I Close My Eyes and Dream

Monday Morning Musings:

“For myself, I declare I don’t know anything about it. But the sight of the stars always makes me dream.”

Vincent van Gogh, letter to his brother Theo, July 1888

“I think about our ancestors. Thousands of years, wondering if they were alone in the universe. Finally discovering they weren’t. You can’t blame them for wanting to reach out, see how many other species were out there, asking the same questions.”

–Captain Kathryn Janeway, Star Trek Voyager, Episode, “Friendship One”

 

At night

ghosts sail to stars

dazzling the universe

with wild poetry,

that thing there—

see it?

the liquid blush of desire

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Earth spins and orbits our Sun

but all is not right

(in day or night)

the heavens rage

the surface heaves

the forests burn

the oceans churn

(do you hear them sigh)

and creatures die

on the stars I make a wish

for planet, us, for birds and fish

and then under the glowing stream

I close my eyes and then I dream

 

I wake to see bright Venus,

high above

she sings of love

there in the eastern sky

she dances and she wonders why

(as do I, oh, as do I)

we are not swayed from the hate

and do not counter or negate

the dotard’s words of folly

but instead sink into a melancholy—

(as do I, oh, as do I)

under starlight’s beam

once again

I close my eyes and then I dream

 

We watch Star Trek Voyager

Earth’s greeting of friendship gone wrong

a civilization pushed headlong

into nuclear winter,

the next day—synchronicity

a radio story of the real Voyager

the golden record as it would sound to aliens

Simplicity? Specificity?

We want to reach out,

to know we’re not alone

the moon smiles and gleams

I close my eyes and then I dream

 

We have a holiday dinner

missing daughters, sister, and niece

still I present the soup and loaf

(a masterpiece!)

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with apples, honey, and some wine

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we drink and eat and we are fine

(we pour more wine)

talk of movies and van Gogh

(there’s a new movie out, you know)

wonder about Ben Franklin’s diet and life

then matter-of-factly my mother’s zinger

that he did not sleep alone

at ninety-five, she was so in the zone!

and with that, the laughter lingers

sweet

like the honeyed fingers

from the baklava and apple cake

she mangles the middle

and picks at the pieces

but sister laughter

follows after

and after

 

We drink more wine, again we’re fine

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under moonlight sky and starry stream

I close my eyes and then I dream. . .

 

of the universe’s wild poetry

of singing stars and humming moons

of spirits soaring and swaying to the tunes

before dawn’s blush of desire

turns the sky to fire

I wake and look up to the sky

to see Venus shining bright

I gaze and wish

for us, for cats, and fish

for dogs, and horses, and for birds

(and yes, even for the dotard)

for the planet, earth, and trees

and for the seas

under Venus’s beaming gleam

I close my eyes and wish and dream

 

So, we watched Star Trek Voyager and saw an episode about the result of a probe that was sent out from Earth that was very similar to the real Voyager and its golden record. Then the next day, I heard this story on NPR’s Weekend Morning Edition and the Oracle gave me that poem. Synchronicity?

 

Some of you may know because I’ve ranted about it   that I’ve been working on two reference books about rape. I am happy to report that both manuscripts have now been sent in. I also finished another project over the weekend, so I should now have time to answer e-mails and respond to comments and prompts. At least until, I receive copyedited manuscript (first one is coming next month).

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Honey and Wine: Tanka

 

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Honey-dipped apples,

sweetness carried through the year

shift light and shadow

dreams of peace and harmony

linger like the velvet wine

 

This Tanka is for Colleen Chesebro’s Weekly Poetry Challenge

The prompt words, honey and wine, make me think of Rosh Hashanah, which we will celebrate in about a month. We dip apples in honey for a sweet year, eat round challahs, and drink wine. It’s a holiday full of sweetness. Here, it takes place in early autumn.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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For Beauty to Happen

Monday Morning Musings:

 

Warren:

For beautiful to happen, the beautiful has got to be seen

Deb:

Okay. I like that shade of red right there

The spot where the apple is peeling

It’s deep as an ocean but lighter than air

Warren:

It’s simple, familiar, and full of feeling

Deb:

The color of Saturdays here at the Met

Warren:

The color of shouting from rooftops

Deb:

You bet!

