Mockingbird Dawn–Haibun

Just before dawn, the mockingbird sings, an extensive string of melodies. Does he advertise his riches, or is he protecting his nest? I listen, captivated by his song. I take a mental snapshot of this moment to hold it tight within my cache of memories. Marked for now, but memories do not stay fixed on a map. The maple tree in which the mockingbird sits is ravaged by disease, and soon it will be cut, leaving only a stump. The birds will have to move on, flying into the air–soon gone like a thought.

 

dawn beguiles with song–

with bells of trills and warbling,

summer mornings ring

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This Haibun is for Colleen’s Tanka Tuesday, using synonyms for bewitch and treasure.

What Was Once

“His mind’s all black thickets and blood”   from Songs of Unreason

 

The oak was ancient                            And he stood there nearby, his mind

once sturdy, but now                          all black thickets and blood

sapped of strength                               clogged

bent by the elements                            frail

but still remembering spring              he smiled for what once was

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is a cleave poem for Day 23 of Jilly’s 28 Days of Unreason, inspired by the work of Jim Harrison.

 

 

 

Unquiet

“I’ve spent a lifetime 
trying to learn the language of the dead”

~ Jim Harrison from “Sister” in  Songs of Unreason

 

In the graveyard they lie

cool and peaceful, undisturbed

by us walking there—so we deny,

forget they suffered, dying, the verb.

 

What is the language they speak–

they in their graves, and we strolling by

reading a headstone, what truth do we seek–

once she lived, now hear the sigh

 

of ghosts who wander just out of sight–

that shadow there behind the tree

you almost see, a dress of white–

and wonder now, memories or fantasy?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is for Day 15 of Jilly’s 28 Days of Unreason, poetry inspired by Jim Harrison’s poetry. We’re just over halfway through, but you can still join in the fun.

I’m also linking this to Open Link Night at dVerse.

Happy Families Whine and Wine

 

Monday Morning Musings:

“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

–Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

“Happy or unhappy, families are all mysterious. We have only to imagine how differently we would be described–and will be, after our deaths–by each of the family members who believe they know us.”
–Gloria Steinem,  Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions

“And love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love, cannot be killed or swept aside.”

–Lin-Manuel Miranda

 

It’s a beautiful August evening,

not too hot,

puffy clouds drift across the sky,

pushed and choreographed by the summer breeze,

a lazy August sky dance.

We decide to take my mom to enjoy music

and wine at a local winery,

“Vino and Vibes” they call these Thursday night events.

So my husband drives back and forth through rush hour traffic–

west and over the bridge to Philadelphia to pick her up,

then east, back over the bridge

to the winery.

My mom says the big grey cloud is like the one

that seemed to follow her to the beach the previous weekend.

I assure her that it’s not supposed to rain,

She says it didn’t rain at the beach,

but it did, I say, then let it go

because she says she had a very pleasant day there.

My niece thought that day was a disaster.

This is why witnesses are unreliable–

except perhaps, Sherlock Holmes—

But I have no memory palace, do you?

Perhaps I—

perhaps most people-

have more of a memory vault,

or a deposit box

where deposits and withdrawals don’t always match.

We remember things as we wish,

see them lighter or darker than they were,

brightened by sunshine or darkened by storm clouds

of nature or nurture

or winds of war

or family wars.

 

I think of the variety of families,

nuclear and extended,

single parent, gay parents, straight parents

I think of the movie Captain Fantastic

that my husband and I just saw–

the couple’s desire to create

“philosopher kings” of their six children

living in their own paradise.

But the oldest son cries out to his father,

“Unless it comes out of a book, I don’t know anything.”

But what knowledge they do have!

And bonds of love and affection,

family bonds.

And though I love streaming Netflix and

sitting in my air-conditioned house,

years ago I tried to educate our children—books

over cable TV,

and I’ll never forget the neighbor who asked me

“Is Canada the one above or below us?”

 

Families are born, and families are made.

I learn a loved one’s foster family will be formally adopting him,

he, a grown man, over thirty,

a symbolic gesture,

but sweet and kind and loving.

