Thursday, April 06, 2017

A Grandpa Day



This is the birthday of my grandfather. My mother was his daughter. Grandpa Haderlie was born in 1889. That means that my most vivid memories of him, as the man building hay sheds, and fences, and painting and doing concrete at my parents' farm were all of a man who was in his 70's! When I realized this, as an adult, I was amazed. He was as old as I am now, when I was born--64. I was just one of 24 grandchildren that was part of his progeny, but he and grandma spent every Saturday in the summer at our house. (They wintered in Mesa, Arizona.)

It was just the summer routine: Grandma and Grandpa would drive into our driveway sometime in the late morning. We would rush out to greet them...and to collect the bag of donuts he always brought. He'd usually bring some Swiss cheese from the factory he'd pass by on his way to our home.(He and some other men started that cheese factory as a co-op when they were young farmers.) Grandma was shorter than me in most of my memories, but that's just because I grew tall at a young age. Grandpa always wore a nice felt hat, or sometimes, a straw hat, but he always wore a hat. Grandma always wore a dress, with hose and black, lace-up shoes with a little heel.

He came ready to work. There was always something at our farm that needed built, rebuilt, painted, repaired, taken down, put back up, etc. etc. I realize now that he was a great boon to my dad. Daddy had his hands full just keeping the irrigation current, the hay mowed and baled, the animals fed, and cared for, so to have his father-in-law come every week in the summer and build corral fences, and repair the barn doors, and add on to my mother's chicken coop was a blessing. Plus, we got to help!! Imagine the "helpers" --- eight and nine year old girls with our four year old brother tagging along. But, we could paint very well, after Grandpa showed us how to do it. (Luckily he also had my older sisters who were teens.) Those lovely plank fences around the barnyard were beautiful when painted white. The new barn doors looked terrific not sagging off their hinges, with the bright new stripes of white criss-crossing the red like an iconic barn should look. He repaired the sidewalks, he built us a cement block milk house with a cooling tank for the cans, and a place to wash the milkers.

My mother would feed us all dinner (that is the 1:00P.M. meal on a farm) and then Grandpa would go back out to complete whatever project was started that morning. Daddy would take a little, much-needed nap, and then, after we girls had cleaned up the kitchen and done the dishes, my mom could do Grandma's hair. She'd shampoo it, and then curl it into little pinwheels with bobby pins. Then, it would dry overnight, and Grandma would be all ready for church the next day. When the hair was finished, and it was about four in the afternoon, Grandpa and Grandma would pack up their car with the fresh eggs from my mother's chickens, and sometimes they'd take a loaf of bread, and maybe some of the vegetables from the garden, or a jar or two of whatever my mother was canning, and head back home--about 30 miles away, in the "lower valley" (which was actually north of us, but down-river.)

I don't know how my grandpa and his brother had the energy, stamina, or even the knee joints to do all the building they did on my parents' farm when I was a child. But, I know that he did it from a sense of duty to help my parents improve the little run-down place they'd bought when I was baby. That is a really long story, that doesn't need to be told here. Let's just say, that Grandpa felt he owed them.

But, my Grandpa, the one who I remember from the 1960s had become a different little fellow by the 1970s. My grandmother had died, right after I finished high school, and two years before that, their beloved youngest son, had been killed in a plane crash while serving as a test pilot in the US Air Force. He really became an old man after those losses. I was married and living away in SoCal when Grandpa finally couldn't live alone anymore. He had to give up his driving privileges, and he ended up living for a month or two with each of his three daughters for several years. Then, the family finally needed to have him enter a care center for his last few years.

Talking to my younger brothers and sisters, I realize that the Grandpa I knew was not the Grandpa they'd known. Those ten years between when I was a little girl and then became a woman, were years that really aged him. Instead of the busy grandpa who built hay sheds, and poured new sidewalks, he'd become the old grandpa who complained that the kids these days laid around too much. This was upon seeing my teen-aged brothers laying on the couch watching a T.V. show after they'd hauled hay all day, and milked the cows twice.

