Saturday, March 10, 2018

That Pesto Blog

When my mom didn’t call, or send a card, on my birthday last August (said the Leo), it was clear something was up. She had a decades-long track record of on-time birthday cards, so the next day I called to see whether her normally remarkable memory was failing her, or whether it was something I’d said…but she confessed, she just hadn’t had the energy--she didn’t want to worry me, but she was experiencing a bit of a health condition.

Every time (I realize that sounds like an exaggeration but it’s not) my mom and I hang up the phone, from the early 80’s until practically the other day, my mom mentions food. I’d say, “I’ve got to go…” and she’d say, “I thought I’d make a lasagna, so I’m defrosting a pound of ground beef,” or “I wish you could have been here for breakfast. I made hash browns from last night’s potatoes.” When I pointed her habit out, about 20 years ago, she said, surprised, “I do?” which was amusing in the way that two other remarks of hers had been amusing: one, at dinner with my dad in 1981, when the waiter asked for clarification on my mom’s order, and she replied, “Just bring me whatever you want. I’m not fussy.” My dad and I said, amused, “But you’re the fussiest person I know!” And that was true. At least around food. She was very food-fussy. And her other amusing remark was, also directed to me and my dad, at some other time and some other restaurant, “Oh, you know how much I hate to talk on the phone.” And my dad and I both said, amused, “But you are always on the phone! You love to talk on the phone!” Introspection and self-reflection were not two of my mom’s passions. Food, and talking on the phone, however, were.

So she didn’t call me on my birthday, and of course I could have called her on my own birthday but that seemed confrontational, accusational, and on my call the following day I put her on speaker so my daughter Lily, the great generational buffer, could generationally buffer us. My mom said she felt so weak from her unnamed health condition that she would “probably never cook again,” which (though it turned out to be true) was quite frankly unthinkable, so I whispered to Lily, “What about pesto?!

“Not even pesto?” my often-obedient daughter inquired. My mom hesitated, then said quietly that she’d try to make Lily some pesto. She had been sending my daughter a few jars of pesto a year since she was two years old--and had sent it to me for years, before Lily was born. Twenty-seven years of pesto, in Mason jars. We bought pesto at Whole Foods and we ordered it at restaurants and we tried boutique food shops, but my mom’s pesto was quite simply better. Because the necessary volume of basil was expensive, her husband planted basil in their garden. (Parmesan was expensive too, not to mention pine nuts, but there was no hack for them.)

A couple weeks later, a large box from Amazon arrived, addressed to Lily, quite surely an accident because the several packages a week we receive from Amazon are always small. It seemed like a big-ass hassle to return whatever it accidentally was, so the box sat near our front door for several days until the next time I spoke to my mom. We exchanged news, and I mentioned that I had to hang up, when my mom said (because this is when she discusses all things food), “Tell Lily that she can always substitute walnuts for the pine nuts, and it wouldn’t be a bad idea for her to consider growing her own basil,” and I had an epiphany: OH! My mom had sent Lily a food processor because she thinks she’s going to DIE! And what is her first thought? “Who is going to make Lily’s pesto?”

So, like the scratch on Barrett’s car that he really didn’t care about, my mom sending Lily a food processor was actually a random clue to the Universe, and to her smaller universe that was the two of us, that her life was nearing its end.

The week after my mom died, I was relieved, numb, and a bit guilty…for not feeling sadder. I had to convince people that I was ok—because I was ok. My mom’s death fit into the order of the universe (as opposed to when Lily’s dad died and we were shattered, because it didn’t fit into the order of the universe). Then, too, Lily felt guilty—“Mom, when I’m happy I feel like I should be sad, and when I’m sad, I feel like my dad would want me to be happy,” she’d said, at the time, and my best advice was just feel what you feel when you feel it and know that the feeling is temporary—and that was my best advice to myself, too: just feel what you feel; you don’t have to feel worse than you feel. “Everyone grieves in their own way,” Lily told me, wise in the way that a kid whose universe was shattered when she was 15 can be.

The second week after my mom died, the week after I felt relieved and numb, I had a craving…was it for the sublime ginger chocolate chip cookies from the gluten free bakery? Was it for pretzels? Popcorn from the Music Box? Was it for curried lentil soup? I even wondered: was it for pesto? My mind scanned the food world on and off for two days, but I had a vague food-itch that just couldn’t be scratched. Maybe a Jade Oolong tea, or a Bourbon County beer, or Aztec hot chocolate? 

