Coffee, Chaing-Chaings and Crumbling Commodes

The last couple of weeks have been super busy, filled with school activities and a few family excursions. With the school year wrapping up, the kids (and their parents) are getting really excited to travel back to Los Angeles and visit everyone they’ve missed so much over the last five months!

Allie and her class recently performed a concert on the Gamelan which is a traditional Balinese orchestra. They worked on their piece for about two months and performed it last week. We were really impressed! Each of the kids played their own instrument and it all came together really well! Allie played the chaing-chaing cymbals which is the instrument that gives the Gamelan it’s deafening distinctive sound. Thankfully, she didn’t have to practice at home!!

Fletcher reading a poem he wrote for Earth Day:

Video of the Gamelan performance:

In addition to preparing for the end of the school, we’ve been exploring some other parts of Bali. We have spent most of our time in Ubud, with an occasional trip down south to the beach so, last weekend we visited a coffee plantation in north Bali. We also participated in the Green School white water rafting trip with a bunch of other families. It lasted about two hours down the beautiful Ayung river that flows around and through parts of Ubud.

Living in Bali is always filled with unusual experiences, here are a few we were able to capture lately:

147 Days

I’m going to come straight out with it. I have a bit of a problem. Strictly speaking I actually have multiple problems, most of which I don’t particularly care to share, but there’s one in particular that I feel I must get off my chest at this moment.

I am addicted, enslaved and altogether powerless over television. Yes, television. That glorious box we all possess that emanates messages of light and happiness and all that is good in the world. And I can’t get enough.

As a kid growing up in the 70s and 80s, I dabbled in t.v. Access was limited, so each interlude was a sweet, rapturous moment spent with the Bradys or the happy gang from Love Boat. It was a simpler time of scripted shows, laugh tracks, three networks and no remotes. A time when families understood each other and the bad guys always got what was coming to them. These were my gateway programs, and soon I was hooked.

Later, as I got older, I graduated to programs which required regular viewing – serials, mini-series and the occasional soap opera (I swear that was only on a couple of drunken nights in college). The depths of my dependence demanding a more and more serious commitment. As my habit grew, I deluded myself with “I’m a social viewer, I never watch alone –only at parties or with my roommates.” and of course, “I can quit whenever I want.”

But could I? As time went on, I was becoming more hard core. With the advent of Tivo, not only could I skip commercials, I could now binge watch episodes of series I had recorded, sometimes all by myself. Watching Lost until the wee hours of the morning, waking up next to a half eaten lean cuisine, a diet coke and microwave popcorn in my hair, even the cat refused to look me in the eyes. Stumbling through the next day on a few hours of restless sleep, babbling to myself whether the island really is purgatory, was starting to take it’s toll.

And then it happened. I hit bottom. I was watching television in the garage as I cleaned out the minivan, (yes, the garage….obviously for all those long hours on the treadmill…whatever..). I was flipping back and forth between Entertainment Tonight and a Seinfeld rerun while scrubbing the spilled yogurt out of the backseat and I got a glimpse of myself in the side mirror. Who had I become? With glassy eyes, dilated pupils and a creepy smile frozen on my face, I was a monster. Something had to change.

Upon our arrival in Bali, I was the first to notice that our house had only one small television. I started to feel the onslaught of a small panic attack. I calmed myself with the thoughts – “oh well, it’s only 27 hours back home” or “it’s cheap to build here – I wonder what a bamboo media room would run?” Ironically, I didn’t even bother to turn it on. At first, everything here was new and exciting and I didn’t think about television….for a while. And then, about a month into our stay, I sat down to relax and turned on the t.v. For those of you unfamiliar with Indonesian television, it is a dreadful mash-up of Javanese soap operas, Australian Football and Al-Jazeera. And, as if to rub salt in my already gaping wounds, Hulu, and just about every other site with replays of American tv shows are unavailable here due to licensing restrictions. I had been mercilessly cut off. So, I said to myself. That’s it. I’m done. That was 147 days ago.

I can’t say that every day has been easy. Pangs of withdrawal creep up all the time leaving me with important unanswered questions like – Who won this season’s anemically contested American Idol? Will Kim and Kanye get their own well-deserved show? and Why does Ashton Kutcher still live with Jon Cryer? I certainly don’t have my finger on the pulse of pop-culture like I used to (for all I know, those questions may have already been answered!). I didn’t even hear about the crazy lady who just loves cats until last week (from my ten year old daughter, no less!). I fear I’ll be terrible at parties when people bring up the Voice and I struggle to come up with relevant comments, eyes darting back and forth, scrambling to change the subject to cover my shame. I dread those moments.

