This Must Be the Place

My husband and I celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary a few months ago while we were flying to Bali. It may not sound like it, but believe me, it was super romantic, especially when he let me use his last wet nap and then I texted him a picture of my elephant-like swollen ankles from the airport restroom and then he spent an hour searching the airport for support socks to fix the swollen ankles. Are you jealous yet?

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“Have you ever seen anything more disgusting? Happy Anniversary!”

Since we were a little bit preoccupied with travel and never got around to properly recognizing the event, I spent the whole trip (plus a few extra weeks) making something to commemorate our twenty magical years together.

One of my favorite lines from any song comes from Talking Heads’ This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody):

I can’t tell one from another
Did I find you, or you find me?
There was a time
Before we were born
If someone asks, this is where I’ll be.

Out of all those kinds of people
You got a face with a view.
I’m just an animal looking for a home and
Share the same space for a minute or two,
And you love me till my heart stops.

 

Long ago, before there was vinyl lettering, people displayed their favorite texts through cross-stitch. Since I’m a fuddy-duddy anyway, I decided to take my declaration old school.

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For my first-ever attempt to cross-stitch, I probably should have turned to my friend Lizzy’s awesome Stitch People book, but in all the pre-trip craziness, I didn’t get around to it. Instead, I ordered a pattern online and tried to teach myself the basics. Now that I know I like cross-stitching, I think I’ll have to try some of her patterns because they’re just so cute.

As much as I’d like to think all my experience watching women stitching away in their sitting rooms in period dramas would transfer over to real life, I was pretty slow and not very good. Each day, several people would ask to see my progress (which was hardly noticeable), I would sheepishly show them that I had finished a whole other quarter inch, and they would try to think of something positive or encouraging to say, all while straining to discern any difference from the previous day’s work.

I kept at it, though. Fritz and I had a lot of time together while everyone else had outings or rehearsals, so I was able to plug away and my llamas in love (or, as one student put it – “Llamas in Llove”). 

I was really worried when it came time to add the text. I have a history of poor planning in that department (like that time I tried to decorate a birthday cake), so I was especially careful doing the math to center everything just right. After two days’ (or, the entire final season of Downton Abbey) worth of work, when I was almost finished, I realized I should have put more space between each word. It was all too squishy looking, and I knew from my sad Have Nercy Turkey that I would hate it forever if I didn’t change things.

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So then I picked it all out and started again. One season of Endeavor later, I finished! The original plan was to make it into a pillow, but I got lazy and framed it instead. But I kind of like the idea of keeping it behind glass, protected, instead of letting our kids toss it around and trash it. I want it to stand the test of time. Kind of like our marriage. And that song.

Buckle Up and Hold Tight

Fritz has been working hard all year to overcome his fears. Since last August, he’s learned to ride his bike and swim (with his head actually under water) and has overcome his fear of water slides and airplanes. With each new fear he has conquered, he’s found that he actually really enjoys the thing he once dreaded. Sound familiar? There was just one more challenge to face, one more hurdle to jump, one more mountain to climb (insert your favorite cliche here…).

Fritz has always had a fear of amusement park rides. Actually, let’s rewind, because before even trying a real ride, Fritz had a fear of elevators. For several years, we had to take the stairs everywhere because the feeling of motion sent him into a panicked frenzy.

Once he worked past that fear, we tried Lagoon and failed. When he was older, we figured we could finally go to Disneyland as a family. Does it count as a family vacation if Fritz and I spent all three days riding The Little Mermaid ride and exploring the Up campground while everyone else went on actual rides? At one point, we tricked him into going on the Cars ride with all of us and for months afterwards, especially when passing the red rocks of Southern Utah, he’d clutch his armrests, mutter, “Oh no…Cars ride,” and beg me to slow down whenever we drove over 40 mph.

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Last summer,we tried carnival rides and failed (that’s him in the striped shirt obviously enjoying himself). Not only did we fail, but Fritz later noticed this sign and pointed out that we had broken the rules and were terrible parents.

