Remembering My Grandmothers

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It’s November, a time when many cultures remember their dear, departed loved ones. I happened to read today about a Chinese goddess named Dou Mou, who is the goddess of the north star. People call on her to protect the spirits of their dead and to keep the living safe from illness. It’s said that people write messages to the dead and then burn them so the message can be delivered in the smoke by Dou Mou.

I am thinking a lot about feminine power and wisdom, after my special weekend. Today happens to be the anniversary of my grand aunt’s death. Yesterday was the anniversary of my paternal grandmother’s death. They died two years and 365 days apart. I was inspired to write to them and to my maternal grandmother, who has been gone fifteen years, I think.


 

Dear Mabel,

You were so clever and kind. I sometimes didn’t know how to relate to you, but it got better as I got older. You always encouraged me to think and stand up for myself. I am grateful for the opportunity to live in your home for a little over a year while Ian and I were saving money to buy our house. It was a lovely little home and it made me feel good knowing you lived there with my mom, aunts and uncles. It was a happy time for us, in that sweet little house.

I regret not coming to see you after you moved out of your home. I regret it a lot. I was just very self-absorbed, working long days and long weeks, and fully involved in my marriage and newlywed life and friends. I was selfish. I am sorry. I miss you.

I will always love you.

Sara

 

Dear Nana,

Today is the anniversary of your death. I miss you a lot, especially whenever I pick up my paintbrushes to paint. I am grateful for all the love and abundance you showered me with in my life. I am most grateful for the support you gave to my intellectual and artistic pursuits. You gave me my first camera. You gave me paints and canvas, and endless drawing supplies. I wish I could discuss art and painting with you now. I wish I could see more of the art you made in your youth and while you were teaching. I miss you.

I will always love you.

Sara

 

Dear RoRo,

My heart aches when I think of you, RoRo. You have been gone now two years. I miss your warm smile, your smell, your soft skin, even your mumbling, whispering words that were so hard to understand at the end. I miss our shopping trips and especially the trips to the nursery. I miss talking to you about flowers. Thank you for your boundless generosity. You gave me so many advantages in life. You made me feel special and wanted, even when I was bratty and selfish, even while I was pulling away to do my own thing. I wish that you could see me now, see my boys growing up. I know they’re scruffy, but they’re kind and smart and brave and they take care of each other. You loved them so much, and I think you would like them too. I have started wearing your orange silk kimono. I never saw you wear it, never imagined you would own such a garment. That you did has allowed me to imagine you as a woman, and not just my grandma. It fills me with wondering. I miss you.

I will always love you.

Sara

Martinmas

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Today is Martinmas, the feast day of Saint Martin, who lived in the fourth century. Although I was raised a Catholic, I didn’t really learn about Martin until my older son was in second grade at his Waldorf school. Now, my younger son is a second grader, and tonight we get to go to school to have a lantern walk and meet the saint.

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I feel like I have written about this event from 2008 before, but if I did I can’t find it. When Lucas was in second grade, we walked with our lanterns through the dark school grounds and through the woods at night and came upon a silent reenactment of the story of Martin and the beggar. A man sat on a horse and a beggar man was crouched nearby, in the shadows. At first we didn’t even see him. The children sang lantern songs and watched with wonder as the splendidly dressed Martin give half of his soldier’s cloak to the beggar, who warmed himself with the garment. It was a beautiful, reverent moment—a saint story brought to life before our eyes.

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Above is a transparency I made to include in our new Martinmas & Thanksgiving Festival E-Book. A tutorial can be found in our book. It was lots of fun to make and I think I’d like to do more of these, especially one of Martin giving his cloak to the beggar.

Asher has been hearing about Saint Martin a lot at school. It never ceases to amaze me how much detail young children can remember of the complex stories they hear at school. Asher got really excited to be able to teach us all so much about Martin and his generosity. As I had been writing about Martin and Martinmas, I shared some of what I learned in my research at dinnertime, and Asher just launched in with, “Oh! I know that one!” and finished the story for me. He told us four stories about Martin that his teacher had shared.

