OCD Christmas

Every year I look forward to Christmas and every year I become overwhelmed by the number of preparations involved, so naturally I was happy to see this card, painted by my grand-daughter, Rachel, who is 10. I love the simplicity of the tree and the bright colors.

Rachel's Tree large

If only decorating the tree was as easy as this simple painting. The first thing I do is assemble my large imitation tree. I help my husband as he places the color-coded branches in their respective spaces on the pole, which eventually becomes an evergreen-shaped plastic object. Once the branches are in place, I go around the tree spreading out the small boughs like lettuce leaves, so they are available to hang ornaments.

Next I go for the lights! This year I am using the larger colored bulbs for a more old-fashioned look. As I struggle unwinding the cords, my husband says:

“Do you want some help?”

“No,” I answer, “Then I’ll just have to change them.” What? Can’t I accept help with this humdrum job?

No, because I am OCD. (Doctors say this means Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, but I say it means Overly Concerned Dunce). I can’t accept help because I need to have all the lights spaced evenly around the tree with no two lights of the same color next to each other. No one else seems to have the patience or concern to do that. And if they do, they always make a mistake and I have to do it over. And if you are a mental health practitioner, yes I am in therapy!

Unfortunately, I am that way with the ornaments too, so the next day I drag out the old foot-locker that has held our Christmas decorations for the last 20 years. It is always fun to open it, because years ago I glued a giant picture of Santa’s face on the inside, and he greets me with a big smile. I can’t help it. I always smile back and giggle.

I begin routing around for ornaments, pulling out the larger glass balls first, then the medium and small. I put them on the tree carefully, according to color, spacing and size until I am satisfied that it looks perfect. Then I add the special ones, including angels of different sizes, a snowman, a glass elephant and a Madonna and child ornament.

At last the tree is beginning to look done. I fall exhausted onto the sofa, while my husband tries to revive me, patting me softly and saying “it looks beautiful.” But I don’t hear him, I’m asleep.

 

 

A Time-saver for the Thanksgiving Hostess

Why does Thanksgiving seem like such a warm fuzzy holiday until it actually arrives? You picture yourself around a big table of smiling relatives and friends before a huge, perfectly browned turkey and five or six sumptuous side dishes.

Unfortunately, if you are the hostess, one by one these ideal fantasies disappear as the actual day approaches, and the reality of bringing this feast into fruition begins to weigh on your mind. The first bubble pops when you enter the grocery store to purchase the last few items you’ve forgotten. Suddenly the list seems very long and you begin to feel like a blind sardine pushing a half ton truck through a crowded stream.

When you get to the checkout, the second bubble pops when you faint as the checkout girl tells you the bill is over $100. A kind older man who is not fixing thanksgiving dinner helps you to your feet so you can put the groceries on your credit card. As you leave the store you notice other shoppers who are audibly crying in the check out aisles.

After you get home and put away all the groceries and sundries, you are exhausted and fall onto the sofa in relief. As you are resting the third bubble pops when you realize you don’t have enough chairs, so you quickly phone your nearest relative who has some folding chairs they can bring when they come TOMORROW!!!

Suddenly you are back on your feet beginning your preparation for two pies. Now the remaining bubbles are popping simultaneously, as you realize you will be spending the entire day tomorrow baking the turkey and making the stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, rolls, green bean casserole, and cranberry sauce. What in the world are you going to do?

My tip for the exhausted hostess: Do thanksgiving backwards. PUT THE TURKEY IN THE DISHWASHER!

Heavy Purse Syndrome

As a hippie at 30 years of age, I hitchhiked for months carrying only a backpack. I went with two young men and we hitched from LA up the West coast to Vancouver, and crossed over into Newfoundland, a trip of more than 4,000 miles.  I did it without a purse.

How is it that as an older woman, I can’t go anywhere without my huge purse? It measures 15”W X 9”D X 5”H and weighs 4 – 5 pounds? At what point in life did I decide to carry a purse? I know the answer to that. I was 31 and I got a job. In other words, I went straight.

