Good Things Come to Those Who Wait (and Wait, and…)

Lady Mary Montgomerie Currie (1843 – 1905) is credited with coining that phrase. For someone as impatient as I am, waiting is an excruciating concept. Maybe in her era, it was easier. But in the past two years of waiting to get vaccinated, waiting to see loved ones, waiting to get boosted, waiting to unmask, waiting, waiting, waiting, the idea has lost its charm.

Many times while I was growing up, Dad cautioned me saying, “Don’t push the river, Sherry.” In other words, slow down and wait. My issue with patience has a long history.

I’m telling you this because, for the past few weeks I’ve been scanning sites like Upwork and Indeed, looking for an opportunity to put my love of writing to work for pay. I knew exactly what I didn’t want and it seemed all of the jobs posted fell into that category. Time passed and I started to think maybe I should forget my preferences and apply for something less than perfect.

But Dad’s words came back to taunt me. Don’t push the river.

And it was a river, a veritable flood of opportunities to ghostwrite blogs, research and write articles for insurance companies, prepare SEO content for websites, and perform other feats that required a technical aptitude I didn’t have and didn’t want to learn. Every day I scrolled through columns of new postings looking for something less soul-crushing than Search Engine Optimization.

So I waited. I did. Impatiently tapping my fingers and twiddling my thumbs, hoping my good thing would come to me.

About two weeks ago, there it was. Featuring Fabulous, a new online magazine for women ages thirty to sixty was looking for writers. I read their mission statement and drooled. The categories for articles they wanted (except perhaps the one labeled Sex and Relationships) were topics I could write about with ease and confidence.

Featuring Fabulous Logo

My heart hammered with that mixture of oh-my-god-this-is-it-don’t-get-your-hopes-up as I filled out the application and hit SEND.

Several days later, an email appeared from the magazine inviting me to pitch an idea for an article. I was elated for about a nanosecond. Then the self-talk kicked in. They probably send this to everybody who applies. It’s a great way to narrow the playing field. I have to be unique, present something out-of-the-box, get their attention.

I wrote the piece first, just to be certain I could put flesh on my thoughts, then pitched it sending a sample paragraph and three potential titles. The response came quickly: Sounds good, please submit. That was followed by a request to fill out their payment info form.

I immediately pitched another story. Again I was invited to submit and encouraged to keep sending my ideas. So I made my third query. Within five minutes I was asked to send that one as well. That’s three out of three in less than a week.

My first story has been published. You can find it here. And if you’re a woman between thirty and sixty, or a man who likes articles written for women, or you’re interested in supporting a new magazine, go ahead and sign up for it. It’s free.

I’m thrilled to have this opportunity and I’m in love with words again. It’s been a long, dry, covid-induced writing coma, but I’m waking up and the future holds a shiny promise of more good things to come.

Taking Out The Trash In The Valley Of The Corn

I have three options for garbage disposal, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. On any of those days, if I get up before 7:00, put on my mask and jacket, grab the bag of trash, wobble downstairs, unlock the massive metal door, step outside, re-lock the door, turn the corner and cross the street, bags are piling up. Shadowy figures in the half-light of morning lugging their own refuse approach from every direction.

If I wait until I hear the clanging bell of the running man as he races down the street slightly ahead of the garbage truck, I’m too late.

I live on Valle del Maiz, a name that translates as Valley of the Corn and I’m usually awake long before 7 a.m. However, right now in San Miguel de Allende mornings are cold – 35 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit cold – and it takes a generous helping of stern self-talk to motivate.

But today I did.

I’ve established a ritual to reward the pre-dawn effort. Once back inside the house, energized by the brisk journey, I pour a steaming mug of coffee and climb the stairs to my rooftop. Sunset in SMA is glorious, but so is sunrise and the after-trash timing is perfect.

As I emerged onto the terrace this morning, four hot-air balloons floated silently against a pink-purple sky laced with gold.

I marveled, mesmerized, at this other-worldly visitation. If I didn’t look up, I’d never know they were there. Soundless, carried on breezes, they drifted directly overhead, a special gift just for me. I felt it like a bubble in my chest, a burst of joy, a message without words.

By the time they’d passed, I’d taken dozens of photos and my fingers, and coffee, were cold.

I shivered in my jacket and headed downstairs for the warmth of the kitchen. Coffee refreshed, I grabbed my journal and resumed the routine that carries me through the other six days of the week. So far, every rooftop, garbage-day dawn has been graced with balloon sitings. What a touch of magic for simply taking out the trash.

What’s with this Mexican salt!

When I took possession of my new home in San Miguel de Allende, there were perks. First of all, it was completely furnished right down to salt in the shakers, and there were two of them. There was also a bag of flour and a glass canister of sugar.

I didn’t have an oven in Bali, only a cooktop. The stove in my new kitchen looked to me like it belonged in an appliance ad straight out of Bon Appétit. I eyed its six burners and monster oven suspiciously, waltzing around its giant glass door that stared at me like a judgmental eye. I promised myself, and that eye, that soon, very soon, I’d set about re-learning how to bake.

A few days later, a friend posted a picture on Facebook of shortbread drizzled with dark chocolate. Saliva sprayed into my mouth. That was it, the challenge that made me want to bake again.

I found a shortbread recipe online: butter, flour, sugar, salt, vanilla. What could be easier? The next day I trotted down the mountain to Super Bonanza, a tiny grocery in the middle of the town center, and bought butter and vanilla. The other ingredients had come with the kitchen.

