Leo Shows His Past

This noble beast is Leo. He is three years old and has been with us since he was about nine weeks old when we adopted him and brought him home. That first day he strode boldly out of the carrier and made it clear that he intended to rule the house. They told us at the shelter that orange cats tends to be dominant and it certainly looked like Leo fit that bill. He quickly made friends with our two other cats, Roscoe the old guy and Ollie who is about the same age as Leo.

We didn’t know a whole lot about Leo’s origins. We knew he had been found on the street in Rockport when he was about six weeks old, a tiny thing, too small really to be alone like that.  He was in the shelter just long enough to become healthy and be ready to be adopted. 

After a while, though Leo was from the beginning an affectionate and friendly kitten, we noticed that he never stayed at the food dish to eat but rather would fill his mouth with dry food and then go elsewhere in the house where he would drop the food and eat it, or at least most of it. So we were always finding little piles of dry food in the places he liked to be. And when one of us would sneeze or cough loudly, Leo would startle and run away. Then we moved a couple of months ago.

All of our cats are indoor-only cats, so the move was the first change of place for Leo since he joined our family. Now it became evident how much Leo really hates change. We brought the cats to the new house after all the furniture and boxes had been brought in. One by one the cats emerged from their carriers and began to explore the house. Except for Leo. Who found a hiding place. And we hardly saw him for almost two weeks. We would catch glimpses of him as he raced to the kitchen to grab some food, but otherwise he stayed hidden away in a closet or behind boxes, clearly not thrilled with being in this new place. 

Finally after two weeks he began to spend time outside of his hideaway. He would race into the bathroom any time I was there and purr and rub against me. And he began again to perch on my lap, between my legs so he could watch tv — he loves television. And he returned to sleeping next to my feet at night and walking on my husband during the night when he thought he should be fed. He seemed to have returned to his old self.

Then we changed the kind of litter in the litter boxes. And on that very same day there was a huge and very loud thunderstorm — and Leo disappeared into hiding again, this time for about three days. It is now a bit more than two weeks since that trauma and he has again emerged and seems even more his open self than before.

We know that trauma leaves its mark on developing brains of humans. I can’t help but believe that is what we see in these behaviors of Leo’s — the way he takes his food away from the dish, his response to changes in his environment — are how the trauma of his early weeks marked him. Though he has been safe and warm and loved for all but a very few weeks of his life, those weeks remain with him.

One Voice of the Dark Goddess

I often hear people apologize for complaining about things in their lives, as if complaints are invalid and unnecessary. I carry in mind something I remember from a book I read  years ago, Sylvia Brinton Perera’s Descent to the Goddess. Here is one very memorable quote:

  Complaining is one voice of the dark goddess.  It is a way of expressing life, valid and deep in the feminine soul. It does not, first and foremost, seek alleviation, but simply to state the existence of things as they are felt to be to a sensitive and vulnerable being.  It is one of the bases of the feeling function, not to be seen and judged from the stoic-heroic superego perspective as foolish and passive whining, but just as autonomous fact — ‘that’s the way it is.’  Enki’s wisdom teaches us that  suffering is part of reverencing.

This sentiment feels really appropriate now that we have reached the one year mark of life being altered by the COVID-19 pandemic. In a way this past year feels like a lost year — I don’t know about you but I find it hard to remember many specifics about the last year, except for a pervasive anxiety and a desire for something resembling normal to return. We all number losses, some in our families, among our friends, and overall a number of dead too big to really comprehend. That hope is now available as we become vaccinated and greater freedom of movement has lightened the collective mood a bit and whatever will be our new “normal” begins to seem possible again, so too do we begin to hear complaints — about masks, about waiting, about lines. Anxiety about the vaccines — I had my second dose this past week with no ill effects, but many people are fearful and rumors abound in some media sectors. The anxiety of last March and April when even finding supplies of toilet paper was confounding is lessened to be replaced by chafing to get out, to do things and see people. For myself, I can hardly wait to be able to hug my children, touch my grandchildren, to be in their physical presence. And I know I have much company in this. Somehow I and the people I know and work with have to reach down inside and find just a bit more patience and continue to exercise caution.

We can complain to our heart’s content — that is a way to express the feelings of this last year. Complain and weep and feel anger and look forward. Because it will be better soon.