Believe me, it’s not the money that makes it heavy. It’s everything else that has found its way into my handbag. Apparently as I got older I needed more stuff, and I have inadvertently become a victim of heavy purse syndrome. By the way, punching a whole in the bottom doesn’t work. Even though the weight of the purse hurts my arm and my back, as soon as I take the smallest thing out, I need it within the first hour of leaving the house.

If I take out my comb, the wind comes along and tangles my hairstyle beyond hope.

If I take out my compact, my nose suddenly looks like a traffic signal.

If I take out my cuticle cutters or my Band aids, I get a hangnail that bleeds on my white sweater.

If I take out my day planner (which is the smallest one available) I am late for everything and miss my appointments.

If I take out my Kleenex, my nose begins running like a faucet.

ARE THERE OTHER WOMEN WITH THIS PROBLEM?

I know I’m complaining, but I don’t know what else to do but tell the world about my heavy purse dilemma. Maybe someone has a solution. I know African women carry things on their heads. Has anyone else tried that?

The worst part of it is that the older I get, the more stuff I need with me to stay reasonably alive until I return home. Of course I need to carry my cell phone, my keys and my wallet, and I’m just not comfortable without my hand lotion, a nail file, and lip balm. I mean they are necessities. Call it stuff ad infinitum (stuff that multiplies infinitely).

And now for the final admission of guilt. I am continually thirsty and I usually carry a bottle of Aquafina in my purse! All I need now is a sandwich, and … but hey, I have to draw the line somewhere!

 

Don’t Say Uhhhm

I am practicing a speech for a presentation on Surviving Multiple Personality Disorder. I made some note cards with large letters so I wouldn’t forget anything or be tempted to say

“….Uhhhm.”

I will also be speaking about child abuse in front of ………uhhhm….the same group of friends and neighbors. I have been thinking back to my class on public speaking, and I remember…….uhhhm….that you’re never supposed to say ….’Uhhhm.’

So now I realize how much I actually say uhhhm. Pretty much two or three times in ….uhhhm every sentence.

I am starting today to ….uhhhm try to quit saying uhhhm. It is going to be an ….uhhhm uphill battle.

Do you say uhhhm a lot?

The Joys of Summer

The joy of warm sunny days is upon us. We can finally relax and sit in the sunshine and drink iced tea. We can lay back and think about nothing. After all, what else is there to do?

I could do the dishes, but why spoil a lovely day over the kitchen sink, or anywhere near the kitchen sink. I could do the laundry and hang the sheets out to dry, but the clothesline fell down during the last rain and was never put up again.

I decide to put on my swim suit and lay in the sun, hoping the kids find something to occupy themselves. While I am putting on my suit, which reveals a few unsightly new bulges, I realize I am out of sunscreen. This is an emergency, because I burn right away and can’t risk lying in the sun without SPF 400. If I continue with this plan, everyone has to get dressed and go to the drugstore. For some inane reason, I don’t trust the kids to stay out of trouble when I leave home to do a simple errand.

Perhaps a fun activity is the answer. We can play badminton, but the net is still in the garage, tangled up from the derecho.

How about going to the lake and renting a canoe? Perfect. I can stop by the drug store and pick up the sunscreen on our way. The kids are onboard with the idea, and we get dressed for boating, including our hats, and drive 45 minutes to the lake. By the time we get there, we are hungry and grouchy, so we stop at the concession stand for $25 worth of hot dogs, candy bars, potato chips and drinks.

Hoping I still have enough cash to rent a canoe, we stand in line for 15 minutes. I notice the cost has been raised since last summer and they are now charging an arm and a leg for a one hour rental. I guess canoe robberies have escalated since last year and are now a big time operation, but I wonder how you can steal a canoe in broad daylight.

