Sunday, April 24, 2011

You Take the Cake!

Me, I’d rather have bread – and lots of it! There was a time when Katie was little that I made all of our bread. I enjoyed making it, we all enjoyed eating it, and, well, is the sort of thing that I assumed good mothers did. Regrettably, my hopes for garnering the MOTY award (mother of the year) for all this bread making were dashed when Katie came home from her first Daisy Scout meeting and informed that Abby’s mother served them peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and the jelly came out of a jar with a picture of a grape on it and the bread came sliced, right out of the bag!

At that time, I limited my lawyering to three days a week and on those days, I donned my suit, tied a bow at the neck of my button down shirt, slipped into my high heels, and left Katie at home with Mrs. Tallent. In my office I crafted wills for my clients, counseled them regarding financial uncertainties and tried to help them cope with the angst that comes with family bickering and disappointing children. The other two days, I pulled on a turtle neck and sweats, slipped into an old pair of running shoes and stayed home with my daughter. And on one of those days we made bread.

Kneading the bread took a while and also took muscle, as Katie was fond of observing. Standing on a stool beside me at the counter, she worked on a small mound of bread while I handled the larger portion. It was a great time to visit. Katie took seriously her responsibility for a large family of dolls and bears, many of whom were often in need of medical attention or simply coddling. Thankfully, as a result of her concern and ministrations, most had recovered sufficiently by afternoon to share in tea and toast, made with our freshly baked bread.

Occasionally one of those hot button topics such as “where babies came from” made its way into the conversation. When I offered an explanation equating the process of baby begetting to making bread, I was rewarded with a sideways look of skepticism. Even at three, she wasn’t about to buy into something that silly. Now that she is a fully fledged physician working at a Children’s hospital, I am prepared for the inevitable lecture on the ill effects visited upon children by parents who take the easy way out by talking nonsense to their offspring. (Yet another blow to the coveted MOTY award!)

Making bread is time consuming and that was part of the beauty of the project – we simply had to stay put and hang around home in order to cover all the steps. Mixing the ingredients, kneading the dough, letting it rise, then forming the loaves and waiting for them to rise and finally baking the bread could eat up half of the day. Having heard of someone who was getting his wife a bread maker for Christmas, Fred inquired if I thought I would like one. I scuttled that suggestion quickly and probably not very diplomatically. “No! No! I like all the fuss and bother of making bread and kneading the dough is the part I like the best!”

One day my friend and neighbor Maureen informed me that there was free swim every Thursday morning from 10:00 to 11:00 at the local indoor pool. Maureen was a teacher who like me was working part time while her son Michael was still at home. Of course, I thought that was a great idea. I had grown up swimming in the local lakes and a large irrigation canal (aka ‘the ditch’) located about a mile from our house. Besides, at this time I hadn’t yet thrown in the towel in my quest to be “mother of the year” and I was confident that taking kids swimming would garner me some points in that unspoken competition. The only problem was that Thursday was our bread making day, so we would have to get creative.

As it turned out, combining bread making and swimming was surprisingly easy. Once the bread was mixed up, kneaded and placed in a buttered bowl, we covered the bowl with plastic wrap and a towel and set it in the trunk of our red VW Dasher. The sunlight coming through the back window created a warm slightly steamy place without getting too hot. We picked up Michael and Maureen and drove to the pool. After swimming and showering, we returned to the car, punched the bread down, shaped it into loaves, covered them with a towel and drove to Big Tom’s for grilled cheese sandwiches and a lot of bragging about our aquatic accomplishments. By the time we got home, the kids were ready for a nap and the bread was ready to go into the oven.

Despite the fact that making bread has routinely been in the top ten of my yearly list of things I promise myself I will finally get around to, until quite recently, I hadn’t made bread on a regular basis for many years. In the meantime, I have devoted a great deal of time to finding the perfect bread to buy, sometimes travelling a great distance to check out a bakery that is rumored to be good. I have been a devotee ever since the new Great Harvest Bakery was opened on the west side of town, right next to Trader Joe’s.

All of this changed about two weeks ago, when my copy of Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day by Jeff Hertzberg, M.D. and Zoe Francois arrived in the mail. I didn’t stumble on to this recipe book on my own. Once again I have my friend Julie to thank, the same friend who shamed me into mitered corners. She raved about how much fun she was having making this bread and then how easy it was. Finally, she served me some and I was hooked! The bread was incredible – crusty and toothsome, just the way I liked it!

