Monday, December 20, 2010


Recently I discovered, in a pile of children’s artwork saved for forty-five-plus years, a yellowed note from my daughter. I have it tacked it up by my computer monitor where I can look at it every day. It reads as follows (complete with spelling and syntax errors):

Dear Mom I hope the rest of your day is beter then this part of the day.

From A.

From the appearance of the printing, it was probably written when she was in the second grade. I have no receollection of what made my day bad enough to warrant the note. Maybe I burned a batch or cookies or broken glass on the kitchen floor. Maybe I’d reached the end of my patience with the children—too many questions, too much shoving, too little turns-taking. Maybe the stomach flu was making its rounds, or bad news had arrived via mail or phone. Whatever it was, I clearly didn’t hide my feelings.

I’m certain this little note made me feel better. It’s still making me feel better. Whenever I sit down at my computer, I smile. Even then, forty years ago, my daughter “got me,” which leads me to contemplate an interesting phenomenon. Even though she and I have lived hundreds of miles from each other for the better part of thirty years, she still “gets me.” What a wonderful feeling. Motherhood is indeed a gift.

Saturday, December 18, 2010


When I was a girl, my dad used to pick up free empty cigar boxes at the tobacconist. “Need this for anything, Sal?” he’d ask. With my collections of Viewmaster reels, beach rocks, horse chestnuts, and marbles, how could I say no? Nowadays, cigar boxes are purchased from craft stores—considerably lessening their appeal for me. You see, I love reusing containers.

For more than sixty years I haven’t been able to see a small hinged-lid box in the trash without the urge to rescue it. When my seventh-grade Home-Ec teacher told the class to look around home for a bobbin container, I knew I was going to like sewing. Today my bobbins live in an empty Altoids box. Buttons, on the other hand, take up an entire fruitcake box where they are crammed together—gold, black, pearly, round, flat—like petrified raisins, cherries, and citron leftover from the previous tenant.

Cylindrical black film canisters are also high on my list of coveted containers—perfect for small nails, screws, picture hooks, thumbtacks, and calligraphy-pen tips. For years, the sound of a camera being loaded activated my ‘sixth sense’ so I could retrieve the film canister before it was thrown out. Film canisters are hard to label, but shaking them to identify their contents is a satisfying game. Even though I my current camera is digital, I’m tempted to stock up on film to assure a supply.

I come by my instinct honestly. Inside the lid of a tobacco tin I’ve stored things in since childhood, the manufacturer wrote these words: Save this tin, it has many handy uses. My affinity for reusing containers is also in my genes. Grandmother covered orange crates with calico to make night-stands in our summer house; Mother prevented rumples in table linens by rolling them around spent shelf-paper tubes; Dad stored nuts and bolts, screw-eyes and washers in Yuban coffee tins. Thinking up a use for an attractive container is half the fun. Occasionally, reluctant as I am to admit it, box-lust overcomes me, and I buy a product just for its packaging.

A few years ago I purchased a set of nesting, rainbow-colored boxes as playthings for my granddaughters. When Hubby bemoaned the excess of plastic and paper bags on shelves in the garage, I reluctantly gave them up. Now our garage looks like a wannabe M&Ms warehouse, lined with red, yellow and green containers.

My desk drawers are chock full of note-card boxes cast off over many years housing souvenir postcards, address labels, stickers, stamps, and envelopes (the kind left over when you wreck a note and have to start again). If a box is both pretty and durable, I’ve put it to work. Those holiday card boxes with clear lids? Great cookie-filled-gifts for the neighbors at Christmastime. Candy tins? Perfect for sorted snapshots. I even have a huge industrial-weight cardboard box gleaned from a huge company I worked at years ago to keep wrapping paper in—the same box since 1983.

Don’t get me wrong, though. I’m choosey. With the exception of film canisters, I am partial to rectangles, and have no affection for yogurt or cottage-cheese containers. I critically audition my boxes. Hubby’s learned to ask my opinion of incoming boxes before breaking them up for recycling.

Now I’ve arrived at the age of downsizing, I need to reduce my treasury of cardboard and tin. My boxes must be consolidated or discarded. Some will end up in a landfill; others will be melted or churned into pulp and reappear in a papery reincarnation. A few will end up in thrift shops, maybe even with contents intact, to surprise a buyer who shrieks with delight at the possibility they represent. Eye candy for packrats. Organizational tools for collectors of stuff. Mini-file drawers. Accumulators’ delight.

And the boxing match will begin again.

© 2010 by Sara J. Glerum
All rights reserved. Electronic version published 2010

Wednesday, December 8, 2010


Whenever I hear Johann Pachelbel’s Canon in D *(commonly referred to as Pachelbel’s Canon), I choke up. You might think that’s the equivalent of crying at “Waltz of the Sugar Plum Fairy” from Nutcracker Suite. No one except perhaps the mother of a dancer cries at a piece that’s heard so often and seems so overplayed.

With its first familiar notes, I’m transported in my mind from wherever I am (standing at kitchen sink, driving down the freeway, sweeping the garage) to a specific place and time—the Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, Presbyterian church on an evening early in December, 1979. I can smell cold night air and fir needles as tears begin to fill my eyes. A gift is unwrapping itself somewhere deep inside me.

As familiar as the music is now, it was rediscovered in the latter part of the twentieth century, which helps explain why I had never heard Canon in D before that night. The occasion was the holiday concert of the Chamber Orchestra at Wauwatosa East high school. I was one of many mothers who, along with fathers, grandparents and siblings, made up the bulk of the audience that night. My daughter, a junior, was the principle bass player in this honors group of musicians. Each year, the conductor secured several locations beyond the walls of the school auditorium to reinforce the group’s elite status to its members. Back then—especially in the Midwest—no one cared about separation of church and state; we thought nothing about using a church as a venue for a public-school concert. It was a serene and lovely setting for the holiday concert.

The December concert was also the debut for Chamber Orchestra’s new concert garb—white long-sleeved blouses, long, scarlet-colored, gored-skirts for the girls (handmade by mothers or surrogate seamstresses from fabric selected by the orchestra teacher) and black pants and white dress shirts for the boys. The Chamber Orchestra rightfully enjoyed an excellent reputation because of its quality of output. Only the students who were serious about their music made the cut. Many of them were scholars and student leaders, the crème-de-la-crème of the student body.

As the individual players entered the church sanctuary, which would serve as their stage, I felt pride tugging at my heartstrings. My daughter looked confident and beautiful in her red and white uniform. I, too, had been a string player in high school, so my mother-daughter empathic vibes were especially strong. The group settled into individual positions in a well rehearsed tidal-like flow. The church was decorated for Advent with a few bare fir trees unadorned except for lights, and the fragrance of firs was subtle, stirring up nostalgic memories of happy Christmas seasons. The tiny, clear Christmas lights twinkled on the freshly cut evergreen trees—clumped on the sides of the sanctuary—to provide mood lighting. The conductor raised his baton and the opening notes sounded.

A month earlier my daughter had enthusiastically described the beauty of Canon in D to me over the kitchen table. It was hard for me to imagine what the composition would sound like, because I only heard the bass part as she practiced her orchestra music. Pachelbel scored a repetitive bass line of just five notes, which periodically—from our dining room where family music practice took place— rose above the tea kettle’s whistle, reruns of I Love Lucy, and her brothers voices. “It’s so beautiful it makes me want to cry,” she confided. “I can’t wait for you to hear it.”

That December night, as I sat in the pew anticipating the performance, I was particularly keen on discovering what it was that had moved her so deeply. Now I was hearing it for myself. The music overflowed into the church, sliding upwards across the stained glass, filling the peaked roof. Its simple, round-like melody seemed to permeate every air molecule. I felt it pulling into my lungs as I inhaled. My body thrummed in harmonic response. Maybe being in church (albeit not the one where I worshipped) helped make it a spiritual experience for me, but it was as if the music had sought and found my soul.

A sense of joy overcame me, changing my mental orientation from the mundane rush of cleaning up the dinner dishes and finding a parking place to overwhelming calmness. My psyche settled into a place of infinite hope and unlimited possibility. The music filled me with a sense of optimism in what lay ahead in life, a sense that nothing could ever harm us.