We finally rent a canoe. Our first challenge is actually getting in the canoe. Did you ever see a boat that tipped so easily? I sit in the front paddling the craft through the peaceful waters, while my 12-year old son, Jay, sits in the back, steering. He learned canoeing from his father last summer and is ready to show-off his skills. I am not as confident as he is.

My daughter who is eight, sits in the middle yakking about everything she sees. Doesn’t she realize the joy of canoeing is the peace and quiet of still waters? Jay is fairly quiet, only complaining occasionally about everything from being hot to getting his new tennis shoes wet.

Suddenly, we see a pontoon boat coming around a bend toward us. It is quite large and seems to be hogging the middle of the lake pretty well. Jay and I both see it at the same time and prepare to move the canoe to the left. However, Jay gets confused and moves the canoe to the right.

We are starring frightfully into the eyes of the man steering the pontoon boat, when he blasts an extremely loud blare from an air horn. It scares Jay so much he drops his paddle in the water. We are hypnotized, watching it sink. While I scramble to steer the canoe from the front, it bangs into the side of the pontoon boat.

Wham! There is a moment of terror while the canoe tips dangerously and we all nearly fall in the water. I wonder if we will survive. In my panic, I drop the other paddle, which seems to be in a hurry to join its partner at the bottom of the lake.

To my amazement, the man in the paddle boat doesn’t even stop to help us. He says a very nasty word and his party hardly notices us, as they grow smaller in the distance, leaving us up the creek without a paddle!

When we finally make it home, wet, disgusted and grumpy, I face a terrible truth. Tomorrow may be no better. The terror of warm sunny days is upon me.

 

 

 

Reading ‘The Yard Gnome’

I wrote a very comical series called The Yard Gnome. I should not have divided it into parts because it made it too hard to read.

If you would like to read it, you have to go to my blog and start on the blog from May 24th, My Neighbor the Yard Gnome, which is the first section of the series. Then you would read the blog from May 26th, Yard Gnome II.  If your not laughing by that time, you can read the blog from May 27th, Yard Gnome III. I hope you can still laugh after all this confusion.

Sorry about that.  D.I.D. I do that? Nancy

Yard Gnome III

gnomeThe Yard Gnome Part III

I didn’t think things could get any worse, when Jessie devised a plan for catching her husband. She had found an old dolly in the shed. It wasn’t a baby doll, it was one of those gizmos men use to move heavy items. She thought we could pick up the gnome and move him back to the house on the dolly. It wasn’t a bad idea, considering the problem.

I wish you could have seen us trying to move that stupid gnome. We had a terrible time getting it onto the dolly, and when we did, neither of us had to strength to push it over the grass. We were groaning and moaning.

“Paul’s fallen off the dolly!” Jessie screamed after the gnome slipped and crashed onto the grass.

“How will we ever get him to the house?”

It was a predicament. The gnome was the heaviest thing I had ever tried to lift and even together we could hardly get him right side up. He was at a weird angle and pretty far away from the bird bath.

“He’s leaning over too much,” Jessie whined. “I hope he doesn’t notice.”

After our dolly folly, neither Jessie nor I could figure out what to do. Since I didn’t really believe Paul had turned into a yard gnome, I decided I needed to spy on him at night. I didn’t mention to Jessie that I thought he was seeing another woman, but she thought he must be moving around at night, doing the yard work by the light of the moon.

The next night we hid outside behind the bushes near the bird bath and watched the gnome. It was back in its original place, with the hose in its hand. Nothing happened for awhile and I almost feel asleep, when we heard a funny noise and something whizzed past us into the woods. The yard gnome had moved!

“Did you see something whiz past us?” Jessie whispered.

“Yes I did, and I heard it too. Do you think it was………could it have been…..Paul?” I couldn’t believe it. How could he move that fast. I must have been asleep.

I couldn’t see Jessie’s face, but I knew she was excited. We began calling out Paul’s name into the darkness, sneaking through the yard quietly. Jessie handed me a flashlight and I lead the way, as we walked round and round the bird bath and through the yard. She was calling Paul in a plaintive voice.