Saint Martin stands up to soldiers #waldorf #sacramentowaldorfschool #7yearold #secondgrader #secondgrader #saints

Here is one of Asher’s school drawings, showing Martin facing an enemy army with his cross only, no weapons. Martin was an early conscientious objector. His faith in Christ made him unwilling to fight, and after a short term of service in the Roman military, he was released from duty (he later became the bishop of Tours). So in addition to his generosity toward those suffering from cold and poverty, Martin was a man of peace. It’s quite fitting, I think, that his feast day is also Veterans’ Day in the US, and Armistice Day in Europe, the day that marks the end of WWI.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

—Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, M.D., Canadian Army (1872–1918)

Painting by Szinyei Merse, Pál (1845 - 1920) (Hungarian)

1896 Painting by Pál Szinyei Merse,  (1845–1920)

Poppies. Scarlet poppies. In the UK there is a huge art installation of ceramic poppies at the Tower of London to commemorate the sacrifice of the fallen, which can be seen in photos here. It is called “Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red”; it is breathtaking and utterly vast, and I wish I could see it in person.

I can’t help but feel satisfied at the blending of all these overlapping festivals. Martin. Peace. Remembrance of the men and women who fell, fighting for their loved ones and countries. The Veterans’ Day holiday here, when people openly acknowledge the service and sacrifices made by our service men and women and thank them. Thanksgiving. There is a beautiful grace that evokes the poppies of Flanders fields and the human toil that we must do to benefit from earth’s abundance.

The silver rain, the golden sun,
The fields where scarlet poppies run,
And all the ripples of the wheat
are in the food that we do eat.

So when we sit for every meal,
and say our grace, we always feel
that we are eating rain and sun
and fields where scarlet poppies run.

So, I’m thinking about all these things and feeling excited about tonight. I have some lantern-making supplies here for the boys to use after school. Asher will use the lantern he made at school tonight for the lantern walk, but Lucas might want to make one to use tonight. Or he might not. He might prefer just to tag along, and stay emotionally out of it.

I’m going to gather up some clothing and coats we don’t use and take them to the Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services this month. If anyone local would like to donate items also, I’ll be happy to deliver them to the organization. Let me know.

And with that, I will wish you all a season brimming with peace and gratitude.

Farewell, Grandma

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My sweet grandmother RoRo passed away on November 16. She experienced a slow and difficult decline over the last several months (or years, depending on how you look at it). I am relieved that she will no longer be confused, lonely, and uncomfortable, which she sometimes felt even amid her loving family and dedicated caregivers, as she always was. She died three hours shy of the third anniversary of her sister Nellie’s death. (This doesn’t mean anything; it’s just notable. RoRo and her sister lived together for the last 35 years of their lives, as well as during childhood.) This photo is from 2006. I think this is the best picture I ever took of her; this is how I will enjoy remembering her. Still robust, still active and walking, still full of jokes and mischief.

My grandma was a wonderful grandma. She was doting, kind, forgiving, and generous to a fault. When I was young, I quickly realized that she would give me almost anything I pointed at. When I matured, I realized that was no way for me to behave. I now feel that she should have said no to me and many others way more often than she did. RoRo loved giving gifts. I am so grateful for all the advantages she gave me, for her love and her faith in me. I think she often didn’t understand my choices, but she always loved me.

RoRo spoiled me. I’d be lying if I didn’t say that. I was her only granddaughter for almost 20 years, until my cousin Amy was born. RoRo wanted to dress me in pink, in lace, in elegant and preppy clothes. She took me shopping often when I was a kid and teen. She came to my high school plays. She bought me jewels, and a brand-new red Honda CRX when I graduated high school. She didn’t want me to go away to college; why go so far when there are colleges here in Sacramento?!? She didn’t really want me to be independent, self-directed, far away. But if I insisted upon going, well, she wanted me to have a good, reliable car to drive home as often as possible. While I was away, she gave me her credit card—in case I needed or wanted anything. She wrote me letters in beautiful spidery handwriting; they almost always included a check.