But since this has been Fritz’s Year to Conquer Fear, we knew we had to try again. My siblings love to complain that my mom used to make us earn our trip to Lagoon each summer. That’s right – my horrible, mean mother made us read books to earn a day at the amusement park. And since I am working hard to try to become even half the horrible, mean mother she was, I decided to continue the tradition. Each member of our family had to read 2,000 pages this summer to earn an admission ticket and most of us succeeded.

So did I fail to mention the other purpose of this Lagoon trip? Silly me. I was so focused on fixing Fritz’s quirks, I forgot to mention that I have not ridden a roller coaster or anything scarier than the Cars ride for probably 20 years. I had lots of solid reasons: it would be a frivolous drain on our tight budget as grad students and young parents, someone had to watch the kids, my vertigo made it unbearable, and I have a strong aversion to crowds, especially of the carnival (Trump rally) variety.

Isn’t it the mom’s job to stay with the cooler and stroller with a book while Dad has fun with the older kids? Someone has to do it, so why not the Humdrum Stick-in-the-mud? I’m good at being the spectatorat holding the drinks, taking the pictures, and since I hate riding the rides anyway, I might as well fill that role. For two decades, that’s what I’ve chosen to do.

Determined to get off the bench and conquer my own fears at last, this time I asked my older boys to choose the three scariest rides to take me on. We started with a classic: the Colossus Fire Dragon. As soon as we stepped on to the metal walkway, I immediately had flashbacks from my teenage years, and as we started up the track, I felt like I was calling on long-latent muscle memory with each twist and turn. I had no vertigo, no motion sickness, and I realized I have probably ridden that coaster 30+ times in my life. I liked it, and I realized that I have always liked it.

Pumped with adrenaline, we went straight to Wicked. If I had I actually bothered to research Wicked in any way, I probably would have refused to ride it. Straight up and straight down? Roller coasters did not do this back in my day. And the twisty-turny stuff? Not cool. But I did it, and I mostly kept my eyes open the whole time. The girls sitting next to me had a good laugh at my reactions, though, so I was glad I brought someone joy.

It was much easier to go on Wicked, knowing and expecting nothing, than it was to go on Cannibal. As we stood in line, a recorded message would say, “Welcome to Cannibal…” My husband thought it sounded like the man was saying, “Welcome to Canada…” To me, it sounded like he was saying, “Welcome to Hell…”, and judging from the people in line, that wasn’t much of a stretch. There was weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth, children begging parents to leave, husbands dragging wives up the steps. It was not reassuring, and soon it was my turn. This picture was taken by my husband without my knowledge. It was not staged. Those are actual white knuckles and that is my actual “let’s get this over with” face.

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I did not know until afterwards that the vertical drop isn’t even vertical – it’s worse than vertical, but I did it!

Fritz didn’t join us on any of the really scary stuff, but bit by bit, he worked his way up to more challenging rides. It helped that he’s super tall and wasn’t allowed on any of the beensie kid rides. He was forced out of his comfort zone. We did some hand holding, some pep talks, some occasional bribes, and by the end of the night, he insisted on tackling some of the rides on his own.

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As I watched him, I realized how silly it was that I had gone from fearless to boring and that I had somehow convinced myself I had always been that way. I also realized that I really only have ten years or so to enjoy my rekindled love of roller coasters before I become a grandma (yikes!). Everyone knows that Grandma is always the one stuck with the cooler and stroller. Then again, maybe I’ve found a replacement benchwarmer…

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Farewell to Bali

I’ve been putting this post off for a while because it seems like a tall order to put all we’ve learned and experienced on this trip into words. I also keep falling asleep. But I feel like I can’t move on without devoting one last post to our big summer adventure, especially because it’s starting to feel like I just dreamed the whole thing and woke up from a six week coma.

Regular readers will have already gathered that this summer our family spent five weeks in Bali, Indonesia as my husband led a study abroad program for college students. It was an amazing time filled with good food, gorgeous views, and lots and lots of Balinese music and dance. We loved our time there and never wanted to leave.

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The trip was a good time for me personally to transition from my over-scheduled end of the school year to my new, possibly under-scheduled fall. It gave me a chance to unwind and relax, to experience just spending time with my children, and to think about what my new focus should be as I start a new, unfamiliar part of my life. I discovered that my kids are pretty nice companions, and that, given the chance, can get along quite well with each other.

