Yes, She Can Make a Cherry Pie

She being me. Or is it she being I? To hell with it. I can make a cherry pie. That is the point.

cherry pie donePie was something we had at Thanksgiving and Christmas. Pumpkin pie. Store bought. I know my mother never made a pie from scratch, and I’m not sure my grandmother did either, though she cooked everything else. I think Grandma was more on the cake side. She loved the Karo syrup and egg white frosting I learned to make in Home Ec when I was in the seventh grade.

Or was it in the eighth grade?

Whatever, it was a time when girls took Home Ec and boys took shop.

But, we never learned to make pie. Or to be more precise, piecrust. Yet, that is the crux of the biscuit so to speak, the piecrust, when it comes to pie.

I did not appreciate pie until I had my mother-in-law’s pie. It did not matter what kind, I loved it. I even liked her lemon meringue pie, which was not cloyingly sweet as most I had tasted.

I asked her once if she could teach me how to make piecrust and she said I should watch her make it sometime. But we never got around to that.

I have been working on a novel in stories for the past several years. Pie has always been in the stories, but recently I realized pie was a character in the stories. It became imperative that I learn to make piecrust in order to fully realize the character of pie.

I started on a Sunday. I knew I needed a pie tin, a rolling pin, and a pastry cutter. So I headed to the local kitchen supply store. It was closed. I did what I hate doing and have only done twice before in my life (and took a shower afterwards), I went to Walmart—the only place open that would have kitchen supplies.

I found the cooking tools section, selected a French-style wooden rolling pin (just because I like the feel of it), a pastry cutter, a pie pan, and a thingie on which I could roll out the dough.

Then I headed to the canned goods section to look for pie filling. I was baffled by my selections. I noticed an older woman close by. “Do you know anything about making pie?” I asked.

“Sure,” she said, “head over to the baking section and buy yourself some pre-made piecrust.”

“Oh,” I said, I can’t do that. “I’m writing a story and I have to make it by hand—like women did during the 40s and 50s.”

She understood. Told me to go to the library and check out a Betty Crocker cookbook from the era for the recipe, then told me to cut the butter (or lard or Crisco) into the flour until it made pieces the size of her pinkie fingernail. Then she, said, buy two cans of the pie filling, one wasn’t enough.

Betty Crocker was already checked out so I got two other books—all about pie.

Pie, it seems, is a topic unto itself. In one, I learned that there are some very strange attitudes about making crust, including one from an incredibly sexist chef who claimed the piecrust served that day was not good because his pastry chef was menstruating when she made it.


Once upon a time, there was more homemade pie, the book continued. And then women went into the workplace. Pie, it said, took time and intention. Something in short supply for women.

I became even more intimidated. My pie making collection sat on the counter for a good three weeks.

And then rounded off Pi Day happened: 3.14.16—it happens once every 100 years.

Of course! That was the perfect day to start my quest to make a pie. I downloaded a Betty Crocker circa 1950 recipe from the Internet.

The day passed. Pi, but no pie.

But here is what did happen on Pi Day. I learned that “Goodnight, Sweetman,” the third of the stories in my novel in stories, had been accepted for publication in Tidepools magazine and was awarded first prize.

This is my first official acceptance for publication.

I’m a little embarrassed that being published has been a gnarly, annoying, burdensome burden for me. I don’t do what you’re supposed to do. Send things out. Get over the rejection. Send it out again. I have received rejections, but not that many because I just haven’t sent things out the way one is supposed to do to get published.

So this is a bit of a miracle for me, but also not. I think the timing was right because I did not feel like the acceptance validated me as a writer.

Here’s what it did do. It made me feel that my work had been seen, and would be seen. And, I think that is what I think is important about being published. Your work gets seen. I want my work to be seen and hopefully that once it is seen, will make the reader feel like they are moved and feel the connection to what it means to be human.

Back to pie.

The next day, the ides of March, I took Lady Macbeth’s advice. I screwed my courage to the sticking place, cleaned off the island top, gathered my tools and began.

I cut the butter into the flour, adding more when the nice little crumbs didn’t appear. I set out a Pyrex cup filled with ice water and added a tablespoon. Use a fork to mix it in, the recipe showed.

Don’t overwork the dough is what everyone said was the key to making a good piecrust. Which feels a little bit to me like tearing the tag off the mattress or pillow and then you read it is against the law to do that. How do you know it’s been overworked and when will the pie police send you to jail?

And then, a memory wafted through my brain.

“It’s the tenderness of mixing the wet with the dry,” a woman had said to me once, the imaginary flour and water streaming through her moving hands.

I set the fork aside and let my hands dance to mix the wet with the dry until I was pretty certain I had worked the dough just enough but not too much. I formed it  into two balls, flattened them, then covered them in plastic wrap and set them in the refrigerator for the 45 minutes instructed in the recipe.