I relive that experience every time I hear Pachelbel’s Canon in D. I think about how the music seemed to have uncorked something inside me, making me feel as if hope had liquefied and was flowing through my veins. A feeling of well-being diluted my daily worries, broke loose a dam of anxiety and washed it away. If I could be touched by this simple music as it lit the dark edges of a chilly night, I knew I had nothing to fear. Tears of gratitude had streamed down my cheeks.

That was thirty years ago. Now when I let myself really listen to Pachelbel’s Canon, I cry for all the years between then and now, for the goodness, the wonder, and the angst that comprise living. For the time it takes to listen to the entire work—only several minutes—I cry for all the disappointments, mistakes and grief, as well as all the love, triumph and delight of an ordinary life.

* The music heard on this link is arranged for and performed on a synthesizer. The artist is JC Hall.
© 2010 by Sara J. Glerum
All rights reserved. Electronic version published 2010

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Why go to the Y?

After my YMCA aerobics class this morning, I was talking to a co-exerciser and mentioned I had two granddaughters by my youngest son. "How old are they?" she asked.

"Nine and seven," I replied.

"Great ages," she said. I nodded in agreement.

Another exerciser approached us. "Excuse me. I couldn't help but overhear you. Did you say nine and seven?"

"Yes," I said--expecting her to tell me her grandchildren were the same age.

She flashed a big smile and hugged me. "How wonderful," she exclaimed. "My mother is ninety-three and she also exercises." She walked away.

For a moment, I was puzzled. Then I realized she thought I was ninety-seven! I ran after her to ask if I was right.

"Why yes," she said. "Aren't you? When I explained what I had really said, she was less embarrassed than I wanted her to be. "I thought you looked awfully good for ninety-seven."

I guess that class is more critical than I realized.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Fare thee well, November

I'm embarrassed to have a blog with so few postings in a month. November simply evaporated.
As always, November affords a formal opportunity to reflect on blessings. I did my share of thinking about how fortunate I am in hundreds of ways. Gratitude is an important and essential response to what feels like undeserved good luck.
Even this blog affords me many reasons to be thankful. A public opportunity to pout, celebrate, opinionate, grieve, and deliberate. And . . . be heard. I have fans, I have fun, I have freedom of speech. Thank you.

December will also fly by. But when we come out the other end, the days will be beginning to lengthen. And the rhythm of that knowledge, the predictability of it, make me think of this fragment from "Four Quartets" (Little Gidding, Quartet 4) by T.S. Eliot:

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


The invitation for the afternoon party suggested "smart casual" clothing. I had to research what that term meant. Back in the ‘50s, only evening-party invitations were cause for dress code prompting, and then only if they included one of the following admonitions: black tie, white tie, semi-formal. Otherwise, the decision was all ours. Sometimes I’d call my friends to confer after getting an invitation, but garb usually boiled down to the basics: flouncy dress, high-heeled shoes (or, at least, dressy flat shoes—“flats,” we called them), and nylon stockings. Guys probably had a tougher time deciding because of their reluctance to get advice, or maybe it was easier, too. One thing was for sure. Unlike today’s world, no one made snooty distinctions (woven vs. knitted) between shirt fabrics.

In those days, however, knowledge of certain unbendable rules was a prerequisite for enjoying oneself at, say, a wedding. A huge prohibition about color assured that nobody but the bride wore white, and no guest at any wedding would think of wearing black, because of its subtle allusion to death and mourning. We didn’t want to jinx the marriage, did we? Even the groom wasn’t supposed to wear a black tuxedo unless the wedding was five o’clock or later. Recently I received an invitation to a wedding instructing the guests to wear black and white. We’ve come a long way on the wedding front, but ironically, the fine distinctions for less-formal gatherings seem to be increasing.

Today, invitations for parties—even meeting announcements—frequently command us to appear in business casual, stylish casual, contemporary business casual (instead of what, medieval business casual?), sporty casual, rugged casual, or my favorite—a true oxymoron—dressy casual. Each term is defined differently but frequently boils down to (depending on whose definition you use) women wearing separates with a “put together look” and men wearing shirts that could accommodate a necktie (i.e. shirts with collars) if they were going to wear a necktie, which they aren’t supposed to. It seems like a series of double negatives needing to be sorted out—just to be sure.

And the opposite of smart casual is what, stupid casual? I’m determined not to let the younger generation ruin a good party for me, so I will make certain I’m wearing exactly the right thing for my latest summons. But instead of grabbing my frayed copy of Emily Post’s Etiquette book, I will roam the Internet and become lost in space —metaphorically, anyway—while I search “ASK-type” Web sites. Those nylons and flouncy dresses seemed so easy, in hindsight. Of course, nowadays I’d be wearing that dress with laced-up oxfords, which could detract from the cuteness factor.

Maybe I’ll make my own definition of smart casual: An elegant outfit worn with comfortable shoes. I hope it won’t make the hostess cringe, but I like this concept. I’ll call it sensible casual and possibly start a whole new fad.

© 2010 by Sara J. Glerum
All rights reserved. Electronic version published 2010

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Pig Nothing

Following my carefully written out granny instructions, I was to deliver my four-year-old granddaughter, Mae, to her weekly pre-school music class by 12:30 p.m. That was after I picked her up from school and fed her lunch. I had been custodial grandparent already for two days, with a commitment of three more days. So far, everything had gone smoothly.

“Which coat do you want to wear, Mae?” I asked, forgetting how an open-ended choice, such as “which coat,” could make us late for class. But I cajoled, and she cooperated. As I pocketed the house key and headed down the steps for our short walk to the class, I noticed Mae had her favorite stuffy, Sally Rose Pig (“Pig,” for short) under her arm. “Wait a minute. I see you have Pig. Is it OK to bring her to music class?”

“Oh, yes,” replied Mae. “Everyone brings their stuffies to class.”

“OK,” I said, not quite sure this information was entirely accurate. I made a mental note to ask again at the classroom door if, perhaps—instead of joining class—Pig might prefer to stay with Mae-ma for the singing session.

I had allowed plenty of time for our block-and-a-half walk. We skipped for the first half-block, then walked on top of a raised curb. We admired a fallen feather and stepped over cracks, chattering away about our surroundings. Two magpies were swooping from tree to tree—providing an airborne distraction. We stopped to watch a crew of stonemasons creating a wall in front of a residence around the corner from the music class. The workers smiled and waved at us, as we admired the way they were cutting the stone to fit together like a giant puzzle. Ten minutes later, we arrived at the church where the class was held. We descended the stairs to the basement—the Sunday school annex.

Lots of mothers, grandmothers, and pre-school singers were already in the waiting area provided. Mae handed Pig to me so she could join several other children playing on the floor. When the teacher came to retrieve her class participants, Mae took Pig from me.

“Are you sure it’s OK?” I asked her one last time? As a grandmother, I didn’t want to allow a contraband activity.

“Yes!” And tucking Pig under her arm, Mae disappeared with the other children down the hall, as eagerly as the children of Hamelin must have followed the Pied Piper.

At the end of the music lesson, adults were invited into the classroom to hear what the children learned. I was enthralled by this—my first—visit to the classroom. The children took turns singing verses about whole- and half-notes, pointing to musical notation on the flipchart with the teacher’s baton. Applause and goodbyes. We walked home via the treat store (pre-approved by her parents) where Mae picked out a tiny bag of candy and I selected one, too (to share, of course).

At home we played with blocks, told each other stories, read a couple of picture books from the library, poked through her toy box, then settled into a game of pretend ”Campout” with nearly all the stuffies—Little Pink, Tigger, Droopy, Dr. Quack, Gee-off. Mae got into the spirit of camping by creating a sleeping bag out of her bedding and changing into her own pajamas.

“Where’s Pig?” she suddenly asked, with a look of alarm crossing her face. We searched through the remaining pile of stuffies at the foot of her bed and returned, empty handed, to the living room. Without even asking the question, I knew the answer.

“Did we bring her home from music class?” I asked, mentally replaying our afternoon. I was sure Pig had not been at the candy store with us, and not on the walk home, either.

Mae shook her head no. Her eyes were radiating alarm—like those comic book pictures with the parentheses moving out from the character’s eyes. “She’s gone!”

“I’ll bet she’s still in the music classroom,” I said—trying to sound calm, assured, and unworried—none of which I was. “Let’s go back to the church and see if we can find her. If she’s not there, Pig will have a big adventure to tell you about when you see her next week.”

