Thursday, July 20, 2017

Heritage Without the Cow Manure?

My nephew’s family just returned from a multi-week (amazing) trip to Europe. They (mom and four children 13-6 — dad joined them for the final week) hiked and toured in many countries. I was exhausted watching them via Instagram. As “payment” for parking their car in our side yard, instead of the airport, they brought us some Belgium chocolate, and an adorable little carved wooden Brown Swiss cow. It is about four inches long.

See, my nephew knew (correctly) that I would be absolutely delighted by this tiny gesture because he knows his aunts well. No matter what else we do in our lives, our identity will always be defined by our dairy farm upbringing.

We six daughters were the third generation of cow milkers in our extended family. Our parents and their parents had been dairy farmers, too. One of our grandfathers was instrumental in starting a Swiss cheese creamery co-op in our community in order to preserve and sell the milk produced, and not just be subsistence farmers. His parents had immigrated to America from Switzerland in the mid-1800s, so my grandfather was born here, along with his 12 siblings.

After WWII, our parents were married, and they, too, set up a dairy farm, selling the milk to the cheese factory. We girls (along with two brothers, born in the middle of six sisters) were the workers. We hauled hay all summer, and fed it back out to the cows all winter. We spent the two hours each morning, and each evening, milking the Guernseys, Jerseys, and Brown Swiss cows our dad had carefully accumulated. The world has a default concept of cows as the black and white Holsteins that are usually depicted, but our father was aiming for the high butterfat content that brought him a premium price from the creamery.

Yes, yes, you are wondering where I’m going with this memoir. I’ve been pondering my place in the universe as the last of the cow-milkers in our family tree. None of my sisters (nor I) married a farmer. By design. Our older/little brother was married by the time our father died — too early — at 61 from leukemia. (The younger/little brother chose college and is an attorney.) The first brother took over the farm, making payments to my mother for the property over the years, and she continued to own, and live in, her home until her death 10 years ago. Despite his valiant efforts, and expansion from three dozen to 150 cows, it became obvious that to be a successful dairy, one needed to either have 1,000 cows, or a special niche in the dairy industry. He had neither the money nor opportunity, so he sold the cows after 20 years, rented the hay fields to another farmer, and went to work selling machinery to the guys who had “gone big.” This was the end of nearly 100 years of milking in our family history.

I really appreciate having grown up in a world where hard work was the norm, and it was expected and assumed that you would do your part. My town friends would be planning swimming parties for the last day of school. My farm friends and I knew we’d be picking rock from the plowed fields so our dads could plant the grain. I didn’t need to “work out” because all summer I bench-pressed thousands of 75-pound hay bales as we collected them from the fields and stacked them near the barns. Then, all winter, we fed those bales to our cows. I lifted filled 10-gallon milk cans from the milk-house floor into the cooling trough each night, and carried heavy milkers from cow to cow in the barn twice a day. We’d wrap our curler-filled hair in a dish towel to keep the dirt off. I was an expert at gulping down breakfast, then applying mascara and eye-shadow at top-speed so I’d be ready to catch the bus for high school in the 30 minutes between turning out the last cows, and heading to town for my education. None of us would have purposefully shirked our work, because it had to be done, and our parents only had so many hours in their day, too. Also, animals cannot be mistreated or neglected when they are the source of the family income.

Once or twice after I married, I stayed for a few months at my parents’ home with my first two children, to help with the work. I did not have a paycheck-job at the time, and my dad’s illness had diminished his energy for a several years before my brother reached adulthood. So I was available to help out. I milked the cows, fed the animals, cleaned out the barns, etc. But I never intended to return to our mountain valley permanently as a farmer or rancher.

Despite my having left behind the hard work of the farm as soon as I could, it has always been my identity throughout my adult life. My sisters and I are proud of our heritage, and proud of the way we were tough and strong. But, none of our children have lived this way. And none of them probably will, either. We sisters are now the “elders of the tribe” and some of us have grandchildren about to graduate from high school. Those children know all about the Farm Girls.That’s why my nephew knew I’d appreciate the wooden cow.

But, now, as I approach the last portion of my mortality, I wonder what defines my children, and my nieces and nephews, the way our cow milker/hay hauler upbringing so influenced my sisters and me? Do they associate with the heritage of four generations of their ancestors? Do they see a field of bales, or a red barn, and have flashbacks to Grandma’s house? My children lived in four different cities, in three states, in completely different climate zones. How do they define themselves?