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While we were in Bali, Fritz was quizzing us: “What is the square root of sixteen?  What is the largest mammal on earth?” Then he asked, “True or False: Does travel broaden the mind?” We’re not sure where a seven-year-old picked that up, but we knew the answer, at least for our kids on this trip, was a big, fat “TRUE.”

There were lots of big discoveries but many small ones too. For example, I’d never felt the urge to sit my kids down and explain the different currencies around the world, but walking past the money changer’s exchange rate sign several times a day led to conversations about pounds and yen. My boys learned how to haggle, how to cross a busy street without crosswalks, how to stand alone to answer questions at an airport immigration counter, how to understand and follow the customs of another culture, all things they really couldn’t have learned any other way.

One of the most valuable parts of the experience was that we were not just sightseeing and adventuring; we were working and learning alongside people in their homes and communities. They hosted us, fed us, and taught us while we were there.

Our first stop was in the tiny rural village of Bangah, where we stayed in the family compound of master musician I Made Lasmawan and his wife, Ni Ketut Marni, an expert dancer. They and the members of the performing arts organization they founded in Bangah, Sanggar Manik Galih, opened up their home and invited us to be a part of their daily family life. Uncles were constantly swooping in to pick up or hug my boys, to play chess or soccer, or to take them on motorcycle rides to get ice cream. For two weeks we felt part of their family as they taught us about the music, dance, and culture of Bali, and we’re excited to see many of them again as they travel to Provo in November as featured guests in BYU’s gamelan concert.

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Sometimes in a place that thrives on tourism, there’s the danger of tourists seeing the local residents as existing only to serve them. After moving from the family compound in Bangah to a hotel in Ubud, I was immediately uncomfortable with the change in our interactions. Later that day, at the welcome meeting for the Çudamani Institute in Pengosekan, the co-director, Emiko Saraswati Susilo, addressed this very challenge and emphasized this as a specific goal of the Çudamani workshop: for people who value the arts to encounter and engage with Balinese artists and community members in contexts other than the service industry.

While studying with Çudamani, our students worked six days a week, six hours a day. The schedule was demanding and the teachers kept a high standard of expectation, but they were always patient, kind, and respectful. I was impressed at how my sons and the college students (my temporary kids) were able to learn and improve so quickly in that environment.

We spend the final leg of our stay in the capital city of Denpasar, at Mekar Bhuana Conservatory, a studio founded by music scholar Vaughan Hatch and his wife, Evie, who is a professional dancer. They and their instructors provided us with many new and interesting experiences, including learning about the characters of topeng (masked) dances, peeking behind-the-scenes of a of shadow puppet performance, and learning to play the ancient style of Balinese gamelan called selonding.

Our group’s study at Mekar Bhuana culminated in a benefit concert for Puspadi Bali, a charity devoted to increasing mobility and independence for disabled members of the community. We were able to tour the facilities and to see how they make prosthetics, provide physical therapy, and offer training and employment. It was a wonderful experience and we were grateful to participate in a small way with their great efforts in Bali.

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I’m grateful that we had the chance to interact personally with so many wonderful people, that our boys were able to see so many people as surrogate uncles, aunts and cousins, that we could walk down a busy street and hear people call out our kids’ names from a passing motorcycle, that our children made a habit of greeting shop owners and security guards and laundry workers as friends each time we passed. I also loved watching the college students chatting with cab drivers and waitresses and showing a genuine interest in their lives away from work.

Perhaps the most valuable lesson my children learned was that Balinese people don’t exist only to feed them or drive them or clean up after them. They did feed us and care for us, but because we were there to learn from them, those were not our sole interactions. In fact, often the same people driving us or feeding us in the morning were teaching us or performing for us with great skill hours later, leaving us feeling quite humbled and impressed.

I think, out of all the skills we learned or cultural experiences we were exposed to, the most lasting and long-term takeaway from our time in Bali is, as we read in LDS scripture, “…the worth of souls is great in the sight of God,”and that broadening the heart goes hand in hand with broadening the mind.

