Friday, August 31, 2012

Brains and Doorways

I'm standing in the hallway upstairs, stopped in my tracks. What is it I came up here for? I'm asking myself. I have no idea. I try really hard to remember but it's no use. My mind is blanker than blank.

I've been doing this my whole life, so I know it's not age-related. When I was a child, my mother would send me to another part of the house to get something for her. It seems like seven times out of ten I'd return empty handed.

Now I know why. And it fascinates me.

Apparently I'm not the only one who experiences this. Reader's Digest recently published a little blurb about this phenomenon. Someone at the University of Notre Dame has actually studied it. It turns out that whenever we walk through a doorway, our brains set off something called an event boundary. An event boundary serves as a divider between our sets of memories. So all of a sudden, as we pass through a doorway, the thoughts we were having in the kitchen are stored and a brand new empty page sits there all ready to record our new memories for our new location in the upstairs hall.

It's the doorways! Who knew?

And this makes sense to me. I came to learn during my life that if I just back up - go back to where I was when I had the original thought - I'd remember what it was. In other words, pass back through the doorway...

Since I read about this in the Reader's Digest, I've really noticed it happening a lot. And sure enough, there's always a doorway involved. I have found that if I concentrate really hard, I can cheat the system. Sometimes now I even repeat aloud what it is I'm planning to do as I proceed through the doorway. It helps.

Kent and I have a small linen closet in our bathroom. The other day I was standing in the bathroom. I had the thought to get a clean hand towel out of the linen closet. I turned and looked through the doorway into the closet and wham! The thought was gone. All I did was look through the doorway. I turned around and bing! It was back. Clean hand towel.

My whole life I've been under the impression that I'm forgetful. Or maybe a little stupid. Nope. I choose to think of it this way: if this happens to me even when I simply look through a doorway, I must just have a highly organized brain.  

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Homemade Pizza

You've probably heard that bread is the staff of life. At our house it's a little more specific: bread in the form of pizza dough is the staff of life.

I've never spent much money on pre-made snack items. I don't leave Costco with giant boxes of frozen taquitos or burritos or pizza rolls or Bagel Bites or  preservative filled anything. Because of this, our kids have had to learn to cook.

"Mom, there's nothing to eat."

"There's plenty to eat. You just have to make it."

And the specialty around here over the years has become pizza. There is almost always pizza dough ready to use in our fridge. And homemade sauce and shredded mozzarella.

You know the pizza you get in those little Italian restaurants around Europe? With the really thin crust and fresh toppings? That's the kind of pizza you get at our house. We bake it on a pizza stone we keep on the bottom rack of the oven. We just leave it in there all the time. (And you don't have to spend a lot of money on a pizza stone. All you need is unglazed tiles from a home improvement store.)

 This pizza dough recipe is from my neighbor Leah. We've been using it for years.

Pizza Dough

4 cups flour
1 tsp. salt
1 1/2 cups warm water
1 Tablespoon yeast
2 Tablespoons oil

Mix all ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer. Knead for fifteen minutes using a dough hook. (You can also mix and knead by hand.) At this point, you can cover it with a clean dish towel, let it rise until doubled, and then use it, or you can save it to use later.  To save it, spray the inside of a plastic grocery bag with non-stick spray. Toss the ball of dough into the bag. Tie the handles closed at the top of the bag and stick it in the fridge. It will rise in there. When you want to use it, cut some off and leave the rest in the bag in the fridge. It will keep for several days.

We make a double batch and use off of it throughout the week.

I roll my crust out really thin with a rolling pin. I think the key to good homemade pizza is a very thin crust. Sprinkle cornmeal on a wooden pizza peel to keep the dough from sticking. Place rolled out crust on the cornmeal. Make sure it slides around easily.

Pizza Sauce

1 large can of crushed tomatoes
maybe a tablespoon of sugar
a little salt

Mix together. Spoon sauce carefully onto dough. Avoid getting it too close to the edge. If sauce gets on the peel, the pizza won't slide. If this happens, add a little more cornmeal under the wet edge.

Top with shredded mozzarella, a little grated Parmesan, and any other cheeses you like. Add your favorite toppings and secure them with a little more cheese. However, don't overdo it with the cheese or you'll get a gooey mess.

