Blame it on Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving morning dawned, hot, muggy, and slightly overcast.

There was no planned outing with friends to a local restaurant for roasted stuffed turkey with all the trimmings. Such gatherings are discouraged for now, and to actually find a restaurant open, and not only open but serving turkey which is outrageously expensive to buy here…well…it just wasn’t going to happen.

I awoke with reasonably good intentions of accomplishing something, but a goal as fuzzy as that rarely gets much traction.

So I napped and read, read and napped, and thought about Thanksgivings past.

The table was set for ten or twelve. Before Dad said grace, and before digging into moist slices of turkey, candied sweet potatoes, green bean casserole, cranberry sauce, and stuffing with gravy, we took turns telling what we were grateful for.

Between snoozes and the interesting story I was sort of reading, I rehearsed my current litany of blessings, see-sawing between past memories and present realities when suddenly… I had an overwhelming urge to sort through files. Trust me, this never happens. I knew I had to act and act fast or the notion would pass.

Soon the floor around me was littered with stacks of ‘keepers’ and ‘dumps.’

And then…

There it was. The packet of old photos Mom sent home with me when she was divesting herself of a lifetime of family history kept in picture albums. I’d never bothered to open it.

Oh, my! Ms. Bouffant 1969.

I was 19. How did I even get my hair to do that? I probably slept on giant brush rollers all night, then teased the curls into rats’ nests, smoothed the top and spray-lacquered it to the consistency of a bike helmet with Superhold Aqua Net. Remember Aqua Net? Superhold was purple.

aqua net hairspray 80s - Yahoo Image Search Results | Aqua net, My  childhood memories, Memories

I came across other shots equally as humiliating, but my pride will only allow one at a time.

As it happened, I actually accomplished quite a lot in spite of my very slow start. Eleven fat folders became four skinny ones. I found poems I’d forgotten I’d written and old diaries that jogged more memories.

So I wasn’t really alone for Thanksgiving. Old ghosts came back to remind me how truly grateful I am NOT to be living in the past. No matter how tough this Covid year has been, and no matter how uncertain the future seems at the moment, helmet hair and Aqua Net are forever behind me and that’s worth celebrating!

We Can’t Plan for a Future that Has No Past

“The time has come,” the Walrus said, “to speak of many things…”

I hadn’t read through the whole poem of The Walrus and the Carpenter, by Lewis Carroll until today. It’s a horrible story! But that well-known line captures the feeling I’ve had for months – the necessity to state the truth of the situation and move forward.

Moving forward means going toward the future, a future that has no basis in past experience, nothing to look at and say, “When this happened before, this is what I did.” If Covid has done nothing else, it’s shown me how much I’ve depended on the past to navigate and plan for what’s next.

So now I’m flying by seat-of-the-pants intuition and my gut.

All the while nursing mild hysteria at being cooped up without nearly enough social stimulation. Not to mention the black hole of lonesomeness for my family a g’zillion miles away. So if what I’m about to say sounds impetuous….

It’s not.

My decision is based upon hundreds of hours of banging my head against a wall, meditating, then banging my head a few more times for good measure. In other words, I’ve thoroughly thought it through, considered all the options, changed my mind then changed it back, and finally have arrived at a place of knowing what I want.

I’m selling the lease on my property here in Ubud and embarking on the next great adventure.

Please check out this link and forward it to anyone you think might be curious or interested. Income Property with Owner’s Studio Suite in Ubud

Bali has been my home for nine years. That’s longer than four of my marriages. I’ve thrived here. The island welcomed me, nurtured me, and grounded me in a deeper understanding of myself. Out of a driving desire to communicate with Ketut’s family, I learned to speak Indonesian and my escapades on the back of his motorbike will remain some of the most precarious and precious moments of my life.

It’s been a glorious ride, literally and figuratively. But my gypsy soul has itchy feet and my Viking heart is pounding a new rhythm.

Do I know what’s next?

Remember, there’s no past giving me clues to the future, and my crystal ball’s gone cloudy. But I can stay in the present moment and take the next right step. Then the next. And the next. To relieve myself of my responsibilities here is the first right thing. The old must be set aside before the new can emerge.

