Part-Time Vegetarian Seeks Meat

Forever I had assumed you either were or you weren’t…vegetarian. I was, with the exception of eggs, fish, and dairy. I got along quite well for about five years, but then noticed a decline in energy. I woke up tired and took naps in the middle of the day. I had to force myself to do yoga and get out of the house for a walk.

About that time I visited family in the U.S. My girls and their guys are meat eaters. While I was with them I decided not to rattle the cage. When in Rome, you know. So I ate grilled steak, barbecued chicken, burgers, and hot dogs. When I returned to Bali it was evident something had changed. I no longer needed naps. I jumped out of bed at rooster’s crow and went full speed until dark. There was only one explanation: meat.

The change was so dramatic I vowed to continue to include animal protein in my diet. Perhaps I had veggied myself into ‘iron poor blood,’ a phrase from a 1960’s TV commercial. In Bali, my meals consisted of fruits, vegetables, eggs, tofu and tempe, with an occasional Lake Batur fish thrown in. I’d supplemented with Bali coffee and kue, local empty calorie treats void of nourishment.

Image result for pre packaged rotisserie chickenKetut buys all my food at the local market. When he saw grilled chicken on the grocery list he asked, “How much you want? One-quarter? One-half?”I told him I wanted one whole chicken picturing the neatly packaged birds that turn on spits in U.S. supermarkets, their grease dripping into the pan below. “Ok,” he said.

The next morning he delivered everything I’d ordered, dragon fruit, apples, broccoli, shallots, garlic, lemongrass, and something ominous in a plastic bag. I was Skyping so he deposited the food on the counter and left. It’s always a high when I talk to family. I finished the call humming a Bob Marley tune as I tucked the produce in the fridge. I’ll admit, I’d forgotten about the chicken, but there was no mistaking what peeked through the translucence of the bag. I reached for a plate and extracted the contents.

Where was the neat container? And why did the creature still look like what it was, head and feet intact? The reality of ‘meat’ sank in. This wasn’t some mystery food that came antiseptically shrink-wrapped, sanitized and anonymous. This was unmistakably the charred remains of a fowl that yesterday had feathers – and life.

I stood in my pristine kitchen with chemically enhanced hair and painted nails, gawking at a reminder of a different reality. Living in Bali I’d rubbed up against it many times, but now it jarred. I knew too much. I’d been to the villages. I’d watched, unflinching, as chickens were slaughtered, drained, skewered, and readied for the fire.

But none of them had ever lain spreadeagled on my counter top.

The initial slam of shock passed. The smokey-rich odor emanating from the bird hit my empty stomach and saliva drooled into my mouth. Without further ado, manicured fingernails separated a leg from the body, foot and all. I took a bite. Mmmm. This chicken had spent it’s life unrestrained, scratching dirt, eating bugs, and dodging motorbikes in the road. The meat was firm, the flavor: strong, wild, and nothing genetically enhancing had gotten within a hundred miles of it’s muscular body. This was as naturally, locally raised, free-ranging, certified organic, GMO, pesticide, chemical and antibiotic free as it gets.

I chewed long, reflecting on the gift of food like this, savoring it.

My intention is to eat meat. In the process a life is taken. I don’t want to lose sight of the sacredness of that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Retail (and) Therapy at 30,000 Feet

It was somewhere between Qatar and Bali. We’d been in the air for hours and most of the seats held what looked like mummified remains. I’d finished my third movie of the flight and got up to take a bathroom break. Wobbling forward in the semi-darkness, I tried not to bump body parts that protruded into the aisle.

In the unfortunate feng shui of airplane design, the kitchen sat directly opposite the restrooms. A cluster of flight attendants huddled over the counter in that narrow galley. Behind them, a woman in passenger clothes engaged me.

“I’m selling jewelry, silver from Bolivia, $10 each piece. Go ahead, take a look.”

I’d already traveled New York to Qatar, over 14 hours, and had a 2 hour layover in Doha. By this time we were 6 hours into the last leg. But the words: silver, and jewelry, as cross-eyed and exhausted as I was, could raise me from the dead. I burrowed into the group, and there, gleaming in the center of the cases of rings and bracelets was the elephant, Ganesha. My hand shot out, grabbed the ring and slipped it on. It fit as though the designer had used my finger to form it.

The fact is, I’d been hunting Ganesha for months. Every third shop in Ubud sells handcrafted silver jewelry and I’d browsed them all to no avail. I shoved the ring at the woman, mumbled that I’d get the money, and scurried back to my seat taking out a flopping head and a dangling hand on the way.  My purse held only one bill, a $10. I fished it out and hurried back, thrust it at her, and took my ring. The toilet was unoccupied. I locked myself in and giggled, shaking my head at the ludicrous synchronicity of it all.

