Friday, October 31, 2008

Commenting as Service, Reviewing as Heroic Service

To understand my current crusade, you have to understand about me and baritone horns. It’s a bit of a story, but stay with me.

A few years ago, after a hiatus of forty years, my husband picked up the trombone and began playing again. Quite well, I might add. I thought it might be fun to play with him, and having spurned the alto horn when I was in eighth grade, I thought I’d atone for that error, and bought one on ebay. I was over sixty, had never played a brass instrument, and I really struggled with that alto horn.

In the meantime, my son-in-law, who played baritone in high school, got excited about playing again and showed up with a well-used baritone horn. It looked like it had tangled with a truck, but actually sounded pretty good. So, we’d play hymns in three parts, but I never got to play melody because my range was only about five notes.

One day, I picked up my son-in-law’s beater baritone and played melody on one of the hymns. “I think I’m in love,” I told him. What a wonderful instrument! Sure, it didn’t look like much, but it was so easy to play. I was on Ebay that afternoon, and the alto horn was history.

I loved the baritone, therefore, everyone must also love the baritone. Another son-in-law, a pretty good alto sax player, found himself the proud owner of an Ebay Special. My daughter, the viola player, got a baritone for her birthday, as did my son and daughter-in-law who had held themselves aloof from the family band. I was convinced they could not stay away if they once tried the baritone. Actually, they moved shortly after that, though I don’t think that’s the reason. Come to think of it, they left the baritones behind.

Well, anyway, we now have a low brass ensemble consisting of five baritone horns, a trombone and a French horn, and we practice all year to be ready to play at the Life Care Center at Christmas. (That's me with my back to the camera.)

So what does that have to do with my current crusade? Only that, if I’ve developed a passion about something, then EVERYONE has to be passionate about it, too. And what is my current passion? It’s raising the ‘ virtuous, lovely, of good report and praiseworthy’ (VLGRP) profile on the internet.

In my crusade, I’m exhorting people to begin blogging. Setting one up is dead easy, and it’s free. Just go to and follow the directions.
Don’t want to blog? Then encourage the people who are blogging: comment. Comments are such a shot in the arm to a blogger. A comment always makes my day. Comments are huge.

If comments are huge, reviews are gargantuan. For someone to take the time to write a review of a book or a CD or a movie and post it on Amazon or on their own blog is really, really important. It doesn’t have to be something written or produced by a Latter-day Saint. Remember, we’re looking at the VLGRP profile. If it fits in that category, then let people know. Don't worry that you're not a 'critic'. You have an opinion. You know what you like. Think of all the good things that go unmentioned because the 'critics' are touting edgy, push-the-envelope, or just-plain-sleazy fare. If something uplifts you, makes you think, makes you want to be a better person, then let us know. Your word will carry weight.

I had the same reservations. I didn't feel I was a good critic. But, remember, I'm on a crusade. I'm not asking you to do something I'm not willing to do myself. If you'd like to check out some of my reviews, they're on my blog, Mom Said.

If you’re uncomfortable making your voice heard in cyberspace, let me ask you to do one small act of service. Will you please comment on a blog—not necessarily this one—but some blog that you enjoy reading? You may have to register with Google to be able to post, but that’s a non-threatening thing and will allow you to comment on anyone who blogs through Blogger.

If you’re not a regular blog reader, just google something you’re interested in: taking photos of your kids, fly fishing, growing tomatoes, quilting—you name it, there’s probably a blog on it. (If not, maybe you’ve found your calling.) But, read the blog and then comment. I guarantee it’ll make you feel good to know you made the day of someone you don’t even know.

Return to the Neighborhood

Monday, October 27, 2008

Listening as Service

I’ve just finished writing about two very involved service projects on this blog--The Apple Pie Project and the Kenyan Orphan Project. Today I’m going to talk about a very small-scale service project, one that takes little planning and can be done almost anywhere and for anyone.

It’s called Listening.

I just did a bit of quick research on-line about listening, and found some really good pointers, but I also take exception to a statement in a couple of the articles I read: Listening is easy. I don’t think it’s easy at all. I think, for anyone still trying to master the Natural Man within, it’s hard, because the Natural Man would rather talk than listen.

