LSS: One more day to get your pie on

You’ve got today and tomorrow to get your pie on.
Yep, February is National Pie Month. It’s time to make the most of it.
Foodies are asking the cupcake and the macaroon to move over as they anticipate the humble pie to take the sweet-tooth world center stage.
For a girl who enjoys a good cupcake and is a total macaroon convert, pushing aside those two treats doesn’t come easy. Yet, there is something so right about a good pie.
Pies and I go way back.
My great-grandmother made an apple pie fine and flaky. She lived a block away from my childhood home and frequently would call in the middle of an afternoon to say she had an apple pie ready.
I didn’t always fully appreciate the offer. Which goes back even further. My great-grandmother didn’t coddle young children. When I stayed with her in pre-school, I can’t swear that she actually locked the doors to keep us outside, but she might as well have. Children were meant to stay outside and play.
And we did.
Of her scores and scores of grandchildren and great-grandchildren, I was fortunate enough to live the closest. Don’t get me wrong, living the closest came with a price. I was often her errand girl. My bike served me well, and she knew I could be there in three minutes or less, which is the kind of service she expected.
Sad to say, but I was 15 by the time I realized what a gift this woman was — which was about the time she seemed to begin thinking I wasn’t half bad myself. The pie calls started coming more frequently. She and I would sit and visit, going through cigar boxes of old photographs.
Her talking.
Me listening.
Both of us eating pie.
A year after I graduated from college, I left Mississippi and moved out West. She was used to sons and grandsons leaving. In her mind, I’m not sure my leaving was supposed to have happened.
Before I left, one day she and I were eating pie, and she said, “Now, tell me, are you going to cross an ocean?”
I explained that I wasn’t, which seemed to help.
About four months after I left, I was making arrangements to fly home for Christmas. I was 23 and it was my first-ever plane ride. The day before the grand event occurred, my phone rang.
When I said, “Hello,” my great-grandmother began to sing “She’ll be Coming Around the Mountain.” She got to “We’ll have chicken and dumplings when she comes,” before she took a breath.
She had not called since I moved away. Long distance phone calls were a big deal, and she was trying to make the most of it.
She paused and asked what it was I’d like to eat when I got home. I told her apple pie would be just the ticket.
She fixed at least four pies for me during the week I was home. On the day I left to head back to the West Coast, it was raining. Just as we were heading out the door for the airport, the phone rang.
It was her.
“I’ve got something for you,” she said. “Stop by on your way to the airport.”
My mom and I loaded my last suitcase and drove the one block to my great-grandmother’s house.
She met me at the door. I stood on her tiny stoop in the rain, and she handed me an apple pie she had forced into an old five-gallon ice-cream bucket.
“This is in case you get hungry,” she said as she hugged me bye.
Standing there in the cold rain, I opened the lip of the plastic container and could see the steam rising.
To this day, I can smell the nutmeg from that pie.

LSS: Zen and the Art of Knitting

I have an edge.
And, I’m not talking about a competitive advantage edge.
Instead, it’s one of those not-so-pleasant edges — certainly not strength of character. All in all, that little line of vice and has gotten me into untold trouble through the years.
Finally, at age 46, I have found the cure for the less charitable side of my nature.
I’m not saying that I’ve discovered a remedy for all that ails me, but I will say that knitting takes the edge off. All that extra energy usually bumbling around my head? The general culprit of that has stirred up trouble in my world for years? With knitting, it dissipates. It’s been the genesis of the strife in my life for years. Now, I have a place for it.
I don’t mind long meetings anymore. I simply view them as a chance to do more rows. My husband prefers driving when we go on long trips? It’s no problem now. Telephone calls that take me away from what the task at hand? Not a difficulty these days.
How much edge I need to take off depends on whom you ask. My youngest daughter probably believes it’s a potholder’s worth, but there are days when I’m certain my husband thinks it’s a good idea if I get cranking on a cover for his old pick-up truck.
To be clear, I am not an expert knitter. Basically, I’m a newbie. I learned long, long ago and haven’t done it in nearly 15 years. Maybe I wasn’t ready or didn’t need the relief knitting now provides me back then. I haven’t been back at it for long, but what it’s done for my head (and subsequently for my heart) has made me a believer. It’s been a boon to my spirits — and likely to those around me too.
Knitting makes me a better and more focused listener. After all, in reality, knitting is just tying one simple knot after another. Its simplicity is its brilliance. For me, the repetitive motion is conducive to thinking and stirs the creativity in my bones.
To take its zen-ness a step further (and this may seem strange in concept), but there’s something about knitting that reminds me of yoga. It’s very focusing, but allows just enough room for the mind to wander and promotes good conversation with those around you.
One of the people who re-taught me how to knit explained to me that the Red Cross taught her to knit when she was in high school during World War II. She said students would get out of class to learn knitting and have time in school to knit create helmet liners and fingerless gloves for soldiers serving in the European and Pacific campaigns. Her story made me wonder why our country abandoned habits like that. What a good means of reminding the rest of us of the service of so many. What a good way for high school students to spend time. What a gift for students in that moment and in their futures — on so many levels.
For example, knitting has helped me to recognize and consider some patterns in my life. I get in over my head because I don’t do sitting around well. Having a fun, productive outlet to use up that excess energy cures that sitting around feeling that leads to over-committing. As much as I’d like to plant my feet firmly in the opposite camp, perhaps the Puritan work ethic has influenced me than I sometimes admit.
All in all, I find it good for the soul. Plus, there’s some magic in turning a piece of string into something wearable, warm and wonderful.

