The Bali Blue Bed

Indonesians make amazing beds. Historically they used them for sleeping, but Westerners have adopted these exquisite creations to serve as sofas where several people can curl up and have a cozy conversation.

For months, Ketut has been hauling me to and fro through surrounding villages stopping at every shop with a daybed for sale. I’ve seen them all, from heart-stopping gorgeous ones to those with manure and pig-smell hanging about them. Even though the choices were endless to the point of customizing something to my specifications, I was ambivalent.

Then last week at Ketut’s home in Kintamani, I toured the family compound and caught up on the latest happenings. As we passed through the wood shop, a flash of blue in the corner caught my eye. It was heaped full of stumps and chunks awaiting the skillful knives that would reveal the images within. Upon closer inspection, my eyes nearly popped their sockets. It was a DAYBED, carved in the old style and painted Bali blue. In disbelief I turned to my host.
“Ketuuuuut…what’s this?”
“Oh, old bed. My father make.”
“Your father made this?”
“Ya, very old.”
“Ketut, this is a daybed.”
“Remember, you have been taking me all over Bali looking at daybeds.”
“You didn’t tell me about THIS daybed!”
“Oh no. Very old. I forget.”
I took a few deep cleansing breaths and studied the lines, the detail, and checked the sturdiness. It appeared to be strong and fully intact.
“You like?” he asked.
“Ketut, it’s amazing! It is exactly what I’ve been looking for. And your father made it! Do you know how special this is to me because your father made it? Do you think your mother would sell it?”
I was speaking too fast about abstract feelings, most of which, I knew, would be lost in translation. But he caught the gist of the last question.
“I ask,” he said.
He disappeared for a few minutes and returned with a tape measure. He knows the size I want and he stretched the tape for the length, width, and height calling out the numbers to me. It was perfect.
“Will your mother sell it?”
“Ya, you can have. Very old, nobody want.”
“Ketut, I need a daybed. I am going to buy one somewhere but this one is so special and I want to pay for it. Is that okay?”
“Ya, up to you.”
I left in a state that can only be described as bliss. He said he would arrange to rent a truck and bring it to me. It arrived two nights later around 8:30 pm  with Ketut and five family members. They carried the pieces from the street along with four big new trees for my garden and a pair of giant carved mushrooms, also for my garden!
Over the next two days I scrubbed years of use from the frame and Ketut sanded and applied new varnish to the side panels. Yesterday afternoon he assembled it.
 Ketut in assembly mode.
The beautiful Bali blue bed in all its splendor!
P1070835No mattress yet. I’ll order one made to fit. Pillows are enough for now!
This daybed embraces me and it will do the same to all who join me here for future conversations. Ketut’s family is extraordinary. His father passed away six months ago. He  was a very special man, and now I have something that was not only made with his hands, but used by the family until they bought a new, modern one three years ago.
 There are unfinished areas on the sides that were always against a wall in the room in Kintamani. As we discussed paint possibilities I mentioned the white ridged detail along the canopy.
“Maybe a new color there?”
“Not possible,” said Ketut in the voice that means it really IS NOT POSSIBLE.
“This Barong Gigi, not possible change.”

“Oh, the Barong’s teeth? Really? Is that right?”

“Ya, long time ago all Bali house have this. Now make with machine but my father make this.”
 I look at the hundreds of half-cylinder shaped wood pieces and my awe deepens. Not only do I have a family heirloom, but it is infused with the rich, protective magic of the Barong. I know the Barong. He’s the physical manifestation of the king of all protective spirits. In the ceremonial dances he’s huge with a hairy body and lion-like masked head full of large, white teeth.
I feel myself choking up, a common occurrence in my life here. That feeling always accompanies the intense gratitude for what seems to fall effortlessly from the gods into my lap.
“Thank you for telling me, Ketut. I love this bed so much!”
“Ya.” There’s silence for a moment while he applies varnish to the bamboo slats that hold the mattress. “You have more question?” I laugh. He loves to tell me about Balinese beliefs and wants me to write a story about Bali. Maybe I will. I’ll call it The Bali Blue Bed!
Oh, and speaking of blue, Bali blue is a color I NEVER would have incorporated into my decor. So bold, so very very BLUE! Now I’m rethinking my whole design scheme to highlight that color. It gives my heart a joyful bounce every time I look at it.
On all those daybed outings I told myself, I’ll know it when I see it. There were many stunning options, ornate and delicately carved, but my mind never said, Yes! This is it! until the woodshed. I’ve learned this about myself: I need to wait with decisions until my heart leaps out and grabs onto something. Until then it’s just stuff. But after the heart takes hold it becomes a treasured part of me, its presence an intrinsic piece of my happiness.

