Jakarta News with Pictures!

Behold the power of pictures and posts: Miles and years vanish with a click, family's updated, old friends reacquainted. Maybe this is why Facebook--now shunned by youngsters--is so popular with us oldsters!  Calls to mind those old Bell Telephone slogans:

“The next best thing to being there”

”Reach out and touch someone”
— http://www.beatriceco.com/bti/porticus/bell/bellsystem_ads.html

Recently, I took a walk with friends from my old neighborhood. (note Tina: I did not write "old" friends). Tina mentioned how she had not received any of my Jakarta Stories * in some time and wondered how our Jakarta folk are doing. Well, some 5.2 miles later, I'd updated her, but dang my dogies were barkin' after. Which got me thinking: Tina is probably not the only one who received my posts that is curious about Rusnati, Aan, and everyone back in Jakarta. After all, after hearing so much about them for so long, folks from our Jakarta life had become, as sitcom characters do: friends. 

Allow me to digress a moment. (Jakarta news is coming, really!):  I don't know if it's an every Facebook buddy thing, or only for those of us with Facebook "Pages" ie my author page Kelly Bennett Books, but I receive weekly reports on how much attention my posts and page receives, including likes, shares & follows.  I also receive "helpful" offers to buy space for my posts. And booster messages movie idol Ronnie Reagan, "this one's for the gipper" quarterback might have given: "Come on, Kid, you're only 192 Likes away from 500! You can do it! Get those Likes! Get those Likes! Hup-Hup-Hike! "

As I write, Rusnati's grandaughter, Key, is     in Bali on holiday with her folks!

As I write, Rusnati's grandaughter, Key, is in Bali on holiday with her folks!

What those booster messages should say is Post a cute picture, already? Because that what really grabs our attention: Throwback Thursday, Snapshot Sunday, Outtakes Any Day! We love those photographs! 

Which brings me to the long overdue Jakarta Stories, update with pictures, beginning with the newest:

Aan's oldest son, Ajie was married last weekend. So hard to believe that "little" Ajie (wouldn't he hate being called that) is married! Ajie is a college graduate. He works for MNC TV as a videographer. His bride,  Dewi, works in a local contractor.

The center photograph is of Aan's immediate family L-R, Izwan, Icha, Ajie, his bride, Dewi, Aan's wife, Entien, and Aan. 

Following Indonesian tradition, the bridal party wears batik fabric distinct to their region, and people from the same family will all wear the same bakik. (Makes it easy to figure out who's related to who. Dewi and Ajie's wedding dress is Central javanesse (Semarang). Aan explained that the bridal couple changed outfits 3 times. 

Mrs Kelly, we just already prepared 12 boxes of wedding gifts for Dewi: 2 paires of shoes, set of underwears, bed cover, towels, bags, dresses, fabrics, set of cosmetics, cakes, variety of fruits, set of praying and Qur’an, set of jewelry (golds).
— Note from Aan to Curtis and I, May 14, 2015
Aan and his youngest son, Izwan...twins

Aan and his youngest son, Izwan...twins

Izwan, was just seven when Aan began working for us, has proved to take after his father in the brains department. Since beginning school, he's been at the top of his class-#2 or #1. He tested into the bilingual Indonesian/English high school. He's in his 3rd year and #1 in his class. What's next? 

And Icha, Aan's daughter, majored in Public Relations in college. She's now working for a consulting company. 

Rusnati and her youngest daughter, Andrea, were at the wedding, too. Andrea, used to be a bit of a Tom-boy. She didn't like school. Loved sports. Love playing with her friends. In those ways, Andrea was much like Max (interesting that their birthdays are days apart.) Rusnati and I used to worry together about these "sedikit nekal" (a little naughty) children of ours. And, when she finished high school, like Max, Andrea didn't want to go to college (she wanted a job.) Turns out Andrea, like her older sisters, has a passion and talent for computers. And after working for awhile, Andrea went to college and works at SMS Digital Printing Service.

Andrea is 3rd from the left; Rustani 3rd from the right.  

Andrea is 3rd from the left; Rustani 3rd from the right. 

Rusnati-a quiet stranger when we first arrived-along with her husband, Rohemon, quickly became our caretaker, translator, guide, friend, family! Shortly after we left Jakarta, Rohemon passed. 

Still sad to say and think about, Rohemon, our patient, green-thumbed gardener, handyman, "Jaga" as safeguards of Indonesian homes are called, is gone. He passed away shortly after we left Jakarta. (Feels Like Rain post). In January, Rusnati and her family returned to Cirebon for a "Seremoni Seribu Hari" commemorating 1000 days since Rohemon passed. 

