Coffee and Home

Monday Morning Musings:

 “If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.”

–J.R.R. Tolkien

 

“Coffee is a lot more than just a drink; it’s something happening. Not as in hip, but like an event, a place to be, but not like a location, but like somewhere within yourself. It gives you time, but not actual hours or minutes, but a chance to be, like be yourself, and have a second cup.”

–Gertrude Stein, Selected Writings

This universe must be home

(has always been home)

I wake warm and comfortable

drink coffee

(always coffee)

live mornings of caramel joy

remember a voice

a smile

cats

celebrate a secret sky waking

 

I wake to the smell of coffee

a childhood memory,

an adult reality,

a scent wafting through time

am image, too, coffee cups and morning newspapers

spread across the kitchen table

(now joined by laptops and phones),

the table in my young childhood home

lived in the kitchen-dining-den space—

my mother hated it—the space, not the table–

and when I was teen, she, no longer with my father,

bought a house with a separate dining room,

a large, center-hall house with five bedrooms

that became too much for her to keep up with

but it was the house by which my siblings and I later measured all other houses.

In that dining room, my boyfriend, now husband, learned about Sunday brunches

with lox, blocks of cream cheese, bagels, herring, boiled new potatoes, and crusty rye bread–

and on the little enclosed porch we’d sit before a fire late on Saturday nights and drink coffee and consume the treats, fried and sweet, from Dunkin Donuts, wiping sugar from our faces with paper napkins and kisses.

 

Food and friendship, more valuable than gold,

I eat Vietnamese food with a friend

we laugh and talk

she tells me (I had forgotten) that she dislikes tomatoes

then is surprised to find them in her stir fry,

we laugh and talk

I slurp vermicelli noodles with extra hot sauce

and we sit, chatting and catching up,

her mother’s house, her childhood home, sold

she is pleased that the new owners seem like good people

another family for the house

to imbue it with new dreams,

the old ones will fade from the walls

like night shadows gradually erased by the dawn

 

We don’t order coffee

though we laugh and talk for two hours,

the restaurant owners, mother and daughter, probably eager for us to go,

but we’re enchanted by the little girl, daughter of one, granddaughter of the other,

eighteen months old

she blows kisses and says good-bye.

 

A few days later, my husband and I go to a first communion party

the daughter of a daughter of long-time friends

we sat with them every Friday night in their first house

a TGIF Sabbath meal each week of dollar hoagies and beer

we were there when our friend went into labor with the daughter whose daughter

we’re celebrating at this party

where I sit and talk the entire time with another friend, my twin

though her skin is darker, her hair shorter,

we’re twins of the heart

we wear our matching bracelets

talk about another friend who could not be there

but who is linked to us

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New Year’s Eve, 2016 We are linked, heading into 2017.

 

and catch up on news, share photos, her sons, my daughters,

it’s a miserable day, cold and raining, more like March than May

but warmed by friendship

 

After that, my husband and I travel to my daughter’s house

bringing wine for her and her husband,

we laugh about all the wine we’ve ordered

delivered to our door all in one day in three large boxes

so that the UPS man thinks we’re having a party

we eat Pakistani food with them at a nearby restaurant,

the genial owner recommends dishes,

“We have new items”, he says,

“try the spring rolls, vegetarian.”

They are different from Chinese spring rolls,

delicious, though not as good as the vegetable samosas,

our favorites,

my daughter and I share the platter,

everything is delicious, eggplant, vegetable korma, naan, the goat our husbands have

(I suppose)

“Always a pleasure to see you,” the owner says as we leave,

and we assure him that it’s always a pleasure to visit his restaurant,

and it is, even on a cold and rainy night.

 

In the morning, a package of chocolate covered strawberries arrives,

a special Sunday delivery,

from my other daughter and her wife,

a thoughtful present,

a scrumptious treat for Mother’s Day

even first thing in the morning.

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Later I will talk to her on the phone,

hear about her trip to national parks in Utah

(while they still exist)

learn about her surprising facility for rock climbing

and allergy to Los Vegas

I miss seeing her, but it is good to hear her voice

from across the miles

 

We have lunch at my sister’s house

where we take my mother for Mother’s Day

 

Before lunch H. had made a grand entrance,

“Hi, I have to pee and sprints through the living room.”

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We later talk about the house she and her husband have fixed up to sell.

It was their first home, bought with an inheritance from my father,

her voice breaks a bit as she describes painting over the clouds in her first baby’s room.

The sun is out, and we sit for the garden for a bit

though it gets windy

My family is goofy and wonderful

I love them

 

I’ve baked a flourless chocolate cake

because there must be chocolate

 

 

and my sister buys, rather than brews, coffee

from Dunkin’ Donuts to have with it,

which makes me think again of those long-ago days

I think of all the mothers and daughters

the houses we’ve lived in

the coffee we’ve consumed

and despite all that is wrong in the world

I’m happy to wake in the morning to my coffee, newspapers, and cats,

to my husband saying, “Can I pour you another cup?”

