Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas! For your perusal, I present two poems


Old thrones wear out under the weight of God.
As I pick out rosewood and ebony
From which to craft the new – I’ll inlay it
With precious gold and pearl – I cast my eyes
Down in the Lord’s presence and peer toward Earth
Through shrouds of nimbus clouds like shorn sheep’s wool
And see the tableaux that display the Birth.
Nubian angels trip on nightgown lace
And lose their feathered wings from off their backs.
Young bath-robed Magi bring the Christ Child gifts.
Blond kindergarten cherubs’ halos slip.
The cardboard oxen low, the Baby hears.

The programs name the Babe the Son of God.
They’re wrong. He was my son. My bones said so.
I didn’t heed what angel messengers
Told Mary in her dreams. When He was born
I felt a plumb, square pride, a smooth-planed love.
The shepherds tried to touch the raveled hem
Of His comfort. And I too felt His strength
Each time I rocked or corned Him fast asleep.
I shooed away the asses, goats and lambs.
I chose not to see the Wise Men bring gifts
Of gold and frankincense and myrrh. Instead
I heard their warnings and we fled Herod.

In Nazareth I raised him as my own.
I showed him how to wield an axe to fell
A tree – eventually to become a cross?
We played catch in the yard when I had time
And fished for trout on Galilee’s green banks.
I spanked him hard the time he stayed behind
To argue dogma in Jerusalem.

But thrones wear out. God calls. I’ve got my task.
No time to bore you with my memories.
He was my son. I knew it in my bones.


I was an ordinary Jewish girl
Who tried to run away to hide the shame
I felt. How could I blame God as my feet
Swelled up and body bulged? Could I point
My finger and accuse Him? Despite the
Angelic hosts and voices in my dreams,
Despite the myriad Be-not-afraid’s,
I had a time explaining it to Mom,
Let alone Joseph. Then Jesus was born.

God! I was weak. Gods are not easy births.
Resentment faded fast. I just felt proud.
Joseph stood beside me at the inn.
The chaos in that stable frightened me.
All those strangers crowing in to see
The Baby in the manger where He lay.
The middle Magus – Caspar? I forget –
Kept sneezing from the hay, an allergy
I think. I didn’t know what to say to them.
“Have a drink of water?”
“Look out, shepherd,
Your goat almost stepped on His face. Get back”?

The magi brought us four gifts, not just three
Of gold and frankincense and myrrh. They gave
Us warning of King Herod’s wrath, and told
Us, “Go away to Egypt! Save your Son!”
That irony is not now lost on me.
We left the stable, shepherds, oxen, all
The warmth that I had grown accustomed to
And off we flew to Egypt.

My story
Of his birth contains no heavenly choirs.
I was an ordinary Jewish girl
Whose Son’s divinity was thrust on me.

© WDMoser. Printed with permission. No part of this poem may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means without written permission from the author.

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Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Christmas Letter

I am fascinated by Christmas letters – in the same manner that a snake fascinates a hare. I love to read them and at the same time I am a little repulsed by them. Too often they are brag letters or organ recitals. I want to know that people are healthy or ill, but I don’t want to hear about every incision or stitch, every frozen slide made from shaved tissue. I don’t want to know about all the relatives and friends I never heard of.

But I have no qualms about putting any of these topics in my own Christmas letter. I often wrote one in the past and included it in the myriad Christmas cards we’re still writing. This year, I included cards with this weblog address. Here goes:

January: We escaped the cold of Chicago and went to London for a week. There it was early spring, with daffodils blooming and cyclamen and geraniums blooming in window boxes. We were able to visit with our friend Tim, and we visited Ann’s distant cousin Jean in Nottingham, who became in the wink of an eye Ann’s English Mum. On the morning it snowed, the headlines read: London Paralyzed by Inch of Snow. Ha!

February and March: At the end of February we joined our travel buddies Ted and Carol in Buenos Aires for a couple of days before we got on a cruise ship for a trip around the horn and up the coast to Valparaiso, Chile. The highlight of Buenos Aires, in addition to Evita’s tomb, was a Tango Diner at the Taconeando, a local joint where we were the only English speakers. Way double plus cool.