Rusnati cuddling her "cuci"  grandbabies, Kenzi, Isa's son & Key

Rusnati cuddling her "cuci" grandbabies, Kenzi, Isa's son & Key


Linda, their oldest daughter, and her husband, married while we were still in Jakarta, Sept 2010 & we joyfully attended their reception. They met in college, both graduated with honors and work in IT. (No surprises there, when Curtis had computer issues he'd call and they'd zip over on their motorcycle to help.) In fact, the first time we met Agung was when he came with Linda one Sunday to recover data on our crashed computer. They have a daughter, Keysha, called "Key" now 2 1/2.

Rusnati & Rohemon's middle daughter, Lia, earned a Master's Degree in Computer from STTI I-Tech and teaches at Group Dosen Indonesia. She's married now and exciting news: She and her husband Isa are expecting a baby in October. 

L-R: Isa, Rusnati, Lia, Linda, Agung & Key

L-R: Isa, Rusnati, Lia, Linda, Agung & Key



Sugiman, our relief driver is doing well. When Joy and I were in Jakarta for our friend Lisette's 50th, he made a point of visiting (And, Aan took off work to drive us around.) We all met up at Rusnati's house. Sugiman was saving to buy a limo and form his own transport company. I'm thinking he has. 

And that's the end of my pictures and my update for now. What's especially nice is that our Jakarta folks are doing well. 

Sampai Jumpa! (Until next time!)

* For those of you new to my blog, I chronicled our 7 years in Indonesia in regular posts, some of which are available under the "Archives" tab: Jakarta Stories

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Feels Like Rain-Remembering Rohemon

It’s a gray, drizzly, looks like it should be cold out, steamy shower room sort of day in Port O Spain. It’s right that it should that kind of day. Rohemon is dead. Rohemon, our gardener/jaga for the past seven years, all the time we lived in Jakarta, died today, Friday May 11, 2012, sometime in the afternoon.

The news came to us via email. And because it was already late night in Indonesia when we read it, we have not called Rusnati to give our love, or find out more. Laura Evans, their current employer, sent this note:

“Roheman passed away today.  Don't know any of the details. Rusnati got a call on the hand phone and started crying, really loud and hard. She rushed out the door forgetting her helmet and keys. Roheman hasn't been into work this week as he slipped and hurt his ankle on Monday. So she got a lift home from one of our gate security guards. Sugiman [the relief driver] called Rusnati's hand phone and her daughter told him about Roheman. I'm so sorry to be delivering such sad news, but thought you might like to know.”

Rohemon, at most was in his early 50s. A husband to Rusnati, our housekeeper; only child of his diseased parents; father to 3 daughters: Andrea, his baby, the one most like him in temperament and looks; Lia, the middle daughter, a teacher and student; and Linda, married and 4 months pregnate with Rohemon and Rusnati’s first grandbaby. Linda and I emailed just yesterday. I asked if she was getting a fat "mommy" tummy yet. She said she'd say hi to her folks for me.

What a difference a day makes...

Today, I was supposed to attend a “Chari-Tea” benefiting a boy’s orphanage. I set out on foot to find it. It was mostly an excuse to get out of the house and stop thinking about Rohemon and Rusnati and their family. The urge to pick up the phone and talk to Rusnati was so strong, it was all I could think about.

Muslims traditionally bury their loved ones on the day they die. They hang a yellow flag in front of the house as a means of notifying everyone a person died there, and to let them know which house to stop at to offer sympathy, to pray and to make offerings of food or money to help with the funeral.

Rohemon’s family, like Rusnati’s are from a village near Cirebon. Rohemon’s mother and father are buried there. When Suharti, Rusnati’s sister died, the family took her body to Cirebon that day. As I walked purposefully down the road in the direction of where I thought the Chari-Tea was being held, I wondered if Rusnati and her girls  were in route to Cirebon? Had Rohemon’s body already been interred? Were they all piled together sleeping in the safety and comfort of Rusnati’s parent’s home? Many people, when separted from love ones, make note of the moon: “The same moon that lights your nighttime sky, shines down on me,” they say. It started drizzling as I walked the streets of Westmoorings, fruitlessly seeking Number 7 Sunset Drive, and I found myself wondering if it was raining there, on the other side of the world. Feels like Rain…

When I returned home, I decided to stop pretending and give the day up to remembering Rohemon. It seems fitting, especially after all the days he gave to tending me, my family, my garden, my fish—rather, our garden and our fish (as time went by they became more his, really.)

