Travel Guide Barbie

Few things are more terrifying than a trip to the hair salon. I can say with absolute honesty that I’ve never walked out of an appointment satisfied. I’m always convinced I could have done it better myself. (Overly confident? Narcissist? Confirmed do-it-yourselfer! Yes!) So for the past several years I’ve applied Nice-n-Easy #108 Natural Reddish Blond every couple of months with deeply satisfying results.

Fast forward…Bali.

I’ve been here for two years. When friends or family ask, “Can I bring you anything from the States?” I’ve begged them to load up on as much #108 as they can comfortably stow in their already overcommitted luggage. In exchange I play tour guide, help them find drivers and navigate the unwieldy currency exchanges. To date, my sassy hair has gotten by on the good graces of visitors. Then that thoughtless company discontinued #108. Trying creatively to meet my needs the last shipment via Jan’s suitcase held various alternatives. Bless her for trying.

Those events propelled me into panic. I’m not about to give up my vivacious strawberry blond-ness without a fight.

I began my search locally and realized in short order that a natural red-blond hair color could not be found in this village. Ubud is a thriving tourist center that caters to Asian women who all have dark hair. The products I found were in shades of mahogany, burgundy, pinky-purple, and brass.

I was three months into my last color job. Desperate, I got a lift with a friend to the upscale Mal Galeria in Denpasar, an hour’s drive from Ubud, and began the inquiry. Matahari had hair dye but nothing permissible. The apologetic clerk suggested Hypermart. The name, at least, sounded promising. Reality was a bit something else. Picture Walmart times ten and you’re close. The battalion of check-out counters with lines stretching to oblivion made me re-think going natural. As I did a No way! about-face my eyes caught sight of a small pharmacy tucked into a niche on the left. It’s worth a try, my ever optimistic self said.

I asked in pidgin Indonesian if they had hair color while pointing to my head. After a quick stop at shampoo and a few more meager attempts to communicate, I was led to the back of the shop. There, in a cluster of the usual sultry mahoganies and sables, I saw an incongruous label sporting a cartoonish red-head with enormous eyes. Her hair, Sweet Apricot, was the right color.

schwarzkopf-fresh-light-hair-color-sweet-apricot-L_p0018326099I blinked several times and she was still there. May I look? I said. The name on the box was in English but everything else was undecipherable. Is it for children? I asked. The question seemed reasonable enough to me. The imp on the box was a cartoon after all! What guru of marketing would put a video game type character on a box targeting…Asian teens and young adults? Didn’t they invent the gaming phenomenon? Of course! Brilliant!

The clerks were discussing me, looking at the box, then pointing to my head. This good for you, the older one said.

Now there was no way out. The 95,000 rph price tag translated to about $9 U.S. Shelling out a fist full of 10,000 rph notes I thanked the smiling clerks, tucked my tail, and left.

The box lay hidden in a drawer until last night. A glance in the mirror at my two-tone hairline, dishwater meets redhead, sent me digging under a bag of cotton balls, bandaids, and miscellaneous other supplies. I pulled out Sweet Apricot and was appalled anew by the image. It’ll be okay, I said, Relax! You can do this!

I opened the package and organized the contents in an array before me. The design of the applicator bottle seemed to have significantly superior engineering to the single aperture squeeze thing I was accustomed to. The hermetically sealed packet of plastic gloves weren’t the whisper thin, wrist length throw-aways that Miss Clairol sees fit to supply. They stretched all the way to my elbow and were textured for a non-slip-grip. Sweet Apricot was dead serious about protecting the delicate hands of it’s users.

A quick Google Translate provided instructions that sounded familiar. It’s just hair. As I thought it, I wondered how many times I had breathed out those same three words prior to a disaster of epic proportions.

I’d stalled long enough. With the picture directions spread out on the countertop, I noticed a punch-out circle in the box just the size of the applicator bottle. I was instructed to remove the circle, secure the bottle in the opening for stability, then pour in the color cream, cover securely, and scramble. (Google translate isn’t perfect.) I did as I was told.

