TMI – What should I believe?

Credit: Blanco Tejedor

If you’re like me, your friends send links to YouTube shouting in all-caps: WATCH THIS.

I dutifully watch.

Nine times out of ten, the information flies in the face of whatever is carried on international news networks. The media is quick to label these alternative perspectives ‘conspiracy theories’.

On hoaxbuster sites, depending upon which one you click, either side may be dubbed a hoax.  

I like to be informed. I hate being misinformed. How does anyone decide what to believe?

I listened to a podcast recently. Cristos Goodrow, VP of Engineering at Google and Head of Search and Discovery at YouTube was being interviewed. He said, I helped grow YouTube from 100M hours of viewership per day in 2012 to over 1B hours per day. But when he explained how he accomplished that, it was bone-chilling. To ensure people would serial-watch YouTube videos he designed the algorithms to always give them more of what they were already consuming, never the opposing viewpoint.

When I head it I mentally thought: Ah-ha. That’s why people are so righteously convinced that their way is the only way and become militant about it. This algorithm is not encouraging us to be well informed, it’s essentially leading us down our chosen rabbit-hole and brainwashing us.

It isn’t likely that anybody you or I know personally has the inside scoop and can say with absolute certainty, This is the truth, believe it, you can trust me. No doubt there are factual elements on both sides. The challenge is to be a discriminating, independent thinker. Don’t swallow the bait, hook, line, and sinker.

Question everything and research the pros and cons. You probably have time.

Should there be lockdown – or not? Should we social distance – or not? Does wearing a mask help – or not? Should a vaccine be required – or not? Should a tracking app be mandatory – or not? Once infected am I immune – or not? Herd immunity – yes, no? There are convincing arguments for both sides of every one of those questions and hundreds more like them.

What I find most disturbing is the tremendous toll this is taking on humanity. The number of deaths is sobering. But the psychological trauma of living in confinement has consequences. The loss of jobs, livelihoods, mobility, freedom…

What are we protecting? At what cost? And after we’ve protected it, what’s left?

This is not one of my more upbeat writings. The conflicting viewpoints flooding in from caring friends is distressing. They can’t all be right. But they’re passionately convinced they are. If I ask, How do you know this is true? I’m sent another video preaching the same message and I wonder how Cristos Goodrow feels about his algorithms now.

What were you doing in May 2012?

I’m fortunate. I’ve been writing blog posts since February, 2012. I know exactly where I was and what I was doing in May of that year.

Who cares?

Perhaps we all should.

According to astrologers world-wild, the configurations in the heavens for the next few weeks are exactly as they were in May of 2012. Whatever you seeded eight years ago in your life is either flowering or dying, says Lorna Bevan of Hare in the Moon Astrology. It’s an opportunity to see what no longer serves us and change the game.

I moved to Bali in spring of 2012 and was confronted with the strangeness of time. The Balinese have a name for it: jam karet. All the familiar markers were gone. There weren’t five-day workweeks with weekends off. The sun rose around 6:30 a.m. and set at approximately 6:30 p.m. giving equal parts darkness and light. I had nothing to do and all day to do it – jam karet – rubber time – a new concept for me.

I remember waking up with my heart pounding one morning thinking, “Do I have time to do yoga?” It took my nervous system months to settle down. But it did.

Eight years later, with no appointments, no meetings, no deadlines, confined to my home with strict parameters around socializing, time has once again taken on a strange shape. It loops around turning back on itself and I’m reminded of the symbol for infinity.

I ask myself, What’s the lesson here? Am I not moving slowly enough? Have I fallen into a time management sinkhole abusing my allotment for this incarnation? What’s important? What really needs my attention?

My days fly by much more quickly than before which is strange. But when I look ahead time stretches, an endless blur of uncertainty. Can perceptions of time be foreshortened and elongated simultaneously?

As I write I know that every situation is different. There is unimaginable suffering. People have lost jobs, fortunes, loved ones. Some didn’t have jobs to begin with. Some are sick. Some are wondering how long they can keep their companies afloat. Some are barely clinging to life. I’m aware these exist, yet I can only speak with authenticity to my own reality.

I’m retired. I’m old. I’m healthy.

