The Village Idiot

Political correctness has not made it to Bali. The people here express themselves directly and aren’t compelled to choose language to protect someone’s feelings which works, because most people aren’t particularly sensitive, and take things in stride. As an American and, even worse, a Californian, I wasn’t prepared for such blunt observations thrown around in casual conversation. Like when I was told how to differentiate the two Ketuts that work at our landlord’s house. “One is fat Ketut and the other is old Ketut –so simple.” Right, so simple! Or, like our friend’s driver, who is convinced that anyone involved in questionable behavior is certain to be from Java (and shares this freely with any passenger in the car). He has implicated everyone from suspiciously friendly women loitering at the warungs (cafes), to rude taxi drivers, to anyone having a bad hair day. “see that woman….ugly, frizzy hair….from Java.” Actually, I haven’t had a good hair day since we arrived; it hadn’t occurred that I might have Javanese roots (i know, bad pun). In the U.S. we would be much more covert about our observations. We would never talk about people so openly. We’re a civilized society –we have the decency to do it behind their backs, (or at least under a fake name on the internet).

Here in Bali, neighborhoods are called villages. We live in Nyuh Kuning (“New Kooning”), home to one of the biggest tourist attractions in Ubud –the Monkey Forest. Income from the Monkey Forest, (that isn’t siphoned off into government officials pockets), comes into the village, thus we have clean roads and a large soccer field at the end of our street. During the week, it’s used by the school in our village and on the weekends by the neighborhood kids. Last weekend Marc and Fletcher decided to walk down and join the group of neighbors that had gathered for a casual baseball game. The participants included a few kids from Green School and several local Balinese boys. After the game was over, Marc arrived home with Fletcher and two local boys that had followed them home after the game. They seemed curious about where the new people lived. When they noticed our pool they both lit up and one of them asked (in sign language since neither spoke English) if they could swim. Marc and I weren’t sure  — being the responsible Americans, we felt we should obtain the proper authorization from their parents after an exhaustive discussion about the boys swimming experience, assessing if they needed adult supervision or, if they could be watched from the side. Obviously, we wouldn’t be far from the pool – that would be irresponsible. Anyway, I think one of the boys picked up on our uncertainty and fled the scene while, the other took our conversation as a big thumbs up and just the time he needed. When I turned to give him an answer, he was already happily immersed in the pool wearing nothing but a giant smile. Oh geez! Now what to do? The only responsible thing was for Marc to get in with Fletcher so, he could supervise. So, the three of them swam. Allie came out, but quickly retreated to her room at the surprising sight of a naked, brown boy in our pool. I nervously stood by waiting for his parents to storm in and accuse us of kidnapping their son. But, that boy didn’t care. He swam like a mad man. I’ve never seen such flailing by someone who wasn’t in the final throes of drowning. He was everywhere –jumping off the side, paddling furiously on the raft, splashing Fletcher and Marc and giving the impression that this was the best thing that had happened to him in a very long time. He left it all there in the pool. And then, as abruptly as it started, he was done. He got out grabbed his clothes and was gone. I’m not sure where he lived or how he got there. All of us looked at each other wondering — what just happened?

The next day I was sitting at my desk on the computer when I noticed three boys had come into our yard. One of them was our friend from yesterday and he wanted to swim again. And, he brought more friends. I was home alone and had no interest in getting in the pool, nor did I want them to swim without speaking with their parents. Again, his friends picked up on my hesitancy and were gone. He, on the other hand was not to be so easily dissuaded. I started to panic. I was trying to make gestures like “the kids are at school – no swim today” –not working. I tried to speak really slowly and explain the pool was not “open” –again, nothing but, an eager smiling face looking back at me. Finally, after what felt like forever, Wayan came around the corner and I grabbed him and begged for help. Wayan looked at the boy, knelt down and talked to him. I’m not sure what he said but, in a few minutes the boy left –still, with a hopeful smile on his face. When I asked Wayan what he told him he said — “it’s okay, he’s an idiot.” I was shocked by his frankness and more than a little uncomfortable. I laughed nervously. “What?” So, he said it again. “That boy is an idiot” But, there was no malice in his words — to him, he was just giving me an explanation. I felt for the boy. Couldn’t we call him “special” or “differently abled?” I would have been so much more comfortable with that. But, that obtuse language would be silly to the Balinese. Despite the frankness of his words, Wayan was extremely patient and compassionate with the boy. His message did not convey judgment or criticism, just information he thought I should know. So, while I stood there obsessing about labels, analyzing which would be most compassionate and least offensive to use in this situation, that boy was cheerfully walking home, dreaming of the next time he would experience the sheer pleasure of swimming in our pool. Much like the day before, when I stood on the side of the pool, fretting about the risk of someone getting hurt, unable to surrender and enjoy the beauty of Bali, with my family, on a lovely Sunday afternoon, that boy saw what he wanted, dove in head first, and extracted every ounce of joy his little, flapping limbs could grab.