So, I went back through my Jakarta News postings, spanning March 2005-March 2012. I was looking for one specific day, a day that sticks in my mind as particularly Rohemon-ish. That day, I’d gone outside in the yard to think about an essay I was writing. I’d been pacing when some round black rocks caught my eye, they were scattered here and there midst the plants and red dirt, but they didn’t belong, so I began collecting them in a plastic pot. Picking up rocks wasn’t the point; it was simply the vehicle to get my mind moving, so I wasn’t really there, there.  Sometime while I was collecting, Rohemon silently joined me. Not wanting to offend him by leaving, although I was more than ready to be finished with rock collecting and go back inside, I pushed on. And so we worked, silently, side by side, collecting round rocks until they had all been gathered. Then he smiled and took the pot from me. Later, Rusnati gave me the rocks back, all clean and washed and asked what I planned to do with them. After all that work, I didn’t dare tell her the truth, “throw them back.” So I kept those black stones in a bag in the pantry and we used them many times after to anchor down orchids, “bulan angrek.” Rohemon was a master orchid grower.

So many of those Jakarta stories focus on Rohemon, the gardener, keeper of the fish, guard, father, husband, friend.  I’ve reposted a few here as a way of remembering:

 March 12, 2005: (2 weeks after we moved into our Jakarta home.)

 Ruswanti and her husband Roheman, brought plants from their house to plant in front of our house. She said they had lots and yesterday morning they dug some up to dress up our home. What a treat--and the way to my heart!

            Roheman loves his new lawn mower--his toy! I think he mowed the back lawn 3 times. He tinkered with the engine and stuff until he had it working perfectly. He and I don't talk much. I would talk with him. I write down phrases to tell him about how nice the yard is, etc. But I don't think he wants me to talk with him, he prefers his wife to do the communicating. I don't know if that is an Indonesian thing, or specific to him.

            They have 3 girls, Leah, Andrea and Linda. The oldest just finished school, one in middle school and one in elementary school. Ruswanti brought me a picture of her family and I showed her mine

March 30, 2005:

First, some background. The patch of garden Roheman has been restoring with foundlings from the jungle beyond has been in peril. Something is wrong with the rain gutters. The roof, made of red tile, curves up at the edges so the water is guided to holes in the roof through which chains drop to the ground and disappear into concrete drainage holes. When they work well, the water runs down the chain to the ground and into the hole. Runoff problem solved--except for the corner of the roof directly over Rohemon's garden recovery project--there the water runs right off the edge and straight down, hammering anything below it. Sunday night it had washed 3 of Rohemon's seedling away. Sunday morning I'd rescued the seedlings and gingerly placed them on a scrap of cardboard along with some fern I dug up. I'd carefully placed the cardboard in a sheltered patch by the patio, but in a spot Roheman was sure to find. Thinking that my gardener's heart and his were connected, I knew he'd find these and know just what to do with them.  Fast forward to Monday morning. I'm busy e-mailing and trying to work with one eye trained on the back yard so I can catch Roheman and explain about my solution for the water problem. I know the word for plant is "tanaman" and the word for child is "anak" (while children is anak-anak) so I'm set.


I spot Roheman, race outside calling good morning, "Salamat Pagi" he answers with a big smile that quickly fades and is replaced by a frown as I try to ask about the "tanaman anak-anak" that had somehow disappeared, along with the cardboard. With him watching, puzzled and now a little scared that maybe he's done something really wrong, or I'm accusing him of stealing, I tear inside, open my language books and start flipping for words that might help.

I string a few together: yesterday, plants, water, broken, where? and head back outside. Ruswanti, worried now, too, and wanting to help me get my point across and save her husband, is on my heels. Using over exaggerated hand signals and embarrassingly slow, loud words, I reenact my plant rescue and finish with where tanaman? Roheman repeats words he's said a few times already, but this time Ruswanti translates. She points to the row of plants "he put them right there," she tells me. I can't even begin to ask what happened to the baby fern, casualties of the language barrier.  We all laugh--humor the lunatic woman. Roheman and I, with Ruswanti hovering protectively, then proceed to handle our water problem. Using extra red border bricks and a big, red clay pot directly below where the worst of the runoff flows we defuse the problem. No, the bricks don't get laid where I think they should go, and rather than being placed on it's side so it won't fill with water, the red pot sits bolt upright--a mosquito breeding ground in the making, but it works. Anyhow it won't be for long. Tomorrow morning I plan to sneak out and tip the pot over the way I want it. Maybe, if I'm very careful, and wash all the red clay muck from my feet and hands afterwards, Roheman will never know. More likely, he'll notice it's tipped and right the pot again.