On the third day, I had an epiphany. The vague emptiness inside me wasn’t actually a food craving; it was a vague emptiness where my mother once was, and of course no food, no person or situation or event, could or would ever fill that space.  But the fact that it was a food craving, or expressed itself as a food craving even though it had nothing to do with actual food, was crazy-noteworthy, since my mother had always expressed her love through food--like most mothers, of course, but even more so than most because 1. she had also been a caterer and wrote a food column in her local newspaper, and 2. she really didn’t express love in the usual non-food ways. She wasn’t crazy about being touched, or making declarations of affection; she was all about cooking—I mentioned that in her obituary

This past Thanksgiving, two months after my mom forgot my birthday (said the Leo), I was assigned a very specific traditional cranberry relish that my foodie friend gave me the specific recipe for. Another friend was over, and we were going to make cranberry relish with Lily’s pesto-processor…because we could, because we had one now. The recipe called for pieces of orange to be put in the food processor—but is peeling implied, in a recipe? It didn’t say to peel them first. Did the recipe really call for oranges with the peels on them? My friend Elizabeth, who has a PhD, and I, the editor of another friend's recipe blog, pondered and decided that, as it was Thanksgiving, and I should call my mom anyway, it was best to call that second.

“Leave the peels on,” said my mom. “And put a cinnamon stick in it,” she added—one of those things she just does, that are not in a recipe, one of those things she would never tell anyone, if they asked her for her cranberry relish recipe, because strictly speaking the cinnamon stick was not part of the recipe per se. She enjoyed the phrase "per se." As I was hanging up, my friend whispered, “Tell her how grateful you are that she has so much cooking knowledge!” I did.

“But what is going to become of all of it?” my mom lamented—and she really did lament this, with a tear in her voice, on Thanksgiving, two months after she had sent Lily the food processor. And it was true: she never cooked anything that wasn’t staggeringly good. It was her gift. It was how she showed her love. She sniffed.

“I just made your mom cry,” my friend said, in the background, slightly amused and inappropriately proud. This was the only worry my mom had expressed aloud about her impending death: what would become of her cooking tips?

What indeed would become of her cooking tips? She really did have every answer to every cooking question anyone had ever asked her. I made an effort to reassure her that Lily’s first attempt at pesto was successful, that Lily embodied every quality of hers that had skipped a generation, like the ability to set a lovely table, interior-design all her friends’ rooms, apply makeup, and walk like a model.

A few days after my mom died, my daughter called me from her new life in L.A.

“I’m going to get a tattoo, in memory of Grandma Bobbie!” she announced.

“Dude,” I said, in feeble protest.

“Help me decide what to get!” she persisted. I persisted in dissuading her: my mom would absolutely hate that idea, I said. A tattoo. Just no. She’d hate it!

“I know!” Lily said, “It’s so ironic!”

She settled on a basil leaf. I had lost the tattoo battle long ago, but I’m always happy to be consulted. A small basil leaf on the back of her arm, above her elbow--could be far worse.

Lily suggested I share the pesto recipe in my mom’s obituary (an inspired idea, until I saw the price of obituaries per word), and it is indeed a fantastic recipe, a staple of my refrigerator for 25 years, a recipe everyone should have…but not so fast. While my mother loved to hear people raving about her food, and while she would indeed share a recipe on occasion, I am actually not so certain she would want everyone in the world to have Bobbie’s Pesto recipe. Because it’s hers. Being her daughter could be complicated. It still is: how do I do what’s best for the cooks and eaters of the world, while honoring my mother’s memory, while not allowing the other cooks to have all the accolades?

I don’t have to honor the part of my mother that would leave the cinnamon stick out when sharing the cranberry relish recipe--I can use my own sense of consciousness to polish our lineage with some generosity of spirit. What a relief to see the human insecurities my mom once embodied gently dissipating, revealing more and more of who she truly was: “exceptional,” said my dad, whom she had divorced when she was 64, after 40 years (exceptional in his own way for even being able to see my mom, who left him when he was 72). Indeed she was. While striving for perfection for all her misguided human reasons, she had indeed been exceptional. The Divine Mirror that she is for me now is being polished through the lens of death.

