This June, I traveled to Hawaii with my family for my sister’s graduation trip. I was there for almost two weeks and got to see many incredible views. This first photo was taken during sunset from my resort balcony in Kaanapali, Maui, Hawaii.
-Photo credit: Belle Beauchesne ’25
This second photo was also taken during sunset from the beach on the resort in Kaanapali, Maui, Hawaii. Waking up early to see the sunrise and staying out late to see the sunset were two of my favorite things to do when I was in Hawaii. My family and I also did many activities during our stay, including horseback riding, snorkeling, visiting Oahu for a day, exploring the ocean wildlife around Molokini Island, attending a traditional Hawaiin luau, and going to a variety of beaches.
-Photo credit: Belle Beauchesne ’25
Along with taking in the breathtaking views Hawaii had to offer, I tried to take advantage of the beauty in the Hawaiian wildlife and greenery around me. This photo was taken on the resort’s property in Kaanapali, Maui, Hawaii, and it is of a pink plumeria flower. My resort had a bunch of plumeria flowers all over the resort’s outside property. Besides the pink version of the plumeria flower shown above, I saw some in white and yellow as well.
-Photo credit: Belle Beauchesne ‘25
This last photo was taken in Wailea-Makena, Maui, Hawaii, on a beach on the side of the road. In Hawaii, all beaches are considered public property, so anyone can go to any beach-resembling area (I say beach-resembling area because not all areas are declared official beaches) for free. This photo was taken as the sun was setting and is one of my favorites because it shows a beautiful view of both the ocean and the sky.
I’ve stayed in Maine mostly, but I’ve had a summer job at Papoose Pond Family Campground & Cabins as a camp counselor. I’ve had such great experiences with other counselors and made so many new friends because of it.
I went to Florida in June and had many fun experiences, including going to the beach, watching multiple rocket launches, and, as shown here, kayaking through cocoa beach mangroves, where I saw manatees and other wildlife.
When December approaches and the snow begins to gather on the sidewalks, footprints slowly brush away the thin layer of powder covering the pavements. The trees dance with the wind as well as the snowflakes as they glide down from the sky and onto my hands, nose, and mouth. I open my mouth wide and stick my tongue out in hopes of catching a snowflake dissolve on my tongue, but it tastes like nothing; I barely sense it as it lands in my mouth. I walk through the door and stomp up the five flights of stairs to my apartment. I open the door and immediately glance at my reflection in the mirror in the entry arch. My lips, nose, and hands are reddened by the cold. I rip the knit hat off my head and unravel the scarf from my neck as I smell an aroma coming from the kitchen. I take a deep breath, and my heart begins to warm up to a scent of nutty vanilla, sweetness and melted chocolate. I walk into the kitchen and there is my mom. She has the big wooden board out for making cookies and the flour and powdered sugar frost the front of her apron as well as spread around the air like the snow that I was trying to grasp. I feel no need to ask her what she is making as it is a tradition to make this Czech pastry every approaching Christmas; I am merely upset that she started without me. I tell her to wait a few more minutes so that I can get into my Christmas pajamas and I can grab the white tiger toy I had been gifted for my birthday that year just a few days beforehand. My pajamas are red with white snowflakes; I open my drawer and find my red socks with a three-dimensional Christmas penguin that sits right on the top of my foot. I hurry to the kitchen and start grabbing every ingredient off the shelves and the refrigerator.
My mom takes out the food mixer and grinds the walnuts into a thick powder that resembles the snow and dirt which accumulates along the sides of the roads. She then takes out the big glass boll that is only for baking and adds the flower which trickles from the packaging like fine snowflakes of the first snow. Just the egg yolks are next, then the sugar and room-temperature butter. She mixes the ground walnuts and mixes, mixes, and mixes the dough until it is solid. I take a sip of my hot cocoa and spread flour on the wooden board and all on the surface of my hands. I clap my hands in my mom’s face and the flower spreads all over the kitchen floor and her hair. She briefly gives me a lesson about cleaning up my mess but I cannot help myself but laugh; the flour on her hair looks like powdery white flakes which coat her hair during heavy snowfall. We roll the dough into a large cylinder on the wooden board and put it back into the bowl to let it solidify in the fridge. I run through my apartment into the living room where my dad is reading the newspaper and watching the news. I grab the remote and change it to a Christmas movie, Polar Express, I sit and watch the animated characters until my mother calls me into the kitchen to finish baking.