When I got married, RoRo came shopping for my wedding dress with me. She ended up buying my wedding gown for me, with veil, shoes, train, undergarments, etc. When I had my first baby she bought my baby’s crib, and so much more. When Ian and I bought our home, and I finally had some land for gardening, and I gained another thing in common with my grandmother. We used to talk about gardening and flowers. We use to go to the local nurseries together, to admire and to buy flowers for our yards. I don’t know how else to say it: RoRo showed her great love by giving gifts. Always. Until the end.

That is part of our story, however shallow it may seem. Eventually, I grew up enough to stop asking for gifts. Eventually, I learned that all I really needed was to spend time with her. It confused her when I didn’t want anything. I suppose I grew up; she maybe never understood that. Then, eventually, I grew up a little more; I realized she needed to give gifts.

I think she didn’t understand my parenting at times. She didn’t understand how I could let Lucas be in charge of his own hair. I think she maybe didn’t get Waldorf, or my no media rule, or my no-soda/little-sugar rules. She felt that children should be indulged, that life should be sweet. She loved my children deeply, and I tried to keep her up to date with their growth and shenanigans. She wanted cuddles, even when they didn’t want to cuddle her.

I will miss her very much now that RoRo is gone. But the truth is, I have been missing her for these last several years, while she became more confused and less like herself. She sometimes didn’t know who I was. She would have nightmares about being in charge of my children—they often were lost in the snow in her nightmares, and they needed rescuing. (I try not to worry about what kind of mom she thought I was, leaving my babies alone in the snow. Dreams are weird and I can’t think about that.)

This week has been tough. I thought I was prepared for her death, ready for it, resigned, mature, realistic—after all, she was 94. But it turns out I was not as prepared as I thought. It has hit me harder than I expected. I’ve been easily distracted and mopey. I have a difficult time concentrating right now.

At home, we have had a lot of good conversations as a family this week since her passing. My husband and sons have been very supportive, comforting me in many ways with my favorite foods, a marathon of “Avatar the Last Air Bender” shows, early-to-bed evenings, and, frankly, too much wine.

Asher is pragmatic about the whole thing.

“Are you still sad about grandma RoRo dying?” he asked me.
“Yes.”
“Well, it’s a good thing that her spirit is now free of the terrible sickness. I mean, now she can go into the world and see all the things we cannot see. … Like the insides of volcanoes.”

He is very wise for his 6 years.

Rose Anne Merkel

Anne Merkel, “RoRo” to family and friends, died Saturday after an extended illness. Anne was born to Otto and Josephine Mueller in 1919. She grew up in Sacramento with her three sisters, and graduated from San Juan High School. She was married to Gus Merkel until he passed away in 1962; they had two sons, William (Bill) and Michael (Mike).

With her sister, Nell Mueller, Anne owned the Hobby House (later the Graphic Hobby House) at the corner of Fulton and Marconi from 1957 until her retirement. Anne and Nell lived together for 35 years.

The most important things in Anne’s life were family and gardening, and shopping for both. She loved family gatherings, especially Thanksgiving and Christmas. She enjoyed giving gifts to her extended family, which included Bill’s wife Sydney, Mike’s wife Julie, four grandchildren (Sara, Jonathan, Kevin, and Amy) and two great grandchildren (Lucas and Asher) as well as nieces and nephews. Anne could guess anyone’s size and was seldom wrong. Being surrounded by friends, new and old, gave her great joy. Her home was a warm and welcoming place—the more, the merrier. Easter was a wonderful occasion to celebrate in her garden, where friends and family would hunt for eggs and baskets. Flowers, especially roses, were her favorites, and until recent years she was an avid gardener. She passed her love of showy flowers to her son and granddaughter.

Anne was clever and admired for her crafting, which she did for numerous charities. Anne was a member of the ARC Patrons’ Club. She and her “Diamond Ladies” made many craft items that were sold on campus and supported scholarships. Anne also made elaborate Halloween costumes that were worn by many children over many years. Anne doted on children and babies.