I wonder sometimes if by discontinuing this Dairy Heritage I deprived them of something that has powerfully sustained me as I spent my adult life as a willing nomad. I’ve never shied from a challenging task, because I learned early that I could do very hard, sometimes boring, jobs by just persisting. I see my children succeeding at their lives: being good, helpful, self-supporting people, and raising their children to be that way, too. So, perhaps it is possible to pass on the skills and standards I learned from my extended family, without having to shovel the cow manure or haul the bales.

Monday, June 19, 2017

School Daze

I’ve taught school, officially, for 22 years now. I mean, as a contracted teacher. I also worked as a teacher’s aide, and as a short-term and long-term, substitute teacher for a couple of years, as I finished the credential program in California. I went to college, for a couple of years, fresh out of high school, but wasn’t a dedicated student. So I dropped out, got married, had five children, then decided to go back and finish my degree (because I had so much spare time). But, this second attempt at college was more successful because I’d gained more self-discipline, and better stick-to-it skills as a mother. I became a full-time teacher when my “baby” was in eighth grade. It was a really hard transition because I didn’t realize how much time was involved in being The Teacher. Wow … lots of work and time. But, it is a very entertaining profession. I’ve taught in California, Maryland, and Nevada, and have been in 4th grade for my whole career … I love them.
Here are few anecdotes:
  1. One afternoon, a father came in to pick up his son from my after-school tutoring group. Addressing Father, I explained how Son, standing right beside us, was still having a great deal of trouble focusing on work during class time, and how I was hoping that Father could help me with this. (I’d called and talked to Mom a couple of times; Son just loved to talk and mess around.) Father spoke, “Well, I’ve heard just about enough of this bull[expletive] about trouble in school. And, I don’t want to hear about it again. So deal with it, okay?” I turned to Son, and then looked at Father, and then Father spoke again, “You understand, lady? Don’t call our house ever again.” He was speaking to me … not to Son … luckily, the vice-principal was still in her office, so I just took that pair, and our conversation, right to her door.
  2. All year, I had been teaching how to write complete paragraphs that included a topic sentence and a closing sentence. We had completed our research reports on birds. Each student was assigned a different bird, and it included four paragraphs of information. Best closing sentence ever: “Vultures are a very useful bird. Without them, the world would be covered in dead meat.”
  3. In my first classroom here in Nevada, I had a population of students who spoke English only to me. The rest of their lives was lived in Spanish. I do not speak Spanish. I’ve heard it a lot, but I learned French in my high school. After living twenty years in Southern California, though, I understood quite a bit, but I still couldn’t make sentences without mixing up French and Spanish. So, I stuck to English. One afternoon, I needed my students to line up so that we could go to another classroom for some event. I announced, “Okay, you guys, it’s time to stand up and push in your chairs so we can line up.” I saw a boy turn to a girl near him, and say, in Spanish, “No, stay here, she said “You guys” –it’s just boys leaving.” I said to him, “No, todos los estudiantes — hijos y hijas.” It just came out!! It means “all the students–boys and girls.” The look on his face was priceless!! He was astonished! Good grief! His teacher understood what he said, and she replied — in Spanish! I could tell he was wondering what else I’d overheard in class.
  4. Another year in that same school, I’d worked so hard to teach vocabulary that went along with our reading program. We read the words, we spelled them, we defined them, we found synonyms and antonyms, and we acted them out (when possible). Well, we really struggled with the word “anxious” because it is hard to say, and weird to spell. And most of them had never encountered it before. Several weeks after it had been on our study list, we were discussing a new story, and I asked the students if they could describe how one of the characters must have been feeling. Crickets … then a dear little girl’s face lit up with a smile, and she shot her hand into the air. “Meeess…he was fiiilling anxious!” Yeah!!!
  5. When I was at my first-ever school, one of my high school aged daughters volunteered in my classroom one afternoon. She told me this story that evening: two little girls came over and asked, “Is your mother like this at home, too?” My daughter replied, “Like: what she says to do, she means; and no matter what you do, she’ll never change her mind?” “Yes!!” they said, in unison. Ha ha!! We laughed.
  6. One day I saw one of my students looking really sad. I asked him what happened. He replied that his dad was so mad at him for getting in trouble with me at school, and having me phone home, that Dad had announced that the son couldn’t go to Pocono to the NASCAR races that summer. (School had about nine weeks to go.) Hmmm … so I called Dad and made a deal. I’d make up a little chart, and Son would bring it home daily to show Dad how that school day had gone. If Son could get four out of five days with good reports for each week, till school was out, could he earn back the trip to NASCAR? Dad agreed … I had the best “Carrot” anybody ever had to use for the rest of the year! We had a fine end of the year, and Son learned how to be a better student.
I’ve got a million of them … but, I’ll stop now. I didn’t know that being a teacher was going to be worth much more than just my paycheck.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Queen, At Last

