Tuesday, March 28, 2017

What the Smithsonian and I have in common

Even though I still miss my husband enormously and sometimes even get maudlin because he's gone, occasionally there is a reason to smile about his absence. Imagine me opening my e-mail this morning on my iPad and seeing this message from the Smithsonian Magazine (it's been at least five years since he stopped subscribing to it, by the way).

My response, shouted across the room, was "ME, TOO!" and then I had to smile . . . I am not alone in missing him.

During the past two (almost three) years, Jay has received periodic junk mail based on some very old lists. During the past election cycle, he was invited many times over to cast his vote for particular candidates. Of course, he didn't receive a ballot, despite some of the recent accusations about deceased people being on the voting roles. Not in my county! In fact, to King County's credit, even the very first election after his June 2014 death, which was held in August that year, no ballot was sent to him. (All Washington voting is done mail-in only.)

It's unfortunate that list-sellers get paid for providing seriously out-of-date data. I was really shocked when Jay was called for King County Jury Duty a year after his death! Obviously, King County doesn't update all of its divisions about the permanent departure of its residents. However, a quick phone call elicited an apology and assurance he would never be summoned again.

I have to keep Jay's e-mail account open because mine is a sub-account and I don't want to lose it. As a consequence, he continues to get junk mail. I have unsubscribed his account from a lot of e-mail ads and industry lists. When I have the opportunity to comment (I love the question "Tell us why you're leaving") I write "I'm dead!" or something equally bratty. It's perverse, but true; I smile about that, too.

Back to the Smithsonian Magazine. I'm glad I got the e-mail today because it was fun writing this post.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Enrichment that comes from travel

Lesser known pyramid
Today I am going to toot my own horn. Having been made aware of an acquaintance's eagerly anticipated first trip to Egypt, I couldn't help but recall the thrill of visiting Egypt and, in particular, being for the first time in a country whose predominant religion was not Christianity. When I re-read my two articles written in reflection of that trip, I was impressed. I want to boast a little, so I have included links to those articles at the end of this post.

Sphinx of Memphis
Ostensibly we were visiting to ooh and ah over the ancient sites of Egypt, and it was a bucket-list trip for Jay. He had wanted to see the pyramids ever since I met him in 1961. Just three years into my retirement (2008), the serendipitous arrival of a brochure for travel there with University of Washington Alumni brought everything together for us. Although Jay was still working, he had the flexibility as the sole proprietor of Jay O. Glerum & Associates to be gone for a three-week trip. But it was impression of current-day Egypt that has stayed with me all these years.

Neither Jay nor I would ever be the same again. Not only did we make some wonderful friends on the
Donkeys and cars share the roads
trip and learned an enormous amount of ancient history from Eman, our impressive Egyptologist, but we saw modern-day Egypt as it was crumbling under the control of Mubarak. Subtle and not-so-subtle unrest was recognized by the University of Washington professor, Jere Bacharach, who traveled with us. As a person who had lived six-months of each year in Cairo for more than a decade, he was highly qualified to answer our questions posed 'out-of-earshot' of locals during evenings when we were 'on our own.' Not only was he fluent in Arabic, but he was savvy regarding what was in the hearts and minds of the citizens of Cairo.

Eman was our knowledgable
Egyptologist who accompanied us
for three weeks in 2008
After Arab Spring, Jay and I repeatedly voiced how grateful we were to have seen Egypt when we did. We both knew we would not get back there again, but today I was reminded of its profound impact on me as I re-read these two articles I wrote (and which are still carried on the Web site of the Seattle Times). For that reason, I'm sharing them today with both humility and pride.    
Call to Prayer by S. Glerum published in the Seattle Times
Transcending Differences by S. Glerum published in the S.T.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

The question of recognizing quality—whether it be discerned through taste buds, ears, or eyes is always an interesting topic. Yesterday I had reason to think about a radio interview I heard not long ago on NPR about a PhD researcher who studied how people perceive wines in blind taste tests. Although I am remembering only the main conclusions, they were—in a nutshell—both surprising and (from a cynic’s point of view) predictable. When stripped of its label, connoisseur descriptive, and price tag, an expensive wine more often than not ranks lower than one from the same grape but priced affordably and packaged inexpensively. 

