Monthly Archives: January 2018

Can Stinkbugs be Signs?

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops a dead stinkbug, her house is inundated with stinkbugs, dead and alive.Can stinkbugs be signs from The Other Side? The psychic medium told me to watch for hearts. Hearts would be signs from my daughter who died. But I’ve had no sightings of hearts since the conversation with the medium. And I’ve looked.

In fact, I went looking for some sign of hearts in Marika’s old bedroom. The only ones I found were on an ancient mug of mine that was holding up Marika’s prom bouquet of silk roses. I lightly stroked the fake flowers, and a dried-up stinkbug fell on my hand. Shortly after, I found another dead stinkbug lying belly up in the dog’s bed (Marika’s beloved dog that I inherited). And just a few nights ago, I was reading on the couch when one landed in my hair. I was so shaken and disgusted, I quickly captured it in a glass, ran outdoors, and shook it out into the snow. Finding them dead is a lot easier on my karma. The DustBuster is full of dead stinkbugs.

With temperatures hovering around zero, the house has been inundated with them. Yes, they’re just trying to escape the cold, but it wouldn’t be so unimaginable to think of these icky things as gifts from Marika. Who on several occasions told me she hoped I’d fall off a mountain. Told me to go f— myself. She was never going to send me roses.

Maybe I should look up and say, Thank you Marika, every time I encounter one of these hideously ugly bugs. It might make me feel more hospitable to them. Always opposing my sentiments on everything, Marika would probably insist, Mom, I think they’re cute.

In the two months since I spoke with the medium, I’ve spotted rainbows, feathers, ladybugs, cardinals, and dropped coins. Things others count as signs from their deceased loved ones. Things Marika might just as easily have considered sending me. None of these ever smacked of Marika though. Not like this spate of stinkbugs. Dead and alive. Lots. Still, no hearts.

Valentines Day is coming up. The holiday that makes me want to hide under the bed. Marika loved that day. The time when sweethearts send flowers and chocolates, and friends show off the new jewels they received from their husbands. In the stores, red hearts are pasted all over everything. But that doesn’t count as a sign.

 

What signs have you received from deceased loved ones? What signs would you like to receive? If you could, what would you send to someone you loved who died?

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Life is Complicated

On one of the coldest days of the year I declared a snow day for myself. I stayed at home in warm woolly long johns and decided I wouldn’t work. But I would still do the daily ritual of saying good morning to my ever-growing list of departed souls. And I still had to tend to the routines of feeding and walking the dog, dealing with meals and vitamin regimens, checking the water chlorination system, fetching and sorting mail, paying the multitude of monthly bills, phoning to check on various people in my life, and figuring out which appointments I could cancel from this one day of the tightly-scheduled week. Life is complicated. Crammed. It’s filled with routines and responsibilities. Whether or not I work, my time is consumed.

Space is consumed as well. The piles of possessions, books and papers, the wardrobes of my own and my dog’s, the pillows all over the house for bolstering my bad back, the leftover belongings of my daughter who died and my son who now has his own home, the parts and pieces of projects that beg to be completed… the accumulation of stuff.

Maybe that’s why I like to travel. Leaving home, I pack only what can fit into one rolling suitcase and one carry-on bag. Traveling limits the amount of physical things I have to contend with. And it detangles my time. During vacations, my life is deconstructed, like the salads I make for my friends, with just a few delectable items carefully splayed out on a white plate.

Back in November, on my first full day in Australia, I followed my tour group to the Old Melbourne Gaol where there were rows and rows of inmates’ cells. I stepped into one empty cell and shut the door on the noise of life. Squatting on the floor, I tried to imagine sleeping there countless cold damp nights with only a thin horsehair mat and scratchy blanket. This was once some criminal’s home, I reminded myself. Someone lived here, sandwiching his weary bones between a mat and a blanket. Life beyond that had to be drawn from whatever warm thoughts the prisoner had stockpiled in the depths of his mind.

Alone in the cell, my thoughts wandered to the peeling paint on the walls. Which made me remember my bathroom project that needed patching. Which took me back home to the dog, the bills that would not be paid while I was traveling, the people waiting for my calls, …the friends eating salad without me. And the ones I love.

 

What makes life complicated? Is travel an escape from routines and responsibilities?

 

 

 

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What do YOU See?

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photographs a scene that could tell a lot of different stories and mean different things to different people.What do YOU see in this picture? What story does it tell YOU? Please share your idea.

 

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How do You Put Guilt to Rest?

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photographs boulders of snow piled up at Cass Park skating rink.“What about regret or self-blame? Or remorse?” my friend asked, adding something like, “You never write about any of these.” I took that thought home with me. For a whole week I walked around thinking I had an answer:

I don’t focus on the issues that divide or isolate people. I’d rather write about the things that unite us, like loving, living, dying, losing, and finding life is beautiful anyway.

Finished. Done. This was what I was going to tell her. But then, I kept coming back to her question.

My mind drew a blank whenever I tried to get around to the far side of what was bothering me. I told myself, it’s best not to drag up old impenetrable boulders. That it’s not healthy to wallow in matters that can’t be changed. That everyone’s got some guilt going on. So, where was my guilt? When I tried to concentrate, I got an icky nauseous feeling. It’s horrendously ugly and uncomfortable to deal with regret, self-blame, and remorse.

Later, I dug deep into my most conscience-curdling thoughts to understand what I felt guilty of and regretful about. What I found was not going to fit into a 400 or 500-word blog. It mostly boiled down to my not telling my daughter she was dying, and not saying, I Love You. In trying to protect her from the painful truth, I’d been dishonest. It’s history now. Unalterable. But I need to kill the guilt. Or make peace with it. Here’s my recipe for coming to terms with guilt:

*Excavate your darkest buried thoughts to find it, and face it. Accept what happened, and acknowledge your part in it.