They were the one who have stood by him,

who witnessed his marriage

when parents by blood chose not to do either

 

And though Tolstoy said all happy families are the same,

it isn’t true–

because all happiness is not the same, is it?

Or is it?

Surely there are differences and degrees

as with unhappiness.

My head aches trying to parse this thought

And love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love,

and we do many things for love.

Driving distances

and going places we really do not want to go

We say

This is great. I love the view, the food, the people.

Little white lies.

But sitting here,

at this winery,

soft breeze blowing,

I watch my mom

sipping her wine

listening to the musician sing,

tapping her foot to “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay”

and “Brown-Eyed Girl,”

And I feel love

and contentment

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Enjoying the Chardonnay

Yes, I’m drinking wine,

and the cannoli help, too,

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Cannoli World–this piece, too, was soon gone!

no doubt about it,

But there is happiness here–

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whether it’s all the same,

I’ll leave that to you.

 

 

 

 

Flickering Star

Embed from Getty Images

 

Treasures locked away/ the vastness of space

deep inside her brain/ is a tempting mystery

little understood/ how to solve the puzzles

past, present, and future mingle/ and how do we know what tense to use

as the bright star flickers and becomes a black hole / we see the light only after it’s gone

 

This is a cleave poem in response to Secret Keeper’s Weekly Writing Prompt.

 

This week’s words are: Tempt/Treasure/Tense/Vast/ Lock

A cleave poem is three poems. Each side is a separate poem, but together they form another poem. I can’t seem to format this correctly, so the last two lines on the right carry over to the next line.

 

 

 

 

Legacies

Monday Morning Musings:

 

I called my mother

just to say, “hi,”

a seemingly inconsequential chat

that opened a door to an unknown world.

We talked about the house my younger daughter will soon have

the number of bedrooms, the bathroom–

and suddenly my mother remembers

as though hurtling back in time.

 

When my mother was little

she tells me,

she sometimes visited her grandmother

and stayed overnight,

the house had a summer kitchen

where they kept pickles,

her unmarried aunts lived on the third floor

they placed a bucket there at night

because there was only one bathroom in that house,

on the second floor

where the artist, her cousin, Abraham Hankins, lived for a time.

Sometimes there were other boarders, too.

Was it convenience or concern for propriety

and the virtue of unmarried women

that caused the bucket,

the literal pot to piss in

to be a fixture of that third floor room?

Who emptied it? That is what I wonder.

A question that will never be answered.

 

When my mother was little,

she tells me,

around four years old,

she had diphtheria.

It’s an ancient disease,

described by Hippocrates,

it can cause the throat and other membranes to swell,

It can be fatal.

There may have been an epidemic that year in Philadelphia,

there were several diphtheria epidemics in the 1920s,

thousands of people, mostly children, used to die from the disease*

before there was an effective vaccine.

(Were those the good old days?)

An ambulance took my mother to the hospital,

her father didn’t have a car,

they had no way to get her there,

they also didn’t have a telephone.

I wonder who called the ambulance?

She remembers–

she says this a few times–

She remembers

her mother standing there

watching and crying

watching her daughter, my mother, being taken away.

My mother dropped her doll,

and they—whoever they were—

would not give it back to her.

She doesn’t say she was sad or scared

but she remembers this,

losing her doll.

The memory has been with her

for almost ninety years now.

They must have thought it contaminated and germ-ridden,

though they didn’t give her a reason,

or she doesn’t remember.

It doesn’t matter now, but–

I hope they were kind to my four-year-old mother.

When she was finally well,

well enough to come home,

her mother made her oatmeal,

comfort food.

The image of her mother crying seems to haunt my mother.

I suppose she seldom saw my grandmother cry.

My grandparents were immigrants,

no nonsense people.

But I have a different image of my grandmother now,

a young woman fearful that her little girl,

her only child, was dying.

This wasn’t supposed to happen in America.

 

When my mother was little,

she tells me,

her mother spent time curling her, my mother’s hair,

wrapping it around a finger to form a ringlet,

a tender gesture, as I imagine it.

But my grandmother was constantly interrupted by customers,

customers arriving in their candy store.

My grandmother took care of store and household

because my grandfather also worked another job.

Home and shop were separated by two stairs,

a boundary of sorts,

a division between two worlds.