Well known as an elegant and gracious host and a generous person, Anne will be deeply missed by all who knew her. She is predeceased by her mother and father, husband, and sisters Dorothy, Mary, and Nell. The family would like to thank her caregivers for their efforts in making Anne’s final days more pleasant.

Yesterday was RoRo’s funeral service. Due to longstanding, bitter battles within my extended family, I was terribly anxious in the days leading up to it, and it was a long, stressful, sad day. Ian was a rock for me and I’m so grateful to him. Somehow it was very important for my children to look nice. RoRo was always elegant, always fastidious. Usually, our casual dress or scruffy hair was a disappointment to her. Normally I wouldn’t care about that stuff, especially with regard to my children’s clothes, but yesterday we dressed up. My boys wore ties, slacks, and dress shoes: a small gift to RoRo.

Dad and Uncle Mike bought so many beautiful flowers for her service. My emotions are raw and I don’t know how to say how much I loved her, except with these: Roses for my grandmother.

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"Daybreak"

After the Rain

Birthday/May Day Roses

Farewell, RoRo. I will always love you.

Michaelmas: New Dragons

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Well, I really don’t like to go this long between posts. All I can say is that our lives have been remarkably full of all kinds of wonderful and challenging pursuits, including lots of work and play. While I enjoy writing here and really need to write here, sometimes I’m just too worn out.

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I will catch up a bit by saying that our Michaelmas festival at our Waldorf school was amazing. This year our son’s sixth-grade class created and manned the dragon—and what a dragon it was! Our new class teacher brought with her a host of new ideas about the Michaelmas dragon, its form, its symbolism, and how we might create it, interact with it, subdue it. I’ve been attending Michaelmas festivals for eight or so years and I’ve never seen a dragon like this one. Our students, teacher, and a team of clever parents engineered it.

For one thing, the dragon didn’t come lumbering onto the field at the appointed time. It spontaneously reared up out of the body of our community, out of ourselves.

Maybe I can show you …

Lucas at Michaelmas 2013

Each sixth grader carried a large Roman-style shield, silver gray on one side, gold on the other. They arrayed themselves around the circle, standing quietly among the other grades and spectators.

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The festival carried on as usual, with the twelfth grade performing a play for the people of the land: this time the Arthur sword-in-the-stone legend. The young villagers danced. When the alarm sounded, the valiant fourth graders offered the villagers protection with their newly made shields. The drum boomed. This is normally when a fearsome beast would approach the field.

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Instead, our sixth graders, dressed as Michaelic soldiers, began to march and form up into ranks. The terrifying drum continued to beat, but no one knew what to expect—no manxome foe was apparent. Saint George searched and searched the field of battle for his opponent. Where was the threat?

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And then a remarkable thing happened. The sixth grade moved again in response to loudly barked commands. They formed up into a Roman battle formation called the testudo, or tortoise formation. The shields covered their bodies, hiding them behind a great silver wall.

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From its hiding place, the dragon’s head emerged and the body joined up to menace George. A technology dragon was formed of chips and wire and lights, all silver and gleaming, and spitting smoke and ferocious noises!

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The dragon’s tail was wireframe with tech parts all over it.

It was a dragon representing a threat of our modern day, as we are frequently consumed by and controlled by our own technology. We are fighting, some of us, to maintain our humanity in the face of this changing world. Some are fearful of technology, some embrace it. It is both the miracle of today and a thorny problem. The important thing is to recognize it—how it is changing our communities, our families, ourselves—and confront it, and make sure that it is working for us, and not the other way around. This is how I see it, anyway.

Furthermore, I think it’s fascinating and timely. These sixth-grade children are on the brink of becoming (probably heavy) technology users. Perhaps some already are. Our son has dabbled in a very circumscribed way. As they mature, they will learn to use the Internet for research and for fun, join social networking sites, encountering friends and strangers online. They will enjoy video games and smartphones and YouTube and Skype—all of which are fun and exciting ways to connect in a global community. Navigating this will be new and strange and wonderful for all of us. And we must face it with courage and compassion.

