Monthly Archives: March 2015

Salad That Sings

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops a salad that sings in the sky.If salads could sing, mine would sound like a Mozart sonata. Infused with joy, my salads are lifesavers lifting me from a sea of sadness. These cheerful creations get me focused on something other than my loss. They help anchor me to a community of friends.

It started out years ago when I was part of a small foodie group that made the rounds of regional restaurants and got together Saturday nights to cook what we’d toast as “the best food in Ithaca tonight.” The others in the group were much more accomplished cooks than I. So each week my contribution was the salad. Not too much stress; if I botched the salad, there was always an appetizer, a main course, the cheese course, and two desserts. We wouldn’t go hungry. Salads became my specialty.
“What can I bring?” I ask now when invited to dinner. Almost always I hear, “Can you make a salad?” And most of the time, based on the individuals, the season, and the main dish or theme of the dinner, I get an immediate idea for the conglomeration I will build.

Making salad for friends is almost a ritual: spreading a blanket of greens, chopping on the ancient cutting board, mixing in pomegranates, pistachios, sugar snap peas, or florets of Romanesco broccoli. Into the bright concoction I throw cheeses, nuts, legumes, seafood, fruit, … sometimes even edible flowers. I top each bowl with something beautiful, like splashes of yellow bell peppers, confetti of red cabbage, a snowfall of scallion, roasted cubes of sweet potato.

My salads are celebrations of the sweet and savory, colors and crunch, local ingredients and exotic delicacies. And of the world that is ever turning, to which I still belong despite my grief. When you dive into my gift, the bowl that brims over in greens and gratitude, maybe you can tell: each toss is a song of love for those who have seen me through hard times.


How do you take care of the ones who take care of you? What do you put into your favorite salads?



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Sunrise on my Face

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, crashes into concrete countertop and gets a shiner like a landscape on her face.When the phone rang I ran to answer it, still wearing the eyeglasses meant for sitting and reading, or sitting and driving. I was not reading or driving or sitting when I fell and crashed head first into the concrete counter top. And then to the floor, phone in hand.
“Uh, … hi,” I said into the cell phone, noticing my glasses in two pieces on the floor next to me. I also noticed my right arm and left knee were sore and there was a sharp pain coming from my right shoulder blade. From the throbbing in my head, I was sure I had a concussion.

I called my sister. The one who’s a doctor in Massachusetts, not the one who sends me gift-cards and recipes from Florida.
“Do you think I should go to the hospital?”
If you ask my sister a question she will answer you with a billion more questions.
“Did you black out? Do you have any memory loss of what happened before you fell or right after?” she began the interrogation. “Headache? Drowsiness? Confusion?” We went over exactly what happened. And the signs of trouble to watch for: headache, nausea, vomiting. She mentioned icing and heating and I wondered how I could tend so many different bruised places.

“You’re probably going to have a shiner by tomorrow,” she said. I thought of the black eye and changing landscape of my face when I broke my nose three years ago: the colors of oceans, then of summer grass, and finally a shade like wheat ready for harvest.
“Thanks, Doctor Botie. I hope you’re not going to charge me for your services today,” I said, thinking we were done.
“Who phoned?” she asked. Was she still assessing my mental status or was she just being nosey now?
“It was a telemarketer!” I said, suddenly remembering. Then right away I knew I had stumbled into this week’s blog post.

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Looking for Joy, Finding Trouble

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, Photoshops her Havanese dog's eye in a landscape of fields and dark clouds.I’m trying to find joy here. In the remnants of a record breaking winter, I will embrace almost anything nonthreatening, as joy. Like my dog that tiptoes to each of the last little islands of ice in the driveway, preferring to potty on leftover snow rather than contend with the mud. Rallying my brightest spirits, I carry Suki from one patch of icy snow to another, cheering her on, “Yes, Suki, you can do this.” And I scan the clouded sky wondering, where’s the joy?
Because it’s for sure not going to be joyful when all this snow melts. The huge avalanche slowly slipping off my roof, the high peaks plowed right and left along the length of the driveway, the packed-down path to the front door, … I mean, where is all this melting snow gonna go? Where else but flooding into the house? Thunderbeckon.

Thunderbeckon. THUNder-beck-n. The name tumbles in my head. I did not create this; it was in a book I read 20 years ago. Beneath the dark depths of some ocean there was a shipwreck or some deep-sea topographical protrusion that, in a storm, could dash a ship to shards. Thunderbeckon became the name for the cumulus cloud lumbering in my head during the journey with my daughter through the wilds of cancer. “Your cancer is my cancer,” I’d told Marika when my breath got stuck in my gut. Thunderbeckon meant Trouble. Major, big-time, high stakes Trouble.

