Uncertain, Capricious: Shots in the Dark

Monday Morning Musings:

There is still sorrow and dread
assuaged with sweets, and song, and bread
baked fresh; poetry written, and novels read,
Netflix binged, and movies seen,

yet, the days are longer and lighter,
shoots are rising, nature’s colors brighter,
and the crocus petals closed tight and tighter
open in the noonday sun, beside the growing green

geese nibble, pair, and rest
for goslings soon to come, at Spring’s bequest
color blooms–though winter’s winds still test—
March is capricious, betwixt and between

Spring-time. Geese at the Whithall House, Red Bank Battlefield. ©️Merril D. Smith, 2021

unsure of what’s to come, but what is not
in doubt is getting a vaccine, we get the shot.
With a jab, some peace of mind, who would have thought
the joy in scheduling? We’ve been

in a holding pattern for so long, the world in pain,
but now in spring with rising sun and gentle rain,
science promoted, the orange stain
demoted, the Oval Office sanitized, the government wiped clean–

Another Tree Spirit. ©️Merril D. Smith 2021

dreams can rise again. Not yet, but soon,
we may hug and sit together in a room,
immune, though not immortal, we bloom
like spring blossoms, and fighting demons seen

or not. Each step, uncertain,
a shot in the dark, but we draw back the curtain
and let in the light.

Well, it’s still the pandemic, and we still haven’t gone anywhere—except to get vaccines. My husband and I both got our first vaccines on Friday. We were at separate places and received different vaccines. Because the weather is supposed to be springlike later this week, we may venture out to do some outdoor, socially distanced activities. It’s still cold this morning, but the sun is shining.

Merril’s Movie/TV/Book Club: We watched The Vigil (Amazon). It’s set in Brooklyn, and concerns a man who has left the Hassidic world but agrees to be a shomer, a person who watches over a dead body for a night. There he confronts real and psychological demons. It’s a horror movie, but not the mad slasher bloody kind. It’s in Yiddish and English. I thought it was very well done, and one to think about. We watched the first season and started the second season of The Break (Netflix, in French), a mystery series set in Belgium. It starts out like the typical show of this sort—a detective with a troubled past comes to a small town and investigates a murder. However, this one really does develop into something else. I don’t want to spoil it, but he is also must confront some inner demons. I really enjoyed season 1, and I’m eager to see how season 2 will play out. I don’t mention all the things I read, but I just finished Before the Ruins, a debut novel by Victoria Gosling. It’s also sort of a mystery with inner demons; a multi-layered book with a bit of a gothic-tinge. The story is slowly revealed, and it shifts back and forth in time. The writing is beautiful. It took me a little while to get into it, but once I was, I was.

All the Blues

Monday Morning Musings:

A gull seems to play in the river waves. Delaware River at Red Bank Battlefield ©️Merril D. Smith 2021

Today the gray has strayed, and sunlight deepens–
a color called cold water blue–
unfrosted are the ripples
where gulls and geese sway
and gather on the shifting sand
to sleep and talk and play.

Today there is no fog,
nothing obscured in the grayish gloom,
or hidden in ash-tipped cloud-rooms—
today is clear, the sun is bright

though not with summer heat, or spring’s promise
not even pastel frosted pink—but think
of what today may bring

joy, despair, most anything–
one day, one night, one vote, one
note of kindness can make a change, so

today I’ll take blue
water and sky. And the hour in between
dusk and night, dawn and day,
the color of jays, stones, and glass
robin’s eggs and midnight sky–ask
when the moon sings a silver lullaby
and forms a halo ‘round her face,

what is that place? And can we go?
Perhaps, in dreams. I don’t know,

But today I’ll take the blue of peace
and ripples that go on forever,
one making another, another making one,
lines merging in changing colors, sometimes grey,
but today it’s blue and sun.

I went down a rabbit hole of blue yesterday reading Brainpickings and then following the links .
And then today, the river was blue instead of the gray or tinted-pink it’s been.
I haven’t been anywhere or done anything special in weeks, so I can only muse about this. I am happy that there were no big violent mobs yesterday, though I’m still anxious. I hope all goes well on Wednesday for the inauguration.