I’m not talking of comparing a $12 wine to a $15 one, either. I’m talking a $12 wine compared to one in the neighborhood of $60 to $100 per bottle. The radio interviewer found the research wonderfully ironic, but concluded that it didn’t much matter—if people loved the tasting and describing and uncorking and sniffing and rolling around  the wine in their mouths—who cares, basically. It’s the fun of the ‘knowing,’ the fun of the snob appeal that can, in and of itself, create quality. It’s not that different with music, or art, or anything that involves the senses and a subjective response.

A number of years ago, violinist Joshua Bell played at the entrance to busy metro station in Washington DC. He posed as an ordinary busker, with his violin case open for donations.  I read about it when it happened—the results were surprising, but also predictable. Unrecognized by anyone except one woman, train catchers rushed by him, most without pausing or acknowledging his superior musical talent or his Stradivarius instrument. Just another component of a busy commute. The initial reports mentioned that a ticket to hear Bell in a concert could be upwards of $100, but apparently had little value when unannounced and free. Donations in his violin case amounted to just over $30 in an hour-and-a-half.

The purpose of this post isn’t to debate the question of perceived quality, but to share my discovery of a wonderful children’s book—but there is a Joshua Bell connection. Yesterday I was at our symphony hall to hear Bell—a musician I admire as much for his crossover mastery as his golden tones. I’d seen him play with Edgar Meyer a number of years ago, and was eager to catch his performance of  Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto. I had no idea this particular book existed until yesterday when I browsed the Seattle Symphony’s counter of merchandise marked “Artist Will Sign at Intermission.” Generally there’s an assortment of CDs that a visiting artist has recorded, but yesterday there was also a book. I read it over and needed to get my hanky out of my pocket to dab my eyes. It's gorgeous!

The book could well make you teary, too, when you read it (in less than ten minutes, total). Two gifted people have created a retelling of Bell’s busking experiment in Washington D.C. and drawn a timeless message from it. The book is called “The Man with the Violin” by Kathy Stinson and illustrated by Dusan Petricic. Even if you have no children or grandchildren, the book merits attention for its strong, wonderful message and beautifully powerful illustrations. I’m not going to spoil it for you—check it out from your library or sneak a peek at your local bookseller.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Way back . . . to December 2016

I have been waiting more than a month to write comments about a memorable experience I had before Christmas. Reason? Photographs ordered, but not delivered until yesterday.

On December 18, 2016, I was a guest at the Bracebridge Dinner at Yosemite National Park, compliments of my California son and daughter-in-law. Just how lucky can one old woman get? Being in the park in winter was enchanting in, and of, itself; attending the dinner was magical.

One of the preliminary (and optional) activities before dinner (we were called by trumpets when the doors to the hall were opened) was to pose for a professional photographer in one of many small alcoves off the large public sitting room in the Majestic Hotel (formerly known as the Ahwahnee Hotel). The photographs took six weeks to be ready, but finally, they are here.

Unfortunately, the pictures of the three of us convey none of the theatricality of the evening. (FYI, the photographer released rights, so there is no disregarding of copyright here.)

To give you an idea of the theatricality, I’m including a YouTube link to a marketing video made in 2016 about the Bracebridge Dinner, which does a great job of conveying the pageantry and fun of the event. Take five minutes to enjoy it. Because cell phones were forbidden during the evening (and what a wise decision to make), the video is an effective means of  transmitting a sense of ambience. The event was truly wonderful—extremely well executed with beautiful food and accoutrements.

So . . . before February arrives, revel in a little look back to Christmas 2016. Life was simpler then, huh.

Friday, January 6, 2017

My dearest values--and I have to dust them!

