Thursday, November 26, 2015


Couple weeks ago I got a hankering for pumpkin pie.

I am not the pie baker in the family for our Thanksgiving dinner (which we will foregather to consume tomorrow). My second daughter is the best pie baker in her generation of my family—a direct descendant from my mother and Grandma Jenkins. Thus, when I have a blue-ribbon pie baker, why should I go to all that work once a year? Besides, what someone else’s pie/cookies/casserole always tastes better than the one I made, if only because I didn’t have to clean up after it and the aroma is new to me.

So, why did I bake a pumpkin pie?

Because of the aforementioned hankering.

Let me digress here a little: Hankerings are dangerous things. They lead you into deep, dark tunnels of experience. They begin whispering in your ear, promising great things. They can push you into trying the new, the different, the dangerous—or the downright foolhardy.

Pumpkin pie . . . pumpkin pie . . . firm but melt-in-your-mouth pumpkin/egg/milk/spices . . . in a tender crust just the right color . . . .

I let myself be led and pushed into making a pumpkin pie.

If I were writing instructions for a non-pie baker who had never before made a pumpkin pie, I’d be very, very specific, along these lines:
  • ·         Purchase a ready-made crust. (I did.)
  • ·         Purchase “Pumpkin Pie Mix”—not individual ingredients. (I bought the can.)
  • ·         Read the label on the Pumpkin Pie Mix can carefullymindfully—make sure you understand what you read. (I, alas, did not.)
Well, I did understood, more or less, but I was not careful enough, mindful enough, and therefore, here’s what happened:

The Pumpkin Pie Mix label says you’ll need four things:
o   The can of mix you’re holding in your hand
o   A 5-oz. can of condensed milk (2/3 cup)
o   2 eggs
o   A 9-inch unbaked deep-dish pie pastry (4-cup volume)

That’s it. Easy-peasy, right?

I must’ve been living in another time (the time warps in this house can be tricky to negotiate) because I just knew I needed a 12-oz. can of condensed milk. After all, I've made pumpkin pie for, well, decades. The cans of milk that size are right there, next to the cans of pumpkin, on the big central aisle display (impeding the flow of traffic, I might add—but that’s another story). So, I bought the 12-oz. can of condensed milk (which nowadays—I told you about the time warp—is 14 oz.).

For eggs I use egg substitute. No problem there. I repeat: No problem there.

No problem with the crust. Well, not exactly. It wasn’t quite deep enough, so I had pie filling left over—actually, quite a lot of filling left over. (I’ll explain my brilliant solution to that problem in a minute.)

Back to the pie filling, waiting patiently on the counter:
  • ·         Empty can of Pumpkin Pie Mix into large bowl.
  • ·         Pour in can of milk (most of the 14 oz.)
  • ·         Pour in egg sub equivalent to 2 eggs.
  • ·         Have Moment of Awful Truth—“That’s too much milk!”
  • ·         Hastily use a measuring cup to dip out as much milk as might equal 5 oz., taking with it some of the liquid egg sub.
  • ·         Take a moment to breathe and decide: Should I scream and throw the whole thing at the wall, bowl and all? Cuss? Cry? Stamp my feet? None of the above?
  • ·         Calmly fill the pie shell (as if I knew what I was doing all along)—put in the preheated oven—set the timer for 15 minutes.
  • ·         While pie was baking, I googled “Crustless Pumpkin Pie” and found a perfectly practical way to use the leftover (excessive, wasteful, redundant) pie filling: Pour it into a shallow pie plate, bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes, reduce oven heat to 350 degrees and bake for 30-40 minutes more. Sprinkle top with pecans before baking, if desired. I did so desire. And it was good. (By the way, this was the brilliant solution referenced above.)
The crusted pumpkin pie seemed to take longer to bake; even though I’d covered the crust edges with a shield, it was darker than I like. To fix that problem, I left the dark brown edge on my plate and ate the rest. With real whipped cream. And it was very good.

