Christmas in Photos

Merry Christmas to everyone who’s still celebrating in their part of the world. It’s just tipped over into Boxing Day here and everything’s starting to wind down. Christmas seems to come faster every year, then it’s over before you know it.

We just had a quiet day this year; opened our presents in the afternoon and had a salad, with some berries for dessert. We live a fair distance from most of our family and Christmas isn’t such a big deal for us anymore. If my health improves I’d like to volunteer somewhere next year. I think that would be a great way to spend Christmas and spread some cheer.

That’s one thing that has really stood out for me this year. With the economy it’s been a difficult Christmas for many people but generally they’ve still been in good spirits. I’ve seen people saying Merry Christmas to strangers, shoppers wearing Santa hats, bus drivers decorating their buses in tinsel. It’s really brought people together this year.

Sydney comes alive during Christmas and I’ve been taking a lot of photographs to capture the festive season. I thought I’d share some of them, to show what our Christmas is really like. Some of the displays have been fantastic this year. And our tree came out pretty well too.

Wherever you are in the world, Merry Christmas. I hope you’ve had a wonderful day and have a peaceful rest of the year.

Christmas Tree (2009)

Christmas StockingsSilver Christmas StarGlass HouseSanta & Pink StarSanta & Pink BaublesSanta Kangaroos

White Butterfly (2)Bart & HomerGreen BaublesSnowman & Purple OrnamentTurqoise StarReindeer & Glass Teardrop

Aussie ChristmasRed BaublesFelt RudolphMagi & AngelChristmas Table DisplayReindeer & Glass Ornaments

We went for a bejewelled theme for our tree this year, with white tinges throughout. We’ve had some of the ornaments for almost twenty years now. My favourite decoration is the glass reindeer; it sparkles when light shines on it.

This was the first year where I fixed the tinsel and lights. I feel like I’ve grown up! The cord was so tangled though that it took almost an hour to undo. Bah humbug indeed.

Christmas Dinner (side)

Rudolph & PresentsChristmas DinnerChristmas MeatsBerry HeavenGold Coins & CashewsChristmas Salad

Potatoes & CarrotsGrape JuiceChristmas SnacksReady to EatChristmas CherriesChristmas Cake

It’s usually too hot for a roast so our Christmas dinner was a salad, with an assortment of berries and Christmas cake for dessert. Much less fuss and just as delicious.

The berries were my favourite part. They’re usually expensive, so we only get them once or twice a year. The blackberries were particularly nice and sweet.

Cheeky Elves

David Jones, Elizabeth St, SydneyDavid Jones NativityNativity (Three Wise Men)Nativity (manger)Nativity (animals)Holly & the Ivy

Holly & the Ivy (rabbits)Holly & the Ivy (moles)Joy to the WorldJoy to the World (animals)Joy to the World (Santa & sleigh)Joy to the World (angels)

Large Nativity SceneGood King WenceslasGood King Wenceslas (penguin)Little Drummer Boy (peasants)Little Drummer Boy (mice)Little Drummer Boy

These are from the Christmas window displays at David Jones in Sydney. They’re scenes from favourite Christmas carols and they were spectacular this year. They’d rival almost anything in New York.

I love the photo with the two elves. They were so excited that they kept bumping into people! I guess that’s what Christmas is all about.

Festive Pagewood

Santa & RudolphRandwick HouseFestive RandwickRandwick ChristmasRandwick DecorationsRandwick Santa

Festive MatravilleMatraville ChristmasMatraville Christmas (2)Matraville HouseMatraville House (2)Randwick Town Hall, Christmas

These are some of the houses around our area that have been decorated for the holidays. Outdoor decorations still aren’t that common over here but it’s exciting when you see them.

I can’t help but wonder what their power bills and carbon footprint must be like but I love the Santa sign. Very cute.