Mae quickly put her clothes back on—even her shoes (on the right feet, too). We were ready to leave the house within five minutes of our discovery, an amazing accomplishment of itself. As we hurried away from the house, I talked about how Pig needed an adventure. I was determined to stave off Mae’s worry. (After all, I was doing enough of that for both of us.) Everything during the last two days of my grandma duties had gone well, but now I was feeling the challenge. How could I prevent her from feeling devastated at the loss of her favorite stuffed animal?

“Do you think Pig’s sitting on the piano singing? Maybe she went home with the music teacher—that would be interesting . . . and she will have lots to tell you about it next week.” Walking with much more determination than the first time, we barely slowed down in front of the stone wall project, despite grins of recognition from the stonemasons. I jabbered the entire way, proposing scenarios in which Pig was having the time of her life.

“The teacher makes us put our stuffies over by the wall. That’s where Pig is.” As soon as Mae said that, I remembered how all of us parents and grandparents had gathered behind our own little singers—many of us sitting on the floor—and realized it was no wonder we forgot Pig. She had, in effect, been offstage . . . in the wings.

I dreaded approaching the back door of the church, imagining it locked for the day—this Sunday school annex, anyway. “If we can’t get in here, we will go around to the front door,” I said, with faked confidence. There was just one car in the parking lot—a far cry from the several dozen cars there for the music class. I gingerly tried the door; it opened. The church hallway was still lighted and the door to the music classroom was standing ajar. Mae made a beeline for the room.

As I walked behind her, something pink caught my eye. Pig was sitting on a shelf by a row of coat hooks. “Mae! Here she is!” I was squealing like a pig myself—not like a dignified, old grandma. Such a reunion it was, too—with a little girl, her favorite stuffy and her custodial grandmother all feeling immense relief. Walking home, we sang happy songs to Pig who didn’t leave Mae’s arms the entire way.

“We thought you were having a big adventure,” Mae said to Pig, “but instead the teacher put you where we could find you.” She sounded almost disappointed, but Mae-ma couldn’t have been more relieved to have the pig adventure turn into a “pig nothing.”

© 2010 by Sara J. Glerum
All rights reserved. Electronic version published 2010

Monday, October 25, 2010


I don't know why I like Halloween so much, but I do. I understand, from talking with one of my new neighbors, we're not likely to get any trick-or-treaters on this street. How disappointing. I love All Hallow's Eve. Here on Riverbend Drive, a little witch is tied to the door knocker; two small ceramic jack-o-lanterns flicker on the dining room table (thanks to battery-powered tea-lights);and an electric jack-o-lantern leers from the kitchen window into the night's darkness. Three fresh pumpkins await the knife--probably Saturday morning.

We'll buy a bag of chocolate bars--"just in case." I find our obsession with hygienic treats a huge contrast to the attitudes and ignorance of my childhood. My mother always had imaginative ideas for original Halloween treats (I wonder how she ever thought of them without the help of Parents Magazine or Martha Stewart) for the dozens of trick-or-treaters who lived in our neighborhood. Because I was somewhat sickly as a grade schooler, Mother frequently pressed me into service as time ran short Halloween afternoon. Despite whatever cold, cough, or fever kept me home from school, I'd help wrap homemade treats--popcorn balls, molasses cookies, orange homemade sugar cookies--in decorative waxed-paper bags and tied them with ribbon.

One of the cutest treats we ever gave out were black gumdrop spiders --with legs made from black fuzzy pipe cleaners snipped to leg length--and small licorice gumdrop heads toothpicked onto the bodies. I handled each and every spider multiple times. When they were done, we wrapped them in Halloween-themed paper napkins and tied them with a black bow. I wonder how many costumed goblins who came to our door caught whatever virus I had . . .

Although I cringe with guilt thinking about those "germdrops," I was saddened when I learned last year that my granddaughters' school allows no homemade treats ever. Nowadays, even birthdays are celebrated with "store-bought" foods, not the lovingly made treats (typically cupcakes) enjoyed by my children in grade school. Obviously, there won't be any black gumdrop spiders brought to the classroom by an eager parent.

This year, Hubby and I hope to need the contents of a bag of mini-chocolate bars (we'll probably talk ourselves into two bags, just in case), but if no one rings our doorbell on trick-or-treat night, we'll undoubtedly gobble it all ourselves. Oh, darn . . . we'll try not to begrudge the little goblins their opting-out of our neighborhood.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Blogged down

I was talking to a fellow writer about feeling guilty over getting behind and/or ignoring my blog. I told her I felt bogged down. Lightbulb! "Blogged down," I corrected myself. She laughed and nodded her head in agreement. Because she also writes a blog, Healthcare Annotator (a technical and well-researched one, I might add), my friend could readily understand feeling "blogged down." It in no way implies that keeping up a blog is not enjoyable. It's immensely satisfying on many levels. But my lack of writerly discipline is transparent (the overworked adjective that every politician insists is necessary in government). Everyone knows when I'm slacking off, so I wish my inability to write regularly were not quite so transparent.

Now that we are settling into our new home, I'm hopeful that I will get back to my hour-a-day writing habit. I used to churn out three or four personal essays a month with that schedule. Whether it's writer's block, laziness, or just being blogged down . . . I've been unable to get much done lately. There are several stories buzzing around in my brain, but not quite ready for paper. Or the ether.

In the meantime, I will continue to update BeatsTalkingToMyself on a sporadic timeline.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The science of halfalogues

I just learned a new word: halfalogue. Even without a definition, I knew what it meant. What a perfect word to describe hearing only half a phone conversation (or any conversation between two people where one voice is undecipherable).

It seems that scientists have discovered an important truth about halfalogues. They are more distracting than hearing a full dialogue. This conclusion was drawn after many people were tested doing computer tasks while conversations ran (at varying volumes) in the background. Subjects kept their concentration better when full conversations were playing than when half-conversations were playing.

I laughed aloud as I read the findings of this study in today's Wall Street Journal. All my life I've known how distracting just a one-sided conversation is, from my kindergarten years while my mother chatted on the telephone with her friends (I would question her as soon as she hung up--"What's wrong with Susie?"), and even the phone calls to the grocer to place the semi-weekly order ("Did he have liver? Do I have to eat it?"). How often I sat in the kitchen straining to hear (or listened from the top of the stairs after being sent to bed) the conversations of my parents and their friends socializing. I could never hear the whole thing, just pieces and snippets--enough to make my imagination go into overtime.

I have learned not to interrupt him when Hubby is on the phone. Even if he says something I think is erroneous, I wait until he's finished, because--as he is quick to point out--I don't know the context because I can't hear the other side of the conversation. It's easy to get the other side from him, however, not like hearing total strangers' halfalogues. I love listening to those!

It's the cell phone calls that really suck me in--whether they are happening outside my car in a ferryboat line, in the checkout line at the grocery store, at the next table at a restaurant or a theatre lobby. I find myself imagining what's being said on the other end, and even--several times I have written a short story based on what I had creatively filled in as I listened. Here are two halfalogues that inspired me within the last few years:

"No, Grandfather, I haven't had a drop since that night." . . . "No, I'm not sh-ttin' you . . . even though Johnny might have told you different" . . . "I miss you, Grandfather. When are you getting out?" . . .

"Don't write these down--2, 17, 9." . . . "Yup, like a padlock: right, left, right." . . . "The stuff is right there in a bag." . . . "When you're done, call the other number. Hang-up, then call again and I'll answer."

You get the picture. Part of it is the writer in me, part of it is the nosy person in me, part of it is my innate curiosity. But now I know I'm not an anomaly, but simply reacting normally to the distraction of the halfalogue.

Sunday, October 3, 2010


After we decided to move four miles from the house we’d lived in for twenty-three years, Hubby and I discovered we had to get a new phone number because our new address was in a different area code. Reluctantly, we signed up with the new phone company and selected new phone number. We were given a choice of three numbers to pick from—and agreed one would be easy to remember. Within days of our move we began to get an excessive amount of “wrong number” calls from friendly, female-sounding robots. The calls were always for the same person.

Robot, identifying company: “May I speak to Donald E____?” (always his full name).

Hubby or I: “No”

Robot: “May I leave a message with you for Donald E_____?”

Hubby or I: “No.

Robot: “Thank you . . . I will try again another day.”