Slide the pizza off the peel and onto the pizza stone. Bake at 450 degrees until the crust is golden and the cheese is completely melted. It doesn't take long - maybe six to eight minutes. Remove from oven using the peel. Let pizza sit for five or ten minutes before cutting it.

fresh mozzarella with tomatoes and basil from the garden

Friday, August 24, 2012

Sleep Tight, Baby Jack

Shhh...  Whisper please.

I just got back from the hospital. Our grandson was born earlier today. Right now he's sleeping peacefully in his mother's arms. Sweetest little thing ever. You forget just how beautiful and precious a newborn baby is. When it was my turn, I held him close and kissed his tiny velvet head. Then I kissed it again and again. I couldn't help myself. He screwed up his little face and struggled to open his eyes. Couldn't pull it off though. He's  exhausted. He worked hard to get here.  

Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The Soul that rises with us, our life's Star,
     Hath had elsewhere its setting,
          And cometh from afar:
     Not in entire forgetfulness,
     And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
     From God, who is our home:
Heaven lies about us in our infancy!

            -  by William Wordsworth

Sleep tight, Baby Jack. 

Jack Douglas Sargent

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Stranger Danger? What's That?

When I was a little girl, I was so embarrassed when my mother would strike up a conversation with a complete stranger. I was an extremely shy child. It was hard enough for me to talk to people I knew, even relatives, family friends, and neighbors. I knew how I would feel if a complete stranger spoke to me in a grocery store line - horrified! And here was my mother, horrifying people everywhere we went.

Of course as I got older, it stopped bothering me quite so much. I realized that most of her victims were okay with it. Rarely did any of them appear horrified.  

 Okay, I admit it: Never did any of them actually appear to be horrified.

I began to see it as an eccentricity.  My mother was an eccentric, I decided.  As a teenager I learned to roll my eyes and use other body language that was sure to let the victim know that I thoroughly disapproved of my mother's forwardness lest I be branded eccentric by association.

By the time I was in my twenties, I had pretty much come to grips with my mother's problem. I still thought it was weird to engage total strangers in conversation, but by now I realized that it wasn't so unusual. Other people did it, too. And I was over my shyness enough to respond pleasantly if they did it to me.

One evening when my first child and her first grandchild, Carolyn, was a year old, my mother and I had tickets to a play. As we drove to the theater, I issued a challenge to my mother.

"I bet you can't go the entire evening without showing a picture of Carolyn to a complete stranger."  

She laughed and kind of rolled her eyes. How ridiculous, I knew she was thinking. There's nothing wrong with showing pictures of my grandchild to complete strangers, she was thinking.

"No, really," I continued. "I bet you can't do it."

When we got to the theater we had to stand in a crowd until the doors opened. She didn't last ten minutes. Within ten minutes, she had struck up a conversation with a woman and, as it tends to do with women of a certain age, it had quickly turned to the topic of grandchildren. She looked at me and huffed a bit. Frustration was written all over her face.

"I don't care," she said to me after about ten seconds. "I'm showing her the picture."

Since those long ago days, I have become much more tolerant of my mother's odd behavior. In fact, and this may be hard to believe, I actually initiate conversation with total strangers myself from time to time.

I'm sure my children disapprove.  

This summer my husband and I attended a Three Dog Night concert.  We got there early, before the warm-up band had started. A couple came and sat by us. They were in their mid-fifties. The woman immediately engaged me in conversation. Before long, I knew her whole life story.

But guess what?

She knew mine, too!

She was just one of those exceptionally friendly people who makes you feel comfortable, shares her own information, and manages to draw out yours, as well.

 Hey, I thought at one point, I do have that mini photo album in my purse.  I could supply some faces to go with the names and stories I've given her.  I immediately thought of my mother and the challenge I'd issued to her all those years ago.

 Too bad, I thought. We all turn into our mothers sooner or later.

 I admit I did try to hide what I was doing from my husband. He caught me though. I think he rolled his eyes. His mother didn't have a habit of talking to complete strangers. She was much more normal than mine.

Normal's okay.

 But I've come to realize something in my middle age.

Eccentric is much more fun.  

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Sunday Night Scooter Rides

Two of our sons, Kurt and Joel, have had scooters as their main modes of transportation this summer. Our other son, Jeff, owned an actual motorcycle after he graduated from high school and before he served his L.D.S. mission. He replaced it with a car after he returned, but he misses his bike. When Kurt went to Oregon for a month or so this summer, he left his scooter at our house.  This made Jeff very happy.

