Saturday, December 23, 2017

Not white? OK, as long as it's not blue!

The 'ninth' candle, mine, is around
the corner to the right
This Christmas season may well be the weirdest one of my lifetime. Weird, as in singular, irregular, unusual. Any of those adjectives would be more dignified, but weird has the right connotation.

What’s different this year is it’s the first of my (soon-to-be seventy-eight) Christmases during which I won’t be getting together with someone in my immediate family. For the first twenty-two Christmases, it was the Johnsone clan; for the next sixty-five, with at least one Glerum (with crossover years bridging both).  

Initially, thinking about being without my favorite people for my favorite holiday made me sad, blue, pity-party worthy. But as the day draws closer, I’m realizing something important. I have no Christmas stress!

I’ve intentionally not done any of the normal activities of the season, including baking, Christmas cards, and excessive decorating. The only traditional activity I’ve done is to place electric candles in the windows of my townhouse. Jay started the tradition when we were emptnesters, with four candles for our four grown children. He then added one for each grandchild. After he died, I added a candle for him—and this year, I added one for me, too! So now there are nine candles in our windows.

Baroque Putto dating back 'forever'
I did set out a few items on the mantel—a bit of seasonal d├ęcor here and there, including the baroque putto my grandfather obtained on a trip to Europe before 1900.  It’s something my mother always used (frequently on top of our Christmas tree), so it’s always been part of my life. But I left three boxes of seasonal treasures unopened, thus unused. 

Two weeks ago I gave away the beautiful artificial tree that Jay and I purchased when we moved to our townhouse. We’d always had a live tree, but the high ceilings and limited floor space in our new space prompted our purchase. It was too big to manage on my own, so through the miracle of social media, I located a stranger to give it to. She was so thrilled, she wrote me after she assembled it, yet-to-be decorated, “My son asked if we can’t leave it up all year, it’s so beautiful.” Her delight, as well as her son's, made me feel wonderful!

This angel mobile was purchased
in the Copenhagen airport in 2001,on our
way home from a December trip to Paris
I mailed packages early in the month because I had an out-of-town house guest  arriving Dec. 11. Usually I stand at the post office for an hour or longer in mid-month, bake cookies the weekend before Christmas, and wrap gifts as late Christmas Eve.  Only when the spirit moves me do I begin my holiday letter—never before December 15—then print it, address envelopes and write personal notes to the hundred-plus recipients. All this activity has made up my Christmases for years, and it makes for seasonal stress.  

Not this year! Without family to look forward to seeing, to decorate for, to travel to, to bake for, this time of year feels like any other dark, cold month. Without the reflection of my Christmas letter (I decided I just couldn't do one this year), I don’t feel compelled to take inventory of the year. That's OK because it wasn’t a great year, anyway.  I’m free to contemplate the meaning of Christmas, consider my propensity for angelic images, and binge on the latest season of a Netflix series. See? I told you it’s a weird year, but I’m going to take advantage of the absence of seasonal stress. That part’s a good thing.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

The Daily Scraping Up of a Memory

It’s interesting, isn’t it, how one minor incident in a lifetime can trigger a perpetual memory that reappears every time the incident is repeated? Take, for instance, the daily task of squeegeeing the glass shower door. It occurred to me this morning that the minute I begin to wipe down the shower with the squeegee, I think of Chad—a man I haven’t laid eyes on for more at least fifteen years. Chad came to work for me at WM Life in Seattle as a part-time clerk in the early ‘90s—he was freshman at Seattle Community  College. He was smart, trainable, a quirky and delightful addition to my staff. He proved to be loyal and hardworking—as good as anyone who ever reported to me, but that’s a topic for a different post. He worked for me on and off for a number of years—eventually leaving to attend Evergreen College in Olympia. Sometime after graduation and a full-time job, he contacted me. He had started his own window-washing business. Did I need any windows washed?

