Monthly Archives: March 2014

Carry Me Up

Robin Botie's tiramisu bowl before it broke in Ithaca, New York.Before leaving for the luncheon, I snapped a photo of the tiramisu I made. It looked perfect. But in a joyful spirit, I’d doubled the Kahlua. By the time we got around to dessert the whole thing had drowned. My friends ate most of the beautiful mess anyway. Everyone knew I’d made it with love.
A day later I broke the tiramisu bowl. The glass bowl that had contained magnificent salads and trifles slipped from my soapy hands, hit the side of the sink, and cracked.

Tiramisu in Italian means “carry me up.” That is what I did after my daughter died, when I got the mixed messages: give yourself time to heal, get over it, this will be with you forever. I carried Marika and found ways to make her part of my life. And part of my life has been to carry salad or tiramisu to friends’ dish-to-pass suppers.
“Carry me” is what my friends did.
I carried the cracked bowl to its final resting place on the top shelf of my closet.

In homage to my bowl, I hereby humbly set free my recipe:

Carry Me Low-fat Tiramisu

1. Put 16 ounces of Neufchatel cheese (low-fat cream cheese) into mixing bowl. Add 2T sugar, 1T powdered cocoa, 1T vanilla, and 3T Marsala wine (sweet or dry). Mix and let sit.

2. Pour 1¼ cups of Kahlua and 1¼ cups of strong (decaf) espresso into bowl. Halve and dip 12 ladyfingers, one at a time until saturated but not crumbling, into mixture and place in a decorative pattern on bottom of large glass serving bowl. Sprinkle generously with powdered cocoa. Let sit, covered.

3. Put 4T Birds Custard Powder and 4T sugar in medium saucepan, mix, and gradually stir in 3½ cups nonfat milk and ¼ cup Marsala. Mix until smooth, cook on medium heat stirring often until boiling. Boil 1 minute stirring constantly, remove from heat and cool 5-10 minutes.

4. Pour custard mix into Neufchatel mix and beat until smooth. Gently pour mixture over soaked ladyfingers. Halve, soak and arrange 12 more ladyfingers on top. Sprinkle with cocoa. Refrigerate. Cover when cold.

5. Just before serving, shave or grate a good dark chocolate bar over all.

Enjoy with friends. I wish you much sweetness this first week of April.

Who or what do you carry?


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What is a Miracle?

Marika Warden as a young on a moonlit beach, photoshopped by Robin Botie of Ithaca, New YorkWhat’s a miracle anyway?
For the past two weeks I’ve been glued to the TV wishing for a miracle for the families of Flight 370. In truth, I’ve been waiting for some miracle or another for most of my life.

This week I came to a realization: the miracle is that we live.
Once born, every last one of us dies. But in between being born and dying we get a gift.
For some it is a sweet comfortable time; some end up on a rocky ride. Our lives are lived in peace, in wars; in mindfulness, in oblivion; in isolation, in the midst of masses. We live in beauty and grace; we live in misery and squalor. If we’re lucky we live through good and bad and everything in between.

Some lives last a century and some are very brief. That we got here at all is the miracle. We’re all leaving town; just some of us have an earlier flight.

I need to celebrate the miracle.
We live. I live. And as I live, I will always remember those who were here with me, especially the ones I loved and was lucky enough to share time with. I am grateful for them, for dazzling days with friends, for the sun and the moon, for the privileges I have known, for the wind that makes me shiver and even for oceans that eat up airplanes and hope. For every lesson in life, both cruel and compassionate, and for every day of my time here, I feel blessed.

So how do I live when my heart’s been broken? How do I live after losing my daughter?
It’s a miracle.

What is a miracle to you?

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The Middle Ground of Grief

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshopped faces of missing passengers from malaysian Airlines Flight 370 onto a Malaysian batik design.After I finished my son’s chocolates I started on the microwave popcorn in the pantry. When all six bags of the popcorn were gone I found cookies in the freezer. Riveted in front of the television, I ate recklessly. For the whole week.

“How can you lose an airplane?” I asked the TV screen that glowed maps of islands and oceans with red arrows.

On the third day of the missing Malaysian Airlines Flight 370, CNN News aired a gathering of the passengers’ family members. That’s when it hit me: 239 people were lost. Not just a plane. In the crowd, a man cried out for his son. Even in Chinese, I knew the anguish. It transported me back to the days just before my daughter’s death, when I waited and wished for a miracle.

“Middle ground,” my sister had explained in those first days of March 2011, “is a place somewhere in between knowing that you’re winning the war and when you get those first inklings that you’re gonna lose. It doesn’t mean anyone’s giving up. But it’s a first step toward that end, an end that no one is ready to acknowledge.” The miracle didn’t come. I hovered over the hospital bed to memorize my daughter’s face.