 

The joys,

transitory like the flowers that have recently bloomed

 

but no less beautiful for that

timeless in our memories

the sky has cleared in the morning,

there is a half-moon hanging crookedly in the sky humming a song of hope

I go inside and pour a cup of coffee

a cat settles on my lap

this universe must be home

especially if there is coffee

–and love

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The Beauty Is: NaPoWriMo

 

Monday Morning Musings:

“Did my heart love till now? Forswear it, sight! For I ne’er saw true beauty till this night –William Shakespeare, Romeo, Romeo and Juliet, Act 1, Scene 5

“And the beauty is, when you realize, when you realize, Someone could be looking for a someone like you.” –Adam Guettel, “The Beauty Is” from the musical, The Light in the Piazza  Song here.

“At such moments I don’t think about all the misery, but about the beauty that still remains. This is where Mother and I differ greatly. Her advice in the face of melancholy is “Think about all the suffering in the world and be thankful you’re not part of it.” My advice is: “Go outside, to the country, enjoy the sun and all nature has to offer. Go outside and try to recapture the happiness within yourself; think of all the beauty in yourself and in everything around you and be happy. –Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl, March 7, 1944

It’s a rainy Earth day,

the grey skies swaddle pink and white blossoms

Spring, verdant, full of life, thirsty, greedily drinks like a baby,

unselfconscious and we the admiring parents watch her,

she is beautiful, even when she’s a dirty mess.

 

A mother-daughter outing to see Beauty and the Beast,

the theater has reserved seats that we recline in ready for the magic to begin

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My daughter is comfortable in the theater.

 

— the Disney version of the story,

though we’re both impressed by Gaston, more nuanced than his cartoon version,

possibly charming at first in an oafish way

until the true darkness of his soul is revealed,

the mob scenes remind me a bit too much of history and recent events,

mobs inflamed by ignorant narcissists,

it’s happened throughout the ages

it happens now,

but how can I not enjoy a story where the heroine loves books,

a movie that is a shout out to literacy,

and where lovers bond over reading,

Belle reads poetry to the Beast,

he knows a quotation from her favorite play, Romeo and Juliet,

there’s singing and dancing, people and objects,

I had forgotten Audra McDonald was in this movie–

until she sang,

and I didn’t know Dan Stevens had such a fine voice,

(remember that time he was in a little series called Downton Abbey?)

we get a backstory for the Beast (which we both like)

Belle’s backstory is inserted more awkwardly,

Still it is an enjoyable couple of hours of mother and daughter time

And there is more beauty in the day

the beauty is. ..

a bowl of lemons

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not exactly life giving them to us

as going to the store and buying six bags of them

and rather than lemonade, we mix them with vodka to make limoncello

aren’t grownup daughters fun!

(And beautiful?)

So, we grate lemon peel,

the kitchen becomes gloriously lemon-scented,

a Chopin polonaise plays softly in the background,

(her husband’s study music),

we talk, of her girlfriends, of work, of this and that,

my husband has been doing yard work

(it’s not raining that hard, he says),

he sits at the table with us,

their dog chews on his toy,

their cat ventures out to see if it’s dinner time

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Not pleased by the citrus scent

 

When we’re finished, we eat takeout Pakistani food,

my husband and my son-in-law learn

the kind and talkative restaurant owner was educated at Oxford

(perhaps he is a book lover, too?)

And what do I do the next day with leftover lemons?

Make lemon cake, of course!

 

 

It’s beautiful and delicious.

And though there are beasts all around, the beauty is. . .

spending time with people you love,

enjoying good food and wine,

beauty simple and sudden,

striking you, when you look up from your morning coffee

to see the sun dawning over the neighbor’s white dogwood tree

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The photo does not capture how beautiful it was

 

the profound beauty of birth, mixed with blood and pain,

the simple beauty of a smile,

the beauty that is there within the beast,

the beauty is

it surrounds us

the beauty is. . .

in yourself and in everything around you

 

Today is Day 24, NaPoWriMo. We’re asked to write a poem of ekphasis, a poem inspired by a work of art. We’re challenged to base a poem on marginalia of medieval manuscripts. I suppose you could very loosely say I’ve done this, as they are beautiful and filled with beasts. (Such as this one )

Huffington Post summarizes some previous versions of Beauty and the Beast here.

Today is Yom HaShoah ( This year, it’s Sunset, April 23- Sunset April 24), Holocaust Remembrance Day. I wonder what Anne Frank would be writing about now, and if she would still see beauty in the world.

Day and Night, Hope 2017: NaPoWriMo

Monday Morning Musings:

“They lived in narrow streets and lanes obscure,

Ghetto and Judenstrass, in mirk and mire;

Taught in the school of patience to endure

The life of anguish and the death of fire.

