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Wouldn’t it be something if this was a scratch-n-sniff blog? Then you could not only see the snapshots or interpret the words you are reading, but you could really jump into the scene you are imagining based on those pictures and words. A video would help if there was a sound – and there was – but given the situation, it would have bordered on reckless to take the time to track down my phone, find the camera app, and record the chaos. I couldn’t even capture the hazy scene of the crime.

You see, last night I had a little situation thing happen. But let me back up a few steps and set the stage, so you can get the full impact. When was the last time you did something for the first time? I don’t mean you bought a new something or other, or even that you tasted something different. No, I mean that you DID, you experienced, you engaged yourself fully into a new activity. Can you remember? As grievers especially, it can be very difficult to even think of such a thing; it is so much easier to pretend we can stop all the change going on around us. So we keep the status quo. Of course, the more time that has passed, the more likely you are to agree or give in and try something new. Which I did.

It has been five years for me. I think I have done a pretty bitchin’ job at active grieving, and I have tried and tried and tried things. But mostly I have tried again things I already know or knew how to do. I used to ride motorcycle, so I rode around town. I used to paint furniture, so I up-cycled a gun cabinet. I used to do puzzles, so I opened a new box. In the past year, though, I have really opened myself to living life in full bloom. I have taken my camper halfway across the country – twice in one summer! I have ripped up old, ratty carpet and laid (peel and stick) tile to freshen my closet. And I have learned to make a pie from scratch, crust included. That’s where this story picks up.

On my annual List of 101 Things I Want To Do In My Life, making a flaky pie crust has shown up since about 1991. Yes, really. Along with learning to drive a motorcycle (check), visiting Italy (check), completing my college degree (check, check), somewhere on the list was making a pie crust. Ha! The Bucket List movie has nothing on me!! One day I asked my friend Dee if she would show me how because she makes a great crust. She said yes, and I got my lesson.

I brought the ingredients to make an apple pie. She somehow thought I had done all this before, but Kevin was the pie baker in our house. I occasionally made a quiche using a store-bought Pillsbury crust, which frankly, is nothing to write about. What I mean to say is that Dee did not “correct” or “advise” me about the small, thin pieces of apple I was slicing being too small and thin; she thought I knew what I was doing. As you might guess, she did guide me every step of the way on the crust, which turned out great, and I ended up with applesauce pie! This was back in early December.

Since I was going to stay home for the holidays, Dee invited me to her house for Christmas dinner. When I asked what I could bring, she told me to bring a pie, since I now knew how to make one. Great! Fabulous! If I waited too long between the lesson and doing it on my own, it might not “take.” I was happy to oblige. So I made the crust and put it in the freezer for the time when I was going to make the pie.

This time I cut thick chunks of apple, mixed it with a little flour, cinnamon and sugar, and dotted it with butter. I had a fat, tall hunk of pie ready for the oven. The crust sealed well, I poked a few slits in the top, and in she went to the oven. I even put a cookie sheet below it to catch any juices that might overflow. (Which meant that the pie was not on the lowest shelf of the oven, the cookie sheet was. If you, too, are not an experienced pie baker, this will be important later.)

My Christmas Pie

I baked it the required amount of time according to Betty Crocker and my friend Dee. The top of the pie looked lovely.

The bottom didn’t look like it was brown enough. I didn’t want applesauce again, so I removed the cookie sheet, thinking it was dispersing the heat that would cause the crust to bake fully. And the crust became golden like I wanted, just as the juices snuck out of the slits on top and flowed to the bottom of the oven.

You now know where this is going; that scratch-n-sniff reference above is making sense. The pie looked (and tasted) awesome; it was a novice’s dream come true. I was proud to take it to Christmas dinner. I would deal with the oven mess later.

Yesterday was the day to do that dealing. It was near 70 outside, so I could open the windows and let fresh air in. Except I didn’t remember I was going to do it until about 6 pm last night. When it wasn’t still 70; it was more like 50 after the sun went down.

I have a self-cleaning feature on my stove, as well as a steam cleaning one. I don’t know what the difference is. I don’t use the oven much, and certainly not for pies that can overflow and cause hard meteorite-like, volcanic-rock bombs on the floor of the oven. Kevin was the oven user, and he took care of any messes like this, if there were any, which I don’t remember. In the five years he has been gone, this was the first need for cleaning.