And he’s the idiot?

Bad Day

Today was a bad day. I should have known when we woke up and it was pouring. Although, we arrived right in the middle of the rainy season, we’ve mostly experienced brief downpours followed quickly by brilliant blue skies and white puffy clouds. But, today was different. It was a dark, gloomy, unrelenting deluge.

Allie woke up with a sore throat and slight fever so, she stayed home. Fletcher went to school by himself….and, we were running late.

Most mornings, I love the drive to school. There is so much activity. The shops are starting to open. People are on their motor bikes carrying everything from live chickens to plastic toys, piled implausibly over their heads or, sticking out in every direction –defying any law of the road or physics. I’ve often seen whole families on one bike — the mother driving, a young child holding on behind and a toddler asleep in front with its head resting on her mother’s shoulder. The rice fields are glistening in the sun, dotted with workers in their conical rice hats. And, the animals are hunting for scraps of food from people in the shops or in the piles of garbage that collect in empty spaces everywhere.

But this day was different. It was quiet on the street because of the rain and everything looked sad and empty. We were about half way to school when a small black dog darted out into the street chased by a large Golden Retriever right on its heels. It’s very unusual to see a Golden Retriever in Bali. They are rare. Most of the dogs here have a specific look — dirty, often mangy, and hardened. And, although, most of the dogs look like they were assembled with spare parts, many of them are friendly and actually have owners or, at least, are fed by the same people regularly. Most appear happy and well adjusted — trotting around with their tails and heads up proudly, approaching other dogs with interest and curiosity or sleeping on the side or even, in the middle of the road, while cars stop to go around them. They also have an innate sense for avoiding vehicles. I think this is a gene that has been passed down for generations of Balinese dogs –allowing them to remain unscathed while darting among cars, trucks and motorbikes or choosing to bed down on the roadside.

This particular morning when the two dogs ran out into the road, I felt my stomach leap into my mouth and I was filled with an intense feeling of dread. Indra and I were both chanting  “no, no, no” with increasing urgency –while thankfully, Fletcher was in the backseat with the IPad. It was one occasion when I was grateful for the IPad and it’s power to pull Fletcher into another world. At that moment, I wished I was in another world. The black dog had just stepped onto the road when we saw the truck – it was cresting a hill and not able to see the dogs that had run blindly out into the street and it was traveling at a rate that would have made it impossible to stop in time. So, Indra and I watched in horror as the black dog cleared it’s path, just barely missing the wheels of the truck. But the Golden wasn’t so lucky. I will spare you the details but, mercifully, it was quick and painless for the dog –but, not for the witnesses in the car.

My first reaction was to get mad. “Where are the owners of that dog? Why did they let him out, to run into the street? Those people should know better! They better learn from this and not ever let their dogs out in the future!” As I got going with my rant, Indra looked at me and said “it’s sad” with a touch of resignation in his voice. He was right, it was sad. He knew no matter how angry I got, it wasn’t going to change the fact that here, in Bali, dogs have very different lives. They aren’t kept penned up in yards or houses – they’re free to roam and explore and make new acquaintances. They don’t wear fabulous outfits or get carried around in purses, eat organic kibble or get treated for cancer with chemo. They’re not accessories. I would doubt that even one prescription has been written here for doggie prozac. Instead, they live active, vibrant and intense lives but, sometimes they make a bad decision and run out into traffic.

I hope tomorrow is a better day.

Trip to Uluwatu

We just returned from our first weekend away. We traveled to Uluwatu with some other families from Green School. Uluwatu is south of Ubud and took about 2 hours by car. It was our first trip to the beach. Much like LA, the beaches closer to the city are not as nice and during the rainy season (which is now) can get rather dirty from the runoff — again, just like home!

