Adventure! Following the FBI in Bali

One of the first Indonesian words I learned was petualangan. Trying to wrap my Midwestern American tongue around that one was a challenge. But so worth it. Petualangan means adventure.

I woke up this morning with itchy feet. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen the UNESCO rice terraces of Jatiluwih and they were calling. At 7:30, Ketut popped his head around the corner of the veranda where I was journaling. We exchanged the usual pleasantries and when he asked if I had a plan today, which he always does, I said yes, adventure.

“Where?”

“Jatiluwih. Okay with you?

“Ya! What time?

“9:00.”

“Good.”

It was a glorious morning, sunny with breezes. A quick check of the weather app showed a high of 77°F (25°C) in the mountains where we were headed. This would be a much shorter journey than the ridiculous 12-hour bike ride that left me feeling every one of my golden years for weeks afterward. I estimated one hour thirty minutes to get there and a quicker trip coming home, downhill all the way.

As soon as we left Ubud, the landscape opened. I sucked in lungs full of farm-scented air (through my mask, of course) and shed the cloud of gloom that’s enveloped the town since lockdown, March 2020.

It’s impossible not to feel a surge of joyous abandon when flying through the coutryside on the back of Ketut’s motorbike. The wind in my face, the congenial chatter, the comaraderie, the laughter – it’s a higher high than any drug or drink could possibly achieve.

Soon the road narrowed and we began to climb.

First we passed this guy.

Then we followed this guy.

It probably says something obscene below the big letters. I couldn’t make it out. If you can, and it does, don’t think poorly of me. I captured the photo on the fly and it was too good to pass up.

I wanted to have this adventure during Galungan. For ten days every six months, the ancestors return from the spirit world to visit their villages. As if by magic, streets transform overnight and elegant penjors arch and sway gracefully overhead.

Each town has its own style. You can tell how well-off the village is by the grandeur of the penjors.

The moment I set foot on this island, the profusion of artistic detail amazed me. From temples, to ogoh-ogohs, to the massive bulls and cremation towers that carry the deceased to their final farewell, the creative wizardry of the Balinese people is astounding.

And then…

What is it about rice terraces that unravels me? It’s been that way since my first trip to Bali in 2010. The guide stopped the car and said to walk around the curve and maybe I would like to take photos. Around that curve was the most jaw-dropping view I’d ever seen. Sunlight glittered on hundreds of pools of freshly planted paddies cascading down the mountainsides. I clutched my throat so my heart couldn’t escape, then burst into tears.

Today I didn’t cry, but reverent awe is always there.

At approximately thirty minutes in, our walk came to an abrupt halt. Heavy rains had washed out the land beneath the trail. The concrete path was broken and hung precariously over the abyss.

“What do you think, Ketut? Shall we try?”

He looked at me like I had two heads. “Maybe never come back,” he said.

“Good point. Let’s go eat lunch.”

By the time we’d hiked the thirty-minute return, starvation was setting in. My mouth watered thinking of the overflowing buffet at Billy’s Cafe. As soon as we entered, I realized that was a pre-covid memory. There was no buffet. There were no patrons. The menu had shrunk to a single, laminated sheet, drinks on one side, food on the other. But the view remained.

We ordered and chatted, ate and chatted, sat enjoying the perfect weather, the idyllic view, and the empty restaurant – and chatted – for hours. Bliss.

There isn’t much I enjoy more than lingering over a meal in the company of a good friend. But shadows were growing longer. It was time to go.

My favorite photo of today’s grand adventure is this one. Three Indonesian flags, whipping in the wind atop needle-thin poles marked the beginning, or from this perspective the end of the path through the terraces. Gratitude welled up within me for this country that has been home for the past nine years. I’ve been treated with utmost kindness. I never realized how much I needed that.

As I stood rapt, gazing upward, I could almost hear the national anthem of Indonesia. It’s blared from loudspeakers every Independence Day but I’ve never known the lyrics. Today I looked them up. The last stanza speaks my heart’s wish:

Let us pray

For Indonesia’s prosperity:

May her soil be fertile

And spirited

The nation and all the people.

Conscious be her heart

And her mind

For Indonesia the Great.

Now I’m curled in my comfy cushions at home, relaxed, rejuvenated, nurtured, and at peace. What a perfect day and a magnificent adventure. Thank you, Ketut.

The Search For A Gentleman

Rainy season wasn’t too rainy in Bali this year. The transition into dry we’re experiencing right now is usually hot, humid, and suffocating, without even a whisper of breeze. But for some blessed reason, the fresh, easterly winds that always begin in June are here now, a month-and-a-half early. The air is clean. Cumulus-cotton-ball clouds float in a sky so brilliantly azure you’d swear Picasso in his heavenly art studio smeared it with leftover Blue Period oils.