You don’t need a blow-by-blow, but the experience was shocking. Once again my sub-grade expectations put me to shame. The solution didn’t singe the nostrils like the Nice-n-Easy brand. It smelled good. The comb-like applicator was 100 times better than the Clairol product and delivered the color cream in an even, perfect flow through its teeth. The goo stayed in my hair and didn’t dribble down the back of my neck or under my chin. Of course all that would be moot depending upon the final outcome.

When I finished, Ubud was experiencing one of its humid, evening rain showers so I knew my hair wouldn’t dry until morning. Final judgment would have to wait.

As the sound of roosters and a chorus of frogs heralded sunrise I stumbled to the bathroom mirror. Spikes of shiny plastic Barbie-doll-ish hair sprouted in all directions. But the color wasn’t a normal Barbie color. It was more like Roller Blade Barbie or Mud Wrestler Barbie. I found myself once again squinting and rubbing my eyes. Maybe after a cup of coffee…?

P1070235After coffee I loved it! No more imports of inferior products from America. No more impositions on the good will and big hearts of Bali bound travelers. I’ve found my color at last, Sweet Apricot!

When I skyped with daughter, Joy, this morning she thought for a minute then christened me, Travel Guide Barbie and I’m okay with that. I’ll still do the tours, arrange drivers, and help with currency exchanges. And I’ll do it with gratitude for my friends who are planning future trips to Bali, because I’ve yet to find a workable alternative to CoverGirl #210 Perfect Point Plus Espresso eyeliner pencil!



When you just keep falling in love

For someone who’s sworn off men, I’m not doing too well. I’m alone, that isn’t the issue. But my defenses have been shot to shreds in the loveliest possible ways and I find myself falling in love a little bit every day.

First there’s Ketut. I’ve written thousands of words about Ketut, glowing, gushing words. When I first came to Bali he was my room staff. I remember when he met me at 3 a.m. as I disembarked from a taxi after a trip of thirty-six hours from the States. “You Zely?” he asked, then hoisted my brick-heavy suitcase on his shoulders and told me to follow him. The next morning, there he was again. “Breakfast?” he said. “Kopi? What you want?”


Ketut with baby daughter Nengah

I remember my thoughts. A man? Why? Couldn’t I have a sweet girl cleaning my room and bringing my breakfast? Drat! I don’t want to put up with man-energy. But I didn’t understand then that the Balinese man isn’t like the men I’d known in the West. Ketut filled my room with flowers, daily. He anticipated me, knew when I would be hungry and showed up with treats. Knew when I wanted company and hung around to chat. Knew, even more importantly, when I wanted to be alone, and left me alone. His intuition was far more highly developed than mine, and I’ve come to realize that’s true of Balinese people in general. (But I won’t go into details here! Another time.) In short, Ketut healed my heart.

Enter, Gede! He’s another member of the staff in the neighborhood where I live. Gede is a clown, a twenty-one-year-old little boy who loves to laugh and make others laugh too. One day he gave me a lift on his motorbike and told me he wanted to bring me a kebaya. That’s the beautiful, traditional blouse that women wear to ceremonies here. It seemed far too generous a gift for someone who doesn’t even employ him, but the next time he went to his home in Kintamani, he came back with not one, but three stunning kebayas for me. They all fit like they had been custom tailored for my body. I fell in love with Gede long before the kebayas, but I fell a little bit deeper that day.


Gede…always the trickster!

The Tukangs working on my house, we’ll call them Dewa One, Dewa Two, and Pak Mandi, all have a slice of my heart. Dewa One scared the bejeezus out of me when I first met him. He had an angry man look, his hair was wild and his body was as tight as a coiled spring. He snapped orders at his crew and I steered clear. But his work was immaculate and one day I drilled up the nerve to tell him how happy I was with his skillful precision. He smiled. No, you don’t understand. He SMILED! There isn’t a more beautiful face on earth than the smiling face of Dewa One. My heart became gooey. Now I find every possible opportunity to praise him and he graces me with that gorgeous grin every time. I love Dewa One.

workers that took down the yoga deck

Dewa One…you’ll have to trust me about the smile!