Finding Home

My dad was in the Army when I was growing up. My brothers, who were much older than me, spent their childhoods among extended family in Massachusetts and Connecticut. I grew up moving every two to three years, first to Japan then to Kentucky then to New Mexico then to Germany then to Pennsylvania. 

Where was home? Was it where my grandmother lived? But she died when I was not yet 14. Or was it where I was born? But we moved away from there when I was 5 and never lived there again. People would ask me where I was from, what place I called home and I would freeze with uncertainty — because I didn’t know. For me, home had become where my stuff and I lived; my stuff made home for me.

So I have thought a lot about home over the years — what it means, what makes home.

In December I was asked if I would like to offer a program at the Maine Jung Center. I immediately jumped at the chance and told them I wanted to present on “What is Home?”. And so on 3 Sundays in March I will meet with folks to talk about and write about Home (follow the link if you’d like to attend — it will be on Zoom).

I have lived in Maine since 1972 — it just hit me that is almost 50 years! If home is to be had in my life, then it is Maine. I lived in and not far from Portland for almost 30 years. I loved Portland and especially loved the duplex I lived in there my last 7 years — in fact when a fire destroyed it around 5 years ago, I felt its destruction keenly. In 2005 my husband and I moved to Belfast, Maine. For the last 16 years we have rented a house with perhaps the best view in Belfast, though the house itself is, to be charitable, a bit funky. The view of the bay has been enough for all this time to make the quirks of the house tolerable. But things became a bit difficult when the steep stairs began to pose problems for me. Then came the knowledge that the owners hope to sell it. Through the network of friends we have here we learned of first one possibility then another. And so it has come to be that in a couple of moths we will move to another house, less than a mile from where I am writing this today. We will lose the view but gain a house that is less quirky and easier for us to live in. The sixteen years I have lived in this house has been the longest I have lived anywhere. I’ll miss the view — the house not so much. 

After all these years it seems home is still in large measure where I live with my stuff, so long as my stuff and I are in Maine.

Muddling Through

For the last couple of weeks I have written about traditions and their importance for the holidays. Today I am thinking about the song, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”

The first time I remember really hearing the lyrics to the song was when I was in college. I was home with my parents. At the time they were going through a very tough period and it was a far from joyous holiday. They lived in suburban D.C. then. It was Christmas Eve, raining and we went to a sad little restaurant for lunch. I heard the song and it resonated so deeply with the mood I was experiencing. Though no one said it, I knew each of us was hoping that the next year all their troubles would be out of sight. 

The song comes from the movie, “Meet Me in St. Louis” with Judy Garland who of course sings it. It happens that this movie is one of my daughter’s all time favorites so I have seen it many times. It’s not the song that most people remember from the movie — “The Trolley Song” is the one most people associate with it.

So many of the songs we hear and sing to celebrate this season are about joy and celebration, but his one and one other, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” stand out because they strike a different note — one of sadness. Not coincidently both songs came out during WW II.

Here are the lyrics, as sung by Judy Garland, in the movie and try to see them in the context of our current situation. In 1944, when the movie came out, the future was very uncertain and many were separated from loved ones, a situation not unlike ours today.

“Have yourself a merry little Christmas,
Let your heart be light,
Next year all our troubles will be out of sight.

Have yourself a merry little Christmas,
Make the Yuletide gay,
Next year all our troubles will be miles away.

Once again as in olden days,
Happy golden days of yore,
Faithful friends who are dear to us
Will be near to us once more.

Some day soon we all will be together,
If the fates allow,
Until then we’ll have to muddle through somehow,
So have yourself a merry little Christmas now.”
~Hugh Martin

The circumstances in which we are living — over 315,000 people in the US dead from the virus as of this writing– and our anxiety about its spread, the admonitions to avoid travel and to stay at home, seem so similar to the mood my parents talked about of WW II. Last weekend my husband and I drove to where my adult children live to drop off their Christmas gifts. It was a chance to get out of the house, something we both needed. And it was wonderful to see them. But as we drove away from my daughter and her husband, I felt an ache — the ache of having been able to see them, talk with them for a bit outdoors, separated by distance and masks and unable to do the natural hug and touch that is so much a part of being with family. My whole body ached from that necessary distance. 