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As usual, our strong, noble seniors surrounded the beast, and together with the sweet, hopeful spirits of our second graders, brought this dragon to its knees.

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What doesn’t show in my photographs is that our community was suffering mightily on this day, especially this senior class, for we very recently lost a student to suicide. It is a tragedy that none of them will forget, and this circle of brave young men and women was one shining soul short. I think no one ever anticipated that suicide and loss, and tremendous grief, would be a dragon to face on this beautiful day.

(Thank you, Hinmans, for the terrific video!)

Technology dragon with teacher

Afterward, the sixth grade class enjoyed the praise and congratulations of many. Some said it was the most interesting dragon they had seen. Many adults found it to be wonderful and thought-provoking. Our kids were somewhat unsure of this innovative design. Lucas even despaired that it was too weird, and wouldn’t it be better to have a normal dragon?

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Here they are, all tuckered out after the hot performance. I really love these kids. And we are all so very proud of them. Many thanks to our class teacher for encouraging all of us to embrace innovation and change. I think she is brilliant for getting this strong-willed class to march to her drum within days of her joining our class.

Here are the morning verse and afternoon verses by Rudolf Steiner that the sixth grade had been saying in preparation for Michaelmas. I especially love the second one:

Oh Michael,
I entrust myself to your protection
I write myself with your guidance
With all my heart’s strength
That this day may be come the
Reflection of
Your destiny-ordering will.
*
I bear my worry into the setting sun:
Lay all my cares into its shining lap.
Purified in Light
Transformed in Love—
They return as helping thoughts,
as forces rejoicing in deeds of
Sacrifice.

So, what do you think? Pretty different, eh? Leave me a comment and let me know.

Also, you can read about our past Michaelmas festivals here:

School Community Michaelmas Festival

Our Beautiful Michaelmas

Michaelmas Time

School Michaelmas Festival

Michaelmas in the Waldorf Kindergarten

HPV Vaccine

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I love vaccines. I love that we have them, that my sons will never have measles or diphtheria, will never die of whooping cough or worse—from some Dark-Age disease that we can prevent.

Today, we went for vaccinations. (This does not make me the most popular person in the family, but that’s OK. I have broad shoulders.)

Today, my son received the first of three anti-HPV shots. (HPV is a sexually transmitted infection, or STI; about 20 million Americans have it, with 6 million more infections occurring each year. HPV causes cancer. It causes cervical, vaginal, and vulvar cancers in women. Almost all cervical cancer is caused by HPV. Cervical cancer is the second leading  cause of cancer deaths among women around the world; 12,000 women in the US get cervical cancer each year and about 4,000 are expected to die from it. HPV also causes anal and oropharyngeal cancers in both men and women. Plus genital warts and throat warts.)

These vaccines (Gardasil is the kind available for girls and boys) are effectively the first anti-cancer shots, folks. Hopefully they are the first of many future anti-cancer vaccines. Go Science! Go Science!

I know some people debate against vaccines. Not me. I know some people have a hard time confronting the idea of STIs in relation to little children of 10 to 12 years of age. Not me. The point is to get them protected before they become sexually active and exposed to the HP virus.

I love that because of this vaccine my kid will face one fewer obstacle in what I hope will be a long and healthy life. I love that he will never catch or spread this virus to a future lover. We will have plenty of challenges to face as he grows through his tween and teen years, and I’m quite happy to take this one off my worry list.

I’m a Waldorf mom who is decidedly pro vaccines.

Our 2012

2012: The year that featured plenty of Big and Scary and Sad. I learned so much this year and I am grateful for all the opportunities and lessons it brought, although I often didn’t like learning them. I’ve watched us dig deep and come out older, wiser, and sadder but with a greater capacity to love.

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Plenty of amazing and beautiful things happened, too. When I look through photos from the year, I see so much color, so much light, so much adventure, so much growth.

I asked my family what were the best parts of 2012 for them.

