February Surprise: I Carry Your Heart

Monday Morning Musings:

My daughters and I threw a surprise 60th birthday party for my husband this past weekend, just before Valentine’s Day. He thought he was going to a party for one of our daughters. Today is the official celebration of Washington’s birthday (now always on a Monday). It is sometimes called “Presidents’ Day” and combined with Lincoln’s birthday. The line “I carry your heart with me (I carry it in my heart)” comes from E.E. Cummings.


On February 22nd,

When I was young,

We colored and cut,

We painted and pasted

Images of George Washington

Our first president.

A true commander-in-chief

Tested in battle.

The American Cincinnatus,

The first US President,

A slaveholder,

Fighting for freedom.

He carried the hopes of a nation

In his heart.


Our February schooldays,

Included holiday units,

George Washington and Abraham Lincoln,

Whose birthday we celebrated on the twelfth of February.

And so we carried home to our parents

Our construction paper masterpieces,

Revolutionary era silhouettes,

And tales of truthful George and Honest Abe,

Two leaders in war time–

One war to create a new nation

The other to keep it from dissolving.

Revolution and Civil War,

Battle lines crossed, battlefields bloodied.

And as for politics. Do you think it uncivil now?

Look again at the past.

Early campaigns filled with slander, lies, and duels.

Representative Preston Brooks

Beat Senator Charles Sumner with a cane

In a senate chamber in 1856.

Remember that?

I can imagine it today–

Perhaps battery by selfie stick

After a series of vitriolic tweets.

Any subject is possible.

But then it was a bill, new territories,

Popular Sovereignty, Bleeding Kansas,

And Civil War.


Owning other humans.

Indefensible, irredeemable

And yet, we forget

Events long gone, now

Backlit, perhaps a bit of uplighting,

To infuse a rosy glow

And make the past seem romantic?

O Captain! my Captain!

O heart!

Crimes of the past we carry, along with our celebrations.


We also celebrated Valentine’s Day in school,

A holiday that combines ancient Roman fertility rites

And Christian saints.

There’s a combination.

Charles, Duke of Orleans, wrote one of the first Valentines

In 1415 to his wife.

He had been captured at the Battle of Agincourt

And wrote poetry while imprisoned in the Tower of London.

He was held captive for twenty-four years,

Plenty of time to reflect and write, though I think it

Just a teeny bit drastic for a writer’s retreat, don’t you?

But no such poetry for our school day parties.

We had pre-printed Valentines–

Roses are red, and violets are blue–

To place in the paper bags decorated with hearts,

A Valentine for each classmate.

We had cupcakes and juice,

Sweet crumbs clinging to our fingers

Like dreams in our hearts

We carried both throughout the day.


Our first date, was a school Christmas dance.

Just before my birthday,

A cold December night,

But we were warm with teenage hopes and expectation,

The giddiness of youth.

My mom told my aunt, you “seemed like a nice boy.”

I don’t know what your parents said.

We’ve celebrated many birthdays, and Valentine’s, too,

Since that long ago night.

I’ve carried your heart with me (I carry it in my heart).


This year you were surprised

Both by the passage of years–

Are we both nearly 60?–

And by the party.

I worried about the last minute snow

That people would not show,

That things would not go as planned.

But all went went.

And you,

Yes, surprised,

And touched, I think,

By the love that people carry for you

In their hearts.


Our daughters, also with February births,

Like you and our Presidents. Our

Family celebrations carried through the month.

We had Valentine’s birthday parties for them

When they were young.

Little girls making heart-shaped cards,

Pink and red, glitter and glue,

Gifts for us and for each other.

Chocolate cakes, sundaes with mountains of toppings,

And sleepovers in the living room.

Later they had their own Valentines,

High school dances, and college romances.

And now our babies are grown

They’ve found love

Beyond parents, friends, and pets

Though those remain, of course,

Because love grows when it is nurtured

It is infinite and endless.

It cannot be contained, though it is carried.

There can never be too much love

To fit,

To hold,

To carry in my heart

With your heart.


Valentine’s Day Wine and Chocolate at Monroeville Winery

Do Not Stay Silent, Though April Can Be Cruel

Monday Morning Musings

 “April is the cruellest month, breeding

Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing

Memory and desire, stirring

Dull roots with spring rain. “

–T.S. Eliot. “The Waste Land”

Today is April 13. The sun is rising on what promises to be a lovely spring day in New Jersey with bright sunshine, blue skies, and temperatures rising into the 70s. Yet as T.S. Eliot noted, April can be cruel month. In the warmth and light, as the once white snow melts into the thawing soil, tender buds appear on trees, wisps of green appear in yards and woods, flowers suddenly burst through the ground almost overnight, and birds smartly chirp, “I’m back!”—as new life creeps out from the gray and decay of winter and the natural world is reborn, so are people who have huddled and hidden from the cold. April, a month of life and beauty, is also a time of protest, conflict, and death.

Last week many in the United States celebrated the unofficial ending of the US Civil War 150 years ago, as Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered his army to Union General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House, Virginia, on April 9, 1865. The surrender did not, however, end the fighting entirely, and pockets of insurgency continued for months, followed by years of military occupation of the south and the process of Reconstruction. Five days after the surrender, on April 14, 1865, the well-known actor John Wilkes Booth, assassinated President Abraham Lincoln at Ford’s Theatre, as he and first lady, Mary Todd Lincoln, watched the play, Our American Cousin. In Booth’s eyes and those of his co-conspirators, the war and the southern cause were not finished.

This week in April marks the Week of Remembrance, to remember the Holocaust.

“The United States Congress established the Days of Remembrance as the nation’s annual commemoration of the Holocaust. Each year state and local governments, military bases, workplaces, schools, religious organizations, and civic centers host observances and remembrance activities for their communities. These events can occur during the Week of Remembrance, which runs from the Sunday before Holocaust Remembrance Day (Yom Hashoah) through the following Sunday.”

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Holocaust Remembrance Day commemorates the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising on April 19, 1943. On that date—deliberately chosen because it was the eve of Passover that year–German forces were about to begin an operation to totally liquidate the ghetto. Earlier attempts in the previous fall and winter had been met with resistance, and although thousands of Jewish residents of the ghetto were deported and others were killed in fighting, the Nazis temporarily suspended transports. The renewal of the Nazi attempts to completely liquidate the ghetto was a signal for the Jews there to begin the uprising. Ultimately, the German forces razed the ghetto, and though they expected the fighting to continue for three days, it lasted for over a month. It was an important symbolic fight for Jews throughout occupied Europe. You can read more about it here.

Not all Jews were instantly transported to ghettos and concentration camps. Some hid, helped by others who brought them food and necessities, and who sometimes betrayed them, too. Anne Frank was one of many Jews who hid in secret place during the Holocaust. Most know about her life because of her famous diary, which was published after her death and has been read by millions throughout the world. In recent months, new information has been uncovered, including that she and her sister Margot most likely died in February, not March 1945. Information about her and her life can be found in many places, including the house itself, now a museum and educational center. Here is a link to the Anne Frank House .

Annefrank.org.uk is commemorating Anne Frank’s brief life by celebrating it with her words instead of a with a moment of silence.

“Instead of a one minute’s silence to commemorate the end of Anne Frank’s short life, we invite you to read out loud a one minute passage from Anne’s inspirational writing at any time on or after Tuesday 14th April.” You can find out more here. They ask participants to use the hashtag #notsilent.

This is one of my favorite passages:

“It’s a wonder I haven’t abandoned all my ideals, they seem so absurd and impractical. Yet I cling to them because I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart.
It’s utterly impossible for me to build my life on a foundation of chaos, suffering and death. I see the world being slowly transformed into a wilderness, I hear the approaching thunder that, one day, will destroy us too, I feel the suffering of millions. And yet, when I look up at the sky, I somehow feel that everything will change for the better, that this cruelty too shall end, that peace and tranquility will return once more.”

Anne Frank, July 15, 1944

We will never know if Anne would still have written these words after the horrors she witnessed and experienced at Bergen-Belsen before her death there in 1945. But as the passage makes clear, she knew of the horrors; she knew that all around her people were dying, along with the world she had known. While hiding in the Secret Annex, however, she also experienced on a daily basis, the kindness, goodness, and bravery of people who risked their lives and those of their families to help Anne and hers.

Choosing not to be silent can be dangerous, but when possible, it can bring enormous good. Humans have an almost infinite capacity for evil, but I like to think we have the same capacity to be kind. When cruelty and evil can be documented and exposed in cell phone videos, Internet campaigns, and newspaper articles and editorials, it is a good thing, and it’s very different from spreading gossip about people or events. Sharing Anne Frank’s words might not do any tangible good, but hearing and reading her words may inspire others to believe in goodness, and they may demonstrate that though this intelligent, vibrant young woman was destroyed, her spirit lives on. April is also National Poetry Month, and it is a time to celebrate the wonders of human creativity and emotion. We know that even in the concentration camps, some people–against all odds, it seems to me–continued to write, to create art, sing, and play music.

April can be cruel; so can the other months of the year. I choose to see its beauty, the buds on the tree, the sweetly blooming flowers, and the poetry and music of life.

Buds appearing on our old oak tree, April 2015.

Buds appearing on our old oak tree, April 2015.


Under Construction


“The whole difference between construction and creation is exactly this: that a thing constructed can only be loved after it is constructed; but a thing created is loved before it exists.”

Charles Dickens


 I’ve been thinking about construction, construction in its many guises. For the past few weeks, we’ve been in the process of having our bathroom remodeled. It’s the only bathroom in our house, so we’ve put it off and put it off for many years, but it was finally time—the tub was leaking, and the massive amounts of caulking that my husband and a contract applied was merely a Band-Aid, a temporary bandage covering a serious wound. We’ve lived in this house for about 26 years, and the bathroom was old then. Over the years, we (“we” meaning my husband) replaced bits and pieces—the toilet, the window—and painted, papered, and trimmed, but it was time to finally get rid of that avocado green tub–and the tile that had also seen better days.

Since I work from home, usually in the kitchen, which is located below our second floor bathroom, I’ve been writing to the rhythm of hammers and drills, the insistent clatter of tools and equipment, and the sounds of classic rock drifting down from the bathroom  (“Sing us a song, you’re the piano man. . .”). I got used to it, as did the cats, who ran to hide in the basement and under dressers, as soon as the men appeared each day, and padded out cautiously to find me when the men left the house.

ImageYes this had to go.


The men who did the work were considerate, and they did a great job. I am not complaining about them. Construction is messy and dirty, and it takes time. And I think that is true of all types of construction. Writing, for example.

As the men worked, I was finishing the manuscript for a new book, a Cultural Encyclopedia of the Breast (AltaMira Press). With books and papers piled precariously around me, I read and revised entries, finished writing others, sent out consent forms to contributors, and worked on all the extra bits: the acknowledgements, the introduction, the bibliography. I was creating and constructing, although the product remains within my computer and everything connected with it is now sent electronically.

Although books remain books, and the creative process—or in my case, the creative chaos—remains the same, the actual writing process, and the printing and physical construction of books has changed significantly since I wrote my first book, Breaking the Bonds: Marital Discord in Pennsylvania, 1730-1830. I remember the hours my husband and I spent printing out the pages, reprinting pages after finding a mistake, going out to buy more ink cartridges, and then having to mail the whole manuscript. Page proofs also arrived by mail, and then they had to be mail back to the press. I was always afraid they would not arrive.

Now, I send all of my work electronically, and page proofs are also sent to me in that format. It is so much easier!

It is simple to romanticize the writer, pen—quill pen!—in hand, scrawling lines across the page, crossing out words, and re-writing. It is fascinating to be able to look back the words of writers of the past and see how their thoughts and words changed in revisions. I was reminded of this recently by the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address. President Abraham Lincoln wrote several version of the address, and experts say he also improvised as he delivered it. (Here is an interactive exhibit: http://www.google.com/culturalinstitute/entity/%2Fm%2F037yx?v.filter=exhibits .)

Scholars have analyzed scraps of paper left by Emily Dickinson and manuscripts in William Shakespeare’s hand, as well as the work of other writers of the past in order to better understand their creative processes—and how they constructed their works of art.

As wonderful and sometimes awe-inspiring as this is, it is still romanticizing a process. Would Shakespeare or Dickinson have preferred to write on a computer? We’ll never know, although I can picture Will sitting in the local tavern iPad before him.  Colonial Americans made ink out of all sorts of ingredients, including wine. Ink, pens, and paper were difficult for many people to get, and it is difficult to write by candle light. The effort of Solomon Northup, an African-American man who was kidnapped and sold into slavery in the nineteenth-century American South, to write a letter by making his own ink and pen is dramatized in the movie, Twelve Years a Slave. In his memoir, Northup describes using a duck feather and ink made by boiling white maple bark.

             Handwritten records with scratched-out lines and re-written phrases are mostly now relics of the past, as writers work on computers and constantly edit their words. Yet, I know I am a better writer because I can write and rewrite with ease. Although I received good grades as an undergraduate, I think back on my writing at that time, and I cringe. It was too difficult for me to retype papers on my typewriter. One mistake meant a whole page had to be re-typed, and then mostly likely, the next page as well. “White-out” only worked if you caught a mistake as you were typing, or if you only had to replace a letter or two. Of course, I corrected obvious errors and typos, but other than that, I rarely rewrote.

            There is good construction and bad construction, and both might begin with the same tools and processes. 

BU005294 BU004372

The bathroom construction is finished. (YAY!) My book manuscript has been sent to my editor. The talk I constructed based on my History of American Cooking went well; however, I suppose I am still working on the construction of my public persona. That will be an on-going process with blueprints that must be updated daily. I’m not certain I loved any of these creations, but Dickens is correct that I could not love the constructions until they were completed. I will be excited to see a Cultural Encyclopedia of the Breast in print—and I hope I love it.

Coming soon—my construction of Thanksgiving and Hanukkah dinners. The creative process is in full swing–and I do love it.

            Happy constructing, everyone, and thanks for reading.