My son and his family, my daughter and her husband, and I and my husband — we all have Christmas trees decorated with ornaments accumulated over the years. Each one conjures up memories of Christmases past, times when we could be together and laugh and hug and be with each other. This year it seems especially important to honor those traditions in every way that we can given the limitations COVID-19 has imposed. This evening my husband and I will choose one of the many Christmas movies out this year and watch it and I will talk with him about what it was like when my kids were little. Tomorrow we will virtually gather together via Zoom. We will open presents. Laugh. Enjoy what we can and do our best to muddle through and have a merry little Christmas now.

I wish for you, whatever your traditions around this time of year — whether Christmas or Solstice or Hanukkah or just winter — that you immerse yourselves in them. That you, as I and my family will, hold on the hope that next year we really will all be able to be together, that fates will indeed allow that. And for this year, like me, you will muddle through. Celebrate being alive. Share love and kindness. And if the sadness and stress and worry become too much, reach out. You can find me via email. And I will be here.

Merry Christmas! Happy Holidays!

 

What I’m doing today

We got snow the other day, not as much here as further south of us. Though this photo is not new, it looks very much like that today. So today is a good day to wrap Christmas gifts and make Chinese curry buns for my kids. In more normal years we see my son and his family sometime around the 17th which is my granddaughter’s birthday. And we go to my daughter’s for Christmas dinner. But, as we all know this is no normal year. Tomorrow we will drive down to Portland then to the tiny town where my daughter lives and drop off presents. It will be hard not to hug them but at  least we will see them, albeit at a bit of a distance. And we will get out of our house for a bit.

I used to have a section of my blog for recipes — that was many years ago now. The following for Chinese curry buns is not only a favorite of my kids but also the most requested recipe I posted. Today I bring you that recipe once more.

This recipe is adapted from Dim Sum: The Delicious Secrets of Home-Cooked Chinese Tea Lunch, out of print but probably available used.

Dough:

1 T. dry yeast

1 3/4 C warm water

3/4 C sugar

1 tsp baking powder

6 1/2 C all purpose flour

Dissolve yeast and sugar in warm water. Immediately add the baking powder and then the flour. Knead until the dough becomes elastic ad smooth. Place in a big bowl, cover with damp cloth and allow to rise until dough doubles in bulk. Punch it down and it is ready to stuff.

Filling:

1 lb ground pork

2 stalks green onion, finely chopped

1-2 T curry powder

1 T. hoisin sauce

1 T. catsup

1 T. soy sauce

1 T. oil

Brown the pork in oil. Add all the seasonings and then the green onion. Mix well. Chill completely.

To make buns, divide dough into around 36-48 balls. You may then roll out each ball into a disk or shape with your hands. Try to leave the center somewhat thicker than the edges. Place a spoonful of filling in the center of the disk. Then bring the edges up and into the center. The dough should self-seal as you do this. Check to make certain no liquid leaks out. Then place sealed side down on greased cooking sheet. Set buns 2 inches apart and allow to rise for an hour.

Brush buns with mixture of 1 beaten egg white, 1 tsp. water, 1/4 tsp. sugar. Bake at 350F for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown.

Enjoy! If your family is like mine, they will be gone in a flash!

 

Traditions(cue Fiddler on the Roof)!

Christmas 1951

As you can see, the photo is my family’s Christmas brunch in 1951. The brunch was my grandmother’s annual event. Everyone in the family who could attended. I am the little girl in red sitting on the floor on the left . Today I am the only person in the photo who is still alive, not so surprising given that it was taken almost 70 years ago.

Families develop traditions to mark holidays and birthdays and other significant events. Some last for several generations. My grandmother’s Christmas brunch ended when she died — all of the members of the family scattered over the years so it would not be possible to gather like we did that year.

In my family, of course we developed holiday traditions. Foods I always prepared — like the Mexican wedding cookies my mother always made, though she shaped hers like fingers, or molasses sugar cookies using my grandmother’s recipe written in her hand on a now yellowed index card.

You never know when you do things that this thing might become a tradition. Like the fact that starting when my son was 4 and my daughter 7, we went to the movies on Christmas Eve. What started as a way to distract my son who was obsessed with Santa and wound up tight as could be with excitement. It was only the next year that we discovered we had started a tradition, one that continued for many years, surviving a divorce and the coming of new family members. Even this year of confinement, my husband and I will settle down Christmas Eve and watch a movie, to keep in our own small way what has become a charming memory of a little boy who had so much trouble containing his excitement.

