It’s sneaky fast and virtually un-noticeable. By the time you realize it, years have slipped through your fingers. What happened? One minute you’re in the middle of moving 800 miles east of Iowa and raising 3 kids. The next minute (I swear) you’re celebrating your 48th anniversary. There’s no way we’ve been married that long. Weren’t we just the brave young couple who defied my parents and eloped?
I’m out-of-touch. I notice this in everything I do. From the wall colors I pick, the clothes I wear, the way I talk and songs I sing at work. Yup, still singing my odd playlist of songs to the babies. A song, long forgotten popped in my head a few weeks ago at work. I was valiantly trying to rock one of the babies to sleep. Whenever I start singing in the infant room, there’s a protest. Some of their reactions are pretty funny. Everyone looks up (workers included) because they’re trying to find out where those claw marks on the chalk board are coming from. For some reason it does not seem to affect the baby I’m rocking as much as the rest of those around me (yes, including my poor co-workers with the bleeding ears). Some babies protest falling asleep with every fiber of their being. Others are dream babies about taking naps.
The song? I’m sure Mom sang this song to me, thus I sang it to my kids. Still it’s been decades since these words left my mouth. And those were not hearing impaired days, so I might have been in tune at least for a couple notes. Not anymore. But this doesn’t seem bother the baby I’m rocking. They usually find comfort in the midst of my caterwauling. So I’m rocking, patting and I start singing:
“Oh where have you been, Billy Boy, Billy Boy?
Oh, where have you been charming Billy?
I have been to seek a wife, she’s the joy of my life.
She’s a young thing and cannot leave her mother.”
Her head pops up and she gives me her best, “what you talking ’bout Willis?” Her furrowed brow quickly turns into a enormous, toothless grin and she lays her head back down. Doesn’t get any better than that. No matter which baby.
What happened # 2? I’m at work walking from the fridge with bottles, food containers etc. on my way to the gated kitchen section to warm everything up for various aged little ones. Bottles get plopped in a crockpot of hot water for a couple minutes, solids placed in little bowls in the crockpot with their name on it. But as I walked through the playroom, I get smacked with a smell. Somewhat offensive. Someone’s got poop. I politely ask for a show of hands. They band together choosing not to be singled out. I pick up one after another, nothing but sweetness. OK we have a winner! This is what slips out of my mouth-without thinking. “Let’s go change your pants.” What? I’ve never heard another worker say ‘pants’ instead of diaper. Just another goofy phrase that dates me.
What happened # 3? This most often occurs when I head to what I’ve named the pantry. Really the rear entrance of our house just off the kitchen/dining area. A small room with cupboards, countertops and a narrow closet, which has been a lifesaver. Our kitchen is small, thus I utilize this room and stock it with everything from soup to nuts. Literally. Soup. To. Nuts. All my small appliances, crockpots, popcorn popper, garbage bags, cereal, pop, potatoes, some canning supplies are hidden in the closet. Cupboard hold cook books, pantry staples, drawers with extra utensils, silverware in case 40 people show up to eat unannounced. So I head to this room at least 20 times a day. At the same time, my mind is on everything but what I need immediately from the pantry. Pause, gaze around with a blank look on my countenance. Shit, why am I here? Hmmm. Glance behind me, looking towards the kitchen, hoping for an easy answer. Why isn’t there a light shining down from the heavens with a clue to help me out here? Dish cloth, marbles, cake mix, Diet Pepsi, cupcake papers, jello, casserole, parchment paper, red hots, light bulb? Yes, even red hots.
Quite possibly, I could stand there for an hour hoping for an easy answer or a sign. Sometimes I just have to retreat to whatever room I was in when I felt it necessary to go off to my la-la land called the pantry. Return to whatever I was doing and hope that my not-so-literal light bulb goes off and I recall what it was I so desperately needed. So how come I can remember every word from a song 60 years ago, but not the Cream of Celery soup I need for the casserole I’m in the middle of making?
I’d like to think I’m aging well. At least about some parts. No, this isn’t about the wrinkles, saggy skin, age spots or the solid head of grey hair I cover with artificial light brown every month. This is realizing when I feel that dull ache between my right index and middle finger knuckle trying to open a Diet Pepsi screw top lid or baby food jar (I often have to hand it over to a co-worker, which is embarrassing, not so much with the pop to Hubs at home). Or that painful catch in my left leg whenever I pivot wrong. I’m thankful and grateful these are my only aches and pains for the day. Many are not so lucky or blessed like me. Friends with real health issues. Friends who have passed away way too young. My complaints are piddly at best. And while annoying, I realize remembering Cream of Celery soup (in the moment) is NOT a biggie. Just annoying and frustrating.
But I am strong willed, stubborn, and have a real problem changing my ways about a lot of things. These character flaws seem to get more pronounced the older I get. Let me point out a couple. (No you don’t have to help. I’m sure you’re all well aware of my faults, but I got this). I’m usually a real stinker when it comes to following rules I’ve been given. Hold on, I know what you’re thinking. But I’m really the exact opposite of what you assume.
