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.

 

Between Here and Always

Monday Morning Musings:

The Oracle gave me this poem over the weekend.

 

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Between here and always

is light–

vivid soul-blossoms living wild,

secret garden from dark night,

world was and is

 

In February, this month of birthdays,

time moves backward and forward,

fluid

here and always

what was, what is, and what will be

 

even the weather seems confused,

time and season changing from day to day

light and dark

warm and cold

flowers bloom,

secret gardens amidst leaves

covered as snow falls

 

here

always

 

We celebrate my husband’s birthday with Pakistani food,

the owner remembers him and my son-in-law

they picked up food there on the day my daughter and son-in-law

moved into their house,

yes, they looked tired that day, the man says,

(he is pleased we’ve returned)

the food is delicious,

we eat flaky samosas with yogurt sauce and green chili sauce

then our various entries—slow cooked beef, lamb, chicken,

and vegetarian dishes of eggplant and moong dal with palek,

the chef comes out to meet us,

we tell them we’ll come back

here

 

We have wine and cheesecake afterward at my daughter’s house,

 

 

the house crackles and creaks a bit as the heat of the gas fire warms the room,

ghost sounds,

my daughter-in-law mentions a John McCain poster figure

her father used to hide it around their house to startle people,

I recall the mannequin my sister and a roommate had in their apartment

they used to dress her for different events,

one daughter says she saw a woman on the T carrying the arm of a mannequin–

silence,

there must be a story,

then, other daughter asks, “are you sure it was a mannequin’s arm?”

 

here and always,

food, love, and stories.

 

Later, I pull out tablecloths

they’ve been buried at the bottom of a cedar chest

almost two decades now,

once a special part of our daughters’ birthday parties

years of drawings and comments,

words written by children

now grown

scribbled messages,

ghosts of the past,

each daughter takes a tablecloth

Happy Birthday, I say.

They are always in my heart.

 

 

I make a photo/memory album for my mother-in-law

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I have an assistant.

 

born in 1937,

the middle of the Great Depression,

1937,

Amelia Earhart disappeared, Japan invaded China, the Nanking massacre took place, the Hindenburg exploded,  the Golden Gate Bridge opened,

Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarves premiered, and Of Mice and Men was published–

my husband says, yes but the most important thing is that my mother was born

and of course, to her, to him, and to me, it is

without that,

he would not be here

and our children would not be

perhaps there is another timeline,

perhaps there is another always,

ghosts that flicker

just out of sight

another story

but not here

 

We celebrate her 80th birthday

at our house

 

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a friend of hers stops by,

an eightieth birthday party surprise

(“I won’t stay long,” the friend says,

“I’ve just had a heart attack,”

a story I could not make up)

daughters and I have made enough food

to feed twice as many people,

 

 

enough for more surprise people,

or any strangers who might wander in,

we eat and talk

and memories flow–

what was, what is–

my mother-in-law’s wish–

to see my nephew, her grandson, grow up

What will he be?

(What will be?)

At some point, we will look back

at this moment

in snapshots

time frozen

what is now will be then

this warm sunny day,

filled with light,

here and always

our souls blossom

with love

here

always

 

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Banana Chocolate Chip Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

 

If you are in the Sicklerville, NJ area, I highly recommend Mera Khana restaurant. It’s a small, unassuming restaurant in a strip mall–but such delicious food and wonderful people.

 

Light in My Heart

Monday Morning Musings

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“I like on the table,

when we’re speaking,

the light of a bottle

of intelligent wine.

Drink it,

and remember in every

drop of gold,

in every topaz glass,

in every purple ladle,

that autumn labored

to fill the vessel with wine.”

Pablo Neruda, “Ode to Wine”

 

“Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.”

Desmond Tutu, New York Times, March 4, 2010

 

“Like Dian’s kiss, unasked, unsought,

Love gives itself, but is not bought:

Her voice, nor sound betrays

Its deep, impassioned gaze.”