 

This morning I awoke to a text with the photo above from my son. He announced the continuation of another sort of odd and maybe charming family tradition, the Birthday Cereal. When he and his sister were kids, any trip to the supermarket threatened the argument and much whining about why heavily sugared cereal was not on the menu at our house. I don’t remember just when or how I decided that they could choose on their birthday a box of the forbidden cereal of their choice but decide I did and so a family tradition was born. And as their birthdays are separated by just 2 months, judicious conferring and selection meant that this forbidden fruit could be stretched out over quite a while. So this morning he and my daughter and I had a fun text conversation about cereals of their youth. Great start to this snowy day.

Today is my granddaughter’s 6th birthday. It seems she chose Lucky Charms. May the tradition go on and on! Happy Birthday, Hope!

 

Thinking About Thanksgiving

It’s Thanksgiving Day. I come from a New England family, Mayflower descendants even so Thanksgiving was always sort of “our” holiday. After we moved back to the States from Japan, where my father was stationed during the Korean War, he was mistakenly sent to Ft. Knox, KY and we were there Thanksgiving the year I was 8. While he waited for new orders, my dad was put in charge of the mess halls for reasons known only to the Army. We were to eat there with the troops but I got the mumps and so we missed that. I remember my mother learned from the mess hall cooks to cook the turkey in a paper bag that year. Other than that year, all of the Thanksgivings of my childhood blend together. 

Not being a big turkey lover, I confess I found it hard to wholeheartedly embrace the feast. It seemed to me to be mostly about me doing a huge amount of cooking for a meal that lasted only a fraction of the time it took to prepare — and then came the clean up. And I have felt growing ambivalence about the myths surrounding Thanksgiving, the myths that make my people the heroes and good guys and the Native Americans at best ignorant savages. 

My town was among the first in Maine to rename Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day. And that movement has grown, not without pushback but slowly the change grows. It is time now to face the reality of Thanksgiving. 

The holiday arrives in the midst of a national struggle over racial justice, and a pandemic that has landed with particular force on marginalized communities of color. The crises have fueled an intense re-examination of the roots of persistent inequities in American life. NY Times

Against this background, I have been reflecting about how we do need a thanksgiving but one not so connected to our history of racial injustice.

Every day we are confronted with the horrible mounting death toll from this pandemic. As I write today, the toll is at 262,000 souls. And rising. It is unimaginable. I try to visualize the number — little lights all over the map going out one by one. In my small town, recently the woman who tended the garden in Post Office Square became one of those numbers. We all must live with the anxiety of knowing that this invisible force, this virus is everywhere in our lives. Many, hopefully most of us wear masks, avoid unnecessary trips outside of our homes, do whatever we can to protect ourselves and our loved ones. Many of us have forgone spending this holiday with family in order to avoid travel and the spread of infection. But millions have not heeded the warnings from public health officials. Still the death toll rises and likely there will be a spike around Christmas. To fully realize what is happening is to face into horror — so many people dead. So many people ill. A terrible toll exacted from doctors and nurses caring for the ill. 

It came to me the other day what we might do at the end of this, maybe a year from now if the effort to vaccinate everyone has succeeded and we enter a recovery period. When the crisis has ended, I feel we will need two events to mark what we have passed through: first a National Day of Mourning to publicly acknowledge our dead and our grief. And then a day of Thanksgiving that we survived, we passed through this terrible time. 

I am just one person living in a small town in Maine. I have no idea how to bring these events into existence. By writing this, by linking to it on FaceBook and Twitter, maybe enough of you will share my idea and maybe we can together actually make it happen. Feel free to share the link with anyone you believe might be interested. Please share your feelings and thoughts in the comments below.

Be Still My Heart

What was rumored a few weeks ago is becoming a reality — In Treatment Season 4! Uzo Aduba (Emmy® winner for “Mrs. America” and “Orange is the New Black”) will play the lead role of the therapist at the center of the season, Dr. Brooke Lawrence.

Back in 2008 when the series first ran and this site was new, I became a big fan and wrote about each episode as it ran. You can find these posts still by selecting In Treatment above and choosing the season you wish to read about. If you haven’t seen this series, I urge you to do so — it is available on DVD and if you subscribe to HBO Max, is available there. And of course, do read my posts and ask questions and comment — more discussion is welcome.

In my mind, this is the best dramatic presentation of therapy I have seen. Of course the therapy is compacted and made more dramatic for purposes of the drama. But still, it is faithful to the basics.