In less than a month, my husband and I had taken about twenty such calls.

Hubby and I began to draw conclusions about Donald. He was old (Medicare Part C provider called), in need of health services (hospital-clinic appointment desk called ), and unable to get around on his own (Medicab was a third caller). We speculated: perhaps he had gone to live with his daughter, or needed the services of a rehab center, or maybe he had taken up residence in oblivion where no phones are needed—ever.

I called our phone service provider, BomBast, to find out about the previous owner of “our” telephone number. When I couldn’t get through on the phone (you can’t reach the phone company by phone?), I reluctantly took its suggestion and went to the Internet BomBast Service Desk Chat Room. I have spent two decades avoiding chat rooms—they make me think of dark, unsavory and smoke-filled bars. But I gritted my teeth and connected myself for the next available online service representative. It was 10:15 a.m.

As I waited, I was instructed to type my own name, the account holder’s name (in our case, Hubby), the last four digits of his social security number, our current street address and telephone number, and my e-mail address. Next, I was advised to read through the Frequently Asked Questions in case my problem was already covered by someone else (fat chance). Finally, when prompted for my concern, I typed six sentences, thankful that there was enough space to explain what I wanted. When I pushed enter, I was informed I had exceeded the allowable limit of words. I calmed myself and typed two questions:

1.) How long was our phone number out of service before it was reassigned to us?

2.) Do you know, by any chance, if the previous assignee of this number is dead?

I waited. Then these words appeared, “Service Representative is typing,” followed by this actual (but slightly abridged) typewritten dialogue:

IRENE: Hello, Sara. Thank you for contacting BomBast Live Chat Support. My name is Irene. Please give me one moment to review your information. . . (PAUSE) . . . My pleasure to have you on this chat, Sara! I always remain committed and focused to provide you quality customer service at my fullest effort. Before anything else, I want to extend apologies for any trouble, inconvenience, and frustration that has brought along your way. I still honestly hope you’re fine . . .(PAUSE) . . .How are you doing today?

SARA: I’m fine.

IRENE: That’s good to know. I believe you want to know if your phone number is active. Am I right?

SARA: NO! I KNOW it’s active! We’ve used it every day for a month. But I am getting many automated calls for someone else. That’s why I’m calling.

IRENE: Oh, I see. I will be more than happy to check on that. No worries. As your BomBast service representative, I want you to know that issue resolution and your satisfaction are my top priorities for today. (Yeah, right!) Together, we can work this out Sara. (No, you work it out.)

IRENE: Before we begin, I would like to verify your account. May I know your account number, name on the account, and the last four digits of the account holder’s Social Security Number please? (Fuming, I retype requested information.) Thank you for that information. I have your account now. The account holder is Hubby, right?

SARA: Yes.

IRENE: As I can see it here, the phone number listed on your account is . . .
( She types our old, out-of-service telephone number.)

SARA: NO! That is our OLD number! My phone number is . . . (I type in my current number for the third time.) Our phone service is through BomBast! Don’t you have our NEW number in your files? You guys—BomBast—assigned it to us and hooked it up!

IRENE: I think . . . (PAUSE) . . . I need to update it here on my end . . .(PAUSE) . . . I can see it here. Yes, the phone number you want is already on your account. Is there anything else that I can assist you with for now?

SARA: I am inquiring about the number we are using NOW! (Steam is emitting from my nostrils.) How long was it out of service BEFORE it was assigned to us? It’s new for us. Why it was vacated? Did that person die?

IRENE: Yes. The prior person died. I think it’s about . . . months.

SARA: “About months?” How many? Four? Six?

IRENE: Yes. It does not appear the exact month here. Is there anything else I can assist with? (I am speechless for a moment, then finally answer) . . .

SARA: No thanks.

IRENE: Thank you for choosing BomBast as your service provider and making it a part of your life. (Bombast shouldn’t be a part of my life, the telephone should be.) BomBast appreciates your business and values you as a customer. Our goal is to provide you with excellent quality service. Have a great night and take care! (Night? at 11 a.m.?)

I’m waiting for Donald’s next phone call. I’m sorry he’s dead, but I’m going to take uncharacteristic pleasure in breaking the news of his demise to a series of companies represented by robots.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

It's that time of year again

After spending the better part of an hour trying to upload a youTube video onto my blog, I finally just posted the url so my readers could cut and paste it into their own browsers. After I posted it (last week sometime), a friend wrote to explain how to imbed the youTube video in my blog. It should be easy, but technology has STILL gotten the best of me. Now I can't even cut and paste the url into my blog--a quirk in my technique, apparently, is corrupting the process and I get gibberish instead of a sensible Web addres. Therefore, instead of wasting any more time, I am going to suggest politely that you go to and search for a video called Pumpkins on Pikes.

Halfway through the video you'll see and hear my son talking about the event--now held in California where he lives now. He first imagined it when he lived in Vermont and this year is its 18th occurance. Pumpkins-on-Pikes is magical. I wrote about it on my blog in October 2009, so I won't bore you with my opinion about its ethereal beauty. Just click on the video and enjoy.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010


I wrote this essay last year, when my granddaughter, Mae, was only three. I hope you'll enjoy it. . .

Our neighbors are the gourmet gardeners of the outdoor visual feast —the Julia Childses, the Anthony Bourdains and Paul Prudhommes—serving up course after course of textures and colors in their gardens. Living in this neighborhood of master gardeners and horticultural experts, I frequently feel embarrassed and self-conscious at what passes for a garden at our house. And envious of theirs.

We are the people with the Betty-Crocker-casserole garden. I shouldn’t even call it a garden, really, as it’s usually made up of plants that have arrived uninvited and stay with the audacity of a party crasher who won’t go home. But each year we put ‘color-spots’ in a small square of earth at the top of our driveway so we have something to nurture and enjoy.

“Will you look at that pansy,” I’ll say to Hubby. “It’s really taking off.” I say this as though it’s the rarest tuberous begonia coming into to full bloom.

And he’ll reply, “And did you notice how the marigolds are holding their own against the slugs?” We take our own prideful pleasure in managing our ordinary items, such as petunias, impatiens, daisies and—every few years—a smattering of vegetables.

This year the lettuce did well, yielding salads every night for almost two months—
and the chard was delicious. The color-spots consisted of pink zinnias, yellow and rust-colored marigolds, tiny violets, impatiens in all colors (pink, purple, orange and white), and some gangly pink petunias that arrived as volunteers. Unsolicited red clover weaseled its way throughout every bare patch of earth. Our other veggies were carrots, beets, and one potted tomato plant. The vegetable garden was superb by our standards, although the beets and carrots were slightly disappointing—their size being perfect for Barbie and her friends (most of whom don’t like veggies much, I imagine.)

But thanks to my granddaughter, I learned all over again the lesson of relational perception—and gratitude. Three-year-old Mae and her parents were visiting from Canada. The pink zinnias enchanted her, and the cheery yellow marigolds appealed to her for their sunshine color. When I pointed out their pungent odor, she was all the more interested in picking them so we could enjoy their ‘little-bit-stinky’ smell. On the first day of her visit, we filled a tiny vase with yellow and pink flowers and kept it (and refreshed it) in a prominent place where she could see it.

On the last day of the visit, she asked if she could pick flowers to take home. I was all for it, but just as we started outside to get them, her mother remembered the border-crossing regulations. “No, Mae,” Mummy said, “remember how the border guard took the wildflowers you’d picked to bring for Grandpa’s birthday? We need to leave Mae-ma’s flowers here.”

Tears welled up in Mae’s eyes. “But I want to take flowers home,” she said in the saddest voice I’ve ever heard her use, and continued, “I want these flowers. Why can’t we have ‘bootiful’ flowers at our house like Mae-ma and Grandpa’s?”
My empathic tear-flow mechanism kicked in, and sympathetic tears sprang into my eyes. Oh, dear child, thank you, I thought. Yes, our small assortment of simple flowers is beautiful. I’ve let myself be overcome by envy, cowed by the splendor and scale of the neighborhood gardens. I hugged her tightly, then promised our flower garden would be here for her to enjoy when she visits next summer.

Mae immediately cheered up. And so did I—immensely.

