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.

3 Quotes 3 Days: Day 1

“Reader, I married him.”

–Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre

Jane Dougherty, prolific writer of stories, poems, pets, and life in France nominated me for this challenge: to post a favorite quote for three successive days.

I don’t often do blog challenges, and I have a lot going on right now, but this one seems manageable. And I love quotes!

Jane Eyre is one of my favorite books. I probably first read it when I was about 12 or 13. I read it again in high school, college, and when I was in grad school—when I actually picked-up on some of the 19th century cultural ideas (such as phrenology) that are discussed in the book. I read it again when my girls were little, and then when they were a bit older. Jane Eyre—I guess she’s been a companion through my life. This particular quote has even more significance for me now because my younger daughter chose it to adorn the fan she made and carried as she walked down the aisle during her recent wedding. It is trimmed with lace from my wedding veil. (Pause for everyone to say “awwwww.”) Her bridesmaids also carried handmade fans with literary quotations–totally appropriate for a woman who met her love while acting opposite him in A Streetcar Named Desire and who now teaches English. Jane Eyre is one of her favorite books, too.

Wedding fan.

Wedding fan.

The passage from Jane Eyre continues:

“A quiet wedding we had: he and I, the parson and clerk, were alone present. When we got back from church, I went into the kitchen of the manor-house, where Mary was cooking the dinner and John cleaning the knives, and I said—‘Mary, I have been married to Mr. Rochester this morning.’”

I’m going to nominate only one person on each day, and I’ve tried to pick people who also love quotes. There’s no pressure, and if you choose not to accept the challenge, that is absolutely fine with me. Feel free to pass it along, or not. On this first day, I nominate Marian Beaman: “Former Plain Girl” (turned college professor). Check out her blog.

She has a quotation for every occasion, so I hope she’ll accept the challenge.

Also—sorry, but I can’t seem to stop writing this post–readers may be interested in Malala Yousafzai’s campaign, #booksnotbullets. You can read about it here.

I’ve posted a photo of myself on Twitter holding a copy of Jane Eyre. Of course.

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Love and Marriage: The Independence Day Edition

Monday Morning Musings

In the United States, the 4th of July is a national holiday. It’s the commemoration of the day Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence and ordered that it be printed. (Congress actually declared independence on July 2, 1776, and the delegates signed the official document at a later date.) Typically, Americans celebrate the holiday with barbecues or picnics, parades, and fireworks.

This year we celebrated with a wedding.

Our beautiful, kind, and amazing younger daughter married a handsome, strong, and amazing young man. I guess that makes them the amazing couple.

Fortune or Mother Nature smiled on them, and the rain held off for the lovely outdoor ceremony. As their officiate explained, they traced the genesis of their relationship to their casting (by him) in Albright College’s stirring and affecting production of Tennessee William’s play, A Streetcar Named Desire—she was Blanche; he was Stanley. (During the production, the future bride-to-be going out of her way to assure me that this man, “just a friend”—cast opposite her as Stanley–was really nothing like the him.) The sparks that ignited onstage, continued to smolder offstage. Friendship deepened to love. The wedding vows this couple wrote, each making promises to the other, were funny, poignant, and heartfelt. It was as if they were letting the rest of us—people who love them both—in on a private, tender moment. And we were fortunate to be there to share it with them.

After the wedding

After the wedding

With my daughter ( the bride) and my mom

With my daughter ( the bride) and my mom

In a swirl of rainbow colors and whimsy, they were married. As Americans have learned, we are stronger together. Together this young couple can now strive for “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness”—together. They can stand united against whatever fate may bring. They can take Thomas Jefferson’s immortal words to heart: “we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”

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From now on, the nation will celebrate on their anniversary.  There will be fireworks and parades. Neither will ever have an excuse to forget their wedding anniversary. But, as my husband noted, this day is only the beginning. In his closing words from his toast to them, he said,

“My greatest wish for the two of you is that through the years your love for each other will so deepen and grow that years from now you will look back on this day, your wedding day, as the day you loved each other the least.”

But perhaps each year they should throw a party or have a barbecue so we can celebrate with them.

We’ll bring our crowns.

We got crowned! (Our youngest child was married.)

We got crowned!
(Our youngest child was married.)

Next Monday: Rainbow Challah for a Rainbow Wedding

Anniversary in the City

Monday Morning Musings

“A day spent with you is my favourite day. So today is my new favourite day.”

Winnie the Pooh

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Part I

It was not a day of romance and roses—

And we missed the parade of

Tall ships

With Mama Duck–

Who sprang a leak.

I later discovered.

But we saw great art,

And we talked and walked.

And glimpsed a different view

Of the city.

First,

In the morning

“Discovering the Impressionists”

At the Museum of Art.