Life pulsates in bursts of color and I can’t help but feel hopeful.

Several factors contributed to that positive outlook today. I’ve been trying to track down A Gentleman in Moscow. For months it was making the rounds at every (small) get-together I attended. But I didn’t grab it because I was certain I’d already read it. Then my daughter got hold of the book and waxed eloquent about the plot, the characters. She went on and on and I suddenly realized, whoops! I HAD NOT read it.

Now it’s nowhere to be found.

Today I targeted the Smile Shop. Ketut drove the bike and his daughter came too, crouched in the space in front of him so he could see over her head. That would never fly in the States, but here, families of five somehow manage to ride together on one motorbike.

Nengah’s eight. I told her to find three things she wanted hoping that would give me sufficient time to scour the shelves for ‘my book’ before she got bored and grumpy. Ketut’s been with me many times and has learned the fine art of digging through the detritus for the diamonds. When I stole a peek he was guiding Nengah though girls’ clothing bins, holding up one item after another for her approval.

He was too efficient. She’d already scored three cute shirts and I was still pawing through dusty tomes.

“Find one more thing, Nengah. And Ketut, don’t you need jeans? Maybe look for jeans!” When I’m on a mission I’m a shameless manipulator.

With feverish intensity I fingered every used book they had, even glanced through the ones written in German thinking my prize could be hidden anywhere. No luck. But tucked on the shelf labeled Science, I found The Calcutta Chromasome by Amitav Ghosh, one of my all-time favorite authors. If you haven’t read The Ibis Trilogy, start there. He’s an exceptional story-teller.

The timing was perfect. Nengah added a pink headband sprouting shiny golden hearts to her stash, Ketut had a pair of barely-worn jeans looped over his arm, and I didn’t find A Gentleman, but I did find my dear old friend Mr. Ghosh.

I’m glad in a way that A Gentleman in Moscow wasn’t there. Sounds silly, but I haven’t spent hours in the Ubud library for months. That gives me a great excuse to peruse their massive Used Books For Sale section and abandon myself to the search again another day.

Back at home, seven juicy carrots waited to be turned into carrot hummus. I’ve grown addicted and panic sets in when the supply runs low. I propped the doors open at either end of the galley kitchen and hummed contentedly as those cooling easterly breezes traveled westerly unhindered. When the carrots, garlic, lime juice, coconut oil, salt and chilis were pureed silky-smooth, I tasted. You’ve watched the restaurant scene in the movie When Harry Met Sally? Uh-huh. It was that good.

Great weather, a successful treasure hunt, perfect carrot hummus…not even the rampaging troop of monkeys that barreled over the roof jostling tiles as I sat down to write, could mess with my peace of mind. And I just checked the weather app – ninety percent chance of rain tomorrow. What luck! A perfect day for reading.

The 7 Deadly Whims of a Total Slug

Slug, as in sluggard, a slow, lazy person.

Is there a less becoming word in the entire English language? Picture the garden slug, a serious plant pest that resembles a gelatinous, greyish blob that slimes along leaving a glistening trail of mucus wherever it goes. That turns my stomach.

I awoke feeling sluggish this morning.

Yesterday, in an effort to change up the routine I found a yoga video with new moves. Flat on my back, I watched the nubile, twenty-something yogini raise her straight legs off the mat and…hold it…hold it… I did the same…eight, nine, ten…lower slowly, slowly…

I didn’t notice any negative bodily responses at first. In fact, I went about my day feeling a bit smug. That is until bedtime when I turned off the computer and tried to stand. The catch in my lower back was familiar. I straightened slowly and probably uttered a few expletives, polite ones, then searched for the bottle of ibuprofen that I keep on hand for just such emergencies. I popped two, massaged the offending area with skin-stinging Cap Kapak oil, then went to bed and slept like a rock.

Six-o’clock roosters were full-throttle as dawn filtered through my curtains. With concentrated awareness of my body, I sat up. So far so good. Gingerly, I stood. Not so good. But not terrible.

That’s when I made my decision. Today would be a day of complete and utter indulgence. I’d give my body exactly what it needed: rest. I’d yield to every whim and fully embrace my slug-self.

A shivery thrill trickled through me. I walked to the curtains, started to pull them aside then stopped. Too bright. I closed them relishing the softness of filtered light.

Whim #1 – prolong morning – don’t let the outside in too soon.

With that decision, undetected tension through my shoulders dissipated like a sigh. What had I been carrying that eased simply by leaving my draperies shut? I made a note-to-self to ponder that in my journaling later.