© 2010 by Sara J. Glerum
All rights reserved. Electronic version published 2010

Sunday, September 26, 2010

What rhymes with old . . .

and has the capacity to make me giddy?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

T for 2

Toby, the Chihuahua, and Telford, the Schnoodle, California Canines

Here are my Gr-r-r-r pups, as promised.

Friday, September 10, 2010

No, you may not call me "Grandma"

What do a cross-eyed Chihuahua and a high-strung Schnoodle have in common? The same Gr-r-r-ma.

Seven years ago, a lucky puppy was born; he was adopted by a loving family who traveled more than 1,500 miles to collect him and take him home. My daughter's Schnoodle, Telford (called Telly for short) is adorable in a classic terrier kind of way--whiskery and bright-eyed, with the chronic look of old-man wisdom.

A year ago, along came the cross-eyed Toby, severely abused and deemed nearly unadoptable by the rescue group that was frantically trying to place him before his own personal doomsday arrived. Enter Daughter, a loving woman who was open to a new family dynamic, and a sucker for this needy, tiny whirlwind with--believe it or not--blue eyes that cross at the very moment he tries to look serious.

Telly and Toby dearly love each other, creating lots of laughter and dust, as they playfully romp through the house. I am a firsthand witness to their rough and tumble play today. Their style of play reminds me of my sons' play about forty years ago.

I refuse to be called "Grandma" by dogs--whether or not they belong to a child of mine, so soon after Telly's arrival, I coined "Gr-r-r-ma" as my dog-relation name. Hubby quickly became Gr-r-r-pa. Now my daughter can say, "Be good for Gr-r-r-ma and Gr-r-r-pa," when she leaves for work, and we all know what she means. Well, at least the Gr-r-r part. In a forthcoming post I will put pictures of the gr-r-r-pups on the blog, but today I am without camera.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Bye-bye, stuff . . .

“It feels like what I imagine attending my own funeral would be,” observed Hubby, as we collapsed in exhaustion after a frenzied seven-hour-long Moving Sale last Saturday. I had joked about calling it an Estate Sale, with the caveat “We’re Not Dead Yet, but the Move Nearly Killed Us.”

Seeing beloved possessions depart from our garage with complete strangers was difficult for both of us. And yet it was gratifying, too. When you’re crazy about something you no longer have room for, seeing an excited new owner is uplifting.

The drafting machine Hubby purchased years ago, when he was doing design work by hand, delighted UW teacher who is going to display it in the School of Architecture’s historic exhibit. The barely-used bed tray tickled a mother of young children, chattering of her hopes for breakfast in bed on Mother’s Day. The weed eater appealed to an entrepreneurial woman starting her own gardening business, and the folding lawn chairs headed off under the arms of a young couple dreaming of leisurely days at the beach together. We made $377 on items priced mostly at 10¢, 25¢, 50¢, $1 and $2. A few things went for more.

The saddest thing for both Hubby and me was heaping boxes with the unwanted things when the sale was over. A mixer—used first by my mother, then by me from 1950s on—didn’t sell. No doubt it will end up in a Vintage Shoppe somewhere . . . but it will seem strange to beat egg whites for Christmas meringues with my little mixer after using that machine for more than four decades. Hubby piled loose hardware (not to be needed at our new place) into boxes with a stoic face. It was hard not to think about the hopes and dreams attached to various items’ acquisition.

We’re supposed to feel liberated as we shed possessions. I’m working on it. A little part of me is still grieving. Saying goodbye is always tough. Hubby’s observation rings true.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Mr. Greenleaf is missing

Meet "Mr. Greenleaf" . . .
That's our name for a cement sculpture purchased from an artisan at the Farmers' Market in British Columbia (Kelowna) two years ago. This past week he disappeared from the backyard of our "old," unsold house.

Apparently, that's the downside of leaving a house vacant. We had hoped the new owner (when uncovered) would want to continue providing a home to Mr. Greenleaf, so we let him stay behind when we moved out. He embellished the wall; he was eye candy in the rockery! Of course, we would take him with us if the new owner proved to be a curmudgeon. Now that contingency is moot.

One shouldn't get attached to outdoor art. It's vulnerable to the elements--wind, sun, and rain, not to mention vandalism. But Hubby and I have always enjoyed adding artful touches and embellishments to the out-of-doors. Today several elfin faces and a puffy, fat cat guard the rockery. Two tall trees in our woods have faces emerging from their trunks, and a cement bas-relief of St. Francis guards the front door. But nothing quite like Mr. Greenleaf--he was special.

If you happen to see him, please help him home to Lake Forest Park.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

I, Yie, Yie

As hard as I try to accept trends and changes of the 21st century to demonstrate I’m not a stuck-in-the-good-old-days crone, I cling to a few old-fashioned values I’m unwilling to let go. One such value is trying to write with correct grammar. That doesn’t mean I’m not learning to allow generally accepted changes—such as plural pronouns with singular antecedents to avoid sexism (Each contestant will find an entry form on their chair.) Even though I cringe, I’ll overlook it. But I’m still fighting the use of lay as a substitute for lie, as in, “Just lay down for a few minutes until your dizziness subsides.” (I just remembered I've already discussed my pet peeve—see my August 26, 2009, post if you're interested.)

I cringe when period TV writers have scripted characters that should have impeccable English with the sloppy stuff that passes for today’s usage. For instance, in Showtime’s “The Tudors” series (I rented the first season), Henry VIII occasionally says something appalling. I realize “The Tudors” depicts Henry VIII in his early twenties, but I am positive he wouldn’t have said, “I order you to tell Sir Walter and I about your mission.” Imagine if he used today’s twenty-something grammar to announce, “Me and the queen are getting divorced."

This week Hubby and I received an invitation to what sounded like a lovely party, celebrating a particular achievement of an academic department at our local university. We were invited because of our long-standing connection and history with that department. As I unfolded the invitation issued by two full professors, my heart began beating a little faster. Maybe I would need to buy a new elegant blouse . . . maybe I would even dig out my dressy shoes with the tiny high heels. I’d refresh my best manners and employ my straightest posture to hobnob in the company of these scintillating intellectuals and academics. What fun it would be to take part in the liveliest of conversations.

Let’s call the two hosting (and unrelated) professors Lora and Jake. As I read through the invitation, I arrived at its closing sentence. Here it is, intact:

Please join Lora and I to celebrate this important milestone. Jake

Hubby was going to be out of town that date, anyway, so it’s unlikely my fantasy would have come to fruition. But I don’t feel so bad about missing it. When I RSVP, perhaps I’ll just write, “Hubby and I are sorry, but him and I can’t make it.”

Monday, August 16, 2010


As of today, I'm married to a seventy-one-year-old guy. When we said our vows in 1962, I imagined us being old together. I was visualizing our then-cute selves, slightly wrinkled and a little bent over. I'm glad I didn't know the reality of aging--the little aches and pains that slow us down, the crabby, snappish retorts we make when we hear the same complaints or opinions repeatedly, the fatigue that settles in hours earlier than in our youth (say, right after dinner?), the loss of elasticity in so many ways. And the wattles! We both are getting them.

But I'm delighted to celebrate this family milestone! I love my old man.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Tale of a tattletale

On Friday evening, a week and a half ago, while sitting on the deck overlooking the Sammamish River at our new home, Hubby and I saw an alarming act. A boat displaying a company logo, touting its professional aquatic weed clean-up capabilities, dumped a load of harvested milfoil into the river in front of our condominium. A crew member of the boat, standing on the bow of the pontooned vessel, was tossing the weed overboard by the pitch-forkful. Hubby yelled, "Cut it out!" (they couldn't possibly have heard Hubby), and I jumped up to get a pencil and paper so I could write down the name of the company.

That's illegal," I said to Hubby. "And on Monday I'm going to report them.

"Whom will you call?" he asked.

"I'll call the city of Bothell," I answered, hopeful someone on at the city (which manages the shoreline) would be interested. <

"Good luck," said Hubby. "It'll be hard to get anyone's attention about something so minor. It probably happens all the time.

On Monday when I called the City, the person I talked to was very interested. She transferred me to another worker in a different department who listened intently and thanked me profusely for contacting her. She asked if I wanted a follow-up call about the outcome. "Sure," I answered, then wondered if I'd ever hear anything.

Today I received a phone call from her, and a little later received an e-mail from the ecology department with the same information. The company that threw the milfoil overboard admitted to the incident, and has been issued a warning letter by the state. Next time, no such leniency.