Sexy men in sarongs

I’ve heard it said that Asian men are androgynous. Statistically they’re smaller in stature than men in the West. Most have less body hair and finer features. I’ve been around Japanese men, a few Koreans, and now hosts of Indonesians. To my aesthetic, there’s nothing sexier than a man in a sarong. Androgynous or not, they are magnificent!

P1070751My friend, Dewa I, (the hottie in the photo) invited me to his village months ago for a special ceremony. I have no idea how special until Ketut and I are about a mile from the town and we’re stopped by a Pecalang, the local security guard.

“Sorry, no vehicles past this point, special ceremony.”

“Yes, we know. We’ve been invited.”

The guard peers at me. I’m in full temple garb and I’m sure he’s wondering how I fit into this picture.

P1070729As authentic as it looks, I’m not passing muster.

“Sorry. Road closed.”

Ketut rattles off a few sentences in Balinese, slides his phone out of his pocket, and calls Dewa. The next thing I know we’re waved through. Even in Bali…especially in Bali…it’s not what you know, it’s who.

In a mile or so we come to the village. Another Pecalang motions us off the road into a parking area. We leave the bike and are ushered to a roofed platform where three more guards confer about what to do with this smiling American and her Balinese escort. They’re holding two-way radios and a flurry of crackling messages commences. “Parking lot to temple, we have an unidentified foreign female demanding entrance…!”

Five minutes, ten minutes. Ketut arranges himself on the platform with a cigarette. One of the men notices the sun beating on my fair-haired head and invites me to sit in the shade. Fifteen minutes, twenty, then Ketut stands, ambles to the edge of the platform and says, “Dewa’s wife coming.”

We’re saved!

P1070754She’s like a vision walking toward us. We exchange happy hugs and she leads us to their home up the street past throngs of villagers awaiting the next event in the temple. The houses are nestled, tight-packed up the mountainside. We follow a narrow, walled path, ascend a staircase, and we’re there.

Coffee appears and a bowl of snacks as Nyoman apologizes. They’re all very busy today and because it’s an important ceremony and we are outsiders, we’re not allowed into the temple. But we can watch the processions and dancing that will happen in the street.

I laugh and tell her it’s fine, but my private thought is that Dewa didn’t remember, or perhaps didn’t think of it when he invited me. It’s the women who know the rules, the ins and outs of the ceremonies. But I’m delighted just to be here, to see their village and be a guest in their home.

Everyone’s jabbering at once when a shout from below brings me to the wall. I peer over and there’s Dewa II,  holding a plate of food and grinning up at me. I can hardly believe he’s the same guy who scared the stuffing out of me when we first met because he never smiled. He’s just finished a Baris performance and is grabbing a bite before it’s show-time again.

P1070747As he gobbles his lunch he tells me that he has six performances today and the next one is in a few minutes.

“Can I watch?”

“Yes.” When he leaves the girls grab my hands and we zig-zag through the crowds. They park me in the shade above the area where the dancers will appear, and then it begins. (Click here: Baris Dance.) Now the smiling face is set in a mask of concentration as he executes the complex footwork of this dance of the warriors.