After I’d been with McDonald’s a year or so I was given the responsibility of calibrating the grills, doing meat temp checks at changeover, and recording these temperature checks daily in a booklet. On the days when I wasn’t there, it still was my job to go over what had been logged in my absence. All meats, chicken, fish, beef had various temperatures they needed to reach after cooking, and though I can’t remember all of them anymore, beef was 155 degrees. Every couple weeks I’d go over this temperature book checking for issues. Why? Not sure. I believe we had to send them in to corporate, plus they got checked when the health department visited twice a year. Since beef had to reach 155 degrees before serving it to the public, there was no wiggle room in that magic number. After a day off, I resumed checking out what had been recorded when I spotted a glaring 153 degrees beef temp staring back at me. No explanation, no remedy, just a beef temp 2 degrees off. Kind of embarrassed but I went ballistic. Yes, Neese the rule follower was livid. At the manager who recorded the (lowly) temperature number. Why didn’t she do a second check, add a second to the cooking time until the grill could be re-calibrated or boost the grill temperature a couple of degrees for the day? When I’m given a set of rules to follow I’m usually a stickler about those rules. Although the word ‘usually’ can cause me to do the exact opposite at times too. Yeah, I’m complicated.
I don’t bake as much as I used to. When the kids were little I’d make a hundred fruit pies a year for the freezer. I love pie. I. Love. Pie. Not the easiest dessert to make, but once they’re made, baked and frozen, an easy answer for the best way to end supper. With our family of 5, a pie didn’t last long since Hubs got dibs on the extra slice sitting glumly in the pie pan. Now it takes us 3 or 4 days to get rid of a pie. And neither of us need 3 days in a row with a slice of pie, although he’d argue that point emphatically.
For the last decade when I’m baking apple pies in October, I tend to make much smaller versions, (which are just as much work). This inspiration came from my aging congregation too. A group of church ladies (they did not invite me) got together and made a hundred pies to sell. The problem? They froze the pies raw, and they were all 9 inch pies. For most members, now couples or singles at this point in their life, that’s a lotta pie. Plus it still had to be baked. I searched the Internet, found deep dish, 6 inch foil pans and bought 100. Made and baked 25 cleverly named, Itty-Bitty-Apple-Pies, slid them in quart size zip lock bags and advertised them for an upcoming church bazaar. Guess what? Not one pie was available when we opened the doors that fall morning. Workers, setter-uppers, members walking through looking at other folk’s castaways found my cute little pies. Bought them all before the general public walked through the doors. Ha!
Before I fell off the organized religion bandwagon, I did a lot of volunteering and contributing of my so-called gifts in our last church. Cooking, baking, canning and offering my goods and services. With our aging congregation anything homemade was highly anticipated and well received. I donated hundreds of jars a year of Bread & Butter Pickles, Pickled Beets and assorted jams, which were sold on Sunday morning after worship. The money was used for mission work. We had regularly scheduled dinners to raise money for a variety of needs. Chicken, pork loin, or turkey dinners, where cooks and bakers volunteered their time, but got paid for ingredients. The rest was profit going for whatever need we were trying to fill. I often signed up to make the desserts for between 125-140 people. Yikes. (I was a lot more ambitious 15 years ago).
The fund raiser that comes to mind was 6 or 8 years ago. I was responsible for desserts for 130. The tasty treats were on a table in Parish Hall. You went through a buffet line for your meal or someone served you. After you were done with the main course, (yes there are folks who maintain pork loin, potatoes, and green beans take precedence over dessert! Freaks, et al) you would peruse the dessert table and decide what you were craving to complete this feast. I made 3 different desserts, amounting to 45 servings of each: Apple Pie, German Chocolate Cake and Cream Puffs (with my homemade vanilla pudding and drizzled with dark chocolate syrup). Yum.
Shannon sends me You Tube videos on ‘how to’ for anything ranging from something cute to make for the families of our babies at work for a specific holiday to recipes I might want to try. Recently a catchy video piqued my interest. About a dozen ways to top a pie without using a whole boring crust with 4 vent slits like I’ve been doing for 45 years. Cute little cutouts like various sized hearts to top my pie, or polka dots crust, or leaves for fall. A dozen different themed crusts. I was intrigued. I got this. This was definitely doable for a pretty good pie baker. Until I’d been standing on my feet for hours. Me, with my own little assembly line of one. First thing I do is take the recipe for a 10” double crust and multiply the ingredients by 4. I make pies until I run out of pie crust dough. For the apples, I double the apples used for a 10” pie (so 16 cups total) plus the sugar, flour, salt, cinnamon and my secret weapon-nutmeg. I mix this up in a huge bowl and fill bottom crusts with gooey apples until they look “just the right amount of full.”
Now this is where I should review the fancy crust video and add the “wow” factor to my humdrum pies. But I’m bushed. If I don’t dawdle, I can make 2 or 3 pies, slide them in the oven, sit for a grand total of 5 minutes, and have just enough time to make another 2 or 3 pies just as the first 3 are done. (I really get messed up when I eat in between).
Let me back up for just a second. Several hours after the church fundraiser dinner featuring Neese’s desserts, I got an email from a friend who attended the dinner. Said she was too full for dessert so she and her family picked out desserts to take home. Later as they were enjoying my apple pie, they got curious about something I do to my crusts. She inquired, “what kind of fancy crimper do you use on the edge of your crust? We are stumped by it’s unusual design.” Huh? Fits of giggles ensued as I read the email to John. “What’s a crust crimper,” he asked? “Don’t you just use a fork?” Indeed…