He passed away at age 91. His legacy is still standing at my parents' old farm: fences and buildings that probably need him to come by on a Saturday, and mobilize a painting crew! He was one of those "Hurrying Haderlies" who worked as hard as he could, all of his life. He was a good, good man, and I cherish my memories of this awesome Grandpa.
 When they lived in Arizona, he liked to send us photos 
of the beautiful flowers growing there in December and January. 
Of course in Wyoming, we didn't have blooming bougainvillea that time of year.
 This is Grandpa and Grandma and Uncle Kermit. He was stationed at Luke AFB in Phoenix for several years, so they got to spend time together. He was an Air Force pilot.
 My grandpa is in my mother's living room, talking with two of his sisters, 
and his daughter, my Aunt Vera (on the far left.)
On the occasion of my grandparents 50th wedding anniversary.
On the lawn, in front of their house. I am the tall geek on the left in the blue dress. 
I was 12, almost taller than my mother.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The End is Near (er)

A couple of years ago the elementary school where I teach 4th grade reached its 20th Anniversary. We planned a big celebration, of course. My fellow grade level teachers had a fun idea: let’s have all the children write an essay about what they think they’ll be doing 20 years from now! And the teachers could write one, too!

I sat there for a minute, then I replied, “I don’t really want to write one of those. I probably won’t be alive in 20 years.” Yeah…that was a real mood killer.

They immediately protested, and reassured me that I was just being silly–I wasn’t that old–come on! And I laughed it off, and we proceeded to plan other parts of our school celebration. But, I was just being nice. I probably won’t be living on earth in 20 more years.

I don’t feel ghoulish about it. It is just a fact. From the moment of our birth, the clock is ticking on our stay here in mortality. The norm in my world is that people grow older and generally pass on when they’ve lived a full life of many decades.

But, if you are born in some parts of the United States, in certain demographic situations, you actually do not expect that you’ll grow to be an old man. In fact, you and a number of your peers will likely die a violent death. I have a co-worker who went to college (against many odds) and teaches school and seems to be living a life similar to mine. However, she is part of a family that has most of its members living in the “other” style that she left behind. She has attended a funeral for a close, young, relative every year I’ve known her. Death isn’t a far-away, someday-thing for old people in that world.

How much does family history figure in to the age one will reach before death? It may make a difference because of certain health issues: diabetes, heart disease, some cancers. But, in my family, the stats are really skewed. My father’s dad was dead at 34…murdered…by his brother…sort of accidentally. Daddy’s mother had died two years before at age 27–she’d fallen down some stairs, and was unconscious. Because of how she’d landed, she couldn’t breath. She died before my six-year-old dad could bring back some help. Orphaned by age 8, my father lived 61 years and one month. He passed 30 days after his birthday from the leukemia he had been fighting for six years. (Yes, I should write a book about his tragic childhood…)

However, on my mother’s side, her father lived to age 96. Grandpa told me once that he’d had to revise his plans over and over, because the people he’d wished to speak or sing at his service kept dying before it was time for Grandpa’s funeral. My mom, his daughter, lived until the age of 78. Lucky for her, she was fairly robust until the last few months, and then she rapidly slid downhill. Actually, she felt relieved to be going. She’d really missed my dad all those years. When you went to visit her in those last few weeks, she’d point out an item from her house, and urge you to take it with you right then, because she knew you really liked it, and she didn’t need it anymore. Practical woman right to the end.

So, I don’t feel negatively about contemplating my demise. I just feel realistic. I’ve already out-lived my father by three years, and his life was seriously diminished by his illness in the final three years. I am still quite healthy. If I make it at least as far as my mother, I’ve got fourteen years left. We have two grandchildren who are 14 years old. Hmm, when I think of it like that, I get a little pensive. After all, those two have grown up in the blink of an eye. I hope the remainder of my life doesn’t fly by that fast.

The end—it is coming.One thing that makes this less intimidating is to reflect on how you are living your life right now. In reality, the only thing that counts is each moment. If you’re putting off positive experiences, thinking that “someday” you’ll reward yourself—cut it out!! Enjoy your life right now!

If you have serious regrets about things from the past—cut it out!! You can only change what is happening right now. Be the kind of person from now on that you wish you had been then.

