The Fine Art of Pie Making

What do you give the person who already has everything they need? Pie of course! Both my dad and Mr. U love strawberry rhubarb pie, so I make two every year for Father’s Day. One for each of them. Father’s Day is the perfect time to do this because the rhubarb is ripe. (I really should make two for Mr. U because I eat more than my share of it. Pie is one of my favorite desserts, especially with real whip cream on top.)

I don’t make pie very often for two reasons. One, it is loaded with fat and sugar, so we try not to indulge too frequently. And two, it is a long process to make. From start to finish, it takes me a good three hours. When I make pies, it is an event. Below is my ten-step process for making strawberry rhubarb pie. It just might help explain why it takes me so long.

Step I: Pick a bouquet of fragrant, fresh lilacs and put them in a blue pitcher. Light a candle to set out on the counter. Tell Alexa to play some relaxing piano music. This sets the mood.

Step II: Go outside and pick rhubarb stalks. Clean and chop them up. Go back outside to get more stalks because I did not get enough the first time. Repeat. It always takes more than I expect.

Step III: Wash the store-bought strawberries because we can’t seem to grow more than three damn strawberries.

Step IV: Sing and dance to the music as I wash and slice the fruit. Technically, rhubarb is a vegetable, but who wants to say they put vegetables in their pie? Unless, of course, it is a meat pie.

Step V: Mix up the fruit filling and set aside.

Step VI: Pull out my mom’s pie crust recipe that is typed on a recipe card using an old manual ink ribbon typewriter. The very one that I used to type letters for my dad for his business. (Typing was one of the most useful classes I ever took.)

Step VII: Feel sad and shed a tear because I miss my mom. She taught me how to make homemade pies, cookies and bread. She had two small bread pans that she would give me to make miniature loaves of bread while she made bigger family size loaves and cinnamon rolls.

Step VIII: Cut together the ingredients for the crust. Once it is the perfect consistency (whatever that is), roll it, dust with flour, repeat. And repeat. And repeat. Get uneven edges and hopelessly try to repair them.

Step IX: Pull out my Polish Pottery pie plate that my mom gave me. Shed a few more tears. Layer the bottom crust, fruit and top crust. Forget to dab the fruit with butter, so gently pull the top crust back and do that.

Step X: Place the pies in the oven and sit back to smell them cooking. Until you realize that you forgot to put a drip pan under them and that all of the sweet juice is burning onto the bottom of your oven. Remember to clean oven later.

Now can see why making pies takes me a lot longer than the average person. It is an event, but well worth it when you pull them out of the oven and set them on the cooling rack. Better yet when you pour yourself a hot cup of coffee and take that first delicious bite of warm pie with cool fresh whip cream on top. Ahhh. Yes, well worth the effort.

Have a good week and happy baking!

Am I Vintage?

Every summer our little city, tucked away in the mountains of the Pacific Northwest, gets flooded with tourists. It kicks off on Father’s Day weekend with the Car d’Lane Classic Car show and doesn’t slow down until after Labor Day. On the Friday night of Father’s Day weekend, spectators line the streets to watch the classic cars rev their engines, use their lifts and send fire out their exhaust pipes while they cruise through town. Cars must be 1980 or older to participate.

My dad loves the old cars, particularly the ones from the 1940’s. He owned a gas station for several years and worked on many of these cars. That was back when gas stations pumped your gas, filled your oil and worked on your car for you. So, every year we make sure he gets downtown to watch the cars cruise by. I love the smile it puts on his face. I wrote this post about it last year.

Mr. U had a really nice 1969 Dodge Charger when he was in high school and through college. It was his pride and joy. But when we got married, he sold it to be able to buy my wedding ring. A pretty good tradeoff I would say. He still wishes he had the car. Then we bought an economic, very, very small 1976 Honda Civic. This year I was surprised to see a little Honda Civic car in the show. It was the same year and make as the one we had when we first got married. How could that be? It couldn’t possibly be “classic” or “vintage.” But if it is… what does that make me?

I am a big fan of muscle cars. They bring back memories of an era gone by when I was in high school, and the guys would drive their swooped-up cars with the fancy paint jobs and loud engines. Think purple GTO’s, bright yellow Chargers, orange Super Bees, shiny black Mustangs and green Cameros. Back when vintage was old, and we were cool. I had a 1967 vinyl top Mustang, that was the color of puke green. The starter went out on it, so I had to get under the hood and use a screwdriver to start it. But once it was running, we would jump in and cruise main street to see and be seen. Ahhh, those were the good ole days. But if those cars are now in the vintage car show, that means I am vintage. Yikes! Now that I look at the time worn pictures of our cars and compare it to the cars in the show… we are indeed vintage. Or maybe it is just classic. I prefer to think that classic/vintage is the new cool.

