Crowns and Independence

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We got crowned! (Our youngest child was married.)

 

Monday Morning Musings:

 

 “Love is the crowning grace of humanity, the holiest right of the soul, the golden link which binds us to duty and truth, the redeeming principle that chiefly reconciles the heart to life, and is prophetic of eternal good.”

–Petrarch

“We need to help people to discover the true meaning of love. Love is generally confused with dependence. Those of us who have grown in true love know that we can love only in proportion to our capacity for independence.”

–Fred Rogers, The World According to Mister Rogers: Important Things to Remember

 

“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”

–Nelson Mandela

 

It has been a mostly beautiful weekend to celebrate the birth of our nation,

colonies declaring independence from the crown

I think of how crown rhymes with clown,

and it amuses me–

I think of all the clowns who’ve worn crowns

and how often the jester or fool has been the wise man.

 

Last year on this day, the Fourth of July,

Independence Day,

My husband and I wore paper crowns,

parents of the bride

a nod to custom,

and an affectionate tribute to a family tradition

of the birthday crowns we construct.

Our daughter carried a fan she designed

with a quotation from Jane Eyre,

“Reader I married him.”*

 

She and our now son-in-law vowed to love and cherish

each other, to join together

forming “a more perfect union”

like colonies becoming states, and then a union,

it is a process that goes beyond the simple declaration of intent

of independence and dependence

a balancing act,

not dependence,

rather, respecting one another,

and enhancing the best in each.

Perhaps our nation could benefit

from a bit of marriage counseling.

 

We had planned to see a baseball game with them,

baseball, the great American pastime,

what could be more perfect?

But because it was raining with violent storms in the forecast

we went to dinner with them instead–

food, that like our nation, was a mixture of all types,

vegan entries, steak for my husband, salads,

Buffalo sauce and Sriracha

many flavors and textures

sharing space on the table.

 

The weather had improved by the next day,

glorious weather for celebrating,

though we stayed at home

listening to fireworks in the distance.

We watched a movie, Belgian, but in French

(Remember how France joined us in fighting

their English enemy though France was still

a monarchy with a King who wore a crown?)

Two Days, One Night,

Marion Cotillard, a wife and mother,

works in a solar-panel factory,

with the help of her husband and support from friends,

she spends the weekend asking her co-workers to vote for her to keep her job,

even though if they do so, they will lose their bonuses.

We make all sorts of negotiations in life,

When is it right give up something that will benefit ourselves

in order to help someone else?

It is a decision each must decide.

Dependence and independence.

 

The sun rises, a crown of pink and orange

beaming golden rays into the azure sky,

spokes like those of Lady Liberty’s crown

promising liberty, standing on a broken chain,

given to the United States by the people of France,

inscribed with the date, July 4, 1776,

a symbol,

not a reality for all

but something to strive for

Liberté, égalité, fraternité,

Emily Dickinson said,

“Hope is the thing with feathers,”

but hope is also the sun rising and setting

each day

and hope is the joining of two in marriage

and love is our shining crown.

Embed from Getty Images

 

*This essay by Claire Fallon discusses the line “Reader, I married him,”

Bridges and Puzzles

Monday Morning Musings:

“Then we got into a labyrinth, and, when we thought we were at the end,
came out again at the beginning, having still to see as much as ever.”
–Plato

“From women’s eyes this doctrine I derive:
They sparkle still the right Promethean fire;
They are the books, the arts, the academes,
That show, contain, and nourish all the world.”
—William Shakespeare,  Love’s Labor’s Lost, Act V, scene iii

 

There are bridges that carry us across rivers

And there are bridges that close gaps in time or understanding

But life is a labyrinth

There are no direct routes

It twists and turns

Until it finally ends

Unsolved

 

We took a bridge to my sister’s house,

Our annual Mother’s Day ritual,

Lunch prepared by my sister and her wife

Stuffed shells, meatballs and sausage for the meat eaters,

A great salad brought by my niece

(ten minutes of agonizing about it over

the phone the day before)

because that’s what we do

The women in my family can make

Not simply mountains out of mole hills,

We can make Mt. Everest out of speck on the ground

But oh, we can spin stories, too–

Best done with food and wine,

Enough food for twice the number at the table

Also part of the tradition–

So we sit at my sister’s table

We talk about our pets

The size of our cats

(big and small)

The time my daughter’s dog

“sprint peed” around her apartment

We talk about family

The “art genes” we carry

The ability to write and a love of chocolate

(Must be carried on dominant genes)

Perhaps a love of spicy food, too,

As no one thought the “hot” salsa was particularly hot

And daughter and I had

a little pizza with our hot peppers the night before

My niece discussing family craziness

“If our husbands die do you want to live together

 and we can drink and be crazy together?”