We stayed at a lovely resort called Karma Kandara. The resort is built high up on a cliff and the views of the Indian Ocean are spectacular. There is a beautiful beach down below —so far down below that you have to ride a funicular which takes almost three minutes for the descent.

Allie and Fletcher looking down at the beach

Allie and Fletcher looking down at the beach waiting for the funicular

Cool clouds --shot of the pool overlooking the ocean

Cool clouds –shot of the pool overlooking the ocean

Same pic -earlier in the day --with kids in the pool

Same pic – earlier in the day – kids in the pool

The beach at the hotel is nice but, the reason most people travel to the area is for the Uluwatu beach. Not only is it beautiful, it’s also one of the most popular surf spots on the island. The only problem is getting to it. Access is down a flight of stairs that go on forever and culminate with a portion suspended 20 feet in the air, maybe two feet wide, and with no railings to hold. That was exciting! We kept commenting that if this were the U.S. there would be hordes of personal injury attorneys gathered at the bottom of the stairs. On second thought there wouldn’t be instead, there would be scaffolding and safety nets and most likely a wheelchair ramp. Just saying…

Once you finally make it down, the beach is pretty spectacular. The first part is a big cave that the water has eroded so, the tide comes in between the walls. The main beach is through a tunnel that you can only get through at low tide –and, if you stay too long you get trapped at the beach for several hours until the tide goes back out.

The beach was great but, by far, the most exciting part of the trip for the kids was when the monkeys invaded our villa. We had just come inside after having drinks by the pool when one of the kids screamed “monkeys drinking!!” Just then ten monkeys swarmed onto the patio –one finished off my cucumber martini, one drank Allie’s mango juice, while the smallest one had a great time trying to figure out how to drink Coke from a can. He also hung out by the window while the girls tried to talk to him.

Monkey on the railing of our villa

Monkey on the railing of our villa

Monkey finishing off our drinks

Monkey finishing off our drinks

Young monkey drinking Coke

Young monkey drinking Coke

What my kids are learning in Bali

We embarked on this adventure, in large part, for the kids. We wanted them to see another part of the world, rich in cultural history and enduring traditions, many of which remain to this day. Through this experience, they would gain a greater tolerance and perspective for people of differing cultural, ethnic and religious backgrounds, and hopefully, return home more curious, erudite and compassionate citizens of the world.

Here are a few of the experiences they have had recently that, I’m pretty sure will contribute significantly to these objectives:

1. Last week, Allie spotted two naked men bathing and brushing their teeth in the river on our way to school. Now we look for them every time we pass. We’ve learned there are many people who use the river for, not only bathing but, many other unsavory things. Lesson learned — a more adequate infrastructure and entitlement program would help serve the needs of people here. — Bigger lesson: don’t drink the water

2. One day on our way back from school, Fletcher spotted a pair of dogs stuck in what was clearly a post-coital moment. They were facing in opposite directions yet, were still “attached” to each other and, were trying really hard to break free. Not only was this difficult to explain, it was made even more complicated by the fact that I was sitting in the front seat with our driver, Indra. I think he was equally amused and befuddled. I doubt he could understand why the kids were so interested and why I was trying so hard to distract them. I’m sure, to him, it was no big deal — most Balinese kids grow up seeing this stuff all the time. Lesson learned — a well funded, animal sterilization program would greatly improve the lives of dogs on the street. — Bigger lesson: fish make great pets

3. After dinner tonight, Allie disappeared for a while and I assumed she and Fletcher were playing with our neighbors. Somewhat later, Fletcher appeared in the door by himself, and when I asked where Allie was – he replied “She’s at a cockfight next door. How great is that?” But, I was not thinking it was great. I was thinking we need to go to the airport, right now. Thankfully, when I went to investigate, I was relieved to learn that Balinese cockfighting is much tamer than the American bloody, fight-to-the death version. It’s actually more like cock-wrestling (so, put down the phones – child protective services has better things to do). Maybe next time I will send her with some money — she does have an eye for chickens. Lesson learned — An animal welfare organization would help to educate people on cruel practices and foster greater respect for animals. –Bigger lesson – bet on the bigger rooster – he usually wins.

I’m not sure how much more culture we can take but, I’ll keep you posted.

Fletcher at school

Here is an update on are some of the things Fletcher has been busying himself with at school and home.