Be such a cheerful, good, and thoughtful person that, when you finally do leave this mortal realm, people will miss you, and use you as an inspiration to live their lives the same way. Or, you can mope around, morbidly lamenting the fleeting state of mortality.

The choice is all yours how to spend each blessed moment that we have here as human beings on our earthly home. The end.


Here's the view that some of my relatives will have on Resurrection Morning.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Pie!

Last week, CoolGuy spent several hours doing one of his specialties: fixing up one of our vehicles. He knew that the truck needed a new power steering system because he'd seen a leak while he was changing the oil the week before. This required some ridiculous effort: jacking up the front end, rolling around under there on his mechanic's cart, and using (what looked to me) every wrench he has in his tool box. He got the old part off, took it up to the auto parts store, and came back with a new set-up (which cost nothing because--WARRANTY!--(this is the second one he has replaced) and then went to work hooking up the new system.

It is always a wonder to watch these automobile repairs. He doesn't just see a truck: he sees all the systems and what they are supposed to look like, feel like, sound like, and can tell when something isn't just right. I get into the seat every morning, turn the key, the motor purrs to life, and I head off on my day, never giving it a second thought. Thanks to the amazing brain of CoolGuy, I never think about my transportation systems, except to buy more gas.


What does this have to do with pie, you ask? Well, I realized that I needed to do something special to show my admiration and appreciation. The solution: lemon meringue pie; home-made lemon meringue pie. I bought the lemons, I went home and got wrapped up in some other project that was pressing, and failed to get the pie made. So I took care of it today.

Last night, I got home and decided that now was the time. I pulled out the flour, butter, and Crisco and got to work on the shell. I was interrupted over and over by texts from various church people while we sorted out some Primary business. I finally got it all baked and cooling on the table. But, by then, I realized that I couldn't go on with the filling, because it was definitely time to eat dinner, and then get off to bed.

Tonight, after tutoring, I headed home and got started on the rest of the masterpiece. The only reason why I am successful at making homemade lemon meringue pie is that I watched my mother make them at least once a month while I was growing up. It is a massive undertaking. If I hadn't seen the process from beginning to end, over and over, I'm not sure I'd have ever been able to accomplish it.

First, it takes a ridiculous number of pots, bowls, spoons, spatulas, measuring spoons and cups. It also requires a few specialty items such as a lemon juicer, and a lemon peeler/scraper thingy that lets you get fine bits of lemon rind off the lemons before you juice them. You need a mixer, and a pie plate, and -- according to my mother's version -- some coconut to sprinkle on the meringue before you bake it.

So, you make the pudding, and then stir it and stir it, and then you mix up the egg yolks with a little hot pudding to carefully change their temperature and not have them curdle, but instead cook in smoothly. Then there's the butter, and the lemon rind, and the juice. Stir it all together, and pour this carefully into the cooled, cooked pie crust you made earlier.

Next: meringue. Who knew all the little details? My mom always used eggs that had sat around for a week to make lemon pie meringue. She said that new eggs wouldn't whip up as well. Then, when I was in Home Ec in high school, the teacher pointed out that we should use fresh eggs if we wanted to be successful in creating a really fluffy meringue. I was puzzled, so I raised my hand. "My mom says that eggs have to age a little to be best for meringue." The teacher just smiled, and told me that my mom's version of "fresh" eggs was quite different from grocery store "fresh." She knew my mother had a coop full of chickens. Ha ha!

So, here's another thing: did you know that it is easier to separate cold eggs, but best to have the whites at room temperature for whipping? Yeah...so you separate the eggs at the beginning of the whole filling-making process, and let those whites sit around on the counter in their mixing bowl during the time it takes to create the lemon filling; they'll warm up a little. Then, after you've whipped them to a fluffy, creamy looking froth that billows up in the mixing bowl, it is time to add the sugar...very, very carefully. Dribble it in very slowly as the beaters keep churning that fluff. One tablespoon at a time, slipping off the measuring spoon ever so slowly. This allows it to be incorporated thoroughly, dissolving into the wet fluff. This is how you avoid "weeping" meringue. That is when moist drops appear on top of your pie after it all cools off. Yes, it is the little things.