The dough comes out of the fridge it looks hard and cold. I take it out of the boll carefully and use a string to cut slices out of the cylinder. Then I roll each slice into a thinner roll and again cut each roll further into smaller pieces. I shape each small peace into a half-moon shape and repeat that over and over with each little roll. When all the cookies are shaped I line them up on a tray and set the temperature of the oven to one-hundred-and-seventy degrees Celsius. I wait for the oven to get warm and I press my hands on the glass of the oven to simultaneously warm up my hands. I grab the tray carefully and slip it in the oven for twelve minutes. I watch the cookies slowly bake and turn darker. The aroma of walnuts and vanilla refills the house; it feels like Christmas. The oven dings and I snap out of my hypnosis of watching the cookies bake. I grasp the oven mitt and slide the cookies out of the oven. My mom warns me that I have to dunk the cookies in powdered sugar while they are still hot to help it stick better to the surface of the cookie. So, occasionally burning my fingers I coat each crescent-shaped cookie with powdered sugar and lay them down in a serving bowl.
This time is highly anticipated by my sister and father, they can finally taste the white sugar-frosted crescent cookies. They taste just the way they smell: nutty, vanilla-flavored, sweet, and crunchy. They reach in for one before dinner, one after, then one before going to bed as a late-night snack, and one for breakfast the next day until they are all gone. The more the cookies disappear from the bowl the more and more snow covers the streets until it is finally a white Christmas.
Vanilkove Rohliky Recipe
▢ 2 cups (260 g) all-purpose flour
▢ 1 and ½ stick (170 g) unsalted butter
▢ ¼ cup (50 g) coarse sugar
▢ 1 cup (100 g) walnuts shelled
▢1 egg yolk
Grate the walnuts and put them in a bowl.
Add the flour, egg yolk, sugar and butter cut into pieces.
Work into a smooth dough. Wrap the dough in cling film and put it in the fridge to rest for an hour.
Divide the dough into four pieces, roll each into a strand about 1 inch (2.5 cm) thick. Cut the strand into small, equal-sized pieces.
Roll the pieces of dough into crescent shapes and place them on a baking sheet lined with baking paper.
Bake in a preheated oven at 340 °f (170 °C) for 12 minutes.
Roll the crescents while still warm in vanilla sugar
The sun had barely peaked over the horizon before the boy was in line. Even at this hour, he loosely estimated thirty bodies ahead of him and more coming to stand behind him every minute. He could not see the sunrise, for the buildings lining the market covered the horizon. Looking up, he saw the trace of a few bright stars valiantly pressing themselves through the violet sky. His gaze fell down to the back of the head in front of him and a tired, thoughtless trance overtook him. He waited and waited; eyes as blank and unmoving as the line he was in. The morning wind pushed his bushy hair to the side and ran through his t-shirt. He blinked and shuffled his feet in their sandals, arousing his first coherent thought of the day: at least it will be dry today.
As the sky faded into its usual azure, the line started to move. Slowly, the boy shuffled his way to the front. “Siguiente!”
He looked side to side as the market filled; women in loosely fitted shirts with woven baskets hurried from shop to shop and children chased each other through the street. “Siguiente!”
As if charged by the sunrise, the buzz of conversation in the market rose; store owners began to yell out their prices, shoppers cried out in greeting to each other, dogs yapped and whined for scraps. “Siguiente!”
The boy came face to face with a short man with graying hair in a plain white shirt. He had his hands laid out on a bare wooden table.
“Uno”. The boy said.
The man reached down into a cart and pulled out a small, translucent jar containing a dark substance. He set it on the table with an eyebrow raised.
The boy took a bill out of his cargo pants and slapped it on the table, scooping the jar with the same hand and already turning to leave.
“Dos mas, chico”. The man said, unimpressed with the bill.
