Category Archives: Guest Blogs

To the World She Was Grace, To Us, Our Granny

So excited today, in advance of the launch of the book itself on Monday, to be able to share a wonderful Guest Blog from an amazing woman who I consider an elder and a mentor as well as a dear friend.  ALisa Starkweather is the founder of many women’s initiatives including the Red Tent Temple Movement, Women in Power initiations, the Women’s Belly and Womb Conferences, Daughters of the Earth Gatherings and her acclaimed women’s mystery school in New England, Priestess Path. ALisa has 28 years of experience working with the empowerment of women and girls. She is the co-producer of the documentary, Things We Don’t Talk About; Women’s Stories in the Red Tent and a contributing author in the award winning anthology Women, Spirituality and Transformative Leadership; Where Grace Meets Power. ALisa’s online work will re-open in late October in her five week teleseries, Answering the Call; Birthing Your Fierce Feminine Life.

AlisaInside of my own thoughts I harbored more than concerns.  At five years old I was downright indignant that she wasn’t who I thought she ought to be. “I mean look at her” I would say to myself. “Where is her white hair? Where are her spectacles? Where is her rocking chair?”

Everyone knew that a real grandmother was old, dowdy and made you cookies in the kitchen right? What kind of a grandmother would people mistake for my own mother? And to further my case she worked! With all men! Selling insurance door to door she was the first professional woman I ever laid eyes on and she made sure that in anyone’s mind she would be seen as first class.

For the next four decades of my life until her death at 90 I hardly ever remember seeing my grandmother unkempt or being less than sharp as a tack in her mind. Having lived through many of life’s hard and bitter consequences, including the Great Depression she resolved to lay out her adult life like fine white lace, blanketed over her pain with some grit thrown in to the gaping porous holes.

GraceAt the young age of twenty my grandmother gave birth to her only child, my mother. This is how it came to be that my three siblings and I were her one and only focus for under deserved spoiling and often also for overly opinionated critiques.  She also became my Grand Mama who, even up until the time she departed, tracked with care and devotion every detail of our lives and faithfully let us know how much we mattered to her. She modelled independence, financial freedom, and though she did not mean to, her musical free self slipped out between the cracks giving me future passage to my wilder self. Even now I can still see her eyes moist with tears from a good laugh with us.

I was with her in her last hours. From a fall that she took, my mother took her to a nursing home and on her fourth day there when I heard that she was ailing, I promptly, in the middle of the night got on a plane to Florida. Instinctually I knew that once she arrived to a home other than her own she would lay down rather than choose to live a captive existence. That woman was born to be free. My mother said to her the day before I arrived, “Mom, what is wrong with you?” and my grandmother looked at her and replied, “Ginny, I’m dying.”

Like the great tree in the forest, it is unfathomable that she would ever leave us. That night as her kidneys and organs began to shut down and she was between the worlds and no longer open-eyed, I touched her tenderly and spoke to her like she was now my own baby child. I unabashedly wept and wept from missing her already. The nursing home aid came by and saw an old withering woman on the bed, finally the frail grandmother my young immature child had yearned for so many years before, and asked why I was crying so.

This is my grandmother, my rock, my old growth tree in the forest, my sweetheart, my Granny. Can’t you see what a powerful force is leaving us? I didn’t say anything because how can you describe 90 years of her sovereign personage to someone glancing in on her last hours? Instead I lay my head on her still rhythmic heart transfusing my own with her essence – all she ever gave me and vowing silently to live her life forward in new ways as her granddaughter, choosing to forgive her for every hurt and asking her forgiveness for any ways I disappointed her, believing this was death medicine for us both, another way to lift up her heavy anchor on earth.