Fletcher is now (mostly) happy to be in 2nd grade. It’s taken a little longer for him to settle in than it did for Allie. We made a tactical error and started him in first grade even though he was more then a year older and almost twice the size of several of the kids in the class. Being an international school, the age when kids start school varies a lot, but, in general, kids seem to be younger than at home. The red shirting of kindergartners doesn’t seem to happen much outside of the U.S.

After a week, it was clear to us and the school, that he belonged in 2nd grade so, he was moved. I think we may have underestimated the effect all the moves would have on him. He’s always transitioned easily so, we (stupidly) thought this would just be another transition. It’s taken a little time but, thankfully, he is starting to make friends and he seems much happier (phew!) Yesterday, he came home and was thrilled to show me the new song, (complete with obscene gestures), his friend had taught him. And today, he was excited to bring his new Balinese drum to school for music class (and the rest of us in the car were thrilled to hear him play all the way to school).

Fletcher in 2nd grade class

Fletcher in 2nd grade classroom

Last week in class, he got excited about learning how to make klangsa –which is a weaving made out of coconut leaves. Fletcher enjoyed it so much that when he came home he wanted to do even more weaving. With Dek and Wayan’s help, they cut down some coconut tree branches so he could continue to work on his weaving skills.

Fletcher working hard on his weaving

Fletcher hard at work

Dek helping Fletcher pick the perfect branch to weave.

Dek helping Fletcher pick the perfect branch to weave.

In addition to the important life skill of klangsa, Fletcher has been working on some musical numbers. This is a video of his class performing in a school assembly. Every Friday afternoon there is an assembly for the lower school kids. Often, it is a performance by one or more classes, at other times, the school brings in performers to educate and entertain the kids. Recently, Michael Franti performed which was followed by a green smoothie and raw food banquet (no, I’m not kidding…). Michael Franti is great — I tried not to let the fact that he hasn’t worn shoes since 1997 distract me from his talent.

More pictures of Fletcher at home.

Fletcher with a snail he found in our yard

Fletcher with a snail he found in our yard

Close up of snail's shell

Close up of snail’s shell


Everything is a bigger around here! Sorry Texas!

Fletcher and his homemade "bandaid"

Fletcher becoming “green” – his homemade “bandaid”


Allie has fallen in love. And in that unique way that the universe works, (or maybe it’s just the way it works for me), the recipient of this intense, heartfelt, (mostly unrequited), devotion is, of all things……………..a chicken. A downy, yellow, slightly runty, baby chicken. Some of you may recall that in my earlier posts I’ve expressed my feelings about the chickens that torture visit us frequently. How much I appreciate being woken up throughout the night or having my phone conversations interrupted by an important message that must be conveyed to the rooster down the block at just that moment. Experiences such as these, continue to endear me to these feathered knuckleheads.

It all began rather secretly. A few days after our arrival, Allie and Fletcher discovered one of our neighbor’s hens sitting on several eggs. They began a vigilant watch over the hen’s progress and several days later noticed the last of the eggs had hatched. In their exuberance, (at least, this is what I’ve gathered from conflicting accounts), they startled the hen and one of the newly hatched chicks fell, dramatically out of the nest, (about six inches), to the ground. Now faced with, what they perceived as, the tiny chick’s life hanging in the balance, they jumped into action and scooped it up. But, what then? Allie, being the more experienced chicken wrangler (based on her telling this to her little brother), she suggested they keep it and raise it as their own. And Fletcher, having no say in the matter and not wanting to be left out, went along with the plan. For almost two days Marc and I spent much of our time enjoying the quiet and peace in the house. We marveled at what a brilliant decision we had made in bringing our family to Bali. Clearly, the kids were so enamored with the beauty here, they were inventing new, thought-provoking games to play with each other, stopping, only to exchange monologues professing their deep love and affection for their parents. Or, they were trying to get a newly hatched chick to eat leftover lasagna.

Allie found a basket in the house and filled it with an old sock. This was to be the chick’s new home. While they were at school, the chick would hide in Allie’s closet but, at all other times, it would be in Allie’s bathroom where they would feed it leftovers from the kitchen and tend to all it’s little chicken needs –which they had determined to be lots of “training” and expressions of affection (evoking Lennie and the rabbits – Of Mice and Men, anyone?). It was an extremely well thought out plan. Except for one small wrinkle. Remember how I mentioned that we have an abundance of help here at our house in Bali? Well, those people take their jobs seriously and part of their job is to make sure Allie’s room is clean (I know, I know — we’ll be dealing with the implications of this when we return but, I’ll cross that bridge at a later date). About 36 hours into the chick’s incarceration rescue, Marc and I actually started to get suspicious about how often the kids were going back and forth from the kitchen to Allie’s room. In addition, Dek, our exceedingly responsible house manager flashed a large and knowing smile when I made a comment about how “hungry the kids seem to be.”