You all know that I’m a farm girl. I haven’t actually lived on that farm for most of my adult life. I frequently went back home to spend some time with my parents, and twice I actually stayed, with my babies, and lived with them for a few months to help out. My dad was ill, and I was the only sister without an outside job (as opposed to staying home, raising the kids.) So, I did a fair amount of milking, shoveling, feeding, etc. as a grown-up, too.

However, being a farm girl wasn’t the path to glamour and honor at my high school. Or perhaps the problem was just being a tall, geeky, uncoordinated, not-cool farm girl…For instance, I would never have even considered trying out for the cheerleader squad. Nor would I have ever presumed to be elected Prom Queen, or even one of the Princess Attendants. I knew the limits of my personal popularity.

But, one year, I realized that there was queen contest for which I was uniquely qualified! The Future Farmers of America sponsored an event each year. There was an assembly, a dance, and a contest as part of their status as one of the “big deal” clubs in our school. (No, seriously–they had a large membership, and officers, and went to state and national events every year. FFA was an organization with clout in our world.)

So, in my senior year, I decided to enter their queen contest. It wasn’t at all about your appearance, or charisma, or popularity. It was strictly won through points! I could do that! There was a series of events we participated in over the course of the week. One day, there was a cake contest–no sweat! I’d been cooking and baking since I was nine years old. Check! Got my points. Another day involved a tractor-driving obstacle course. And, you had to be able to do some of it in reverse. Again…been driving since I was younger than nine! We had a written test, too, as I recall, about the by-laws of the FFA or their charter, or something. But, if it involved reading, then I could easily master that, too.

I had a little trouble with the snowmobile driving race, because I’d only ever driven a snowmobile a couple of times. This is when I started to care too much, and sort of sold my soul to be the winner. There was a boy who had a big crush on me, but it was not mutual. At all. However…I totally used him to get some practice on a snowmobile, and I may have taken advantage of his position as one of the officers in our FFA to get any influence I could over whatever he could do for me. I still feel like a creep about it, even though high school ended 46 years ago.

But, I nailed the horse saddling event entirely on my own! I watched as two other girls started this timed contest. I noticed how the horse stood still for the saddle blanket, and then took a little side step when the saddle was being hefted his way, so that the first attempt at getting it on his back was thwarted. So, when it was my turn, I stepped along with that wily gelding, and so the saddle landed right where it was supposed to when he didn’t expect it! The horse almost stumbled, he was so surprised. I grabbed up the cinches, and pulled and buckled, and got him all ready in record time! It was my quick time with the saddling that put me over the top!

I had done it! I was finally the queen of something at my high school! My younger sister was the Junior Class attendant. We got crowns, and were honored at the assembly, and had another crowning event at the dance that night. As FFA queen of 1971, I felt honored to represent farmers and farming.

I pretty much knew that I had no desire to marry a farmer and continue the family legacy. Instead, I wanted to be free of the burden of that twice-daily cow milking, and the summers spent hauling thousands of hay bales to keep them fed through our long, long Rocky Mountain winters. Also, I really wanted to go explore the world that lay beyond those beautiful mountains surrounding our isolated valley. But, I was still proud of my heritage, and felt that it was only appropriate that a REAL farm girl was queen of the Future Farmers of America, at least that once.

(My sister is the blonde on my left.)

Monday, May 01, 2017


Lilac Trees
Purple pointed cone of itty-bitty blossoms
Crowning the tree in the yard.
I break one off and bury my nose in its scent.
Instantly, I am twelve years old,
Walking out the back gate to the cow barn in June.
These flowers mean Wyoming.

This  is from a lilac tree in Maryland. I was visiting there during Spring Break. I used to stop at this tree every year and load up my car with blossoms, take them to my school, arrange them in mason jars, and share them with my friends. The scent of these flowers are one of the quickest ways to send my brain straight back to my childhood.

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


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? 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'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.