“The time has come...”

Trump was necessary – my parting thoughts…

As painful as they’ve been, Trump’s past four years were necessary.

He didn’t drain the swamp, he exemplified it, militarized it, and championed it.

He didn’t build the wall between us and our neighbors to the south, he built a wall between ourselves.

He didn’t lock her up, he unlocked racism and rage, violence and fear.

He didn’t make America great again, he made the world aware of how greatly we need a Truly Great America.

Now, ‘We the people’ have spoken…

‘We the people’ have triumphed…

And ‘We the people’ have a monumental mess to clean up.

The blinders are off – we can see all that’s broken.

We know deep inside it had to be like this,

and we’re grateful…

grateful…

so grateful.

Musings post election, by: Sherry Bronson

Image credit USA Today

More Domestic Distractions. Is there an election?

Of course there’s an election. I know it. You know it. We all know it.

What we don’t know is similar to what we don’t know about Covid. When will it end?

I, for one, am ready for the stress of uncertainty on too many levels to be over. It’s something I don’t want to get used to. I don’t want to adjust and accept it as the ongoing state of things forever and ever, amen. I’m talking Covid now. I know, eventually, the numbers will determine the next president of the United States. But as I watch the corona count escalate with cold weather ahead for many months, I wonder…

It’s not just another flu. In 2018-2019 the U.S. death toll from influenza was 34,200. From January 2020 to the present, the deaths from Covid in the U.S. stand at 242,230. Even I can do that math.

That’s reality. I don’t have to like it, but I can’t deny it.

Until recently I’ve been distraction averse. I liked to ‘knuckle-down’ and get things done. I have an experimental project to finish and a novel to work on. But a new creature has taken possession of my mind/body/emotions and now I PLAN my distractions in minute detail. The rules are simple. They must

  • be mindless tasks
  • require movement
  • take at least two hours minimum
  • feel meaningful
  • produce measurable results on my ‘happiness meter’

Yesterday it was laundry. Today it’s defrost the refrigerator and make beet hummus.

The fridge is done so beets, here I come!

Look at that color. Time for a taste-test.

Whoops.

Dirt. This has that deep-earth essence, so beety, dank…and somehow I’ve gotten overly enthusiastic with the salt. Okay, what now? I refuse to admit defeat. (Sound familiar?) What can I add to beets to dilute dirt and neutralize salt that doesn’t require a trip to the store?

Lentils.

In no time the pot is simmering. Within thirty minutes I’ve added a cup of mushy beans to the contents in the blender and whipped it to a froth.

Taste…

Oh baby! We’re talkin’ perfection here. Not even a hint of mud. Salted just right. The color’s still vibrant and the beans add density, a substantial wholesomeness to the mix.

My stomach reminds me I skipped breakfast and it’s time for lunch.

I love carrot hummus on toast with egg. It’s my favorite meal. The beets might be even better…

Mmmm! A fresh loaf of sourdough from Bali Buda Bakery…

Sliced, fried, and smeared with gobs of beet hummus…

Topped with egg and served with a glass of turmeric-lemongrass-ginger-tamerind jamu…

My happiness meter is off the charts – I rescued a near disaster and it’s freaking delicious as well as nutritious.

Where’s my phone?

Just a quick peek…

Georgia’s doing a recount?

“Hello, Mingle Café? Can I still get that frozen mojito delivered? Yes? Ok. Bring two. Fifteen minutes? Great. I think I can make it ’til then…”

Domestic distractions for the election that never ends

Has it been fifteen minutes? Can I check the results again? Maybe the numbers are different – Pennsylvania? Georgia? Do I want to know? Yes? No? Where’s my phone? Oh. Still in my hand. Hmmm,

I’ve done my morning rituals. I’ve picked spinach from the garden and cooked it. I’ve messaged everyone I know and it’s only 10:00 a.m. The day looms ahead and I need distractions – this election is moving like a herd of turtles and every little percentage point one way or another makes my heart stop.

I open the closet and a pile of dirty laundry tumbles out.

