No, you don’t understand…

Stretch reality, expand it until it becomes unreal, a thing so far removed from the familiar that words of explanation cease to exist.

I awaken at 6:00 a.m. to the hollow wooden echo of the kul kul and a chorus of roosters. Morning. The fingers of the great coconut palm brush my window, whish, whish, and clouds in the east blush golden. My feet meet the silky chill of the tiled floor. Curls of sweet cempaka incense from morning offerings tells me that Pasek has already appeased the gods on my behalf. I pad to the bathroom and assault my face with cold water.

Yoga pants and sports bra await. Yawning, I slip into clothes and push the wall of sliding doors aside. A rush of morning air carries the scent of onions and garlic frying and the gossipy blither of sparrows busy vying for best nesting rights under the eaves. With a practiced flick of the wrist, my mat unfurls and I step into place for morning sun salutes. Today I do the sequences quickly, pushing myself to wake up.

Forty minutes later, muscles warmed and mind clear, I open the front door. Sitting in bags, striped black and white and one shocking pink, are papaya, salak, jackfruit, sprouts, spinach, cozy brown eggs from chickens that have never known captivity, and sweet kue. I didn’t order kue, but periodically the irresistible, fattening delicacies appear. Mmmm yum! Shallots and garlic round out today’s picks. Ketut asked for my shopping list last night so he could visit the Ibus’ produce trucks before sunrise.

The teakettle whistles. Scalding water with one part Nescafe and one part Torajan coffee, mixed well and allowed to settle, brings me fully into the day. I answer e-mails then pick up writing where I abandoned it the night before. Half-way through morning Ketut appears to cook rice, vegetables, and tofu for the noon meal. Before he begins, one-quarter of the papaya is sliced into a bowl with a spritz of fresh squeezed lime juice. Breakfast is served.

“Have program?” he asks while he chops and minces.

“How about flower shopping? Go to Mas?”

“What you want?

“Short flowers, red, yellow, for the garden.”

“Maybe grass?”


“Ya. Two meters make many many.” It’s clear to me that I have a fuzzy idea of what I want but Ketut has the master plan. I don’t pursue with questions.

At noon we set off by motorbike to the nurseries in the next village. The woodworker shop where I left a sketch and a request for a quote is on our way. We swerve in and stop so I can check to see if there’s a price assigned to my drawing.

“Bapak belum,” says the little moonface in pigtails. (Daddy not yet.) The shy older girl says nothing and both turn back to the cartoon characters shouting at each other on the rabbit-eared t.v. We press on.

Another mile down the road lush, well-ordered gardens appear on the right. “Grass here,” Ketut says. In the States I’ve seen turf rolled into neat bundles and delivered by truck to create instant lawn. Of course that’s what I expect. Dumbfounded I watch as the stooped Balinese man marks off two meters of ground cover and skims it from the earth into a pink plastic bag in exchange for 50,000 rph. ($4.75 U.S.) An hour later we’re on our way back to Ubud. On the bike seat between us is the bulging bag of sprouting earthen knobs, and atop that, the yellow and red blooms of ten plants bob gaily like the flowers on a clown’s hat. For a split-second I imagine us tooling down Nicollet Ave. in Minneapolis. A Neil Diamond song runs through my head,

It’s Love, Brother Love, say
Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show
Pack up the babies and grab the old ladies
And ev’ryone goes, ’cause everyone knows
Brother Love’s show…!

Why that song?

Back at home Ketut serves up lunch then heads to the garden. I resume writing. The sounds of drumming and male voices in a staccato kecak chant jolt me from my altered author state. Gede and Kadek, the staff from Rumah Jepun next door, and Alit from Rumah Kita on the other side of me, are helping Ketut prepare the ground for grass. Ketut scrapes and chops at the hard-baked earth and shovels it into buckets.

P1070473The three volunteers relocate the contents. On the return they pound a wild beat on their empty bucket drums and fill the afternoon with the syncopated chak-chak…chak-chak-chak… that they’ve heard since before they could walk. Primal energies churn through my nervous system. There is something deep in my cells that knows the language of drumming, knows that understanding its message meant survival. I close my eyes as the force of their sound vibrates through me.