I have the incredible privilege of doing only what I want to do, no more, no less, and doing it at exactly the moment it feels best. If I had children, a partner, a spouse, a job, or if I needed to find a job or my next meal, I wouldn’t experience time the same way. And time wouldn’t be my lesson.

As weeks go by and I observe the ebb and flow of moods, the flashes of inspiration, the voids where my mind doesn’t want to engage with anything, I pretend not to notice what’s happening.

But today I had to admit, after a moment of shock and denial, that I like this better – the sensation of timelessness.

The feeling that it doesn’t matter whether I accomplish anything of great importance or not. That life itself is enough. That the experience of this pandemic is enough. To soak in the essence of uncertainty, to watch fears appear then leave, to have spurts of great energy then spend a day with my nose in a book, to miss my children and grandchildren but be grateful they’re doing well…

to commune with clouds…

is enough.

The ego-driven push to accomplish, to produce, to be recognized, is irrelevant to the person I need to become.

If what I hear is true, this is just the beginning of a monumental shift in life as we knew it. Right now we’re in the crucible that will transform us into the kind of people we must be to thrive in whatever comes next. It’s different for each of us.

Taken in that context, these weeks that melt into months are extremely important. It behooves us to pay attention to our discomforts, to look at what isn’t working and maybe hasn’t worked for a long time. To ask the tough questions and search for honest answers.

When life once again resumes beyond my front door, if I’ve learned my lessons sufficiently well, I don’t expect to recognize myself.

The Future of Airline Travel

I’ve done pretty well so far, staying in the present, managing thoughts, focusing on what I can control. Then I read an article in Forbes about the future of airline travel. It was too real. My mood plummeted and I did nothing to stop it.

AirAsia new uniforms

Ketut’s message came just as I was about to slit my wrists.

Saya sudah mulai menanam.

I grabbed my flip-flops, and ran. For the next hour I didn’t think about immunity passports, disinfection tunnels, sanitation fogging, on-the-spot blood tests, thermal scanning, or four-hour check-ins.

I just watched Ketut plant the garden.

My relatives farmed. Uncle Olaf was a commercial potato grower. Uncle Daniel had acres of greenhouses. Uncle Nils earned his PhD in horticulture. Uncle John raised beef cattle. Dad grew apples, raspberries, fields of alfalfa, and kept bees. We always had sweetclover honey. So, you see, I’ve witnessed a few gardens in my time. They were things of orderly beauty: straight rows, weeded, mulched, tended with care.

Perhaps in my mind I’d envisioned something similar for my backyard Bali project.

When I burst through the door, there was Ketut, hacking a trench in the sun-baked earth.

“You already started, Ketut.”

He stood and pointed out cabbage and tomato seedlings. Their tender green leaves peeked bravely through the clumpy dirt. “Thirty tomatoes, ten cabbages…no…eleven…they gave extra.”

“What’s this one?”

“Petsai. You know petsai?”

“Yes, Napa cabbage. I love it.”

He resumed chopping the earth and I studied the mounds of plants awaiting his attention. Among them was a pile of short sticks sharpened at one end. I picked one up. “Ketut, what are these for?”

“That’s cassava. Tree grows two meters. Very tall. Roots are good for eating – strong flavor.”

“You’re telling me you plant these sticks and a cassava tree grows?”

“Ya.”

Once upon I time I would have argued that you can’t just pop a stick in the soil and grow a tree. That was Minnesota Sherry. I know better now.

A few minutes later he called my attention to a droopy bush he’d just planted. “This one’s bayam,” he said.

“Spinach. I love spinach but it looks a little sick.”

“Jetlag,” he laughed. “Stress.”

Hilarious. Where does he come up with his off-the-cuff humor? On second thought, I guess that one’s obvious. Ketut’s been at the airport to meet me after every, grueling, thirty-plus-hour return trip from the States. He knows the jetlagged look well. But I don’t want to be reminded about air travel, past or future. Definitely not future.

We chatted about this and that as he worked. I marveled at his matter-of-fact confidence, his economy of motion, always moving but never in a hurry. I’d have studied, measured, plotted, planned. It would have taken days. Ketut, the garden guru, laughed and joked while weaving his magic.

Besides cabbages, tomatoes, cassava, and spinach, we have onions, ginger, lemongrass, turmeric, and galangal. The garden already boasted a lemon tree, key lime and chili bushes, and a cluster of banana trees. If the carrot, cucumber, and watermelon seeds Ketut planted in an old egg carton germinate, there’ll be even more abundance.