Finally, the sugar is all stirred in, and you lift the beaters out of the bowl raising big drifts of meringue on the top of the pile. Now, it is time to place it on the hot filling---hot filling is how you help the meringue to stick to the pie edges. Also, you must spread the white fluff completely to the edges of the crust, actually having a little of it spread just onto the crust. Do all the edges first, then pile the rest into the center. I actually use three yolks in the lemon filling, but I put four whites into the meringue so I'll have plenty to pile high. Sprinkle a little coconut all over, and gently carry the quivering masterpiece to the oven. Bake the meringue till it is nice and browned, and then ever-so-carefully lift the magnificent creation out, and place it on a rack to cool.

While the meringue bakes....wash dishes. You'll be astonished at the pile you've generated. Like I said, if I had not watched my mother whip out these pies (it takes a few hours between making/baking crust and then the filling/meringue and baking it some more...) I do not think I'd have ever attempted this culinary delight. But, watching her accomplish all those steps, (usually while also combing our hair, browning the roast, and sticking her own curler-wrapped hair into the warm oven to hasten its drying) I knew the sequence, and the little details that ensure success of the elaborate process. It is totally worth it, too!

 It is a decidedly ephemeral creation, too.We manage to consume it all in the 24 hours after it is made. When it gets more than one day old...it's not that great.
 
CoolGuy always appreciates the effort, and I told him I appreciate his mechanical skills, and that is why I decided he deserved lemon meringue pie. (Plus, I get to eat it, too!!)



Saturday, February 25, 2017

Shopping Tidbits

  • Did you know there are Spam Single Servings in a little foil pouch?
  • I felt guilty picking up a bunch of bananas because the produce man had just finished creating a lovely circle of bananas along the bottom edge of the display area. But...those were the ones I wanted.
  • Why are my favorite lunchbox cookies always on the top shelf and so hard to reach?
  • I stood in line at a "wholesome" store today to buy things, and they have conveniently placed a self-serve bakery/cookie rack right where you have to wait. Cruel.
  • How many versions of lettuce do you want to have to choose from? Let me count...
  • Does anyone else run out of a particular item one day, and then for the next six weeks, every time you're in the store, you nervously pick up one more, just in case. And now I have an over-abundance.
  • QUIT CHANGING MY FAVORITE TOILET PAPER. It was just fine the way it was.
  • How many flavors of coffee creamers exist? Vast, vast amounts. 
  • Must resist buying more tiny tomatoes---eat the ones you have lady.
  • QUIT CHANGING THE CAT'S FAVORITE CAT FOOD. She doesn't adapt well.
  • No, really, I don't want the multi-pack of red peppers. I don't get them eaten fast enough.
  • Tillamook yogurt--I love you.
  • Finally! Chocolate graham crackers are back! They disappeared during December. Every store I went to was out. And the supply people whom I questioned, didn't even know it. Weird.
  • Instead of help out to the car, I wish they'd come to my house and put away all the groceries I bought. That would really be a service!

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Earth--in my hands


The topic is earth. It immediately conjures up images of soil in my brain. I come from a couple of generations of farmers. They grew food for cows and chickens and pigs, who, in turn, generated food for us to eat and sell. (Granted, the pigs were more deeply invested in the “food production” than the cows and chickens. But the cows and chickens ended up on the dinner plate eventually, too.)

Earth, or dirt, was what we used. But, first we needed to prepare it. Our farm was apparently the former path of some ancient glacier, because when the snow melted, and the plow went through the fields, a very large quantity of rocks was always our first harvest. Sigh. It really didn’t matter how many rocks we’d hauled off that field in previous springs, there were always, always more. Roundish, varying from the size of softballs to footballs, and sometimes we’d unearth a really big, ottoman-sized one, but always, lots and lots of rocks. Years later, when I was a married woman with children, and my brother had taken over the farm after our dad died, the highway department bought many trucks full of those rocks to build a roadbed for a new highway. I imagined my dad, in heaven, throwing up his arms, and shouting, “At last! A market for my best crop!”

