Monthly Archives: October 2017

Rituals for Leaving Home

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photographs her Havanese dog standing on top of her suitcase painted in a pre-travel leaving home ritual.When I leave home to go to Australia I will kiss the dog on her nose eighteen times. I will build a tiny campfire by the pond and ponder where I’m going. I’ll buy a new book. And pay all my bills.

Before setting off on a trip I always clean the house, and eat every last thing in the fridge, stashing away a frozen pizza so I shouldn’t return home hungry to a completely barren house. Other pre-travel practices involve weeks of packing and repacking my luggage, and painting or repainting the red and yellow dots on my bags to make My Bags look different from all the other black rolling suitcases.

These are simply rituals, small acts I do to make myself feel comfortable. Grounded. To give me strength, maybe. These are not things one HAS to take care of, like arranging for houseplants to be watered and the mail to be brought in. No, these practices are to reduce stress. And express my gratitude for having this home that hugs, and holds, and sometimes hides me.

As part of my farewell ritual, I try to have everything all packed and ready at least a day or two before my actual departure date so I can have the last day, or the last evening, to sit still and listen to the sounds of the house from my favorite spots inside and out. So that I have time to remind myself that this is where I belong, and this is the place I will return to.

The very last things I do before leaving: I stand before the life-size portrait of my daughter who died, and invite her to come with me (or at least to lend me her strength while I am gone). Then I look around the house like it might be the last time I ever see it.

My pre-travel leaving-home ritual enables me to face the world. Whatever happens next, whatever chaos or misfortunes I may encounter in my travels, I know I will find peace, order, balance, … my roots, right where I left them, when I return home.


What do you do as you get ready to travel away from home?

From Strangers to Friends

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops hands reaching out over a scene of brick wall and staircase.“I’m at the bricks. Just keep walking toward the pavilion. I want to show you my son’s brick,” a new friend said when I phoned, confused about exactly where we were meeting up in the park. My daughter’s favorite spot in Ithaca, the Stewart Park Pavilion was a place I thought I knew well.
“What bricks?” I wailed into my cell phone, “Where?”

“Right there,” my friend pointed proudly, when we finally caught up. A cozy corner I hadn’t noticed before was paved with donated bricks, a fundraiser for the park. We stood together admiring the brick engraved with her son’s name. Zacariah. She was telling me the story of how they’d misspelled his name, when suddenly my eye was drawn to another brick. One brick away. Right there, it said, Marika Warden. My daughter. I stopped breathing. For a second I didn’t understand what I was seeing. Someone, probably her father, had dedicated a brick to Marika. And one more brick away from that was a brick for my son who is still alive and thriving on the other side of the country.

You wouldn’t think a few little bricks could deliver such joy. But for a mom, the most wonderful thing is to know her children are loved and remembered. My friend and I stood there marveling at this new connection. “It’s like we’re neighbors,” I said, “like family.”

That was just days ago. And here I am getting ready for my trip to the other side of the earth, to Australia. Responding to my posts, several bereaved mothers from Australia have been popping up on my Facebook pages and online support groups. We’re making plans to meet up during my travels. Warmhearted women. They’ve reached out across cyberspace sharing the stories of our children. Some of us watched the life wane out of our kids’ eyes from addictions or cancers. Others got the dreaded phone call that ended their worlds. We were strangers. Until we shared our stories.

And while I’m counting the days until we meet up in person and discover things we have in common, I realize that bricks can hit you hard on the head or lead you to places you might never have found on your own. And maybe the coincidence of the brick at Stewart Park in Ithaca, New York, is a forerunner to what lies ahead in Australia. I have to wonder, how many bricks away from each other are we all?



Stuffed Puppy’s Final Trip: Australia

Robin botie of ithaca, New York, photoshops her daughter Marika Warden's stuffed animal before taking it to Australia to be cremated in a ritual to celebrate love and life.This is Puppy. She is going to Australia. Her third trip there. This time she will not be coming back.

Stuffed Puppy. A gift to my daughter shortly after she was born, Puppy spent almost every night of Marika’s twenty years tucked in the crook of her arm. Every time Marika left home for more than a day she took Puppy. Camp, vacations, weekends with friends, hospitals, and a year of college. In 2010, with cancer in remission, Marika probably brought Puppy to Australia. Puppy traveled there with me in 2012, as I scattered Marika’s ashes.