 

All their lives long, with the unleavened bread

And bitter herbs of exile and its fears,

The wasting famine of the heart they fed,

And slaked its thirst with marah of their tears.”

From, “The Jewish Cemetery at Newport,” Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, full text with annotations here.

 

By the rude bridge that arched the flood,

Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled,

Here once the embattled farmers stood

And fired the shot heard round the world.

–from “Concord Hymn” by Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

April came in with showers, dreary and cold

seemingly, spring was stopped, would not unfold

with flowers and green

then, suddenly, it took hold.

 

We took my mother out to lunch

sat on the porch to enjoy the air

watched dogs pull the owners, sniff,

noses in the air, aware

of scents in the air, of food, and treats

of magic there

 

It was a day she thanked us for

to enjoy the sights

(what she can still see)

to have the food

(not her typical fare)

to feel the air

and hear the ducks quack

and the geese honk,

in her ninety-fourth spring,

another voyage around the sun.

 

 

Passover began that night

but in our crazy way,

the family celebration,

(our celebration of family)

was not until five nights later.

Was it just me thinking about freedom

and how Passover seems more relevant this year?

 

My family arrived,

we missed a few,

sisters, a daughter and her wife,

we hug and kissed,

poured the wine, and began,

taking turns reading from a Haggadah

I put together several years ago,

it probably needs to be updated,

but still, one grand-nephew laughed at the jokes,

“Tonight we drink of four glasses of wine—unless you’re driving”

and all took part in the reading of the Passover Play,

 

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rewritten every Passover,

one daughter’s work this year,

with Trump jokes, Hamilton references, and lines about family quirks and neuroses,

 

 

We said,“Dayenu,” and attempted to sing “Go Down Moses”

(not very successfully)

then we ate,

and ate,

and ate some more,

 

 

my great-niece, played her ukulele,

and my daughter sang

(I miss hearing that voice)

and then it was time for dessert,

we took pictures,

 

wrapped up leftovers,

and forgot the Afikomen,

after everyone left,

the cats came out to sniff

noses in the air,

aware of scents in the air,

on the tables

and through the windows,

Was Elijah there?

 

The next morning,

I saw the moon,

her dark half

not quite hidden

darkness and light

opposites,

black and white

good and evil,

April’s changeable moods

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Moon at dawn

In the newspaper,

I read about the new Museum of the American Revolution

to open on April 19th,

the anniversary of the Battles at Lexington and Concord

the shots heard round the world,

it’s the anniversary, too, of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising,

1943,

lasting for almost a month

captive Jews,

desperate,

fighting for their lives

fighting for freedom

 

The first American president,

a slaveholder,

led an army,

fighting for freedom,

he met with the enslaved poet

while he was still a general,

after she had written poetry in his honor,

as president, he met with leaders of the Touro synagogue

in Rhode Island, championing the Bill of Rights

and freedom of religion

 

Another poet would visit that same synagogue in the next century,

he’d write strangely prescient lines of ghettos, starving, and fire,

would write of the Passover meal with its bitter herbs and salty tears

in the twenty-first century,

we would still think of that time,

of all those times,

we thought war would be over

dip spring greens into salty water,

oh brave, new world—

 

We laugh, eat, drink, and sing at Passover,

holding evil at bay,

the table,

charmed circle,

is filled with more non-Jews than Jews,

and more non-believers

than believers,

 

Around us

(Do you hear them?

Do you see them in the shadows?)

ghosts from the past,

echoes,

ghosts of memories,

memories held like ghosts,

flitting at the edge of consciousness

dancing in a ring,

(they all fall down)

ancestors, known and unknown,

the blood of slaves,

the blood of the lamb,

the blood of men, women, and children who cry

who die,

even now

 

My family,

crazy like the April weather,

how I love you,

and love is love is love is love is love

and so, we love,

even as the ghosts hover,

just beyond us

hidden,

the dark side of the moon,

and we laugh,

and we eat,

and we hope

 

 

This is Day 17 of NaPoWriMo. Today’s prompt is to write a nocturne. Perhaps I’ve written half a nocturne.

I am honored to be today’s featured poet for the poem I posted yesterday, “If Only.”

 

 

February Hearts and Lions

Monday Morning Musings:

 

“And February was so long that it lasted into March

And found us walking a path alone together,

You stopped and pointed and you said, ‘That’s a crocus,’

And I said, “What’s a crocus?” and you said, “It’s a flower,”

I tried to remember, but I said, “What’s a flower?”

You said, “I still love you.”

–Dar Williams, “February”

 

“This whole earth which we inhabit is but a point in space. How far apart, think you, dwell the most distant inhabitants of yonder star, the breadth of whose disk cannot be appreciated by our instruments?”

–Henry David Thoreau, Walden

 

February grayness brightens with a flower

teasing us before the snow.