It wasn’t just that the job was endless. It was an exceptionally obnoxious job. Imagine slogging through furrows, beside a wagon, on a not-quite-warm Saturday in May, picking up rocks and tossing them onboard. Then, you get to go over to the fence line, where there were rows of rocks from previous drudgeries, and tossing them off onto the piles. Then, back out to the muddy, uneven field and just keep going, knowing that you’re not done until you’ve gleaned the whole vast area. 

And, there was a deadline. The barley had to be planted by a certain date, or it wouldn’t have time to mature before the killing frost in the fall. So, sometimes, we were up early on a school morning, dividing the chores between the cow milkers and the rock pickers. I often heard my school friends from town discussing their plans for the afternoon on the last day of school—always a half-day—and I knew what my plans were going to be. Blah. 

But,we'd finally finish, and the grain would be sown, and we’d be treated to the sight of the little green shoots in their endless rows, growing in rock-free soil. 

When I first moved to California as a newly-wed Navy wife, I was astonished at the huge fields that were cultivated there. One area where we lived had been an alluvial flood plain, the soil was rich and black, and seemed to go on, and on. You could dig and dig, and never hit bottom. And, of course, I saw NO rocks. It really caught my eye! I was appalled one day to drive by a former tomato field to see big machinery scraping off the layers of dirt as the developer prepared to build houses. I actually went and asked if I could get some that dirt for a garden bed I was building. They let me take it. I don’t even know where they put the rest. Maybe they saved it for yards around the new houses. I realize my naiveté about the value of top soil to other people. But, still! They had no idea how my dad would have loved farming dirt like that. 

When we lived on the East Coast, our first house had a garden area that I dug up and planted with tomato starts, and lettuce and radish seeds. Due to the regular rainfall in the afternoon, I didn’t pay much attention to it during that first week, except to glance over at it when I’d leave for work in the morning. On the weekend, I went out to admire my crops, only to find that rabbits and deer had eaten all my plants down to the dirt. But, I did have a nice crop of seedling oak trees sprouted and thriving, since I’d cultivated the soil. So…I build a bed right in the middle of the circular driveway to keep marauders at bay, and used soil I bought at the garden shop that didn’t have acorns embedded in it. 

Now, I live in the Mojave Desert. There isn’t soil here. There is a thin layer of really sad, sandy dirt, and then an impervious bed called caliche. That abundance of calcium carbonate is great for the wall board factory a few miles out in the desert from our home. But it means that gardening here is done in raised beds. In fact, it’s almost time to plant my tomatoes so that the fruit can set before the summer heat kicks in. I’ll also get lettuce and radishes and even peas before May. Then, after that, everything just stops because of the endless heat, day and night. Everything except basil—it loves the hot air. When it all cools down again in October, the tomato plants will perk up and start growing flowers again, and I’ll get a second crop until the frosts in late December. I replenish the dirt each year with my homemade dirt from the compost bin that CoolGuy gave me for a birthday present when we first moved here.

Earth, dirt, soil—it is in my genes. I cannot resist digging and planting and harvesting.



That green stretch up in the distance, beyond the barn, is where all the rocks were.
We milked our cows in that barn, when I lived there. Shortly after I graduated from high school, my dad had to go big, or get out, so he built a modern dairy barn in the field behind this red relic.



  These are my parents and two big sisters, I was born some months after this was taken.Notice his irrigation boots? This was his usual attire when I was a child. That barley field was watered with canvas dams and system of ditches.Both of my parents grew up farming and milking cows.



 Here I am picking rock in that notorious field with my younger sister, my brother-in-law (and his little boy).
We were visiting back home about a month before our first child was born---1976.


 Yes, even after foot surgery, you can’t keep me out of the dirt.



Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Valentine's Day Short Remarks

*Today I was putting all the Valentine bags onto students' desks just before I left for home. We'd made them on Friday, and I hung them along the white board rail just to look festive, and keep them out of our way today. On two of them, I found, written in small letters, "Mrs.[EarthSignMama] is the  best teacher ever."

*When we were making the Valentine bags, I also received two handmade Valentines from a couple of other students. It's nice to be loved. I just wish they'd remember to quit talking all the time, too.

