Tuesday, April 30, 2013


          A number of years ago I wrote an essay called “Unwitting Gifts” in which I reflected on how an offhand remark can help change the way we think.  Such a remark can be so monumental it feels life changing—a gift even when the giver is oblivious. We’ve all had those eureka-moments resulting from a spontaneous comment, but one I am referring to in this article was a made forty years ago and a second-hand comment, at that.

Recently I had coffee with Christine, a woman I’d been out of touch with for decades. She had been a student in a university Drama Department where my husband was a faculty member in the early 1970s. Christine and I  reconnected about a year ago at a memorial service for the professor who had been the Drama Department Chair then. His students, who spanned four decades, created a Facebook page in the aftermath of his death and continued to post updates about themselves long after the memorial service.  I saw a reference to Christine’s blog on the Facebook page and, after reading it, was so impressed I dropped her a line to suggest we meet for coffee.

About an hour-and-a-half into our coffee date, which we were both finding lively and interesting, Christine mentioned how unsure of herself she’d been in school and through her thirties—even into her forties. She confided that her insecurity was sometimes incapacitating and her vulnerability meant repeated faltering as she struggled to find her niche. Convinced she was less talented at acting than other drama students, she was uncertain where she fit in.

At this point in our conversation she shared a remark she had heard recently for the first time—a casual remark originally made by the deceased professor some forty years earlier. She and her friend  (I’ll call her Rose) were sharing memories about their university days when Rose nonchalantly cited the remark as she reminisced about the beloved professor. It seems he was chatting about his theatre history class with Rose, a high achiever in the department.

“When you write your term paper or exam paper, Rose,” the professor had said, “you'll tell me all the right things. . . and that’s wonderful—you’re a strong student. But when Christine writes a paper or an exam, she'll tell me something I’ve never thought about before.”

Chris paused here and looked at me. I could see tears glistening in her eyes and sympathetic tears sprang into mine as she continued talking. “Do you realize what this would have meant if he had said that to me? . . . if I’d heard it back then?” 

I nodded. Immediately I understood how life changing it could have been for a young college student, awash in self-doubt, to have heard this observation from an admired professor. Thinking about it set off a reaction inside me that had become—by the time I got home—an unwitting gift.

Those words, “If only he had said that to me!” became a profound observation of an obvious truth. I began to think how rarely it happens—telling an individual the strengths we see in them, letting the bearer of the talent or strength hear aloud what it is he or she brings to the mix.

Whether teacher, parent, mentor, or boss, we have a responsibility to communicate truths to those in our care. A casual positive comment made today can easily have an effect that lasts a lifetime. We humans are reflective creatures who benefit from having others tell us what they see, holding up a figurative mirror for us. Even when commentary is fluff, it affects the recipient. If you tell me I have pretty legs, I’ll make sure to cross them ‘just so’ the next time we get together. If you tell me I’m funny, I’ll make certain I clown around when I’m with you. If you tell me I am brilliant,  I will begin to understand that my mind works on a different level from other people’s.  Likewise, if you tell me I’m fat or ugly or dumb, you are influencing me . . . and if you say nothing, well . . .  that can be the most unsettling commentary of all.

            Christine’s reaction to the anecdote set an empathic reverberation in me that made me realize how essential it is to speak aloud my positive observations to the people I interact with. If I see extraordinary ability in them, I must not assume—whether they be co-workers, my direct reports or boss, grandchildren, friends, or even my neighbors—that they intuitively understand and appreciate their talents.

It’s a simple thing, but how rarely it’s done—to say aloud to the people I interact with what they are good at. I hope Christine’s unwitting gift will remind me to Say It Aloud! whenever I have the opportunity. Doing so could have a profound effect on someone’s life.

Christine is brilliant and gifted and an original thinker, but she would have benefited enormously had she heard it as a young woman from a teacher she admired. Now, at least, I am going to make sure she hears it from me.
Copyright © 2013 by Sara J. Glerum

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Busy as a beaver

Our river has a noticeable population of busy beavers. Almost every time we go for a walk along the river, there's new activity visible. We have never seen them at work, but occasionally we see them swimming in the river.