“Why does everyone say only positive things about someone after they die?” my daughter asked me, ever so long ago.

I see how petty grievances and long-held resentments are so irrelevant in the mirror of physical death. Our minds are free to see the departed Other in the highest light; the survivors are lit up and reminded of their own humanity and concurrent divinity, when they think of their dearly departed. My mother is now a soul, so I see her soul. It’s so simple. It’s so effortless. The challenge is seeing it while our loved ones are still alive.

So as a tribute to my mom, one that I think maybe she would like—certainly more than a basil leaf tattoo—here is her fantastic pesto recipe. I’m pretty sure these are ALL the ingredients, but we’ll never know.

Grandma Bobbie’s Pesto 

1 cup basil leaves 

¼ cup minced parsley
½ cup olive oil 
4 Tbs freshly grated parmesan
2 Tbs pine nuts* 
3-4 cloves garlic
½ tsp salt, or to taste
¼ tsp white pepper 

Place all ingredients except olive oil in bowl of processor and process till well chopped, then drizzle in the olive oil. Process till fairly smooth. Pour in jar and cover with 1/4 inch oil to preserve. Refrigerate (or freeze).

*Toast pine nuts a bit. Don’t tell my mom I told you.

Pesto Butter: Blend 3 Tbs pesto with 1 stick softened butter. Use on garlic toast, steamed vegetables, or popcorn.

Pesto Salad Dressing: Blend 6 Tbs pesto with 1/3 cup wine vinegar, 2/3 cup olive oil, and an additional clove of crushed garlic. Shake well in covered jar to blend. 

Barbara Terket Thomas Connolly (1940-2018)

Barbara Connolly (Barbara Terket Thomas), 77, of Fort Collins, Colorado, passed away February 11, 2018 blessed by the devoted presence of her husband. Beloved wife of John Connolly for 14 years, former wife of Theodore Thomas of Phoenix, Arizona for 40 years, dearest mother of Rachel Fiske (f.k.a. Barbara Lynn Thomas, GHS Class of 1979) of Chicago and Nick Thomas of Phoenix, Arizona, loving grandmother to Lily Fiske (21) of Chicago, Barbara was a graduate of East Chicago Washington High School (1958) and Indiana University Northwest, where she received a Master’s Degree in Education. Barbara married Theodore Thomas of Hammond in 1960 and they resided in Griffith, where she taught at Eldon Ready Elementary School through 1979. After moving west together, she taught at Tomahawk Elementary School in Phoenix in the 1980s and 90s, and eventually retired to Fort Collins, Colorado, after marrying John Connolly, also a 1958 graduate of East Chicago Washington High School, in 2004. Barbara’s love for cooking and her ability to manage any cooking crisis prompted her to answer the constant stream of calls she received every Thanksgiving with the cheerful greeting, “Turkey Hotline!” She enjoyed cooking for family and friends and has bequeathed her exceptional recipe for Barbara’s Pesto to her granddaughter, Lily, after making and mailing jars of pesto to Lily quarterly for the past 20 years. She clearly and passionately expressed her love and devotion through cooking. Barbara’s ashes will be scattered on the mountaintop in Estes Park, Colorado, where she and John Connolly were married. This is her fabulous pesto:

Grandma Bobbie’s Pesto 

1 cup basil leaves 
¼ cup minced parsley
½ cup olive oil 
4 Tbs freshly grated parmesan
2 Tbs pine nuts* 
3-4 cloves garlic
½ tsp salt, or to taste
¼ tsp white pepper 

Place all ingredients except olive oil in bowl of processor and process till well chopped, then drizzle in the olive oil. Process till fairly smooth. Pour in jar and cover with 1/4 inch oil to preserve. Refrigerate (or freeze).

*Toast pine nuts a bit. Don’t tell my mom I told you. 

Pesto Butter: Blend 3 Tbs pesto with 1 stick softened butter. Use on garlic toast, steamed vegetables, or popcorn.

Pesto Salad Dressing: Blend 6 Tbs pesto with 1/3 cup wine vinegar, 2/3 cup olive oil, and an additional clove of crushed garlic. Shake well in covered jar to blend. 