Warren:

The color of feeling that life is okay

Deb:

The color of an ordinary day

Adam Gwon, “Beautiful” from the musical Ordinary Days

 

“What we call the beginning is often the end

And to make an end is to make a beginning.”

–T.S. Eliot, “Little Giddings”

 

We planned for seventeen

but expected sixteen

I bake challahs,

a freezer full,

enough to give some away.

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I buy brisket,

take the plastic-wrapped tray from the butcher’s hands,

I look at the package–

no, she has never seen my family eat brisket,

I pick up another package.

 

I cook,

we clean,

I buy myself flowers to decorate the table–

we never have flowers inside

because of the cats,

just this once I think.

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A series of texts and calls

and there are now fourteen coming to dinner

then thirteen

then eleven.

Final answer.

As guests start to arrive

(The soup is bubbling on the stove.)

one cat is vomiting.

I’m worried he’s eaten flowers that are toxic,

I confer with daughter on the phone.

It doesn’t look like any of the flowers were nibbled.

I decide he’s probably okay.

(I hope he’s okay.)

 

The sun did not come out,

but there is a beauty to the fall breeze,

an ordinary day, beautiful.

The birds and squirrels chatter to one another,

“Fall is coming.”

 

In this year of bullets and bombs,

of hate-filled speech and lurid lies,

I welcome thoughts of a sweet new year,

old traditions that bring comfort,

even without belief

I don’t need god to believe

in man and woman,

and love.

 

We pour the wine,

my niece makes a toast

she reminds us of the importance of family

of love

of gathering together

of being there when others are in need.

 

We dip our apples in honey,

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We’re eating challah and drinking wine

talking with loved ones

and loving the talk.

(We love to talk.)

 

Dinner is full of symbols for the new year–

cycles, sweetness, prosperity–

in the round shape of the challah

full circles of life,

the ordinary made beautiful on reflection,

the golden pumpkin-yellow split pea soup

the burst of red pomegranate in the salad

the apples

tart and sweet—like life.

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My mom starts to mention traveling to Boston

I catch my niece’s eye–

pour more wine—

oh, family!

 

We talk about TV shows,

we talk about school,

there’s a discussion on teachers and parenting,

middle school kids,

Axe body spray and middle school boys

“It smells like BO,” says my niece

“I’d rather smell a room full of Axe than the smell of boys after gym class,”

says my daughter, who teaches 8th grade.

“I keep air freshener to spray in the room at the end of the day.”

(Perhaps sometimes the ordinary does not smell beautiful. But those kids–bursting with life!)

 

We’ve eaten our fill–

plenty of food–

because what if there isn’t enough!

Food for meat eaters and vegetarians

Brisket

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Turkey

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Noodle Kugel

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and enough for all to take some home

 

And then dessert. We want a very sweet year.

Apple Cake

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Baklava

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And brownies with sea salt, too.

(because chocolate)

 

We missed those who could not join us.

I send the flowers home with my mom.

The beginning and end come full circle.

We clean the house.

My cat is fine.

See the beauty.

It is all around,

in the red of an apple

in the golden flow of honey,

in the eye of your child

in the touch of love,

and in the purr of a cat, too.

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L’Shana Tova

A sweet year!

L’Chaim

To life!

Peace to all

Shalom

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Sweetness

Monday Morning Musings:

“I imagine that one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.”

–James Baldwin

 

Today is Rosh Hashanah,

the start of the High Holy Days.

We say “Shanah Tova,”

and wish people a sweet year.

The weekend began with

the anniversary of 9/11.

Never forget.

As if we could.

Then caring for our grandpets.

Doggy kisses

and kitty purrs.

A party.

People with different jobs,

beliefs

interests,

drinking and

playing volleyball.

No, not me.

I’ll just watch.

Having fun.

Enjoying

the beautiful evening.

Meanwhile—

The man with the hair

whips up hate.

Throughout history

demagogues have appeared.

He is merely the latest.

A little man

for all his wealth.