Putting that recipe together took forever. I was so out of practice, so careful…except when it came to the salt. I thoughtlessly unscrewed the cap while holding it over the flour/sugar mix already in the bowl. A shower of granules fell in. I didn’t think it was much, but I lessened the amount I added and slid the pan into the oven, did the calculation that would translate the Celsius numbers on the knob into Fahrenheit, and crossed my fingers.

Soon, a rich vanilla-y scent permeated the house. Ahhh, yes. This is why we bake.

I felt more than a little proud of myself when I pulled out the tray of perfectly browned shortbread. I could hardly wait for it to cool so I could sample the goods. You know how it is when you expect food to taste a certain way? Your mouth prepares. You lean into the bite and…

The spit reflex happened without thought or premeditation. That tiny morsel flew off my tongue way faster than it had gone in.

What in the name of everything unholy is with this salt?

Good thing I live alone. I hadn’t said that quietly.

I checked the recipe again: one-half teaspoon salt. I double-checked the ring of teaspoons. I’d used the correct one. Maybe more had fallen in when I unscrewed the cap than I thought. Or, maybe it had localized in one corner of the dough – the corner I tasted. Maybe the rest was fine. I tested a piece from the opposite corner with the tip of my tongue, shuddered, and dumped the entire contents into the trash. Well, I thought. That was disappointing.

I let a week go by and avoided making eye contact with the judging stare of the abandoned oven. But I’d invited a group of new friends over for brunch and planned to serve fruit, a quiche, and scones. Both the quiche and the scones required baking. It wasn’t the oven’s fault, I told myself. The oven is your friend.

The quiche recipe called for cheese, lots of it. Cheese can be pretty salty I reasoned, so I didn’t add the salt the recipe suggested. But the scones…I hemmed and hawed…should I chance it? I measured oh so carefully and skimped on the 1/2 teaspoon asked for. They came out of the oven looking absolutely gorgeous. Apricot Cream Cheese Scones. I had to try one.

I bit into a corner. NO!!! IT CAN’T BE! SALT! HORRIBLE, HORRIBLE SALT! They, too, were inedible. I was disappointed and so angry. I swore up a storm in that kitchen. I couldn’t believe that such a tiny amount of salt could be so utterly disastrous.

Later, when my friends had gathered around the table I told them the story and asked, “What’s with this Mexican salt?”

They looked at each other confused, shrugging their shoulders and shaking their heads. “I’ve never noticed that it was any different,” one said. The others agreed.

“Well, mine sure is!” I grumbled, then the conversation turned to a more interesting subject.

A day later I whipped up a batch of carrot hummus and left the salt out entirely. By now I’d dumped the contents of both shakers into the trash to make certain I’d never have that problem again.

But I’d put two cloves of garlic in the hummus and it was overpowering. (What’s with this Mexican garlic!) I thought sugar might offset the intensity so I stirred in a couple of tablespoons and tasted.

WHAT???? NO WAY! SALT?

Then it struck me. I stuck my finger into the canister of sugar and licked. SALT. When I’d baked the shortbread and the scones it wasn’t the 1/2 tsp of salt that wreaked havoc…it was the 1/4 cup of sugar that wasn’t sugar at all! Who puts a huge amount of salt in a big glass canister? Who does that?

And then I laughed,

and laughed,

and laughed!

I immediately went to Señora Petra’s little shop next door and bought all her carrots. Then went back home and made a huge quantity of carrot hummus without garlic or salt and stirred the ruined batch in, bit by bit, taste-testing as I went. It was perfect.

I’m glad the problem is solved and I’m friends with my oven again. But talk about a lesson in assumptions! What’s with this Mexican salt, anyway? It’s not sugar, that’s what!

You’re not in Kansas anymore…

I click my Ruby Red Slippers and I’m in Oz! Well, maybe not Ruby Slippers – more like warm socks with ugly shoes. And maybe not Oz, exactly…

I’m sitting on the rooftop terrace of my new home in San Miguel de Allende, thawing.

It’s been a long journey, mentally, physically, and especially emotionally. When did this transition begin?

In my heart, I could feel it three years ago. It was the kind of knowing that something had changed and something else was coming, but I had no idea what or when. Then Covid arrived and the pandemic took over the world. It stopped me in my tracks and made me face the reality of my age and the distance from my family. It created an urgency that had been absent before.

After finally getting my second vaccination, and jumping through a great many hoops, I was on the plane to the U.S. On October 4th I landed in San Francisco and spent two jetlagged weeks hiking the rocky coast along Highway 101 with Jessa and her partner, Dan.

The contrast between the U.S. and Bali stunned me. It felt so normal, so like life as I remembered it, before…

Dazed and overwhelmed I did my darndest to be in the present moment with them and integrate into the vibrant energy of California. I think I failed. I’m pretty sure I failed. On the heels of two stressful years in a destitute Bali, seeing the abundance of life-as-we-knew-it playing out before my eyes while my friends on the island suffered lockdown isolation, presented a dichotomy that hurt my heart.

So I stuffed that reality into the chamber of my mind that says, “I’ll think about this later,” and continued my cross-country journey.

In Minnesota it was an ecstatic, far too-long-awaited reunion with Jenny and Kennen and my delightful twin grandsons. We’d all aged two years since my last visit. The twins, at two and wobbly, were now four, running, bouncing, and talking non-stop. Those two little guys are incredibly well-behaved. Their patient, loving, but strict parents provide the magic formula for ultra-creative kids who could otherwise manufacture all kinds of trouble!

