Flowing and Flown: Haibun

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Four years ago, our older daughter married. I look at photos of that day—her and her wife, my husband and I, our guests—all of us bound by affection for these two women. On their anniversary day, I have lunch with dear friends. They were at the wedding, too. As our children have grown, we’ve now attended many weddings together. We eat, sharing stories and talking in the way old friends who are comfortable with one another do. We were all young when we met, beginning married life, beginning careers. From the restaurant window, I see the Delaware River flowing as it has for centuries, but not without change. It, too, has seen joy and sorrow come and go, and still it flows on.

 

New buds burst open,

butterflies savor sweetness–

spider weaves her web

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This Haibun is for Colleen’s Tuesday Tanka Challenge. Colleen asked us to use synonyms for love and time. I’ve tried to create the overall feeling of each word here.

 

 

 

Baskets

Monday Morning Musings:

“Poetry isn’t a profession, it’s a way of life. It’s an empty basket; you put your life into it and make something out of that.”
–Mary Oliver, Georgia Review (Winter 1981), 733.

“There is nothing stronger than a broken woman who has rebuilt herself.”

“I have a right to be angry, but not to spread it.”

–Hannah Gadsby’s, “Nanette”

 

Ask why an ancient wind

rose beneath a hot sun–

they never will

see souls rustle in soft shade.

So,

murmur harmony

to nature’s song

and feel life bloom

 

 

 

 

 

 

***

We listen to the woman, a masterful storyteller,

skilled at creating tension—and

relieving it with a punchline,

but in this set,

she lets the tension linger–

at least for a while

noting both her anger

and its reasons—

reasons that should anger us all.

I think of that,

as neo-Nazis gather in our nation’s capital.

Neo-Nazi? Why should there be new ones

after the defeat of the old ones?

I ponder the other labels–

shouldn’t we all be anti-fascist

and united against hate?

It should be the default mode, shouldn’t it?

 

The novel I’m reading is set in

the early 1930s in Berlin,

the female protagonist had a gay brother

who was murdered.

While they were growing up, she tried

to teach him what she called

“A Code of Masculinity,”

so, he could pass,

but he didn’t.

Hannah Gadsby

in the 1990s in Australia

was assaulted for not being

feminine enough,

she couldn’t pass either. But growing up,

in a culture where she was reviled, left its

legacy on her. She talks about the shame

she felt for being a lesbian, for being different.

 

I think about trying to explain

these weird and artificial binaries

to a visitor from another world,

But how could I,

when they make no sense to me?

You must be this color,

you must love this person,

you must be this religion. Why?

 

And where do I go with this? I seem to have

gone off on a tangent–because

I wanted to tell you about baskets.

Picture the basket itself,

woven together from strands of straw, reeds, or

even wire,

each one different.

And my life, also woven of many different strands.

I weave my basket, and sometimes I take it apart

and start over.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So, let me tell you how

we celebrated the anniversary of my father’s birth—

He would have been ninety-nine. He’s been dead for twenty years,

and I still miss him.

We toasted him with wine–

and ate ice cream afterward,

because he loved ice cream.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We eat Pakistani food with our younger daughter and her husband,

enjoying samosas and other delights

as their dog and cat circle the table,

where there were no scraps tossed,

but love drips,

like melting ice cream,

because it can be messy,

but there is plenty to go around.

 

I could tell you about being with

dear friends over the weekend,

how we eat pizza,

and discuss that new normal, how

it is difficult not to discuss politics

but at the same time,

conversations are fraught

with hesitation—or anger.

How can one be friends with someone

who supports a racist?

 

The saying goes, “Don’t put all your eggs

in one basket.”

We should welcome those who think

differently or look different.

And isn’t part of the joy of having

a full basket

come in examining its contents?

 

There is so much we do not see.

We toss everything

in the basket of life, and pull out what we need

or what we want. But maybe sometimes

we need to look at the basket itself.

 

There is no punchline here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We watched “Nanette” on Netflix. Trailer here.

I’m reading the novel A Trace of Smoke by Rebecca Cantrell.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Break in the Rain

Monday Morning Musings:

It seems to rain from moon to sun

rain over and over, never done

and then a break, till it thunders

again and again.