Fast forward to yesterday. I visited a professional Tarot reader for the first time ever. I’d heard good things about Novi so a friend and I went to check her out. She was goose-bumpy good! But when she asked me if I knew why I was wearing a Ganesha ring I said, “Because he’s the remover of obstacles.”

“Not only remove the obstacles,” she quickly cut in. “Ganesha god is still 7 years old. That is why Ganesha energy is funny: I want to go here, I want to go there, I am so happy, I want to break the rules.” I chuckled as she spoke, but she wasn’t finished. “That’s still in you, but repressed. That’s why in the subconscious there is a desire to be joyful like a seven-year-old. That is why in the subconscious you searched for a Ganesha ring and found it on the airplane; because the joy of a child is missing.”

That hit me like a bullet to the heart. Here in Bali there is mischief and play. My Balinese friends enjoy nothing more than teasing. I’ve learned how to roll with it, but I know myself and she’s right. There’s still the reserve, the serious adult moderating the scene, not wanting to appear silly or, heaven forbid, childish.

Her instructions were clear: You are to dance, and sing, and remember what you loved to do before you were five, remember what you wanted to do when you were 8 but didn’t. It’s time to finish the dream.

Novi’s reading turned me inside-out. She knew things, saw things, and instructed her remedies in forceful kindness. In my mind I resisted but in my gut I knew she spoke the truth. It’s a good thing I recorded the session. Her wisdom spilled like a gushing fire hydrant and by the time she’d finished I couldn’t remember three-fourths of what she’d said. I came home, listened again, and wrote down everything word-for-word. She told me that 2017 is a personal year for me. No doubt it will take at least that long to work out all the warts she exposed.

It was a valuable lesson. I’d become complaisant, almost smug, thinking I’d pretty much nailed my issues and it was clear sailing ahead. Novi brought me down to earth. It’s never the end. The subconscious has stores of old stuff that can trip us up if it stays buried in the dark. The work of self-discovery is on-going and it is by far the most rewarding endeavor we can undertake, not just for ourselves, but for the important others in our lives.

Have you ever sought out other sources of information, an astrologer, numerologist, Tarot reader, etc.?

If yes, I’d love to hear your experience.

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SPIRIT GUIDE, TOTEM ANIMAL, OR JUST A PRETTY BIRD?

 

I glanced in the window. Stopped dead in my tracks. Backed up. Stared. I’d passed this shop dozens of times; had even gone inside once. But the bird on display was new.

The color caught my attention. It was the identical shade of my Bali Blue Bed. I never liked blue until that bed, handmade and painted by Ketut’s father for his family of nine children, became my prized possession. Then it had to be THAT blue. This bird was THAT blue.

The size was good, too. It was big. For some reason, probably hearkening back to childhood when I had to dust every small knick-knack and treasure my mother collected over the years, l preferred large accessories.

My delight ended there. The design of the bird didn’t appeal to me. It wasn’t a noble Garuda, the heraldic national emblem of Indonesia. Its beak was too long, its wings too short, and the tail was so flamboyant as to be an embarrassment to the humble creature. I shrugged and walked on.

A few days later I was in the vicinity of the shop. The color grabbed me again and I stood transfixed. What was it about that ungainly thing? The fact that it was blue and big wasn’t enough. It was unsophisticated, provincial, not my style. The word folksy came to mind.

I couldn’t exactly say when I became obsessed, when I began to want the bird. Was it the fifth time I stopped at its window? The tenth? On that day, I went into the shop to ask the price. It wasn’t shocking. Or was it? Was the color really right? Was there a chip in the paint under its wing? By the time I left I’d talked myself out of wanting it. Almost.

A couple of weeks went by. I was distracted and had no cause to be in the neighborhood of the shop. Then, in a flurry of rearranging things in my house, I moved a lamp. In the now empty space on top of the bookshelf I saw the bird. It was the perfect spot, the exact amount of room needed to exhibit him to full advantage.

I couldn’t get to the little store fast enough. I burst through the door and caught a flash of color on a high shelf. It was my bird with different plumage: electric green, and touches of THAT blue. My fickle heart fell instantly in love.

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At home I unwrapped my prize and set it carefully in place. About that time, Ketut appeared.

“Heron,” he said. “Bad design.”

As soon as he named it, I saw the likeness. Of course it was a heron. They were everywhere in Bali and the craftsmen here carve what they know. He reached up and I saw what he saw. There was a gap where the tail joined the body.

