Do You Remember The ‘Fuller Brush Man’?

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

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

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

I set out.

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

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

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

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

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

This is the Bali version.

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

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

And then…I arrived.

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

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

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

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

Just Turn Your Pillow Over

This is Ketut’s helmet. It looms directly in front of my face as we race through the countryside.

When you see the occasional white moon at the bottom of an otherwise spectacular shot, that, too, is Ketut’s helmet.

For example, here…

And again here…

It’s only on steep downward inclines that I can actually see what’s in front of us, which happened several times today.

Wanderlust has bitten hard.

You might have thought after the grueling 170 km (105 mile) journey a week ago I’d have had my fill of the road for a good while. It seems to have worked the opposite.

I love the coastlines of Bali but terraced mountain paddies long ago stole my heart. A motorbike adventure is one of the safest, most gratifying pass times during this era of Covid. Sidemen was calling.

Tell-tale sounds of a damp morning woke me. By time to leave the rain had stopped but serious-looking clouds threatened. We took precautions, suiting up in water-resistant gear.

A friend who’d heard about our trip to Rumah Gemuk let us know she was available for future events. We invited her along and the three of us set out.

For a while we followed a garden that was following an ambulance.

Can you guess what captured the attention of these guys so completely that they totally ignored the road ahead? I have to admit, she was a stunner…

Truck art. I wonder if the driver knows…

Finally the traffic and bustle of village life lay behind us and we started the climb. Soon paddy-magic was everywhere.

In no time we’d reached our destination. Warung Uma Anyar is a local eating spot occupying a lofty perch with a spectacular view of Mount Agung…sometimes.

But not today.

Those same moody morning clouds obscured that majestic mountain. But rolling foothills and surrounding peaks provided a more-than-sufficient visual feast.

And speaking of feasts, this is not your average roadside stand. The presentation, the flavors, the damask tablecloths set a tone in keeping with something much more refined. I love to bring unsuspecting guests here. Our friend made appreciative noises as we settled in for a leisurely afternoon.

Roasted peanuts and spring roll appetizers were followed by heaping plates of local fare and somehow we started talking about dreams. I told them I’d had a very strange experience a few nights ago. I’d awakened around one a.m. with a poem in my head. It was an odd little ditty that I’d never heard before. I grabbed my phone and wrote it down so I wouldn’t forget by morning.

Ketut and our friend listened attentively as I rehearsed the words:

  • Lit I a moon so big and bright
  • That all could see it day and night
  • Lit I a sun so faint and small
  • That none could barely see at all

They frowned at me in silence for a few long seconds, then my friend asked, “What does it mean?”

I shrugged. “I have no idea.”

“Is there more?” Ketut wanted to know. “Maybe there’s more. You should have turned your pillow over so the dream would continue.”

We stared at him, fascinated. “Really, Ketut? That’s what you do? Turn your pillow over then go to sleep and you’re back in the dream?”

“Yes. But only good dreams. For bad dreams, don’t turn your pillow over.”

Breath-defying views, wonderful food, humid warmth with a just-right breeze – a perfect day. But nothing compared to that nugget of Ketut’s folk wisdom that left us howling with laughter.

The Secret ‘Fat House’ of Bali

It was a bold move. The prospect of six-plus hours on the back of a motorbike at any age is a long day. But neither Ketut nor I had explored the northwest quadrant of Bali. We plotted our route and made plans.

The corridor along the coast from Singaraja to Denpasar is a thoroughfare for industrial trucks barreling their goods from Java to Bali through the port of entry at Gilimanuk. Those drivers are notorious for passing motorbikes within a hair’s breadth of contact. But the deserted back roads are potholed and tend to disappear in the most inconvenient places – like at the bank of a river that has no bridge. With corona protocol requiring an expensive test before truckers are admitted to the island, I thought there might be significantly fewer of them on the road. Ketut agreed that now would be a good time to go.

We set out at 8:00 a.m. The weather app showed pure sunshine for our entire route.

“Ayo!” I whooped as we left our narrow gang. And we were off.

By 9:30 we’d reached the western coast of the island. I was ready to stretch my legs and fill my lungs with the humid saltiness of sea breezes. Ketut swerved off the highway at a sign that said Soka Beach. With the exception of two fishermen and a group of men landing a boat, we had the place to ourselves. After a short stroll we bought coffee at a tiny warung and contemplated the next leg of the trip.