Puppy was always key to my communications with Marika. My words came out differently when they channeled through Puppy. Puppy didn’t say, “Don’t you have homework to do?” She said, “Can I do homewawk wiv you?” Years later, I would regularly fish Puppy out of hospital beds and pose her so Marika, returning from radiation, would find Puppy on top of the bed, hunched over a tea mug with napkin and cookie, like Puppy had a secret life of her own. Like I was leaving my daughter a kiss when we were no longer on touching terms.

Ragged love-worn Puppy. With her brownish matted fur and long floppy ears, she often got mistaken for a rabbit. She looks kinda haggard now, threadbare in places. From her little alter in the middle of the house, she watches me, with a look in her shiny plastic eyes like she doesn’t quite trust me. Like, she’s wondering if I’ll make good on my promise to “return” her to her girl.

“Okay, what a dope, what the heck,” you’re saying, “It’s just a piece of stuffed polyester.” But no, Puppy is a part of myself I wasn’t able to let go of the first time I went to Australia. And now, five years later, I am going back, ready to cremate Puppy and toss her ashes into the sea. Hopefully, there will be other mothers to celebrate with me. Maybe they, too, will have read Margery Williams’ The Velveteen Rabbit to their children, sniveling with tears spilling down their faces when they got to the part where the little boy’s stuffed bunny gets tossed out to a rubbish pile. And maybe they’ll understand that I need to wrap up Puppy’s time here on earth because I can’t bear to think of my daughter’s beloved stuffed animal being heartlessly dumped into the trash after I die.


What did you hang onto for its sentimental value? What brings you comfort?

No Time Out From Heartbreak

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops a cow trapped in the piping of a dairy products facility.There are some things in this world I am never going to understand.

Like massacres. Killing. Cold-bloodedness. And inhuman cruelty.

Last week too many mothers had their hearts broken. Their stories and the faces of their children filled my head even after I turned off the TV. I tried to escape the images of their agony, but wherever I turned, in Wegmans, in the woods, Netflix, Facebook, …their despair followed me.

It was too difficult to write about people senselessly losing their lives. And the tormented families and friends left behind. Memories of my own pain resurfaced each time I tried.

So I sequestered myself in the quiet corner of my living room, in the depths of my computer and the distraction of Photoshop, thinking I could paste together a pure fresh collage on a blank canvas. There was no escaping. Even there, in the limitless layers of Photoshop, I found traces of my own heartlessness.

What do You Google? And Why?

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops a silkscreened design she made for Silk Oak, to illustrate grieving cats. Thinking about Life Before Cell Phones used to give me a headache. But now it’s Google, the Internet search engine for quick easy retrieval of information, that I cannot imagine living without.

Vital information. Like, how to take grease stains out of grout. Like, what do screech owls sound like? Like, what is chermoula and how do you make it without cilantro?

Before Google, I would wonder about something, and maybe try to search for an answer in the library. Most of the time I simply accepted that the world was full of puzzles I’d never solve. There were too many questions one couldn’t ever hope to answer, even with the help of the sharpest librarian. Like, what ever happened to Mark Newhouse, my first boyfriend?

There are things I search for regularly on Google. Like synonyms, and chili recipes. And I google my own name periodically to see what others, who might be googling me, can see. A few times a year I google, Where is Marika Warden? My 20-year-old daughter who died 6 ½ years ago. You wouldn’t think anything could change about her. But every time I search, Google yields different information. Last week, in addition to the regular old obituaries, Google listed a White Pages link for her. When I clicked on it I learned that Marika J Warden, age 27, “Lives” in Ithaca, NY. It noted there were 13 marriage records, 2 divorce records, 1 birth and 1 death record affiliated with her name. It cheered me. Like she’s still somewhere in town, still trying for some Guinness World Record.

You can ask Google anything. Anything! Like, do cats grieve? I did not pose this question. I merely googled ‘grief’ and ‘cats’ to link these two ideas together so I could paste this kitty illustration I designed long ago for Silk Oak (google it) into this blog post. Google instantaneously connected the two, and offered up hundreds of articles on grieving cats. Which led me to wonder, what else could I connect, and why would I even want to connect things like ‘nosebleeds’ and ‘frying pans,’ and what in the world isn’t connected in some way, and why do I feel compelled to keep searching for these things?

So, after much consideration, I have an admission: I don’t google to find information. I do it because it feels good to get immediate responses. Lots of responses. It’s like receiving free gifts. And it connects me in odd ways to the rest of the world. Google confirms I am not alone; people from all over the planet are searching. Which led me to the discovery that I’m not the only one addicted to Google.


What do you google? And why?