Ketut disappeared and came back with a drill.

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“Ummmm, are you sure, Ketut?” I had to bite my tongue and sit on my hands to keep from stopping him. Where was my faith? But leave it to the son of a woodcarver to know what to do. In the capable hands of Ketut, my bird was made perfect.

The story could have ended there. But this is Bali. Instinct told me there was more to Mr. Heron than just a pretty bird. The fact that at first he hadn’t appealed to me at all, and later was the most beautiful thing I’d ever laid eyes upon, defied logic. Most things magical aren’t logical, and Bali is an island steeped in magic. So I googled: totem animal heron. Laughter, then tears, followed the tingling, goosebumby sensation that accompanies a touch from beyond. This is what I read:

If Heron is your Animal Totem

You love to explore various activities and dimensions of Earth life. On the surface, this may seem like a form of dabbling, but more than likely you are wonderfully successful at being a traditional Jack-of-all-trades.

This ability enables you to follow your own path. Most people will never quite understand the way you live because on the surface it seems to be unstructured without stability or security to it. It is, though, just a matter of perspective. There is security underneath it all, for it gives you the freedom to do a variety of tasks. If one way does not work, then another will. This is something you seem to inherently know.

You do not seem to need a lot of people in your life, nor do you feel pressured to keep up with the material world, or to be traditional in your life roles. You stand out in your uniqueness, and you know how to snatch and take advantage of things and events that the average person would not even bother with.

Anyone who knows me must agree that the description could hardly be more perfect.

Years ago I learned about totem animals and have often wondered if I had one. There are online questionnaires that profess to establish your totem by the answers you give. I did a couple and never felt a connection with the results.

But the heron knew, didn’t he.

 

 

The Price of a Good Night’s Sleep

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The rains have come. They do every year.

Dry season is roughly June through October and wet season is the rest of the time. January and February are peak months with an average of 90 millimeters of rainfall each. But as of today, 500 mm of rain have fallen in Ubud since the first of January. Soggy has taken on new meaning.

So what does that have to do with sleep? Several things:

Rain pounding at the rate of Niagara Falls is loud. Very loud. Add to that a forceful gale that drives water under the roof tiles filling the house with a fine mist and the situation becomes disconcerting.

One thing, though, plagues me more than the rest. When winds are high, the tall coconut palm just outside my bedroom window whips perilously close to the glass. In nightmares I envision the muddy earth it clings to giving way. With a bolt of lightning and a crack of thunder I’m suddenly sharing my bed with shards of shattered glass, and a very large soaking wet tree.

Under normal conditions a palm’s root system withstands rainy season. But this tree is old, the earth is saturated, and the winds are strong. “What do you think, Ketut?” I asked my wise friend. “Will the tree fall down?”

We’ve had this conversation every year when the rains come and he always says, “Don’t worry, still strong.” But this year he had no quick answer. Instead he studied the tree, first from one angle, then another; from upstairs and down, and proceeded to chop off half of the tree’s 8 foot branches. “Now not so heavy,” he said.

I have to give him credit, Ketut is a problem solver.

Granted, now the tree was not so heavy, but it was also not so beautiful to look at. After a few more restless nights of pounding storms I approached him again. “I can’t sleep, Ketut. I’m still worried about the tree. Maybe you can find a Tukang Pohon who will cut it down.”

As luck would have it, that noon I lunched with a friend who, the day before, had watched a 20′ palm being removed. Her detailed description sounded so civilized, so professional, that I begged her to get the name and number of the contact for me. She did, and with that information in hand Ketut called Mr. Macho (I kid you not) who came right over. He quoted 600,000 rupiah and said he was busy now but could come back in three days.

Three days later Macho, his eight-year-old son, and a helper appeared right on time. Ketut hustled to provide the obligatory coffee and snacks which, in my experience, almost always precede the onset of work. They chatted and sized up the operation. Then, coffee finished, Macho plucked a leaf, put a cookie and a lighted cigarette on it and placed the offering by the small temple. “For not fall down,” he explained, then caught himself and laughed. “Tree okay. But not I fall down!”

p1130143The mood that moments before had been casual, took on intensity and singleness of purpose. Like a well-orchestrated dance many times performed, Macho scaled the tree while his assistant below kept the ropes untangled from the surrounding bushes that would hopefully be left intact. With surgical precision, Macho’s hatchet sliced off the giant fronds. I held my breath as they slithered through the leaves and landed with a shuddering thud on the ground.

p1130155p1130158p1130160p1130162There wasn’t a closed mouth among us as we watched. When the tree had been shorn of its crown, Ground Control tied a chainsaw to the end of one rope and up it went.

p1130165p1130168There was a mad dash into the house to shut windows and doors as the sawdust flew. When the wedge-shaped cut was made, and the ropes secured to the topknot, Macho Man climbed down. Now he and his assistant jockeyed for just the right position. They had a narrow window of opportunity for landing that massive clump without harming the house, the garden lamp, the shrubs, or themselves. This was the moment of truth.