One of our hosts shared a story about a time someone tried to explain the New Testament story of Jesus’s nativity to one of the performers in their group. When they got to the part about there being no room at the inn, he interrupted and asked why they didn’t just let them in. When told it was because there wasn’t enough room, he seemed confused and said, “But there’s always room for one more.” And it’s true in Bali – one more person can always squeeze into a crowded car, one more motorcycle can push its way into a full lane of traffic. We will always be grateful for the hospitality and generosity of all those who made room for us in their homes, their schedules, and their lives. 

The Purrfect Sandwich

I’m not a cat lover, much to my children’s disappointment. I’m pretty anti-pet anyway, but cats are extra high on the list of never-evers. I’m not uncomfortable around cats or anything, I’m just not interested in having one of my own. Our friend Meg, however, is a big cat fan. Meg is the one who convinced us to go to the Cat Cafe.

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Apparently cat cafes are common in Japan, where Meg lived for a year and a half. She always regretted not visiting one there, so you can imagine her delight when she discovered one right around the corner from our hotel. My youngest two were also very excited.

Fritz studied the cat staff sign every time we passed, eventually deciding that Sophia (a male) was his favorite.

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On the day of our visit, when I told him that’s where we were headed, he gasped and started running up the sidewalk, crying out, “Sophia! I’m coming!”

At the cafe, we were instructed to wash our hands and change from our street shoes into cat-friendly ones, which made me think these must be really special cats. Like, Fancy Feast commercial-quality cats. We were given a list of rules of behavior, including special instructions not to pull the cats’ tails and a disclaimer that any food stolen by the cats would not be replaced.

Then we entered the cafe where we found cats lounging on tables, chairs, cushions, and window ledges. Unlike dogs, which everyone knows are friendly and welcoming, these cats pretended not to even notice us. Sheesh! Stuck up much?

Of course, once Fritz pulled out the cat treats (you can order them from the menu), suddenly everyone was his best friend.

Even after the treats were gone, they could still smell traces and were all over him.

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Meg and my third son Grub might have been jealous of all the attention Fritz was getting, but as soon as their ham sandwiches arrived, they were feeling the love too.

If you’re like me, you might be wondering how this can possibly be sanitary. Well, they did offer us a nice fur-guard for our beverages. There’s also a cat-free zone (a small room with glass walls) for those meanies like me who want to eat without cats climbing all over them.

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The food wasn’t the greatest, but the experience was certainly memorable for Fritz and Grub. At one point, Fritz said, “This is the best day of my life! I love the Cat Cafe!” Meg said, “This is what I imagine heaven to be.”

Big O was not as impressed.

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Return to the Scene of the Crime

For anyone who hasn’t heard the story of me being attacked by monkeys, you can read the long version here. Short version: the last time I was in Ubud, I visited the monkey forest with one piece of chocolate still in my bag, which the monkeys could smell. First one, then more, then a few dozen came at me again and again, baring fangs and claws and hissing at me. It was traumatic.

So guess where we went today?


This time I was extra careful – I brought nothing, emptied my kids’ pockets ahead of time, and even made Fritz change clothes because he had wiped his chocolate covered hands all over his other outfit at lunch. We saw a monkey steal chips out of a kid’s hands and another monkey attack a woman the same way I was attacked. We also saw several intense monkey fights, but we were mostly safe. (Here I am witnessing a monkey fight.)


One monkey bared his fangs briefly at Fritz, but it didn’t scare him because he was sure the monkey was smiling. “I speak monkey, so if you have any trouble understanding them, just come to me.”

There was also this incident. We’re not sure what this guy hoped to find.


Although the big, aggressive looking monkeys still freaked me out a bit, I forgot it all every time we saw one of the tiny babies because THEY ARE SO CUTE!!!


I liked it so much, I keep thinking, “Hey, we’re in Ubud for six more days. Fritz and I could walk here every day.” But then I think that just might be pushing my luck. I am glad I was able to make peace with the monkeys after all these years, if only to replace my traumatic memories of them with more pleasant interactions. This doesn’t mean that I trust them, though. I will never trust them.