You’ve probably gathered it was taking a whole house of bricks to fall on their parents, before we began to think something was up. Finally, we went to check on our suspiciously quiet kids. I opened Allie’s door and there was Fletcher holding the hostage in his hands.  They both recounted the story of how the chick had fallen out of the nest and was unlikely to survive if not for their valiant rescue (including a dramatic reenactment). “What will happen to Papaya if we give her back? She’ll die! Her mother will reject her and she’ll starve!” I think Allie and Fletcher had watched too many wildlife documentaries about the complex relationship between babies and mothers in the wild. Lucky for us, we were dealing with a very uncomplicated chicken mom who, in all likelihood, barely noticed one of her chicks had gone missing for the last day and a half.

I tried to reassure Allie that her mother would definitely take Papaya back and the only chance the chick had was to be reunited with her family. “As much as you love her, you don’t know much about how to be a chicken.” But whatever cogent, rational argument I tried with Allie, it wasn’t penetrating –“but, I love her, mom, I love her so much, I don’t want anything bad to happen to her.” The intensity of her emotions almost brought us both to tears. “She’s so little and helpless, I can’t let her go.” I sat there thinking to myself – “Why are these damned chickens trying to ruin my life?!” And then, it dawned on me –I couldn’t blame Allie for acting on an impulse that I, as a mother, struggle with everyday. How many times have I fantasized about doing just that — locking her away from the mean girls, college rejection letters and boys that will break her heart. Keeping her away from the world seems, at times, the only reasonable option. To her ten year old brain, keeping Papaya locked in a basket, away from things that could hurt her, was the best defense she could offer. What she hadn’t considered was how she might be depriving Papaya. I shared how I would like nothing more than to keep her in a basket locked away, safe from the world, never to be hurt and always close to me but, then, she would miss out on fun things like birthday parties or sleepovers with friends. After she contemplated the horror of spending her life alone with only her parents and brother for entertainment, she quickly pulled herself together. Then she stood up, looked at me and smiled. “Do you think Papaya will remember me?”

She better…….I may not be able to protect her from much but, I think I can handle one  puny little chick.

Papaya with her siblings

Papaya with her siblings


Papaya – the little yellow one. Doing fine, getting bigger. Allie still visits her everyday.

Bali Creatures

One of the reasons I was most excited about coming to Bali was the chance to better acquaint the kids with animals and plants in their natural state. To date, most of their interactions with animals or nature have been with our pets or animals at the zoo. I think this lack of organic experiences has resulted in Allie wanting to capture every animal she runs across and hold it hostage in an empty, plastic, drinking bottle.

Having lived in LA for most of my life, I always liked “nature.” In fact, I always enjoyed going to visit it (within an hours drive), where I could thoroughly soak it in, then return to my house, shower, and go to sleep in my clean, comfortable bed. “Nature” was best in it’s own neighborhood. But, I always thought –wouldn’t it be great for the kids to experience more “nature”?  Of course it would! I’d read about “Nature Deficit Disorder” a term coined by author Richard Louv in his book Last Child in the Woods and I was sure my kids had it in spades. I longed for them to experience the wildness and beauty of nature while remaining safe and more importantly, clean and sanitary.

Right before we left LA, I received an e-mail from the Santa Monica Police Department addressing a pertinent “nature” issue. Perhaps, this gives some insight into how I and, in my opinion, most Angelenos “coexist” with nature. Below is an excerpt from that memo: (I promise this is real)

“Living with Wildlife in Santa Monica”

Coyotes Are Active in This Area

One of the great features of living in an urban area like Santa Monica is the ability to be so close to nature and the local mountains that are full of native species like raccoons, possums, squirrels, and coyotes

Humans can coexist with coyotes by following some of these helpful tips:
·         Do not run or turn your back.
·         Be as big and loud as possible.
·         Wave your arms and throw objects.
·         Face the coyote and back away slowly.
·         If attacked, fight back.