I have cooked and baked though.

Merril’s Movie Club: We watched One Night in Miami (Amazon Prime). It’s an excellent movie based on a play by Kemp Powers, who adapted it for the screen, and directed by Regina King, in her movie directorial debut. It concerns a meeting in 1964 between Malcolm X, Cassius Clay, Sam Cooke and Jim Brown right after Clay won the heavyweight title. The main, crucial moments of the movie take place in Malcolm X’s motel room where the men discuss, argue, explain, and try to make sense of their private-public lives. It feels like a real “room where it happened” historical moment. The movie is fictional, although the meeting did take place. The movie seems particularly timely right now.

Storms and Squirrels

Monday Morning Musings

Early morning drama clouds over the Delaware River at Red Bank Battlefield ©️Merril D. Smith, 2020
“If we're lucky ghosts and prayers
Are company, not enemies
I time travel straight back there
You were singing back to me”
--Mary Chapin Carpenter, “Between Dirt and Stars”

Without a dawn, this day doesn’t break
but drifts from darkness, to violet, then grey–
now beating on the windowpanes,
the rain silver-streaks in drumming beats

and we wait for November storms to rinse the month away.
Perhaps December will come in bright with holiday,
and corona will again define only the gaseous light
of incandescent sun and shimmery moon—come soon

this ending of our sorrow,
this longing for tomorrow–
still, I seize what happiness I can find
in river walks and talks with loved ones, unwind

the spools of memory in conversations of before–
do you remember, I say? And we discuss and laugh,
cry over photographs. We dine apart, with heavy hearts–
cranberry sauce red-berry bright, though unshaped, no art

to recreate what is not there. We’re plague-parted
and squirrels must wait, even as they congregate
on lawns and trees and parks. They scurry now
in autumnal flurry, readying for winter’s cold—

Autumn Squirrel ©️Merril D. Smith 2020

and we get older, I’ll not say old—not yet—
there’s more to say and do, to live without regret
for what once was. To hear the ghosts, to mourn,
to cry a storm—I toss a stone, torn

My stone-toss mourning ritual. Delaware River at Red Bank Battlefield, November. ©️Merril D. Smith, 2020

between yesterday and now
but grateful for what I have.
I listen to the singer sing of love and loss
of memories and dreams—

tears may fall like rain in streams,
but love remains beyond timelines,
never ending, there within, we remember
November ends, on to December,

with candles and cheer, we’ll lighten the gloom,
Zoom our love soon with latkes and wine,
dine and eat doughnuts, cookies, and cake—
celebrate solstice, watch the stars align

in happier fortunes, we’ll look for hopeful signs
in the fury and scurrying of squirrels and storms,
the resting of ghosts in time’s circling arms,
heed and harken how the waves flow and recede,

and carry the seeds

that bloom on a future shore. Just like before—
there’s no more and more.

We have steady rain right now, though it’s warm for November. We may get thunderstorms though as a cold front comes in. Here in the US, we celebrated Thanksgiving this past Thursday, when it rained in the morning, and then was warm enough for many families to gather safely outside. We had a pre-Thanksgiving snack outside with one daughter. It was strange to not be together with everyone. My niece’s daughter and husband made our traditional cranberry squirrel, and the rest of us saw it only in photos. On the left is one from a previous Thanksgiving at my house, and the right is this year. It’s nice they have a similar gold-rimmed platter.

Merril’s Movie/Concert/TV Club: Last night, we streamed Mary Chapin Carpenter’s concert, “One Night Lonely,” performed live at Wolf Trap on November 27. She was alone on the stage, and there was no audience. I thought we were going to watch it for brunch, but it didn’t work out. I did make bagels though.

Homemade bagels.

We finished The Queen’s Gambit (Netflix), which I highly recommend. I was almost ready to watch three episodes the first night. I’ve heard chess sets are in great demand now because of the show.

