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.