Wednesday, December 24, 2008

A White Christmas and Hanukkah

When I dream of a white Christmas, I wake to one too. On the heels of the ice storm came a blizzard dumping 14 inches on coastal Maine and over two feet on the mountains. It was winter solstice and the first night of Hanukkah. More snow is falling on Christmas Eve; it hopefully won't switch to light rain. There's still too much snow to melt.

At night frost paints the windows. The low winter sun melts the images slowly. The snow stays pure white.

It takes courage to step outside to retrieve the newspaper.

Between storms the skies are blue. Winter berries are bright red against the pines. I bought a bouquet for our home.

The growing collection of holiday cards brings delight and guilt. Once again I failed on the card front. Maybe next year?

We did get the tree up before my family arrived yesterday. When the children were little, we used to alternate years of Christmas with my family in NYC and with my husband’s family in England. Now the children prefer Christmas at home where pine trees grow and snow falls.

This year my husband found Christmas crackers at the British export store in Freeport. You form a chain around the table and pull. They open with a crack. Inside is a paper crown, a prize and a joke. See it live on Just a Plane Ride Away. My husband brings an English flavor to our Christmases. He’ll be roasting a turkey, and our tree will stay up until 12th night.

Our tree also has a Maine theme. Who else has a lobster?

Or a Star of David ornament? We’ve raised our children with two religions. It creates some confusion especially when the eight days of Hanukkah overlap with Christmas. The year my son started Hebrew School, he made both of these ornaments at home with Model Magic clay. The Christmas tree has its roots in Pagan tradition. Why not hang what you will? Our tree represents all the many branches of our family.

There is nothing better than sitting by the tree and fire with a good book. I just finished Black & White by Dani Shapiro. The fictional protagonist, Clara, has a similar background to mine. Clara was raised in Manhattan by an artist mother and moves as an adult to coastal Maine. She is half Jewish and half Episcopalian.

Happily our narratives diverge at this point: my mother did not exploit me for art. Clara’s mother became famous taking nude photos of her young daughter. At eighteen Clara runs away from home but returns 14 years later when her mother falls gravely ill.

I could relate to Clara’s ambivalence because my mother once painted our family nude at the beach. The figures are abstracted, but I was relieved the painting hung in my parents’ bedroom where my school friends couldn’t see it. I was proud of my mother’s art and didn’t mind the other nudes, but that was too personal, even if I hadn’t posed for it.

I’ve avoided using my own children as models for my art, and you won’t see their faces or their names in my blog. This is for their safety since I blog under my real name. I’m also sensitive to their future desire for privacy.

With these issues in mind, I’d recommend Black & White to artists and bloggers. Shapiro makes the parent photographer look through the lens from the other side. That doesn’t mean that all child photography is exploitive, but it does raise some important questions on where to draw the line and the future implications. Shapiro writes beautifully about sensitive and disturbing issues. Her portrayal of a New York childhood was spot on.

Mt. Desert Island, a setting from Black and White

My one criticism was that Shapiro’s portrait of off-season Maine was somewhat off. A Mainer short on cash would not take taxis and fly to NYC; she would take the bus. She wouldn’t order clothes from the L.L. Bean catalog but would shop at the factory outlet or some place more affordable. In Maine, L.L. Bean is considered top quality, not a bargain or dressing down.

Shapiro captured the insular, gossipy side of small town life but at the expense of the warmth of it. The implication might be that Clara was too damaged to form friendships. She can barely appreciate her surroundings. Maine is a remote hideaway more than it is her home. This makes the haunting story all the more tragic.

What I loved about Shapiro’s writing was the bare bones honesty of it. Shapiro lets you see the world from a certain perspective, but she avoids preaching. The reader is left to ponder the issues. There are no easy answers. Between black and white is grey.

There isn’t much color, but isn’t Maine beautiful in winter? I wish we could share a corner of our snow blanket.

Happy Hanukkah and Cherry Christmas!


Mary Ellen said...

You describe the beauty of Maine so well, it makes me almost forget I still have more shoveling to do.

Happy Holidays to you and your family.

Gretel said...

Season's greeting to you and your family Sarah - I am fazed by how much snow you have. Guess what Christmas weather is going to be over here? Yep, mild and grey - again!

tina said...

The same to you and your family Sarah.

Your mom sound waaaaay cool and very hip to have painted a picture of your family as she did. I want to say-Go Mom!

I watched the cracking video. It was very cute. Thanks for sharing the English traditions. We always tried to do this when we lived in Germany, but more so with the food like bread pudding and prime rib. It was pretty good too!

Sarah Laurence said...

Mary Ellen, yes, it’s work too. I’ll still take snow over rain.

PG, I remember a gorgeous English Christmas when it frosted. At least it sounds like nice weather for a country walk.

Tina, I enjoyed growing up in artistic household. We’re having 2 roast dinners: turkey one night and roast beef with Yorkshire pudding the other. It’s the best way to feed a house of 10. Yum!