My first long outing on the back of Ketut’s motorbike nine years ago took us to Balian Beach. It was a hidden stretch of sand with interesting rock formations and cows grazing in the background. I was eager to revisit that enchanted spot.

“Do you think you can find it again? Remember that old sign and the rocky path to the water?” Ketut remembered and assured me he could find it.

What a difference nine years makes. An entire town had sprung up where none used to be.

“Where’s the beach, Ketut?” I kept asking and he finally spoke my fears.

“No more beach, only hotels.”

I processed for a while, wistfully, as we sped along beside the water. Progress. Growth. Change. I’ve changed, too. The whole world has changed.

With that I let it go.

Everything ahead of us was new territory. The flat land rolling past alternated between groves of stately palms and glistening paddy fields. Mesmerized, I drifted into a meditative trance and was jerked awake when the bike stopped. “Famous statue,” Ketut said.

Towering over us was Patung Makepung depicting the water buffalo races held every year in this area of Bali. Winter surf broiled onto the rocky stretch as far as the eye could see.

“Where are we?” The wind grabbed the name he spoke and blew it away. “What?” I shouted. He pointed to a row of rocks behind me. Red paint spelled out Pantai YEHLEH. Yehleh Beach. I checked Google maps. At 10:30 we were barely one-quarter of the way into our journey. I did the math. What was supposed to take a total of under seven hours, according to Google, by my calculations added up to ten. With no stops.

I sorted through a flurry of thoughts. Could my back, neck and bottom take another 7.5 hours on the motorbike? Would Ketut’s energy hold through the mountains still ahead? With the COVID shutdowns, would we be able to find lodging for the night if that was necessary? Should we alter our route while we still could? By now we were back at the bike, putting on our helmets.

“It’s still far, Ketut. Do you think we can do this?”

“You okay?” he asked, trying to peer through my sunglasses, mask, visor…

“I’m okay. You?”

“Ya. Good. No trucks.”

“That’s great! Okay! Let’s go!”

I have to admit, there was a driving force beyond my insatiable desire for adventure. That morning I’d been reading Indonesian news and up popped an ad for Rumah Gemuk. Translated that means Fat House. But the picture was a piece of enchantment so tantalizing it cancelled out my negative response to the name. Rumah Gemuk, I discovered, was a restaurant on the side of the mountain overlooking Lake Beratan. It offered picnics on the grounds or you could dine inside a glass mansion amid the clouds. It had amassed five stars. The reviews were inspiring and the pictures, magical. I was hooked.

And it was directly on our path home.

At Bubunan village we took a sharp right and started climbing. I’d never seen the mountainous area around Munduk, home of one of Bali’s famous waterfalls. Nor had Ketut. Nor had his aging motorbike. We labored up the switchbacks, higher and higher. When we reached a plateau Ketut breathed a sigh. “Already the top,” he said. Around the next curve the road went into a near vertical incline. “Whaaaat?”

Ketut can make that word sound funnier than any joke. As we continued to climb I lost track of the times the scene was repeated. Already the top…Whaaaat?…Now the top…Whaaaaat? I don’t love heights and there were moments, looking over an unprotected edge to the bottomless plunge below, that were gasp-worthy.

I can’t even begin to describe the views. The images I did capture were embarrassingly inadequate. We caught glimpses of Lakes Tamblingan and Buyan as we traveled the northern ridge above them.

I’d been tracking our progress on my phone but service kept dropping out. I wanted to save enough juice for a few more photos. I knew we were getting close.

“My battery’s almost dead, Ketut. If I turn my phone off can you watch for a sign for Rumah Gemuk? It’s before – you know that water temple – Ulun Danu Beratan?”

He knew.

We slowed to a crawl, both of us straining to read the litter of signage lining the street. Suddenly he took a hard right onto a strip of blacktop that wasn’t much more than a path.

“Where are you going?”

“This is it,” he said.

“How do you know?” I couldn’t believe a grand glass mansion would have such an understated approach.

“The sign,” he said. I hadn’t seen a sign. I was primed to argue when right in front of us, towering over a huge parking area, was THE crystal palace.

“It’s there! There it is! Wow Ketut! How did you know?”

“The sign,” he said – again.

Bless Ketut. Bless, bless, bless, Ketut. Every day. Every hour. What a gem.