It took an hour, including hosing down the whole shebang to give it a nice soak, and it was done. I thanked Ketut, bid him good evening, and went back to my quarters.

What a difference. All gloom was gone. Garden time soothes and nobody can stay morose for long around Ketut’s happy energy. The future will be what the future will be and no doubt it will have juicy red tomatoes in it. In this uncertain world, I’m almost certain of that.

Mood Management 101

I used to know what I wanted. I had a dream. My assumptions about the future allowed me that freedom.

Now my world is probably similar to yours, a basic box with X number of rooms where we are told to remain, with only a few exceptions for intermittent escape. And like an animal that’s been in captivity for a long time, even if the gate opened I probably wouldn’t venture through it – not right away.

The uncertainty of the future sucks all potential out of dreams. Dreams need to anchor in something solid to feel achievable. Unless your dream exists within the rooms in your box, or the pixels in your computer, it has probably already evaporated.

Nothing in our prior experience prepared us for this un-reality. I’ve found the best way to successfully navigate uncharted waters is to manage that over which I still have control.

****

People spending so much time at home begin to notice things that have probably irritated them for years but they were too busy to address. My sister and her husband decided to redo the water system in their kitchen and move the sink.

A nearby neighbor fixed a leaky drain pipe. Then he dug a new septic tank. (This is Bali. You can do that here!)

Stuck in my studio apartment I suddenly needed more elbow-room. It took a day of grunting, groaning, and pushing furniture from side-to-side and back again, but I managed to creatively reconfigure the contents to my satisfaction.

MOOD MANAGEMENT PRINCIPLE #1 – Become industrious in your own space. It’s one place where you still have control. Whether it’s cleaning, organizing, painting, repairing, or rearranging furniture, it shifts attention off the computer, the phone, the news, and away from doom and gloom.

****

A Facebook friend began a Get-Healthy-and-Lose-Weight routine January 1st. She posted the other day that as of April 30th she’d lost 37.5 pounds (17 kg) and social distancing has made it easier.

Another acquaintance funneled his anger and feelings of helplessness into poetic verse. He said he never tried poetry before but it keeps him focused on the rhyme instead of the reason. His poems hold to strict anapestic meter with an AABBA rhyme scheme and they’re brilliant.

Then there’s the friend who left an abusive relationship after many years. In close quarters it finally became intolerable.

MOOD MANAGEMENT PRINCIPLE #2 – Practice extreme self-care. It’s another thing you can control. We have to become aware of how this pressure-cooker situation is affecting us personally. It impacts everyone differently. Individuals handle it according to their stress-management ability and it’s a challenge even for those who are stable, well-adjusted, and emotionally healthy.

****

My Airbnb host in Italy went into total lockdown with his family fifty-three days ago. His school-age children were sent home to learn online. All income for both him and his wife ceased. They are just now being allowed a brief walk outside. He messaged me: Can go nowhere, do nothing, not even sex. (Spoken like a true Italian!)

There are similar stories world-wide. How do people cope with a life turned up-side-down then put on hold? We aren’t used to moving so slowly, not in our bodies and not through time. It rubs the wrong way. We experience shifting emotions: anger, denial, rejection, alarm, resistance, anxiety, panic, and potentially, terror.

Our nervous systems must undergo re-calibration. This can occur consciously or unconsciously and it makes a difference. What happens in the mind manifests in the body for better or worse. Happiness boosts immunity and resists disease. Stress in all its various forms attacks the immune system and invites illness.

If we allow ourselves to get sucked into the downward spin of endless news reports…

If we let anxiety crawl under our skin until we’re so antsy we want to scream (and maybe we do)…

If we feel helpless without our familiar routines and fail to create new ones…

If we sit on the couch watching hours of TV, numbing-out with alcohol or drugs…

…we wont’ survive intact. Something will give, either mentally or physically.

MOOD MANAGEMENT PRINCIPLE #3 – Push the reset button. Your mind is the third thing over which you have control. Right now the definition of happiness doesn’t fit the situation: Happiness is that feeling that comes over you when you know life is good and you can’t help but smile. Yeah…no. Let’s change the word happiness to positivity.