Still Soaring

Monday Morning Afternoon Musings:

 

Between the misty amethyst

and the brilliant blue—there’s a pause

in the morning’s soft pink music, a rest

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Delaware River at Red Bank Battlefield, National Park, NJ, shortly after sunrise. July 2020 ©️ Merril D. Smith 2020

 

before the restart of staccato cardinal chirps,

the flute of robin trills,

and the crescendo of crow caws

 

burst through the feathered clouds,

with the bright blue of belonging—

here and now

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Delaware River, West Deptford, NJ. ©️Merril D. Smith, 2020

 

I walk

along the day’s determined path,

yet debating

 

both path and determined,

the ifs, whens, and whys

of going further, beyond

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I found an almost hidden path.

to find something else

hidden

like words within

 

waiting to be spoken.

 

“Eat chocolate,” my sisters say,

and share the thought of our mother’s laugh

echoing from the past,

 

flowing like a river through time,

all the versions of me and you,

the world

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in both the radiance of the sun

and the silvery shimmer of the moon,
pale blue and green,

 

and when I wish upon the ghost glow

of a thousand stars

I feel the dust of dreams

 

within and without,

as feathers fly from the sky

to land at my feet in trails of white light

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silent, at rest,

here, now

bits of something larger, still soaring.

A late edition of my Monday musings. I think Jane and I challenged each other to use the Love set of tiles from the Magnetic Poetry Oracle. The Oracle and I once again collaborated, with more inspiration from my morning walks.

I’ve been baking with summer fruit, but I do indeed have a chocolate stash.

 

Merril’s Movie Club: We watched Radioactive (Amazon Prime, 2020), a new movie about Marie Curie. I wanted this to be wonderful, but it wasn’t. It was OK, but she was such a brilliant woman, and this, sadly, is not a movie that shines. We also watched Straight Up(Netflix), a sort of rom com where a young man who may be gay, but isn’t sure, finds his soul mate is a woman. It was enjoyable, but not great.

So we went back to darker stuff: we started watching Bordertown, a Finnish series on Netflix. So far, it’s very good. I like “Scandi-noir,” and shows that explore family life as well as the crimes.

 

 

 

 

 

Breathe a Cloud

Monday Morning Musings:

 

“Fear makes for good servants

and bravery is fraudulent”

       –Jim Harrison from “Vows”

 

The timeless lies

of dictators grappling for power

smiling for the crowds

insisting they are making things better

demagogues feeding the fears

firing them into fury

so that they erupt

like a volcano

spewing lava into the air

to flow over

those people–

criminals

rapists

bad hombres–

them,

those people who take your jobs,

and ravish your women,

animals

not fully human.

We’ve seen this before

but that doesn’t happen here

that’s all in the past

in countries far away.

We thought we were safe,

more enlightened now

(to separate parents and children)

we’re not

paralyzed by fear and indecision

numbed by the normalization

of Twitter rants

but evil has only been buried

in a shallow grave

waiting to crawl out

like zombies

eating brains

and souls.

 

But when to fight

and when to escape in flight?

Do we leave at the first sparks

from the volcano,

or wait till it erupts?

My daughter’s friend goes out for bread

finds herself wind-whipped with ash–

falling from the sky.

Sudden changes–

like the storm clouds that break

for sunshine

and for a night

when we can sit outside with friends

to enjoy a concert

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

watching children dance in the green grass

in innocence and joy

but

the storm clouds return

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

and we sit inside

procrastibake

and watch TV

Mixed-berry Crumble

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

we go to a wine festival

sampling wine

until the wind kicks up

and it is too cold and blustery to sit outside

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

so, we come home

to sip

inside again

 

watch an old movie about war

and bravery and morality

where the coward becomes the war hero,

but when is fighting necessary

how do we stop evil

without glorifying war?

I have no answers–

but know that questioning must continue–

the press, the poets, the artists

truth and artistic vision

The Post and Guernica–

the light in the darkness,

that is bravery, too

 

and when

 

the rain falls,

hard rain

forming puddles

where little girls see rainbows

not guns

stop

look up

sigh

 

breathe a cloud

blush a breeze with joy

over our universe

and use soft rhythm

to time the thing—

eternity

it sails

a vast cool ocean

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve linked this to Jilly’s Day  4 of  her 28 Days of Unreason using the poetry of Jim Harrison. And the Oracle added the message at the end.