The company will be fined $10,000 for each and every such incident thereafter. I was impressed and pleased that our observation of a forbidden act was taken seriously by my new city, and I love knowing the outcome.

Hooray for the power of the ordinary citizen and the prompt action of effective local government. It might sound pollyanna-ish to say when we all work together to protect the things that matter, we can make a difference, but let's hope the aquatic weed clean-up company heeds the warning. It shouldn't take too many of those $10,000 fines to change the way it does business

Monday, August 9, 2010


Riddle: What runs without feet?

Give up?

Answer: watercolor paint

For four days last week I enjoyed a complete escape from my daily life (and the angst of getting used to a new dwelling). I took an art class at a local museum!

The class was six hours Tuesday through Friday, with instruction in watercolor and ink sketching. Taught by Bruce Edwards, a local artist who does gorgeous work, it was quite the inspiration (as well as cause for a lot of sighing on my part). Although I was not one of the more watercolor-adept students in the class, I learned a lot. If I only had a quarter of the brush control Bruce has, maybe I could paint what I see in my mind's eye. Unfortunately, what I want to paint is beyond my ability. What I actually paint often goes straight to the recycle bin.

But trying something so intensely over such a concentrated period of time is tremendously relaxing, despite how exhausting it is. That sounds like an oxymoronic statement, doesn't it? When I experience something like that art class, I can understand how people who furiously paddle through white water for days, or mountain climb "for fun,"claim they are refreshed. Getting away, even if it's all in the head, is a great vacation.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Yummy Recipe

Recently I took my Watermelon-Feta Salad to two potlucks. Judging from the raves (and requests for the recipe), I decided to share it with you, my blog readers. I hope you enjoy it. It sounds weird, but the flavors balance beautifully.

The photos came from the National Watermelon Promotion Board--did you even know there was such a thing? Our Farmers' Market had local watermelons last week, and delicious small cantelopes, about the size of a jumbo grapefruit--perfect for a two-person household.


• 3/4 cup halved, thinly sliced red onion
• 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
• 1 1/2 quarts seeded, cubed watermelon
• 3/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
• 1/2 cup pitted black olive halves (Greek style preferably)
• 1 cup fresh mint leaves, chopped
• 2 tablespoons olive oil
The day before serving, seed and cube the watermelon, cover, and refrigerate.

Place the onion slices in a small bowl with the lime juice. The acid of the lime will mellow the flavor of the raw onion. Let stand for 10 minutes or longer.
Shortly before serving, do the following
In a large bowl, combine the chilled watermelon cubes, feta cheese, black olives, onions with the lime juice, and mint. Drizzle olive oil over it all, and toss to blend. Dig in and be prepared for a pleasant surprise!

Note: This salad, once put together, does not keep well. Plan on consuming it shortly after serving. (For instance, do not offer it at an hours-long buffet, as it seriously droops after about twenty minutes.)

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Home is where the art is . . .

Picture hanging, coming up tomorrow! Maybe once we get some of our pictures on the wall, the place will begin to feel like home. There’s lots to like about our new house, but we still don’t feel at home here. At one point last week, Hubby looked up from his chair to ask, “This has been a nice change, but can we go home now?” I had to laugh—that’s exactly how I was feeling. It’s as if the place we’re staying is some fancy B & B (without meals, however), and—even though pretty—it’s time to go home. But this is home!

I’ve made three piles of pictures for tomorrow: First pass, the inherited: these are the prized artworks, mostly originals, most by Northwest or Asian artists who achieved fame and fortune. In a couple of instances, the pictures in this tier are woodblocks or silk screens. We both like the pictures a lot in this tier and are happy to look at them every day. There are seven or eight pictures in this category.

Second pass, the sentimentals: these are the works Hubby and I have purchased over the years (some photographs) and prints that at least one of us is passionate about, and prints that are very nice (and signed) but need new frames or something else to perk them up.

Third pass, the miscellaneous: these are little souvenir pictures we’ve brought home from trips, art made just for us, prints we’ve been given as gifts. We’ll squeeze them in here and there, often with just a tiny thumbtack in one of our offices.

After that come the optionals, which we won't get to tomorrow and which make up the fourth tier: these are pictures that could stay in the closet for a while, or maybe forever: these are the items that we feel obligated to keep, such as original art that was to the taste of the buyer (my dad, in most instances) but not to ours; original art by inferior artists (including me) we’ve acquired in a variety of ways; and prints we can’t bring ourselves to part with, despite our reluctance to hang them.

And there's a fifth tier, too . . . the pictures in the garage of the old house, awaiting the HUGE yard sale that will take place before the end of August. So, yes, we are downsizing.

I think we’ll get through the first tier tomorrow. Hubby is a precise measurer and is extremely patient . . . at least for the first few. But there’s only so much, “A little bit to the left—no, down a little bit—oh, I meant up a little bit—now to the right, uh . . . guess that will do for this one” a person can tolerate while standing on a step-ladder, holding a hammer, and balancing a picture. But as long as there’s no deep bellied sigh of regret when the picture is hooked into its place, we’re usually good for the next one.

Ironically, we left a few pictures on the walls of our “For Sale” house to help it look homey for prospective buyers. While of little intrinsic value, several are favorites of ours. The favorites were precisely the ones removed by the realtor who is trying for the "right look” to make our home more saleable (bless his heart). So even our artwork bespeaks Thomas Wolfe’s observation that You Can’t Go Home Again.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Angel at Ephesus

What should I be hearing while I gaze on thee? I'm listening . . .

I thought this image was among the lovliest I saw in Ephesus, but I'm partial to the idea of angels--as messengers of God! The word comes from the Greek, ἄγγελος (angelos), and means "messenger."

Wednesday, July 21, 2010


Stumbling and sliding,
huffing, puffing across
marble slabs that look like a
child’s game of blocks gone bad,
steadying myself with
my walking stick, I am breathless.

Watch your step! Careful, now!
The guide wears his responsibility
like a heavy woolen coat.
Marble, napping for centuries,
rises up in restless dreams to catch my toe
and my attention. But I must look up to see!

Cleopatra walked here. She didn’t trip.
Her chariots clacking along these grooves
no doubt were pulled by sure-footed stallions.
Nike was a deity then, not the brand
of ugly shoes I chose to help me
navigate this Roman site in Turkey.

Gazing and praising, many
hundreds of tourists stare at
chunks of toppled columns and masterful mosaics—
ancient marvels I’ve not imagined until now.
We gawk collectively, impressed and thrilled,
with knees crackling and perspiration dripping from

the unseasonable heat of May, 2010,
as if Helios in a jealous rage
is vying with Hades for the hottest flame.
Oh Ephesus! The gravity of centuries
tugs at me through slabs of stone,
and all the effort it took to get here—

months of planning and frugality,
the crushing discomfort of the plane
the jostle of the bus, the sweltering
closeness of the crowd—is now but
the tiniest blip of inconvenience.
My spirit, too, is breathless.

© 2010 by Sara J. Glerum
All rights reserved. Electronic version published 2010

Thursday, July 15, 2010


I’ve been doing my routine housework today with a tremendous sense of delight and relief. I can’t stop thinking about this wonderful man, Harry Myers, a rug merchant in the University District who specializes in antique oriental rugs. In one short phone conversation with him, four decades of burdensome worry—guilt, even—has melted away like ice in a hot drink.

It all started back in 1972, three years after I inherited a large (9’4” x 13’3”) oriental rug from my mother, who—in turn—had inherited it decades earlier from her mother-in-law. Our family was getting ready to relocate 2,000 miles away, so I called a company that specialized in oriental carpets to clean and wrap it for the move. The man on the telephone agreed to send one of his experts to our home to pick up the rug.

Surrounded by four children who had all appeared at my side when they heard the doorbell ringing, I greeted the carpet company’s driver. He stepped into the family room and onto the rug in all its plum, green, navy-blue beauty. “Oh, lady, this is some rug,” he said. “This is a beaut. Don’t ever let anyone try to buy it from you for cheap—it’s worth a lotta dough!”

He was earnest; he was a professional. My heart beat a little faster as I wondered how much I could get for it. Money was tight in those days, and the move was costing us a fortune. For just a moment I thought about asking, “What will you give me for it?” but nipped the impulse. Instead, I remember looking at the children and thinking (and maybe I even said it aloud), Did you hear that, children? We have to be more careful with our rug. “Thanks,” I responded to the driver. “I’ll remember that.” And I did I ever.