Pretty straightforward, don’t you think? After all, I’ve done it once before.

Wishing you a wonderful, joyful, thankful day, full of good times, good food, laughter and love and life in abundance.

May all your pumpkin pies be beautiful ones!

Thursday, November 19, 2015


I have a childlike fascination with the leaf vacuum truck. A couple days ago I watched the truck inch its way along while the worker on foot swung the big tube across the leaf piles.

My yard man and I had raked or blown leaves to the curb—some over into the street, some still a few inches into the lawn. The truck made its tortoise-speed way along and the tube man sucked up the leaves—except for the ones on the grass!

I was disappointed; I sighed, and mentally added “Leaves” to my ever-growing list of Things To Do.

When the truck reached my driveway, I was ready to go about my indoor business (cleaning carpets). Then I heard the familiar “Backing Up!” signal; the driver backed to the place where Tube Man could make a second pass and suck up the leaves on the lawn. How about that?!

Later in the day I left to go to some appointments and was proud of the lovely clean-up all along my little street. Opposite me are several cars and trucks that have no garages to call their own, so they live on the street. Leaves collect around and under them. The Leaf Men had made a special effort to clear up around the vehicles. (Other years, I’ve seen some “lick and a promise” clean up.)

This year, I’m giving kudos to the municipal street department for their thorough attention to leaf removal.

My fascination with big machines is, I think, related to my joy in seeing order come out of chaos.

Growing up, I watched my dad create houses out of stacks of wood, kegs of nails, a few tools, and a noisy Skil-Saw that woke me up on Saturday mornings before I was ready. (Teenagers have always had trouble with Saturday mornings.)

But maybe it’s more than order out of chaos. Maybe it’s the beauty that comes through when people use their tools or equipment or instruments or their talents, their minds, their hands, their bodies. I’m not an athlete, but watching gymnasts go through their routines is breathtaking. And ice skaters. And dancers.

And I’m not particular—watching high school athletes go through their paces can be as thrilling as attending a pro game. Often, more so, because local athletes are kids we know, whose careers we follow.

As I write this, leaves are still falling. Rain and wind are doing their best to bring the last ones to the ground. In a few more days, leaf raking/blowing will be over for another season. The skitter of leaves across the patio will be a memory. Trees will show their bare branches against the sky. Squirrels and birds will raid the feeders. Autumn will be two-thirds of the way through her appointed time.

And just in case we think there might be a break—though why we’d think so remains a mystery—our little northeast corner of Indiana is expecting Accumulating Snow on Friday night and into Saturday. No one has hazarded a guess about the amount of accumulation. We’ll let that be a surprise.

Have a blessed week! Holiday time is fast approaching.

Thursday, November 12, 2015


Some of my favorite kid-time stories were “The Three Little Pigs,” “Little Red Riding Hood,” and, probably the one I liked best, “The Little Red Hen.”

The Little Red Hen had several chicks, and in order to provide food for them (this is a nursery story, remember) she had to plant the wheat, cultivate the wheat, harvest the wheat, grind it into flour, and then bake bread. Her requests (always politely made, as I recall) for help with each of these tasks met with refusals from the other inhabitants of the barn yard.

“Who will help me plant the wheat?” said the Little Red Hen.

“Not I,” said the Dog.

“Not I,” said the Cat.

“Not I,” said the Rat.

And so on.

“Then I’ll do it myself,” said the Little Red Hen. And she did.

This goes on and on, through all the steps from planting wheat to fresh-baked loaf. (Such a story is guaranteed to keep a child interested for quite a long time. And, of course, out of mischief.)

Finally—we come to the best part: The Little Red Hen takes the fragrant loaf of bread out of her oven and says, “Who will help me eat the bread?”

Can you guess? Everybody! “I will!” said the Dog. “I will!” said the Cat. And on through all the animals.