Don’t forget to vote! One person and one vote can make a difference.

 

 

 

 

 

Truth in a Cookie

These cookies, your favorite,

are my favorite, too,

my daughters named them,

“Mommy Cookies,”

I baked these cookies for them

and for me

I baked them for events, for friends,

for moments of heartbreak

and moments of joy–

for memories.

I baked them for you.

 

I think of all the recipes handed down,

mother to daughter over generations,

measured by sight and feel

cooked or baked to taste,

I think of these cookies,

back in Eastern Europe–

the original version–

hard and dry,

kept in a tin,

taken out to have with tea,

but evolving over time

with new additions,

(like families)

becoming sweeter

and more nuanced,

cookies that are made

(now)

with ingredients of old world and new

bridging history in a bite,

tasting of past, present, and future–

what I see in your eyes,

the girl who was

the daughter, the mother, the grandmother,

what I see in my daughters’ eyes,

years gone, years yet to unfold,

bitter, spicy, crunchy, and sweet,

the definition of a cookie,

the measure of a life

 

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This was a poem I wrote for my mom’s 95th birthday.  I made her some of these mandelbrot cookies as a gift.

 

Time Bubbles

Monday Morning Musings:

“We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.”

–Thornton Wilder, The Woman of Andros

When I was child

My little sister and I broke bread

For stuffing

On Thanksgiving morning

As we watched the parade

On TV.

One Thanksgiving morning,

My father took us out

So my mom could cook

Without interruptions.

We were dressed as pilgrims

Or Indians perhaps,

Me with my hair in two long braids,

And the waitress fawned over us,

Or perhaps she was flirting with my dad.

I can’t be sure now.

The restaurant,

I seem to recall,

Was empty,

Which seems strange

On Thanksgiving, doesn’t it?

And perhaps the whole event

Happened in some other way,

But this is what I remember

On that Thanksgiving Day.

Thanksgiving dinners

For me

As a child,

Meant crumbling slices of white bread

Into a large pot

While watching the televised parade.

I don’t even remember the meals.

And I certainly didn’t appreciate

All of the work

My mother did to prepare them.

Later,

When I was a bit older,

It was my mom making cranberry sauce

In the squirrel mold

That stood out.

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We never understood why

After turning the mold

Onto the platter,

She then raised them together

High in the air

And rested them on her head—

Strange,

But dramatic.

And we looked forward to it

Every year.

My daughters took over

The bread-breaking chore

When they were young.

Crumbling the bread

And

Eating pieces,

Thinking I didn’t see them.

We’d place their hand turkey placemats

On the table,

But as their hands grew larger

The placements no longer appeared.

Where are those placemats now

I wonder?

This year,

My younger daughter,

Hands woman-grown and

With a wedding ring

On one long, slender finger

Tore the bread with me,

Loaves and loaves

Crumbled

Into a large soup kettle,

As we spent the afternoon together,

The day before Thanksgiving,

Watching Netflix

And enjoying tea, cookies,

And companionship.

After she left,

I waited for my

Older daughter and her wife

To arrive.

And I sat with them while they ate

The Wawa hoagies

My husband had bought for them.

(No Wawa stores in Boston!)

And we talked

And I was so happy to have them here

And willing to sleep

On an uncomfortable bed

In my daughter’s childhood room.

I’m profoundly aware

That many throughout the world

Are suffering,

In pain,

Missing loved ones,

Perhaps without a home,

Food, or water.

And I am deeply grateful

For what I have,

Our traditions

And crazy family.

I think of our Thanksgiving dinner—

The ritual unmolding

Of the cranberry squirrel,

Now done by my sister-in-law,

With encouraging advice,

Laughter,

And glasses of wine.

The scurry to get everything to the table,

The fifteen minutes it takes to get everyone

To actually sit down.

(Why does it take so long?

Another mystery.)

What do you want to drink?

Wait, where’s the corkscrew?