It’s tough, but it IS a choice. We don’t have to dwell on the horror of death and disease even though that’s all anyone thinks or talks about. We can focus on the things we can control: home improvement or self-care projects, hobbies, culinary experiments, online classes or exercise routines. (I saw one on jump-roping. The guy was a machine.) Upon waking in the morning we can resist the urge to check the news and instead look at the sky and breathe a word of gratitude for another day of life.

It takes intention and willpower, but it is possible to observe our minds and manage our moods. If thoughts begin to slip into dark places, we can acknowledge that this is a crazy-making time and adopt a zero-tolerance attitude toward self-destructive energies.

And there’s one fall-back activity that never fails…

Take a nap.

In The Jezebel Mood…

Things I’ve put off doing are getting done. Like mending. Mending, as in patching up holes in beloved old clothes by the hand-stitch method. The results aren’t elegant, but as an ex-mother-in-law once said, they’re serviceable.

That’s what I was going for today. Serviceable.

Two of the three items were baggy cotton pants with elastic waistbands that I wear to bed. The commercial laundry where I send clothes that can withstand abuse eats elastic. One pair of jammie pants came back last time with a forty inch (101.6 cm) waist. My hips were thirty-five (88.9 cm) at last measure so needless to say the pants fell off.

Today I added a narrow strip of new(er) elastic – now they stay on

The second pair were sent home with the back seam blown out and an auxiliary rip down the leg.

The torn ones were Old Navy brand and served me well for about fifteen years. The fabric had worn to see-through condition in some places – namely the rear end – but I loved those pants and could not relegate them to the rag-bag.

Aren’t they the cutest???!
Like I said…serviceable
I cut a strip from an old sheet for reinforcement on the inside

At first I tried to use them the way they were. It’s just me in the bed so who cares? But there was a bit of an earthquake that night. If I ever had to evacuate fast, I wouldn’t want to be homeless with bare buns.

So they’ve sat in the bottom of a drawer until today.

The third item in need of repair was a black lace bra. Do you know the Jezebel brand? Sexy! For whose benefit do I own sexy lingerie? Mine. Only mine. It’s black lace with a pink net-like lining. Even though it was a tiny hole, pink showed through and I felt shabby wearing it.

I’d tucked it beside Old Navy in the bottom of the drawer.

After coffee, and journaling, and a long phone conversation with a friend, and yoga, and meditation, and a bowl of fresh dragonfruit with granola, I felt mellow enough to sit still and sew.

I’m noticing I have to pay very close attention to moods during this isolation situation. My morning ritual is essential. It banishes whatever anxiety or restlessness might have taken hold overnight.

At least that’s the theory. The practice is a little less straightforward.

My point, though…I try not to MAKE myself do anything. Until today I could no more have sat still for a couple of hours to sew than I could have scaled the towering Eiffel. But this morning there was just the right kind of soothing music playing on Jango, the perfect balmy breeze billowing the curtains, a gentle loose-muscled laziness in my bones…and mending floated to mind.

Carona breeds strange bedfellows

It’s a little off-putting when you pick up the binoculars to check out the neighbor across the river and stare into his binoculars looking back at you. I don’t do it often, but I could see moves, like a dance sort of, and I was curious – needed a closer look. In the time it took me to walk across the room, pick up the binocs, and walk back to the window, he’d had the same idea.

Normally I don’t spy on my neighbors but isolation does strange things. This quote by Wess Haubrich describing voyeurism sums it up nicely, ‘…the desire to look where one probably should not…’

Oh… He’s moving again. Just a sec…

Actually, I think maybe it’s exercise. He doesn’t get out much – meaning he’s always over there, on his balcony, hanging out. And I’m always over here. But I do my workout routines before I open the curtains.

He’s an exhibitionist. With a man-bun.

Did you know there are clip-on man-buns? It was news to me. Many of the younger male crowd in Ubud sport them – not the clip-ons, real ones. At first I thought he was female – long hair pulled up – like mine. But binocs proved me wrong. There’s a beard. Not much of one, but enough to show up with magnification.

This is a fair likeness although it isn’t him. I borrowed the photo when I googled man-bun.

I’m learning his habits. He sleeps late. But when his west-facing doorway is in full afternoon sun he comes outside, spends several hours bare-chested soaking up the rays and doing, like I said, his moves.