Perfection! Well done Mr. Macho! With the main event accomplished, he chain-sawed the remaining trunk into two-foot sections tossing them aside as he worked his way down.

If for one minute you think this task didn’t require all the machismo that our hero’s name implies, just look at the concentration on that face! p1130199When nothing remained but a short stump, Mr. Macho struck a strong-man pose for the camera.

p1130216Standing amid the debris, Ketut lit up a cigarette and I could almost read his mind: “My beautiful garden…trashed!”

p1130215As the guys muscled tree parts off to the compost corner Wayan swept away leaves and twigs. Within an hour the only indication that major trauma had visited that garden was a telltale dusting of sawdust on the bushes.

p1130218Until I went upstairs, that is. The tree trunk used to run right up the center of this window. It was the first thing I saw every morning as the sun rose behind it. Squirrels chased each other up and down and monkey’s leaped onto it from the roof of my house. I’d watched doves courting in its branches, and once or twice a year it offered up a coconut for my dining pleasure if nothing else ate it first. For a moment nostalgia overtook me, but only for a moment; then relief.

p1130221The next morning Ketut appeared with my groceries and that 2000 watt smile. His first words were, “Good sleeping? No worries?”

“Was there a storm?” I’d heard nothing.

“Big rain,” he said.

I returned his grin and gave a thumbs up. In my world, the price of a good night’s sleep is 600,000 rupiah. And the show? That’s free.

Naughty Nuri’s: Anyone for a Body Scrub and Cleanse?

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Naughty Nuri’s is well-known in Ubud for its barbecued pork ribs. Always packed, most people who eat in this popular restaurant are not part of Ubud’s thriving spiritual community. Those folks go to the organic, vegan, and raw food places where to even whisper pork is anathema!

I gave up most meat long ago so I’d never been to Nuri’s. But after living in Indonesia for five years and eating fruit, veggies, rice, tofu, tempe, and not much else, about two months ago I began to crave nachos.

I coerced my partner in crime and chief confidante into weekly walks to Devilicious, a street-side eatery near her house where they make a few Mexican dishes. Nachos is one of them. An ice cold beer with a heaping plate of crisp, cheese-and-jalepeno covered tortilla chips became a weekly ritual, until last Sunday. We approached the sign with a red devil caricature boldly displayed and my heart sank. Devilicious was closed.

There’s nothing worse than having your taste buds set for a certain flavor and being denied that pleasure. We stood outside the empty café and I was less than cavalier. “I want nachos. Where can we get nachos?” I’m sure my whine was about as pleasant as a spoiled 5-year-old’s.

Without missing a beat my friend said, “Nacho Mama’s has them.”

“Nacho Mama’s? Why haven’t you mentioned this place before? Where is it?” As it turned out it was just a few blocks the opposite direction so we set off, saliva flooding my mouth.

I smelled barbecue long before we arrived at the entrance to Naughty Nuri’s and my friend stopped there.

“This isn’t Nacho Mama’s, it’s Naughty Nuri’s. They sell ribs, not nachos. Look at the sign.” Had she lost her mind? She knows I’m a closet vegetarian and although I may not be the brightest bulb, I can read!

“Relax already. This is the place. It used to be called Nacho Mama’s. They serve nachos, don’t worry.”

Skeptical, I followed her inside looking for an empty table. There were none but a lone man occupied a spot with seating for 8 so we parked ourselves at the far end. We’d been there a few minutes when a group got up and vacated a nearby booth. We grabbed it. The table was loaded with platters of gnawed rib bones and bowls still full of Nuri’s special sauce.

One of the wait staff began to bus the table. My accomplice and I were deep in conversation when the tray the girl had just loaded crashed to the floor. Something globby and wet splattered my hair, my face, arms, legs, and my favorite cream-colored skirt. A spoon still dripping with the stuff lodged under my thigh. Dazed, I saw that my entire right side was plastered with rich, red, oily, lumpy blobs of barbecue sauce.

For a split-second there was silence. Nobody breathed. In the next instant, the entire Nuri’s staff rushed to my aid. One dabbed my hair, another scrubbed at my clothes, grinding the stains deeper into the fabric. The skin on my face where barbecue had landed, burned from the chilies abundant in Nuri’s special recipe. No matter how they tried to swab me down with paper napkins the situation worsened.