I took a minute to comb the snarls out of 8 ½ hours of helmet hair, twisted it up in a topknot, and hoped I looked less wildebeest than I felt. “Salon,” Ketut said, and laughed.

After the host introduced us to the dining options available, I snapped his photo and accepted his offer to do the same for us.

I was being silly – so relieved to be off that motorbike!

We proceeded up the outside stairway to the second floor and entered dreamland. Why had I never heard of this place? For the next thirty minutes my mouth hung open and my camera clicked.

There were only a few people there, domestic tourists I guessed, from other parts of Indonesia. “All young,” Ketut observed and I realized that he was probably older at thirty-seven, than any of them, the wait staff included.

I finally calmed down enough to look at the menu. There was something for everyone. Ketut ordered fried rice with chicken and I had the vegan burger and fries. The subtly sweet sauce on the tempe gave extra pizzaz to the mouthwatering meal.

It was one of those exquisite moments that I never wanted to end. But Ketut, the voice of reason, said we had 2 ½ hours of riding to get home and the sun would set long before then. It was time to go.

From Bedugul it was all downhill to Ubud – or so it seemed. Time flew and so did we. Twice Ketut did his, Whaaaat? reversed the bike, and retraced to where he’d made a wrong turn. How anyone can find their way on unmarked roads in the ink-blackness of Bali nighttime, I don’t know. Even with a couple of backtracks, the 2 1/2 hour trip took two hours.

We pulled into the yard. I hauled myself off the bike, thanked Ketut, told him to sleep all day tomorrow because I intended to, and dragged myself upstairs to my cozy nest. I shed the helmet, mask, scarf, and checked the time. 7:08. We’d been gone eleven hours. At least nine of those had been on the motorbike.

In the bathroom I found the hotter-than-sin Kapak oil and massaged it into my body from the base of my skull to the bottom of my butt cheeks. As the hot/cold sting seeped into my muscles I smiled. Even if I can’t walk tomorrow, this day was perfect. It was the last thought before I drifted off to sleep.

HOLES

I feel like I’m trying to stitch up the holes in this new reality with old thread. It’s weak. The colors don’t match and it breaks when I pull it tight to close the gap. I have the sense that the holes aren’t meant to be stitched. That this is different cloth designed to expose what’s been ignored and wants to be seen.

It seems the whole of humanity is wearing this same cloth. Some are clawing at it, trying to tear it off. Some are gazing through the holes seeing parts of themselves they’ve never seen before, awakening to new passions with purpose and zeal. Others, like me, are slowly relinquishing the needle and thread and opening our eyes.

I think it’s begun to sink in that what once was will never be again. There’s no going back, and the way ahead is as obscure as San Francisco when the fog rolls in. There’s no new normal – only new.

We have a window of time, right now, to prepare.

At least some of us do. Others are rushing out every day, exhausted and sleep-deprived, to care for the sick. Some are running herd on children who would otherwise be in school, possibly trying to squeeze in a full-time job that also has to be managed from home. Many others have lost jobs and are homeless, struggling to survive.

The rest of us wallow in an abundance of time that arranges itself differently than before. I’ve become accustomed to Bali’s ‘rubber time.’ I’m used to losing track of days. Sometimes entire months go missing. But COVID has brought an additional level of strangeness to the equation. Now there’s an absence of time. We’ve been sucked into a vacuum that feels endless and motivation stagnates.

So when I say we have a window of time to prepare, it’s prudent to ask, ‘Prepare for what?’ No one can answer that question. It’s the HOW that’s important. HOW do we prepare ourselves for the unknown ahead?

Raw material is plentiful. We’re it.

Our minds, bodies, and emotions are ripe for new management. We can’t approach a paradigm shift with old expectations and worn-out patterns. In many cases, even our dreams must be revised or replaced.

It’s an opportunity to reflect on the past and assess what we want to carry with us into the future and to determine what is excess baggage and has to go. The current chaos is calling us to center and conserve our energy – to form a sea of tranquility in the eye of the hurricane and that’s no easy task.

I’m paying far more attention to intuition than ever before, heeding subtle nudges, seeking to increase awareness and strengthen deeper ways of knowing. By so doing, I’m creating a version of myself that will survive the challenges of this unparalleled time. I’m revising hopes and rewriting responses. I’m seeing that NEVER was yesterday and no longer applies. Options I wouldn’t have considered a week ago are now viable. I’m studying this unfamiliar person with befuddled curiosity.

