Sunday, June 3, 2018

When the cut flowers and the onion start talking . . .

For those of you who read my blog on your cell phones or ipads, this post will appear completely nonsensical unless you also read the captions for the photos. They do not display simultaneously on the iphone/ipad format.
I was sitting on the living table and no one
seemed to notice. All of a sudden,
I knew what to do.

I know what you mean. I was sitting around
 waiting  forever for her to make spaghetti,
and I just couldn't wait any longer.
Good job! You made her look!
Keep going . . . maybe she'll
 learn how precious our time together is!
 And a postscript on June 7:  Who would
have thought flowers were copycats! 

The following week . . . it happened again!

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Small World Unfurled

A really fun ‘small world’ story surfaced last week. I was talking to my all-time-favorite busker  at our Farmers’ Market, the man who writes poems on demand and for any occasion.  
Each poem is written to order
Since encountering Mr. C. Stavney for the first time two summers ago, I’ve been interested in following his successful pursuit of a B.A. in English from the University of Washington. 

Last week he had a little down time as he waited for his next poetry-patron to arrive, so I felt free to take up a few of his  minutes. With a big smile, he informed me that in just a couple of weeks, he’d complete his degree and then would work for at least a year. The obvious question was a no-brainer: “Do you know where you’ll be working?” I asked.

“Yes, a corporate mailroom for a local company,” he responded—and briefly told me in metaphoric language how he’d been hired. “The process was a Russian nesting doll,” he explained, and proceeded to describe how an outsourced company utilized another group to facilitate his hiring for the Seattle-area job. Of course, I asked him what was the company, and nearly fell over when he replied, “Symetra Financial.”   
ARTISTS at the market
C. Stavney, poet, composing a requested poem
and Ilona, artist, drawing a requested subject

Symetra Financial is the company from which I retired in 2005! Then it was a new company very few people had heard of. Even now, thirteen years later, I've met only a handful of people who seem to register the name when I tell them where I used to work. The common response to my answer is, "What's Symetra?" And here I was, standing in the Farmers' Market, learning that Mr. Stavney's first job out of college was to be at the my old company! 

Not only did I retire from it, but I actually worked to help create its image. Symetra Financial was created from Safeco Life Insurance Company, whcih was spun off from its parent company, SAFECO, in 2003.We  had one year to detach from the parental name and create a fresh, new separate corporate identity for the same admired and stable products. A handful of investors bought us from SAFECO, one of whom was Warren Buffet. The investors planned to hold the “new” company for a limited time until it was ready to go public. (Note: the plan was successful—Symetra Financial is publically held today.) With great care the image of the company was honed. Naming it was a huge part, not to mention creating its logo, its mission, its business plan, etc. This work became a short-term primary focus and spilled into every department. My position was in product marketing, so I was very aware of, and peripherally involved in, the task of branding the new company.

I’ve been thinking about C. Stavney and his potential career in a company that might seem remotely connected to his degree in English. I spent almost twenty-five years in corporate America, working for four different insurance companies. Unequivocally I can say that the most broadly educated people—those with degrees in traditional arts-and-sciences, non-techie fields—frequently find employment in the Home Offices of companies like mine: Northwestern Mutual Life, WM Life, Safeco Life, and Symetra Financial. People who studied History, English, Poly-sci and Sociology, Geology, Astronomy, History or Classics can all be found on the payrolls of insurance companies. I can attest to the fact that people starting in the mail room can end up as team-leaders and supervisors, managers and even CEOs. I personally promoted a number of industrious entry-level workers into more demanding and exciting positions—and a number of them have gone on to have highly satisfying careers.

As counterintuitive as it may seem for a poet to work at an insurance company, I’m excited for Mr. Stavney, and tickled to think he’ll be at Symetra. If he puts his heart into it (and if he has a good boss), the sky is the limit. Even if he spends just one year there, he'll have a great foundation for whatever he intends next. Plus, he'll likely meet a lot of interesting people and form some lasting friendships.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Royal weddings? Appeal is real!

I've always loved royal weddings. In 1947 after Queen  Elizabeth and Philip were married, I pored over the issue of Life Magazine containing photo-coverage of the event. I was seven-and-a-half years old, and clearly royal life reflected the fairy tales I was now old enough to read to myself. When my sixth grade teacher arranged for penpals from an English school, all I wanted to ask my penpal about about were questions about the soon-to-be coronated Queen and her royal family. After the coronation in 1953, I kept a scrapbook of the pictures of the event. So this fettish has been with me nearly all my life.