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “Endymion”

 

My younger daughter told me it would be a birthday celebration

with her sister and her sister’s wife

(since they couldn’t be here for the one with my sisters)

a girls’ night, they’d devise

with the location to be kept unknown from me

a surprise.

 

We traveled down dark country roads,

my husband the designated driver,

I wondered where we were going,

But when we pulled into the Monroeville Winery driveway

I began to suspect this was going to be something more

than an evening with my daughters.

“Surprise!” my friends shouted,

as we walked through the door.

The tasting room was decorated for the holidays,

and for my birthday celebration, too,

the tables glowed with lights,

made by my daughter

from bottles the winery saved for her.

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I like light on the table,

the light of a bottle

(Intelligent wine?)

Hugs and kisses all around

(I felt like I walked above the ground.)

Greeting from friends–

some I hadn’t seen in quite a while—

and that made me smile,

I felt love

unasked for, unsought,

but freely given

(or so I hope).

There were delicious treats: cheeses and dips,

a huge chocolate, chocolate cake

with chocolate frosting, too,

(Have I mentioned I like chocolate?)

and wine, of course,

poured in the barrel room

where one could schmooze a bit

with the gracious vintner

about the various selections.

I was given my birthday crown,

and daughters performed a song parody–

All of the things I didn’t know they had done

when they were children

and that they were now sorry for

 

We did things we regret, like shaving the heads of our Barbies

Cause we need just one more shot at forgiveness

I know you know that we hid candy maybe once or twice

By once or twice I mean maybe until all the ants arrived

 

So now I know,

light in the darkness

and light in my heart.

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My 60th Birthday part at Monroeville Winery

 

We went to my niece’s house,

our traditional Christmas Eve brunch

my niece, a bit of a stressed-out mess

because we were meeting some of her

her father’s family for the first time

(it’s a long story)

“Classic family” and new family mingled

we ate

so much food

(of course)

and there were light sabers

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and cookies

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I baked a few cookies. This is a sample.

 

a Christmas challah

 

 

presents

 

and love

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and we lit her menorah before we left

and then she put it in her sink

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because she was afraid her house would burn down–

Crazy family,

I love them so much.

There was light in the darkness

and light in my heart.

 

We came home to light our own Hanukkah candles

and to decorate our Christmas tree

Merry, Happy Chrismukkah!

 

 

On Christmas morning,

dark, quiet, and still,

I saw the moon

radiant,

a crescent miracle of light

Jupiter and Saturn nearby,

shining brightly

and I felt hope in the darkness

and light in my heart.

 

We ate our traditional Christmas fondue

with Buffalo wings for the meat eaters.

We opened presents,

lit the Hanukkah candles,

and drank some wine,

drops of gold and sips of purple,

we told fart jokes and laughed

laughter and love

light in the darkness

and light in my heart

 

 

We will go to see my husband’s family

exchange hugs and presents,

and come home to fry latkes,

the house will smell like oil for days

lingering like memories,

but we will light the candles

and we will laugh

and there will be light in the darkness

and light in my heart.

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Fa La La: A Birthday Carol

Monday Morning Musings:

“Looking back, seeing far, landing right where we are

And oh, you’re aging, oh and I am aging,

Oh, aren’t we aging well?”

–Dar Williams, “You’re Aging Well”

 

“I am the ghost of Christmas Present,” said the Spirit. “Look upon me.”

–Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

 

On my sixtieth birthday, I wake,

and I feel fine,

the same as did when I was fifty-nine.

I’m Merril the same as I have always been

with the calm certainty that I am me,

and this is forever who I will be.

 

Celebrations take place over several days,

(like a Jewish holiday, you know)

each one with food and wine,

and I feel fine.

 

First my husband and I go to Monk’s Café

we’re bundled against the cold night

but still I appreciate the Christmas lights

as we scurry from our car to there

breathing bursts of frosty air

till we’re seated at a window table where we watch people

rushing and bustling, walking dogs of every size

we’re in a bit of a hurry,

as we have tickets to a show,

so we forego their famous mussels, but not the fries,

I have a glass of wine, and I feel fine.