Lucas’s Favorities:
He got to ride the biggest roller coaster on the SC Boardwalk and do the Haunted House for the first time.
This Christmas—“What part?” I asked. “The Christmas part.” I think he means everything about Christmas.
The world didn’t end. He’s glad about that.

Ian’s Favorites:
He finished his second Tough Mudder at Diablo Grande in the California Central Valley.
Our family trip to Santa Cruz in September, when we visited the Monterey Bay Aquarium and the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk with Ian’s brother Danny.
Both of our summer camping trips to Grover Hot Springs with our beloved Barbarians and DL Bliss State Park with our Waldorf school chums.

Asher’s Favorities:
His. Own. Legos. And playing Legos any chance he gets.
Being an “Older” in Kindergarten and all the great responsibility that entails.
Playing D&D with Daddy and Brother. Playing with Solstice dog.
“Writing books. Annoying my brother. Getting presents from Santa.”

My Favorities:
Watching Lucas play Thor in the spring fourth grade play and Hanuman in the Ramayana in the fall.
Painting, especially my landscape class and how challenging it was.
Writing e-books and publishing festival e-books with Eileen at Little Acorn Learning.
I am closer now to some friends than before and that feels wonderful.
Celebrating so many lovely holidays with my family. Creating joy and memories.
My birthday wine-tasting excursion with my friends.
Family Clay Camp with my kiddos in the summer.

Happy New Year! May you find new richness in the everyday, new opportunities, new friends, and new delights in 2013. May you find peace and laughter, forgiveness and love for self and others.

On Grieving

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I am somehow both pan-religious and nonreligious, both Catholic and pagan. I don’t really know how all of that exists simultaneously in my heart and mind, but somehow it does. For a long time I thought that was an untenable state, and expected that sooner or later I would have to commit to being and believing one thing or another, and not all things and none all at once. But I’ve lived in this state for many years now, and truthfully it shows no sign of coming to some cataclysmic end. Somehow this all-encompassing, tolerant nonbelief system of mine works just fine.

Most of the time.

When terrible things happen, though, there’s no rulebook for me to turn to. All the various religious answers about death and dying, loss, and grief fall flat. The feel-better remarks and there-theres don’t work for me. All I know is that I have to feel my feelings all the way through them, for as long as I need to, until I release them (or until they release me—I’m not sure which it really is). I don’t know if that’s healthy or not healthy. It’s just how I am.

I found this poem by Edna St. Vincent Millay. I understand this.

I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground.
So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been time out of mind:
Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely. Crowned
With lilies and laurel they go; but I am not resigned.

Lovers and thinkers, into the earth with you.
Be one with the dull, the indiscriminate dust.
A fragment of what you felt, what you knew,
A formula, a phrase remains, but the best is lost.

The answers quick and keen, the honest look, the laughter, the love,
They are gone. They are gone to feed the roses. Elegant and curled
Is the blossom. Fragrant is the blossom. I know. But I do not approve.
More precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses in the world.

Down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.

—Edna St. Vincent Millay

We all have to navigate life’s injustices and sorrows in our own way. There is no script that fits all actors in this play. We have our rites and rituals, our traditions of marking difficult passages. They are useful and good for many. But they are not perfect. And no funeral or day of mourning or flag at half-mast brings an end to the grief. Grieving continues and passes through many stages. We are not resigned.

A long time ago I worked at a funeral home. I spent my workdays with grieving people and people whose job was to help grieving people. A co-worker, Barbara, who had lost her husband many years before, once said to me something I’ll never forget. “After the funeral, all the people go home. The funeral was closure for them. But the grieving goes on for the loved ones, the spouse, the parent. For them, the grief stays.”

Just as our happy moments, our loves, and our triumphs build together and become part of who we are, so do our sorrows knit themselves into our bones.

So how do we cope and what is normal? All of it. Normal is preparing for Christmas with tears falling down one’s cheeks. Normal is gathering with friends and loved ones, smiling and laughing even with a broken heart. Normal is putting one weary foot in front of the other, making breakfast, enforcing room-cleaning, and cuddling precious children to sleep even while you hear the imaginary wolves scratching at the door. All of this depth of feeling and contradiction can exist simultaneously, too. Life is mucky and confusing. It is never as neat as a greeting card.