P1070764The dancers form lines on either side of the women and priests who are exiting the temple after making offerings and prayers. When the ceremony draws to an end the girls are agitated. Their English is confined to, “What is your name, my name is…!” and they don’t comprehend my brand of Indonesian. But with enough repetition and gestures I’m made to understand that they have to go somewhere to do something and I should wait here. They race away. In a matter of moments it becomes clear. They are the next performance! This close-up of Dewa II’s daughter shows her with the same fierce intensity of concentration as her father in the photo above.

P1070782The girls finish and I’m collected and returned to the house where more coffee and a tour of the rest of the family compound awaits. Ketut is particularly interested as we meander past the residences of the brothers and uncles, to see the livestock. There are cows, pigs, piglets, chickens, fighting cocks, and ducks. One porker named ‘cow’ because of her immense size, lumbers to her feet and sticks her snout toward the camera for a close-up.

P1070797There’s one spotty milk chocolate runt in the pen of piglets. I feel an instant kinship with the tiny character because he looks so out of place with his pinky-grey companions. I name him Coklat (c is always the ch sound in the Indonesian language, and Cok is the name attached to the royalty in Ubud.) My companions find this hilarious.

P1070794The afternoon wanes into evening and the gamelan orchestra is still pounding a frenzy of sound when we take our leave. Nyoman bustles to the kitchen and returns with a bag stuffed with mangoes, oranges, pears, snakefruit and sweets to send home with me. We walk down the hill together, her arm around my waist, mine around hers. Then it’s back in the saddle for the long ride home.


We pass rice terraces and fresh paddies just sprouting. “Nice area,” says Ketut.

“Yes, beautiful.”

“Good people,” he adds, and I couldn’t agree more.




Catching Dreams – It’s just a formula

From understanding what we love,

to knowing what we want,

to imagining possibility,

to manifesting,

that’s the trajectory for catching dreams.

imagineI spent years journaling with writing for self-discovery tools. I dug deep, hit muck, dug deeper, hit resistance, chipped and chiseled away until I finally knew who I was, what I wanted, and what I needed to do.

Then I did it.

Looking back I marvel. How did I go from the half-crazed middle-aged woman stuck in the stories of divorce and disappointment to this magical existence that is my current life? Well, I know how I did it, one step at a time, one decision at a time, one dream at a time. It’s a formula, like E=mc² but a little less scientific, and a lot less exact. This formula has many variables but only four elements: understanding, knowing, imagining, manifesting. If the experiment of dreamcatching proceeds in order, using the outcome of each step to build on the next, the results are predictable.

For the past year I’ve felt a shift coming. The Writing for Self-Discovery Workshops introduced the writing tools, and they are key. But there’s so much more. I’ve met one person after another who has come to Bali seeking something different for their lives. But they don’t know what they want and they don’t know how to access that part of themselves where the answers live. “It’s a formula,” I want to say. “It’s just a simple formula.” But instead I smile and wish them well. It’s become apparent to me that there’s a need, not only for writing tools, but for a guide who has successfully run the full experiment and can demonstrate it for others.

I’ve made the journey, I know the path, and I’m passionate about sharing the formula. So Destination:DreamCatcher! has gone live. Check it out. And if you think this retreat might be for you, request the FREE DreamCatcher! Exercise on the form below. If it resonates, we may be celebrating Nyepi 2015 together in March!






No, you don’t understand…

Stretch reality, expand it until it becomes unreal, a thing so far removed from the familiar that words of explanation cease to exist.

I awaken at 6:00 a.m. to the hollow wooden echo of the kul kul and a chorus of roosters. Morning. The fingers of the great coconut palm brush my window, whish, whish, and clouds in the east blush golden. My feet meet the silky chill of the tiled floor. Curls of sweet cempaka incense from morning offerings tells me that Pasek has already appeased the gods on my behalf. I pad to the bathroom and assault my face with cold water.

Yoga pants and sports bra await. Yawning, I slip into clothes and push the wall of sliding doors aside. A rush of morning air carries the scent of onions and garlic frying and the gossipy blither of sparrows busy vying for best nesting rights under the eaves. With a practiced flick of the wrist, my mat unfurls and I step into place for morning sun salutes. Today I do the sequences quickly, pushing myself to wake up.

