About the Monkeys…

Like slogging through a muddy rice paddy, we enter our seventh week of lockdown in Bali.

There are places to go. Grocery stores are open, Some restaurants ignore the take-out-only mandate and allow customers to sit and eat. It’s business as usual at petrol stations, banks, clinics, and pharmacies. What boggles me though, is the overwhelming number of buildings being built or remodeled. Is it optimism? Do they know something I don’t know? Or is it simply wishful thinking as numbers of new Covid cases in Bali nudged 2000 this past week. Builders’ supply stores are doing a booming business. That’s good news because I’m in the market for a new roof.

Ubud is home to The Sacred Monkey Forest. In the past, tourists paid handsomely to walk the mouldering jungle paths. They bought bananas at the gate which, one-and-a-half steps later, were snatched from their clutches to the absolute shrieking delight of besotted onlookers.

Those visitors have been gone for over eighteen months and none have come to replace them. The monkeys are bored without their daily entertainment. What’s worse, they’re hungry. Funds that used to feed them evaporated with the death of tourism.

They roam through town, performing acrobatics on electrical cables that festoon the streets. They savage neighborhoods, thieving food from fruit stands and pilfering bags full of groceries as customers depart the store. They stage war games on rooftops sending fragile clay tiles crashing to the ground.

My roof is in their path.

This never used to happen. The smart, mischievous macaques were happy in their forest sanctuary. At first they paid an occasional morning visit. As Coved droned on, that progressed to every morning. Then a late afternoon stop-by was added to the routine. Now they’re a constant presence, appearing throughout the day. If I lunch on the terrace I’m certain to attract a furry guest, or ten, who think it’s perfectly acceptable to snatch the plate from under my nose and eat the contents in front of me. Any move to salvage it is met with barred teeth and gut-chilling snarls.

It requires constant vigilance. If the house is left open and unattended, havoc is wreaked.

I’ve actually learned to tolerate most of it. But the roof is a constant source of concern. If a tile slips even a little, I’ll know it when the next storm passes through. If several are broken and I’m unaware of the damage, I’ll be scooping buckets of rainwater off the floor as mattresses get soaked and I practice words I didn’t know I knew.

Ketut spends more time on the roof than he does on dry land these days, replacing tiles.

That’s why we set out on the motorbike this morning. I’d found a shop online that sells metal roofing that looks like clay but it’s nailed in place. No slipping. No shattering into a million pieces on the ground. Ketut tells me metal isn’t completely monkey-proof. If one of those hungry beasts decides to break open a coconut up there, all bets are off. Even metal can’t withstand the jackhammer pounding of a determined monkey with a fresh nut. What are the odds that will happen? Quarterly? Once a year? Never? I’ll take my chances.

Today was gorgeous. Twenty-five minutes past lime-green rice fields, across bridges spanning bottomless gorges, through eye-blink villages, brought us to Sinar Sukses, a miniscule shop. The young man laughed when I told him Google said he had metal roof tiles. “Why would Google say that?” he shrugged. “This is a plumbing shop.” He suggested we try the building supply just a few blocks back the way we came and around the corner. Two women there listened to our request then pointed. Sheets of corrugated tin in various colors leaned against the far wall. No, they didn’t have metal tiles. Only the sheets. We asked if they knew where we could find what we were looking for. We left with an address a few miles away.

This store was large. It looked promising. We removed our helmets, washed our hands, entered and stated our business. A sad-eyed girl behind the counter shook her head.

It was on the way home that Ketut remembered a cousin recently roofed his home with metal tiles. He said he’d ask him where he bought them. A few minutes ago, the answer came. It was a building supply next to the market in Gianyar – the town we’d left a few short hours before.

I love it. I really do.

No, not the crashing roof tiles. That sound fills me with sickening dread and blood-lust – monkey blood.

I love the adventure. The thrill of The Hunt. The camaraderie as Ketut and I zip along roads that used to be clogged to a standstill with traffic this time of year. The laughter at our inside jokes that nobody else in their right mind would find even remotely funny.

The thing is, we’ll locate the tiles. Over much hemming and hawing – maybe this, perhaps that – a price will be negotiated. The job will get done. But right now, for my sanity’s sake, the longer a project takes the better. The more convoluted the search, the less time I spend missing my faraway loved ones. I seek out distractions with the same manic fervor I used to employ to avoid them.

