Sweet Stars of Christmas: Haibun

Monday Morning Musings:

“I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach!”

–Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

 

On Christmas, I see the past, present, and future appear. Perhaps not as actual ghosts, but as memories, experiences, and wishes. As we decorate Christmas cookies, I think of all the times I did this with our daughters. My husband declares this is the first time he has ever frosted the cookies. Perhaps it’s true. My sugar cookies have stars with five points and stars with six points. They’re all equally sweet and delicious. The Hanukkah candles and the Christmas lights both glow in the winter darkness, symbolizing miracles and bringing hope. This year, I give one daughter Hanukkah presents with a Hello Kitty! Christmas card on Christmas Eve day, when we gather with my niece and her family. In the background, Christmas songs written by Jewish men softly play. We sit around a table in a room decorated for Christmas and discuss ancestors in Belarus and Ukraine, people who never celebrated this holiday.

How did they get here, my niece asks? How did they have the means to leave? When she was a girl, my father’s mother hid in a barn during a pogrom. Somehow, they—some of them–found the means to leave, and to come to a country where they were not persecuted for their religious beliefs and culture. Their ghosts appear briefly and stand around us. Perhaps they would not approve of these goyische celebrations, but I hope they’d sense the love. Here and now we eat and laugh together, even as we miss those no longer with us. We will miss our daughters on Christmas, and I will miss being awakened by hearing them sing “Christmas Time is Here” early in morning. But now on Christmas Eve, my husband and I drink mulled wine and watch It’s a Wonderful Life, and I think yes, it is.

 

ancient stars shimmer,

ghost light of winter’s hope

this scintillation

I’m linking this Monday Morning Musings to Frank Tassone’s Christmas Haiku challenge.

Wishing all of you a joyous holiday season filled with peace, hope, love, and laughter!

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Light in My Heart

Monday Morning Musings

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“I like on the table,

when we’re speaking,

the light of a bottle

of intelligent wine.

Drink it,

and remember in every

drop of gold,

in every topaz glass,

in every purple ladle,

that autumn labored

to fill the vessel with wine.”

Pablo Neruda, “Ode to Wine”

 

“Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.”

Desmond Tutu, New York Times, March 4, 2010

 

“Like Dian’s kiss, unasked, unsought,

Love gives itself, but is not bought:

Her voice, nor sound betrays

Its deep, impassioned gaze.”

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “Endymion”

 

My younger daughter told me it would be a birthday celebration

with her sister and her sister’s wife

(since they couldn’t be here for the one with my sisters)

a girls’ night, they’d devise

with the location to be kept unknown from me

a surprise.

 

We traveled down dark country roads,

my husband the designated driver,

I wondered where we were going,

But when we pulled into the Monroeville Winery driveway

I began to suspect this was going to be something more

than an evening with my daughters.

“Surprise!” my friends shouted,

as we walked through the door.

The tasting room was decorated for the holidays,

and for my birthday celebration, too,

the tables glowed with lights,

made by my daughter

from bottles the winery saved for her.

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I like light on the table,

the light of a bottle

(Intelligent wine?)

Hugs and kisses all around

(I felt like I walked above the ground.)

Greeting from friends–

some I hadn’t seen in quite a while—

and that made me smile,

I felt love

unasked for, unsought,

but freely given

(or so I hope).

There were delicious treats: cheeses and dips,

a huge chocolate, chocolate cake

with chocolate frosting, too,

(Have I mentioned I like chocolate?)

and wine, of course,

poured in the barrel room

where one could schmooze a bit

with the gracious vintner

about the various selections.

I was given my birthday crown,

and daughters performed a song parody–

All of the things I didn’t know they had done

when they were children

and that they were now sorry for

 

We did things we regret, like shaving the heads of our Barbies

Cause we need just one more shot at forgiveness

I know you know that we hid candy maybe once or twice

By once or twice I mean maybe until all the ants arrived

 

So now I know,

light in the darkness

and light in my heart.