She might have said this to my daughter

That’s perfectly normal, right?

And then it was off to Macy’s

How many women does it take to shop with my mom?

We have our assigned roles,

Dresser

Assistant dressers

Clothing hangers

Hunter and Gatherer of new items

But sometimes it takes a village

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And this year, we also have

The bra hunter

And dressing room bouncer

Do you wonder what it must be like

Or why we laugh?

You hook the bra, and I’ll put the boobs in

And later a whispered aside:

Just put the pillow over my head if I start wearing bras like that

She has great boobs– you have good boob genes

(Is this carried along with the writing and chocolate gene?)

To the dressing room bouncer,

How about if you close the door– I’m sitting here in all my glory.

Finally, the shopping is complete

My mom has quite a haul– dress, pants, shirts—no new bra

What $40? Forget it?

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom!

We head back to my sister’s,

where my husband, brother, and sister’s wife

have been watching the Phillies

They won!

Time for dessert,

My brownies and daughter’s cannoli dip

We like our chocolate

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Not much left here!

And coffee

What? You don’t make coffee at home?

Back in the car, driving my mom home

We talk of family history

We learn that some of her family lived in a refugee tent city

In England

Caught there between Belarus and the U.S.

Early in the twentieth century

Perhaps during WWI?

My mom doesn’t know

She said her cousin, then a young child

Thought it was fun—the children got to run around and play–

Their mothers probably did not enjoy it as much–

We arrive at my mom’s, but

Just before she gets out of the car

She leaves us with one more family puzzle

Her father left family in Russia who vanished during

“the war,”

That would be WWII.

I have no idea what to make of this.

What people?

How did they vanish?

Life is full of such puzzles

We can never solve all of them

But there’s a quest to try

To work our way through the labyrinth

Not right now though

It’s late

And so we head back over the bridge,

East with the sun at our backs

To home

Where there is more chocolate waiting for me.

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Feast of the Immigrant

Monday Morning Musings:

When I was a teen

My grandfather used to bring

Sunday brunch

To our house.

Heralded by a cloud of cigar smoke–

That I could smell

From my attic bedroom,

He entered,

Calling out greetings

In his loud voice

And making everyone scurry

To get the food on the table.

Perhaps it wasn’t technically

A feast,

But

It was a ritual

Of sorts.

A Sunday brunch

With an abundance of food.

My grandfather,

My father’s father,

Had a personality

That was far bigger

Than his short,

But corpulent

Body.

My sister and I secretly called him

Harry the Hat.

There’s a photo of him

On the Atlantic City Boardwalk

With said hat

And swaggering stance.

And now that I think of it,

He always did wear a hat,

As men used to do.

I picture it on a side table

In our living room.

I imagine his scrappiness

Came from growing up

As an immigrant.

I remember him telling me

About his voyage to America.

How his ship was stalled for some time

In Trieste,

Then part of the

Austro-Hungarian Empire.

I recently discovered,

The ship was called the S.S. Gulia.

It carried him, his mother, and a sister

Across the ocean to New York

In 1904,

His father having left Kiev earlier—

Was already in Philadelphia.

And I wonder

What this voyage must have been like

For a young child–

He was only 7

His sister 4.

And for their mother.

Traveling from Kiev,

Second class citizens

In their homeland,

To Trieste,

Escaping persecution,

And then

To the United States.

And I wished I had

Asked him more.

But it’s too late.

As a young man

He sold newspapers

At the Pennsylvania Railroad Station.

He and my grandmother eloped,

And then returning to his parents’ home,

They were given a bed

That broke

A memorable wedding night,

I imagine.

Did that immigrant boy,

That young man

Ever think

That someday

He would be sitting in a dining room

In a Philadelphia suburb

With his grandchildren?

Or that he would be bringing a feast?

Who knew from Sunday brunch then?

(As my relatives might have said.)