Seeking to rise by

finding a scapegoat–

as all demagogues do.

It is nothing new.

It’s their fault,

they declare.

You don’t have money,

goods,

or

power–

It’s because of them.

Migrants, Jews,

Women.

People with black skin,

or yellow skin.

Educated people.

Illiterate people.

Gay.

Trans.

It doesn’t matter.

They are Others,

not one of us.

Nativists, Know Nothings, and Exclusion Acts—

We don’t want your kind.

“Give me your tired, your poor.”

Lady Liberty cries,

But not too tired, not too poor.

the followers yell.

We don’t want people who

look different.

And

none of that foreign talk here.

Speak English.

Wave a flag,

like a true patriot.

A clerk in Kentucky claims religious freedom by

denying others their rights.

Doesn’t she know that liberty

is inclusive,

not exclusive?

Hate does not win.

Hate brings more hate.

Hate combusts and burns

like the brushfires out west,

consuming everything it touches.

Love,

Compassion,

Empathy,

Education

tame the flames,

to a warm glow,

enough to sit around,

enough to bake bread.

I baked challahs yesterday.

The kitchen smells

Of bread and memories.

And love, too.

“Bread and roses.”

Fuel for body

and soul.

Dip the apple in the honey.

Taste its sweetness.

It is everywhere.

Look.

It is all around you.

Can you see the sweetness

of life?

Stop.

Just look.

Do you see it?

Can you look past the hate?

Can you see how beautiful

Our Earth is?

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Wishing all of you peace and a sweet new year!

©Merril D. Smith

Apples and Honey

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Apples and honey

on the blue kitchen counter.

Round braided challahs,

waiting to be sliced.

Soup is simmering,

and tables cleared.

Preparation done.

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Guests arrive

in a swirl of

arms, legs,

hugs, and kisses.

Mom’s walker

appears

before she does.

I pull;

my brother gently pushes–

she’s in.

One cat dashes

up the stairs,

vanishing for the evening.

The other watches us

with his huge eyes—

What does he think as the

sun-dappled day turns

to cool moonlit night?

Try this wine.

You don’t like it?

No—

it’s like bubbly, sweet air.

My daughter and I look

at each other

and open the red.

 

Snapshots of a moment;

pause to remember.

 

Family and friends

around the table;

the symbolism of

the new year explained.

Pre-teen eyes roll–

when do we eat?

Golden pumpkin soup,

salad with pomegranate seeds,

noodle kugel,

brisket and chicken, too,

because. . .well, just in case.

If my stomach is any indication,

this is going to be a very good year!

Love and laughter.

That’s what holidays mean.

 

Kids scurry away from the table.

Talk of youthful “adventures.”

Kids return—

Ooops! Change the subject!

Change—

the subject now!

 

Laughter.

Mouths covered by hands.

They both do it.

Is it genetic?

 

Latin scrapbooks

and “Footloose” dancing

across wooden floors—

the innocent joys of

being high school nerds.

Own it.

But you were always

incredibly poised,

and wise beyond your years.

 

Apple Cake, Flourless Chocolate Cake, Baklava--Early Celebration requires extra desserts to ensure sweetness for the year! ;)

Apple Cake, Flourless Chocolate Cake, Baklava–Early Celebration requires extra desserts to ensure sweetness for the year! 😉

Desserts!

Yay!

Extra sweetness

for the new year!

More wine?

Coffee?

I can’t eat another bite.

 

Guests leave.

Tables back

to their usual spots.

No Disney dancing

cups or magic cleanup.

But wouldn’t that be great?

The vanished cat

runs down the stairs,

hesitates at the kitchen,

stretching his long legs–

he sniffs,

and yawns.

Did I miss anything?

Love and laughter.

The joy of a holiday dinner.

Snapshots of life.

Pause to remember.

I got special cards! <3

I got special cards! ❤

 

Because of our schedules, our family gathered for a dinner to celebrate Rosh Hashanah early this year. Wishing all of you health, happiness, and sweetness for this new year–and throughout your years!

Love and Marriage, Part 3–Food

And so it’s done. My little girl, my first born, is now a married woman. I am still teary-eyed, but happy and content to know my daughter is married to the woman she loves.

