Treasured Photographs Give Way to Grief

It’s been a long wait.

My namesake Aunt Alys died in London in August of 2008. It’s taken a decade to receive the promised copies of her photographs, reminders of her enchanted youth.

As years go, 2008 was one of my worst. My younger sister fell early that year and broke her hip, further complicated by her MS. She was in rehab for a month. My mother also had a series of falls in what was the beginning of her decline. She died that year three days after Christmas. My father-in-law died of a heart attack that June and my mother-in-law passed later the same month.

The following months were a blur dealing with attorneys (solicitors) from two countries, sorting through possessions, attending funerals, and tending to a multitude of tasks, while continuing to raise my boys. It was hard.

My aunt’s executor delayed her London funeral for a month so that I could settle my boys in school before flying to England.  I looked through her albums while in London, but on the day of her funeral, her solicitor took me aside and said I would have to wait before claiming them. Things got messy from there.

Though my aunt left us a generous financial legacy, it was the photos I craved. Initially they said “it takes time”. Later they said that her friend and executor would copy the photos to CDs. I left voice mail messages, sent unanswered emails, and appealed to their sense of decency. Her friend and the beneficiary of part of her estate stopped returning my emails. Periodically, I conducted internet searches to see if her name surfaced. If you Google “Alys Milner” it turns up searches for me or my aunt.

Alys Milner (later Lancaster) posing in a Windsor Wooley bathing costume

Alys Milner (later Lancaster) posing in a Windsor Woolly bathing costume

Through a search I learned that her friend donated her albums to the Victoria and Albert Museum. I contacted the museum by email, waited weeks for a reply, and was finally contacted with apologies and assured that the photo albums were in their care.

Aunt Alys’ photos were not on display, but instead stored in the museum’s archives. I can’t imagine she would have wanted this, but her friend seemed to think it was more important to store them in a museum than to send them to her niece.

I asked the museum’s archive department if they would send me copies, but they said they were not available in digital form. I was welcome to come to the museum and make my own copies, no easy task when you live across the pond.

Last month, eleven years after my initial request, I received a letter from her solicitor asking me to confirm my address. A CD with a few copies of her photos and scrapbooks would soon be on their way.

Aunt Alys didn’t have children, and she didn’t think anyone would want her photos. I assured her that we would treasure all of them and she verbally agreed nearly twenty years before her death.

At long last, the CD’s arrived. It’s been a thrill seeing her photos once again but how I wish she were here to fill-in the details of her interesting life.

Newspaper clippings from her scrapbook.

Sharing these photos evokes a mixture of nostalgia and loss. Aunt Alys married in 1937 and two years later, England was at war with Germany. My aunt took part in the war effort, bringing clothing to bombing victims after the air raids, while my father served as a translator in India. 

My delight at finally receiving copies of these photos, gave way to an unexpected sorrow. Grief travels its own path. For now I’ll just let it be.

 

Families Belong Together

KeepFamiliesTogether

Art: Sandie Sonke

#FamiliesBelongTogether

It’s such a clever hashtag, one that if you weren’t in the know might evoke thoughts of summer picnics, trips to the beach or as a way to tag your 4th of July, Independence Day photos.

Instead, Families Belong Together is a response to the current administration’s desire to stop immigrants from crossing our southern border. Instead of compelling Congress to act on a comprehensive immigration bill, the administration has implemented what’s known as a “zero-tolerance policy” of arresting anyone crossing the border without papers. Many of these border crossings are families seeking refuge from violence and political unrest. Some have traveled for up to a month with young children, looking for a better life.

This Administration’s response: Arrest the parents, then immediately separate *families* from their children.

Let that settle in.

Las Familias Merecen Estar Unidas

Spanish version of Families Belong Together

Authorities place parents in detention centers, immediately separating them from their infants and small children. Traumatized children are placed in a separate detention center, sometimes in another *state* with no understanding of why. Images of children sleeping on the floor covered in mylar blankets have evoked outrage. Footage of crying children, desperate for their mother have all but the hardest-hearts weeping along with them. Comparisons to Japanese interment camps and Nazi Germany abound.