We visited the Falkland Islands, Las Malvinas to Argentines, saw a penguin rookery – in a desert not an ice floe – went to the southernmost city in the southern hemisphere, visited a Bavarian expatriate community in Chile, and had a great time with Ted and Carol.

April: I had minor surgery and everything is fine.

May. Grandson David graduated from high school. Son Derek graduated from Veterinary College at the University of Illinois and moved to an internship in Denver.

June: Ann went on a skipper (a type of butterfly) and butterfly census sponsored by the University of Illinois, in western Illinois with friend Julie for a few days. When she came back, I went to Vermont to the Clockhouse Writers’ Conference at Goddard College and came back refreshed, reinvigorated, and ready to write.

July: I went to Port Townsend, Washington, to a writers’ conference, made new friends, and fell in love with the Northwest, and came back refreshed, reinvigorated and ready to write.

August: We went to Oregon to visit travel buddies Ted and Carol. We have made five major overseas trips together but had never visited each other’s houses. We had a great time.

September: David started college in Wisconsin and Jonathan became a sophomore at the local high school, where he produces his own radio show on the school’s FM station. The geriatric symphony season also started. We are some of the youngest people at the Friday afternoon concerts, and some of the few who don’t take very expensive naps. The opera season also started and we met for dinner with the people who sit behind me. (Ann doesn’t like the spectacle of opera, just the music, so she saves about a thousand bucks and stays home.)

October: A couple more operas, a symphony and Halloween. We stayed home and painted the guest room. Bill worked on a newsletter for his cousin Rochelle who owns a local restaurant, Flavor.

November: Ted and Carol returned our visit and came for ten days with a jaunt to Michigan to see their daughter, a professor in Ann Arbor. We had another great time and did all the tourist things we should have done in the last forty years but haven’t gotten around to.

December: Insurance finally paid the outpatiend surgery bill (not to be bitter, but for this we pay almost $15k per year?). Bill started a new blog based on the Episcopal Lectionary. It's at Bill's new blog.

Merry Christmas to all!

Our best wishes for a happy, healthy, and prosperous New Year for all of our friends, and those who wander through cyberspace and read this blog. May the next year bring peace in the world, a viable presidential candidate who is more interested in our nation than in lining his own pockets or consolidating his own power, and harmony within your family and yourself.

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Friday, December 14, 2007

Christmas Gifts

We don’t have many people we get Christmas gifts for, and most of the people, like us, don’t need much.

My niece in the Washington Beltway inherited a houseful of furniture from my parents, probably including silverware. That makes her hard to find things for, especially since we seldom see her. I did send her a present earlier this week. I took it to one of the we-pack-it stores and they packed it, shipped it, and gave me the tracking number, which I sent to her to make sure she knows it’s coming and arranges for it to be received.

My wife and I don’t need much that we don’t get for ourselves. My wallet went through the washing machine a couple of weeks ago, but I found a similar one at TJ Maxx for pretty cheap, although it cannot replace the one I bought in Venice about four years ago. The biggest damage was to photos, which are on the computer, and to a ten-ride ticket on the Metra, which takes us to the Loop. The conductors were accommodating and punched the remaining four rides when we went down on Tuesday so that wasn’t a problem. For the most part I like things I don’t have to dust or display. That isn’t the kind of thing I usually give however.

Because my wife and I both are painting watercolors lately, we’ve decided to get a couple things we could both use. That’s our “big” present, and it isn’t very big. The package is being shipped, according to a recent email, from dickblick.com as I write this, and should get here next week. I’ll wrap it and put it under the tree. And because we’re painting, we’re giving paintings for Christmas. A wise woman I know said that she doesn’t give her paintings, she lets recipients pick them out, and that’s what I think we’ll do this Christmas.

We decided to put up a tree this year, by the way, and invited our neighbors across the street for pumpkin soup and trimming. Sue did a great job. The tree is beautiful, twinkling away in our bay window. Packages lie under it. The only thing missing is someone to sleep there, and we may be able to arrange for a teenager to come in for that, too.

Speaking of, Grandson David called with his Christmas list from college last week. Among other things, he’d like a hoodie. We got him one when we were in Prague a couple of years ago, and he still wears it. We got him one for his birthday when we were in London this year, but he can always use another one, I suppose. We already decided on his present, and we’re getting the same thing for his brother Jonathan. We hope they like them. They aren’t watercolor paintings

We have a couple of other people we give, but the gifts are remembrances rather than important Gifts.

