New York, New York to California Dreaming and everything in-between!

The end of my U.S. visit approaches. I’m nursing a Cubano and munching almond biscotti at Soul Grind, a cool coffee shop atop the cliffs at Linda Mar Beach while Dan braves the 7:30 a.m. surf in the fog.

Why anyone would want to risk that cold, wild ocean to catch a wave for five seconds is beyond me. But he’s an early bird and I couldn’t resist the offer to hang out for a few hours in that artisan coffee shop while he matched wits with the Pacific.

But backing up…

I left Bali at 11:00 p.m. on August 29th and touched down in New York City 36 hours later. It’s a brutal flight that leaves me brain dead and thirteen time zones out of sync with my sleep patterns – not a good combo for meeting the high expectations of Hadley Sophia, my 3 ½ year old granddaughter, whose energy could power the whole of New York City, and seeing her new sister, Delaney Mae, for the first time.

For nine wild and wonderful days Joy, Kellen, Hadley and Delaney entertained me at their cabin in Pennsylvania. We watched deer munching in the lawn and eagles soaring over the lake while we contemplated new exterior paint colors for the house and garage.

The serenity of the setting brought balance to their insanely busy lives. Despite the fact that Joy was on maternity leave, she was in the throes of interviewing for a new job. During my stay she accepted an offer from a company headquartered in Paris. I was thrilled to be on hand to experience the beginning of this next chapter for their family.

Whoever gets me fresh off the plane from Bali gets a zombie with a defunct brain. It isn’t fair, but it’s the truth.

Jetlag subsided about the time I left New York.

I caught my Sun Country flight to Minnesota at Liberty International Airport in Newark, New Jersey where my carry-on was thoroughly searched. The sketchy item turned out to be a bag of coffee beans from Tana Toraja, a mountainous region on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi. In my opinion, Torajan coffee is the best in the world and I always try to bring some of those fragrant beans as gifts. I held my breath as the official scanned, sniffed, and swabbed the package. Finally, he allowed it through and I boarded the plane.

The flight to Minneapolis was memorable for two reasons: first, it was distressingly turbulent, and second, I sat beside a fascinating young man who plays flamenco guitar professionally and lives in Spain. He entertained me for three-and-a-half hours. Several times as he was describing the history of the dance he broke into song. Yes, right there on Sun Country Airlines in the midst of lurching, bucking, nausea-inducing turbulence, he sang to me!

My seatmate was also a skilled conversationalist – a rarity these days. In fact we became intimate old friends over those few hours together. Then, in spite of the ‘bumpy air,’ we landed safely. I raced off in one direction to collect my luggage and he disappeared in another. In minutes Jenny, my youngest daughter, pulled up at the curb and the second phase of my U.S. journey began.

She knows me! Our first outing was a nearby Mexican restaurant that featured – you guessed it – Nachos!

They were every bit as delicious as they looked.

Jenny and Kennen’s twins are twenty-two months old now and absolutely irresistible! They just started daycare and Jenny began a new job so this household, too, was in the midst of transition.

Rowan, left, and Remy, right, are identical yet their personalities are solely their own. For several days they burst into tears every time they saw me. But finally I was accepted. After that, if I wanted to solve a problem, Remy was my man on the scene. If in-depth conversation was called for, Rowan was quick to oblige. It’s fascinating how quickly my grandchildren became who they are. It took me sixty years and I’m still working on it!

For this photo the boys must have been sleeping. Jenny and Kennen grab every opportunity to chill out during naps for a few moments of ‘alone together’ time.

When I planned the trip to meet Delaney Mae during Joy’s maternity leave I didn’t know I’d be saying goodbye to Mom at the same time.

She was ninety-one and had been ready to join Dad since his passing three-and-a-half years ago. She’d continued to engage with the community at the assisted living facility where she had her own apartment, but old age regularly took her friends and she was tired of funerals. On August 9th, she died in her sleep.

My sister took care of our mother as she slowly lost the ability to drive, manage her own finances, and a million other details that required Gwen’s assistance. Now as she planned the memorial service, she assigned me only one job. I was to find the urn for Mom’s ashes. It gave me purpose. When I saw the cowrie-shell basket in one of my favorite shops in Ubud, I knew Mom would approve.

