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If older women were in charge we would have more beautiful gardens and would learn to take more time for tea…

CMM_GrandmaToday on the blog, just in time for Christmas some thoughts (and a beautiful video) from Christine Mason Miller a Santa Barbara based writer and artist who has been creating, writing and exploring ever since she was a little girl.  I ordered myself her book Desire to Inspire as a Christmas present to myself and I am looking forward to reading it over the Christmas holidays.  You can find Christine at and contact here via

What did the older women in your family or close circle teach you about life? To believe in myself.

How do you feel about getting older yourself? How do you want to feel? I want to experience it with acceptance. I want to be grateful for all the years I’m given.

Tell me about an older woman who inspires you (could be someone you have read about, know of have heard about) I traveled to Argentina with a large group a few years ago, and there were two women in their early 70s on the trip. I loved that they were still traveling and having adventures, and I remember thinking, “I hope I’m adventurous like they are when I’m older.”

What do you think your 70 old self would say to you now? Be grateful – for ALL OF IT.

How do you think the world might be different if older women were in charge? We would have more beautiful gardens and would learn to take time for tea.

Did you know your mother and grandmother if so what were there names and where we’re the from? what did they teach you? If not how did you lose them? Did you miss their presence in your life? One of my greatest influences is my grandma. Although she passed away in 2005, she is still a constant presence in my life – the woman I turn to for guidance and encouragement on a nearly daily basis.  I celebrate her in quirky little ways. I use old photographs of her in my mixed media pieces, have a cabinet of curiosities filled with small objects that once belonged to her, and have made videos from old footage of her and shared it on my website. I have a picture of her on my dresser, so I think of her everyday.

Lovebirds from Christine Mason Miller on Vimeo.

If you’d like to feature on the blog do get in touch with me  To buy a copy of Listening to our Grandmothers click here or to stay in touch join the Facebook page here. 



Ravioli, Relations and Remembering family stories


It’s an exciting time of year and when better to be able to share a wonderful Guest Blog from an amazing woman who I consider a big sister (in the truly inspiring sense) a mentor and also a dear friend.  Sally Bartolameolli a coach, teacher and consultant.  She has worked with individuals and groups using powerful bioenergetic and emotional healing and release techniques that restore balance to the body, mind and heart. She runs courses for women both online and in Texas where she lives. She is a certified Shadow Work Coach, Holistic Health Counselor and Yoga teacher and is also author of Blessings from Mary and Co-Author of Relationships: From Addiction to Authenticity.  You can find out all about her offerings at

I did not grow up with grandmothers. My mother was the last of eight children born when my grandmother was in her late 30’s. My mother was in her early 40’s when pregnant with me. I was the last of 26 grandchildren born to Italian immigrants on both sides of my family. Unfortunately, all grandparents were deceased by the time I arrived. Still, the village was there to meet me, greet me and have their hands in my upbringing. I had 11 maternal and paternal aunts. We lived upstairs of my Aunty Ann and I shared meals with at least two other aunts and families each week.

From the Italian women in my family, I learned about strength, perseverance, drive, accomplishment and generosity. Several of them owned businesses; started in the 1940‘s and 50’s. In addition to running any businesses or outside work my aunts and mother had, they cleaned and cooked for their families, tended to the summer gardens, canned for the long winters, caught-cleaned and cooked their own fish and attended church every Sunday. Whatever stories of impoverishment they shared growing up during The Great Depression, there were always others less fortunate and when you had enough, you gladly shared your surplus. While I could expect to be fed well at every meal, while being reminded of children starving around the world, I was also expected to contribute to the clean-up afterward. Memories of standing on a chair at the sink rinsing dishes next to my mother, an aunt or cousin, brings joy and a sense of cooperation and belonging. We were a family and we worked, played, laughed and cried together.