There would be two world wars

And countless others,

Battles and fear

And fights over immigrants

And immigration

Then

And now.

Who will be the lucky few

To be admitted?

But he was fortunate.

He lived

The American dream.

We sat amidst Old World antiques

In modern American comfort.

We were consumers,

And we consumed.

Lox,

Never nova,

Cream cheese,

Herring,

And the fish that we called “yum yum fish”

(What WAS it?)

A mystery lost to time.

Chewy bagels,

Good Jewish rye–

With seeds

Of course.

My mother sliced onions

And boiled new red potatoes.

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The plate my mom always used for Sunday brunches, although we ignored the categories.

My then boyfriend,

Now husband,

Had never had such food.

He glanced at me,

Trying to follow my lead,

But it didn’t take him long

To love these,

To him,

Exotic dishes.

My grandfather must have been in his 70s.

He seemed very old to me then,

And my mom

Was younger than I am now.

My parents were divorced,

But still my grandfather

Came

And my dad, too.

Family bonds

Perhaps strengthened from immigrant status.

My mom discovered only after she was married

That the people she sometimes visited with her father

Were the relatives of his first wife

Who died soon after they were married.

My mom thought they were cousins

Because she had so many

So she finally asked her mother

Who are these people?

And found she was not

Actually related to them at all.

But still–

Immigrant bonds

And immigrant food

More precisely,

Food eaten by immigrants here,

Now fashionable and expensive.

And nostalgic.

My sister decided her birthday

And a shopping trip for my mom

Was a good excuse to enjoy these delicacies

Once again.

A brilliant idea!

And so we did.

Discussing family news and memories

As we ate.

After brunch,

My husband and my sister’s wife

Stayed behind to watch football.

American football.

My mom, sisters, and younger daughter

Went to the mall.

We piled into a dressing room—

Our dressing room at that Macy’s—

And the saleswoman grumbled that we

Weren’t supposed to be there,

Although there was no sign,

So we stayed.

My mother dismayed by her body

That has grown and aged

And we dressing her

And all of us laughing

Laughing so hard

Because

Well, dressing someone is funny,

Isn’t it?

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Dressing Room antics

And we lovingly teased

My mom about boyfriends

And showing cleavage,

And then we went back

To my sister’s

For dessert.

Because

After all

Birthdays need cake.

And shopping

Is hungry work.

Recipes and Other Stuff:

Chocolate Chip Sour Cream Coffee Cake:

I forgot to take a picture and quickly took one at my sister’s that is not very good, and so then I took one at home, which still is not good, but oh well, did I mention it’s Chocolate Chip Sour Cream Coffee Cake? That’s all you need to know, right?

Also, it’s made in a 9×13 pan (or whatever is similar in your part of the world) so it’s easily transportable–in case you’re taking it to your sister’s house for brunch.

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I used this recipe from Smitten Kitchen

BUT I changed the filling

Because sorry, Deb, but really, brown sugar and nuts were calling out to me.

Here’s the filling I used—half inside, and the remainder on top.

Filling:

¾ cups firmly packed brown sugar

¾ cup chopped nuts (it might have been a bit more. I used walnuts, but it’s entirely possible there were also some pecans mixed in. The nuts at my house fraternize.)

1 ½ tsp. cinnamon

1 bag bittersweet chocolate chips

The batter is thick and will fight with you as you try to spread it in the pan. But fight on, and you will be victorious!

On a related note: This past weekend, we saw the movie, Brooklyn, which is about a young Irish woman immigrant who is caught between her new life in Brooklyn and her old life in Ireland in the 1950s. My husband and I both enjoyed it very much. Also, she, the Irish immigrant, learns to eat spaghetti with her Italian-American boyfriend. So you see, there is a connection to this post!

 

 

The Deliciousness of Life

Monday Morning Musings:

“Sitting down to dinner, at any age, should be an invitation to the fabulous banquet that is life. The most important lesson we learn at the table is that great awards await those who take chances. Do we really want to be telling our children ‘Just eat your nice chicken nuggets?’ It make so much more sense to say, ‘Pull up a chair. Take a taste. Come join us. Life is so endlessly delicious.’”