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So strange that Degas’s little dancer

And the rest

Were considered shocking.

Collected by Paul Durand-Ruel

A conservative Catholic father of five—

Who embraced the art of those who became known as

The Impressionists.

The critics scorned and ridiculed their work.

I guess he had the last laugh.

A visionary in a time of rapid change,

Inventions like steam engines and railroads–

Changes occurring as quickly and regularly

As Monet’s Poplars changed their color and shape,

Through the seasons.

Transnational and transatlantic collaborations

French artists meeting in London,

American artist Mary Cassatt–

A conduit between the European art world

And the newly rich American millionaires

Who wanted fine art to grace the

Walls of their

New mansions.

Industry and art,

Dancing together like

Renoir’s couples,

Twirling and swaying,

The city couple and the country couple

Both enjoying that moment in time.

And we enjoyed the sight

Of them,

Arms entwined

We see their smiles

And hear the rhythm of the music

As they glide.

Over one hundred years later.

They still live.

Part 2

Up to the medieval galleries.

We looked at the swords

And the mounted knight

In the center of the room

On his armored horse.

Leonard the guard

Spoke to us

With great enthusiasm—

if not total historical accuracy–

Throwing himself to the ground

To demonstrate a knight

Thrown off his horse.

And then following us

To the next room.

To provide a

Somewhat fanciful account

Of how knights cooked their food.

But again,

With great eagerness.

There’s a man who loves his job.

Part 3

We walked to Fairmount

Near the Penitentiary

That looms over the area

A testament to an earlier time

And the zeal to reform

Sometimes harshly.

“Let them think about their crimes,”

The reformers said.

And built the Penitentiary

With single cells

And no talking allowed.

The ghosts linger there,

But not for us today.

Instead

We ate sandwiches

At Ry Bread.

We sat outside in the small back patio.

Opposite each other at the little table,

Opposite tastes, too.

His New York, a corned beef Panini,

Me with the Hollywood,

Whole wheat bread with hummus and vegetables,

I added avocado and cheese,

Because seriously,

Why wouldn’t you?

Then a stroll to the Rodin Museum—

We think with the thinker,

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We empathize with Eve,

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We’re giddy with Eternal Spring,

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And move with The Three Shades.

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Then another walk to the Mutter Museum—

A bit farther than we thought,

But well worth it because

Nothing says happy anniversary

Like seeing a giant colon, right?

And who doesn’t want to be disturbingly informed?

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Part 4

Dinner at Tria,

The rain mostly holding off

Till the end of our meal.

My husband moves his chair closer

To get under the umbrella

But we stay dry,

Well, almost,

Although the menu on its clipboard

Is soaked.

The sky is violet gray

And the air misty

Like an Impressionist painting,

The city swirls about us—

The Impressionists saw

Railroads,

But didn’t have to worry

About cars driving

past sidewalk cafes,

Horns honking,

People walking,

Life going past.

Sometimes too quickly.

But the wine was good,

And the cheese even better.

Part 5

We went to a show next.

It was not Shakespeare,

Or Stoppard.

It was ridiculous fun.

Sometimes just what you need.

Murder for Two

Two actors

Thirteen roles,

And the piano,

That both play—

Sometimes together.

Ballet moves

And silly step dancing,

The actors make it look

So effortless.

They seem to enjoy their work

As much as Leonard does his,

But they’re actors,

So who knows?

And then we go home

To feed the cats

“Where were you

At dinnertime?”

They say.

And we sleep

After our long day of walking.

Impressions of the city

Impressions of Impressionists,

Of life,

Of love,

Fill my dreams.

But thankfully

There are no giant colons

Or surgical instruments

To mar my slumber.

The next day we find that

All across America

It is no longer straight marriage or gay marriage

It is simply marriage,

And other couples will now get to celebrate 37 years together

As we have.

Here are links to the places we visited:

Philadelphia Museum of Art

Rodin Museum

Mutter Museum

Philadelphia Theatre Company

RyBread Café

Tria Café

We didn’t go to Eastern State Penitentiary, but we’ve been there a few times. It’s a very cool place to visit.

Tall Ships

Teach Your Children Well

Monday Morning Musings

“I believe that what we become depends on what our fathers teach us at odd moments, when they aren’t trying to teach us. We are formed by little scraps of wisdom.”

–Umberto Eco

“Peace is always beautiful,

The myth of heaven indicates peace and night.”

–Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass

Yesterday was Father’s Day. It was hot and steamy. The sun struggled to peek out from behind the clouds for much of the day that, despite the gloom, was also the summer solstice. I baked my husband’s favorite cookies, Welsh Cookies. One daughter called, and the other was here for our dinner of total pig-out killer nachos. My husband is retiring from teaching in a few days; our daughter is a new teacher. Father’s Day is different when you no longer have a father and your children are grown. Being a parent is different, too—not better or worse—just different.