I feel lethargic and dull

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

and it’s hard to mull

over this or that—

the people who insist the world is flat,

or guns don’t kill, people do,

except there are more dead kids shot through,

and it seems we will never cease

with hate and violence, the human disease.

 

But in the midst of death we see the love—

yes, pomp and circumstance, uniforms and gloves,

the fascinators, and the meters-long train

(and the sun-filled day with no hint of rain).

It’s storybook fantasy, mixed with Stand By Me,

gospel choir amid the history and pageantry,

but these two appear so much in love,

and if it helps, gets us thinking of

better things, well, I can take a break

in the coverage of hate, it’s not a mistake

to celebrate love, or a wedding day—

a bit of color amidst the world’s gloomy grey.

 

Still–spring insists on being seen

and here, the world is turning green,

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

though I don winter clothes because it’s turned cold

and we go through rain, to visit

friends of old.

We eat Chinese food, laugh, talk over the meal

how we can’t understand the hypocrisy of those who feel

the man in the White House is okay

when they were upset at bare arms and a tan suit,

birthers and ape images, just try to dispute

there’s no racism there,

some very fine people on both sides–but I’d beware.

 

The next day, the clouds break and the temperatures soar,

everyone wants to get out of doors,

I see a hawk atop a weathervane,

Hawk atop a weathervane at Carpenter’s Hall, Philadelphia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

perhaps she’s trying to ascertain

the state of this territory, her domain,

which no doubt is full of tasty things

grown and born in rain and light of spring.

We walk city streets, where life beats

A flirty car

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

in harmony and patterns, under the blue sky

and birds sing and fly,

and there is so much green and flowers in bloom

filling the air with their perfume,

May in Old City Philadelphia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

and it is a relief from gloom and rain,

though I know people are in pain

and children are dead, and women are raped

and the world is shaped

by guns, disease, and violence

and we must break the silence—

but for today, just let me feel the sun and say

nothing but “see the hawk there”

and smell the roses over there.

We see a movie about motherhood and coping

with a newborn and others and life,

sometimes mom’s need an extra wife

or helping hands and people to truly see

beyond the façade, the hyperbole

of motherhood’s joys to the cries and sleepless nights

the clutter and exhaustion—along with the delights.

We drink coffee, walk and talk some more

then it’s home to feed the cats, take care of chores.

At Customs Coffee House, Philadelphia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the night, my mind wanders and roams

far from home

(Macbeth has murdered sleep)

But in my dreams, I hear the chirps and cheeps,

As the mockingbird sings through the night

and we are fine, it’s all right,

 

the dawn comes with bird choir and radiant light.

 

 

 

 

 

 

We saw the movie Tully, which we both thought was excellent, but I don’t want to give anything away. I’ve seen it described as a comedy. At least not in the modern sense.

I’m reading Jo Nesbrø’s take on Macbeth, set in a Glasgow-like city in the 1970s.

Sorry about the weird formatting and gaps. WP gremlins are still hanging about.

 

 

 

 

 

Stories Beneath the Surface

Monday Morning Musings:

“I could be

In someone else’s story

In someone else’s life

And he could be in mine. . .”

–Benny Andersson, Björn Ulvaeus, Tim Rice, “Someone Else’s Story,” from the musical Chess

“People’s personalities, like buildings, have various facades, some pleasant to view, some not.”

-François, Duc De La Rochefoucauld (1613-1680) Moral Maxims and Reflections, no. 292

 

On a sunny day–

spring in February thinking of May–

we stroll through sun and shadows

façades that hint of love inside

I wonder if it is—

and who they are–

wonder about their stories

(someone else’s story)

 

All of the stories that have been lived

as the centuries turn

eighteenth to nineteenth and on

through changing façades–

those that remain–

past and present merge

modernized, expanded, reformed–

like this church–

where beneath the surface

lie the remains of those

who once lived and breathed here

Old Pine Church looking toward St. Peter’s Philadelphia

 

their breaths becoming part of the ecosystem

their steps leaving footprints,

sometimes larger in death than they were in life.