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Pommes frite at Monk’s Cafe

 

The show is called The Carols,

set in a VFW Hall in New Jersey,

it’s 1944, the men are gone because of the war,

heartfelt, if not brilliant,

but their voices beautiful

much more than suitable,

there are Yiddish phrases and 1940’s slang.

We laugh though the jokes are old,

it’s kind of sweet, and we are sold,

the retelling of A Christmas Carol

with a Christmas brisket is very funny,

(and well worth the money),

and the Christmas tale, the Yiddish shtick,

the sister love, the examples of

reminds me of my family, too,

and all the silly things we do,

the ghosts of Christmases, past, present, and future

combine in memory,

aged in my mind, and I feel fine.

 

 

The next night, my husband and I see La La Land

like an old-fashioned musical

the stars sing and dance amidst the stars,

there is jazz and heartbreak,

snappy rhythms, and we hear the beat,

not of Forty-Second Street,

but of Los Angeles,

City of Angels, City of Stars

shining just for them.

We discuss the movie over Indian food,

I am in complete movie musical mood,

So when my husband says, “It was a Merril movie,”

he is right, and I feel fine.

(And the onion bhajia are divine.)

 

Another celebration, another day,

with one daughter and sisters,

more food and wine,

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more talk and laughter,

and it could go on forever after.

One sister brings some funny headwear,

and we take photos in the restaurant,

when I try on a hat

another says,

“You look so cute. Like a pirate. A pirate baker.”

We laugh because it’s all so silly,

but in these uncertain times, we run willy-nilly

and seek shelter in our love and family jokes,

these are the people I love, my folks,

and they give me the gift of their time–

and cheese, and chocolate, and some wine,

and yes, indeed, I do feel fine.

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At Tria Cafe Rittenhouse for my 60th birthday celebration.

 

Afterwards, my daughter and I walk to the Christmas Village,

she’s not seen it, and she snaps a selfie

with us in our silly hats–

and I think we’re wealthy,

my daughter and I to share this love and bond

that goes so far, and much beyond,

and later I read the poem she has written me,

cry a bit, at the beauty

of feelings that she has, and lets me see.

 

 

My other daughter sends me a text

that the end of the Sound of Music seems too real,

and it makes me sad to hear such fear,

and though we must fight, and though we ache,

still, there’s much to celebrate,

to climb every mountain and ford every spring

to find our dreams,

yet I think we are right where we are

and we are aging well,

though only time will tell.

And so, with family and friends,

I’ll hold on to love,

I’ll fit it closely like a glove,

and stare defiantly at fate,

raise a glass of blood-red wine

and tell the world, that I feel fine.

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Birthday card

 

It is rumored that more celebrating is on the way, so stay tuned!

Here is Dar Williams singing  “You’re Aging Well.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With Wrinkles and Mirth, Remember it All, Remember it Well

 Monday Morning Musings:

 H: We met at nine

M: We met at eight.

H: I was on time.

M: No, you were late.

H: Ah, yes, I remember it well.

We dined with friends

M: We dined alone

H: A tenor sang

M: A baritone

H: Ah, yes, I remember it well.

–Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe, “I Remember It Well, Gigi (1958)

(You can watch the clip here.)

 

“With mirth and laughter let old wrinkles come.”

–William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice, Act 1, Scene 1

 

The weekend began, a cancelled flight

a change in plans, arrival not in morning light

but dinner time instead

the arts and crafts afternoon postponed, but summer roll making takes place

dipping rice paper, filling, and rolling; no art or grace

perhaps,

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but we like to eat and talk and talk and eat

spicy, hot, crunchy, and sweet,

We say L’chaim, and toast with Sangria,

my girls and their spouses here together

we celebrate good news, now in summer weather

with cats under foot and spirits high

we laugh and talk, and so time flies.

 

With mirth and laughter

I remember it well.