On the first Sunday evening that Kurt was gone, we sat around the table as family dinner wound down. Our daughter Carolyn and our son-in-law Brock were over, and maybe Grandpa Byron as well. It's our habit to stay at the table and talk long after we've finished eating. At one point, I realized that Jeff and Joel were gone.

This is how I imagine it happened:

The rest of us were busily engaged in not-so-important but very lively conversation about who knows what. Jeff caught Joel's eye. He raised his hands slightly above the level of the table top, discretely made revving motions, and very slightly pointed his chin in the direction of the door.

We didn't notice they were gone till they came back.

The following week, the same thing happened.  This time, when they reappeared, we asked them where they had been.

"Sunday Night Scooter Ride," they announced.

And yes, the words were capitalized. You could tell. The Sunday Night Scooter Ride was now an official institution. On Sundays in a predominantly L.D.S. community, the roads are more or less deserted. Perfect conditions for a leisurely scooter ride with friends. This week they had invited our neighbors, Weston and Stuart, along. By the third week, seventeen young men between the ages of sixteen and twenty-one hit the Sabbath streets of Utah Valley on their bikes. Seventeen squeaky clean biker guys, some of them probably still wearing their white shirts and ties from church or home teaching appointments (a Mormon thing). They ride in a pack consisting of mostly scooters, a couple of actual motorcycles, and even a couple of dirt bikes (probably not street legal). They spread the word via Facebook. Meet at the H.S. parking lot at 7:00. Some weeks they have more, some weeks less. Sometimes as they cruise along, total strangers on scooters will join them. Last night they met up with a couple of real biker dudes at a stop light. Harleys and leather and the works. They joined them for a while and felt really cool.  The scooter boys joined the Harley guys and felt cool, that is. I'm not sure how the Harley guys felt. I can only imagine.

Summer is winding down. Within the next couple of weeks all of these boys will be back in school, serving missions, or off to college.  I'm sure the ones who are still around will try to keep it going while the warm weather lasts, but their numbers will dwindle. But what a memory for them. And for me. As the evenings get cooler and the leaves start to turn and fall, I'll imagine that I hear the not quite substantial hum of a gang of scooters out in the cul-de-sac and I'll be reminded of the coolest, cleanest, cutest biker gang ever to ride the streets of America.  

Friday, August 17, 2012

Maternal Instinct

Our daughter,  Carolyn, is expecting our first grandchild. It's so exciting! He's due any day. I'm trying to figure out the best way to help her once the baby is here.

I admit I am a little nervous.

I was actually born with maternal instinct. When I was a little girl, I loved to play with baby dolls. Pretty sure I got a new one for Christmas every year. I loved to change their little clothes and pretend to feed them from those little plastic bottles that looked like they really had milk in them when you tipped them up to those little doll lips. I'd wrap them in receiving blankets and I'd rock them to sleep and then lay them down in their little toy beds.

My sister and I loved to take our dolls out in the front yard and do their laundry. We'd wash their tiny clothes in tubs of water and hang them on the fence to dry. Drove our dad crazy. I guess he thought laundry of any size drying on the front yard fence was tacky.

By the time I reached babysitting age, however, the maternal instinct had dissipated. I didn't have any experience with real babies. Real babies made me nervous. My parents had had the three of us kids within about four years, so it's not like I helped with younger siblings. I did quite a lot of babysitting for one particular family, but when their son was a little baby, he was usually already in bed when I got there.

Phew. Lucky for him.

I remember once when Kent and I were dating. We went to see my cousins' new baby. They offered to let me hold him. I declined and they laughed. Kent, however, swept that little guy right out of his mother's arms and bounced him around. He was perfectly comfortable with a newborn baby. Knew just what to do.

When Carolyn was born, Kent had to show me how to hold her. I know, huh? I was pathetic. And after I took her home from the hospital, and Kent had gone off to work, I had to call up my mother-in-law and ask her to come over and help me bathe the baby. I was terrified to do it myself. Trust myself handling a living, breathing, wiggling little ball of soaped up skin? I was sure I would drop her and the baby people would take her back. Of course my mother-in-law was thrilled to come and help me. She had maternal instinct and she had put it to use raising seven children.  Probably why Kent is such a natural. He did have practice on younger siblings.