It’s Bali. It’s lockdown. It’s life.

Please don’t ever let this become ordinary

You know how things that once amazed and delighted you fade to ordinary over time? It happens with just about everything: jobs, clothing, marriage.

When I moved to Bali, I remember sucking in fragrant, moisture-laden air, staring enraptured into bottomless ravines, tasting foods that exploded with heat and thinking, “Please don’t let me ever take this for granted.” I’ve gotten comfortable here, but I’ve never lost the tingle of delight at the scents, the landscapes, and the bursts of fire on my tongue.

Early on, I learned to ask for “Not spicy, please,” whenever I ordered Balinese fare. There’s one memorable eating adventure that still makes me giggle. I’d pointed to the word Rujak on the menu and asked the server what it was.

“Fruit salad,” she replied.

“Safe,” I thought. Little did I know the sweet papaya, pineapple, banana, and watermelon would be served drowned in a dressing heavily laced with cayenne pepper!

I’ll admit, though, there is one thing that did fade over time.

I was curious about the whistling I heard daily. It wasn’t raspy, electrical-wire-humming sound that cicadas make. This was pure, melodious, and it went on continuously for around thirty minutes every morning. One day I was having coffee with my neighbor and there it was. The whistling.

“What makes that sound?” I asked.

“What sound?” It had faded into background noise for her.

“The whistling,” I said.

“Oh, that. It’s just birds.”

Whistling birds circling over my Bali garden

I accepted her explanation and thought little more about it. Nine years later, I sat down to lunch with an expat friend who had lived in Asia most of her adult life. I’d watched the birds circling and whistling that morning and was mesmerized anew by their disciplined flight pattern and ceaseless sound. Once again, I wondered what kind of bird it was. No amount of Google searching on my part had turned up any evidence. She answered immediately.

“They’re a kind of pigeon – like homing pigeons. They’re trained to fly in circles.” I quizzed her for more but she shrugged and said that was all she knew.

Later that afternoon, I refined my Google search and this time hit pay dirt. It was one of those mind blowing moments of discovery.

Wikipedia told me that whistling pigeons have been used in China since at least the Ching Dynasty (1644 – 1912) and are also popular in Japan and Indonesia. But wonder of wonders, the birds aren’t born whistling. Tiny, lightweight whistles, painstakingly carved, are sewn into their tail feathers. The sound changes with the speed and direction of flight.

Photos from China Today

I was instantly obsessed and had to learn more. Who makes the whistles? How are the birds trained? This video answered all of those questions and several others I hadn’t thought to ask.

It seemed the flock that circled my garden was the only one of its kind in town. Over the past year of lockdown however, with time on their hands, it sounds like others may have gotten into whistle carving and pigeon training. Now there’s a new school that circles high over my back garden as well. (Pigeons. A band, dropping, flight, kit, loft, passel, plague, school – notice I resisted using plague for obvious reasons!)

The practice in China has diminished due to increasing urbanisation and regulation. I understand why. It’s a noisy hobby.

Ubud is more laid-back. People here can raise anything they want. Across the street from me in the town’s center, a family keeps chickens in makeshift coops on their flat rooftop. When the humidity is high and the wind is right, I’m keenly aware of the pig farm a block away.

It’s the complexity. The element of surprise. The strict rituals of Bali Hinduism nudged up against the relaxed approach to the rest of life that keeps amazement and delight alive in me. There will always be a mind-blowing vista to discover, a suspicious cuisine to sample, a new perspective on an old idea to explore.

Ordinary? I should say not. Extraordinary? Absolutely – like falling in love again with each sunrise.

How many days of ‘poor me’ do I get?

It’s a compulsion. Whenever I meet someone I haven’t seen for many months, the first thing I want to ask is, “How has it been for you – this year…” I want to add, ‘from hell’ but maybe it wasn’t for them. The question has to hang there, open-ended, untainted, allowing for either possibility.

I can tell you how it’s been for me. In a word, brutal.