Under pressure, rigidity breaks. Flexibility bends.

I want to learn this lesson the first time. I know a bit about lessons: if we don’t nail it, the next will strike with force so brutal there may be nothing left to salvage.

This reality that covers us with a strange cloth full of mystifying holes is urging us to take stock of ourselves. To view this as opportunity rather than disaster.

I, too, have lost a dear one to the virus. I’m on the other side of the world from my children and grandchildren and all plans to visit are cancelled for the unforeseeable future. Thankfully, my home here is secure. But there is a deep sense of grief and loss every day.

And yet, another part of me sits in awe at what I’m being allowed to experience in this lifetime and I’m determined to make the most of it.

The Corona Effect – Can you explain it in eight words or less?

Clouds pile up like mounds of gray wool on a shearing floor. Staring into them, half meditating, half daydreaming, I’m reminded my lesson today is presence. Take time. Be in the moment. Feel the breeze. Smell the incense. In the distance, wind chimes clunk their hollowed-out happiness.

And there’s that other sound.

When I first moved to Bali I blew up a hair dryer. It gave me a healthy respect for 230 voltage – a bit different from 110, standard in the US. I assumed the buzzing sound I heard throughout the day, all day, every day, was that powerful current ripping through the tangle of wires festooned overhead.

Several months passed and I was visiting a mountain village. There were no wires yet the humming persisted. I asked a local, “What’s that sound?”

Jangkrik,” he said.

“Electric?” I asked, thinking I’d heard wrong.

He repeated it very slowly, “Jaaaangkriiiik,” opening his mouth long and narrow for the first syllable, then wide and toothy for the second, looking at me in a way that communicated his sympathy for my obvious mental inadequacies.

I had him write the word.

When I got home I typed jangkrik into Google Translate and hooted.

Cicada.

All this time those humming wires of my imagination were simply thousands of little bugs singing their lungs out.

So back to the sights, smells, and sounds of this morning…

I wanted to add cicadas to my opening paragraph and say they sounded like the buzz of overloaded electrical wires. But it dawned on me there might be an actual name for that occurrence.

Google to the rescue – and I kid you not. That high-voltage phenomenon is called the Corona Effect.

This kind of thing happens to me all the time. What are the chances I’d google that today, or ever for that matter? But I did, and when I read this part of the definition, I knew why.

Corona discharge from high voltage electric power transmission lines constitutes an economically significant waste of energy…

The corona discharge of this pandemic is:

  • Uncertainty
  • Misinformation
  • Restriction
  • Loss of income
  • Depression
  • Illness
  • Death

Its effect is a significant waste of energy, and managing the reality and the fear around so much negativity requires conservation of resources. The only action that seems to accomplish that is to be fully in the present.

If you were inside my head today, you’d have heard my new mantra:

This is a precious moment of life. Don’t waste it worrying about the future or regretting the past. Engage fully with this moment and be grateful for all that’s good, right here, right now. That’s enough.

Until now my nervous system has been a victim of the Corona Effect, twanging away on overload, leaving me permanently exhausted. Today was different.

I love this teaching by Thich Nhat Hanh –

If while washing dishes, we think only of the cup of tea that awaits us, thus hurrying to get the dishes out of the way as if they were a nuisance, then we are not “washing the dishes to wash the dishes.” What’s more, we are not alive during the time we are washing the dishes. In fact we are completely incapable of realizing the miracle of life while standing at the sink. If we can’t wash the dishes, chances are we won’t be able to drink our tea either. While thinking of other things we are barely aware of the cup in our hands. Thus, we are sucked away into the future — and we are incapable of actually living one minute of life.

Today I washed the dishes to wash the dishes.

Desperate To Feel Normal – What’s Your Name?

Sweet Orange is a special place hidden deep in the rice fields. Its Vietnamese coffee, ayam sambal matah, and black rice pudding with coconut gelato is a meal fit for the goddess. I fall short of that label but I was hungry and desperate to feel normal.

“You want lunch?” I asked Ketut. He’s yet to turn down a meal.

“Ya.”

In the past I’d always walked the rice field trail to Sweet Orange.

This was the first time I’d ridden a motorbike there. It will also be the last. The narrow path between paddies was so broken and bumpy I thought for sure I’d end up head first in the muck with the ducks. The bike bucked and jerked. I squeezed my eyes shut and clenched my teeth so they wouldn’t shatter.