That’s why listening is so important. With all of us talking, who will listen? If we realize that this is an act of service, maybe you and I will.

The articles I read were all about listening to children, but everything they said can be extrapolated to adults, too. We never outgrow the need to be heard.

It all boils down to two simple rules:

Listening Rule Number One is Stop what you’re doing. It sends the unspoken message, “You are more important than folding clothes, reading my email, watching this TV program, exercising, or (fill in the blank).”

Listening Rule Number Two is Be patient. Not everyone is a great narrator.

This is where it gets hard for me. I can stop what I’m doing for a short while, but I’m a very production-oriented person. If you compound my idle hands with a bungled tale, well, it really is a struggle for me to stay attentive and concerned.

But this isn’t about me, right? I’m being of service to my fellow man, here. Eye contact, Liz. Nod. Follow the thread. Modulate your voice when you ask questions so it doesn’t sound impatient. Send positive signals by way of ‘Uh-huh’, ‘I see’ and ‘Hmmm’. DON’T finish any sentences to move the story along.

As a young mother, I heard over and over that the most important thing you can do for your child is to listen to him. As child #4 was embarking on the Riddle Stage—you know, the place where he wants to tell riddles but hasn’t grasped the concept, so he comes up with some very lame questions and totally irrelevant answers and thinks they’re riddles—I used to think, The person who wrote that has never gone through the Riddle Stage. Or the Knock-knock stage. Or the, “What if?” stage. That’s when listening gets really, really tough. But hang in there. You'll learn some great jokes, and when there's something really important to be told, your child will know you're approachable.

They say you love whom you serve, and I think that applies here. As you’re a visiting teacher and you listen to one of your sisters ramble about her family, you grow to know about her—who she is and what she’s lived through. You may never meet the people she talks about, but you’re serving her by listening, and soon you care about her and the family you've never met.

And what about listening to a clunker of a talk in Sacrament Meeting? Maybe the speaker wasn’t a silver-tongued orator. Maybe, in fact, he had never given a talk in his life before this halting try. By listening to him attentively, you are serving him. How else can he progress, if not by practice? How else can he have heart to try, if his brothers and sisters don’t listen and respond?

King Benjamin tells us that when we serve our fellow man, we are serving God. Listening is a simple act of service we can practice every day of our lives.

Return to
The Neighborhood

Friday, October 24, 2008

Crossing Paths with a Legend

Hunter Lewis was an Episcopal priest, sent as a missionary to New Mexico territory in the decade before the turn of the twentieth century. Born just after the end of the Civil War to a family in Virginia, at around age eleven, he suffered an illness that kept him bedridden for a year. During that time, he read the Bible, and he learned to crochet, two things that would help define his life forever.

Hunter Lewis determined early on to go into the ministry, but because his family lost everything in the war, education was beyond their means, and he had to work to put himself through. Thus, by the time he graduated from divinity school, he was quite a bit older than his fellow scholars. He accepted the call to go to New Mexico and minister to the settlers there, making his headquarters in Las Cruces.

He didn’t want to be called Father Lewis, so folks called him Preacher. Episcopal priests can marry, and he had a good wife who taught school to help support the family. He didn’t drive, so in order to care for his flock in the hamlets and ranches of a huge area, he’d walk along the road until someone would pick him up and give him a ride toward where he needed to go. As he walked, he would crochet baptismal caps for the children of his diocese.

When he got to his target village, he’d call people to a meeting place—usually the school house—and hold a service, no matter what day of the week. Any baptisms or other rites that needed to be taken care of were done, and then they pushed the chairs back against the wall, and Preacher would play for the people to dance.
If there was a tavern in the town, he’d go there, too, to collect money for the poor. People were willing to give, because they knew that none of the money they gave traveled from the leather ‘poor’ pouch to Preacher’s purse. It didn’t matter if someone was a Baptist or Catholic or one of his own flock, to Preacher Lewis, they were all God’s children, and he’d reach into that old leather pouch for anyone in need.