Grace 2Her lessons, some spoken and some not are inside. Put any child before me and the games and songs she played come back to me to offer the young. “With bells on her fingers and rings on her toes. She shall have music wherever she goes” was the spell chant she sung over me not knowing the magic she spun would become my path.  It is her voice that I hear when I push too hard, too fast, too much because she called me one day on the phone and said, “Conserve yourself my dear. You need to think ahead of how long this long life journey is. You need to make it all the way to my age and to do that you cannot use all your energy now.” With no grandchildren yet of my own, I climbed a mountain some years ago and in the tall grasses hidden from me I heard the voice of a little girl child speaking to her grandmother. It was this exact moment that I suddenly understood the hidden message in my grandmother’s words. She was warning me not to leave this life too soon. Bold and loud I heard her now. “You must be here for those coming after you. You will be an important person in this young one’s life. Stick around. You have a big job that you have not yet embarked on and nothing can be so important for you to miss that life appointment up ahead. Your grandchildren need your stories and your wisdom. Take good care of yourself honey.”

It did not help me at all that she was ninety when she died. You can tell yourself she is old and it is time for her to go but it is always too soon. Sleeping next to her I wanted to grasp in my memory even her snores. Her root systems were throughout me and her death was felt in the deepest core part of myself. I cried buckets for a year and every tear was my ode to our love. Over a decade later I still find myself talking to her, so thankful that she left me with a song two days after she died. Driving her car, I began to talk to her departed spirit to I let her know that I was going to turn on the radio and she could give me a message if she wanted to. I would be listening intently. It happened to be a Sunday and of course it was in music that her lesson came. Over and over again rose a chant from the radio station repeating itself until I could learn the tune. These words rose to meet me,

Oh the mysteries of Grace

Some day you’ll see me face to face

But for now, you must live your life

Live it with faith

That you’ll see me again.

Where I see her, is in my self. Not when I look in the mirror, though certainly the white hair and wrinkles are increasing. She is present when I look in my own grandmothered heart. She leaves me with her namesake, Grace, and a log on my heart’s fire.

Listening to our Grandmothers will be released and available on Monday 16th September.  Check back here then to find out how to get your copy of sign up to the mailing list HERE.


Who were you, Kathleen?

Bev PictureToday I am excited to be posting the fourth of the Guest Blogs that I’ll be sharing in the run up to the release of Listening to our Grandmothers in September.  For the guest blogs I have asked a number of wonderful women to reflect on their experiences of Grandmothers or elder women in their lives.  This post, about Kathleen her maternal Grandmother, is by Beverley Glick.  Beverley has been telling stories for a living for more than 30 years – first as a music journalist and pop magazine editor, then as a national newspaper superwoman and now helps individuals and business owners dig for the personal stories that will change their lives and change the world. Beverley and I are working together to launch The Story Party later this year.

Who were you, Kathleen? What were your fondest hopes, your most cherished dreams? How did life treat you? Did it unfold as you wished?

I’ve often pondered these questions, especially when looking at the only photograph I possess of my maternal grandmother. It was taken at my parents’ wedding in 1949 – a formal portrait of both sets of grandparents standing behind the newlyweds. Their expressions do not convey the joy of the occasion.

Kathleen looks stern, stony-faced and much older than her 49 years. There’s a slightly haunted look in her eyes that has always saddened me. But perhaps that’s because I know how her story ended. Less than two years after that photograph was taken, her life was cut short by a brain tumour that was discovered just two weeks before she died.

Shortly afterwards my parents moved to London, lugging a suitcase full of grief and leaving most of their relatives behind in Swansea.

Even at 86, my mum is still angry about what happened to her mother. She has told me many times that Kathleen was an intelligent woman who married beneath her, who could have done so much better for herself, who might have lived longer had her life been less arduous.

Kathleen was born in Deptford, south-east London, in 1900, firstborn of Edwin, a glass bottle packer, and his wife Sophia. She met my Welsh grandfather, Bert, while they were both working at the munitions factory in Woolwich Arsenal during the latter years of the First World War. By all accounts he was a bit of a charmer and persuaded Kathleen to marry him, leaving her nearest and dearest behind to move to South Wales in 1920.

