You have old skin? Wear a shawl!

I thought yesterday would be my last post from Praiano. I’m sorry. There’s too much magic. I have one more story to tell.

Three days ago I stopped at Centro Market for this and that and who did I run into but Felicia. You may remember her from the Cooking in Italy post. We greeted each other like long lost sisters and I caught one word: coffee. I frantically sought help but no one spoke English. What about coffee?

I apologized. By now you probably know my one Italian sentence as well as I do: Mi dispiace, non parlo Italiano! She left and I continued browsing.

A few minutes later I heard, “Sherry! Sherry!” Felicia was back. She handed me a bag with a bowl of something warm inside and made eating motions. I scolded her and thanked her, then rushed home to see what she’d given me.

I pried the lid off. Water spinach. I’d know that veggie anywhere. Along with it, potatoes and ribs. Felicia had evidently run to her house, scooped up a bowl of her dinner, then returned to deliver it while I was still in the store.

I’ve eaten a lot of water spinach in Bali and I can’t say it’s the most exciting dish. But the flavors in Felicia’s combo woke up my mouth. Olive oil, lemon – what else? How could water spinach taste so good? I polished off the meal with gusto but the coffee question plagued me.

I texted Nicola, told him I’d run into Felicia and she’d said something about coffee but I hadn’t understood what she wanted. He explained it’s customary when you meet a friend you invite them in for coffee.

“You mean immediately, like right then?”

“Yes.”

Oh, darn. I’d blown that opportunity.

But there was still Felicia’s bowl. My mother taught me never to return a dish empty. Oh, Mom! Your words still ring in my ears after all these years. I had to return the bowl filled with something and time was getting short.

Felicia’s house is about ten steps from Centro Market. I’d noticed the market had a kilo (2.2 pounds) of Himalayan pink salt for $3 U.S. That’s much cheaper than what I pay in Bali. I wanted it and a box of goji berry tea. It was my last day in Praiano. I could kill two birds with one stone.

With the translation app’s help, I wrote a note in Italian telling Felicia how my mother taught me never to return a dish empty. Then I heated a pot of kale/carrot/sausage/lentil stew and spooned it into Felicia’s bowl. I’d stop at the market first, pick up my tea and salt, then I’d drop the bowl off at Felicia’s.

As I entered Centro Market, there was Felicia chatting with the owners. After a boisterous greeting I took the bag out of my purse and handed it to her. At first she said No! No! Then she read the note and laughed.

Another volley of Italian and – there it was again – coffee. This time I was ready.

“I don’t want to disturb…”

Non disturbare! Non disturbare!”

I left with Felicia. As soon as we were seated at her kitchen table with steaming cups and tiny anise cookies – because you never JUST have coffee – I whipped out the translate app on my phone and the chatter began.

I was commenting on her fashionable outfit when she stopped me mid-sentence and jumped up. “Un momento,” she said and disappeared. She came back carrying clothing: a spaghetti-strap dress, a filmy red scarf, and a silver camisole.

She talked fast. I thought she was telling me she worked with a resale shop in Positano, that she brought donated clothing home, washed and ironed it so it was cleaned before offered for sale. When she sat expectantly waiting for my response I knew I’d missed something.

“Felicia, per favore.” I handed her the phone. She spoke and I read the translation. Whoops! How could I have been so mistaken?

The clothes were for me.

“But Felicia,” I spoke to the app. “I have old skin! These are beautiful but they show too much!”

She read the Italian and made a very unlady-like sound, grabbed the phone and said: Hai la pelle vecchia? Indossa uno scialle.

I took it from her and read:

You have old skin? Wear a shawl.

I howled with laughter.

There’s a distinct similarity between Italian and Balinese women. They’re both extremely hard-headed and refuse to take no for an answer.

It was time to go but Felicia had one more thing to show me. She rents her house next door to tourists.”Prego! Prego!” she said. Italian spaghetti sauce? No, it means after you, or please, or you’re welcome, or just about whatever you want it to mean! I went in.

She pointed out the new patio garden. Lovely. We toured three bedrooms, two baths, and a large eat-in kitchen. Then she picked up a book and motioned me to the terrace.

For the next twenty minutes Felicia flipped page after page of food images in full-color. Her picture was featured on many of them with her famous recipes. She pointed out her brother’s contributions as well as those of restaurant owners up and down the Amalfi Coast shown with their best aperitivi, antipasti, primi, secondi, insalati, and desserts.

This woman never ceases to amaze me. I could hardly wait to get home and google it. Sure enough Amalfi Coast Recipes is available on Amazon.

There are used copies for sale. They cost just over $20. A new one is $894.94 U.S. dollars. Used is fine. The recipes are in English.

Cookbook under control, I tried on clothes. Felicia wanted photos. I wrapped the scarf around my neck and slipped into the dress. It fit like skin. The cami, too. Surely there’ll be an occasion…?

It’s surreal, like a dream-state. I’ve moved from one unlikely event to the next as though they were pre-planned to happen just so. But they weren’t. Nothing was. What a thrill!

