully they’ll make you smile like they make me smile, and you and me both can call it a day.

My brother and his baby girl

And baby girl be like: “Whatchoo takin’ pictures for?” Just like that. Gangsta style and all. You can see it in her face.

Ok maybe not. Maybe I’m just making sh*t up and really she was like “Wow cool! Is that A D300? I read about those in Wired.” Cuz she’s six and can text faster than I can.

Bet she learned it from her uncle. {EDIT: Who, by the way, has lost over 25 pounds since we moved to Thailand through no particular effort on his part.}

You think that’s a book in his hands. Nope. It’s an iPad. With wings. erm…I mean, leather-bound cover.

And this is me, preparing my “Don’t you mess with me, Mr. Bureaucrat” face.

Which I realize comes across more like “Um…excuse me? Is this the right room? Oh the next one over. Okay….”

What can I say? I’m working on it.

What were you up to this time last year? Join in the conversation at Hyacynth’s!


When I saw the deep fried strips of dough, I just knew I had to have them. Pathangoh is kind of the Thai version of doughnuts (though they have regular donuts here too) that they sell in street-side food stalls and serve with steaming hot soymilk and various jellied or oat goodies in the milk. You can rip up the dough and dunk it in the milk for a tasty breakfast or dessert.

They remind me of my grandmother, who used to eat them every day, dunked in sweetened condensed milk. I went for the soymilk instead because, well, I choose life.

As far as the taste goes, I find them all right – nothing to write home about. But I love them for the memories of my grandmother, her soft, wrinkled skin, and her laugh.

Do you ever do that? Love something simply for reminding you of someone special?

BKK & Back Again

Traveling to Bangkok reminds me just how provincial my own city, Chiang Mai, really is. I still love it to live in: it’s a comfortable size, there’s still access to great international food, and the mountain scenery keeps me grounded. But Bangkok is a hell of a lot of fun to visit – if you enjoy shopping and/or eating. Which I do.

If you need proof, just ask my friend, Lynette.

We met up for dinner at an Indian restaurant (after an afternoon spent shopping), sat together eating and talking for a couple of hours, decided to go walk and wander…made it as far as the next street corner, whereupon I said, “Ooh! Dessert!” and promptly sat down to dessert and tea for another couple of hours.

(Oh, but it was amazing Indian desserts: flan custard, and rice pudding with cardamom, nutmeg, and raisins….)

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Mostly, I just spent the time admiring the Thai women walking the Sukhumvit and catching the Skytrain. Even when they dress casual, they dress elegant. They’re fashion forward with a Euro-Korean tendency, whether they tend towards classic lines and nautical stripes or floral dresses that, on the rack, you’d think would be more appropriate for an 8-year-old girl, yet somehow Asian women pull off as simply feminine. I’ve tried this look before. It doesn’t end well. Mostly, it just makes me look like a somewhat disgruntled, overgrown kewpie doll.

We met up with a cousin of mine, one with whom I kind of grew up like sisters. She lives in Australia now with her husband, but we managed to connect for an evening over Japanese food in this fantastic restaurant that is known for looking like an authentic Japanese house. Each table is in its own private wooden room, vintage posters line the walls, you doff your shoes at the door and sit down on the floor to eat.


I did tell you I went to Bangkok for the food, right?

She plied me with sashimi, gyoza, and yakitori, with a side of advice on precisely how one gets pregnant. Because that’s what family is for.

We also caught an evening with a friend who works in Afghanistan. She was visiting from Kabul, by way of Bogota (which is in Colombia – pretty much on the opposite side of the globe) on her way to a wedding in Udon Thani. Because that’s how she rolls.

But she’s another foodie, so we swapped tales over curried crab, garlic freshwater shrimp, deep-fried calamari, and steamed fish served over a live flame.

So you might say we ate some. But in between the shopping and eating, we thrived on the luscious beat of big city energy, all the way back to our overnight train.

And here is my husband at the train station, where, while we waited to board the train, a bird overhead decided to dive-bomb Toby’s bag with poo. Twice. Did I mention we were indoors? No manner of luck at all.

We did also catch some more touristy sights during our week there. Come back later this week, and I’ll share over coffee pictures of our river taxi ride, and after that, return to hear tell of my foray into the seedier side of Bangkok!

I missed you all this week and have been scrambling to catch up. There were 689 unread posts in my feed reader, people. 689. If I missed something you’d like me to see or comment on, please link it up in the comments below!

P.S. There may or may not also have been tiramisu cheesecake.

Writing Me: Where I’m From

I am from freshly wrapped spring rolls, from Target’s pastel dresses, from 7-11 slurpees, and Friday night dinners at Sizzler on the corner of Little Saigon and Beach Blvd.