Other people’s lives,

Someone else’s story

 

When they lived,

did they wear their hearts openly—

like the cutouts on the door,

or did they keep their feelings buried

deep inside

behind a façade of smiling respectability?

I wonder how many had secret lives

yearnings that they could never admit?

Complex creatures

we divide ourselves

closing doors—saying this is not allowed

we must not live that story,

but times change

and churches, too,

and love is love is love

 

In the quiet here, there is not silence.

Do their ghosts walk by my side here?

that sound

the wind,

or their sighs

telling me their stories?

In the unquietness of this place,

filled with hundreds of stories

of birth, love, sorrow, and death

a living child with his mother screams in delight

and runs over the graves. . .

what happens at night behind the gates?

 

We wander back to the movie theater to see

someone else’s story—

there up on the screen

A Fantastic Woman

and she is

what does it matter that she was born a man

(we all have our façades)

but she was loved

and still is by her sister and friends

and a dog–

who doesn’t care about societal labels–

some do not treat this woman well

they threaten and humiliate her

but life and her story go on

because she is a fantastic woman

 

And after –

we talk and walk

to where fire recently destroyed part of a block

nineteenth-century buildings

one will have to be demolished

all but it’s first floor cast iron façade–

 

Third and Chestnut, Philadelphia February 2018

 

the stories of these places–

the people who lived there now displaced–

and while we stand there

gazing at the devastation,

I get a text from a friend,

find out about her son’s illness—

the dangers of the invisible world

within our bodies

beneath the surface,

we don’t always see or know what is there–

(thankfully, it seems he will be okay)

and though this is someone else’s story

they are my friends,

so it becomes part of my story, too.

 

The next day, it turns cold again–

February’s story–

we turn the heat back on

eat homemade pizza, drink some wine,

huddle under blankets,

watch Netflix–and our cats—

we text our daughters,

sending virtual hugs–

behind the walls of our house

this is our story,

and I don’t want someone else’s life.

 

A Fantastic Woman stars the fantastic Daniela Vega,  a trans woman (who also sings in the movie). The movie was made in Chile, and it is nominated for best foreign film. I keep thinking about it. See the trailer here.

The architecture of the fire-damaged buildings is described here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Glue of Love and Time

Monday Morning Musings:

“for us physicists believe the separation between past, present, and future is only an illusion, although a convincing one.”

Albert Einstein, in a letter, after the death of his friend, Michele Besso

To time we’re young

a blush over morning

brilliance that fades

repeating through years

and generations

 

Words sail through space,

bubble like champagne,

like the thoughts shared by friends over wine

through time

What is the glue, she asks,

that binds us,

that holds us together

some friends, but not all

over distance and years?

 

I have no answers,

the universe is a mystery

the dazzling beauty

of the night sky in June

the rhythms of nature and time

sometimes it comes together

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Heritage Vineyards Mullica Hill, New Jersey

other times though,

there is confusion and contradiction

the day that changes from sun to rain

and back again

we walk through city streets

see a bride and groom

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smell the scent of rain-damp flowers

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get caught in the next downpour

nature is confused

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We watch a movie

of family and history,

and family history

a mystery

life, death, survival

hiding underground

and then burying the secrets

the sins of the father

haunt him and his children

like ghosts

spirits that rise from graves

there is jealousy, too,

and sister-love

and music

some also underground

circling

becoming the means to an end

to forgive

to heal

 

We walk through crowds of people celebrating Philly Pride Day

rainbow flags on display

(people, too)

have dinner at a bar

then on to see a play

a musical

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another tale of family secrets

the father has a hidden life

(some boys, some underage)

many in the audience chuckle knowingly

watching his daughter coming of age

coming to know herself

and, of course, I remember

(not a letter)

but the phone call,

the funny, memorable, filled-with-laughter phone call

from my daughter

not that it’s a surprise

not that it changes anything for me

though it changes her world

and it must have been a scary call for her

and she must have sighed with relief afterward,

but love is love is love

and all I want is for my daughters to be happy

the show has more secrets

and more tragedy

and three versions of Alison—

not separated–

past, farther past, and present–

existing at the same time,

as it does within our minds

 

It is Father’s Day,

my father is gone for many years

I think of the secrets he must have had

the life before children

I see old photos of him

younger hims I never knew

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I can’t talk to him,

or I could,

but he can’t answer me

not in words that I can hear

perhaps in dreams

or illusions

or in a bending of time

still there are bonds, love,

glue that binds us

despite secrets

despite not knowing

he lives in my heart and mind–

is he gone–or not?