–Ruth Reichl, “Teach Your Children Well,” Gourmet Magazine, March 2007

The sunrise was spectacular this morning. I looked up from my seat at the kitchen table, coffee and newspaper in front of me, cat purring on my lap, and took in its beauty. Even if I had the photographic skills to capture it, it would have been difficult to do so—in seconds the sky went from shades of violet to deep flamingo pink to orange and then to apricot. If I could taste this sunrise, it would have been a rainbow sorbet, a swirl of sweetness melting on my tongue and then gone.

“When I come in here, it’s like I’m surrounded in sweetness. Sweetness and love,” my niece said to me on Saturday night. It was the night of our family holiday dinner (the weekend in between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, close enough). Her words filled me with sweetness, too.

My summer was busy—much of it wonderfully so—after all, our younger daughter was married and we gained a fantastic son-in-law—but still, it was busy. I had a very large test-writing assignment to complete, which I finally did this past Wednesday. My husband and I went to the movies to celebrate and saw Learning to Drive, a sweet and sometimes funny movie that gently reminds its viewers of some important life lessons, such as always wearing seat belts, checking your road rage, and being aware of what’s going on around you, both on the road and in your life. Now it seems the summer is over. As summer turns to fall, and the summer sky grows lighter a bit later each day, I have some time to reflect. And cook, of course.

Those who say “food is just fuel” are missing something. Food is not simply fuel, and sitting around a table with family and friends is one of the great joys in life. On Friday, a dear friend, who I have not seen all summer, came by, bearing sushi—actually complete lunches for both of us of miso soup, salad, and sushi (shrimp tempura and sweet potato rolls). I was preparing for the next night’s dinner, but took a nice, long lunch break. We sat at my kitchen table and caught up. How lovely to have friends like that!

Our Saturday night dinner was relaxed. I had done most of the cooking before that day—so much so that I said to my husband early Saturday afternoon that I felt like I had forgotten to do something. After slicing the meat in the morning, I went to the gym, and then after lunch I even had time for a brief rest. He told me that it was just that I had done it so many times, that I had it all under control. He had done much of the cleaning, however, which always helps.

So after our guests arrived, we toasted the new year, 5776, and dipped apples in honey and ate challah. (I baked 8 over the course of the week because, oh my God, what if there isn’t enough? Do you remember that time we bought a new freezer simply because I needed it to freeze Rosh Hashanah challahs?) It is traditional to eat lots of sweet foods for Rosh Hashanah. We had yellow split pea-pumpkin soup; it is slightly sweet and spiced with cinnamon, ginger, and pepper. Life needs a bit of spice, too, right? The gold color symbolizes wealth and prosperity.

Yellow Split Pea-Pumpkin Soup

Yellow Split Pea-Pumpkin Soup

Our younger daughter brought this delicious salad with a maple balsamic dressing.

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We had noodle kugel. That’s kugel, not Kegel.

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For the meat-eaters, there was brisket

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And turkey. Because (see above) we might not have enough.

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My husband is eating lots of leftovers this week.

We drank wine. We talked, and then it was time for coffee and dessert.

Apple Cake (It is much better than it looks in photo!)

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Baklava

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And brownies. . .because. . .well, you know, chocolate, and with a hint of sea salt because. . .well, you know, chocolate and salt.

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The next day, my husband and I, along with our younger daughter and son-in-law went to the Heritage Wine Festival, a two-day event in Mullica Hill, NJ. My son-in-law has earned huge points for offering to be our designated driver. We were pleased to see some wineries there that we never visited before. My husband and I ended up buying a bottle of Rossa della Valle from Hopewell Valley Vineyards, a Chambourcin-Cabarnet blend. Our daughter bought the same, plus a bottle of their chocolate port. We also bought a port, Vat 19 Port from Unionville Vineyards. We’re thinking we’ll open that at Thanksgiving, when our older daughter and her wife will also be here.

We brought food—challah, anyone? I have a couple in my freezer. We tasted, we sat, ate, walked around and enjoyed the beautiful weather. It was a beautiful September day. We shed the sweatshirts we wore earlier and basked in the sun. Daughter and I were thrilled to find a farm stand amidst the vendor booths. We split a basket of peppers and each of us bought lovely, ripe Jersey peaches. It was a perfect sweet ending for a weekend of sweetness and love, a weekend of celebrating family and friends, and the joy of conversation around food and wine. Wishing all of you joy, peace, and many opportunities to taste the deliciousness of life.