The snow moon haunts and taunts

the wind blows,

wild wolves howling in the night,

winter darkness,

and yet dawn comes,

and so will spring.

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First Crocus, National Park, NJ

 

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Watching the February snow. National Park, NJ

 

My daughters and I,

in separate locations,

celebrate our snow day

(though the inch or two in New Jersey

does not compare to Boston’s blizzard)

we share our thoughts,

in text messages

(technology that did not exist when I young)

throughout the day,

as if we were wondering in and out of rooms—

separated by space,

but instantly connected in time,

what we are cooking and baking–

meatballs, lentil soup, artisan bread, sweet potato nachos–

deciding banana bread with added chocolate chips

makes it both bread and cake,

suitable for breakfast or dessert,

one daughter says she just watched, Finding Dory,

and cried,

but then we cry over everything,

TV shows, books, commercials,

other daughter says, “I cried when I burnt toast the other day,

but the point is that you should watch the movie.”

My husband chimes in with a message that he is saving this conversation,

“It is SO my family.”

 

A few days later my husband and I see the movie, Lion,

and my tears flow,

I think it is good I’m not watching it with my daughters,

all three of us sobbing in the theater,

though I notice my husband discreetly wiping his eyes.

I think again about technology,

the nineteenth-century invention, the train,

that separates the five-year-old boy from his family,

that little boy with the heart and spirit of a lion,

a twentieth-century plane separates them ever father

across bodies of water to Tasmania

how a twenty-first-century invention, Google Earth,

brings them back together

It turns out that we see the movie in February,

and it was in February that Saroo Briefley reunited with his family.

 

On a February night I gave birth to one daughter,

and on a February night three years later, I gave birth to her sister,

and so, we celebrate birthdays

with wine and chocolate

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around the holiday of love

hearts and love

chocolate and wine

 

I think of the brilliant February moon,

its light shining through the kitchen window

making me stop and stare,

and gaze at the sky–

technology leads us out to the stars,

to our moon’s craters

and to Saturn’s rings,

Valentine’s love from Cassini

 

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“Splendid Saturn,”NASA Image, PIA06594/ NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

 

I wake during the night to hear

February’s winds,

wild horse gods,

stallions that gallop in

and seed the ground,

for spring

will come again–

until then, there is chocolate, wine,

and memories.

 

A number of New  Jersey wineries have special wine and chocolate events close the weekend before Valentine’s Day. This year we went to one at Heritage Winery in Mullica Hill, NJ.

Trailer for Lion.

Dolls, Ghosts, and Memories

Monday Morning Musings:

 “Remember thee!

Ay, thou poor ghost, whiles memory holds a seat

In this distracted globe.”

–William Shakespeare, Hamlet

 

“but with ribbons

it was spinning Fates conjured,

bewitched by the doll mistress

who knew her dreams.

Whose intention they must spin.”

–Luanne Castle, “For the Doll Mistress”

from Doll God (Aldrich Press, 2015)

 

The play began,

the first floor of a bed and breakfast,

Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, late November,

every surface is covered with knickknacks,

including American Girl doll Samantha,

and it turns out that Jenny, a guest there,

had a Samantha doll,

who she believed was always angry at her,

maybe is still angry at her,

now that she’s packed away in the basement of Jenny’s parents’ home,

(though Jenny cut out pieces of the cardboard box so the doll could see)

And the innkeeper asks Jenny and her boyfriend,

who are facing problems in their relationship,

she asks them each separately,

if they’ve ever felt that they were watched

as though something watched over them.

(I think of how I don’t like people to watch me

when I sleep. How I’ve been awakened by a gaze.)

The bed and breakfast might be haunted,

(this is Gettysburg, after all)

the Jackson room is sometimes “unreliable,”

(perhaps, so are we all)

Mertis, the innkeeper, mentions

the building was a hospital for Union soldiers,

amputated limbs were tossed out of the windows.

Jenny later meets Genevieve, Mertis’s, blind friend,

Genevieve might be crazy,

she thought she was possessed by the spirit of her ex-husband John,

and John, is also the name of Jenny’s former lover,

(we all know someone named John)

who also has a hold on her,

Genevieve hears rustling sounds that no one else hears—

is it us, the audience?

Mertis admits she’s a bit of a mind reader.

Is she also a witch,

a doll mistress, arranging the scenes for Jenny and Elias?

Mertis winds the clock at the end of each scene,

she closes the curtains at the end of each act, and opens them again.

She lights her “angel chimes,” near the end of the play,

flames cause the angel figures to fly,

there is a final sort of “ah-ha” moment,

did Mertis help bring it about?

Did she know their dreams,

the intentions they must spin?

 

There is much to ponder in this play,

filled with as many details as the B&B’s room,

It is long, punctuated with silences,

but it does not seem long to me.

We sit, drinking coffee,

and discuss it.