My sister and her husband live in northern Minnesota on the remote edge of nowhere. In a whirlwind week with them, I reconnected with many of my Norwegian relatives and friends. I drank more coffee and ate more cookies and cheesecakes than I’d had in years.

Gwen and her husband W, bought the family farm. She knows me better than anyone and we share a common history, common that is until I moved to Hawaii. A year later, she moved to Arizona. Covid reunited us through emails. We’ve maybe missed three days of correspondence since February 2020. I love my sister. Now my logical Capricorni-ness understands her quirky Gemini-ness far better than I used to.

My daughters and their partners are wise, wonderful adults coping unbelievably well in their individual, unique circumstances. I’m so proud of them. I had one more family to see.

Joy and Kellen and my two grandaughters welcomed me into their busy boisterous lives with open arms, bountiful snuggles, and affectionate kisses. Two years ago, my newborn granddaughter had raven black hair and screeched whenever Mommy was on the phone with Granny. Now she’d turned two with golden curls, a bubbly, joyful child. And my five-year-old granddaughter, in Kindergarten full time, is a budding zoologist. She stores more facts about animals in her head than I ever knew. Their dad, Kellen, maintains a loving, much-needed order in that household of independent females which was especially appreciated while Joy and I spent hours brainstorming ideas for her business. She also gave me great feedback for a new service I’m considering. More on that another time!

No photo description available.

All this while, I kept reading the news from Bali. My original plan was to fly back to San Francisco for one last week with Jessa and Dan then return to Indonesia. My ticket was for Dec. 6th. But the rules were strict and inescapable: if I went back I would have to quarantine in a hotel in Jakarta for 10 days at my own expense, and the devastating economic circumstances in Bali hadn’t changed.

Sitting in front of the fireplace on a chilly evening in Pennsylvania with the girls burrowed close on either side of me, I agonized.

The last thing I wanted to do was return to Bali with a new variant, Omicron, bringing more uncertainty. Over the past two years, I’d come to the conclusion that I wanted, and needed, to be closer to my U.S. family. Mexico, it seemed, was the logical option. Why not check it out before going back? See if it was a fit. I had friends in San Miguel de Allende.

Suddenly that seemed like the most common-sense idea I’d ever had. I spent a couple of hours on the phone with Singapore Airlines. They finally agreed to change my return ticket to January 4th, 2022, with a valid reason and another $50 added to the original price. I hoped I could trust the old saying: Take a step and the path will appear. The Universe seemed to be showing the way.

That’s when I clicked my Ruby Red Ugly Shoes!

ReAnn Scott (My Home On The Roam) welcomed me with overwhelming hospitality. In the first eight days, I met more people, had more invitations, (even played Rummikub with a group of fifteen people that meets weekly) than I’ve ever before in my life experienced. Everyone was friendly, inclusive, and best of all, interesting.

With ReAnn’s help, I found a house to rent that exceeded my wildest hopes. Another piece of the puzzle clinked into place.

Years ago, when I was trying desperately to figure out who I was, I made a list of things I love. Not people, things. One item on the list was: Sunlight streaming through French doors.

  • This house has five sets of double French doors.
  • I wanted to live on the second floor. The house is built above a first-floor garage/storage/laundry space. The living quarters are on the second floor.
  • I wanted a rooftop terrace. I have that, too, with a 360° view of San Miguel de Allende.
  • I wanted to be in the area called Centro which is close to the town center and I needed rooms with plenty of open space drenched in light. There are huge skylights in every room and it’s a fifteen-minute walk to the famous cathedral, Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel, that occupies the place of honor in the heart of the city.
  • I had a budget. The rental amount was within the parameters I’d set.
  • Last but not least, it had to be a Mexican-style home, not new construction void of all personality. Plaster walls, a wood-beamed ceiling, bright Mexican tiles…it had everything I wanted plus a kitchen that would make a professional chef jealous!

The Universe laughed and I knew instantly this house was mine. I paid the deposit and moved in the next day. That was fourteen days ago.

And now I know won’t be returning to The Island of the Gods on January 4th. I have a 180-day visa for Mexico and I intend to extend that permanently. This already feels like home.

This morning I journaled for the first time in over a month. In a few paragraphs, tears were flooding the pages and smearing the ink. That chamber where I’d stuffed those vulnerable feelings about Bali and the friends I was leaving behind cracked open. I sobbed for a long time.

As I write this, grief wells up again.

I had ten phenomenal years there. My dear Ketut and his family helped me grow, learn, and heal some very old wounds. He was my closest friend, loyal employee, and wise teacher. I’ve written about Ketut and our hair-raising motorbike adventures many times over the years.

His family accepted me as their own.

Perhaps deep in my subconscious I knew I wouldn’t be back but couldn’t face the goodbyes to him and so many others: Nina, who became like a daughter.

My friends in the Ubud Writer’s Group who challenged me to edit, edit, edit!

Mu and Shane who provided laughter, deep philosophical conversations, and loving support.

The courageous and beautiful Sriy Sinawati who will one day follow her dream…

And many more…so many goodbyes unsaid…

And yet, I know this is the right place at the right time for me. A new adventure for this dreamer. Won’t you please, come along…?

Fawn Lake isn’t frozen, but I am…

I’m not in hibernation, although the temperatures here in Pennsylvania warrant it. I awoke to a powdering of snow that has progressed to a blustery, biting wind. The forest floor, layered with fallen oak leaves, crunches underfoot. Fawn Lake isn’t frozen…but I am!

I left Bali on October 4th. After months of waiting, I was finally fully vaccinated and travel to the US seemed feasible.