 

The next day, for my mom, her birthday party

she’ll be 94, though not as hale, she’s still hearty

coming, too, her cousin S.

They live in the same Philadelphia building, on different floors,

they’ve both lived years, well, let’s say scores.

S. says at her age every birthday is a big one

(She’s just celebrated her 90th, but still ready for more fun.)

My husband and I drive them to my sister’s

our daughters and their spouses are in another car.

We pass a street, and S. recalls, a memory from afar

of a friend of hers that lived there once.

S. says, “They had a drugstore.”

and a husband who thought he was more.

He was not very bright, but rather full of himself,

 

With mirth and laughter

She remembers him well.

 

S.compares him to a current political candidate.

He thought he was so great,

he lost his business, a gambling debt

then became a maître d’ at a fancy restaurant

where he put on a fake British accent, no savant

that accent sometimes came, then went.

We pass an apartment house where S. once resided

my mom jumps in, with a remark, decided

a refrigerator S. mentions is like one they had in France.

 

(Now pause while I digress from rhyme

while Mom and S. discuss this time.)

 

“Where in France?” asks S.

My mom at first does not remember.

But then with triumph, announces, “Paris.”

“We were never in Paris!” says S.

“I don’t like Paris. It’s a big city like New York.”

“It was Paris,” my mother insists.

“You bought dishes,” says she.

“Oh, you’re right,” S. says. “It was Paris. I bought some dessert plates.”

“You bought a whole set of dishes,” my mom says, “You had them sent.”

“No, I bought some small plates. They tied them in a box with strings

and we carried them.”

Ah yes, they remember it well.

 

At my sister’s house, we arrive to celebrate

Generations eat, talk, laugh, debate

(Because we love to eat and talk)

We do so, then there’s cake with candles

My young great nephew expertly handles

this carrying it in with proud aplomb

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so for cakes, there’s more than one

because we need more birthday fun

My young grandnephew eats his—using both his fork and his hand

(because sometimes life is just so grand)

Then it’s time to share some cards and art

signs of affection, from the heart.

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Repeal Hyde Art Project, Megan J. Smith

With mirth and laughter

We remember it well.

 

There’s a movie of S. with a scene from one “real”

She was young, the movie quite “B”, a clip from the reel.

She tells us the story of how she was a director’s assistant

then became the line coach for actresses not gifted

with brains, as much as beauty, and lines they uttered shifted

or could not be recalled at all.

So S. was given a scene and sits at a desk, but she asked for pay first

no more work without being reimbursed.

My daughter-in-law tell of her analysis of a survey of teenage risky behavior

There are more stories that day, of middle school age problems and dramas

It’s the age, we all agree, nodding daughters and mamas,

Oh yes, we all agree, but they outgrow the drama.

 

With mirth and laughter

We remember it well.

 

We head out, S. says it was a lovely party.

(I am glad both my mom and S. are still so hearty)

Then S. says with a laugh

“It makes you want to get another year older, just so you can do it again.”

And so we set out then, set out then, driving in the rain

to take them home from this celebration

with food purchased and packaged in the trunk of the car

which I carry upstairs, thankfully not too far.

A day of stories and celebration–

We may not remember it all, but we remember it well.

“With mirth and laughter let old wrinkles come.”

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Inappropriate, For H.

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Long ago, a young super hero with my mom

Monday Morning Musings:

“With mirth and laughter let old wrinkles come.”

–William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice, Act 1, Scene 1

 

“I want you to write a poem for me,”

You said,

“Perhaps call it ‘Inappropriate,’”

Although you’re not–

We both could name others who are–

No filters,

You know what I mean.

Still,

Perhaps it’s something you dream of

Dancing on the bar and all

Truthfully

Not ever a goal of mine,

But to each her own.

You think you’re old

Though you’re not–

Not even half the age of my mother

Your grandmother—

Really, what are you thinking?

And what does that make me

If you’re so old?