“Paul……Paul, please come in….Here Paul…..I’m sorry I made you do all the housework…” She repeated it like a mantra for awhile. Finally she screamed “Come here you idiot.”

The situation was getting scary. Was Paul a ghost? Suddenly, something touched me on the shoulder and I jumped and screamed.

“I’m sorry I scared you,” Jessie said. “I see something in the woods. Turn the flashlight to the woods.”

“Of course,” I whispered. I pointed the light toward the woods, checking out the trees and the bushes, but no Paul. There was a slight glow coming from behind one of the larger trees, and suddenly I saw the top of a pointy red hat. I grabbed Jessie by the arm.

“Look over there,” I whispered. We both saw the red hat. We moved closer and I turned off the flashlight so Paul couldn’t see us. Then we saw the tops of more than one hat.  My thoughts were running wild. Could there be more of these little men? More yard gnomes? Was this a meeting?

“He has friends!” Jessie whispered.

There was a small fire in the middle of the group and we heard quiet laughter. We slipped up closer to the little fire and counted the gnomes. Six in all, and sure enough, there was a female gnome standing next to Paul. She looked almost the same as the other gnomes, but she had blond hair, no beard and she was wearing a skirt. Jessie was really mad by then, and I hoped she knew better than to make a scene.

I was wrong.

“Paul!” Jessie cried. “What are you doing out here?”

“I’ve met some other gnomes,” he answered. “This is Tiny and this one’s Cutie, and……”

“I don’t give a darn what they’re names are,” she yelled, piercing the quiet night. “Are you coming home to bed, or not?”

“Not!” he said. “I’ve met someone else.” He nodded his head towards the cute little female gnome. “You know what they say, gnome, sweet gnome.”

I was astonished, but I had the sense to make Jessie turn around and leave the woods. Soon after, the glow went out and the laughter stopped.

On the way home, despite her anger, a tear ran down Jessie’s cheek. “I had no idea my husband would become a yard gnome. Do you think I forced him into it? I miss Paul, and I am so lonely sometimes. It’s just not that nice at home anymore.”

I finally had the answer she needed. “Well, at least your yard is beautiful! The lawn seems to be perfectly groomed, and I got you a subscription to Gnome and Garden magazine.”

 

 

Yard Gnome II

This story becomes sadder and sadder every time I tell it. Jessie was coming over to my house every morning to discuss her problem. As I sat with her, I realized she was slipping over the edge.

“Perhaps you should see a psychologist,” I suggested.

“What!” she gasped. Oh, oh, I had offended her.

“You think I should go to a psychologist?” Jessie was definitely insulted and she got up and left, slamming my kitchen door so hard, I thought the glass was going to break. I felt bad about it, but I breathed a sigh of relief.

I didn’t see Jessie for several days and then one morning she was back. She had mellowed a bit and she said, “Wouldn’t it be better if Paul saw the psychologist?”

“Yes, but he’s not even able to speak anymore, Jessie. I think you need to get help for your own sake.”

“I guess you’re right. Do you have the name and number of a psychologist?” I gave her the number and she left. When I drove past her house I saw that the yard gnome had not moved and was still holding the hose, smiling. I was amazed that Jessie’s yard still looked perfect. How could that be? I asked her if she was doing the yard work.

“No, I haven’t done a thing. It still looks good though, doesn’t it?”

“Yes it does,” I agreed. Over the next few days I really tried to figure it out. How could a man turn into a yard gnome, I kept thinking. There had to be some explanation. Maybe Paul had put a stone yard gnome in his place and was sneaking off to see another woman. It certainly made sense considering the way Jessie treated him. But how could the gnome look so much like him?

Later that week Jessie knocked on my door. “Oh no, here we go again,” I thought. I was glad to hear she had visited the psychologist, but sad to hear the results.