We have to stand very still, because if they see us, they immediately submerge--never to be seen again . . . until the next time, anyway, which could be a week or longer. But the amazing ability of a small mammal to fell a tree is greatly admired by the people who live at our house.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Lament of the Song Sparrow’s Victim

Below is a silly poem I wrote in 2008 when a song sparrow became unable to stop himself from slamming into our dining room window every few minutes for three entire (very long) weeks. Eventually he gave up . . . or died from the repeated blows.

You need to look closely to see him perched on the newspaper that was one of many (maybe six or seven) things we used to steer him clear of the window. Nothing helped for more than an hour.

Recently a friend told me she is having the same experience at a window in her house. As one of my former neighbors, and a serious birdwatcher/bird lover, commented to me back in '08, "This may be Darwinism being lived out right in your backyard. That bird (and his over-reactive instincts) should probably not be able to find a mate."

The poem is irreverent, so please don't read it if you think you will need to report me to the Audubon Society, as a result. But it is National Poetry Month! Nobody says it has to be good poetry. Apologies to Edgar Allan Poe.
Who’s that knocking on my window?
Tap, tap, tap, cheep, cheep, then trill . . .

Crazy sparrow perched on paper,
Nap, nap, nap? Oh please keep still!

Mating frenzy instincts rule,
Tap, tap, tap, cheep, cheep, then trill . . .

He’s scaring off reflected rival,
Crap, crap, crap on glass and sill.

 And slowly I am going crazy.
Tap, tap, tap, cheep, cheep, then trill . . .

Bird brain has a whole new meaning.
Bap, bap, bap, I’d like to kill.
Dreaming now of BB guns
Tap, tap, tap, cheep, cheep, then trill . . .

 Or other means of silencing, like 
Whap, whap, whap. I’ve had my fill.

 But still the eerie sound continues,
Tap, tap, tap, cheep, cheep, then trill . . .

Tap, tap, tap, cheep, cheep, then trill.


Friday, April 12, 2013

Wisconsin Table

This post is simple a series of photographs of a table created by Michael Gross. It can be seen at the Milwaukee Convention Center. I offer it as food for thought for anyone who has lived in Wisconsin, and especially for my offspring who used to live in Milwaukee.

Entire table (it's very low, like a coffee table)
Every tile depicts something "very Wisconsin"

My kids probably have a memory about almost everything depicted on the table

Baraboo Circus World Museum is unique in the entire country 
From tricycle to motorcycle . . . story of our Wisconsin lives
I-90 goes right through the state, but cuts off at Madison to bypass Milwaukee. Just like like a portage.
Hardly a summer went by when we didn't see the Weiner-Mobile

Saturday, April 6, 2013

April is poetry month

Here is another poem from a wall at the Milwaukee Convention Center. Especially now in April, Poetry Month, it is a wonder to think about a huge convention center with its walls covered in poetry! Not ads for products, not photographs of local scenic spots, not tributes to local celebrities . . . but POETRY! Shout it from the hilltops! Milwaukee did something amazing by decorating its convention center with poetry.
What the Lake Told Me
by Peggy Hong

Lake Michigan at Terri Andre State Park, Wisc.

            You come and you go,
            the great lake chides,
            but I am always here,
            lapping at your ankles.
            Give me your indecision,
            your misdials, your series
           of bounced checks. Give me
            your titles, your diplomas,
            your lovely baby footprints.
            In return, I will bring you
            warmer Januarys,
            cooler Julys, and a blue
            to aspire to. Give me
            the sand between your toes
            I will bring you
            a school of alewives, and a
            cold Canadian undercurrent.
            Tell me what you long
            to forget. I will bring you
            a blue ball from down
            the beach.
            I am attached to nothing.
            I will teach you this.



Monday, April 1, 2013

The devil(ed eggs) made me do it

As I pondered various menu ideas for a small family brunch I was hosting for Easter, an idea came to me. What if I dyed the whites of deviled eggs before I filled them? After a quick experiment, I discovered I could make my idea work.

 Hard boil the eggs, cool them, then cut them in half. Mix food coloring with water & vinegar in individual bowls, just as you would for dying the shells. (Caution: Use food coloring, not Easter egg dye, despite disclaimers that the dye is safe.) Roll the whites around in the colors, and drain them on racks with paper toweling underneath. When thoroughly dry, prepare filling and stuff as usual.
 I did the dye step on Saturday afternoon, chilled the eggs in small bowls of like colors (so the colors don’t leach) until Sunday morning when I actually made the deviled eggs. They were a great success!