The most outrageous of my loves is Pasek. He’s blatant, calls me his second wife, makes highly suggestive comments and enjoys watching me bristle. I’ve met his first wife and I adore her but I wouldn’t want to be her. Her hubby’s a handful. But do I love him? Oh yeah. Pasek is the one I call when my electricity goes out, when my faucet leaks, when I need food from the market, or when I want to know about Balinese culture. His harmless joking has become just another part of life here. And he, too, anticipates me and shows up just when I am about to dial his number.

Bali - Pasek's Family (26)

Pasek and his wife, Nyoman

But it doesn’t end there. I’m in love with my tailor, with the taxi drivers, with the man who sells tickets on the street, and the shop keeper at the corner convenience store. I’m in love with my neighbor’s husband, and pretty much every Balinese man I know. Do I use the word too loosely? I don’t think so. The men in Bali are kind to me. I’m susceptible to that. In the West kindness has become a lost art. We have bumper-stickers to remind us to be kind. But here it’s a fact of life, so I just keep falling in love.


The neighbor’s husband! (Don’t worry, Nina…you have zero competition here!)



My Village, My Tribe



I woke up the other morning to emailed photos of the annual Family Picnic. It’s an institution, an every year reunion of all living members of my father’s large family of origin. There were twelve children who had children who in turn had children, and those children are currently having more children.  So they gather, those who aren’t feuding or living far away, at the home place, to eat, reminisce, play softball, and marvel at how they all look the same, never change, don’t age, and isn’t cousin Charley’s little girl a handful!

I puzzled over the photo for a long time and then took a walk. My injured foot felt ready at last.

The past six weeks I’ve been immobilized due to an injury. During that time I became aware of a different world. On the best days it was vacant, void of feeling, a long tunnel of boredom. On the worst days a sodden blanket descended over everything and the atmosphere darkened with anxiety, foreboding, and fear. It was a place empty of gratitude. In my small room, day after day, foot propped on pillows, construction noise hammering around me, there were times when I sank into that other world.

But today marked the end of solitary confinement. I set out under paintbrush blue skies washed with sunlight and expectation. The taxi drivers in the street welcomed me back. Where had I gone? Had I been in America? I met an Australian friend for lunch and mailed a letter at the post office. Out of nowhere gratitude spilled over me. In gratitude anything is possible. The air sizzles with potential. People smile and instant bonds form. It’s a world of generosity and heart wholeness.

At the end of my outing, giddy and joyful I approached home. The shaggy grass in the yard had been trimmed by my neighbor. I drew closer and saw Ketut’s head in the kitchen window. I could hear Lake Batur fish sizzling in the pan. “How did you know I’d come home now and be starving?” His uncanny intuition is unnerving. “Did you read my mind?” I’ve accused him of that before.

“You long walk, maybe hungry,” he said as he piled mounds of stir-fried vegetables, steamed rice with chunks of sweet potato, and the crisp body of a whole fish on a plate and handed it to me.

“Yes,” I thought, “A very long walk, right out of one world into another.” I had created them both by what I allowed my mind to dwell upon. Ketut is always kind and thoughtful. The sun in Bali is always shining. I have no more or no less money today that I did yesterday. But for six weeks my stony little heart lacked gratitude.

Bali - Ketut's Family (4)

And then it hit me. What seemed odd about that picture was that all those people have white skin. Of course they do. They’re Norwegian with a smattering of other European genes. My family here is Indonesian, mostly brown, and sometimes I forget that I’m not.

But it isn’t skin color that makes a village, or shared history that creates a tribe. It’s the condition of the heart, the bonds of love and service, the willingness to be vulnerable and accessible to one another. That can happen anywhere.