Two years is a long time to be separated from family. After seven weeks and three different states, my ‘hug deficit’ has been replenished. It feels marvelous. I’m catching up with my grandchildren – all incredibly bright and adorable, of course – but also two years older than when I last saw them. Now, they all walk, talk, count, and ask baffling questions.

The oldest, already five, is in Kindergarten. Hadley freely shares the uncanny array of facts she stores in her head. Granny, did you know that koala bears are nocturnal? Owls can have a wingspan up to five feet. Did you know elephants can live seventy years and weigh ten tons? Granny, what’s a ton?

Questions…

I’ve felt change coming for some time but had no answers for what, when, where, or how. I’d hoped this trip would bring clarity. Originally, I’d planned to return to Indonesia the first week in December. As that time approaches, there are still no international flights direct to Bali. I’d have to quarantine in Jakarta. I don’t want to do that so…

After my visit with family here, I’m flying to Mexico to meet up with friends and enjoy the milder climate in San Miguel de Allende. There’s a built-in community waiting for me there. I can explore possibilities and wait until quarantine requirements at home are lifted.

Meanwhile….

Emotionally, it’s a strange mix. I have amazing relationships in Bali, and a beautiful home that currently sits empty. (Does anyone out there want to start a new life on The Island of the Gods? Let me know!) Letting go is easier for me than most, but this feels hard. And yet, excitement bubbles in my chest imagining new challenges.

The bottom line crystallized with Covid. The uncertainty of the past two years brought reality home to roost. I can’t count on business as usual. The world came to a screeching halt almost overnight. Thinking there’d be time tomorrow for all the important things I’ve been putting off is a luxury in which I can no longer indulge.

It’s time to see the people I haven’t seen and tell them how much they mean to me.

It’s time to finish that last edit on my novel, Nettle Creek.

It’s time to admit that life is terminal and I’m closer to the end than the beginning.

It’s time to begin the next adventure – manifest the new dream.

The way ahead isn’t mapped. It’s a hard lesson for someone who wants her i’s dotted. I’m getting surprisingly adept at leaning into uncertainty and letting go of the need to see the whole picture – especially when there’s no other choice! There’s just enough light on the path for the next step and I’m taking it. Judging from past experience, when the time’s right there’ll be another glimmer of knowing…

and I’ll step again.

Am I woman?

Scrubbed and polished sky shone brightly overhead as Dan navigated the twisty coastal road into the City. “It’s carmageddon,” he said, and I translated it karma-geddon thinking my own private thoughts. I was unaware that the term referred to actual cars. Unaware, as well, that this weekend marked the grand finale of Fleet Week in San Francisco, that traffic would be snarly, that people would be out in droves.

Our destination: the Legion of Honor Museum.

I hadn’t Googled it, so when we pulled up to a structure resembling a Roman temple on a hilltop overlooking San Francisco Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge, I was surprised.  I’d assumed something more on the order of Frank Gehry architecture; edgy contemporary, in-your-face innovation.

Instead, the structure bore witness to what I’ve been taught to consider the ultimate in cultural refinement – the Roman era – art, poetry, literature, scientific breakthroughs, palatial homes with sumptuous furnishings. Power and privilege.

Perhaps I was off balance from the get-go. Perhaps two years of pandemic lockdown in Bali, isolated, uncertain of everything, stripped me of social resilience. There were people. Everywhere. And that was before we even entered the building.

Had I done my research I’d have been better prepared.

I’d have known that the brilliant work of a female artist, Wangechi Mutu, was being featured. But I didn’t know, and I wasn’t prepared.

The following quote appears on the Museum’s website and describes Mutu’s art:

Over the past two decades, Wangechi Mutu has created chimerical constellations of powerful female characters, hybrid beings, and fantastical landscapes. With a rare understanding of the power and need for new mythologies—the productive friction of opposites beyond simple binaries and stereotypes—Mutu breaches common distinctions among human, animal, plant, and machine. At once seductive and threatening, her figures and environments take the viewer on journeys of material, psychological, and sociopolitical transformation. 

Her bold interpretation of femininity, unrestrained, superimposed on a backdrop of paintings by male artists depicting women as we’ve been taught to be seen, assaulted my nervous system. Wild emotions churned through me and I could only identify one of them as I navigated the exhibits: anger. What was it that made me furious?

I’m not someone who processes quickly. I tend to go first into a state of overwhelm where I can’t think, can’t verbalize, I just absorb information. Then piece by piece, over hours and days, I bring it out and sift through the layers.

It slowly seeped into my consciousness that I was angry at myself for living small for so many years…

for buying into the lie that men hold all the cards and women’s role is subservient…

for judging my value based on how I was valued by the men in my life.

I was angry that Mutu was the ONLY female artist represented in that vast collection of paintings. And yet, perhaps that was intentional, the productive friction of opposites…

I was f***ing furious that the standards of beauty – sensuality – sexuality – purity – allure, all of it, all of what I was supposed to be, has always been dictated by men. F***ing furious.        

And there was Mutu’s art. Mutu’s depiction of the feminine going beyond simple binaries and stereotypes.

Feminine images, sleek, gritty, organic, metallic. Alien. Alien. We have alienated ourselves from our true selves by allowing patriarchy to define us.

I’d identified another emotion. Grief.

Remembering 9/11 twenty years later – An excerpt from my memoir

There have been countless memorable days in my life and I tend to focus on the happy ones. But the circumstances around September 11, 2001 cannot be forgotten. This morning I felt compelled to open my memoir and revisit the chapters that summed up that experience.