I unrolled the awesome thingie I bought to roll out the dough. It had multiple circles, each one inscribed with a marker indicating the size of the crust. I rolled out the dough, plraw dough fillingaced it in the pie tin, added the pie filling, rolled out the top crust, placed it over the cherries, cut off the excess crust, and then used a fork to make marks along the edge. I placed the pie in the oven, checked at the proscribed time, then let it go a little longer until I thought it looked golden brown. (Golden brown is one of those things. Just what the hell does golden brown look like?)

Then I set it on the rack to cool and contemplated. Writing, it seems, is a bit like making a pie. You really do want someone to eat your pie and hopefully enjoy it. Be enriched by it. Likewise with what you have written.

Also, you don’t want to overwork or underwork the story, but you mostly have to rely on your instinct to know when you’re done writing and ready to serve it.

A good story, I also think, has something to do with the tenderness in the mixing. Elizabeth Strout, as she has a way of doing, gobsmacked with a quote from her newest book, I Am Lucy Barton,

“I think it was the next day that Sarah Payne spoke to us about going to the page with a heart as open as the heart of God.”

That quote showed me the way to tenderness for my characters.

Including pie.

I posted my progress with my pie making on Facebook the day after Pi day, including how impatient I had become waiting for my pie to cool. Warm pie tastes really good, a friend commented.

Approach my pie with a heart as open as the heart of God.

piece of pieAnd so I cut a piece of pie, poured myself a glass of milk, and dug in. It might not have risen to my mother-in-law’s level, but it was sure as hell not store bought. It had texture and the taste blended with the filling to transform it into something new.


Earlier this week, I watched Everything Is Copy, the HBO documentary about Nora Ephron, written and directed by her son Jacob Bernstein. She is one of my favorite writers. I love her authenticity and that she writes all of the above. She doesn’t confine herself to one genre or type of writing, and she loves romantic comedies.

I took it personally when she died.

Everything Is Copy ends with a recitation of the list she included as the last chapter in her final book, I Remember Nothing. I did not know she was dying when I read it. The title of the last chapter she calls, “What I Will Miss.”

Her kids, her husband, dinner with friends, Paris, butter, and so on. And finally . . .


pie finish eating



When Your Butt Can’t Be in the Chair

There is that day when you know the season is changing. It’s something about the light, the feel of the air against your skin, the sounds in the early morning.

This is my first March in my new home in the Northwest—a home sheltered by a rainshadow, but I think I’m right—spring has taken the baton from winter. Either I am hearing birds again in the morning, or there are new birds with new songs. At night, the symphony of the frogs fills the air. Mystery flowers are pushing their way up to the surface. And, the days are longer.

I have been off the grid blog-wise since the end of November. Sometime in November I either tore my meniscus or it tore itself. I’m not sure. I’d like to claim that it was due to an aggressive swoop down a ski slope—but me and skis have never seen fit to be good company.

I believe my meniscus tore because it has been around for 64 plus years and just got tired of being ignored. It worked. I learned I had something called a meniscus.

I am a stranger to pain. I have not had children so can only imagine the pain of childbirth. I’ve never had a severe injury—I sprained my wrist when I was in sixth grade, but I got a Dr. Pepper out of that. The pain eased pretty quickly.

A torn meniscus is really, really, really painful. It interfered with my sleep because I sleep on my side. I had to adjust to sleeping on my back—waiting for the pain to ease.

I relied on marijuana for pain medication. I can attest that it works, and it gives you creative ideas for chip and dip—Moose Track ice cream with vinegar and salt chips, an idea way before its time—and it isn’t habit forming. The marijuana or the ice cream and chips. Fortunately, I live in a state where it is legal.

It’s true that you don’t remember pain. But I do know that during the two months it took to recover, I couldn’t write. For one, I couldn’t sit down for long periods of time—long being more than ten minutes at a time. So much for the butt-in-chair mantra.

For another, pain clouded my brain. I simply could not write. Or to be more precise, I could not think—except for thinking about how debilitating it is to have a knee that doesn’t work right. Who knew how important knees are? Well I do now.

I wonder if this is what a bear feels like when she comes out of the den after a winter’s slumber? Awakening to a world that has changed, lightened up, alive with signs of new growth, and chilled air that touches lightly on your skin.

After a long winter’s slumber, I have a new appreciation for my knees and mobility.

I also have a new appreciation for hibernation. I think sometimes, change is so great that we have to slip into a deep sleep to let it wash over us, trusting that where it takes us is to the place we need to be—a place of changed light, new growth, and chilled air that touches lightly on our skin.

Cast of Love, Loss, and What I Wore. Back row: Nina Mendiburu, Me, Lola Bond; Front row: Sharon DeLaBarre, Susan Dwyer

Cast of Love, Loss, and What I Wore. Back row: Nina Mendiburu, Me, Lola Bond; Front row: Sharon DeLaBarre, Susan Dwyer

I am directing and acting in a production of Love, Loss, and What I Wore (written by Nora and Delia Ephron). What a great experience to say words aloud that have been written by such awesome women—not to mention the awesome women in the cast who are speaking their words.