My experience of food and cooking in our Italian family taught me a lot. I was shocked to go away to college and see “canned ravioli” in the cafeteria line. Before my freshmen year at college, canned pasta and ravioli were only a dream, advertised on television by Chef Boyardee.  It was even more shocking to me to see that my fellow classmates loaded up their plates and ate them. This was my first call home to my mother explaining what I had seen with the hopes of making sense of the shocking reality I had witnessed. Growing up Italian with a dozen aunts in any direction, every holiday preparation involved making homemade red sauce and both cheese and meat ravioli from scratch. We didn’t use a food processor or mixer to make the pasta. There was a mound of circular flour and eggs broken in the center that we stirred together with our hands until dough was formed. We kneaded until it was “soft like a baby’s bottom”, as my Aunt would say.  Then we rolled the pasta out by hand, laying the small pile of meat and cheese in row upon row upon row. It was a two day process with at least five sets of hands. At the end of it all, each family would have over a hundred little pockets of scrumptiousness for the holiday meal and then another hundred or so frozen to be used at the discretion of the woman of the house.

I stood as high as the card table that the floured ravioli were laid out upon and there was always a fork in my hand. It was my job to gently but firmly press the three sides of the ravioli to seal them so that they wouldn’t open and lose their filling when boiling. If I got too close to the actual filling, the pocket of cheese or meat would be punctured and that was not a good thing. These were labor intensive delicacies and do overs took precious time. Still, the sense of community comprised of such a harmonious symphony of chefs, was art and science all in one. These were women who were focused and on a mission.

It’s interesting now for me as I write this and reflect on this part of growing up.  I learned so much from making ravioli with my mother and aunts. Somehow a sense of dignity and honor came from cooking. Our heritage and legacy was passed down in these times of coming together. Their energy gave witness to their generosity, commitment to family, precision in their craft and the sense of pride in their own ancestry. Funny how sealing a ravioli with a fork can create such a strong sense of belonging, generosity, connection and community.

Remembering my Grandmother

Liz Kalloch bio photoSo many people have asked me about the beautiful illustration on the front of Listening to our Grandmothers and so today I am really happy to share a guest blog from the artist who created it, Liz Kalloch.  

Liz is a San Francisco Bay area based artist, illustrator,  graphic designer and writer – I love how we are able to collaborate across continents now and am so glad I got in touch with her via Jen Lee because the cover feels so perfect for the book.  I learnt that we have something else in common when I read her delightful blog post because, like Liz I have a middle name, Walsingham, which is a maiden name.

I was named for my maternal grandmother – a Scottish tradition, so that the maternal names don’t get lost – so I am Elizabeth Briggs (my middle name is her maiden name). When I was a little girl, starting school every year, and the teacher would call my name, I’d cringe, waiting for the teasing over my middle name. I remember one girl in my 4th grade class asking me why my parents didn’t give me a “normal” middle name, like Anne, or Marie, like all the other girls had. And each year after the first day of school I’d ask my Mum why my middle name had to be listed for the teacher to call out, and for everyone to snicker at, and she’d tell me that someday I’d be happy that I had her name.

She hasn’t been here with us for a long time, she passed away when I was in my early 20s, but I think of her almost everyday, and she tops my personal list of people who have inspired, influenced, encouraged and even dared me.

my grandmother Elizabeth Briggs Balfour at 9 months old

my grandmother Elizabeth Briggs Balfour at 9 months old

An artist, an inspired gardener, a writer, a reader, a mother and a woman beyond her time. She was not encouraged to be independent, not encouraged to be an artist, nor a traveller, she was encouraged to marry and have children, because that’s what women did in her generation. And she did that, and also painted, and designed gardens and organised reading groups with her friends, and lived a life that on the outside had little in the way of frills or accessories; but on the inside was rich with beauty and ideas, and deep thoughts.

As my grandmother though, she told me at a very early age that I could do anything, be anything, have and be a part of anything that I wanted to be. She told me I was special and unique. She encouraged my dreams and my hopes and my wishes for my life. She encouraged my independence and my sense of self. In effect, she gave me permission to be myself all the time, in a world where conformity is the safe and easy route.

