Moving Day

Monday Morning Musings

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And so the newlyweds have moved.

We tell them about our first apartment—

the cinderblock shelves,

the closet made into a study

with the desk that is now theirs.

It has an ink-stained drawer,

damage done by my husband

when he was just a young boy,

and punished for

apparently.

But that was long ago.

As newlyweds,

we ate at

a card table

borrowed from my mom,

with four folding chairs

to go with it.

And we felt lucky

to have it.

And giddy with the excitement

of furnishing our first home.

They have the table

that sat in our basement

I think it belonged

to my husband’s grandmother.

But perhaps I’m wrong.

It has a wood veneer top.

To be perfectly honest,

I didn’t particularly like it.

But somehow it is perfect,

sitting in their kitchen alcove.

Their chairs

are the chairs that went

with the first table we purchased.

in that first apartment

with the cinderblock shelves.

My husband has re-caned

these chairs

for our daughter and her husband.

As he sits in their kitchen

my husband reports

that nothing has broken.

He’s joking,

I think.

I hope.

It is cheerful,

that kitchen of theirs.

Newly painted–

and my daughter was right

about the color.

We bring in boxes

and furniture.

Their dog guards it–

and them.

Their cat hides

in a closet.

We think of other moves.

My husband and his friends

moved my dad several times.

It wasn’t so bad.

They were young and strong.

And they got treated to a dinner

each time.

Not the typical pizza and beer,

although perhaps there was beer,

I don’t remember

because

there was

so much food.

Courses and courses of Chinese delights

At his favorite restaurant.

Perhaps there were other restaurants, too.

My dad loved food.

and playing the host.

In our first apartment

we had a bed

and bureau

bought from my cousin Sali.

We still have them,

the mattress replaced,

of course,

but the frame still sturdy.

There was an old bamboo bookcase, too.

Is it in our basement somewhere?

Moving brings memories,

doesn’t it?

Possessions do not

make a home,

But

each item packed

and then unpacked

tells a story.

Someday they will get our piano,

the piano I played as a child.

The ivory keys are ragged,

damaged by me,

I’m told,

although I don’t remember.

And I was such a good child.

Never mind.

It makes our piano unique.

I remember the movers coming

to move that piano

when we moved into our house,

our first house

where we still live.

I was pregnant with our older daughter.

We were packing boxes

and dreams.

And now we watch our children

do the same.

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Valley Green

Monday Morning Musings:

“Green is the prime color of the world, and that from which its loveliness arises.”

–Pedro Calderón de la Barca

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Valley Green Inn

Valley Green Inn

The restaurant—not really an inn—

Is nestled in a valley,

Set along the banks of

Wissahickon Creek.

And it was very green

Yesterday,

A beautiful August day.

Truth in advertising.

I suppose.

But even in winter snow

And ice

It would be lovely.

It was the perfect spot

For my mother’s birthday celebration.

A Sunday brunch.

In the 1790s,

A large gristmill operated

Downstream

From where we dined

Over two centuries later.

In the 1850s,

People took picnics

To this spot,

Escaping the heat

Of the city.

The new turnpike,

Now Lincoln Drive,

Made it easier for people

To travel to

This valley,

And to stay and eat

At the hotel

Then located there.

We sat indoors,

Foregoing the porch–

This time,

Although we’ve eaten there before.

The old rooms have seen history unfold.

I wonder what stories those walls could tell?

How many other birthdays

Have been celebrated here?

My mom can also

Tell stories.

She has seen many changes

In her 93 years.

No longer a slim,

And beautiful young woman.

Parents, friends, husband—

All gone.

Wars fought,

Men on the moon.

It was a big deal

When her family got

A telephone—

And that was only

Because her father

Had a grocery store.

It was the Great Depression–

But that was long ago.

Here,

Now,

In this inn,

The scent of wood smoke

Still lingers

From the flames

Of past fires.

But none today.

Not in August.

The fireplace cold,

Its mantel adorned

With flowers.

We sat in the old room,

The floors worn and slightly uneven,

With our modern conveniences,

Air conditioning

And cell phones.

My daughter

And her new husband

Share looks across

The table.

My sister and I

Share secrets.

We all seem

To share food.

Sausages passed

Around the table.

Everything is delicious—

Sweet potato pancakes,

Crab and seafood omelets,

Mushroom bisque,

Waffles,

French toast,

And Huevos rancheros.