Perhaps it was Isnuri herself, the Indonesian wife of the American owner, who finally took charge and hauled me to the sink at the rear of the restaurant still in plain view of all the diners. Scrubbing commenced in earnest. She grabbed my skirt, hoisted it high and pulled it into the sink so she could hose off the mess (which, by the way, is the consistency of chunky salsa but stickier.) How much of my white leg and Victoria’s Secrets were exposed I’m not sure. It was about then that I decided to take the matter into my own hands and shooed the hovering attendants away.

At some point in my energetic scouring, a flash of movement caught my eye. Off to one side, a Japanese man stood mopping at his cream trousers. I looked at him, he looked at me, and I recognized him as the person who had been sitting with his back to me in the next booth. Not a word passed between us but we simultaneously broke into uproarious laughter. It was the first time I’d realized that I wasn’t the only star in this drama!

When I returned to our table, soaking wet from hair to sandal on my right side, the surroundings would suggest that nothing untoward had occurred there. All was wiped clean. We ordered nachos and beer and rehashed the blow-by-blow account of what had just happened. The food came followed by the bill. My meal hadn’t been charged.

Out on the sidewalk I said goodbye to my friend. Before leaving we agreed that Devilicious still makes the best nachos in Ubud but Nuri’s can’t be beat for barbecue sauce! I walked home in the 88 degree heat, damp and comfortable in my ruined clothing.

After treating the skirt and blouse with Balinese bleach paste and soaking everything for several hours, miraculously the stains came out. Those areas are a little whiter than the rest but I can still wear the outfit. When I do, it will remind me that anything can happen on a beautiful Bali Sunday afternoon nacho run!

What to do when life throws a curve ball? Catch it!

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When I was a senior in high school in 1968, the year 2000 seemed impossibly remote and the likelihood of ever living that long was unthinkable.

Well, 2000 came and went. So did my 50th birthday that same year. If the thought of retirement ever came up I squelched it. I couldn’t imagine anything so boring.

But life has an interesting way of throwing curve balls. I couldn’t have dreamed in 2000 that in 2012 I would indeed retire and move to Bali. Nor at that point could I have envisioned my life now, 5 years later, so full of fabulous friends and adventures that boring has been forever banished from my vocabulary.

Take last Monday, for instance. A friend and I decided to spend the morning at the Arma Museum. She had never been and it’s one of my favorite locations in Ubud for many reasons: the grand Balinese architecture, extensive gardens, a broad spectrum of art both traditional and modern, and the free beverage in the Arma Warung Kopi that is included with the ticket.

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We toured the exhibits, marveling at the intricacy of the traditional Balinese style, remarking on the vibrant colors of the more current pieces, and wound up at the coffee shop about an hour later. We’d just settled in when a Balinese man in an old sarong, a none-too-clean semi-buttoned plaid shirt, and an iphone pulled up a chair and joined us. One of the wait staff set a cup of coffee in front of him.

Permission had neither been sought nor granted but that made no difference to the gentleman and it was obvious that whether or not it made a difference to us was of no consequence. So we visited. He wanted to know where we were from, how long we had been in Bali, where we were staying; all typical conversation starters here.  When we’d answered I had a few questions of my own.

“So, Pak, what is your position here?”

“You mean what do I do for work?”

“Yes.”

“I’m the gardener.”

“These gardens are spectacular! How long have you been tending them?

“Fifteen years. And I found a plant down by the river that I’ve never seen before…here…I have a picture on my phone. I’ll show you. Have you ever seen anything like this?”

We agreed that it was very unusual and neither of us had seen such a thing before. After a few more pleasantries, one of the servers whispered to him that he had a phone call. He excused himself and left. My friend and I exchanged looks, finished our iced tea, and moved on, not giving the incident another thought, at least not then.

That afternoon she called me. “You know that gardener at the Arma?”

“Yes…”

“Take a close look at the brochure they handed us at the ticket booth and call me back.”

You probably know where this is going. Our mystery guest, cleverly disguised as a gardener, was the owner, Agung Rai.

Image result for Bapak Agung Rai

We admitted to each other after the fact, that it had seemed a bit strange that the gardener could take time out of his work day to have coffee with random patrons. And the fact that he was treated so obsequiously by the staff had also been puzzling at the time. Then,  after I mentally took inventory of what exactly I had said to the man, hoping it was nothing too terribly inane, we had a good laugh. But I’ll bet Bapak Agung Rai laughed louder and longer than either of us.

kkkPosing beside offerings in front of a collection of ceremonial costumes in a corner of the museum.