*Then comes the hard work of forgiving yourself. Give yourself the same empathy you would give anyone else. Be kind to yourself.

*Remember, our mistakes are part of living and growing. They make up the layers of who we are now. But our past missteps do not define us.

*Consider what this has taught you. Figure out how you can grow from this.

*Finally, bring it forward to the future. Allow it to change you. How will you constructively apply what you learned, to what you do from now on?

In the same grueling week my good friend challenged me, other friends read my blogs and praised me for being open and honest. It all encouraged me to be even more truthful.

Guilt and truth are both brutal. Yet truth can offer comfort. I lied to my daughter. But I could not have loved her more than I did. I’ve learned that speaking the truth is a gift of love, and facing the hard truth helps put guilt to rest.

 

How do you deal with guilt? What’s the most far-fetched list you ever wrote?

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What They Don’t Mention About the Cold

Robin Botie of ithaca, New York, photoshops kangaroos in the snow during the bomb cyclone.Just when you thought it couldn’t possibly get any colder, the weather channel challenges you with The Bomb Cyclone. A new term for winter hurricane, it means more cold. In your head you see scenes from the movie The Day After Tomorrow, where a super-storm plunges the planet into a new Ice Age.

There are things no one mentions about the freezing cold. How it makes you want to just hole up at home. How you crank up the heat to avoid facing frozen pipes. How you can hardly get out of bed with forecasts promising arctic blasts, massive polar vortexes, blizzards and blinding snow, damaging winds, temperatures hovering around zero, and wicked wind chill factors. Bone-chilling cold. You begin to understand the appeal of hibernation.

But sooner or later you have to brave the elements, despite the severe winter storm warnings. You dread having to dig the car out of snowdrifts, and scrape thick ice from its windows. Its engine needs warming up but you don’t dare sit in the car while it runs, for fear of carbon monoxide poisoning, so while the car idles in place, you shovel a path out the driveway to the road. And then pray as you drive over icy roads through blowing snow.

You dress in layers. Long underwear. Corduroy pants. High, SmartWool socks and waterproof shearling-lined boots with chunky treads. Hats, scarves, gloves. You throw on your warmest hoodie and downiest winter jacket with windbreaker shell and polyester-fleece lining. You’re exhausted from the effort of wrapping up when you notice your dog giving you The Signal. It needs Out. Remembering how the poor dog shivers, and limps on alternating legs in the snow, you dress it up as well. And you don’t dare let it go out alone because all the small rodents have frozen, leaving hungry coyotes out hunting.

It feels like every part of your body is shriveling in the cold. Your joints and muscles ache. Lips crack. Cheeks burn. Fingers and toes go numb. Your nose runs. It turns red. Breathing in the coldest air, the hairs in your nostrils stand on end. Your skin dries out. Hands and feet feel itchy, rough and flaky. If exposed to the bitter cold long enough, frostbite sets in. Or chilblains. And in the dark frigid winter something in your heart turns hard and cold, as well. Depression. Irritability. You become a hermit. You become a glacier.

Things could be worse, you tell yourself.

Somewhere in the world, say Australia, it is summertime. And if you were there now, watching kangaroos sleeping in the sun, you know you’d be whining about the heat.

 

How does cold affect you? What do you do to escape the cold?

 

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Another New Years Wish

Robin Botie of ithaca, New York, photographs statue of Queen Victoria in Sydney, Australia.For my trip to Australia, I joined a tour group so I wouldn’t have to do all the thinking and organizing. But they planned everything so well, I lost track of some of the things I meant to do on my own. Like eat dumplings in Melbourne. And find the exact spot in the Yarra River where I’d tossed my daughter’s ashes five years ago. On my last night in Australia, in Sydney, by the time I finished with the scheduled dinner I was tired, so I let my last opportunity to do something from my personal list slip by. And in the middle of the night I woke up miserable about it. So, early in the morning, I crept out of the hotel and walked several city blocks to the Queen Victoria Building Plaza, to drop coins in the dog wishing well.

It was the wishing well my daughter wrote about. The bronze terrier perched above it represented the beloved pet of Queen Victoria. It used to talk. A recorded message thanked people for the coins that would be donated to the deaf and blind children of New South Wales. Now the message was gone and there was more garbage inside than money. But I felt good about accomplishing my mission anyway.

Turning back towards the hotel, I noticed the statue of Queen Victoria just yards away from the wishing well. I didn’t remember it from my last trip. But now the monument of Victoria was grabbing my attention like it had some urgent message for me. For the moment, I delayed the mad dash back to catch breakfast and the van to the airport.

All I knew about Queen Victoria was from the recent movie Victoria and Abdul. After years of cloistering herself away and wallowing in grief over the death of her husband, Victoria befriended a young Indian clerk who changed her way of viewing the world. She suddenly found inspiration to carry on with her life and responsibilities, and strength to reclaim her power to rule.

For this New Year, in a world where so much is out of our control, I’m wishing you, my readers, my friends, the inspiration and strength to take control of what you can in your lives. Life is not simply a series of events that you watch happen. I wish you the power to turn a bad situation around. To find meaning, or make meaning, when everything around you feels senseless. To fill emptiness with hope. To patch your brokenness. To reclaim your opportunities. And be the ruler of your life.

 

Where will you look for inspiration in the New Year? What gave you strength in 2017?

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