The performance is by them and for them, but I’m the lucky bystander and when the camera appears smiles beam upward.

Last night this same group gathered around my table to play Uno.  We’re vastly different in age, cultural background, education, and life experience but at the core, our hearts desire the same things, community, acceptance, laughter, love.


As the sun and heat intensify, Ketut lays down the clods, pressing them into moist, loosened earth. Now I understand his cryptic, two meters make many many. He’s already planted about four meters and that pink plastic is still half full! I hurry downstairs and slip into my garden flip-flops . It isn’t until I’m eye level with the artful ‘ruin’ in the far corner of the plot that I notice the cheerful yellows and reds embedded in their new home. I had imagined stewing, contemplating, The yellow here? No, over there? No…. But I’ve been spared the indecision and it’s perfect.


“Wow Ketut! I love it! Amazing job!” He knows he’s good, but you can never give a Leo too much praise. He poses for the camera looking like something from The National Geographic in the rolled up ‘PINK brand’ sweat pants that some guest discarded, with his t-shirt swathed around his head.

“Facebook?” he asks.

“Absolutely! Okay?”

“Ya, okay!” His grin spreads wider.


My phone tings and there’s a text from Nina. Join me for a cocktail? I leave the garden and go around the corner to her kitchen. She dusts off the tiny blue stool that we both know is my spot. I sit, sipping a Mandarin orange juice shot through with mango vodka and marvel at the way she can talk, gesture, drink, and cook all in the same breath. We remark again at the fate that made us neighbors and agree that our friendship is a happy accident. We share the knowledge that people who haven’t experienced this kind of life cannot possibly understand its rich rewards.

At dusk I toddle home and hear the trickle of the water hose as Ketut gives the new plantings their kiss goodnight. An hour later he appears, showered and fresh. “Want fish?” he asks as he scans the contents of the refrigerator.

“Yes! Great!”

We feast on Lake Batur bounty smothered in Balinese sambal, and a savory mix of sautéed veggies over rice. At eight he closes the sliding doors and heads down the hallway. “Want door lock?” he says as he lets himself out.

“Please. And thank you for everything.”

“Ya. Good night. See you tomorrow.”

It’s a snippet, a typical day in a life that I could never have imagined for myself. Ketut is staff. Every foreign resident in Bali must employ at least one Balinese person. He has his own bedroom and bath on site. He shops for me, cleans, gardens, cooks, and carries me on the back of his bike wherever I need to go. He’s up at 5:30 a.m., to the market by 6:00, and sometimes he’s still hauling me to and from engagements at midnight. He manages my life so it’s a seamless, effortless, joyous event. But he’s also my friend.

How did this happen?



Birds do it, bees do it, even educated fleas do it…

I’m a farmer’s daughter. Even after we moved to town, I spent summers driving tractor, hoisting bales onto the hay wagon, and swatting mosquitoes. While classmates were traveling to Europe, or hanging out at the local drive-in, I was thirty miles from nowhere harvesting alfalfa. And here’s the scary part: I liked it. Love for the land and its produce is intrinsic, a part of who I am.

So when I asked Ketut to take care of the garden, I imagined he would water it when it was thirsty and keep the grass cut. After all, that and a little fertilizer does the trick in Minnesota. Right?

What was I thinking? This is Bali.  A garden here looks more like the Disney Jungle Cruise on steroids, and I’m clueless. I’m learning to stand back and let those who know what they’re doing, take charge.  So when Ketut showed up with a wicked curved knife in his hand and said, “Cut garden,” I just backed out of his way, nodding assent.


Ketut in my ‘garden’

I didn’t pay much attention until I heard a tree crashing to earth. To my dismay, I found Ketut, knife flailing, doing battle with the jungle that appeared to be swallowing him alive.

“Ketut!” I must have sounded alarmed because he stopped hacking for a moment.

“What?” he said, looking at me, eyebrows raised.

“Snakes!” I think I may have been shouting. “Hati-hati!”

“Where snake?” he said and I immediately felt stupid.

“No snake,” I replied, “Just…please be careful!”

He grinned, “Ya,” he said. I don’t want to know what he was thinking.


Piles of branches litter the yard

Several hours later the ground was littered with hacked vegetation and instead of a mass of tangled vines, there were identifiable plants.