We say our prayers—or not. We light our candles and weep and gather together. We look to our heroes, spiritual leaders, and poets. We make sandwiches and feed chickens and watch movies for relief. Our hearts break, and we gradually put them back together—with wise compassion and great waves of Love.

We are changed. And that is normal.

Tragedy

I am struggling to find words to express my horror at the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Yesterday was a wash; I mostly sat here and cried, or walked in circles in my home. Couldn’t think. Couldn’t work. I am too permeable.

Last night we went to our school’s Winter Concert, a celebration of light in the darkness. I didn’t want to go. I didn’t want to celebrate anything or anyone. I didn’t think I could handle watching all of our beautiful children performing their songs and dances—the menorah lighting by third grade, the lower school chorus, sixth grade sword dance, seventh and eight grade choir, high school orchestra, a h.s. percussion ensemble. There in the dark of the packed auditorium, listening to these amazing, shining, hopeful children, I let my tears flow.

Truly, normal is what we need. We must continue, yet continuing feels wrong.

We are not discussing this tragedy with our children, and I am grateful these events are far away. I fear Lucas and Asher will find out soon. If and when they do, we will do the best we can to explain the unexplainable. There are many resources online about how to talk with children about tragedy, but the truth is I don’t want to do it at all.

I am reading poetry and trying to take comfort in wise words—God or light or “look for the helpers.” It’s not working. And any words of comfort I can think of are sawdust in my mouth. It’s too soon for comfort.

 

 

 

 

Almond Shortbread Calderas Cookies

Almond shortbread calderas cookies. I kind of made them up.

Halloween was a big deal for us this year. Big projects, big fun. Today I’ve been so tired that I just felt like trying to put our home back together again, creating some order out of the costuming chaos, and getting back to normal (chaos). More about Halloween later, but …

I meant to make these groovy witch finger cookies on Halloween, but there wasn’t time to do it. I wondered if I could use a similar recipe to create something fun for Dia de los Muertos. Honestly I didn’t know if these would work.

1 cup butter softened (which to me means microwaved for 35–40 seconds after being in the fridge; is that what it really means?)
3/4 cup confectioner’s sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
2 cups whole wheat flour
flowery sprinkles or stars (optional)

Butter sugar almond cookies. I have no idea how these will turn out when they are baked.

Cream together butter and sugar, add vanilla and almond flavorings, and then add in flour, a half cup at a time. Roll about a tablespoon of dough into a ball. With the end of a big spoon, chopstick, or other poky object, poke two eye holes. With a knife, draw a mouth line. With the tines of a fork, make a quick stroke up from the mouth line to make upper teeth, and another stroke down to make lower teeth. With a narrow skewer or similar object, make a little triangle nose hole. Now with your thumb and forefinger pinch the jaw of your face a little to make it narrower than the cranium. Place the skull on a greased cookie sheet. The most important feature of your caldera is the eye holes, so if they’ve become too squished while making the other features, use the same eye-hole making object to poke the eye holes again to make them nice and round and dominate the skull shape. Do this a bunch of times till you use up all the dough. Asher (5 years old) enjoyed making skulls too, and his are pretty great.

Now, if you want your calderas skulls to be flowery, push some flower sprinkles or stars, or whatever into the skulls. Personally, I think a few flowers go a long way toward creating the Dia de los Muertos look. I didn’t put flowers on all of my cookies and the plain ones look pretty cool too.

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Here they are baked—simultaneously cheerful and spooky—and ready to eat. They got a bit bigger in the baking, but kept their basic shape beautifully. By the way, I used whole wheat flour because that’s what I had. Because of the whole wheat flour, I upped the sugar to 3/4 cup. Your skulls will look whiter if you use all purpose flour, and you might not need as much sugar.