John Muir is surely spinning in his grave. I think this was taken from an earlier SMPD memo –“Coexisting with Rapists.” But, I digress….

Back to my fantasy….I longed for my kids to chase fireflies, capture frogs and play kick the can… okay, maybe I got a little carried away with that one. Anyway, you get the idea.

Well as the old adage goes: “be careful what you wish for.” I think I mentioned in previous posts that the houses here are mostly open air. We have doors that close up our living space but, they’re only closed at night when we go to bed. In addition, there is a large open area right off the dining room that has no doors or anything that closes so, that part of the house is always wide open. During the day all the doors remain open, mostly for air flow, but it also makes access completely available to whoever wanders in…..or out. But, only after they’ve spent a long, noisy night with us.

So, in my old version of being close to nature, I imagined my children running across a meadow, chasing butterflies in smocked outfits, gleefully playing without even a speck of dirt on them. And it was beautiful. Here’s the problem with my fantasy and what I’ve learned about “nature.” Nature is kind of gross. It’s loud and often smelly. It doesn’t wipe it’s feet or flush and it doesn’t care who or what it poops on. For a city girl from LA, this is taking some getting used to.

Let me take you through an average day and night at our house in Bali. At about 5:00-5:30 AM our neighbors roosters, (yes, roosters with an “s”), begin to make noise (if we’re lucky, it’s not earlier). That myth we’ve all been fed of the polite rooster, patiently waiting until dawn to cock-a-doodle-doo  –let me disabuse you of that notion right here, it never happens that way. It is possible that these roosters are either ADD or idiots or both but, they make noise, lots of noise, whenever the impulse strikes them –in fact, I’ve never noticed it being precisely at dawn. And here in Bali, there are chickens EVERYWHERE. They all belong to someone –but, no one has pens or bothers keeping their chickens in their own yard. And for some reason, there seem to be WAY more roosters than hens. The kids, (especially Allie), are fascinated by the chickens — I, on the other hand, am fantasizing about chicken nuggets.

Our "neighbors" roosters that spend most of their time in our yard.The brown one is especially vocal.

Our “neighbors” roosters that spend most of their time in our yard.The brown one is especially proud of his singing voice.

After breakfast the house is opened up and throughout the day we are visited by lots of bugs (nothing too scary), mostly innocuous, flying ones. Lots of butterflies, gnats, dragonflies, and lovely iridescent green flies. Currently, it’s the middle of the summer (technically) so, most of the smarter creatures (of course, this doesn’t apply to our resident idiot chickens), lay low most of the day to avoid the heat and humidity.

Later in the afternoon is when the real fun begins. Around 5:00 pm, it starts to cool off slightly and the first thing to emerge are small, pinkish-brown lizards everyone calls chik- chaks. By late afternoon, there are around 10-15 on the walls inside the house. As abundant as they are, they’re actually quite shy and run away when you approach, so getting good pictures of them is tough. Their name comes from the sound they make which sounds like chik-chak so, that’s what everyone calls them. I’m sure they have a fancier, scientific name, I just didn’t bother looking it up.

chik chak in the house

chik chak in the house

Chik chak

Another Chik chak

Along with the chik chaks, the geckos start to emerge around this time. They share the chik chaks’ shyness but, they’re larger and MUCH louder. They’re also referred to by a name associated with the sound they make — toe-kay. The first time I heard it I thought someone was standing in our living room blowing an airhorn. The booming and startling noise that comes out of this relatively small lizard is astonishing and frankly, awe-inspiring. I think Fletcher must be related to them. We have several that live in our house, mostly behind the pictures hanging on the walls. There is one in particular that Allie has named “big boy” that lives behind the painting over the couch in the living room. I still haven’t gotten used to him darting his head out of the bottom of the frame, just as I’ve just settled down on the couch.

"Big Boy" sticking his head out from his favorite hiding place.

“Big Boy” sticking his head out from his favorite hiding place.

Several geckos hanging out by the front door

Several geckos hanging out by the front door

Gecko hanging out over our kitchen door

Gecko hanging out over our kitchen door

As much as I would like to think the lizards are our personal welcoming committee, they’re actually coming out to feed on the mosquitoes. Yes, the mosquitoes are pretty bad right now. Poor Allie! Her legs look like she has chicken pox! I recently purchased these super-charged, personal bug zappers that look like electric tennis racquets. In the evening, (including the time we’re having dinner), we walk around the house carrying them and competing to see how many mosquitoes we can zap. It’s pitiful. The people who’ve been here a while tell us that eventually your body adjusts and the mosquitoes don’t bite you as much or you stop reacting. And mercifully, when the wet season ends in March/April, the mosquitoes are supposed to subside. I’m praying that day comes soon for my daughter — for some reason, the mosquitoes love her the most.

