Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thanksgiving: Planning for the Aftermath

This is Mary's first Thanksiving in Seattle. Before she moved here, she wrote a regular column for the Port Townsend Leader. They published this in 2007.

I like browsing through the library’s magazine articles about Thanksgiving dinners, complete with elaborate recipes and hotline numbers. Then I just make my usual stuffing and put all the vegetables in alongside the turkey to roast. Honestly, the only thing difficult about Thanksgiving dinner -- other than patience -- is cleanup. You need the recipes after, for the leftovers.

During our marriage, my ex and I often entertained on Thanksgiving, but sometimes we shared the feast at someone else’s house. In which case, we still had to make a feast of our own, just for the leftovers. One year on the road in Georgia, we decided it was crazy to make a Thanksgiving dinner in an RV, so we went out to a buffet at a hotel restaurant banquet room where we shared the table with strangers. The dinner was tasty; we wanted more. Next day we bought the smallest turkey we could find, plus sweet potatoes and brussels sprouts to roast, and a take-and-bake pecan pie. As I recall, we had to de-bone the turkey to get it into the little RV oven.

Now single, I still roast a turkey. I like the packages of turkey and soup stock in my freezer, ready for the long, cold winter. I roast extra squash and yams too. And I always make fresh Cranberry-Orange Relish. You need 12 ounces fresh cranberries with one thin-skinned, unpeeled, seeded orange, cut into eight pieces; just chop it all up in your food processor in two batches for nice even results. (In Mom’s kitchen, we used a food grinder.) Then add sugar to taste, about 1/2 cup. It’s delicious on cold turkey sandwiches with lettuce and mayonnaise, and alongside hot ones with leftover gravy.

Out of my recipe file box comes the recipe my ex copied down over the phone from friends who had made it for us. I suppose it’s meant to be Sopa de Pavo Picante, since “turkey” in Spanish is “pavo.” But like Jon, I always call it Sopa Pouto Picante, as it appears in his handwriting.

The first thing I do is push the turkey bones and skin scraps and other miscellaneous leavings into the pressure cooker for soup stock. Then cook a cup of barley in two quarts of turkey broth with one or two dried red peppers. After an hour, add 3 or 4 sliced carrots, 2 chopped bell peppers, a large can of chopped tomatoes, and Worcestershire sauce, marjoram, paprika, and salt to taste. When everything is tender, add chopped or shredded leftover turkey and fresh chopped parsley.

Turkey Mole Enchilada Casserole

I used to make my mole sauce from scratch, until I found the Dona Maria Mole at Safeway. I use about twice as much broth as they call for; be careful to add it slowly, stirring away, or you’ll get lumps you can’t stir out. Then just add a bunch of leftover turkey. My favorite thing to do with turkey mole is an enchilada casserole. In a round baking dish -- I use my souffle dish -- put enough salsa to just cover the bottom of the dish. Then lay on a flour tortilla, then a layer of your leftover mashed roasted yams or winter squash, and then a layer of turkey mole; repeat until it’s enough. I add some chopped pimento olives too. For the top, put on a final tortilla and cover it with good tomato salsa -- I like Safeway’s Chipotle -- and grated cheddar. Bake it up until bubbly and serve with sour cream and a green salad.

A simpler, and equally delicious plan, nice for us singles, is to fill half a roasted Delicata squash with the mole, and top it with salsa and sour cream. As I say, be sure to roast extra squash.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Sunday in Seattle with Haiku

Last week my friend David posted this on Facebook:

But, according to the historical record, no one had yet made the quantitative abstraction of placing a measured quantity on the map's surface at the intersection of the two threads instead of the name of the city, let alone the more difficult abstraction of placing latitude and longitude with some other dimensions, such as time and money.

Then he posted this immediate comment to his own post:

Grab the book nearest you. Right now. Don't dig for your favorite book, the coolest, the most intellectual. Use the CLOSEST book. NO CHEATING! • Turn to page 23. • Find the fifth sentence. • Post that sentence AS YOUR STATUS. AND POST these instructions in a comment to this status.

Since I'm a maniac reader, I love this idea, which David got from our friend Linda. (For all I know, you've been doing it for a month already on Facebook.)

