A Taste of Paradise

Sitting on the couch of our new house in Hoi An, Vietnam, less than 24 hours into our stay, and I feel the sting of the all-too-quickly passing memories of the Maldives. We have been loathe to share much about this past week, as we know many of our friends and family have been braving the winter elements. That said, for the consecration of our own memories, here are some photos of this last week.

In short: it was perfect. For most guests at this resort, a trip like this means much-needed quality time with loved ones, likely an escape from their hectic lives that deprioritize friend/family time. For us, this week was the opposite!

The kids were in camp each day. Obie was at a teen camp, which was really quite the salve for his 24/7 life of being the best and most patient big brother. He made incredible friends from around the world, wandered the island independently, stayed out late, drank non-alcoholic beverages as he pleased, and generally embodied as many preteen inclinations as he could muster in a week.

How many pre/teens can you fit on a paddle board?

Trapeze bravery... A sad goodbye...

Emmet and Asa had their own adventures, made friends, and pushed themselves in ways we would have never in a million years foreseen. Not only did they willingly spend the entire day (and sometimes evenings!) away from us, but they also performed in a dance show with great enthusiasm (for those of you who know Emmet and particularly Asa, performing in these types of shows is NOT on their life to-do lists), as well as swinging from an incredibly high trapeze (Emmet went twice!). Talk about conquering fears!  

And Chris and I? We did whatever we wanted without caring for anyone but ourselves! We swam and snorkelled with sharks and turtles and brilliant schools of fish and sailed and did beach yoga and read books and paddle-boarded and talked and ate (I had no idea what foods I'd be drawn to after the wonders of Thai food, but I will tell you I ate strangely excessive amounts of cheese and Indian food) and drank and went out dancing. And of course, Chris rocked the trapeze. Every morning I’d wake up by myself and sit out in front of our room on the beach reading, writing, and generally being lulled by the brilliantly translucent ocean.

More soon on our slightly bumpy transition to Vietnam, but for now, I’ll leave these final moments for posterity here, including the crystal clear starry sky, otherworldly bioluminescence, and some animal friends (birds, bats, sharks) that frequented the island.

Goodbye Thailand!

We did it! Three months in an unfamiliar country, opening ourselves to the ups and downs of traveling, new experiences, and so many adventures. As we watch our kids on the plane right now, we see how much they have grown – not so much in size (though Obie is really getting up there – watch out, Bubbie!), but in their ability to navigate the world with sensitivity and confidence.

We spent the last few days in Bangkok, a city I wish I could have explored more. After the privilege of ‘slow travel,’ the action-packed, fit-everything-into-a-day style of travel feels superficial and jarring. We did have some lovely moments – from the overnight train from Chiang Mai to Bangkok, to climbing up the Wat Saket steps at sunset, to getting soaked at the Icon Siam light show, to wandering the back alleys of the amulet market, to our canal trip through the khlongs, to our final fancy dinner in celebration of this transition [other things I could have done without, namely Safari World, with its unbelievably questionable everything, from animal to cultural ethics].

Overnight train...

Light show...

Wat Saket...
The khlongs (canals)...

Don't ever go to Safari World...this is my warning to you.

Last evening at a fancy rooftop restaurant.... 

So here’s our calendar from the last three months! Many of you have admired Chris’ calendar handiwork (both in Vancouver and now in our travels). It has been a grounding vessel for the kids who do not have the ritual of everyday routine to settle their nervous systems, and it provides an awesome log of our trip.

I write this en route to the Maldives where we will take a one-week Hanukkah/Xmas break. Our hope here is to soak up island life (all), go to camp (kids), and get a bit of a break from 24/7 parenting, decision-making, and cultural navigation with a family of five (Chris/me).

I would say overall we are somewhat unsettled, wondering if we have the appetite and resilience for another three-month journey in Vietnam – starting all over again with language, food, and cultural practices, and the so-many decisions that one has to make in onboarding to a new locale. We are excited and trepidatious. We are reflecting on our time in Chiang Mai and wondering what we would like to replicate from those three months and how we might want to experiment with other ways of being/doing.

When planning this trip, Chris and I forecasted that this may indeed be the hardest part of the journey. We are not quite halfway, starting anew in a place so foreign, with the adrenaline of novelty behind us. We will see how this next leg goes. But for now, we will dial into the present moment and bask in a decision-less palate cleanser of pina coladas and ‘international’ buffet dinners.

Last Days in Chiang Mai

Leaving a place you love takes courage and faith. A few days before we leave Chiang Mai and I have all of those familiar doubts – most times, just low grumblings that appear in the hours not quite late night and not yet early morning. What if we don’t like our next location? What if this was the place for us? Why are we leaving if the seeds we have planted are just starting to take root?

This last week for us has been – and will be – full of goodbyes to our favorite restaurants, cafes, night markets, activities, and people. To the ease and safety and gems of this place.

I still remember day one in Thailand. 

Stumbling out of our new house, eating at our first restaurant, the jet lag so all-encompassing. For Chris and I, that annoying friend that you just grin and bear to the other side. For the kids, so new and overwhelming that they could barely stand. Remade into depressive toddlers, wobbly legs, fog, and emotional swings. And now, I watch them, confidently buying things, bartering, speaking basic Thai, adopting mannerisms and social customs, avoiding all types of vehicles and walking with intention, appreciating the heat on their faces, and the noises that surround.