Okay. That’s all. I promise. This really is the last post for a while.

Wish me luck with flights and some interesting travel bans that have just been announced back home. This adventure isn’t over yet.

Five unforgettable lessons from my solo trip to Italy

The past month has changed my life. A different creature than the one who flew off to celebrate turning seventy will disembark the plane in Bali. This trip has been as transforming as the one I took at sixty-two when I made the choice to leave Minnesota and set up permanent residence in Indonesia.

The difference has been in the speed and intensity of this mutation. The move to Bali was like slowly opening one cherished gift after another. The island just kept on giving. Praiano must have sensed the time was short. I’ve been zapped by successive lightning bolts of insight that have dazzled and humbled me.

What you’ve seen in my almost-daily posts as I navigated the heights and depths of Praiano, were descriptions in words and pictures. What I haven’t shown are the results of those lightning bolt revelations that have rearranged me from the inside out – the inner odyssey.

Come along…

1) A smile opens doors, but knowing the language gets you inside.

As much as I hate U.S. entitlement and strive not to be that person, I made an ignorant, arrogant assumption. I assumed that most people in the touristy Amalfi Coast area of Italy would speak English. I was wrong. Perhaps during high season it’s different. But right now I may be the only tourist in this small town and it’s a rare joy when I’m understood.

The locals treat me beautifully, but point and gesture is as good as it gets with communication. It’s insanely frustrating. Before I do an extended trip again, I’ll learn the basics of my host country’s language.

2) Always be willing to change what you think you know about yourself.

This is big. If you tell yourself anything long enough, you’ll start believing it. And when you believe it, it becomes your reality and shapes your life. While I’ve been here I’ve experienced seismic shifts in the stories I’ve told myself for years. One catalyst that inspired change was a book that just ‘happened’ to be on the shelf. Another surprising insight came as a result of my daily posts to this blog. A third became clear as I spent significant time alone.

My goal for this trip, other than a septuagenarian celebration, was to gain clarity for the future. That intention provided fertile ground for inspiration and revelation to germinate. I was receptive to receiving and the Universe delivered, as she always does to the willing seeker.

3) It’s essential to tell yourself the truth and then live it.

The truth can be a very confusing idea. But our perception of truth goes hand-in-hand with the stories we tell ourselves. So how do you know if you’re telling yourself the truth? What does your life look like? Is there any area of your existence where you’re miserable, dissatisfied, unhealthy, bitter, angry, or whatever other negative response is possible? Isolate that part then ask, What am I telling myself about this circumstance that’s causing distress? You may believe that what you’ve been telling yourself is true. My guess is that it’s not.

I’ve always been very good at hiding my feelings. I’d do anything to keep the peace. I perceived myself as diplomatic, self-controlled, level-headed, composed, but in truth, confrontation terrified me. Not being liked wasn’t an option. As a result, nobody really knew me and I was okay with that, until now. Turning seventy flipped a switch. All of a sudden, being known feels more important than being liked. Maybe the grumpy old man, crotchety old woman thing is just the point in life when we become real. Look out! I’ve arrived.

4) Expect the unexpected, anything can happen.

When I left for Italy, I didn’t expect that over the course of one month the world would be thrown into a state of panic. That a virus would leap international boundaries and rip through countries with unprecedented ferocity. I personally don’t tend to imagine worst case scenarios. A flight delay, luggage lost – that’s as far as I go with ‘what ifs’. I don’t buy travel insurance. Ever. To me it feels like betting on disasters which as yet, in seventy years, haven’t happened to me. There have been flight delays and my luggage has arrived several days late a few times, but that’s it.

As the numbers of infected persons worldwide continued to rise, and the possibility of restricted air travel became reality for some areas, I entertained the idea of cutting my trip short. I bought into the overarching anxiety for about half a day. Then I caught myself. No. Why should I run scared? I have the funds to extend my stay if that becomes necessary. This began as an adventure and has become an even greater adventure. It’s a huge lesson in flexibility, in trust, in dealing with what comes in a sane and sensible, way. I have a friend battling cancer. That alone puts everything else in perspective.

5) Your mind is your ally only if you can control your thoughts.

I said I bought into anxiety for about half a day. When fear-energy amasses on a global scale, it’s necessary to take an intentional stand against it or it will play games with the mind. I was being sucked into that energy.

I’ve employed several ways of dealing with unwanted emotions that are working effectively for me.