“That psychologist is a nutcase. He kept asking me about my feelings. How did I feel about my husband turning to stone? Had I done anything to offend him? How did I feel about doing his household chores? Was I willing to give up my soaps? It was just hopeless. When I got home it was dark. I hoped Paul had returned to being a man, so I ran in the house hoping he was watching TV, being his normal self. He wasn’t.”

She started crying again. “It doesn’t matter how I feel about it, it only matters that he’s not around any more. He’s not around to do the dishes, or take out the garbage or wash the car. He doesn’t do the vacuuming, or dust. He’s just standing in the yard. I knew he’d find a way to avoid doing his chores.”

My Neighbor, the Yard Gnome

gnome A Three Part story by Nancy DeLaval   Miller

Part I

When I first met Jessica and Paul Yardley I thought they would be great neighbors. They were polite and friendly and their place looked like a picture from Home and Garden magazine. Often, during those first weeks after they moved in, I would see Paul working in the yard – mowing, planting, pruning, watering – he did everything with a pleasant smile on his face. He seemed very happy.

However, I soon learned that Jessie wasn’t happy at all. When we got together for coffee one day, she expounded on her husband’s faults. He was lazy and stupid, shirked his chores in the house, and all he wanted to do was work in the yard. I came away realizing she was very bossy and quite dysfunctional, even crazy perhaps.

Friday, she came rushing over to my house and knocked loudly on the back door. “Can I talk to you?” she asked, pushing her way into the house. I agreed and we sat down at the kitchen table. “Paul won’t come in the house!” I had no answer for this and she went on. “Paul went out to work in the yard on Wednesday and never came back in. He finished the mowing two hours later and I kept expecting him to come back in the house, but he didn’t. I didn’t really care at first. I needed my nap and I had to watch my soaps, plus I had to prepare dinner. It seems like the work never ends.

“When dinner was almost ready, I went out to call him. I saw him standing by the bird bath with the hose.

“Paul,” I called out.

“I’m over here,” he yelled back. His voice sounded a little weaker than usual, but I didn’t think anything of it. He was some distance away.

“It’s time for dinner.”

“I’ll be in soon,” he said smiling at me. I thought his smile was a little stiff, but I was too far away to get a good look. I was tired from a long day’s housework and I went back inside. I called him two more times that evening, but I finally ate dinner alone. I even ate some of his, but I left him some on a plate. Then I did his job, washing the dishes. That made me really mad and I called him several more times to come in, but didn’t get an answer. That evening I fell asleep in front of the TV, alone.”

Unbelievable as it seems, Jessie told me that Paul never came in that night. In fact, he never came back in at all, and it made her very angry. The next day she went out to find him. He was still standing by the bird bath with the hose. She decided she needed to check him out carefully, so she trekked all the way out to the bird bath to see him.

“What are you doing?” she asked.

“Making sure the flowers and the birds have enough water.”

“I see that, but what about you? Aren’t you hungry?”

“No, I’ve just been sipping a little water from time to time.”

She noticed that he looked shorter than usual. “Aren’t you going to come in soon? I’m sure the birds and the flowers have enough water by now!”

“I stop sometimes and wait for the birds and squirrels to get a drink. A deer came by last night with two fawns and……”

“I don’t really care if the president came by,” she screamed. “I need your help in the house!” She was finally losing her patience with her husband. Didn’t he know that he had responsibilities in the house? The dishes were piling up and he forgot she needed help with the vacuuming. And why would she care if the wild animals had enough to drink?

After an uncomfortable silence she said, “Well, I’m going ahead with my day. If you want to stay out here all day, I guess that’s up to you!” She was mad and stomped into the house.

The next morning she called me and asked me to come over and try to convince Paul to come back in the house. When I saw him I was shocked. He seemed much shorter than I remembered, so I looked down to see if he was standing in a hole. He wasn’t. His white hair had grown longer. His face looked the same but his body was much smaller than it had been. Paul Yardley seemed to be morphing into a little yard gnome. Even his clothes and shoes must have gotten smaller, because they still fit the same way. And somewhere he found a long pointy red hat.