Emmet said to me last night as we dodged the gazillion people in our last Sunday night market, “Is this trip a once in a lifetime thing?” I responded, “Well, you never know, but we probably won’t ever do a full year like this again in the same way.” “Why did you decide to do it,” he inquired. And so I told him the story. Not for the first time, but it must have been something about leaving Chiang Mai, and his ears perked, like the budding nostalgia had already penetrated something in him.

“I just love it. So much creativity, each stall with its own art and food.” And he kept on inquiring, about my growing up and if I did a trip like this as a child, and how we came to the decision to change our lives so dramatically. In the chaos of people and noise and smells and sweet desserts and the array of potentially unmet needs, he drew himself into the poignance of him, us, and this setting. 

I often wonder if we have helped our kids develop a sense of gratitude that will ease life's navigations, and perhaps even more so, imprint a deep and sustained knowing of serendipity and magic. And here it was! I paused and shared in the gratitude arising through him.

Meditation Retreat

Inquiring minds want to know what we are up to! T minus a week from leaving Chiang Mai and I have mixed feelings. I love this city and it's been a sweet landing ground for us to get our travel-legs, open our minds to newness, and take us out of our comfort zones. For me, it's been quite a deep journey. That said, with the kids not being in school, it definitely feels time to move on (there are only so many activities you can do each day in one place!). The last week has been different, as I have been at a three-day forest meditation retreat (thank you, Chris, for encouraging me to take the time and for being such a parent extraordinaire). Obie and Chris also did a one-day meditation course, so it seems we are all drawn to diving into stillness and exploring the possibilities of spaces beyond the mind. 

Here are a few pics from my last few days.

Many hours spent in hammocks writing. 

So many gems of meditation spots. This one, a precarious looking treehouse in the fog. 

Morning alms with a monk.

Buddha pic taken after very early morning (5:30am) meditations (not for the faint of early-morning heart!). 

Evening meditations.

Our last night - lantern release and a full moon peeking out from the clouds. 

45 (no, not him...!)

My 45th birthday began with a sniffle and a gust of wind.

We have been traveling on Koh Lanta, an island in the south of Thailand, for nearly a week. Always keeping it real on this blog - there have been highs and lows.

Let’s start with the highs. Something happens to you as a parent when all of your kids are FINALLY able to swim. It’s like you did your job (shout out to the Talmud). I have been utterly surprised by the depth of satisfaction I have had observing their triumphs as independent swimmers. It's been so cool watching two of the kids move from fear to (what I would say now is) attentive bravery, working towards something on their own schedule, and deciding which inner voices to listen to. I also learned that forcing swimming just doesn't work - just needed some consistency, a pool, and allowing them to grow in their own ways.

This was in full bloom as we embarked on our first snorkelling trip – a family of five snorkelling together for the first time – pointing out the coral and the brightly speckled fish to each other. Each of us explorers, independent, and yet our own school of fish. It was truly magical.

We went on two pretty magical boat trips – one speedboat and one longtail boat. One trip to Koh Rok and Koh Haa, the other to a sleepy island called Koh Jum. 

That otherworldly water color, a curious pair of monitor lizards, catching air in the speedboat, looking out at the vast expanse of ocean from the longtail, swimming on deserted beaches. 

Then we hired a driver to take us to the many beaches down the coast. We wound through the jungly curves in the back of his pickup, spotted monkeys in the trees, watched the coastline ebb and flow, and blasted the kids’ playlist that we have heard everyday throughout this journey on repeat (please, someone, send Obie more music so we can listen to something new).

And the truth of this trip is that sometimes you can be in the most magical of places but somehow the rhythm is just unsettled. Despite all this gorgeousness, each time we take a trip away from our base we lose our practiced rhythm of travel (schooling, feeling comfortable in a place, etc.), and there can be a whole lot of grumpiness and uncertainty about what the days will bring. We have indeed seen a few days of meltdowns, reticence to meet new people and extend oneself beyond the safety of our family, and wholesale invention of obstacles to have something to fight against. And I suppose that just comes with the territory.

So back to me! I’m now a day past 45. I have had a cold for a couple of days. A storm edged in, with sporadic rains and fierce winds. It forced me to do a whole lot of nothing. There were moments of buoyancy – reading and eating cheesecake on the beach, watching the unseasonably rough waves, even spotting a green snake slither through the sand – time to myself, time with family, a date with Chris. And still, the same questions remain about my next chapter. Not even a third of the way through and yet I long for clarity. I want to know how this part of the story ends. I watch this impatience for what it is. There are times I feel like I am making progress and it’s all going according to plan, without a plan. And other days when it feels like I have stalled, like I have concocted ‘progress’ to tell myself a story that simply isn’t there. And there are even moments of wondering if I am truly living this gift of a trip to its fullest, appreciating its wonders, treating each day as a blessing.  My birthday was the stew of it all – snot, majesty, pause, doubt, appreciation, wind just enough and a bit too much.