I grabbed my nearest book and posted this:

You can also repeat the practice anytime and anywhere you have twenty minutes or so to reconnect with all your senses.

It's from a new book, Haiku: The Sacred Art, A Spiritual Practice in Three Lines, by Margaret D. McGee. That Facebook sentence on page 23 is not my favorite, though. Until this book, I thought of haiku as sort of skinny and ethereal and whispery. But no. This is haiku with guts. I love, "A haiku takes us down to the bones of a moment." And "...when it comes to learning something new, cluelessness turns out to be the perfect and only place to start." I like it that this is a book to READ, not just a bunch of instructions. It's the spiritual equivalent of From Julia Child's Kitchen, where you not only get the bread recipe, you travel to the bakeries in Nice and experience the 300 days of experimental baking. I love McGee's image of a first kiss in puffy parkas on a Midwest winter night.

Anyway, since I started reading it, I've been having haiku moments. I was on Island Transit last Saturday, on Whidbey Island, heading for the ferry home to Seattle. I love Seattle, but I felt longing as I watched the bare stems of the alders flashing by my windows. I thought, "Haiku." With McGee, "I wanted to remember and record the moment...I also wanted to give myself a path back to that feeling."

And then yesterday, it was too rainy to bike to church, and I don't have my buses figured out well enough, and I got off at Mercer and Aurora and got lost. I was pounding bitterly along, head down, spitting out the thought, "I can't get to church!" And then I thought, Five syllables -- line one of a haiku! And then of course I realized how absurd it was to be this angry about being late for church. Hurrying along, I found myself passing the Seattle International Film Festival box office at Seattle Center. In nine months, I've never been to a SIFF film. There was a poster for a 2 pm show of A Single Man, whatever that is. I thought, Hmm, maybe I'll take myself out to lunch after church and stick around for the movie.

I was only 10 minutes late to church. (St Paul's, Queen Anne, in case you wonder.) After, I grazed on free samples at Metropolitan Market: emmenthaler, a mini-slice of brie en croute, a bit of pate on a cracker -- yes, this is really true. Then I had a cappuccino and an oatmeal cookie at Caffe Ladro, then off to see my film.

As is my practice, I like to stand up and look around, like I'm looking for somebody. (I am looking for somebody.) There was a man by himself a couple seats away, so I struck up a conversation with him. "What is this film?" I asked. He said he'd read the novel last night. Christopher Isherwood. Oh, I thought. So is this a gay love story? Why does the poster show Colin Firth horizontal with Julianne Moore? And then that man said it was a very interior novel, so he had doubts about how well it could be filmed. Oh well, I thought. I don't expect much anymore from movies, sadly.

However. I was riveted from the first. If Colin Firth doesn't get the Oscar for this, there is no justice. (But then, we knew that, didn't we?) A wonderful film. I am thankful for the wrong turns it did not take, for the emotion compressed in restraint.

So, anyway. Late for church. Result: haiku moment. A gift of a film. Grace.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Who's in there with you?

Maybe you wonder who takes care of Mary, all sixty and single in Seattle, when she's down with a cold?

Believe me, she is well taken care of. Her fridge was stocked with leftover Lima-Vegetable Soup. There was a parsley pesto in the freezer for a spaghetti squash, quickly cooked up in the microwave. She had leftover Lentil-Pecan Pate from the Cafe Flora recipe and a couple servings of the Blue Cheese Waldorf she loves.

In the middle of the night, light tends to wake our Mary, so she maneuvers her 3 am bathroom visits unlighted. But what if she needed cough syrup in the night? How would she hit the spoon when she poured, and her mouth when she lifted the spoon to it? So the syrup and the tablespoon were placed on the bathroom counter, and the nightlight plugged into the outlet: light to guide her, not enough to wake her fully.

And many kind words came her way. "Goodnight, Mary; hope you feel better in the morning." "Oh, let me collect up all these tissues for you." "Here's a pot of licorice spice tea to soothe your throat."

Oh yes, things are good when Mary's sick.

And the kindness continues when she's well. Because our Mary talks to herself! Who'd have thought it could mean so much to hear a warm "I love you," from your own lips? But it does. And it's good practice, in case someone else comes to love her one day.