 

Welsh Cookies

I made Welsh Cookies–called Daddy Cookies at our house–for my husband for Father’s Day.

 

We saw the movie Past Life, an Israeli movie set in 1977 in Israel, Germany, and Poland.  Trailer here.  We saw the musical Fun Home, based on Alison Bechdel’s graphic novel. It won five Tony Awards in 2015. Here’s the Tony Awards performance.

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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It Was a Fine Day for a Picnic

Monday Morning Musings

It was a fine day for a picnic—

The little bit of rain at the end doesn’t count.

An outing in the country for my mom

Who lives surrounded by the concrete

Of the city.

“I’ve never been to winery before,”

she said.

Well, she’s almost 93,

So it’s about time,

Don’t you think?

So I packed a picnic,

And since there were three of us,

I packed enough for 6,

Maybe 8,

Because what if there isn’t enough food?

A sandwich for my husband

And one for my mom,

And then–

Roasted red pepper hummus

Roasted Red Pepper Hummus

Roasted Red Pepper Hummus

Cheese, Manchego and Gouda

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Because I couldn’t decide.

Cut up vegetables, olives,

And,

The wine!

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I think I chose well,

The Cabernet Franc

Was delicious.

Of course

I’m not an expert,

But nobody complained,

And the glasses got refilled–

More than once.

So I guess they liked it,

And it went well

With the food.

There was also

My Mandelbrot,

My “Mommy Cookies,”

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Because every meal needs chocolate,

Doesn’t it?

And so–

We sat and talked.

While the clouds rolled like waves

In an aerial sea,

The white breakers

Tinged with gray.

Monroeville Vineyard and Winery

Monroeville Vineyard and Winery

And the bees danced

To their secret melodies

As they dipped into

The clover at our feet.

Vultures,

First one,

Then two, three, and four

Turned in graceful circles

Above us.

No, not quite above.

There was something farther afield,

Probably much tastier.

Well, tastier to a vulture

I suppose.

But then, I’ve never asked one,

Have you?

All was peaceful,

Just us, the food, and the wine–

And the soft buzzing of bees.

Friend Kelly stopped by,

But I forgot to take her picture.

You’ll have to trust me

That she was there with us.

She texted me later,

“Your mother is awesome.

Next time I’ll have to bring my mother-in-law.

They would really get along.”

I hope there is a next time.

But if not,

We had today.

Family, friends,

Food, and

Wine.

It was a fine day for a picnic.

A few hours of relaxing

In the open air.

An outing for my mother.

And the bit of rain didn’t matter

At all.

My mom and I--wine glasses in hand!

My mom and I–wine glasses in hand!

“Time it was and what a time it was, it was
A time of innocence, a time of confidences
Long ago, it must be, I have a photograph
Preserve your memories, they’re all that’s left you”

–Paul Simon, Simon and Garfunkel, “Bookends”

Showers of Memories

Monday Morning Musings

It was a weekend of memories and dreams, of laughter and tears, of toasts and roasts, and of introductions and farewells. It was a weekend of closing well-used doors and opening new ones, of hugging and kissing family and friends, of unwrapping gifts, and of feeling thankful.

Part 1—Retirement Celebration

Remember thirty-seven years ago when we drove miles and miles—

(Are we there yet?)

to a new high school set in a field

and surrounded by farmland

and nothing else?

It seemed like the middle of nowhere,

and it kind of was,

it kind of still is.

“This is where I’m teaching,”

you said.

And that is where you stayed,

your home away from home.

I heard you lauded—

toasted

and roasted.

There were tales of you “borrowing”

the grade books of other teachers–

right before an administrator came for an observation.

In retaliation, some teachers pooled their funds

and had your car towed from the high school lot—

as you watched.

Teaching requires creativity.

And improvisation.

You will be missed,

but our daughter now teaches in the same district.