Heritage Wine Festival, Sunday, September 20, 2015

Heritage Wine Festival,
Sunday, September 20, 2015

“So sweet it seems with thee to walk,

And once again to woo thee mine—

It seems in after-dinner talk

Across the walnuts and the wine.”

–Alfred Lord Tennyson (1809-1892)

“The Miller’ Daughter”

Sweetness

Monday Morning Musings:

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

–James Baldwin

 

Today is Rosh Hashanah,

the start of the High Holy Days.

We say “Shanah Tova,”

and wish people a sweet year.

The weekend began with

the anniversary of 9/11.

Never forget.

As if we could.

Then caring for our grandpets.

Doggy kisses

and kitty purrs.

A party.

People with different jobs,

beliefs

interests,

drinking and

playing volleyball.

No, not me.

I’ll just watch.

Having fun.

Enjoying

the beautiful evening.

Meanwhile—

The man with the hair

whips up hate.

Throughout history

demagogues have appeared.

He is merely the latest.

A little man

for all his wealth.

Seeking to rise by

finding a scapegoat–

as all demagogues do.

It is nothing new.

It’s their fault,

they declare.

You don’t have money,

goods,

or

power–

It’s because of them.

Migrants, Jews,

Women.

People with black skin,

or yellow skin.

Educated people.

Illiterate people.

Gay.

Trans.

It doesn’t matter.

They are Others,

not one of us.

Nativists, Know Nothings, and Exclusion Acts—

We don’t want your kind.

“Give me your tired, your poor.”

Lady Liberty cries,

But not too tired, not too poor.

the followers yell.

We don’t want people who

look different.

And

none of that foreign talk here.

Speak English.

Wave a flag,

like a true patriot.

A clerk in Kentucky claims religious freedom by

denying others their rights.

Doesn’t she know that liberty

is inclusive,

not exclusive?

Hate does not win.

Hate brings more hate.

Hate combusts and burns

like the brushfires out west,

consuming everything it touches.

Love,

Compassion,

Empathy,

Education

tame the flames,

to a warm glow,

enough to sit around,

enough to bake bread.

I baked challahs yesterday.

The kitchen smells

Of bread and memories.

And love, too.

“Bread and roses.”

Fuel for body

and soul.

Dip the apple in the honey.

Taste its sweetness.

It is everywhere.

Look.

It is all around you.

Can you see the sweetness

of life?

Stop.

Just look.

Do you see it?

Can you look past the hate?

Can you see how beautiful

Our Earth is?

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Wishing all of you peace and a sweet new year!

©Merril D. Smith

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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Valley Green

Monday Morning Musings:

“Green is the prime color of the world, and that from which its loveliness arises.”

–Pedro Calderón de la Barca

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Valley Green Inn

Valley Green Inn

The restaurant—not really an inn—

Is nestled in a valley,

Set along the banks of

Wissahickon Creek.

And it was very green

Yesterday,

A beautiful August day.

Truth in advertising.

I suppose.

But even in winter snow

And ice

It would be lovely.

It was the perfect spot

For my mother’s birthday celebration.

A Sunday brunch.

In the 1790s,

A large gristmill operated

Downstream

From where we dined

Over two centuries later.

In the 1850s,

People took picnics

To this spot,

Escaping the heat

Of the city.

The new turnpike,

Now Lincoln Drive,

Made it easier for people

To travel to

This valley,

And to stay and eat

At the hotel

Then located there.

We sat indoors,

Foregoing the porch–

This time,

Although we’ve eaten there before.

The old rooms have seen history unfold.

I wonder what stories those walls could tell?

How many other birthdays

Have been celebrated here?

My mom can also

Tell stories.

She has seen many changes

In her 93 years.

No longer a slim,

And beautiful young woman.

Parents, friends, husband—

All gone.

Wars fought,

Men on the moon.

It was a big deal

When her family got

A telephone—

And that was only

Because her father

Had a grocery store.

It was the Great Depression–

But that was long ago.

Here,

Now,

In this inn,

The scent of wood smoke

Still lingers

From the flames

Of past fires.

But none today.

Not in August.

The fireplace cold,

Its mantel adorned

With flowers.

We sat in the old room,

The floors worn and slightly uneven,

With our modern conveniences,

Air conditioning

And cell phones.

My daughter

And her new husband

Share looks across

The table.

