Mother’s Day Confessions

I’ve never admitted this to anyone but as Mother’s Day rolls around, I’m reminded of the strange disconnect I experienced as a mom. Maybe you can relate. Maybe not. Here’s the story.

As a young adult, motherhood wasn’t on my to-do list. I’d never given it much thought. Neither had my first husband. We were about three years into the marriage when his highschool sweetheart wound up pregnant. As it turned out, he was the father. I left him with her in Muskogee, Oklahoma – can’t say I was terribly disappointed to escape Muskogee or my philandering husband.

Children weren’t on the agenda three years later when I married again. But after a tumultuous six months we had a night of unprotected passion and…our divorce was final the day before my first daughter was born.

Six years later, married again, I gave birth to my second daughter near Alum Creek, Texas. My husband was an accountant for a company that laid oil pipelines, hence Texas. Two years after that, my third sweet girl arrived. By then we’d moved into the eye-blink town of Smithville.

My daughters are the joy of my life. As they were growing up, every year when Mother’s Day approached they went into giggling-hush-hush mode. Breakfast in bed was the highlight. I awoke to chocolate ice cream on Trix cereal one memorable morning.

But I promised a confession and here it is.

Every year it was the same. Amid the hubbub of my own household, I forgot that I also had a mother. It would hit me, perhaps the night before, or the morning of, and I’d panic that I hadn’t given a single thought to honoring that dear woman on her special day. It was too late to mail a card, but with a hurried personal call to the florist in my hometown who was a friend from school, and a Happy Mother’s Day Skype with Mom later in the day, I always covered my dilinquent tracks in time.

Mom passed a year and nine months ago. But it’s strange – as that day approaches and I see promos for flowers or gifts popping up on my phone, I forget that I’m a mother. All my thoughts are of her until one of the girls calls with a cheery, happy Mother’s Day Mamma, and I recall that I’m the matriarch now.

As a result of those chotic, childrearing years, I understand if my kids momentarily forget me. In Bali I’m a day ahead anyway and no one caring for toddlers can be expected to keep in mind the time zone variations of my reality on the other side of the globe. It’s a thrill and a joy whenever I hear from them.

Before I bid you a happy day and get on with mine, I want to mention how freeing and healthy it is to have no expectations. It’s the key to contentment. If you don’t expect something from someone, you won’t be disappointed if it doesn’t materialize. Unmet expectations are at the core of unhappiness.

Here’s wishing you a very happy Mother’s Day whether you hear from your offspring or not! Send your wishes to them first If they have children – jog their memory – remind them that you exist. They’re busy!

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.

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!

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.

Bali Beaches and an Un-Planned Christmas

I’m sold on the un-planned Christmas.

I told people I wasn’t doing anything. Wasn’t going anywhere. Would stay home and think happy thoughts and that was absolutely my intention. Then a get-together scheduled for December 21st had to be moved. How about the morning of the 24th? Christmas Eve Day? Does that work?

Well..I wasnt’ going to…but…sure. That works.

It turned into a psuedo white-elephant-gift-exchange, great coffee, and lots of laughs. Santa appeared out of nowhere, and carols played non-stop.

Warm and fuzzy inside I walked home with a gentle breeze cooling my face – one of Bali’s stellar-weather days – glad that I’d had Christmas Eve morning with good friends.

I’d barely gotten inside the house when my phone beeped a Whatsapp message. It was my neighbor next door inviting me to an impromptu lunch – if I didn’t already have plans for Christmas tomorrow. The complexion of my solitary holiday was changing fast.

I’d love to!

The high-octane energy of a family with a young child is a whole different ball game from the gray-haired gatherings I’m used to. But who can resist a five-year-old dynamo on pink roller skates?

We were well entertained and the meal of four-hour Balinese green beans, chicken betutu, cream-cheese mashed potatoes, and homemade frosted Christmas cookies was magnificent. The wine didn’t hurt either.