Father's Day of the past.

Father’s Day of the past.

When my father was alive, he often treated us to dinner at a restaurant on holidays such as this. We frequently went to his favorite Chinese restaurant, but whenever he found a new favorite restaurant, we would go there. When he found a new restaurant he liked, he visited it all the time. He knew the names of the owner and the servers. He enjoyed the role of patriarch, treating us–and sometimes our friends, too. We would eat vast quantities of food, talk, and laugh.

Wedding dance with my dad.

Wedding dance with my dad.

Last night I did my best to follow the tradition of lots of food and conversation. It was not a big holiday meal, but really, those nachos were pretty amazing. As regular readers know, food and family are important themes in my life.

It’s well over a decade since my father died. My sisters and I sat vigil at his hospital bed, knowing it would be his last night. Death hovered in the background, understanding that we waited for the dawn, not wanting our father to die in the blackness of night. When Death finally came to carry my father away, my father fought him. Oh, how he fought! His death rattle was his final, terrible and terrifying battle cry, but he was vanquished by Death, as we all are.

I miss my father. Not in an every moment of every day type of sorrow, but at certain moments. Often it’s sudden and unexpected. I’ll think, “Dad would have liked this show or this restaurant.” I wonder if he would have finally bought a computer, and if he would have been on Facebook. I think he would have loved to stream Netflix–if he could figure it out. I wish he could have seen our daughters grow up. He would have been so proud to see them graduate from college. He would have attended all of their shows. He would have loved to have been at our older daughter’s wedding last year, my sister’s wedding last fall, and our younger daughter’s wedding soon-to-be. But it was time for him to go.

It is sad when someone dies of disease. We might say, “Why him? Why her? Why now?” But somehow we understand that the body can turn traitor, and we don’t have the answers.

When someone dies as an act of random, senseless violence—well, how do you cope? Who imagines that when their mother/father/daughter/son/friend goes to a prayer meeting they will not come home? Accidents happen, yes, but who would expect a loved one to be killed because someone decided he would murder people with their skin color that night?

I don’t know how I would have reacted.

The families of the 9 victims of the Charleston shooting have exhibited the values that many other professed Christians never display—chiefly forgiveness and love instead of hate. Even as they mourn, they, or at least some of them, have expressed the wish to forgive the shooter. Forgiving is not condoning. Forgiving is not forgetting, but according to research, it may help both individuals and communities heal. I hope it does.

Yesterday, the congregation of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, “Mother Emanuel,” welcomed strangers, black and white, into their church to begin the healing process. Racism exists in the US, a legacy of slavery, euphemistically called “the peculiar institution” in the 19th century. The very founding of this church has its roots in racism and slavery when black men and women, slave or free, were not welcomed by white congregations. It is the church attended by Denmark Vesey, an enslaved man who bought his own freedom after winning a lottery. Imagine having to buy your own freedom. In what world is this OK? Vesey planned a slave revolt in Charleston that was foiled by informants. As a result, Charleston passed and enforced stricter slave codes, and built a large fortified armory to guard the city. The Confederate flag still flies in Charleston, and throughout much of the South. Images of the Confederate flag appear on hats and bumper stickers—and not only in the South. Some people insist that the flag is a symbol of southern pride, but I suspect that few of them are black. This is a flag of racism.

America. Sweet land of liberty. Our nation was founded with the sound of those demanding freedom from tyranny and the cries of those who remained in shackles. We are a land of contradictions, but we are also a land of hope and change.

“Teach your children well.” What are the scraps of wisdom they will learn from you? “Feed them on your dreams.” Make them good ones.

My dad was not a perfect man. I’m sure the victims of this hate crime were not perfect either. His life ended too soon, but he died of natural causes. There is nothing natural about being gunned down in a church.

I don’t believe in Heaven, but if there is a heaven, I hope my dad is playing with our dog Zipper there. I hope he gets to eat huge sardine and onion sandwiches and big bowls of ice cream. I hope he has stacks of books at his feet with lots of little note cards sticking out of them, as he decides to learn about a new subject. I hope he gets to play pinochle with his friends, who argue loudly with him, tell jokes, and enjoy meals together.

If there is a heaven and the victims of the Charleston shooting are watching their families and our nation from it, I hope they will see healing. I hope that one day they will see an end to racism.

Hold your loved ones close. Cherish your memories. Dream of a better world.

“Teach your children well, their father’s hell did slowly go by,
And feed them on your dreams, the one they fix, the one you’ll know by.
Don’t you ever ask them why, if they told you, you would cry,
So just look at them and sigh and know they love you.”

–Graham Nash, “Teach Your Children”