Oh – he’s turned his chair around. Now his back’s to me. Like a slab of meat on a spit, turning, turning, roasting evenly on all sides.

There are five houses and a river between us but we occupy the highest points opposite one another so the others are below. Here’s the view.

See him? He’s that tiny flesh-colored dot between white curtains. That’s why I need binoculars. Right?

It’s a friendship of sorts. I’ll never know his name but I’ve given him one. He’s Melvin. I knew a Melvin in high school. He wore fringed buckskin jackets and holey jeans before holes were a thing. He snared rabbits. He didn’t have a man-bun but he was memorable in other ways. I think my sister dated him.

Anyway, this Melvin’s dependable. I like that in a human. I can count on him to…oh wait. He’s gone inside. That’s disappointing. Oh. He’s back. Shirt’s on now. Must be pretty hot in the 81-but-feels-like-91 degree afternoon heat.

My house faces east. I guess you might have figured that out seeing as how his collects the setting sun. They say ‘trust your reader’ but personally, when I’m reading I don’t want to obsess over details. I just want the story to take me out of reality for a while.

I hope this has done that for you.

This is lockdown. This is crazy time. This is living moment by moment…

As the clock crept toward 4 p.m. I craved chocolate. Not just chocolate. A brownie. I wanted, badly wanted, a brownie.

There are bonafide bakeries in Ubud that deliver. I could have ordered my sweet treat from professionals. But where’s the adventure in that? Where’s the fun? The suspense?

I remembered buying something called cacao nibs. I burrowed through the basket that holds miscellaneous such things looking for them. In the process I found a far more promising candidate.

The Bali version of Hershey’s syrup: Chocolate Topping Jam. Notice the expiration date. March 26, 2021. I’m checking more carefully now.

I would never buy chocolate topping jam. I inherited it from Ketut who used to squirt it on his delicious banana fritters. But there are no guests for the fritters now so it found its way to my stash of mishmash (along with the likes of decades old curry powder).

Next step: I Googled chocolate syrup brownies. Hundreds of recipes popped up – who knew? I chose Domino Sugar Chocolate Syrup Brownies, not because I had Domino sugar – far from it. Mine was a lump of the old, solidified, palm variety.

And of course I still don’t have an oven, or a 9 x 13 baking pan, so I halved the recipe to fit in my trusty non-stick skillet.

The ingredients called for four eggs – half would be two – but Bali chickens lay large eggs so I used one.

Pili nuts have a buttery flavor. They’d be a perfect complement. I dumped in a healthy portion.

In case you don’t know pili nuts, they’re a high fat (22g/ounce), low carb (1.1g/ounce) superfood. They also weigh in at 200 calories per ounce so they’re perfect for brownies that are already off the calorie charts. I mean – if you’re gonna do it – go whole hog!

I spread them in the pan, flopped the cover on, and turned up the flame. The recipe said bake for twenty-five to thirty minutes. I set the timer for twenty and started cleaning up. Three minutes into the bake cycle – burn smell. I whipped the skillet off the heat and flipped the contents up-side-down into a different pan. Salvaged. That was close.

Another three minutes and – done. I turned them out onto a plate.

I know – they don’t look normal. In case you hadn’t noticed, nothing right now is normal. The important thing was, they smelled right.

I washed dishes while they cooled,

Then sat down to test the results.

Oh! My! Oh, dear. These are so much better than any brownies I’ve ever tasted. No! I’m not kidding! They’re moist…chocolaty…sweet-but-not-too-sweet. The palm sugar adds a caramel flavor. Ohhhh yes!

See what I mean? Experimentation. Adventure. Suspense. I learned that a recipe that calls for twenty-five to thirty minutes in the oven takes a quick three minutes per side in the skillet. Never had to flip brownies before but, listen, whatever it takes, right? This is lockdown. This is crazy time. This is living moment-by-moment and making it work.

Try them! I dare you….

“You’re an odd bird,” she said…

“You’re an odd bird,” she said, and for the first time in my life I felt affirmed.

Are there things you know about yourself that nobody would ever guess by interacting with you? Is that because you hide those aspects? Or is it perhaps because they’re buried in your subconscious and you don’t even realize that’s intrinsically who you are?

