Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Remembrance, Life, Earth, and Faith.

I have a huge family. On my side, 9 aunts and uncles and 29 first cousins; on my husband’s 26 aunts and uncles and god knows how many cousins.

We know almost none of them.

Growing up, both families kept in better touch, but I lost track of all of my own relatives more than a decade ago, through neglect, poor sibling relations in the older generation, my own poor relationship with my father and a family culture that never emphasized togetherness. We’re better with my husband’s family, where we at least know everyone’s name, but as they all live out West (and by “out West” I mean anywhere from San Francisco to LA to China to Thailand), we see each other in spurts when some branch of the family vacations near another.

Or when someone dies.

My husband’s cousin June, daughter of his eldest aunt, died the day before the Solstice this year. We knew June rather well, and her children, who are my age. Therefore, this Solstice Sowing is for her; I hope to be able to plant some of them in my own garden in the spring, and get some to her family in San Francisco.

Solstice Sowing is a tradition among gardeners, to plant something for the spring on the darkest day of the year, to honor the return of the sun and the promise of next year's garden. Four types of seeds are planted.

The first set of seeds are seeds of remembrance and should be seeds of flowers that remind us of someone we knew and loved but who is now gone from our lives forever. I’ve planted Angelonia, for the Angel in the name.

The second set of seeds represent seeds of life and should be for plants that will make fruit or nectar and invite birds and butterflies to our gardens. I’ve planted sunflowers, which were a gift from Renee’s Garden.

The third set of seeds should be tree seeds. We can honor Mother Nature by growing trees that will help clean the air we breathe, reduce excess sun on the soil, and provide shade for our heads on a hot summer’s day. I took a cutting from my Magnolia; despite the cold and the date, the wood was green and pliable.

The fourth set of seeds are seeds of faith, for which I have chosen Anemone. The plant you sow for “faith” should be a zone that is beyond ours in warmth. It will help us to remember that we accept the “Leap of Faith” in our hearts and know that Mother Nature is capable of miracles. Anemone is a flower filled with meaning, both mythical, traditional and personal. They represent everlasting love in the language of flowers. These are also the flower of the god, whose blood renews the earth in the spring. As a flower of the Greek highlands, they represent my own Greek heritage.

Finally, these seeds showed up in my mailbox one day, with several others. I have never been able to determine who sent them, so perhaps they’re a gift of the goddess, who will be honored to have them planted as she welcomes June back to her heart for eternity.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

If I wrote holiday greetings

Here is what happened this year:

Seng Lim left, and came back, and left again, and came back again. Nga left, and came back, and left again, and came back again. I don't think they're done.Seng Lim's off again in March, and Nga for the summer.

Nga discovered that she's smart. Our fault I suppose--parents tell their daughters one of two things: that they are pretty or that they are smart. Then the pretty ones think they aren't smart, and the smart ones think they aren't pretty. We told Nga she was pretty; I guess we assumed she knew she was smart. It's best anyway, to learn yourself that you can be both.

Seng Lim discovered that he's good-looking. Apparently women check him out when his hair is short. (He was the smart one. Sigh.)

We continue to make an oddly comfortable living despite our somewhat unconventional job situations. The count in April for our income taxes was seven W2 forms and nine 1099s. Are there really households that have only two? We seem to be managing to pay cash for Nora's freshman and sophomore years at the city college and have enough left to help her with housing. I am completely enamored with writing $1,400 checks instead of $14,000 checks, like we did for Seng. Hooray for community college.

My life changed (it was due-- if you care to check, you will see me reinventing myself about every 5 years). With yet another hours/pay cut from Light Opera Works (where I have made less each year that I have worked there-I think they are doing it wrong) they took themselves down to a level where I now work fewer hours and make a lower hourly wage there than at any of my other numerous gigs. So they got relegated to their relative status and I went looking for new things to do. I found clients for my mythical "Juno Consulting" business, discovered Chicago's sustainability community, and decided to go for my Master Gardener certification. Classes start in January 2011. I've made dozens of new friends who have re-energized me and reminded me that there's life beyond not-for-profit arts.

Yes, I invited people I met on line into my home. And lived to tell the tale.

Contemporary Art Workshop closed, leaving a huge gap in my life.

Wei signed on to sing in the Chicago Symphony for one more 3-year stint, possibly his last. In two years, it will be 40 since he first sang with the Symphony back in high school. Even though it wasn't a continual gig, that has to be some kind of record. He continues to be a star in Oak Park, with his church, concert series and children's choir. This last gig has major benefits, such as getting to meet Rick Bayless at an Oak Park cocktail party (and to eat the guacamole and ceviche that he made).

The recession cost Wei the regular monthly choir gig directing at Anshe Emet, but he continues to direct the High Holidays choir. Our dear friend and Wei's mentor Richard Proulx died, which I suppose in some sense moves Wei into line for the Chicago choral scene's eminence grise. How strange.

And so it goes.

Blessed be in 2011.

Thursday, July 29, 2010


My mother died when I was 22.

This is the single defining fact of my life. It defines me more than my children, my profession, my home, my garden, my spouse, or my acts. As Anna Quindlan once put it, you could describe me by saying "my eyes are green, my hair is brown, and my mother died when I was 22."

I have missed her, searingly, every day since that day. I noted the date that I had known my husband longer than I had known my mother. I know the date on which I will be exactly her age the day she died. I noted the date, long past, when I had lived half my life without her.

I have had to navigate adulthood on my own. I had no model from my mother's generation. There are things I will never do because I had no mother to check with, trivial, everday things like baking a roast or a pie. Family stories lost, family stories that never happened. Because my mother died when I was 22.

So when your mother dies, when you are 45, or 50 or 62, when your mother dies after your children or grown, or after your children have children, I will understand your pain, but I will not sympathize. That is when your mother is supposed to die. You have known all your life that you grow old with your partner, but lay your parents to rest as your own hair turns gray. Don't weep in my arms, at 50, because your mother has died. You cannot even imagine the gift the universe gave you, to have had her so long.

Monday, April 12, 2010


My daughter is 21 today.

My greatgrandmother was born in 1857 with England at war in India, and turned 21 in 1877 while her homeland of Turkey was at war with Russia.

My grandmother was born in 1897, while her homeland of Turkey was at war with Greece. The anti-Christian pogroms in the aftermath led eventually to her emigration to America. She turned 21 in 1918 at the end of the Great War, and emigrated, pregnant, to America five years later.

My mother was born in 1923 in a blessed moment of peace, but turned 21 in 1944, in uniform, working for the American war machine that purportedly saved the world.

I was born in 1956, hard on the heels of the Korean conflict, and turned 21 in 1977, 100 years and countless wars after my greatgrandmother.

My daughter was born in 1989, a few weeks before the Tienanmen massacre. She turns 21 while we are at war in two countries for reasons which escape me.

So here is my birthday prayer for my daughter: May your daughter turn 21 into a world with no war.