The Little Red Hen reminds them that they did nothing to help plant the wheat, grind the meal, knead the dough. . . . 

“My chicks and I will eat the bread,” said the Little Red Hen. And they did.

The Lesson Learned—at least, I suppose this is the intention of the author—is that in order to enjoy things in life, we must be willing to put in some effort ourselves.

Okay, I learned that part.

But I also learned another lesson: If no one will help you, then do it yourself.

And I do. I have. Through most of my life.

This is natural for an only child. No siblings to help me build a tree house; parents with no extra time to teach me how to sew or bake a cake. Often, no neighbors—kids or otherwise—or extended family nearby to fill in for parents fully occupied in keeping the home going.

So, I did it myself.

The Lesson Unlearned, for me, is to allow others to do things for me.

A few years ago my son confided that his willingness to do a number of things in his church meant that others didn’t volunteer. Or didn’t learn to do that task. As he put it, “Just because I can do something, doesn’t mean that I ought to do it.”

I realized that I believed that also, and had, in fact, already stopped doing some things in order for others to do them.

The next step: Let people do things for me. Hmm, that’s not so easy. But I’m working on it.

Today I will have a handyman and his helper come over to move heavy objects from my living room—furniture, boxes of fabric in large plastic totes, and a few other weighty items. When they leave, I can begin using my daughter’s carpet cleaner on the living room floor. When that dries, in a day or so, I’ll have the helpers come back to move dining room furniture, etc. to the living room area, so I can clean that carpet.

I used to be able to do all the preparation, the furniture moving, and the cleaning. And I did. Now I’m willing to hire others to do those things for me.

This Little Red Hen has learned when to say, “I need your help. Will you help me?” And if the first person declines, well, there’s always someone else who might say yes.

Caregivers have become Very Important People in our culture. They come in all shapes, sizes, and capacities. I know two women who are caregivers for their handicapped husbands. Both have been married many years, and there is a sense of joy and peace in their lives that is obvious to those of us who know them. Other adults care for their adult children with disabilities or aging parents.

Still other caregivers are the parents or grandparents (even great-grandparents) of school-age children. And nursery school teachers, child care personnel, teachers in public and private schools, Sunday School teachers.

Some caregivers are so obvious, we might forget about them—clergy, medical personnel, counselors and therapists.

Make a list of people who are caregivers in your family, or neighborhood, or community. Then give thanks for them. Or thank them in person.

Today I celebrate those people who give of themselves to spend time and energy for others.

And I celebrate Life Lessons—both learned and unlearned—that help us accept help when we need it. We might become better helpers ourselves, once we get the hang of it.

Thursday, November 5, 2015


Long before “Lifelong Learning” became an educational policy, I’d enrolled.

So, most likely, did every one of you.

Think about it—we start out as totally dependent infants with only a few ways to communicate, mainly bawling our heads off. When we get satisfaction—food, clean diaper, a cuddle—we have learned how to get what we want.

From there, it’s easy-peasy. New stuff comes along every minute—noises, voices; lights, darkness; tasty foods, icky foods; same with smells; and tactile delights, or not. Learning is innate, not an option. That is, if you’re going to survive.

So lifelong learning has always been with us. It just got discovered, or rediscovered, and made into a virtue. And, as I said, an educational policy.

How do we learn? Let me count the ways . . . books, films, one-on-one teaching; observation (my youngest daughter asserts that she was “the good child” because she watched her older siblings get into trouble for this, that, and the other, and decided it wasn’t worth doing); osmosis (this is probably what the philosophers meant when they tried to say we become what we are by Nurture, not Nature); even deliberate choice.

What we retain, however, is probably only dependent on ourselves—our intent to remember what we learn, our need for it (good motivator, need), our interest or not.

Given that opportunities for learning surround us, what I want to explore today is the process of re-learning.