Make a Little Trouble Out There

“Whatever you choose, however many roads you travel, I hope that you choose not to be a lady. I hope you will find some way to break the rules and make a little trouble out there.”

Nora Ephron

To the 1996 Wellesley graduating class

There are certain famous people who, when they die, I feel the loss personally, though I never had a personal relationship with them.

Nora Ephron is one of those people. I loved reading everything she wrote, loved seeing every movie she wrote and/or directed. Loved Love, Loss, What I Wore, the play she and her sister Delia co-authored (based on a book by Ilene Beckerman).

She made feminism fun, someone wrote. She did, because her form of feminism included romantic comedies, and saw the value of a good marriage.

Take a leap with me now, if you will.

We just came through an election (in case you didn’t notice). The choice was clear to me: the old paradigm (Traditional) versus the new paradigm (Traditional Shmraditional: Let’s Get Real About Reality).

Single women voted overwhelmingly for Obama, because, the ladies of Fox News proclaimed, they were selfish. They thought only of themselves and their birth control pills. In their worldview, married women voted for Romney because they had children and so were concerned about the future—the future of their children.

Their children, I would point out. Not children. Their children.

This of course assumes that none of those single women who voted for Obama had children.

Traditional shmraditional: Let’s Get Real about Reality.

I spent the weekend before Thanksgiving at a retreat. Many of the participants were gay men who were in their early to mid thirties. They were born, I realized, about the time (late 1980) I began volunteering with the Hospice program at San Francisco General Hospital. Earlier that year, a small article, published deep in the first section of the San Francisco Chronicle, noted that a number of gay men had been diagnosed with a type of cancer that had previously been seen primarily in elderly Italian and Jewish men. It was Karposi’s sarcoma.

Soon after that came the articles about a mysterious gay cancer, then gay-related immune deficiency syndrome (GRID), and speculation about reasons for this phenomenon. Poppers? Drugs?

Soon after that, San Francisco General Hospital was inundated with what became the AIDS epidemic, and young gay men began showing up as hospice patients. In 1983, an AIDS ward was established at SFGH, not to isolate AIDS patients, but rather to ensure that the emotional as well as physical needs of patients were met.

It broke the model of hospital wards: the rooms that were normally reserved for staff (one for nurses, the other for physicians) became a community room where patients and staff socialized. Staff was encouraged to engage with patients, to not distance themselves, to shed tears with them, hold them when they cried, laugh with them when it was time to laugh. Staff supported each other. They were encouraged to take care of themselves, to acknowledge the toll it took on them, and take a break when needed.

This was at a time when terminally ill patients, regardless of the illness, tended to be isolated—treated as failures by the medical model that put physicians at the top of the delivery system.

I wrote an article for the hospice newsletter about the ward. Over a three-hour period I sat in the community room, listening to patients talk about their experience on the ward—friends decorated their rooms, patients became active in their care.

The AIDS epidemic raised bigger health issues, the clinical coordinator who developed the ward believed. He believed that the AIDS ward could serve as a model for how health care can be delivered.

It’s funny how memory works. I had forgotten about my visit to the AIDS ward until the retreat. The experience of this generation of gay men was far different from what was happening to their age group thirty years ago.

I was single during that time. I had no children. I don’t know whether not having children freed me to get as involved as I did with hospice. I also worked with the Gray Panthers, advocating for nursing home reform, advocating for changing the way the medical community delivered geriatric health care, standing up against age discrimination. I also worked at a center for independence of the disabled, where I became involved in advocating for removing impediments that banished people with disabilities to the backrooms of our society.

I did all of this because I was concerned about the future—mine and those who came after me.

I have stepchildren now. Our Thanksgiving was one of the smallest it has been in a number of years. Two of my stepdaughters were there, my step grandsons, my husband, and the son of a friend who now lives in Texas. Normally, I relish a large crowd, but this year, the intimacy of it comforted me. The people seated at the table loved and cared about each other. They wanted to be there.

I care about their future. Their future includes good health care, security in age, a world in which women have control over their reproductive health.

Being concerned about one’s children is natural. But to think that all one has to be concerned about is one’s own children is to doom oneself to a La Brea tar pit.

Women, real women, care about the world, as well as their families. They know that they are interdependent.

The ladies of Fox News don’t understand that. They chose to be a lady, to accept the status quo, to possess love of family, and definition of family, as a value that they and they alone possess.

Gay marriage was barely a dream thirty years ago. Gay adoption hardly on the horizon.

With this election, I think we chose shmradition over tradition. A black family lives in the White House. Gay marriage will soon, I think, be a nonissue. There will just be marriage—a commitment between two people who love and are committed to each other. Some married couples will want to raise a family, others will choose to remain childless.

The people who have taught me the most over my life are the ones who made a little trouble out there—the ones who threw tradition aside, who risked disapproval so that the human heart could experience the breadth of humans being human.

Put on your hats and gloves, straighten the seam in your hose, and go make a little trouble out there. The world is ready for the heart of a woman to forge her path in life.