  • Movement is number one. Getting outside for a walk, doing a yoga routine, even sweeping or vacuuming the house helps. Then I meditate.
  • Meditation makes a huge difference. I use a soundtrack in the background and concentrate on the notes, the mantras, the rise and fall of volume, anything other than what’s inside my head. I also focus on gratitude, all the things in this amazing life I’m grateful for.
  • Information gathering, assembling those facts that apply to my situation and screening out the rest is essential to keeping anxiety in check.
  • Distraction may seem like a negative but in the case of monkey-mind, when I can’t seem to stop myself from thinking about something that there’s nothing I can do anything about, it’s necessary to divert attention elsewhere. For me, writing, reading a good book, watching a movie or documentary, researching music I haven’t listened to before, all work well as diversionary tactics. I’m finding that preparing and eating a healthy meal for breakfast, lunch, and dinner is soothing as well. Good nutrition helps regulate moods.
  • Self-talk is ultra important. The story I tell myself must be true or I won’t believe it. I also want it to enable me to continue to enjoy this beautiful town, its kind people, the extraordinary view, and my last few days here. The key is to remain grounded in the present moment and not extrapolate what might happen. In the case of COVID-19, even the experts can’t accurately predict the outcome. So my truth is that in this moment I’m fine. I have empathy for the suffering this epidemic is causing and will continue to cause for an unknown period of time. But I will not contribute to fear.

Nothing excites me more than the boundless potential for human evolution. If we’re open to expanding self-awareness, intuition, compassion, understanding, knowledge, and become active participants in our own growth, there’s no limit to where it can take us. It isn’t always a comfortable ride, and sometimes to get there we have to take ourselves, alone, to parts unknown, so lightning can zap us.

Look what just appeared outside my window! After lightning bolts, a rainbow!

Food Glorious Food Glorious Fooooood!

I’ve embraced food-love.

Not just the flavors and nutritional value for my body, but the beauty, the colors and textures, the rugged heartiness or delicate elegance of the visuals (and victuals) on my plate.

I still prefer simplicity. One dish well-prepared delights me far more than a variety. I don’t know why that is – maybe I’m too easily stimulated by flavors. Maybe my palette gets confused and goes into overwhelm.

Whatever the reason, I’m much happier going deep into the complexities of a single entrée than sampling many. A table groaning with selections thrills some. Maybe they’re the true foodies. But for me, in quantities of food and friends, less is more.

Speaking of friends, small-talk, the inane chatter between people who don’t know each other well and may not care to, is painful for me. It’s like those all-you-can-eat buffets where you leave grossly stuffed but haven’t really tasted anything. I’ve taken new acquaintances aback when, after a few minutes of chit-chat I say, “So…tell me about your childhood.” The ones who reply, You first, are friends for life.

Food and friends. The two go hand-in-glove, don’t they? I hadn’t intended to write about friends – they just slipped in. But it makes sense. Sharing the daily repast is probably part of our DNA from the beginning. I don’t think Eve ate Adam’s rib. But she did offer him an apple – which didn’t end well. Hmm. Bad analogy. However, I think historically speaking, breaking bread together has been a peaceful endeavor, not an act of war.

But about the photos…

That’s lentil stew ladled atop the brick-hard bread I’ve raved about. I paired it with Sartori Pinot Grigio. A red wine would have been too heavy. Even though the slices of spicy salami I boiled first, created an intensely flavorful stock, and the chunk of bread added heft, the white complemented beautifully without overpowering.

In spite of the stunning meals I’ve had here, I was missing my Bali breakfast of homemade granola and coconut yogurt, topped with tropical fruit. On my next trip to Tutto per Tutti market I scanned the cereals on offer and came home with Kelloggs All Bran, a container of Yomo plain yogurt, bananas and strawberries – not quite dragon fruit and papaya but adequate.

The first day I ate it with yogurt. The following day I ate it without. It was either surprisingly good or I’ve completely forgotten the taste of my other life.

My latest achievement is a stew identical to the first, but this time I added kale and more garlic. Not only that, there are still plenty of bread boulders to submerge in the broth for exciting crunchy mouthfuls. That bread! I wish I could bring a year’s supply back with me – although it wouldn’t be the same in Bali’s climate. A bit heavy perhaps…?

I’m loving this – the prep and eating of food. I wouldn’t want to devote my life to it, but it’s fun for an hour or so during the day.

And in case you’ve forgotten, here are the lyrics to the last stanza of Food Glorious Food from the musical, Oliver:

What wouldn’t we give for
That extra bit more
That’s all we live for
Why should we be fated to do
Nothing but brood on food
Magical food,
Wonderful food
marvelous food,
Beautiful food,
Food, Glorious food glorious fooooooood

Stairway to…I guarantee it wasn’t heaven!

I love my sister. We email several times a week. We agree on important things and agree to disagree on everything else. But she owes me now. Bigtime.

Several days ago she wrote complaining that I’d mentioned a beach. She said she’d seen photos of sheer cliffs disappearing into the sea and although the images were beautiful, by her definition that did not qualify as beach.

So, Sherry…is there a beach?

Remember this sign? Alla spiaggia means exactly what the translation immediately below says it means: To the beach. But the day I took this path I was on my way to the church of Saint January. I diverged to the massive square in front of the church and did not continue on.

So Sherry, is there a beach?

According to the sign, yes. Had I seen one in all my meanderings? No. In Paulo Sandulli’s tower studio he had painted people sunbathing on what looked suspiciously like…a beach. Tourists flock here in the summertime to go to…the beach. The map has a location in Praiano called…Lido One Fire Beach. So…

Today for you, sister, I’ll follow those signs. According to the map, Via Rezzola will take me there.

Its entrance was easy to find.