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My 60th Birthday part at Monroeville Winery

 

We went to my niece’s house,

our traditional Christmas Eve brunch

my niece, a bit of a stressed-out mess

because we were meeting some of her

her father’s family for the first time

(it’s a long story)

“Classic family” and new family mingled

we ate

so much food

(of course)

and there were light sabers

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and cookies

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I baked a few cookies. This is a sample.

 

a Christmas challah

 

 

presents

 

and love

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and we lit her menorah before we left

and then she put it in her sink

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because she was afraid her house would burn down–

Crazy family,

I love them so much.

There was light in the darkness

and light in my heart.

 

We came home to light our own Hanukkah candles

and to decorate our Christmas tree

Merry, Happy Chrismukkah!

 

 

On Christmas morning,

dark, quiet, and still,

I saw the moon

radiant,

a crescent miracle of light

Jupiter and Saturn nearby,

shining brightly

and I felt hope in the darkness

and light in my heart.

 

We ate our traditional Christmas fondue

with Buffalo wings for the meat eaters.

We opened presents,

lit the Hanukkah candles,

and drank some wine,

drops of gold and sips of purple,

we told fart jokes and laughed

laughter and love

light in the darkness

and light in my heart

 

 

We will go to see my husband’s family

exchange hugs and presents,

and come home to fry latkes,

the house will smell like oil for days

lingering like memories,

but we will light the candles

and we will laugh

and there will be light in the darkness

and light in my heart.

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Fa La La: A Birthday Carol

Monday Morning Musings:

“Looking back, seeing far, landing right where we are

And oh, you’re aging, oh and I am aging,

Oh, aren’t we aging well?”

–Dar Williams, “You’re Aging Well”

 

“I am the ghost of Christmas Present,” said the Spirit. “Look upon me.”

–Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

 

On my sixtieth birthday, I wake,

and I feel fine,

the same as did when I was fifty-nine.

I’m Merril the same as I have always been

with the calm certainty that I am me,

and this is forever who I will be.

 

Celebrations take place over several days,

(like a Jewish holiday, you know)

each one with food and wine,

and I feel fine.

 

First my husband and I go to Monk’s Café

we’re bundled against the cold night

but still I appreciate the Christmas lights

as we scurry from our car to there

breathing bursts of frosty air

till we’re seated at a window table where we watch people

rushing and bustling, walking dogs of every size

we’re in a bit of a hurry,

as we have tickets to a show,

so we forego their famous mussels, but not the fries,

I have a glass of wine, and I feel fine.

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Pommes frite at Monk’s Cafe

 

The show is called The Carols,

set in a VFW Hall in New Jersey,

it’s 1944, the men are gone because of the war,

heartfelt, if not brilliant,

but their voices beautiful

much more than suitable,

there are Yiddish phrases and 1940’s slang.

We laugh though the jokes are old,

it’s kind of sweet, and we are sold,

the retelling of A Christmas Carol

with a Christmas brisket is very funny,

(and well worth the money),

and the Christmas tale, the Yiddish shtick,

the sister love, the examples of

reminds me of my family, too,

and all the silly things we do,

the ghosts of Christmases, past, present, and future

combine in memory,

aged in my mind, and I feel fine.

 

 

The next night, my husband and I see La La Land

like an old-fashioned musical

the stars sing and dance amidst the stars,

there is jazz and heartbreak,

snappy rhythms, and we hear the beat,

not of Forty-Second Street,

but of Los Angeles,

City of Angels, City of Stars

shining just for them.

We discuss the movie over Indian food,

I am in complete movie musical mood,

So when my husband says, “It was a Merril movie,”

he is right, and I feel fine.

(And the onion bhajia are divine.)

 

Another celebration, another day,

with one daughter and sisters,

more food and wine,

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more talk and laughter,

and it could go on forever after.

One sister brings some funny headwear,

and we take photos in the restaurant,

when I try on a hat

another says,

“You look so cute. Like a pirate. A pirate baker.”

We laugh because it’s all so silly,

but in these uncertain times, we run willy-nilly

and seek shelter in our love and family jokes,

these are the people I love, my folks,

and they give me the gift of their time–

and cheese, and chocolate, and some wine,

and yes, indeed, I do feel fine.