My sister and I

Share secrets.

We all seem

To share food.

Sausages passed

Around the table.

Everything is delicious—

Sweet potato pancakes,

Crab and seafood omelets,

Mushroom bisque,

Waffles,

French toast,

And Huevos rancheros.

There are 8 of us here

Drinking coffee,

Talking,

Ordering our entries,

Our fruit salads,

And

A berry cobbler

With a candle

For my mom.

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Filled,

Sated,

We walk outside

To sit by the creek.

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The geese and ducks

Swim in circles,

They look for treats thrown

By those who pass by.

The water burbles,

And children giggle.

Downstream,

A man is fishing.

There are runners,

Hikers,

And bikers,

On the path.

Two musicians sit in the shade,

Playing violin and guitar—

An acoustic version of

“Pinball Wizard”

Drifting out to us

And mingling with the sound

Of water, birds,

And conversation.

Perhaps these should be

The sounds aliens

Hear to understand

Our world.

The sounds of humanity,

Of Earth

Placed on Voyager

As it travels the galaxies.

But would they understand

Birthday wishes?

The love of family?

The sharing of food

And conversation?

Would they understand

The loveliness of

An inn

Set in a green valley

Along a creek

Where we took our

Mother for her birthday?

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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.

Mother’s Day: Celebrating as a Mother and as a Daughter

 I had eight birds hatcht in one nest,

Four cocks were there, and Hens the rest.

I nurst them up with pain and care,

No cost nor labour did I spare

Till a the last they felt their wing,

Mounted the Trees and learned to sing.

–Anne Bradstreet (ca. 1612-1672), “In Reference to Her Children, 23 June 1659,” Full text here.

 Monday Morning Musings

Yesterday was Mother’s Day, at least here in the US. The holiday began as efforts to help poor mothers, fight injustice, and oppose war. Anna Reeves Jarvis of West Virginia fought to bring sanitation facilities and clean water to people in parts of Appalachia. In 1858, she organized Mother’s Work Days. After the Civil War she gathered mothers and soldiers from both sides of the conflict in a Mother’s Friendship Day. Her daughter–also Anna–wanted to continue her mother’s fight. After Anna Jarvis, the mother, died in 1905, her daughter wanted to organize a Mother’s Day celebration to honor all mothers and the sacrifices they make for their children. She lobbied politicians and wrote letters to newspapers, and finally President Woodrow Wilson signed a proclamation in 1914 that established the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day. Jarvis became outraged by the flowers, candy, and greeting card commercialism that the holiday assumed. She ultimately disowned the holiday entirely. (Historian Ruth Rosen discusses the activism and antiwar origins of the Mother’s Day here.)

I certainly understand those who decry the artificiality and commercialism of the holiday. At the same time, I like it. I recently thought about my very first mother’s day as a mother. On my way to my mother’s, my husband and I stopped at a friend’s house to show off our new daughter, who was about 3 months old. I, of course, was madly in love with my little girl, and I thought she was the most beautiful creature in existence, bald head and all. Our friend’s mother, made a big fuss, told me to sit down and waited on me. She said to me, “This is your first mother’s day, and you should feel special.” All these years later, I still remember that. And I did feel special.

Over the past few years, our mother’s day tradition has been to gather at my sister’s house. We have brunch or lunch, and then take my mom clothes shopping. Last Mother’s Day, she wanted to buy an outfit to wear for my older daughter’s wedding; this year, she wanted to buy an outfit to wear for my younger’s daughter wedding. It is a bit of an ordeal to take my mom shopping—she can’t move or see very well—but with four of us, my younger daughter, my sister-niece, and my sister—we got the job done. We had to help dress her in the dressing room, which actually led to many laughs. When I think about it, it seems only fair that we help her dress. After all, how many times did she do it for all of us? Happily, she did find an outfit to wear.

My mom and me. I'm about 3 years old.

My mom and me. I’m about 3 years old.

Before we left for the mall, my sister and sister-in-law fortified us with pasta, salad, and bread—all delicious. My sister-in-law, “the men,” and children remained behind at the house. After we returned from our long shopping expedition, we had dessert—a chocolate extravaganza. Did you doubt this? I get my love of chocolate from my mom—so I baked a flourless chocolate cake topped with chocolate glaze and sea salt and my Mandelbrot cookies, which are called “Mommy Cookies” at my house. (I have several posts dedicated to this, my favorite cookie. Just do a search.) I kind of had to bake those, didn’t I? My sister added 2 boxes of chocolate to the dessert feast, just in case we didn’t have enough. We sat outside on my sister and sister-in-law’s deck and enjoyed the warm weather and evening breeze.