There are 8 of us here

Drinking coffee,

Talking,

Ordering our entries,

Our fruit salads,

And

A berry cobbler

With a candle

For my mom.

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Filled,

Sated,

We walk outside

To sit by the creek.

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The geese and ducks

Swim in circles,

They look for treats thrown

By those who pass by.

The water burbles,

And children giggle.

Downstream,

A man is fishing.

There are runners,

Hikers,

And bikers,

On the path.

Two musicians sit in the shade,

Playing violin and guitar—

An acoustic version of

“Pinball Wizard”

Drifting out to us

And mingling with the sound

Of water, birds,

And conversation.

Perhaps these should be

The sounds aliens

Hear to understand

Our world.

The sounds of humanity,

Of Earth

Placed on Voyager

As it travels the galaxies.

But would they understand

Birthday wishes?

The love of family?

The sharing of food

And conversation?

Would they understand

The loveliness of

An inn

Set in a green valley

Along a creek

Where we took our

Mother for her birthday?

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You can find out more about Valley Green Inn here.

You can find out more about the sounds Voyager carries here.

O Brave New World: The Phoenix and Survival

Monday Morning Musings:

“There was a silly damn bird called a phoenix back before Christ, every few hundred years he built a pyre and burnt himself up. He must have been the first cousin to Man. But every time he burnt himself up he sprang out of the ashes, he got himself born all over again. And it looks like we’re doing the same thing, over and over, but . . .we know all the damn silly things we’ve done. . .someday we’ll stop making the goddamn funeral pyres and jumping in the middle of them.

–Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451

In mythology, the phoenix is a bird that is constantly reborn. It is associated with the sun—sometimes pictured with a nimbus around its head—and it is said to rise from the ashes of its predecessor. Time and again, civilizations also fall, and others rise from their ashes. Humans seem to have an infinite capacity for destruction. We also seem to have an infinite capacity for expressing our feelings, emotions, and desires through various forms of artistic expression, whether it is painting on a cave wall, secretly writing in a journal, or performing theatrical works in varied and sometimes bizarre locales. We find friendship and love in times of destruction and strife, the need to connect with others often overpowering thoughts of surviving without them.

You know those “what if” games? What books would you want if you were stuck on a deserted island? What belongings would you rush to gather in a disaster? How would you survive a zombie apocalypse? I don’t know. How can anyone know?

The book, Station Eleven, explores survival in the aftermath of a worldwide plague, and along the way it discusses theater, comic books, love, and loss. The story moves back and forth through time and the characters’ lives. One horse-drawn wagon of the Traveling Symphony caravan carries the slogan, “survival is insufficient.” The author of the novel, Emily St. John Mandel, has said she “stole it [the line] shamelessly from Star Trek: Voyager.”

The novel is about how people survive after present day civilization and conveniences no longer exist. What would we value in this brave new world? The Traveling Symphony performs Shakespeare and classical music; one of the actresses collects editions of an obscure comic book and treasures a snow globe. The book makes the argument that art and music of all types are necessary—simply surviving is not enough. Human connection—friendship, love, family bonds—all of these are necessary, too. And sometimes strangers connect us in ways we can never imagine–and perhaps will never know. In the immediate aftermath of a disaster, obtaining food and shelter are crucial, but Mandel argues they are not enough. Humans want more. We want stories and art, too.

After finishing the book, I watched the Star Trek Voyager episode that inspired Mandel. (“C’mon,” I said to my husband, “don’t you want to watch Voyager again after all these years?” He did not seem overjoyed, but he watched it with me, demonstrating that indeed in marriage, too, “Survival is insufficient.”) In the episode, Seven of Nine, formerly of the Borg collective, realizes that living in freedom, even for a brief time, is more valuable that living in bondage or in a life you did not choose.