And gratitude is the gate between worlds.

Which is more difficult for you, too many choices or too few?

Do you love having a multitude of options and revel in the process of narrowing them down to a single, perfect choice? Or are you happiest when provided with only two so you can flip a coin? You may say, “Well, that depends…” But you know what? Not really.

How do you handle abundance?

How do you handle scarcity?

Do you believe there is always more than enough or is there a slow leak in the bottom or your glass?

For me, the more options the better. My brain is hardwired to sift through layers of information and hone in on the nugget, the unexpected thing that’s exactly what I want even if my notion of it is foggy when I set out on the hunt.

So here I am today, looking for a particular item. I have to decide between two options because in the whole of Bali there are only two options, neither of which is what I’ve envisioned. What happens? I freeze up. I simply can’t decide.

The problem is two-fold.

A) I have a preconceived idea of what I want, and

B) I know what would be available to me in America.

So I leave that shop and go to the next. Same two options. And the next. Same. I get myself to a bigger town believing that just around the corner will be Home Depot, or Target, and they’ll have CHOICES!

Why am I so pig-headed stubborn? One reason is because I will exhaust all possibilities before I resign myself to settle for something I don’t really like. (This has not always been so!) Or, once convinced that my desire cannot be met, I’ll rearrange my entire plan so I don’t need what Bali doesn’t have. This approach works better for me.

Here’s the irony: there are exquisite products here that I could only dream about in the U.S.

But to find simple things like a clear shower curtain liner, crepe paper streamers, or hair dye that isn’t purple mahogany or fire engine red, is a different story. Not having access to what I want spurs creativity. I cruise the markets and shops mentally cataloging the proliferation of unusual,unique, and really strange items for sale. What will work instead of__________ (fill in the blank) is my new mantra.

If I were rushed for time or stress-crazed over a deadline, this would drive me nuts. But I’m retired! What a glorious state of being! And if I need a clear shower curtain liner I can go to the plastic shop and buy a hunk of the size and weight I want, take it to the tailor who will hem it and add grommets, go to the aluminum shop and have a pole cut to the right size, then call my handyman to come and figure out how to make it all work. And he will because the Balinese are the most creative, inventive, where-there’s-a-will-there’s-a-way people on the planet.

It’s a different way of life. Magical, frustrating, and every day something new.

Now back to my question: which one is more difficult for you, too many choices or too few?

Can I be happy when I’m not?

It’s easy to be brave when nothing frightens me.

It’s easy to be strong when nothing stronger attacks.

It’s easy to have compassion from a distance.

It’s easy to let go when I don’t really want it anyway.

It’s easy to be happy when life gives me what I want.

But I don’t get spiritual growth points for that! There’s no gain without loss, no enlightenment without accepting and overcoming difficult challenges.

Three weeks ago everything changed. A door fell on my foot. It wasn’t just any door. This door was a very old, very dense Bali door of teakwood that came crashing down in the dark. A goose-egg the size of a softball ballooned, splitting the skin across the delicate arch and it throbbed like a drum being beaten from the inside. Neighbors heard the crash and rushed to my aid but other than an ice pack there was little to be done.

I took two ibuprofen and, since it was night anyway, hobbled to bed.


I’ve always been healthy. I’ve had the kind of body that cooperates no matter what I throw it’s way. It’s a balanced body, strong, hardy, and willing. It likes physicality and too much sedentary downtime is not okay. So as I was saying…

P1070050Day One.

I wake up and try to walk on the bulbous left foot, but it’s more of a limp-hop that deteriorates fast when all the blood in my body rushes to the wound with it’s fiendish pounding. I decide that this will be a writing day with my foot elevated on a stack of cushy pillows.

Day Two.

I tentatively swing my feet out of bed and plant them on the floor. The left one seems to rest on a squishy bubble. I try to walk and the throbbing hop-dance commences. But today is writers’ group and I am determined to go. There’s a length of fabric from a sarong tie that is about the right size so I wrap my foot and try a normal walk. Yes. With the support of the makeshift bandage it’s do-able.