More photos are available on Flickr, if you’re interested. Enjoy. 😉

Family Trees

Šternberk Family Tree

Photo: Šternberk Family Tree, from Šternberk Castle

Do you ever think about your family tree? About where you come from? I’ve been thinking about it quite a lot recently. The idea of learning more about my family line is something that has always interested me and I’ve often found myself looking at genealogy websites, wondering if, out of all those people, one of them might be a distant relative.

I suppose my interest is partially about accepting my own mortality. Life is such a fragile thing; we’re born, we live, we die. There’s nothing particularly special about me as a person but that I am here, alive today is part of a remarkable chain of events that stretches back through time. But why me? Why not someone else? If the lives of my parents, grandparents, ancestors had been just a little different, that chain would have been broken and I wouldn’t be here. I guess in trying to understand more about them, I hope that I may understand more about who I am as well.

Several members of my father’s family have done some research into our family tree and I’m hoping to see it soon. I’ve been thinking about trying to extend it if I can, so that it includes the family on my mother’s side as well. I thought I’d start with censuses and hopefully my research skills will come in handy.

One person I have been particularly interested in learning more about is my great great grandfather on my father’s side. His name was Isaac Levinsohn; he was born in Kovno, Russia (now Kaunas in Lithuania) in 1855 and had a remarkable life. He wrote several memoirs and religious books, one of which, his memoir of his early years and conversion to Christianity, my family recently had restored. I’ve spent the last few weeks reading and thinking about it.

I’ll probably write a longer, more detailed post about it at some stage as it’s a fascinating story and I’d like to read his other books as well, but to be honest I didn’t have the reaction to reading it that I thought I would. With the exception of myself as an atheist, most of my family is very religious and have admired Isaac for many years. I do as well but so often I’ve heard (particularly from my father) how wonderful and uplifting Isaac’s story is. Reading it, I found it very sad and lonely.

Basically Isaac’s memoir is the story of how he converted to Christianity. As a child Isaac’s family were pious Jews and Isaac felt immense pressure from his father to become a rabbi. For years Isaac studied and tried to follow his family’s wishes but from a young age, he developed an intense fear of death. He was terrified of the idea that when he died, he would be judged unworthy before God. And so when he was sixteen Isaac left Russia and his family despite their protests, trying to find peace and a way to be saved.

Isaac travelled through Germany, experiencing fierce anti-Semitism, and several times became so lonely and disheartened that he nearly committed suicide. Finally he settled in England in 1871. He spoke no English and had few possessions when he arrived. Eventually he befriended a converted Jew who helped Isaac and introduced him to Reverend Stern, who had a profound influence on him. Over time Isaac began to convert to Christianity and his family disowned him. With nothing left Isaac dedicated himself to Christianity, becoming a preacher and a member of Charles Spurgeon’s congregation, preaching to other Jews and converting them, often on their deathbeds.

Isaac’s story is remarkable but I didn’t find it to be quite as uplifting as the rest of my family. I fully admit that may be because I am an atheist and also because I haven’t read his other books yet, but I’d like to think I can look beyond that. Reading it, I just felt very sorry for Isaac. He wrote it in later life and much of what he remembered was filtered by his beliefs, so his perspective on Judaism and what he felt as a Jew feels somewhat tainted. In his memoir Isaac often writes of his darkest moments hopefully as they prepared him for his conversion, but at the time that couldn’t possibly have been what he felt as he was terribly conflicted. I didn’t feel like I got a genuine picture of what that time was really like for him or what he was feeling.

To be honest reading it, Isaac seemed like a scared young man, a boy terrified of death and of failing his father. He was also severely depressed, anti-social and suicidal (most likely due to bipolar) and losing his family broke his heart. That he found peace and later reconciled with some of his family and did so much good is wonderful, but in the end I found much of his story to be very sad.

But I am glad I read it. It is a remarkable story and Isaac’s leaving Russia for England is one of the major events in my family’s history. If he hadn’t left Russia, I wouldn’t be alive today. Who knows what might have happened to the family line if he had stayed? They might well have perished in the Pale of Settlement – or worse, in Auschwitz or some other terrible place. Perhaps descendents of his extended family did die there; I don’t know. That’s one reason I’d like to know more about our family tree and read Isaac’s other books, to find out more about what happened to them.