In July 1981, another royal wedding was all the buzz. Without the unlimited possibilities of seeing thousands of photo-stories on the Internet that we now enjoy, the only real way to experience the wedding was to watch it live--and that's exactly what I did! I had friends just as interested in seeing the real event in real time, so I put together a party!

Please don your fanciest hat, the invitation read. Feel free to wear bathrobes, pajamas, etc. but don't forget your gloves! Please arrive by 5:30 a.m. in plenty of time to enjoy tea and crumpets before gathering in our family room in front of our TV to watch the pomp and circumstance live!

And yes, all seven party guests all wore hats!

In Wauwatosa, Wisconsin (where we lived in 1981), no street parking was allowed  between 2 and 6 a.m. I contacted the police department ahead of time to let it know there'd be a number of cars parking outside my house before the 6:00 a.m. restriction was lifted. "Thanks for letting us know," was the response from the police clerk. "Your party sounds like a great idea!" I'm pretty sure she would have accepted an invitation, if I had extended one to her.

 My friends and I had a great time watching. With sixteen or eighteen eyes on the boxy TV's screen (albeit black and white), there was little about the ceremony that we missed. Unlike the guests who were at St. Paul's in person, we could chatter and exclaim aloud over every little detail. My three sons and their father slept through and/or ignored the event, although my eldest, seventeen-year-old Andrea, joined us with at as much enthusiasm as anyone.

Everyone left shortly after the wedding because a "regular" Wednesday loomed. The dishes were washed, food put away, and table-cloth and napkins in the laundry by the time I left my house that morning for work at Northwestern Mutual Life in downtown Milwaukee. I remember telling people at work that it had been the easiest party I'd ever given!

Tomorrow morning in Bothell (two hours earlier than Wauwatosa), my alarm will go off at 3:30. I'll don a bathrobe to stave off the morning chill, pour myself a cup of coffee and serve up a sweet roll as I watch, transfixed, the pomp and circumstance surrounding the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan. I breifly considered asking friends to join me, but judging from the gasping responses when I relay the story about the 1981 party, I'd have no takers. So this one I'll watch by myself, sans hat and gloves. Even without the party-commeraderie, however, I can hardly wait for the pomp and circumstance to begin! 

Thursday, April 26, 2018

CHEAP FUN (continued from many months ago): Put on the Ritz

Are you wishing you could go to a fancy restaurant? Make your own fancy restaurant at home. Substitute your same-old menus with a good-brand frozen dinner (or a carryout meal). After heating it up in the microwave or oven, dish it up on your best china. Put an exotic beverage—say, a hearty ale or pomegranate juice—in that crystal mug someone gave you years ago.

Or go ahead and use that fragile stemware you've been saving for decades. What's the difference if you drop one and there's not an even number anymore? (You can also buy just one glass or one plate from your local thrift or discount department store--it's amazing what a difference different china makes.)

Try cooking dinner-food for breakfast or breakfast-food for dinner—or switch menus for your noon and evening meals. Marie Callender's chicken pie for breakfast? Why not! Your favorite canned soup tastes better in Lenox or Wedgewood bowls and becomes be an appetizing, light dinner. Offer your partner or friend a tray of finger sandwiches and pink lemonade instead of the usual mid-afternoon cup of coffee.

Light candles for yourself and get out the cloth napkins. If you don't want to wash and iron them (who does anymore, anyway), just  throw them away after you use them! That's one less thing for your kids to get rid of. Go ahead, shake it up a little! 

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

The Problem with Selfies

Living alone has a lot of advantages. I can make dinner when I'm hungry, watch whatever TV show I want, go to bed when I'm ready, leave my shoes in a heap in the closet, and change the setting on the furnace thermostat whenever my body wants the house to be warmer or colder. I don't have to consult anyone on what time to set the alarm, and if I don't want to fold my towel, so what. I love having autonomy in a lot of ways.