The foot is still happier elevated so I take a seat at the end of the table and make it through the meeting in fine form. Afterwards, a friend invites me to see his new villa, “It’s only 500 meters,” he says.  I struggle with the metric system. Is a meter like a foot? A yard? And if it’s 500 yards, how far is that? We start out and after 10 steps I’m in trouble. But my strong, hardy, willing body won’t say no.

When I get home I go straight to bed with ice packs and my foot propped up far enough so the hammering blood drains away from the wound. “I probably overdid it a little.” It’s my last thought before going comatose.

Day Three.

Okay, let’s just say I do a stupid repeat of day two. I take my foot shopping, walking on concrete floors for hours. What was I thinking? The throbbing that night is intense and I notice a hot redness forming around the split flesh. I take two ibuprofen, slather the open slit with triple antibiotic cream and go to bed with the ice pack hoping I’ll fall asleep before it melts.

Day Four.

My Balinese friends begin to hover, frown, and offer various oils, ointments, and the juice of roasted frangipani stems to apply to my compromised foot. They notice the melted ice pack. “No ice,” they tell me. “Only heat.” They want to know if I’ve seen a doctor. “No, it’s not broken,” I say, after all, I can walk, can’t I? But the inflamed area bothers me. I’ve brought a prescription of antibiotic tablets from the U.S. and decide to take them.

Day Five.

I experience a change in my nervous system. The realization that I am going to have to slow down to a near dead stop and allow this foot to rest if I want it to heal drops into my consciousness. NOOOO! screams my strong, hardy, and willing body. In that instant I know that it’s going to be a battle. My usual practice of denying pain and pushing through isn’t going to work this time. A surge of panic starts at the base of my spine and ripples upward, fluttering around my heart and lodging in my throat. I scramble to the internet and enlist Google. After reading dozens of descriptions I self-diagnose. I’m quite certain that I have sustained a stable Lisfranc injury.

Naming the thing brings a certain peace. But as I read down to the treatment and recovery time a fresh wave of resistance rattles me. It can take up to six weeks of elevation and minimal use of the foot to fully recover.

A touch of insanity seeps around the edges and creeps into my flailing mind. Six weeks! The still functioning logical part of my brain takes a step back. “Oh, you don’t like that at all, do you?” she taunts. “You love to tell everyone else to listen to their body, and look at you! Here’s your chance and you’re behaving like a spoiled brat.” Self-talk can be brutal. But I have to admit that she, I, am right. I grab my notebook. I need to process and writing is the quickest way for me to get to my truth. The first word that appears is OPPORTUNITY.

With that word my perspective shifts. This time of enforced quietude, inactivity, and introspection is an opportunity rich with possibility, I write.

The power of suggestion, when written down, is readily internalized and becomes as solid as fact. When I put those words on paper I know that the time will not be wasted or lost, that it will just be different. Giving honor to my foot, working with it’s healing instead of against it, brings me back into harmony with myself. Accepting the constraints as a gift, an opportunity to explore my own mental and emotional discomfort which are far greater than the actual, physical pain of the injury, provides a rich environment to expand my awareness.

Day Twenty-one.

Today marks the half-way point, three of the six weeks are behind me. The foot is still swollen, the gash is still oozing, but the knob has receded and there’s no infection. It’s healing. But the real progress is in my mind. I’m not fighting it any more. In fact, I’ve grown to quite love the endless hours of confinement. When all of that Type A, produce-or-die energy is stripped away, I become a docile, contented, lazy-ass, slug…pretty much.




Seismic Shifts

For those of us devoted to inner work we are aware when we’re in the middle of something big.

Transitions manifest in various ways. A squirrely uneasiness, a plunge into deep depression, an expectant nervous sizzle, these and other unsettling phenomena like them can signal significant change.