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At Tria Cafe Rittenhouse for my 60th birthday celebration.

 

Afterwards, my daughter and I walk to the Christmas Village,

she’s not seen it, and she snaps a selfie

with us in our silly hats–

and I think we’re wealthy,

my daughter and I to share this love and bond

that goes so far, and much beyond,

and later I read the poem she has written me,

cry a bit, at the beauty

of feelings that she has, and lets me see.

 

 

My other daughter sends me a text

that the end of the Sound of Music seems too real,

and it makes me sad to hear such fear,

and though we must fight, and though we ache,

still, there’s much to celebrate,

to climb every mountain and ford every spring

to find our dreams,

yet I think we are right where we are

and we are aging well,

though only time will tell.

And so, with family and friends,

I’ll hold on to love,

I’ll fit it closely like a glove,

and stare defiantly at fate,

raise a glass of blood-red wine

and tell the world, that I feel fine.

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Birthday card

 

It is rumored that more celebrating is on the way, so stay tuned!

Here is Dar Williams singing  “You’re Aging Well.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

December Celebrations: Warm and Cold

Monday Morning Musings:

My mother says,

That one year my sister and I received

Presents and celebrated

For nearly two months.

In the days before Amazon

And same and next day deliveries,

I suppose packages took longer to arrive.

So they came in trickles and waves

Over the course of weeks

To mingle with those already at home.

The season of celebration

Began with my sister’s birthday

In November.

Then went on

To Thanksgiving,

Followed by

My birthday,

Hanukkah,

And Christmas–

The festivities went on and on,

Or so it seemed to us.

Then one day it stopped.

We asked,

“What no presents today? No holiday?”

I don’t remember this at all.

But that is what my mother says.

And though her memory is sometimes

A bit faulty

I suspect it’s true.

It may have been the year my aunt sent us

The Easy Bake Oven.

I made a few of those cookie-size cakes,

The oven set-up in our bedroom

Novelty there,

But, truthfully,

I was much more interested in

The real oven and stove.

I “doctored” canned soups

With spices from the rack

Before I tackled real meals

And baking.

I remember misreading “marjoram”

And thinking it said “marijuana.”

Well, that would have been interesting, right?

I’m not even certain how I knew the word.

This was before the War on Drugs.

And our schools were more concerned

That we “duck and cover,”

Giving me vague terrors

And fears

Of losing my parents.

Cold War fears

Of losing the warmth

Of family and home.

Is that what draws me

To the heat of the kitchen?

Now, that I’m older

I like to think each day is a gift,

Something to unwrap joyfully

With the dawn.

Of course, the dawn is so late in December.

Perhaps that’s why I bought myself a new laptop

For my birthday

And perhaps to chase away the coming

Winter chill

And fears of the future.

Well, it’s for my business, you know,

Even my husband agreed.

My old computer is only old in

Computer years,

Which pass faster than dog years,

But still,

They’re the ones that count–

To the computer–

And the person using it.

I haven’t spent months celebrating,

Well, not unless you count the weddings,

Three in about a years’ time,

But I did manage a week or so—

Hanukkah running into to my birthday,

Celebrating with dinner at a local winery,

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Then the next night dinner with my daughter and son-in-law

Followed by chocolate cake and watching my grandpets

Chase each other around the apartment.

Brothers of other mothers for sure.

 

The next day there was a trip to Grounds for Sculpture

Just hanging out

Enjoying nature on a

Freakishly warm December day.

Standing at a bread line

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Having a snack

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Dancing a waltz

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Maybe reading a book with a friend

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Enjoying lunch in the balmy weather

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Returning home to light the candles

The final night

Till next year.

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On my actual birthday

We went to the movies,

The Danish Girl

Me wondering how strange

And horrible

It must be

To feel like someone else inside,

And how sad but

Beautiful and brave

It was to love that person–

And to believe.

My husband and I discussed this

Over tapas and drinks afterward

(The Spinach and Manchego Buñuelos divine)

Because,

Well, celebration, remember?

And from birthday

We’re on to

Cookie-baking season

That is, not the usual cooking baking

That happens all the time here.