I should never doubt Ketut’s mastery of his machine. He got us there safely, all body parts intact.

We found a place to sit – it wasn’t difficult – a mother with twin toddlers were the only other diners. We ordered. Then, as if conjured, the twins appeared next to us. “What’s your name?” one asked.

“I’m Sherry. What’s your name?” By now their mother was standing behind them. They were blond, blue-eyed sweethearts and reminded me of my twin grandsons far away in Minnesota.

“Avianpuppychocolatepigbirdcatpillowyellowicecreamstars…”

You lost me at chocolate,” I said.

His mother laughed. “This is Alexander. But he likes to be called Avian, and when asked his name he lists all his favorite things.”

They were almost three years old, bright, precocious, and verbal. When their dad came to pick them up they shouted their goodbyes and ran to him.

I’ve missed that about Bali. When I first arrived I met someone new every day. There weren’t as many visitors back then, and the ones who came were friendlier. With the pandemic there are so few foreigners we’re all a bit starved for each other. Once again conversations spark spontaneously and new friendships are birthed.

Our Vietnamese coffee arrived.

I’d bragged about it to Ketut, “Like Nescafe but better,” I told him.

He took a sip. “More like Luwak,” he said.

“What? No way!” For the uninitiated, kopi Luwak is fondly known as ‘poop’ coffee since the beans are eaten by civets and pooped out undigested. They’re collected, cleaned, roasted, and become the outrageously over-priced Luwak coffee.

Ketut just chuckled.

I turned my attention to the flowers blooming beside us. They looked like impatiens, super-sized.

Bali’s tropical climate does that to plants. What was a potted poinsettia on the table at Christmas in Minnesota, in Bali becomes a tree.

By now I was starving and quickly lost interest in the flora.

Because patrons are as rare as feathers on fleas these days, there was only one person working. My stomach let out a growl loud enough to be embarrassing just as he set heaping plates in front of us.

Sweet Orange makes ayam sambal matah like no one else. You can too, and here’s how. Put the following in a bowl:

  • Roast chicken breast sliced fairly thin
  • Sliced shallots
  • Sliced clove garlic
  • Sliced lemongrass
  • Birdseye chilies julienned

Squeeze fresh lime juice. Add a pinch of salt, a little olive oil, and shrimp paste to taste. Lightly toss the above ingredients with the dressing. Serve on salad greens beside a mound of red rice.

So easy even I could do it. But I’d rather go to Sweet Orange because I can’t make their Jegeg. Oh bliss! It’s chilled creamy black rice pudding topped with coconut gelato.

I ordered one and enjoyed the heck out of the first bite. But after polishing off my heaping plate of chicken, one bite was just right. Ketut happily finished the rest.

Soft Balinese music, tinkling wind chimes, and breezes sighing over rice paddies creates a serenity that makes leaving hard. I was nervous about climbing on the motorbike for the return trip. “Maybe I should walk. I’m a little afraid.”

Ketut turned to me with that smile that makes everything sunshine and rainbows.

“It’s shorter going back,” he said.

“And how is that possible?”

“I’ll show you. Climb on.”

I reluctantly obliged. I thought maybe he knew a different way. He’s famous for his back-road detours. We retraced the exact same route we’d come, yet it did seem shorter.

“Ok, Ketut. It was the same road but it felt like half the time. What happened?”

“Going home,” he said. “It’s always like that.”

You Found Me, Didn’t You…My Long Lost Lover Returns

“Message!” The phone squawks.

I pause journaling and take a look.

His name conjures an instant memory: the dining room of a turn-of-the-century duplex in a sketchier part of downtown Minneapolis. A group of us around a huge table, eating, drinking, laughing. One is the sender of the message. Another is a lawyer. We’re dating. I’m twenty-five and these are my friends.

But I had neither seen nor heard from any of them in over forty years.

The text was one sentence, almost cruel in its brevity, telling me the attorney had died that morning.

Suddenly I wanted to know everything. Had he been ill? Did he suffer? Was he still practicing law? A wife? Children? Was he happy? But I limited my response to, “I’m so sorry. Did he have health issues?”

Throughout the day, memories shadowed me like a visitation of ghosts. Our relationship had been playful, light, steering intentionally away from anything that smacked of responsibility or permanence. Eventually we found others but the friendship endured. He was a caring presence through an exceedingly difficult time in my life.