I attended a Families Belong Together rally this past weekend and have found solace in numbers. There were over a thousand people at the San Jose rally on Saturday, a hot, windless, mid-day gathering. Throughout the country thousands of people rallied in over 700 locations. Rallies bring people together, spread the word, and offer resources for ways to help.

I’ve also been finding temporary respite from a steady hum of depression by volunteering at Lifted Spirits, a program for homeless women in San Jose. When I’m busy and engaged helping others, it helps me feel less overwhelmed. Spending time at Lifted Spirits allows me to positively impact someone else’s life without being swallowed whole by a situation I feel powerless to change. I’ll share more about their mission in a future post.

#FamiliesBelongTogether

FamiliesBelongTogether.org

If you’re also feeling overwhelmed, here are a few resources…

Colorlines published: How You Can Support Detainees with a number of helpful resources.

…and a few inspiring words from MoveOn.org:

“More than 180 partner organizations came together to pull this off, including MoveOn, the National Domestic Workers Alliance, the Leadership Conference for Civil and Human Rights, the ACLU, faith groups such as Sojourners and the Presbyterian Church, Avaaz, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and a range of labor unions, the YWCA, scores more tremendous allies and partners, and countless local groups in cities large and small, united across lines of ethnicity, race, national origin, and language.

When you feel alone, when it’s all too much, remember that what is possible when we come together. That there is power in our numbers.

In the decades to come, people will ask themselves and each other what they did to fight the darkness at this moment in history.

On Saturday, many of us summoned a piece of an answer. We were in the streets. And we won’t stop until we turn the darkness back.”

Here are a few pics from our San Jose Families Belong Together rally.

Gun Violence in America: If we don’t give up, and don’t give in, we may just be okay

When they were young

Today I cried. The tears have eluded me all week, pressing on my chest, lingering in my throat, and craving expression and release.

I was boarding a plane for Portland when I saw the early reports of the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting last week. In my holiday cocoon I avoided the news, and for a time kept the real world at bay.

Back home the cold, brutal and devastating reality of yet another mass shooting settled in my core. I have nothing new or original to say and no words of wisdom to solve the ridiculous and intractable stale mate of guns in America.

My queen-for-a-day, pie-in-the-sky solution would be to gather every last gun on the planet and melt them to a pulp. We all know that will never happen. Members of our powerful gun lobby make a mint manufacturing instruments of death while hiding behind the second amendment right to bear arms.

With both of my boys away from home this week, I felt their absence keenly. When they were small I worried about them falling out of a tree or dashing in front of a car. My common sense parenting kept those little boys safe. Now they’re young men living in a world where school shootings have become a reality.

My friend Claire’s daughter, Chelsea, survived a school shooting in her small town of Bailey Colorado. I’ll never forgot the phone call, or the many conversations that followed over the years. A lone gunman killed Chelsea’s friend Emily Keyes at Platte Canyon High School in 2006. When Claire came to town, I would ask how they were coping. It was hard to image that kind of trauma.

This week The Denver Post published Chelsea’s guest commentary entitled: Welcome to the gun violence club – you’re not alone.

I’m moved by her words, proud to know her and at the same time deeply saddened by the burden she’ll carry throughout her life. Note: If you click on Chelsea’s editorial (and I hope you will) please refrain from reading the appalling comments that follow.

Chelsea Warren, along with Stoneman Douglas High School student and survivor Emma González, give me reason to hope. These young people are the way forward.

From the Mike and the Mechanics song: “if you don’t give up, and don’t give in, you may just be okay.