My grandmother muttered about those two steps,

up and down all day long.

I imagine my grandmother,

a small woman, like her sisters,

complaining in a mixture of Yiddish and English,

cursing those two stairs.

 

And now my mother is little again

little in height,

not that she was ever tall,

but now she has shrunk several inches,

though her formerly slender body is now large,

These are my earliest memories

she tells me,

as we talk on the phone that morning,

her voice emerging from her little-large body.

These early memories

of people and places long gone

of a way of life that no longer exists.

Someday my mother won’t be here

but her memories

a legacy

like her curls,

I carry both.

Her memories will

float around the Internet

perhaps forever,

or

until something replaces them,

and perhaps my own daughters will write

of my memories on some device that I can’t imagine.

But for now,

my memories and hers blend together here,

in her telling them to me,

her memories become mine,

they now belong to me as well,

colored by my perceptions and imagination.

I think of a grandmother I didn’t know,

who cried when she feared her daughter would die,

who lovingly curled that same daughter’s hair

And I share that image with you.

 

* “During the 1920s in the United States, 100,000–200,000 cases of diphtheria (140–150 cases per 100,000 population) and 13,000–15,000 deaths were reported each year. In 1921, a total of 206,000 cases and 15,520 deaths were reported.” CDC

 

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Rain, or the Slightly Scary Inner Workings of My Mind

It’s a cold and rainy day in southern New Jersey. One of the spin instructors at my gym always says, “It’s a beautiful day. You woke up. It’s a beautiful day.” So there is that. The sky is the light, slightly pearlescent gray that would be attractive in a sweater or scarf, but not so much in the winter sky where it blends into the darker gray of the wet street. I started thinking about weather and wondered how often it figured in literary plots. I thought of reading Wuthering Heights when I was in sixth grade–it was one of my prized Scholastic Books purchases—and remembered the scene in which Lockwood, the narrator, is caught in a storm and forced to seek shelter for the night at Wuthering Heights. After dozing off, he is awakened by the tapping of a branch on the windowpane. When he opens the window he sees a ghostly figure, and then when he reaches out, his hand is clasped by an ice-cold hand and voice asking to be let in. Ohhhhh. . .those delicious chills you get from reading about ghosts while wrapped snugly in a warm and cozy place.

This memory of my long ago young self sparked yet another memory of coming home from the movies with my mom and older sister in a storm in Dallas, where we lived at the time. There was hail, which was scary—at some point, then or another time, we had hail that actually broke a window in our house. My mom made us hot dogs and hot cocoa, which at the time seemed very comforting.

(I think hot dogs are repulsive, and I’ve never really liked them, so I think what I actually found comforting were the toasted rolls. Toast is always comforting, especially when it is eaten with cocoa. When my daughters were little, I always made them cinnamon toast and cocoa when they came in from playing in the snow. My husband was the designated snow player, and I was the designated toast and cocoa maker. Cinnamon toast and cocoa would probably be my top comfort food, although I can’t remember when I last had it. Now I’m craving cinnamon toast, aren’t you? My husband will say it always comes back to food with me, and I will say, yes, and what’s the problem? And now I feel the need to make a sour cream coffee cake with cinnamon streusel with perhaps a touch of cocoa this afternoon. You want some, too, don’t you? This is why I go to the gym even on a miserable rainy day.)

(Second digression—my husband said to me the other day in the car, how do you come up with these things? I tend to suddenly ask him weird things or make comments that seem totally random. We were on our way to see a play, The Body of an American, which deals with journalism, writing, war photography, unlikely friendships, ghosts, dysfunctional families, and unlikely friendships—among other things. I said, “We should buy a cheap tray table that we can keep in the car for when we go to wineries and things.” He thought this comment was totally out of the blue. I explained: we had been discussing rehearsal dinners, and I thought of when our older daughter got married last summer. The night before the rehearsal dinner, we went to a local winery and sat outside with my homemade challah and some cheese and drank some wine, but didn’t have a table to put the food on. My husband agreed it was a brilliant idea. And yes, it does always come back to food.)