According to my mother, Kathleen lived a life of unrelenting domestic drudgery, raising five children almost single-handedly on a bare minimum of housekeeping money while Bert went to work – and the pub. Like many breadwinners of his generation, he rarely lifted a finger to help.

It seems that Kathleen had no identity beyond being a mother, a wife, a cook, a cleaner and a make-do-and-mender. I imagine a woman whose individuality was as mangled as her laundry, whose life was dominated by duty and obligation.

Even though her youngest daughter – my mother – followed her path and also became a stay-at-home mum, her second granddaughter (my sister came along in 1953 and I was born in 1957, six years after Kathleen died) decided as a teenager that a domestic life was not for her. I wrote in my diary at the age of 18 that the last thing I wanted was to become a housewife.

So you could say that Kathleen’s story, and my mother’s reaction to it, resulted in me rejecting motherhood and valuing freedom, independence and individuality above all else. It’s as if I received the subliminal message that I should question the prevailing wisdom about women getting married and having kids: “Don’t go there – it’s a prison.”

I have enjoyed the luxury of pursuing a career that has enabled me to travel all over the world, and also embarking on a journey of spiritual growth and personal development that would have been unthinkable to women of Kathleen’s generation, whose struggle was about survival and raising a family.

Kathleen may never have allowed herself to hope or to dream, beyond producing healthy children and being a good wife. Perhaps that was her dream. Life didn’t seem to treat her particularly well. Did it unfold as she wished? Who am I to say? Maybe it did – maybe that is exactly what she signed up for.

The most poignant part of the story is that my mother was denied Kathleen’s support, encouragement and wisdom while she was raising her three children. And, of course, that my sister, brother and I never knew her. In fact, I did not experience being cared for by any of my grandparents. My relationship with my dad’s parents and my mum’s father and his second wife (Bert remarried with what was then considered to be indecent haste) was cordial but distant – we only saw them in the summer holidays.

But even though all I have of my maternal grandmother on the physical plane is one photograph and my mother’s stories, I still feel a connection. There is something there on a cellular level, some psychic bond that is in my DNA. And I believe that what she has given me is resilience. Buckets full of it.

So thank you, Kathleen – even though you checked out early, you will never leave my imagination. I’m proud that you were such a great mother. I hope you would have been proud of me, and happy that I have been able to make choices that were never available to you.

A kind, nurturing and stoical lady who gritted her teeth and got on with life – that’s who I think you were, Kathleen.

You can find Beverley at  If you want to be kept updated about the launch of Listening to our Grandmothers please sign up for my mailing list or join the Facebook page here. (edit) (edit)

It’s All in the Words: Reading Our Literary Grandmothers

Today I am excited to be posting the third of the Guest Blogs that I’ll be sharing in the run up to the release of Listening to our Grandmothers in September.  For the guest blogs I have asked a number of wonderful women to reflect on their experiences of Grandmothers or elder women in their lives.  This post is about our literary Grandmothers, is by Rebecca Selman, an English Teacher and a dear friend of mine.

Becky SAs an English secondary school teacher I am inspired by many women writers and their female creations.  Having not been particularly close to my biological grandmothers, I turn instead to my literary grandmothers when reflecting on the wisdom of older women.  What strikes me particularly is the way that many of these writers, both now and in the past, have challenged tradition and defied convention, both through the act of writing and in their own lives.  They encourage me to be who I am to the utmost of my capabilities; to make choices because they are right for me, not because I am expected to make them; and to not fear the censure of others if I am happy with myself.  Whilst there are countless women I could refer to, I am going to confine myself here to just three women whose writing spans centuries and whose lives, whilst very different, are all marked by their refusal to simply adhere to the social norms of the time:  Margery Kempe, Jane Austen and George Eliot.