Stupefied by the price increase, the boy hesitated before turning around to plead. The line behind him groaned angrily.
“No mas”. The boy said, turning his pockets inside out. “Por mi abuela, señor.”
The man sized him up.
“Por favor?” The boy added with an inflection.
The man cocked his chin. “Siguiente!”
The boy wheeled around and started off through the bustling streets. He secured the jar in his shorts and dodged through the crowds of chattering shoppers. Towards the end of the street, he ducked into an alleyway and continued his hurried pace.
Down the narrow alley, sidestepping trash cans and broken furniture, he noisily splashed through the puddles of dirty water left over from the previous week’s rain. Heading away from the coast, his back to the rising sun, the boy zig-zagged through streets and alleyways as if navigating a maze to which he knew the exact path.
Finally, without warning, he ducked his way into a bulkhead entrance of one of the many indistinguishable three-story tenant buildings which lined every street. Reaching the door at the bottom of the steps, he banged loudly on the damp, wooden door. As his feet soaked in the same dirty water he experienced in the alleyways, he breathed heavily, his chest heaving his thin t-shirt up and down. The bags under his eyes willed the door to open. He banged on the door again. Someone from within unlocked the door without opening it. The boy pushed it open and stumbled through the doorway into a dimly lit kitchen.
A cacophony of hushed whispers, clinking pots, and creaky fans greeted him. Two women, one middle-aged, the other significantly younger, flurried around the kitchen. They both shared his tan complexion, dark hair, and green eyes. They talked excitedly in murmurs and whispers, fussing amongst chipped, open cabinets. On the counter next to a dilapidated oven, was a single pan full of sugar. In a bowl next to the pan, there was what looked to be several raw eggs.
The boy made his way through the clutter of clothes on either side of the doorway towards the counter. He took the jar out of his shorts and set it on the counter with no acknowledgment from the women. He then sat on the table in the middle of the room and folded his arms, hunching his back to observe them.
The older woman took the jar, holding it up to the single light hanging over the counter, and eyed it. She then took a spoon and carefully measured two scoops of the liquid, pouring them into the bowl. The younger woman began to whisk the bowl, pouring it into the pan after a few minutes. She opened up the oven where a large deep dish, half filled with water, sat. She carefully placed the pan into the dish and closed the oven.
The older woman left through a side door to an adjacent room while the younger one began to clean up. The boy still waited on the table, his faraway, sleepy trance returning. His eyelids drooped and he faded in and out of a shallow sleep. The closing of cabinets and clinking of cutlery stirred him periodically until a sharp nudge fully aroused him.
He stretched and yawned as the younger woman opened the door to the adjoining room. She carried with her a small plate with what looked like a slice of cake with melted butter on top. The smell in the kitchen was distinctly different, the warm scent of caramel made his mouth water and stomach growl. He quickly followed the woman into the next room.
Same as the entrance and kitchen, the room was full of clutter. Clothes and boxes were strewn about the floor. Framed pictures lined the shelves. In the corner next to a high window, someone lay in a bed. The older woman sat on the chair next to the figure and the younger stood holding the plate looking down at the figure in the bed. The boy stood by the latter and the figure stirred at the scent of the plate.
“Ahh”. Frail hands reached up for the plate. The older woman helped a clearly elderly lady sit up in bed. Rays of sunlight penetrating the blinds on the window reflected off of white hair. The tired lady held the plate up to her nose, breathing as deep as her shallow lungs allowed.
“Ahh.” She sighed again in her raspy voice. She took a spoon and scooped part of the cake-like pastry into her mouth.
“Mm-mm-mmm.” A smile tugged her lined face. Sparkling eyes found the boy. She set the plate in her lap and reached a hand out toward him. The boy knelt closer to her. Her warm hand caressed his face.