I think if I had the chance I would have liked to have met Isaac. He was an interesting man and I’m sure hearing him tell his story would have made it even more compelling. As his great great grandson, there’s a lot I’d like to ask him.

There are other people in my family I’d like to know more about as well. My grandfather on my father’s side (Isaac’s grandson) died before I was born; my father talks about him sometimes and thinks I would have got on well with him, but I don’t know as much about him as I would like to. He was my grandmother’s second husband, after her first husband whom she loved very much died. I often wonder what their lives would have been like if he had not died. Would they still be married now? Perhaps in some alternate reality they are… a reality where my father and I never existed.

I know little about my mother’s side of the family as well, except that historically it is a large Irish family which has settled in various countries. It’s something I’m looking forward to talking to my mother and grandfather about, particularly when I try to trace it back further. My uncle (my mother’s brother) and his partner recently had another child as well, my third cousin. So it looks like that side of the family tree is continuing to grow.

I don’t know whether I’ll add to it. Obviously I’m young and it’s possible I’ll start a family one day but for some reason I’ve always thought that my part of our family line will end with me. The last Levinson. I don’t plan to get married or have children; if I meet someone, great, but it’s not something I’m looking for. I don’t want my genes to live forever; I don’t believe in achieving immortality, except perhaps through writing.

I think that’s one of the reasons I am so interested in our family tree, though. Because in a way it is immortality, following that one seed as it stretches back through time. It reminds me of just how remarkable life is, that despite all the odds, we’ve all lived on this planet, if only for a short time. I think the least I can do is to try and remember.

If I find anything more about my family tree, I’ll let you know. I’m looking forward to seeing what my family has found out so far… and hopefully adding some details of my own.

What about you? Have you ever tried to trace your family tree? Found out anything that surprised you? I’d love to find out.

Update: After posting this yesterday I’ve heard from a couple of relatives we didn’t know about. Looks like there are at least five relatives we didn’t know about. Very excited, particularly as it’s happened so quickly. Hopefully we’ll be able to swap stories.

What's wrong with my name?

I could use some advice at the moment. Over the last few days I’ve received a couple of strange comments on an old post and I’m not sure what to do about them. The post still gets traffic and the comments have nothing to do with the post, so it’s bugging me. I think anyone who stumbles across the post will be confused and I don’t like posts being hijacked by unrelated comments.

The comments are strange. They’re all from one person who accused me of “stealing” his name. He thinks I shouldn’t call myself CJ on my blog, like I’m ashamed of my full name because I don’t use it… I just don’t get it. CJ is a nickname my parents use; they’re my initials, so how is that stealing someone’s name? And there are millions of other CJs, have I stolen their names too?

I answered the comments but to be honest they’re insulting and I want to delete them. The reason I haven’t yet is because I don’t want it to seem like censorship and as I’m still not getting WP’s emails, I wasn’t sure if I should keep the comments as a record. So I was wondering what you think? Should I move them to another post or just delete them? What do you do with strange comments?

What I still don’t understand is why it’s such a problem. Is he not used to blogs, so the idea of using a nickname seems strange? Or am I missing something? I use CJ to differentiate between my writing and my offline life and it’s something a lot of writers do for varying reasons; JK Rowling, JG Ballard, TA Barron, PD James, SE Hinton… I could name another dozen off the top of my head.

I know some people don’t like pen names, so maybe that’s part of it. Writers are often criticised for using them (particularly to appeal to more readers) but there are legitimate reasons for using one. Andy McNab can’t use his real name for security reasons and many writers use a pseudonym to write in a different style, like Ruth Rendell as Barbara Vine. As a writer I’ve always liked the idea of a pen name. When I first started writing I wrote under different names and I like the idea of writing under a female pseudonym. I might try it one day.