She will not take other’s grade books—even if they still existed—

(everything is electronic now)

But she has already made her mark with her Hello Kitty socks—

and daily dance parties in her classroom.

Teaching is hard work, but it can also be fun.

Our daughter will continue the tradition of educating

young minds,

of helping them to think and learn.

Now it is time for you, my husband, to do new things.

Retirement Celebration

Retirement Celebration

Part 2—The Bridal Shower

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Picking up my mom and her cousin,

we traveled to Manayunk,

the Lenape word for “river,”

or “place to drink.”

Or so I’m told.

It is a former industrial area, just northwest

of Philadelphia,

But now there are many trendy restaurants,

and we went to one.

Set on the canal.

Picturesque.

Getting my mom down the steps,

and into the event space

took some time,

but it was worth the effort.

Last summer at another restaurant

younger daughter hosted a shower for her sister.

This year their roles are switched.

Sister love

Sister hugs

Sister gestures and sister speak

I gaze at them with love,

awed that they are mine.

We will not cry.

Nope.

Maybe a little.

The guests swirl around,

the young ones like freshly-picked flowers.

We older women, more like—

No.

Not going there.

The young women like young wines,

delightful and full of promise.

We older ones,

robust, but still velvety—

elegant, but still playful,

aren’t we?

We have aged well.

Delicious brunch.

Perhaps a bit more.

Must try some dessert–

of course.

Chocolate.

Games played.

Laughter.

Presents opened.

We depart.

The young ones will

continue to celebrate

late into the nights.

Bachelorette night.

Cousin Sali amusing

on the ride home—

“Your mother was the good girl.”

‘Why can’t you be like Sylvia?’”

She said the aunts told her.

There were many aunts.

“They pointed out my faults

so they could improve me.”

“But your mother was always kind to me

she always let me tag along–

even though she’s older.”

Part 3—Baby Shower

Two days of seeing some special friends!

Yay!

For the past few years

we’ve been attending the showers and weddings

of our children.

Wasn’t it only yesterday that we were having baby showers for

one another?

Remember the one at the lake?

And remember when Pat punched a hole

in the wall?

Baby Big Hair.

Baby No Hair.

Now our babies are having babies.

Irene bravely driving,

Chris navigating.

“Counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike,”

We don’t have to look for America.

We’ve found it

in our daily lives

and with our family and friends.

Showers, memories–

and dreams of moments

still to come.

Borscht Memories? Beets me.

A recent NPR story about borscht at the upcoming 2014 Winter Olympics at Sochi made me reminisce about my own experiences with the flavorful cabbage and beet soup. (Really, you mean you don’t have borscht memories of your own? How odd.)

         As twenty-somethings, my husband and I lived for a few years in a wonderfully peculiar first-floor apartment in Woodbury, NJ. (Among the odd features–the bathroom adjoined the eat-in kitchen making it. . . uh. . .”interesting” when we had dinner guests. Also, the bathtub hung down into the basement so that someone standing in the basement could actually rap on bottom of it.) The apartment was one of two on our side of a large, old, twin house that had been converted into apartments—two on our side, and three on the other side. The house sat on a on a quiet residential street, lined with tall, stately trees, from which bats, raccoons, and even an occasional flying squirrel would come to visit us—the type of guests you really don’t want to host, especially at 3 AM–whether they use your bathroom or not.

         Our good friends lived upstairs. Let’s call the man John. That may or may not be his name. John’s mother is Polish. She grew up in a Polish enclave in Philadelphia. My ancestry is Russian-Jewish—all four of my grandparents came from Russia. We both grew up eating borscht. One week we decided to make and compare our versions of borscht. As I recall—and this was close to thirty years ago–John’s borscht was a meaty broth that included large chunks of potatoes and other vegetables. It was much different from my sweet and sour soup, which was more tomatoey and did not include these vegetables, but it was still delicious.

         I made my borscht the way my mother did. Those familiar with my blog know that my family uses the shitarein method of cooking. That is, we throw in this and that without measuring. At some point after moving into our first apartment, I must have called my mom to ask her how to make borscht. This is what I wrote down (on old, left over stationary from my parents’ store). You have to understand this is actually my version of what she told me—so it’s sort of a shorthand shitarein “recipe.” I’ve had similar phone conversations with my own daughters. Apparently, it’s genetic.