I’ve decided to share them with you. The names of my daughters have not been changed – all others have.

Chapter 55

The contractor came highly recommended. Rusty stuttered a little. One of his fingers was a nub at mid-joint. Day or two old stubble, fine and sandy-colored, poked from his cheeks, and he avoided eye contact. A plaid flannel shirt, pilled and faded with one corner of the pocket ripped loose, flapped open over a thread-thin tee. Pleased I wouldn’t have another chatty business partner, I welcomed his quirkiness. Innate goodness shone about him like an aura and my gut said I could trust him. 

Work progressed at snail’s pace but Rusty delivered with a precision worthy of any obsessive-compulsive perfectionist. Every week he brought receipts and a bill for his time. I paid with an eagerness that surprised me.

Summer passed with the lingering smell of sawdust and turpentine ever-present in the house.

Joy, my fashionista, had been packing for weeks. Outfits went into the suitcase and came out a day later, replaced by other outfits. She would be in a dorm on the FIT campus in the heart of Manhattan, the Fashion Institute of Technology, her dream.

I flew with her to New York. It was the second time in that city for both of us, and we planned to decipher the subway system, get her settled with her roommates, and say goodbye.

All was accomplished in three short days. I was due to catch a cab for the airport the next morning and Joy would walk a couple of blocks from our hotel to the campus to begin her new life. A blanket of grief wrapped around me. We crawled into the room’s one bed and I couldn’t stop the great salt streams drooling from my eyes.

“I’m sorry I’m crying, honey. I’m really so happy for you!” I blubbered as we hugged each other and rocked back and forth. “You’ve always wanted this.” Joy had tears too, but I knew they were only in response to my distress.

“Oh, Mommy,” Joy hummed in her kitten purr. “You’ll be fine. Jenny’s still at home with you and I’ll call every day, I promise.”  I burrowed my head into the pillow and tried to sleep, but there was none of that as night dragged into morning.

Both early risers, we were up at five. Spent and tearless, I gathered my scattered belongings for the flight home. The aroma from a coffee shop next to the hotel lured us and we grabbed one last cup together. The crush and din, even at this early hour, dirty fog, and a city crowded with too much humanity overwhelmed me. But the feverish excitement that radiated from Joy left no mistake. New York was right for her. I had to let go.

It was time. We summoned a cab and I wrapped my spunky angel in a final, mighty hug. “Call when you get home,” Joy said. I nodded, mute, through a fresh onslaught of tears, and ducked into the back seat of a cab. As the taxi pulled away, Joy’s face grew tiny, then evaporated in the teeming throng.

Chapter 56

True to her promise, Joy did call every day. It was Tuesday morning, September 11, 2001. She’d been in New York for two weeks. As I drove Jenny to school on my way to work, an announcement interrupted the song on her favorite radio station. An aircraft had crashed into one of the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York. My first thought was that an air traffic controller had made a terrible miscalculation. As we waited for more information the sounds coming from the radio escalated into mass hysteria. The announcer gasped. There was another plane. The second tower had been hit.

At the school entrance I jerked to a stop. Jenny and I stared at each other, horrified, as the radio continued to blast chaos.

“Call Joy,” Jenny’s voice squeaked, thready and tight. I punched speed dial and held my breath: Your call cannot be completed as dialed. I tried again, then abandoned the speed key and entered Joy’s number by hand.

“It’s not going through.” I tried to keep the fear out of my voice. “I’ll keep trying. Are you okay to go to school?”

“I think so.”

“If you need me to pick you up early, just call, okay?”

“Okay, Mom. Do you think Joy’s all right?”

I summoned a confidence I didn’t feel. “The campus is at least a mile from the towers. I’m sure she’s fine.” I desperately wanted to believe it, but my hands shook as I pulled away from the curb and tried the phone again. Why wouldn’t the call go through? The radio spewed frenzied madness as my mind created nightmare scenes in the city I’d visited less than two weeks before. When my phone beeped, I jumped, praying it was Joy.

“Sherry, where are you? Did you hear?” Hope sank. It was the voice of my business partner.

“Mae! Yes! I’m trying to call Joy.”

“I’m watching the news. Communications in New York are down. You probably won’t be able to get through.”

“Oh no!” The panic I’d been fighting to control edged in.

“I brought the portable TV. It’s hooked up here in the office.”

“I’ll be there in a few minutes.”

All morning we sat in darkness glued to the impossibility of the tragedy in New York, window shades pulled against the sun’s glare. The flicker of the screen stuttered on our faces as devastation played over and over again. I kept punching the #3 key, desperate to hear Joy’s voice.

Weeks ago I’d scheduled an appointment with a new client for two o’clock on September eleventh. The woman hadn’t called to cancel. It was in an old-money neighborhood minutes away. The TV droned on. The two explosions at the World Trade Center were followed by a plane that plowed into the Pentagon, and a fourth that crashed in Pennsylvania. The country was paralyzed. Where would terror strike next? President Bush issued an order that all aircraft were grounded. No one was to take off or land on U.S. soil.

At 1:30 I grabbed my briefcase and left the misery of the news behind long enough to walk to the car and turn on the radio. I approached the client’s address, parked, got out, and hit #3 one more time. Joy answered. My knees buckled. I grabbed the door and sagged against the side of the car.

“Joy! Oh my God, Joy!” The slam of relief was almost too much to bear.