*I loved Valentine's Day when I was a little kid. Something about a holiday to celebrate love and hearts was just wonderful. Plus, it came in the middle of winter, and was so bright and pleasant with all the pink and red.

*Valentine's Day has been known to some as an obnoxious holiday when they refused to allow anyone to fete them because it seems forced. After all, a day set aside just to give gifts to a lover...and if you forget--you're in big trouble! I know a few people who refuse to celebrate it just because of that.

*My daughters loved to make their own cards every year. It was a huge extravaganza, and was planned for months. I thought it was awesome, so I facilitated it as well as I could. Here is an example of the card factory:  (note the pet rat helper)


*My mom not only baked a cherry pie for George Washington's birthday (Feb. 22), but made three birthday cakes that same week, after having made heart shaped sugar cookies on Valentine's Day.

*My new principal could care less if parents bring in treats to celebrate---fine, come on in. Bring those cookies and cupcakes and candy. Glad to have you visit the school! Bless his heart...

*Valentine's Day is the 43rd anniversary of CoolGuy and I starting US. We've been together for a very long time. I'm glad. I really like him. Still.


*Here's a photo of my very favorite Valentine's bag ever made by a student of mine. When he asked if we had to put hearts on it, I replied, "No, it's your bag. You may decorate however you'd like." I think his dad was an Army ranger, and now he is a city police officer.
 
So, have a happy Valentine's Day! I hope you have someone to give a loving greeting to, and eat some chocolate, whether you do or don't.

Sunday, February 05, 2017

Word Power

That is the name of a page in the Reader's Digest. It's full name is "It Pays to Increase Your Word Power." I'm such a word nerd, that I usually find only one or two words each issue that I don't already know. *(Yes, I read everything, even old issues I find lying around under furniture.)  But I found a list in an old magazine the other day that made my Odd-Ball heart swell. Here are some of the words on the list:

discombobulate

kerfuffle

flibbertigibbet

I mean, aren't these totally awesome words?? As a child, I was sometime referred to as a flibbertigibbet by my mom, since I had a tendency to flap around and not be still when I ought to have been. However, my mother was rarely involved in a kerfuffle because she was such a nice person that she avoided upsets that involved hurt feelings. She was a kind, thoughtful person, who laughed off little slights instead of hugging them tightly and being resentful.

When I first met CoolGuy in the sixth grade, one of his most attractive qualities was his vocabulary. He knew some big words that I didn't realize other people knew. He also used language very precisely, and was super polite to adults: "Yes, ma'am" "Pardon me?" (instead of "huh?"). I realized that he probably became such a word professional because he also read books constantly (another quality that caught my attention.) Yes, yes, he was also really cute, and had/has fabulously gorgeous brown eyes...But, seriously, his interest in words really was the clincher.

So, on this list was a word that I've used many times, and thought was a fairly common word. But one day, when I used it casually at work, in my school back in Maryland, I had everyone just staring at me. I mean, everyone--the secretaries, the principal, my co-workers who happened to be in the office. I was talking about something...I don't even remember what...I just remember their reactions. I used the word flummoxed when I was laughing and recounting some thing a student had said or done. And they all just stared at me. Then, the principal (a very nice person---she had recently replaced the really difficult prior administrator) looked at me, and said, "What did you say? Flummox? What in the world is that?"

It was a little disconcerting. I'd used that word my whole life. It meant...uh...well...FLUMMOXED. There wasn't a better word for it. I stuttered a little, and then finally came up with, "Confused, blocked, stopped....ah..." It was a little bit embarrassing, because I wasn't trying to be superior, or show off. It was just a word I'd always known and was perfect for the emotional reaction to being completely blocked or confused or stopped by something you were trying to understand. It's why I LOVE the English language: there is a perfect word for almost everything you're trying to say.

I guess you can say, that at that moment, my co-workers had found a way to discombobulate me. I didn't know how to define a word that was precisely the word for a feeling/experience, without being slightly off the actual meaning of the word. I was frustrated and a little upset.

Anyway, WORD POWER!! It's just such a wonderful thing! Read, read, read, and use those new words you discover in your daily conversation. Don't worry if others don't always get it! Be a resource for them. Go out there and share that great vocabulary with the rest of the world!