My path crossed Preacher Lewis’s in Las Palomas, New Mexico in 1942, when he baptized me. I still have the baptismal cap he gave me on that day. He would have been close to eighty at the time. My mother was baptized by him twenty-five years earlier and was taught Christianity by this very Christian man. After reading his biography, I felt very strongly that I was blessed to have him teach my mom and prepare her spiritually so that when the Mormon missionaries taught her, she was ready to listen.

The Reverend Hunter Lewis was a legend in southern New Mexico for a long time. I wrote him into my book Counting the Cost (coming out in March 09) which is set in New Mexico in the 1930s and is based on my family history.

I thought when I googled his name, I’d easily find lots of information about Preacher Lewis, but the only thing I found, besides a blog I wrote about him last year, was an article in Piecework Magazine where someone reproduced one of the crochet patterns he used for baptismal caps.

Last year, I found an out-of-print biography of Preacher Lewis entitled Journeys of Faith at COAS Books in Las Cruces, NM. It’s by Lee Priestley and the Lewis Family. If you’re interested in reading about a saintly, humble, servant of the Lord, then call the store (575-524-8471) and see if they have a copy. They had several when I checked this morning. When you read it, you’ll understand why I treasure this little crocheted cap.

Monday, October 20, 2008

P is for Putting it All Together

This is the last in the Apple Pie Service Project Series. This one is about the big night when the pies get put together.

This project can be orchestrated in any number of ways. Since it consists of several discrete processes, you can have several small-group activities or put them all together in one (hopefully VERY well organized) evening.

As I have suggested in Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4, the activities are:

Picking apples
Peeling and slicing of apples (they can be frozen)
Making of flour/shortening mix
Rolling of bottom crusts
Rolling of top crusts
Assembling pies (Also dispersing for freezing or baking)

My preference was always to take care of crusts ahead of time. However, if you’re working with refrigerated or frozen crusts, you have to set them out far enough ahead of time so they are room temperature when you’re working with them, because a cold crust will crumble.

A compromise is to do the bottom crusts ahead of time and roll out the top crusts on the spot.

If you have lots of kids and are willing to trust them with knives, then peeling and slicing apples will keep lots of them busy during the assembly evening. Remember the axiom that everyone needs an assignment and a tool to successfully complete that assignment. Also, remember that you need good supervisors.

The picture above shows how we set up an assembly night for one of the times this service project was used. Bottom crusts were already done, and top crusts were rolled on the spot. Scouts and Beehives were in charge of peeling and slicing.

When the pies were completely assembled, we put a slip with baking instructions on the top and wrapped the pies in plastic wrap. They were then delivered to the freezers that had been scoped out earlier.

An easy way of transporting is to collect soda pop flats from grocery stores. These can be put together, top and bottom to make a sturdy box for the pie, so that pies can be stacked to transport and in the freezer.

Pies can be baked the day before or the morning of delivery day. A frozen pie will need to be baked about an hour at 400 degrees. If you’ve got an oven full, it may take longer. If it’s a single pie, it may not take that long.

If you’re using the boxes, you can transport quite a few pies at a time, so you will need fewer people delivering.

I already had someone report that they used this blog to make an apple pie for their family and it turned out wonderfully.

I hope if anyone tries it as a service project that you’ll report back how it turned out and any suggestions you have for better success.

Good luck!

Return to the Neighborhood

Thursday, October 16, 2008

T is for Top Crust

This is Part 4 of 5 in the Apple Pie Service Project Series. If you haven’t read Part 1, Part 2, or Part 3, you might want to read those before you begin this part.

You should have your bottom crusts all done and standing by. If you’re freezing for a later day, you can stack these crusts on a tray with wax paper between them and then cover with a plastic bag before freezing. I’ll talk about the thawing process in Part 5. You won’t cut the vent holes until you’re ready to put them on as a top crust.

Before your roll your top crusts, you need to fix your apples for the filling. For each 9” pie, you’ll need about 5 medium sized apples, peeled, cored and sliced in a large bowl. You can do several pies’ worth at one time, but don’t do more than two or three, as you want the sugar/cornstarch to stick to the apples. If they sit too long, the sugar will draw the juice out of the apples, and it will wash the coating away.