 

 

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Customs House Coffee is–of course– across the street from the Customs House Building

 

The next day, I look for my daughters’ American Girls dolls,

I see Molly and Felicity high up on a shelf

(one of each daughter’s dolls)

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Molly and Felicity with Frieda

 

but no Samantha or Josefina,

I wonder if they are in the attic

then I  wonder if they are angry.

Should I find them a new home,

foster parents to take them in?

I think of my son-in-law

who was saved by a couple who took him in,

who became his new parents,

moving behind the scenes,

directing them, providing props,

to make certain he was cared for

before he knew his dreams.

Was it fated,

fated he’d meet his love in a play?

 

We talk about dolls at my younger daughter’s house.

(ghosts and memories)

She remembers–

she didn’t want to send her Molly doll off to be repaired

fearing her doll might be replaced,

another Molly,

so she kept her Molly,

and cared gently for her fractured arm,

holding it on with a rubber band,

battlefield medicine.

 

My son-in-law enters the room,

makes an innocent remark,

daughter and I burst into laughter,

laughter that bring tears,

and simultaneously,

sitting across from one another,

we wipe our eyes,

mirror figures,

mother and daughter.

 

My mother tells us,

when she was a little girl,

sick with diphtheria,

(a ghost disease),

she dropped her doll,

“they” took it away,

wouldn’t let her have it in the hospital,

and she cried for her doll,

and she cried for her parents,

who also were not allowed in her sick room,

when she was finally  home,

there was another doll for her,

It wasn’t the same doll,

but. . .she shrugs.

Did your mother make clothes for your dolls?

(She sewed beautifully, I tell my daughter.)

Yes, until my brother was born when I was six.

He was a handful.

He baby brother, now gone,

gone before her.

Ghosts and memories.

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I have not been good about reviewing the books my friends have written. But with a play in which a doll was a key plot point, and a discussion of dolls, I thought of my doll-loving blogger friend. Poet Luanne Castle’s writes about many different topics on her blog— including family, history, travel, and cats.

Her book of poetry, Doll God   is the 2015 winner of the New Mexico-Arizona Book Award. The poems are thoughtful, thought-provoking, lyrical, and sometimes enigmatic. Do check it out!

We saw John by Annie Baker at the Arden Theater in Philadelphia.

 

A New Home, the Kindness of Strangers

Monday Morning Musings:

“I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.”

–Blanche,  A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams

“Thank you, Mr. Rochester, for your great kindness. I am strangely glad to get back again to you: and wherever you are is my home—my only home.”

–Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre

 

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After he had served his country,

had been a stranger in more than one strange land,

and was home, if not settled,

he joined a community of strangers

who became friends.

Theater brought the couple together,

in A Streetcar Named Desire,

they sparred with words and movement

(a subtext created)

my daughter said “He’s nothing like Stanley,”

reassuring me,

and she,

my practical dreamer, is nothing like Blanche,

the magic of theater,

bringing something of oneself in playing another,

finding empathy for strangers,

a valuable skill, I’d say.

Perhaps a community brought them together,

these two,

so different,

so similar,

they married,

the English teacher bride with her Jane Eyre message,

“Reader, I married him.”

Every year she meets new students,

strangers, whom she will guide.

The groom, studying to become a nurse,

will care for strangers, too.

And through the kindness of strangers,

they now have a house.

Home is where the heart is,

so the old proverb goes,

but it’s certainly pleasant to have four sturdy walls

and a roof—

with skylights.

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Months ago, the process began,

 I saw something online,

I entered to win a house.

Really? we laughed a bit–

because who wins the lottery?

But they did.

The kindness of strangers,

Operation Homefront,

gave this veteran and his wife a rare opportunity,

a home of their own.

 

They waited,

spring turned to summer, fall,

in winter, they finally saw their new home.

a magical day–

after all, we stood without coats in January

when a few days before snow lay on the ground.

the sun was shining,

a gentle breeze lifted and tangle the flag,

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the veteran lifted his bride

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It brought back memories–

when my husband and I bought our house,

I was pregnant with her sister,

our first child,

the house was dirty and needed work before we could move in,

old, musty carpets pulled out, floors refinished, and walls painted,

we relied, not on strangers, but on friends

who helped us with the tasks

(laboring before I labored)

Their house was renovated by strangers,

a little dream house with a yard for their dog,

 

 

sunny windows for their cat,

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a room for friends to stay in,

space to dream,

and a chocolate cake in the refrigerator.

 

We celebrated that night,

pizza and wine,

the servers, astounded by our tale,

thanked him for his service,

we ordered dessert–

it was a celebration,

and yes, that sopapilla cheesecake

(with butter rum sauce)

was delicious.

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It snowed once again,

briefly, white flakes touched the ground and melted,

then the sun returned for moving day,

a long day of packing, moving, unloading trucks and cars–

and doing it again,

family this time, not strangers.

