Thanksgiving alchemy

On Saturday we had our Annual alterNative Thanksgiving Feast.  I always take some time to inform our guests about the true history of relations between the colonizers and the Indigenous people of North America.  Then we sit down together for a marvelous evening of delicious food and very fine company.

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.  I love the food and it is one of the few holidays that I have  some happy childhood family memories of.   My Dad and I had a very difficult relationship.  We all grew up and lived under the crushing weight of inherited trauma and unresolved grief that he brought into our family from his Muscogee (Creek) heritage.  Relatives outside of our family and friends saw the charismatic and charming side of my Dad, where we rarely saw that person.  But Thanksgiving was a good day, with lots of food shopping and preparation leading up to it.  When I make Thanksgiving dinner, I connect with those good feelings of anticipation and sitting down to enjoy the fruits of our labor.

One dish that I always make is Frank’s Pea and Cheese Salad.  Legend has it that when we were visiting relatives Back East, we were invited to stay for supper, but the cupboards were nearly bare.  My Dad went into the kitchen and made this salad from a couple of cans of Petit Pois, mayonnaise, cheese and an onion.  As the cousin who related this story said ‘Your Dad was a great cook and could make something out of nothing’.   The alchemy practiced by a cook can be magical.

This year as I cubed cheese and minced a shallot, I wept, and not because of Propanethiol S-oxide.  I wept because I never knew that charming and charismatic man.  I wept because I grew up afraid of him and spent too much of my adult life hating him.  I wept for the fury and rage that he had carried into our family and the brokenness passed on to him from his ancestors and the injustice from a white society that shamed him for his Native heritage.  I wept that I only came to understand and feel compassion for him many years after his death.

As I worked Frank’s magic of transforming base ingredients into a wonderful salad, the alchemy of pain and grief being transformed into peace and love happened too.

I served the salad in a dish with a rabbit running around the outside.  Cufv the Rabbit is the trickster in Mvskoke lore.  The shape-shifter.  The shifter of shapes and the shaper of shifts.  When we can reach for and embrace our deepest and darkest places, this is when true healing happens.  And the light shines where it never has before.

I hope that all who celebrate Thanksgiving had a wonderful, meaningful and delicious time.

Peace and love to you all.

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Diary of a week

I am not one of those who can jump in and respond immediately to things and events.  I need time to feel into and think about and mull it all over.  Here, I’ve gathered up some of my posts on my personal Facebook page over the past week in response to the EU Referendum.

23 June, 2016

I’M IN!

I was at University College London yesterday and was asked for the thousandth time, ‘Why are you here and not in Southern California?’ After I gave my usual reply, ‘I came over here for the history and the weather’ I added that I love having access to free, good medical care (long live the NHS!), having 5 -6 weeks of annual leave per year and being so close to, and being a part of, Europe.  Plus my home and husband are here.

Today is the day that people in Britain are voting on the EU Referendum which will decide it we will leave or remain in the European Union. I can’t vote, because I am not a British citizen, but I am standing with everyone who wants the UK to remain a part of the EU.

in

24 June, 2016

Mixed feelings . . . . .

I am glad that this damn referendum is finally over, and it’s a very good thing that we live in a democracy and can vote on something of this magnitude.

I feel saddened that I have woken up to a smaller country this morning. The people who view the UK as a ‘beleaguered tiny island nation’ seem to have won the day. As a student of the human psyche, the votes to leave seem to reflect the shadow side of the British psyche: xenophobic attitudes, inward view, jingoistic/backwards thinking and toxic patriotism.

However, I am heartened that so many British people have voted to remain in the EU.    I hope and believe that those of us who are so inclined will strive to make post-EU Britain as positive a place as we can. Our attitudes and beliefs are so important and we need to shine bright for each other.

I found that these posts by WordPress bloggers summed up and expressed some of my initial thoughts and feelings:

Philip Blackledge – Dear Brexiteer

Eleanor St. Clair – NO! I won’t shut up

In the meantime, I’ll put the kettle on and have a nice cup of tea.

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28 June, 2016

I don’t know about anybody else, but I feel that something has died last Thursday. Some people call it Great Britain, some foretell the certain death of the United Kingdom, many say it has already happened in spirit.