Some people love lounging in sleepwear all day. I’m not one of them. I briefly entertained the thought but found it unappealing. Usually, yoga clothes go on before my eyes are fully open. There’d be no yoga for my tender back this morning. I checked with my body and the answer was clear – long white tee-shirt with peekaboo shoulders and formless shape over stretchy leggings – heavenly.

Whim #2 – dress in the ultimate slug-appropriate garb.

Fully clothed, I ambled to the kitchen to heat water for ginger tea. Since eliminating coffee several months ago, that has been my go-to drink while journaling. I’ve brainwashed myself into thinking it’s an acceptable substitute but my coffee craving hasn’t subsided.

When I opened the fridge, I remembered I’d used the last of the concentrated ginger juice yesterday. The kettle was already whistling-hot. It took about one-and-a-half seconds to know what to do. Nescafe. I rummaged for the little packet of uber-addicting powdered coffee, fake sugar, and chemical creamer. Now we’re talking real debauchery. I poured steaming water over the concoction and sucked in glorious fumes.

Back in the dim cave, I curled up on my daybed with the journal and that tantalizing cup of sin. Once again, stress oozed out of me in the release of self-inflicted restraints. Bliss.

Whim #3 – allow the forbidden treat.

In the midst of journaling, I decided to share my slug story with the world. So here I am, blogging. When I finish I know what other whims I’ll entertain today.

Whim #4 – several naps.

Whim #5 – tarot chips and carrot hummus for lunch and dinner.

Whim #6 – read more of the new book I just started, Overstory, and hope it starts to make sense.

Whim #7 – meditate for an hour.

I’ve never intentionally meditated for an hour. I’ve probably daydreamed for longer stretches, but to sit in meditation for more than thirty-or-so minutes, no. Why haven’t I done it before? There’s always enough time. It’s probably that Capricornian urge to get to work. Produce. Make things happen – core beliefs that coincide with the illusion that sitting in the silence of suspended thought wastes time.

Today it’s all about wasting time. A guilt-free embracing of my total slug. An hour of sitting meditation is the perfect experiment for proving to my inordinately driven, disciplined self that I need more opportunities to give my body rest. More days exactly like this.

Your Rags, My Riches – Fashion Photo Shoot

What do you do when you’re bored out of your gourd?

Take a walk? That’s noble. Healthy, too. In the old, pre-pandemic days maybe you shopped. So did I. But I learned early on that my dollar stretched exponentially farther if I spent it at second-hand stores like Goodwill, Salvation Army, or here in Ubud, the Smile Shop.

For the uninitiated, the Smile Shop is a non-profit organization that partners with medical teams to surgically correct craniofacial abnormalities for children in Indonesia. The store overflows with a cornucopia of merchandise from books, to games, jewelry, shoes, household goods, and cast-off clothing donated by visitors from all over the world. I go for the thrill of discovery, never knowing what I’ll find.

After a few soggy days, the walls were closing in. I needed a destination, something sufficiently motivating to warrant the effort of dragging my body out of the house. I’ll walk til I drop if I’m meeting someone for lunch. I had no lunch date yesterday.

Wait a minute…what about…?

The Smile Shop was open, a three-mile round-trip. I grabbed a bottle of water and slipped into my flip-flops salivating at the challenge of the hunt.

I’ve been shopping for clothing this way since I was in my teens and I’m a pro. The mish-mash is overwhelming to some. For me it’s like writing a poem – I just have to find the words that rhyme. Yesterday I was looking for cool and shapeless. In the current sticky-hot climate I don’t want form-fitting. The less intimately my garments connect with my body the better.

Within moments of arriving I had two items slung over my arm. Then a sweet vest with a crocheted back jumped out at me. I didn’t notice the label until I got it home – Guess – a popular brand in the U.S. I took a few minutes to browse paperbacks and saw a number of favorite authors but I was walking and books are heavy.

Another time.

Back home, sweaty and happy, I ran the sink full of sudsy water, scrubbed my new finds, and hung them in the breeze to dry. I was eager to try them on, but – well – unlike clothing off the racks of the big retailers, these garments come with histories attached. I like to send their old stories down the drain before I reincarnate them to their new life.

My sister and I have exchanged emails every single day for over a year. The first few months of Covid, there were many times when her newsy note was all I had to look forward to. I snapped photos of my still-wet garments, attached them with an overview of the day, hit send, and figured I’d done due diligence.

But not so.

The little minx wrote back demanding pictures of the clothes with me in them. If this post seems like the ultimate in narcissism, blame my sister! She made me do it!

My first find, this long, asymmetrical tee-shirt thing, has peek-a-boo shoulders and just hangs. It ticks all the boxes. I love it!