After the little landing at the top it was steps.

At the bottom of this flight, the path turned and there was another flight.

Then it leveled off for a leisurely stroll.

I imagined my trek down to the beach would be like this lovely trail, gently sloping, lined with interesting gates, gardens, flora and fauna.

And it was…for a while.

All good things must end, and so did my walk-in-the-park so to speak. The path turned to steps. Downward.

And down…

and down…

It was a nightmare of steps. Any minute now, I thought…around the next corner…surely I’ll catch a glimpse of…anything but steps.

But that was not to be. Each bend brought another steep descent.

And then there were step switchbacks.

I hadn’t seen a soul. I have to admit it was a bit creepy and I felt extremely alone. No sound of voices, no footsteps, no animals…a twilight zone.

Just endless steps taking me where?

The to the beach signs had disappeared long ago, but there were no other trails, no other options, only this steady march downward.

Buildings – deserted. And more steps.

Where am I?

Sherry, is there a beach?

When I rounded a corner and saw an inlet below me with a flat surface I almost cried. THE BEACH! Then I took a closer look. At the bottom of this cove was a massive, man-made concrete shelf. Holy moly! Was this the beach???

Couldn’t be. The real one must be on the other side of that rock wall with the industrial looking equipment on top. I proceeded around the rim of the inlet to the other side and walked through the assortment of old boats, steel drums and mysterious odds and ends looking for a way through. But there was nothing else. Dead end.

Nicola had warned me not to go on the beach when the seas were high. Giant waves crashed over the surface. I decided this was definitely one of those days.

I watched for a while, dumbstruck. What a forlorn place.

Sherry, is there a beach?

Well, dear sister, not exactly but sort of. Well, no. Not really. Heck no! Not at all!

Suddenly I wanted distance between me and this desolation. I’d seen a road on the map. Now to find it. There was no way I was going to walk those fifty million steps back to the street.

I hadn’t seen another way out on my way down, but it must be here somewhere…

There was no road. Or if there was, you couldn’t get there from here. I did indeed have to walk back up all those steps.

It was 55°F (12.7°C) and there was a ten mph (16 kph) wind out of the north but I was sweating buckets by the time I reached the street. I thought about you, sister – thought about what I’d been willing to do to satisfy your inquiring mind. Thought how it would have been so much more fun if you’d been with me.

I let my mind wander. If she was with me, what would we do next?

Across the street was a little cafe with drool-worthy scents emanating from its open door. I peeked in and knew immediately what we’d do.

Zeppole di San Guiseppe aka creampuffs.

When I got home I Googled beaches in Praiano and what do you know? Yes, that dreadful Lido One Fire is one of them, but there’s another. I’d passed it on my ‘cute shoes walk’ the other day and took this photo. I didn’t know it was a beach. This is the one Sandulli painted from his tower. You can just barely see it up in the far left corner.

You’d be happy. I can tell from the photos on the internet…there’s real sand.

How to Make Panzanella and Drink Lemon Meringue Pie

I haven’t mustered the courage to ask if I can photograph either of the brothers who run Centro Market. The surliest one was there when I stopped by, complete with stocking cap, muffler, and a week or two of stubble.

I wasted no time. “Pane duro?” I asked. He cocked his head toward me and frowned. I tried again. “Pane biscottatoduro?”

His face lit up and he grabbed two bags from the shelf behind him. Then lo and behold – he spoke English!

“This,” he said, pointing to one of the bags. “This you cannot bite.” He made chomping motions with his mouth shaking his head in an emphatic no. He pushed the other bag toward me. “This one is soft.”

“Grazie,” I said. “I want the hard one.”

He looked dubious. “First put in water for one minute. Then you can eat,” he said. I nodded. I’d already learned that trick at the winery after trying to bite into one of those rocks.

I looked up what the words meant in the circle at the top:
Old and modernized bakery from 1890
LOVE IT!

I checked ‘hard bread’ off my list. “Do you have coffee?”

I was ushered to the other side of the long counter and he explained which ones required a machine and which ones just need hot water.

Coffee, done. “And limoncello?”

He pointed. There were twelve varieties of that liqueur in his tiny market. I browsed waiting for a sign to determine which to choose. One toward the far end caught my eye. “What’s this?” I pointed.

He came to my side and picked up the bottle. “Yes, this with crema. Crema and limone mix.”

I love Baileys Irish Cream. I’ve never had a liqueur with cream other than that. Cream with lemon would either be divine or disgusting.

“Ok. That one, per favore.” I’m really trying hard to use my eight words of Italian whenever I can.

I was excited walking home with the large bag of rock-solid bread hitting my back as I bumped down the steps. In my mind I imagined the process: chop the tomatoes, slice the onion, fill the colorful ceramic bowl with water and soak my pane duro to just the right consistency. Saliva filled my mouth.

Once home, groceries unpacked, I Googled ‘Italian winter salad tomato and hard bread’ and up popped images for Panzanella. So that was the name of the concoction that had thrilled me. Panzanella.