I chose the UK for good as my home in 2008, after a couple of false starts.  I lived in London for 6 months in 1986.  At that time, I was on a tourist visa and worked under the table as as a waitress and an artist’s model.  It was all a bit cramped, so I returned to  California in 1987.  In 1998 I moved to Scotland to go to the Thomas Chippendale International School of Furniture.  My then husband was British, so I have ‘permanent right to remain’ in the UK.  I lived near Edinburgh for 8 years, then moved to Devon 10 years ago.   In 2007 I made a madcap move back to America at a time where I was searching for Home.  It just didn’t feel right and I returned to Great Britain a couple of months later, determined to find home inside and feeling that here is the fertile ground that I need to put my roots down.  I met my husband Steve in 2008 and that sealed my decision for good.

In choosing the UK, I chose stability, fairness, tolerance and openness to other people and cultures. I chose a place that was part of Europe, and Steve and I have mulled over the possibility of living in Austria, Italy or the Netherlands at some point. I feel that all of that has been blown out of the water.

As this new reality settles, I remember that the people nearest and dearest to me – my husband Steve, my colleagues at work, many of my friends in Moretonhampstead and several of my Facebook friends embody the characteristics of the United Kingdom that I fell in love with and chose to call home.

Every morning I wake up and remember that June 23rd has come and gone and that I can never go back to June 22nd. I experience shock and disbelief all over again. This weekend I found myself taking to my bed even more than usual and eating a lot of comfort food. I find myself shooting eye bullets at smug pensioners with tabloids folded under their arms and builders with Welsh accents. Are they the enemy??

I realize that these are all stages of Grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. I hope that everyone can take the time to mourn what we have lost and to take good care of our selves and our loved ones at this tender time of loss.

grief

As awful as this is, perhaps it is ultimately a good thing that all of this has come to the surface. By all of this, I mean the anger that people are feeling over the many years of inequality and injustice that have led to this place, a political system which isn’t fair and (fill in the blank).

I really resonated with this article entitled Brexit & Belonging, which begins with a quote.

“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and right doing there is a field.
I’ll meet you there.
– Rumi

We have our work cut out for us in the coming months and years. Even though I couldn’t vote in this referendum, because I am not a British citizen, I stand with all of the 48% who chose IN. I intend to be part of making this new world a better place.

 

 

 

 

 

The day she left for good

Some days I wear heavy like a scratchy wool blanket, folded in half and draped across my shoulders.

35 years ago today, my Mom died from cancer at age 55. It never gets any easier, only different.

Some years it’s the anguish of being left so soon; other years, the anger that she was so young and why does everyone else get to have a mother for such a long time; all of the milestones of graduation, marriage, achievements that I never got to share; the absolute wrongness of me having to deal with bedpans and hospital visits when I was a young teenager; questions about who she was and who I am left unanswered; the not getting to see her grow into the fullness of her life; nor for her to see who I have become . . . . .

This year it’s about the lost time together. Last night I dreamt that she and I were on a quiz team in a pew at the back of a church. We didn’t win. When we left the church, we each made our way through a concourse of restaurants and shops. We met again at the exit. To try to explain why I haven’t spent time with her for so long, I shyly said ‘I thought you’d died’ and decided to ask if she’d like to watch Napoleon Dynamite with me.

I awoke hopeful that this dream I’ve had any number of times, that I’d made a mistake and she is still here, was true this time. But it wasn’t.

So I spent the day, warm and slow and quiet, reflecting on the empty places and the full spaces that make up my relationship with my mom.

35 years

A deeper toll of grief

January 20th, 1980.  The date of my Mother’s death from cancer.  I was 16, she was 55.

Most winters, I feel a sense of loss.  That long ago time of her dying lingers deep in my bones.

I have spent the past 34 years feeling some trepidation about turning 50.  That was her age when she was diagnosed with breast cancer.  It was also a very transitory time in her life which my sensitive 11 year old self perceived.  She was in the process of leaving a dead end marriage with my father and was having a lot of problems with my older brother.  Ironically, when she was diagnosed with cancer, she was beginning to blossom and find a sense of her Self.  She started going to night school to pursue her dream of becoming an early childhood educator, and she and I moved out from our family home a couple of years later.

At a relatively young age, I witnessed my mother’s simultaneous burst of growth and rapid decline.  When I found my way to therapy in my early 20’s, I said, ‘I don’t want to end up like my Mom, starting to live when she was 50 and dying a few years later’.  I’ve worked damn hard over the years to untangle my self from dysfunctional family patterns, to live a meaningful (to me) life, to make healthy choices about everything I have any control over.

I was very pleased and proud to turn 50 last August.  I’m sharing my life with my beloved husband in a nurturing relationship, living in a warm and beautiful home in a community which sustains me, working as an artist, I have meaningful friendships and am looking forward to the next decade and beyond.  I’m grateful that I was able to receive the teaching from my Mom’s death about not leaving ‘me’ too late and that I’ve truly lived my life with no regrets.