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Borscht recipe from my mom

 

 

 

 

The second borscht memory is also from our BK (before kids) days, but involves another set of friends. We used to sometimes get together with this couple and combine our dinners. I was making borscht one afternoon when the call came. “Want to get together tonight?” “OK. I’m making borscht.” “We’re having spaghetti.” “What time should we be over?” Yup, borscht and spaghetti—a combination that’s hard to forget! We had so much fun though talking and laughing at those dinners—and we all enjoyed eating, of course.

The third memory is a recent one, from this past fall. As the weather got cold, my mom was in the mood to make some borscht. Since she can no longer shop on her own, she needed someone to bring her the ingredients. She thought it would be a great idea to have my niece pick up the ingredients on the day before Thanksgiving, when they were going to make the cranberry sauce at my niece’s house for our family dinner (yes, Faithful Readers, for THE squirrel mold). For some reason, my mom could not understand why this idea was less than thrilling to my niece. (What could be more fun after driving with her three kids in the car on the busiest travel day of the year to pick her up?) For one thing, no one at my niece’s house even likes or would eat borscht. For another thing, making the cranberry sauce is always a production in itself. Well, they didn’t make the borscht that night, but the next week, my brother brought my mom the ingredients and she was able to make a pot for herself.

(In the summer my mom loves cold beet borscht that she buys in a jar. For the record, I think it’s disgusting.)

So since my head was filled with thoughts of borscht, I decided to make a pot of it yesterday. I make a vegetarian version now. It always seems like such a comforting and nutritious soup—filled with Vitamin C and antioxidants—but more importantly to me, it’s also delicious. I like it a bit spicy, too, which helps to clear my winter-clogged sinuses, so I add ginger and lots of freshly ground pepper. Here is the method. In the best shitarein tradition, you will have to guess at amounts. Come on, cooking is an adventure—at least it is for me. Sometimes I start making one dish, and then halfway through it turns into something else. This time though, I was determined it would be borscht. So here it is.

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Vegetarian Cabbage-Beet Borscht

Sauté one large onion; add two chopped carrots, and cook until soft. Add 4 (more or less, depending on their size and your inclination) minced cloves of garlic. Mix in one can finely chopped beets with juice. I use the food processor. If you use fresh beets, I suspect that roasting them first will add sweetness to the mixture. I will try that next time, but the beets at the store didn’t look very good. Add one large can of tomato puree. Then add approximately one qt. of vegetable broth (homemade or purchased). I like Mark Bittman’s One hour vegetable broth recipe, which I follow—more or less. Chop cabbage—I used about ½ a head and add to the pot. Season with lemon juice, brown sugar, ginger (I used a combination of ginger root and ground ginger), salt, and lots of freshly ground pepper. I lost track of the lemons and amount of brown sugar I used. Start with the juice of two lemons, plus some zest if you want and about ¼ cup brown sugar and adjust from there. Remember the adventure. I also added a tablespoon or two of apple cider, because I had some in the refrigerator. So why not? Cook everything until all the vegetables are cooked through. Add more broth if needed. The result should be sweet and sour and a little spicy. If desired, serve with a dollop of sour cream.

Borscht is great with black bread. I baked some to go with the soup, using the Smitten Kitchen recipe (omitting the shallot because I didn’t have one.) Really do try this bread.

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Black Bread from Smitten Kitchen recipe

We added some dill Havarti to complete our delicious meal.

But now I’m craving spaghetti.

Hope you are warm and cozy wherever you are. Thanks for reading!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Empty Nests, Friendship, and Bread

With the start of the new year, our younger daughter moved into her first post-college apartment. I suppose I am now officially an “empty nester,” although I dislike the term. I understand the analogy of the fledgling leaving the nest, but guess what? The nest is not empty—my husband and I are still here! Everyone understands what the term means, but it is a cliché.  I will miss having our daughter living here. Yes, she is and will always be my “baby.” I love and adore both my girls. I will miss our fun TV-watching nights when we would chat about friends and catch up—often while eating a special dessert. My husband will miss having her in the car with him on the ride back and forth from work. BUT, just as her sister was, our younger daughter is eager to move on with her “grown up” life. She is happy and in love—and how can I not be happy for her? 