At Hebron Academy, our students are plagued with excessive amounts of work. According to onlinedegrees.sandiego.edu, “Excessive homework is associated with high-stress levels, physical health problems, and lack of balance in children’s lives.” This is because of how much time and energy a large amount of homework takes out of a student’s home life. On weekdays, school starts at 8:30 and ends at 5:00 (including after-school activities because they are a requirement at Hebron). That is 8 hours and 30 minutes of school each day. In comparison, the average amount of school in Maine is about 6 hours and 47 minutes. Adding homework on top of those extra hours doesn’t help the mental health of the students. According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, belonging and love are the third most important category of needs. When a student only has roughly an hour and a half to socialize on a weekday, it makes it more difficult to achieve the deep connections that humans need when most of our students, especially when they live so far away from their parents which are often where a child obtains most of their emotional support and security. With all of these in mind, I propose three different solutions.
First, we can start shifting our curriculum to be more project-based. Even though this would include a lot of changes and planning, this method has been proven to improve the learning of students. According to nwcommons.nwciowa.edu, “The students who participated in the PBL on the rock unit were much more engaged through the 19 days of instruction, than the students who were taught with a more traditional approach.” Because the students using PBL were more engaged, they likely learned more. We can decrease homework by making each project take about a week to complete as well as having students work on those projects in and out of class instead of just assigning homework.
Second, we can decrease our school hours. This can help both the problems that I have listed AND a completely different problem, sports trips. Many students have to travel VERY far in order to play against other schools. This leads them to miss many important classes and assignments on top of the homework that they are already given. If we decrease our school days to ending at 2:00 pm or 2:30 pm, students will have more time to do their homework and the students who are participating in sports will miss fewer classes.
Third, reducing summer reading to two books that the student/s chose at most. This is because according to katiecouric.com, claims that adults ages 18 to 34 read about 13 books a year on average which they likely choose for themselves. If a student gets more than 3 to 4 books over the summer, that would be the average for an adult that (again) likely chose those books. According to scholastic.com, teenagers ages 15 to 17 read about 2 books per summer which give kids enough time to read the books they are given while also having the time to read the books they genuinely enjoy. One may wonder what is bad about having more books, they are good for kids after all. But what if the problem wasn’t just the fact that there are books needed to read, but there are also problems with boundaries. According to charityjob.co.uk, “Separating your work and personal life not only increases efficiency at work, but it also reduces stress in your personal life. Both of these mean more relaxation and less burnout.” This can be applied to school life as well. Their break will be less stressful and they will be ready for the next school year.
Lastly, you can just do all of them. This way, you can get the best of both worlds. One of the things that I learned this year was that our brains often associate certain spaces, smells, and tastes with certain emotions, memories, etc. When a boarding student at Hebron comes back from their summer vacation, the classroom is associated with schoolwork, getting students in the proper headspace for work which is a good thing. However, when we give students an excessive amount of homework, their dorm rooms become associated with schoolwork, making it harder to wind down and feel comfortable. When we extend that work to their homes, they feel less like they are allowed to take a break. This often feels invasive in a student’s downtime, why even call it “after school“ when you are constantly doing schoolwork? If we as a community give students a healthy amount of downtime at the very least, we can change this school for the better.
Annotated Bibliography as Required by the Institution for Publication:
Lathan, Joseph “Is Homework Necessary? Education Inequity and Its Impact on Students” onlinedegrees.sandiego
This article explains the benefits of homework as well as its flaws. It states that homework can be beneficial because it teaches students important lessons like time management, but too much can cause students an unnecessary amount of stress and can take over a student’s life. I used this article in order to explain why having a small amount of homework is better for students’ home/dorm lives.
Deitering, Sara “Is Project Based Learning a More Effective Way of Teaching Than Traditional Teaching?” Northwestern College, 2016
This article reinforces my claim that students benefit more from project-based learning. It uses evidence from an experiment to attempt to answer this very question and it showed that it kept the students’ attention span longer when given hands-on activities and/or when told to design or create something.
“A SUMMER READING AWARENESS GAP FOR PARENTS” Scholastic.com
Unlike the two previous articles, I used this one to merely learn the average amount of books read by teenagers. Keep in mind, the reading level and length of the books aren’t included in the statistics as well as the fact that teenagers 14 and older sometimes have jobs and/or go to summer camps during the summer which may be the reason why 15 to 18-year-olds read significantly less than students 14 and younger.