She and her lovely bride were married this past Sunday in a beautiful, tender, loving, and funny ceremony at the Adventure Aquarium in Camden, NJ. The brides were beautiful—my daughter wore my wedding gown, now known as “our gown.” The weather was perfect, and the aquarium setting was striking. Shark tanks inside and the Delaware River and Philadelphia skyline outside—what could top that? Only the love in their eyes as they gazed at each other.

In the days leading up to the ceremony–which of course were filled with last minute chores to do and items to pick up, drop off, and assemble—we all tried to find ways to relax and de-stress. On Friday night, my daughters and soon-to-be daughter-in-law and I went for a long walk through our town and along the river. My husband then joined us for a family movie night as we watched “Frozen,” a movie none of us except my younger daughter had seen. The tears and laughter during the movie were a prelude for the wedding symphony to come.

Of course, over the days leading up to the wedding we ate and ate. On the Thursday before the wedding, I baked the brides-to-be a pre-wedding challah. We tore chunks of it off to eat with cheese, as we sat outside at a local winery on a beautiful summer night. Bread and wine—looking back it seems symbolic and perfect for a pre-wedding feast. Plus, I’m all for eating bread for dinner.

Challahs cooling on the counter

Challahs cooling on the counter

Food is often an important feature of holidays and special occasions. In my family, food is always a feature, a necessary and expected part of such celebrations–if not the most important part. Why should weddings be any different? I baked many batches of cookies to give to those who attended the rehearsal dinner. After all, I wouldn’t want anyone to get hungry in the middle of the night!

Because food is so important, I made it the subject of my toast at the rehearsal dinner. I hope the brides will not mind if I share an edited version of that toast:

Tonight I’d like to discuss what’s really important in marriage. That, of course, is food.

When two people marry, they bring their pasts with them—and this often includes family quirks and traditions. They attempt to meld or accommodate different ideas about proper meals—when and what to eat. Vegetarians and meat-eaters; picky eaters and adventurous eaters; those who like formal dinners and those who prefer casual dining—it can be a challenge to make these differences work.

When Doug and I first started dating—way back when—he had never experienced the joys of a full Jewish brunch—lox, cream cheese, “yum yum” fish, bagels, and everything else. Nor had he been exposed to the spicy, “exotic” foods of India, Thailand, and China. But he willingly embraced it all. (He also was not used to people blurting our wildly inappropriate things during holiday dinners—or people who cry at everything–so I will try my best not to do either, but instead stick to the subjects of food, love, and tradition.)

Many of our family traditions involve gathering around a dinner table. Food is a source of gustatory delight and memories—the strawberry shortcake dinners we ate after picking strawberries, for example– but it also a source of comfort and tradition. During holidays we eat foods that represent particular thoughts or events. We savor the round challah at Rosh Hashanah (made from my Aunt Sima’s world famous recipe) and enjoy it with honey for a sweet year; we devour way too many fried latkes and donuts at Hanukkah in remembrance of the oil in the temple; and we eat the matzoh, charoset, and other foods at our Passover meal that symbolize the ancient story of the Jews fleeing Egypt and slavery.

When Megan and Sheryl were growing up, I baked lots of cookies, including Doug’s favorites, which became known as Daddy Cookies, and my favorite, which became known as Mommy Cookies. Daddy Cookies are Welsh Cookies, a type of tea biscuit cooked on a griddle. They are popular in the Scranton, PA. area, and I got the recipe from his grandmother. Mommy Cookies are my version of Mandelbrot, which I describe as Jewish biscotti. These cookies are totally different—in shape, texture, and ingredients. Yet, they are both sweet and delicious, and Megan and Sheryl grew up eating both types. Doug and I are very different, but even though we prefer different types of cookies, we can appreciate the other’s favorite. We share many mutual beliefs, interests, activities, and love. Megan and Clare are also very different people with different backgrounds and tastes who have come together because of their love for one another and their shared interests–including food.