Of course, there are disadvantages, too. It's lonely. I have no one to talk to (yes, I can talk to myself, but I hate that tendency!) I have no one to plan a vacation with or decide on a spontaneous adventure together. No one to laugh with on a regular basis, no one to tell me my outfit looks OK or that there's soup on the corner of my sleeve. No one is here to leap up on a stool to reset the smoke alarm when goes off because of the oven and no one to give feedback on a public speaking event. Did I say it's lonely? And there's no one to snuggle with? The list goes on . . ..

This week I had a new challenge: I was asked for a picture of myself for an event. But how to take a selfie that both looks natural and that I like--well, that's quite the challenge. It isn't that I don't know how to use my iPhone for selfies, but the resulting photos this week were horrible. And then there's the decision (which is the least worst?). Shown here are only two of about twelve I took. If I had to take my own picture, I sure would have liked someone to confer on which shot was the least awful. (Does this really look like me? Ouch!)  Posing with the photographer calling out smile! and say cheese!, or cracking a stupid joke just as the shutter is tapped is challenging when the photographer and the subject are one and the same!

Sunday, March 11, 2018

YMCA--truly a community organization

Anyone who reads my blog knows my affection for the YMCA. Not only do I exercise there, but I am uplifted whenever I walk through its doors. The sounds are so wonderful: chatter, giggles, hellos, and "Don't run," spoken by moms whose children are so eager to get to their class or their special area, they cannot just walk there. There're muffled sounds from the pool and, on any given day, ball-smacked pounding from the racket-ball room, lively music from a Zumba class, or the instructor's voice in a spin class. There are also quiet rooms where meditation and yoga classes are taught.The best part, for me, is the age diversity at the Y--from toddlers to octogenarians and beyond.

I'm currently extremely involved (uh, I'm actually its Community Chairperson) in the Annual Fund Drive the Y sponsors every year. It's a short period, just five weeks. This year I was one of the people who helped set the amount of our goal: $225,000. With the money, we subsidize all ages in various health programs, from Livestrong to Pedaling for Parkinsons, and a wonderful Y based program known as ACT--Actively Changing Together--that targets families who have a child whose weight has become unhealthy. Instead of a parent scolding the child for eating unhealthily and trying to manage by herself, the family attends the program together to learn new habits of exercise and eating. We give scholarships to summer camps and completely fund Engllish Learners' Camp for kids whose families don't speak English at home. And the Hunger Initiatives the Y pays for cover backpacks of food for the weekend and free lunches hosted in several locations summer long. Our fund drive covers the cost of these programs so they can be offered at NO CHARGE to community members (no Y membership is needed).

This year, our Y is piloting a program in Water Safety for fourth-graders in three of the multiple grade schools in our school district. It's both a classroom and pool program that teaches children how to behave in the event that water suddenly overcomes them--such as playing in the water when a wave washes over them, or tumbling off a dock, or falling while wading along an uneven shoreline. Nearly 400 fourth graders will be bused to the Y in May to have this experience because of the funds we are raising. There will be no charge for participation. When I learned that sixty percent of all drownings happen within ten feet of safety, I was shocked! The skills fourth graders are taught in this program will help them manage to get to safety, even if they don't know how to swim!

Our campaign is over soon. We haven't quite made our goal yet, but on Tuesday, I'll be emcee for the Campaign Closing Rally. We will celebrate all the good work our volunteers have done and enjoy great food and lots of cheering for our accomplishments.

And, just in the off chance a reader might like to make a donation, I'm including a link (Northshore YMCA) to my YMCA donation page. Please don't feel pressured--but I thought you might feel sad if you didn't have this this opportunity. (I wouldn't want anyone to be sad, would I?)

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Rants of an old, albeit famous, man . . . Mark Tobey

My parents were friends with Mark Tobey, Northwest artist, visionary, and mystic whose work is held in major museums. One evening in 1959 after Tobey had been at our house, I was struck how wise, how deep his thoughts were. (He was approaching seventy—and I nineteen.) As a university freshman, I also felt wise. After all, I'd learned to smoke cigarettes without coughing, hold my own in philosophical conversations, and stay awake half the night cramming for an exam. That particular evening it struck me how amazing it was that such a great and wise guru had been our guest—this extraordinarily talented man sitting in our living-and dining-rooms, chatting away with my family in the same relaxed way an ordinary neighbor might. The difference was that his thoughts were profound, his comments scintillating. I was enthralled by every aspect of the man and wanted to remember his words—immortalize them. As soon as Tobey departed, I began jotting down in a spiral notebook what I could remember of that evening’s conversation.