It goes like this: I have a method for doing something, say, cleaning up the yard in the fall before the snow flies (if I’m lucky and take the time). My method involves sweatshirt, work gloves, sunglasses, mask; rake, push broom (for cleaning off the patio and driveway), regular broom (for getting leaves out of corners and cracks); keys for all the outside doors, in case I want to get back in without walking all the way around; and a tarp for loading leaves and hauling them from back yard to curb out front.

(It takes longer to tell about than to do. Trust me on this one.)

That’s my method. Thus, a couple of weeks ago, when it looked as if the weather might be going to break and rain/chill/wind was the climate du jour—in fact, every jour—I went through my routine and went out for my first leaf-raking session. The day before’s rain had helped the leaves stay in place; it also added more weight than I was ready for. I hauled two heavy tarpsful out to the curb, and that was it for me. I was out of breath, out of energy, and out of patience with limitations.

I decided to wait for the yard man’s return from Florida.

And, I decided to buy a leaf blower.

When the yard man got back from his nice vacation, he mulched and bagged most of the leaves from the back yard (heaviest leaf fall) and mulched the (many fewer) leaves in front. We both knew the front was going to fill up again, minute by minute.

Yesterday was LB-Day. I got out the leaf blower, found the heavy extension cord, hooked the whole thing up, pressed the button, and hey presto! leaves scattered like magic.

I’d intended to stay outside 15, maybe 20 minutes, learning how to manipulate the new machine and decide if I really liked it. By the time I cleaned up a large chunk of the front yard and had a respectable percentage of leaves at the curb (of which I was shamelessly proud) I’d been out 40 minutes. Came inside—no back ache, no sore arm/shoulder. Had a cup of coffee and patted myself on the back.

I’d re-learned something. How about that?

I have to admit right here: The new method isn’t the be-all and end-all of leaf management. I don’t want to use an electrical appliance outside in the rain, for example. And I doubt if even the higher powered setting will lift sopping wet leaves with enthusiasm. But for these halcyon, sunny days of autumn, the leaf blower brings back some of my former enjoyment of yard work.

Re-learning, I believe, occurs in a spiral—not in a circle. We’re not repeating the same old-same old and getting nowhere. We’re starting at the same place, and upping our approach a notch. And then maybe another notch.

This works for nearly everything—woodworking, needlework, designing, cooking . . . .

The underlying question is: What If?

What if . . . I try cutting the boards this way first?
What if . . . I combine two yarns instead of using a thicker one?
What if . . . I change the shape of the house to an L, instead of a rectangle?
What if . . . I use allspice instead of cinnamon in the apple pie?

Once you start asking “What if . . .” you become creative. You dare to think of a different method, another view of something you’ve always done one way.

Kids do it all the time. They color a giraffe green. They use purple shoestrings in red shoes. They lie on the floor and put their feet on the couch while they read.

Try it! You might like what you re-learn.

Of course, you’ll find sometimes there’s no good reason to change—it’s the old “ain’t broke so don’t fix it” situation. Your choice.

One area of re-learning has caused me some grief. I refer to the matter of being Politically Correct.

My thinking is not naturally of the P.C. kind. Here’s an example:

When I was a kid, the Chicago Tribune ran a great, large, picture/drawing of an Indian (now, Native American) leaning against a tree smoking a pipe. In the background are teepees with smoke coming out of the top, the air is hazy, and all around the crops have been harvested. We didn’t need a caption or a story to tell us: This is Indian Summer.

[It’s called by other names in other places. St. Martin’s Summer and St. Luke’s Summer were formerly used in the UK, because the feast days of these two saints occurred in autumn.]

I mean no disrespect to Native Americans by using the term Indian Summer. What I recall from my youth is descriptive and conjurs up exactly how I think of this dry, sunny spell after the first killing frost.

Enjoy this season, whatever you call it. Celebrate the seasons, new inventions to lighten our work load, and the opportunity to change our ways of thinking.

Have a great week!