More to come. 

Oct 10, 2005:

Here's the formal announcement. We have a new addition to our pond family!

Ruswanti came running in Saturday to ask me if I'd bought some new fish for the pond. I said no of course, and I hadn't. Because now that everything seems to be going so well with the pond, I didn't want to stir up trouble. Other than ripping out handfuls of creepy crawling water hyacinth every Sunday--when no one but Curtis is here to watch--I haven't been messing with the pond. Anyway, Ruswanti pulled me out to show me our new baby fish.

Goldfish start life black-colored, probably a survival tactic, and as they get older, they change. Well, we squatted beside the pond and spied at least two babies. One a mottled black-orange-white, and one still black. Our babies! We are calling Rohemon, Kakek Ikan, "Grandfather fish", and he seems to enjoy his new name!

January 2006:

 Last Thursday I returned to Jakarta. I finally arrived home about midnight--a good thing. It was too dark and too late for me to go exploring in the back yard. One day in December, after having had guests over the night before and as one does, seeing my garden through new eyes, I'd instructed Roheman to yank out an overgrown clump of ginger and prune the bushes around the pond. As is his way, Roheman made a through job of it, Roheman didn't just prune, he PRUNED. What I hadn't considered in my mad haste to have the offensive scrubs banished is the broad expanse of bare dirt and scrawny leafless stick-scrubs left afterwards. With less than a week to go before leaving for the States, I was in a dilemma: if I left the dirt bare, it wouldn't be bare when I returned, Roheman would see to that.

Images of what the area would look like scrolled through my mind: a forest of sproutlets scrounged from who knows where; or knee-high weeds, if Roheman left the area bare thinking I wanted it that way; kitchen herbs that looked like weeds; or best scenario, vegetables. Any way I looked at it, if I didn't take control of the bare patch now, I'd have to deal with it when I returned--and worst, I risked hurting Rohemon's feelings if he did plant the area and I didn't like it. Why couldn't I have ignored the overgrown mess for a few more days?

            So, my last Sunday in town, two days before leaving, Aan and I went on a plant buying spree. We returned home after dark with a car stuffed with new plants. Aan shook his head and laughed when I said Roheman would be surprised. He was. And happy. (He loves to dig.) The planting went like this: I talked and he nodded--without understanding. Roheman watched while I placed each plant where I wanted it. Afterwards we had a long pantomime-bahasa Indonesian-bahasa English discussion about "poo poos" and "composti" which I took to mean that he would add some fertilizer to the area. The discussion ended with a chat about the pond--specifically the lack of fish in the pond.

 March 13, 2007

Now, three months later, everything is spruced up and the new pool deck in place. I decided I should do our part of maintenance, too. Curtis sent the patio furniture out to be refinished, I ordered covers for loungers and a new mattress cover for the Bali bed. The deck was edged by 6 large planters each planted with bogunvillas. The planters were moldy and dirty looking. I asked Rohemon to repaint these pots. He told me, "tidak ada cat", we don't have any paint. I said I'd buy some. We smiled, conversation over. But, before it was over, I made the mistake of saying that after the planters were finished, I wanted them to be arranged differently. I even went so far as to decribe how I wanted them to be rearranged. I though my explanation was perfectly clear. From the way Rohemon nodded and smile, I thought he thought so, too.

So, yesterday, I went to Ace Hardware--yep! Ace is in Indonesia, and it is the Expat's friend since we can find products there imported from America.

It's more expensive, but at least it's familiar. And, some products, like Tilex and KILZ, aren't available in Jakarta. They have a slang term here: "lembiru" which means "throw away and buy new." And that is exactly what those who have money do--the rest live with whatever.

Well, yesterday Rohemon painted the planters around the patio. He didn't put down paper when he painted,I noticed this, but didn't say anything. Today, we have lovely white planters, and lovely white splatters on the pool deck.

We also seem to have more white planters. In fact, I hadn't noticed just how many white pots of plants we had before. Rohmeon's gone crazy with the dollie I borrowed from a friend, I surmised, and moved all the white planters to the pool area. I figured wrong, sort of...  He had gone crazy with the dollie. He has also gone crazy with the KILZ! Just now, I was out on the patio, eating lunch and reading a book, when Rohemon came around the back corner with the paint and a rag in hand. Hmmmm, must be adding a second coat of paint to the planters, I thought, praising him in my head for doing a thorough job. Thorough he is. Turns out he wasn't adding a second coat to a white pot--he's added first coats to lots of formerly terra cotta pots. In fact, he's busy right now covering a lovely, burnt orange pot with KILZ. How many of the pots is he planning to paint? How many is he going to move to the pool area? Will we even be able to get into the pool when he's finished? Should I stop him before the KILZ craze spreads to the leaves and branches?