Doktor, Doktor

Here’s a picture of me in 2012, the last time I was in Bali – pre-blog, back when my unwillingness to try new things was in full force – as I came upon a spa that offered doktor fish pedicures. Fish? Eating the dead skin off my feet? Eating my flesh??? There was no way I was trying that.


I was not a good sport at all, but this time I was determined to get over myself. So tonight, when my family passed our first doktor fish tank, we forgot about any other plans and decided to go for it. And compared to the poster in that picture, it looks like we got a pretty good deal – our 20 minute session was only 50,000 rupiah ($3.80).

The boys went first and it was hilarious to see (and hear) their reactions. For the first ten minutes, Fritz kept breaking into a loud, high pitched giggle. It was quite entertaining for the tourists walking past.


It was interesting to see where most of the fish gathered – my older son was covered in them and my youngest was mostly ignored. I guess younger skin is less dead? Although, his feet are just as nasty and smelly as the other boys’, so I couldn’t account for the preference.

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Then it was our turn. Since my boys had already done it, I had no choice but to roll up my capris and dive in. I might just have made the same face while being nibbled as I did four years ago while I imagined being nibbled.

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I was pretty sure the fish would be too full after feasting on my children, but apparently they had plenty of chomping left in them for us. That’s the best way I can describe it – you can feel little tiny chomps everywhere. Sometimes it tickles, sometimes it just feels like carbonation, but sometimes it feels very bitey. My husband described the sensation as tiny electric shocks. Sometimes the fish were very aggressive. It didn’t hurt, but I did feel under attack.

It took some getting used to. At first I screamed every time I felt one nibble somewhere new, especially on top of or between my toes, but after while, it got less freaky. They really feasted on my ankles. I looked like I was wearing fringe sandals, except instead of fringe, I was wearing fish. Disgusting I know, but believe me, it looked just as gross as it sounds (not unlike actual fringe sandals).


Just as we were almost finished, some people from our workshop happened to walk by. They stopped to see what we were doing and ask what it was like. And get this: someone actually said to us, to me, Humdrum Stick-in-the-Mud, “Oh, you’re just up to try anything!” and that pleased me so much. No one would ever have described 2012 Me that way, and she’ll never realize how much it meant to hear her say that.

So did the treatment actually work? Well, my feet do feel exfoliated – not the softest they’ve ever been, but they definitely feel freshly gnawed, so mission accomplished, I guess.

Bali – Week 2

It’s been another week of trying new food, visiting cool places, and being attacked by several persistent bugs. Here’s a quick wrap-up of our second week. Gamelan is the main purpose of our trip, so it’s no surprise that we’ve been surrounded by it. When I don’t hear them practicing it or performing it, I still hear it running through my head. Although I’ve played it before, my main job this time is keeping Fritz occupied while the rest of my family plays. He has started to get interested in learning the last few days, though, so I might just have to jump in and use skills that have stayed dormant for fifteen years.

The students have performed at a few temple ceremonies, which is impressive considering fewer than half of them had ever played before coming here.

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One of my sons has been learning Balinese dance and quickly discovered what I learned during my last visit, that it’s really hard!

We visited Lake Beratan for one of the performances and loved the gardens and the animals.

My son seems to be an expert at spotting lizards and frogs from far away, even when they’re camouflaged. We also saw a caged deer rubbing felt off of its antlers, which was a first for me.

We visited the Eka Karya Botanic Garden to see not only the gorgeous landscape but also this epic statue. What do you think? Christmas card picture?

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For my oldest son’s birthday, we went to the Bali Arts Festival to watch a gamelan competition. Look at this crowd – I felt like I was back at Lollapalooza.

We arrived an hour early to get a seat, but the concert started an hour and a half late. They really tried to stay awake, but we couldn’t make it past the first two numbers.

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The next morning, we woke up to read that a fire had started at 3:30 am in the shopping stalls at the arts festival. I was relieved that we had been too tired to shop the night before so I could be absolutely sure my kids had nothing to do with the fire…

In a few days, we leave Bangah and head to Ubud. It will be sad to leave all the people we have grown to love here. It will be a different environment – hotels, restaurants, and shopping. It will also be hotter and stickier, but I’m excited to see what adventures we’ll experience there.