“Take that hat off,” Jessie demanded. “It makes you look stupid.” He just looked at her and laughed. She didn’t want the neighbors to see him wearing it. She grabbed at the hat, but then grimaced.

“Feel this hat,” she said, giving me a direct order. To my surprise, the hat was as hard as a rock. I was taken aback. Jessie and I couldn’t pull it off. We looked at Paul with total bewilderment. Then I touched his shoulder and it was hard too.

“What happened to you?” I asked. He just stood there watering and smiling and didn’t answer. I wondered if he could even talk. Could his mouth move if it was stone? His eyes were still alert and moved around, looking at me and the lawn.

“Quit turning into stone and come in the house,” Jessie demanded, but by noon Paul had turned completely into a yard gnome. All the yard work was meticulously done, but we never saw him move a muscle or a stone arm or leg, or give a toss of his hard head. He was as hard as a rock, and couldn’t talk, so Jessie turned off the hose and went shopping.

“I knew he would figure out a way to avoid doing his chores,” she said.

Stay tuned for Part II of  The Yard Gnome

My Brain is Snowed In

I was going to blog about the psychodynamics of complex multiple personality disorder today, but when I woke up my brain went into a pathological brain freeze. When I try to think, this fluffy white stuff starts flying around in my head, giving me cerebral frostbite. I would very much like to share wonderful truths with my followers, but the truth is I have only frozen memories of such things. Things such as words, sentences, clear thoughts, memories, ideas and other assorted subjects evade me. In other words, my brain is snowed in. Sorry about that! Perhaps tomorrow there will be a thaw.

Global Warming causes Local Freezing?

Former Vice President, Alvin More, has announced that the latest weather trend, Local Freezing, does not preclude Global Warming. Now shown on all TV weather maps, one can readily see that the United States is a target of Local Freezing, or National Freezing, however the weather forecasters describe the current temperatures over the northeastern United States. Unfortunately, for most Americans, the weather map shows that the rest of the world is much warmer and, in some cases, rather balmy.

Has the Word “Cold” become Obsolete? Meteorologists, commonly called Weather Men, are confused and upset, unable to understand the connection all this cold has to do with that warming ‘balderdash.’

Mr. More refuses to back down on his stand for Global Warming, still insisting that it isn’t cold, just slightly cool, and it is not necessary to wear an overcoat, hat, ear-muffs or gloves to ward off this ‘anti-warming’ trend, which will soon pass.

Appearing in only his well-groomed brown suit, the former Vice President gave a speech on the front steps of his home in Nashville, insisting for the umpteenth time that global warming is a real phenomena, much like extra-terrestrials, ghost-busters and Big Foot. More claims the word “cold” has become obsolete. Unfortunately, his speech was cut-off prematurely, when his teeth began chattering and he ran into the house to get warm.

More was recently challenged by representatives from The Weather Channel, who accused Alvin of being cold and unfeeling, uncool and hot-tempered. The weather bugs are challenging More and his followers to a swim-off in Lake Placid in February to see who has the guts to swim in the freezing waters. Then maybe they will remember the word “cold!”

Betty Crocker – The Early Years

When I first got married in 1964, I didn’t have a clue about how to be a housewife. I was still in my last semester of college, and all I knew was what a knife and fork looked like and which appliance was the refrigerator. I did have experience at the sink, washing my hands and getting a drink of water, but as a teenager I had studiously avoided Mom’s kitchen. It really was a studied avoidance, because after dinner, I often gave my mother the excuse that I had to study, so I couldn’t help with the dishes. Unfortunately, it was true. I always had so much homework my eyes fell out every night at 10:00.

But I’m getting behind myself. My husband and I managed to eat out for the first few nights. My mom had given me her Betty Crocker Cookbook and after several days of screw-ups, mishaps, and culinary disasters, I decided to make chicken, mashed potatoes and peas. At least I knew about the three food groups: easy, difficult, and impossible.