I’ve lost a dear elderly uncle and a young friend. The struggle to keep my nervous system in balance has taken intense focus and sometimes outright trickery. Like now. I’ve been listening to Epic Choir chanting Om So Hum for an hour and I’ve just hit replay. Like the vaccine, I need a second dose and I can’t wait a month. Having soothing sounds in the background makes my body believe all is calm, normal, in control, even though my mind isn’t convinced. So while my body’s distracted, I’ll occupy my mind with this task of writing.

Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

But besides being brutal, I’ll tell you what else this year has been for me. Revelationary. Twenty-nineteen has been a time of intense self-discovery. And as you might suspect, most of it exposed the dark side. Fears came barrelling to the forefront. Old insecurities lit up like fireworks. Regret, blame, shame, guilt…all sat in judgment as months passed and reality settled over me like a burial shroud.

Then one morning I woke up thinking, How many days of ‘poor me’ do I get?

That sounded suspiciously like the old Sherry, the pre-Covid Sherry. So I laughed and answered my question: As many as you need, kid, but don’t make it a habit. I’m trying to take my own good advice. I allow myself some sadness – deep enough and painful enough that it approaches depression at times. But I love my natural optimism too much to risk losing it forever in the Slough of Despond.

Over the years I’ve learned that awareness of a problem is the first step in the path to managing it. My self-discovery journaling was all about getting to the root causes of my destructive patterns so I could take a different way forward. This year has given me enough psychological fodder to occupy me for the rest of my life, and it’s not over yet. My heart breaks at the thought of those who don’t have the mental steel-trap that I use to lock out despair and force myself back to sanity. It’s a gift that has enabled my survival during difficult times.

But the unrelenting length of this extraordinary set of circumstances concerns me the most.

In our instant gratification society we haven’t developed ‘staying power.’ I watch my children getting stretched to their limits, adjusting, then getting stretched again. (Okay, I started to feel anxious then realized my music had stopped. I just hit replay – going into the third hour of Om So Hum…!) They (my children) are young, resilient, creative, employed, and healthy. So are my grandchildren. What a blessing. I’m grateful every moment. But nothing for them is as it was. Two of them are working from home with toddlers. Locked down and locked in both by legal mandate and by snow. And there’s that 24/7 togetherness…I rest my case.

Then, as if conjured from the ether, I was given another self-discovery tool that left my mouth gaping. Gene Keys. I’d never heard of it so after accessing my scary-precise and in-depth free profile, I did some research and found that the profile info is a mere surface scratch. Richard Rudd studied the I Ching, astrology, and another body of learning called Human Design. He used aspects from all of them and came up with this vastly complex system that spits out information about you, perhaps as you’ve never seen yourself before.

To try it, click here. There’s a button for a Free Profile. Enter your birthdate and place and time of birth. If you don’t know what time you were born, just plug in 12:01 – a minute after noon. No problem. Mine nailed me, calling out both my strengths and my shadows. It brought me to another level of understanding about what I need, what I may want that doesn’t serve me, and antidotes for the pitfalls in my personality.

I’ll try anything if I think it will shed light on this creature that I am and help me navigate my life more effectively. I don’t have a lot of time left. The luxury of learning ‘the hard way’ is a thing of the past. I want to come out on the other side of this Covid freak-show a wiser, healthier, more compassionate human.

How many days of ‘poor me’ do I get?

Hopefully, soon, that won’t be a question I even have to ask.

She Cans While I Contemplate The Third Noble Truth

My sister and I began emailing every day at the beginning of lockdown. That’s approximately 344 emails to date and we haven’t let up.

I’m not talking a sentence or two. I’m talking paragraphs – five or ten or more – and photos. Seriously.

Our topics run the gamut. Canning – she has a prolific garden and makes it look easy…

We discuss politics – how can you not. And Covid – again, how can you not. But one of the things I most appreciate is her willingness to ‘go there’ with me, and that could be anywhere from musing on the existence of spirit guides to the likelihood of being rescued from a dying earth by aliens.

Yesterday, however, my sister who never complains almost complained. I’d sent her an overview of a project I’m working on and she wrote back: Sherry, I’ve had more time to look at your outline but it’s vague.

My feathers ruffled momentarily, then I realized she probably thought that’s all I had. So I answered…

“Regarding the outline, think of it like this. I have piles and piles of garments in assorted colors for different seasons but I have no hangers so the clothes are heaped on the floor. (The clothes are the content.) Hangers just got delivered.  Now all I have to do is put the clothes on hangers removing the ones I no longer want, sort the colors by season (which are the subject titles and subtitles) and hang them in order in the closet (which is the outline).