I decided a few weeks ago that I would like to plant a rose bush this springtime in our front garden in her memory.  When she died 34 years ago, my remaining family – Dad, myself and two older siblings, couldn’t find it in ourselves to have a ceremony or service to mark her passing.  It was as if a door had closed, and we no longer spoke about her.  Not our memories or how big the loss in our lives was.  I still feel, when I think of my Mom, that I am walking through a house with many empty rooms.  I have little kid memories of her.  When I got to be about 13, I hated her, probably the way most teenagers hate their Moms.  And then she was gone.

In earlier years, at this time, I’ve felt the acute loss of an un-mothered child.  I didn’t feel ‘down’ this winter, as I often have in the past.   I thought it had something to do with the relief of  turning 50 and having made it through.  The 20th of January came and went, and the day after, my heart cracked open.  Besides the longing and loss of all of the past 34 years, I wonder how can I possibly move into my 50’s and become more than she was?  This is very new territory for me.

I’m sailing without a map and hoping to find the way forward.   I’m surprised to find that I need her in a different way than I ever have.

growth3

Nell Rose Schwakhofer née Martin on Dia de los Muertos, 2013

This is such a bleak time of year, yet I feel the growth stirring beneath the surface of the earth, and over the past several days, I’ve been nurtured by the new growth appearing at the tips of bare branches.  This gives me heart.  Losing a few minutes taking in the beauty of new growth can clear our mind and help us understand the strength of growth despite adversity.

growth2

growth1

An Easter memory

When I was in the 7th grade I found a caterpillar at school.  I took it to my teacher Miss McGowan who told me that it was a Mourning Cloak and that I could feed it mulberry leaves.  I remember it’s spiky ‘fur’ and the way it’s sticky little feet felt on my fingers.  I took it home, put it in a glass box with a dirt floor, a stick to climb on and a screen top.

On April 1st, it spun a chrysallis!  I was really excited and told my best friend.  She didn’t believe me at first (April Fool’s Day, of course).


A couple of weeks later, on Easter Sunday morning, the butterfly started to emerge from it’s chrysallis.  I was up early with my Mom and we sat on the back porch steps together and watched it.  It came out from it’s protective outer case, unfurled it’s wings and after they had dried, it fluttered away into the Spring morning.

My family didn’t go to church, but had a sort of underlying spiritual awareness.  I remember my Mom saying that morning what a miracle we had witnessed and that this is the true meaning of  Easter:  rebirth, resurrection, new life.
It was a special thing to share with her and I feel that in those moments watching the butterfly emerge transformed and through the words spoken by my Mom,  I learned about the deepest meaning of Easter.

I looked into the symbolism of the Mourning Cloak butterfly.  It is also known as Harbinger of Spring, being one of the first butterflies to emerge, and as the  Camberwell Beauty in Britain.  These butterflies live for about a year, overwinter as an adult in a hibernaculum and reappear in springtime to mate.

The name Mourning Cloak is due to the appearance of the dorsal surface of the wings, said to resemble the traditional cloak worn by those in mourning, which was sometimes draped over the casket of the deceased.  This is very poignant and meaningful to me.  My Mom died from cancer in 1980, four years after the Easter of the Mourning Cloak.  As a family we didn’t cope very well and never went through a mourning period together.  I suppose we each dealt with her death in our own way.  It was such a long time ago and although I’ve done a lot over the years to come to terms with it, at times I still feel cloaked in grief.

Victorian mourning cloak, black silk and velvet, 1890.

This beautiful wool flannel Mourning Cloak is from Twin Roses Designs.

The Journey of Mourning Cloak, Ernst Kreidolf, 1911.

Nymphalis antiope – The generic name is from the Greek nymphe, which was the name given in both Roman and Greek mythology to any of a number of minor nature goddesses who were young and beautiful, living in rivers, mountains, or trees. The reference here is to the goddess-like sylvan nature of the Mourning Cloak. Antiope was a noted beauty of Greek mythology who was seduced by Zeus in the form of a Satyr. She bore two sons, Amphion and Zethos, the founders of the Greek city of Thebes.  The species name antiope creates a tautonym, as both of the scientific names of the Mourning Cloak refer to its embodiment of mythological beauty.

Jupiter and Antiope, Antoine Watteau, 1715.

Image & info sources –
What’s That Bug?
Hiker’s Notebook
The Art of Pierangelo
Wikipaintings