I guess that all begs the question – what have I been doing since I went cold turkey and gave up television? That’s a tough one. I’d love to tell you my life has been instantly transformed but, honestly, I don’t feel that different. Maybe, I was so far gone that the results of my quitting will take some time to recognize. I do remember a girl in high school who’s family never owned a television and I think she’s working at the NIH or JPL or someplace where they discover important stuff. I, on the other hand, have read a few books and am playing more board games with my kids. Some days the quiet and peace in the house is startling (never too startling though, due to the mellifluous din of the neighbors roosters), yet, I find myself enjoying it. One of the biggest benefits I’ve found is the freedom from the unrelenting barrage of warnings and frightening stories coming at me on a daily basis. And, who knows, maybe someday I’ll discover some important stuff too. But, right now I have to go. It’s my turn to roll.

TEDx Ubud

I just spent most of last Saturday at the TEDx event that was held here in Ubud. TEDx (versus TED) events are smaller regional happenings organized to highlight projects and people doing extraordinary things in the local area — in this case Bali, and other parts of Indonesia. In the past, I’ve spent hours on the TED website watching videos of brilliant speakers from past events so, I was ready and eager to be dazzled. Here’s what I took away from Saturday…

While the speakers that participate in the primary TED conference are extremely eloquent, often genius presenters (past TED speakers include- Pres. Bill Clinton, the Dalai Lama, Steve Jobs, etc), it quickly became evident that, although all of the participants are doing extraordinary things, many were not all that practiced at being in front of a large group of people. At first, I was a little disappointed — I was hoping to be enraptured and entertained as I often am on the TED site. And, while I’ve loved watching videos of people like Taylor Wilson (the kid who developed a nuclear fusion reactor at 14), I also know the closest I’ll get to a rocket scientist most days is watching reruns of The Big Bang Theory. Like a shot of espresso, It’s easy to watch the TED talks, get a quick hit of inspiration, and then move on to more important things like deciding on what to feed the kids or why the cat just puked on the rug.

Yet on Saturday, it wasn’t Bill Clinton or the Dalai Lama making the presentations. These were real people. People I might have gone to school with or known from work. And although, all of them were quite accomplished and successful in their own right, it was their (for lack of a better word) ordinariness that made them imminently more memorable. While it probably isn’t a big deal for Bill Clinton to prepare for a TED talk, these people all showed tremendous courage getting up in front of the large audience (most with high expectations like myself) and putting themselves out there. And they’re all, without exception, doing amazing things. There was a young, exuberant woman bringing libraries to poor villages in Bali, an earnest, Indonesian man running an NGO focused on human trafficking, and a French woman who created an organization that is restoring the coral reefs off the coast of Bali, to name a few. They were all up there making themselves vulnerable to critics like me sitting in the audience.

After sitting through the event, I couldn’t help but think …..what am I doing in my life that is making a difference? I haven’t donated a kidney or started a foundation for blind orphans. I’m not even a vegetarian and sometimes, (gasp!) I forget to bring my own reusable bags to the grocery store. What does that mean for me? Am I doomed? Can I make a difference even if I’m not doing grand works mandated by a meaningful mission statement? If Woody Allen is to be believed and 90% of life is showing up than these people from TEDx are killing it – they’re showing up and bringing sandwiches. It begs the question – how can I show up more in my life? How can I be more courageous and passionate? Could I turn off the computer when my kids get home from school? Could I more than pretend to listen when my husband had a bad day at work? These are small things but, maybe they can lead to bigger things. I found it funny that after all the brilliant TED talks I’ve watched, it was not the Dalai Lama who generated these thoughts for me, it was a group of relatively unknown people speaking at a modest TEDx event in Ubud who radiated such optimism and showed by example that everyone can change the world – the first step is showing up. But, just in case….if you hear of any blind orphans looking for a kidney – let me know.

The TED website —



Captivating young Lovely Indonesian woman who brings libraries to poor villages in Bali

Lovely, young Indonesian woman who brings libraries to poor villages in Bali