I’ve been procrastinating. Usually it’s just my ‘delicates’ in there. I always do them by hand for various valid reasons. But lacey tops can’t tolerate the massive commercial machines that crank out my heartier garments either. I have three that I wore over the past two weeks. They’re waiting.

All that wouldn’t be so bad, but there’s a queen bedspread with spots that will require bleach, and a white cushion cover that the neighborhood cat decided was his. It’s covered with short black hairs and muddy paw prints. The laundry isn’t good with too many details. They take a straightforward approach and do what they do to perfection. They just don’t do spots.

I take time for a little approach/avoidance conflict and finally give in. I can’t focus on anything more taxing than that anyway. May as well get it done.

A quick glance at the phone still in my hand – no change.

Soon I’m elbows deep in suds. It takes intense concentration to keep from splattering bleach on the dark blue dress I’m too lazy (or stubborn) to change for this task.

My second-floor apartment is a dream, but it’s small. The balcony railings double as drying racks and today there’s a perfect breeze. Here’s the bedspread…

And the cat’s cushion cover…

I used to schedule laundry day when I knew there’d be no friends dropping by for a chat. Garments and bedding festooned from the railings is not exactly an ‘uptown’ look. But Covid has taken care of spontaneous visitors – any visitors…

My lacey blouses hung from window handles flap happily and dry in a nanosecond.

But I’m most proud of my solution for drying two weeks’ worth of undies. At first I tried stringing ropes between chair backs. It worked but was aesthetically grim. Next I ran lines from the daybed posts and looped them around cabinet handles. This was a better solution since I didn’t have to circumnavigate the wash every time I moved. But it, too, was ugly as sin.

I don’t know exactly when inspiration hit, but it was a true ah-ha moment. Now, plastic hangers suspended from the shower head hook onto one another and my ‘little nothings’ drip into the drain – out of sight. Brilliant, don’t you think?

And not a bleach spot to be seen on my dark blue dress.

Normally I wouldn’t write a post about laundry. But these are not normal times.

After I’d finished my task – during which I hadn’t once checked my phone – I had a split-second panic attack. What to do next? Then, Dear Reader, I thought of you. Maybe this ridiculous story about my domestic distraction tactics will give you a moment’s reprieve from the grueling wait.

If so, laundry day was more than worth it.

Excuse me…I have to check my phone…

Bali: Before and After

My love for this island hasn’t wavered. I’ve written poems and posts praising her wondrous landscapes and warm-hearted people. My taste buds have acclimated to chilies and fish sauce. I can’t imagine going back to canned-soup casseroles after thriving on fresh-off-the-tree dragon fruit, papaya, mango, and the magnificent red banana.

Here’s what I wrote in June, 2013, a word-picture of the old Bali that put all her eggs in the tourist basket. And the last verse, the Bali now, is a much different scene. As you read it, the word Bule means foreigner and is pronounced Boo-lay, accent on Boo.

Bali Beats

  • Kuta Beach, braid your hair?
  • Won’t take long…buy sarong?
  • Maybe two…good price…
  • Kuta Cowboy nice, you want
  • Mushroom? Weed? Speed?
  • What you need, Bule?
  • Bali beats, Bali beats, Bali beats…
  • Gamelan in the streets, cremation tower
  • Dodging power lines, three times
  • Black bull circles
  • Dizzy spirits flee
  • Can you see it, Bule?
  • Bali beats, Bali beats, Bali beats…
  • Kecak chorus, chant, trance
  • Women dancing
  • Golden deer and Hanoman
  • In the night by firelight,
  • Are you frightened, Bule?
  • Bali beats, Bali beats, Bali beats…
  • Rubbish smoking
  • Choking when you breathe it in…
  • The din of tourist bus
  • Clogs narrow streets
  • Defeats the purpose, Bule…
  • Bali beats, Bali beats, Bali beats…
  • Trash in ocean, river, piling up
  • While Bali smiling for you, Bule…
  • Taxi, yes? Today? Tomorrow, maybe…
  • Where you stay?
  • What you pay, Bule?
  • Bali beats, Bali beats, Bali bleeds…
  • Covid came and Bule fled
  • Business dead, no smiles here
  • Just fear, uncertainty
  • And empty streets
  • So quiet I can hear
  • The beats…of Bali’s…heart

The situation is bleak, and it’s a stern wake-up call. An economy based almost solely on tourism is fragile indeed. But the Balinese are resilient and creative. They will adapt. Many have already gone back to resurrect their paddies and vegetable gardens. But those who no longer have land, those taxi drivers, hotel staff, and restaurant owners who depended upon a steady stream of tourism for survival, are suffering.