Forty minutes later, muscles warmed and mind clear, I open the front door. Sitting in bags, striped black and white and one shocking pink, are papaya, salak, jackfruit, sprouts, spinach, cozy brown eggs from chickens that have never known captivity, and sweet kue. I didn’t order kue, but periodically the irresistible, fattening delicacies appear. Mmmm yum! Shallots and garlic round out today’s picks. Ketut asked for my shopping list last night so he could visit the Ibus’ produce trucks before sunrise.

The teakettle whistles. Scalding water with one part Nescafe and one part Torajan coffee, mixed well and allowed to settle, brings me fully into the day. I answer e-mails then pick up writing where I abandoned it the night before. Half-way through morning Ketut appears to cook rice, vegetables, and tofu for the noon meal. Before he begins, one-quarter of the papaya is sliced into a bowl with a spritz of fresh squeezed lime juice. Breakfast is served.

“Have program?” he asks while he chops and minces.

“How about flower shopping? Go to Mas?”

“What you want?

“Short flowers, red, yellow, for the garden.”

“Maybe grass?”


“Ya. Two meters make many many.” It’s clear to me that I have a fuzzy idea of what I want but Ketut has the master plan. I don’t pursue with questions.

At noon we set off by motorbike to the nurseries in the next village. The woodworker shop where I left a sketch and a request for a quote is on our way. We swerve in and stop so I can check to see if there’s a price assigned to my drawing.

“Bapak belum,” says the little moonface in pigtails. (Daddy not yet.) The shy older girl says nothing and both turn back to the cartoon characters shouting at each other on the rabbit-eared t.v. We press on.

Another mile down the road lush, well-ordered gardens appear on the right. “Grass here,” Ketut says. In the States I’ve seen turf rolled into neat bundles and delivered by truck to create instant lawn. Of course that’s what I expect. Dumbfounded I watch as the stooped Balinese man marks off two meters of ground cover and skims it from the earth into a pink plastic bag in exchange for 50,000 rph. ($4.75 U.S.) An hour later we’re on our way back to Ubud. On the bike seat between us is the bulging bag of sprouting earthen knobs, and atop that, the yellow and red blooms of ten plants bob gaily like the flowers on a clown’s hat. For a split-second I imagine us tooling down Nicollet Ave. in Minneapolis. A Neil Diamond song runs through my head,

It’s Love, Brother Love, say
Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show
Pack up the babies and grab the old ladies
And ev’ryone goes, ’cause everyone knows
Brother Love’s show…!

Why that song?

Back at home Ketut serves up lunch then heads to the garden. I resume writing. The sounds of drumming and male voices in a staccato kecak chant jolt me from my altered author state. Gede and Kadek, the staff from Rumah Jepun next door, and Alit from Rumah Kita on the other side of me, are helping Ketut prepare the ground for grass. Ketut scrapes and chops at the hard-baked earth and shovels it into buckets.

P1070473The three volunteers relocate the contents. On the return they pound a wild beat on their empty bucket drums and fill the afternoon with the syncopated chak-chak…chak-chak-chak… that they’ve heard since before they could walk. Primal energies churn through my nervous system. There is something deep in my cells that knows the language of drumming, knows that understanding its message meant survival. I close my eyes as the force of their sound vibrates through me.


The performance is by them and for them, but I’m the lucky bystander and when the camera appears smiles beam upward.

Last night this same group gathered around my table to play Uno.  We’re vastly different in age, cultural background, education, and life experience but at the core, our hearts desire the same things, community, acceptance, laughter, love.


As the sun and heat intensify, Ketut lays down the clods, pressing them into moist, loosened earth. Now I understand his cryptic, two meters make many many. He’s already planted about four meters and that pink plastic is still half full! I hurry downstairs and slip into my garden flip-flops . It isn’t until I’m eye level with the artful ‘ruin’ in the far corner of the plot that I notice the cheerful yellows and reds embedded in their new home. I had imagined stewing, contemplating, The yellow here? No, over there? No…. But I’ve been spared the indecision and it’s perfect.