“What will you do with all of this?” I asked him, motioning at the piles of tropical foliage.

“Make new,” he said, whatever that meant. I didn’t have to wait long to find out. He grabbed a handful of the most colorful branches and carried them to the garden’s edge. With a few swift motions, he jabbed the stalks he had just cut, back into the ground.

I watched with my jaw hanging open. “What are you doing?” I asked.

“Make new,” he said again. “Rain come, grow-grow.” I almost laughed at the impossibility of that idea. If I stuck a branch from, oh, say an oak tree, in the corner of the yard in Minnesota, no amount of rain would make that sucker grow! But I bit my tongue and said nothing.


Ketut jabbing the branches into the earth “Make new!”

Just then a movement under the bushes froze me in my tracks. I stared into the darkness. Plop! It wasn’t a snake, snakes don’t plop. I squatted on my haunches and peered into the undergrowth. A warty, brown blob stared back at me. It looked like an alien life form. “That has to be the ugliest frog I’ve ever seen!” I said.

Ketut joined me for a look. “Married,” he stated matter-of-factly. Then I saw the problem. It wasn’t one, but two ugly-as-sin toads, enjoying a moment of intimacy in the garden.



A song came to mind…Cole Porter…Birds do it, bees do it, even educated fleas do it…

I left the garden, Ketut, and the toads to their business, poured a glass of wine, and pondered the rich layers of this experience. What a privilege to have so much to learn.

A few hours later we had another epic monsoon. Today those plants look like they’ve always been there. They didn’t miss a beat. No post traumatic transplant stress for them! Suddenly I’m aware of the possibilities. Seeds. Everything I eat has seeds, and here they’re probably not the GMO variety. What if I planted chili seeds, and papaya? How about a few garlic buds, and ginger root? Mango? Visions of eating delicious meals harvested from my back yard garden plays like a B movie through my head.

I run the idea by Ketut. “Possible,” he says. Of course it is. Just about anything is possible in paradise.

Garden on Steroids

“Want to see garden?” Ketut, the master of understatement, asked. We had just finished up a quick errand and I was planning to get back to my neglected writing. But who can resist a lovely garden as long as it belongs to someone else? I grew up pulling weeds, picking beans, shelling peas and not loving it. I revisited gardening once as an adult and quickly realized I did not inherit my father’s green thumb. “Sure,” was my immediate reply and off we went.

A few miles down the road Ketut pulled into a parking area and I read the sign, Botanic Garden Ubud. Of course I started laughing. My assumption versus Ketut’s reality is always off by about 180 degrees. I thought we might stroll for a few minutes through a temple garden or a pretty landscape. But the extravaganza of flora and fauna that awaited me was beyond my imagining. Two hours and thirty minutes later we emerged from an adventure that neither of us had anticipated. There were stone paths through groves of bamboo. There were steep staircases beside a bottomless river gorge. There was a temple meditation area and deep in the heart of that jungle garden, a rainforest. I think I must have said, “Oh wow!” a thousand times. So, want to see a garden?  Come with me!

The journey begins in the Orchid House where some ordinary, and some very rare orchids are raised for sale commercially.

The Orchid House

The Orchid House

The Orchid House

The Orchid House

Leaving The Orchid House

We left the Orchid House and descended a broad staircase into incredible layers of green.

The Path and Benches

Here and there a bench, free-form and organic, offered a place to rest and gaze. The path surfaces varied from tight, smooth pebbles to lumpy rock, to asphalt, to dirt and in one area, beautiful mosaic. You want to wear hiking sandals for optimum enjoyment of the walk.

Heliconia Hill


The Fern Garden

Entrance to Meditation Area

The Bamboo Grove

More of The Bamboo Grove

Small Waterfall Approaching Deep Gorge and Rainforest

The photos of the rainforest do not come close to doing justice to the magnificence. There was a river somewhere far below the dense jungle growth. All I could see through the layers was blackness.

Rainforest and River Gorge

Mother-in-law’s Tongue

I had to photograph this for my mother. She has a pot of Mother-in-law’s Tongue (I’m sure the name comes from the fact that the leaf is sharp and pointed!) in her living room that is from a plant that my grandmother brought with her on the boat from Norway in the early 1900’s.