For the forty-two intervening years his words haunted me. The rug had been fairly new when my mother inherited it in 1947. My grandmother, who was known for quality purchases, bought it to use in the living room of the apartment where she moved as a widow. My mother had always used it in the dining room of my several childhood homes. But in 1969 when it came to live in my house, the rug was just the “family-room rug.” We used it. Children jumped on it, pushed Tonka trucks on it, rolled on it, spilled milk on it, and even—occasionally—threw up on it. I worried about the rug every time I knelt down to clean up something else imbedded in its nap—dog manure even got walked across it once. I thought about this valuable rug and how we were undoubtedly wrecking it. But it was the perfect size, the perfect color for the room.

When we moved across the country, the children were ages four through nine. The rug fit the family room there, too. We played cards and games on it, spilled Coke on it, stamped melting snow on it, and flopped on it to watch TV. Teenagers learned to jitterbug on it and practiced karate kicks on it. I cleaned crumbs from it, wiped spots from it (including chewing gum), and once found—to my horror—some carpet beetle larvae burrowing in it. I continued to worry about the it. I could see its nap getting thinner.

By the time we moved again, the children had grown up and dispersed. Once more, the rug was in the family room, the pathway to every other room in the house from our garage. We tracked mud over it, stepped out of our wet or muddy shoes on it, spilled popcorn and an assortment of juicy snacks on it for more than two decades. I did daily aerobic exercises on it, and recently we’ve jumped around in stockinged feet on it, as we’ve emulated bowling, tennis, golf, skiing, and jogging on an electronic Wii game.

At first, the small threadbare patches looked like spilled crumbs. Eventually the bare patches looked as if the rug belonged to a neglectful homemaker. Close inspection revealed threads of the backing, which was white, showing through to the top. The rug was balding! It was still a beautiful color and pattern, but it was no longer luxurious. It looked tired and old. The rug was wearing out. I beat myself up over it. Rugs that had been in sultans’ palaces for hundreds of years, even a thousand, were in better condition than mine. Why couldn’t we have treated it better, tiptoed on it, allowed only socks on it? I felt a complete flop as a keeper of heirlooms.

A few months ago my husband and I bought a condominium townhome with no space large enough to accommodate the rug. We would have to dispose of it. I checked with the grownup children, all living far away, to confirm my hunch. Yup, none of them wanted the rug. I would have to sell it. I started with the yellow pages and did research on the Internet. I located Harry Myers who bought and sold handmade antique oriental rugs. He came with exactly the right references and lavish praise. Honest. Knowledgeable. Fair deals.

When I phoned him to ask if he could help me, we had a great conversation. Yes, it was quite possible he could be interested in my grandmother’s rug—it sounded rare in those colors, maybe a possible gem of a handmade rug. He explained that it could probably be restored and told me many collectors happily paid thousands to restore the old rugs they purchased. Even in degraded condition (his phrase, one that greatly understated the problem, in my opinion), the rug could be collectable. I was beginning to feel better—maybe the rug wasn’t hopeless. He explained the first thing I should do was to photograph the rug, both front and back. From the backside he could tell the country of origin, even the exact village where the rug had been made! I got off the phone, took photos, and transmitted them electronically.

I heard from him a week later—during which time I imagined him doing research on my rug. He apologized for taking so long to get back to me—a holiday had intervened and he’d gotten behind on his administrative work. “Well, I have some surprising news for you,” he started. “Your rug is, uh, actually machine-made—and, of course, I only deal in handmade rugs. On a good day, at auction and if it were in mint condition, it would bring . . .,” he paused and took a breath, “uh, on a really good day, it would bring between one- and three-hundred dollars . . . actually, probably closer to one hundred.”

I couldn’t suppress my reaction. The corners of my mouth were beginning to turn up. I felt the guilt melting away. “What? It’s machine made? That’s great!” I don’t think Harry Myers was used to hearing such elation on the other end of the line when he delivered this kind of news. But I was utterly overjoyed. “It’s probably lasted way beyond its ‘lifespan,” I continued. “It lasted seventy years! I’m amazed!”

I was not the “bad” rug-keeper; my family had not destroyed a priceless treasure. We had just used an ordinary—albeit pretty—rug and worn it out. Harry Myers went on to say, “You might be able to sell it in a garage sale for maybe fifty dollars, or give it to one of your neighbors who’s admired it. Of course, you can always donate it to one of the places that accepts household furnishings.” I thanked him profusely for his call, got off the phone and went into the family room where I mindfully stepped onto the rug.

“What a great rug,” I said aloud, “and we don’t owe each other a thing.” My big fat sigh of relief carried me over to my desk where I checked off “rug” on my list of things to deal with before moving into the condo. I dragged out the vacuum and—for the first time in many years—didn’t feel bad vacuuming its bald spots.

© 2010 by Sara J. Glerum
All rights reserved. Electronic version published 2010

Sunday, July 11, 2010

I may have moved, but the Farmers' Market didn't . . .

I love my local farmers’ market. It’s such a delightfully different experience from buying a vacuum pack of veggies, or an egg carton with a “Use By” date stamped on the end. I can look the merchant in the eye and ask, “What’s your most flavorful apple today?” or “Which of these lettuces will keep the longest?” and expect an honest answer, not a supermarket shrug. I can ask for a cooking or storage tip, and share feedback from our table the next week. To me, the big benefit of buying at a farmer’s market is the seller’s and the buyer’s mutual satisfaction.

You might say the farmers and I have a relationship. We connect on a level unavailable when there’s a middleman. Unlike my supermarket experience, I don’t have to wait for service until chatter ceases about which clerk is going to take the next break, nor are employees making snide comments to each other about their mutual enemy, the store manager. I like talking to the people who have gathered, picked, caught, or created their offerings—vegetables, fruits, eggs, honeys, fish, cheeses—the people who have arrived two hours early to set up an appetizing display of their wares. They are interested in me as their customer, rather than viewing me as an annoyance with a telephone number to be keyed into the computer or a credit card to scan. I am choosing to buy their products, which means they have a significant stake in my satisfaction.

Browsing through recently harvested produce, I find myself grateful to have such bountiful choices. I love seeing the dirt on the spinach and the little holes in the beet greens. I enjoy knowing the man selling the Yukon Golds actually planted the seed potatoes. The teenager, eagerly packing up three boxes of strawberries for me today, was yesterday helping to pick them; the woman selling honey-based soap owns her own beehives. Every jar of jam from the “Jam Lady” is made from fruit purchased from sellers in nearby stalls, meaning she shops where I do! And every jam jar has a handwritten date on its label—just like my mom’s.

Yes, local food products are often more expensive than the mass-market deals available at big-box grocers. But as the saying goes, “You get what you pay for.” Not only is fresher food more nutritious, but it tastes better, too. In my experience, produce from the supermarket is often compromised in taste and texture: apples can be bitter or soft, potatoes may have a sour aftertaste, and blueberries can be flavorless. My expectations have been lowered by the produce coming in from the southern hemisphere or across the country; I have taken for granted how fruits and vegetables trucked from far away places frequently don’t ripen properly. What a lot of “bad” produce over the years I’ve thrown away because it was inedible!

When I buy lettuce at the farmers’ market, it lasts me one full week and is as fresh and tender on the last day as the first. No waste. None of that brown crusty-edged cut greenery in a bag. No mealy tomatoes, either, or bitter carrots and wilted broccoli. The real satisfaction for me—the real value—is the quality of food. I can cook up, say, beets for company and someone will inevitably ask, “Where did you get these delicious beets?” And the pleasure of biting into a plum and having the juice dribble down my chin (because it was tree-ripened and picked the day before) is palpable. Having every single berry in the box be flavorful and fragrant–not crunchy and white inside—is something I used to think was impossible.

My local market isn’t going to sell avocados, bananas, oranges, or coconuts (unless I were to live in Hawaii). When I stick with my Seattle-area farmers’ market, I won’t be buying peaches in May or asparagus in September. But the corn in late August and the peas in early June will be sweeter than anything I can buy elsewhere. Why would I buy Brussels sprouts grown somewhere else, even if they are 3 lbs/$1? I will buy them from my farmer friend at $1.50 a pound, and find them so delicious, I’ll wonder how anyone could dislike them.