“I’m in line waiting to give blood. I’m okay, but it’s awful Mom. You can’t imagine.” I leaned against the cold metal, tears of relief streaming, and listened. Crisp leaves from ancient oaks swirled in the wind that eddied around my feet. Joy sounded strong but would it last? How long before the trauma sank in? She said she’d felt the vibrations from the crashes in her dorm. Her eighteenth birthday was two weeks away. Can a seventeen-year-old legally give blood? The thought flitted and was lost.

“Don’t worry, Mom. I’m okay,” she reassured me again. “I’ll call you tonight.” The phone went dead. In front of me, the house with Corinthian porch columns waited. Joy was okay. My happy-go-lucky, sun’s-always-shining daughter was okay. I wanted to bask in the huge blessing of that forever. Instead, forcing one foot in front of the other, I climbed the steps to the massive double front door. A woman about my age, pixie-like with cropped Mia Farrow hair, invited me in. I could hear the drone of a TV in the background.

“Have you heard?” the woman asked.

“I was just on the phone with my daughter in Manhattan.”

“Our son works at the Pentagon in the wing that was hit. He had a meeting out of the office this morning…” She stopped, clutched her throat and reached for my hand. Minutes ticked past, measured by the beats of two mothers’ hearts fused in gratitude and grief.

“He’s okay then?” 

“Yes.” She whispered it so low I almost didn’t hear. We sat together that afternoon drinking tea and sharing stories of our children, the design proposal forgotten. When it was time to pick up Jenny from school, I asked my new friend if she wanted to reschedule.

“You know,” she said, her brow forming V-shaped ripples that met above her nose, “it doesn’t matter now.”

“Doesn’t matter?”

“The changes I thought were so necessary. Hundreds of people are dead but my son was spared.”

“I understand.” The knot in my throat tightened and tears threatened again. “I’m glad your son is okay.”

“And your daughter.”

 We hugged as she let me out. I crossed the street to the car, turned the switch for the radio off, and started the engine.

Joy called that night, still brave, but the next day, shock hit. “I need to come home Mom, just for a few days. It’s crazy here! There are bomb threats at the Armory just a few blocks from the dorm. We had to evacuate our rooms three times last night.”

“Oh, no! Okay, honey, but airports are closed.”

“I don’t care. I’ll take the train, or a bus.”

“Let me check Amtrak, I’ll call you back.”

“I’m packed. I’m going to start walking to the bus station at Port Authority.”

“Joy, wait. It’ll only take a minute…”

“No, Mom! I can’t! I’ll hitchhike if I have to, but I need to get out of here.”

“Don’t hitchhike!”

“You don’t understand…”

“No, no, I don’t, but…”

“Okay, call me. I’m heading out now.” The phone went dead. I rifled through the phonebook for Amtrak’s number. Their terminals were closed. Greyhound was running but I was told the Port Authority in New York might not be open. Nobody seemed to know. I called Joy.

“There are no trains and Port Authority might be closed.”

“No, it’s open. I’m in line right now. I’ll stay here all night if I have – hang on Mom!”

“What? Joy?” Again, silence. Frantic, I punched her number. No answer. Again. No answer. I wore out the button and still no answer.

There was no comfort this time. I’d heard the alarm in her voice. Something had happened right where she was. Sick with dread I turned on the news as I tried to reach her. But there was no mention of Port Authority, only macabre reruns of crashing planes and people jumping to their death from burning towers. An hour later my phone rang.

“Mom, I’m on the bus!”

 I burst into sobs.

 “I’m sorry, Mom. There was a bomb threat at Port Authority. Everyone ran. The lines got scrambled. When they let us back in, I was in front. Remember Mr. Grolick from our old neighborhood? He’s my seatmate. I’ll be home in twenty-one hours.”

Twenty-one hours later I waited at the Greyhound bus depot. One after another, the silver monsters groaned to a stop in their numbered stalls and leaked their human contents. Travel-weary sojourners staggered bleary-eyed to collect their luggage from the bowels of the beasts. I was glued to stall number seventeen. Within minutes of the scheduled time, hissing brakes brought the bus from New York to a shuddering stop. Before the door opened, a current of emotion ripped through me. The trauma of the past few days hit full on, constricting my chest. Joy was the third one off the bus. She spread her arms and ran. “Mama!” Her body slammed into mine.

“My baby, my baby, my baby…” was all I could manage through my sobs.

“Mama. Mommy…”

Joy stayed for a week. We celebrated her eighteenth birthday. Then she flew back to an uncertain future amidst the char and rubble and the lingering stench of smoke.

We all have memories of that time. Lives were lost. Images of horror burned into our retinae that will never be erased – not in twenty years, not ever. My child was spared. My client’s son was spared and today I’m feeling immense gratitude for that.

That Miserably-Addictive Chemical-Laden Seductive Killer

I awoke feeling virtuous.

Yesterday I walked the Campuhan Ridge at midday, a sweaty mile of uphill exertion and epic beauty. It was a solitary endeavor – a chance to collect my thoughts, commune with nature, and see if my post-lockdown body could still do it.

There were changes. In places the jungle encroached, overhanging the path with a dark quiet that spoke of slithery things hiding in its depths. A giant swing that had once enticed Instagram photos was gone and with it the man selling beverages and snacks. But most noteworthy was the absence of hikers. I passed a tall blond woman, and later two Indonesian women, the only humans besides me on the trail at eleven-thirty that morning.

Cloudless skies overhead, full equatorial sunshine, and a steady incline ensured an intense aerobic workout. The reward at the end of the climb kept me going. Karsa Kafe – the second floor seating overlooking swathes of green paddies – a haven of repose.