Oh, I’m sitting over there.

But the food,

Of course,

Worth the days of cooking.

The Thanksgiving favorites

Prepared every year.

My daughter and I discussing how much

We love stuffing.

“It’s good we don’t have it all the time,”

She says.

“Then it wouldn’t be special,”

I say.

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The various conversations going on

Across the table,

Whispers and glances between couples,

The newlyweds smiling and hugging,

The children restless,

Holding two fingers up behind heads

Preserved forever in photographs

Of this night.

Secrets and stories.

Talk of jobs,

Family,

Gossip.

The under-the-table pokes.

Yes,

More wine–

Please!

And then dessert—

Pies and pumpkin cheesecake

And chocolate port, too.

You know,

In case the wine was not enough.

My mind hovers

Seeing each moment

Frozen,

Stilled

And replayed,

But connected to all the Thanksgivings

Of my life.

Each memory

A little bubble of time

That floats to the surface

To be tasted

And savored.

Sparkling water of the mind.

This holiday is special to me.

Not because it commemorates

A feast shared by

Pilgrim refugees

Who called themselves

Saints

And the Wampanoag

Who lived there.

(Well, those who had survived

Earlier exposure to diseases brought by

Europeans).

And they didn’t have pumpkin pie

And they probably ate venison and shellfish,

And they did not have our cranberry squirrel,

But no matter

No,

For me,

Thanksgiving is beautiful

Because it evokes my past,

The scents,

The taste,

The history,

The love,

And connects it

To the present

And the future.

Each bubble of time

Sparkling,

Glimmering,

Floating

And popping

To make way for the next.

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I am grateful, too, for all of you who read my blog and for the comments you leave. Thank you for your encouragement!

This may interest some who want to give and provide hope to others.

 

 

 

Feast of the Immigrant

Monday Morning Musings:

When I was a teen

My grandfather used to bring

Sunday brunch

To our house.

Heralded by a cloud of cigar smoke–

That I could smell

From my attic bedroom,

He entered,

Calling out greetings

In his loud voice

And making everyone scurry

To get the food on the table.

Perhaps it wasn’t technically

A feast,

But

It was a ritual

Of sorts.

A Sunday brunch

With an abundance of food.

My grandfather,

My father’s father,

Had a personality

That was far bigger

Than his short,

But corpulent

Body.

My sister and I secretly called him

Harry the Hat.

There’s a photo of him

On the Atlantic City Boardwalk

With said hat

And swaggering stance.

And now that I think of it,

He always did wear a hat,

As men used to do.

I picture it on a side table

In our living room.

I imagine his scrappiness

Came from growing up

As an immigrant.

I remember him telling me

About his voyage to America.

How his ship was stalled for some time

In Trieste,

Then part of the

Austro-Hungarian Empire.

I recently discovered,

The ship was called the S.S. Gulia.

It carried him, his mother, and a sister

Across the ocean to New York

In 1904,

His father having left Kiev earlier—

Was already in Philadelphia.

And I wonder

What this voyage must have been like

For a young child–

He was only 7

His sister 4.

And for their mother.

Traveling from Kiev,

Second class citizens

In their homeland,

To Trieste,

Escaping persecution,

And then

To the United States.

And I wished I had

Asked him more.

But it’s too late.

As a young man

He sold newspapers

At the Pennsylvania Railroad Station.

He and my grandmother eloped,

And then returning to his parents’ home,

They were given a bed

That broke

A memorable wedding night,

I imagine.

Did that immigrant boy,

That young man

Ever think

That someday

He would be sitting in a dining room

In a Philadelphia suburb

With his grandchildren?

Or that he would be bringing a feast?

Who knew from Sunday brunch then?

(As my relatives might have said.)

There would be two world wars

And countless others,

Battles and fear

And fights over immigrants

And immigration

Then

And now.

Who will be the lucky few

To be admitted?

But he was fortunate.

He lived

The American dream.

We sat amidst Old World antiques

In modern American comfort.

We were consumers,

And we consumed.

Lox,

Never nova,

Cream cheese,

Herring,

And the fish that we called “yum yum fish”

(What WAS it?)