I am from the sunshine yellow house, bright bird-of-paradise plumes, stalks of lemongrass and sprigs of mint, a wrap-around garden, a haven, at the deep end of a cul-de-sac, from hopscotch and swing sets at Post Elementary.

I am from daisy chains and dandelion tufts, suburban pines stretching toward a cornflower blue sky.

I am from shoes doffed in a pile at the front door, from effortless love expressed in gifts of food and laughter shared over the thunk-thunk-scrape of a mortar and pestle, from Chaitasana, from Dahle, from Gjestland.

I am from noodle soup, curry, and rice laden tables, from antelope skin and Zulu spear bearing walls, and from a Scandinavian doilie lined piano.

I am from the New Testement and the Pali Canon, from hymns sung by deep African voices, and incense burned on ornate shrines.

I’m from Mississippi, from Oslo, from Suphanburi, from KwaZulu Natal; gjetost and tyttebaer, somthum and gaeng garee, from farmland, from apartheid, from the Vietnam War.

From the missionary who saved the son of a Zulu chief, from a Bangkok Corleone, the man who did the laundry on a ship and the woman who hopped a Greyhound to make their way to the land of the free.

I am from a rosewood cupboard, an amethyst and diamond necklace tucked in a satin lined box, and mismatched secondhand chairs – a stalwart reminder of idealism and new beginnings, kept because “it’s still good.”

Virtual Coffee

If we had had coffee on Sunday, you would have been like, “Dude. What happened to you?” But thankfully, we’re having coffee today, so I’m (mostly) back to normal.

Songkran was. a. blast.

(For pictures and tales, click here.)

If we were meeting for coffee today, I’d tell you just how wonderful it was to have my family here for a visit. We had so much fun with my cousins and aunt! They came into town late Wednesday, so we basically just had enough time and energy to go into town and get some dinner. The whole city was packed for the holiday and getting a table was quite the feat. but we managed to wrangle one with only a half hour wait.

Then Thursday, the party really got started. We took the truck up the mountain to the temple at the top of Doi Suthep, water fights and stopped traffic the whole way up. Paused for a brief moment of spiritual reflection, lunch and a pit stop.

Then resumed water fights and traffic all the way back down the mountain. By this time, it was about 2 in the afternoon, so we decided it was time for a beer. So we hit the Nimman (which is kind of like the Rodeo-Drive-cum-Manhattan-Lower-East-Side of Chiang Mai), found a bar, got some drinks and continued the water fights. We got invites to party at that bar later that night, so we all went home, took a nap, got dressed and headed back out to the party where we demolished a whole bottle of vodka between the four of us.

(I never drink like that.)

Then Friday, I took my cousins around for the usual tourist sight-seeing stuff…which wasn’t the best of ideas because all the shops were closed and all the streets were filled with people still dumping water on each other. So it took ages to get anywhere only to find nothing there. But it was still hilarious to watch! Friday night we were zonked and all crashed early.

Saturday, my family was scheduled to head back down to Bangkok but everyone was moping about not wanting to leave Chiang Mai and I didn’t want them to leave either, so I said, “So don’t leave. Stay!” And they did. Which turned out to be an AWESOME idea because we all went and got massages. We all did an hour and a half (which by the way, cost about $8-10 each), went and had some lunch, and then one of my cousins went back for more. He did a total of 5(!) hours of massage in one day.

And then we went back out to a bar and demolished a whole bottle of Chivas between the four of us.

(I never drink like that.)

And when we got home, Toby realized he didn’t bring the house key. And I realized my key wasn’t in my bag. We rang the doorbell, called the cell phone, provoked the dog into barking…and my aunt slept through it all. (To be fair, it WAS about 2 a.m.). So we ended up wheeling our scooter to the back of the house, underneath an open window halfway up the stairs, where my husband managed to hoist my cousin Duke (who might be the only Asian taller than my husband) up through the window to let us all in.

I never drink like that and it was the best time ever. And not because of the booze. It was because of the family. I spoke more Thai than I ever have for four days straight and by the end of it my brain was numb. But my cousins connected with us in ways we couldn’t before because of the language barrier and it was awesome. I don’t know that I sat for two minutes together without cracking up over something.

They teased me over taking in a stray dog, called Dot a “temple dog” – one of those people don’t like so go and leave at the temples, and said she looked like a hyena. But then every few minutes I’d see them sneaking her some food or trying to play with her. And if she disappeared for more than 5 minutes, they’d wonder where she went off to. By the time they left, they were saying, “She’s kind of cute, isn’t she?” Uh-huh.

Only family. But man, do I love them. To me, that’s one of the best parts about family: they’ll always tell you straight. (Even if it’s none of their beeswax.)

If we were having coffee together today, I’d say it’s kind of nice to have a quiet house again (though the memories from last week are still loud in my head and I find myself still laughing about it at odd moments). But really, I also can’t wait for the next batch of family to arrive!


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