But I wasn't hopeless. I soon caught on and managed quite well with my new little daughter. The maternal instinct I had experienced as a little girl with my dolls reemerged.  And when the boys came along, I did just fine. Still, Kent was always better at calming our babies down when they were fussy and they all seemed to prefer him to me. Did this make me feel bad? Maybe a little bit. But it did come in handy at times. Like in the middle of the night. I could walk that crying baby around and around for hours and not be able to settle him down. I knew that if Kent would just try, he'd have him asleep in ten minutes. Worked every time and we were all able to get some sleep.

 And when our babies were big enough to indicate, I'd ask,

 "Who do you want to change your poopy diaper - Mommy or Daddy?" 

They always chose Daddy. And he acted like he'd won a prize every time.

 I tell you, I am married to the King of Maternal Instinct and the Best Dad Ever. All rolled into one.

It's been a while since I've had to take care of a new baby. I'm really counting on the old maternal instinct kicking in again so that I can be a real help to Carolyn. I want to feel confident as I take that baby boy in my arms, burp him (I forgot about burping a baby!), and change his tiny diaper.  I want to be able to keep him soothed and happy as I cradle his warm little body against mine so his mother can get some rest.  

 I want to be able to reassure her that motherhood is something she can do.

Then again, maybe she won't need much help.

She just might take after her dad.  

Carolyn when she was just a few days old

Carolyn and Kent

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Yes, Virginia, There Is A Peach Fairy

Back when Kent and I were first married and lived in Provo, there was a certain yard I passed most days as I walked through our little neighborhood. In this yard grew a peach tree. It was a small, young peach tree and it had only produced a handful of peaches. I watched throughout the summer as these peaches grew larger and larger and eventually began to ripen. They were big, beautiful, perfect peaches - golden pinky-yellow, kind of like a sunset, with deep rosy overtones, kind of like a sunset. The hot August sun beat down on them as their weight bent the thin branches of the young tree more and more each day. I imagined their sun-warmed peachy insides, ready to burst the skins at the least bit of pressure from, say, someone's front teeth.

What would one of those peaches taste like? I wondered every day as I passed by.

What if, while I'm watching, one of the peaches, overcome by gravity due to its plump juiciness, let go of its branch? I wondered.

And what if I reached out and caught it as it fell?

I was convinced that a peach straight from this tree, on a hot sunny day, would taste far better than an ordinary peach. Its sweet and tangy flavor would be infused with warm summer sunshine.  Have you ever thought about what sunshine would taste like? I just knew that biting into the warm, sweet, tangy, juicy flesh of that peach would be like nothing I had ever experienced in a grocery store peach that had been sitting in the refrigerator for a while.


I never did get one of those peaches.

But I imagined it so well that twenty-seven years later I can still taste it.

We used to have a peach tree in our backyard. It was absolutely huge for a peach tree and we got bushels of fruit off it every summer. And they were the best peaches I've ever tasted.

In real life, that is.

We got so many peaches off that tree that I had to play Peach Fairy and leave bags of them on doorsteps around the neighborhood.

Unfortunately, peach trees aren't blessed with longevity. Ours contracted a peach tree disease. Every year Kent said,

"Well, this will probably be our last year for peaches. This tree is dying."

 And every year he'd cut off more limbs. But it was so unusually large for a peach tree that this went on for several years. Finally, when there was only a small part of the tree left, he and our boys cut the whole thing down and ripped out the stump. I took the video camera out back while they were working and tried to get my son Kurt to say "Father, I cannot tell a lie..."  But he refused to humor me.

So what did we do with all those peaches every summer when we harvested them?

Dalliene Jessop's Sour Cream Pie 
(Dalliene is one of the best cooks in our neighborhood.)

1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup (one stick) butter
4 cups sliced fresh peaches
1 cup sugar
2 1/2 Tablespoons flour
1 egg
 1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup sour cream
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup flour
1/4 cup (half a stick) butter

Crust: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Combine flour and salt and cut in butter with a pastry cutter. Press into a nine inch pie plate.

Filling: Put peaches into a bowl and sprinkle with 1/4 cup sugar. Set aside. In another bowl, combine remaining sugar, 2 1/2 Tablespoons flour, egg, salt, and vanilla. Fold in sour cream. Stir mixture into peaches. Pour into crust. Bake 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake 20 more minutes.

Topping: Combine all topping ingredients until crumbly. After baking the pie for the additional 20 minutes, sprinkle topping over pie. Turn oven temperature back up to 400 degrees and bake pie for 10 more minutes.