For each pie you’re doing, take
1 cup sugar
¼ cup cornstarch
1 tsp. cinnamon

Mix together thoroughly until there are no lumps of cornstarch or cinnamon.

Dump over apples and mix until all the dry ingredients are coating the apples.

Next, take one of your bottom crusts that you’ve already prepared and fill it, heaping, with apples.

Now, you’re ready to roll out that top crust. Remember the drill?
Mix the dough just as you did for bottom crusts.
Gather the dough into a hardball-sized ball, just as in bottom crusts.
Roll out on a floured pastry cloth to about the same size.

Cut vent holes in the pie crust.

I fold in half and cut along the fold line, but you can leave it flat and cut a design. Get creative. Here’s your chance to express yourself.

Moisten the bottom crust all around the edge.

Put the top crust on the pie.

I roll it loosely on my rolling pin, as I did the bottom crust

This next step is very important and will save you cleaning your oven later on.

Press down all the way around to seal those edges


Cut the top crust ½ inch from the edge of the pie tin.

Turn under both the bottom and top crusts.

This will help seal the edge so you won’t have juice boiling out as you bake the pie.

Crimp the edges all the way around

Sprinkle the top with sugar.

Bake at 400 degrees for 45 minutes or until nicely browned and the filling is bubbling inside.

For quality control, eat the first one to make sure it’s all right.

Next time, I’ll talk about getting kids organized for the project, assembling when you’re working with frozen crusts, baking masses of pies, and delivery.

Return to the Neighborhood

Sunday, October 12, 2008

R is for Rolling Out

This is Part 3 in a 4-part series on an Apple Pie Service Project, that has turned into 5 parts. Click here to see Part 1, here to see Part 2.

Rolling is easiest if you have a pastry cloth (an old pillow case will do) and a cover on your rolling pin. I use a tube sock with the toe cut out.

When you get ready to roll out, fill a pitcher with ice water. Take a large bowl and put in 4½ cups of mix. Measure ½ cup + 2 Tbsp. of ice water and sprinkle it slowly over the crust mix, all the while fluffing it with a fork. (You can do this with a Kitchenaid mixer with the paddle on. The problem is, you MUST NOT OVERMIX, and the amount of water you need varies with the flour you used. It’s easy to mix too long or get the crust too wet or too dry using a mixer.)

The mix will start to gather into small, moist, loosely packed clumps. When you’ve added all the water, gather some of the clumps together in a ball about the size of a hardball. This is your first crust. Let the rest sit while you roll it out. You may have to add a sprinkle of water as you stir and toss for crusts two, three and four out of this batch. Again, it’s best to use your hands only at the last as you gather crust to put in a ball, because the heat of your hand will cause the shortening to melt into the flour. If you’re only able to get 3 ½ crusts out of the 4 1/2 cups of mix, then put five cups in your bowl for the next batch you mix.

Dust your pastry cloth with flour and roll your rolling pin over it to gather flour on the sock. Place your ball of crust on the cloth and roll it into a long oval, probably about 4 inches by eight inches. Pick it up, dust the cloth with flour again, and turn it so it’s horizontal. Roll the sideways oval until it’s pretty round. (At this time, I usually go around the edges with my fingers and press all the little knobby things back into the circle so the end product will have a smooth outline.)

Keep rolling, turning your pin to the different points of the compass, so that the roundness will stay. Turn the crust over and dust the cloth again, if necessary.

When your crust is big enough to fit into your pie pan and hang over the edge about a half inch or more, roll it loosely around your rolling pin and unroll it over the pan.

Gently press the crust down into the pan and cut the crust about ½ inch away from the edge of the pan, all the way around.

If you plan on doing crusts quite a while ahead of time, you will need freezer space and waxed paper. As you put the crust into the bottom pans, you stack them ten high with a piece of waxed paper between each one. Then you put them in a large plastic bag, seal, and freeze.

Drop by next time for Part 4. I’ll talk about rolling top crusts and assembling. Part 5 will be about baking and delivering the final product.