You can take the girl out of the Sixties but you can’t take the Sixties out of the girl. What is it with tye-dye? People seem to either love it or hate it. I can’t leave it alone. It speaks to me and this one was channeling Lesley Gore, “I’ll bring you Sunshine, Lollipops, and Rainbows…Choose me! Choose me!”

Another thing I can’t seem to resist is lace. And black lace is the epitome of sexy drama. No! I DO NOT buy pre-worn underwear!!!! Let’s just be clear about that! Ewwwww! Sorry…

I’m still working with the vest. Black on white was a spur-of-the-moment no-brainer and it’s okay, but I can do better. That’s the other bit of fun – mix-and-match – see what creative combos emerge.

Thrift shopping has ruined me for anything else. I cannot abide orderly presentations by size and department in ‘normal’ stores. Where’s the sense of adventure? Where’s the mystery? Why would you spend $500 on a designer item making some corporate gazillionaire richer when you could spend $5 and help a child smile?

That’s another thing. Brand-driven capitalism. Don’t get me started. But here’s where I’m a shameless hypocrite: I like to LOOK like I’ve spent $500.

I’m a Capricorn – the epitome of disciplined self-control…!

What high expectations I had for the regular Friday afternoon meetup with my neighbor. Our weekly chats run the gamut from current Visa regulations here in Indonesia, to quirky relatives, to where to buy the best bunkus in Ubud. If you aren’t familiar with bunkus, they’re cone-shaped packages of rice with various toppings: vegetables, chicken or pork, spicy noodles, egg, with a few mystery ingredients thrown in that you’re better off not questioning.

Besides stimulating conversation, I usually furnish beer or wine and something crunchy to munch on. Today it was Thai peanuts with lime leaf, carrot hummus, and krupuk – special crackers from the granny down the road who sells them in her tiny shop.

This time though, instead of Bintang beer, or Anggur Merah, the 14.7% alcohol Bali wine, I had a real surprise for my friend. Pu Tao Chee Chiew. I found it on a recent excusion to Grand Lucky, a grocery store that stocks things not available anywhere else in Bali. The name sounded like an exotic Chinese elixir and when I read the label and saw 37.15% alcohol I grabbed two bottles.

I feel the need to add a disclaimer here. Perhaps I’ve mentioned alcohol in too many posts lately because I had a very discreet email from a reader who wondered if I’d become a bit too dependent. I felt like saying, I’m a Capricorn, the epitome of disciplined self-control. There’s no way… but I didn’t. I decided to write this blog instead because I know she’ll read it and have a good laugh.

Here’s a snapshot of my life.

Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday – wake up. Journal. Do yoga. Meditate. Eat breakfast. Write. Take a nap. Read. Eat dinner. Answer emails. Shower. Go to bed. No alcohol.

Every Friday – wake up. Journal. Do yoga. Meditate. Eat breakfast. Write. Take a nap. Prepare snacks and some fun alcoholic beverage for the four-hour chat with my neighbor.

So…about my neighbor…

This woman is one of the busiest people I know. She works two online jobs, cooks for her husband and daughters ages 5 and 13, tutors a Balinese child in English, helps with homework assignments, writes middle grade fiction, and I’m sure I don’t know the half of it. How she carves out time every week to entertain me is one of life’s greatest mysteries. Of course, I do ply her with alocohol…

Speaking of intoxicating beverages, I introduced us to Orang Tua – translated Old People – a wine with a nasty flavor reminiscent of the hot grog we had at Christmastime in the Midwest. I’ve served Brem – a thick-ish, cloudy rice wine, and Anggur Merah, a decent red grape wine made in Indonesia. But when I told her about my latest find she was as intrigued as I was.

She arrived and settled into her usual spot just as the afternoon rain started. I popped the cap and poured sparkling amber liquid into two glasses.

“Mmmm. Bubbly. It looks like beer,” she said.

We toasted then took that first tingling swig. “Oooo, sweet.” She licked her lips with only a slight grimmace. “Like dessert wine.”

“Or communion wine,” I added. “Or like drinking perfume.” A cloying floral bouquet lingered on my tongue.

There wasn’t much else to say about it, so we turned to the snacks and commenced our animated give and take filling each other in on the events of the week, which, if you recall what my Saturdays through Thursdays always look like, could put a caffiene junkie to sleep. But her lively stories more than make up for my yawn-worthy tales. Most importantly, we laugh a lot.

Around about the third hour of chatter, my guest frowned. “How much alcohol did you say was in this stuff? Thrity-something percent?”

“37.15 %. Why?”

“Well, I must have built up a heckuva tolerance because I don’t feel a thing.”

I took a minute to assess my own buzz but found none. “Now that you mention it, neither do I. How can that be?”

