Birthdays are Milestones to Celebrate

Stephen and Tasha bday 2        When I was a child there was a game called musical chairs that was often played at birthday parties. Enough chairs minus one, to represent the number of children present were placed in one or two rows and as a tune was played on the phonograph, participants marched or scurried around them. When the music stopped you had to find a seat. One chair was removed each time until by the end the winner was the person who sat in the remaining chair. I disliked the game intensely. I wasn’t an aggressive child and often lost out early. I hope it has fallen out of fashion. We never played it when my children were growing up.

When the games are enjoyable, birthday parties can be lots of fun. Our country is about to celebrate another birthday and so is my husband Stephen. His mother didn’t quite make it to the 4th so his is the 3rd. We always have a party and invite friends to come share in our celebration. In addition we usually take the entire week off. We avoid housework except for what is truly necessary like laundry, cooking and shopping. We also take the week as a time to get away from ongoing writing projects and seek out things to do for fun. Occasionally we go to movies or interesting restaurants, sometimes we revisit places we’ve lived and take a walk together down memory lane;.

The birthday of our country is a grand occasion throughout the United States, with concerts, fireworks, and gatherings as well as parades. I lived once in a town that had a big parade every 4th and every year to my family’s delight it marched down our street and past our door. We were able to sit on our front lawn in folding chairs and watch the marchers, the bands and the floats pass by. Later in the day that same town also later held games and races for the children, and there would often be a carnival to enliven the festivities as well.

Called Independence Day, the birthday of the USA was first celebrated on July 4 1777 in Philadelphia with bells, bonfires and fireworks. The glorious 4th is also an occasion for political speeches and posturing as various politicians seek to gather votes and voters with an eye to the elections in the fall. Orations by Daniel Webster, john Quincy Adams and many others throughout our history have enlivened the day. I can remember picnics by the beach and local politicians enlivening the air with their promises and/or excuses.

Celebrating birthdays whether one’s own or that of someone else is fun. It’s important to mark the milestones in one’s life with special emphasis. The older we get, the longer we live and the greater the achievement in doing so. However if I don’t take care of myself on the way to my milestones, once they have accumulated I may regret it if my health has deteriorated. It’s important that Stephen and I get enough exercise, eat foods that are healthy and nourishing, and make sure we have enough sleep. That way we really have something to celebrate every year when our birthdays come around.

Celebrating Special Days with Special Treats

Cake imageThe joyful birthday of our country on July fourth happens to be right next to and between my husband Stephen’ birthday on the third and our wedding anniversary on the fifth. Over the many years of our life together what a wonderful time we have had with our celebrations. In the past we would share what we used to call our three days of peace and love with friends. They would come from everywhere and stay for the three days, overflowing our large home and even camping in the back yard. The pool and the hot tub were frequently in use. They were joyous occasions.

Today we live more quietly, yet we still celebrate and have friends in to join us, though not so many or for so long. Special recipes are always fun to share for these occasions. One of Stephen’s favorites is a cake made with Almond paste or Marzipan. The main ingredient can be purchased at almost any market. This cake is not the kind to be frosted however you could also decorate it with fruit. In my case if I decide to make it this year I might spell out Happy Birthday Stephen with pieces of strawberry.

Marzipan Cake for Special Occasions

Preheat oven to 325

Grease and flour, or grease and line with parchment an 8″ round cake pan.

Ingredients:

7 or 8 oz almond paste or marzipan

¾ cups butter

2/3 cups sugar

3 large eggs, beaten

¼ teaspoon almond extract

¼ tsp baking powder

1/3 cup all purpose flour

Method: Crumble almond paste into bowl. Add butter. Beat well until blended. Gradually add sugar and beat well until mixture is light in color and texture. Add beaten eggs, continue beating for 3 minutes. Add flavoring. Sprinkle in baking powder by pinches. Fold in flower. Scrape batter into prepared baking pan. Bake 35 to 40 minutes, until firm and browned on top, and a toothpick comes out clean. Let cool 10 minutes on a rack. Slide a thin knife around and under the cake to detach from pan. Invert on rack then turn right side up and finish cooling. Sprinkle with powdered sugar if desired.

This cake is a wonderful treat, and can easily be made gluten free by using a flour mix from Bob’s Red Mill or another one you might like. It really helps to have a mixer, as it would be very labor intensive to mix it by hand, though it would also be excellent exercise. Whether I make this recipe or another I am fond of, I know I will enjoy celebrating these special days.

Recipes for Summer Celebration

Beach Reflections

While I was growing up, I don’t remember my dad cooking out or grilling food. It wasn’t as popular when I was growing up as it is today. One reason may have been that the average husband usually didn’t cook anything. It is also true at least according to my mother that my father burnt everything he tried to cook. Having grown up in post World War I Germany when food was scarce and precious, she was rather fierce about not wasting food.

While I appreciate others’ barbecues, I am not one to cook out. My parents didn’t go camping, and I was never part of any organization that did so I didn’t grow up with it. When I had one, I used to make hamburgers on the outdoor grill but then I read that charred meat wasn’t all that healthy, so I bought an indoor grill and have been perfectly satisfied to use it.

The 4th of July and other summer celebrations are traditionally organized around salads, grilled meats or fish and fruit, baked, or frozen desserts. Central to many of these feasts are potato salad and coleslaw. While it is easy to purchase these from the deli counter, it is also quite simple to make them. I enjoy preparing my own food, and it is my pleasure to create meals for friends. Also I confess to being fond of my own cooking. Over time, I have perfected certain useful recipes.

One of these is an easy to make dressing that is a wonderful substitute for mayonnaise. Not only tasty, it is also, for those of us who are watching them, lower in calories. The recipe, adapted from my 1945 Fanny Farmer Cookbook’ Boiled Dressing, is simple. I call it Instead of Mayonnaise. Mix these dry ingredients: 2 teaspoons sugar, 2 Tablespoons flour, 1/2 teaspoon mustard powder, 1/4 teaspoon salt. Combine and beat together these liquid ingredients: 1 egg, 2 Tablespoons (good) olive oil, 3/4 cup dairy or non dairy milk, 2 Tablespoons vinegar or lemon juice.

Combine everything in a small pot and stir together, then whisk until well blended without lumps. Cook and stir over medium heat until it thickens nicely. This should take about 5 to 8 minutes at most. Cool before using. If stored for any length of time it may separate. Simply stir well and it will be fine. It is excellent with coleslaw. My recipe to serve 4 to 6 is 6 cups shredded cabbage, 1 1/2 cups shredded carrot, 1/4 minced or shredded medium onion, and if you want a colorful salad, add 1 or two cups shredded red cabbage.

Mix all together well, add salt, pepper, and either stop there or add any of these: 2 Tablespoons poppy seeds, 1/2 to 1 cup white or dark raisins, 1/2 cup dried or fresh or canned pineapple, 2 Tablespoons caraway seeds, 1 Tablespoon or more fresh dill 1 Tablespoon ground garlic. Mix with sufficient dressing and serve. I usually add 2 Tablespoons honey mustard dressing and 1 Tablespoon horseradish sauce. This dressing also works well for potato salad, in which case combine with chopped cooked potato, freshly chopped celery and onion, and chopped parsley. Potato salad is also tasty combined warm with olive oil and vinegar and your choice of the above. Serve warm or cold. Bon Appetite!

Tasha Halpert

 

 

Spring Has Truly Sprung

Spring blossoms, white          When I was a child in grade school, each year our music teacher organized May Day celebrations. Every class participated, and a May Queen was selected from among the girls in the ninth, the topmost grade. The younger children had their own maypole. I found it hopelessly confusing. You had to go over one and under the next as you wound your ribbon around the pole, weaving it into the others until there was only a little left. After rehearsals, much to my relief I wasn’t chosen to do it.

There were dances and songs–I still have a printed paper program from then in a scrapbook made for me by a devoted relative. The songs were of British origin and invoked the days of “lasses and lads” who met and parted though the specifics were a mystery to my young mind. No one talked of the fertility symbols or the meaning behind the rituals centered around the day we were celebrating.

The first of May is the midpoint between the Vernal Equinox and the Summer Solstice. Nature is pushing forward. The increase of the light from now forward reflects the brightness of the days that begin their most obvious decline around the first of August. In the northern hemisphere there are many celebrations associated with this date. They reach far back in the history of humanity, symbolizing our connection with the earth and its fertility.

Most recent is of course the “May Day” workers’ celebrations of the former Soviet Union. My mother and I were in Moscow on that date twenty six years ago. I remember the colorful flags hanging everywhere, and the crowds of people in Red Square. However, from far back in human history, May Day has been one of the great spring celebrations of Europe and the British Isles. It is associated with fertility for both crops and farm animals, promoted through ancient rituals, many of which involved fire.

In these modern times we believe more in fertilizer than in fertility rituals. Few people these days will dance around a maypole–an obvious phallic symbol, or go off into the woods with a partner to insure that the fertility of land and pasture will continue. There is no need. Supermarkets are stocked all year round with almost every seasonal vegetable and fruit–no need to wait until June for strawberries or fall for apples. Those who have never experienced this timing cannot miss it, but in some ways I do.

Yesterday Stephen and I drove along a wooded country road in the sunshine. The light illuminated the unfolding blossoms of the trees clustered around it. The cloudless blue sky above and the sunlight filtering through the branches above us lifted our hearts and filled us with joy. Summer with its own delights is in the wings; spring is on the stage revealing its special beauty now. It seems important to take time to notice this delicate time of unfolding.

Peace At Christmas, by Tasha Halpert

Johnnys tree2Even as a small child I was aware of the chaos of war. During the second World War my mother’s parents were still in Germany. My mother had not heard from them for almost ten years. Finally when the American forces broke through, her parents were able to communicate. I watched her wrap packages with food, clothing, and other necessities. Although there was still chaos and difficulty in Germany, at least my mother’s heart was at peace.

My cousin who lived in Cuba in the forties endured strife growing up. She wrote me of how shots might ring out and everyone took cover. I grew up without any direct experience of this kind, and I was fortunate. Now it seems that no one in the USA is safe from warlike behavior. What can we do to combat the fear that has begun to pervade our once peaceful atmosphere? I believe that on one hand we can raise up our courage and refuse to be intimidated, and on the other that we can work for peace within our own lives, most especially now.

The words “Peace on Earth” resonate throughout our Christmas carols and scriptural messages, and even our Christmas cards. Yet to think about peace amidst the hectic shopping, baking, wrapping, mailing hustle bustle of the holidays seems difficult. However I can promote peace in small ways.

I can invite a friend to Christmas dinner, bake cookies for the kind man who takes care of my car, listen sympathetically to someone who needs an ear. I can hold the door for someone or the elevator, volunteer to be of help where help is needed. Equally important, I can nurture peace in myself through meditation, eat well for a peaceful stomach, and of course, get enough sleep.

Taking time for myself is vital to my sense of peace. Remembering to breathe deeply, especially during a nature walk helps me feel peaceful. So does hugging a tree. When I am on my feet a lot I take fifteen minutes to lie on my bed with my legs straight up against the wall. This feels wonderful and it pacifies my body. When I feel more peaceful within myself, I influence the atmosphere around me to harmonize with my peacefulness.

I can talk all I want about the need for peace and the lack of it in the world, and that will change nothing. Alternatively I can set about making peace myself, promoting peace in my own way. I can be of service in the cause of peace. While I cannot influence nations or even large groups of people, I can be of help in small ways and thus help make peace.

There is a story about monkeys on an island learning to wash their food. When enough monkeys did that, those on neighboring islands began doing the same. There was no communication between them yet they were influenced. When we are peaceful within ourselves we help others to become more peaceful. When I work for peace in my own life, I am also working to bring peace in the world around me, and perhaps, who knows it may even spread out from there.

Celebrating Birthdays by Tasha Halpert

Celebrating Birthdays

When I was little I looked forward to my birthday. Rarely there was a party with friends, more often it was celebrated quietly within the family. This was probably just as well. I clearly remember the embarrassment I suffered at my twelfth birthday party. There were two small nude statues displayed on our living room bookcase. They were by my mother who was an artist and sculptor. These created a small sensation among my invited classmates who pointed and giggled, looking at me strangely. To me they were simply statues.

My dear parents were more sophisticated than my friends’ parents. My mother played in a civic symphony; my father was in a local theater group. They didn’t talk about sports, discuss politics, or participate in the kinds of activities my classmates’ parents did. My days were spent either by myself or with adults. I welcomed the idea of growing up. Every birthday was a step in that direction.

My husband Stephen celebrates his birthday the day before the 4th of July, and we celebrate our anniversary the day afterward. This makes for a grand celebration for us, taking place over all three days. We will have enjoyed doing this now for thirty five years of marriage. Born so close to the birthday of the USA, and being an independent person himself, Stephen feels connected to the celebration of independence that it signifies.

For myself I enjoy celebrations of all kinds. Birthdays are a wonderful opportunity for this. Over the years making up for all the parties I never had, we have enjoyed commemorating both his and my birthdays with friends. I also enjoy sending cards and even making telephone calls to sing happy birthday to special people on their day. The internet provides wonderful animated cards that cost little or nothing. Sadly some people either can’t or do not wish to open them. It always makes me happy when they do.

The birthday of our country is an important one to celebrate. Despite our faults we have been generous and supportive to many. While our growing pains have sometimes been severe, we have in the long run achieved much as we have grown. By European standards we are a very young country. There are churches all over Europe that are over a thousand years old. Nothing in this country even comes close to that. Being a young country, like any other gawky adolescent we could perhaps be excused for some of our clumsiest actions.

Whether one is a person or a country, it is impossible to grow without making mistakes. The important things is to learn from one’s mistakes, and also to be forgiving of whatever stumbles have been made in the process. The acknowledgement of oneself as a person who lives and thrives makes a statement concerning oneself. To have a birthday is to have survived another year of ups and downs, of trials and triumphs, and of defeats and victories. This alone is a cause for celebration.

Sydney's Party Blowing out the candles

Conveying Love

Selfi with art 4The stores are filled with red and white decorations, candy and gifts labeled for Valentines’ Day. The newspapers overflow with ads for various ways to express one’s fond affection on this day dedicated to lovers and those who love–whether romantically or otherwise. There are cards galore for any and everyone on your “fond of” list, and the internet also has plenty of humorous to mushy cards to be sent out to anyone with the ability to receive them.

Once it was difficult to convey one’s love on Valentine’s or any day except in person. Several centuries ago, when a loved one set out on a journey, most especially across an ocean, months, possibly years might elapse before they would be reunited. Letters took weeks, even months, if at all to arrive. The postal service was not organized until the 1840s when stamps were first issued.

We take the telephone call for granted. However, universal telephone service only began in the 1880s, and coast to coast long distance was not available until 1915. Not until 1927 could telephone calls be made overseas, though telegraph service was available. Twenty five years ago my daughter living in Africa and I found it necessary correspond for the most part by mail. Phone calls were expensive and unless she was home, pointless as a result of language barriers with those working for her.

Children born in the last decade have absolutely no concept of a time when communication was not instantaneous. Once the Dick Tracy two way wrist radio was a cartoon fantasy. Now there is a wrist radio that acts with your cell phone for two way communication. Until fairly recently, face to face communication on the computer, known as Skype did not exist.

The ubiquitous cell phone, first available 1983, was still fairly rare even in the early nineties. I know I didn’t have one back then, and people who did were considered quite trendy. Camera phones came into use in the last decade. Does it seem that short a time ago? It seems no time at all to me. Once something is present in our lives it is not easy to remember when we didn’t have it.

While Valentines’ day was celebrated in Europe from the 14th century on in a variety of ways, the actual Valentine card began in England at the very end of the 18th century. If you wanted to convey your affection with a card, according to Wikepedia, the first Valentines were generally available in Europe just prior to 1800, and in the USA in 1847.

Today Internet cards are often sent instead of paper ones. However, it really doesn’t matter how our love is conveyed or what method is used to share it. To paraphrase the words of a dear friend of mine, “Miles may separate us, but in our hearts we are no further away than a thought.” There is no postage or fee of any kind for this Valentine expression.

Words and Photo by Tasha Halpert