Friday, October 30, 2009

Pumpkins-on-Pikes, Northwest Version

Inspired by Matt Glerum's Pumpkins-on-Pikes party recently held in Marin County (his 17th such event), we created a mini version (a mere five jack-o-lanterns impaled on pikes, compared to his 150 plus) in our side yard. We're calling it Mini-PoP. With two flickering electric tea-lights to illuminate them all night long, these faces look better the darker it gets. (His pumpkins have real tea-lights inside, which make them burn brighter, but ours don't burn out.) Without a timed exposure, the camera cannot capture the magic. But . . . you get the idea.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


These Halloween goodies were made by yours truly two years ago at son Matt's house, under the supervision and inspiration of Candra, his wife. Spiders are nothing but olives cut in half (bodies) or sliced (legs). One olive yields one delicious spider.

If the pants fit . . .

Have 32” inseam, will travel.

Thirty-two inch inseams—that’s us—the Glerum family. Our common dimension allows us to exchange clothing from time to time, in what has to be one of the silliest but practical sides of our relatedness: The hand-me-downs, -overs, and-ups of pants.

Hubby returned home from our trip to California with a couple pairs of “new” jeans, hand-me-ups from offspring! In the car on the way home, as I was admiring stylish look, we began to laugh. That Gap and Lucky men’s jeans could make a kid's closet in Point Richmond to his closet in Lake Forest Park is our own time-honored tradition, our version of the traveling pants.

Yes, all six of us have the same inseam measurement. Whether it’s because one person’s curvaceous rear-end allows more drape in the fabric or another person’s trimmer thighs lets the fabric fall straighter, each of us takes a 32” inseam, despite the fact that none of us is the same height or weight—or waist size at any given moment. Luckily, we all like a casual look and feel at home in deep-pocketed men's pants. So, we can exchange trousers by our waist-sizes alone, which—like those of many Americans—fluctuate in the ratio of eating to exercise. “Hey, see if these practically new cargo pants fit; you might like them.”

We also can trade shirts, workout jackets, and even sweaters, depending on the universality of the style—but we’re famous for our pants exchanges. Hubby has notched up his fashion quotient, thanks to this recent acquisition. And during the next visit with offspring, someone else will have inevitably subtracted or added a few inches around the middle, allowing the exchanges to continue. Apparently, everyone ‘wears the pants’ in our family—each other’s. I consider that a great compliment, as well as a quirky family trait.

Our seeming similarities manifest themselves in our inseams.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

I Got Just Thirty Bucks

In front of me today at the supermarket was a man with a modest basket of food. I intentionally got into line behind him because I thought it’d be quick. So much for that assumption, because when presented with the total due, a prose version of this conversation began . . ..

Take the pineapple for sure
maybe the carrots . . . and the pear.
I s’pose the tomatoes will help,
too. What’s the total? Are we there?

No? Still need another couple bucks?
OK, bananas—but can we split ‘em . . .
only take back a few? Nah . . .
all or nothin’. Damn,

I was really lookin’ forward
to them. Oh, well. I have to use
cash because my bank has
put on the screws—

guess I overdrew too many
times—it’s all f_cked up. It’s
hell bein’ out of work—excuse the “French.”
Yeah, no kiddin’—no job’s the pits.

Now . . . what’s the total? We’re
at $30.47? I got just thirty bucks.
What’s there to make up the 47 cents?
Huh? Call it even? Ah, shucks,

mister, that’s really nice.
Thanks a lot. You made my day.
You, too . . . you have a good one!
Thanks again. See ya’ next Tuesday.

I felt embarrassed to have witnessed this personal scene, and sad, too, that everything the man returned was good stuff. It wasn't as he was returning Fritos and Pepsi. Understandably, the only item from produce he kept was the bag of potatoes. The clerk, a man in midlife, was extremely courteous and pleasant.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Where the Wild Things Are: 2 Sideways Thumbs

I eagerly paid my money and took my seat on the second night of the movie's release. After seeing previews, I knew I had to be among the first to see the film and find out for myself where and how the wild things were.