“That may be a disorderly way of doing it but that’s my MO.

“Some people start with the outline whether it’s writing a book, giving a speech, planning a course. I don’t. So often inspiration comes in the form of one sentence that intrigues me. So I start the story, or in this case material for a workshop, without much of a notion where it’s going or how it will get there. 

“I don’t like to be confined by convention or an outline that presupposes an outcome. I want my thoughts to have free reign, to respond to prompts from who-knows-where, to sprout and grow in whatever direction they will until I latch onto the idea that makes me passionate about the book or the speech or the workshop. That way I don’t get attached to a predetermined form and try to force my story into it.”

When I wrote that it brought to mind my morning meditation.

I’m not Buddhist but I find the practice of non-attachment, The Third Noble Truth in Buddhist teachings, an interesting one to grapple with. Buddhism suggests that attachment is the root of human suffering. And isn’t it true?! When you want so badly to see a certain outcome from your efforts that you try to force your life into that expectation and then it doesn’t turn out that way, there’s such a feeling of futility, remorse, failure, disappointment, in a word – suffering.

But if we approach everything with curiosity and non-attachment we leave our hearts and minds wide open to be delighted. We then live in alignment with our truest, best self, a self that embraces growth and change and allows us to fluidly adjust to new situations.

I can’t tell you how exciting it was to have made that connection.

The non-attachment principle has bothered me for some time – just couldn’t wrap my head around the feeling of chilly disengagement it brought up in me. Now I see it from a completely different perspective, one that liberates rather than withholds. And it never would have happened if I hadn’t gotten my feathers ruffled and felt the need to explain my ‘vague outline’ to my sister who never complains.

All photos taken at The Farm by Gwen Hall.

What were you doing in May 2012?

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

Who cares?

Perhaps we all should.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m retired. I’m old. I’m healthy.

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

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

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

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

to commune with clouds…

is enough.

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

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

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

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

My Exceptionially Brilliant Idea for Old Plastic Bags

Perhaps I’m not meant to have a quiet life, even in lockdown.

I thought I was getting close:

  • Rats and rat guys – dismissed
  • Snakes – gone
  • Mosquitoes – fogged
  • Monkeys – fact of life. Nothing short of fireworks deters them, but the sounds of heavy artillery at six a.m. is off-putting. I nearly jumped out of my skin when the neighbors commenced blasting. I was sure we were being bombed and almost fled with the screaming monkeys. Two days later they were back. Nothing scares them for long.



My eaves overhang the terrace creating a cozy night’s lodging for the local bat community.

At first it was only one just a few times a month. Then he brought two friends. The three of them came every night and feasted on fruits until midnight or later, dropping the pits with a resounding CLONK on my hollow metal railings. Every morning new gifts of poop, pee, and cast-offs from their evening meal dripped from the railings and mounded on the floor.

Cleaning up after them was annoying, but the racket they made was worse. I couldn’t sleep.

After a particularly loud night I’d had enough. What would stop these party-goers from overnighting at my place? A string of blinking twinkle lights? Nowhere to plug them in. A row of wind chimes? More noise.

A picture of Tibetan prayer flags flashed in my mind. Maybe, just maybe…

My imagination went to work. I had scraps of fabric from a recent change in home decor. I could cut and stitch. But in this climate they’d get moldy and faded in no time.

What else?

Just then Ketut arrived with my morning produce fresh from the market. Bali forbids plastic bags in grocery stores but traditional market vendors bag and double bag in plastic. I refuse to discard them so I have a growing collection.

A light went on. I could turn my plastic bags into plastic flags. They’d rustle ever so slightly in any breeze, they’d weather well, and it would be quick work with a pair of scissors and stapler. I even had a spool of enough pink plastic ribbon to span the nine meter (thirty ft.) stretch of overhang.

I set to work.

In a little over an hour I’d finished. Just as I looped my handiwork over the daybed to keep it from tangling, Ketut walked in.

Whaaaaat? He likes to elongate that word when he thinks I’ve done something particularly…shall we say…unusual?

I couldn’t hide my excitement. Proyek baru, Ketut! I told him it was to keep bats away and would he get the ladder and hang the flags for me please.