 

We celebrated again

this time with delicious Pakistani food

from a newly discovered restaurant

in their new neighborhood

where the owner, a stranger,

gave them extra naan.

We ate in the kitchen

on paper plates

drank wine from plastic cups,

boxes still to be unpacked,

but they were home,

settled,

and their cat finally came out from hiding to explore,

and settled down in front of the fire.

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That’s the way life goes

days of sun and days of cold,

but they will be snug in their new home,

a dream house,

a house filled with dreams,

with a fire in their fireplace,

from their bed, they’ll watch the moon,

and maybe even hear it hum a lullaby

as the clouds go dancing by,

 

they’ll sleep and dream sweet dreams

and they will be strangely glad

to be home.

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Photo credit: Sheryl C. Smith, 2017

 

Here is a brief news segment about Sheryl and Eric on the day they received the key to their new home.

And an article

Eric and Sheryl received their house through Operation Homefront, Homes on the Homefront

We ate pizza at Holy Tomato

And delicious Pakistani food at Mera Khana

 

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.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Following and Leading with Family and Fish

Monday Morning Musings:

“Where you lead, I will follow

Anywhere that you tell me to

If you need, you need me to be with you

I will follow where you lead.”

–Carole King, “Where You Lead “(Gilmore Girls Theme Song)

 

“So long, and thanks for all the fish.”

–The final message of dolphins to humans, as they leave Earth before it’s destroyed. Also, the title of the fourth book of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series by Douglas Adams.

 

“I sustain myself with the love of family.”

–Maya Angelou (Tweet, on 23 May 2013)

 

After a long, long week,

a very long week

when we are in shock over the leader

many of our fellow citizens want to follow,

my younger daughter suggests we watch The Gilmore Girls*

while we eat Chinese food and chocolate,

so we sit, comfy in PJs and sweatshirts

while my husband goes for the Chinese food

(General Tso’s chicken for him,

the mock version for us)–

followed by chocolate.

Of course.

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No one can eat like the Gilmore Girls,

but we try to get in the spirit,

choosing an episode from Season Two,

we hear this:

Paris: “That’s crazy. People would rather vote for a moronic twink who they liked over someone who could actually do the job?”

“We can’t get away from it,” sighs my daughter.

“Oy with the poodles already,” I reply.

 

The next day we go to my sister’s house.

meant to be a combination birthday-victory celebration

with a fish tray and bagels.

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It is instead, a much needed gathering of family,

the love of family to sustain us.

 

Son-in-law has never eaten lox–or any of the fish on the platter,

he is forced to try them all.

(“It’s my heritage,” his wife says, though she is a vegetarian who doesn’t eat fish.)

He thinks the whitefish is too oily,

the lox too salty,

but the kippered salmon is tolerable—with lots of onion.

Daughter says, “He would have gotten along well with Grandpop.”

We remember my dad’s love of onions–

onion sandwiches

onion and sardine sandwiches

onion and sardine sandwiches on onion rolls

( with extra onions).

Did I mention he liked onions?

My father liked food,

and gatherings,

and gathering over food.

We sustain ourselves with family and family memories.

 

My mother wants coffee,

demands coffee

I want it now she says

with my meal.

She would fit right in with the Gilmore Girls.

 

You don’t argue with a 94-year old woman who wants coffee.

My sister gets her some coffee.

Remembering how we are sustained by family, love, and annoyance.

 

We discuss the current political situation,

daughter worried about how her students will react.

(She has not seen them since the election.)

I say I think she is a good leader,

and hope they will follow her lead.

Her husband, a veteran, deployed three times,

and not happy with the elected leader,

talks to my sister about getting involved in politics.

Sustained, and upheld by family.

 

My mom says she’s lived through many scary times.

I say I remember being terrified during the Cold War–

duck and cover drills and the Cuban Missile Crisis–

“But there were more sane people in control then,” my niece says.

Sigh.

Oy with the poodles already.

Sustained by love of family.

 

My sister and niece say, if we’re going to discuss this

we need to drink–and chocolate.

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drink, drink, drink

 

In truth, we really do not drink,

and then my niece accidentally knocks coffee onto my mom’s lap.

We’re clumsy, but lovable.

And sustained by the love of family.

 

Time for dessert!

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The cake is placed strategically in front of my daughter, so she can pick at it,

and “clean up” the icing.

(Love of family and food sustains us.)

 

My niece, who lives in a divided household

(in a red part of the state)

says she has needed this gathering,

though we’re not celebrating the election,

we are celebrating family.

We’re sustained by family—

and food.

 

We move to other subjects—

Thanksgiving (and food).

I have safely delivered the squirrel mold

(encased in bubble wrap)

to my niece,

the Thanksgiving cranberry sauce tradition

can continue.

We talk of social media

and kids,

and gender identity

and sex education,

a teenage boy taking lotion,

“I don’t understand—why does he want lotion?”

asks my mom.