Then I married and we lost touch.

With a heavy heart, I wondered if I’d hear anything back. Messenger was quiet.

First thing next morning, the reply came with more answers than I’d hoped. He’d bought fifty-five acres near a small town in Wisconsin and built a studio where he could paint. He moved there permanently when he retired. There was no electricity and no phone service – he was ‘off the grid’ as my friend put it.

Then he developed heart problems. A few years ago he’d had a pacemaker put in but it had recently been doing more harm than good. He told the doctors to turn it off. They warned him if they did it wouldn’t be long.

And it wasn’t. He died a week later.

I left the phone and stared out over my garden picturing him, his dark hair and neatly trimmed beard framing electric blue eyes. A butterfly floated past. I’d never seen one like it before. The wings were outlined in black. The centers almost vibrated they were so intensely blue. “Hello, pretty thing,” I said, and watched it dance then flit away.

Curious about the Wisconsin town, I googled it. Around the same time my old lover had retired and moved there, I’d nearly purchased a B&B in Maidenrock, eighteen miles away. Strange coincidence, I thought.

I scrolled though photos that looked like the main street in a Western film.

Then, for no particular reason, I clicked on area parks. There were frozen waterfalls, hills and trees covered with snow. I flipped through the images and suddenly stopped, backed up, and telescoped in for a close-up. There, sitting on a fallen log, was a butterfly identical to the one that had visited my garden just moments before.

I gasped, then shivered as goosebumps peppered my arms. A Wisconsin butterfly…in Bali? The rest of the photos were scenery, not a squirrel, bird, or another butterfly in the bunch. Sadness evaporated.

“You found me, didn’t you?” I chuckled. “On the other side of the world…after all these years…”

Photo credit: Laura Stocker

Shhh #nofilter Do I dare tell the truth?

Usually I post a blog when inspiration strikes which has been happening about once a week for several months now. Ideas flow, words come, and a somewhat cohesive piece of writing materializes.

This week arrived.

I waited. Fished around in my subconscious. Looked at old notes jotted on random scraps of paper. Pulled tarot cards…

The cards had plenty to say, but the messages were personal, nothing anyone else would find interesting.

Today, still at a loss, I took time to reflect on the weeks leading up to 2020. What thoughts circled as I approached my 70th birthday? What questions followed me to Italy? What conflicts arose? What has resolved? What’s still bubbling in the stew-pot?

Relationships. It’s been all about relationships.

I’m a listener, non-confrontational, looking out for the emotional needs of others, rarely revealing my own. My mother’s instructions have dictated my behavior for sixty-nine years: If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all. And this one: If you listen, Sherry, you’ll always have friends. People aren’t really interested in what you have to say.

Double whammy. Ouch! Ouch!

Mom was a product of her upbringing and raised ‘Minnesota Nice’ daughters. I don’t fault her. But approaching the seventh decade of my life, all that listening began to feel like really old news. There was something deceptive about it and the more I watched myself in that role the more disgusted I became.

In my fifties I did a fourteen-month course in grounding meditation. During a one-on-one session with the leader she asked me, What do you want more than nice? I answered, Truth, then went on my merry way being nice.

That element of my identity was obsolete. It needed to be let go and mercifully allowed to die.

Facing the momentous birthday looming ahead, self-loathing bubbled within. Why hadn’t I changed? Why was I still being The Insipid Ms. Nice? What part of myself didn’t I want others to see? Nothing seemed to have more urgency and importance than transparency and honest communication. I craved it with every cell in my body.

I told my daughters I loved them but I was on a truth-telling rampage and I hoped they wouldn’t hate me forever if I actually spoke what I was thinking at times. During a conversation with my youngest a few days later, I was clicking along the old track asking questions, hiding in the shadows, when all at once she said, Mom, stop. Tell me about you.

With her words a layer of my psyche that feared rejection, confronted me.

I saw in a flash that I couldn’t just snap my fingers and, presto change-o, the authentic and honest-to-a-fault Sherry would show up. I committed to doing the work, whatever it took, to stop playing safe and get my skin in the game.

The Universe took note and brought me face-to-face with people who challenged my intentions in the most unique and unexpected ways. There are methods for handling honesty with diplomacy and grace, but like a toddler taking her first wobbly steps, it was a skill-set I hadn’t mastered. And yet, the feeling of embodying my whole self for perhaps the first time ever, helped me see beyond the collateral damages of those first disappointing attempts.