My relationship with her was like an open door: it was like walking to and fro from room to room, while in the midst of a never ending conversation, punctuated with other characters entering and leaving, kind of like a one act play, that just keeps going and going. I think of her as my first role model for a generosity of spirit that I since have always looked for in friends, in business partners, in romantic partners, in life. And I think that if I had not had her my whole young life, I might never have known that that kind of spirit existed out in the world.

Truthfully, as we go through school, through jobs, through relationships, as we grow and change and move through our lives, those kindred souls, those open spirits, filled with kindness and generosity and support, and the purest kind of love and devotion, do not come along around any old corner. They are the rare and most gorgeous jewels in our lives, and we are always the luckiest for having found them, or for they having found us.


I like to think that she found me, that is still my young girl’s daydream, I like to imagine that the first day she saw me, she knew who I was, she recognized me, and I her. I like to imagine she was my fairy godmother, not necessarily finding me the prince, but definitely turning my pumpkin into a carriage, and the mice into horses to take me anywhere I wanted to go.

I still hear her voice in my head, her energy still vibrates in the universe, and she still encourages me, inspires me and dares me to do more, ever more. Oh and my name? Sure enough, my Mum was right. By my late teens I was proud of my “different” middle name, and into my 20s and beyond, {especially after she passed away} I’ve taken pride and also feel much happiness signing my name. Seeing her name in mine.

You can find Liz and her wonderful illustrations and work at  To buy a copy of Listening to our Grandmothers click here or to stay in touch join the Facebook page here. 

My Grandmother’s Table

AishaSo excited today, wonderful Guest Blog from an amazing woman who is my very dear friend and colleague.  Aisha Hannibal and I met through Women in Power and now work together on The Red Tent Directory website.  It’s such a pleasure to work with Aisha.  She is a woman with a big heart and an amazing spirit of openness and generosity. Aisha is also interested in the wisdom of Grandmothers and we hope in future to work together on this in future as well.

I’m in my shorts and an old t-shirt and I am sanding the square wooden table in my kitchen. It’s my first time using a power sander and didn’t quite realise the amount of mess it would make. I am laughing at myself as I see dust on every hair on my arm and wondering if this would have been a better job to do outside as the window clouds over with yellow.

As the wood peels away to reveal a fresh new layer I am thinking about all the times I have sat at this table and the secrets of thoughts, and the grubby handprints of art projects, spilled wine and ink stains. These marks turn to dust and cover the kitchen in a thin layer as the
stories they hold infuse into my thoughts.

I made biscuits on this table with my grandma, they were called handful biscuits
because she measured the ingredients by scooping handfuls of flour and butter, intuitive of the right amount from memory. I can see her face in my mind the day we made the biscuits and can feel the awe I had for her in that moment.

This is her table and I honour her every mealtime with my own cooking and moments of calm. Aisha TableI teach at this table and sew and draw. All of these things she did herself in her life and the legacy goes on or not so much legacy but the celebration of daily creative things continues.

She was an artist, a painter and taught at Slade school of fine art but for me she made bread, she saved old pieces of card under the rug and made me birthday cards with glitter. Through my life I have tried hard to achieve something, be someone, take on roles, show up
when its hard and make my mum proud. But funny to think that my heart lights up when I remember these touches of magic rather than the wider woman of majesty that she was in
the world.

She was a working woman, someone who didn’t follow the call of the librarian or secretary that women of her era were funnelled into regardless of varied interest and skill. She followed her heart, followed what she loved most in the world. This is no easy thing as I am finding out. It’s like drawing a bucket from the depths of a well into the bright light of day and hoping that you can water all your seedlings to life. She did what she loved. She painted and she painted
and she loved to paint. Flowers, trees, stormy skies, and her lesson was that she sat down at the canvas and painted around the white that she left clear. A dance between colour, shape and that which holds it all in place. There is something so wise in this that I am not sure I
fully get it yet, but its the difference between trying to do something and waiting for it to reveal itself.