Neither daughter is now living at home, but they are still in our lives. They will always be my daughters, and I will always be their mother. They are wonderful, talented, kind, smart young women. It is ok to miss their presence in the house. But I am not devastated, I am happy for them, and feel lucky and grateful to have them in my life.  Some of my friends no longer have their children. That is devastation. We will still see both of our daughters; we communicate regularly by text and phone. We can SKYPE or do Facetime. It is the end of a stage in all of our lives, but it is also the start of a new one.

On New Year’s Day, not knowing when our daughter or her boyfriend were going to arrive at our house before their move the next day, I decided to bake some bread and make a pot of soup. That way, the food would be ready at any time, for whoever wanted it. I decided to make a curried red lentil soup—the golden color symbolizing prosperity in the new year—and the touch of sweetness and the spice added further symbolism, while the touch of coconut milk gave it a bit of creaminess that was perfect for the cold, winter day.

I decided to make Honey Wheat Berry Bread. It’s our daughter’s favorite, and I made one loaf for her and one loaf to have with dinner. The recipe comes from Anna Thomas’s The Vegetarian Epicure (1972). When I was in high school, a friend—my then boyfriend, now husband’s best friend—gave me this book because he knew I liked to cook. As far as I can recall, it was simply a random present, and I realize now, how kind and thoughtful that was. The book is now tattered and falling apart.

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I am fairly certain that the wheat berry bread recipe was the first recipe I made from the book, and that I then presented the friend with a loaf.  In those days, it was an adventure trying to find wheat berries. It usually meant a trip to a “health food” store. Now I can find them at my local grocery store. When I made the bread on New Year’s Day, I was inspired by another blogger (check out Shanna Koenigsdorf Wards’  recipe for Spiced Fig and Apple Bread on her blog Curl and Carrots) to add fruit to one loaf, leaving the other loaf plain for my daughter to take to her new apartment. After kneading in the cooked wheat berries to entire amount of dough, I divided the dough into two portions, and added dried cranberries, golden raisins, and about ¼ cup of finely ground walnuts to one loaf. I have to say, it was scrumptious, and delicious with goat cheese! But this bread is even good eaten dry.

So my history with this bread began with an old friendship, received inspiration from a new blogger acquaintance, and became a new home gift from mother to child. I think I will have to rename it New Year Friendship Bread. And I will have to look up the old friend’s phone number and give him a call!

So ring out the old and ring in the new. Let’s see what 2014 has in store for all of us–hopefully, good friends, time with cherished family members, and lots of good bread!

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Honey Wheat Berry Bread (aka New Year Friendship Bread)

Adapted from The Vegetarian Epicure by Anna Thomas

½ cup dry wheat berries

1 2/3 cups milk (it works with almond or soymilk )

1 Tbsp. (1 package ) yeast

1/3 cup honey

2 Tbsp. butter

2 tsp. salt

5 ½ -6 ½ cups whole wheat flour

½ toasted wheat germ

Dried fruit and nuts as desired

Simmer wheat berries in 2 cups water for about 2 ½ to 3 hours, or until the wheat berries are tender. Add water as needed. Wheat berries can be cooked ahead of time and stored in a container in the refrigerator for a couple days.

         The recipe says to scald the milk and then let it cool to room temperature. I think it’s fine to simply warm the milk. Make certain it is not too hot before adding it to the yeast. Dissolve the yeast in ¼ cup warm water. Add the milk, honey, butter, and salt. Stir in about 4 cups of flour, and mix until smooth. Add more flour and the wheat germ. Knead the dough and place in a greased bowl to rise for about 1 ½ hours until doubled. Punch down, and knead in the cooked wheat berries—and fruit, if using.

         Divide the dough into two parts, form into loaves, and place in greased loaf pans. Cover and let rise for about 45 minutes. Bake in preheated over at 375° for about 45 minutes. Try not to eat an entire loaf by yourself in one sitting.