(She’s so innocent.)

We hear cheers from the next room,

my sister-in-law and husband are watching football.

It is time to go.

We leave, sustained by family,

full from all the food we’ve eaten,

carrying packages of fish and bagels,

bits of love,

like life, delicious and a bit smelly,

So long, and thanks for all the fish,

and all the memories, too.

And though wishing my other daughter was also with us,

I am sustained by love of family,

as we head off into the darkness

where a super moon is rising.

We need light in the darkness

and love always.

 

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*Gilmore Girls was a TV series about single mother Lorelai Gilmore and her daughter Rory. The series opened as Rory was in high school and ended when she graduated from Yale. In between, mother and daughter had many adventures, drank millions of cups of coffee, and eat enormous amounts of take-out food in the fictional town of Stars Hollow, Connecticut. A four-episode follow-up will be on Netflix in about two weeks.

The Past, the Future, Ghosts, and Drag in the City of Brotherly Love

Monday Morning Musings:

“The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.”

–L.P. Hartley

“This play is so American. . .[it] shows us that transformation can only happen when we break apart our fears, our suspicions and our judgments. Because the America I know is not the one that is portrayed by only a few, isn’t the one that discriminates against its citizens for their differences. NO. The America I know and cherish and honor is one that all these characters are creating.”

— Emmanuelle Delpech, From her Director’s Notes, The Legend of Georgia McBride, Arden Theatre, Philadelphia

 

When was the last time the four of us had spent a day together at a museum?

We all wondered, but couldn’t remember,

somewhere amidst childhood’s ghosts

left behind with dolls and story books,

ghosts of Halloweens past

when little girls dressed in costumes

that they slept in,

a princess and a clown

(not a creepy one at all).

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And so we went,

a family outing,

our girls married women now,

but still crazy sisters, having fun,

interpreting the works of art

 

 

And since the big new exhibit is on Mexican revolutionary art

and it’s close to Halloween

there are Day of the Dead displays

 

We eat Wawa hoagies*

(My daughter misses them in Boston.)

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I score Super Momma points

by making hot fudge sauce,

totally spur of the moment

(in record time)

so we can have it with our coffee ice cream

as we watch Grey’s Anatomy

It’s another ghost from the past.

 

It is Halloween weekend,

my husband and I go to the theater

(which, I guess fits, when you think about it)

In the play,

a man discovers his inner femininity—

becoming a drag queen,

with the help of a real drag queen.

After a slow start,

the play picks up

struts its stuff,

so to speak,

along with the actors,

a feel good show

about finding your passion

and not giving up,

accepting those who are different from you.

A good lesson, don’t you think?

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After the show, we drink coffee

sitting on a bench outside of Christ Church in Philadelphia.

 

a beautiful October day,

we watch the people in the present

learning about the people of the past,

as they walk in and about the beautiful eighteenth-century church

where George Washington, Benjamin Franklin and others attended services.

We walk the streets, some still cobbled,

where founding fathers, mothers, sisters, and brothers

once walked,

where free and bound lived and worked.

 

None of them was perfect,

neither are we.

But the past is a foreign country.

people then did not know all we know now

(perhaps we have lost some of their knowledge, too)

Progress and human rights come slowly

as babies crawl tentatively before they walk and then run eagerly

to explore the world.

So are there stages

of nations

that rise and fall.

And of discoveries that humans uncover and embrace with hesitation

or delight.

Thirteen colonies came together,

representatives walked the streets we now walk,

worked together to fight for independence,

and later, to form a more perfect union,

evolving over centuries

with greatness from the start,

along with evils,

slavery, racism, sexism, xenophobia.

We should not move backwards

to the foreign country of the past,

not regress, but rather progress,

build upon the great to make greater.

 

We travel to another part of Philadelphia,

Fairmount Park,

one of the largest urban parks in the world.

We are there for a Lupus Run/Walk

my younger daughter and her husband run,

my husband and I walk,

some people drag their heels,

some are in drag,

well, costumes.

There is a team of Star Wars characters,

others in purple tutus,

a sea of purple t-shirts.

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We begin at Memorial Hall

(now the Please Touch Children’s Museum)

with its figure of Columbia at the top,

it was an art museum,

constructed for the Centennial Exhibition in 1876,

a huge exhibition with many buildings

and many visitors.

A Women’s Pavilion gave women a chance to display and demonstrate

the new opportunities available to them in professions and business

there were displays of dress reforms, too.

But women were segregated in their own pavilion,

and still denied the vote.

And so we run/walk through

beautiful Fairmount Park

passing statues of Civil War generals

and the Japanese Tea house

I imagine women in suffragist white,

ghosts flitting among the statues

I think they would echo

“When they go low, we go high,”

standing calm amidst storms of hate.

Women have always had to fend off and fight

the gropers and grabbers,

and some of them loved other women

though not out in the open.