Was it scary? No, probably not even for children—the monsters, anyway. The scariest thing to me was the casting of a ten-year-old as Max. Watching a youngster old enough to have learned a measure of self control so completely out-of-control with anger—that’s scary. The book depicts a very little boy, probably a preschooler, who’s temper gets the best of him, and that’s a very different scenario . But a ten year old? Worrisome, at the very least.

The monsters were enormously likeable, and only when I let myself imagine Tony Soprano in a fuzzy monster suit did James Gandolfini’s voice work, as Carol—the dominant monster—project a scary edge. Doesn’t the mob recruit young men who have anger management issues? Was Max being groomed for a life of organized crime?

I loved Lauren Ambrose’s voice for her character, the hopeful, but disappointed, female monster, KW. The film had a measure of sweet, empathic moments. If I’d taken a child with me to see the movie, say a seven- or eight-year- old, we could have had a good discussion afterwards. That would have made it worthwhile.

As it was—it verged on boring. Give me thirty-two pages, any day, of nearly wordless narrative and the fabulous artwork of Maurice Sendak over the technically dazzling treatment of Hollywood. When all is said and done, it’s the reader’s imagination that brings a book alive.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

For love of forty-four cents

My love affair with the US post office started many years ago with penny postcards. My mother always had a supply on hand—blank cards with a purple stamp imprinted on one side. I don’t know how she used them or why, but they were a staple in our house as I grew up. Those were the days when letters cost just three cents to mail.

Over the years, grumbling about postal rates has also become something of a staple. If one is in the company of bellyachers, eventually postal prices will come up, as well as the subject of the postal monopoly. Gripe, gripe, gripe. Maybe the cost of postage has risen more than other expenses over my lifetime, but you won’t find me complaining.

At forty-four cents a pop, it’s the best damn deal in town. Imagine what it would cost for me to deliver a letter to South Carolina or Minnesota, California, or New Hampshire. The handling of a single letter—from picking it up from my mail box to delivering it correctly to someone else’s—is astonishing in, and of, itself. Just think of the journey of that one little note, from box to truck to bag to sorting assembly line to bag to truck to airport and the whole thing done in reverse. And correctly? Wow!

When my friend, Karen, was confined to her home in Vancouver, Washington, because of her illness, I wrote her as many as five times a week. For two years, and particularly the last six months of her life, I became a regular at the post office, standing in line to buy stamps, chatting with customers, and observing the clerks accepting packages, dispensing postage, providing information and even, once in a while, advice. Yes, sometimes the lines and the wait were too long. I moaned about that sometimes, but never—ever—did I complain about the cost of a stamp. A short note could cheer Karen up and kept our connectivity in tact, despite distance and illness.

Now that Karen is gone, I buy stamps much less frequently. It used to be that whenever I passed a post office, I’d do a quick inventory in my head. How am I fixed for postage? These days, I don’t need to—I write only occasional cards and notes now. But the weirdest thing happens to me whenever I see the U.S. flag flying over a post office: I get that little lurch in my heartbeat, that quick shiver inside my mouth, and one of those belly surges that together comprise a “pang.” In an instant, by just passing a post office, I am reminded of Karen and how much I miss her and all because of forty-four cents. There are many times in a week when I miss her, but my postal pangs have to be among the quirkiest.

Thursday, October 15, 2009


Next week, in California, our son is hosting his twenty-third pumpkin carving party. I wrote the following reflection in 2007 after attending the party for the first time.

After getting second-hand reports throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s about the annual pumpkin carving parties given by our son, Matt, I could scarcely believe it when Hubby and I actually booked airline tickets to see it for ourselves. Known for many years as Pumpkins-on-Pikes and always staged the weekend before Halloween, the party has grown from a college kid’s get-together in Minnesota to a talk-of-the-town event in New Hampshire that more than a hundred people attend.

Matt has enchanted us over the years with tales of the party’s success and people’s reactions to it. I soak it up, of course, because I am ever thirsty with my mother’s pride. I love hearing success stories as told to me by my children. But nothing ever takes the place of first-hand observation.

In twenty-one prior Pumpkins-on-Pikes, the weather had cooperated with crisp sunny afternoons and moonlit nights. Oh, there was that one year it snowed—memorable for anyone trying to carve a jack-o-lantern while wearing mittens—but otherwise the weather was dependably good. In 2007, though—the year the Seattle parents traveled 3,000 miles to the Franconia home of Matt and his wife, Candra, to see the event for themselves—it rained. It didn’t just drizzle, either. It poured.