Glad to patronize his start-up, I answered “yes,” and a few days later he drove up our driveway in his old VW Van, loaded up with everything he needed to do the outside widows all around the house—some at ground level, and others needing extension pole or a ladder. Jay was delighted to delegate and pay for the service, and Chad did a splendid job (and returned for seasonal work until he found other work).

Yes, I’m getting to the point of my first sentence. It was Chad who showed me the most efficient way to use a squeegee. Until then, I had always stroked parallel lines from top to bottom of the window (I’d been washing inside windows for at least forty years by then—much more frequently than now, I must admit). Chad showed me how to swoop across the window in figure-8 motions, eliminating the constant need to wipe the drips at sill-level. Only one wipe was needed with Chad’s method.
And that’s why I think of Chad every morning, as I begin the figure-8 motion along the inside of the glass shower stall. Who would have thought . . .

When we think about it, it’s not any different from the memories popping up as we set out our beloved Christmas decorations. It’s the association with a person or event that causes such sentimentality. But who would have thought a window-washing tip could become a daily trigger of recall of affection.  Chad, by the way, is now a successful chiropractor—and, by my rough calculation—is in his mid-forties by now. When I think of him, though, it’s as a young man  whose honesty, truthfulness, loyalty and hard work endeared himself to his boss.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Musings of a Grateful Woman

Remember how your mother explained the meaning of the word “reciprocity”? If someone gave you a birthday present, you would give them a present on their birthday. As you got older, you probably learned the nuances of the concept, such as keeping gifts suitable and not trying to outdo the other person with a wildly disparate gift. As we grow in age, wisdom, and grace, we continue to master the art of reciprocation, understanding that generosity from the heart enhances and solidifies relationships. Not only does a gift endear us to the recipient, but giving strengthens the bond we, ourselves, feel toward the recipient—be it a person or entity.

When November rolls up to December, I begin to make the list of organizations and groups that have enriched my year, given me such pleasure or brightened my life so much that reciprocity is in order. But what am I going to do? Play an out-of-tune scale on my violin for the symphony? Perform a skit for an entire theatre troupe?  No. That’s where a monetary gift can be a stand-in for reciprocity.  

I have greatly enjoyed a number of performances this year, and also follow the work of several human services organizations. One such organization is the YMCA. Yes, I belong and pay a monthly fee. But the YMCA is so much more than a gym, or exercise club. It serves the entire community with scholarships and subsidies that allow youngsters to attend camps in the summer, to eat healthily on weekends and summertime, to learn team sports, and to swim. It also serves anyone in the community who wants help with chronic disease management and/or prevention, weight loss programs, and it hosts Livestrong programs for people with cancer. It offers exceptional daycare for preschoolers, and tends children whose parents are at the Y to pursue fitness goals . . . and on and on.

We all make donations when we are able—to churches, bootstrap organizations, meal programs, favorite hospitals, cultural groups, and national groups like the Red Cross and organizations assisting any number of needs for people without means to pay for them. Many of those gifts are pure altruistic: “Here—take this—you do great work.” But some gifts are reciprocal—a way to show thankfulness for acts of generosity benefiting us!

When I look back over the past eleven months, I realize I’ve much to be grateful for from various cultural groups, enjoying many memorable theatrical productions, breathtaking symphony concerts, mind-boggling art exhibits. I am immensely grateful for my healthcare providers (cutting out the cancer in January, just for starters), not to mention the loving support and companionship of family and friends, help from neighbors, inspiration from community volunteers, and energy from an always-welcoming staff at the Y. The list goes on. I am blessed with gifts from all kinds of places—from across the street to across the water, from as close as my neighborhood to the neighboring country (home to one of my granddaughters and her parents). My body and soul are all replenished through these gifts. To some I will show my appreciation by making a monetary donation; to others I can only do it with these words: Thank you.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017


 What a difference a day makes . . . 
well, maybe ten days.  