I’m a Bule who is still here, and while I grieve for my Balinese friends, I also watch wildlife return. Birds and butterflies I haven’t seen for years twitter and flutter about the garden. Fumes from the exhaust of too many cars, buses, and motorbikes, jammed in gridlock, have faded away. The air sparkles clear.

They say it’s like Bali twenty years ago…before the Bule stole her heart.

When It All Comes Crashing Down

Hibernating gets old. Just ask any grumpy she-bear who’s been holed up in a cave all winter in a state of suspended animation…

Does this sound familiar?

Of course Bali doesn’t have cold weather…or bears. But it has more than its share of expats who are feeling the effects of confinement. For the past few days I’ve barely stuck my nose out of the house. I meant to, but it was easier not to.

This morning, for some inexplicable reason, I woke up at 5:30 supercharged. The sky was brightening but the sun wouldn’t rise for another half hour. I made my bed, certain this was a fluke and the jolt of energy was just that, a jolt, and would quickly pass.

It remained.

The voice I’ve come to recognize as my stern grandmother (if you’ve never had a Norwegian grandmother you’ll have no idea what I mean) pulled me up short. Skam på du! she said. I think that’s the only Norsk phrase I ever learned. Shame on you!

She washed my hair once. I was about 4. My scalp was raw from her vigorous suds-ing. When she dumped buckets of water over my head to rinse out the soap, I came up spluttering and choking. That’s my most vivid memory of her.

I threw on yesterday’s clothes, masked up, and bolted out the door.

At 6 a.m. the air was cool and sweet. A brisk pace took me to Ubud Palace. Across the street the traditional market was already bustling. I don’t blend into the crowd very well, so I didn’t stop and shoot a photo straight into the market area where bodies moved shoulder to shoulder in a dense sea of commerce. Had I done so, my actions may have been misinterpreted, or at the very least, unwelcome. I don’t want to be the Ugly American.

But a few paces farther along, I captured the motorbikes lined up in front.

I stuffed my phone back in my bag and continued past the glistening Arjuna statue that marks Jalan Raya’s east end. For probably the 2,578th time in my nine years in Bali, I stopped, backed up, fished my phone out again, got the perfect angle, and took the photo. I’m still awes-struck at the elegance, the intricate detail, and the sheer size of these artistic works depicting scenes from the epic Hindu texts, the Mahabharata and Ramayana.

Still brimming with energy and smiling under my mask, I continued to Delta Dewata, one of two major grocery stores in Ubud.

I assumed it would be open. There was a patch of shade on the flight of steps leading up to…locked doors. I sat on the stairs and checked the time. 6:35 a.m. Their website said they were open every day, 8 – 10.

It wasn’t that I’d intended to shop. But I’d have browsed and found something I didn’t know I needed before resuming my jaunt.

I sat there, plotting my next move only semi-aware of the person working in the shrubs beside me. When a cracking sound caught my attention, I looked up – just in time.

WHACK! A huge penjor crashed onto the pavement, almost taking my nose with it.

I jumped. Probably squeaked a bit.

Then the ah-ha moment. Today is the day for removing these elegant, graceful tokens that are erected every six months during the celebration of Galungan-Kuningan. They invite the spirits of the ancestors back to their family homes to be remembered and honored. It suddenly made sense: That’s why the offerings I’d been seeing were more extravagant than usual.

Now I had a mission. I continued my meandering journey photographing the bountiful offerings and the women making their way to the temple.

Throughout the day, thousands of penjors will be removed. Their splendor has faded. The once-brilliant fabrics adorning them are now washed-out pastels. The spirits of the ancestors left weeks ago.