I read through several recipes and found the simplest one. A lengthy description warned me that after assembling Panzanella, it needs to rest up to four hours at room temperate for the bread to absorb the juices and flavors to mingle.

If I started now it would be ready for an early dinner.

Embracing my new love for all things food, I began.

First, tomatoes and onion. Normally I’m not a raw onion fan. But I have to say, in this mix the onion is perfect. Even if you don’t like raw onion, try it just once to make sure you don’t miss something quite magical.

Aren’t they gorgeous? These chunks could be used as cannon balls they’re that hard.

Here we go. While the pane duro soaked I mixed an olive oil, white wine, salt, and pepper dressing then added it to the tomato-onion mixture.

I checked the bread. It had maintained its shape and appeared ready. I took it out of the water and broke it into large pieces.

Then cut it into smaller chunks.

Regular bread would have been a gooey mess, but not this robust loaf. I added the bite-sized pieces to the waiting salad and gently mixed.

Oh, you’re beautiful! Your aromas – heavenly! And now? I have to wait…??

Patiently…?

In the meantime maybe I could test the Crema di Limone…what a good idea!

Whoa! Liquid lemon meringue pie! No, I’m serious. That’s exactly what it tastes like: creamy-tart yet sweet. And 20% alcohol by volume? Whoops! This needs to wait. It’ll be dessert. What else shall I do to distract myself?

I could write a blog post…

Which I did. And now my friends, Panzanella is ready! On a whim I added the last ball of buffalo mozzarella and here it is, the finished product.

Mmmmmm – oh yeah, that’s what I’m talkin’ about. Now if you’ll excuse me…it’s dinner time!

Che Bontà Pizzaria – and Claudio – Very Tasty Indeed

Today’s the day!

Che Bontà for pizza.

Overcast skies obscured the hoped-for pinks and corals this morning. An hour after sunrise light shone through a few cloud-holes casting dazzling pools on the sea.

I pulled on my ‘outside’ clothes – I have wooly leggings and a sweater for inside and black jeans with a couple of layers under my sweater for outside. Plus a jacket and scarf. I could have left the rest at home – so far. You never know when Cinderella might get an invitation to the ball!

There’s a marked difference in Via Roma during the week – no traffic. On my long Sunday walk, motorcycles, buses, and cars whizzed past. Today they’re all back at work and I have the luxury of the open road virtually to myself.

I stopped to admire several houses I’ve passed before but never really looked at.

This sweet casa has a real driveway winding down to it. A luxury.

This one has steps up from the street but note the tuck-under garage. Maybe there’s an elevator inside – or maybe not.

This might be old. If so, it’s been renovated and beautifully maintained.

And just look at this driveway! It feels fairytale-ish. Like any moment I will see Goldilocks, or Hansel and Gretel skipping along holding hands.

Like the road, Che Bontà was all mine. I thought I wanted pizza. Then I remembered Blackbeach, my favorite Italian restaurant in Ubud. They make melt-in-your-mouth panini. It’s all I ever order there. I had to know if the real thing, made in Italy, would measure up.

While I waited for my order, I chatted with Claudio who, bless his handsome heart, speaks English.

“Claudio, I want to buy the hard bread. The really hard bread. What is the name?”

“Yes, you must ask for pane biscottato.” I repeated the words, perhaps not very well since he added, “Or you can just say pane duro, that means hard bread.” I added it to my shopping list that consisted of coffee and limoncello – staples.

After not much time at all, out came panini and Claudio! What’s not to love? As he set the fragrant plate in front of me I asked him, “Che Bontà, Claudio…what does the name mean?”

The smile grew bigger, “It means, how tasty,” he said.

You have no idea how badly I wanted to comment on that. But I bit my tongue and smiled back. “Grazie,” I said.

Crispy-fried focaccia, melty mozzarella, mushrooms, tomatoes, the flavors melded in my mouth and went straight to my heart. How tasty indeed. I weighed the evidence, did Blackbeach or Che Bontà have the better panini sandwich? I think it’s a tie. I’m going to have to go back for another round.

I could only eat half. The rest is in the fridge for later tonight when the nibble bug bites.

The bill was eleven euros. Claudio showed it to me and said, “But for you, ten.”

“It says eleven,” I replied, confused.

“Yes, but for you, signora, ten.”

How tasty!

Need I mention, Claudio got a handsome tip? Then I was off to Centro Market to try out my new Italian words.

New York, New York to California Dreaming and everything in-between!

The end of my U.S. visit approaches. I’m nursing a Cubano and munching almond biscotti at Soul Grind, a cool coffee shop atop the cliffs at Linda Mar Beach while Dan braves the 7:30 a.m. surf in the fog.

Why anyone would want to risk that cold, wild ocean to catch a wave for five seconds is beyond me. But he’s an early bird and I couldn’t resist the offer to hang out for a few hours in that artisan coffee shop while he matched wits with the Pacific.

But backing up…

I left Bali at 11:00 p.m. on August 29th and touched down in New York City 36 hours later. It’s a brutal flight that leaves me brain dead and thirteen time zones out of sync with my sleep patterns – not a good combo for meeting the high expectations of Hadley Sophia, my 3 ½ year old granddaughter, whose energy could power the whole of New York City, and seeing her new sister, Delaney Mae, for the first time.