Most writers use pen names for the same reason we do as bloggers; for some anonymity and to let their ideas speak for them, rather than their identity. I hate it when people try to out them, like they’re lying because they want to write under another name. But I suppose it’s natural for readers to be curious.

I wonder how you feel about pseudonyms? Does a pseudonym put you off reading a book? If you didn’t know it was a pseudonym, would you prefer to know? Personally it doesn’t bother me; I’d rather let the book stand on its own, and that’s the same for a blog… but then I never imagined that calling myself CJ would be such a big deal! Hm, maybe Cee-Jay would be better? 😉

What’s wrong with my name?

I could use some advice at the moment. Over the last few days I’ve received a couple of strange comments on an old post and I’m not sure what to do about them. The post still gets traffic and the comments have nothing to do with the post, so it’s bugging me. I think anyone who stumbles across the post will be confused and I don’t like posts being hijacked by unrelated comments.

The comments are strange. They’re all from one person who accused me of “stealing” his name. He thinks I shouldn’t call myself CJ on my blog, like I’m ashamed of my full name because I don’t use it… I just don’t get it. CJ is a nickname my parents use; they’re my initials, so how is that stealing someone’s name? And there are millions of other CJs, have I stolen their names too?

I answered the comments but to be honest they’re insulting and I want to delete them. The reason I haven’t yet is because I don’t want it to seem like censorship and as I’m still not getting WP’s emails, I wasn’t sure if I should keep the comments as a record. So I was wondering what you think? Should I move them to another post or just delete them? What do you do with strange comments?

What I still don’t understand is why it’s such a problem. Is he not used to blogs, so the idea of using a nickname seems strange? Or am I missing something? I use CJ to differentiate between my writing and my offline life and it’s something a lot of writers do for varying reasons; JK Rowling, JG Ballard, TA Barron, PD James, SE Hinton… I could name another dozen off the top of my head.

I know some people don’t like pen names, so maybe that’s part of it. Writers are often criticised for using them (particularly to appeal to more readers) but there are legitimate reasons for using one. Andy McNab can’t use his real name for security reasons and many writers use a pseudonym to write in a different style, like Ruth Rendell as Barbara Vine. As a writer I’ve always liked the idea of a pen name. When I first started writing I wrote under different names and I like the idea of writing under a female pseudonym. I might try it one day.

Most writers use pen names for the same reason we do as bloggers; for some anonymity and to let their ideas speak for them, rather than their identity. I hate it when people try to out them, like they’re lying because they want to write under another name. But I suppose it’s natural for readers to be curious.

I wonder how you feel about pseudonyms? Does a pseudonym put you off reading a book? If you didn’t know it was a pseudonym, would you prefer to know? Personally it doesn’t bother me; I’d rather let the book stand on its own, and that’s the same for a blog… but then I never imagined that calling myself CJ would be such a big deal! Hm, maybe Cee-Jay would be better? 😉

The marriage gap

Why is it that some people dream of getting married but others are happy never getting married? Is it fear of commitment? Wanting to live in the present? Or do some people think about marriage so much that it becomes unhealthy?

It’s a question I’ve been asking myself a lot lately. I’m someone who’s never really seen himself getting married. It’s not that I’m afraid of marriage; if I met the right person, I think I’d be able to make a commitment. Rather it’s that I don’t want to concern myself with something that’s outside of my control. I’ve never felt like I define myself by who I’m with, so if I meet someone, that’s great, but I’m happy being by myself as well.

A lot of people, though, see marriage as this focus that gives their lives meaning and it’s that kind of obsession that turns me off marriage. They plan it out years in advance and everything has to be perfect… I have a hard time swallowing that. Marriage needs work; nothing is ever just perfect because you love someone, but many people expect it to be. When I look at the divorce rate I can’t help but think that this idea of marriage plays a large part in it, people giving up because when everything isn’t perfect they think that the relationship wasn’t “meant to be”.