On the top of my jewelry box there are four knickknacks representing what matters most in my life. If you were visiting my home, you might wonder why those four items are always there--or maybe you wouldn't think twice about them. I do, however . . . I think twice and thrice and sometimes twenty times a day about them . . . in fact, nearly every time I walk into my bedroom.

In the foreground is a four-piece wood puzzle: a tiny wooden man and a woman linking arms. Their heads come off, then their bodies come apart, enabling them to stand alone. The puzzle symbolizes Jay and me and our half-century of marriage. I can't remember when I bought it, but it delighted me at the time. The heads are separate, which struck me as representing two people of very different minds and an appropriate symbol for our relationship. (Several months after Jay died, I removed the head of the man and laid it at his feet--but then I decided that was unnecessarily maudlin and put it back on.) That our marriage endured for so long warrants the puzzle standing in intact.

The red heart stone was given to me by one of my daughters-in-law. Obviously, a heart symbolizes love, and this one represents my own progeny and their families. Sometimes I use the term "my family of choice" to describe this group of now ten people and two generations (as opposed to family of origin), but not to imply I didn't like my family-of-origin. In other words, the heart represents my very own children and their families, near and dear always, and probably my greatest achievement in life.

The funny little ceramic bear was on my father's dresser from my earliest remembered childhood. After Dad died in 1963, I asked my mother if I could have it and it's been on my dresser ever since. When I was little, I thought it was a pig, and never went into my parents' bedroom without checking up on it--wondering why it was there. Did one of us girls give it to him? Was it something he had as a child? I'll never know. Only after I took it for my own did I realize this little statue wasn't a pig, but a bear! Now it represents my heritage and family of origin--the parental love I grew up with, as well as the unknown, unsung ancestors who made me who I am.

I bought the glass egg at the Portland Art museum for my longest-running friend, Karen, (we became friends in sixth grade) after visiting her in the hospital where she was to learn of her terminal illness. Karen and I didn't live in the same part of Washington, so we weren't able to see each other often. The light emanating from the glass felt right to me--reflecting my prayers and positive thoughts for her. After she died in 2009, her sons returned the egg to me, explaining how she had treasured it as a symbol of our lasting friendship. The egg reminds me of my Karen, of course, but also precipitates appreciation for all my friends--they are a lifeline now and always.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Adieu, little cat

Meet Lou, the adorable black kitten who was adopted from the SPCA on December 23 by my Canadian family. They had fostered his mother and three siblings since early December. The family had collectively decided to keep the only male in the litter because he seemed the most connected to the humans in the household. As one might expect, he was alert and interested on Christmas day during all the activities of the morning. So much fun to see the gift opening, to follow a cloth ribbon wriggled on the floor, to pounce on the little blue cat toy ball and watch it roll.

At his ripe young age of two-plus months, he typified the life of a kitten--buoyant playfulness followed by short, restorative naps. The four of us who were celebrating Christmas together that day constantly kept our collective eyes on him. If he left the room for any reason, someone jumped up to check up on his activity (usually something as basic as a food or potty break) to make sure he wasn't getting into anything that would be dangerous. Nothing bad was going to happen to that little cutie.

When he became less interested in the activities around him  later in the day and more prone to napping, our collective assumption was that he was worn out from his antics and the stimulation of the morning. Also, we thought it was possible that the routine neutering surgery he'd undergone two days earlier might be catching up with him.

But just three days after Christmas, Lou died. He had spent the better part of Monday and all day and night Tuesday at the veterinarian with a mysterious fever, lethargy and dehydration. By Wednesday morning his health had deteriorated to the point-of-no-return. There was no definitive diagnosis of the cause of his demise, as of my departure from Canada later that day.

Lou was an adorable baby cat with the promise of a joyful lifetime spent with caring guardians. With tears and trauma 'his people' are still adjusting to the terrible news. This will be a Christmas no one in his human family will forget.

 Sweet, Lou, the pleasure and joy
you brought to your adopted family was a lovely gift,
even if for just that short period. 
You will be missed for a very long time.