Price, David “Why it’s Important to Keep Your Work and Home Life Separate” Charityjob, 3/20/2023
Even though this article focuses on jobs, it can be extended to school life because of the similarities in workloads to an average office job. It explains that keeping your work and home life as separate as possible is important and people need to be able to set those boundaries.
Students in Ms. Waterman’s World Literature class read Kafka’s The Metamorphosis and were asked to reimagine the iconic opening lines from their own perspective instead of Gregor Samsa. Here is Regina’s piece!
When Regina woke up one morning from unsettling dreams, she found herself changed in her bed into a chameleon. The last couple of days, Regina didn’t feel herself. Her humor changed quicker than the minutes that passed through the clock. She hadn’t figured out her emotions completely, but deep down she knew why she was reacting in such way. There were two weeks and a half of her life in Hebron Academy and she was not prepared for it. She had done such beautiful friendships, she was not ready to say goodbye; time had already run out, and it felt like she had just arrived to Hebron a few hours ago. Regina wasn’t managing to complete her homework, her projects, exercise, or even spend a good quality time with her friends because she was always in her own world, inside her head, overthinking everything.
Regina had never laughed so much in her life than in the last eight months of her life. She never had so many true friendships. Regina hadn’t gained self confidence before school. Regina never had a boyfriend. Regina never had such a close relationship with her teachers. Regina never lived a white winter or a leafless fall. Regina never lived a blooming spring, or a saddening summer, saying goodbye to friendships that would depart to different countries, different states, and different schools. Hebron Academy had become her home, and soon, she had to say goodbye forever. Regina was very thankful for the best decision she had ever taken in her life, which was choosing that exact year to study abroad in her boarding school, otherwise, she wouldn’t have met the people that would impact her life the most. People taught her to grow self-confidence, and learn to have conversations with people. People taught her to be careless when appropriate, and enjoy and thank for everything that she had experienced there.
When Regina realized she was a normal size chameleon, she was so frightened, she couldn’t stop changing colors. When Isabella, her roommate woke up half an hour later, she screamed. She knew what her roommate was going through, but the last thing she would’ve thought, is for Regina to transform into a chameleon. “How did that happen?” she asked. Isabella and everyone else were able to understand everything Regina said, so communication was not a problem. After the girls told Dr. Tobey what Regina had been feeling lately, and her problem of being turned into a chameleon, she advised the roommates to take Regina to Ms. Willer, the psychologist. Everyone was very confused on how she turned herself into a chameleon, but everyone was looking for answers. When Regina arrived with Ms. Willer, she explained how she felt time was flying faster than ever. How she knew those worthy friendships would soon return home, and their home was not necessarily near her. She wouldn’t have to walk two minutes to another building to meet her friends, she wouldn’t be able to sneak out in the middle of the night to her neighboring friends in Halford without the dorm parents listening. Her time was up, and Regina felt like she had to hide from everyone from time to time, understanding how her life would be without them, which is why her, being a chameleon, made sense. Regina could camouflage wherever she wanted; from walls, to desks, to anything she liked. Regina wished she could have her whole life recorded, so that she could remember every single detail possible. She felt guilty for not remembering everything she lived perfectly. All of these thoughts, were representing the bombshell of colors Regina was changing into. She was feeling lonely, although that was the farthest thing far from the truth.
Carlota was a fan of chameleons, she loved to learn everything about them and so she was called over to help try and figure out what was going on with Regina. Carlota told the psychologist that chameleons are naturally very stressful animals, and there are many potential causes for their stress; in this case, the countdown to leave for home was her weakness.
While Carlota researched for more chameleon facts, JD was trying to calm Regina. He was telling her that everything would be okay, and things would be back to normal before she knew it. She was having a panic attack! What would happen to her? She hadn’t finished the school year. Would she be able to finish high-school and start college? Would she be able to go back to Mexico City? Would her family accept her back? Everything was unclear, and there was nothing Regina could do to know what would happen next. She just had to wait, let everything happen in its time.