Well, we’re both wonder women,

Though perhaps not the way you imagined

When you wore the costume

We both still wonder, of course,

But our super-hero stunts are more mundane

Displayed in daily words and deeds

Be kind to others,

And don’t forget your lunch,

Do you need a Band-Aid?

But I’m writing this poem

Because it’s your birthday

To show you I remembered

The day you were born

Not long ago in years

Though long ago in life

Before computers and cell phones

Before marriage—and children

Me, still in college,

One hundred pounds soaking wet,

(well, that’s changed, too)

Hair long, curling down my back,

Jeans with frayed hems and platform shoes

A call to the payphone in the dormitory hallway

(try to find a payphone now)

To tell me of your birth

Truly I didn’t know you were you then–

If you know what I mean—

Not what you would become,

Nor I,

Me, more concerned with school and friends,

With love and youth,

But we are sister-friends now

The tightest of bonds

So you ask for a poem–

I would give you the moon

If I could–

But a guess a poem will have to do—

Even if it’s inappropriate.

 

 

 

 

 

 

December Celebrations: Warm and Cold

Monday Morning Musings:

My mother says,

That one year my sister and I received

Presents and celebrated

For nearly two months.

In the days before Amazon

And same and next day deliveries,

I suppose packages took longer to arrive.

So they came in trickles and waves

Over the course of weeks

To mingle with those already at home.

The season of celebration

Began with my sister’s birthday

In November.

Then went on

To Thanksgiving,

Followed by

My birthday,

Hanukkah,

And Christmas–

The festivities went on and on,

Or so it seemed to us.

Then one day it stopped.

We asked,

“What no presents today? No holiday?”

I don’t remember this at all.

But that is what my mother says.

And though her memory is sometimes

A bit faulty

I suspect it’s true.

It may have been the year my aunt sent us

The Easy Bake Oven.

I made a few of those cookie-size cakes,

The oven set-up in our bedroom

Novelty there,

But, truthfully,

I was much more interested in

The real oven and stove.

I “doctored” canned soups

With spices from the rack

Before I tackled real meals

And baking.

I remember misreading “marjoram”

And thinking it said “marijuana.”

Well, that would have been interesting, right?

I’m not even certain how I knew the word.

This was before the War on Drugs.

And our schools were more concerned

That we “duck and cover,”

Giving me vague terrors

And fears

Of losing my parents.

Cold War fears

Of losing the warmth

Of family and home.

Is that what draws me

To the heat of the kitchen?

Now, that I’m older

I like to think each day is a gift,

Something to unwrap joyfully

With the dawn.

Of course, the dawn is so late in December.

Perhaps that’s why I bought myself a new laptop

For my birthday

And perhaps to chase away the coming

Winter chill

And fears of the future.

Well, it’s for my business, you know,

Even my husband agreed.

My old computer is only old in

Computer years,

Which pass faster than dog years,

But still,

They’re the ones that count–

To the computer–

And the person using it.

I haven’t spent months celebrating,

Well, not unless you count the weddings,

Three in about a years’ time,

But I did manage a week or so—

Hanukkah running into to my birthday,

Celebrating with dinner at a local winery,

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Then the next night dinner with my daughter and son-in-law

Followed by chocolate cake and watching my grandpets

Chase each other around the apartment.

Brothers of other mothers for sure.

 

The next day there was a trip to Grounds for Sculpture

Just hanging out

Enjoying nature on a

Freakishly warm December day.

Standing at a bread line

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Having a snack

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Dancing a waltz

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Maybe reading a book with a friend

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Enjoying lunch in the balmy weather

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Returning home to light the candles

The final night

Till next year.

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On my actual birthday

We went to the movies,

The Danish Girl

Me wondering how strange

And horrible

It must be

To feel like someone else inside,

And how sad but

Beautiful and brave

It was to love that person–

And to believe.

My husband and I discussed this

Over tapas and drinks afterward

(The Spinach and Manchego Buñuelos divine)

Because,

Well, celebration, remember?

And from birthday

We’re on to

Cookie-baking season

That is, not the usual cooking baking

That happens all the time here.