For nine wild and wonderful days Joy, Kellen, Hadley and Delaney entertained me at their cabin in Pennsylvania. We watched deer munching in the lawn and eagles soaring over the lake while we contemplated new exterior paint colors for the house and garage.

The serenity of the setting brought balance to their insanely busy lives. Despite the fact that Joy was on maternity leave, she was in the throes of interviewing for a new job. During my stay she accepted an offer from a company headquartered in Paris. I was thrilled to be on hand to experience the beginning of this next chapter for their family.

Whoever gets me fresh off the plane from Bali gets a zombie with a defunct brain. It isn’t fair, but it’s the truth.

Jetlag subsided about the time I left New York.

I caught my Sun Country flight to Minnesota at Liberty International Airport in Newark, New Jersey where my carry-on was thoroughly searched. The sketchy item turned out to be a bag of coffee beans from Tana Toraja, a mountainous region on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi. In my opinion, Torajan coffee is the best in the world and I always try to bring some of those fragrant beans as gifts. I held my breath as the official scanned, sniffed, and swabbed the package. Finally, he allowed it through and I boarded the plane.

The flight to Minneapolis was memorable for two reasons: first, it was distressingly turbulent, and second, I sat beside a fascinating young man who plays flamenco guitar professionally and lives in Spain. He entertained me for three-and-a-half hours. Several times as he was describing the history of the dance he broke into song. Yes, right there on Sun Country Airlines in the midst of lurching, bucking, nausea-inducing turbulence, he sang to me!

My seatmate was also a skilled conversationalist – a rarity these days. In fact we became intimate old friends over those few hours together. Then, in spite of the ‘bumpy air,’ we landed safely. I raced off in one direction to collect my luggage and he disappeared in another. In minutes Jenny, my youngest daughter, pulled up at the curb and the second phase of my U.S. journey began.

She knows me! Our first outing was a nearby Mexican restaurant that featured – you guessed it – Nachos!

They were every bit as delicious as they looked.

Jenny and Kennen’s twins are twenty-two months old now and absolutely irresistible! They just started daycare and Jenny began a new job so this household, too, was in the midst of transition.

Rowan, left, and Remy, right, are identical yet their personalities are solely their own. For several days they burst into tears every time they saw me. But finally I was accepted. After that, if I wanted to solve a problem, Remy was my man on the scene. If in-depth conversation was called for, Rowan was quick to oblige. It’s fascinating how quickly my grandchildren became who they are. It took me sixty years and I’m still working on it!

For this photo the boys must have been sleeping. Jenny and Kennen grab every opportunity to chill out during naps for a few moments of ‘alone together’ time.

When I planned the trip to meet Delaney Mae during Joy’s maternity leave I didn’t know I’d be saying goodbye to Mom at the same time.

She was ninety-one and had been ready to join Dad since his passing three-and-a-half years ago. She’d continued to engage with the community at the assisted living facility where she had her own apartment, but old age regularly took her friends and she was tired of funerals. On August 9th, she died in her sleep.

My sister took care of our mother as she slowly lost the ability to drive, manage her own finances, and a million other details that required Gwen’s assistance. Now as she planned the memorial service, she assigned me only one job. I was to find the urn for Mom’s ashes. It gave me purpose. When I saw the cowrie-shell basket in one of my favorite shops in Ubud, I knew Mom would approve.

Gwen wanted an outdoor service on the banks of the Mississippi at a site about a quarter mile from the riverside home where we grew up. At first it sounded like a lovely idea. But as the date approached, I remembered September weather in Minnesota. It can snow. In my worst imaginings I saw us huddled under the pavilion with icy sleet blowing in our faces.

On the phone with my sister I ventured a tentative question, “Gwen, what’s plan B? I mean in case it storms?” With no hesitation whatsoever, she said, “No plan B. We’re at the river rain or shine.” She paused for a heartbeat then added, “The weather will be perfect.”

I experienced a moment of irritation. September. Minnesota. Outside. No plan B. But as quickly as it came, I let it go. Gwen was the one on the front lines. She was handling everything while I was still in Bali, and all she’d asked of me was to find the urn.

Of course the date came and it was a stellar, perfect Minnesota fall day. Somehow Gwen knew.

It was also one of the most overwhelming days of my life. At Dad’s service, Mom was front-and-center. She was the recipient of all the well-wishes, reminiscences, and tears. This time it was me, the eldest child, and it was wonderful. Old neighbors I hadn’t seen for 40 or 50 years came up to tell me how much they loved my mother. While I was hugging one guest I’d see the next familiar face approaching. Typically I avoid large crowds and prefer intimate gatherings. But that day I channeled my mother. She loved socializing and the bigger the group, the better.

Then it was over. I spent the night with Gwen at her home reading sympathy cards, remembering our shared childhood from our own unique perspectives.

The time in Minnesota evaporated, and once again I found myself on Sun Country, this time headed for California.