During dessert we attempted to FaceTime chat with my older daughter, but it didn’t work too well. Still, I did get to talk to her a bit. My younger daughter made me a wonderful Super Momma card that made me feel special—and some baking pans. Chocolate and baking genes run through the generations in my family!

When my mom is no longer with us, Mother’s Day will certainly be different. My siblings and I will no longer have a reason to get together for it, just as we no longer get together on Father’s Day. Although we might grumble about taking my mom shopping, I will miss that tradition and the crazy dressing room antics.

Mothers and Daughters

Mothers and Daughters

A Passover Legacy

Monday Morning Musings

Passover begins next weekend. I like to imagine people all over the world gathering together over tables filled with food and wine to share the story of how the ancient Jews escaped from slavery in Egypt. In the United States, “the peculiar institution” of slavery threatened our nation and nearly destroyed it during the Civil War. Its legacy still affects our laws and culture. In the twenty-first century, slavery and human trafficking still exist throughout the world. So the Passover story about escaping oppression is still relevant today.

My grandparents were immigrants to the United States. They all sought a better life here than they had in Tsarist Russia, just before WWI. I don’t know if they thought about this when they celebrated Passover. Both of my grandmothers died when I was only a toddler. I never thought to ask my grandfathers when they were alive.

I am not religious, but I love the traditions of Passover. I “keep Passover” to an extant—not eating bread or leavened products during the period and even foregoing my usual morning oatmeal—but there are “forbidden” foods in my house that my husband eats. For me, the keeping of Passover is an homage to those throughout history who have not been able to celebrate the holiday. For those who strictly observe Passover, forbidden foods must be removed from the house (or at least the kitchen) before Passover. Referred to as chametz, the forbidden items include grains and grain products made from wheat, barley, oats, rye, and spelt. Leavening products, such as yeast, are also prohibited. In essence, anything that might sprout is not allowed. (Matzah is generally made from wheat, but its preparation is closely supervised and must be done within 18 minutes.) Since even a trace of these grains are not supposed to touch other foods and mistakenly ingested, the kitchen, dishes, utensils, and pots and pans are supposed to be thoroughly cleaned and scoured.

Nineteenth-century cookbook author Esther Levy briefly explained the preparation for Passover in her 1871 cookbook, Jewish Cookery Book. Esther Jacobs Levy was an English woman who lived in Philadelphia at the time she published this book. It was the first Jewish cookbook published in the United States. In the introduction, she wrote:

            In preparing for the Passover, which generally commences in the middle of spring and lasts eight days, every particle of leaven must be out of the house by ten o’clock of the preceding morning. On the same day, 14th of Nisan, or on the previous eve, the house must be thoroughly cleaned from dirt, and everything must be in perfect order.

With what pleasurable emotions a Jewish woman must anticipate the time when she will see everything looking so brilliantly clean, and mostly new. Indeed, we should all be delighted, when we reflect that so much cleanliness is a preparation for becomingly celebrating our wonderful deliverance from bondage.

–Esther Levy, Jewish Cookery Book (Philadelphia: W.S. Turner, 1871): 8-9.

Levy goes on to describe the traditional Seder foods that are set before “the master of the house.” (This is the nineteenth-century, after all. Levy also assumes her readers have servants.) After Passover is over, she cautions that all crockery, utensils, and pans have to be scoured and put away to be used the next Passover.

Levy’s book does not contain too many specific Passover recipes. There is “Matzo Cleis Soup” (For Passover). The recipe describes how to make balls from matzo that is softened and mixed with fried onions, eggs, parsley, and dropped into soup. The soup is not specified. She also included a recipe for “Matzas Charlotte”, a type of matzah pudding type dish that is said to be for “supper.” It includes raisins, cinnamon, nutmeg, sugar, and custard made from a quart of milk and seven eggs. Sounds good to me!

Passover has been celebrated all over the world in all types of conditions: in war and peace, in cities and on farms, in prisons and in ghettoes. Recently, I came across this article on how US troops celebrating Passover during WWII. Take a look—it includes photos and menus.