If you have any questions, write them as comments and I’ll answer quickly.

Return to The Neighborhood

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

C is for Crust

This is Part 2 of the Apple Pie Service Project series. (Click here for Part 1.) Today I will focus on making pie crust. One person can make all the crust mix you will need for twenty-two to twenty-five pies in about half an hour (excluding cleanup) if a little bit of prep is done first.

For 22-25 9-inch pies, you will need:

25 pounds all purpose flour (plus a few extra cups)
9 pounds shortening
½ cup salt (you won’t use it all)
A food processor with the knife blade installed
Large food storage bags or a plastic bucket with lid

The little bit of prep is measuring out the shortening into 1-cup portions (8 oz.), wrapping in either waxed paper or plastic wrap, and storing in a place that will stay at about 50 degrees. This is something that can be done by a mutual class. The 9 pounds of shortening should end up in 18 portions of 1 cup each.

It’s important that you DO NOT use pre-creamed shortening, and don’t use butter or margarine. Any regular shortening will do, even shortening that contains lard.
When you’re ready to mix the crust, be sure to keep your shortening cool. You don’t want it to come up to room temperature.

To mix:

Put 3 cups of flour, 1 teaspoon salt, and one portion of shortening, cut into about 6 pieces, into the food processor bowl. ( Don’t hold the shortening In your hand to cut it. You don’t want the heat of your hand to bring up the temperature of the shortening).

Hit the pulse button about 15 times and check.

What you want to see is the flour change to a beige color, take on the texture of cornmeal and fluffily stack up on the side of the processor bowl just a little bit.

What you DON’T want is for the flour to take on a greasy appearance and stack more firmly up against the side of the bowl. This is the reason you use the pulse, because the mix can change from pie crust to shortbread in just a couple of seconds. You want the integrity of the shortening to be maintained. You want to end up with a million tiny beads of pure shortening, each covered with flour, rather than a new substance made of flour saturated with shortening. (This is a great Young Women’s lesson on integrity.)

One batch that is a little more like shortbread in a bucket of pie crust mix won’t matter. You’ll get the hang of it. If 15 pulses doesn’t get you what you want, then do 5 more. The last batch I did took 25 pulses. The temperature of your shortening makes a lot of difference.

When your crust is done, pour it into the storage container. You can put it in ziplock bags and store in a cool place until you’re ready to roll out the crusts. Or, you can use a white 5 gallon bucket with a secure lid.

Repeat the steps over and over until you’ve used all your shortening. That’s all there is to it.

In Part 3, I’ll talk about adding water, mixing the crust, and rolling out.

Return to the Neighborhood

Sunday, October 5, 2008

A is for Apple Pie Service Project

A couple months ago I wrote about my most successful service project and listed the things I learned which can be applied to all service projects. They are:

1. Every youth needs a clear assignment

2. Every youth needs the tool that will make him effective in that assignment.

3. Every youth needs a supervisor who can guide, cheerlead, and, if necessary, give
additional tasks to keep youth meaningfully occupied.

My second most successful service project utilized these same principals, but took more planning and foresight. And it was a lot messier. But the kids loved it and felt they were making a difference. The project was making apple pies for a local homeless shelter’s Thanksgiving Dinner.

Today I’ll talk about advance planning and preparation. Number 2 in the series will be about making the crusts; Number 3 will be rolling crusts and other prep work; and Number 4 will be about pie filling, baking and delivery.

You will either need a budget for this, or you will need to have the kids donate flour, shortening, salt, sugar, spices and cornstarch. The amount of each you need will depend on how many pies you are making. More about that when I blog about crusts.

The first thing you have to do is find out if there is a need in your community for Thanksgiving or Christmas pies. (Another good time would be for Father’s Day gifts for all the fathers.) But, for holiday season, you need to find out: Is there a restaurant that does a free dinner? Is there a church who cooks a special dinner for the homeless or people on limited incomes? Would the local food bank appreciate an influx of apple pies? If the answer to any of these is yes, you have someone to approach. They may welcome you, or they may not. People who do these kinds of dinners often have old timers who supply them with pies from year to year, and they’re not willing to part company with someone who has served them for a long time just so your kids can have this one-time shot at being of service. I would say mid-summer is not too soon to begin asking.