“Wow Ketut! I love it! Amazing job!” He knows he’s good, but you can never give a Leo too much praise. He poses for the camera looking like something from The National Geographic in the rolled up ‘PINK brand’ sweat pants that some guest discarded, with his t-shirt swathed around his head.

“Facebook?” he asks.

“Absolutely! Okay?”

“Ya, okay!” His grin spreads wider.


My phone tings and there’s a text from Nina. Join me for a cocktail? I leave the garden and go around the corner to her kitchen. She dusts off the tiny blue stool that we both know is my spot. I sit, sipping a Mandarin orange juice shot through with mango vodka and marvel at the way she can talk, gesture, drink, and cook all in the same breath. We remark again at the fate that made us neighbors and agree that our friendship is a happy accident. We share the knowledge that people who haven’t experienced this kind of life cannot possibly understand its rich rewards.

At dusk I toddle home and hear the trickle of the water hose as Ketut gives the new plantings their kiss goodnight. An hour later he appears, showered and fresh. “Want fish?” he asks as he scans the contents of the refrigerator.

“Yes! Great!”

We feast on Lake Batur bounty smothered in Balinese sambal, and a savory mix of sautéed veggies over rice. At eight he closes the sliding doors and heads down the hallway. “Want door lock?” he says as he lets himself out.

“Please. And thank you for everything.”

“Ya. Good night. See you tomorrow.”

It’s a snippet, a typical day in a life that I could never have imagined for myself. Ketut is staff. Every foreign resident in Bali must employ at least one Balinese person. He has his own bedroom and bath on site. He shops for me, cleans, gardens, cooks, and carries me on the back of his bike wherever I need to go. He’s up at 5:30 a.m., to the market by 6:00, and sometimes he’s still hauling me to and from engagements at midnight. He manages my life so it’s a seamless, effortless, joyous event. But he’s also my friend.

How did this happen?



A Wedding in Paris – Serious Bling!

Thanksgiving Day 2014, Joy and Kellen are getting married…in PARIS.

This is 14 months, almost to the day, of Jenny and Kennen’s wedding on the good ship Jeremiah O’Brien near Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco. In fact, Kellen informed me the night of that wedding that he was going to propose (with my permission) to Joy during their trip through Napa Valley the next day. (Actually, I lied. He didn’t ask permission. He knows I adore him. End of story.)

Joy’s gown is fabulous. I’ve seen pictures. And her accessories look like something out of a Hollywood set. Needless to say, we don’t have to ‘dress down’ for this wedding. Joy wants se camper, (tasteful of course) glitz and glam.

So here I am in Bali trying to prepare a wardrobe worthy of the occasion. November in Paris is cold, really cold compared to the tropics where the thermometer hovers around a cozy 85+ degrees F in November and rarely falls below 75 even in wintertime. So the first item on the list, before dress, shoes, or jewelry, is a coat. Right. Good luck finding a warm coat in Bali.

There’s a new shop across the street from my bank. I complete my transaction and wander over for a look. To my utter, joyful surprise there is a rack of down, thigh-length jackets, and not mere jackets, but jackets with a detachable down vest inside! I go faint. But ecstasy is short-lived. They are all size large and the sleeves reach past my fingertips by a good four inches. “Ohhhh,” I moan. “Do you have a small size?” The clerk is sympathetic but assures me that this particular coat comes only in large.

“You can try our store in Denpasar. Maybe they have small,” she says, slipping a flyer with the address into my hand.

Ketut gets directions to the shop and on a morning drenched in sunshine, we set out. All the main streets are one-way in Denpasar, so we do a few loops around the designated area where we’ve been assured we will find Toko Millennia stopping four or five times to seek additional guidance. At last we pull into a two-story strip mall parking area and ask once more. There are no signs anywhere to indicate what retail opportunities await. “Oh yes, that way,” says the parking attendant. The lot is empty. Ketut hooks the helmets to the bike and we enter the building. A guard points us to the escalator at the other end of an open area. We pass empty space after empty space in semi-gloom. It’s a mall burial ground and we are the lone living souls there to pay our last respects. At the top of the moving stairs, like a beacon from heaven, the glow of Toko Millennia welcomes us inside. “Creepy,” I say and Ketut agrees.