 

Over the Top on Christmas Night

After five years in Bali, my blood has thinned to the consistency of water. I can no longer tolerate winters in Minnesota, not even for the holidays. Since Indonesia is largely Muslim, and the Balinese are Hindu, Christmas here is a non-event. I didn’t realize how refreshing that would be!

Many visitors from the West assume they will be able to eat their traditional ham, or turkey and stuffing, that carols will boom from every corner day and night, businesses will close, and the typical trees, stars, angels, and tinsel will manifest everywhere.

Not so, at least not yet.

I say that because the Balinese are ingenious copiers. If I give my tailor a dress and a length of fabric, he’ll make one identical to it and hand me the original intact when I come to pick up my order. And if a Christmas tree will bring people into a restaurant, the proprietor will make a Christmas tree! Since I moved here, a little more Christmas shows up every year. But I still have to hunt for turkey with stuffing!

This year a group of friends decided to splash out for Christmas Day. We’d get a driver for the 1 – 1/2 hour trip to Seiminyak, stop at the W Hotel for sunset cocktails on the beach, do a White Elephant gift exchange there, then continue a few blocks to Biku for a traditional Christmas dinner.

Pictures are so much better than words! Come along with me and celebrate Christmas Bali style!

The entrance to the W Hotel is flanked by bamboo which has been bent to form a feathery green arch overhead. I didn’t photograph that, but you can imagine! As we explored we passed pools upon pools overlooking the Indian Ocean.

After touring the grounds, we came to rest in the Ice Bar, completely empty and perfect for us! The drink menu required intense study. A Ginger Pepper Sour topped with key lime fizz and dried dates: where would I ever find something like that again? I ordered it, and with my first sip knew that it didn’t matter. Imagine drinking red bell pepper juice with a hint of ginger and a splash of lime. The dates saved me.

When my drink had been sampled or sniffed by all, we dove into the White Elephant exchange with gusto! What a hoot! Remember, the idea is to wrap an object that you no longer want and get rid of it cleverly disguised as a present. But some of the gifts might appeal to one more than another so after opening them, there’s the opportunity to steal the one you want. If you’re lucky, someone won’t decide they need it more than you do and steal it back!

It was unanimous that a curly gray hairpiece and the bald eagle ash tray were the most disgusting. The exchange was everything it was designed to be, hilarious! And then the sunset. If you’ve never seen the sun set over the Indian Ocean, well, put it on the bucket list!

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It was hard to leave. If our stomachs hadn’t been growling, we might have squeezed another hour out of that gorgeous setting. But dinner beckoned and Biku was everything it promised to be. This cozy restaurant feels like you’re dining in someone’s living room. It oozes warmth (not the 90 degree kind) is adorned to the hilt, and exudes elegance in a Victorian overkill kind of way.

We were greeted and ushered to our place in front of the tree. I was delighted to see that there was ample space between tables and the mixture of seatings for two, or four, or in our case, six, were arranged for maximum privacy and comfort. The musicians began with well-known carols, then branched out. In the video the men are wearing the traditional black and white checked sarong and the lead singer is in a modified version of Balinese women’s temple wear, not including the antlers or Santa hats!

Have I forgotten anything? Oh, the food…which was the purpose of this outing in the first place! It was plentiful and rich. We kicked off with a Christmas cocktail. Then our choice of a starter: tea smoked salmon with Asian salad or warm Vietnamese beef. The buffet had it all: roast turkey with stuffing and cranberry sauce, glazed ham, roast leg of lamb, potato au gratin, roasted vegetables, medley of spring vegetables, mashed potatoes and gravy. There were three salads, watermelon feta, strawberry chicken, and mixed garden salad.

But the desserts…! When I didn’t think I could eat another bite, I loaded my plate with sweets and didn’t miss a beat! I loved the Christmas pudding with brandy butter…what’s not to love…and the ice cream with candied fruit mixed in. The Christmas cake and the trifle and the little tarts put me over the top. But over the top was a fine place to be on Christmas night!

My dinner plate:

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My dessert plate:

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And did I mention the smooth Savignon Blanc from New Zealand? Mmmmm.

Today my stomach is, shall we say, iffy. Based on what it’s used to, it has a right to complain. I’m hoping there won’t be an outright rebellion. So far so good.  And here’s one last video as the evening was wrapping up.

Happy happy holidays to all!

Magical Mystery Tour in Tabanan Bali

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Now and then if you’re lucky, you stumble into a once-in-a-lifetime magical moment that makes you remember why you love being alive on this earth. Today was one of those.