I arrived and settled in. The ever-present breeze licked away perspiration. Far in the distance, hazy purple mountains stood sentinel, their peaks ringed with clouds. All was as it should be – all except the emptiness. I was it, the sole patron of those glorious surroundings.

For two-and-a-half hours I drank in the peace – and the beer – undisturbed. A giant plate of crisp, sweet-potato fries fortified me while I let the frustrations and stresses of an unknown future slide off into the fields.

When my phone rang, I answered it. There was no one to disturb. Jessa, my oldest, was calling to congratulate me on getting vaccinated, the first long-awaited jab.

“When will you get your second dose, Mom?”

“It’s scheduled for August 20th.”

“Three months? That means you’ll come in September?”

It felt odd to make a plan after ages of uncertainty. Dare I hope? Could I be reunited with children and grandchildren as early as September? It felt surreal, intoxicating yet suspicious, like a gold-wrapped gift had been placed in front of me but would be snatched away the moment I reached for it. And yet, my optimistic nature overruled and I strategized whole-heartedly with her, stuffing doubt into a cramped corner with fear and worry.

High on hope, cooled and refreshed, I trotted the downhill path back home.

That’s why this morning I awoke feeling virtuous – all that great exercise – I deserved a treat. And what could be more delicious to kick-start the day than a steaming cup of 3-in-1 Nescafe?

I don’t drink coffee anymore. It wreaks havoc with my nervous system and my sleep. I weaned myself off by substituting ginger tea. I blend raw ginger root with a little water, squish it through a strainer, and store it in the refrigerator. One tablespoon of concentrated raw ginger juice mixed with steaming hot water lights my mouth on fire and curbs the craving for anything else.

Except Nescafe.

So I limit my intake of that miserably-addictive, chemical-laden killer to special occasions.

Like this morning.

I savored the aroma, salivated, nested the hot cup in my hands and sipped.

Bliss!

When the refined white sugar, glucose syrup, hardened palm oil, caramelized sugar, maltodextrin, mystery stabilizers, milk proteins, salt, emulsifier, instant coffee, and natural and artificial flavorings kicked in, which took all of about three minutes, a sense of magnanimous well-being settled over me. Anything seemed possible – even a trip to the States in September. Especially a trip to the States in September.

Five minutes later, the many forms of sugar I’d just ingested slammed my bloodstream with a megablast of energy. Luck was with me. Multiple pieces of furniture in various stages of refinishing waited on the terrace.

Ketut did the bulk of the work but he’d gone home for a few days. Within seconds I was armed with 1000 grit sandpaper, vigorously skimming the varnished surfaces until they shimmered silken-smooth to the touch.

Moving my body eased the hyped-up edginess.

But I know this story.

The rest of the day I’ll be aware of the low buzz. My limbs will tingle – not altogether pleasantly. And if I allow it, low-level anxiety will haunt me. By bedtime I’ll be tired but chances are I’ll sleep fitfully, if at all.

Is it worth it, that seductive killer cup?

Once every month or two?

You’d better believe it is!

Your Rags, My Riches – Fashion Photo Shoot

What do you do when you’re bored out of your gourd?

Take a walk? That’s noble. Healthy, too. In the old, pre-pandemic days maybe you shopped. So did I. But I learned early on that my dollar stretched exponentially farther if I spent it at second-hand stores like Goodwill, Salvation Army, or here in Ubud, the Smile Shop.

For the uninitiated, the Smile Shop is a non-profit organization that partners with medical teams to surgically correct craniofacial abnormalities for children in Indonesia. The store overflows with a cornucopia of merchandise from books, to games, jewelry, shoes, household goods, and cast-off clothing donated by visitors from all over the world. I go for the thrill of discovery, never knowing what I’ll find.

After a few soggy days, the walls were closing in. I needed a destination, something sufficiently motivating to warrant the effort of dragging my body out of the house. I’ll walk til I drop if I’m meeting someone for lunch. I had no lunch date yesterday.

Wait a minute…what about…?

The Smile Shop was open, a three-mile round-trip. I grabbed a bottle of water and slipped into my flip-flops salivating at the challenge of the hunt.

I’ve been shopping for clothing this way since I was in my teens and I’m a pro. The mish-mash is overwhelming to some. For me it’s like writing a poem – I just have to find the words that rhyme. Yesterday I was looking for cool and shapeless. In the current sticky-hot climate I don’t want form-fitting. The less intimately my garments connect with my body the better.

Within moments of arriving I had two items slung over my arm. Then a sweet vest with a crocheted back jumped out at me. I didn’t notice the label until I got it home – Guess – a popular brand in the U.S. I took a few minutes to browse paperbacks and saw a number of favorite authors but I was walking and books are heavy.

Another time.

Back home, sweaty and happy, I ran the sink full of sudsy water, scrubbed my new finds, and hung them in the breeze to dry. I was eager to try them on, but – well – unlike clothing off the racks of the big retailers, these garments come with histories attached. I like to send their old stories down the drain before I reincarnate them to their new life.

My sister and I have exchanged emails every single day for over a year. The first few months of Covid, there were many times when her newsy note was all I had to look forward to. I snapped photos of my still-wet garments, attached them with an overview of the day, hit send, and figured I’d done due diligence.

But not so.

The little minx wrote back demanding pictures of the clothes with me in them. If this post seems like the ultimate in narcissism, blame my sister! She made me do it!

My first find, this long, asymmetrical tee-shirt thing, has peek-a-boo shoulders and just hangs. It ticks all the boxes. I love it!