The penjor crashing down in front of me woke me up. It’s as though Grandma Rakel was scolding again. “Pay attention!” she said. “Don’t walk through your life asleep. Be present for the small things – they are your reality. They are right now.”

Wise and terrifying Norwegian Grandmother Rakel, thank you.

Ramping It Up To Highly Contagious Joy

Time passes. Covid remains. I adjust.

For thirty years I’ve been digging around in my psyche, excavating fascinating beliefs about myself lodged there, some true, many not.

By my 70th birthday, in my opinion, I’d achieved a decent level of awareness, had banished the more bothersome demons, and was living my dream life in paradise.

Then Covid hit. I quickly discovered what I didn’t know that I didn’t know about me. I didn’t know that overnight, trauma would erase the progress I’d made and send me careening back thirty-plus years to my un-awakened past.

In that state, I made impulsive decisions based on fears I thought I’d overcome.

Now, seven months later, the more progressed me has been restored and I’m in awe of human resilience – our ability to adapt to bizarre circumstances that defy imagination.

  • I automatically don the mask when I leave my house and have gotten accustomed, here in Bali, to seeing almost everyone’s nose and mouth covered, some more creatively than others.
  • I think twice before I meet with a friend if I’ve been in contact with anyone other than Ketut whose village still has no cases of the virus. I don’t want to be the one responsible for spreading this plague.
  • Even in my own house compulsive hand-washing has become second-nature.

I’ve reached a level of contentment just to be in the present with the way things are because the way things are isn’t 100% bad.

This was recently made clear to me during meditation – that I must accept and unify the dualities in life. Every circumstance has it’s positives and negatives, pros and cons, gifts and challenges.

Acceptance. Allowing what is to just be, without judging it as bad or good, without assigning blame, without getting attached to one outcome or another. Acceptance without expectation. Acceptance with gratitude.

Adopting that attitude creates a peaceful heart.

But for me, there’s a ramp-up mechanism that goes beyond peace and takes me straight to the next level – joy. I heard it in operation this morning.

Hack.

Hack.

Hack.

I ignored it for a while, then curiosity got the best of me and I looked out the window toward the back garden. In the far righthand corner I could see the shivering tops of a two-story cluster of bamboo.

I dashed downstairs, picked my way through stacks of downed trees, and there it was. There HE was. Ketut. The ramp-up mechanism himself,

Uh-huh. See what I mean? What man, woman, or beast could resist THAT FACE? He radiates pure joy and it’s highly contagious, especially without a mask.

She Cans While I Contemplate The Third Noble Truth

My sister and I began emailing every day at the beginning of lockdown. That’s approximately 344 emails to date and we haven’t let up.

I’m not talking a sentence or two. I’m talking paragraphs – five or ten or more – and photos. Seriously.

Our topics run the gamut. Canning – she has a prolific garden and makes it look easy…

We discuss politics – how can you not. And Covid – again, how can you not. But one of the things I most appreciate is her willingness to ‘go there’ with me, and that could be anywhere from musing on the existence of spirit guides to the likelihood of being rescued from a dying earth by aliens.

Yesterday, however, my sister who never complains almost complained. I’d sent her an overview of a project I’m working on and she wrote back: Sherry, I’ve had more time to look at your outline but it’s vague.

My feathers ruffled momentarily, then I realized she probably thought that’s all I had. So I answered…

“Regarding the outline, think of it like this. I have piles and piles of garments in assorted colors for different seasons but I have no hangers so the clothes are heaped on the floor. (The clothes are the content.) Hangers just got delivered.  Now all I have to do is put the clothes on hangers removing the ones I no longer want, sort the colors by season (which are the subject titles and subtitles) and hang them in order in the closet (which is the outline).

“That may be a disorderly way of doing it but that’s my MO.

“Some people start with the outline whether it’s writing a book, giving a speech, planning a course. I don’t. So often inspiration comes in the form of one sentence that intrigues me. So I start the story, or in this case material for a workshop, without much of a notion where it’s going or how it will get there. 

“I don’t like to be confined by convention or an outline that presupposes an outcome. I want my thoughts to have free reign, to respond to prompts from who-knows-where, to sprout and grow in whatever direction they will until I latch onto the idea that makes me passionate about the book or the speech or the workshop. That way I don’t get attached to a predetermined form and try to force my story into it.”