It began as an invitation from a trusted friend (emphasis on TRUST) to be a guinea pig for a subak tour. What’s a subak? Since Bali is a country of vast expanses of rice paddies, the subak is the engineering miracle that brings water from the mountains to thousands of acres of farmland.

My friend told me we would meet our ride at 9 a.m. and arrive an hour later in Tajen village in the Tabanan Regency. The only other thing I knew for sure was that it involved a walk and lunch, two things I do quite well.

The Tabanan Regency is home to Jatiluwih, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that features the most glorious expanse of rice terraces imaginable. The Bedugul Botanical Gardens are also in Tabanan as is Mount Bratan and the spectacular scenery from the rim of the crater to the lake at its base. So even though I didn’t know Tajen, the opportunity to revisit an area that I love and learn more about the subak system, was irresistible. I told my friend to count me in.

On the drive,  Bapak Gusti  told us that the people of Tajen have organized the subak tour to provide visitors with a better understanding of rural life. The tradition of tending paddies with water buffalo and Hindu ritual, are being replaced by machines, pesticides, and growth enhancers. “We are trying to preserve the old ways,” he said. “Tourists who want to see traditional Bali must come to Tajen. The tours will provide jobs for the people of our village.”

We arrived and I began to be amazed. It wasn’t just the beauty of the landscape and the grandeur of three mountain peaks rising purple against the sky, or the complimentary walking sticks and conical woven hats provided to keep us balanced and shady. Nor was it the waterways themselves, rushing alongside grassy paths, or the boundless knowledge of our guides. What was it then?

Right now I’m searching for words that will do justice to something that must be experienced to be understood.

Perhaps it was this: although we were in a remote rural town, I felt I was communing with the princes of Bali. Our hosts spoke English with a fluency rarely encountered. The finest hotels in the world couldn’t match their hospitality and gracious attention to our little band. When we met the women they were like you’d want your mothers and grandmothers to be: strong, funny, sweet, kind. And as so often happens on this island, it was more like walking a prayer than touring the subak.

Now you’ll look at the photos and you’ll want to come to Tejan, meet these wonderful people, and take the subak tour. I asked Bapak Gusti when they will be ready for business. “As soon as possible, maybe January,” he said.

Mountains, paddies, and a farmer bringing in the harvest on his motorbike.

Hats, check! Walking sticks, check! Ayo! Ayo! And off we go!

Our thirst is quenched with young coconut water. The mellow sounds of the rindik players follow us while a Balinese mother and grandmother demonstrate the intricate beauty of canang sari offerings. Bapak Gusti patiently answers questions and we are given the welcome blessing by a ninety-year-old grandmother.

Delights appear around every turn. Rice flour pastries filled with fresh coconut and drizzled with palm sugar syrup are cooked over a wood fire while we watch. Yes, more please!

The women pounding rice…the women. My tribal heart beats to their rhythm.

The women…

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Mothers and grandmothers…

and food!

Thank you, Tajen villagers, for sharing your subak, your smiles, and your gracious hospitality with us. We will tell our friends, and we’ll be back!

 

2016 in Retrospect

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2016 was a year of significant change. I became a granny, something I’ve cleverly avoided until now!

Hadley Sophia was born July 1, three weeks early. I was in NYC with them by the 5th and spent a blissful six weeks studying the fine art of granny-ing and falling ever so hopelessly in love.

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Jenny and Kennen, tired of the dot.com madness of San Francisco, pulled up stakes, moved to Minnesota, and bought a house. Along with them in the move was an old chair that was earmarked for reupholstery, Jenny’s hobby. I cannot believe the gorgeous transformation!

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Jessa and Dan did their yearly trek to Bali (bless them) and presented Ketut with a Superman tee-shirt, of course! Dan is a master guitarist and gave a few lessons. There was pool time, computer time, lots and lots of talk time, but best of all…togetherness.

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I had a birthday. Seems to happen every year. But this one was a gorgeous evening on Jimbaran Beach with a motley crew of dear friends, Carol, Janet, Bayu, and big-hearted Steve, who master-minded the event. I’d have a birthday every month if they were all as special as this!

The day wouldn’t have been complete without a quick escape to Watercress restaurant with my busy, wonderful neighbor, Nina, who treated me to birthday lunch and kombucha.

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I had another fun day in a beach town: Seminyak. Shane, Terry, and Mu needed haircuts and the ONLY hairdresser they’ll THINK of seeing is in Seminyak. So Denise and I enjoyed coffee and snooping the shops while the others went under the scissors. Then they introduced me to La Lucciola, a beachfront cafe where we spent the rest of the afternoon refreshing ourselves!