Gwen wanted an outdoor service on the banks of the Mississippi at a site about a quarter mile from the riverside home where we grew up. At first it sounded like a lovely idea. But as the date approached, I remembered September weather in Minnesota. It can snow. In my worst imaginings I saw us huddled under the pavilion with icy sleet blowing in our faces.

On the phone with my sister I ventured a tentative question, “Gwen, what’s plan B? I mean in case it storms?” With no hesitation whatsoever, she said, “No plan B. We’re at the river rain or shine.” She paused for a heartbeat then added, “The weather will be perfect.”

I experienced a moment of irritation. September. Minnesota. Outside. No plan B. But as quickly as it came, I let it go. Gwen was the one on the front lines. She was handling everything while I was still in Bali, and all she’d asked of me was to find the urn.

Of course the date came and it was a stellar, perfect Minnesota fall day. Somehow Gwen knew.

It was also one of the most overwhelming days of my life. At Dad’s service, Mom was front-and-center. She was the recipient of all the well-wishes, reminiscences, and tears. This time it was me, the eldest child, and it was wonderful. Old neighbors I hadn’t seen for 40 or 50 years came up to tell me how much they loved my mother. While I was hugging one guest I’d see the next familiar face approaching. Typically I avoid large crowds and prefer intimate gatherings. But that day I channeled my mother. She loved socializing and the bigger the group, the better.

Then it was over. I spent the night with Gwen at her home reading sympathy cards, remembering our shared childhood from our own unique perspectives.

The time in Minnesota evaporated, and once again I found myself on Sun Country, this time headed for California.

The trip south was smooth with no scintillating seatmates, just a quiet young man on my left reading Margaret Atwood’s Surfacing, and a serious young woman on my right with a book entitled Strong Mothers, Strong Sons, by Meg Meeker. I was sandwiched between them for four hours and thirty minutes with nothing to read, nothing to watch, and nothing to eat on that bare-bones, economy flight. I had only a pad of paper and a pen. So I wrote.

Jessa, my oldest daughter, and her partner Dan, met me at the airport. They also know what I like and a quick stop at El Gran Amigo restaurant produced dinner: take-out nachos! (Plus a burrito, refried beans, guacamole, wine and salsa.)

There are many languages but good food communicates love more clearly than words. When a meal is purposely served because it’s known to be one’s favorite, the heart is nourished along with the body.

Since my arrival, Jessa, Dan, and I have hiked miles of frothy coastline, rested on white sand beaches, marveled at circling hawks, and driven on roads through eucalyptus-scented mountains. We had devilishly decadent ice cream doused with TCHO chocolate in Golden Gate Park after an exceptional dinner purchased from The Breads of India food truck and eaten on a park bench.

I’ve taken hundreds of photos as they’ve introduced me to Linda Mar Beach, Big Beach, Bean Hollow, Maverick Beach, Little Beach, Pescadero Beach, Montara Beach. I know I’ve forgotten some. Each was more breathtaking than the one before it. I’ve been saturated with beauty.

Today there’s down time. A little while ago, I sent Ketut a photo of Jessa and Dan’s patio.

He responded by snapping a picture of my garden in Bali.

Ketut wrote on the photo: Here this morning a little rain only one time.

And suddenly I’m lonesome.

I’m a traveler and a homebody, a mother who is no longer a daughter. I’ve loved seeing family and getting a close-up glimpse into their busy lives. I miss them when we’re apart and I’ve started planning the next visit. But I have a different life on the other side of the world that I can only silence for a while and it’s beginning to whisper me home.

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The greatest of life’s mysteries – Death

Image by Prajna Dewantara ॐ

I have this thing about butterflies. Is there a creature anywhere more symbolic of transformation?

A butterfly lives two distinctly different lives: first as a worm, and second, as a glorious winged being. When its earth-bound days are ending, it weaves its own shroud and liquefies. What emerges bears no likeness to what it once was.

Shortly after my father died I was sitting in my treetop house, doors and windows open, writing (as I usually am) when an elegant caramel-colored butterfly with black wingtips flew in and lit in front of me. Without pausing to think I said, “Hi, Dad. You found me.” Since then he’s hung around my garden. He always loved tending his own. Now and then he flits through my house. He’s the only butterfly that pays personal visits.

But my story today is about Mom.

She cared for Dad for years as his memory faded and he became less and less able to manage his own needs. Before he died he told her he’d meet her at the Pearly Gates. He’d be standing there holding them open for her when she was ready to join him.