You're Not Just Faking This, Are You?

I had to explain that I had a bad cold last week; I felt like I was back in grade school again. I was planning to fly to California to see my family and good friends. I had to call them all and cancel. Then call Travelocity to see if my ticket could in any way be reinstated at a later date, since surely they couldn't want me on a plane? And then call Group Health, to get a fax to Virgin Airlines.... Oh yes, it was very like convincing Mom that I was too sick to go to school. Remember how easy it was when you were actually throwing up or sneezing, producing persuasive symptoms?

But really! California? Who wouldn't want to go? Even so, I was kind of glad I sounded as bad as I did on the phone. No one could doubt me.

And then, when I got well, I had to go through it all again, because I went to a dance. I wasn't coughing or sneezing or dripping, but I wanted to be prudent and not wear myself back into sickness. Since my custom is to dance every dance, I had to explain to my dance partners why I was leaving early. They blanched, of course. Nobody wants a contagious dance partner. And believe me, the last thing I want is to make my partners sick: then who will I dance with next weekend?

So first I had to convince people I was sick. Then I had to convince them I was well. Or probably I didn't have to convince anybody. Probably they just believed me.

I don't think I have ever called in sick to a job. I can't do it. But I have lied to get out of school. I remember once I stretched an illness out two weeks.

And now I'm paying for it.

Old Ladies?

the sedum turned wine red--
yet again I am offered
a seat on the bus

Vicki McCullough, Vancouver, Canada

(Discovered this morning on YouTube video of recent Seabeck, WA, haiku weekend.)

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

What Life Gives You

Last Thursday, I was reading my Christian theology book at the Indian restaurant when I ran into an interesting atheist. On Friday, I was in the U District branch of the public library, reading Be Nice. Work Hard., about public school education, when a young woman tugged on my sleeve and asked, in her accented English, if I would help her with her homework.

Turned out she has been in the US for about three months, having left her home in India with her husband. She is taking an ESL class at the library. Her homework was to write a paragraph laying out, in priority order, five things she's thankful for as she contemplates the American celebration of Thanksgiving Day.

I spent quite a bit of time with her, but I don't think I did very well. I asked her to read her assignment to me, which she did, and asked her to tell me what it required of her, which she sort of did, and I gave her examples of what I myself would write, things I'm thankful for, such as my health, since I had just come from my chiropractor, and the sunshine streaming surprisingly into the tall windows of that wonderful library. I asked her just to say to me what she would like to write. But honestly, I got the idea she wanted me to do her homework for her, or at least to dictate the words. I wonder if she's from an educational system where getting right answers is more important than learning things.

Well, I don't know. I felt I was wandering in a dark wood, and so was she. I always think experiencing that lost feeling of a confused student is a good experience for anyone interested in what teaching means. But a teacher needs to know how to lead someone out, and I didn't know.

What's next? Will my current book, the tome I'm reading on the seven basic plots, cause an author to plop down beside me at the cafe and ask me to read her manuscript? Quite possibly.

Emerald City Blues

I spent last weekend at a blues-dancing festival in Seattle's Capitol Hill neighborhood: Four teaching sessions, each 2 1/2 hours long, plus dances until 5 am -- but not for me. I'm guessing ten percent of us were in the age 50+ category; most dancers were in their twenties and thirties. (I didn't realize "awesome" was still such an important word in that demographic. It's like a virus.)

Unless you have a regular partner, it's tough to keep practicing your new festival moves, and you lose them. At least, I do. But my blues weekend opened some exciting possibilities. One is, people dance blues as singles: you can sort of create a routine that you can modify with the music, fancy new hip rolls and little quick spins and freezes. Plus, you can dance blues in an open position, just holding hands. This gives you lots of freedom to move, and it's a nice option at the point where you start to get a little nervous all crushed up against one man after another.

I missed, at Emerald City, the dance etiquette tips that Northwest Dance Network always includes. For example, when you're practicing new moves in a rotation, say hello to your new partner, make some warm eye contact, thank him/her when you move on. Most of the dancers were wonderful; we're all pretty vulnerable, daring to get out there and shake it around. Maybe it was just another effect of this vulnerability, but I felt some disdain from a few of my younger partners. I kept wanting to whisper to Dimitri, "Someday you too will be old."