Choosing the path of least insistance, I picked up my book and lunch things and came inside to write this.

If the next note you get from me is just a blank, WHITE page, you'll know it's no mistake—it's Rohemon!


Ah Rohemon. Peace be with you. You will be missed.

Sampai Jumpa, Nanti, Jakarta

Last Jakarta News Note March 1, 2012

Seven years ago today I arrived in Jakarta to begin my Indonesian adventure. Curtis was already here, having arrived mid-January to begin his new position on the “BP Indonesia New Wells Delivery” Team. The next day we were handed the keys to our freshly painted, curtained, empty new house. Having signed up for a 3-year assignment (which morphed into 4 years seconds after Curtis said yes), we’d chosen a house quickly on our look-see trip in December. We weren’t buying it so what did it really matter we told ourselves. Settling into a new country, new customs, new people and language was an experience I wanted to capture and share, so I began writing Jakarta News that 1st day. As happens, different became familiar; unusual, customary; awkward, comfortable; Jl Pejaten Barat 1, No. 11, Kavling 5 became HOME. So, it’s been a while since my next-to-the-last Jakarta News posting.

Yesterday, a day shy of seven years later, I turned the keys back to the landlord, pulled the door closed and said goodbye to our Jakarta home.

Along with the house came staff: a housekeeper, Rusnati and her husband, Rohemon. “Try them out,” the HR rep told us. “At least while you get settled anyway.” There were several people in our garage that day, all brown, quiet, shy… some older, some in uniform, one hugely pregnant young woman. I recall wondering if she was, in fact, our maid, and if so, if she was going to expect to have her baby in our house and what I’d think about it…

Rusnati (not the pregnant one) stayed when the others left and so identified herself as our housekeeper. She didn’t speak much, nor did I, as I assumed she couldn’t speak English. Speaking wasn’t much of an issue at that point as the house was empty but for our suitcases, a rented bed, borrowed lamp and boxes for tables.

Every time I wandering into the garage or out those first few days, Rohemon was sitting in the garage. I’d smile; he’d smile. But we didn’t exchange words and I was clueless as to exactly what he was going to do, or when he’d begin doing in. After a few days later,  our company-assigned driver, Aan, who did speak English (extremely well) set me straight. "Rohemon would," Aan explained, "clean up the garden—if he had scissors and a broom..."

Clean Rohemon did, and plant and prune and nurture. Having won the battle for ownership, Rohemon’ s pond now gurgles pleasantly as water tumbles down the waterfall where the fat rat drank. The orange and white pond fish, which replaced the monster ikan lele, which replaced the bobble headed goldfish, and the soap suds-poisoned fish and saltwater-suffocated fish before them  are plump and fluttery. We’ve hatch a few batches of babies. And the few remaining ikan lele, descendants of the nasty, spotty monster fish that once lurked in the shadows, only darting out to terrorize their pond mates, are as tame and friendly as the rest. (Proof that it is nurture vs nature?) At last report, Chris’s blue-tongued lizard family was still romping about—even the one Joy’s dalmatian, Cale,mangled. And Andrea’s turtle still takes the occasional dip in the pond.

After the packers pulled away, while Rohemon swept the grass one last time, Rusnati, Curtis and I wandered through the rooms, straighten the curtains, checking cupboards, turning on fans and off lights.

Even empty, the once white-washed rooms, pulse with color, life, memories of parties and people, visitors, adventures, achievements. Rusnati’s two older daughters graduated college, as did Max and Lexi; Rusnati’s younger daughter, naughty Andrea, who it was feared wouldn’t be allowed into middle school because she wasn’t doing well, is now a computer ace with a paid high-school internship; Aan’s oldest son also graduated from Uni and is now a videographer traveling throughout Indonesia (including filming SBY, Indonesia’s President); Aan’s daughter is in her last semester in Uni, and his youngest son, Izwan, is top student in a multilingual honor school. Izwan is going to Singapore with his school this spring—the first in his family to hold a passport and travel out of the country!