The thing is…

I suspected – maybe we all do – that there was another side to my personality that didn’t automatically show up. Every-once-in-awhile it leaked out. Like the time I was irresistibly attracted to a wildly colorful, Bo-Ho blouse that didn’t at all fit with the buttoned-down, tailored professional I thought I was. I bought it, loved it, but never wore it.

Growing up in Minnesota we lived near a reservation. Native Americans gathered every Friday night and performed traditional dances in full war paint and feathers. Their wild drumming mesmerized me. At six years old, when Dad asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up I said, “An Indian chief.” He very solemnly replied, “Okay, honey.”

There was something about drums that took me to another realm. If you’ve never heard Japanese Taiko, baby, that’s what I’m talkin’ about. I was introduced to it at a Praises for the World concert in Berkeley, CA in 2002. I came home and tracked down an instructor. All through that winter I made the icy trek from my home in Minneapolis to a warehouse in St. Paul and drummed my little heart out.

When Jessica Murray told me I was an odd bird, she also said I’d gone through a transformation around 2012 – 2015 that redefined how I related to the world.

I moved to Bali in 2012.

Okay, this woman, this Jessica, didn’t know me from Eve. But she read me like a book. When she finished I understood myself in ways I never had before, because I AM an odd bird, and not too many people I know would describe me as such. In fact, before she said it and I acknowledged the truth of it, I would not have described me as such.

In Bali I’ve become who I am. Now I wear those Bo-Ho shirts, long swingy earrings, and flouncy skirts.

My blood pounds to the sound of gamalan orchestras as they parade with the deceased, the tower, and the bull to a cremation site. Here I’m an odd bird among others of my kind – some even odd-er – and nobody cares. It’s liberating and thrilling.

Don’t live small, only allowing a fraction of yourself to show up. Life’s too short. The world needs every bit of you, your good, bad, and ugly, your shine and your shadow. It’s thirsty for the nitty-gritty of you – especially now.

Curried Cabbage and Whipped Skim Milk

I’m embracing my kitchen ineptitude with undaunted optimism. My expectations are low so when an experiment emerges not only edible, but really good, I’m more surprised than anyone.

I’ve had a few successes lately, but there’s no danger of big-headedness. My domestic inadequacies go way back.

I spent my sixteenth summer walking in circles. Grandma B was the accountant for a company in Minneapolis that sent out promotional packets to their customers. All that summer I walked around and around a long table with five others collating napkins. Each one had a different picture and inscription signifying a special day: Happy Easter, Merry Christmas, Happy Birthday, Happy Anniversary…you get the idea.

If you think isolation is boring, try walking around a table eight hours a day five days a week for three months.

Grandma liked to put her feet up when we got home and I was thrilled to be allowed free reign in her tiny kitchen. All through June, July, and August that year, as temperatures hugged 100 degrees (37.7 celsius) I baked potatoes, lasagna, apple pie – that oven ran from 6 p.m. onward and Grandma never questioned my judgment. Until one night…

I’ve long forgotten what dessert I made, but I do remember wanting to serve it with whipped cream. All we had in the fridge was skim milk. I was convinced if I just beat it long enough and added enough powdered sugar, I could turn that bluish liquid into a fluffy white miracle.

Gram was stretched out on the couch. A fan droned monotonously and did little more than give slight movement to the blistering air. I’d had the good sense to chill the milk in a stainless steel bowl to give myself every advantage. I pulled it out of the fridge and revved up the hand mixer. Five minutes passed, then ten as the beaters ground away.

Grandma lay peacefully, eyes closed, a slight smile on her lips, Fifteen minutes. Twenty. There was hot-engine smell coming from the mixer. The milk was still milk. I’d been steadying the bowl with my left hand but let go to wipe sweat out of my eyes.

The bowl shimmied to the edge of the counter. I jerked my left arm down to catch it and my right arm up. Whirling blades spattered milk on the ceiling. With the clatter of metal against floor tile, I burst into tears. Grandma’s hand flew to her mouth but her shaking shoulders gave her away. She was laughing.

That was fifty-four years ago.

Yesterday I decided to do something with the cabbage I’d blanched and frozen two weeks ago. Suspicious brown spots were appearing. How about creamed cabbage? Never mind I had no cream. No milk either. I had butter. Maybe a white sauce – throw in a little curry powder… There you go – creamed cabbage curry!