Then I left for Italy.

If ever there was a culture of direct, honest communicators, Italians epitomize it. They’re open about their emotions, state their points clearly, and expect the same in return. What that accomplishes is an atmosphere of relaxed acceptance. You know where you stand and what you say is taken at face value. My visit there couldn’t have come at a more opportune time. I had exceptional role models for exactly the kind of transparent person I hoped to become.

As I returned to Bali, COVID hit hard. That was five months ago. The pandemic hasn’t let up and as physical masks go on, psychological masks come off. People are ground down to their essence. Everyone is living closer to the bone than ever before. It’s bringing out the worst and the best in us but rarely anything lukewarm. Truth is raw and exposed. We’re learning what’s important and who our friends are.

But here’s the thought I want to leave with you.

This is not just a random difficult time. It’s a destined milestone along our soul path. In relationships the other person is not the point. If we’re triggered by them, they’ve poked at a wound and it’s time that wound was opened, scraped clean, and healed. We’ve been given a rare, once-in-a-millennium opportunity to recognize how human we are, to see our warts laid bare, and tend to the business of emotional accountability.

It’s time for truth-telling – especially to ourselves.

What’s Controlling You?

Projection: the mental process by which people attribute to others what is in their own minds.

Projection is a bad idea but everyone does it – often. We’re the sum of our experiences. A few we recognize. Others, buried in our subconscious, are all the more damaging because we’re ignorant of them. Our forgotten memories determine how we respond to life.

Here’s an example of projection.

I walk into a café and see someone I know. He looks up and scowls in my direction. I assume he’s reacting to seeing me and I think, “OMG! I’ve just ruined his day. I had no idea he felt that way about me. He hates me.” I do a hasty about-face and exit the café.

The person who looked up just then has a throbbing headache. He notices me and thinks, “I haven’t seen Sherry in ages…” He’s unaware that his pain shows so openly on his face and begins to stand to greet me. As I turn and flee he thinks, “What the…? Why’s she avoiding me? I’m sure she saw me…”

Mine is the only head I can be in – the only thoughts I can access. Anything else is pure imagination. Both of us assumed we knew what the other was thinking. Things like this happen all the time and cause misunderstandings, ruin friendships, parent/child relationships, and marriages.

There’s another way projection can warp our perceptions.

Today I opened my curtains and saw lopped-off branches heaped in the garden.

My heart did a vertical plunge and landed near my feet. I had to muster every ounce of self-control to keep from dashing outside, wrestling Ketut to the ground, and tying his saw-wielding hands behind his back.

Wouldn’t you think by now I’d know he’s a master gardener; that his pruning is essential or the well-groomed landscape would become an impenetrable jungle gobbling up everything in its path?

And yet I have the same visceral response every single time.

After the first surge of adrenaline, I was able to breathe, unclench my fists, retrieve my heart, and appreciate the fact I have a brilliant helper to tend my yard. Granted, for one day after he’s hacked it back it looks like a bad haircut. But thunderheads roll in, rain streams down and in less time than it takes to mourn the loss of the trumpet vine, there are ten new ones covered with flowers.

I’m projecting on Bali my experience growing up in northern Minnesota where a garden, if we were lucky, lasted two months. Buds were holy. Blossoms, revered. A flowering tree was immortalized by hundreds of photos so we could remember through the nine months of winter that life did exist and would return.

On the left, it’s 1965. I’m 15. My younger siblings and I made a snow horse and behind us is the snow fort. Missy, our black lab, never figured out she wasn’t human. On the right it’s 1951. The family’s been out for a walk with Mr. Chips, our collie. Dad took the photo.

That was the past I was stuck in when I looked out my window.

* * *

I define projection as a need to control a situation by basing it on a familiar remembered experience and acting accordingly.

If we can stop at any point before action is taken and ask, Where is this coming from, and honestly assess what might be at the root of our assumptions, how many heartaches would we avoid?

That’s what I managed to do this morning. I stopped before making a seventy-year-old fool of myself thinking I could win any kind of wrestling match with Ketut.

I ditched the bitter Minnesota memories and drew on recent experience where, in Bali, a wildly luscious garden is an everyday fact of life not a mirage that disappears under frigid mounds of white.