When the skies open up and drench the earth, what do the party hosts do with 150 pumpkins intended for carving outside? Heap them in the garage so the carving tables will fit in, too. Sure, the motorcycle can be edged over a bit, the tandem stood on its end, the cars put up on the road. Where will the hot cider be served when the outdoor tablecloths are blowing away? From the stove, itself, of course! What about the tarp that acts like a sail when the wind whips it up and nearly pulls the railing off the deck? Untie it, take it down, fold it up, and kiss it off. Tarp not provided!

The inside of the house needs some adjustments, too. Roll up the rugs, cover the carpet, set up spotlights, and thank the gods a Porta-Potty was ordered and delivered earlier in the week. Put down towels for foot wiping and make room for piles of wet slickers and boots. Smile. Button up in waterproof jackets, pull on the knee-high Wellingtons, and don fishing-hats. Grin and say repeatedly in cheerful voices, “Maybe it will clear up later,” or “It’s supposed to blow over by nightfall . . ..”

When the rain and winds intensify and the guests start arriving, relax! Nothing to do now but pass the deviled eggs, de-mud the pumpkins in a sudsy washtub in the driveway, set out all the serrated knives and carving tools from the pumpkin bin, and offer to open beers for those with gooey hands. Crowd around the makeshift tables and carve away. As each jack-o-lanterns is finished, load it up with two or three tea-candles and run down the hilly backyard to impale them on pikes. Mud everywhere. A toddler jumps in the puddles forming in the driveway. Laugh. Pass the treat bag to the children, fill the cider cups, and barbecue the pork loin under the garage’s overhang. Pile up those tea lights inside the carved pumpkins, in case the rain lifts. Keep on praying for the rain to stop—can’t light the pumpkins in a downpour. Keep on hoping, just in case.

Candra is busy inside. “There’re towels for your feet . . . set your casserole anywhere there’s a space.” Beslickered Matt tirelessly trudges back and forth from the garage to the woods in the back of the yard with pumpkin guts, which deer and rodents will devour in a day or two. Several of Matt and Candra’s close friends, recruited ahead of time to help, have worn their Macintoshes and Wellingtons, prepared to brave the ferocious storm in the name of friendship. They’ve been to other Pumpkins-on-Pikes where the weather’s been perfect.

And then it happened. A tiny crack in the cloud cover opened up and spread. As light waned and darkness crept into Franconia, slowly, surely, the rain slowed. Clouds began to roll and blow across the sky. The moon struggled to make an appearance—late, like a drunken actor, not at its brightest, or best—but there! Several optimistic guests and their host scurried around the yard with lighter-wands, climbing ladders up to tall pikes and stooping over to reach low pikes. Through varying thicknesses of squash skins, pumpkin faces began to emerge from the darkness, and the magic happened. The very thing I had imagined all those years—pumpkins glowing in deep yellows and oranges—began to appear in the navy-blue night.

Standing at the top of Matt and Candra’s sloping backyard, I felt as though I were a minor deity commanding inanimate objects to come to life. The backyard in Franconia isn’t wired for electricity, so the moonlight leaking through the clouds barely illuminated the pikes. Only the glowing pumpkins themselves were visible. Faces emerged—ugly, cute, clever, scary—and graphic images of spiders, or the words, “Go, Sox” (the World Series was in full swing). Floating images in all sizes, some near, some at the edge of the yard where it meets the woods. Faint outlines of guests rippled among the pikes as they braved the squishy grass and soggy earth to roam this nocturnal illuminated sculpture garden. Everyone was an artist that night.

A nine-year-old who had come to the party with his mother sat at the top of the hill near me and narrated the scene to a large hand-puppet he’d brought along. The puppet answered him back in an animated fashion. “Spooky and wonderful,” they seemed to be saying—“this is what Halloween should always be like.”