I loved the wise counsel of the teachers in the final workshop. They said, "Your job as the lead is not flashy moves; it is to show your follow a good time, even if this means doing only the simplest moves or even just dancing the basic the whole time."

It's true. If you do this graciously and well, you will feel satisfied and accomplished. Everyone will want to dance with you.

You will be awesome.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Imagine Atheism

Last week, I had lunch at the Indian place on 2nd Av. At 2:45, a large young woman came in, not, frankly, very attractive. Eating alone, I was reading a book my priest recommended, Rolheiser’s The Holy Longing. The author talks about how Christ is embodied still in the world today, that the incarnation was not a mere 33-year moment. Reading stuff like that tends to open the eyes. I thought, Could that be Jesus over there, that girl?

I saw she was looking at a tourist map, and since we were pretty much the only diners left in the place, I said hello, and “Are you visiting Seattle?” Yes, she was, visiting from Dallas. She was here for the atheist convention. Oh, I said, I’m a Christian, myself. We talked about her lucky find of my Indian restaurant, then I tried to help her locate the Left Bank bookstore, and suggested she visit Elliott Bay Books and that it was Seattle Art Museum’s free day.

I always think of things too late, but I wish now I could ask her what it’s like at an atheist convention. Are people kind? And why? Though we mostly fail at it, we Christians do have a model for behavior. At our conventions, the prayers, the scriptures, and the stories of brave believers all combine to make us our best selves.

I heard about a brave Christian yesterday on NPR, in their series celebrating the fall of the Berlin Wall.

The revolution that brought down the communist regime in East Germany began in the city of Leipzig, about 100 miles from Berlin. There, a Lutheran pastor and his congregation began holding prayer meetings that eventually grew into massive demonstrations demanding peaceful change. As part of our series Voices of a Revolution, we hear from that pastor, the Rev. Christian Fuhrer.

As I listened, I remembered that wonderful recent movie, The Lives of Others, about life in Staasi-dominated East Germany. It gave me a visceral sense of what it was like to be afraid even to think subversively. How brave one would have to be to resist openly.

To act as those Lutherans did, what would you have to believe about the nature of life and man? Would it be enough just to think, ‘I’d rather risk death than keep living like this’? How does an atheist look at these questions?

Me, I just never could get behind that John Lennon song, Imagine. “Imagine no religion, it’s easy if you try, nothing to kill or die for, above us only sky....”

To bring down a wall, wouldn’t you almost have to believe something is worth dying for? that above us is more than sky?

Thursday, November 5, 2009

I'm Going Out There. Yes, in this Weather!

Oh, it's vile out there. Through the rain spattered on my apartment windows, I see the last of the leaves, now wet, being blown off the trees.

It's tempting to stay home with a book. I even have homemade soup in the fridge.

But I can tell I need a Big Girl Day. I'm going to put on my tent-like London Fog raincoat and boots and head for the bus stop. I'll go get my flu shot downtown at Group Health, then use my Seattle Art Museum membership to mosey around the Michelangelo drawings. I may buy me lunch at the Indian buffet nearby. Somewhere I'll pull out the lined notebook paper pages I keep in my purse, and write some journal pages.

Sometimes self-care means lying low. Sometimes it means pushing yourself a little, so you can remember how capable you are. How rich life can be, all on your own.

Monday, November 2, 2009

I Love Fremont in the Autumn

My first autumn in Seattle! It seemed so dry to me this summer; the trees looked distressed. I didn't imagine they'd have anything left with which to make an autumn display.

But they do! My family in Michigan and New York and Minnesota are reporting nothing comparable to what I'm seeing here in Seattle.

This is my biking/walking path at the bottom of my Fremont hill.

This is the hill I ride down to get there.

If I were in a boat, I could follow my ship canal through the Ballard Locks and all the way to the sea and everywhere...

As it is, I simply cross my canal, on the Fremont Bridge, on my bike on my way to church on Sunday mornings. That is my view from the bridge.

Sixty and single in Seattle: What could be better?

All material copyright © 2009 by Mary Davies