By the sixth day, I was tuning into the TV first thing upon waking and every other hour until bedtime. Between Lost and Found is the sweet time when people hold onto threads of hope that stretch thinner with each passing minute. The eighth day I prayed it was a terrorist hijacking. Maybe the passengers were hostages somewhere in Kazakhstan?

Lost is not knowing one’s whereabouts, unable to find one’s way. Lost means something has vanished. One can be lost forever. But there is a certain finality to being found. Once found, what you thought you lost turns into a welcome event. Or it is truly lost, cannot be recovered. And hope is yanked away completely.

It is Monday, the eleventh day. I mindlessly eat a bowl of leftover tiramisu in front of the TV as the mystery of Flight 370 continues. I crave sweetness and still wait, along with the family members of the lost passengers, wishing for a miracle.

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What I Love

Quilt of photographs by Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, to remember her daughter who died, Marika Warden.It was the day after my daughter’s fourth deathday. Marika has a birthday and a deathday. They are each opportunities to celebrate the life that happened in between. The day was filled with friends who called, emailed, facebooked, and feasted on sushi. It was an uplifting time. But the day after, the sky caved in.

“This isn’t working for me. The Internet search didn’t help. I need to be spoon-fed some information here. I’m struggling,” I said in my photography class where I’m putting together a series of basic Photoshop lessons to share with hospital patients, people healing from loss, and parents of teens living with cancer. I was cranky and couldn’t think. Everything was a headache.

“Can we talk in terms of solutions rather than problems?” asked Kathy, the photography instructor. It felt like I’d been hit hard on my head. Right away I recognized my negativity, a trait I dislike and try to stifle.

“Keep coming back to what you love,” she said a short while after. And I almost cried.

So I ‘shopped a picture of my sisters eating decadent desserts. I wrote up a handout sheet to teach a cool Photoshop technique. And then I did what I’ve only allowed myself to do on events like deathdays: I went back to the snapshots of my daughter.

Marika’s hazel eyes always fascinated me. They pouted, “Why can’t we have sushi for dinner two nights in a row?” They sneered, “Way to go mom. You just exposed yourself all over the Internet.” She smiled mischievously when I asked where my chocolates went. She blasted, “Go fall off a mountain” and “Go drown yourself,” and rolled her eyes at almost everything I said. But something in me soared each time she came home.

Kathy’s words followed me home from class and stuck with me the next days as I assured myself I could “come back” to my daughter any time I want. So now I invite all my friends who get stuck listening to a world that tells them to “move on” and “get over” what dies, to “keep coming back to what you love.” It’s like snuggling in a warm quilt for a while. It can bring back sweet energy to propel you forward.


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Healing Words: Elevator Pitch

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, delivers her elevator speech in photoshopped elevator filled with peopleIn Fall to Fly: Life Follows Loss, Robin Botie, designer and dreamer in Ithaca, New York, brings her rebellious young adult daughter to life again as she hangs onto her through the wilds of cancer, crying, “Your cancer is my cancer,” and Marika blasts back, “Mom, get a life” – which is exactly what Botie must do on the other side of the journey.

This is the latest version of my elevator pitch for my book, my premise. It’s a one-sentence description that quickly conveys information about the characters, the conflict, stakes and setting. In this fast-paced world, there’s often only a minute to get a message out and get noticed. It’s supposed to be the first line of the query letter I send to get an agent.

“Fall to fly,” my daughter wrote in her poem. In her attempt to achieve health, she often had to undergo scary and painful treatments. Now it’s my turn to take the plunge. In order to get my manuscript published, I have to take the next intimidating steps.

So Tuesday I attended a Women TIES seminar in Syracuse. It was to be an easy first step. I’d simply sit in a crowd and listen to speeches about different paths to publishing. But as soon as I entered the conference room I realized I would have to introduce myself.

OMG. Who am I now? What would I say? Should I draw attention to the loss of my daughter? Could I simply say I’m from Ithaca and I’m writing a memoir? My pulse thundered in my head as I tried to think.

Suddenly I remembered I had an elevator speech.

“Hi. I’m Robin Botie from Ithaca. I’ve written a memoir about hanging onto my rebellious young adult daughter through the wilds of cancer, crying, ‘Your cancer is my cancer,’ as she blasts back, ‘Mom, get a life’ – which is exactly what I must do on the other side of the journey.”

My heart was still pounding as I sat down. It was the first time I used my premise. It wasn’t perfect and I’m sure I stuttered. But I got it out and my elevator is still climbing:
I write and Photoshop about finding life after loss because anything’s possible – even joy.

The power in putting the mess and the mission of my life into one line is exhilarating.

What is your elevator speech?


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