Isabella, Carlota, Alejandra and JD were trying to do everything to calm Regina down. Nothing worked. Jokes, or anecdotes, pictures nor hugs. Talking did not help, but crying didn’t either. Something Regina loved about her Hebron memories, was that her friends opened her mind to more music. She learned to enjoy it, she learned to want more of it. She found a way to relate songs to memories she lived, so every time she thought of specific songs, a flashback would come to her mind. Regina learned to help express her feelings through music, and she loved it.
Everyone was tired of trying to find a solution for Regina’s problem, because nothing seemed to work. They were so exhausted; Ms. Waterman suggested to take a break and listen to music. They played Regina’s favorite songs, and something unexpected happened. When Regina stopped thinking of everything that bothered her, and just concentrated herself on the lyrics of the song, she transformed back to a human. Everyone was shocked at what they had just witnessed, but Regina turned into a chameleon again. Ms. Willer then came to the conclusion, that when Regina got really strong emotions, she would turn into a small talking chameleon; but they had found the solution: music.
When I was young, my nana felt very strongly that my brother’s and my horizons needed to be expanded. Which is not to say that they were not already plenty broad: We had seen Mayan ruins in Mexico, climbed waterfalls and poled rivers in Jamaica, and hiked in the Rockies. Yet somehow, because my parents had no interest in taking me and my brother to see, for example, a revival of “The King and I” when we were eight and six years old (respectively), we were uncultured swine.
My nana was utterly out of touch with what elementary school students would find engaging, and she dragged us around St. Louis throughout the year to the symphony (we only showed signs of life during the “Beef: It’s What’s for Dinner” song), Shakespeare in the Park (everyone knows elementary school students go wild for “The Merchant of Venice,” particularly outdoors in the height of a Midwestern summer), and the Muny (what could possibly go wrong with “Cats” performed in 94-degree heat with 90% humidity?). But this was a battle my father, her son, had lost as a child and no longer had the will to fight as an adult.
So it was that in December of 1999, my nana took us to see “The Nutcracker” at the Fox in St. Louis, Missouri, our hometown. I never had any qualms about visiting the Fox, that strange and surreal haven of a bygone era with its baroque columns and heavy velvet curtains. Trussed up in my Nice Dress, white tights, and black patent leather shoes, I felt like I could be Samantha, my sweet American Girl doll from 1904. My qualms more often had to do with the reason for the visit. I had very little faith in my nana’s ability to choose a play my brother and I would enjoy, and though I was familiar with the general story of “The Nutcracker,” I was certain this show, as I would have said at the time, would also “suck.” Lucky for Nana, the show was a phantasmagorical fireworks display of color, sparkle, light and sound. I wanted to be Clara as she lit the candles on her family’s tree. I wanted to dance with the Sugarplum Fairies. As we walked to the car, my brother swashbuckled each step of the way as though he were a toy soldier. We floated in the door at home on a spun-sugar cloud.
Life at home, however, had descended into flour-coated chaos.
My mother had a clear idea of what the holidays should look like for her family. Our live Christmas tree barely fit in the house and dripped with more lights than the Vegas Strip, complete with very classy matching glass orb ornaments. Despite not being religious, there was a beautiful nativity scene under the tree. Gorgeous evergreen swag with red velvet bows looped down the banisters. She wrangled her older brother into a dramatic reading of “The Night Before Christmas,” the cousins gathered at his feet for a precious photo opportunity. All the presents were finished with handmade, elaborate bows. Dinner was a massive roast. The silver was polished, the linens came out, and the candles were lit.
And—perhaps most importantly—the cookies were baked.
Not just any cookies, mind. Brandy fruit bars. Coconut macaroons. Cranberry kiss cookies. Chocolate and mint sandwiches. She wouldn’t even entertain the suggestion of chocolate chip cookies or—god forbid—gooey butter cookies (a St. Louis delicacy of mere thousands of calories), just absently clicked her tongue and continued her frantic scrabbling of a multi-page grocery list.
In 1999, my mother had gotten it into her head that her holiday display needed more, specifically more from the motherland, Germany. So she reached out to her side of the family for family cookie recipes.
Oma, her mother, doesn’t cook, much less bake. Oma sent my mother on to Tante Rosi.
Tante Rosi baked more from memory. She was sure her daughter (my mother’s cousin), Monika, probably had something written down somewhere.