The German movie, Phoenix, explores the idea of survival in a different way. In this 2014 film by director Christian Petzold (that just opened in Philadelphia), Nelly, a concentration camp survivor (the wonderful actress Nina Hoss) returns to Berlin after undergoing reconstructive facial surgery because of injuries inflicted upon her during the war. She has endured unimaginable horrors, and now she wants to find her pianist husband, Johnny. She finds him working as a bus boy in a jazz club, the Phoenix, in the American zone. How did he survive? Did he betray her to the Nazis? How can he not know his own wife? The movie makes viewers reflect upon what we might do in order to survive, and what lies might we then tell ourselves to ease our guilt? We are shown photographs—that person is now dead; that person was a Nazi. “Who him?” asks Nelly. Secrets and lies. What is the truth? There are echoes of Hitchcock here. But in postwar Berlin, many people assumed new identities. Her friend Lene, who knows Nelly’s story, believes she and Nelly should immigrate to Palestine and build a new life. Nelly, however, wants to rebuild her old life—and herself—from the ruins that literally surround her. The song “Speak Low” by Kurt Weill and Ogden Nash is repeated throughout the movie, the lyrics speaking words that the characters themselves cannot voice to one another.

“The curtain descends,

Everything ends

Too soon, too soon.”

Kurt Weill and Ogden Nash, “Speak Low”

Station Eleven seems to offer more hope in its belief that love and art will triumph. It is set mainly in a post-apocalyptic world, but almost two decades removed from the plague that nearly wiped out humanity. Phoenix is set immediately after the end of WWII. Perhaps a re-born Nelly will, in time, rise in the post-war world. Perhaps she will find joy in song again. Phoenix may not be a great movie, but I can’t seem to stop thinking about it.

In Station Eleven, there is Shakespeare, comic books, art, music, and story telling. Those who remember the past, tell stories of air conditioning and the Internet to those who were born later. In Fahrenheit 451, a passage from which is quoted above, there is a future world where books and reading are banned. Rebel survivors memorize and tell stories so they will not be forgotten. In Phoenix, perhaps it is too soon. Yet Lene plays a record, saying that listening to it helped her survive the war in London. Nelly says she no longer can enjoy German songs. The survivors have survived, but at what cost? Can we be reborn in the aftermath of tragedy?

These are fictional works that share a common theme—they emphasize the importance of literature and art. Sometimes we need fiction to find the truth about our world and ourselves.

         “Some stories are true that never happened.”

-Elie Wiesel

It Was a Fine Day for a Picnic

Monday Morning Musings

It was a fine day for a picnic—

The little bit of rain at the end doesn’t count.

An outing in the country for my mom

Who lives surrounded by the concrete

Of the city.

“I’ve never been to winery before,”

she said.

Well, she’s almost 93,

So it’s about time,

Don’t you think?

So I packed a picnic,

And since there were three of us,

I packed enough for 6,

Maybe 8,

Because what if there isn’t enough food?

A sandwich for my husband

And one for my mom,

And then–

Roasted red pepper hummus

Roasted Red Pepper Hummus

Roasted Red Pepper Hummus

Cheese, Manchego and Gouda

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Because I couldn’t decide.

Cut up vegetables, olives,

And,

The wine!

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I think I chose well,

The Cabernet Franc

Was delicious.

Of course

I’m not an expert,

But nobody complained,

And the glasses got refilled–

More than once.

So I guess they liked it,

And it went well

With the food.

There was also

My Mandelbrot,

My “Mommy Cookies,”

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Because every meal needs chocolate,

Doesn’t it?

And so–

We sat and talked.

While the clouds rolled like waves

In an aerial sea,

The white breakers

Tinged with gray.

Monroeville Vineyard and Winery

Monroeville Vineyard and Winery

And the bees danced

To their secret melodies

As they dipped into

The clover at our feet.

Vultures,

First one,

Then two, three, and four

Turned in graceful circles

Above us.

No, not quite above.

There was something farther afield,

Probably much tastier.

Well, tastier to a vulture

I suppose.

But then, I’ve never asked one,

Have you?

All was peaceful,

Just us, the food, and the wine–

And the soft buzzing of bees.

Friend Kelly stopped by,

But I forgot to take her picture.

You’ll have to trust me

That she was there with us.

She texted me later,

“Your mother is awesome.

Next time I’ll have to bring my mother-in-law.

They would really get along.”

I hope there is a next time.

But if not,

We had today.

Family, friends,

Food, and

Wine.

It was a fine day for a picnic.

A few hours of relaxing

In the open air.

An outing for my mother.

And the bit of rain didn’t matter

At all.

My mom and I--wine glasses in hand!

My mom and I–wine glasses in hand!