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Ceremony as a Way of Life

I am recalling our unique goddess-blessing ceremony Sunday evening: imagine us in a retreat setting. Imagine we had prepared by exploring the grounds of this imaginary retreat center and found things in nature to ornament ourselves and each other with. What if we had rolled-up antique paper scrolls to write our goddess’s advice on, before making our proclamations? What if the mother and daughter pair being anointed were sitting on a throne as we anointed them? What if the retreat was staffed by mothers and daughters who had been there before, who knew how to hold space during ceremony, who provided us with examples of full presence? And imagine that, after our lovely rose water blessing, our chef had dinner ready, then after dinner in this scenario which, as long as we are using our imaginations, we can place in Northern California, we mothers got into a hot tub and the girls hopped into a pool, and we soaked up the warmth of the water and the remaining sun. Sigh.

That is my dream and my vision: taking Sunday night’s mini-ceremony to a higher level of pomp and circumstance, making it desirable for daughters everywhere (yet maybe even a bit too edgy for the average mom). A weekend retreat like the one I envision will add a sense of ritual, a coming of age ceremony, a pageantry, that secular America lacks. What if all girls’ spirits were honored? What if girls were told and shown how their unique spirit comes from their goddess lineage? Look out into the world: we see adolescents making up their own “coming of age” activities…not involving their moms. Let’s preempt that with something spectacular. When girls believe they are more than what our culture teaches, when girls are tuned into their inner voice, when their mother-daughter connection is experienced as will change the way girls interact with each other and the world.

I’m writing a manual to go with my book, so that any mom who wants to can create a MoonBeams mother-daughter circle to unplug and honor each other’s humanness and inner goddess. Hold the vision for me! See all girls everywhere honored simply for being who they are! See a world in which girls can grow into their adolescence consciously, and moms can, just as consciously, honor their daughters’ impending independence. A mere 90 minutes a month in a MoonBeams circle can pave the way for enlightened mother-daughter relationships! And at the end of each MoonBeams year, mothers and daughters would come together en masse for a weekend of seeing and honoring each other in unforgettable ways.

Our daughters are our MIRRORS and our LENSES!

For more information on setting up your own MoonBeams mother-daughter experience, please contact me.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

The First MoonBeams Mother-Daughter Group


CIRCLE UP for Community Support: Book Clip from Chapter 7

My vision was to lead a ritual and celebration when Lily started her monthly cycle.  But when she was about nine, I began to realize that I couldn’t just spring it on her; she and her friends needed to be eased into this celebration with a monthly group, a group of mothers and daughters who would enjoy coming together and creating sacred space and being--simply being--together.  That idea tapped me on the shoulder, but I wasn’t convinced it was time to begin, and in fact I wasn’t even sure just what it was we’d be doing, since my intention was to just be!  Of course I wanted to have a clear idea of what it looked like before inviting people to a monthly circle.  I put that idea on my back burner, and the shoulder-tapping became downright pressure. More than once, I wondered, “What if another mother had this idea and invited me to her group?” but I knew I wanted to be the one to do the inviting and plan the evening.  It was welling up in me. Overriding my uncertainties, I sent out an email to my list of yoga students and friends, inviting mothers with ten-year-old daughters to join me in a circle to honor our daughters.  I had cast the net, and ten mothers immediately responded, so I set a date and opened up to whatever the curriculum was going to be.  I trusted it would emerge, just like the curriculum for my yoga workshops always had.

Lily was slightly uncomfortable with this prospect--the prospect of her mom potentially looking foolish in front of all her friends and their moms.  I agreed: how horrifying if Lily were to be embarrassed by my antics—though I am one of the most composed, low-key, unembarrassing people I know.  Nevertheless that was Lily’s number one fear, and I had sympathy. So we made a deal:  I committed to run the mother-daughter evenings by her in advance, and she would have the right to reject anything that seemed dumb, embarrassing, or not fun.

For our first evening, we packed roses, a cloth for our altar, water and cups, cd’s (!), tissues.  Lily helped me set up the room. Her friends giddily showed up, sat beside their moms, and looked at me expectantly.  I felt their trust. Taking in the gazes of the daughters, I felt alive with a heightened sense of adventure, tuned in and open to whatever might happen.  

First we played what eventually we called the blindfold game, which wasn’t a game at all—more than just an icebreaker, a chance for girls to tune into each other with their hands, as an extension of their hearts, and then we talked about it.  Moms were supportive and offered comments that helped the girls open up to share. I assured the moms that girls’ inevitable giggles were ok with me. We placed meaningful items on our “sacred space,” or altar, as symbols for each of us, individuals creating beauty when arranged together in a sacred space.

