Friday, November 23, 2012

Thankful for Me

I went to Bainbridge Island yesterday, with my apple pie carefully balanced in my hands, the roasted brussels sprouts in a ziploc bag in my backpack. I had invited myself to dinner at the home of a friend I've known for 23 years, through a marriage that has ended, the birth of a daughter now at UW, and the engagement in a new relationship that will be consummated in a marriage next summer.

We were six for dinner, including a stepson and a beautiful grandma who has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's -- though she's not too bad yet.

I tried my special question on them: What are you thankful for today about yourself?

Jen is thankful for her tenacity. Her sweetheart is thankful for his growing baldness, because it makes him humble. The college girl is thankful for her quirkiness, for her willingness to be different. (Yay!) The high school boy is thankful that he plays music -- guitars and a ukelele. (You have to be thankful for a ukelele!)

Grandma is thankful for her family, and we allowed her the exception to the rule.

And I'm thankful that I am able to bicycle, and that I do it, and for all that identifying myself as a cyclist adds to my life.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

"Aren't you thankful... be riding your bike?" I called to the mom and daughter, stopped at the corner where I was turning, mom on the big bike, daughter on the add-on.

"Very thankful!" said the mom, and the daughter too, a little girl, was adding her own thoughts, but I lost them as I coasted down the sidewalk on Mercer, on my way to church.

True, it wasn't a lovely day, but neither was it rainy or frosty. A good day to bike.

One of the hymns seemed just right for a Thanksgiving blessing, in the days of climate change.

When all thy mercies, O my God, my rising soul surveys,
transported with the view, I'm lost, in wonder, love, and praise.

When nature fails, and day and night divide thy works no more,
my ever grateful heart, O Lord, thy mercy shall adore.

Last night I saw the documentary film, Chasing Ice, with its astonishing photos of shrinking glaciers and calving ice fields the size of Manhattan. I believe that in the midst of the disruption of climate change, there will still be plenty to be thankful for. It's just that a lot of it may be things we used to take for granted. Food, for example.

Anyway, as I biked along feeling so lucky to be able to do it, I thought of an idea for conversation at the Thanksgiving table with my old friends later today. People often go around the table saying something they're thankful for, things like family, friends, comforts, all worthy. But I would like to hear today what people are thankful for about themselves. Something they particularly like or enjoy.

What would that be for you?

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Another Uke Performance

My niece and her husband and three little girls, who live in Minnesota, are visiting other family in Seattle and came to my house for breakfast this morning. I served one of my old innkeeper favorites, Creme Caramel French Toast, with fresh tropical fruit and Greek yogurt. Awfully good, if I do say so myself.

The oldest girl is in first grade, the youngest is one, and Naomi is in the middle. I don't have much in the way of toys, though Naomi got a lot of enjoyment out of my yoga ball and Clara used the racks of my Scrabble game to build a bridge, then spelled out b-r-i-d-g-e on it, followed by instructions below on who might enter.

Things were starting to get a little dicey after that, so I pulled out my uke and asked Clara if she wanted to try it. "No."

Well, how about singing with me?


Okay, I'm going to sing Happy Birthday to You.

So I sang it with Clara's name. Then Naomi got into it, and the girls called out names until I had sung happy birthday to everyone in their own family and the relatives they came to visit. Then they wanted my name in there.

It's wonderful to be an entertainer.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Sessions

Yesterday was quintessential Seattle weather: softly raining and mild. I walked over to UW for a 5:30 pm bike master plan meeting, then stopped at District Market to pick up a tabouli, and jumped on a bus back to the Guild Theater on 45th to see The Sessions.

That's the movie with John Hawke and Helen Hunt, based on Mark O'Brien's true story, which takes place in the '70s, I think, in Berkeley. He spends most of his time in an iron lung, because of polio, and hires a sex surrogate (Hunt) so he can experience intercourse. He's a devout Catholic, and much of the experience is narrated to his priest. (The celibate priest's expressive hearing of the reports packs its own punch.)

I loved it. More often than not, Christian believers in movies are jerks, but these folks were not. The sex was beyond physical, and the vulnerability and intimacy necessary to get there was moving to me.

John Hawke was mostly an expressive head in a contorted body, and completely wonderful, so unexpected in our modern age which seems to convey the idea you don't deserve to have good sex unless you're physically perfect. I guess a movie hero needs to be a guy you can imagine falling in love with, and he is, and I could.

Helen Hunt's character is kind of hard-edged. But she needed to be. She needed to manage sexuality within clear boundaries. She had six sessions to teach a man how he works and how she works. Her marriage doesn't look so good -- they don't talk and don't have sex -- and, romantic that I am, I wonder how anybody could have a great marriage when your day job is sex with strangers. That all worked for me.

So I was disgusted to read David Denby's mini-review in my neighbor's New Yorker, which she kindly passes on to me. "Easily the most highly sanctified movie about sex ever made," and "so clammily sensitive and tame that it stifles any strong response," etc.

So who you gonna believe? The New Yorker, or me?

Tuesday, November 13, 2012


Have I mentioned I'm learning to play the uke?

As a college kid in the early '70s, I got a guitar, and I loved it, but I never got any good at it. When I picked it up again during my marriage, my ex said, "Couldn't you practice while I'm at work?"

So I guess it's good I'm single now. My friend Amy plays, and my friend Nadine took hers along on our Oregon coast bike ride last fall. What she took was the new, expensive uke her sweetheart bought her because he loves to hear her play and sing!

She let me borrow her old one, while I got good enough to even begin to know how to choose my own instrument. I made several trips down the hill to Dusty Strings, and one across to American Music, to try out instruments. I even bought one, but when I got it home, it didn't sound any better to me than my loaner.