And even though the title sounds like one of those unlikely boasts that are so common to weight loss and exercise programs, in this case the claim is true. Getting this bread ready to bake takes no time at all. And while the bread is baking, the kitchen smells heavenly. Once it comes out of the oven, the sight of it on the cutting board transports me to another time and place. This technique which features very wet dough requires a few pieces of equipment - a baking stone and pizza peel are necessary for the baking process and plastic tubs with lids that are not air tight are needed for mixing and storing the dough. When I went on line to order the mixing and storing tubs, I realized that I had just become part of a bread making movement that had been going on for a number of years.

I started with the master recipe which the authors describe as an “. . . artisan free-form loaf called the French boule. . .” From there, I went on to try the roasted garlic and potato bread followed by the oatmeal bread. The first time around, I tried to follow the recipes to the letter. Following directions is pretty hard for me because I nearly always think that I have a better idea! I made up the oatmeal bread last week following the recipe, pretty much. I didn’t have wheat bran so I used some wheat germ in its place. It produced very tasty bread that was great toasted for breakfast. Remembering a favorite oatmeal bread from the past, this week I made up a batch substituting molasses for maple syrup and added some toasted sesame seeds. It was as good as I remembered. Not necessarily better than the recipe in the book but a tasty alternative. Yesterday I baked out three loaves of granola bread, to rave reviews.

So here I am, baking bread as if my very life depended on it, with none of the attendant fuss and bother that I once deemed essential to my enjoyment. Of course, in my former life it was necessary to scheme in order to justify staying at home; now that I am a full time homebody, with career ambitions culminating in a long walk with the dogs, I no longer need an excuse.

Recently my friend Steve told me that his dinner club hosted an evening where everyone brought what they would want for their last meal. I know exactly what mine would be -crusty bread, Havarti cheese, an apple, and a glass or two of red wine. Nothing hard about that decision. Of course, I now realize that if I don’t quit treating every meal as if it were my last, they may have to find a piano box to bury me in! In the meantime, I am doing my best to dispel the notion that man, or woman in this case, can’t live by bread alone. Give me Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day and I will give it my best shot!

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Monday, April 4, 2011

My Friend Bob

In mid February, our dear friend Bob Funkhouser died. Fred and I were both asked to speak at his memorial a month later and below is a transcript of my remarks. Even though this was written for a particular friend and a specific friendship, the elements of joy and pathos, humor and resiliency are common to all great friendships.So I decided to share it hoping that it resonates with others.

Figuring out where to begin on a life as rich as Bob’s is something of a challenge. An even more difficult task is knowing when to end. As Fred mentioned, Bob was an exceptional listener, one who could hold his tongue longer than most. When he did speak, he was generally economical with words. I will try to take a page from the Bob Funkhouser playbook, and not prattle on.

One of the first times we were in the Funkhouser’s home, in the course of snooping around, I came upon a picture that I had grown up with – a photo taken at the Junior Livestock Show in Spokane, when Harry Truman was making a whistle stop campaign tour of the country. There were three men on a podium – my dad, Harry Truman, and some other guy. When I asked Bob what he was doing with a picture of my father in his house, he replied – “we always wondered who that other fellow was.” Turns out that the third person in the picture was Bob’s uncle, Frank Funkhouser, who Bob visited one summer that later prompted him to leave Indiana and settle in Washington. That picture hangs in the small bathroom off their back porch, which I consider “my bathroom” whenever I am there. That picture that our two families shared was the beginning of an enduring friendship.

Bob and Coke’s gift for hospitality is legendary. Susan and Karen both brought home their friends from kindergarten through college, many of whom considered 826 Percival their home away from home, and no doubt a few of them, wished it had been their real home. I expect that nearly everyone in this room has enjoyed a meal at their dining room table or coffee on their deck, drinking in the amazing view of Mount Rainier and the Capital Dome.

For many years, Bob and Coke acted as the unofficial medical welcome wagon, inviting all the new physicians who came to Olympia to their home to get acquainted and settle into the community. Many of us here will remember Bob’s 40th birthday party with the beer Keg in the trunk of the Falcon. It wasn’t the first time I had drunk beer out of the back of a car – Fred and I met at the University of Idaho, for crying out loud. But it was the first time I had been to someone’s 40th birthday party and I was amazed that I could actually know someone that old! Of course now, the only 40 year olds I know are my friend’s kids, and many of them won’t see 40 again. Time does have a way of moving on.