The gift I like most is Time. Time with other people for conversation. Time for building gingerbread houses with the grandsons (although they’re a little big for this now. Ha. No, a lot big), something I enjoy. Time spent on an “adventure” with our friend Theresa. One of her gifts of time was a tour of ethnic Catholic Churches in Chicago on Holy Saturday. That was fascinating, interesting, and fun. Time spent walking the dogs with friends, especially at the dog park, where I have a lot of my social life lately. Time running the dogs with me at the Dunes, especially during the winter when no other people or dogs are there. I love Lake Michigan at every stage, calm, thunderous, frozen. It’s always beautiful, and I always dress warmly enough in the winter.

One of the gifts I treasure most is Time at most-weekly Saturday breakfast with the grandson’s dad. We’ve become regulars and have our own waitress. We talk about the important issues of the day, at least the issues important to us, and friends and acquaintances stop by the table before Tim has to go to work and I go home to write blog entries.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Christmas Trees

We usually have a Christmas Tree Trimming Party. We use the time to get together with friends and neighbors, to try to catch up with them – and get someone else to decorate our Christmas tree.

We aren’t as manipulative as we sound. For several years after our son died we didn’t have a tree, we couldn’t even consider the thought of having a tree. Several years after Daniel's death, Friend Tim, whose parents died when he was in high school, told us we could be grandparents to his two boys, David and Jonathan. They were nine and six at the time, and they gave us a whole new attitude toward life – and toward Christmas. The year we became Grandparents was the first year we had a tree again.

We have accumulated Christmas ornaments over the last forty years, and most of them have some kind of memory we associate with them. We bought gilded seashells the year we spent Christmas in Hawaii when our son was little and his grandparents wanted him around. We just went along for the ride. Among the hundreds of ornaments we also have little felt dolls of the six wives of Henry VIII that we started collecting the year we took our son to England when he was about eight. We have construction paper stars with glitter glued on that Daniel made in kindergarten and glass balls from the Great Depression that were my wife’s aunt’s. I can't possibly list our ornaments.

Each ornament has a sentimental value and triggers a happy time from the past. But every happy memory carries a sadness that screams what might have been. I can put the tree up. I can put the lights on, although that also triggers memories of dealing with the lights when I lived at home: Christmas tree lights were not cheaply made in China then as they are today. The bulbs were bigger, and the oldest set we owned had gigantic bulbs with big bases strung on ancient silk-wrapped wires. They may well be in the Smithsonian today. If they aren’t, I wouldn’t be surprised that some very similar ones are.

My mother always bought the cheapest tree she could find, usually for less than a dollar, when the going rate was a lot more than that. Usually it looked fine leaning against a wall at the corner tree lot, but when we got it home, sawed off the base and put it in a water-filled tree stand, it usually had the same posture as a corkscrew. No matter which way we turned it, it wasn’t vertical. My father would have spent more for a nice tree, I am sure, but he couldn’t override my mother’s veto. And when it came to Christmas trees, somehow he didn’t have one.

Already frustrated, my engineer father would finally get the tree balanced enough to stand semi-upright and we would begin to play with the lights. I’d untangle them and stretch them out on the floor, and he would scream that I was going to step on them and break them. We wrote that script early in my high school life and as long as I helped with the tree and lights, the next eight or ten years, we never departed from it. Except I learned to swear as I grew older, something my dad never did.

Anyway, these days I can put the tree up and the lights on without flinching, but when it comes to putting on the ornaments, I dissolve. Thus, we ask friends to come to a party and decorate for us.

Last year’s party was especially fun because our Jewish friend Sue had never decorated a Christmas tree before. She went at the ornaments with such enthusiasm that she was a joy to watch. And I didn’t have to touch and remember the association with each one.

We haven’t thought yet about putting up a tree this year, and truthfully it’s early days. And we have been busy so we haven’t thought about having a party – a requirement in my mind for putting up a tree. It's probably too late to plan one.

This year, David is away at college, and Jonathan is a normal busy high school student with his own friends and interests. That is as it should be. But we seldom see David, and never see Jonathan often enough. We, of course, are proud grandparents and twice a day wouldn’t be often enough.

Will it be Christmas without a tree? We may find out.