I thought about the Druid origins of the holiday and felt a pang of kinship with primitive people in their veneration of light in darkness and creation of effigies to ward off the unfriendly spirits. The darkness, illuminated by glowing pumpkins, was both eerie and unknowable. Our shadows could have been from either world—the physical or metaphysical. A few children raced around with glow-in-the-dark bracelets provided by their hosts. I shivered and came inside. But several times I went back outside to revisit the scene, to press it into my retinas.

Guests finally drifted home. Ninety-five pumpkins glowed on until, one by one, their candles fizzled out. The party was over for another year, but indelibly imprinted in my memory. And in my heart. Seeing Pumpkins-on-Pikes is one of my lifetime highlights.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Aloha, Coqui Prince

When we arrived at Uncle Billy’s Hilo Hotel, we made arrangements to meet our travel companions, Mike and Jane, in half an hour so we could enjoy the remaining daylight. After the long flight from Seattle to Kona and the drive from Kona to Hilo, we were all eager for what we’d come the distance to enjoy—the sun, ocean, and ambience of the big island. After quick unpacking and washing-up, the four of us headed on foot along Banyan Drive to Queen Liliuokalani Park on Hilo Bay. There we walked through winding paths and over footbridges, enjoying the largest formal Japanese garden outside of Japan, to make our way to views of the surf. I could feel myself relaxing.

Following our leisurely dinner at the hotel (complete with live music and two gray-haired hula-dancers), we explored the grounds of “Uncle Billy’s Hotel,” which are picturesque and exotic—exactly the Hawaii you’d expect to find in, say the ‘50s. Because the hotel is old and only has been minimally modernized, there’s a feel about the grounds that made me imagine Cuba in the 21st century—few updates and a semblance of the old colonial look. And tropical. As we strolled through the overgrown, fragrant courtyard area, we were overwhelmed by the chirping of what we first took to be an evening bird of some sort. The sound was so loud, I actually wondered aloud if it could be artificially piped in, ala Disney. Nah—not here, not Uncle Billy’s! But because I saw no activity in tree branches, I became obsessively curious about the origin of the sound. As intense as the chirping was, I expected to see fluttering leaves if birds were settling down for the night. But nothing. The trees were completely still, radiating warmth in the early darkness.

The four of us walked carefully, looking upwards mostly, searching for the creatures emitting the incessent chirping. Jane produced a flashlight from her purse and gave it to Mike, who began methodically to search the origins of the sound. He came up with nothing for the first few minutes. Then we heard, “Ah hah!” We gathered around Mike who was shining the light under a roofed overhang on an adjunct structure in the hotel garden. A small brown frog appeared a seam in the roofing. “Yes, that’s it, all right,” Mike proclaimed. “A type of tree frog.” He shone his light on the little guy so we could get a good look.

I was awed to think the volume of chirping could be caused by such a small creature—there must have been thousands of them in this garden, alone—and for the next several nights, shook my head in wonderment as I imagined these tiny frogs, about the size of my thumb, carrying on their circadian quest with such intensity.

When I got home and started sorting photos, I needed to identify a few locales in Hawaii. In doing so, I stumbled upon a Web site that contained a reference to an invasive species of frog on the big island, which is causing ecologists and conservations to squawk loudly with their own sound. I clicked on the picture, and there was “our frog.” These Coqui frogs (named for the sound of their chirp, “Ko-kee”) are recently arrived, accidental tourists from Puerto Rico. They have thrived so thoroughly in the Hawaiian islands, particularly on the “big island,” they are endangering indigenous insects and displacing native frogs. So . . . the very thing I thought was wonderful in Hawaii became a monster in Seattle, in the time it took to read two paragraphs.

I got to thinking how ironic it was to discover something that was once enchanting has taken on an evil quality. One minute it’s unadulterated pleasure; the next minute it’s a threatening presence, hazard, forbidden fruit: riding a bike without a helmet, driving a car without a seatbelt, attending a rock concert without ear protection; DDT, cigarettes, hot dogs, amalgam fillings, Gumi Bears, asbestos, dams, bacon, and transplanted Coqui frogs. The list goes on. Until we cross the threshold from innocence to informed consumer or curious citizen, we are free to enjoy the pleasure of the pleasure. And maybe that’s not all bad. We can’t live forever.