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I met a new friend, Margaret Manning, and took her shopping at the Klungkung market for traditional Balinese temple clothes. She invited me to write for her online magazine, Sixty and Me, and the Huffington Post, proof yet again that it’s not what you know but WHO you know!

 

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There were some seriously wild times entertaining with my empty yogurt cartons! Ketut built towers, Nengah knocked them down then scooted to fetch when they scattered under the daybed. Patient Komang provided refuge on her back when things got a little too crazy.

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The Ubud Writers Festival was sheer brilliance this year. It just keeps getting better! The panel discussions covered a multitude of pertinent topics worldwide, and several centered around the U.S. election since at the time of the Festival that event was only a week away. But the closing party was icing on the cake. My Bali family, Ketut, Komang, Nengah, and Komang’s sister, Wayan, went with me. We were awed by the fire dancers. Truly spectacular.

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And finally, in his 94th year, my Dad died. I was with him day and night during the weeks before, and it was the most profound experience of my life. I will never see death the same. I loved him fiercely and I miss him every day. But there is no question it was his time. He knew it, and his infinite peace during those last days was a testimony to the life he lived. I was alone with him, holding his hand when he died. I cherish that sacred final gift.

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I bid farewell to another year and to you, dear friends and family who take the time to read my scribbles. I leave you with the lines of a poet whose ability to capture the essence of life and death in words always astounds me: Mary Oliver

To live in this world
you must be able
to do three things:

To love what is mortal;
to hold it against your bones
knowing your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.

Too Much Wind – Staying Healthy in Paradise

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About once a year I catch a cold. It starts with a fuzzy-dull feeling in my head then spreads to a tight chest heaviness. In cold climates the first snow used to bring it on without fail. Here in Bali, I chalk it up to walking in the rain, and from December through February, if I want to leave my house at all, chances are I WILL encounter rain.

So check out this picture: It’s approaching 90 degrees and 100% humidity. I’m walking to the grocery store for feta cheese, something Ketut can’t buy at the morning market. Sweat covers my body head to toe and drips from my eyebrows into my eyes. Out of nowhere, the sky darkens and thunder grumbles. The temperature drops to the 70’s, and down comes the rain. I’m prepared. My umbrella flops open. But within moments the sidewalks are a rushing torrent of sludge water. My feet are slipping around in my flip-flops and I’ve had to move my umbrella so many times to avoid a low-hanging tree or another human that I’m soaked.

My Balinese friends seem much more susceptible to sniffles, coughs, and fever than I am and they have a cause always at the ready: masuk angin – wind comes in. I’ve learned to accept that explanation because to query further, one gets into murky territory where I’ve ventured unwittingly in the past. There are hints at Black Magic or Angry Spirits and once we’ve gone there, much dialogue around all the imagined possibilities ensues. An acceptance of the wind as culprit is a good thing.

So I recently had a run-in with the wind and currently have that yearly cold. But where I may avoid getting too much local input about the origins of sickness, I’m all for the traditional practices to regain health. One of the no-fail remedies in Bali is soto ayam, chicken soup, a cold cure that is quite possibly universal. Yesterday I had soto ayam, young coconut water (which is chock-a-block full of electrolytes) and enough teh adas (fennel tea) to sink a very large vessel.

This morning I felt better. But I’d heard of a jamu shop on Andong Street and neighbor Nina suggested the red ginger elixir to kick congestion. About that time Ketut appeared with another young coconut water. We jumped on the motorbike even though in my altered state I didn’t feel completely bikeworthy, and found Jamu Sehat.

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10262111_770004143023555_2114891911315740843_nA smiling man stood behind the counter. One of the things I love about Ubud is the lack of too many choices, although there is much more available now than there was when I arrived five years ago. There were four jamu options. I pointed and he ladled the thick juice from the red ginger pot into two recycled water bottles. I had him fill a third with Kunyit Asem as well. I’ve had turmeric jamu many times. It’s more readily available. But with the red ginger I was breaking new ground.

p1120649Back at home I wasted no time. Coco water first, slurp! Then red ginger.

Let me tell you something about red ginger jamu. If you think brandy burns all the way down try red ginger ala Jamu Sehat! I drank one bottle and my nose has not quit running. It’s far and away the strongest drink I’ve ever had. It stung, burned, brought tears to my eyes, and felt so good! I’ll do the turmeric before bed, another red ginger for breakfast, and I guarantee by noon I’ll be healed. I may also be hooked.

 

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