Margery Kempe (c. 1373-c. 1438):

Margery Kempe is the author of what is thought to be the first autobiography in English, The Book of Margery Kempe.  In her book, which she dictated to a scribe, she tells of her desire to desist from sexual intercourse (not surprising since she had given birth to fourteen children!) and that in preference to it she would rather “have eaten and drunk the ooze and muck in the gutter”.  She tells her husband, John, a few weeks after she has persuaded him to take a mutual vow of chastity, that should he be threatened by a sword-wielding man unless he make love to her, she would “rather see [him] being killed” than that they resume their sexual life again.  Whilst partly sympathising with Margery’s long-suffering husband, I cannot help but admire her outspokenness and her radical belief in her right to use her body as she sees fit.

Another lesson Margery offers us in the 21st century is to lead your life as feels right to you and not worry about what other people think.  A profoundly religious woman who wanted to lead a life of devotion to God without entering a convent – which didn’t sit comfortably with fifteenth-century views of women’s lives – she also unsettled the medieval Church and society with her excessive manifestations of religious piety.  Her tendency to weep loudly at portrayals of the Crucifixion or at the sight of a mother and baby – which reminded her of Mary and Jesus – led to criticism and social ostracism: on pilgrimage in Europe she was abandoned by her fellow pilgrims who found her displays of devotion unbearable.  But none of this stopped her.  Whether or not one is religious, Margery’s refusal to behave as a 15th century woman was expected to, provides us with a positive and liberating template for how we lead our lives nowadays.

Jane Austen (1775-1817)

When I read Pride and Prejudice at the age of 14, Jane Austen became one of my favourite writers.  Whilst some might argue that her romantic plots – which always end with the heroine’s marriage to a man of good financial means – simply perpetuate a myth of feminine dependence on men, I think there is something far more radical going on.  At a time when women mainly married for status and stability, Austen created heroines who were brave enough to reject the sensible choice if love was not involved: Elizabeth Bennet’s rejection of Mr Collins’s proposal in Pride and Prejudice springs to mind.  At the same time Austen knew that the heart could not over-rule the head when it came to romantic matters, and that financial stability was important in a marriage – hence the difficulties portrayed in the “imprudent marriage” of the poverty-stricken parents of Fanny Price in Mansfield Park.

This radical balance between heart and head can be seen in Austen’s own life.  Austen herself never married, and is thought to have rejected the one proposal she received – from a rich family friend, Harris Bigg-Wither, in December 1802 – because she did not love him, even though her family had welcomed the prospect.   In a letter she wrote to her motherless niece, Fanny, Austen imparted this timeless piece of advice:  “Anything is to be preferred or endured rather than marrying without affection”.  Austen, who died at the age of 41, obviously followed this advice and, as a 43 year old woman who is currently single and has neglected to have children – more by chance than by design – I find this advice helpful when told that perhaps I am single because I have set my sights too high or am too fussy; I don’t think Austen would have thought there was anything wrong with that!

George Eliot (1819-1880)

And so to George Eliot, my final choice, the woman who adopted a male pseudonym in order to be taken seriously as a writer.  Eliot’s life was a model of unconventionality and nonconformity: for 24 years she openly lived with George Lewes, who was already married; after his death she married a man 20 years her junior; throughout her life she fought against the limited expectations placed on women authors who were expected to only be able to write light-hearted romantic novels.  Theology, philosophy and politics run throughout Eliot’s novels, alongside realistic and psychologically complex portrayals of characters.

Dorothea Brooke in Middlemarch is probably Eliot’s greatest female creation.  Introduced on the first page as ‘remarkably clever’, she marries first the aged academic clergyman, Causabon, and after his death, his penniless nephew; her choices are criticised by her neighbours in the small Midlands town of Middlemarch.  She is also remarkable for her desire to do good, in a quiet, understated way.  As is noted in the book’s final paragraph:

But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.

In these words lie also, I think, something else that is so inspiring about these three women writers – and many others that I have not mentioned.  Through their writing, they tell the world of “unhistoric acts” and “hidden lives” of remarkable women which might otherwise remain obscure; they challenge us to ensure that women’s voices are heard loud and clearly down through the ages.