When we first moved in, our voices echoed in the high-ceiling-ed rooms. I’d tilted back my head and yodeled once and Rusnati had come running, fearing the worst. Over the years, I yodeled many more times. Curtis hollered back, which always made Rusnati shake her head and laugh. Earlier today, when I was gone for a bit, Rusnati let out a yodel. She told me about it later, laughing about how the packers ran in from the garage to see what was wrong.

Last evening, after turning over the keys, Rusnati and I sat on the front steps as we have grown to work together, side-by-side, with a plant between us. The street cats, Ochie, Aan's pet, and a new younger one who looks like Ochie and is also learning to yowl for attention, lounged on the porch steps, taking turns nibbling snacks. (We left several full containers of food. Warjo, our pool man and relief gardener--the only one of us who'd return tomorrow--had promised to feed the cats, and the fish, and water the plants, too, until the new tenants moved in.)   The sun was low, the call-to-prayer a low background chorus.  Rusnati and I didn't say much, but not because we couldn't communicate; we speak the same language now, our own Pigeon Indo-English-Sign blend, a language of like minds, common goals, kindred spirits.

We’ll be in Jakarta a few more weeks, while Curtis wraps up his job. Then we’ll say farewell to our Jakarta Life. We’ll say it the Indonesian way: not “goodbye” but “sampai jumpa, nanti!, Until then…”






Independence Day

Happy 4th of July! Here in Jakarta it's already the day after. If it weren't for 2 zealous expats--one British and one from Panama--the day would have ended as it began, Just another Monday workday. As you might imagine the 4th of July isn't cause for celebration in Indonesia. But, August 17th is, and is celebrated much the same way as the 4th of July is celebrated back home: fireworks, games, picnics and parades. Americans wear and wave red-white-and blue; Indonesians wave and wear red and white. 4th of July commemorates the beginning of a war, as does August 17th. Americans fought for "Freedom", Indonesians call it "Merdeka", the cause is the same: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Celebrating holidays away from home is bittersweet. Distance makes it easy to forget...actually forget is not the right word. Distance makes it easy to ignore holidays--or try to ignore them. Maybe because it hurts a little to be away and missing out on the fun back home...

There weren't any fireworks or parades at last night's Fourth of July celebration. But there was red-white-and blue (everyone dug through their closets to pull out whatever patriotic clothing they had-a red batik shirt won the prize), there was laughter and chatter (in a variety of accents), there was music (in varying styles--we finally settled on country western as being the "most" American). Even with all that, it was the food that made the holiday. As my mother would call it "good, old fashioned American": hot dogs and burgers with buns, potato salad, cold slaw, beans and watermelon (Delsy, our Panamanian-American friend and hostess pulled me aside to ask "When do we serve the watermelon? With dinner or dessert?) Brownies and pie with ice cream-cherry, blueberry and apple, of course!  Each mouthful was a taste of home, a reminder of 4th of July's past, and promise for the future.

I woke this morning, with a feeling of having a foot in 2 time zones. It was 7 am. here in Jakarta--which is 7 pm central time. On the other side of the world, back home in the USA, Fourth of July celebrations are in full swing--sea to shining sea! I'm lamenting the extra servings I indulged in last night at the exact same moment that you might be dipping in for more. I'm putting away my red, white and blues while you're pulling yours on.

In spite of CNN news, I am also feeling hopeful. Our 4th of July celebration included 20 or so people of different races, genders, nationalities, religious and political beliefs. Festivities right now, today and tonight, include millions of people whose ancestors fought on opposite sides of battlefields with all the hatred, anger, hurt, and vengeance of the people battling today.

Happy Independence Day; Pray for Peace.


My Books in Cambodia!

Knowing my stories are being read and enjoyed is the highlight of my job. So, you can imagine my delight when Kelli Lambe sent me this photo. Kelli, her husband, Steve, and their 3  boys spent spring break in Cambodia, where they helped create and stock the library in a school outside of Seim Reap.

No, the books haven't been translated into Cambodia. The children sound out the stories while learning English.  What's especially cool is that often parents and other adults,  who are also learning English, sit  alongside the kids--laughing and learning with them. (I'll have to ask if Kelli taught them to two-step and how to say "y'all"  after reading Dance, Ya'll, Dance.)

Kelli wrote: "Cambodia was a wonderfully meaningful trip.  So much so that we are now going to Papua with Lex and Linda [Operators of Remote Destinations Tour Company] to help build a library there. Keegan is doing it for his IB community and service project."

You can be sure my books will be along on that trip, too. Spreading the joy of reading a few books at a time!

If you'd like to donate books or send a contribution for the Lambe's next  library project, send me a note and we'll make it happen.