So back to weather and literature. I think it would be difficult to write a book and never mention the weather. Sometimes it creates a necessary plot device—for example, the blizzard in Stephen King’s The Shining. I recently read Jane Smiley’s Some Luck. Focusing on the everyday life of one family, there are scenes in which it seems like nothing much happens, and yet it is so elegant in its simplicity. That is what life is like for most people. It is made up of the chores we do at home, the conversations we have with our family members and friends, our work, and yes, the weather.

“It was a dark and stormy night. . .” is the opening of the much-parodied sentence by Edward George Bulwer-Lytton. (See information on the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest here.)

But sometimes it actually is a dark and stormy night. Or a gray and rainy day. And sometimes the weather sparks memories, and sometimes memories spark baking. And these things may or may not lead to good writing. They may lead simply to some great food—and more memories.

And now it’s time for lunch.

Let the rain kiss you. Let the rain beat upon your head with silver liquid drops. Let the rain sing you a lullaby.
–Langston Hughes, “April Rain Song”

“Rainy days should be spent at home with a cup of tea and a good book.”

–Bill Watterson, The Calvin and Hobbes Tenth Anniversary Book

“Well, what tongue does the wind talk? What nationality is a storm? What country do rains come from? What color is lightning? Where does thunder go when it dies?”

–Ray Bradbury, Something Wicked This Way Comes

Why I Love Thanksgiving

I love Thanksgiving. To me, it has never been a holiday about shopping. It’s a holiday that’s all about food. And being thankful for food. And being thankful for having family and friends—with whom you can share food. Do you sense a theme?  It’s about sitting at the table, talking and relaxing over food and wine.

I love the scents that envelop the house as the turkey roasts and the gravy simmers. These scents evoke long ago memories of past Thanksgivings, or perhaps better stated, they evoke long ago feelings from past Thanksgivings, feelings of warmth, comfort, and joy. I don’t know why, but it makes me happy.

I love my crazy, dysfunctional family. I don’t care if there is stupid, family drama. I still love them and love having them here. I will try to remain calm if tempers flare. (And if not, there’s always more wine. . .and food. . .and chocolate.)

I love our family Thanksgiving traditions—our cranberry squirrel (you can read about it here), our breaking bread to make stuffing, and our having to eat the same food every year.

I will miss not having our older daughter here, but I am happy for her that she gets to spend Thanksgiving with her new wife, and I’m grateful that her in-laws are so welcoming. I am happy that our younger daughter will be with us again this year. I am thankful that my 92-year-old mother is still able to celebrate the holiday at our Thanksgiving table.

We are expecting a winter storm today. The rain is starting to pick up now, and it’s expected to turn to snow. I am thankful that my family is not traveling today.  For those of you who are traveling today, I wish you a safe and uneventful journey.

I know that many of my friends have lost loved ones, and I know Thanksgiving is a reminder of their loss. I am sorry, and my heart aches for you. Please know that you can call me, and that I will be thinking of you.  I know I will be in that situation some day. That makes me more all the more thankful for what I have now.

I know that many believe the world is broken. I have no answers. . .

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –

That perches in the soul –

And sings the tune without the words –

And never stops – at all –

–Emily Dickinson

And what is a world without hope? I am thankful for hope and grateful for all those who strive to make the world a better place.

I am thankful to have submitted my latest book manuscript and that all my test writing assignments are completed, so now I can relax and cook and enjoy my family. I’ve done much of the Thanksgiving cooking already—breads are baked and in the freezer, soon to be thawed. Applesauce and vegetarian gravy are thawing now. My younger daughter and I will be baking and cooking today and tomorrow. My house will be filled with the scents of pumpkin, cinnamon, ginger, onions, and turkey. I will break bread for stuffing with my daughter as we catch up on Scandal or binge watch The Gilmore Girls on Netflix. We will shoo cats away from the food, and we will not dare to set the table until the last minute. The house will not be spotless, but I won’t care. I will feel grateful for it all.

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you. Thank you for reading!