I hit the button for Self Clean, and I heard the click as the oven door locked itself from the inside apparently. I headed to the family room to watch a movie while Mr. Oven did his magic. Only what Mr. Oven did was cough and spew out smoke, like the flue on the fireplace wasn’t open or something. Within 10 minutes, the kitchen was full of smoke. I smelled it first, and then was shocked to see the cloudiness in the kitchen. I quickly ran and turned the stove hood vent on high. I opened the window over sink. Whew! That was odd, I thought. I didn’t realize the apple pie syrupy drops would or could generate this much smoke.

How much smoke, you ask? Enough to now set off the smoke detector. The dogs started barking, and I rushed to open the dining room door to the deck. Out went all three dogs while I grabbed a step stool to reach the detector to shut it off. Which, of course, it would not do. So just before I was going to rip it off the wall, I got the battery compartment door open and took out the battery. But I am lucky to be so safe; the stupid thing is hard wired, and the battery is apparently just a back-up measure in case the electricity fails. Mercifully, I managed to push something that made it stop. Sweet Jesus, I was exhausted and my own ears were ringing. Dogs were nowhere in sight.

I put a small table-top fan on the stove to help direct the exhaust out the kitchen window. That didn’t do enough, so I set a floor fan on top of the counter to blow the smoke out the back door.

It turns out that smoke itself is not hot the way flames are. It was rapidly cooling down in the house. I called the dogs back inside, and the two small ones came in. Bo, though, got close enough to smell the putrid air and turned back to the yard. Commanding him didn’t work, and neither did the biscuit bribe. I had to go grab him and carry him inside.

The smoke was dissipating, ever so slowly, so I didn’t want to close the door yet. I placed a chair in front of it, and Bo immediately saw his chance to escape and took it. I retrieved him once more, and propped a laundry basket he couldn’t jump over in the doorway, supported by the chair and blocked with another stool. It was only a half hour of chaos, yet seemed like all night long. If I had a scratch-n-sniff blog, you could smell the dead pie drippings and know exactly how my night went. According to the timer on the stove, the magic Self Cleaning would be done in another 3 hours and 16 minutes. Oh joy!

It finally did what it had to do, and turned itself off. I could not make myself look inside. It obviously had to be more than just the few little droplets of sugar that I imagined. I would deal with the fallout later. Later seems to be my modus operandi lately.

This morning when I knew with absolute certainty that the over was cool to the touch, I dared to open the door. It turns out the oven is not exactly sparkly clean as I imagined it would be. There are piles of ash to be wiped out, and the door glass is kind of streaky, with brownish stripes running down it. But it will be ready to use again once I wipe it down…I hope. Which is good, since for a Christmas gift Dee gave me a set of single-serving dishes so I can make individual pies. Now six pies can drip at one time instead of one. More joy. (Next time I am going to try that Steam Clean option.)

Anyway, there is an interesting lesson in all this. In the past few years, I would have blamed Kevin for this mess, after I stopped crying. Because he should be here to make the pies so I wouldn’t have made the pie in the first place, never mind that I had the making of a pie crust on my List for at least 10 years before I even met him. I would have felt anger that he didn’t at least cosmically guide me to use foil instead of a cookie sheet to catch any drips, so I could have had a golden crust AND a mess I could have thrown away. I would have contemplated selling the house to avoid having to clean the oven… or at least swore I would never use the oven again if it was going to cause the smoking catastrophe.

But I didn’t. Instead, I was reminded of this quote. It’s the tiniest bit out of context but so relevant here. Julia Cameron wrote in The Artist’s Way:

The truth of life really has little to do with its quality. The quality of life is in proportion, always, to the capacity for delight.

I found delight in my situation. It did not even occur to me to blame Kevin, nor to feel sorry for myself. I accepted all the responsibility; I even laughed at the Keystone Cops similarity of getting the smoke out while keeping the dogs in. And I’m already looking forward to doing it again, better, because I want to make a quiche for dinner tonight. That, my friends, is proof positive that I am in full healing mode.

How are you doing? I’d like to know.