Rainforest, green upon green upon green!

Approach to Lotus Ponds

Mosaic Lotus Motif in Path

The Maze

It was much darker than it looks. Don’t go in if you are even slightly claustrophobic. The paths twist and turn and YOU WILL GET LOST! I thought I was on my way out, turned a corner…dead end. It’s a good way to get the heart rate elevated without strenuous exercise.

The Palm Hill

Sculpture Garden and view of Orchid Houses

As we emerged from the intense density of jungle into this airy, open space at the end of the trail I had just a momentary flash of what it might have been like for those first adventurers. They wouldn’t have had the luxury of paths. Nor would they have had the little signs to tell them what they were looking at. There would have been no bamboo rail to warn them of the edge of the cliff that drops into nothingness. There might have been snakes. I was jolted back into the now by Ketut. “Go home?” he asked. “Yes, go home. This was a good adventure Ketut!” (We like that word.) He laughed then said, “What you want to eat?”

Cooking Class on an Organic Farm in Bali

Let’s be honest. I don’t LOVE cooking. And this past year is the first time I’ve really gotten into eating. I hadn’t thought much about it until now, but it makes total sense. Along with the other changes in my life I have been slowly transitioning from carnivore to vegetarian to organic vegetarian. Becoming aware of the horrendously inhumane way our food animals are treated and the affects of genetically altered crops on nutrition was a start. Then learning about the chemicals and pesticides that keep the bugs away, increase yield, and make our food look pretty while poisoning us and ruining our ecosystem…well…that was the proverbial straw. Change didn’t happen overnight, but lasting change rarely does. Eating differently is a major lifestyle shift. It requires thinking in a new way about food.

Today as Dayu instructs her two eager students, Simone from Switzerland and me, she keeps saying, “Food is medicine.” I need to revise that to make it true…Dayu’s food is medicine. My story starts with a harrowing ride once again on the back of a motorbike. Dayu careens past slower moving vehicles, weaving around dogs, chickens, bicycles, and small children. For 30 agonizing minutes I grip with my knees, grit my teeth, cling to her waist, and pray. Finally we turn off the main road down a bougainvillea-lined drive and I start to breathe again.

The organic rice fields stretch lush and green into the distance. Baliwood Organic Farm grows both red and white rice. Dayu parks the bike and I gratefully and inelegantly dismount. TGTO (Thank god that’s over!) A slim Asian woman is coming out of a large house to greet us. Her name is Caroline and she’s from Singapore. She apologizes that she cannot accompany us for the cooking class because her husband’s cremation was yesterday and she has much family staying with her. But she urges us to come into her home. It is always a privilege to see how other cultures live. This is no exception.

Her back yard boasts an extremely inviting pool! Inside the house, the main room is immense. There is a ping-pong table, a flat screen TV, and a few chairs with acres of white tiled floor in between. Caroline has two very large kitchens, a wet kitchen and a dry kitchen. As I understand it, because of the heavy use of grease in Asian cooking, the wet kitchen is where all of the frying and steaming of foods takes place. The dry kitchen is for everything else. (There’s a new concept for all those Western kitchen designers out there!) She has a spacious master bedroom with a massage table and king size bed. Mosquito netting romantically drapes the sides. Back outside, dotting the perimeter of the grounds are three guest houses for family and close friends, she explains.

The tour completed we are taken through this welcoming portal into Caroline’s personal organic ‘kitchen’ garden.

Dayu collects three large bowls and garden shears. She hands one to each of us. We begin our meandering through the beds of herbs and vegetables snipping mint, bay leaf, curry leaf, lemongrass, aloe, eggplant, lettuce, radish, winged beans, pumpkin, tomato, cucumber, zucchini, and a bean pod a foot long that has huge, delicious white beans inside. Caroline snaps open the pod and we eat two or three of the juicy beans right there on the spot. Delicious!

This farm goes to great lengths to purify the water used on the garden. The water that comes from the river runs through this bed of water hyacinth to be filtered before being applied to the plants. There is also a system functioning to filter the gray and black water. The fertilizer is manure and compost. There is a machine that chops large leaves and other herbaceous material to speed up the composting process. Keep in mind a leaf here can be 2 feet wide and 8 feet long!