A mystery lost to time.

Chewy bagels,

Good Jewish rye–

With seeds

Of course.

My mother sliced onions

And boiled new red potatoes.

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The plate my mom always used for Sunday brunches, although we ignored the categories.

My then boyfriend,

Now husband,

Had never had such food.

He glanced at me,

Trying to follow my lead,

But it didn’t take him long

To love these,

To him,

Exotic dishes.

My grandfather must have been in his 70s.

He seemed very old to me then,

And my mom

Was younger than I am now.

My parents were divorced,

But still my grandfather

Came

And my dad, too.

Family bonds

Perhaps strengthened from immigrant status.

My mom discovered only after she was married

That the people she sometimes visited with her father

Were the relatives of his first wife

Who died soon after they were married.

My mom thought they were cousins

Because she had so many

So she finally asked her mother

Who are these people?

And found she was not

Actually related to them at all.

But still–

Immigrant bonds

And immigrant food

More precisely,

Food eaten by immigrants here,

Now fashionable and expensive.

And nostalgic.

My sister decided her birthday

And a shopping trip for my mom

Was a good excuse to enjoy these delicacies

Once again.

A brilliant idea!

And so we did.

Discussing family news and memories

As we ate.

After brunch,

My husband and my sister’s wife

Stayed behind to watch football.

American football.

My mom, sisters, and younger daughter

Went to the mall.

We piled into a dressing room—

Our dressing room at that Macy’s—

And the saleswoman grumbled that we

Weren’t supposed to be there,

Although there was no sign,

So we stayed.

My mother dismayed by her body

That has grown and aged

And we dressing her

And all of us laughing

Laughing so hard

Because

Well, dressing someone is funny,

Isn’t it?

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Dressing Room antics

And we lovingly teased

My mom about boyfriends

And showing cleavage,

And then we went back

To my sister’s

For dessert.

Because

After all

Birthdays need cake.

And shopping

Is hungry work.

Recipes and Other Stuff:

Chocolate Chip Sour Cream Coffee Cake:

I forgot to take a picture and quickly took one at my sister’s that is not very good, and so then I took one at home, which still is not good, but oh well, did I mention it’s Chocolate Chip Sour Cream Coffee Cake? That’s all you need to know, right?

Also, it’s made in a 9×13 pan (or whatever is similar in your part of the world) so it’s easily transportable–in case you’re taking it to your sister’s house for brunch.

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I used this recipe from Smitten Kitchen

BUT I changed the filling

Because sorry, Deb, but really, brown sugar and nuts were calling out to me.

Here’s the filling I used—half inside, and the remainder on top.

Filling:

¾ cups firmly packed brown sugar

¾ cup chopped nuts (it might have been a bit more. I used walnuts, but it’s entirely possible there were also some pecans mixed in. The nuts at my house fraternize.)

1 ½ tsp. cinnamon

1 bag bittersweet chocolate chips

The batter is thick and will fight with you as you try to spread it in the pan. But fight on, and you will be victorious!

On a related note: This past weekend, we saw the movie, Brooklyn, which is about a young Irish woman immigrant who is caught between her new life in Brooklyn and her old life in Ireland in the 1950s. My husband and I both enjoyed it very much. Also, she, the Irish immigrant, learns to eat spaghetti with her Italian-American boyfriend. So you see, there is a connection to this post!

 

 

Haunting the House of History

Monday Morning Musings:

“We need to haunt the house of history and listen anew to the ancestors’ wisdom.”

–Maya Angelou

He was 59 years old, 5 ft., 6 inches tall, with grey mixed hair and grey eyes. But there is probably no one left alive who remembers this great grandfather of mine, the father of my mother’s mother. My mother only remembers that he was Orthodox with a long beard and that he worked at a fish store or counter. His naturalization papers say he was a butcher in 1921. Born in Russia, he arrived in the Philadelphia on a ship from Bremen, Germany, in 1913, demonstrating that life’s journeys often take a circuitous path. His wife and children—minus the two eldest who were stuck in England—arrived in 1914. They left their homeland shortly before it was ripped apart by revolution, and much of the world was swept into a war. By the time of the 1920 census, after WWI, the household consisted of my great grandparents, their eight children, and four cousins, including the artist Abraham Hankins. They spoke Yiddish, and they owned a radio.