The trip south was smooth with no scintillating seatmates, just a quiet young man on my left reading Margaret Atwood’s Surfacing, and a serious young woman on my right with a book entitled Strong Mothers, Strong Sons, by Meg Meeker. I was sandwiched between them for four hours and thirty minutes with nothing to read, nothing to watch, and nothing to eat on that bare-bones, economy flight. I had only a pad of paper and a pen. So I wrote.

Jessa, my oldest daughter, and her partner Dan, met me at the airport. They also know what I like and a quick stop at El Gran Amigo restaurant produced dinner: take-out nachos! (Plus a burrito, refried beans, guacamole, wine and salsa.)

There are many languages but good food communicates love more clearly than words. When a meal is purposely served because it’s known to be one’s favorite, the heart is nourished along with the body.

Since my arrival, Jessa, Dan, and I have hiked miles of frothy coastline, rested on white sand beaches, marveled at circling hawks, and driven on roads through eucalyptus-scented mountains. We had devilishly decadent ice cream doused with TCHO chocolate in Golden Gate Park after an exceptional dinner purchased from The Breads of India food truck and eaten on a park bench.

I’ve taken hundreds of photos as they’ve introduced me to Linda Mar Beach, Big Beach, Bean Hollow, Maverick Beach, Little Beach, Pescadero Beach, Montara Beach. I know I’ve forgotten some. Each was more breathtaking than the one before it. I’ve been saturated with beauty.

Today there’s down time. A little while ago, I sent Ketut a photo of Jessa and Dan’s patio.

He responded by snapping a picture of my garden in Bali.

Ketut wrote on the photo: Here this morning a little rain only one time.

And suddenly I’m lonesome.

I’m a traveler and a homebody, a mother who is no longer a daughter. I’ve loved seeing family and getting a close-up glimpse into their busy lives. I miss them when we’re apart and I’ve started planning the next visit. But I have a different life on the other side of the world that I can only silence for a while and it’s beginning to whisper me home.

Jealous Lovers — Too Much of a Good Thing

There’s a happy place between not enough and too much that yields peace. It applies to just about everything in life. Like the story of The Three Bears – the chair can be neither too big nor too small, the porridge neither too hot nor too cold, the bed neither too hard nor too soft. For ultimate satisfaction, everything should be just right.

When we strike that balance it’s like catching the jetstream. Moving forward is effortless. Doors open. The way is clear. We know where we’re going and how to get there. There’s time for family and friends, for satisfying work, for self-nurture.

That pretty much describes my life for the past seven years. There were times I was pulled a fraction off-center but when that happened the discomfort was acute and I’d hastily course-correct.

Then an extraordinary event took place.

Nervous unsettledness had plagued me for several weeks. On the day of my birthday in January, I pricked a pinhole in a piece of paper and squinted at the moon passing in front of the sun. That Capricorn solar eclipse delivered an unprecedented explosion of energy. I was slammed with possibility, power-packed potential that rocked my foundations.

In the days and weeks that followed a geyser of ideas spewed forth and I implemented all of them. I queried fifty-five agents hoping to get representation for my memoir. I changed the voice of several of the characters in the novel I was working on. I started writing a self-help book. I formulated a new business plan for a friend. And that was just the beginning.

The energy of that eclipse carried me for months.

Then I lost the desire to query, so I stopped. The tangled plot in the novel defied me. I left it and worked on the self-help book. That reached a sticky point. Muddled, mired in my plethora of projects, I lacked inspiration for any of them.

Sleep came easily at night but exhaustion overtook me the moment I dragged myself out of bed. So I napped and read, read and napped and left the house only when I had a previously arranged commitment.

The situation, so out of character, bewildered me.

Each one of my ideas had seemed brilliant at the time and I was still keen to develop them. But they all required intense focus, attention to detail, and loving care. I could summon zero motivation for any of it.

As I journaled those thoughts this morning, my pen returned to the word focus. I slashed lines of emphasis beneath it. Focus was what I couldn’t do right now and more than anything else, that’s what was required. I glanced at my desk where stacks of tablets, folders, a clipboard, and three pens bore silent testimony to the clutter of unfinished tasks.

I’d become entangled in too much of a good thing.

Now I’m faced with having to choose what gets shelved for a while and what goes forward. It’s painful. I decided avoidance was the best approach and wrote this article. There’s nothing like procrastination to delay the inevitable. And yet, describing my process has brought a new level of self-awareness.

I’ve realized I’m not someone who goes lightly into anything. Writing pulls words from my gut, runs sentences through my heart, and produces sweaty pages of honest prose that undress my innermost being. I demand it of myself. Each project is a jealous lover who requires my all. Knowing that, it’s probably better to be faithful to one at a time.

Reptilian Brain – Lizard Love

I’ve owned dogs, cats, hamsters, guinea pigs, parakeets. There was a cute white bunny one Easter. We named her Snowball. She grew to the size of a two-year-old and was just as needy.

I live blissfully alone. My pet-owning days left with the kids.

Almost.