All that and a mystery guest. I finally got to meet a person I’ve been hearing about for years and if anything, the glowing reports were too humble. He’s one of those down-to-earth, funny, sincere, fascinating VIPs that you just wouldn’t expect to run into at your neighbor’s spur-of-the-moment Christmas lunch.

After two celebratory days I didn’t want the fun to end. I suggested to Ketut that it was time for another motorbike adventure. My back took weeks to recover from the marathon ordeal I put it through three months ago, but a visit to the beaches south of Ubud wouldn’t be a taxing trip. I wanted to check out the rumors that there are actually people down there – visitors – domestic tourists – because in Ubud they’re rare as unicorns.

As with most outings, eating figures in at some point. For this trip I wanted to stop at Cantina Warung. It’s on a dirt road that dead-ends somewhere between Seminyak and Canggu, and it’s so close to the ocean you almost feel the salt-spray on your skin. We’d check out Sanur and Kuta beaches on the way and easily be back in Ubud before the predicted afternoon downpour.

There was no traffic as we approached Sanur. The bodies standing in the water were fishermen, not tourists. Ketut thought he saw one family that probably came from another part of Indonesia but the few people enjoying the sun and sand were local. I’d expected that. Sanur isn’t the hotspot for vacationing party-ers who want a nightlife.

We hopped back on the bike and continued our search. Traffic by the Mall Galleria was almost non-existent.

In Kuta and Seminyak the story was the same with a slightly different twist. Here there were no locals, just a smattering of visitors and miles of empty lounge chairs on the deserted beach. Were we too early? Were the partying people still in bed nursing hangovers? It was getting on toward noon – surely they’d be up by now – if indeed they were here at all.

On the bike again I hollered through my mask at the back of Ketut’s helmet. “This adventure’s making me hungry. Let’s get lunch.”

There are several restaurants in Bali that are so enchanting I just want to keep eating so I can sit there for hours guilt-free. Cantina Warung is one of those. A constant ocean breeze, the rumble of breakers rolling in, comfortable chairs…don’t ever underestimate the importance of cushy seating – it’s huge…and today there were people sunbathing. People swimming. People walking dogs. We’d finally found PEOPLE!

We settled in and ordered lunch. Ketut is predictible – fried chicken and coca-cola. I had the BBQ chicken burrito with fries and a mojito. Not sure why the french fries came garnished with herby greens. They were easy to remove. But I have to say, that chicken burrito with chunks of avocado, crunchy lettuce, a sweet-and-spicy barbecue sauce on the melt-in-your-mouth grilled poultry – oh my! I’m drooling just remembering.

We’d whiled away about an hour and a half when Ketut pointed to a sign that I’d ignored and said, “Look. Our table is reserved for eight people at four o’clock. We can stay three more hours.”

That’s when I ordered two cups with a scoop of vanilla ice cream in each, and a pot of coffee to pour over it. We stretched that out until about two o’clock when all of a sudden Ketut said, “Mungkin hujan di Ubud sekarang.” Whoops! In my idyllic reverie I’d completely forgotten about the afternoon rain I’d been hoping to avoid.

The ride home took us through Canggu. There was a lot more traffic there than we’d seen anywhere else. Shops and cafes were open. Perhaps what I’d heard was true, that Canggu is the hot spot right now. Hot may be too optimistic a word. A warm spot.

As we approached Ubud the road was wet. “Maybe rain is already finished,” Ketut said. Three minutes later we were pelted with huge sloppy drops.

“Do you have your plastic, Ketut?”

“Ya. You?”

“Ya.”

“You want to stop?”

“No.”

“Good.” He laughed.

How precious, memorable, and unexpectedly rich this holiday has been. I could have sat home and survived. I would have called it a fitting end for a year during which many of us have done little other than sit at home and survive. So I’m going to see my unplanned Christmas as a positive energetic shift, a vital lurch propelling us toward a brighter 2021.

May it be so.

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.

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