The following two evenings, over the next two months, went equally and fulfillingly well.  On the fourth evening, I began to run the agenda past Lily.  “Mom?” she interrupted, “Can you not tell me what we’re going to do?  I want to be surprised, like the other girls.”  Here was my green light; I had won over my daughter.  She trusted that this wouldn’t be a group about me embarrassing her.  Each month we went a bit deeper, from honoring our daughters externally with rose petals to allowing a special word, describing a quality that they wished to embody, to be revealed to them—from their own hearts.  The girls learned that they deserved to be honored—in fact they loved it, they soaked it up!  And they learned how to grow, how to create themselves, consciously, from the inside, out.

A couple days before each circle, that circle would be revealed to me.  The lack of effort was amazing and humbling…I felt that I was “doing” practically nothing; the level of reward for simply opening up to these ideas was disconcerting…but I got used to it.  There were plenty of wonderful ideas in the world for rituals and exercises that the girls and mothers could do, that would allow them to see each other, and honor what they saw.

Four months after we began, we decided that everyone who was going to join had joined.  So we formally, and symbolically, closed the circle by taking a ball of yarn, passing it around, wrapping our own wrist three times and handing it to the person on our left until we were all tied together in a circle.  Then we each cut the strings that bound us together and declared that symbolically, we were still connected, then passed the scissors to our left. We tied each other’s loose ends, and were each left with a yarn bracelet to remind us of our connection to ourselves and to our supportive group.  It was beautiful and deeply felt.  I was doing what I most wanted to do.  I was manifesting my dream:  our mother-daughter circle was real, and had a life of its own.


MoonBeams groups create new and fertile terrain and provide an opportunity to check in on a deep level.  They give each girl a chance to practice being seen by her mom and her friends at the same time, which challenges her to be true to herself. They give us a chance to practice noticing if we feel judged, as mothers, and to let that go. If you are motivated, rally your friends from high school and college, the soccer moms, your facebook friends, and ask for a commitment.  Our original group has lasted six years and is still intact. Ask your daughter whom she’d most want to invite, and whom she’d least like to invite, and see if some of the girls she is not friends with have mothers who are open to the possibility of creating one magical evening a month that will transcend cliques and old rifts.

The most difficult aspect of starting a group is agreeing on a time to meet.  Our first group met one Wednesday evening a month for three years, then one Tuesday evening a month for a year.  When the girls reached high school, we switched to Friday nights, when there was less homework pressure and the girls could stay up later. But Friday night brought new conflicts: dances and dates.  Although everyone was fully committed to our MoonBeams group, sometimes there was a conflict that took precedence.  An occasional play rehearsal, a religious holiday, a school performance…but we stayed flexible. We were fully committed to showing up and being, once a month, and we are still thrilled when we can make it happen.

Reserving a couple hours once a month, in a supportive group, to tap in on a deep level is a great vaccination against depression, alienation, and acting out.  It is also a good vaccination against eating disorders and self-medication, against losing ourselves in someone else, against tuning out who we truly are.  Hearing and honoring the inner voice: THAT for girls is what defines an individual—not piercings or eyeliner or a boy’s attention.  When we insist on not hearing our inner voice, it sometimes needs to roar to get our attention—a monthly check-in helps prevent that roar.  Let’s allow that voice to exist as it is meant to be, as the “still, small voice,” rather than it having to morph into something much less pleasant, like anger or pain.

Although it is easier to schedule on the same evening every month, it is an unusual and exciting option to schedule monthly around the moon—I prefer the new moon, because that’s when the farmers sow seeds, as opposed to the full moon, when we are “out there,” and less internal; the full moon is when farmers harvest.   

So make a monthly appointment with your daughter and her friends to do…nothing.  Together. To get absolutely nothing done.  Together. To let your spirits play.  Together. That’s what today’s girls are calling out for—they want to be with their moms, unplugged.

When we create a place where our daughters can be seen and celebrated for the voice of their heart, that is the place from which they will conduct their lives.  When they are able to hear and follow their inner voice, they will live in happiness, health, and harmony. When we take time out to honor them, they will learn to surround themselves with others who honor them.