If you want to be kept updated about the launch of Listening to our Grandmothers please sign up for my mailing list or join the Facebook page here.

It’s not just about what Granny did in the war…

Today I am excited to be posting the second of the Guest Blogs that I’ll be sharing in the run up to the release of Listening to our Grandmothers in September.  For the guest blogs I have asked a number of wonderful women to reflect on their experiences of Grandmothers or elder women in their lives.  I’m really proud to say that this post, about some of the things that we so often don’t talk about, is by my cousin Stephanie Gunner.  Stephanie who is a writer for LGBT Theatre and you can read more of her articles at

Profile Pic for Blogs (SG)

A friend of mine lamented the loss of the wisdom of elders to me recently, feeling it was a shame that in the modern age, we don’t have the collective reverence for older voices that countless civilisations before us have demonstrated. I agreed it does seem counter-intuitive not to consult with the voices of experience, and together we began to wonder why that tradition has been lost in Western society.

We wondered whether the sexual revolution may have had something to do with it, as younger people’s concerns extended from marriage and family matters to complex questions of sexuality, sexual desire and the struggles of navigating an increasingly multi-faceted romantic landscape. But what is it that stops us asking about these things? An assumption that all of our grandparents are sexually repressed as most of them were married pre-war? I’d argue against that notion, as I suspect it’s more a question of silence than inactivity. Throughout history, sexuality may not have been discussed in polite society but that doesn’t mean it’s not still happening behind closed doors.

The reason I say this is because both of my grandmothers were incredibly vibrant; unconventional figures, who imbued me with a sense of the fun and philosophical in their own respective ways. They also managed to impart a couple of strong influences, albeit indirect ones, on the way I saw myself; my body and my sexuality.

My maternal grandmother, Joan, was a larger than life character, remembered by me for her colourful dresses, frequent travels abroad and her penchant for tipping a little extra sherry in the trifle. From her I learned to make the most of life and opportunities, as well as not to care too much what my body happened to look like. When I was small, I was sitting on her bed one day while she was getting dressed into her swimsuit and I asked her why there was a foam lump in the front of the suit. She told me it was her bra-filler, as she’d had a single mastectomy as a result of breast cancer before I was born. I remember being surprised as I’d never heard of such things before, and it was an early example for me of how our bodies are not all the same. She certainly showed me that difference is nothing to be ashamed of, too. At a subsequent family barbecue to celebrate her birthday she decided to model one of her presents for fun: a long silky nightie. The laughter and cheers as she came outside quipping ‘Are you sitting comfortably?’, showed me how you can be comfortable and happy in your skin despite what your body may have gone through. It’s a lesson that should have been more obvious of course, but as I grew up in a world of teen magazines and airbrushed photos, it was good to have that memory as a counterpoint to prescribed perfection. I learned that our bodies are the stories of our lives and experiences, and we should be proud of all we have survived and accomplished.

My paternal grandmother, Iris, was less outwardly performative but had a spiritual vibrancy that transcended appearances. She described make-up as war paint, gave her cats three names each and had a love of all things Native American. As I grew into a teenager, she wasn’t shy about mentioning boys and relationships, and when I was in my twenties she spoke to me a little about what she saw ahead for me in love. It’s not something I want to go into detail about here, but suffice it to say if she’s right I have a lot to look forward to. A lot of emotional jungle to machete through too of course, don’t we all, but her optimistic outlook is still a source of comfort to me. Also, when I was 18 she gave me a book on sex and horoscopes, confidently telling me at the time that there was nothing shameful about sexual desire and that it is ‘the last thing to go’ as one gets older, and that makes her legendary in my book.