You can take the girl out of the Sixties but you can’t take the Sixties out of the girl. What is it with tye-dye? People seem to either love it or hate it. I can’t leave it alone. It speaks to me and this one was channeling Lesley Gore, “I’ll bring you Sunshine, Lollipops, and Rainbows…Choose me! Choose me!”

Another thing I can’t seem to resist is lace. And black lace is the epitome of sexy drama. No! I DO NOT buy pre-worn underwear!!!! Let’s just be clear about that! Ewwwww! Sorry…

I’m still working with the vest. Black on white was a spur-of-the-moment no-brainer and it’s okay, but I can do better. That’s the other bit of fun – mix-and-match – see what creative combos emerge.

Thrift shopping has ruined me for anything else. I cannot abide orderly presentations by size and department in ‘normal’ stores. Where’s the sense of adventure? Where’s the mystery? Why would you spend $500 on a designer item making some corporate gazillionaire richer when you could spend $5 and help a child smile?

That’s another thing. Brand-driven capitalism. Don’t get me started. But here’s where I’m a shameless hypocrite: I like to LOOK like I’ve spent $500.

I’m a Capricorn – the epitome of disciplined self-control…!

What high expectations I had for the regular Friday afternoon meetup with my neighbor. Our weekly chats run the gamut from current Visa regulations here in Indonesia, to quirky relatives, to where to buy the best bunkus in Ubud. If you aren’t familiar with bunkus, they’re cone-shaped packages of rice with various toppings: vegetables, chicken or pork, spicy noodles, egg, with a few mystery ingredients thrown in that you’re better off not questioning.

Besides stimulating conversation, I usually furnish beer or wine and something crunchy to munch on. Today it was Thai peanuts with lime leaf, carrot hummus, and krupuk – special crackers from the granny down the road who sells them in her tiny shop.

This time though, instead of Bintang beer, or Anggur Merah, the 14.7% alcohol Bali wine, I had a real surprise for my friend. Pu Tao Chee Chiew. I found it on a recent excusion to Grand Lucky, a grocery store that stocks things not available anywhere else in Bali. The name sounded like an exotic Chinese elixir and when I read the label and saw 37.15% alcohol I grabbed two bottles.

I feel the need to add a disclaimer here. Perhaps I’ve mentioned alcohol in too many posts lately because I had a very discreet email from a reader who wondered if I’d become a bit too dependent. I felt like saying, I’m a Capricorn, the epitome of disciplined self-control. There’s no way… but I didn’t. I decided to write this blog instead because I know she’ll read it and have a good laugh.

Here’s a snapshot of my life.

Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday – wake up. Journal. Do yoga. Meditate. Eat breakfast. Write. Take a nap. Read. Eat dinner. Answer emails. Shower. Go to bed. No alcohol.

Every Friday – wake up. Journal. Do yoga. Meditate. Eat breakfast. Write. Take a nap. Prepare snacks and some fun alcoholic beverage for the four-hour chat with my neighbor.

So…about my neighbor…

This woman is one of the busiest people I know. She works two online jobs, cooks for her husband and daughters ages 5 and 13, tutors a Balinese child in English, helps with homework assignments, writes middle grade fiction, and I’m sure I don’t know the half of it. How she carves out time every week to entertain me is one of life’s greatest mysteries. Of course, I do ply her with alocohol…

Speaking of intoxicating beverages, I introduced us to Orang Tua – translated Old People – a wine with a nasty flavor reminiscent of the hot grog we had at Christmastime in the Midwest. I’ve served Brem – a thick-ish, cloudy rice wine, and Anggur Merah, a decent red grape wine made in Indonesia. But when I told her about my latest find she was as intrigued as I was.

She arrived and settled into her usual spot just as the afternoon rain started. I popped the cap and poured sparkling amber liquid into two glasses.

“Mmmm. Bubbly. It looks like beer,” she said.

We toasted then took that first tingling swig. “Oooo, sweet.” She licked her lips with only a slight grimmace. “Like dessert wine.”

“Or communion wine,” I added. “Or like drinking perfume.” A cloying floral bouquet lingered on my tongue.

There wasn’t much else to say about it, so we turned to the snacks and commenced our animated give and take filling each other in on the events of the week, which, if you recall what my Saturdays through Thursdays always look like, could put a caffiene junkie to sleep. But her lively stories more than make up for my yawn-worthy tales. Most importantly, we laugh a lot.

Around about the third hour of chatter, my guest frowned. “How much alcohol did you say was in this stuff? Thrity-something percent?”

“37.15 %. Why?”

“Well, I must have built up a heckuva tolerance because I don’t feel a thing.”

I took a minute to assess my own buzz but found none. “Now that you mention it, neither do I. How can that be?”

She reached for the empty bottle. “This is it, right? Let’s have a look.” Still frowning she sqinted at the small print,then exploded into laughter. “Guess what?”

I shook my head. “No idea.”

“This says fermented green grapes 37.15%. But up here at the top – see?” She twisted it so the label stared me in the face and pointed.

There it was, the sad truth if I’d taken time to actually read what it said. Mengandung Alkohol 5%.

“What?” I shrieked. “Five percent? That’s less than Bali beer. And I have another bottle of this worthless (expletive deleted) in the fridge?”

My feeling of betrayal was short-lived. We laughed until our sides ached.

So please, for anyone out there who might have wondered…I thoroughly enjoy my two glasses of wine once a week. But if my neighbor can’t make it for some reason, Friday joins the rest of the non-alcoholic days. I find no pleasure imbibing in solitary. And as for that extra bottle of Pu Tao Chee Chiew…it’ll make a great gift.

Previous Older Entries

%d bloggers like this: