The African Violet


I bought the African violet
because it reminded me of my
There was always something
on the kitchen windowsill.
A violet.
Beans sprouting on a saucer.
An avocado pit in water.
She was always
Helping things grow.
When I bought this
it was purple.
I’m sure of it.
Its single bloom
a deep hue
against the furry green leaves.
I smile every
time I look at it.
I remember her
sunny kitchen.
Afternoons baking.
Or weeding in the
I’ve always loved weeding.
Grabbing the encroaching
by its neck and
yanking it out.
The key is to use a
single tug.
Make sure the
root comes out too.
Monotonous, satisfying work.
The purple petals wilted.
Fell off the plant.
The leaves stayed
green and healthy.
I watered when
I remembered.
This bloom is
white, tinged with purple.
Still an African violet.
I smile when I look
at it.
I keep it close.
It reminds me of
my Grandmother.

This post was inspired by the prompt “Seeds” and written today in an online writing group with the magnificent Jena Schwartz. Jena encouraged me to play with line breaks: “No matter what words come, follow them to wherever they wish to be planted.” 

What Life Does

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This is what life does. It gives you four children, spread over eight years, and you wonder how you got yourself into this mess and if you’ll ever, ever get out of it and you pray to G-d to clean it up so that you can take a small break, just a breath really every so often, not even that often, but enough to take in small sips of quiet air untarnished by squeaky cries of “mommy mommy mommy…” And then one day you realize you don’t want it to be clean. You look up from the apple you’re slicing – “with cinnamon please Mom” – and see four faces, so different yet all undeniably yours, and you not-so-suddenly but very, very completely understand how much you love this mess that’s yours and oh please G-d keep me in it, just like this: slicing apples, spilling milk, “Don’t hit your brother,” school lunches and a new pair of shoes every other week.

This is what life does. It gives you a friend who gives you a mug. Olive green and cream, monogrammed with a swirly lower-case burgundy ‘n.’ It’s slightly rounded in the center and a little larger than usual, and is the perfect size and shape for holding in your two hands. You drink tea from it every single day, and every day you marvel at how she knew you always wanted that mug. Even though you never told her.

This is what life does. It wakes you with an alarm that sounds like loud crickets chirping in your ear. Rude. It’s still dark outside and you wonder, not for the first time, if you are certifiably crazy. It’s 5am and if you hurry you can make it to the supermarket and get your grocery shopping done before your 6am workout. That is crazy. But doable. And no fight for parking. It gets you in a dark, candle-lit spin studio with ten other women way before the sun rises and there is something warrior-like and badass about it. Maybe it’s not so crazy. The spin instructor is the perfect amount of inspiring and kick-your-butt and she urges you to “take ease in the recovery” and to appreciate what it means to “endure instead of push ahead or back off.” These are wise, essential words to hear at 6am… or any time.

This is what life does. It makes you smile and remember your grandmother whom you loved with all your heart. She was the only gran you knew who said “shit” and she let you stroke the soft, crinkly skin under her neck. She wrote you quirky, amusing letters which she would fax to you across the miles. Her fish ball recipe is included in one. You make them a few times but they will never taste as good as hers. Nothing will. And that’s okay. Life gives you memories of Granny Mary’s ginger cake and long, meandering walks with her on the beach, collecting shells. And a blanket that is over 20 years old crocheted by her long and knobbly fingers, the ones that look exactly like yours.

This is what life does. It hands you a book and says, “Read this!” So you do, and you are lost in the world of its words and images and characters and story, and reading is easily your greatest and simplest pleasure. You never want it to end and you hope that one day you will write a book that people will love to read as much as you love to write.

This is what life does. It holds you in a time zone on the other side of the world, far far away from the ones that you love. And no matter how hard you try to catch up to the time difference between you, it’s always too early or too late and days and then weeks go by without hearing her voice and your one urgent hope is that you get to talk to each other before the baby’s born.

This is what life does. It draws you to the scale day after day, weighing and measuring and calculating BMI and body fat percentage, and did the red wine and dark chocolate last night show up on your hips this morning. And what if it did? Would that be so terrible? And you know without a doubt that it would. It would be terrible. And the next morning you step on the scale again.

This is what life does. It presents you with every possible opportunity, affords you luxuries you take for granted like water and electricity and soap and Internet on-demand and TV and a car and easy access to any food you want and and and. And it gives others nothing. And when things go wrong for you, you say #fwp (first world problems) and feel bad and uncomfortable for having when most of the world does not.

This is what life does. It gives you a page and you write 800 words on it and you want so much to make a difference in the lives of thousands but all you can really do is make a difference in your own.

Inspired by the poem “Starfish” by Eleanor Lerman and by the prompt “What Life Does” by Linda Schreyer.

More Than A Smudge Of Flour


Her robe was fuzzy and peach in color. It reached all the way down to her ankles, and the long sleeves sat just above her wrists. She would fasten the pearly buttons haphazardly, missing a few here and there, and it always sat slightly skew on her shoulders. With her curly, brown hair still unbrushed, her glasses slipping down her nose, and her feet wrapped in her favorite slippers she looked like a nutty professor who’d just this minute leapt out of bed.

It took a few presses of the doorbell before she answered.

“Hi Gran! Where were you?” Our voices were loud and happy with afterschool relief and love for our Gran, as our eyes took in the well-worn and familiar peach robe. There was a smudge of flour on her cheek.

“Sorry my darlings, I didn’t hear the bell above the noise of the mixer. I’m baking biscuits.”

Always. She was always baking something. Biscuits. Ginger cake. Her famous bulkes (Jewish cinnamon buns). Or trying a new challah recipe.

For the first 24 years of my life, we spent every Shabbat dinner with my Gran and extended family, in a weekly rotation between our house, my cousins’ and my grandmother’s. Those were wonderful family gatherings of gatherings and tradition, laughter, stories, jokes and arguments heated discussions. And yummy food.

My mother’s chopped liver. Gran’s fried fish balls. My aunt’s youngberry tart. Specific dishes of wistful deliciousness that taste of nostalgia every time I try to replicate them.

Sometimes my Gran made challah when she hosted Shabbat dinner. She didn’t have a signature recipe but no matter which one she used (and most of the time I think she did her own thing, she wasn’t one to follow measurements and instructions) her challah was always fabulous. Sweet but not too sweet. Yeasty and cake-like and braided to perfection. Always a treat to have homemade challah, made with love and what I now know to be a lot of effort, on Shabbat.


This morning I wake up extra early, hoping to get into the kitchen and prepare the challah dough for its first rise before the kids and their breakfast clutter the counter. But one son is already toasting his waffles and I can hear his siblings not far behind.

With my gray robe belted tight against the chilly morning fog, I set the tin of flour on the counter. Running out of time. Why am I doing this? The kosher bakery down the street sells great challah, perfectly braided and baked and all I’d have to negotiate is a parking space.

Instead I am navigating four hungry and bickering children, boxes of cereal, spilled milk, and countless reminders from me to “Hurry up” in between the multiple cups of flour I had long ago lost track of for my homemade challah. Why indeed?

“Are you making challah, Mom?” one surprisingly observant child asks. “Yep,” I mutter, trying to remember if I’ve mixed in four or five cups by now because six cups will definitely be too many but four cups is undoubtedly not enough.

The dough is too sticky and it clings to the mixing bowl, the counter top and my fingers as I try to move it into a bigger bowl with room to grow. What a mess.

I look up at him for a brief second, and catch his smile as I say yes. He loves warm, fragrant homemade challah. Suddenly I am happy to be making it. It’s messy and inconvenient and I always make it when I’m in a rush and too busy to give it the time and attention it deserves.

But as chaotic as these mornings are in the kitchen before he leaves for school, perhaps his future self will remember his mom making challah in her robe on foggy Friday mornings. Perhaps he’ll longingly taste these Shabbat memories when he blesses the challah in years to come. Or maybe he’ll ask me to email him my recipe so he can make it himself.

I will never be sure if it’s four or five cups of flour.

The dough is finally ready to rise and I leave it sitting in the bowl, covered with a damp dishtowel for protection.

I glance in the mirror on my way up the stairs.

And notice the smudge of flour on my cheek.

This is a Finish the Sentence Friday post, inspired by the prompt, “The chore I hate doing the most is…” Hosted by Kristi from Finding Ninee, Michelle (this week’s sentence thinker upper) from Crumpets and Bollocks and Jill from Ripped Jeans and Bifocals. Baking challah is obviously not the chore I hate doing the most (actually it’s not a chore at all, it’s a pleasure)… but it is the messiest!


Vintage Violet

Granny Nancy & Yisrael

Granny Nancy & Yisrael

Granny Nancy died nine days before I was born. She was my mother’s maternal granny, my great-granny, but she has always been Granny Nancy to all of us.

My mother was very close with her grandmother, and I imagine that must have been a terribly difficult and confusing time – to lose her beloved grandmother, while waiting for her first child to be born. My own Granny, my mother’s mother, died six weeks after my fourth child arrived. We had a close relationship too, and she had only ever seen my baby boy on Skype. So I have some sense of those very mixed-up feelings: pure joy at beholding this new life of love and potential, and impossible grief and mourning for the loss of a precious life ended.

Obviously my birthday is close to my Granny Nancy’s yahrzeit (the anniversary of the death of a loved one is commemorated in the Jewish tradition by lighting a special 24-hour candle and reciting a prayer. This day in our Gregorian calendar is not consistent from year to year, because it is observed according to the Hebrew calendar). In the 40 years since she died, her yahrzeit has not yet fallen on my birthday. This year it is two days before.

Granny Nancy did not meet her first great-grandchild. But I am named for her.

My own relationship to Granny Nancy is unique, special, fragile and very beautiful for me. She is both real and imaginary, created from photographs, mementos, stories and memories and alive in the sayings, mannerisms and hand gestures I absorbed from both my grandmother and my mother. The way we laugh. Or mutter something under our breath. The way we use our hands when telling a story.

My mother has Granny Nancy’s chair in her living room, and I have a tablecloth that belonged to her. I wore her beautiful heart pendant at my bat mitzvah and I am keeping it safe for Sage to wear at hers.

Granny Nancy’s yahrzeit is almost upon us and I know my mother is thinking about the decades that have passed without her special grandmother, and that her “baby” is turning 40 soon. I have been thinking about Granny Nancy too, but more about my own grandmother. The hours I spent with her, watching her sew, drinking tea from a saucer, helping her bake, trying to knit because she was knitting. We would laugh and laugh, do the crossword puzzle in the Fair Lady together, gossip about her friends and mine. She was always frying fish, and often had a fine dusting of flour on her cheek or down her pajamas. Before I left South Africa I bought her a red cardigan from Woolworths and she wore it all the time.

In an attempt to put technicolor pictures to my mind’s slightly fuzzy and jumbled memories, I went through old photographs. I adore this one of my Granny, my mother and me. I was her first grandchild and I am transfixed by the way she and my mom are looking at me with so much love.


Granny Mary, me, and my mom – circa 1975

And of course I noticed the old-fashioned furnishings, clothes, colors – Granny’s fabulous hot pink and white sheer shirt, the pearls, my mom’s straight dark hair. That pale pink petticoat lamp and the heavy ashtray on the nightstand. And I vividly remember the pale violet bedspread I am sitting on in my parents’ bedroom. Vintage treasures. Like my memories. And my connections to my grandmothers.



Vintage Violet by OPI

Vintage Violet by OPI

This post was written as part of the April A to Z Challenge. To read more of my A to Z posts click here.