So I would argue it’s not necessarily that we’ve lost access to that voice of the elders; it’s that we have to find new ways to listen, particularly when it comes to sexuality. There doesn’t need to be that disconnect, if we understand that frankness is a style of discourse that may not have been available to our grandmothers as they grew into women. We may never be able to have as candid a discussion about sex with our elders as some of us would like, and many of us will struggle to ask the questions we really want to put to the voices of experience, but I hope this is something that becomes easier as we move forward. It’s naïve to think those older than us have nothing to teach us about love and desire, and as we post-1960s children get older, I hope we continue the discussion around sex and relationships with future generations. The more I remember of my childhood around my grandmothers, the more I realise I was listening and asking questions all along; I just hadn’t worked out how to vocalise them yet.

You can find Stephanie @StephanieGunner or @TheatreLGBT.  If you want to be kept updated about the launch of Listening to our Grandmothers please sign up for my mailing list or join the Facebook page here. (edit)

My maternal grandmother by Judith Morgan

I’m very excited today to be posting the first of a number of Guest Blogs that I’ll be sharing in the run up to the release of Listening to our Grandmothers in September.  For the guest blogs I have asked a number of wonderful women to reflect on their experiences of Grandmothers or elder women in their lives.  This first post is from the lovely Judith Morgan, an accountant, coach, mentor, blogger and  juicing enthusiast.  This beautiful piece is about Judith’s memories of one of her grandmothers. 


JudithMy maternal grandmother, Grannie Symonds, was a farmer’s wife who was born, married, lived and died in and around Weymouth in Dorset, England. My mother, Daphne, was the youngest of her six children and I was the fourth youngest of her eleven grandchildren.

My earliest memories of Grannie are of her working hard on the farm and to create enormous family gatherings of upwards of 20 people with splendid farmhouse meals, all fresh, all home-grown and home-cooked and all in black and white, like the photographs. My memories are photographic.

Grannie was strong and silent, gentle and kind, accepting, loving and giving. I often went to stay with her without my parents, when a child, and my father found her much easier to love than his own mother. I want to say she was a matriarch but that would definitely be without a capital M. Strong and silent, she was the power behind the throne who commanded love and respect by dint of her admirable personality and stoicism. She died on her 86th birthday, no illness, no fuss.

Both my grandparents, as farmers, were entrepreneurs, the only example I can point to in three generations of my family, apart from myself, so something about their way of life and their work ethic must have rubbed off as I later went on to create my own albeit urban version of that.

The influences Grannie bequeathed to me include a love of church music, she played at the tiny church on her farm and I often played at school and at church as hymns were sung.  She was tall and upright and values driven, as am I.  She made all her own clothes and for her four daughters including their wedding dresses, bridesmaids’ dresses and going away outfits, a skill I inherited too. These are old fashioned women’s skills, church, cooking and sewing. Today, they seem to me to be all the better for being somewhat out of fashion.

She had a special name for me – Jooge – born of my younger brother trying to say my name – Judith – when he was a tiny. She never forgot that and always used it; it allowed me to feel special too.

I am sad I cannot find any photos of her to share with you, Gentle Reader. However I don’t need photos to remember her and now that I think about it I can feel her in my DNA. I did think I might have a recipe in her own handwriting to share but was unable to find that either; my own 58 year-old memory deceiving me. But I do have the recipe itself – it’s very English and I hope you enjoy it.

Grannie’s Salad Dressing

  • I teacup of sugar
  • I teacup of vinegar
  • I teacup of milk
  • 2 oz butter
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp mustard
  • I tsp plain flour
  • 1 egg, well beaten

Put all the ingredients in a saucepan and stir until it thickens. Cool before use.

I remember it goes very well with new potatoes and one of those funny 1950s English salads which are all about lettuce, cucumber and tomatoes with nothing fancy or “foreign” in them but, again, this is just a memory of the times in which Grannie Symonds lived and worked and loved and died, England in the 1900s. Grannie S was a woman of her time who kept the home fires burning through two world wars.

It is a wonderful feeling knowing that some of her indomitable spirit lives on in me and I celebrate her by living according to her light.

You can find Judith at or @JudithMorgan.  If you want to be kept updated about the launch of Listening to our Grandmothers please sign up for my mailing list or join the Facebook page here.