“Time it was and what a time it was, it was
A time of innocence, a time of confidences
Long ago, it must be, I have a photograph
Preserve your memories, they’re all that’s left you”

–Paul Simon, Simon and Garfunkel, “Bookends”

Aging, Dreams, and the Stories We Tell

Monday Morning Musings

“It is not true that people stop pursing dreams because they grow old, they grow old because they stop pursuing dreams.”

–Gabriel García Màrquez

This past week, my siblings and I spent a lot of time discussing issues concerning my mom, who will soon be 93 and lives in an independent living apartment. She is beginning to need more care, but as she has reminded us, she is still capable of making her own decisions about how she wants to live. We’ve all discovered there is a fine line between concern and overstepping boundaries. At the same time, it might become necessary to—if not step over—then to somehow straddle that line. It is an uncharted course without a captain and only primitive navigational devices. Our simple map is marked, “Here Be Dragons!” We are warned, but necessity forces us on. We proceed with caution. We are at sea, adrift and facing icebergs whose hidden dangers lie far below. We can be slammed by a tsunami of guilt or a tidal wave of recrimination. The sirens sing, but we sail on.

During this same week, my husband and I had a phone conference with a financial advisor to discuss our financial situation in light of my husband’s recent retirement. This planning for getting old, it’s a game of speculation and “what ifs,” but for now, we’re fine.

         Two characters on the Netflix show, Sense8:

Riley: “But what if something terrible happens because of me going back?”

Capheus: “What if something wonderful happens? Eh?”

And that’s life, isn’t it? We don’t know. There could be dragons. But perhaps those dragons take you on a wonderful adventure. There could be ghosts—well, we all look back. We can try to plan for the future, but we don’t know what will happen. The best we can do is to plan for the worst–while actually hoping that something wonderful will happen—because, well, thinking the worst will happen is not much of a life. I go to the gym regularly, but I also enjoy a dessert or glass of wine. It is not “bad” or “good.” It is just my way–to keep my body in shape and to hope my mind keeps pace. Or perhaps it’s the other way around.

On Saturday night, my husband and I saw the movie, Mr. Holmes. We seldom go to blockbuster movies, and we were kind of surprised that so many people were there at the 4:10 show. (My husband pointed out that they all appeared to be older than us.) The movie is definitely not a summer blockbuster. It is not an action movie–there are no car chases, no superheroes or women in skimpy outfits. No sex. It is not really even a Sherlock Holmes “who done it?”–although there is a mystery that the elderly Mr. Holmes is trying to solve. Ian McKellen embodies Holmes, a man whose memory is faltering more every day. Laura Linney as his housekeeper and Milo Parker as her son are also outstanding. It is leisurely, graceful movie that reflects upon growing old and on the regret of things done and not done in life. It touches on solitude, family, and friends—who are the people who care for us and who do we care about it? What happens when a person who has no one gets old? When both mind and body get frail who will take care him? Holmes learns the value of connection.

Holmes, who has spent a lifetime pursing facts, also learns to value the art of storytelling. In this movie, Holmes is real, but for those who have enjoyed Arthur Conan Doyle’s books or who have watched Sherlock Holmes movies or TV shows, he has always been real—as fictional characters are to those who love them. Fiction can impart valuable lessons—it is a different way of imparting and telling truths–and of sharing dreams. Telling stories is part of who we are. Stories help us define our world and slay our demons, or at least put them to rest.

So dragon, come close, let me tell you tale. Have you heard this one?

By the Sea

Monday Morning Musings

We made it.

Down the Shore.

Circling for blocks

And blocks

For a parking spot.

We are a bit farther

than we planned

But it doesn’t matter.

Because we’re here.

And we sit and gaze

At the waves.

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And at the sky.

Plane pulls an advertisement for the Impression Exhibition we saw at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

Plane pulls an advertisement for the Impression Exhibition we saw at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

And at the people.

The girl striking ballet poses

For her mother’s photo shoot

She’s all arms and legs,

Coltish

Her arabesque held

Only for a second.

Fleeting,

like this day

In a long line of days

that make up life.

But proud

In her youth.

“Look what I can do!”

In her life

It’s been an eternity

Since she was that toddler

Carefully placing each foot,

Her diapered bottom just inches

From the sand.

But to the sea

It’s only a second.

Then there’s

the couple playing catch.

And the family digging

A huge crater in the wet sand.

What are their stories?

I wonder.

We read our books,

And we gaze some more.

My husband's pensive pose.

My husband’s pensive pose.