Betty’s Cookbook  informed me how to bake the chicken, which turned out to be blackened but edible. It was the mashed potatoes that proved impossible. The recipe said to put the potatoes in a pan with ½ inch of water. Betty forgot to mention that the water needed to cover the potatoes and have an extra ½ inch on top of them.

Anyway, I burned the potatoes. I did cook the canned peas in a small saucepan with water and they turned out fine (1964 was during the pre-microwave period in culinary history). I think my husband was still hungry after dinner, but he didn’t say anything. The next night we went to “Big Boy” for hamburgers and fries.

My history of not-so-good dinners finally changed when I had children and was forced to stay home all day and take care of them. I began to care about cooking. Really, I began to care about eating, and I was serving Kraft Macaroni and Cheese every other night, so I needed to study up on making nutritious, edible and tasty dinners.

A neighbor taught me how to make a delicious pot roast. I’m getting hungry just talking about it. I had finally conquered baked chicken and I understood every step of making creamy mashed potatoes. My girlfriend found a great recipe for spaghetti sauce and I learned how to make that. At that point I was able to boil noodles.

“Mom, I learned to make spaghetti sauce from scratch.”

“Really?” Mother was astounded.

“Yes, it’s delicious.”

“Better than Chef Boy-ar-Dee?” Mom looked incredulous.

“Yes, Mom, even better than Chef Boy-ar-dee.” I remember laughing to myself because Mom thought sauce that came in a can would be better than homemade sauce.

So finally, as National Feast Day comes around again, I think back to Betty Crocker and Chef Boy-ar-dee, and although their food was not nutritious the way we insist our food be now, it was fairly good and kept us from going hungry when Mom was busy.

Chef Boy-ar-dee is a real man from Piacenza, Italy whose name was spelled Hector Boiardi. He had a famous restaurant in NYC and was one of the first chefs to package his ingredients together in a box for sale to the public. People ate it up!

Unfortunately, Betty Crocker is a crock. Yes, I’m sorry to burst your bubbles, but Betty isn’t a real person. She was started by the Washburn Crosby Company in Minneapolis in 1921, invented to give a personal touch to thousands of requests they received about baking. Here are some pictures of Betty during her early years.

Betty Crocker

As Easy as Pie

I’ve been cogitating on the idiom “as easy as pie.” Apparently this phrase was first used by someone who was eating a piece of pie, not baking a pie, because baking a pie can be difficult and may involve tears.

As a young bride of 21, about a hundred years ago, I had to make breakfasts, lunches, dinners, do the food shopping and wash the dishes, and I didn’t have a clue. I had purposely avoided the kitchen at home because I didn’t like my mother. She always seemed to find fault with me.

I hadn’t been married long when I decided to make an apple pie. In those olden days, one had to make piecrust from scratch and anyone who has done this, knows it is a skill that needs carefully practiced. I started with a stick of soft margarine and some flour and salt. I happily mixed it all together expecting it to become dough. However, it didn’t become dough. It became a wet, gooey mess.

I started over with fresh ingredients, reading the recipe over several times to get it right. This time I got a bunch of crumbles that wouldn’t congeal without adding water, and when I did add it, the same thing happened. Then I cried.

I called my mother, but she wasn’t home. I called my girlfriend and she told me I needed several things I didn’t have. First I needed to use real butter, and I needed a pastry blender. I didn’t have one. I didn’t even know what they looked like. I cried some more. She said I could blend the shortening and the flour with a fork but I had to do it very easily in order to get a good crust. Apparently if you mash the ingredients together too hard, the dough gets tough, and the tough get doughy.

I actually tried to make the crusts again, using butter and a fork to blend it, but it still didn’t work. I cried long and hard after that.  If tears were used to moisten the crust mixture, I could have had the best pie ever made. I’m sure at some point I threw something to vent my anger, but I don’t remember what. What I do remember is the flour was all over everything, there were dirty forks, spoons and bowls and there was no pie.