I hold my breath and skirt the perimeter of the large, well lit store. About 3/4 of the way around, there they are, a whole rack of the coat/vest combo I’d seen in Ubud. For just a heartbeat I wonder why they’re in the men’s section, but dismiss it as unimportant. I find the color combination I like, gray coat, gold vest, and try it on. Large. Okay, maybe black and silver. Large. A petite clerk eyes me. “Do you have small?” I ask.

“No Ibu. These for man. No small.” My heart thunders to my feet. Of course. “Maybe you like woman jacket?” she shyly asks.

“Oh! You have this for women?” It’s almost too good to be true. In the next breath I see that it isn’t true. The woman’s jacket is a completely different animal, streamlined, a dark slate color with detachable hood and detachable rabbit fur outlining the detachable hood. But it’s down-filled, and there’s only one. I slip it on and turn to the mirror. Hmmm. It fits me like an Italian leather glove. I twist to view the back. Nice! For the first and only time in my life I don’t even glance at the price tag. “Yes, I’ll take it,” I tell the smiling girl.


Back at home I review my list. Coat. Check!

It’s one thing to shop for an item when I know exactly what I want and where to go to get it. In such cases Ketut is a perfect escort. But I need shoes. There is no way I’m going shoe shopping with a Balinese man. I discuss my dilemma with Nina. “We need a girls’ day out!” she says and actually seems excited about the idea. We pick a date and she tells me the stores we’ll be visiting in the Mal Galeria. “So make a list of every girlie thing you want to get and we’ll do it all,” she says.

Yesterday at 9 a.m., helmeted and happy, I climb on the back of Nina’s red and white Scoopy and off we go. The miles fly by as we chatter about hypoglycemia,  the feng shui of color, and other topics that would never pass muster with Ketut. First stop, the food court. Over my Cap Cay and Nina’s Nasi Goreng Spesial, we plan the attack, a swing through shoe shops to see what’s available, then on to Hypermart, Ace Hardware, and back to shoes for the kill. As we browse footwear I’m surprised at the number of options I have and the images of spike heels, platforms, and wedges swirl in my head as we move on to Ace.

The display at the front of the store stops me cold in my tracks. Drills. I have plaster walls and stuff to hang on them. There’s one drill in the community and multiple building projects. Waiting for that tool to show up at my house could take weeks. As I finger the drill bits and marvel at the sale price two gentlemen join me at the display. The elderly one, a shock of white hair and cancerous purple lips in a liverspotted face, invades my personal space. “Where are you from?” he croaks.


“This won’t work in America unless you change the cord, I suppose you could change the cord, but it might not work anyway.”

“I live here.”

“Oh. In that case, this is a very good drill for you.”

Nina and I edge away from the display and the over-eager gent. “Someone should look at those lips,” she says. “Did you see how purple they were? I’ll bet he has cancer and nobody’s told him. He really should have those checked!”

“Nina!” I don’t usually bark at my hypochondriac friend, but she’s like a pit-bull on a rabbit when anything medical hit’s her radar. “Let it go!”

“Yes, but…”


“Okay, okay!”

She locates the bath area for me and I find the perfect shower caddy and adhesive hooks. As we’re checking out she says, “Did you want that drill?”

With a drill and shower caddy in tow, we head back to shoes. Now it’s time to get serious. We return to Matahari, the Macy’s of Bali. “Show me what you like so I can help you look,” she says, and I point out black, fully enclosed pumps with a little detailing.

We separate and I find myself face-to-face with a Peter Keiza display.  “Wow!” I breathe to no one in particular. The shoes are over-the-top show-stoppers, silver heels, rhinestones, studs, bling on top of bling. Dazzled, I turn away and find Nina who has a handful of possibilities.

“What size?” she asks.

“No idea.”