Is PRODUCTIVITY all it’s cracked up to be?

Sometimes, in the midst of our get er done busy-ness our creativity can get shoved aside. Or, worse, instead of really letting go and allowing our imaginations run wild-and sometimes a muck-we don't push our ideas far enough. We settle for our first idea. First isn’t necessarily best.  Have you ever wondered what the last gal to cross the finish line was doing all that time? What the outfielder picking at the laces on his glove is thinking? I know Curtis was wondering where I’d gone with his coffee cup… I was thinking about the list of to dos on my lengthy get er done list when I took one of those turns. I always have a few projects around that need doing. Some, like filing papers, are waiting because I am avoiding them. Others, like the drawer of candle nubs and cluster of broken geegaws in need of gluing, are just waiting for the right day.

I was filling our coffee cups in preparation for the start of a truly productive get er done day when one of those “projects” sprang to mind. The egg cups glistening in the morning sun were just so empty.

Sometime after Easter, I’d wandered into a shop selling left-over candle eggs, you know the ones that look like Easter eggs and are adorable, but you always wonder what the heck you’ll do with them because they are small and wobbly and not really good for lighting. Well, these were different. They were egg colored with white shell on the outside and looked real. The shopkeeper had placed them in egg cups and lit them. Perhaps because of the way they had burned down, the top edge was jagged, the way real eggs are when you carefully crack open just the tops to make cascarones, confetti eggs. Which got me thinking: Say, I have a few egg cups hanging around…

So, I began collecting egg shells. Instead of cracking them in half and pouring out the middle, you gently tap the top to crack it, pick off the shell bits until you have a hole big enough to stick a toothpick in, stab the yolk, and gingerly shake out the egg and white. Wash the shell and set it out to dry. The trouble is, you can only do this on eggs which you don’t mind scrambling. And you have to use eggs. And you have to store these fragile shells somewhere safe. And don’t forget you are saving them, and which bowl you’re saving them in, or you might accidentally put another bowl inside that bowl and crunch....

Yes, it has taken me longer that expected to collect enough egg shells to make it worth my while to drag out those candle nubs. But here’s the thing, a friend, Jeff, happened to leave a Real Simple magazine at my house recently, and I happened to flip through it, and in the column on reusing stuff was a seedling planted in an egg shell. The blurb said when the seedlings were ready for planting in larger pots, or the garden, you could simply plant the egg shell incubator in the soil. The shell will soften, the plants roots will break through the shell, and the shell will nourish the soil.

After reading this, I was torn. The egg shell seedling in the picture was soooo cute. In my mind's eye I saw them sprouting in my egg cups on my sunny window sill. Still, those candle nubs, even if they did smell good, were ugly ugly ugly.

Sticking down the wick in the hardest part. Getting it to stay upright is the other hard part. I tie the wick to a skewer which keeps it upright and centered. 1st step, pour a little wax into the bottom of the shells, let it harden slightly and then, using the blunt end of a skewer, push the end of the wick into the soft wax (not too hard or the shell will crack). Let the wax harden all the way before pouring in more wax. And don’t fill the egg shells all at once or the hot wax will loosen the wick. Fill the shells in layers, letting each harden before adding more.

And guess what we’re eating for dinner? Scramble by egg cup light. (I have to get started collecting shells for future seedlings.)

What else can I make with egg shells? Any ideas? This isn't procrastinating, it's creating! Come on you left fielders…

One Day, Out Of The Blue...

For most of us, our days are routine: we get up, do our work, live our lives and make plans with the expectation that tomorrow will bring pretty much what we expect it will. And then one day things are going along exactly as expected and WHAM out of the blue something happens that completely changes everything.Sometimes, like today, that something literally falls right out of the sky. Today began as one of those unscripted, unstructured, nothing but lunch planned days. My favorite kind. I had taken a break from the heap of picture books I’d pulled off my shelves over coffee this morning, and was standing at the dining room table going through the mail when I glanced up to see Rusnati, my housekeeper, running full stop toward the house from the back of the garden.

Rusnati is short, just over 4 feet tall and  round. (Think “Weebles” those roly playskool people and their hard-plastic town and garage and houses?-my kids loved them.) Weebles wobble but they don’t fall down. They don’t run either.

I stood ,  flabbergasted at the sight of Rusnati running. Wow! could she run! But why? There had to be something--something bad to get her running so fast.  Then I freaked and ran to meet her.

“Warjo!” she panted, pointing back to the corner of the yard. “Warjo @#$#@$ (something I couldn’t understand or translate but that sounded like “potong” which means cut and something about his arm.