Whoever said something was “as easy as pie,” has never tried to make a pie crust from scratch. Long live ready-made pie crusts. No tears necessary.

Little Hansie

During the late forties, my family was one of the lucky ones who usually took a vacation to the beach every summer. We had several places in New Jersey where we went for a week or two to swim, go to the boardwalk and ride bicycles. Our favorite place at that time was Wildwood-by-the-Sea. We would rent a wood-frame duplex with two bedrooms, a kitchen and a living room about two or three blocks from the ocean. It wasn’t fancy, but my sister, Gretchen, and I thought it was paradise.

Mother on the boardwalk

Almost every day, we packed up a picnic basket and grabbed the towels, beach blanket, sand buckets and umbrella and hiked a few blocks to the beach. We’d spend most of the day at the beach, enjoying swimming and building sand castles and eating delicious (but sandy) ham sandwiches until we went home for naps in the afternoon. Even our parents took naps, they were so exhausted from taking care of us.

We also usually took a boat into the ocean to go deep sea fishing. My sister and I were too young at first to be trusted with a hook and line when other people were around, but as we grew older we were also allowed to fish.

Summer vacation was a wonderful time for us, and I have dozens of sweet memories of it. But my favorite memory of all is playing “little Hansie.”

This game was played at the beach in the shallow water. My father’s name was Hans Beyerl and he had come to the United States from Germany when he was 19 years old. He still had his German accent. He would take us into the water and he would kneel down and pretend he was our little boy.

My sister and I would hold his hands and when a wave came we would try to help him “jump” the wave. He’d make it over the first few waves, but sometimes he’d let the waves smack him right in the face and we’d squeal and worry he would drown. Then a “big one” would come along and he would go under the water like he was drowning and we would squeal and try to help him up.

“Little Hansie’s drowning,” we would scream and try as hard as we could to lift him up. Sometimes he would come up and sometimes he wouldn’t. Then we would squeal even louder and try harder to lift him up, meanwhile laughing and giggleing, as only children can.

He would always come up drenched in water and looking like he was going to drown at any minute. We would help him up and help him brush off the water, trying to care for little Hansie.

father on the boardwalk

I remember the joy of playing this game, perhaps better than anything else from my childhood. I’m sure we squealed enough to bother a few people trying to relax, but we had such a good time I don’t think anyone was upset about it. And my poor father. We always wondered how he withstood getting salt water all over his face all the time, but he didn’t seem to care. I think he loved this game too!

Do you remember any special games you played at the beach?

The Vat of Words

It takes a really long time to write a book.

When you start, you think you’ll just write down a few things about the subject, put them in an outline and write a chapter a week until you get it all down. But then, about a third of the way through the project you start to realize it’s going to be a lot harder to write this thing than you thought. At first your ideas were so simple and orderly, but suddenly there are conflicting ideas and many more possibilities than you first thought.

It’s like jumping into a big vat of words. You swim around in the words for awhile, but you don’t know how to get out. There’s only one thing to do: realize it’s going to take a really long time to write your book, and settle in for the long haul. You have to learn to swim in the big vat of words. You’re a writer.

For years your friends have been asking you if you finished your book, and the answer has always been no, because it takes a really long time to write a book.

Finally you begin to get to the end of your planned book. Just a few more chapters to go. However, when you start to tie up the loose ends, there are so many that it’s hard to sort them out. My question is this: how can a few more chapters take so long to write? Is it possible that the end of the book is harder to write than the beginning? Is it even possible to know when it’s done?

Well, I finally finished my first draft of my memoir. I feel like I have done something very special because I finished my book. I am finally coming up for air, climbing out of the big vat of words. Wow there’s life out there! There are people walking around doing things. Yes! I feel like I have accomplished a good thing. I’ve written a book. Whether or not anyone reads it is another story entirely. Or would that be another book?

 

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