Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Fear of Pie

Some days ago, my children and some others and another parent, the generous driver, and I went to Vermont in a wonderful kid-filled Suburban. (It's not my Suburban. I was but a comfy, cozy front-seat passenger.) As the first stop on our packed itinerary, we were on a mission to Putney's sugaring house (Harlow's), where we were to pick apples, get maple syrup, peek into the cider press room, and buy Vermont cheese and postcards depicting iconic local scenes. And lots of other wonderful fall activities.

When they arrived home, many of the Cortland and Northern Spy apples obviously wanted to be made into pies. I got them onto the countertop in their bushel bag and immediately had a panic attack. This thought of actually baking pies has been a lifelong problem for me. For although I am a champion at apple and peach cobbler, I was instructed early by my mother to FEAR pie making! It was right up there with the Bay of Pigs, expecting the Russkies to bomb us daily, and Why We Had a Fully Stocked, Ridiculously Huge Can Cupboard Just In Case (since we did not have a clever underground shelter, the three of us might have time to--what--run around the house aboveground carrying hundreds of cans of food and bottles of water?).

My mother was a fascinating, funny, very intelligent woman who lived and loved to learn. She read the whole town library and exasperated the librarians because they were constantly caught unable to furnish her with adequate new books. She would get on the phone with them twice a week. I'd hear her say, "Virginia! You know I've already read that! Get me something else." She was not such an aficionado of cooking. Nor baking. Especially baking. And though it was not one of her strong suits and you'd think she'd want to learn how to do it better, since she was such a learner, she would not EVER check out a book on baking. Especially how to make pies.

She had long ago thrown her hands up about pies.

In my family we rarely had dessert, mostly only on holidays, so whenever the calendar would start to indicate a niggling, impinging holiday--say, frickin' Thanksgiving--Mom would regale me with her pie-making fiascos. Also, when holidays came around, guests or the local grocery or or the local Bavarian baker were charged with providing the dessert. Mince pie was the preferred, but anything in a pinch, even the shameful frozen. Mrs. Smith's was not unknown. My paternal grandfather, father and I loved apple but we were nearly always overruled, even though we constituted a majority bloc. (If my mother were alive today, I would certainly ask her why.) Other family members loved strawberry-rhubarb, which, in my opinion, was so horrible that whenvever it appeared I felt compelled to leave the room. Now, that was a pie to be feared! The adults put up with my leaving, because then they could talk about whatever they wanted without worrying about sullying youthful ears. And they got all the ice cream to themselves. I was happy to go without ice cream if it meant I could escape strawberry-rhubarb. Ice cream made me sick anyway.

Anyway. The story that taught me to Fear Pie was the following. When my parents were first married, my mother had been warned that one of the major expectations of her cooking would be The Perfect Pie. After all, my father's mother, Mom's mother-in-law, was an expert pie maker. Mom resolved, and I quote, "I decided that I would make one pie a week for fifty-two weeks. Eventually, I knew by chance I would have to make at least one pie that passed the test!"

So she fulfilled her word to herself, determined to declare victory, and baked a pie every week for fifty-two weeks. Some came out soggy. Some came out greasy. Some fell apart. Some were pale and doughy. Some, though she swore she made them exactly the same as others that had come out kind of, sort of fine, turned out burnt to a crisp. They overflowed into the oven, were lopsided, would not allow themselves to be cut, weren't quite cooked through, self-liquefied, and whatever other unpleasant result you can imagine. Fifty-two times.

She had set a record. And the moment she recognized this, she hung up the rolling pin for good.

Though reluctant, I thought I had to blaze my own trail. But it quickly became clear that I had inherited the Bad Pie Gene. While I can't claim to have even approached my mother's record,
I long ago figured I'd quit while I was ahead.

But this year, with the apples beckoning, I mustered a new resolve:

Pie prep

More pie prep

Yes, it's a lattice top! Going into the oven

. . . it's in the oven
and . . .


It worked! It worked! It really, really worked! And the during the entire time there was still some left, Tyke started a dodgy new tradition. He would approach me unctuously and give me a big hug and say, "I loooovvee you, Mommy!" Which I immediately interpreted as, "May I pleeeeaase have a piece of pie at this completely inappropriate time?" I told him he should not set that precedent; that from then on I would suspect him of wanting something instead of really meaning that he loved me.

But now that the pie is gone and we have no other desserts or yummies lurking around, he is still telling me that he loves me, with no food attached.


Sunday, October 15, 2006

Autumn Quotations

Today's post preserves various overhearings that took place during a drive to Vermont in a kid-filled Suburban. Such comments renew my faith in the fascinating natural evolution of our beautiful, bizarre language, and the promise of bubbling creative nonsense among our youth. They are in no particular order, and that's fine, because the contexts were completely chaotic.

Tyke: (of stubblefields, which we intentionally looked for in conjunction with a poetry assignment) The fields are all like that because they've been hacked with a mow-lawner.

S: We hit two stones with one bird.

Tyke: (adjusting the earbuds to the iPod) The sound is upside down!

S: Which song is this, "Another One Bites the Lust"?

Mrs. P: (trying to read the fine print at the bottom of her restaurant receipt without putting on her glasses) Thank you for bonding with us??!! (what looked like "bonding" was actually "dining")

Tyke: (upon passing a cemetery--this is a superstitious "tradition" that I never heard of, but the kids all seem to know it) Quick! Close your breath! [hold your breath]

G: (of fuel tanks on a pop-up camper being pulled by a car) Those 'Blue Rhino' things are p- p- p- uh, provalone. [propane]

Tyke: (looking out the car window at the sky) Oh, my gosh, is that a fake moon?