Several months before your big pie-assembly night, ask several restaurants that serve pie to save their disposable pie pans for you. If you collect them regularly so they don’t become a storage problem for the restaurants, they’re usually glad to help.

You will also have to scope out who has apple trees where you can get free apples. Picking apples can be a nice class activity for one or two mutual classes. They can be stored in a cool place until time to assemble the pies, which, because you’re freezing your pies, can be any time after the apples are ready.

Poll the members of your ward to find out 1) who has freezer space that could store pies until they’re to be baked, 2) who would be willing and able to bake pies the day before or the holiday morning, and 3) who could help pick up and deliver pies.

Schedule a time to mix and roll out crusts. They can be done a month or two ahead, so you can be flexible on scheduling this. However, for this step, you are going to need people who know how to roll. I will e-teach you how to make the dough, but this night isn’t the time to introduce young women to a rolling pin. If you have three or four women rolling, you should be able to do crusts for fifty pies in a couple of hours.

On Part 2 and Part 3, I’ll blog about making the crusts. If you have questions, put them in the comment box.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Stonerose Interpretive Center

Republic, Washington is just a few miles south of the Canadian border. It’s a very small town: one grocery store, one drug store, two each of restaurants and hardware stores, all on one street. Mining, agriculture and timber are what sustain it. They have a nice little library that offers wireless internet service. We went there because of the fossils--the town, not the library.

You’ll find fossils at Stonerose. The Interpretive Center occupies an old house (they have a sign that says, “Don’t drink the water; we have lead pipes”) opposite the small city park. In the interpretive center, they have fossil specimens that have been found in Republic as well as fossils found elsewhere.

The plants and animals found in the shale in Republic lived nearly 50 million years ago at a time known as the Eocene Epoch. At that time, the area around Republic was part of a huge lake. Over time, as plants or animals died and fell to the bottom of the lake, they were covered up with sediment that built up layer upon layer.

The logo for Stonerose is a flower fossil that looks like a rose but isn’t a rose at all. It’s a member of the plant family that cocoa comes from. At the time it died and drifted to the bottom of the lake, the Pacific Northwest wasn't like it is today. The Cascade Mountains hadn’t been pushed up to block the flow of warm, moist Pacific air, so the vegetation was much different from what grows there now.

If you want to dig fossils in the fossil beds, you must first visit the interpretive center and have a small orientation. This will save you a lot of heartache, because they show you how to differentiate between sandstone (no fossils) and shale (contains fossils). You can bring your own tools, but if you didn’t have the foresight to bring a hammer and a cold chisel, they will rent you some at a nominal price.

Then they send you a block and a half up the hill and across the highway to the shale beds. The process is to sit down, take a piece of shale, hold it between your feet with the cold chisel on the edge, and tap the chisel. It takes a bit of doing, but soon the shale splits in two. If you are incredibly lucky, you will have a fossil of a plant or fish or animal. If not, you either split that piece of shale in another place, or you take another one and tap, tap, tap along the edge.

I didn’t find any fossils in my rocks. My husband, Derrill, found one. A couple of ladies there were having some of that incredible luck and left after about fifteen minutes with their quota of three fossils each. I suspect they were plants from the interpretive center, trying to make us think we’d all be that successful.

When you are through splitting rocks, you take what you have found back to the interpretive center where one of the volunteers will tell you what you found.
Our fossil was Chamaecyparis, which in layman’s terms is False-cypress.
When we brought the fossil home, my son-in-law who collects conifers got very excited and went and picked a twig from his False-cypress tree to compare. Sure enough, it was an exact match.
I’m so grateful for the service that Stonerose gives to the people of central Washington. School kids come from surrounding towns to learn and to spend time digging in the beds. It’s a great hands-on experience for people of any age.
If you look on a map, you’ll see that Republic isn’t handy to go through, but if you get a chance, take advantage of this out-of-the-way, gem of an interpretive center.

Return to The Neighborhood