Volcanic Eruption

Volcanic Eruption

When the earth’s crust moves, volcanoes, earthquakes and tsunamis result. A movement of mere inches can throw the existing order of things into chaos. When the violence settles, whole land masses have disappeared and new ones have formed from the molten contents spewed forth. Craters and mountains rearrange themselves. Earth-wounds lay open, fragile and unstable.

The energy of our transitions works the same. Just as the earth shudders and trembles, spouts steam, or rumbles sometimes for months, maybe years before a major trauma, so we do likewise before the breakthrough.

A human experiencing change is a microcosm of that magnificent earth force. We are transforming on a cellular level, altering the synapse sequences of nerves, re-routing paths in the brain, overriding destructive programmed responses. It can leave us feeling raw and exposed but at the same time, new, like a landscape stripped of old growth awaiting the gardener.

It behooves us to become conscious of the way we experience these seismic shifts. Whether we’ve sought change or had it forced upon us the opportunity is the same. If we approach the challenges in a spirit of friendliness and cooperation, gratitude will manifest and accompany us on the journey. And as we know, life is only and always all about the journey!


Writing Memoir – The Vulnerability Factor

“You should write a book!”

Shouldn’t we all? Isn’t every life worthy? Hasn’t each soul passing through existence experienced the joys and sorrows of living in a unique and personal way?

I’ve tried many times, sat down with the crisp blank Word Document staring me in the face. Where to start? Birth? I don’t remember much. Looking at the whole of my life rolled out through the decades is instant overwhelm. But worst of all, boring. I know this story. It isn’t like writing a fiction novel where the twists and turns are as much a surprise to me as they will be to my future reader.

Looking back at failed attempts I understand why it couldn’t happen until now.

1) Too painful.

To write memoir you have to go back into the stories and re-live them, write the experience of what you saw, the smells, tastes, and textures, the feelings. My heart hadn’t healed enough to go there.

2) Too revealing.

To write memoir you have to accept who you are and write from that place. I wasn’t ready to give up the façade of perfection, take responsibility for my own bad decisions and be honest with myself.

3) Too real.

To write memoir you have to be willing to be vulnerable. Your shadow has to appear in all it’s shameful, embarrassing glory. Because after all, isn’t it the shadow side that makes us interesting…and whole? I wasn’t willing to embrace the darkness of my own truth.

4) Too scary.

To write memoir you have to risk everything. We thrive on connection with others. Shame is the fear of disconnection. To reveal ones self, warts and all, is the ultimate risk. We go to great lengths to keep our sunny side up and numb ourselves to the shameful parts. I was numb.

5) Too soon.

To write memoir you have to have a clear perspective of your purpose. “Because someone told me I should,” isn’t a clear perspective. “Because I love myself and I have an amazing story to tell,” is better. But when you come to the place of knowing that your story isn’t yours, that it belongs to others who are still mired in the swampy numbness of their own failings and insecurities and it may show them a way through, that’s when it’s time.

My time is now. As I muck around in the past, digging up old stuff, the events that light up for me aren’t the ones I expected. And as I write them, the way they present themselves on the page isn’t always the way I’ve rehearsed them through the years.  It’s the most amazing phenomenon. What I’m writing is my life told from a place of wholeness and it doesn’t look anything like the dismal sink-hole I imagined it was.

When I hit a particularly bumpy stretch and make myself go back into it, on many occasions laughter bubbles up. The first time it happened I was dumbstruck. “Why am I laughing? This was a nightmare!” In a flash I realize that I’m laughing at myself, at my naiveté, at my relentless stupidity in not wanting to see what was right in front of my face.


Walking the labyrinth

I’m loving this memoir writing process. The words tumble out and bounce back at me like the rerun of a movie I watched a long time ago. But I’m seeing it with older, wiser eyes, and a healed heart. And even though I think I know the ending, I’ve let go of the need to control it. I’m willing to be surprised.


Previous Older Entries

%d bloggers like this: