"Who, if I cried, in the hierarchy of angels would hear me?" Rainier Maria Rilke

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The Gift of Death




The gift of death.
Recently I heard, through facebook of course, about the death of one of my oldest friends

and surrogate mother. She knew me from the age of about two, at least until the last few years, when she didn’t know me at all and asked her husband “who is that, why did you bring her here? I don’t like her.” I wept. The last time I saw her she was asleep and while the nurses asked if they should wake her up, I said no, she will only yell at me. Then I wept again, right there in the hall of the nursing home. As I did not cry for my own mother.
This was the woman who first told me it wasn’t my fault my mother was sick; that I was not crazy, that I was a good person. She was the only one for some time.

I felt her death as an inconsolable loss, although she was 91. Then I started reading The Fifth Agreement, by Don Miguel Ruiz and Don Jose Ruiz and in the process of that reading realized that Lil’s death is a gift to me.(besides the fact that it is about her and not

about me at all.) The end of life of one of the people who has held my story the longest means that parts of my story are forgotten, but it also gives me an opportunity to let go of the story I have come to identify as me.

To Lil, I was poor Amel, the girl who is always so quiet and so polite and so grown and

so alone. The girl with the sick mother who is awkward and doesn’t have friends(except that tomboy, what was her name? Amel, how is Nancy?). Her story about herself, as a housewife who only used her Masters in Social Work for one year of married life, was that she cared about the downtrodden and rescued hopeless cases. I was downtrodden. While it was very comforting to have a rescuer, someone who saw me as needing to escape my mother’s clutches and sickness, someone deserving of love and pity, it also entrapped me. She did not see me as someone who could actually escape, just as someone

who was put upon and sad. She never once gave me nice clothing, any more than my mother did. There was nary a birthday or Hannukah gift; she bought my mother’s line completely that nice things were not for her children. She did take me to the symphony a few times, but there was never a shirt or a sweater or a piece of jewelry like you might give a girl child you called close as relative to you. I had never thought of this, until I wondered why I’d never sent her a present, except for one bouquet of flowers. And a Medicine Buddha talisman, which she scoffed at.

Now that Lil is gone, I have an opportunity to stop being “poor Amel” who needs a rescuer and someone to feel sorry for her. I am not the girl with the sick mother who is always a little out of place and underdressed and too quiet for her own good. I am not the trapped one who only has friends who feel sorry for her. I may even be deserving of nice clothes, not from Artie’s Secondhand and Irregulars(it doesn’t matter, you can hardly see it) clothing store, but from this year’s rack of new designs. Maybe. Maybe I will have friends who do not think they are doing a public service by befriending me; who can enjoy my company without thinking they are saving me from someone else who has done me wrong. That would be nice. Who are not trying to be a hero; who are not trying to be anything but who they authentically are.


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Yarrow or Achilles’ Weed


This article was conceived in the spring, and got lost over the summer in the “to publish” folder, so you will read about yarrow at a time of year when you can’t easily go pick it.
Hopefully it will give you something to look forward to. Come spring , the feathery yarrow sprouts will be coming up out of the ground, and the pink, yellow and white flowers will follow in summer.
In my garden, I have many herbs I planted from seed, a few gifted, and a few bought plants. Oregano, rosemary, lavender, dill, fennel, sweetgrass, white sage, coriander have all graced my yard over the years. Most are still there. Of all of them, the only one I regretted buying was yarrow. Not because I don’t like it or find it useful, but because I had to laugh out loud at myself when I brought it home to plant and found it growing wild in the yard already. Yarrow is found all over Seattle in white, pink, and yellow flowering varieties; some in gardens, some volunteering. It is one of the herbs which has a rich medicinal use history in Native American and European herbalism . In addition, it is used in the Western magical traditions and is immortalized in British poetry and folklore.

Gerard tells us that yarrow is the same plant with which Achilles staunched the bleeding wounds of his soldiers. Others say that it was discovered by Achilles, Chiron’s disciple.

It was called Herba Militaris, the military herb, by the ancients. Hence the genus name, Achilles. The specific name, Millefolium, is derived from the many segments of its foliage, thousand leafed literally. It is also called milfoil, old man’s pepper, soldier’s woundwort, Knight’s Milfoil, thousand weed, staunchweed, and Devil’s nettle.(Grieves)

Yarrow grows everywhere, in the grass, at the base of trees, in meadows, by the roadside. It’s stalks are used in throwing the I Ching in China. It flowers from June to December, according to Grieves, although I’ve not seen a bloom past September. The stems are hairy, it has many fine leaves and a cluster of flowers(see pic). It spreads by root and seed.

Yarrow was much esteemed as a vulnerary, for stopping bleeding. “The Highlanders still make an ointment from it, which they apply to wounds, and Milfoil tea is held in much repute in the Orkney’s for dispelling melancholy”(Grieves, Modern Herbal) It has been called Nosebleed for its property of staunching nosebleeds, although it is also attributed with the ability to cause a nosebleed. “…there is a curious mode of divination with its serrated leaf, with which the inside of the nose is tickled while the following lines are spoken….’Yarroway, Yarroway, bear a white blow, If my love love me, my nose will bleed now”(Grieves). There must be an easier way!

Yarrow was used by Native Americans for digestive troubles and headaches, as well as for staunching wounds. It was employed as snuff in Europe, hence Old Man’s Pepper.

In the 17th century it was used in salads. Yarrow tea is a good remedy for severe colds; a decoction for kidney disorders. The bruised herb is used in Norway for rheumatism, applied topically.

In Western magical herb traditions, Yarrow is attributed to Venus, and used in love incenses and spells. An ounce of Yarrow sewed up in flannel and placed under the pillow before going to bed, having repeated the following words, brought a vision of the future husband or wife:

“Thou pretty herb of Venus’ tree,

Thy true name it is Yarrow;

Now who my bosom friend must be,

Pray tell thou me to-morrow.”(Halliwell’s Popular Rhymes)

Yarrow is attributed to Venus in other sources as well, and is used in her oils and incenses. It grows wild around the Pacific Northwest and can be bought if you must. Pink, yellow and white are common. The flowers and leaves can be easily gathered without killing the plant, so there is always more next year. It is near impossible to kill if you are looking to learn to garden and haven’t yet developed a green thumb.
I will leave you with a poem from Carmina Gaedelica, that treasure trove of Celtic folkloric poetry assembled by Alexander Carmichael in the 1880s.

The Yarrow

I will pluck the yarrow fair,

That more benign shall be my face,

That more warm shall be my lips,

That more chaste shall be my speech,

Be my speech the beams of the sun,

Be my lips the sap of the strawberry.

May I be an isle in the sea,

May I be a hill on the shore,

May I be a star in the waning of the moon,

May I be a staff to the weak,

Wound can I every man,

Wound can no man me.




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Freedom to Visualize the Postive


Back when I was trying to interact with crazy people who wanted everyone to be crazy with them, I did not have the time or energy to visualize positive things. Taking the really toxic, negative, destructive, dishonest people out of my life has allowed me to attract different energies. I am surrounded by so many brilliant, kind people that I don’t have enough time to get to know them all. Avenues of learning, worship, love and friendship continue to open up in the most unexpected ways. I am blessed on any given day with a feeling of aliveness and wonder. And all because I quit trying to heal people who would rather stay sick. It is a judgement call, and I get to make it. For Samhain I release any part of me that still feels a need to argue with gaslighters, negotiate with domestic terrorists(meaning the ones who terrorize me) and heal those truly intractable by choice. For Samhain, I welcome in love and health and balance and friendship and abundance and beauty. Walk in peace, walk in beauty, walk in kindness, walk in peace. Blessed be./



Snow, skirts, pants, and feminism

I go to a lot of ceremonies where I’m regularly told that in order to honor my grandmother, I must wear a skirt.
(There are dissenters, but this is a message which comes around regularly.) It dawned on me this morning why this bothers me so much.

In the 60s, when I was in grade school, I lived in suburban Philadelphia. We got snow every winter, 3 or 6 inches at a time. There were plenty of snowplows, so it was usual to go to school when it snowed or at most a day later. Every now and then we would have a snow day, but because it stayed cold, there were still inches of snow on the ground when we went back. The temperature stayed in the low 20s or teens. At that time, in addition to no Iphones and no internet and no computers, and having to research by actually going to the library and looking for books in a card catalogue, we had dress codes. Not only did boys have to wear pants which actually covered their undershorts(nor would it have occurred to them not to), but girls were forbidden to wear pants.
This meant that  in sixth grade when I left the house to walk to the busstop, waited for the bus outside, and then got off the bus to wait another twenty minutes in the schoolyard in the snow for the school to open at 8:45 am, I was standing in the snow. In a skirt. And snowboots. There came a winter and a day that was so cold that I put on pants. My mother said that surely the teacher could not get mad in that weather. Mind you, I tested out as the smartest student in the entire elementary school, and was in the top 2% nationwide. I’d never been in trouble in school once and could be relied on to always have the answer, whatever the teacher’s question was. But when the students were let into the school that day, I entered with trepidation, while the boys were exuberant and boisterous with relief at the warmth. Sure enough, the teacher came over to me and started shouting that if I didn’t take off my pants and put on a skirt I would have to go home. She would call my mother. I was in trouble. I was a bad kid. Because I didn’t want to catch pneumonia. This was not a day on which I learned that women honor each other by wearing skirts. This was a day on which I learned that women will punish their own and sell you out and that your appearance is more important to them than anything you know or are likely to ever know or learn. If I’m not mistaken, this was the same teacher who, when I told her that some boys had knocked me over on the playground and got on top of me and shoved snow down my shirt during recess, told me that “boys will be boys” and to get over it and there was nothing she would do about it. So-assault by boys, ok and accepted and expected. Wearing warm clothes by girls, deplorable, punishable, expellable offense. This is why I bristle when anyone tells me to wear a skirt. This is why I look askance at women when they tell me to show respect to older women. Let those older women show some respect for the little girls, and I will.  Some of them do, and some will sell you out over and over and over for nothing more than a dress code and a code of silence on the behavior of boys. The message was that there is no protection, there is no understanding, there is no compassion, and you are only here in the end for decoration. This was a public, not a parochial school.

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Thoughts on Anti-Depressants

I am moved to write this morning because some friends think I just don’t support treating mentally ill people. That is not accurate; I do. However. I have lost count of the times that I saw a friend from AA and they told me, “no, I’m not in counselling, but I’m ok now, the psychiatrist got my meds adjusted” only to hear the following week that they were dead by their own hand.
I have lost count of the number of times my friend and sponsee Susan was in the mental hospital, having cut herself and attempted suicide, or in the regular hospital, having relapsed on crack and gotten beaten nearly to death by a drug dealer. On these occasions, she, too, will tell me that it’s ok, they upped her level of Seroquel. A medicine which has not in twelve years time kept her from cutting, smoking crack, attempting suicide directly, or attempting it by year-long drug runs. My friend Lori hung herself while in the care of a psychiatrist and on meds. My friend Kelly Cheer od’d in a hotel room, while in the system, receiving benefits, and on meds. There are more I cannot name as I’ve forgotten or blocked out their names, who all spoke hopefully of the cure their doctors had given them, and I recall their naive trust and hope with some pain.  My own experiences with anti-depressants were dismal and not helpful in the least. And so, yes, I am skeptical of the claims of the medical establishment which cannot prove that depression is caused by low serotonin but claims to cure it by adjusting serotonin levels. A quick google search produces many studies which call into question the efficacy of these drugs.
I want people to be treated and to get better, but I do not give big Pharma a blank check or my complete and blind trust in their treatment of mental illness. And I do not forget my friends and acquaintances who have died horrible deaths while the system checked them off as treated, because they had a few pills.