Items that are 50 years or older are considered true vintage. I guess that means that I do fall into the vintage category. The term vintage was originally used to describe an exceptionally fine wine from the crop of a good year. Maybe, like a vintage wine, we just get better each year. More flavorful and smooth. Maybe being vintage isn’t so bad after all.

Happy Father’s Day

Happy Father’s Day to all of the dad’s out there. Thank you for working hard, being there for your families when it isn’t always easy and there are so many other things pulling at your time. Thank you for loving and encouraging and being an example to your children of what it means to be a man of integrity. Thanks for making the world a better place. I now have two sons that are amazing fathers. It is a joy to watch them with their children.

If you have followed my blog for very long, you know that I come from a large family, most of which still live in the area. We gather together for holidays and have many “this is how it is always done” celebrations. For instance, my SIL #2 must always make her macaroni and shrimp salad for potlucks and SIL #1 always brings her Mississippi Mud Pie, with little American flags on it, to the 4th of July celebration. One year she decided not to because she thought everyone was getting tired of it. That did not go over well. Needless to say, she is back to making it. One of our other always is Father’s Day. We always gather at my brother and SILs lovely home. Early on Father’s Day morning my brother seasons up three large prime ribs and tucks them in his smoker to slowly cook throughout the day. The smell of them smoking is almost as good as the taste.

I hope you all had a great weekend! And remember… being vintage is good.

The Great Columbia River Gorge

Guess who turned 97 years old last month? No, not me, but my dad did. Ever since my mom passed away two years ago, my sister, BIL, Mr. U and I take my dad on a trip for his birthday. Last year we celebrated his birthday by Heading to the Hills with him. The year before that we took him to the Oregon coast to fly kites on the beach. As part of his birthday gift this year, we took him on a trip to Hood River, Oregon. And being retired, we were able to do it during the week when it is not so crowded. Fair warning – this post has waaaay too many pictures.

Hood River is a small, eclectic city nestled in the Columbia River Gorge. It is home to lush vegetation, fishing, hiking trails and beautiful wineries. Hood River is also considered the wind surfing capital of the world. The wind pushes through the gorge creating perfect conditions for kite surfing. We propped our chairs up and observed the talented surfers, adorned in wet suits and helmets, do jumps and flips off of the chilly river waves.

Between the river and the high winds, the area has excellent conditions for energy sources. There are numerous dams along the Columbia River and the high winds that run through the gorge are harnessed into energy through wind turbines. There are over 600 wind turbines throughout the gorge. While these wind turbines look like small windmills from a distance, they are actually quite massive in size. According to the office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy the average wingspan of one turbine is about 430 feet (longer than a football field) and stands over 400 feet tall.

We’ve stayed at two different places when we have been to Hood River. Both overlook the Columbia River but have two totally different vibes. Our first trip we stayed at the Historic Columbia Gorge Hotel & Spa. It was built in the early 1900’s and has maintained the historic appearance. While lovely, I felt like the rooms were a little austere and the windows were small that overlook the river. The last couple of times we stayed at the Westcliff Lodge. As the name indicates, it has a little more causal lodge feel. I would definitely recommend getting a river view room with a balcony so that you can sit outside and enjoy the views. They even have glamping tents for the hardier travelers. Both places have beautiful grounds. Western Oregon gets quite a bit of rain, which makes for gorgeous flowers, ferns and vegetation. Rhododendrons flourish in these weather conditions.

My dad loves nature and being outdoors, but at 97 he is not able to get out and walk far, so, we decided to take the Waterfall Trolley tour to do a little site seeing. The open-air trolley traverses along the historic Columbia River Highway, where you experience the lush vegetation and waterfalls, the most well-known being Multnomah Falls. We used to live in Portland and traveled past Multnomah Falls many times on our way to see family in Idaho. We would frequently stop to admire this amazing waterfall. One time, when we were much younger, we hiked up to the base of the waterfall and carefully worked our way over slippery rocks to stand under the ledge that the water drops off of. It was loud and you get soaked from all of the water spraying as it hit the rocks, cascading just past our noses. It certainly gives you a good perspective of the force of the water falling. A great experience… once.