When I was young I just wanted to skip my youth and adulthood and fast forward to the years of grey hair and eyes sparkling with stories of a life lived, for me it always seemed the best bit was yet to come. It’s good to have the table to remind me that its not about the grandeur of
achievement but warm biscuits cooling in time for tea that really stays with the senses and the heart. For me its the wisdom of being how we are and loving that part most.

But it doesn’t mean it was easy. She struggled in life with the mundanity of cooking, mothering and daily chores when all she wanted
to do was paint. But there is something special that happens to a woman when she grows older that softens the internal battles and
allows her to just be full of love as a grandma. As a child I had an insatiable appetite for love, it was not sweets I filled my belly with
but love, from everywhere, it seemed the only thing that made sense and she gave it with wild abandon. She was strong and solid and a
great support to my mum throughout her marriage which gave me peace at times of difficulty.

When she became ill I saw an unknown part of her vulnerability because there was not a day in my life I had seen her in bed and I faltered at the words to say. In my mind I have stood at her bedside and written a narrative of the words of love, the thanks, the questions and everything that I could have said. At the time I just starred and felt ashamed. I hope she knew what was in my heart then and over the years when I have spoken to her inside.

It seems apt that her father, a lifelong astronomer, couldn’t resist calling her Stella, because she did shine from the inside and I wonder sometimes the super nova that she might have been if she had not chosen the route of a husband and family to really follow her heart.
But maybe thats the true lesson I can live in my own way, to feel the parts of me that millions of years ago came from the stars and fuse it together for myself.

Writing Listening to our Grandmothers

As I explain in the Introduction to the book (which you can now download along with the beautiful foreward by Amy Palko as a preview), the idea for this project started a few years back. I was reading a life story which Pat, one of the women whose story is the book, had written about a man she had known for many years in Tanzania. My enthusiasm for life stories in general began many years ago when, as a graduate researcher & one of Pat’s students I collected the life stories of mentally ill people in Tanzania as part of a project I was working on.

In the case of Listening to our Grandmothers I decided to come up with a standard list of questions which I would ask each of the women woman – and then when I was listening to them, I would add some additional questions about things that particularly interested me about them. I thought I would share the original questions here for anyone who would like to use them to have a conversation with their Grandmother, Mum (my Mum is in the book!) or another older women in their life.

Listening to our Grandmothers original Questions:

  • Tell me about your early years, where were you born, who were your parents, how did you grow up?
  • Can you tell me something about your mother? What for she do for money? For fun? For love? What did you learn from her?
  • Can you tell me something about your father? What did he do for money? For fun? For love? What did you learn from him?
  • What are your most abiding childhood memories? What did you want to be when you grew up?
  • Did you have siblings? Who w/are they? How have they affected your life?
  • When did you leave home, how and why?
  • What were your passions? As a young woman?
  • How was the world different then? From the way it is now? How did you prefer it? What has improved?
  • Tell me about the choices you made about life partner (s) and children?
  • Tell me about the work which has been central to your life? How did you make choices about it? Is there a ‘central- narrative’ that you feel brings it together?
  • What, so far are your greatest accomplishments?
  • Which things, if any, do you regret?

When I was writing the book I would send these questions in advance.  Four of the life stories in the book were recorded in one long sitting.  I went to visit the woman in her home and we talked, prompted by, but not restricted to the questions above.  I spoke with the fifth woman, Tricia, by Skype and this happened over two separate meetings with a week or two in between them.

On each occassion I recorded our conversations so that afterwards I could go back and listen to them and and start writing the chapters of the book based upon what they had said.  In most cases the final chapter which now appears in the book is a result of many iteractions and edits, a process which took many months as many other life events and commitments turned up along the way.

I hope that the result of this is a book that is not just a testimaent to the lives and experiences of five incredible women but also an inspiration to you to the listen to the older women in your life too.