Special, once-a-year cookies.

And decorating them with our younger daughter

And missing our older one.

We will have to eat her share,

I suppose.

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It will soon be Christmas.

The skies are dark, dismal, and dreary

The news is ghastly, glum and, gloomy,

But there is warmth and light.

Our own little miracle of lights.

The light on the stove hood–

You know, the one that hasn’t worked

For months?

Well, now it does

Just like that.

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More lights are glowing

At windows

On trees,

And in hearts

That are open to it.

Soon the New Year will come

With new dreams

And old memories.

 

Wishing all of you a joyous and happy December-

And beyond.

With hopes that it is not too warm

Or too cold

But, just right.

Places we visited and things we saw:

Auburn Road Vineyards  

Kitchen 519 

Grounds for Sculpture 

The Danish Girl 

Cuba Libre 

And here’s a 1951 Civil Defense Duck and Cover Film. It would have terrified me, as a child. It’s before my time, but we were still ducking and covering in the 1960s.

 

 

Love and Marriage: Ringing Out the Year with Love and Traditions

Tevye: “Is this the little girl I carried? Is this the little boy at play?”

Golde: “I don’t remember growing older. When did they?”

In August, my older daughter got married. It was a wonderful celebration of love and joy as family and friends enveloped the two glowing brides in a bubble of warm wishes, while sharks and other aquatic life looked on–since the ceremony and reception took place at an aquarium. In October, my sister and her long-time partner married. It was also a love-filled, joyous event. The brides barely managed to get through their vows without crying as family and friends encircled them on the ballroom floor. The reception included some wild and crazy dancing. Yes, some of it was mine.

A few years ago, I never would have thought my older daughter or my younger sister would be able to marry. That they can is wonderful, and yet, completely natural—because why shouldn’t they be able to legally marry the people they love?

Amidst the grays of December and the brightness of seasonal festivities, our family experienced another outpouring of love marked with tears, laughter, and a sparkling token of promise and affection.

On Christmas Eve, my younger daughter’s boyfriend proposed to her. She struggled to say “yes” through her tears of joy. As we later heard about and saw in a video, these two trained actors could barely form words. My husband and I and a few other family members knew the proposal was coming that day, but my daughter did not. After the proposal, which took place in a favorite restaurant, the happy couple returned to my niece’s house, where they had had brunch with our family earlier in the day. My daughter didn’t know all of us would still be there. (We watched Fiddler on the Roof, the obvious choice for a Christmas Eve movie, while we waited for them to return.) When she and her now fiancé walked in the door, we yelled “surprise,” –my mother still not realizing what had happened–and there were many tears of joy shed—followed by a smiles, laughter, and a toast to the newly engaged couple.

In the weeks leading up to the proposal, I had been referring to my niece, other daughter, her wife, and I as “the yentas,” as we struggled not to ask details or give advice to my daughter’s boyfriend. So, of course, I had to write a silly parody skit of Fiddler on the Roof as an engagement gift. It was titled, “A Kitten on the Roof.” (I mean, of course it was, what else would I call it?)

I won’t share it here, since it is filled with family jokes that would not make much sense to people outside of our family, but here is the beginning:

“A kitten on the roof. Sounds crazy, no? But you might say that we’re all kittens on the roof, trying to keep our balance with a bit of hissing and clawing. Sometimes life is crazy weird, but at other times it’s all cuddles and purrs.”

My younger daughter and her fiancé were both theatre majors in college, and they performed in some plays together there. With their theatre backgrounds in mind, this is the coda to my silly skit:

This is the end of Part I. This play runs in many acts over many, many years. Be prepared. There will be laughter and tears. Props will appear and disappear. Settings and lighting will change. Cues will be missed. Actors will come and go, but the characters, Sheryl and Eric, remain constant—at least to each other.

So, as you can tell, my holiday season was wonderful! I am so happy for my daughter and her fiancé. I know 2014 was not a good year for many people. I have friends who have lost loved ones. I know horrible things have happened in the world. But for me, 2014 is the year of love and marriage. And there will be another wedding soon.