Beautiful Multnomah Falls.

We ended day two with a stop at Maryhill Winery. This family-owned winery sits on a hill overlooking the gorge. You can relax and enjoy the view while sipping wine in their outdoor tasting room. Notice how the lush greenery changes to dry, sage brush covered hills in the picture below. Hood River is nestled on the western side of the Columbia River Gorge, in the rain shadow of the Cascade mountains. Thus, it gets a lot of rain, while it is much drier as you travel just 30 miles east toward The Dalles.

Maryhill Winery

I am sure that Lewis & Clark were quite surprised (or maybe discouraged) to see Mount Hood rise in the distance as they traveled west through the Columbia River Gorge. Mount Hood is the tallest peak in Oregon. The weather was gorgeous for our trip, so we were able to get a breathtaking view of Mount Hood in the distance.

Mount Hood stands crisp against the blue, almost cloudless, sky.

My dad has been a wonderful father, as well as a very successful entrepreneur. He is an example of how to live a life of wisdom, faith, hard work and integrity to all of his kids, grandkids and even great grands. We have been blessed by this great man our entire lives, so it was such a gift to be able to take this trip with him to celebrate his 97th birthday. We do not take it for granted.

“The most beautiful things are not associated with money; they are memories and moments. If you don’t celebrate those, they can pass you by.”

Alex Wek

Thrifting on Steroids

Everyone loves a bargain. There is something satisfying about getting a good deal. Or better yet, getting a good deal on something discarded and ugly and then upcycling it into something useful and beautiful. My friend, who upcycles quality used clothing into beautiful bags, was on a search for new sources of material. She discovered “the bins” and wanted to take an afternoon road trip there but she needed an accomplice to join her… that would be me. I did not have a clue what “the bins” were but I am always game for a new adventure, so why not? I should have been concerned when she told me she brought along plastic gloves and hand sanitizer for us. It turns out that “the bins” are like thrifting on steroids.

“The bins” is actually an outlet store for Goodwill. Yes, you heard that right. Now, even Goodwill has an outlet store. There are 16 Goodwill stores in the area, and they ship unsold merchandise to the Goodwill Outlet store (aka – “the bins”). The reason that it is called “the bins” is because all of these items are literally thrown into large rolling bins and brought out to the selling floor. Customers grab a shopping cart and sift through the bins, searching for hidden treasures. But, just like the princess that had to kiss a lot of toads to find her prince, you have to shovel through a lot of junk to find the treasures. It is not for the faint of heart.

Customers plow through the bins quickly in search of overlooked treasures.

But there is a twist to it. Every hour, customers are told to step back behind the yellow lines as they wheel the bins off of the warehouse floor and back into the storage room. A few minutes later, new bins are rolled out with different items. The items are covered in old blankets or sheets when they are wheeled out so that the waiting customers do not see the items ahead of time and all mob to the same bin. It kind of reminds me of a morgue as they roll out the new bins covered in blankets. (Sorry – it is the nurse in me. You look at life a little differently after spending your career in healthcare.) I was informed that the unsold items are then shipped to third world countries.

I took a little time away from the hunt to visit with the security guard. Yes, they need a security guard there. He told me that people will get in scuffles over some of the more prized bins. There is also quite a bit of theft. People will leave their cart by the door in preparation for a quick exit without paying. He said that they are typically stealing things that are easy to trade or sell for drugs. While stealing is never acceptable, there is something just inherently wrong about stealing from Goodwill. And a Goodwill outlet store no less.

The majority of people were there looking for good deals for themselves or items for creative projects. However, there were several young people, typically males, who stood against the wall with their phones. Some were even playing games while they waited for the next group of bins to emerge. This piqued my interest, so I asked the security guard what they were doing. He said they have either online, or resale stores and they hang out there all day waiting to search the bins for new merchandise that they can sell. They are fairly astute in knowing what they are looking for and can go through the bins quickly. They have carts with their names on them where they put their finds. If they are not sure of an item’s worth for resale, they will look it up on their phone. At the end of the day, they wheel their carts to the check-out stand to pay.

After a couple of hours my back ached, my feet were sore, and my friend had a shopping cart full of treasures to upcycle. We maneuvered our cart towards the checkout line. And guess what? You do not pay per item; you pay buy the pound. That means that the unopened glitter craft paper I found was practically free! And my friend got a whole cart load of well-chosen items for only $25.00.