This greenhouse is just being finished for starting new seedlings. Papaya trees and a couple of pineapple plants stand in the foreground.

Next to the greenhouse is a drying house.

The framework is wood but the walls, doors, and shelves are heavy screen material. There are several large bamboo trays of herbs drying in the structure. Gardening is the same but different in Bali. The growing season, for instance, never ends, and what is planted seems to thrive. Dayu’s husband is the knowledgeable gardener here.

In this triangular bed slices of the trunk of a banana palm are used to shield tiny seedlings from too much direct sunlight. The creative design of the garden and the use of materials occurring naturally in the local environment to solve problems is inspirational. In this land of wildly creative people, the garden seems to be just another expression of artistic genius.

The tour takes us to a structure at the far end of the garden. To our surprise, the beautiful building is the kitchen for our class. And to our further amazement, we are the first students ever to use this facility. It was just completed this week and we are it’s the maiden voyage.

The island is this utterly stunning teak slab polished to a rich luster. Our vegetables are washed and Dayu is ready to show us how to make Green Juice.

It turns out Green Juice is one cucumber, one HUGE carrot, one green apple, one whole lime, one slice ginger and a very large amount of green leafy bok choy type vegetable. She says any leafy green will do. It is a detoxifying drink loaded with nutrients.

Dayu pours the Green Juice into glasses and we enjoy the first fruits of our labors!

Next we slice, dice and julienne jicama, beet, avocado, cucumber, winged bean, tomato, and lettuce for our salads. Dayu encourages individual creativity in the presentation!

Simone’s is truly a work of art!

Mine has the roasted coconut garnish on top. Then we make the dressing. Yum! Here’s Roasted Sesame Seed Dressing:

1/2 cup roasted sesame seeds, 1 clove garlic, a chunk of ginger, 1 T fresh basil, juice of 2 limes, pinch of sea salt, pinch of black pepper, 2 T coconut oil, 1/2 cup water. Blend thoroughly.

I can’t believe I ate the whole thing! But I did. Then we move on to Pumpkin Soup.

Here are the ingredients, all cleverly waiting in their little green banana leaf boats! This recipe is amazing. The first stage produces a pan of chunky pumpkin stew that would be divinely delicious served over rice.

The ingredients for this bounty are pumpkin, lemongrass, fresh bay leaves, ginger, garlic, sea salt, black pepper, and the secret: garam masala. I cannot tell you how good this is. But then Dayu puts half of it in the blender and adds coconut milk. Heaven! Then she puts the other half in the blender (no coconut milk this time) and adds half an avocado, one tablespoon of pumpkin seeds and blends it smooth. Just that little variation makes a totally different dish. They are all so good that even though I am utterly stuffed after all that salad, I have a bowl of EACH of the soups! But we aren’t finished yet. Now its time to make steamed tofu in banana leaf!

The basic recipe blends hard tofu, garlic, ginger, lemongrass and sea salt. This one has a little curry powder and curry leaf added to the other ingredients. Served with the steamed red rice they are a shocking burst of flavor. Yes, I’m still eating and licking my plate clean!

But there is still more. Tempe Mango Curry with rice, and for dessert, Seaweed Pudding with Passion Fruit. Not only that, Dayu makes us another detoxifying drink of young coconut water and aloe. I’m beginning to wonder how all this lovely detoxifying will manifest? Hmmm….!

Tempe Mango Curry with Red Rice

Seaweed Pudding with Passion Fruit and Roasted Coconut

If I can find Irish Moss Seaweed, I can make this at home. I don’t know where to begin to look!

Stuffed beyond what is humanly possible, we waddle back through the gardens to, OH NO! a 30 minute ride BACK to Ubud on the motorbike! But it goes without incident and I am safely home, intact. Will I ever feel hungry again?

What a gloriously indulgent day!

The Green School


Today I am sending you to a link for the Green School here in Bali. There are conscious efforts in many U.S. cities to teach children to be more self-sufficient and ecology minded. In Bali they have taken it to another level. Please check out the website and see a school that was built ‘green’ and teaches ‘green.’

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