After the initial siege of lizards and mosquitoes, out come the bats and frogs. The bats generally stay outside, except for one overachiever who finds his way into the house every night and circles over our heads for about an hour – (luckily we have high ceilings). He also leaves us a present wherever he feels like it, (lately, it’s been in the middle of the living room floor). The frogs are even less bold than the lizards and not nearly as agile (at least on land). They tend to hop in, freeze up, and then proceed to just sit there in the middle of the floor waiting to be stepped on (as Marc did one night on the way to the bathroom –yuck!) or discovered by one of the kids who then, happily chase them around the house.

Bats outside our house.

Bats outside our house.

Frog on a picture in the dining room

Frog on a picture in the dining room

Fletcher catching tadpoles in the fountain in the middle of our house.

Fletcher catching tadpoles in the fountain in the middle of our house.

Are you appalled yet? I hope not. It probably sounds worse than it is. I’m actually growing fond of the creatures that inhabit our house. I think of them as little soldiers that  protect us from the assault of the evil mosquito army that invades every night. Nothing like a common enemy to bring you together!

That being said, it’s definitely a different way to coexist — we’re all learning a lot. The other night, I watched as the kids ran around outside with flashlights, chasing and catching frogs (almost like I imagined – just with more dirt). And I’m happy to report, it’s been days since Allie trapped anything in a plastic bottle.

Then again, if it gets to be too much, I can always go back to waving my arms, throwing objects and acting as big and loud as possible but, on second thought, that’s actually what brought me here in the first place.

Touring Green School

We scheduled a tour of The Green School, (where we had enrolled the kids), on Friday, January 18th, two days after our arrival on Wednesday. We planned for the kids to start school on the following Monday which would give them a couple of days to acclimate and get over their jet lag. Based on the pictures and videos of the school, we thought we had a pretty good idea of what to expect. Yet, never having laid eyes on the place, I was more than a little anxious –what if we just flew half way around the world to send our kids to a giant dump? That would make for a long stay here. Luckily for us, the campus is mostly as promised, a lush, verdant oasis. Thank God!!

During our tour, Allie got excited about all the animals. Fletcher got excited about all the room to run around and kick balls. And I got excited about them going back to school, any school. They had been out for almost a month since winter break began in Los Angeles. We’re all getting a little sick of looking at each other. School starting will definitely be good for everyone.

If you’d like to check out the school for yourself– here’s the link:

Arriving in Ubud

We arrived in Ubud @ 5:00 pm. We were met at our new house by Jared, the realtor who helped us in our search for where to live. I was nervous about choosing a house from so far away, based on a few pictures on the internet –we’ve all been tricked by the fish-eye lens before! Luckily for us, Jared has worked with lots of American families. He found us a very nice house, in a great neighborhood with an amazing staff. In addition, our landlord, who lives next door, (in an INCREDIBLE house he built last year), has lived here for many years and is a great resource for all things Bali. He had graciously arranged a delicious dinner of chicken curry to be prepared for our arrival. I wish I could say how much I enjoyed it — unfortunately, we barely could keep our eyes open! We did our best to stay awake as long as we could but, despite our best efforts we were all in bed by @ 7:00!

Front entrance of our house

Front entrance of our house

From the back of our house - looking toward front door

From the back of our house – looking toward front door

One of the great luxuries of living here is the availability of cheap labor (especially compared to the US). For about what it cost to have a housekeeper once a week in Los Angeles, we have a full-time driver, chef and 2 housekeepers! The chef is going to be hard to get over when we return! Every morning he prepares fresh fruit, smoothies, eggs, french toast or whatever we request. My kids are in for a shock when we return to Eggo waffles and cold cereal! After breakfast, we decide on the menu for lunch and dinner. He was trained in a French restaurant here in Ubud so, he can cook lots of Western dishes as well as Thai, Chinese and, of course, Indonesian.

Breakfast fruit- includes a rambutan which cost @ $8 at whole foods in LA. They taste like a big peeled grape. Allie loves them!

