December 23, 2012

Silent Night

My favorite Christmas since the kids have grown older was the year we skipped it altogether and flew to Madeira on Christmas Eve to be with Tom's family. I loved blowing the holidays off that year. I felt like such a derelict. It felt like skipping school. We arrived in Maderia with just a handful of very small gifts. Beauty and warmth were our gifts that Christmas and it was divine.

I have this image now in my head of running away to a remote cabin in the woods with a big crackling hearth. It is snowing outside but warm and toasty inside. I am in a red, one piece, long underwear uni-  with the seat thing-a-ma-bobby that opens so that you can pee, and a sweater, and thick wool socks. And the day comprises of opening just a few beautifully wrapped gifts, reading, cooking a big pot of goodness, drinking hot cocoa with a shot of something in it, going for a walk, napping, and hanging together. It is a day when we all remember how very fortunate we are to have each other and everyone gets along.

As the years move along the scene at malls seems more and more unappealing to me. People scrambling out of guilt to find just the right gift or any gift. Trying to measure up. For the most part it all feels so ridiculous, and unnecessary. I feel like starting a brigade to boycott Christmas as we know it.

Plus the environmental impact of the holidays is huge.

I apologize if I am bumming anyone out with my scroogie-ness.

What I do love about the holidays is being able to cut the engine when it's all ready and just coast like a boat on calm water. I like making gifts. I love being together, and the tree twinkling with lights with beautiful wrappings underneath. I like making those buttery shortbread cut-out cookies with the butter cream icing, and serene music like the video below.

And also I like remembering to help those less fortunate, and to count our many, many blessings. Especially as of late.

Happy Holidays to you and yours.

Six second hugs all around,

XO, Louise

December 16, 2012

Thoughts on Newtown

Today's post is written by my niece, Tana Becker, who is a teacher in the Boston school system. As a blogger I realize that I am veering off course but I also know that what happened this past Friday has permeated our thoughts and effected us all on a very deep level.

I bring you Tana:

"There seems to be a debate right now about whether to focus on gun control or mental health. Why is it one or the other? Both are so important and relevant to this situation. Both are issues that we need to act on.

I don’t understand the need to own a gun or to defend oneself with weapons, but I know that so many Americans feel strongly about this, so I can respect it to a certain extent. Growing up an animal and nature-loving vegetarian, I also don’t understand hunting. But I grew up in a rural area where on the first day of hunting season school was empty, and it wasn’t uncommon to come home and see a deer hanging from my neighbor’s tree—so I can respect that too. But let’s be real—all you need for hunting is a rifle. And as for defense, there is nothing “defensive” about owning automatic weapons that can kill 27 people in a matter of minutes. There is no place for that in our society. ABSOLUTELY NONE. No reason why that should be legal. No good that can come of it. And no reason why anyone should own more than one gun. So when people say, “I have the right to defend myself, that’s why I own all these guns,” or “that’s why I own these automatic weapons,” they’re really saying something else—something about power, about fascination with the ability to destruct, about the potential to be very offensive, and not defensive at all.

As far as mental health goes, I am a high school teacher in an under-resourced district, where most students fall under the poverty line, and where many have experienced violence, the instability of moving several times per year, and homelessness. In a school of almost 600 students where these are the kinds of experiences many of them have, how many social workers do you think we would have? One, two, twenty? Well, we have none. Not a single full time school social worker or counselor. No drug intervention program, no trauma recovery program, no resources for homeless youth. We do have partnerships with community organizations in which counselors come into school 1-2 days per week—but with absenteeism such a huge issue, especially for the students in greatest need, students are often not present the day the counselor comes in. There are no resources to follow up on these students with home visits or the interventions they need.

In addition to all the “regular” problems that many have, there are some, as there are in all schools, with more serious mental health problems. What can we do to protect ourselves from the potential actions of these students or others in the community? I don’t know. My principal, in the past, has asked for alarmed doors and other security measures. The district has turned her down. This type of request would never be turned down in a suburban school district.

This brings me to another point. I am tired of hearing about what a quaint, affluent, “safe” community Newtown is. The tragedy here is that 27 people were killed, and that 20 of them were innocent, beautiful children—not that they were wealthy, suburban children. This would have been equally tragic had it happened in an urban neighborhood, or a poor rural community—and the news media is responsible for conveying that message—that this was the senseless death of children, period.

And now to the important point—the children. I find it easier to go on about gun control and mental health than to write about the immediacy of the tragedy, which is the horrific, violent end to 6 and 7 year old lives. I find it easier to distract myself by staying plastered to the news than to turn off the TV and just sit in silence and feel how I really feel.

Which brings me to the question of prayer. I am not part of a formal religious faith. I grew up in a secular, half Christian half Jewish home. But I have respect for religion, and I believe in God in the sense that I believe in beauty, light, and healing, and the ability for people to come together in community.