I looked where she was pointing. Warjo, our pool man, was face up on the ground beneath the mango tree with his head in the ginger stalks. My heart busted into the High School “fight” theme.  No blood, I willed, not wanting to see his arm cut off. Him bleeding out in our yard.

Rusnati was sort of pulling me toward him, as a kid does a mother. Who resigned and made me the mom? I wanted to ask. I wanted to pull back like another kid would. Instead I prayed: Please don’t be dead. Don’t be dead. And no blood. Please no blood.

I didn’t want to look. Didn’t want to see what I might see. I do not enjoy horror movies.

Warjo heard me call him and tried to raise himself up, or tried to raise his hand. But his hand didn’t come up, only his head and shoulder did. The arm dangled.

"Rusak, munkin" Rusnati said. Maybe broken.


I wracked my brain for for recollections of hospital dramas. I so wanted to channel McHero.

“Don’t more!” I ordered. Quickly adding the smidge of Indonesian I could muster. “Tunguh,” wait.

Warjo waited…not much else he could do. And so did everyone else. Rusnati, Aan, Rohemon, the security guards, they all probably had as much, if not more, medical experience than I did and they were waiting for me to give orders.

It was my house, my garden, my tree Warjo had fallen from. My problem to solve. So I barked orders (not consisely or in any specific language, it was more jestures mixed with jibberish). We tied Warjo's upper body in a sarong and 4 guys pulled/pushed him to a sitting position. Sweat rained down his face and chest. His eyes were wild. They asked if he could walk. Got him to his feet. Warjo tried a step but his body just quivered like jelly.  So they carried him to the car and settled him in.

Turns out Warjo’s arm was broken clean through. A ragged, jagged break that requires surgery and immobilization. He was checked into the hospital and will be operated on tomorrow, a pin inserted to set the bone, several months recovery, bills, loss of work--not to mention what the fall may have done to his guts, back, him...

We called his family while waiting for treatment.Warjo’s wife and only son came. Shortly after, in ones and twos, others arrived—friends, family, neighbors—until Warjo had about 15 visitors. He's not alone. But, what  now?

With the crack of a branch, this bright blue day, which started out so like so many others has changed Warjo’s life, and his families, an ours too. One hopes it’s only a temporary change. What if it isn’t?

What about when our out of the blue day arrives?

Filling My Well in S. A. so call me “Joe Friday”

Whenever someone learns I’m a writer living in Indonesia, they inevitably remark about the fabulous stories I must be writing about my adventures, or how inspiration it must be. To which I usually respond, “Someday,” which in Bahasa Indonesia would be the catch all word for “not yet, belum. For me fiction is reflective. Fiction comes with time: from the past, memories, from what remains. Non-fiction is immediate. Although good non-fiction, too, takes time, time to reflect, draw conclusions and get a distance away so as to see larger pictures.

When I was not writing because life interrupted, my friend Dick called it “filling my writer’s well.” Hearing that always made me feel better, and more importantly, gave me hope that the writing would come.

Presently, I’m filling my writer’s well in South Africa….

Never in a zillion “what ifs” did I ever imagine I’d be writing that—In South Africa—let alone living it! And because I’m loving filling my well and don’t want to stop for a moment. I’m going to pull a Joe Friday and “stick to the facts, Ma’am.”

Fact: Curtis and I flew from Jakarta to Johannesburg Thursday, arrived Friday afternoon.

Fact: We are here visiting our friends Shona and Charles Mason, South Africans living in Jakarta. Good friends, who enticed us to come for holiday.

Fact: Charles, his 2 cousins, and a group of 8 others have been, for the past 14 days cycling through South Africa on a charity ride—when they finish they will have cycled 1700 km and raised thousands for charities. Each day they ride to a designated spot—most days well over 100 km— and present a check to a local charity. The amount they raise is matched by ENGEN Petrol Company. Today is the last day of that challenging (to say the least) ride. Charles has been blogging his ride. Check it out: Charles Big Ride SA Ride:

Fact: The main reason we are in South Africa at this particular time is that we have signed up to Ride THE ARGUS, a 109 km bike ride along the wild, spectacular coastline of the Cape of South Africa.

Fact: 35,000-40,000 people will ride THE ARGUS, the largest individually timed race/ride in the world!

Fact: I have not even been on the seat of a bike in at least five, (5) years.

Fact: It is very very windy today and I have heard stories of what the wind does....blows bikes off the road...blows bikers into each other.

Fact: The delivered our rented bikes and helmets today and I am very very nervous.