Alyson | New England Living said...

Merry Christmas and happy Hanukkah, Sarah!

Gorgeous photography! Your Christmas tree has a beautiful home and so do you. :)

I found crackers for Christmas too! They were at our local Michael's. I haven't had one of those since I lived in England. My kids are so curious and excited to try them out.

marmee said...

i never have the chance to read all the blogs i want but i still try to come around and am always glad i do.
hope you and your family enjoy christmas and hanukkah.

walk2write said...

I love all your photos but especially the one of the frost crystals. Quite appropriate for the delicate but prickly issue of including children in the blog. I have been encouraged by Micah's parents to include him in mine, but I still have mixed feelings. What will he say when he gets older? That question continues to bother me, but I'm glad you have raised it. It's probably time for another family discussion. I hope you and your family have a delightful holiday together!

Cynthia Pittmann said...

I have wrestled with these issues of privacy, too. I've decided not to mention my children's names but then other people do. Your book-read in on my next list, it sounds like it can be connected to issues of autobiography. Beautiful red against white berry photo!

Kengot said...

Merry Christmas!!
It has come already here.

Lisa Blair said...

I found your blog as I was planning a trip to London and Oxford. My husband and I are going in the Spring. I always enjoy stumbling upon a new blog that I can relate to. Your Oxford posts have really helped us in planning our trip.

I don't have a lobster ornament, but I do have that set of ship-in-bottle ornaments. Isn't that wild? They are some of our favorites.

A Cuban In London said...

Merry Christmas to you, too! Another recommendation that will go onto my books' wishlist.

Hey, and thanks for rubbing it in :-)! Yet another snow-free Christmas in London!

Greetings from London.

Sarah Laurence said...

Alyson, thanks. Your kids will love the crackers.

Marmee, best to you too.

W2W, it’s good to have the conversation, but I’m guessing the best solution will differ by family. The issue is more obvious with a teenager.

Cynthia, I’ve had to eliminate a few comments that mentioned my kids’ names or schools. I don’t think people are aware of how public blogs have become. Black and White does bring up similar issues. The cherries were right outside the college athletic facilities. It amazed me to see something so beautiful in an institutional setting. The white sky worked well to set them off.

Kengot, how lucky you are in Japan to get Christmas a day early.

Lisa, welcome to my blog! I’ve added a link to your blogger book boost. I had wondered how you’d found me, and it’s fun to have that Oxford connection. Spring is a great time to see England if you like gardens. We used to have two of those ship-in-bottle ornaments but we broke one sadly. They are so much fun.

ACIL, sorry! I do remember your sad post on the lack of snow. I’ll be envying you when your daffs are blooming in February.

Anonymous said...

Such berries!
Your house looks very English.
The story you review somehow has echoes of the photographer Sally Mann - at least the idea of the young being photographed.
Yes, I'm sure having a lobster ornament makes your tree pretty individual.
Merry merry.

Sarah Laurence said...

Elizabeth, thank you! I had been trying to remember the name of that photographer. I’m sure Dani Shapiro used Sally Mann’s work for inspiration. I bet your photographer daughter would find her novel fascinating.

Barbara Jacksier said...


I just found your blog. Beautiful photos. I love looking at all of that snow, although I'm kind of glad to be in the DC area, where it was sunny and mild (nearly 40 degrees today)

TBM said...

Dearest Sarah, warmest wishes for a beautiful holiday with your family. Your photos are so lovely and believe it or not, this post made me homesick for England!

It's going to be 77-degrees for Christmas in Texas tomorrow :-)

Anonymous said...

It is all beautiful, words, home and photos. You captured your subject in all of them. Christmas should look like your tree room. Thank you for posting them.

Les said...

We do not have a lobster on our tree, but we do have several crabs. One of them is (was) real, all painted up to look like Santa. While you are enjoying the snow and ice, it is in the mid 50's here at my parents house, sunny, no wind, great day for an after breakfast walk by Metomkin Bay. I got to watch two bald eagles do an air dance over the water. We are sort of a blended family as well. My wife's family is non-religous Jewish, and have had a Christmas tree for years. I helped my mother-in-law who is at the local Jewish nursing home put up her ceramic Chistmas tree. I felt like I was going to be stopped by the Zionist Patrol bringing it in to her. I hope you and your family have a merry Christmas and a happy Hanukkah.

Anil P said...

The cherries bent by snow make for a colourful picture.

Snow that heavy must make all mobility difficult. Do people venture out with that many inches of snow piled up?

I quite agree with your take on the privacy aspect.

Talking in general I feel that in the years to come it is entirely possible that the blogs that now document 'life' will turn into a rich source of archival 'footage', not entirely dissimilar to how documentary footage from decades ago at times make for a fascinating reading and/or study.

But yes, at some point the need to document will need to weigh against the need to be private.

But I do hope there'll be enough play on either side to ensure a healthy balance.

Yolanda said...

I will have to check out this book. I hope you stay warm and safe this holiday.

Shauna said...