“Everybody’s Got Something,” Robin Roberts, anchor on ABC’s Good Morning America, titled her memoir in which she tells about overcoming cancer and other challenges. Another anchorwoman, Erika Castillo of KFOX14, who I keep up with on Facebook, now gears up for her own fight. My list of chemo warriors grows. But as memories of cancer get farther from home, my own nightmares have shrunk in gravity.

These days I allow myself to get headaches over smaller stuff or over things that worry others: The smoke alarm going off at 4:30AM two nights in a row. Skunks in my garage. Snakes under the deck. The computer that keeps quitting on me. Friends’ daughters who have been sick or arrested or are leaving home for good. And then there’s my own son who is packing up his gear again. His duffel lies stuffed on the laundry room floor.
“Mom, I’m going to El Paso,” he says. “Remember the friends I stayed with last time? Well, Erika was diagnosed with cancer.”


What Thunderbeckons keep you awake nights?



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Grief Changes Us

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, wearing cactus and thanking her lucky stars she's not roadkill.“What kind of progress do you feel you’ve made?” This was the question posed after each member of the small group checked in with a brief personal status report. For various reasons, people were uncomfortable with the question. “Have you experienced any movement?” it was rephrased. They went around the table twice before it became obvious I had not contributed.

Progress implies a destination or goal. Progress is what I am making with my manuscript. But I do not have a direction for my grieving. I don’t believe grief is something to get over or through.
Movement, yes; grief changes. I have changed.
Last week marks four years since my daughter died and I am not the same person I was before. I am no longer stuck like a bled-dry carcass getting pummeled on the highway.

Realizing I would have to say something to the group, I quickly came up with an idea: “People,” I said, as in, “people became more important to me since my daughter’s death.” The first thing that flies out of my mouth is often the closest I can get to the truth:

When my daughter died, I thought I was alone. I couldn’t see beyond my wretched self. Marika had left behind a heartbroken brother and father, aunts and grandparents. Friends. But I was too deep into my own misery. It took time to discover other parents in pain and people struggling with all kinds of loss. Later still, I began to hope I could offer comfort to others who grieve:

I want to tell those who are new to grief that it does change; it gets lighter, especially when you share with other people.

I want to thank all the people who hugged, wrote, called, emailed, responded to me on my site and on Facebook. If it weren’t for you I might still be roadkill.


How have you been changed by loss?


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Senior Moments?

Senior Moments? - After seeing the movie Still Alice, Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, worries about having Alzheimer's.I entered the gym thinking about the movie, Still Alice, wondering if I had early Alzheimer’s since I misplaced my wallet and had more than my regular share of senior moments the past week. Forgetfulness, memory loss, slowed thinking, difficulty concentrating, losing track of time, anxiety, depression, feeling detached and isolating oneself are symptoms common to both Alzheimer’s and grief. It’s been almost four years since my daughter died but lately I’ve been losing and forgetting everything, all over the place. And after seeing Still Alice, I dreaded getting Alzheimer’s as much as I dreaded getting cancer.

“Robin?” A voice grabbed me from my thoughts. “Shoshanna, Marika’s friend,” said a beautiful young woman who did not look familiar. I thought, Shoshanna? I only know one Shoshanna, my daughter’s friend. But this isn’t Shoshanna. The stranger hugged me. I was aware she was warm from her workout while I was cold from outside.

“Oh hi. How are you? What are you doing these days?” I asked, searching her eyes for some connection. For a full minute I listened and hoped my face did not reveal my confusion. It felt like the scene from the movie where Alice stands, lost, staring at a spot she’d frequented most of her life.
Slowly, as this vibrant young woman spoke, it came back to me: Shoshanna as a kid sitting on a staircase outside her mother’s house, her father snapping pictures at a prom, Shoshanna at the house, visiting Marika at the hospital. Wild, unpredictable. Loyal. The breathy awkwardness of the younger Shoshanna was now replaced by a smooth confidence radiating from the adult before me.

Showering after my exercise class, I wondered how different Marika would have looked as a twenty-six year old. I thought of Shoshanna. This was someone who will remember my daughter long after I die or if I sink into Alzheimer’s and can no longer remember what I have or have lost. I wished I had recognized her sooner and greeted her more warmly. She would have left the gym by the time I dressed. “Visiting my parents for the break, … DC, … Michigan,” she’d said. Maybe I’d never see her again. Maybe if I did, I would not recognize her at all next time. And perhaps, if I slid down the slopes of dementia, she would not recognize me. It’s probably a good thing that what I worry about is heavier than what I can hang onto.


Does anyone else ever fret about getting Alzheimer’s? What keeps you up at night?

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