When I wrote that it brought to mind my morning meditation.

I’m not Buddhist but I find the practice of non-attachment, The Third Noble Truth in Buddhist teachings, an interesting one to grapple with. Buddhism suggests that attachment is the root of human suffering. And isn’t it true?! When you want so badly to see a certain outcome from your efforts that you try to force your life into that expectation and then it doesn’t turn out that way, there’s such a feeling of futility, remorse, failure, disappointment, in a word – suffering.

But if we approach everything with curiosity and non-attachment we leave our hearts and minds wide open to be delighted. We then live in alignment with our truest, best self, a self that embraces growth and change and allows us to fluidly adjust to new situations.

I can’t tell you how exciting it was to have made that connection.

The non-attachment principle has bothered me for some time – just couldn’t wrap my head around the feeling of chilly disengagement it brought up in me. Now I see it from a completely different perspective, one that liberates rather than withholds. And it never would have happened if I hadn’t gotten my feathers ruffled and felt the need to explain my ‘vague outline’ to my sister who never complains.

All photos taken at The Farm by Gwen Hall.

Do You Remember The ‘Fuller Brush Man’?

After three days of solitary confinement I was teetering on the brink. I don’t even have to say the brink of what because you’ve all been there and YOU KNOW.

As a result of my two rather extensive motorbike adventures, my back was telling me in no uncertain terms to give it a rest. So that’s what I’d been doing for the past sixty-two hours – seeing nobody, hearing nobody, speaking to nobody – I was over it.

There’s a Japanese bakery two miles (3.3 km) from my house, Kakiang Garden & Cafe. Pizza is on their menu and for some reason I’d been craving a deep dive into dairy and carbs. Such an indulgence is justifiable after walking two miles, wouldn’t you agree?

I set out.

Photography doesn’t come naturally. I don’t like the camera between me and what I’m looking at. It’s a degree of separation that feels invasive, like I’m robbed of the intimacy of that moment. On the other hand, I believe the old adage: A picture’s worth a thousand words. So when I want to communicate what I’m experiencing with others, I try to remember to take photos.

It didn’t occur to me there would be much worth sharing on this walk until I happened upon a roofless graffiti gallery and suddenly remembered my phone had a camera.

Within a few steps there was another work of art. This rice field abuts one of the busiest streets in Ubud, Jalan Andong.

So many paddies were left fallow for years while money poured in from tourism. Now they’re being revived and what a feast for the eyes.

Once started, photo ops popped up everywhere. Do you remember door-to-door salesmen? One used to come to our house in the 1950’s. Mom knew the sound of his car and she’d say, “It’s the Fuller Brush Man.” He sold pots, plates, brooms – not brushes – yet I never thought to question why she called him that. So I asked Google, What’s a Fuller Brush Man, and found a fascinating story.

This is the Bali version.

Most of Jl. Andong is a serious shopper’s paradise. Many businesses export their goods but they’re always willing to sell to walk-in customers. I haunted this stretch of roadway when I was buying pieces for my house.

As I strolled past a virtual cornucopia of visual delights, I almost wished I could start the treasure hunt for furnishings all over again.

And then…I arrived.

It was too early for lunch and I’d already eaten breakfast, but there’s always room for dessert. I ordered an avocado coffee. And, yes. It is absolutely as decadent as it looks, avocado blended with ice cream poured over espresso with a squirt of chocolate and another scoop of ice cream. Pure heaven.

For a couple of hours I kept company with my thoughts, scribbled ideas in a notebook, watched butterflies flutter their mating dance, listened to chatter in the kitchen punctuated by frequent laughter, and absorbed the energy of life going on around me.

I still wasn’t in the least hungry, but I’d come for pizza and no way was I leaving without it. I managed to eat one piece. The rest is in my fridge.

More than delicious food, the day refueled me. It smoothed my frayed edges, loosened my knotted muscles, quieted my buzzing nerves. I was reminded that there’s still a world beyond my four walls and it beats with a strong heart.

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