So we open up a quarrel
Between the present and the past
We only sacrifice the future
It’s the bitterness that lasts
So don’t yield to the fortunes
You sometimes see as fate
It may have a new perspective
On a different day
And if you don’t give up, and don’t give in
You may just be okay
So say it loud, say it clear (oh say it clear)
You can listen as well as you hear
Because it’s too late, it’s too late (it’s too late) when we die (oh when we die)
To admit we don’t see eye to eye
Mike and the Mechanics, 1990

Flu and Fires, Big and Small

Some weeks are better than others.

This wasn’t one of them.

Friday night, as my son left his desk, he reached down to unplug a small space heater. We were together in our home office. When he reached for the cord it was scorching-hot, so he quickly pulled his hand away. Within seconds, sparks started shooting from the electrical outlet.

space heater cord

Two-prong plug and melted cord

If you been through something like this, you know that time distorts. It slows down to a crawl, at least in your mind, as you try to absorb the information at hand.

I kept asking my son if he was okay and I could hear him say yes. I asked again and then I asked again, never taking my eyes off the sparks inexplicably shooting out of the wall. What-do-I-do, what-do-I-do, what-do-I-do?

We have a disabled fire extinguisher in the garage.

Useless.

My older son called into the room: “It’s an electrical fire, don’t use water.” Mike headed outside to the fuse box to cut the power.

scorched drapes

Scorched drapes

Sparks shuttered like oil in a hot pan, popping in place on the bamboo floor. Then the drapes caught fire…or didn’t. They’re synthetic, so they started to melt.

Think.

I backed out of the room, grabbed a chair cushion, and returned. Flushed with fear, I smashed away at the sparks. Suffocate the flames. That’s what I’m supposed to do.  Cushion in hand, I whacked at the sparks on the floor. I hit the outlet, apparently breaking the melting cord at about the same time Mike killed the power. I stood there in the dark, waiting for the fire to come back, but just as quickly it was over.

We all handle these things differently. My son joked that it was his “first fire” and I countered, “let’s call it your last.” Mike assured everyone that all was fine. We managed to make light of what could have been so much worse and even sat down to an evening meal.

About thirty minutes later we regrouped, opened the windows to some cool night air, and Mike helped me take down the scorched drapes to help with the smell. I would deal with the layer of soot in the morning.

Saturday morning dawned. Instead of feeling rested, Mike and I woke up with a bad cold.

Actually, it turned out to be the flu. I called in our regrets to a friend’s Christmas party, an evening we hated to miss. My sister and I were attending a card making class on Sunday to celebrate our October/November birthdays. I had to cancel that too.  We slept for hours, fitfully, painfully, all the while hoping our boys remained well.

Tuesday rolled around and I had to cancel my volunteer shift at a food bank. I felt about two feet tall making that call, but there are other days, other shifts, and you realize life carries on just fine without you.

In the words of someone brilliant: This too shall pass.

Having that tiniest of fires in my home taught me how quickly and unpredictably a fire can start and spread. We’re lucky. My son is fine. There is no significant damage to our home and the rest of my family is safe. We lost a few immaterial possessions and as soon as I’m well, I’ll be updating that fire extinguisher.

I’ll never own or use a space heater again.

California Wildfire Update, December 20, 2018

The big fires are out of my control. I’m trying to heed other’s advice by doing what I can without falling into that deep, dark hole of despair.  It’s been a devastating year for our beautiful state.

[The Thomas] wildfire in Southern California that sparked devastating blazes across the region remains, as of Wednesday morning, the second-largest fire in California history, with only 55 percent of it successfully contained. The Thomas Fire is not expected to be fully contained until January 2018 and is on track to become the largest fire in California history.

The Thomas Fire scorched as of Tuesday night—about 425 square miles (1,100 square kilometers), or 19 times the size of Manhattan.

In Search of Equilibrium

front porch with pumpkins

Welcome to our front porch. There’s a beautifully embroidered welcome sign, a gift from Marlene, and a trio of home-grown pumpkins

It’s hard to comprehend the bleakest October in recent memory. By day I’m trying to regain my equilibrium.  At night, though, my body betrays me. I wake with my hands closed tightly into fists and I have to remind myself to breathe. It’s been surreal.

Historically speaking, October is my favorite month. It starts with my birthday and ends with Halloween, with lots of playfulness in between.

This year my birthday dawned October 2nd with devastating news out of Las Vegas. Another senseless act of gun violence, perhaps the worst in our troubled history. There are more questions than answers; more lives tragically destroyed. Worst of all, nothing seems to change.

I received lovely birthday greetings throughout the day from family and friends. I swung through highs and lows the strangest mixture of darkness and light.

My friend Kelly and her husband Jim were due to arrive October 1st from Canada. They got a nasty flu instead, and were bed-ridden for several days. Jim had to cancel his trip entirely. We were all disappointed to lose our long-planned week in coastal Carmel

Carmel, Calfornia

Carmel by the sea

Kelly came a week later and we enjoyed the abbreviated time we had together.

alys and kelly

Kelly and I took a card class together

The day after Kelly arrived, we woke to more difficult news. An unprecedented firestorm swept through Santa Rosa late at night, destroying an entire neighborhood and damaging businesses and a major hospital. Many of the older residents were unable to escape. The loss of life is devastating.

smoky skies

Multiple spare-the-air days

I’ve been mentally “gathering my people.” My friend Leslie moved to Las Vegas three years ago to enjoy the open space and mountain air. I couldn’t reach her by text, so it was a huge relief when she marked herself safe via Facebook.

My friend Marcia lives in Santa Rosa and plans to visit today. It’s been on the calendar for months, but given the devastating fires, it will be especially good to see her.  Marcia’s mother had to be evacuated from her care home as the fires spread. The quick-moving fire ravished entire neighborhoods. At the height of the firestorm, 100,000 people were evacuated. 20,000 remain displaced and 42 people lost their lives in the fast-moving fire.

Santa Rosa holds a special place in my heart. I spent three summers working at SRT, Santa Rosa’s Summer Repertory Theater. I wrote about my friendship with Marcia earlier this year.

SRT program 1984

Summer Repertory Theater (SRT) Program, 1984

My in-laws lived in Calistoga in their final years. Authorities evacuated the entire town of Calistoga for two days this weekend as the high winds constantly changed course. Mike feels emotionally invested in the well-being of their former home and ranch, even though the property has since changed hands. Authorities allowed residents back home on Sunday and as far as we can tell, the homes in that area are safe.

Calistoga

Extended family in Calistoga (Mt. St. Helena in background)

Throughout this unfolding drama, my colleague Ellen Hovey quietly lost her battle with cancer. Ellen’s strength and courage inspired all who knew her.  She’s survived by her husband and her 17-year-old son with Down Syndrome. It’s a sad loss for all who knew her. I can’t image how hard it must have been to say goodbye to her young man.

I’m craving a walk in the woods, alone with my thoughts. I have my fingers crossed that the long-term forecast is correct and that the hoped-for rain arrives on Friday.  It will aid the fire-fighters and at the same time clear our the dangerous, smoke-filled air.

Equilibrium will return. For now I feel the weight of the world.

In early October 2017, a series of wildfires started burning across the state of California, United States. They broke out throughout Napa, Lake, Sonoma, Mendocino, Butte, and Solano counties during severe fire weather conditions effectively leading to a major red flag warning from much of the Northern California area. Seventeen separate wildfires were reported at this time.[3] These fires included the Tubbs Fire (the most destructive), the Atlas Fire, Nuns Fire and others.

Due to the extreme conditions, shortly after the fires ignited on October 8 and 9, they rapidly grew to become extensive, full-scale incidents spanning from 1,000 acres (400 hectares) to well over 20,000 acres (8,100 ha) each within a single day. By October 14, the fires had burned more than 210,000 acres (85,000 ha), and destroyed an estimated 5,700 structures [4][1] while forcing 90,000 people to evacuate from their homes.[5] The Northern California fires have killed at least 42 people[1] and hospitalized at least 185,[6] making the week of October 8, 2017, the deadliest week of wildfires in California history.

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Celestial Seasonings Tea and Tour

Celestial Seasonings Tour Center

Celestial Seasonings Tour Center

We toured the Celestial Seasonings factory in Boulder on our recent visit. The tour is free and includes the opportunity to sample several hot and iced teas. It was raining the entire time we were there, making it all the more delicious. There is nothing quite like hot tea on a rainy day, especially when there’s a fun tour in the mix as well.

Celestial Seasonings Tea Room Samples

Tea Room Samples

Celestial Seasonings Rooibos Madagascar Vanilla

My current favorite, and an award winner too * Celestial Seasonings Rooibos Madagascar Vanilla

I grew up drinking black tea, mostly Red Rose Tea, a Canadian brand dating back more than a century. My dad drank tea, so of course my sister and I wanted to drink tea, too. Mom on the other hand drank black, instant coffee. [Shudder].

Over the years I switched from black tea with milk and sugar to tea with just sugar. Then Celestial Seasonings came along in the seventies, and I was an herbal convert.

The tour guide pointed out that 80% of what they produce is not actually tea, but an herbal infusion.  It’s all “tea” to me, and I’m happy to consume green, Jasmine, Rooibos, also know as redbush, and vanilla flavored herbals.

As factories go, Celestial Seasonings is small. They have a simple assembly line, along with pallets of herbs and spices stacked floor to ceiling. I also loved the fact that the equipment used for packaging the tea dates back to the forties. They essentially recycled an assembly line once used for packing cereal. There is one special room set aside for peppermint and spearmint. The mint is quite potent, and would quickly infuse all the other ingredients if stored together. The moment you walk into the room your eyes water and your sinuses open. It was quite an experience. It’s no wonder mint tea is so good when you have a cold.

One of the things I liked when the teas first hit the market, were the pretty designs on the package along with an inspiring quote. Sleepy Time was the first of two herbal blends, and remains the most popular around the world.

Celestial Seasonings original art department

Celestial Seasonings original art department

Celestial Seasonings origin story

Celestial Seasonings origin story

The “ticket” for the tour is a twin package of tea bags. There are several urns of brewed tea in the tea room. You’re issued a small ceramic mug when you walk in the door, and you’re free to sample as many and as often as you like. The tea room is also an art gallery, featuring several of the artists who’ve designed the clever packages over the years.

Celestial Seasonings original art work

Celestial Seasonings original art work

You can pose with the Sleepy Time Bear, or nip in to the mythical scene from the original packaging.

Sleepy Time Tea Room

Yours truly in the Sleepy Time Tea Room

Like any self-respecting enterprise, the factory tour exits via the gift shop. You’ll get no complaints from me, though. They sell art, greeting cards, tea of course, herbal lotions, and postcards.

Celestial Seasonings gift shop window

Celestial Seasonings gift shop window

It was a perfectly wonderful afternoon in every way.

From their website: Celestial Seasonings was founded more than 40 years ago with one goal: to provide delicious, high quality teas that are good for our customers and good for the world.

We think it’s important to share with you the steps we take to ensure that our teas are of the highest quality, deliver the great taste you expect and are produced in a way that protects the Earth’s natural resources. Celestial Seasonings and our parent company, Hain Celestial, stands up as leaders on important topics such as GMO labeling, sodium and sugar intake and animal welfare. We want to offer the best products and help our consumers make the best choices for themselves and their families.

We call our sustainability story “Blended With Care: From Seed to Sip”, and we’d like to take you through it in eight steps – from the farmers’ fields to your teacup. You can read more on their website.

So are you a tea drinker? Please let me know via the poll below.

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A Moral Obligation

#Black WomenBeing

Safety Pin Box subscription material July, 2017

A moral obligation is “a duty which one owes, and which one ought to perform, but which is not legally bound to fulfill.”

In the proverbial perfect world everyone would honor their moral obligations. We would do unto others as we would have them do unto us, regardless of race or color.

The color of your skin should be irrelevant.

Yet in this country, it’s not.

An abhorrent display of white supremacy played out in Virginia this weekend. Most who looked on are horrified.  Most.

The United States is a nation built in part on the backs of African slaves.

Slavery in America began when the first African slaves were brought to the North American colony of Jamestown, Virginia, in 1619, to aid in the production of such lucrative crops as tobacco.  Wikipedia

Saturday’s Twitter hashtag espousing #ThisIsNotUS was no doubt created as a panacea to the horrors of the white supremacist terrorism on display in Emancipation Park.  Not all white people are racist of course, but we all need to be accountable.  Yet the most profound tweets came from people like @wikepediabrown who tweeted:

When you say you repudiate the documented history & testimony of people who have endured a racist America since its inception.

I’ve been doing the emotional work this year of coming to terms with my own white privilege, an academic concept more recently brought into the mainstream via the black lives matter movement. I’ve subscribed to Colorlines, joined the NAACP and for a time attended local meetings of SURJ which stands for Showing Up for Racial Justice. Shortly after the November election I joined #Safety Pin Box for “effective measurable ally-ship. One of the early tasks asks us to evaluate our media consumption,  because “consuming media without a critical eye lowers your ability to be compassionate to marginalized people.” My personal goals are to remain open, honest, and inquisitive. My challenge is to set aside ego and understand this is not about me or my own personal defensiveness (i.e. I’m not a racist, I didn’t vote for 45, etc.)  Lilla Watson says “If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. If you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”

We have a sitting president who couldn’t even manage a few sentences without dropping his nonexistent moral compass and blaming “all sides” for the atrocities that played out this weekend.

The leader of this powerful country couldn’t bring himself to voice the truth. Racism and white supremacy are alive and well in this country, emboldened when a portion of this country elected such a hateful man. After a horrific week of playing brinkmanship with the man-child running North Korea, the week ended with horrific violence on our home turf.

We have so much work to do.

Let it begin with me.

Resources:

Colorlines:  “Colorlines is a daily news site where race matters, featuring award-winning investigative reporting and news analysis. Colorlines is published by Race Forward, a national organization that advances racial justice through research, media and practice.”

NAACP: “The mission of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) is to ensure the political, educational, social, and economic equality of rights of all persons and to eliminate race-based discrimination. The vision of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is to ensure a society in which all individuals have equal rights without discrimination based on race.”

Safety Pin Box:  What is an “Ally”? “Ally” is the term commonly used to refer to someone from a privileged group who supports the efforts of oppressed people. White “allies” support Black people in their pursuit of full liberation from anti-Blackness and white supremacy. This support is given wholly and unabashedly and is demonstrated financially, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

Allies to not define what it is to be an ally, rather allyship is defined by the oppressed people being supported. If Black people choose to have white people a part of their freedom work at all, they reserve the right to fully define what allyship they require.

There are many issues with “allies”, both the term itself and how it manifests practically. We use the term “ally” to broadly identify white people who looking to support Black liberation both with their resource and with their deeds.

Many will claim they are allies, few will do the work necessary to demonstrate their commitment to eradicating white supremacy. Ally work is a privilege and not a right. No white people are entitled to Black revolutionary efforts or Black spaces. Ever.”

Southern Poverty Law Center: “The Southern Poverty Law Center is dedicated to fighting hate and bigotry and to seeking justice for the most vulnerable members of our society. Using litigation, education, and other forms of advocacy, the SPLC works toward the day when the ideals of equal justice and equal opportunity will be a reality.”

Please add your own in the comments section, below.

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