I’ve never understood the worship of ancestors or the feeling of superiority some people have because their ancestors “came over on the Mayflower” or because they are descended from some notable person of the past. I mean, it’s interesting and it’s cool, but it doesn’t make you a better person. After all, if you go back far enough, we all came from Lucy or someone like her. Laudable figures of the past can have descendants who do horrible things—just as horrible parents can have wonderful children. Our surroundings and our genes may affect us (“Oh, that’s where my grey eyes came from,” said my daughter), and influence us, but they do not rule us. Yet discovering information about these people who lived in the past is fascinating. I don’t know if these ancestors of mine were good people or not, but just like immigrants today, they faced difficult, even life-threatening conditions in their homelands. They bravely boarded ships—taking a leap of faith that their lives would be better in America. It was a journey of both body and mind, a voyage to a new world, leaving old ways and old ties behind. Perhaps it is enough to know this about them.

My mother’s mother was here with her family. My mother’s father left his parents and sisters behind in Russia, and he never saw them again. My mother remembers when her father received a letter telling him that his father had died. That was the only time she ever saw him cry.

My older daughter was with us for a couple of days this past week, visiting from Boston. It was windy and raining outside, the almost nor’easter, but we were snug inside the house. (OK. I’ll be honest– it was cold in the house because I didn’t turn on the heat.) Sitting across from one another at the kitchen table, armed with our computers, and fortified with apple-chocolate scones (based on these from Smitten Kitchen),

Roasted Apple and Chocolate Scone

Roasted Apple and Chocolate Scone

my Mandelbrot (aka “Mommy Cookies” discussed in other posts), coffee, and tea—because mental journeys require sustenance, too–we used the technology of the present to tackle the mysteries of the past. Wrestling with online documents, trying to read odd spelling and handwriting, and knitting together broken timelines, we created and expanded our family trees. She worked on my husband’s family, and I worked on my parent’s. We labored companionably, occasionally punctuating the silence with “listen to this” or giggling over an odd phrase. A woman who was divorced early in the twentieth century fascinates us. We’re both slightly obsessed by another of my husband’s ancestors, a 15-year-old factory girl who was murdered—shot—by a jealous suitor.

This daughter then went on to spend an evening with her sister and a dinner with my mom. It was definitely a weekend of family, present and past.

Present and past, love and family, are themes in Coming Home, the movie my husband and I saw yesterday. It opens during the Cultural Revolution in China. Lu Yanshi (Chen Daoming), a former professor, has escaped from the re-education camp he’s been sent to. His wife, Feng Wanyu (Gong Li), called “Teacher Yu,” attempts to meet him at a crowded train station, but their teenage daughter, Dandan, hoping to gain a prize role in a propaganda ballet, has alerted the authorities. The scene at the train station is tense and exciting, but it only sets up the movie for what happens later. When the Cultural Revolution ends, Lu is sent home. Yu, however, does not recognize him. She was traumatized, physically and emotionally at the train station. She loves her husband, but her love of him is rooted in her image of him in the past. He, in the present, attempts to reactivate her memories, to bring the past love to the present moment. It is touching and incredibly sad. The movie also can be seen as a commentary on politics—that nations often forget the painful events of the past, even though its citizens may be traumatized. Yet, both people and nations have to find a way to accept and move on.

After the movie, my husband and I went out for Chinese food. I craved steamed dumplings and tea, both featured in the movie. This was the “fortune” in my cookie.

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I don’t believe that a piece of paper in a cookie can predict my future, but it seemed a fitting note to end a week that had been spent haunting the house of history, catching a glimmer of the ghosts of the past, and storing them for the future.

“What the next generation will value most is not what we owned, but the evidence of who we were and the tales of how we lived. In the end, it’s the family stories that are worth the storage.”

–Ellen Goodman

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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