* * * * *

Wishing all of you a very happy new year filled with cuddles and purrs and very few occasions for hisses and claws. I wish you long life and happiness. I wish all of you the ability to take joy in old traditions and/or the ability to create new ones. I wish for you to receive at least one good surprise in 2015. I wish all of you the presence of people who love you. Wishing all good things for all of us in 2015!

To us and our good fortune

Be happy be healthy, long life!
And if our good fortune never comes

Here’s to whatever comes,
Drink l’chaim, to life!

–“To Life” From Fiddler on the Roof

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My husband and I at our older daughter’s wedding at Adventure Aquarium, Camden, NJ.

 

Happy Holidays

The Pre-Party Phone Calls and Texts

Didn’t you make a frittata last year?

No. Do you mean the quiches Lori and Linda brought?

No. Didn’t you bring a frittata? I thought you made a frittata. Wasn’t it a frittata?

No, it was the non-sausage roll—the pizza dough thing.

 Oh, well we have enough bread with the French Toast casserole and the bagels.

–OK. I’ll bring some kind of egg thing. I’ll figure out something.

Well, we should have plenty of food for “the men.”

Yeah, I think we’ll have more than enough.

…No, don’t worry he’s bringing his own food.  . .But your house might smell like fish.

*******

Hey, it’s me. I was wondering about drinks. Should I get soda? We have wine.  I don’t know. Give me a call.

*******

Yeah, she called me from the liquor store. She sounded really stressed. She thought you wanted cranberry.

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Don’t forget to put something under your French Toast before you put it in the oven. Remember last year? And all the smoke in the kitchen?

            Oh yeah. I forgot.

You’re the grownup. Nothing can ever happen to you.

I love you.

*******

What kind of bagels do you want?

I like any kind. Get whatever kind you like.

I like any kind too. . .it is all bread, which means good.

Brunch:

Can I have a bagel?

No, soon.

What are you drinking?

It’s the same as Mom’s, but with cranberry.

Oh, I think I need to try that.

Mom, can I have a bagel?

No, soon.

I love you, but don’t move. Don’t step backwards.

This one doesn’t have nuts. This one has nuts, but I think I screwed up the sauce.  [Singing] Happy Holidays. . .

Can I have a bagel?

In a minute.

What do you have that I can nosh on?

I’ll make you a plate, Mom. Sit down.

I DID put salad dressing on it.

–Well, I can’t find it.

Grandmom, I’ll put some more dressing on it. Do you want anything else?

Everything is delicious.

Yes, I still have this cough.

We have an elf. He watches us. My dad thinks he’s creepy, but I think he’s cute.

Childhood wonder.

Conversations in corners.

Missing those who aren’t with us. Welcoming those joining our family for the first time.

Cuddling on the sofa.

Doggy kisses. Hugs all around.

The love of family.

More wine! More coffee! More food!

I’m stuffed. I might vomit.

Is it time to open presents?

I can’t get this open.

It’s your turn.

Oh. . .thank you.

I need another picture. Sammy, hold up your truck like this.

Wait, get a picture of this.

Oh, could you get a picture?

Am I taking too many pictures?

No, don’t take my picture.

Can I open my last present? I’m bored. I’m going down to the basement for the rest of the afternoon.

Yeah, we’re channeling Martha Stewart.

Sorry, it seems so disorganized. Is it more disorganized this year?

–No, it’s always like this.

Oh. It is?

Who wants coffee?

Are we having dessert?

Oh. .  . the pie’s really not sweet enough. . .

Mr. Penguin has his picture on our family wall.

Yeah, so I’m going to this reunion. There’s a Facebook war going on. The woman is CRAZY!

You look smokin’ hot in those boots.

I don’t think I can walk in them.

Really, even if you only wear them in bed. . .

******

Oh, look, it’s starting to snow. I guess we should pack up and get ready to go.

Thank you for having us.

I’ll call you.

Mr. Penguin wants to give you a hug!

Holiday Mr. Penguin

Holiday Mr. Penguin

 Wishing all of you hugs, the love and craziness of family and friends, and just a touch of magic during this holiday season. And chocolate, of course.

Thanks for reading!