My children were raised on burned toast, which no doubt affected their personalities. Whenever the smoke alarm went off in our house, someone shouted above the noise, "Sounds like supper's ready!"

It's not my fault the smoke alarm is installed directly over the oven door. The warranty insists the alarm will not react to water vapor (steam), but only to ions resulting from combustion. I don't believe that.

Someday I'll clean all the spilled gunk off the oven floor and find out. Meanwhile I keep a towel handy to fan those ions away from the alarm and make it shut up. (I also keep baking soda handy to put out the flames which, I confess, occasionally arise from the burner trays of the oven.)

Once when the kids were small, I asked the older one to check the food on the stove to see if it was done. Kevin came back and said "I think so, mommy. It's the right color."

"What do you mean, the right color?"

"Black, like toast."

That was funny coming from a five-year-old. It lost its humor when it came out of the mouth of that same son, aged fourteen. When he wandered into the kitchen to check on dinner's progress and hollered "Hey, mom! Dinner must be ready: it's the right color," I was not amused.

"If you don't like the way I cook, do it yourself," I snapped.

"It's okay, Mom. Charcoal's good for digestion. That's what you always tell us."

I don't burn everything, just food that takes a while to cook. Since everyone knows a watched pot never boils, I never watch. I know it's time to turn down the spaghetti water when I hear it splashing and sizzling off the burner, just before the alarm goes off.

My mother gave me a timer to carry around, so I don't forget to take pies and cakes out of the oven. The timer usually accompanies me to the first stop after I leave the kitchen-say, the greenhouse. But when I finish working in the greenhouse and go to fold clothes in a far bedroom only the flowers hear the timer go "ding!"

I remember the timer about the same time the smoke alarm sounds. Fortunately, the stuff spilled on the bottom of the oven burns before the pies, which is a good reason not to clean the oven. The alarm is far more effective than a timer: its screams can be heard even from the barn. I suspect that's why my husband installed it right above the oven.

Although I resent our alarm's frequent comments about the quality of my cooking, it has saved many a meal from total destruction. Still, I'm glad we have no close neighbors or everyone would know when it was meal time at our house, even with our teenagers grown and gone and no longer hollering out the door: "MOM! SUPPER'S READY! IT'S THE RIGHT COLOR!"

Main Cover Introduction Table of Contents Chapter 1: Misconceptions Ordering Info