There are no shark sightings.

But there is this little guy.

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The day is cloudy at first,

But still it’s lovely

Sitting there.

Then the sun comes out,

And it is glorious.

A perfect beach day.

The very definition.

Blue sky

A few puffy white clouds

Not too hot

And

A light breeze from the water.

We hate to leave,

But we’ll be back

Some other time.

After all,

The ocean is always here.

We simply need to pause

sometimes to see it.

A stop for water ice

Mango Water Ice

Mango Water Ice

Before we walk back to the car

And home to reality—

Showers and feeding the cats–

And feeding ourselves.

Of course.

But we were

By the sea,

By the beautiful sea.

You and me.

Finally.

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Rhythms of Summer, Rhythms of Life

Monday Morning Afternoon Musings

(One of those days, Folks!)

The sound of life is measured by its own rhythms. At its most elemental, there is the rhythm of the heartbeat. Parents are reassured and then overwhelmed upon hearing that first fetal heartbeat. A lover, quiet after the escalating drumming of two hearts, is comforted to hear the steady beat of his or her beloved’s heart as they lie together, one resting a head upon the other’s chest. Animals find heartbeats soothing, too–my cat cuddles against me in the night. My heartbeat calms him, and the rhythm of his purrs comforts me.

When the heart stops beating, the body dies. The pushing and pulsing of blood through our bodies is necessary for us to live. [As an aside–because this is the way my mind works– have you noticed that in popular culture, people kill vampires by putting a stake through their hearts, but zombies have to have their brains stabbed or heads cut off? Is it because vampires feed on blood, but zombies eat bodies? Add to list of things to ponder.]

The earth also has a rhythm. Watching the ocean from the beach, I’m often mesmerized by simply watching the waves as they crash upon the shore. There is something hypnotic about that rhythm and the rolling of the waves, as well as the beauty of the water catching the light and creating a tumble of white, silver, blue, and green and spraying rainbows into the air.

Summer seems to have its own special rhythm. This summer has been a busy one for us, marked by rhythms of life and life’s passages—one daughter’s graduation from graduate school, our other daughter’s wedding, and my husband’s retirement.

The song, “Sunrise, Sunset” from Fiddler on the Roof, has become a sort of cliché at weddings. (For the record, it wasn’t played at either of our daughters’ weddings.) But like all clichés, it was once fresh and new, and the words ring true. At each wedding, I did wonder to myself as I gazed at the beautiful bride, “Is this the little girl I carried?”

The chorus of the song, reminds us of the passage of time, and the rhythm of day to night, season to season, months to years:

Sunrise, sunset

Sunrise, sunset,

Swiftly fly the years.

One season following another.

Laden with happiness and tears.

As well as life changes, I’ve been caught up in work–finishing one book project, beginning two more, and writing test items. Testing is big business. Still, no matter the activities, summer marches to a slow, lazy beat that is different from the brisk upbeat of autumn and the solemn dirge of winter. Even though we’ve yet to make it to the beach this summer to watch those mesmerizing waves, we’ve spent time outside—

Watching a Bastille Day event at Eastern State Penitentiary, a silly hour of song, dance, and jokes hosted by “Edith Piaf” of the Bearded Ladies Cabaret. (“Marie Antoinette yells, “Let them eat TastyKakes,” before hundreds of them are tossed to the crowd below.)

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Drinking wine, eating pizza, and watching a performance of Shakespeare’s The Tempest at a local New Jersey winery,

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And enjoying the bounty of local farms.

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This is why New Jersey is known as the Garden State. Yes, it’s more than highways and the Jersey Shore.

In the summer I long to sit on the beach or on a shaded porch and spend hours reading a novel, simply relaxing. I haven’t had a chance to do this yet, but I still have some weeks left before summer marches on. Soon, its hazy, lazy-feeling days will merge into the crisp, clear, get-back-to-work fall. Then winter will come–and instead of longing to be outside, I will want to huddle under a blanket and read a novel. I’ll want to turn on lights to find my way out of the darkness, to eat hearty soups with homemade bread, and to wish again for languid summer days. I have work to do now, but perhaps a nap is in order. It’s all part of life’s rhythms, and after all, it is summer time.

3 Quotes 3 Days: Day 3

“For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.”

–George Washington to The Hebrew Congregation in Newport, Rhode Island (August 1790)

Full text here.

