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

 

Moving Day

Monday Morning Musings

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And so the newlyweds have moved.

We tell them about our first apartment—

the cinderblock shelves,

the closet made into a study

with the desk that is now theirs.

It has an ink-stained drawer,

damage done by my husband

when he was just a young boy,

and punished for

apparently.

But that was long ago.

As newlyweds,

we ate at

a card table

borrowed from my mom,

with four folding chairs

to go with it.

And we felt lucky

to have it.

And giddy with the excitement

of furnishing our first home.

They have the table

that sat in our basement

I think it belonged

to my husband’s grandmother.

But perhaps I’m wrong.

It has a wood veneer top.

To be perfectly honest,

I didn’t particularly like it.

But somehow it is perfect,

sitting in their kitchen alcove.

Their chairs

are the chairs that went

with the first table we purchased.

in that first apartment

with the cinderblock shelves.

My husband has re-caned

these chairs

for our daughter and her husband.

As he sits in their kitchen

my husband reports

that nothing has broken.

He’s joking,

I think.

I hope.

It is cheerful,

that kitchen of theirs.

Newly painted–

and my daughter was right

about the color.

We bring in boxes

and furniture.

Their dog guards it–

and them.

Their cat hides

in a closet.

We think of other moves.

My husband and his friends

moved my dad several times.

It wasn’t so bad.

They were young and strong.

And they got treated to a dinner

each time.

Not the typical pizza and beer,

although perhaps there was beer,

I don’t remember

because

there was

so much food.

Courses and courses of Chinese delights

At his favorite restaurant.

Perhaps there were other restaurants, too.

My dad loved food.

and playing the host.

In our first apartment

we had a bed

and bureau

bought from my cousin Sali.

We still have them,

the mattress replaced,

of course,

but the frame still sturdy.

There was an old bamboo bookcase, too.

Is it in our basement somewhere?

Moving brings memories,

doesn’t it?

Possessions do not

make a home,

But

each item packed

and then unpacked

tells a story.

Someday they will get our piano,

the piano I played as a child.

The ivory keys are ragged,

damaged by me,

I’m told,

although I don’t remember.

And I was such a good child.

Never mind.

It makes our piano unique.

I remember the movers coming

to move that piano

when we moved into our house,

our first house

where we still live.

I was pregnant with our older daughter.

We were packing boxes

and dreams.

And now we watch our children

do the same.

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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.

Sandwiched

"Pastrami on rye" - Pastrami Sandwich.

“Pastrami on rye” – Pastrami Sandwich. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Too few people understand a really good sandwich.”
James Beard

I’m a member of “the Sandwich Generation,” people who are coping with aging parents while supporting their own children. I just discovered that I’m a “Traditional Sandwich,” but according to elder expert, Carol Abaya, there are others who are “Club Sandwiches”—people dealing with aging parents, adult children, and grandchildren, OR with aging parents, grandparents, and young children. There are also “Open Faced Sandwiches,” which includes any people who are involved in elder care. (What did we do before Google?)

I’m fortunate in that I have siblings who help with the care of my 90-year-old mom. It’s not that she needs daily care, but there are things she can’t do by herself. Right now, we are assisting her with her move to a new apartment. By assisting, I mean we are doing all of the packing while she sits in a chair and tells us how to do it correctly. My siblings and I are stressed and eager for this move to be over with. At the same time, we are grateful that my mom is still around and able to be a part of our lives.

My daughters, who are young adults, form the other slice of “bread” in my “sandwich.” They are wonderful, smart, and talented women. Although they are just getting started with their “grownup” lives, I am confident that they will do well, and I know I do not really have to worry about them. But of course, I do—I’m their mother!

I’m not a fan of the term “Sandwich Generation.” It seems superficial and artificial—this is not the first time people have had to deal with both parents and children or grandchildren. Perhaps we are simply the generation that whines about it. I don’t feel “sandwiched” between my mom and my daughters, although, of course, there have been times when I have felt stressed or pressured. Also, the term makes me hungry.

Sandwiches themselves might be generational. (Have you noticed how my blog posts always end up being about food?) I’m certain as the popularity of particular foods changes, so do sandwiches. What was popular in 1920 or 1950 is not necessarily popular in 2013. The comic strip character, Dagwood Bumstead, husband of the title character, Blondie, created the first of his famous huge sandwiches in the 1930s. My father, who was a teenager in the 1930s, loved sandwiches. He was particularly fond of sardine sandwiches with mounds of sliced, raw onions on top. Actually, any sandwich he ate had mounds of onions on top. My younger daughter also loves raw onions.

My husband recalls being totally intimidated the first time he was invited to my family’s house to eat bagels, cream cheese, lox and other Jewish brunch essentials. We were both in high school at the time (cute, right?), and he had never seen, much less eaten these, to him, exotic foods. I’m pretty sure though after he concocted his first sandwich, it was love at first bite.

When I was a child living in Dallas, lox, cream cheese, bagels, rye bread, and Jewish deli meats were not available there. My family would eat them whenever we returned to the Philadelphia area. Sometimes when my father went to Philadelphia to buy antiques for my parents’ business in Dallas, he also brought back Jewish rye bread, bagels, and the yummy food to put on them. I’m certain these foods are available all over the United States now, so generations growing up in Dallas and other places are not now deprived of these sandwiches. Yes, they can be part of the Jewish sandwich generation.

Of course, I was born in a city famous for its sandwich. I refer, of course, to the Philly cheese steak. It is a sandwich that has inspired awe, envy, and battles—not to mention grease stains and high cholesterol in its fans. I will leave the fans to post their praises of this sandwich—after they finish eating and have a chance to wash the grease off their hands.

Sandwiches are not my favorite food, but I do enjoy them sometimes. One of my daughters and I have come up with a sandwich we love. It’s fresh mozzarella, spinach, and tomatoes on black bread, smeared with pesto mayonnaise. The whole thing is then baked or grilled until the cheese melts. It’s great in the summer when there are wonderful tomatoes and basil. Two generations loving this sandwich.

But back to my mom. Later this week, my husband and I are going back to her apartment to do some more packing. I think I’ll bring sandwiches for lunch–one of my daughters gave me some ideas. Yes,  I suppose I must be part of the sandwich generation.

“I’ve got brown sandwiches and green sandwiches – it’s either very new cheese or very old meat.”

-Oscar Madison in The Odd Couple  by Neil Simon (Paramount Pictures, 1968)