“38? 40? Let’s try 38.”

“How about 40, I say. I like that pair,” I indicate one of the choices she’s snagged for me. She hails a clerk and issues the command to fetch in her perfect, fluent, Indonesian. He scuttles away.

“Will you watch my bags for just a sec?”

“Sure,” she says and I’m off like a bullet lured by the Siren call of Peter Keiza. I grab several glittery choices and race back. “Oooh!” says Nina when she sees them. Bless her for not pointing out that what I have in my hand in no way resembles what I indicated to her that I wanted. I try them all, several different sizes in each style, and settle on one of Peter’s.

When I approach check-out the woman who is about to ring me up says, “Do you want 20% off these or a second pair free?” Huh? Does any self-respecting woman opt for 20% off when she can have two pair for the price of one? Not likely. The second time I appear at check-out with two brazen bling-y Keiza selections, the ringer says, “You qualify for 50,000 rupiah off your next purchase. Here’s the coupon but it must be used today.” I shoot Nina a disbelieving and apologetic grimace.

“You go ahead and look,” she tells me.”I’m going back to Hypermart to buy a CD player. Just come up and meet me when you’re finished.”

Somehow we manage to pack two shoeboxes, a drill, a CD player, a shower caddy, and 5 shirts that I didn’t mention, onto the bike along with our own tired bodies for the hour drive home. It isn’t comfortable, but it is an accomplishment. As we pull into Ubud around 5:30 the smell of wood fired pizza assails our noses. “Mama Mia’s! Limoncello! Beer!” we chortle in unison. Nina swerves the bike into a parking spot and moments later we’re wiping road grime off our faces while toasting an excellent end to a perfect girls’ day out.


Thank you, ace biker mama and patient friend, Nina! You’re the best!


You only think you know what you want: Lesson 2

A flyer sits in my e-mail box. It’s from a friend in Australia who holds retreats in Bali. Spring is in the air…it begins. For a hair’s breadth I think, “She needs to update her website. It’s September. Spring is in March…April latest…OH!” Whoops! Southern hemisphere, the seasons are up-side-down. She’s absolutely right, in Australia (and Bali) it’s spring.

This gives me pause. How often, I wonder, do I pass judgment based on my frame of reference?


It’s one thing to study different countries and cultures in books. It’s another thing entirely to relocate your life to a place on the opposite side of the equator from the familiar comfort zone. My understanding of how things should be is challenged daily. Two recent occurrences come to mind, ceremonies and sleeping arrangements.

Someone said that to the Hindu, life is ceremonies and everything in between is just filler.  The truth of that statement cannot be fully appreciated until it’s experienced. In my white Anglo-Saxon Protestant past, church on Sunday was the tradition. It was an hour of sitting in respectful silence and listening to the sermon with the occasional call-response or hymn to break the monotony. When the pastor said, “Go in peace, serve the Lord,” it was my signal to stop daydreaming, find the page for the last song, and make sure my legs hadn’t fallen asleep.

Not so the Hindu. Rituals are not an hour on Sunday morning. Ceremonies can last hours, days, sometimes even weeks. The priest may be ringing his bell and chanting Sanskrit prayers but men and women continue to gossip and laugh and virtually ignore him.


At first I’m appalled. What disrespectful people! How can they offend the priest like this? Why doesn’t he say something? All the while I sit piously, hands folded in my lap, paying rapt attention. But the holy man never appears to be offended and as soon as he finishes he joins in with his own jokes and good humor.

I’m an expert at imposing assumptions from my narrow experience on a culture that doesn’t share that experience. Their reverence is shown in ways that I’m only beginning to understand. But I’ve taken note and I’m loosening up.

Yesterday posed a different problem, however, and I tried to play the I’m-not-Hindu-so-that-doesn’t-apply-to-me card. It had to do with the orientation of my bed. The Balinese are adamant about sleeping arrangements. The bed must be positioned so one’s head points either east or south, and I’ll qualify that by saying it depends upon where a person lives on the island in relation to Holy Mount Agung. In Ubud, Agung is to the east. Because of the configuration of the bedroom, however, I want the head of the bed on the west wall.