Special, once-a-year cookies.

And decorating them with our younger daughter

And missing our older one.

We will have to eat her share,

I suppose.

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It will soon be Christmas.

The skies are dark, dismal, and dreary

The news is ghastly, glum and, gloomy,

But there is warmth and light.

Our own little miracle of lights.

The light on the stove hood–

You know, the one that hasn’t worked

For months?

Well, now it does

Just like that.

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More lights are glowing

At windows

On trees,

And in hearts

That are open to it.

Soon the New Year will come

With new dreams

And old memories.

 

Wishing all of you a joyous and happy December-

And beyond.

With hopes that it is not too warm

Or too cold

But, just right.

Places we visited and things we saw:

Auburn Road Vineyards  

Kitchen 519 

Grounds for Sculpture 

The Danish Girl 

Cuba Libre 

And here’s a 1951 Civil Defense Duck and Cover Film. It would have terrified me, as a child. It’s before my time, but we were still ducking and covering in the 1960s.

 

 

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.

Going to the Movies with the Smiths

My husband and I have a tradition for our birthdays: we go out to the movies and then to dinner at our favorite Indian restaurant. It’s an inexpensive celebration that is usually doable on a weeknight. Sometimes we have additional celebrations, such as the wine events we attended this year around the time of both of our birthdays. This year, for my husband’s birthday we saw Still Alice—because who doesn’t want to celebrate getting older by seeing a movie about a woman who discovers she has early-onset Alzheimer’s Disease? “Another uplifting film,” my husband would say.

(Yes, we’re a fun couple. On Presidents’ Day we saw Leviathan, the Russian film nominated for Best Foreign Film at this year’s Academy Awards. It’s an epic tragedy about one man’s fight against the corruption of Russian bureaucracy, especially against his antagonist, the piggish, evil mayor. The film also has stunning shots of the Barents Sea coast, where it was filmed.)

So Still Alice. After it was over, my husband turned to me and said, “I think that’s the saddest movie I’ve ever seen.” That sparked a dinner conversation about sad movies we’ve seen recently. (See, aren’t we fun?) There are different types of sad movies, of course. There’s the overly sentimental maudlin sad, for example, the type of movie that doesn’t really appeal to me. Still Alice is sad, but it focuses on the woman and follows her through her life as it changes over the course of her illness, instead of becoming a sappy emotional vehicle. The movie boasts an amazing performance by Julianne Moore. I asked my husband if he was sorry he had seen the movie, and he said no, he was glad he had seen it. I don’t know if we would say we “enjoyed” the movie, but we were both glad we had seen it, and we both agreed Julianne Moore did an incredible job in portraying the articulate, fashionable, university scholar and professor who becomes the slightly unkempt, nearly wordless, vacant-faced victim of a disease that robs her of her memories. It is the journey from those two extremes that makes the movie so memorable–and that also makes it so sad.

I also dreamt about the movie last night, but I was Alice. In the dream, I told my friends, Chris, Pat, and Irene about the diagnosis. As we have shared the heartaches and the joys of our lives for many, many years, it seemed this would be one more crisis we’d all weather together somehow. That was sad, too. Then I had another dream that involved food. Life goes on.

During our dinner discussion of sad movies, I mentioned first Amour (2012), about an elderly French couple—the husband cares for his wife, a brilliant pianist, after she has a stroke. After seeing trailers for it, I wasn’t sure that I wanted to see it, but my husband and I both agreed that it was a very good movie. It may tie with Still Alice as “saddest.” A couple of other movies that we discussed during dinner: The White Ribbon (2010), a German movie, that is bleak, cold, and disturbing, as well as sad. I don’t remember it as well. I do remember “bleak” though. It is all black and white and gray. The Lives of Others (2006), is a terrific movie about spies and spying and life in East Germany. It’s one I would definitely watch again.

