Monday, May 30, 2011

Pie Genes

Lots of families have traditions that are passed along from generation to generation.

For our family, one of those traditions is pie-making.

My grandmother made the most awesome pies--my favorites were pumpkin and lemon meringue. My mom also made pies--I remember the procession of fruit pies through the summer, starting with rhubarb, then cherry, then peach, then blueberry.

When I was out on my own, I decided to make pies, too. I tried the first one at my parents' house when I was home. Here's my mom's crust recipe.

Pie Crust
2 crust
1 3/4 c. flour
1 t. salt
3/4 c. shortening
1/4 c. water

That's it, but of course, I knew you had to mix the first two, then cut in the shortening (Crisco) with a knife, then add cold water and press the dough together.

Can't remember what kind of pie I made that summer; the only thing I remember is tears! Pie crusts look simple (only 4 ingredients), but they are really difficult to do well. I'm sure it wasn't rolling out properly, probably sticking to the rolling pin, or maybe even not working into a ball.

My mom came in and rescued me. "Here--this is how I do it," she said, and she whipped up a decent crust quickly, while I watched in amazement.

Later, I was able to put together a workable crust, but they often turned out somewhat crumbly-- "too short" (too much shortening?), which made my siblings laugh. I guess they found it an ironically appropriate name for a pie crust I'd make.

Over the years, I've gotten better at pie crusts. Now, like my mom, I can whip one up with no problem, so it's time to pass on the recipe.

The logical choice for passing on is Robbie who loves pies. He was also interested in learning.

He had a chance to try his first pie this weekend when Bill, Kim, and Sam were here. Bill loves rhubarb pie, and we always have it for Bruce's birthday. So we had birthday rhubarb pie planned. I used my mom's recipe:

Rhubarb Pie, filling
1 1/2 c. sugar
4 T. flour
2 eggs
Mix into: 5 c. rhubarb.
Bake 425-30 minutes
375 20 minutes

Robbie did a great job with the pie--no tears, though there was some skepticism about having to cut in the shortening. I assured him that there is a chemistry to pie crust making, and that if we just stirred the shortening in, or creamed it, like with cookies, we'd have a tough crust!

Not to be outdone, Eli made his pie specialty: Chocolate Dream Pie.
Here's the recipe:

Chocolate Dream Pie
1 c. cold milk
1 pkg. Jello Choc. Pudding (instant)
2 1/2 c. Cool Whip, thawed (8 oz)
1 chocolate cookie crust.
Mix pudding and milk. Fold in Cool Whip
Spoon into crust
Freeze 6 hours.

He was glad that Kim also preferred chocolate to rhubarb!

So here are my pie boys, proudly carrying on the family tradition.

Friday, May 27, 2011

All-Star Voting

I voted for the major league baseball all-star teams this week. Voting extends through June 30, so the opportunity for further reflection exists, but I had been to a minor league game earlier in the day and was filled with the spirit.

There are a number of possible approaches to voting. One is to vote for the players from your favorite team. Cubs fans who vote for all Cubs would find themselves voting for Blake DeWitt, who's listed as their second baseman but who in fact hardly ever plays, having lost his starting spot to Darwin Barney. This used to scandalize people; when so many folk from Cincinnati voted for Reds in 1957 that the entire team was elected to represent the National League, voting was taken away from fans for more than ten years.Now, perhaps due to the moral relativism of the 1960s, it's OK. Another is to vote for players you've heard of. So, you're looking over the ballot and see the name Magglio Ordonez, and that rings a bell. He's had a long, distinguished career with the Chicago White Sox and Detroit Tigers. Vote for him on that basis, but understand that he might be past his prime. This year he's hitting .172 in limited play. Or you might wind up voting for someone who's injured.

My approach is to go off current season offensive statistics. This avoids the first two pitfalls, but there's always the chance--particularly this early, when the season isn't even 1/3 over--that I'll vote for someone who's a flash in the pan. (Think Kosuke Fukudome of the Cubs, voted to start the 2008 game, who hit .327 in April, and then saw his average decline every month. By the all-star game he was down to a pedestrian .279, and finished the year at a mediocre .257.) I voted for Tony Batista one year based on impressive home run and RBI totals, but he stopped hitting altogether and wasn't starting his own team's games by July. On the other hand, some great players have been notoriously slow starters. I hardly ever voted for Ryne Sandberg or Derrek Lee. But this has been my method, and here is what it spit out this year:

1B Adrian Gonzalez, Boston
2B Robinson Cano, New York
SS Asdrubal Cabrera, Cleveland
3B Adrian Beltre, Texas
C Alex Avila, Detroit
OF Jose Bautista, Toronto
OF Curtis Granderson, New York
OF Carlos Quentin, Chicago
DH Michael Young, Texas

1B Prince Fielder, Milwaukee
2B Rickie Weeks, Milwaukee
SS Jose Reyes, New York
3B Placido Polanco, Philadelphia
C Brian McCann, Atlanta
OF Lance Berkman, St. Louis
OF Ryan Braun, Milwaukee
OF Matt Kemp, Los Angeles

No National League catchers are hitting well this year, so I voted for McCann, who was last year's Gold Glove winner for outstanding fielder. Otherwise I don't honor fielding, impressive as it can be to witness in person.

A waste of time? Of course it is! But it's my waste, to which I'm rather attached.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Blue Jays

I was glad when the blue jays appeared in our yard this year. They had a tough time with the West Nile virus, and for a few years, I didn't see much of them.

Now I'm seeing a lot of them.

A pair seems to have taken over our yard, and I mean taken over. I haven't really seen much of our usual birds--cardinals, goldfinches, chickadees--since they've arrived! One day, I even spotted one of the jays chasing a robin away from the bushes outside the kitchen window. The robins were around quite a bit before, looking at possible nesting sites, but now they're not to be seen.

The jays don't just chase away songbirds. Whenever our resident red-tailed hawk announces his presence with a loud kiii, those jays will soon arrive, calling out thief! thief! and drive him away! They are brave, especially considering that something, maybe a hawk, caught a jay and left its remains--a pile of feathers--over by the finch feeder.
Despite the slightly headlong bravery with hawks, they seem smart to me. One likes alighting on a low branch of our maple to cock his head at the kitty, who looks up with interest. They also like bathing in our birdbath.

I'll be interested to see if they stick around. It would be cool if they nested here.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Arty Weekend

I didn't expect to get to the Marion Arts Festival on Saturday--it was supposed to be rainy and unsettled. But in the afternoon it cleared up.

I talked Eli into going with me. It was a deal something like this: I'll take you to the Marion Goodwill (Eli loves hunting for treasures), if you go with me to the Arts Festival. He was hesitant at first, but agreed.

Turns out, he enjoyed it. We each decided on a few things that we would buy, had we enough money. I decided on a beautiful watercolor

a silk scarf,
and a sculpture for our backyard.

Eli thought these image-changing photos were cool.

So that was the visual arts part of the day. That evening, Bruce and I heard some music by a local chamber group, Red Cedar Chamber Music. The group is a husband/wife duo: flute and guitar. They play a lot of 19th century parlor music, which I don't like much, but when they're playing music of the more classical variety, I try to hear them.

Saturday's concert was the world premiere of a piece of music they commissioned for them and a string quartet from a local composer, "Perhaps Gilead," a three-movement piece based on the book Gilead by local writer (a local theme here!) Marilynne Robinson. I loved that book, and immediately wished we could take Mom to the concert. She would have liked the book, too, and she enjoyed going to concerts.

The music was modern--sometimes atonal, odd textures and rhythms. But it also quoted hymns (the book is about a family of pastors in 19th through mid 20th century Iowa). The group, which is big on sharing music and educating the public--began the program by sharing an "Introduction" to the music, in which they explained some of the motifs and things we'd hear. They even read excerpts from the book.

The music itself was transporting--I felt wholly wrapped up in the world of the novel as I listened; maybe I even got new insights, too. I think I need to read the book again now.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Reading and writing

As you can see by the "good reads" gadget by the side of this post, I've been reading books on a couple of themes recently: British detective fiction and writing style. Might be an odd combination, but that's what I'm enjoying these days.

I've come to enjoy detective and mystery books a lot recently. I read P.D. James's book about the genre, Talking about Detective Fiction, to get an insight about why I enjoy these books so much. I can't remember much about James's take, but she did give a brief history and critique of the genre, showing that it's got a decent history--in England and in the U.S.

I used to think that reading mysteries and detective novels was a particular vice of librarians. Seemed like many librarians I know like to read mysteries or detective fiction--it was a librarian who turned me on to the Stephanie Plum series, way back when the author, Janet Evanovich was on 8 or 9. (The books always have a number in them--One for the Money, etc.)