I melted the butter, mixed flour with water and poured it in. In no time I had dumplings, great lumps of pasty goop floating in a greasy sea. Unfazed by this minor setback, I let it cool, put the mixture in a blender, and turned it into the smoothest, satiny-est gravy you’ve ever seen. Back in the pan. Add chopped cabbage and throw in a few red pepper flakes and – oh yes – the curry powder.

I sat down to enjoy the feast. The first bite hit my tongue. Odd flavor. Dust?

It didn’t occur to me until later – after I’d visited the compost pile with all but the first two bites of my grand experiment – to check the expiration date on the curry. You don’t want to know but I’ll tell you anyway.

February 28, 2016.

I was right.

Dust.

Black Snake in the Kitchen!

There’s so much excitement – where to begin?

Since you already know about rats in the attic, it would be logical to mention snakes. Ron Lilley, the local expert on all things reptilian, says if you have rats, beware, snakes will come. He didn’t say it exactly like that, but close enough.

I was in the garden about to empty my bag of compost when a leaf moved. The wind, you say? No. It was in a sheltered corner where humidity hangs like a wet towel, deathly still.

Except for that one leaf.

I froze and a black shadow with yellow racing stripes glided across my path. He was a good meter long (a little more than a yard) and utterly undisturbed by my presence. I couldn’t say the same. I gave him plenty of time to disappear then did my compost dump and beat it back to the house.

I had nasty snake-dreams all night.

The following day the fogger came. Dengue fever is rampant in Ubud this year. Within days of each other, my neighbor next door and my neighbor downstairs were both suffering. As much as we hate fogging, we agreed it was time.

I put on my mask, closed the windows and doors, then captured the event in progress.

When I first moved to Bali eight years ago, I was equal parts shocked and enchanted by the relaxed approach to just about everything. The one exception was religion. Balinese Hindus do not shirk their duties to God. But other rules can be bent, regulations are more a suggestion than a requirement, and I took to it like the rebel I am. But I’ll have to admit, I still find fogging evil – albeit a necessary evil.

When the poisonous clouds had cleared and the windows re-opened, I sat down to work on my latest edit of Nettle Creek. For many weeks I’ve been unable to focus on ‘real’ writing. It’s great to be motivated again.

I was a few hours into it when the phone dinged a message from my downstairs neighbor.

The black snake is in the kitchen.

A ripple of horror coursed through me. It’s one thing to encounter wildlife when trespassing in their territory. It’s quite another sensation entirely when they trespass in mine.

I raced downstairs and peeked through the kitchen door.

Nothing.

I inched inside and peered under the counter. A long slim neck and triangular head stared up at me. I raced past him, got what my still-sick-with-dengue neighbor wanted out of the fridge and sent her back to bed. Then I posted vigil from the sixth step of my staircase and waited.

A few minutes passed then the head and neck poked into view. Seeing the coast was clear, it slithered – the exaggerated S-curves of it’s body gave me the willies – out the door and into the bushes.

I’m a bit puzzled by friends who tell me they’re bored in isolation. Lockdown here has brought an onslaught of drama like never before. But even in the absence of outside stimulation, isn’t there always something to do – like try a new recipe for instance?

After my foray into skillet biscuits people sent ideas for all manner of delights to make on the cooktop. I’ve been too busy to experiment until today.

Today.

No foggers or rat guys or gas guys or snakes! Today was Skillet Peanut Butter Cookie day!

Just creamy peanut butter, soda, flour, salt, and egg. I didn’t add sugar. Bali’s Morin Creamy Peanut Butter is already too sweet.

When the dough could hold its shape, I rolled it into balls and put them in a non-stick pan. Pretty fork imprints characterize peanut-butter-cookie memories of my childhood – a must.

I covered the pan with a derelict old pot topper that I inherited from some forgotten somewhere long ago. It conveniently lost it’s knob along the way. The hole on top allows moisture to escape.

I put the burner on low and after about 10 minutes, turned the cookies over. For the second batch the burner was on high. It took 8 minutes total and they were perfect without flipping. A dash of pink Himalayan salt on top, a mug of coconut Chai, and I had the best solo tea party ever.

It’s four o’clock in the afternoon, time to pull up the manuscript and do a bit more editing. Then a beverage of choice accompanied by five calorie-dense Spicy Zanana Chips – no more, no less – and my day will be complete.

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