Merry Happy to you and yours!

Cindy said...

Happy Hanukkah and Merry Christmas to you Sarah! Your tree and home exude warmth and I love your son's clay ornaments. You certainly have your share of snow. We are just getting lots of rain - crazy weather.

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

All the best wishes for a most Happy Maine Christmas!! From both of us!

Sarah Laurence said...

Barbara, welcome to my blog! I’m looking forward to checking out yours. I spent a summer during college in DC working for Defenders of Wildlife. DC is such a great city for culture and politics.

JaPRA, as freezing rain falls, I’m envying your sunny 77 degree weather. I’m sure you’re enjoying it. I’m getting home blog sick with so many of my favorite bloggers away for the holidays.

Sizzie, that’s so sweet. Thank you!

Les, a crab ornament definitely speaks for your waters. Two bald eagles – awesome! I hadn’t realized we shared a Judeo-Christian background. I’m sure your mother-in-law appreciated the tree. I had several Jewish friends who had trees too. I don’t really see Christmas trees as being religious.

Anil, the cherries were my favorite shot too. I had seen them after swimming laps and came back with my camera when it snowed. I lucked into the white sky. Mainers venture out no matter what the snowfall. Someone plows our driveway, but there is always shoveling to do. I have snow boots, skis and snow shoes for getting around.

I studied ethnographic film and photography at school. I wonder too if future generations will study blogs. This is why the privacy issue is worth contemplating. It is fun being part of a new media.

Yolanda, I’d love to hear your take on Black & White. Thanks for your well wishes.

Shauna, same to you and your family too!

Cindy, I expect your daughter will be making ornaments for your tree soon. Too bad about the rain, but at least you don’t have to shovel it. Merry Christmas!

Pamela, my best wishes to you and a pat for Edward.

All, I’m having problems with my internet connection and will visit when I can.

Cynthia Pittmann said...

Hi, Sarah, I'm afraid I've tagged you to tell "six random things" about yourself. Doing my list was fun but an helped me to remember some forgotten incidents in my life.

Sarah Laurence said...

Cynthia, I’m sorry, but I’m not a meme blogger. I was one of those kids that broke chain letters, stepped on cracks and under ladders. I’ve never been any good at following rules. Perhaps that was what led me to writing fiction.

NeereAnDear said...

Hi Sarah... I just foundy you through Barbara Jacksiers blog... a person I love as a dear friend....

So nice to meet you ... I really love your writing style... soft .. flowing.... your art is beautiful... your photos stunning

It will be a pleasure to come back for a visit ...


Rhonda said...

I come by way of your comment you left over at Alyson's New England Living. Anyway, I sure enjoy your beautiful photography and blog and just popped in to say hello and I will be back to visit.


Rose said...

Just when I think our weather here has been awful this Christmas, I read about all the snow in the Northeast and other places across the country. However, I would prefer snow to ice:)

I like the way you blend different cultural and religious traditions in your celebrations. Christmas itself may be a Christian holiday, but the Christmas spirit transcends religions and cultures. I hope you had a wonderful holiday with your family, Sarah!

vicki archer said...

It truly is beautiful, thank you for the gorgeous images. Happy New Year, xv.

Sarah Laurence said...

NeereAnDear, welcome to my blog! I very much enjoyed reading Barbara’s posts on Hanukkah and am looking forward to visiting your blog too.

Rhonda, welcome! Blog buddies of Alyson are always welcome here. I’ll be by to visit you too.

Rose, perhaps the time up north has demented me, but I love all this snow. It is easier to deal with than ice. The holidays have been fun. I hope you enjoyed your Christmas too.

Vicki, welcome to my blog! I’m looking forward to catching up on London and France. It sounds like a fun blog and life.

Cynthia Pittmann said...

I understand, I still break chain letters in the form of email..."send this to nine people in the next nine seconds" type of thing! But I liked the assignment and am interested in your life. I know you're a serious writer, I hope your not offended. Your description of the ice storm seems book ready. I loved the mood you created with the photos paired with the narrative. I could almost hear the gunshot sound as the trees responded to the weather.

Sarah Laurence said...

Cynthia, I’m not offended at all. The material in this blog may indeed end up in a book. My stories and characters are fictional, but the settings are drawn from life. What I love about blogging is all the positive feedback so thank you!

Corner Gardener Sue said...

I love your snow and ice pics. You have a lovely home, too.

troutbirder said...

My what beautiful winter pictures. I'm beginning to think winter in Maine and Minn. look very similar. Our Holiday season this year took on dual look as well. With a new granddaughter from Ethiopia, Kwanza has joined our traditions. I concur with your take on including grandchildrens pictures etc. It's hard sometimes to leave them out but thats what their parents and I agreed upon....

Sarah Laurence said...

Sue, thank you.

Troutbirder, people often get the Maine and Minnesota state abbreviations confused, and it sounds like the similarities go beyond that. I wish Maine had as many wolves. Congratulations on your new granddaughter!