Now I'm wondering if it has something to do with the age I am. I'm getting a bit tired of one particular "novel" shape: young woman comes to terms with her past in order to move on into her future. Maybe because I no longer really identify with that young woman. Of course there are plenty of other novel shapes, but that's a common one, especially among women writers.

With detective and mystery fiction, the books are mostly about people at work--detectives, police officers, curious folks, bail bondsmen (like Stephanie Plum!). Like those protagonists, that's where I am now. I've pretty much found my "work"--writing/teaching. I find it interesting to hear stories of people at work--the conflicts they encounter, the difficulties they push through, the ways they go about their work.

I have other books on my reading list, too, of course, but I think good detective novels will probably be part of my reading for a while.

Know any good ones?

OK. The other topic: writing style. I'm reading lots of books about this topic as part of some research I'm doing for a class I'll be teaching in the future. Name of the class? Grammar and Style. Doesn't that sound fun? I'm so excited!

I get two reactions to the title: "sign me up!" and "how boring"

I've done reading and research on this topic before--in grad school--and I took an awesome course on style with U Iowa Composition guru Jix Lloyd-Jones. It's fun to go back to old texts and ideas--and to encounter new ones.

An old text I just re-read (as you can see from Good Reads): Strunk and White's Elements of Style. What a hoot to read--what a delight! The subtle humor, the excellent advice, the conflating of good style with good morals. I happen to be reading my Kalman version--the one with the goofy watercolor illustrations, which add a layer of surreality. But of course, the best part is the way the voices of William Strunk and E.B. White practically radiate off the pages.

I'm also in the middle of a book whose existence I can't believe I failed to notice until now. It's called Stylized: A slightly obsessive history of Strunk & White's the elements of style, by Mark Garvey, and author and editor. I am loving this slim biography of The Elements of Style! Like his subject, this book is a delight to read--its style is lively and voiceful while adhering to White's advice to "1. Place yourself in the background." It's not "just style," though, but also riveting content: biographical material about both Strunk and White, excerpts from letters, descriptions of how the book was received, interviews with current writers (many write for the New Yorker), and pictures.

I think the thing I like best about this book is that I want to have written it. It's the kind of nonfiction book I would LOVE to work on: one with a narrow enough focus so as not to have to be encyclopedic, one that would allow me to do various kinds of research--in archives, in books, and through interviews, and one that would be on a topic that I love.

(The author begins the book by telling about his large collection of Strunk&Whites, different editions, etc.)

But since I don't yet have a topic for this type of writing (yet--I feel sure that I will have a topic at some time in my life), I'm going to have to stick with something less formal. Maybe a blog, for example.

I've dropped off on blog posting for a few reasons. One is my nephew Louie's death, which kind of knocked me out of circulation for a while. Just didn't feel like writing. Another is that I've been feeling a bit directionless in my blogging. Nesmith Family Blog was created so that everyone in our family, especially my boys, would have a place to post what they wrote . . . and I think I'm the only one posting these days. And my posts seem to be repeating themselves, seasonally. Didn't I post about planting my garden last year?

So I need to find a direction, a topic, a focus for writing. Maybe I'll start a new blog. Not sure. Maybe until then, I'll just challenge myself to post a couple times a week here on various topics. It's good--to write for oneself and one's non-paying readers, especially when part of one's income comes from paying readers . . . But I hope I find or figure out a direction for my writing. I'm confident that something will appear.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Confirmed in the Faith

I love the confirmation service at church--the young people processing with the cross, bible, communion elements, watching them serve in worship (they acolyte, usher, read the scriptures, lead joys and concerns . . .), the great music. This year it was even more special because Eli was confirmed.

Here's Eli at the beginning of the service--he was the crucifer. He also read the gospel and ushered.

Confirmation classes are just one year at our church. I've heard they can be up to 3 years in different denominations! But of course, Eli's spiritual education has been going on for a long time.

His classes involved the usual meetings with the pastor to discuss spiritual matters and the Methodist church. But the kids also went to a service at the synagogue, and one at an African-American baptist church. They did some service projects, like walking in the CROP walk, and they had a weekend retreat at a camp.

Besides the class, they also worked with faith mentors one-on-one (Eli's was our friend Steve), after which they wrote their own faith statements.

My favorite part of the service was the laying on of hands. We parents (and Steve) got to come up to the front and be part of it while Pastor Paul said this lovely blessing:

Eli Paul Nesmith, the Lord defend you with his heavenly grace
and by his Spirit confirm you
in the faith and fellowship
of all true disciples of Jesus Christ.