LSS: Military asking a lot from one family

Kevin and Gina Connell have five children. Three of them are serving in the military.
Sgt. Kyle Connell, 23, is currently serving in Afghanistan.
Lance-Corporal Nolan Connell, 21, is stationed in North Carolina. Last week, he received orders for deployment come January 2012.
And, Corp. Sean P. Connell, 25, is stationed in Hawaii. Since he joined the Army in 2005, he’s already completed two tours of duty in Iraq. He’s scheduled to deploy for Afghanistan in March.
Except he doesn’t want to go.
His family doesn’t want him to go either.
Their reasons have little to do with the hardships of the front lines.
Their reasons have more to do with the hardships of the home front.
In September 2010, Kevin, 50, was diagnosed with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. According to the ALS Association, the disease affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord and causes patients to progressively lose voluntary muscle action. In the later stages of the disease, patients may become totally paralyzed and not be able to swallow or breath because of lost muscle function. ALS patients generally have a life expectancy of two to five years after diagnosis.
To put it in perspective, Gina told me, “A year ago before Christmas, Kevin was in the mall chasing me around trying to buy presents for everybody. This year he was there with me in a wheelchair.”
So, Sean and his parents and the rest of their family explain that they have begged and pleaded asking everyone they can think to ask in the military and in Washington to see if there’s any way that Sean could be sent to Fort Polk instead of Afghanistan. To this point, the answer has been, “No.”
That’s when they approached me to tell their story.
“I’m begging for my son to be transferred. It’s not too much to ask considering I’ve given three of my children to the military,” said Gina. “I’m not asking for him to get out. I just need him closer right now.”
They’ve decided they have to do what they can do.
“If we’re going to honestly look in the mirror and say we’ve done everything we could do, now’s the time to talk to the media,” Kevin said. “Sean is not trying to escape the military, he’s just trying to do a different job for a little while because of the circumstances.”
Clearly, no one can question this family’s allegiance to the country or their willingness to serve in and support in military. It’s just that this time — especially with the signs of PTSD Gina and Kevin say they have see in their son — they want him to be close enough that he can help in the process of taking care of his dying father.
“Am I going to lose my husband within the year? It’s very possible,” Gina said. “When Sean first went to Iraq, the Army said to us, ‘Be sure to send him focused. Let him know you’ll be OK. Send him there focused and ready to do his job.’ I can’t do that this time. I wouldn’t want him in my unit defending me – knowing he can’t be focused. No way.”
For Christmas, all of the Connell children were home except for Kyle, who was serving in Afghanistan. On Christmas Eve, the whole family sat around and discussed the very un-festive aspects of life with ALS. Both Kevin and Gina wanted their children to take part in Kevin’s care and decisions.
“We wanted them to be a part of it. When will I accept a feeding tube? I’ll get breathing help with a bi-pap machine, but at this point, I will not go the tracheotomy and ventilator route,” Kevin said.
Gina is doing all she can do to help take care of Kevin, but she’s also trying to help her son get the help he needs to be able to support his dad.
By all accounts, the Connell family has done a lot for the United States military and wants to continue serving.
“Sean tells me, the Army’s motto is God, family, country,” said Kevin. “But this time it seems like country is taking the top spot.”

LSS: Mexican border a harsh reality

Living with the Mexican border in sight from my kitchen window changed me.
In 2001, after six years of living in El Paso, Texas, my family and I moved to Lafayette. Before living in El Paso, I thought of the border one dimensionally — a line drawn in the sand delineating one country from another. I didn’t realize how interconnected the lives, economies and cultures the two sides of that line were.
One experience reinforced that insight for me more than any other. On the day school started one fall, I unexpectedly ended up filling in for a third-grade teacher in one of El Paso’s small parochial schools. The school asked if I would help until they found a permanent replacement.
When I walked in the class and realized five of the nine students lived in Juarez and crossed the border every morning and afternoon, I was amazed. Even back then, crossing the border on a daily basis was not for the faint of heart.
Falling in love with that class didn’t take long. As these things happen, I happily completed the school year.
In the last decade, I lost touch with all but one of those third graders. As I’ve learned about the horrors of Juarez and its climb to become the most dangerous city in the world, I’ve thought of those sweet children.
Listening to radio stories about massacres at children’s birthday parties or the Juarez symphony playing on in the midst of so much terror, I’ve sat in my car and cried wondering about those students and their wonderful families.
I’ve comforted myself with this thought, “Surely, their families have gotten out of Juarez by now,” — without much contemplation of the fates and fear the other 1.5 million of the city must be experiencing.
Last week, via the miracle of facebook, I re-connected with all seven girls from the class. They’re all in college on this side of the border. To my shock, only one of their families has left Juarez.
For certain, at 20 years old, these girls have known more fear and heartache than I can comprehend. Here is what they have written to me this week.
In response to my sadness over Juarez, one wrote, “We have had to change our way of life quite a bit, but we are OK. It is still livable over here, so please don’t cry anymore.”
Another who attends college on the East Coast was more descriptive.
“I wouldn’t say the news is exaggerating. If I truly acknowledge how much fear is in my surroundings, I would never leave my house. …Even though our city is falling apart (because that is what is really happening), we still manage to do our daily chores.”
Some have not learned to drive because of the dangers cars pose. They rarely, if ever, answer the phone because of fake and real kidnapping threats. Fear is a part of every day existence.
“I am not saying this fear is present all the time,” one wrote. “I forget a lot when I am there, but little sounds around the house or outside still make me panic and remember that fear.”
My former students and their families have endured threats of kidnappings, homes broken into and the deaths of friends and family members at the wrong place at the wrong time.
They simply live scared and scarred these days, unsure how to proceed.
“So,” as one wrote, “that is life in Juarez.”