She reached for the empty bottle. “This is it, right? Let’s have a look.” Still frowning she sqinted at the small print,then exploded into laughter. “Guess what?”

I shook my head. “No idea.”

“This says fermented green grapes 37.15%. But up here at the top – see?” She twisted it so the label stared me in the face and pointed.

There it was, the sad truth if I’d taken time to actually read what it said. Mengandung Alkohol 5%.

“What?” I shrieked. “Five percent? That’s less than Bali beer. And I have another bottle of this worthless (expletive deleted) in the fridge?”

My feeling of betrayal was short-lived. We laughed until our sides ached.

So please, for anyone out there who might have wondered…I thoroughly enjoy my two glasses of wine once a week. But if my neighbor can’t make it for some reason, Friday joins the rest of the non-alcoholic days. I find no pleasure imbibing in solitary. And as for that extra bottle of Pu Tao Chee Chiew…it’ll make a great gift.

Bali Treats, Bali Terrors, and Weight-Loss Wisdom

It started out innocently enough – a little rain, smatters of lightning, distant rumbles. I paid no attention. It’s rainy season in Bali and this is an exceptionally wet month. Showers come every afternoon. I can almost set the clock by their appearance.

I was distracted by my evening session with favorite night show hosts. But when the noise of the rain and thunder drowned out the sound of my entertainment, I began to pay attention. The storm had intensified.

A blinding flash and simultaneous cannon-blast boom jolted me upright. Ketut came flying around the corner of the terrace. “Unplug your electric. Turn off the fan and the lights and stay in your room,” he hollered. I did as I was told. Jagged streaks and thunderous detonations pumped adrenalin like too much caffeine through my body and I suddenly craved – more.

Thunder, by Imagine Dragons. I wanted to pitch its alien images and sound-power against the wild night.

I found the song, cranked up my external speaker to highest volume and let-‘er-rip.

My house was dark except for the computer screen. Rain in angry torrents pummeled the roof. There was flashing, crashing, and Dan Reynolds belting out, “Thunder, feel the thunder, lightning and the thunder, thunder…” The volume, the raging forces of nature and sound and suddenly my energy shifted from fascination to ecstatic terror.

Ecstatic terror. Those two words shouldn’t be used together, but that’s the only way I can describe the sensations – as though dark entities had been summoned by the music and were prepared to carry me away with them. Part of me wanted to go. The other part turned on the lights.


That was last night.

This morning dawned clear and clean-scrubbed. Ketut and I jumped on the bike and headed south to Kuta. I’d scheduled a carcinoma skin checkup, my first ever. The weather promised a pleasant ride.

Grand Lucky, rumored to be the source of groceries that appeal to the Western palette, was a few blocks from the clinic. Kill two birds. I’d gotten hooked on Kelloggs All-Bran in Italy and had been on the lookout for it in Bali ever since. Maybe, just maybe Grand Lucky would have it.

With a little help from Google maps Ketut drove right to it. The parking lot was packed. An attendant took our temperatures and motioned to the hand sanitizer pump. Wafting through open doors, the fragrance of yeasty-sweet bakery drew us in.

We entered and I went into immediate overwhelm. People. People. Everywhere. And cheese. An oval-shaped island of world-wide cheeses stretched in front of us and acres of fruits and vegetables flanked it.

I’m not sure how long I stood motionless, staring, trying to assimilate the frenetic vibrations of so many real live bodies. Ketut went in search of a shopping basket.

By the time he returned I was reduced to a basic primal urge: Hunt it, kill it, and drag it home. I had no desire to linger. Where was the cereal aisle?

After a few minutes of aimless wandering, we turned the right corner. Kelloggs’ products lined the shelves, Cornflakes, Frosted Flakes, Cocoa Pops, Fruit Loops, Rice Krispies, Special K… Words and colors blended and smeared as I ran my eyes over the rows searching, searching. My hopes were sinking when – yes! There it was!

Not only did Grand Lucky have All-Bran, it had the biggest box of that cereal I’d ever seen. And the biggest price – 182.000 rph ($13 US Dollars). I didn’t bat an eyelash. Hunt, kill, go home.


So that explains the Bali Terrors and Treats of my title, but what about weight loss?

This past year I’ve added more stress, less exercise, and – I can’t deny it – a bit more alcohol to my life. Even though I’ve hidden the bathroom scale in a dark place, denied its existence, cursed it when it lies, my bra cups blab the truth. That’s where the extra pounds show up first. Don’t ask me why.

I’ve more-or-less dealt with stress, and compromised on exercise. But getting around the calorie content of alcoholic drinks is tricky. I prefer the buzz of two glasses of wine, a couple of mojitos, a large rather than a small Bintang beer. The buzz. Isn’t that the goal, the mildly fuzzy state Dr. Seuss must have been in to write nonsensical classics like Green Eggs and Ham or any of the other sixty-plus children’s books he churned out over the course of his career?