Breakfast fruit- furry one is a “rambutan” which cost @ $3 a piece at Whole Foods in LA. They taste like a big peeled grape. Allie loves them!

Our first breakfast - everyone looks a little tired..

Our first breakfast – everyone looks a little tired..

Our chef, Gedee ("gahday")

Our chef, aptly named Gedee (pronounced “g’day) How perfect is that? Every day is a good day when he’s here!

Our arrival in January coincided with the rainy season here. Iit rains almost daily but, I’m actually kind of enjoying it. It’s a tropical rain so, it’s sunny and humid most of the day and then at some point (mostly late afternoon or at night), the sky opens up and, wow! It comes down! Not like at home where a tiny shower becomes the lead story on the news — (“Stormwatch” for you Angelenos!), and people lose their minds trying to leave work early. Here, people just go on with their day, just part of life. Unlike us Americans, the Balinese don’t spend a lot of time trying to control their environment the way we do. They’re very easy going and accepting of most things…..more on this later.

The downside of the rainy season is that nothing dries — EVER! Towels and clothes have a vague damp feel and the few books we brought now have distinctly wavy pages. For those of you who’ve lived in Florida or Hawaii, this might not be so unsettling. But, for those of us who live in a place where water is so precious that letting our kids run through the sprinklers could result in jail time for their parents, this takes some getting used to. To contend with the wet climate, the houses are mostly open, including, (which I didn’t fully grasp from the pictures), all our bathrooms! This might seem romantic after a massage in a Hawaiian spa, but not that awesome when you need to pee in the middle of the night.

Allie's bathroom - complete with garden IN the shower!

Allie’s bathroom – complete with garden IN the shower!

Getting to Bali

I’m finally trying to get caught up on the blog. I’m about two weeks late in posting these pictures from the trip over.

We made it! It was a LONG 27 hours, but the kids did very well! I’ve never been particularly fond of their Nintendo game consoles but, they saved us during our 5 hour layover!

We may have overpacked!

Leaving LAX –we may have overpacked!

After so many weeks of preparation, we were all excited to finally be boarding the plane to Hong Kong — Fletcher wasn’t shy about enjoying the great Cathay Pacific service! I’m not sure the kids had ever been on a flight that served food and drinks whenever you want them! Fletcher told us he wants to be a “businessman” — (like the other men on the plane) my guess is for the free food and drinks!

Fletcher - on the flight to Denpasar

Fletcher – on the flight to Denpasar

Allie also enjoyed the flight. Lucky for us, her Furby (her favorite xmas gift), only chattered for about 5 of the 27 hours. (For those of you not familiar with Furbys, imagine a maniacally babbling, Japanese toddler crossed with the old woman from Poltergeist in the shape of a furry egg – yeah! Scary! And –it doesn’t have an “off” switch!) – I kept expecting it to suddenly open it’s eyes and declare – “this plane is clean.”

Allie and Furby settling in for the long flight to Hong Kong

Allie and Furby settling in for the long flight to Hong Kong

Furby gearing up to torture unsuspecting, nearby passengers

Furby gearing up to torture unsuspecting, nearby passengers

In the lounge in Hong Kong awaiting our next flight to Denpasar. The kids were thrilled to have unrestricted access to their games!

Waiting for our flight to Denpasar

Cathay Pacific lounge in Hong Kong

Waiting to get on our flight to Denpasar

Waiting to get on our flight to Denpasar

At last, we arrived in Bali! Just a 1 1/2 hour drive to go and we will be at our house in Ubud. Our driver, Indra, and his brother both met us at the airport in two cars. Apparently, we couldn’t fit ourselves and all our bags in one! The customs agent was the first to give me the impression that we may have overpacked when he asked ” you open shop?” What? I thought everyone brought an entire duffel bag of dental floss. We may have panicked just a little from what we read on the internet about Bali. I’ve since discovered they do have stores here…who knew?! Maybe, I will open a shop. Another thing I’ve discovered is no one seems to worry much about copyright infringement. I saw a man pushing a fried chicken cart with the “KFC” logo painted on the side. I’m pretty sure KFC isn’t selling their chicken off carts pushed by old Balinese men these days but, now I’m thinking…. “Ubud Disney Store” or “Bali Walmart World” would be a huge hit!

In the car -- last leg of the trip!!

In the car — last leg of the trip!!

Sights in Denpasar

Sights in Denpasar