Mom clung to his promise. She rehearsed it for everyone who’d listen. In the three-and-a-half years since he passed, Mom continued to live her life. She played Bingo and often won. Three times a week she exercised on the stationary bikes at Well Camp in the assisted living complex where she had her own apartment. She did armchair yoga on the days the fitness center was closed. Always social, she stayed busy and involved. The staff and residents loved her.

But she missed her partner of sixty-seven years.

Three weeks ago, Mom began weaving her shroud. She sensed it was time. She loved the story of Dad in my garden and told me I would see her with him there soon. I said I was certain of it, that I’d be expecting her.

On August 9th she passed. Yesterday, I caught sight of Dad fluttering above the coral bougainvillea. I scanned the bushes, the trumpet flowers, the heliconia. He shouldn’t be alone now. Where was Mom? From out of nowhere a brilliant white butterfly whirled into view, cavorting, swooping, dancing. She circled the handsome lone stranger three times and seemed ecstatic to be in my garden with him. Then she frolicked off, lighter than air, buoyant, free.

I was left to sort out my misconceptions.

I hadn’t expected a white butterfly. She’d be a near twin of Dad, caramel with black-tipped wings, maybe a tad smaller. I pictured them fluttering together more or less as they had throughout their married lives. But her energy was unlike the proper, dignified mother who raised me. As she looped and dived she had the effervescence of a bubbly teenager. Mom seemed to be fully and completely her own being. She was delighted to see Dad – giddy almost – but no longer dependent upon him for happiness, the picture of embodied freedom.

My sister has been sorting through Mom’s things. When I told her about the butterflies she gasped. Then she laughed and laughed and I knew there were tears pouring down her face. “You’ll never believe what I just found,” she said. She grabbed her phone and sent this photo.

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Then I, too, laughed and laughed and cried.

This morning I saw Mom again. She was alone, swirling skyward on the dry monsoons that visit Bali this time of year. Dad must be sleeping in.

Jealous Lovers — Too Much of a Good Thing

There’s a happy place between not enough and too much that yields peace. It applies to just about everything in life. Like the story of The Three Bears – the chair can be neither too big nor too small, the porridge neither too hot nor too cold, the bed neither too hard nor too soft. For ultimate satisfaction, everything should be just right.

When we strike that balance it’s like catching the jetstream. Moving forward is effortless. Doors open. The way is clear. We know where we’re going and how to get there. There’s time for family and friends, for satisfying work, for self-nurture.

That pretty much describes my life for the past seven years. There were times I was pulled a fraction off-center but when that happened the discomfort was acute and I’d hastily course-correct.

Then an extraordinary event took place.

Nervous unsettledness had plagued me for several weeks. On the day of my birthday in January, I pricked a pinhole in a piece of paper and squinted at the moon passing in front of the sun. That Capricorn solar eclipse delivered an unprecedented explosion of energy. I was slammed with possibility, power-packed potential that rocked my foundations.

In the days and weeks that followed a geyser of ideas spewed forth and I implemented all of them. I queried fifty-five agents hoping to get representation for my memoir. I changed the voice of several of the characters in the novel I was working on. I started writing a self-help book. I formulated a new business plan for a friend. And that was just the beginning.

The energy of that eclipse carried me for months.

Then I lost the desire to query, so I stopped. The tangled plot in the novel defied me. I left it and worked on the self-help book. That reached a sticky point. Muddled, mired in my plethora of projects, I lacked inspiration for any of them.

Sleep came easily at night but exhaustion overtook me the moment I dragged myself out of bed. So I napped and read, read and napped and left the house only when I had a previously arranged commitment.

The situation, so out of character, bewildered me.

Each one of my ideas had seemed brilliant at the time and I was still keen to develop them. But they all required intense focus, attention to detail, and loving care. I could summon zero motivation for any of it.

As I journaled those thoughts this morning, my pen returned to the word focus. I slashed lines of emphasis beneath it. Focus was what I couldn’t do right now and more than anything else, that’s what was required. I glanced at my desk where stacks of tablets, folders, a clipboard, and three pens bore silent testimony to the clutter of unfinished tasks.

I’d become entangled in too much of a good thing.

Now I’m faced with having to choose what gets shelved for a while and what goes forward. It’s painful. I decided avoidance was the best approach and wrote this article. There’s nothing like procrastination to delay the inevitable. And yet, describing my process has brought a new level of self-awareness.

I’ve realized I’m not someone who goes lightly into anything. Writing pulls words from my gut, runs sentences through my heart, and produces sweaty pages of honest prose that undress my innermost being. I demand it of myself. Each project is a jealous lover who requires my all. Knowing that, it’s probably better to be faithful to one at a time.

MINDFUL OF THE GOOD

I’ve found the best way to keep from dissolving into a state of overwhelm after reading the morning news is to walk. It’s essential for my sanity. Without it, doom and gloom tend to consume too much psychological bandwidth.

I go slowly and notice things. Pretty things. Funny things. Solid, recurring, timeless things. I don’t own a car – in fact, I own nothing with wheels. On the rare occasion I need to leave Ubud, I hire a driver. Forty dollars U.S. covers my transport for an entire day and I probably do that six times a year. Maybe less.

So come with me on my stroll. It’s a beautiful morning. A slight breeze carries traces of incense and cooking. At the bottom of my stairway Wayan and Ketut have already thanked Sang Hyang Widhi Wasa for peace and abundance.

As I walk past I wonder…what if I didn’t have to step over offerings on the sidewalk in front of every shop, every day? Could I still be happy? These bright tokens make walkways in other parts of the world seem drab.

As I cross the bridge that separates me from my favorite grocery store, I stop to watch a Ngaben in progress far below. The ashes from a cremation have been brought to the river to be purified – the final step before the spirit can return to heaven to begin the process of reincarnation.

Hindu rituals have been enacted in Bali for hundreds of years. There’s something that can’t be destroyed here. I try to know what it is but it hovers at the fringes of my understanding and I can’t quite catch hold. Yet I feel linked with antiquity. Grounded. Safe.

At Bintang Supermarket I pick up a few supplies I can’t get at the traditional market: raisins, toasted muesli, ginseng tea, and gift bags. You can never have too many gift bags!

Then I’m on my way to Bali Buda Mart on the other side of Ubud. I’m addicted to their sourdough bread. For months I guessed at the mystery ingredient. Cardamom? No. Fennel? Not quite. What then? I was driving myself crazy and finally approached the bakery manager and begged for the recipe. Cumin! I don’t have an oven so I’ll never bake it, but I had to discover the source of that elusive flavor.

My route takes me past Ubud Palace. Could there be a wedding today? Is this the royal getaway car? Exquisite! I could apply perfect lip liner looking into the mirror finish on that classic automobile. What a shine.

It’s hard to pull away from the festive florals and over-the-top decor, but I must. Sourdough sells out early and I finished mine with a spicy omelet two hours ago.

Self-discipline is rewarded. I score the last loaf and continue my loop past Ganesha Book Store then to Sugriwa and Hanoman Streets cutting across on motorbike paths. It’s a quick backtrack north to Dewisita Street where another eye-feast awaits.

I laugh out loud at the sheer creative whimsey of a hot pink bicycle. The new shop is Pina Colada. Even the name makes me smile…and makes me thirsty.

Fortunately, Mingle Cafe is a few steps away and their frozen mojito has no equal on earth. Happy hour begins at 3:00. It’s a favorite afternoon destination.

I check my watch. It’s as I feared, only ten a.m. I order a cappuccino.

Image result for cappuccino Bali style

Tomorrow I’ll read the news again. Ignorance isn’t bliss. Denial solves nothing. I want to be informed.

Then I’ll take another walk.

THE CARE AND FEEDING OF A PLUTO SOUL

When you have a Pluto soul…

Wait. Back up…

You know you have a Pluto soul when your evolutionary astrologer reveals that tidbit of terrifying information during a birth chart reading. She says it matter-of-factly, then adds, Oh, and by the way, the god of the hell realm also opposes your Venus and resides in your fifth house of sexuality, creativity, and…children.

I had my first reading when I was sixty. It was a telephone session. The person didn’t know anything about me. After an hour of listening with my jaw hanging, the dear woman said, and I quote, “Sherry, if you don’t change the direction of your life now, you’re nailing your coffin shut.”

It was harsh but she got my attention. I took her advice to heart and two years later, when my divorce was final, I retired and moved to Bali. It was as though I’d been bound and gagged my entire life and now the fetters were off. Every day was an adventure. Everything was new. I was in love with life, in love with Indonesia, and a bit more in love with myself than I’d dreamed possible.

I’d lived abroad for three years when, at sixty-five, I had my second reading. It was from this practitioner that I learned how significantly Pluto figured in my chart. With Pluto opposing Venus, she told me, it was almost impossible to have a successful romantic relationship. By that time I’d accumulated a distressing number of failed marriages.

To complicate matters, Pluto sat conjunct my moon. I had to find healthy ways to feed my shadow otherwise it would manifest catastrophe and dysfunction. The dark is so much a part of you, she said with an earnest, concerned look, if you don’t get enough excitement in your life in positive ways, you’ll create your own destructive chaos. Ouch. I won’t even go into how that tendency haunted my past. But nurtured appropriately, she assured me, your shadow is the truth teller. It can be a powerful ally.

I found much of that necessary nurture on the Island of the Gods. Bali, a paradise of sunlight and smiles, knows how to honor the darkness. It isn’t dusted off, polished, and shoved under the rug. Death is on display. Gamelan pounds in frenzied discordant percussion as sweating men carry the tower and bull to the cremation site. Smoke layers over the town while the body burns. On New Year’s Eve, monsters parade the streets enticing evil spirits to enter them. Ritual trance dance, ceremonial cleansing, shaman healers, black magic – they’re all just business-as-usual here – Pluto soul-food. Perfect for me. And the perfect place to write.

I noticed, however, that Pluto didn’t fully appreciate the need for quiet in my writing life. It’s a silent, solitary business and I spend many hours inside my head with imaginary characters of my own devising. This morning, try as I might I couldn’t focus. Lead-gray clouds poured rain. So I burned incense, turned on lights, did yoga and meditated, drank coffee, but restless itchiness persisted. Pluto grumbled. As torrents pelted down, the noise provided a rare opportunity. I scanned YouTube, hooked up my sound booster, and blasted, really blasted, music.

Now that’s what I’m talkin’ about, Pluto seemed to say. I followed up with Leonard Cohen: “You Want it Darker,” “The Traitor,” “The Waltz.” So I waltzed, spinning through the house, one two three, one two three, one two three, whirling and dipping and letting go. Cathartic. I feasted on sound for three solid hours and sated my Plutonian appetite.

Evolutionary astrologers don’t mess around. When my second reading was finished I was stunned. How could she know me so well? She told me things about myself that hadn’t been clear, even to me, until she spoke them. I felt affirmed, seen and understood.

Beyond that, she showed me what still hung on from my karmic past, the snares that continued to trip me up, the tendencies that seemed to repeat in a never-ending loop. And she gave direction for the way ahead, the path of evolution to my highest, happiest, most fulfilled self.

Only evolutionary astrology accomplishes that. Many say it’s better than years of therapy. I wouldn’t know. But I do know the information I received in those two readings gave me the motivation and the awareness necessary to change my life.

Dirty Little Lies And Other Truths

I’ve had some hard-to-swallow ‘ah-ha’ moments in my life. Epiphanies aren’t always pretty.

In my forties, I developed writing-for-self-discovery techniques specifically for mucking around in my subconscious. After decades of pretending to be what everyone else wanted, I had an overwhelming desire to know who I really was. In the process, I dredged up uncomfortable core beliefs only to discover that many of them were lies:

You’re not loveable
You’re not worthy
You’re not smart enough, pretty enough, rich enough
You can’t do it alone
Everyone leaves
Love hurts
What you say doesn’t matter
What you want doesn’t matter
Nobody cares about your opinion

The list went on and on. My thoughts, self-esteem, and actions had been informed by those subconscious beliefs.

I needed a different narrative but mantras didn’t work. Saying something over and over again doesn’t change anything if you don’t believe what you’re telling yourself. I found if I listed facts that countered the lies I could reshape my beliefs. For example, I challenged the ‘you’re not smart enough’ story with the fact that I’d graduated at the top of my class in college. ‘You can’t do it alone’ was a joke. My income was supporting my three daughters and jobless husband. Those exercises changed my life and propelled me to move abroad and write my memoir.

Fast-forward to yesterday.

A friend read my completed manuscript and we met for lunch. I asked for an honest, spare-no-feelings critique. Her feedback was insightful and I took notes. Then she swallowed a bite of coconut gelato, sat back and looked dreamily over the rice paddies stretching before us. “You were a clear example of the prostitute archetype,” she said.

Have you ever experienced a situation where something hits with such force, such truth, you’re caught there and everything else dissolves around you? My chest constricted. I held my breath. My heart rate tripled at the very least. Goosebumps lifted the hair on my arms. A sickening lurch rolled through my stomach and five marriages scrolled across my mind like a movie.

But we were married. My pathetic rebuttal was silenced by the ugly certainty that marriage changed nothing. It was, in fact, the ultimate soul-selling deception: my services for their income secured by a vow.

I’d written the memoir but I hadn’t seen myself for what I was until my friend pointed it out. I’m grateful in a stunned kind of way. It reinforces what I’ve witnessed time and again as I’ve gone through the process of regurgitating my life. We are the stories we tell ourselves and often they are fabrications that make our experiences bearable. We can accept small revelations of actual truth doled out over time if we’re aware enough to see them.

Accepting that I played the prostitute role is a hard pill, but I swallowed and I know my friend is right. In spite of this grossly unflattering information, there’s a part of me (undoubtedly my shadow) that’s excited. Something hidden has been dragged into the light. I’ve been given the opportunity to examine the implications as they affect me going forward and make necessary adjustments. I’ll be a healthier human as a result.

And my honest friend? I appreciate her more than ever.

The image at the top is attributed to lonerwolf.com. To learn more about the prostitute archetype click here.

MAGICAL THINKING — Game of Thrones Style

Image result for magical thinking

I watch Game of Thrones. Didn’t want to. Heard it was gory and violent. But I happened to see the first episode about a year ago. That was all it took. I was hooked.

I’ve tried to figure out what captivates me. Why the fascination with White Walkers, Wildings, the nasty Lannisters (except for Tirian), and beautiful Daenerys, the Mother of Dragons? Speaking of…wouldn’t it be great to have a couple of flying, fire-breathing beasts to call upon when you needed to make a point? Even a smallish one would serve the purpose if it could burp a little flame. She wouldn’t even have to fly.

None of the main characters in Game of Thrones do battle alone. Queen Cersie has an army, the Iron Islands have ships, John Snow, King of The North, has Wildlings, and Daenarys has her dragons not to mention thousands of savagely loveable Dothraki warriors.  

I usually don’t feel sorry for myself, but one day recently I got to thinking. When the chips are down, I’m really all I have. It’s not that others don’t want to help but my battles are with inner demons, and beyond lending a sympathetic ear (which is a comfort), there’s not much anyone can do.

As my mind meandered down that trail, one thing led to another.

I thought about fairy tales, white knights, genies and the like. How waiting for something else to be the answer is pretending I’m helpless. It’s casting myself into the role of victim, a part for which I’m extremely ill-suited, thank you very much. So I made a list of all the things that wouldn’t be showing up to help me and suddenly, with a little massaging, a poem emerged.

MAGICAL THINKING DEBUNKED

No white knight is riding to your rescue
Your kiss won’t make a prince of a warty toad
There are no magic potions to heal the heartache
No magic words or wands to smooth the road

No genie will appear when you rub the lantern
To grant your wish or bestow on you three more
The golden coach that should have come at midnight
Is a pumpkin in the field just like before

Good luck with the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow
Ali Baba’s thieves stole it years ago
And forget the sound of Santa on your rooftop
Rumor has it he’s gone south – can’t stand the snow

There’s only one thing sure you can depend on
In this crazy world of​ caustic disarray​ ​
Your own brave heart in bold determination
Will illuminate the path and clear the way

———————-

This poem reminds me that I am the answer I’ve been waiting for.

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Reptilian Brain – Lizard Love

I’ve owned dogs, cats, hamsters, guinea pigs, parakeets. There was a cute white bunny one Easter. We named her Snowball. She grew to the size of a two-year-old and was just as needy.

I live blissfully alone. My pet-owning days left with the kids.

Almost.

The cicak is a common house lizard prevalent in tropical regions. They come out when I turn on the lights and slurp up any flying or creeping thing that crosses their path. We have an agreement: they occupy the wall and ceiling, I stay on the floor. It’s worked.

One night about a year ago I was hammering out an article intent upon finishing before bed. Lights were on, cicaks were feasting. Then the edge of my computer moved. For a split second the adrenaline rush, the accelerated heartbeat, the panic. A cicak, the tiniest I’d ever seen, crept into sight. He was no more than an inch from nose to tail. I watched him poke around for a bit. Then he disappeared and I went back to work.

Several minutes passed and I’d forgotten about him when something tickled my hand.

“No!” I said as the youngster proceeded to make his way up my arm. “No, no, no! This is NOT okay. Where’s your mother?”

He stopped and looked up at me, his round eyes shining pure lizard love.

On the terrace, I directed him to the floor, closed the door with him outside and went back to writing.

Tickle, tickle. It had been less than five minutes. He was crawling up my leg.

“Listen, Junior. This is creepy. Your reptilian brain isn’t capable of attachment and I’m not your mother.”

This time I went farther afield to abandon him. When I returned I shut down the computer and began my bedtime ritual. He found me.

Totally weirded-out, I hurried to the far edge of the garden and deposited him on a rock. In no uncertain terms, I told him we were finished. All night I kept waking up thinking he was crawling on my neck, my face. But he wasn’t. He was gone.

The other morning as I lay on my back in Shivasana, I noticed a teenaged cicak watching me from the rafters. How long had he been there? Motionless, he kept his vigil until I’d rolled up my mat. The next day he was there again. For three weeks I watched him watching me. “Coincidence,” I told myself. “He just happens to sit up there at this time of the morning. Or maybe he likes the music.” Shamanic Dream by Anugama, calming, meditative, and rhythmic is my go-to for yoga. 

Our ritual continued. He was always there.

Then one afternoon in broad daylight – tickle, tickle. Teenage yoga buddy was making his way up my leg. “He’s lost,” I thought. “As soon as I stand up he’ll scamper away.” I stood. He clung. I stamped. He clung. I walk-ran to the garden. He clung. “I don’t do pets,” I told him. “I don’t do reptiles. Your brain cannot form attachments. Neither can mine. Don’t come back!”

He didn’t.

Whatever strange bonding instinct was at work there, I want no part of it. I’m committed to humans – they’re hard enough.

Please Don’t Ever Change

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When I look at this photo I want to laugh and cry and fall to my knees. I want to say to the young man planting grass, “Please, don’t ever change.”

What I actually said went something like this: “Those sticks, Ketut. Do you really expect them to grow?”

“Ya,” he replied. “Soon many.”

My only frame of reference to gardening was Minnesota. If you lopped a branch off a tree and stuck it in the ground in that climate, trust me. It absolutely would not grow.

Ketut gathered cast-off cuttings from nearby hotels and scrounged compost piles after dark. He dug up bushes from his family’s garden in the mountains near Kintamani and transplanted them here. He had a vision and the skills to manifest it. In no time the grass filled in and the stick-garden matured. There were papaya and banana trees, frangipani, and bougainvillea.

In spite of my skepticism, the plantings matured and multiplied. I added a gazebo to the once-upon-a-time stick-garden. Ketut installed electricity and a fan. Now I could have my coffee there and read or write surrounded by voluptuous tropical foliage.

It’s been five years since Ketut gathered branches and stuck them in the ground. Hundreds of plants bursting with fruit and flowers have emerged from those scant beginnings. I wonder, have I changed too? Have the seven years in Bali transformed me from the stick-garden I was when I arrived to someone fully alive?

I have more close friends, more visitors, more invitations, and more commitments than ever before. I’ve learned a foreign language, written two novels and a memoir, and had many articles published. I’ve leased land, built a house, and explored the mountains and coastlines of the island on the back of Ketut’s motorbike. I’ve held Writing for Self-Discovery workshops and my blog has brought others to Bali to imagine their own possibilities.

But what about self-discovery, the reason I began this writing journey in the first place? I had to dig for those answers and when I did I found I’ve become more honest. I’m willing to be seen hanging out my dirty laundry. I’m prepared to be disliked rather than sacrifice who I am. My list was revealing.

  • I let go of perfect – horns fit me better than haloes
  • I know things – it’s okay to be smart, intuitive and right
  • I’m worthy of love – self-love is essential, not selfish
  • I’ve developed a sense of humor – dry and warped but it works
  • I thrive in tropical heat – with an ice-cold mug of Bintang
  • I’m a creature of habit – don’t mess with my routine
  • I’m courageous – but definitely not fearless
  • I’ve become transparent – see my shadow? It’s really dark!
  • I need privacy – especially in the morning
  • I feared loneliness – it didn’t happen
  • I can manage unconditional love – but not marriage

And Ketut? The young man I hoped would never change? His smile is broader, his laughter even more infectious. He’s incapable of malice. His kindness is immeasurable.