The question, then, is how to consume less calories but get the Dr. Seuss effect.

Weight-loss wisdom is really a case of simple mathematics: seek out drinks with higher alcohol content. I can drink less, buzz more, and minimize caloric intake.

Imagine my delight today when I stumbled upon a brand of sparkling wine I’d never seen before. My go-to most recently has been Anggur Merah, a sweet red with a fairly adequate 14.7% alcohol content. When I studied the label of Pu Tao Chee Chiew, I had to rub my eyes and squint. Yup, I’d read it right. 37.15%. A thimble full would get me to my happy place.

Now I need some brave soul willing to try this with me. It’s no fun to drink alone.

Instead, tonight while laughing with Seth Meyers, Stephen Colbert, and the Jimmys, Kimmel and Fallon, I indulged in a bowl of red bananas, dragonfruit, and Kelloggs’ All-Bran cereal. Not quite the same as Dr. Seuss, but there was enough fiber in that bowl to move mountains – another key to weight-loss!

Is this what normal feels like?

I awoke with the stangest feeling today. What was different? I could breathe. My jaw was unclenched. My skin wasn’t burning. The twisted circuits in my brain that had been trying to wrap themselves around chaos, lies and deception for four years were melting down and dribbling out my eyes. A wave of joyous relief swept over me. Is this what normal feels like?

Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.

Could my gratitude for their willingness to step into the wreckage that is our un-United States be any greater? I don’t think so. It overwhelms me, gives me more hope than I’ve had for a very long time. Makes me cry.

In his first day as President, Joe Biden reversed ruinous mandates of the past administration in a grand swoop of legislation. With each stroke of his pen my heart soared. Thank you, it said. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

I know we still have a raging pandemic that is gathering speed as it tears a swath of death across the world. But now the United States has leaders who care, who are willing to act, who are already doing what it is in their power to do to staunch the viral hemorrhage.

In my gut I feel we were perilously close to losing what I had taken for granted my entire adult life.

Under the sham of governance for the past four years, our allies no longer trusted us – those who had come to our aid time after time when we needed them most were treated shabbily. The courageous people who committed their lives to protect our country were disrespected in the basest ways. Racism at its ugliest ruled. Living in Indonesia I didn’t want to admit I was an American. I felt ashamed of my great country, ashamed and dirty.

It is a shock to the system to realize how quickly black becomes white, how readily we numb to unacceptable behavior, how willingly we turn blind eyes to atrocious wrongs against humanity and how almost half the U.S. voting population was ready to continue that devastation for another four years. There is a hideous cancer at the core of our country that fed on the steady diet of excrement being doled out from the top.

That food chain has been sliced off.

I don’t know of anyone else who has the experience, knowledge, integrity, faith, and compassion to work the miracles needed at this time. President Biden is our man of the hour and Vice President Harris is his right hand. It’s a Herculean task before them but I believe they were born for this, a calling if you will, their karmic purpose.

That feeling I couldn’t recognize this morning – I’ve named it now. Relief. Huge, nomalizing relief. And gratitude. They’re mixed together in a healing soup called HOPE. That’s what’s on the menu for our country and there’s plenty for all.

Eat hearty.

Mind Control to Major Tom – No, wait…

I was certain that was the opening line to David Bowie’s Space Oddity.

It was 5 a.m. in Bali. Roosters crowed. Shadowy edges of sleep retreated. I reached for my phone and typed in those words, mind control to major tom. They’d registered so clearly as I hung in pre-consciousness. I wanted the lyrics – find out what message the Universe had sent through my dreams. I found it – whoops! Not Mind Control – Ground Control. Hmm, Freudian slip?

I read through the verses. The last one said it all:

Here am I floating round my tin can
Far above the Moon
Planet Earth is blue
And there’s nothing I can do.

Don’t listen to it unless you’re in a super cheery state of mind. It’s dark.

I could immediately relate. That sense of floating through the days, losing track of weeks, months. Planet Earth is indeed blue if you define blue as sadness. But is there really nothing I can do? Isn’t there always choice? Somewhere? I’ve built my life on the belief that there is, that I have sovereignty over my thoughts, that my thoughts dictate my reality.

So if my reality sucks, I’m the one to blame for not exercising mind control because, as realities go, I’m still living a golden life. It’s just different, very different from what it was before.

Once fully awake I felt the shift in energy. My gut told me this was a big deal, an opportunity to enter into a new agreement with myself. Mind control to Major Tom…get your shit together, human. Today’s the day. You need to jump on this power surge now. You’re being supported by forces beyond yourself to make this change.