And, since they fit this category but happened at home instead of in the car:

G: (speaking on the phone with guy friend) I feel, like, operatic today. Do you want to operat with me?

G: All that food at school is made out of mystery meat. Not just the meat. No matter what it is, it's all made out of, who knows what it's made out of, loafenfloofer. Even the cookies are made of loafenfloofer.

Mom: What are the vegetarian options made of? Tofufloofer?


Friday, October 06, 2006

Leaning Tower of Freakin' Perdition

A few days ago I related the charming story of the Death of My Hard Drive. About 75% of the past 72 hours has involved my rapt attention to rescuing data, files, software, and reinstalling everything I had prior to the crash. Sheer, bone-breaking tedium. The best news is--the system is back up, running smoothly if disturbingly differently, and most important of all, I learned I will survive.

At first I thought the pain would be unbearable. I went through the stages of grief. First I was in denial, tried to save everything and believed it would be recoverable. It turns out it's not. It also turns out that the external hard drive I had thought I was diligently backing up to every day was not backing up, because the software it came with is actually not at all intuitive to use and the "manual" does not get installed with it even though it looks as though it's getting installed. Plus, once you finally find it, the documentation SUCKS. (That's probably why it's so well hidden.) I speak as an expert; while not parenting, blogging, writing, or crafting, I have been a technical writer since 1989. So do not question whether or not I can judge usability. I have rarely seen so many missed opportunities to explain to eager and willing users what, why, when, where and how. It's that "you can do this" school of documentation: 'Blah product lets you blah. You can blah. There's a blah menu from which you can blah some more.' Okay. That's great. But what is blah? How do I do blah? Where is the aforementioned blah menu, and which option do I choose? What do the other options mean? Under what circumstances should I do blah? And is any of that blahing all I really need to do?

Ultimately, after the denial and the pleading and the hoping to bargain with the devil, I had to accept the Leaning Tower of Perdition:

There it is, that pile of boxes and CD jewel cases to the left of the resurrected machine. It's not everyting I had to reinstall, since over the few days I'd already put some back. And it is only the stuff I had physical installation disks for; the rest I had to re-download from online sources. Thus the several pieces of paper on the left, which are four pages of list I recreated from memory, a sort of check-off plan for the downloads. Holy smokes. Today, I can report that except for my winzip utility and my hundreds of beloved fonts and images that I have bought over the years from the awesome Scriptorium, I am back to wonky-normal.

There's a vacuum cleaner in the background, which was for cleaning up the loud and messy emotional shattering that occurred when I realized All Was Lost. You will also notice that my desktop wallpaper is currently sporting Dante Gabriel Rossetti's "Beata Beatrix." That's one of my [many] favorite Pre-Raphaelite paintings. I had the extraordinary pleasure of meeting it in person during one of my several visits to the Tate Gallery. If you were to see the actual painting, you would realize how crappy the reproductions are in print and onscreen. The real color is astounding, especially Beatrix's brilliant green tunic. I remember that it seemed to pop right out from the wall. Awesome painting, Dante. I'm not such a fan of the poetry, but you made up for it with the painting. Interesting that this should be the wallpaper that was cycling through at the time I took the picture of the tower. Because that is exactly how I have felt since the hard drive died--meditating and praying and begging for deliverance.

But it is almost all back. There is grace.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Leaner Drivers

A couple of days ago I made a nonsensical list of things that irk me. #11 was a particular kind of driver who leans across the front seat 'til his gimme-capped head is under the rearview mirror.

Admittedly, I stopped short of the full story that day. I didn't quite do the subject complete justice. It might have behooved me to have named this type of driver instead of just describing him. So I suppose I could call him a Bubba Leaner. And I forgot to mention that usually he is a smoker.

Well no sooner had I posted that story than I had to go out on the road. A certain street here that leads from my little town to the [cough] big capital city [cough] is a perfect place to observe Bubba Leaners and Ghetto Leaners (they have a slightly different profile; Ghetto Leaners usually have a car full of people and they do tote kids with them; also, the passengers or the Leaner himself will hang or wave limbs or appendages out the windows). There's a stretch of road that seems exclusively populated by half broken-down cars, cars with no hubcaps, dented cars, cars with red tape over the taillights, cars with cracked windshields and broken windows, and cars that otherwise cannot possibly have passed inspection. Yes, Dear Reader, I had occasion to drive down that street to get to the allergist in the big city.

And let's be honest--while my car does still have hubcaps, it is only a year or 10,000 miles away from somewhat resembling a Ghetto Leaner car, and every time I go to the allergist I fully expect the hubcaps to get gone and perfect the picture. Were it not for the way I sit in my seat, and for the make of my car(it's a compact that in no way qualifies as a Leaner model), and the fact that I do not smoke, am not male, and don't wear gimme caps, I could be profiled as a Leaner.

But I digress. Tristram Shandy has nothing on me. Anyway while I was driving down this street, with its charming detours and perpetual construction, I was going faster than the car in front of me, which was going somewhat slowly as is usual for drivers on this street. I was in prime territory for a sighting, and gaining on what I realized was a vintage Oldsmobile. Soon as I identified the make, I knew I'd pegged one. But well before I overtook it I realized it was a HYBRID: A GEEZER Bubba Leaner!

How had I overlooked this possibility? It was a goldmine! Classic car, driver too short to see over steering wheel, gimme cap showing clearly, heavy cigar smoke nearly obscuring interior of car, steering with forearm (only I think it was the left one rather than the right), head under the rearview mirror, plodding along at 20 mph. Eventually, he did what I expected: made a big, slow, WIDE right turn.

I apologize for leaving out the subcategories, and for having no photo to illustrate all of these phenomena.