The Strong Survive!


Wind hurls shards of ice over undulant waves of snow.

Brooding skies usher in gray days without sun.

Monochrome world rests, void of life save for the tracks of wild turkeys, foxes, and a lone wolf.

Deep, profound, stillness.




My love for this place is an ache.

At five, maybe six, I helped Dad plant a windbreak, the seedling pines that now soar thirty to forty feet. Their tips touch the clouds.

Back then, it was called Willow Island Farm, and I climbed the graceful trees that gave it that name. Hopefully, I aged better than they did…decayed stumps…a few sprawling branches.

I’ve moved more than 45 times in my life. Vagabond. Gypsy. Restless maybe. But also curious. What’s it like over there? Are the people kind? Happy? What stories do they tell? What gods do they worship? I was told that people are people – basically the same no matter where you go. That isn’t true. Brilliantly unique and endlessly fascinating, humans reflect their culture, their climate, their geography, and their belief systems.

Balinese are nothing like Australians. Aussies are vastly different from Italians. Italians are as unlike Norwegians as Chianti is to Aquavit. But how magnificent. I love them all.

So where am I going with this? Good question. Sometimes I write because my head cannot contain the abundance of my heart. For instance, right now it’s 6:46 a.m. Look at that sky! I’ve been gifted another glorious morning. A splendid new dawn. My throat constricts and tears burn behind my eyelids. It’s -18° F out there with a high of 7° expected today. This is winter in northern Minnesota and I came back.

It’s about choices and consequences. Connections to people and places. Belonging.

The long-time residents of this area are tough and willing to help one another. Community sustains itself through connection…shared abundance…shared work…shared life experience…winter!

People have welcomed me because of their memories of my parents, because of their love for my sister, and because of the helping hand my brother-in-law has extended time and time again to so many over the years. And, I suppose, because they’re curious. Who is this woman who left so long ago and now returns late in life? Why here? Why now?

For eleven years, I was defined by where I was. It was an exciting, exotic persona. Shedding that skin leaves me naked, a blank canvas. I no longer have the urge or feel the need, to be unique. No, that’s not quite right…I am, by nature, unique. But I’m ready to be a part of this culture that is in ways so familiar and yet so foreign. I want to approach the people here with as much curiosity as I carried with me to other lands. I want to know them, not only for the ways we’re different but also for our similarities. I want to engage and blend and discover my place and purpose. But most of all, I want to spend the time I have left near family.


During the past six months, my energy has been consumed by house construction. There was little time for reflection and less time for writing. Exhaustion was a permanent state of being.

On Valentine’s Day, I moved into a not-quite-finished home. There’s still work to be done. My shower tower (raised because all the plumbing is housed beneath it) needs steps. The kitchen begs for a countertop, a sink, and shelves in the corner for dishes. Oh…and dishes…I’ll need those, too!

It never ends. But now, there’s a little more time to think, to feel, and to remember how delightful it is just to be.

Soon I’ll share the after pictures of the magical home that has emerged from the love and sweat that Gwen, W, and I have poured into it. Just another week or two and the finishing touches will be photo-worthy. And so will I, stronger and more resilient, with a host of new skills I didn’t know I needed.

Don’t mess with this Granny!

But I will never, NOT EVER, tape and mud sheetrock again!

Shelter from the Solstice

Before, in the dim short days of northern winter, I lighted candles, burned incense, and drowned myself in the comforts of mulled wine to warm my body and dull my mind. Night stretched on forever. I got up and went to work in the dark and came home in the dark after work was finished.

For this sun worshiper, the approach of winter solstice was a time of celebration and ritual almost superseding Christmas because it meant the tide had turned and each day would bring a minute or two more of delicious light.

Here in Bali, 8 degrees south of the equator, I’m in my happy place. December 21st marks the longest day of the year, and in my house of east-facing windows, morning enters with a blaze of light and heat. For two hours I move from one small shaded area to the next, avoiding the oven-baked brilliance pouring in and reflecting on my shiny tile floors.

I knew I needed coverings for all that glass, so Ketut and I spent many hours debating the wisdom of curtains or shades. Curtains, when pulled back and stacked would decrease my view, and when the volcanoes erupt and the house fills with dust for days on end, they would be filthy in no time. But the romance of pristine white draperies billowing in the breeze, despite their impracticality, was hard to let go. Serviceable bamboo blinds, however, could be raised to completely maintain the expanse of panorama and would be easy to whisk clean with the stiff, long-fibered brooms that grace every household on this island.

In the end, practicality and economy won out. The quote for draperies came in at around $300 so we proceeded to the place a little farther long the road that sells blinds. I sat on the floor of the shop with the animated owner shouting at me in rat-a-tat-tat Indonesian while Ketut stood by grinning, knowing that I understood maybe half of what was being said. When the man took a breath I shouted back at him, “Please speak slowly!” His startled look was followed by peals of laughter. “Where did you study Indonesian? You should get your money back!” he scolded, speaking slowly, one word at a time. After that the jokes flowed incessantly and the three of us laughed with tears rolling out of our eyes.

Somehow the business was transacted, what color, what size, how many, varnish or not, and a price established. “Does price include delivery and installation?” Ketut asked. To my utter astonishment, $60 US dollars would cover my 20′ run of 10′ high windows and that included everything. I asked when they would be ready, steeling myself for a wait of one month, maybe two.

“Today,” said my new friend.

“Today!” I squawked. “How is that even possible?” It was already 1:00 in the afternoon. “Can you do it tomorrow?” For the first time ever in my experience of ordering a custom product here in Bali, I negotiated more time.

We settled on 2:00 the following day depending upon rain. As luck would have it, the downpour began around noon. At one o’clock I heard “Hallooo? Hallooo?” And there he was, an hour early, drenched from dripping hair to water-logged jeans.

“You could have waited until later, maybe the rain will stop.”

“Maybe later I want to sleep,” he said in that same gruff, scolding voice. “For you, boss, I come now.” Okay, still joking. Ketut appeared and the measuring, eyeballing, and a flow of alternative solutions began. It’s the culture of group-think, and I’m always amazed at the creative ideas that emerge from these exchanges.

The next morning I awoke at sunrise to watch dawn filter through the new blinds. The transformation was sheer magic and I gazed enchanted as the sun gained intensity and heat but my space remained cool, serene, and 100% inhabitable.

How I love my nest in the clouds. What a thrill it is to awaken 365 days a year to the utter joy of place. Every piece of furniture, every decorative yet functional object, each color and finish delights me, and nothing, nothing at all has to be survived, endured through dark months of waiting for the light.

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