M. Tobey  Self-portrait 1949
Four years ago I discovered those notes in an old box stuffed with odds and ends, marked “Treasures.” Multiple sheets of notebook paper were folded in the box, unopened since the very night I recorded them. The notes are of a one-sided conversation only—Tobey’s—as he chatted with my parents. Although my parents provided the other half of the dialogue, Tobey’s musings were all I bothered to capture. After all, he was a great artist, wise beyond others, while my parents were just ordinary people.

What follows in italics is exactly what I wrote at age nineteen—words spoken by Tobey—but I’ve augmented a few words [in brackets] and added several footnotes to help today’s readers make sense of them a half-century later.  

Seafair: [1] I just stay away from downtown [when it’s going on]. Miss Universe, Miss Washington, Miss South Dakota, Miss Florida . . . [they] all look alike. Same smile, same crown on their heads. Glamour is substituted for spirit. They have no spirit, so they straighten their teeth, pluck their eyebrows, paint themselves with grease, and there is glamor! They look—like the devil? No. They don’t look like the devil. I’d like to imagine that the devil looks like something!
Sex: One thing about the twentieth century—we’ve discovered sex, and “they” won’t let us forget it. Aren’t we wonderful! We’ve discovered sex! Sex in soup, sex in . . . you name it, but don’t put sex in abstract art! The critics don’t like it.
Fast-paced modern times: I used to like to go into Safeway about dusk. It was nice. Now I go, push a go-cart up the aisle four times—then I ask where the coffee is. All you hear now is ‘ding, ding, ding.’ People hurry. Why, you can’t even get to know your butcher now. Occasionally an arm sticks out [from] behind [the] glass. We do all this so we have time to live. We hurry in and out, but when do we live? We don’t know the butcher. When do we live? Only humans make life—we can get as mechanized as possible, but only humans make life.  White Henry Stuart Building[2] [now has] automatic elevators—music comes on. What for? One street in Hong Kong has more life than the whole of Broadway[3] because it is completely human. Only humans make life.
Young artists cannot grow when snatched up in [their]youth—[I] don’t approve of early discovery of talent. ‘Debutante [now], then wallflower. Now days, [there is] no young, exceptional talent that hasn’t been “discovered.” Scouts all over—too many.
Urban blight: Trees soften the hardness of life—the only thing [that] rests your eyes downtown. [For instance, take the] Pike Street Market[4]—every race, creed, color, culture. Saturday – [I] took five Yale students there. Top part of their trip. Never enough time. So many things to watch, to wonder at. Color of vegetables and fruit seem to put everyone in a good  mood. If you go, take lunch up to second floor—see the whole sound. Beautiful view! Two blocks [away] at second and Pike, what is there? Nothing. Nothing. Not a thing to look at . . . except the trees in the front of the bank.

A few catalogs & books about Tobey
As a then seventy-four-year-old woman reading the newly rediscovered musings (I'm four years older now), I found myself incredulous. In retrospect, Tobey’s comments seem no more insightful than any other old person’s. Having revered him all these years, I realized the words easily could have been spoken by any one of my own peers, railing about the contemporary scene. Mark Tobey was a mortal, after all, with the same kinds of opinions and notions about the ruination of the younger generations and deterioration of services that we all notice as we age—the “wisdom” of hindsight. He continued to admire Pike Place Market, however, something that is still easy to do, despite its periodic updates and gradual gentrification.

Time changes perspective: a universal truth. That very constancy stitches us together—whether we’re rich or poor, famous or unknown—into a continuum of humanity. And what’s perceived as the decline of civilization continues to be lamented by people on the downward curve of life as they mourn “the good old days.” I still adore the work of Tobey and revere his genius, but now that I’m older than he was when last we met, he seems less a deity to me and more an ordinary mortal who happened to have extraordinary talent.                                                                                       

Copyright ©2018  by Sara J. Glerum

[1] Seafair is a Seattle month-long summer festival 
[2] A Seattle landmark  in the first three-quarters of the 20th century. Sited on Fourth Avenue and University Street, it was torn down in 1974 to make way for the home office of the then Rainier Bank  (once an inverted pyramid design, the building is currently under complete redesign) 
[3] A lively commercial street in Seattle’s Capitol Hill district
[4] Currently referred to as Pike Place Market