Sunday, October 30, 2011

Lessons in Living: Why I Bake Pies

I love pie.

As a very small child, my birthday cake of choice was a pink angel food cake with pink frosting. But as I grew older, I found I preferred a birthday pie to a birthday cake. Usually lemon meringue as I adore lemon. Or chocolate chiffon, which was what my mother usually baked to serve when she hosted her bunco club group when we lived in Falls City. We used to hope against hope that there would be some of that pie left over for us, but it rarely happened.

The person who truly inspired my pie baking was my Aunt Edith. Aunt Edith was married to my mom's brother, Junior, and I remember her as a gentle soul who made quilts and baked pies. She and her sister owned the local dry goods store in Falls City and after I learned to sew, I would frequently drive the 16 miles from Kenedy to shop for fabric at Edith's store.

While I remember Edith for her contributions to my love of sewing, when I think of her, I usually think of her pies. Mom could make a pie, but it wasn't her favorite thing to do. She seemed to think it of it as a struggle and I don't remember her making an many pies, aside from the aforementioned chocolate chiffon. But it seemed that at Aunt Edith's house there was always a pie or pies.*  To me it was a message: pie is possible and you can do it. And I do. In my early pie making attempts I can remember using various packaged pie crust mixes and the ubiquitous ready made crusts. But that wasn't enough for me. So, I taught myself how to make homemade pie crusts. And what a rewarding journey it has been. And no, I don't think it is cheating to use the ready made pie crusts, but only with home made pie crust do you get delectable little leftover bits of pie dough to pop into your mouth. There is a method to my pie madness.

Yesterday I indulged in a positive orgy of pie baking. We held our annual pumpkin carving party for our neighbors and friends and, as has been traditional from the very first party, there was pie for dinner and dessert. Two huge savory pies filled with stew and an apple pie. This year, my daughter-in-law came over to watch me make the apple pie as she is planning on making one when she goes to her family in Seattle for Thanksgiving. We will be having a repeat of apple pie baking this month because the truth of the matter is you can show someone how to bake a pie, but you really learn how make a pie by doing it. And that's the gift Aunt Edith gave me: She let me know baking a pie was as easy as, well, pie and that I could do it. 

There's a scene in the movie Michael, where the characters are gathered in a diner eating all the different types of pie offered and discussing why pie speaks to us. It's one of my favorite movie scenes as it speaks to me about what pie means to me. Pie can be an art form, but it is also the most basic, homely of desserts.

"Pie. Pie. Me oh my. I love pie."

*I could be mistaken about this and I really should ask my cousins if that was really the case.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Past Time for Change

About a week ago, my sister Jane was honored as a 2011 Distinguished Alumna of the University of Texas at Austin. When we first learned that she would be receiving this honor, I did some research on this award and yes, it's a very big deal and everyone in the family is extremely proud of her. Now Jane admits that she is not the typical honoree. In which I mean that she doesn't have an air-conditioned box at the football stadium, hasn't given tons of money to UT, she has only been a member of the Texas Exes alumni association for the last three years, and, up until the awards ceremony, she didn't own any clothing that was burnt orange unless she really liked it or orange was 'in' that year.

So why did they pick her? Well, she does support the School of Communications and has been involved in several things through that school. Like talking to classes when she is in Austin and being a commencement speaker at the School of Communication's graduation ceremonies a few years ago. And she freely credits UT with opening her eyes to a much bigger world than she ever dreamed existed outside of Kenedy, Texas. Add to all that twenty years as editor-in-chief of Woman's Day magazine (preceded by stints as health, beauty and fashion editor at that same publication), and founding the Woman's Day Heart Awards, plus coming up with the idea of wearing red in February to support research and education about women and heart disease. And supporting women's issues and a few other things. Yep, that's all worth some major recognition.

 Jane w/ the siblings and two nieces (aka my daughters).
Jane's the one in the center wearing the burnt orange jacket.

So the entire family gathered in Austin and we celebrated this achievement together. It was a great time and as I said, we are all extremely proud of Jane. But there's just one tiny problem I had with this award. It was given to six people this year and only two of them were women. The award given is a throwback to the early fifties when the award originated: A burnt orange blazer that was obviously created because, back in the time of Ozzie and Harriet, no one could conceive that the award would be given to a woman. That blazer is highly prized by those who 'bleed' burnt orange, but it bothers me as it seems to scream 'men only' club. And given the disparity between the number of men who have received this honor compared to the number of women, it's not really surprising that I feel that way. Here's a fun fact for you: In 2003, all six award recipients were men. Only eight years ago. The most women who have received this honor in a single year is three. The number of women recognized in a single year has never been more than the number of men.

Since 2003, the Texas Exes have tried to make sure that at least one or two women are included in each group. And as much as I'd like to blame the organization because that would be so easy, the truth is we, the alumni of the University of Texas, nominate people for this award. The recipients are chosen from those nominations. And if we aren't nominating women, then women are not going to receive this recognition.