     Welcome to November. 

A Polished Post

Polished stick on the left
In the 'good old days' (ha ha), my mother kept everything polished--the hardwood floors, her sterling flatware and plated trays, our mahogany and cherrywood furniture. Once in awhile, she'd pay a dollar or two to one of her daughters if we'd polish the brass doorknob on the front door.   I learned early how to turn tarnish into dazzle.

My mother inherited these old Belgian brass candlesticks belonging to my her mother-in-law, so they've always been housed by matriarchs who like things polished! I like shiny things, too, but in the last couple of decades, I've only reluctantly taken the time to spiff things up.

Recently I realized how dull and tarnished the candlesticks looked. Although they're sitting on a prominent side-table in my house, and I change out the candles for color once in awhile, I probably haven't really looked at them for seven years. I certainly haven't polished them since we moved in 2010.

Just another view
Left to right: "after & before"
So . . . I dragged out the dredges of a half-century old bottle of brass polish and began working. Yowie, what an ordeal. I stopped halfway to photograph the 'before and after' effects of one polished and one still tarnished. Notice its darkened, dull patina.

After continuing the ordeal, now both are shiny. Maybe that's the last time I'll polish them, particularly since I all but drained the last drop of polish from the very old container.

What's the point of the blog? To remind us how dazzled we should feel when someone compliments our polished speech or our polished home. And we should smile a lot after the hygienist polishes our teeth.

Friday, October 13, 2017

CHEAP FUN, pt. 2: Unforgettable Dining Experience

Are you nostalgic for the old days when you had parties or patronized varied restaurants?  Even if you find yourself regularly eating dinner with the TV blaring and a dearth of scintillating conversation, you can host a daring dinner party. You don't even need to invite anyone over, although, by all means, include your partner or spouse, if applicable.

This party is sans silverware. Forkless in Fresno, fingers in Fargo! Feed yourself without utensils. Choose a menu item like spaghetti or stew, so it’s really messy. Set out extra napkins (or adult bibs--they really do make such a thing) and enjoy. Be radical by intentionally exhibiting bad manners. Slurp, slop, smack. Turn your meal into a contest. How loudly can you smack your lips and gulp your soup?  If you have a six-year-old granddaughter eating with you, this is a dinner they will never forget (trust me, I know), but it's even more memorable when your guests are six-or-more decades old.)

The next day, it will feel so comfortable to eat the "regular" way. Crank up the news and set out the utensils. You'll relish the return of your routine. Mission accomplished.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

CHEAP FUN, pt. 1: Phony Trip

A lot of us in my age bracket are fixating on how expensive our favorite activities have become. For that reason, I've decided to devise some inexpensive activities to take their places. Take, for instance, travel. Here's a way to learn about a country and have a little bit of travel-thrill without any expense. And, you don't even need to locate (or renew) your passport.

First, check out a library book on a destination you would like to visit. Next, make up your bed for sleeping on the opposite end. This will make your bed seem just as foreign as a hotel-room bed. While it may seem like a lot of trouble, it’s easier than going through airport security.

After dinner, start reading. When you begin to get sleepy, arrive at your “hotel”—your own bed with the sheets and blankets tucked in at the opposite end. You’ll feel as though you’re on the road with such an unfamiliar accommodation, and might even need a flashlight for your 2 a.m. trip to the bathroom. You won’t get much sleep, but it’ll be memorable. When you get tired of your "trip," return to the other end of the bed. You’ll feel like you’re back home. And because you pored over text and photos in the travel book, you’ll know a lot about the destination you didn’t see.

For extra fun, pack a suitcase and live out of it for a few days. You won’t have the hassle of the TSA, and when the inconvenience of rummaging around for that last clean pair of undies makes you irritable, you can arrive home that minute!

You get the idea. We’re constantly being told that changing our routines is good for our brains, too. So mix it up! All we have to do is use our imaginations to find small delights.