The cicak is a common house lizard prevalent in tropical regions. They come out when I turn on the lights and slurp up any flying or creeping thing that crosses their path. We have an agreement: they occupy the wall and ceiling, I stay on the floor. It’s worked.

One night about a year ago I was hammering out an article intent upon finishing before bed. Lights were on, cicaks were feasting. Then the edge of my computer moved. For a split second the adrenaline rush, the accelerated heartbeat, the panic. A cicak, the tiniest I’d ever seen, crept into sight. He was no more than an inch from nose to tail. I watched him poke around for a bit. Then he disappeared and I went back to work.

Several minutes passed and I’d forgotten about him when something tickled my hand.

“No!” I said as the youngster proceeded to make his way up my arm. “No, no, no! This is NOT okay. Where’s your mother?”

He stopped and looked up at me, his round eyes shining pure lizard love.

On the terrace, I directed him to the floor, closed the door with him outside and went back to writing.

Tickle, tickle. It had been less than five minutes. He was crawling up my leg.

“Listen, Junior. This is creepy. Your reptilian brain isn’t capable of attachment and I’m not your mother.”

This time I went farther afield to abandon him. When I returned I shut down the computer and began my bedtime ritual. He found me.

Totally weirded-out, I hurried to the far edge of the garden and deposited him on a rock. In no uncertain terms, I told him we were finished. All night I kept waking up thinking he was crawling on my neck, my face. But he wasn’t. He was gone.

The other morning as I lay on my back in Shivasana, I noticed a teenaged cicak watching me from the rafters. How long had he been there? Motionless, he kept his vigil until I’d rolled up my mat. The next day he was there again. For three weeks I watched him watching me. “Coincidence,” I told myself. “He just happens to sit up there at this time of the morning. Or maybe he likes the music.” Shamanic Dream by Anugama, calming, meditative, and rhythmic is my go-to for yoga. 

Our ritual continued. He was always there.

Then one afternoon in broad daylight – tickle, tickle. Teenage yoga buddy was making his way up my leg. “He’s lost,” I thought. “As soon as I stand up he’ll scamper away.” I stood. He clung. I stamped. He clung. I walk-ran to the garden. He clung. “I don’t do pets,” I told him. “I don’t do reptiles. Your brain cannot form attachments. Neither can mine. Don’t come back!”

He didn’t.

Whatever strange bonding instinct was at work there, I want no part of it. I’m committed to humans – they’re hard enough.

Please Don’t Ever Change

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When I look at this photo I want to laugh and cry and fall to my knees. I want to say to the young man planting grass, “Please, don’t ever change.”

What I actually said went something like this: “Those sticks, Ketut. Do you really expect them to grow?”

“Ya,” he replied. “Soon many.”

My only frame of reference to gardening was Minnesota. If you lopped a branch off a tree and stuck it in the ground in that climate, trust me. It absolutely would not grow.

Ketut gathered cast-off cuttings from nearby hotels and scrounged compost piles after dark. He dug up bushes from his family’s garden in the mountains near Kintamani and transplanted them here. He had a vision and the skills to manifest it. In no time the grass filled in and the stick-garden matured. There were papaya and banana trees, frangipani, and bougainvillea.

In spite of my skepticism, the plantings matured and multiplied. I added a gazebo to the once-upon-a-time stick-garden. Ketut installed electricity and a fan. Now I could have my coffee there and read or write surrounded by voluptuous tropical foliage.

It’s been five years since Ketut gathered branches and stuck them in the ground. Hundreds of plants bursting with fruit and flowers have emerged from those scant beginnings. I wonder, have I changed too? Have the seven years in Bali transformed me from the stick-garden I was when I arrived to someone fully alive?

I have more close friends, more visitors, more invitations, and more commitments than ever before. I’ve learned a foreign language, written two novels and a memoir, and had many articles published. I’ve leased land, built a house, and explored the mountains and coastlines of the island on the back of Ketut’s motorbike. I’ve held Writing for Self-Discovery workshops and my blog has brought others to Bali to imagine their own possibilities.

But what about self-discovery, the reason I began this writing journey in the first place? I had to dig for those answers and when I did I found I’ve become more honest. I’m willing to be seen hanging out my dirty laundry. I’m prepared to be disliked rather than sacrifice who I am. My list was revealing.

  • I let go of perfect – horns fit me better than haloes
  • I know things – it’s okay to be smart, intuitive and right
  • I’m worthy of love – self-love is essential, not selfish
  • I’ve developed a sense of humor – dry and warped but it works
  • I thrive in tropical heat – with an ice-cold mug of Bintang
  • I’m a creature of habit – don’t mess with my routine
  • I’m courageous – but definitely not fearless
  • I’ve become transparent – see my shadow? It’s really dark!
  • I need privacy – especially in the morning
  • I feared loneliness – it didn’t happen
  • I can manage unconditional love – but not marriage

And Ketut? The young man I hoped would never change? His smile is broader, his laughter even more infectious. He’s incapable of malice. His kindness is immeasurable.

Everything changes, but some things just get better.

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