I guess I’ve been thinking about this because an old school friend contacted me a few months ago. I hadn’t heard from her for about six years and it was great catching up again, but one of the things she told me was that she’s engaged. I almost choked! Not in a bad way; I’m really happy for her. It’s just that in my mind I still see her as the fourteen year old girl I used to know and it feels strange to imagine her about to get married. She’s a few months younger than I am as well, so she was only 21 or 22 when she got engaged. But I guess when you know it’s right, it just is.

She’s actually the second school friend who’s been engaged now; another got married two years ago and seems very happy. I haven’t spoken to either of them much since, though… I’d like to but it feels strange. Part of it is the difference between how I remember them and who they are now, but there’s also a different dynamic when someone becomes engaged or married and it can be hard to overcome. That’s part of the problem here.

Some call it the marriage gap and it describes the way a friendship can change once someone is married or part of a long-term relationship. Friends who used to meet for drinks every week feel put out when their married friend starts to cancel; someone who used to think nothing of taking off for a weekend away suddenly has other commitments to think about first. The married friend feels hurt that his/her single friends don’t show more interest in their partner and becomes annoyed by the money they spend frivolously. Over time it brings added pressure to the friendship and it either changes or falls apart.

I didn’t use to believe in the marriage gap but recently I’ve changed my mind. There was a couple I met at my writing group who seemed to speak their own language and it felt like everything they were talking about went over my head. Other people felt the same way and we just weren’t on the same wavelength; it was the first time I’d really understood why it can drive people nuts. It was a little like what it felt like talking to my friends again; not that we didn’t have anything in common, but so much had changed… we were coming from different directions and just because we were compatible once didn’t mean we were now.

In the end I think that’s why once people get married they start to form their own circles, and why singles go out in their own groups. It’s natural; the common ground has shifted and it’s easier to share how you feel with others who understand… even if they’re not the same friends you’ve had for most of your life. In a way that’s sad because if you care about someone enough, you should be able to get past any differences. And many friends do. But for whatever reason the marriage gap is still quite common.

I know part of it for singles is that they often feel like they’re being pressured into getting married themselves. A few members of my extended family seem sorry for me when I say I’m not seeing someone… or seem worried. Thankfully they haven’t tried to set me up with someone (yet!) but they don’t seem to get that I’m happy by myself. Is it so strange to think that I’d enjoy my own company, that I’d rather be alone than with someone who doesn’t value me for who I am? And likewise married people feel hurt that their old friends don’t show more interest in their new lives, which is something I can understand as well. Marriage is the ultimate commitment; they’ve made a huge change in their lives and to not even try to understand that and expect them to be the same isn’t being much of a friend.

To be honest, though, I think the marriage gap is overrated. What it really represents is a breakdown in communication; neither friend expresses how they feel properly, and so they keep growing apart. But it also shows that we’re not aware of how relationships evolve over time. No friendship remains the same; it changes as our interests change, as we move into different periods of our lives. We shouldn’t expect it to remain the same, but a lot of people do. And that’s the problem. We think our friendships should be perfect (like our marriages) and last a lifetime, but you maintain any relationship by redefining it, by taking an interest in the person… if you don’t do that, the friendship won’t survive. And sometimes that’s not a bad thing. Sometimes it’s better to let go of a friendship than to ruin all of the memories you shared.

For the most part I try to do that. Before meeting that couple at the group, I hadn’t noticed the marriage gap all that much and I get on well with most of the family friends I know who are married. And I like taking an interest in people as well, so finding common ground isn’t too difficult… that’s why I think that generally the marriage gap isn’t something that can’t be overcome, just something you have to work at. If I had a chance to talk to my friends again, I’d love to. I’d love to know how they’re getting on and see if there was a chance to get to know them again. I’m not expecting it, but who knows? I didn’t expect to hear from them the first time, so I’ll never say never. 😉

Anyway, it’s just been on my mind lately. I wonder what you think? Is there a marriage gap? Have you ever felt out of place in a social group? Is one group more responsible than the other? I’d be interested to know what you think.