Monika had something written down, sure. She read the recipe to my mother over the phone: Nussstängeli, a hazelnut finger cookie, but with the Loris family twist of meringue topping. Exactly the kind of ambitious cookie that would be the crowning achievement of my mother’s multi-tiered cookie display.
So it was that my brother and I returned from our night at the Fox to find the following scene:
Countertops covered in failed, broken cookies.
Dirty bowls, whisks, spoons.
Sheets and sheets and sheets of parchment paper.
And our mother, tied up in the phone cord, bright red and near tears.
“It keeps falling apart, though!” she wailed into the phone. “Something is missing!” A beat. “No, Mom, I followed the recipe exactly!” Another beat. “I didn’t write it down wrong, Mom.”
My brother slipped from the room like a shadow. I slid onto a stool to behold the chaos, maybe help, if I could. I propped my chin on my fists and toed off my patent leather shoes. My mother gave me a quick wave as she listened to whatever my oma was saying. We waited.
And then, it was like my mother had found a missing puzzle piece in her pocket. The light clicked on, and the fog cleared.
“But why would she do that?” she asked her mother quietly, her lip wobbling.
Monika, it seemed, had been unwilling to share her mother’s recipe with her unsuspecting younger cousin. So Monika gave my mother a faulty recipe, one with ingredients missing and ratios off. And no matter what my mother did, she could not find the flaw, and no one would tell her.
Once off the phone, having realized the fault was not in her replication of the recipe but in the recipe itself, she began to cry—in sadness, in betrayal, in pain, in anger—and slam the crumbled broken fingers of nussstängeli into the trash can. She rage-cleaned the kitchen, scrubbing it clean of hours of effort and failure. I kept her company, sliding across the linoleum in my white tights to put things away. I pestered her with questions, not understanding how someone could provide a recipe so incorrectly, not realizing that this had been subtle familial sabotage.
We had begun spending less time with the Loris side of the family—the part of the family descended from my oma’s brother, my great uncle—in previous years, in that natural way that clefts begin to form in family trees as the branches expand. But rather than viewing it as a natural process, Monika had taken it personally, and when my mother reached out for help, Moni had taken the opportunity to take a chip out of my mother’s Christmas fantasy.
I think that’s when my mother’s eyes began to clear. Such pretense. Such pageantry. And for who? Not my uncle, who was usually drunk by the time he had to read the classic poem and ended up fiercely annoyed by the request. Not my oma, who was always unimpressed. Not my nana, who brought her own cookies to quietly push my mother’s aside and still insisted that my brother and I could use more culture.
Christmas these days is a small affair. My mom, my dad, my brother. There’s still evergreen swag, the tree is still absurdly huge. But now the ornaments are a crazy mishmash: skating penguins, a silver Buddha, a sexy Vixen, Santa with a Coke, and an elephant in a hot air balloon. The nativity that never matched our beliefs has been replaced by a hilariously complex Christmas village, orchestrated by my father, who each year becomes a city planner/engineer (“See, up on the hill is the school and the lodge, and this is the river that cuts through the village to this little pond, and see, that’s where the kids are ice skating, right by the toy store!”). Last year, instead of a roast, we made green and red enchiladas, much to my mother’s comical horror. (They were fantastic.) Instead of dragging ourselves to pretentious shows, we always watch “A Muppet Christmas Carol,” and we all sing along.
Once, recently, there were even gooey butter cookies.
Gooey Butter Cookies Prep Time: 5 minutes Cook Time: 10 minutes Chill time: 30 minutes Total Time: 45 minutes Servings: 24 cookies Ingredients: ▢ 1 box yellow cake mix▢ 1/2 c butter softened▢ 1/2 tsp vanilla extract▢ 8 oz cream cheese softened▢ 1 egg▢ powdered sugar Instructions: 1. Beat butter, vanilla, egg, and cream cheese until fluffy. 2. Mix in cake mix. 3. Chill for 30 minutes. 4. Roll into balls and dip in a bowl of powdered sugar. 5. Bake at 350 for 10-12 minutes, and sift powdered sugar on top if desired.