Some big supermarkets are starting to pay attention to the trend of “buying local” and some offer local products when available. But some apparently have bought into the trend as a marketing gimmick only. In late October, I reached for pears at my supermarket under a sign that proclaiming LOCALLY GROWN, only to see “Product of California” printed on their scan stickers. When I approached the produce manager of the supermarket to ask why he considered California a local source, he was probably being truthful when he said, “Oh, we just now changed them [the pears] out,” and he removed the sign while I watched. But the next week, the same sign appeared over a bin of apples from New Zealand! And speaking of stickers, one minor delight at the market is the absence of those little peel-able stickers on individual fruits! In fact, many of the stands at my farmers’ market let their customers mix-and-match fruits for one price, or, at least, mix types of apples or peaches—weighing everything without help of scanners and barcodes. And what fun to bring home a huge bouquet of flowers for less than a bundle of three blooming stalks—products of Colombia—carried at chain food stores.

Every dollar we spend at the market stays here in our local economy. Every one of our expenditures contributes directly to the livelihood of someone who is practically a neighbor—farmers from Redmond or Mt. Vernon, Anacortes or Wenatchee. We live in the same state, pay taxes for the same services, and eat from the same Washington State table. We are community.

I wish everyone could shop from local merchants. I know that isn’t practical, and sometimes not affordable. But the more we patronize farmers’ markets, the more local food we’ll have to choose from. By purchasing from our neighbors, we are helping them stay in business. We strengthen our community and get to know our food providers. And that’s good for everyone.
© 2010 by Sara J. Glerum
All rights reserved. Electronic version published 2010

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

'twas the night before moving . . .

Considering I started looking five years ago for a place that would be less upkeep for us as we aged, you'd think I'd be delighted on the eve of our move to "the condo." But, of course, there is much that's bittersweet about leaving this house, and as deep fatigue prevails, the sadness about leaving it has momentarily overcome us.

Hubby, in particular, is grieving, for this is the house he changed with his own two hands--he added a wonderful basement area that's been his office for twenty years, and improved our kitchen immeasurably with new cabinets and countertops. He added molding around all the windows inside and out. He replaced the flat interior doors with paneled doors. You could say, he transformed it into a far more useful and attractive home. So he is experiencing pain similar to what I felt when we left our Milwaukee home twenty-four years ago.

That was the house which our children fledged. Leaving that house, knowing the children were young and malleable at arrival, and semi-formed and passing for adults on departure, utterly broke my heart. It was all I could do to close the door on it for the last time, it was so painful. Leaving it meant my hands-on mothering days were over. I'm sure I also sensed that leaving it meant that our family would remain forever scattered--each of the four residing many miles from Seattle.

We have have held lively events here--great parties, even a wedding! We've accomplished some intense milestones and have learned to enjoy ourselves as empty-nesters. We love the peace, the sounds of birds, the friendly neighbors waving hello. So with sadness tonight we have dragged ourselves to our favorite sitting spots in this, our soon-to-be-former house. One of us in front of the TV, one of us in front of the computer. It's after 9:00 p.m. and we just finished the work day after starting this morning at 8:30 a.m. We are both utterly exhausted. But we shared a lovely take-out meal on the deck of our new condo, overlooking the river, after rolling out the new dining room rug we ordered--in the nick of time before the furniture gets placed in the dining room tomorrow. The river was beautiful. We'll be fine.

Tomorrow the movers arrive about 8:30 a.m.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Change is good, n'est pas?

On the left is our "new" townhouse on the river. On the right is our "old" house in the woods. We are feeling very sentimental about leaving our home of twenty-three years. But we're on the adventure now, like it or not.
We are deep in the throes of the move, packing boxes, running back and forth from the house to the condo to the house (four miles each way). The planning part is over; now it's all about doing. The moving truck comes on July 7, and for those of you who are thinking the obvious question, "Have you found a buyer for your old house yet?" the answer is NO.

Weather forecast for July 7 is for Seattle's hottest of the year so far, still moderate by Pakistani standards at a delightful 84 degrees Fahrenheit. The especially good news about this forecase is the absence of rain.

If you see no changes on the blog for a few days, maybe even running into a few weeks, not to worry! I'll be back.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Facebook Friend

After publicly griping on Facebook about Seattle’s below normal June temperatures, I am now embarrassed by the whiney entry I posted. Here is what one of my Facebook friends, Sobia from Pakistan, wrote to me today:
“Its very hot burning summer in Pakistan but its cool to read about your June with jackets and warm stuff.....oh my God you are blessed people.”
I met Sobia two-and-a-half years ago when we sat next to each other on an airplane flying from JFK to Seattle. Hubby and I were returning home from Egypt. As is our custom on long flights, he and I were sitting across the aisle from each other. Because I was coming down with what I thought was a cold (it turned into something closer to influenza), I was trying very hard to keep my germs to myself and not breath on anyone, particularly the young woman sitting next to me who appeared to be traveling alone. But about an hour before we landed in Seattle, she showed me the document I’d noticed her repeatedly reading during our flight.

It was a letter from Horizon Air. In it, the correspondent wrote that even though it was against company policy to do so, a ticket would be held in her name for a flight to Pullman. I can’t remember why it was against policy—if it was unpaid, or reserved too far ahead, or paid in foreign currency—but that’s immaterial. The letter stated that if she did not appear at the ticket desk in Seattle by such-and-such date, the ticket would expire. The referenced date was the very day we were flying! Sobia was understandably concerned that she would arrive at the ticket desk to find there was no ticket. She told me she had a position with Washington State University for post-graduate research in immunology.

Compounding her anxiety was her fatigue and her discomfort with flying. This was her first airplane trip. She had been underway from Pakistan for thirty-six hours . . . flying from Islamabad to London to New York to Seattle before reaching her final destination of Pullman.

When I realized how worried she was, I offered to help her. As soon as our plane landed, Hubby and I escorted her to Horizon Air, assisted her with her luggage, and found an elevator when we realized she was uneasy with escalators and moving sidewalks. I looked after Hubby’s and my luggage while he stood in line with her at the counter to make certain there was a ticket waiting. Yes! She had a long layover before leaving for Pullman that afternoon, but the desk attendant at Horizon assured Hubby she was in good hands.

Within a few days, Hubby and I received such a loving and gracious thank you from her via email, I cried.

She and I have communicated only occasionally since, but always with delight on my part. We are “friends” on Facebook, as I mentioned, and if anyone wants to bash Facebook for whatever reason, don’t do it within my earshot. Sobia’s status as “my friend” minimizes for me any downside to Facebook. Social networking is the stuff that peace and understanding is made of, isn’t it? How rare and dear it is to have contact with others across town or continents, across ideologies and politics.

Hearing from Sobia today about the dreadful heat she is experiencing gave me pause to realize how self-centered my comment was. I could feel grace settling over me like a lacy mantilla. What a lovely gift from halfway around the world. Yes, Sobia, we are blessed. Thank you for the reminder.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

See Ron Johnsone, my dad

Charles Ronald Johnsone
b. April 7, 1907
d. June 4, 1963

Here is a picture of my dad at the lovely little house that he and my mother built on the shores of the Pacific Ocean. When I close my eyes and take a deep breath, I can conjure the fragrance of cedar, which permeated every square inch of the house. It was a lovely place to relax, and he loved going there.

At birth, he was named Charles Wesley Johnsone, Jr., but after a few years (fewer than three, I believe), his parents went through legal proceedings to change his name. It seems my grandfather, who was known by his friends as Charley, really didn't like sharing his name with his beloved child. Dad was called "Ron" or Ronald for the rest of his life. By the time I knew him, he rarely revealed his first name. Instead, he went by "C. Ronald Johnsone," and this way avoided being called Charles.

He was an attentive and loving father who adored his daughters. How lucky my sister and I were to have such a gentleman as our dad.

Monday, June 14, 2010

My Father

As Father's Day approaches, I frequently find myself thinking about my dad. He's been dead for forty-seven years. The picture of the two of us chatting was taken in 1957 at our summer home in Cohassett, Washington. I was still in high school.

To read an essay I wrote about my father, published in 2008, click on this link. In the photo in the newspaper essay, my older, and only, sister is the other child pictured.