After ten months, my morning ritual is sacrosanct. I don’t waiver from it. I don’t skip a day. To some, that may seem obsessive-compulsive but I’ll tell you what. It’s survival at its very basic level and I cling to that routine for dear life.

So I journalled, exploring the morning message with questions and words. Nadda.

Then I went through my yoga routine. Not even a whispered clue.

My last hope was meditation. I lit incense, put on my earth and sky mala beads, sank to the cushion and –

Woah!

I wish, wish wish I had words for what happens in those moments. Sometimes it’s a quiet knowing. Not this time.

It was as though someone shouted at me –

Mental Reset

However, and this may give you some comfort, I don’t hear voices. Instead, the words sailed toward me through the sky in Arial Black typeface and entered my skull with a jolt. My eyes flew open. In that instant, the landscape transformed from overcast to radiant.

Do you remember being in love? Or better yet, being loved? My insides felt like that. Happy. Hopeful.

Everything is the same, yet everthing’s different and I’m still sorting it out. There’s a tickle that feels like maybe, just maybe I want to start writing again. (Blogs don’t count.) I no longer feel panicky about the future and I’ve lost the compulsion to try to plan for it. What an exercise in futility that is! I still miss family. I still see transition in my future. But my present is here, now, and it’s populated by precious relationships and equatorial green.

My gratitude bucket is bursting it’s seams.

Normally I’d pull this phenomenon apart piece by piece, looking at all the angles, wondering what I should DO with a new perspective, a mental reset. I process. It’s who I am.

But that’s the most amazing part. It’s done. All I had to DO was sit on the cushion. The rest was a direct download from the Universe. Zap! And my new operating system was installed and running.

I want to encourage you if you don’t already meditate, start now. It’s not just for ‘those yoga types’. It’s the doorway to accessing your intuition – the things you know that you don’t know that you know – the most powerful tool the mind has to offer. Everyone has it but few take time to develop it.

Alan Alda said it well:

“At times you have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. What you’ll discover will be wonderful. What you’ll discover is yourself.”

I’d love to hear your experiences with meditation. It’s a practice that is unique to every individual.

‘Go Outside and Play’ – My Conflicted Relationship with Fun

The message I got growing up was that play was something you were told to do when an adult wanted you out of the way, out of sight, out of the house. You were no longer useful, your chores were finished, now you were a bother so, “Go outside and play.”

Was that part of your childhood? Do you remember the tone of voice that delivered that command? It had a sharp, brittle edge. I knew it wasn’t negotiable. I couldn’t counter with, “Could I just watch TV…?”

No.

Mom was clearing her space of ‘kid energy’ and the only acceptable response was her view of my backside going out the door.

As an adult, I’ve tried to define what play means for me. The closest I can get is this: a non-work-related pastime that is supposed to be enjoyed. But I confess, I find more pleasure in work than I do in play. Work is productive, challenging, and it feels like I’ve accomplished something. It moves me toward a goal.

And yet, I know play is important, especially under the current circumstances. Something that releases endorphins, eases the pressure valve, and lets steam escape is essential to both physical and mental health.

Endorphins can make you feel more positive and energize your outlook, and may even help to block sources of pain in your everyday life. They even improve immune response and reduce stress. Through vigorous, active play, then, you can boost your self-esteem and even trigger a euphoric outlook on life, says Darryl Edwards of London.

A euphoric outlook on life…really?

Three things qualify as fun for me:

  • Going out to eat with friends
  • A motorbike adventure
  • Reading

All three involve leaving, either physically or mentally. I wonder if there’s any connection with that childhood demand: Go……..play.

So let’s just be up-front about this and say it like it is: I have a conflicted relationship with play. If someone asks, “What do you do for fun?” I’m tempted to lie. I mean, it sounds so lame. “I go out to eat or…sometimes I take a ride and…of course I read…”

So today I needed a sprinkle of that euphoric outlook because there isn’t a lot of endorphin-releasing activity going on in the world right now.

I read yesterday.

I ate out the day before.

A quick check of the weather app predicted a window of fair skies opening between eleven a.m. and two p.m. On Ketut’s motorbike, we could get to the fishing village of Lebih for a dose of ocean and salt air and be home long before the rain. I already felt more positive and energized.

I corralled Ketut. In no time we were on our way! Click here.

There isn’t a beach at Lebih. The coastline is a tumble of black volcanic rock that reduces the breakers to a frothy foam.

Special offerings and children in temple clothes dotted the coastline. Today is Tilem – the day of the new moon, or dark moon as it is poetically called in Bali.

We strolled the beach. Click here to come along.