Thanksgiving Cranberry Squirrel

Thanksgiving Cranberry Squirrel

In Memoriam: Monuments, Cookies, and Tea

 

In the United States, this past weekend marked the celebration of Memorial Day (on Monday), and the Memorial Day weekend. Memorial Day is a day for remembering the men and women who died serving in the US armed forces. It is observed with parades, visits to cemeteries, and other solemn events at monuments, such as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The weekend is also celebrated as the unofficial start of summer with people traveling to the beach and attending other outdoor events, such as picnics and barbecues. Over the past few days, I’ve pondered this dichotomy. On NPR I heard the father of a son killed in Afghanistan say that he never faults people for having a good time on Memorial Day because it never meant anything to him until his own son was killed—and this man was on active duty at the time. (Link to the story here.)

I can’t imagine what it must be like to lose a child, parent, spouse, or friend in war. I don’t know how I would react, or how I would grieve. Yet to those who are not grieving, the mixture of solemnity, remembrance, and frivolous fun that takes place over the Memorial Day weekend seem fitting to me because that is what life is about, isn’t it? It’s solemn moments of remembrance, honoring and sharing memories of those gone but not forgotten, and then going on with life and creating new memories.

I’ve also pondered another aspect of Memorial Day—how do we honor those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice for their country without condoning war itself? As far as I know, there is only one veteran in my family, my mother’s father. His duty to his adopted country is ironic because he fled the country of his birth to escape being drafted into the Tsar’s army—or at least that’s the story I’ve been told. Whether that story is true or not, it is true that Russia was going through a turbulent time, and such times are often even worse for Jews. My grandfather must have left Russia just before the war and revolution. In any case, he did not serve in the country of his birth. He had only lived in the US, his adopted country, for a brief time before the nation entered WWI, and he was drafted. I never spoke to him about his early life, or about his service in the US navy. I imagine it was not something he particularly wanted or chose to do. If someone were to ask me if I was proud of him for his military service, I would say yes, but since I know nothing about his service, I am more proud of him for having the courage to leave his homeland and travel across the ocean (the recent movie, The Immigrant is a vivid portrayal of the perils of immigration in the early 1920s just after WWI), of learning to speak, read, and write English, of making a living during the Depression, of raising two wonderful children, my mother and my uncle, and of living a full and rewarding life after the tragic death of my grandmother in a car accident. He was the driver.

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My Grandfather Jack, taken during WWI. He looks so young. I wonder if he had this photograph taken for his family or for my grandmother?

He was a fun grandfather. He took my little sister and me for long walks when he visited us and played games with us—the type of activities he did not have time for when his own children were young.

I’ve been thinking about war recently. There has been a recent bounty of material on WWI, which began one hundred years ago with the assassination of Austria’s Archduke Franz Ferdinand in June 1914 in Sarajevo. It was the war that brought soldiers to the hell of trench warfare. It was the first war to use particular forms of machinery, such as machine guns and flamethrowers, as well as poisonous gas. The war decimated the young male population of countries throughout Europe, and left thousands of men physically or mentally damaged—“shell shocked,” as it was called then.

For my current book project I’ve been reading and writing about the American Revolution. It was a different type of warfare from WWI, with different causes and different aims. Similarly, WWII was different from WWI. Each generation fights over different territory; each invents new ways to fight, but the result is still death. I’m an idealist, but not totally naïve. I understand that there have always been wars, and that people will always argue whether they are “justified” or not. I honor those who have served in both war and peace, but I don’t think war should be glorified, even if necessary to fight evil. There is nothing glorious about war and killing people.

The British war poet, Wilfred Owen, who fought during WWI, and who ultimately died in combat, expressed these sentiments better than I ever could; he also captured the absolute horror of war in his poetry. His poem “Dulce et Decorum Est” ends with these words:

If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori.

 (You can access the full poem here. )

We memorialize wars publicly with monuments and parades, but we build private memorials in our hearts and minds. We remember what our loved ones enjoyed or disliked, what they wore, said, and did. So perhaps moving from war to memories of food here is not such a stretch. After all, people often bring food to those who are grieving. The preparing of food brings comfort to those who wonder how to help or what to do, while eating and sharing meals brings its own comfort.