As for frogs—their chorus was wonderful. I’m sorry they’re taking over habitat from other creatures in Hawaii, but hearing their song remains implanted in my memory as a magical moment in Hawaii.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009


Recently, I heard about a seventieth birthday party where a jukebox loaded with tunes from the '50s was rented . . .

Remind me—when I’m seventy—to act my age: global and open minded. Remind me not to be a stereotypical old woman, the kind who wants to hear Oldies played on a jukebox for her birthday or receive crocheted afghans and sachets as gifts. Or a card with pages of Remember When trivia.

Remind me that I’m wise in the world. Remind me, because I don’t want to end up intolerant and narrow-minded. I want to celebrate the many good changes occurring in my lifetime. Let everyone see me as an old woman who’s comfortable with diverse self-expression.

On my birthday, how about taking me to a rock concert, a rave, or a hip-hop marathon? If those don’t work out, maybe we can see a skateboard championship or get tattoos together. I don’t really want a tattoo, but I refuse to be a blue-haired clucker who condemns every tattoo she sees, or the set-in-her-ways crone who longs for the days when girls wore skirts that covered their fannies and boys opened doors for ladies--the "good old days" when people shook hands or (god help us) curtsied, instead of high-fiving. I love the now! Maybe standing outside a tattoo parlor and admiring the newly decorated body parts would be a nice compromise.

I am glad to be a modern woman who appreciates a diversity of tastes and attitudes. I love country western music and plainsong, alternate rock and bagpipes. I’d be hard pressed to choose between two museums if one featured Rothko and Pollock and the other Cassatt and Renoir. I’d happily take a plane to see a Christo installation or stand in line for tickets to Rent. I’d also love to take you on a tour to appreciate far-out buildings, such as Seattle’s own Experience Music Project designed by Frank Gehry or its public library by Rem Koolhaus. But I deeply appreciate the classic beauty of the Parthenon, long to see Monticello, and am moved by the serene simplicity of a Japanese garden.

I refuse to exclaim, as I snip past a store from which strobe lights flash and booming music blasts, “I don’t know how anyone could shop in such a place.” Neither will I boycott a display of religious art from the Vatican because of the wealth it represents. What's not to enjoy? I try to be open to different viewpoints about art and music, literature and film. I try to take opportunities to grow and learn. It takes all kinds of self expression to make our world.

When I sit in my idling car at a red light, I do not want to be one of those old people who glowers in the rear-view mirror at the car behind with its woofers cranked up into a throbbing beat, asking what so many of my contemporaries do: “Why would anyone turn on the radio that loud?” Bring it on! Sometimes, when I’m driving alone, I crank up the volume on hard rock. And sometimes I sing along at the top of my voice with Christian folk music.

Why can’t old people enjoy what kids, middle-agers and all those other age groups enjoy? I can be ornery and irritable, but I’m trying not to be biased. Yes, I can be opinionated. But I’m still trying to be open-minded. I’m as comfortable with gays as with straights. And I’ve found a way to be nice to enthusiastic evangelical Christians, providing I’m not being pushed to buy into their doctrine. I feel I must tolerate uptight narrow-minded bigots, or I’m displaying the same behavior I dislike. Oh, and did I mention some of my good friends are Republicans?

No matter how the aging process plays out in my life, please don’t let me get intolerant. I’m so grateful to have gotten beyond the “good old days,” when homosexual orientation was frequently cloaked in layers of secrets and denial and upper-class whites insisted their "negro servants" were incapable of fending for themselves. The time when war was considered a noble and righteous endeavor. I’m glad to be here in these challenging new days—in the agonizing and wide-open world of now. It’s my world, and I love it as much as anyone does.

So when I’m seventy (and I’m almost there), don’t hand me a CD of Perry Como and expect me to swoon. I’ll take a U-2 album any day.

Thursday, October 1, 2009


After a lovely and relaxing soujourn on the "big island," I'm back in the world of laundry and grocery shopping, e-mails and Facebook, TV and the daily news. It'll take a few days to adjust to the sounds of home after hearing the surf pounding just across 78-6665 Alii Drive where we were staying (on the Kona side). On the Hilo side our lanai overlooked the ocean as it whooshed up onto the rocks below. Tree frogs chirped so loudly we had to shout to be heard over them. But now . . . the dryer is buzzing. Aloha!