It doesn’t take long to see the length and breadth of Lebih and I was getting hungry. “What do you think, Ketut? Shall we eat here or stop at Janggar Ulam on the way home?” I shouldn’t have to ask. Janggar Ulam is his favorite restaurant.

I, too, used to love the place, but not for the same reason. Ketut liked the food. I, on the other hand, was captivated by the vast expanse of rice fields bordering the restaurant. They seemed to stretch endlessly into the distance. The restaurant itself occupied a large portion of real estate. There was elbow room, privacy, and always cool breezes off the paddies.

Then they built the wall.

A developer with a vision for a hotel marked his territory by erecting a cement block barrier between the restaurant and the paddy. The view was ruined, the breeze stifled, the ambiance destroyed.

I’m not sure why I suggested going there today. Actually, I know exactly why I suggested it. I am so grateful to have Ketut in my life. A view doesn’t matter to him, but food does. And he matters to me.

We took a different way back from Lebih. As we passed through Gianyar Ketut shouted, “Penjors!” The new streetlamps look exactly like the elegant totems that appear during Galungan every six months. Gorgeous!

Streetlamp Penjors in Gianyar
Real penjors on Jl. Gautama in Ubud

When we pulled into the parking lot at Janggur Ulam, it held one motorbike. Pre-covid it would have been full. We entered the grounds through a brick archway and I gasped. It had been transformed.

Now the view was centered inward on lotus pools and fish ponds. The wall had been treated with a screen of greenery and Janggar Ulam had added artistic tiles to mask the stern, Eastern bloc look of naked cement. I stared, my jaw gaping, enchanted. Nobody saw my open mouth since I was fully masked. Sometimes it’s a blessing!

Ketut ordered his usual fried chicken and fresh sambal with a mountain of rice. I tried their vegetable stir-fry, hoping for the best. Our meals arrived and mine looked suspiciously like spinach soup. I’m still not impresssed with the food. Ketut was happy.

Then just as we climbed on the motorbike for the last leg of the journey home…

Rain.

I played today. I had fun. For a little while I forgot about corona, sedition, impeachment, Amendment 25, and a United States of America that’s gone off the rails. I can’t say it’s given me a euphoric outlook on life. I remembered all those things as soon as my helmet was off and stowed in the cupboard at home. But for a few hours I was ridiculously happy.

Survival = Free-Range, Low-Calorie, News-Light

The nightmare that unfolded at the U.S. Capitol on the afternoon of January 6th was almost a relief in the grimmest of ways. I’ve been holding my breath for four years wondering when something unspeakable – more unspeakable than everything that’s already transpired – would happen.

Because of the time difference in Bali, I awoke early the morning of the 7th, clicked on the news, and caught my breath. There it was. That forbidden thing, so dark that even my Pluto soul was horrified.

Since then, I’ve only been able to watch the news through the lens of late show hosts. Those born comedians handled their reporting of the insurrection brilliantly – there were no jokes that night. Seth Meyers’ scathing rebuke gave me chills. Stephen Colbert’s outrage mirrored my own. Even Jimmy Fallon, that spotlight-loving, delectable hunk of eye-candy, delivered a compassionate message that went straight to my heart. James Cordon and Jimmy Kimmel – all of them dropped the funny-man persona and rose to the occasion.

In the days following that one-time needful deviation from their norms, the news delivered by those comedic commentators has come through more solemnly than usual but with a sprinkle of humor. It’s just enough to make me – not laugh, not yet. But I’ve managed a grunt of appreciation.

I confess I watch all of them. Every night. Sometimes in the morning too, if clouds threaten a rainy day. It’s that season in Bali – wet, wet, and wetter.

We cope with the devastating events of 2020 that have now spilled over into 2021 in our own ways. For me, the process has evolved from numbing with food and alcohol, to making myself feel the fear, grief, loss, uncertainty, and loneliness, acknowledging the pain of those emotions, and allowing them to pass through me.

I don’t do it perfectly. I don’t even do it well. It’s sloppy and prone to sinkholes. Sometimes I feel like I’m caught in one of those cartoon scenes where I’m dangling over the side of a cliff, clinging to a rope that is fraying strand by strand. But there are good days too.

What I’m finding is this:

There’s no right way to manage the un-imagine-able. There’s no guidebook. Nothing before prepared us for now. We’re all flying by the seat of our pants trying as best we can to simply survive. But the more we can tune in to what our bodies need and (safely) give ourselves that, the more loving and gentle we can be with our nervous systems, the more space and acceptance we can offer our emotions while grabbing every opportunity we can to laugh – that’s what will get us through.

Oh! And meanwhile…or quarantinewhile as Stephen Colbert would say…if you haven’t tried the lighter approach to the news, maybe give it a go. There’s nothing much to lose.

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