So I took it back and bought Nadine's! I was already bonding with it pretty seriously. I play it every day. I am learning uke online, downloading songs I love like All I Have to Do Is Dream and Could I Have This Dance (for the rest of my life).

I never liked that Happy Birthday to You song, until now, since it's easy on the uke. I called a friend this morning and sang it into her messages.

Yes, it's actually her birthday. You don't have to worry you'll get a singing ukelele message from me until your birthday comes along.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Mac's Pie Crust

I was invited to Thanksgiving dinner my last year in Port Townsend, with a bunch of folks from the Unitarian church there. That's the hot social set, and deservedly so.

Cathy brought the pies. I consider myself a pie crust connoisseur. I look for flaky and tender. It's not as easy to find as once it was. Few people bake their own crusts at all, and many who do no longer feel good about using lard (though I never tried this) or Crisco, my old standby.

So I was delighted to see Cathy's pies, which looked picture-perfect and tasted just as good.

"So, what do you use, Cathy? Are you secretly using Crisco?"

Nope. She was using Mac's recipe, Mac another PT Unitarian. Since that day, Mac's Pie Crust has also been Mary's Pie Crust. Lately I've been making a lot of pies. Plum Pie from Ellen's tree full of Italian prune plums, and apple pie from the box I bought at the farmer's market, plus the stash Linda gave me from her Chelan trees.

People are asking for my recipe. So let me give you Mac's.

Mac's Pie Crust

Combine 2 3/4 c white flour and a scant tsp salt. Stir in 3/4 c cooking oil and beat until crumbly. Add 5 tbsp cold water, one at a time, flaking it up with a fork. Divide into two balls. Roll them out between two sheets of waxed paper.

In all my years of pies, this is the one foolproof recipe, though honestly, where it says "beat until crumbly" and "flake it up," I never really see that happen. Let me know how it goes for you.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012


One true thing I kind of hate is this: Adversity makes us grow.


I'm trying to grow as much as I can before adversity strikes. So, is it fair to use somebody else's adversity for our own growth?

For the past several days, I haven't been able to climb into my clean sheets, or eat my hot toast, or wash my face, or even use my toilet (if you'll pardon my mentioning it), without thinking of some imaginary 83-year-old lady in Far Rockaway, say, on the 14th floor of her public housing building, who has nobody to bring her buckets of water for washing and flushing, and no heat, and no electricity for toast, and maybe even not a lot of food left. No working elevator to get her out for a breath of fresh air. Over a week with no shower.

Gives everything in my life a little glow of splendor.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Mountain Loop Road

The silver-haired lady with the black cane coming out of the outhouse at the Sunrise Mine Trailhead looked so pretty and happy in her red jacket, against the bright white snow. I just had to hit her with a snowball.

I felt kind of bad when some of the snow slid down her jacket and into her pocket, but a minute later, I hit her again! I've never been much of a snowball fighter -- I don't like wet snow down my neck, for example -- but I liked my odds at Sunrise Mine. Mom didn't once try to hit me back. I guess she was too busy trying to stay upright on the snow.

When she came for a week-long visit in late October, the rain had already started in Seattle. Still, I badly wanted to show her some of the natural beauty of Washington I had so enjoyed last summer and fall. In the entire week of her visit, only one day looked like it would be clear enough to unveil some peeks at peaks.

When I asked a hiker friend where the best mountain views could be found near Seattle, he suggested the Mountain Loop Highway out of Granite Falls. I'd been a little ways on that road twice, heading for day hikes, but had never driven the loop. It would be a new adventure for Mom and for me.

We treated it as a joke the night before, when Mom said, "So I guess we'll be leaving at the crack of ten?" but in fact, she was on the dot.

It was still cloudy as we set out. Thirty minutes along, I looked over at the bright spot on the map on Mom's lap and said, "Look! Sunshine!"

"Yes," she said, "and that's just the direction we're headed!"

We stopped at the Forest Service visitor center built by the  CCC. One of the exhibits quoted Gifford Pinchot's words on the origin of the Forest Service. "Conservation is the foresighted utilization, preservation, and/or renewal of forests, waters, lands and minerals, for the greatest good of the greatest number for the longest time."

The words are stirring, and bittersweet, here in the final hours of the 2012 presidential election, and, perhaps, the last century of a planet hospitable to humankind.

Off we went again. "Was that snow?" Mom said, peering through the trees to a mountaintop.

We stopped by the river for apples, cheddar, homemade bread, and tea from my thermos. The river sang. The leaves flamed in their reds and golds, set off by the remaining greens. On to Big Four Mountain, just the sort of majestic, snow-covered mountain I wanted Mom to see.

My friend had suggested we drive down the two-mile dirt road to Sunrise Mine Trailhead. "Jaw-dropping views," he said.

So right! Lots of snow on the rocky mountains, brilliant sun shining among shifting clouds, the river far below. The narrow road was as close as you could get, in a Toyota, to a hiking trail.

Later, a lovely view of the tall bigleaf maples with their yellow leaves and mossy trunks, burnished by the low sun.

Finally, cappuccinos -- of course -- and a shared cookie at a struggling new cafe/bookshop in Darrington where the schoolkids heading home with their big backpacks returned our smiles through the storefront windows.

I wrote this the night we got home, more than a week ago. The last words I wrote were, A gift of a day. Now, why did I say that? Why "a gift"? Because it's Seattle, and once we hit the gray days, every time you get an hour of sunshine feels like a gift. How lovely to share it with my dear mom.


All material copyright © 2009 by Mary Davies