I used to freeze a lot of the peaches to use in the winter. Many people can peaches, but they get cooked in the process. I prefer a fresh peach taste. When you freeze them, they still taste like fresh peaches.

How To Freeze Peaches:

Peel the peaches. Ripe peaches are easy to peel. Just run them under water and pull the skins off with your fingers. If they're not really quite ripe, you'll have to use a paring knife. Or better idea: wait till they are ripe. Then slice them. When you have four cups, dump them out on a large baking sheet. Sprinkle 2/3 cup sugar and a little Fruit Fresh over them and toss to mix well. Let them sit for a few minutes while you peel and slice the next batch. Then put the peaches and their juice into a quart-sized Ziploc freezer bag. Place all the bags in the freezer when you're done. (Duh)

When the kids were young, we had a Sunday Night Crepes  tradition. For crepe filling, thaw a bag of frozen peaches in the microwave for about five minutes. Using a fork, mix about 3 tablespoons of cornstarch with about 1/3 cup of cold water. Strain the peach juice into a medium sauce pan. Bring it to a boil and add the cornstarch mixture. Stir as the juice thickens and becomes translucent. Stir in the peaches.  Yum.

I also used to make Frozen Peach Cocktail with some of the peaches. It is the most refreshing thing ever. Whenever I'm really thirsty - so thirsty that even an ice cold can of soda won't touch it - this is what I want. No, it's not a drink, but it is a thirst quencher. I got the recipe from my friend Judy. She's another fabulous cook. You should check out her recipe blog.

Frozen Peach Cocktail

12 large peaches, peeled and sliced
2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups orange juice
1/2 cup  fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 (20 oz.) can crushed pineapple

Mix sugar and peaches. Cover and let sit for a few minutes. Mix together all ingredients. Freeze in Ziploc bags. When you want to use it, partially (only partially!) thaw and serve.  I serve it in little bowls as a side dish. Or I just eat it.

And guess what!

It's my favorite time of year - Taco Amigo has their fresh Peach Shakes going on! I watch their marquis every August, waiting for the big announcement. Last Thursday was the day. Kent and I got one (each) the other night.

I really miss our peach tree.

Peach Fairy? Are you out there?

 I could use a visit.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Red Hair - it's a blessing, not a curse!

my niece Emma

I recently saw a whole family of redheads at Costco.  A redheaded mom, a redheaded dad, and four little redheads either in or hanging onto the outside of the cart. Did you know that two redheaded parents can only produce redheaded offspring? (Think of Gregor Mendel and his pea plants.)

I love red hair. I think it's beautiful. Apparently not everyone agrees with me. It's really popular right now to refer to a redhead as a "ginger." Do most Americans  know that in England, where it originated, this term is often used in a derogatory manner? In England, redheads seem to be targeted more often than others for bullying and abuse and even hate crimes. Hate crimes. How crazy is that? People even talk about "gingerism" like they do "racism." I read about a family of redheads who were driven out of two British neighborhoods after being abused and bullied simply because of their red hair. They actually had to move. Twice

I've seen a poster depicting a redheaded child and containing text about "finding a cure." I suspect it was produced by the British.

Prejudice against redheads. Ha. I think it's more like jealousy. Red hair is so beautiful.  And it's rare. That should make it extra valuable, right? Only one to two per cent of people in the world have red hair. Two to six per cent in America. We're rich in redheads.

I love all shades of red, from strawberry blond to auburn. When I see a girl with red hair, I always tell her how much I love her hair color. (I don't bother with boys. They'd think it was weird. And yes, I've become like my mother as I've gotten older. I have no problem striking up a conversation with a complete stranger. )

I've always thought it would be fun to have red hair. I could dye it, but dyed red hair never looks quite natural. It's pretty, but not as pretty as the real thing. 

I wish I could have the real thing.

I have twin redheaded nieces.  They love their red hair and so do I.  I was talking to one of them, Emma, about her red hair one day.

"So what are you going to do if your hair fades as you get older?" I asked her. Often red hair does fade with age to more of a brown. "If you have to dye it, it won't look the same."

"Oh I already have a plan for that," she said without missing a beat. It was evident that she really had thought about this.

"I'm going to grow it out, cut it off, and have a wig made."


And maybe, just maybe, she'll let me borrow it once in a while. 

Beth and Emma as one-year-olds