I decided to focus on an entirely different type of quotation for my last day of the challenge. I was reminded of these words as I reviewed my page proofs for my forthcoming book, The World of the American Revolution: A Daily Life Encyclopedia.  I love this sentence for its elegant wording, as well as its sentiments. The words are a reminder of what the US and its citizens aspire to when we are at our very best. In the past few months, here in the US, words and actions have gathered, stormed, and swirled with tornado-like winds of change. We’ve had recrimination and remorse; clemency and compassion. We’ve seen race riots and murders, flags raised and lowered, the past reexamined, and love is love made legal. We’ve seen people gathering in anger and spouting hate, and strangers and friends coming together in love and support of one another.

The quotation is also a reminder that most people are complex, complicated, and contradictory creatures. George Washington was known more for his leadership qualities than for his way with words. Here, however, he makes a statement that is simple and eloquent. I am struck by the phrase, “which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.”

Yet, we know he was a slaveholder. His considerable wealth was built on the backs of men and women who served him and his family. (It also helps that he married a wealthy, slaveholding widow.) In this letter, George Washington discusses religious toleration, but he also refers to classes of people having the same rights. Most likely he did not stop to think at all of the irony of his sentiments or to consider the condition of the people who he held in bondage.

To those who venerate without question our “Founding Fathers,” it is wise to remember that they were not without flaws. No person or nation is entirely good or entirely evil. We are all fallible. Those who think heroes are perfect or invincible would be wise to remember Achilles. It is our flaws that make us human and not gods. At the same time, wouldn’t it be a wonderful world if we all aspired to do our best and saw the best in one another?

For a bit more on Washington and slavery, see these links:

Mt. Vernon: http://www.mountvernon.org/research-collections/digital-encyclopedia/subject/slavery-and-enslaved-community/

http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_vault/2015/07/10/george_washington_and_slavery_1761_newspaper_ad_seeking_four_fugitive_slaves.html

This is Day 3 of the 3 Quotes 3 Days Challenge. Jane Dougherty, prolific writer of stories and poems, nominated me for this challenge: to post a favorite quote for three successive days.

For the last day of my quotation challenge, I’m nominating Frank of A Frank Angle. He always has a lot to say on all sorts of subjects, and I’m sure he has many favorite quotations!

Rainbow Challah for a Rainbow Wedding

Monday Morning Musings

“If thou tastest a crust of bread, thou tastest all the stars and all the heavens.”

– Robert Browning

So this post does not really involve musing, unless you want to think about how wonderful bread is–both to bake and to eat.

As many of you know, my younger daughter got married recently. She had a rainbow themed wedding—planned before the Supreme Court decision–but oh so timely! What a trendsetter, she is. Naturally, I wanted to surprise her and her groom with a rainbow challah. I’m sure that’s the first thing that most people think of when they hear rainbow wedding. If you don’t know, challah is a type of rich, egg bread. At traditional Jewish weddings, which this was not, the bride and groom often cut a challah and distribute it to guests. Since they weren’t going to have a challah at their wedding, I gave it to them the day before the wedding. You know, so they wouldn’t be hungry while getting ready and faint during the ceremony. That’s a thing that could happen, right? (Jewish moms everywhere, “But what if there isn’t enough food?” There must always be plenty of food available at all times in case of emergency.)

I totally stole the idea of rainbow challah from Amy Kritzer of What Jew Wanna Eat

Sorry, not sorry.

If you want a detailed recipe and braiding directions, check out her blog. She has a real food blog. The kind that has real directions and great photos. But keep on reading because I’m fun, and I will kind of sort of tell you how to make it. And provide not very good photos that I take on my iPhone camera. But—here’s the important part–

I made my Aunt Sima’s famous challah recipe. It is famous because I’ve written about it before. Also, it’s delicious.

It’s a great recipe, and if by chance you were to decide to bake two loaves (two batches) before 6 AM when you haven’t even finished your coffee because you want to make sure they get done before your daughter and her wife arrive for your other daughter’s wedding and you still have to clean the house, go to the gym, and work on your page proofs—and well, you might have—perhaps—added too much water to the recipe because it seemed then to need more flour than usual, but you’re not positive if you actually did add too much water.. . .well, IF this ever happened to you, rest assured that the bread will still come out great.

Because mine did.

AND, it looked like this.