I am sure I am not the only one who refused to recognize that Bob had retired, just because he was no longer at the MedArts building. I continued to chat him up on all maladies, real and imagined, knowing that he would want to be in on the front end of some new medical discovery. One memorable examination came about when I managed to ram a lavender stem into my eye. It was late fall and I had been in the garden cutting back the lavender – any of you who have tackled that project will know that when lavender stems dry on the stalk, they become hard and sharp – much like bailing wire. This occurred not long after Bob’s mishap on the garage roof that Chris alluded to earlier. With broken bones in both legs, Bob was getting around in a wheel chair. He decided that the best place to perform this examination was the bathroom, with me on the commode and Coke standing to my left holding a large flash light. Bob rolled in the door directly in front of me. What made the examination doubly difficult was the fact that we were all laughing so hard, we couldn’t hold still. Eventually, he was able to get a good look at my eye and confirm that I had scratched it – translate, I wasn’t just making this up – but that the injury didn’t look permanent, thus dispelling any fantasy I might be entertaining of becoming a romantic figure with an eye patch. We adjourned to the living room and he poured me a glass of red wine as a pain killer. One of many glasses he served me through the years.

Not only did I count on Bob for all things medical, but he became my personal “go to” guy for shopping. I am a terrible shopper – buying is the part of that equation that I excel at. I lack the patience to check out multiple sites in order to find just the right, whatever. As my family can attest, through the years I have had numerous bouts of organization mania, where everything gets thrown out of the cupboards and closets and then returned in a manner that confounds anyone else who is looking for an item in its former home. On this occasion, I decided that what I really needed were some of those wire racks that attach to the back of a cupboard door to hold cleansers, and brushes and cleaning rags. I hadn’t clue where to begin and so, naturally, I called Bob. He not only directed me to the store but told me the aisle and shelf where I could find them!

One day last December when Fred and Bob were having coffee Fred mentioned that we were thinking about getting me a new car. Well, shopper Bob came through again recommended that we look into buying it through “Costco”. (And to think, we thought they only sold Salsa and Worcestershire sauce by the gallon!) And so we did. I drove directly from the car dealership to Bob & Coke’s so that they could see and smell my new car. Bob allowed as how he felt like a “godparent” to the car and from that day on, I have called my lovely new cheerful red Outback “Bob.”

We are all familiar with the notion of leaving a legacy, something for our family or community to mark our lives, to remember us by. Not a day goes by that we aren’t asked, even badgered at times, to consider the “gift that keeps on giving.” And that is not a bad thing. But as I have been thinking about Bob these past several weeks, I have come to realize that the real legacy we leave is the life we live, and Bob “lived his life well.” His was a life of intelligence combined with intention; a life of problem solving and caring; a life of love,and laughter and good humor.

It is hard when a good friend dies not to feel a wave of sadness when you recall something you did together – a trip, a meal, a quiet moment. You find yourself picking up the phone to call and tell them about something, or cutting out an article you are sure would pique their interest. We have all done that, I am sure. But I have decided it is blessing, a kind of ongoing grace that survives. And so I am making a point of doing something every day that reminds me of him. Just something small, done without a lot of fuss and bother or fan fair, but something that invariably brings a smile or nod of remembrance. I call it “doing a Bob.” I invite you to do the same.

And so I return to the beginning. My “Bob” for today will be to quit talking and take my seat. It was a privilege and an honor to be asked to be part of this remembrance and Fred and I thank the family for that. It was an even greater privilege and honor to be Bob's friend. It was a lot of fun as well!


Growing old gracefully. Gracefully growing old. Growing gracefully older. Hum – no matter how I turn it around, it still seems out of reach. Pity that, as the phrase has such a nice ring to it; sounds so beguilingly simple. Something that anyone who put their mind to it might achieve. Of course it can only be regarded as simple if in fact it is something that a person really wants to do. And therein lies the rub.

We none of us want to grow old, but there is little that we can do about that. I suspect that everyone who graduated from high school in 1961 is hoping to put this whole process on hold at least for the next six months. This August I will attend my fiftieth high school reunion where I see myself standing around (well, maybe sitting around) with a lot of people I haven’t seen in 50 years, each of us telling the other how good we look, all the while assuring ourselves that we couldn’t possibly look as old as the other guy. (The hotel could surely charge an enhanced rate at these events if they promised to remove all of the mirrors!)