It was such a fascinating afternoon. I walked away with a new knowledge and awareness of life. Isn’t that one of the great things about retirement? We get to take time during the week for new adventures.

Am I Doing Retirement “Right”?

A friend of mine came over for lunch several weeks ago.  We pulled out our knitting and propped our feet up by the fire and settled in for a good, long chat. The kind that stirs your brain and satisfies your soul.  My friend retired a few months ago and is loving every minute of it.  Yet, she pondered, “am I doing retirement right?”   She was concerned because she is happy just being at home, enjoying the simple things in life and creating in her sewing studio.  She was questioning if she was doing retirement right because she wasn’t volunteering, or traveling the world, or out finding her passion or the million other things that the experts say make for a satisfying retirement. 

If we are honest, most of has have this same question at some point in retirement. Perhaps it starts back in grade school when we look around and see what everyone else is doing and wonder if we are fitting into the norm. We don’t want to be the odd one out. We don’t want to be the last one picked for the team. We don’t want to be missing out. We don’t know if we are doing it correctly. We want to have the perfect retirement, but we don’t have a measuring tool.

If our retirement does not look like everyone else’s or what the guru’s tell us it should look like, we often feel like we are doing it wrong.

I think that is often the challenge with retirement.  We don’t know if we are “doing it right.”  For our entire lives we received grades, evaluations and feedback on whether we were doing life right.  Now we are retired, and we don’t have a report card or annual evaluation to let us know how we are doing.  For all we know, we might be doing it all wrong.  We strived to do life right our entire lives: being the good student, the perfect parent, the supportive spouse, putting our nose to the grindstone and slogging into work when we felt like hiding under the covers.  Now we are free from the responsibilities of raising a family, building a career and paying a mortgage and we are still asking ourselves, “am I doing this right?” 

I really appreciated the numerous books, articles and blogs I read about preparing for retirement.  They helped me navigate the muddy waters when I no longer had a career to define me or a schedule to live by.  The retirement literature helped make this major life transition easier for me, but it can also become a slippery slope into retirement perfectionism. It starts benignly enough with helpful information, but then it can slide into the dangerous “how to’s” for getting the most out of these bonus years.  The vast majority will tell you that you “should” have a purpose, volunteer for some worthy cause, go back to school or work part-time.  You “should” have a schedule, you “should” be giving back, you should expand your network of friends, you should…bla, bla, bla.  It makes us question whether we are using our precious time wisely. Are we doing it right?

“Normal is just a setting on your dryer.”

Patsy Clairmont

Maybe the question boils down to, am I enough now that I am retired?  Is it selfish and stagnant to just enjoy life at home doing the simple things that bring me pleasure?  Is this enough?  Have I Failed Retirement because I am not out there volunteering my time, or running a marathon or writing a book?  Am I enough?  I get it.  I think that is why I have difficulty just taking a few hours to read during the day.  I should be producing.  I should have something to show for my time.  When do we allow ourselves to be set free from expectations?  Others’ expectations, but more importantly our own. 

The new retirement report card

I did not have an easy answer for my friend.  It seems to me that the answer lies in a whole new retirement mindset. One in which enjoying the simple pleasures in life is our report card.  Maybe our report card or quarterly evaluation for how we are doing in retirement should look more like this:

  1. Did I relax today?  It could be reading a book during the day, playing an instrument, or taking a bubble bath.
  2. Did I do something that makes my heart sing today?  It can be as simple as watching the cloud formations float by or listening to the birds sing or watching the ripples on the water.
  3. Did I smile and laugh today?
  4. Did I eat slowly and taste every delicious bite?
  5. Did I satisfy my need to be creative without any agenda or end product in mind?
  6. Did I have some “Awe” moments today?
  7. Did I show love, support and encouragement to someone? To myself?

Maybe my retirement doesn’t look like anyone else’s or does not adhere to the retirement gurus’ recommendations, because that is all they are…recommendations.  Ideas to help get you started.  They are suggestions, not report cards.  We need to take what we can from them and then settle into our own path. Forget the “shoulds” and “how to’s” for an ideal retirement.  Live it your way.  If you are content and happy, why search any further? That is enough. We are enough.

Perhaps our overall average grade for retirement should be based on:  Did I do retirement “right” today for me?  Not by anyone else’s standards or expectations, but just for me. How would you score?