While I'm sure the men who have received this award over the years deserved it, I refuse to believe that there aren't just as many talented, successful women who also deserve it. And it is past time for a change. Quite honestly I had no idea this award existed before Jane received it. I'm betting there are quite a few alums who also have no idea. Especially women, since, let's face it, the Texas Exes are better known for tailgate parties than award ceremonies, and if you're like me, you don't give a damn whether the football team is winning or losing. But now I know and so do you. UT is fond of saying that what starts here, changes the world. So, how about we change the world? Go out there and find those talented, successful women who have a degree from UT and then nominate them for this award. Every year. Here's the link: Texas Exes Alumni Awards. If we all do it, then we can finally give the alumnae of the University of Texas the credit they so richly deserve. And if you are not a UT alum, then take a few minutes to search your college website to find out how you can nominate a deserving woman for that institution's alum awards. I guarantee every college has one.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Crazy Love

In less than 12 hours Larry and I will be loading up the car and heading to Austin to spend the weekend with my family. Not just our kids. I'll be with my 89-year-old mom, my three sisters, my sweet brother, most of their spouses, my nephews, and my children, daughter-in-law and my incubating grandchild (sex of said grandchild to be unveiled at some point during the weekend). No they don't all live in Austin. But we are gathering there for a special reason. Tomorrow night my sister Jane will be honored as a University of Texas Distinguished Alumna. It's a big deal and we are all going to be there for her and celebrate this honor with her. 

I titled this 'Crazy Love' because that's the best way I can think of to describe my siblings' relationship with each other. We're more than a little bit crazy and in our own way, we are crazy about each other. It's not easy. Sometimes it's just plain difficult. But I think we do love each other intensely. Even when we are ticked off beyond all belief at each other, the love is there. I've often thought it would be so much easier if we all didn't care so much. But we do. I can't explain why we are this way. I'm sure a good psychologist could have a field day with our respective history, but as I grow older, I find I don't really care to know why anymore. I just try to accept that this is who we are and to love everyone despite it and because of it.

Tonight my youngest texted me from Austin. She was with a couple of the early arrivals: Mom, my sister Julia, and Mom's good friend Gay, whom we are adopting into the family for all practical purposes. I cannot tell you how badly I wanted to be magically teleported to Austin. I can't wait to get there and be with my family. I want to be there. Now.

It's crazy. And I love it.

Monday, October 10, 2011

A Day Off

I have a day off today thanks to Christopher Columbus.

A day off. What a luxurious thing that is. A whole extra day to spend doing whatever I want to do. I've already slept in today, if you consider getting up at 8:00 instead of 5:00 sleeping in. Right now I'm sitting in my studio contemplating what I will do today.  Here's some of the options: 

Finish making this fabric into a dust ruffle for my mom.

 Choose a paint color for my latest acquisition for my studio.

Begin work on this skirt for my daughter Sara.

Start turning this fabric into an apron, also for Sara.

And then there's lots of other things I want/have to do. Including my drawing class tonight where I will finally start my final project. It's going to be a very busy, very fun day I think. So I'm off to brew a second cup of tea and then it's time to get started!

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Thanks Steve

Tonight I was in the kitchen, waiting for my husband to get ready to walk with me. As I was waiting I was listening to my iPod and dancing happily away, when he walked in and told me, "Steve Jobs has died."

On the off chance you've been living under a rock for the past 25 years or so, Steve Jobs is one of the founders of Apple Computer and was very much the man whose vision brought us not only an incredible line of personal computers with the best operating system around (How good? Well Bill Gates based Windows on it and I personally consider Windows to be a poor shadow of the original concept), but iPods, iPhones, and iPads. He and his company certainly changed how I work. I go way back in the printing/graphic design industry. As a child I watched my father and uncles set type by hand and with a linotype machine. When I was in college, taking advertising design courses, we did layouts by hand using markers and tracing paper, which was then mounted on white board. When I started work at an ad agency in 1979, I would work out the type specs, order the type from a type house, which would send over photo paper galleys coated with wax on the back. These would be cut apart and pasted on white mechanical board, then sent out to a company that made veloxes (again photo paper) which went to the newspapers. All by hand. No email. No or minimal computers except maybe for writing and accounting. Certainly no graphic programs.

I bought my first Mac, a IIci, in 1990, when I was pregnant with my third child. I paid $10,000 total for my set up, which included the IIci with a blazing 4 MB of RAM, a black and white 13" monitor, a grayscale HP scanner, and I believe one of the first HP laser printers (and no, it did not print in color). I would have paid considerably more, but since Larry worked for a company that sold HP, I got a 50% discount on the scanner and the printer.

I also invested in Pagemaker, Photoshop, and Freehand. I took a basic course in Pagemaker and I still remember the first time I went to that class and used a computer. After I got my system, I set it up in our dining room. I remember sitting at the screen, working on a layout, remembering my father setting type on a linotype machine in a crowded, unairconditioned newspaper office in South Texas and I wondered what he would think about me arranging type and graphics into a finished work on this one little machine in my dining room.

Over the years, I've remained loyal to my Macs. I can use a PC, but if I have a choice, I'll always choose a Mac. Always. From the very beginning, Apple embraced and appealed to artists and designers. I also love my iPod and my iPhone. No iPad yet, but it could happen. Designers are drawn to Apple products not just for their ease of use, but for their elegant design. And that elegant design attracts others as well. When I got my first Apple flat screen monitor at work, people would walk into my office and their jaws would literally drop first in awe and then in jealousy.

I truly hope Apple stays true to that vision of seemingly effortless design while continuing to pursue the innovative thinking that Steve Jobs made a priority. That innovative thinking changed my life. I would like to think that somewhere down the road it will someday change the life of my prospective grandchild, if not my own life again.

Rest in peace Steve. And thanks.