Everything changes, but some things just get better.

Small House Magic


How much do I really need?

That was the question I asked myself as the calendar left 2010 and I turned sixty-one. My life wasn’t working. The numbers I scrawled in my journal every morning didn’t add up to an early retirement – more like no retirement – ever. Too many bills. Too much debt. Too little IRA.

As blizzards stormed through that January, the thought of another winter in Minnesota gave me cold sweats. It wasn’t just the sixteen-hour arctic darkness, or icey steets, or no parking so the plow could get through that I dreaded. Or snow snow and more snow, or shoveling off the roof, the driveway, the sidewalk, or frozen pipes, broken pipes, ankle-length down coat over layers of fleece, socks, boots, hats, mittens, heating bills, aching joints. It was all that and more that made it unbearable.

And…I…was…over…it.

So when the numbers didn’t add up to the right answer, I tried a different question. How much do I really need? That sentence hounded me. The truth stared me in the face. I needed very little and had way too much. The weight of my belongings crushed me. I was imprisoned by abundance.

I’m a Capricorn – a goat-like being with stubborn drive and dogged persistence toward a goal – the top of the mountain will do. Without that vision it’s a slippery slide into grumpy discontent. I was teetering perilously close to the pit. But one thing was clear: I had to purge possessions.

Was it easy to let go of prized belongings? Not the Ralph Lauren farmhouse table. I knew if I could part with that I could part with anything. So I took photos and put it on Craigslist. It sold within hours. I whirled and whooped in the space where it had been and paid off two-thirds of my credit card debt. I couldn’t get rid of the remaining treasures fast enough. By winter of 2011 everything I owned fit into three plastic bins and a suitcase.

Debt-free from sales of all the unnecessary excess I could afford to dream. Without the responsibility of stuff I could go anywhere. I’d vacationed in Bali several years earlier. As I journaled through that December, visions of terraced rice paddies and swaying palms floated through my mind. Could I retire early and move there? My 62nd birthday was a month away. On March 1, 2012, a week before the first Social Security check came, my plane touched down on the Island of the Gods.

I took some risks those first years – used every dime of savings to lease a parcel of land in the center of Ubud and renovate the old house that sat on it. I knew nothing about building in Bali but I drafted plans for a major overhal and the patient crew told me I’d drawn walls too high to sustain earthquakes. They would build them for me if I wanted, but just FYI. Back to the drawing board…literally! Finished, my new apartment was a hair shy of 500 sq. ft. and it was perfect.

There’s magic in small spaces. Since upkeep is minimal, I have time and energy to do all the things I love. I possess only items I want to look at because there’s no place to store anything else. I get fresh produce daily because my small fridge will accommodate only one day’s fruits and veggies. I eat simple meals because I don’t own a microwave or an oven. I save money because it’s less expensive to care for 500 sq. ft. than it is to maintain a mini-mansion.

That leap into the unknown has changed me. How could it not? I no longer have to cope with winter. I love my tiny house, my giant view, and the wild freedom to live life full throttle. But to get here…

I had to take that leap.

The custom teak table and chairs do dual duty: desk and dining. Behind the carved door is my only closet…gulp!
The kitchen is compact and functional. I love the hand-carved apron and the hand-woven under-counter storage baskets.
The dorm-size refrigerator tucks under the counter. The only other appliances are a blender and yogurt maker.
During the day the doors slide open to give the breezes and butterflies free access.
The daybed (original paint) was buried under logs and branches in the corner of Ketut’s family’s woodcarving shed. His father made it years ago for his growing family. I’d been looking all over Bali for exactly that! It’s my sofa.
The queen-size bed faces east. I love waking up at 6:30 to the sunrise!
Sometimes the first thing I do when I open my eyes is grab my camera.
I’m standing in the shower to take this photo of my sweet 4′ x 6′ bathroom.
The shower occupies the far end.
The ceiling peaks at 20 feet and lends volume and beauty to the simple room.
And my view over Ubud’s rooftops…to die for!

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