In sadder news, Daniel Menaker, who wrote my favorite novel about psychoanalysis (this is a genre, you ask??), died this week. His book,The Treatment, which was also made into a movie, is based on his own analysis. The book is funny and moving and well worth the read.

Home

Every twice in a while when I am a little bored, I sometimes watch an episode or two of the HGTV show “House Hunters”. It can be almost addictive, watching couples and families with their list of must haves in a new house — the house must have a kitchen with granite counters and stainless steel appliances. There must be a large “master suite” with an equally large master bathroom. And even the bathroom must have updated fixtures. Even more surprising was the amount of space these people felt they needed. Even couples without children and not planning to have any often wanted four or five bedrooms and 3000+ sq. ft. 

I am hoping to offer a workshop on What is Home? next spring, which has taken me back to a favorite book of mine House As a Mirror of Self: Exploring the Deeper Meaning of Home,  by Claire Cooper Marcus. Growing up as I did as an Army kid, the houses I lived in were provided by the Army and we had little to no freedom of choice in the appearance or style of the houses. Due to my history of home, I like to think about houses and what they say about us.

So what does it mean that people want huge kitchens, designed not so much for cooking convenience, as many of these huge kitchens require many steps in order to prepare food simply because they are so large, but as exemplars of luxury and being up-to-date? I am not speaking here of really high end houses — most of what I saw were for middle to upper middle class people who would not have others preparing food or cleaning for them. And what is it that makes relatively new but white appliances not acceptable? What makes stainless steel so important? What does it mean? What are these people wanting their kitchens to show about them? Is it only about prosperity and success? And today as we see into the homes of many news people and pundits who often speak from their kitchens, I am impressed by the elegant and very large kitchens.

Now the whole concept of the huge master suite rather amuses me. I use my bedroom for sleep and related activities. It needs only to be large enough to comfortably accommodate the bed, a couple of bureaus and allow us room to move around a bit. My bedroom is 13′ x 14.5′ and it is plenty for us. But these master suites were often larger than some apartments I have lived in in the past. In a family with children, what does it mean to have so much space set apart for adults only? And why must it be so much larger than an ordinary bedroom?

I live with my husband in a 1000 sq. ft. house. It is plenty big enough for both of us; in fact we could easily and comfortably live in a smaller place. So I try to imagine what it would be like for us to be in 3000 or more sq. ft., just us and the three cats. What would that be about? 

In my town there is a shortage of affordable houses, or what is sometimes called “workforce housing”. Were the discussions not often acrimonious it might be amusing that for many people this term, “workforce housing” connotes subsidized housing for low income people. And in the discussions a deep suspicion and antipathy for renters leaks in, renters being almost lesser beings than home owners. What does this mean about our notions of “home”?

On the other end of the scale are “tiny houses”. The typical small or tiny house by definition is a home with square footage between 100 and 400 square feet. The house may be mounted on wheels and thus also be movable. Many look to this movement as a desire to downsize. And predictably there are shows on tiny houses too.

I have some ideas forming about these extremes in housing and what they mean about what home is today.. But I am interested in what you think. What does it mean that expectations are for so much or so little.

One of those days…

I had all kinds of ideas for what I wanted to write about today – more about therapy or maybe some thoughts I have about a workshop I am developing or maybe the way the flowers in the garden are hurling their beauty out for us to see before frost comes in a matter of weeks to make everything brown and gray again. But I can’t wrap my mind round those things today.

I am sad about RBG’s death.

Heartbroken about all the people who have died in this horrible pandemic — in my mind’s eye, I see them as tiny lights blinking out, one by one by one.

I am tired of the confinement of the pandemic, of the anxiety it arouses, knowing this invisible virus could bring the end to my life.

I missing able to touch people and be touched — and deeply grateful for the enduring and endearing presence of my husband. 

I feel the anxiety so many of us feel about the upcoming election. I eagerly await the arrival of my ballot so I can vote.

So what do I do on a day like this? 

Well, it is chilly here this morning, so we gave in and turned on the heat for the first time this season. It feels good.

I have loads of yarn. Knitting socks feels satisfying, the magic of a single thread, unbroken from toe to top, delights me. And everyone can always use socks.

My Kindle is full of books. Today I choose to read one in paper.Good books and good yarn and a mug of tea go a long way to soothing.

What do you do to soothe yourself, to care for yourself in these anxious times?