So, it is a given that it is impossible to escape the first part of the equation – the growing old part – oddly enough, if anything the graceful part is more difficult because it requires an “attitude adjustment” that is pretty hard to get my head around. Even if I wanted to, I don’t think it is in the cards. As a consequence I am getting a little worn out with all the press the notion manages to generate. Yesterday I got an email from a friend informing me that she has cleared out her closets, sold the house she has lived in for forty years and moved across the country into a one bedroom efficiency apartment close to her kids. With annoying regularity marketing materials from one of the local assisted living facilities show up in my mail box informing me that I can take the stress out of my life and that of my family, if I just sign up. Much as I might give lip service to admiring the selfless acts of friends who downsize and relocate to facility that offers a continuum of care, I don’t see myself handing the keys to the car over any time soon, “I’d rather give them to you now than to have you take them away later!” Not too likely.

In my case, getting the right attitude about it is only half the battle. Achieving a state of physical grace is equally elusive. If recent events are any indication, not only will I “not go quietly” but I won’t go “upright” either. A case in point. A couple of weeks ago, I topped off a great walk with ‘the boys’ – Barley and Malbec –with a face plant. I’ve been perfecting face plants on the ski slopes for years but this was the first time I had tried out my technique on the pavement. Without overstating the obvious, there is a vast difference between snow and asphalt, particularly when you lead with your lips. The interaction between my two leashed dogs and a friendly lab on “voice leash” was the direct cause of my shift from vertical to horizontal. Beyond that, the details are fuzzy.

With blood dripping onto my coat and hands the boys and I made it home. Within the hour, my upper lip looked like a bratwurst. Later on that day I was in the grocery store and made a point of telling anyone who even glanced in my direction exactly what I had done. I’d much prefer to be thought of as clumsy as vane. Without an explanation, I was sure to be pegged as “Botox gone bad.” Fred got a little nervous when folks looked from me to him, even though I assured him that if he’d bring me a bouquet of flowers I would tell anyone who listen that he didn’t mean to do it!

Before the day was over, it became obvious that I’d had a slight concussion – nausea and chills were my first clue. I should know; again, I am no stranger to that phenomenon. I have putting my skull to the test ever since I was about five and stood on the top of a fruit picking ladder, only to have the ladder go to the left while I flew to the right. The strongest evidence on that occasion that I had hurt my head was the fact that my brother, who had suggested I climb to the top of the ladder in the first place, convinced me that telling mother about it was a bad idea. “It would only upset her.”

So for a couple of days I had a fat lip, an abrasion or two on my face and a swollen and tender hand. As is often the case in my life, it could have been a lot worse. This fall that could have/should have resulted in a broken wrist or nose, chipped teeth and stitches, to say nothing about having to replace my expensive new glasses, left me with a fat lip and nothing more! So there’s no take away here about being more careful in the future; rather, it is cause for celebration. A high five for good luck and strong bones!

A few days later, I loaded my red metal wheel barrow up with tools and rolled it down to Shipwreck Corner to help with a neighborhood work party. As long as our local garden club, the Sewer Sisters, has been maintaining the landscaping on the corner, I have reported for duty on the business end of my wheelbarrow. The following day, I woke up “old” – no graceful, no gradual about it. Every movement was painful. My neck was so stiff that I had to rotate my entire body if I wanted to look at something over my shoulder. I took the stairs slowly, one at a time. I ached – all over. Flu type aches minus the flu.

A few days later I discussed all this body stuff at length with Swede, my trainer. I generally confer with him before I call my doctor partly because Swede doesn’t preface his remarks with prepositional phrases such as “at your age. . .” I suppose he is an enabler of sorts, as he generally advises me to get back in the game. His theory was that since my body had suffered a significant trauma from the face plant a few days earlier, the added strain of hauling my wheel barrow a mile and a half was overload and my body said, enough already. We focused on stretching exercises for a couple of days, I had a great massage thanks to Mary Beth, and well – I am back at it, wheel barrow and all.

So, here I am at what could be an opportune time to evaluate my life and decide which activities I might forgo in the days ahead. Create a “been there, done that” list of things I really don’t need to do anymore. Starting with face plants! Of course, I don’t really want to repeat on that, but reinventing myself as careful and cautious sounds boring at best.

Intellectually, I am quite aware of the inherent tension that accompanies life at this stage of the continuum as a good part of my professional career was consumed with helping clients and their families cope with the vicissitudes of aging. Certainly, I don’t want to make life more difficult than necessary for my family. On the other hand, now that my body is back to normal I think that I will stay in denial a little bit longer. Like Scarlet O’Hara, I’ll worry about it tomorrow! Maybe then I will consider living gracefully and all that might entail. It is just that right now, I am not ready to commit!