He gave me an odd look. Did you see this on Google? he asked.

No, Ketut. It was my own idea.

He appeared unconvinced and went to get the ladder.

As he attached my brilliant creation under the eaves he queried again, You saw on Google, ya?

I was indignant. What? You think you’re the only one around here with good ideas?

He chuckled and seemed satisfied.

I waited until I made certain it worked to tell the story and I’m thrilled to say I’ve had two solid bat poop, bat pee, CLONK-free nights. It’s heaven.

If only I could devise such a simple solution for monkeys…

Mood Management 101

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Take a nap.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I washed dishes while they cooled,

Then sat down to test the results.

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

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

Try them! I dare you….

Black Snake in the Kitchen!

There’s so much excitement – where to begin?

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

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

Except for that one leaf.

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

I had nasty snake-dreams all night.

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

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

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

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

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

The black snake is in the kitchen.

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

I raced downstairs and peeked through the kitchen door.


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Isolation Fosters Strange Cravings

‘Tis the season: birds mating, butterflies mating, rabbits, rats…

I don’t have a craving to mate. Pickings are slim in lockdown so that’s probably a good thing. Mating season has pretty much come and gone for me anyway. I made good use of it while it ran though – no regrets.

Mating aside, unusual habits have begun to surface in solitude. Every afternoon around two o-clock I want a cup of tea. Not just tea, a cookie, a biscuit, crackers, something bread-ish to go with the steaming cup. I don’t even really like tea – so what’s that about?

Today was no exception. At one-thirty I started imagining the afternoon repast and felt anxious. Nothing I had on hand ticked the right box. I remembered the cinnamon-sweet aroma of snickerdoodle cookies baking and my stomach rumbled. I thought about the cake-like pumpkin muffins at Bali Buda Market and salivated.

Photos at Buda Mart - 3 tips

Make something! demanded the inner voice.

Don’t be silly. I don’t have an oven. I don’t have ingredients. I don’t…

The blinking Google search window stared at me. I had flour. No baking power. No yeast. I had baking soda…two unopened containers of that. I typed in: baking soda cookies. Snickerdoodles came up but the recipe called for cream of tartar as well as soda. No cream of tartar. I tried again: baking soda biscuits. It defaulted to baking powder biscuits.

When I Googled no yeast skillet bread I hit pay dirt. Five Ingredient Olive Oil Bread. Well, okay. It called for baking powder, not baking soda, but the recipe promised only 15 minutes from mix to skillet to table and I was already ravenous.

I set to it and pretty soon had blobs of dough in the pan. After four minutes I flipped. Toasty golden. Nice! They weren’t rising but without baking powder I hardly expected them to. I just didn’t want doughy middles.

Four minutes on the other side and…

Would you look at that! Little biscuit patties…bready…warm…ooooo!

I set out butter and Australian Carmelized Fig Jam a friend had brought for me from a recent trip to AU. Goji Acai tea came from my favorite Italian destination, the Centro Market in Praiano. Then I plopped a patty of warm Olive Bread on the plate and felt really really happy.

They were edible. The centers were cooked. Butter and fig jam melting into the warm bread made my mouth sing.

I ate two of them and tucked the other two away for tomorrow’s attack of tea cravings.

Meanwhile…would somebody volunteer to make them with baking powder, please? It only takes fifteen minutes and I want to know what I’m missing…

Here’s the recipe.



  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt (to taste)
  • 1/3 cup warm water


  1. Combine the flour, baking powder, and sea salt.
  2. Stir in the olive oil and water until mixed.
  3. Warm a large cast iron skillet or non-stick skillet over medium heat until heated.
  4. Sprinkle with olive oil and swirl around the pan to lightly coat.
  5. Shape the dough into 4 small patties.
  6. Drop into the heated skillet and cook over medium heat for 5 minutes on each side.
  7. Serve immediately.

Notice it said cook for 5 minutes on each side. Mine were done in 4 minutes each but I’m not able to regulate the heat with any accuracy so – another little adjustment.

If someone actually does this, please send a description of the texture and flavor and photos of your results. I’ll enjoy them vicariously, and if it’s worth it, the hunt will be on to find baking powder.

Strange cravings indeed…

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