Rainbow Challah

Rainbow Challah

Pretty impressive, right?

I used gel food dye. Important tip—wear gloves—well, unless you want your hands to be stained with a variety of colors. But if you want rainbow hands to go with a rainbow themed event? Fine. I will not stand in the way of your art. Otherwise, wear gloves.

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My husband bought me a huge box of these gloves, so now I can make 37 more rainbow challahs before I need to buy more gloves.

Instead of dividing the dough into 3 sections, as usual with this recipe, I divided it into 6.

I know you can see only 5 balls, but there were 6!

I know you can see only 5 balls, but there were 6!

Then I colored each a different color. I couldn’t figure out how to mix in the dye at first, and that took some time. I finally decided to use plastic knives to scoop out a bit of dye and added it to a ball of dough.

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I then kneaded each ball to distribute the dye. Each dough ball was well kneaded by the time I got through adding dye and kneading it. Very well kneaded. The most well kneaded dough I’ve ever made. You will need to use more dye for the darker colors. I then rolled each ball into a rope and braided the 6 ropes. It took so long to add dye and knead each ball that I didn’t really do much of a second rising after I braided the dough. Maybe 10 minutes or so.

Braided dough before baking.

Braided dough before baking.

Then I brushed the braided loaf with the egg yolk glaze and baked. Totally NOT Gluten Free! Stunning, colorful, and delicious!

My Aunt Sima’s World Famous Challah

Makes one large, scrumptious loaf

1¼ cups warm water

1 Package dry yeast

pinch of sugar

–Mix above ingredients, allow to stand and dissolve until frothy.

3 Tbsp. melted butter

3 Thsp. Sugar

1 Tbsp. salt

1 Egg

–Beat above ingredients and add to yeast mixture.

Add enough flour for a stiff dough. [Start with 2 cups and then go from there.] Knead and place in a greased bowl. Cover with a clean dish towel or plastic wrap. Let rise until doubled (about 1 hr. to 1 ½ hours). Knead again. Take off 1/3, if you want a “topknot.” Divide the rest of the dough into three sections, then braid the 1/3 and set on top. Or divide dough into 6 sections and braid. (For a round challah, you can braid and then connect the ends so it forms a circle.) Let rise briefly on a greased or parchment paper lined cookie sheet. Coat with a mixture of 1 egg yolk and 1 Tbsp. milk. Sprinkle with poppy and sesame seeds. I usually use both, but didn’t do either for the rainbow version. Bake at 350° until golden brown. You can thump the bottom and it should sound hollow if it’s done.

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3 Quotes 3 Days: Day 2

“When he was nearly thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow. When it healed, and Jem’s fears of never being able to play football were assuaged, he was seldom self-conscious about his injury. His left arm was somewhat shorter than his right; when he stood or walked, the back of his hand was at right angles to his body, his thumb parallel to his thigh. He couldn’t have cared less, so long as he could pass or punt. When enough years had gone by to enable us to look back on them, we sometimes discussed the events leading to his accident. I maintain that the Ewells started it all, but Jem, who was four years my senior, said it started long before that. He said it began the summer Dill came to us, when Dill first gave us the idea of making Boo Radley come out…”

–Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

There are many famous and memorable lines from To Kill a Mockingbird, but this is the novel’s opening paragraph.  I’ve read the book several times, but reading these lines make me want to read it all over again. Like many others, I’ve followed the news of Lee’s “new” book—to be released on Tuesday—that is a sequel to the story, although it was actually written before Mockingbird. Go Set a Watchman, from what I’ve read about it, is different in tone and voice from To Kill A Mockingbird; the characters are different, too, as they have changed over time. It will be interesting to read it. No matter what I think of Watchman though, it will not—and does not—detract from the magnificence of Mockingbird. Scout, Atticus, Boo Radley and the rest hold a dear place in my heart, as they do in the hearts of nearly everyone who has read the novel. (The movie, with Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch and Robert Duvall in his film debut as Boo Radley, is also wonderful.)

This is Day 2 of the 3 Quotes 3 Days Challenge. Jane Dougherty, prolific writer of stories and poems, nominated me for this challenge: to post a favorite quote for three successive days.

I nominate Rachel Carrera. Feel free to accept or not. Check out Rachel’s blog, which is filled with wonderful stories of her life, posts on autism awareness, “intense” fictional stories, and her own brand of quirky humor.