I amuse myself by imaging Susan B. Anthony

reading grievances while drag queens in the audience cheer.

(This did not happen.)

 

But the past is a foreign country

we can’t impose our views on it.

Our own pasts, well, perhaps they change

with, in, our memories

which are imperfect.

merging and shifting,

taking on new tones and meanings.

On this Halloween

my memories of Halloween past

merge with the present.

I think about the future,

We are at the crossroads,

there are ghosts all around.

We must push back the hate and fear.

We dream.

A wise man once had a dream

of freedom for all

freedom for those of every color, of any religion.

He was killed by hate.

But still we dream.

I think about the future

with dread

with longing

with hope

with dreams.

 

*Hoagie is the Philadelphia name for a sandwich served on a long, tapered roll. Wawa is a convenience store chain that is much beloved in parts of Pennsylvania and southern New Jersey.

Philadelphia Museum of Art

We saw The Legend of Georgia McBride by Matthew Lopez at the Arden Theatre.

Christ Church, Philadelphia

The Please Touch Museum/Memorial Hall

On suffragists on Independence Day 1876, see this.

Martin Luther King, Jr., I Have a Dream speech.

 

The Here and Now; the Future, the Past

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User: (WT-shared) 耕太郎 at wts wikivoyage [CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Monday Morning Musings:

 

Henry: “If you look across the desert, the earth takes on the appearance of the sea. You think you’re standing upon a rock that rises from solid ground only to discover that you’re standing on an island in the middle of the ocean. And you don’t know if you’re looking back into the past or into the future. Water covered this earth and water will cover it again and the days that man walked here will prove just a moment in time.”

–Andrew Bovell, When the Rain Stops Falling

 

The here and now,

the future

from the past

all intertwined.

Back and forth,

each moment lost

before it registers.

This moment,

here, now

is already gone.

 

The play begins with rain falling on the stage,

a fish falls from the sky

and a man picks it up.

It will be his lunch,

lunch with the son he has not seen in many years.

The man had heard rumors that fish still existed

not totally extinct,

but still,

fish do not normally drop from the sky

Then again,

life is full of unusual moments

and strange coincidences.

 

Patterns are repeated

throughout nature,

fractals, the Fibonacci numbers, golden spirals,

tessellations, waves, and ripples,

ripples through,

ripples of time

carrying patterns

the shape, the color of an eye

You look just like your grandfather,

your mother, your sister—

Behaviors,

fathers leaving sons

And so might words also be repeated,

particular phrases also carry through time?

 

In the play,

they eat fish soup

in different times and places.

I think of the fish soup

I made for my husband, for me.

Mine, unlike the one in the play,

was made without heads,

but with plenty of vegetables.

More of a stew, actually,

but still.

It was a few weeks ago,

do you remember?

It was delicious,

and we ate it for a couple of days,

enjoying each spoonful

till it was gone,

in the past,

a memory.

Yet there is a photograph,

posted on social media sites–

the moment frozen in time

lasting through eternity.

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Fish Stew

 

I have a dream.

In it

my mother is younger

her hair still dark brown,

and she is going to work.

She leaves through a front door,

and my cat,

a cat who is my constant companion now,

in the here and now,

goes out the door, too.

I panic,

but he does not run away.

I scoop him back into the house,

where I play the piano,

haltingly.

I tell my sister,

or is it one of my daughters,

(the generations mix and blur)

it’s the theme song I remember,

but it is a Bach minuet.

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I can’t actually remember when my mother was a young girl.

I wasn’t born.

Does she remember it,

youth, I mean?

I see her in a photograph–

that moment frozen.

That moment then

what was

is here now for me to see.

But as I look, my thoughts move on

to the future,

even as I regard the past.

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My parents. I have no idea where they were or what they were celebrating.

When we watch a play,

or a movie,

when we read a book,

we are there,

while being here.

Is this a paradox of human existence?

The here and now,

the past, present, future

time and place co-existing in our minds?

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And in the play

it is raining,

raining for days,

weeks perhaps,

and sometimes it seems,

it seems as though the rain will never stop falling.

But it does,

and we walk out of the theater

and the clouds are gone.

The sun is shining

splendid, glowing

as it has through the past

and will continue to do

for some time, I hope.

The future,

when I am no longer here.

But now,

here and now,

it is shining brightly

illuminating the darkness,

chasing the shadows away.

 

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Post theater consideration of the menu at Tria.

 

We saw When the Rain Stops Falling by Andrew Bovell

At the Wilma Theatre in Philadelphia. I enjoyed it very much, an intriguing play with characters from periods of time between 1959 and 2039, in London and Australia, sometimes on the stage at the same time. The all share a connection.

There is relationship between the family saga and the Anthropocene. It’s possible that I said to my husband, “I love plays that come with further reading.” And that he laughed and said, “I know you do.” There is an interview with the playwright on the Wilma Theater’s web site.