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Welsh Cookies, aka “Daddy Cookies”

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Mandelbrot, aka “Mommy Cookies”

Megan and Clare –it makes my heart sing to see you together. I am so glad you found each other and that you’ve chosen to share your lives together, and that we here are fortunate to be able to share in your celebration.

Doug and I are pleased that we can gather together with all of you tonight over a fine meal and share food, love, and traditions. We’ve prepared a little gift bag of symbolic goodies for each of you, which includes Mommy Cookies and Daddy cookies. There are also some sweet and salty fish-shaped treats. Fish, obviously, symbolize the aquarium site for tomorrow’s nuptials. Sweet and salty represents the happiness and tears that come in marriage.

Please raise your glass now and join me in toasting my daughter and my almost daughter-in-law. To Megan and Clare—may you enjoy many delicious meals together. May your lives be filled with sweetness–and may you cry only tears of happiness. I love you. L’Chaim!

 

 

© Merril D. Smith

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Sweetness of New Beginnings

 

 

I spent part of the past weekend baking challahs for Rosh Hashanah. Here in the United States, Monday was Labor Day, and many people here consider Labor Day weekend the unofficial end of summer. We’ll be having a small family dinner on Wednesday night, and a big extended family and friends’ meal on Saturday night at our house. In addition to the traditional staples–challahs, apples, and honey–we’ll have pumpkin-yellow split soup, brisket, noodle kugel, and many more luscious dishes–including apple cake, baklava, and maybe something chocolate, too, for dessert. Because chocolate is always appropriate and sometimes necessary. We might even have a kitchen disaster for extra excitement. There will be a variety of dishes to satisfy both meat eaters (did I mention a turkey breast, too, in case someone eats meat, but not beef?) and vegetarians (who needs brisket and turkey breast when there is good bread, soup, kugel, and vegetables?), and sufficient quantity (see above) to satisfy my own fears that there might not be enough food for everyone to feel totally stuffed and ready to vomit by the end of the meal. There also has to be enough food to send everyone home with leftovers. Yup, I’m not religious, but culturally, I’m the stereotypical Jewish momma, at least when it comes to holiday meals.

 

Challahs cooling on the counter

Challahs cooling on the counter

 

We had an extra freezer in our basement that broke at the beginning of the summer. I told my husband there was no real necessity to replace it because we don’t really use it that much. Then a couple of weeks ago, I told him in a panic that I needed a freezer to store all the challahs I bake for Rosh Hashanah. True story.

 

It seemed odd at first to be baking and preparing for the holiday on a warm summer afternoon when its seems more of a cool weather fall holiday to me. You might think I could adjust the menu for warmer weather, but then you don’t know my family. We don’t just have food traditions–we worship them.

 

But as I’ve been thinking about the end of summer and the start of fall schedules, the timing of the holiday seems perfect. Here in the United States, most schools have just recently started their fall terms or will soon do so. For my family, it is a fall of new beginnings. Our older daughter started graduate school last week. Our younger daughter just started her first grownup job as a high school English teacher. Since her Dad teaches math in the same school, this job is extra special to them both. It’s a one-semester position, which means they will cherish their temporary carpool and colleague status all the more.

 

During this past weekend, my mother was in the hospital. It appears to be nothing too serious, but her hospitalization is a reminder that she is 91-years-old, and it makes me reflect at this new year on the fleetingness of life and the need to live it to the fullest.  (Add resolution to avoid clichés in future writing.) As we dip our apples in the honey this year, I will look at the faces of my family members and friends, and I will consider all the wonderful things in my life and all that makes it sweet—from family and cats to books, TV shows, movies, theatre, and reading the morning newspaper while drinking that first morning cup of coffee. To seeing a beautiful sunrise and feeling satisfied at the end of the day that I accomplished the work I set out to do. To finishing a killer workout at the gym and appreciating that I can still do it. To hearing laughter and to crying tears of joy.

 

As much as I love good food, I love sharing it with family and friends even more. I need to remember to make time for them. I will remind myself to meet my deadlines (oops!), but to remember to play and laugh, too.  I will cherish my family, friends, and my pets. I am thankful for all of you who take the time to read my blog posts. I wish all of you a sweet, healthy, and happy New Year. Don’t forget the honey.