Thinking about my grandfather, reminded me of these cookies pictured below, which I have probably not made in twenty years. They are labeled “Aunt Rae Cookies” on my recipe card, named for my grandfather’s second wife. My mom told me though that all of her aunts made similar cookies. They are dry, rather bland cookies. My grandparents and their relatives did not like sweet, gooey treats. Their cakes and cookies tended to be dry and only slightly sweet—something to have with tea. Memories have compelled me to try them again. So in memory of those long gone, and with the memory of my own teenage self learning to bake and collecting recipes, here are the slightly updated version of Aunt Rae Cookies. Although they are not “Wow” cookies, they are strangely addictive. I “tasted” one, and then ate three more. The recipe has ingredients, but no real directions. Also, I’m not certain if I didn’t count correctly, or if the cookies simply needed an extra cup of flour, so it might be 3 cups or 4 cups. OK. I’m not a professional. I’ve added some flavoring—vanilla and almond extract—to the recipe, along with some finely ground walnuts, and a sprinkling of sugar and cinnamon. I think I would add more nuts next time. Enjoy with a cup of tea, coffee, or a glass of wine—and your own memories, of course.

 

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Aunt Rae Cookies

3 (or 4) Cups Flour

1 Cup Sugar

3 Eggs

2 Tsp. Baking Powder

¼ tsp. Salt

¾ cup Vegetable oil

Optional: Flavoring, Ground nuts, cinnamon and sugar

Whisk eggs until light, whisk in sugar, oil, and flavoring, if desired. (I used about 1 tsp vanilla extract and ½ tsp. almond extract). Stir in flour, baking powder, salt, and nuts. I used about ¼ cup finely ground walnuts and almonds. Drop spoonfuls of dough onto parchment paper lined cookie sheets. Sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon. Bake at 350° for about 10 minutes.

 

The Times They Are A’Changin’ –And We Have to Change, Too

Here in the United States, we went back to Daylight Savings Time at 2:00 this morning. For the record, I hate time changes. Whether we are “springing forward” or “falling back,” the change confuses me and makes me grumpy.  I never feel like I’ve gained or lost an hour—we still have twenty-four in the day, don’t we? It simply throws off my inner clock and schedule.

If you know me, or if you’ve read previous posts of mine, you know I’m a morning person. So I “slept in” today to what should have been 6 AM, but it was 7 AM. Now at a bit after 9 in the morning, I feel like half the day is gone.  Grumpy, grumpy. 

However, the sun is actually shining, and spring is on the way. Soon. I hope. I really, really hope. I’m feeling better already.

But still confused by the time change.

Time is strange.  Humans try to structure it with clocks and calendars. But it’s for our benefit. It’s artificial. We can’t control time. The sand flows through the hourglass; the shadows grow longer. We cannot reclaim a single second. The bright faces, freshness, and innocence of youth vanish all too quickly. Still, aged wines and cheese have a special complexity that only comes from time.

I miss the energy I had when I was young–and my slim, young body, too–but that was a different me. Someone I don’t want to be again, but someone I know I can visit in my memory. And I suppose that is one of the wonderful things about being human. We can never revisit a moment that has past (at least until that time machine is actually created), but we have brains and creativity that allow us to revisit our own pasts, and we can revisit previous moments of others’ pasts, too, through books, photographs, even the remains from old privies.

Today I’m going to revisit my own past and my mom’s through old cookbooks and talks of recipes. Yes, sometimes it is all about food. Food and memories, and memories of food.

 I know in many ways I’m stronger now than I was when I was young, both mentally and physically. Like that rich, red wine, I’ve developed a subtleness and complexity that I couldn’t have had when I was young. It can only come from years—time passing—and life experiences. I hope I’m never too old to learn new things—actually, I hope I never too old to want to learn new things.

Come writers and critics
Who prophesize with your pen
And keep your eyes wide
The chance won’t come again

I want to keep my eyes open to world around me. To make moments count. OK. I might miss events, if they happen after 9:30 at night, but that’s what the Internet is for, right?  So Time, just keep on flowing, and I’ll do my best to stay afloat.

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I’ll be speaking at the Woodbury Public Library (Woodbury, NJ) this Wednesday, March 12 at 6:30 PM. I’ll be talking about women, cookbooks, and food and memories. If you’re in the area, set your clocks, and I’ll see you there! There will be food and books, too!