Lest you think my husband and I are like Alvy Singer, Woody Allen’s character in Annie Hall who is constantly going to see The Sorrow and the Pity, the French documentary about the Holocaust, let me assure you we are not. (I do love Annie Hall though.) The latest Hunger Games movie (Mockingjay, Part 1) was my birthday movie in December. OK. I guess that’s not really upbeat either, but honestly, we do sometimes see comedies. Recently, we’ve seen Mr. Turner, Into the Woods, Birdman, The Theory of Everything, The Imitation Game, among others, so we have seen an eclectic assortment of films. I have seen most of the movies nominated for Best Picture, all except Whiplash and American Sniper, and I will probably see both of them at some point. We’ve seen two of the four movies nominated for Best Foreign Film (Ida and Leviathan), and have seen many of the other movies nominated for various other awards this year.

Sometimes we need an escape from reality. Books and movies help provide that escape. Sometimes they also make me think and reflect about my own life.

Movies form a backdrop to favorite family memories, as well. I began to see some movies in different way because of our children. When my older daughter was about three, she wanted to see a particular scene from My Fair Lady and referred to it by the color of Eliza’s dress. (She also referred to a restaurant by the color of its door, which we had never noticed. Can you tell she’s an artist?) Our younger daughter cried and cried every time she watched The Fox and the Hound, but she still insisted on watching it. I remember my husband and I laughing and laughing at Peter O’Toole in My Favorite Year.

Do you watch sad movies? Do have family memories associated with movies? Do you try to see the movies nominated for Academy Awards?

December Grays

December is gray and dreary. It creeps in trailing vestiges of crisp autumn days and lingering aromas of Thanksgiving turkeys. It is dark here before 5 PM, and the sun does not reappear—when it does–until 7 AM. Thank goodness for central heat and electric lights! I understand the desire in previous centuries to conquer December’s gloom with Yule logs and candles. I understand the impulse to brighten the grays and browns of December with fragrant greens of fir and pine and the bright red of holly berries. I understand the requests for cinnamon and nutmeg scented treats, savory stews, and belly-warming drinks. I understand the wish for miracles to light the darkness of body and soul.

December is also the anniversary of my birth—yesterday. Some people with December birthdays feel that they do not receive a full birthday celebration in the midst of holiday celebrating. I look upon it as having extra days of celebration, and my birthday is simply one part of it. On Saturday, my husband and I went on a wine trolley tour of four South Jersey wineries. (We did this last year, too, and you can read about it here.  This year, my younger daughter and her boyfriend joined us, and we visited some wineries we had not been to before. It was a fun day, and I’m glad my husband and I got to share it with our daughter and her boyfriend. We laughed at the totally obnoxious group of women who drank vodka on the trolley and other drinks at our late lunch/dinner. (They sat at the bar; we sat at a table with a view of the lake.) Thank goodness, though they stumbled, dropped things, and yelled, they did not spill anything on any of us or vomit on the trolley. I can appreciate even small holiday miracles.

Enjoying My Wine at Heritage Vineyards

Enjoying My Wine at Heritage Vineyards

Yesterday, on my actual birthday, I spent the afternoon relaxing. In true crazy cat woman fashion, I sat in my bathrobe, ate the double chocolate cake my daughter had baked for me, and re-watched The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, as cats alternated cuddling and prowling about the living room. Then my husband and I went to see the next Hunger Games movie, followed by the now-traditional birthday meal at our favorite Indian restaurant. It was low-key, but fun.

As I get older, I realize it’s not presents that I desire so much (although they’re nice, of course). It’s the love of husband, family, and good friends that I cherish the most. It’s the desire to continue to be strong in mind and body, and to have warmth and cheer in the dismal grays of December.

Tonight is the first night of Hanukkah. My husband and I will light the candles, and I will think of miracles. One is that I am connected to everyone who reads this post. Time and space have been manipulated in ways our ancestors could never imagine. Peace on earth; goodwill to all.

And don’t forget to eat latkes. They’re a culinary miracle.

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For information about the Wine Tours see Vintage South Jersey.