“Not possible,” says Ketut.

“I know, I know,” I gear up to hold my ground. “But I’m not Hindu so it’s okay for me.”

“No good,” he continues. Impatience rises up at his inflexibility on this topic but I try to reason with him.

“Look, if I put the wardrobe here on the short wall, and the bed here, it’s easier to get to the bathroom. Otherwise too crowded.”

“Ya, but no good.”

I want to say, Why not, dammit?! But instead I offer a meek, “Why not?”


“Machine. Too much noise. No sleeping.” For a few brief seconds I try to make sense of how a machine has worked it’s way into this spiritual conversation. Then it dawns. The neighbor’s washing machine is directly behind the west bedroom wall. An early morning spin cycle, a little off balance, would be sleep disturbing. I feel the defeated grin spreading across my face as I shake my head.

“Why do I even argue with you?” It’s a rhetorical question, but Ketut has the answer.

“Maybe you forget machine,” he says.






Diplomacy Bali style, you only think you know what you want!

The jungle has it’s place. My idea of a garden, however, is more orderly, manageable, controlled.

In the months preceding the acquisition of the small plot of land adjoining mine, I visualized, sketched, imagined what my garden would look like. Ah, lovely! A solid base of mosaic stone pathways known as batu sikat to create the backdrop for potted palms, bougainvillea, gardenias, and other tropical varietals. It would go from this, its current jungle-ish state,


The ‘before’ look of my future garden

to something more like this.

Garden plan

The basic idea

I show my drawings to Ketut who will be instrumental in manifesting the vision. (In other words, to him falls the questionable pleasure of uprooting and relocating the jungle and transforming it into planned perfection.) “Oh,” he says, with that tone that I’ve come to recognize as not being quite on my page. “No small mountain???”

For the sake of clarity, the Balinese style garden is a series of earthen mounds. In the center of each is a tall tree that is bordered by leafy plants in varying hues of green, red, and yellow, which are again skirted at the lower level with shorter flowering shrubs creating a mountain affect.

Julies garden

Balinese style garden

There is no question that it’s beautiful. But I want something  different.

“No small mountain,” I say, with the inflection of voice that leaves very little room for doubt. “I want pots, not mountains.”

Ketut is thoughtful and quiet.

“What are you thinking?” I get wary when there’s no give and take.

“Oh ya,” he says, and nothing else.

A day passes and Ketut’s industry is beautiful to behold. The jungle, like Bali magic, disappears and I venture into the cleared space to reintroduce my plan, just in case. Ketut speaks first. “Ya, three small mountains, one here, one here, one there.” I decide to go the route of diplomacy.

“Ketut,” I try to be patient. “Tell me what you see.”

After a brief explanation I see the same thing he sees, a traditional Bali garden.

“I don’t want small mountains, just pots. Many batu sikat and pots. Is that possible?”

A small “Ya,” is my answer.

Another day passes. More space is cleared and new plantings appear along the back wall.  It’s taking shape. With drawing in hand I once again venture into the clearing, drumming up the necessary resolve to hold firm with my vision.

“It looks beautiful, amazing!” I tell him, and it does. But I don’t see any indication of a design that includes my decorative pathways. “Where will we put batu sikat?”

“Oh, very expensive,” he says.

“How expensive?”

“Maybe broken.”


“Ya, land very soft, easy make batu sikat broken. Maybe a little a little around pot. And here small mountain…”

The end of this story is obvious by now. In true Balinese fashion, Ketut has given me what I want, his way. He never tells me I can’t, but with gentle stubbornness he guides me to reach that conclusion all by myself. I have to loosen the reigns. When I do the results are always spectacular. The creativity that erupts in such abundance in this culture astounds me. I have no doubt my garden, when left to Ketut, will be a thing of wondrous beauty. I’ll have a few pots, he’ll have a few mountains, and I’ll believe it was all my idea in the first place.


Ketut hard at work in the new garden

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