As I lit the Chanukah lights last night, I asked myself, what place does “light” have on a day like today? I thought, I could remind myself that light and beauty still exist in the world even when tragedies like this happen—but although it’s important to remember light and beauty moving forward, it didn’t seem helpful to force myself to think that way when I wasn’t feeling it. Then I tried to think of the candles as a celebration of the children’s lives—and in the coming days and weeks it will be very important to celebrate them—but it seemed too soon. Then I thought about meditating, where the point is to “just be” with whatever thoughts and emotions come to pass. That also seemed pointless. I feel what I think a lot of us are feeling—powerless.  We can’t drive to Connecticut to volunteer, we can’t send a donation to the Red Cross. There is nothing we can do.

So when people say that they are praying for the children and the families, I am still trying to figure out how to do that. I think what they are doing is asking God to help the families heal from their grief, and help the victims’ souls be at peace. This seems like the best thing to do, and I’m trying to figure out how I can do it in a way that feels authentic to me. The thing I keep coming back to is that I just need to love them—love the families as if they were my brothers and sisters, and love the children who witnessed the violence, and the children who did not survive the violence, as if they were my own."

Beautifully said Tana. Thank you for your thoughts and for your contribution to Lines of Beauty. I join you in sending love to the victims, their families & friends, and to everyone at the Sandy Hook school, especially the young children who witnessed what no one should ever have to see.

December 13, 2012


My youngest returned after three months in Guatemala on Monday. She is taking a gap year before college and went there to intern as a kindergarten teacher with children who not only don't have enough to eat, but who also live without running water, and sleep on a dirt floor in make shift homes at night. 

Seeing her walk through the gate at the airport nearly took my breath away. It brings tears to my eyes again now as I am so very proud of her courage at such a young age. A courage I didn't experience. Observing her personal growth since her return has been nothing but delicious. She has Guatemala all over her, and I have been enriched, and feel very blessed, by her tales.

And just as I suspected, she can't wait to go back after she works for a few months....

I love the above quote as it is so relate-able in all areas of our lives. Both times when my kids have been off on big trips alone like this, I could have so easily spiraled out of control with worry but most times was able to save myself by changing the channel and my thoughts.

Surprisingly I've enjoyed our empty nest more than I could have ever imagined, but it's so good to have them back in it again, at least for while.

I am writing this, having not purchased a single Christmas gift yet, and I'm thinking "How the hell am I going to pull this off?"

So I am choosing a different thought and that thought is...

"Relax. It's all going to work out!".

I hope I'm right.

December 07, 2012

Simple Pleasures

Gingerbread candle holders
Filmmaker Casey Neistat has created numerous videos but I especially like this one that he made (below) about his 92-year-old grandmother, Louise Neistat, and her tap dancing career. A former Rockette, Louise did what she loved- teaching classes 6 days a week up in her attic and producing dance shows for her students- right up until she died. All her ticket proceeds went to cancer research.

Louise Neistat, you my dear, are this week's beauty.

Also this week I have the recipe for the gingerbread candle holders for anyone who is interested. They are so easy to make and last until the warm weather returns here in New England- when the humidity does them in. This year however I am going to try preserving them in the freezer when it arrives and see what happens:

Blend 1/3 cup of Crisco with 1 cup of brown sugar. Add in 1.5 cups of molasses (not black-strap) and then 2/3 cups of cold water. Gradually add in 6.5 cups of flour, 1 teaspoon of salt, 1 teaspoon of cinnamon,  and 1/2 teaspoon each of nutmeg and ginger (the last cup of flour needs to be kneaded in by hand as the dough gets too thick to mix).

Allow dough to sit for 1-2 hours at room temperature.

Don't forget to cut your donut holes before baking the dough!
Next roll 1/4 of the dough out at a time on a floured surface until it is about 1/4" in thickness. If dough is too sticky knead in more flour. I cut my circles with Ateco's 12 piece cutter set, but you can probably use various sizes of glasses or other circular things you have around the house instead. For my circles I used Ateco's 3.25", 2.5", and 1.75" cutters (plus the 7/8" one to make the holes in the two smaller circles for the candle to rest in- see photo above). Be sure to make your holes a tiny bit bigger than the candle you are going to use. My favorite candles are Trader Joe's  tapered Danish ones because they are dripless and inexpensive.

Bake for about 10 minutes, on greased cookie sheets, at 350 degrees.

To glue the 3 circles together and decorate candle holders I make this Royal Icing. I make 1/4 of this recipe for starters and I don't add in the lemon extract. Put the icing in a sandwich bag and cut a very small hole in one of the corners and it works like a charm for decorating.

The above recipe makes about 24 candle holders.  I don't double the recipe as I found the dough too hard to mix and deal with in large quantities.


Feel free to ask any questions in the comment section.

Recipe by Lisa Carrino, owner of The Round House Bakery.