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? 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!!)