How’s that for a recipe post created late on the night of the holiday for which it is appropriate? OK, night-night. I hope you’ve had a lovely day and that you were were able to take a moment to remember those you love who have passed out of this world. Remember them fondly.

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In Memoriam Amanda

Rest in Peace, Amanda

1990
You were young and beautiful. You were sassy and courageous, and wicked smart. You swore a lot. Wore loads of silver jewelry. We had a Norse mythology course together and you were into women’s studies. We had coffee together, and lunches.
You introduced me to Dave, your boyfriend at the time, who was one of the gentlest guys I’d ever met.
You guys offered to get me high, in your cute little apartment with altars and weird art. Shivas and Kalis and Bob Marley, scarves draped over lamps, incense. I don’t remember all the details. I just know I’d never been in a home like yours before.
You were wild and wonderful, a force of female energy. No denying it. No need to.
You were my Hecate sister, my Artemis, wise beyond your years and more concerned with being free and thinking free, so that caution wasn’t a concern.
You were not afraid of the dark.
You gave me a beaded Scorpio bracelet. I still have it.

You wrote poetry and articles—a “zine” we called it back then. For a few years after I moved away, we stayed in touch. You sent me some of your work. I missed you terribly.

2011
And we met again in 2011, via Facebook. I had searched for your name repeatedly over the years, and then finally one day, I found the right Amanda. In Sacramento!

You came to my home and met my family. You and Ian used to know each other, when we were in college together. You met my kids for the first time.
You were still wild, and now with an edge. A little more darkness and pain. Probably a lot more. I didn’t know how you could fit into my domestic bliss. I was a little afraid of your brand of crazy.

But your voice was the same, and I was thrilled to know you again. It felt great to hold you in my arms when we hugged. Your voice—I can hear you speaking in my mind even now. I will never forget your voice, Amanda. And that you helped me learn how to use mine.

2012
How are you gone? I found out through Facebook, which is a shitty thing to find out no matter how the news travels. But because of Facebook I knew within a day. My friend is dead? Is it some kind of sick, inside joke? Not real?
Real.

You are – were 42 years old. Too young, my dear. I blew it, Amanda. I’m sorry I didn’t really understand how tough life was for you. I wasted too much time, when we could have been talking on the phone, or meeting for coffee. I could have …

Now I wear your Scropio bracelet that you gave me 20 years ago. And I hear you in my mind sometimes. And I stalk you on Facebook. I read the things that your friends are writing to you and about you. I’ve written to you there, too—how I really wish things were different.

Your wall is the weirdest and newest kind of gravestone. This now-ubiquitous technology has allowed people who don’t know each other to connect, share stories, and to mourn. I read what’s written there, and page through your photos. I’ve stolen some because I don’t have any of you that I can find; we were friends before I used a camera constantly. The photos are little pixels of you. They are not enough, but it’s what we have.

Ours was and is a mediated relationship, and I am sorry for that. Your horoscopes come up in my newsfeed, as if you were still using them, sharing them. I think you might like that these weird astrological messages come from the ether on your behalf. Through Facebook I have learned that your friends are holding a memorial for you tomorrow in Sacramento and I cannot be there for it. I am hoping that those who go will post photographs, and continue to use your FB wall as a way of showing and sharing our love for you. I hope this digital tribute, this little slice of your life will continue. It is weird and wild and wonderful.

Like you. Magic.

Too soon, my Hecate sister. Too soon to fade into the night.
I’ll see you again someday at the crossroads.

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  • About Sara

    Thanks for visiting! I'm Sara, editor and writer, wife to Ian, and mother of two precious boys. I am living each day to the fullest and with as much grace, creativity, and patience as I can muster. This is where I write about living, loving, and engaging fully in family life and the world around me. I let my hair down here. I learn new skills here. I strive to be a better human being here. And I tell the truth.

    Our children attend Waldorf school and we are enriching our home and family life with plenty of Waldorf-inspired festivals, crafts, and stories.

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    "Love doesn't just sit there like a stone; it has to be made, like bread, remade all the time, made new." —Ursula K. LeGuinn

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