I don’t remember much about Passover from my childhood. I recall some long and boring Seders with relatives droning on in Hebrew, which I could not understand, and probably most of the people there could not actually translate. There was no discussion, no jokes, and no singing. I did not understand the significance of the celebration. My mom’s chicken soup and knaidlach (matzah balls) were always spectacular. I think that’s why I never cared about the rest of the meal. I could simply eat the soup. The meal always ended with a dried fruit “compote,” bland sponge or angel food cakes, and canned macaroons. Oh yes, there was also the horrible Manischewitz wine. For the longest time, I thought all wine was like that, and I couldn’t imagine why anyone liked wine.

How things change! And not just the wine, which I’m sure will be delicious, although I don’t know yet what we will be drinking.

When I became a mom and we began to host Passover dinners, I wanted our daughters to understand what we were celebrating and why. When they were young, my daughters and their friends put on puppet shows during the Seder to explain the Passover story. As they got older, the children’s puppet shows were replaced with a Passover play with everyone sitting around the table and reading their lines. There’s a new play every year with sometimes crazy themes or settings and lots of bad puns.

My family loves our traditions–so I’ll be making brisket (now called “roast beet” from my young grandniece’s pronunciation several years ago) in the same way I’ve made it for years. I’ll cook chicken soup with knaidlach the way my mom always made them. (The secret to light, floating matzah balls is to separate the eggs and not to add fat to the mixture. I believe my mother learned this from her mother-in-law, my grandmother.) I drop the balls in boiling water and then add them to the soup–because in addition to chicken soup, I also have a pot of vegetarian broth. I’ve already made that and frozen it. My house may not be scoured and spotless, but I’m top of the food preparation.

Simmering Vegetable Broth

Simmering Vegetable Broth

What has changed over the years at our family Seders are the actual Seders, which have become more elaborate in a crazy, totally irreverent way. True believers would not approve, but we enjoy our crazy Passover play. I used to write the plays, but now our daughters write them. I have no idea what they’re planning for this year, but I do appreciate that they agreed to write it again. Shout out to you, girls! One daughter and her fiancé will be at dinner. I hope our other daughter and wife will join us for the play via SKYPE. Oh, the wonders of modern technology!

Another change over the years is our desserts. In the past I tried cakes made with matzah meal (sorry, they always taste like matzah to me) or potato starch, but now there are truly wonderful dessert recipes—cakes and cookies you would eat the rest of the year. So I’ve been testing some. You know, in the interest of our Passover guests. My husband has reluctantly agreed to taste them. “If I must,” he says, as he takes another cookie.

I could eat flourless chocolate cake anytime. OK. I have. Don’t judge me. What’s wrong with breakfast chocolate?

This is my go-to recipe. I bake it at 325 degrees.

I also tried this one. Instead of cayenne pepper, I used ginger (not that I mind cayenne pepper, but chocolate and ginger is amazing). I garnished it with a chocolate glaze made by melting dark chocolate chips and studded it with candied ginger. YUM!

I tried these cookies from Jew Wanna Eat. I added ½ a bag of mini-chocolate chips, which I highly recommend you do, as well. Chocolate and coffee. Do I have to explain?

Coffee Meringues with Chocolate Chips

Coffee Meringues with Chocolate Chips

On Saturday night, technically the second Seder, I’ll sit at my table with my family and friends. We’ll be a group of old and young, gay and straight, Jews and non-Jews. The food will be important, of course. We’ll eat matzah, the unleavened bread, symbolic of the hurried flight of the Jews from Egypt. We’ll eat the matzah balls, the recipe a legacy from my grandmother. We will be following ancient rituals of dipping greens in salt water and of saying “Dayenu” as we recall the plagues. We will drink wine–4 cups are supposed to be consumed during the Seder.  We will be connected to the ghosts of our ancestors, and I will remember those who are no longer at our Passover table. More importantly, we’ll combine old traditions with new twists and combine ancient rituals with new innovations. I hope my daughters will remember these dinners. I hope my young great niece and nephews will, too. In time, I hope they will create their own traditions. This is the true legacy of Passover–friends and family gathering to break bread (which we do quite literally at the Seder), to share stories, to remember the past, and to create new memories.