I hurried outside, my pores oozing gratitude, and thanked Ketut for being such a magnificent steward of my treasured tropical surroundings. Then I promised to make him famous by featuring him once again in my blog. “And put it on Facebook,” he said, like the true, attention-loving Leo he is.

Once Upon A Success!

There are many things I do well. I’m trying to think of one. Never mind.

I’ve been transparent about my shortcomings. My friends (you are my friends, right?) seem to enjoy hearing about my kitchen snafus. It softens the sting of failure to frame culinary disasters in the humorous light of story. Then, like so many other things in life we tell ourselves, the tale I’ve woven to make others laugh becomes my belief.

There. We’ve gotten the deep philosophical lesson out of the way.

No segue here – just stream-of-consciousness because my thoughts tonight are all-over-the-place and I don’t care if you see the scrambled brain I have to deal with to pull together a coherent piece of writing. By the end it will all make sense.

I hope.

I’ve noticed a change since isolation first began. Back then, I was diligent to a fault, going nowhere, washing every berry and leaf that entered my house and hanging my grocery bags in the sun for a few days to disinfect. At that time, Bali had one death and no active cases of the virus.

To be fair, I’d just come from Italy where infections were rampant and I was more than a little freaked.

That was four months ago.

Yesterday my gorgeous young neighbor came over for our weekly chat. Normally I’d have changed clothes, combed my hair, slapped on a dash of lipstick and at least attempted to be presentable. She was right on time, as always. My hands were in the dishpan. (We can’t hug anyway.) As I wiped them dry I shrugged and said, “Hey. I don’t know what’s wrong with me but I didn’t even try to get cute for you.”

Her explosion of laughter was no doubt heard in the next village. “I can’t believe you said that.” She shook her head to emphasize her disbelief. “Normally I’d find a tank top that was a little form-fitting but…” she grabbed a hunk of loose fabric. “These are my pajamas!”

The longer this altered reality continues the more relaxed I become, which makes no sense because now the numbers of cases here are climbing fast. This is when I should be ultra vigilant. But I seem to have expended all my survival energy in those first scary weeks.

Other obsessions have come and gone. Cooking, for instance.

At the beginning, cooking was something to do at home that helped pass too many empty hours that flipped over like a book of blank pages. Making food gave me purpose – and something to eat.

I couldn’t believe how much enjoyment I milked out of experimenting with new recipes in my limited kitchen.

And then…nothing.

The desire to cook left as magically as it had come. Jigsaw puzzles became the new time-eater to soften the brunt of nothing to do and all day to do it.

After jigsaw, my writing mojo miraculously resurfaced and I finished the novel I’ve been working on for three years…really finished it…the final rewrite…DONE.

Today, wonder of wonders, my desire to cook returned.

But this time I went with something tried and true, something I know how to do well: stove-top granola. And because it’s more delicious than anything you’ll ever find on the grocery shelf, and because I want you to believe I don’t fail every time, here’s my process in step-by-step photos so you can try it yourself.

WORLDS’ BEST GRANOLA

  • Prepare about 1 cup each of dried apricots (cut into pieces) and raisins then set aside
  • Put 1/3 cup cold-pressed virgin coconut oil in a non-stick frying pan
  • Add 3/4 cup each raw sesame, pumpkin, and sunflower seeds
  • On top of the seeds add 2 cups dried coconut flakes
  • Pour 4 cups rolled oats on top of the coconut flakes
  • Thoroughly mix so the oily seeds are distributed throughout
  • Turn gas flame on high (electric range owners you’re on your own)
  • With a broad spatula continuously rotate the contents at the bottom of the pan to the top so it doesn’t burn
  • When the coconut flakes start turning brown (about 4 minutes) remove the pan from the heat but continue stirring for another minute while the pan cools
  • Mix in the apricots and raisins

Now comes the secret that makes this granola the worlds’ best…

  • Add 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt (I use pink Himalayan salt but it’s not required) to 1 teaspoon powdered stevia leaf and mix well

Warning! Do NOT use the white, processed, sugar substitute with the disgusting aftertaste! Use pure stevia leaf. It’s green.

  • Sprinkle one-half of the salt/stevia over the mixture in the pan. Stir well then sprinkle the rest and mix again.

The salty-sweetness without a trace of sugar makes this not only the world’s best granola, but very possibly the world’s healthiest.

WALLAH!

This Corporate Escapee loves her granola. And how about that? I didn’t try to get cute for you, either.

Previous Older Entries

%d bloggers like this: