Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Mermaid in my Kitchen!

When my nine-year-old granddaughter visited recently, she asked me where my art supplies were.
ARTWORK on my Frig
Her parents and I were busy unloading things from their car, so I told her where to find them. Next thing I knew, Mae was sitting in my kitchen diligently working at a drawing of a mermaid.

"I can draw really good mermaids," she told me. "I learned how at school."

"Really? They teach mermaid drawing in fourth grade?"

"We have an artist who comes in to help teach us art sometimes, and he showed us how to draw people. A mermaid is mostly a person, and I already knew how to draw fish."

I intentionally keep a bare refrigerator door because of the way my house is set up. The kitchen is completely visible from the living and dining areas. Basically, they're all just one big room. However, for the time being, it's pinned up on the refrigerator, so there's a mermaid swimming the living room. She's a lovely addition.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Lore Keeper

I recently found this photo of my
dad--the lore keeper of his
family's history. It was taken--no doubt--
for a work-related purpose.
Back in 2002, before my second granddaughter was born, her father plied me with questions about my dad, a man--because of his early death--whom none of my children were privileged to meet. 

In response, I wrote a long memoir about him, entitled "Paper Dolls of My Father." In it, I wrote myriad vignettes in an attempt to capture the man my dad was. Just as a paper doll can become any character just by changing clothing, I hoped that each small memory could become an overlay to let my children and grandchildren glimpse a man they never met.

What follows is the vignette I called the  "Lore Keeper Outfit" for the paper doll. I share it here as a Thanksgiving (yes, late) reflection:

LORE KEEPER (written in 2002)

Once a year my dad cooked up a batch Minute Pudding and invited his wife and [two] daughters, to share it with him. Minute Pudding is made from flour, milk, baking powder, and salt—flavored with nutmeg. The gooey dough looks something like dumpling dough raw, and after it cooks it still looks like a big, doughy lump. To eat it, we would put sugar on it and pour milk over it. It was like doughy bread. I would grimace, but tried to like it because Dad seemed to.

“Can you imagine eating this as your entire meal?” Dad would ask. 
“This would taste pretty darn good on an empty stomach.” Then he would say something like, “M-m-m-m . . .  there’s nothing quite like minute pudding.” 

He was right; there is nothing like it in any recipe book I’ve ever seen.
Minute Pudding Recipe ( copied in my hand thirty years ago)
Bring 1 pint of milk to a boil
Add Salt and nutmeg to taste
Sift flour (start with one cup) with ¼ tsp. baking powder
Keep adding flour to the milk until thick. Turn into a bowl and bake 
                       for 20 minutes in a slow (300 degrees) oven.
And . . . in my handwriting I had added, “Eat with reverence.”

As we ate our Minute Pudding, we listened to Dad’s narrative about the times when our grandfather (who was born in 1860) went to bed hungry, and how he and his two sisters thought they might starve to death if someone didn’t shoot a turkey or some other wild animal for them to eat. My grandfather (who had died when I was three) was the son of an itinerant Methodist minister based in Iowa but traveling to Minnesota on horseback for much of his work. For that reason my great-grandfather was gone frequently from home for long work-related trips. He was also a drunkard (my father’s words, no doubt reflecting the words he'd heard from his father), so when the man was home, he was often unable to provide for his family. 

It took me a long time to realize that my father really did not love this concoction called Minute Pudding, but that he prepared and ate it as a personal ritual to remember how blessed he was, and to instill in his children a sense of good fortune, which—of course—we would not fully understand until we were grown.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Double Take

When I was a service rep at the home office of Northwestern Mutual Life (1982-86) and routinely entering numbers into its main frame computer, I forced myself to memorize the keyboard number pad so I could input numbers quickly and efficiently. I've typed numbers from the number pad ever since, and rarely use those number keys that sit above the alpha keys. Part of the joy of the number pad is its dedicated decimal point. No reaching over to the center keyboard—it's a compact and easy keystroke to add the decimal.

That intro is by way of background to properly convey my big gulp when the following happened: I was paying a utility online—a small quarterly bill for $33.40—and typed in the amount on the number pad. I hit ‘enter,’ to (presumably) review the payment, and then hit ‘enter’ again to submit the payment.  It wasn’t until I had signed out of my bank account when something triggered a mental double-take—and I signed back in. Yes, the decimal point on the number keyboard had stopped working.The payment I had just set up was for $3,340!

I edited the payment and all is well now. (I also cleaned under the decimal key.) For obvious reasons, I would prefer not to pay forward the utility by twenty-seven years! Let us all be mindful of this powerful lesson: Pay attention when making payments.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Yesterday MY chimes rang . . .

Yesterday I was on a step-stool, hunting for something on a top shelf in the guest room when I spied a plastic bag shoved way back into the corner. I had no recollection of putting anything on the closet shelf.What is it? I wondered, and gingerly pulled it forward and peered through the clear plastic to see lumpy parcels of tissue and bubble wrap. OMG . . . could it be? Is it possible . . . ?

Yes!  In the bag were three marionettes from my grade school days. THREE! Two “store-bought,” a clown and a young man manufactured by Hazelle, and one I made as an eleven-year-old under the tutelage of my sixth grade teacher, Miss Mary Metcalf.

I couldn’t have been more excited to find Holger, the character who was hero of the script, Why the Chimes Rang, a puppet play presented to the entire school body at McGilvra Elementary school (a Seattle public school) by our classroom in December of 1951. 

As it happens, I am in the midst of writing about my grade school years—legacy for my granddaughters—so I have thought a lot about the creative and energetic teachers I was lucky enough to have in the intermediate grades, and how much work and fun it was to make marionettes. I was certain my puppet, Holger, had been thrown away in one of our many moves—but I was wrong. I couldn’t have been more excited. I carefully unwrapped him, then gently twisted his strings counterclockwise to allow him to hang naturally from his controls. Wrinkled and worse for wear, yes, thrillingly heartwarming, as well. I could see my primitive stitching of his costume and my attempt to give him an expression that would reflect neutrality so he could act happy OR sad.

Why the Chimes Rang was written in 1928, a faith-based play set in medieval Germany. The cathedral's chimes in the town ring, at the most, just once a year—and only when a truly selfless gift is presented at the altar on Christmas Eve. When the play opens, the chimes have not been heard for 100 years. Holger and his younger brother—orphans who live with their uncle in poverty—are just headed out to church when an old woman knocks at their cottage door.

Twelve-year-old Holger invites the shivering stranger into the cottage to get warm, and thereby misses his chance to go to the cathedral—an event he's eagerly anticipated for a year. His brother and uncle go on without him. As he talks to the old woman, he realizes she’s starving and offers her the last crust of his bread. Of course, it is Holger’s act that causes the chimes to ring. I still remember the beautiful sound of chimes from a record that a fellow sixth-grade cued up perfectly. I manipulated Holger's controls to make him kneel in reverence as he hears the chimes in the distance, unaware of his selfless role in their ringing. By the time his uncle and brother return to narrate the excitement of the entire town, the old woman has mysteriously disappeared. 
If you think it’s bad form to pray before a public school football game, imagine a public school teacher spending hours of classroom time preparing her students to present overtly religious plays for the entire student body of their public school.  Everyone in class was involved--making the marionettes from scratch and rehearsing the plays for weeks in the classroom. 

I would not go back in time for anything—I’m not a devotee to that fictional notion of the “good old days.” I think the sensitivity, awareness, and respect shown to all beliefs that now prevail in public schools is a far superior approach than what we did then. But I am still grateful to have had that sixth grade experience. And I am so thrilled to be reunited with Holger. After all, he made the chimes ring—and I can still get a little teary thinking about it.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Old women rule . . .

Halloween is one of those occasions a woman grows into--the older, the better. How often can we say that! Pretending to be a crotchety, scary witch is one thing; seeing one in the mirror looking back BEFORE putting on the costume is another.

I had to laugh this morning as I was rummaging for dress-up components for the midday potluck I was going to. Facial wrinkles, sagging neck, protruding veins on hands, age spots masquerading as warts--it all comes together at a certain age--making the transformation into an appropriate Halloween character pretty easy. But instead of being a witch this year, I became inspired by assorted rubber spiders, spiderweb earrings I've had for decades, and a very old crocheted ribbon jacket too frayed to ever wear again (but too cute to toss), and, voila--Spider Ma'am!

I also stirred up a big batch of deviled eggs in my cauldron last night. Topping them off with olive spiders, even though it's a laborious task to cut a pitted olive into nine parts, is worth it. People love this idea and gobble them up quickly. There is nothing worse than bringing the same full plate of the goodies you yourself made for the party, back home from the party. That never happens with these eggs. (I held back this little batch because they are so yummy.)

Happy Haunting

Friday, October 23, 2015

Bagging for the Bag -- A Guest Column

Hi, there. My name is Brittany (or Courtney . . . Ashley . . . Jasmine). I’m a grocery bagger. We’ve probably met somewhere. Well . . . not actually met, but I’ve bagged your groceries. Of course, I wouldn’t really recognize you because I’ve never looked at you. For that matter, I probably never talked to you, either. Smiling is what I do best, especially when Mason, Kyle, Austin, or Jordon are working my shift.

During my 45 minute training, the boss explained how we get paid, when we get paid, and when we get breaks. He told us who to call if we can’t make it, and made us read the probation policy aloud. Then he told us three important things to do: smile, double-bag only when asked (don’t offer), and if a customer has his own bags, we should use them first. I trained for one hour standing next to an experienced bagger (Kyle was my mentor and he’s been here six months!) and watching. Then it was my turn to try it and Kyle watched. Awesome.

But oh, is the job boring. Sometimes it’s funny to think about what a particular customer has bought . . . like the fat lady who buys candy and ice cream and maybe one healthy food like hotdogs. Today there was an old man who bought two huge bottles of wine with a coupon, so he hardly paid anything for them. It looked like he was unscrewing the lid on one of them while he was carrying his bag out. Mason winked and made me blush when he saw me staring at the man. Last week a bag with two dozen eggs in it broke by the person’s car. Boy, was that lady ever mad about it. She blamed the bagger (not me, but Austin who was at the next checkout stand). How was he supposed to know she didn’t have a good grip?

We all hate using the cloth bags shoppers bring in because they’re floppy, and there isn’t a way to keep them from falling down every time you reach for another product to pack. Some customers bring those big stand up zipper bags with silver linings. They’re awesome because they don't fall over. I use them first because they’re so sturdy. First a couple layers of cans, then the bananas and fresh tomatoes, and if there’s room, more cans, the grapes, and the crackers on top. They can be really heavy and they never break. I don’t know why anyone bothers to put a zipper on them—I never zip them up.

I always put cold stuff in the floppy cloth bags. First, the milk laying down, which makes it easier to pack the next layer with ice cream, frozen turkey breasts, baby food--whatever--before putting in the light stuff, like mushrooms and avocados, and ending with what I can lightly drop in, like Kleenex. I don’t know why people scowl when I pack their bags. It's what they get when they shop here--service! I always force the bags into the carts and quickly turn away so I don't have to help them to their cars. Besides, I need to talk to Mason (or Kyle . . . Austin . . . Jordon).

Today this old woman came in and she had the nerve to tell me she wanted the cold products in that stand-up bag with the silver lining. Who does she think I am? Her servant? I mean, I had to find out when Jordon was taking his break I could show him my latest Instagram). I  laid the milk sideways and she made me set it upright. Sheesh!  I hate being told how to pack the bags. Especially if Austin is talking to me from the next counter. And then the bread. The old bag doesn’t want the bread under the bananas and avocados—or on top of them, either. That woman’s a real bag.

Well, gotta run . . . now is my break! “Hey, Jordon, wait up!”

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Go ahead, buy one . . .

Although I haven't carved a pumpkin for several years, that doesn't mean I can't browse the pumpkin patch with the best of them.

Alas, I can't take credit for thinking up how a small pumpkin could become a vase. A flower merchant at my local Farmers' Market thought it up. I regularly buy fresh flowers there, but rarely do I buy an "arrangement." When I saw this, however, I was too enchanted to pass it up.

In case you have a hankering to buy a field pumpkin but don't really want to carve a jack-o-lantern, this could be a great idea. A sturdy plastic bag filled with sufficient water to cover the stems, then rubber-banded around the flowers and stuffed into the cavity of the hollowed-out pumpkin is all it takes.

My perky little seasonal greeting is a smile producer. Unfortunately, today is its last day because live flowers fade and wither--but then, don't we all.

Happy Fall.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Note to Self

 This morning I drove to go to the post office to mail a package. I  knew it would be busy there because of the postal holiday yesterday, but wasn’t ready what greeted me. A long line of customers snaked all across the customer area, through double glass doors and into the lobby of the amply sized regional branch. Eleven people were ahead of me, most of whom were holding packages to mail. One person was propping open the door to provide continuity to the line. No one was interacting with anyone else, including the postal clerks.

When I arrived, two clerks were on duty. I felt grateful that there were two, that it wasn't break-time. I watched the line ahead of me shrink to ten, nine, eight people. Several customers came in, took a look around, and left with visible annoyance. But then one of the clerks put a “closed” sign on his window and left. Slower . . . slower the line moved . . . but I was finally inside the customer area. I looked back into the lobby and realized the line was adding people faster than the clerk was servicing them.

The clerk paced  herself with great deliberation. Every package must be placed on a conveyor belt ten feet, or so, behind the clerks' workstations. That means that after each transaction, the clerk must walk over and set the package(s) on it. It seemed to me her walk back and forth was taking longer and longer.

“Will that be all today?," she asked everyone.  "Stamps? Gift cards?” (My post office sells gift cards from Sears, JC Penney, Apple, Olive Garden, etc., as well as the standard packing materials.) 

I found myself wondering who would intentionally shop at the post office. All the gift cards and greeting cards must be impulse items while one waits in line. And waits.  And waits.

“This is why a monopoly is bad,” I muttered to the man behind me.

"At least it's not Christmas-time," he replied knowingly. Several people in line rolled their eyes as they heard his comment.By the time it was my turn, sixteen people were waiting behind me. Still only one clerk. 

For a postal clerk, there is no need to hurry, no reason to make eye contact, or offer a friendly, “I’ll be with you shortly.” We put up with their poor service because we have to. The clerks do their work, almost like robots--at least, in Bothell they do.

As I drove away, I made this note to self:  I'd better watch it so I don't become robotic, even if I do have the monopoly on my days. Just like a postal clerk, very little interaction with others is required of me as I go through my daily routine. But I'd better act as if there's competition down the street if I want to enjoy a social life, not to mention lure my grown children to town for more of their helpful and lively visits. A visit with a whiny old woman is probably less fun than a trip to the post office after a postal holiday.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Why I Do Not Live in an Age Restricted Community

Meet Joe and Cruz. Together their ages add up to ninety-three. They are respectively the oldest and youngest residents in my neighborhood of twenty-two townhouses.

Returning from a walk recently, I walked past Joe's house where he was outside socializing with a neighbor and his young son, Cruz. Cruz was in his dad's arms. I stopped to say hello to all three. Shortly thereafter, Cruz's dad said, "Time to go home for a nap, Cruz," and Cruz thrust his arms pleadingly toward Joe. Of course, Joe extended his arms, which brought about this photo-op. It was too wonderful to pass up.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

August evening

Tonight there was a single cloud overhead that captured the breathtaking radiance of a summer sunset. 

Isolated in this way, the single cloud accentuated the beauty of the evening. I thought of that tried-and-true phrase about not seeing the forest for the trees, and realized there are times that a single tree can help one appreciate and even "see" a forest. If there had been many clouds tonight, I might have taken them for granted. 

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Spirit of Seventy-six

Today would have been Jay's seventy-sixth birthday. I found myself thinking about memorable birthday celebrations this morning, chuckling at one in particular.

As his twenty-ninth birthday approached, he began to get grumpy. "My carefree life is over. I don't want to be twenty-nine! That will mean I'm nearly thirty, and that seems so old!" As the day grew closer and he wasn't getting any happier about the idea of leaving age twenty-eight in the dust, I decided how I would cheer him up. A surprise party!

I created and mailed invitations to more than two-dozen friends, addressing the friends as though they were famous medical experts. I invited them to an important "Med-Alert Conference," the topic of which was Jay Glerum. Was there help for this man who was closing in on the end of his third decade? The subject believed he was doomed to "old age" without glory, I explained. Could the medical community gather together to give him an optimistic prognosis? I suggested that to enforce how important this conference was, they should arrive at the "conference" in their medical "uniforms" to accentuate its serious purpose. I received enthusiastic responses from more than twenty people.

Jay in 1962, age 23, six years
before the party
As August 16, 1968, drew close, I had to be very careful to not let our children know about the event because they wouldn't have been able to keep the secret. (They were almost five, three, two, and four months.) I figured out how to hide the food I was preparing and the beverages I'd purchased; I schemed how to get the three older children to bed before the doorbell began ringing. (I ended up telling them about the surprise ten minutes before the first guest arrived because I realized the doorbell would keep them excited and unable to settle down. I was correct in assuming they could contain a secret for ten minutes.) I have a vague memory about them dancing around in hyper excitement as the guests began to arrive, but they went to bed without protest.)

Jay in 1973, age 34, five years 
after the party
Our first guest arrived at 7:25 p.m., five minutes before the start-time on the invitation. The doorbell rang, and I called out to Jay to please answer the door. I only wish I had been there to see his face! Jay thought the man standing there--well-known to him--had somehow crossed over into the world of senility or mental illness. On our doorstep stood our beloved, dignified, professor friend from undergraduate days who--even in his retirement--always wore a sport coat and usually a necktie. On that August Saturday evening back in 1968, Mr. Harrington was decked out in a tropical shirt, white pants and sandals, and wore a Voodoo mask.! Apologizing for arriving early (he'd taken the bus and had no control over its schedule), the Voodoo Doctor had to ask, "Well, are you going to invite me in?"

Within minutes, two butchers arrived (wearing bloody aprons and white hats, carrying saws) and Jay began to get the picture.Then Doctor Scholl rang the doorbell, wearing a large foot as a headdress, followed a bearded man arrived in a nurse's dress (he'd taken the bus and caused a stir!). When a real nurse showed up just off work and still in her professional outfit, the nurse in drag and the real nurse fell into a fit of giggles. Soon two horse doctors arrived, then a quack (in a Donald Duck suit). You get the drift. As the diversely outfitted friends kept on arriving, Jay never stopped smiling. Everything about the party was a huge and hilarious hit.

Jay recalled that infamous birthday party with affection almost every birthday after that. It also served a useful purpose unknown at the time, but revealed over the next forty-five years. He never again told me he was depressed about an approaching birthday. He didn't dare!

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Needling thoughts

Although I live near two great county trails (Burke-Gilman and Sammamish River) that I walk regularly for morning exercise, I generally avoid them weekend mornings because they tend to be so congested. On Sundays I treat myself to a city-sidewalk route that takes me by this magnificent northwest sequoia tree. 

My walks provide me with lots of time to ruminate and contemplate. Today, as I passed this tree, I began to think about the future—fifty . . . or a hundred years from now. Maybe even two hundred. At what point will this gorgeous living thing crowd out its manmade neighbor, if no one interferes before then? How many centuries/millennia will it outlast the 2012-constructed house on the other side of the fence? Or will it be cut down when it "gets too big"?

For now, it is a wonderful gift to passersby.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Pucker Power

People complain that when we stay in water too long our skin wrinkles up. Tell me again why that is bad?

The photo shows my newly washed bedspread juxtaposed with the throw-pillowcase that I’ll be washing tomorrow.

 If I thought that water would take up my slack, I’d make sure I indulged in a very long bath daily. 

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Tic Tac To(matoes)

 The same generous neighbor who recently brought me peas, showed up at my door last night with some of the first of her Gold Nugget cherry tomatoes.

I set them out on a dish this morning and—you guessed it—was immediately inspired by the nine little yellow morsels. Don't worry, the Os and Xs are only through an "art app" on the iPad. There's no way I'd risk contaminating their delicious flavor.

Not only are the tomatoes local and organic, but the dish they’re on, made by potter Mar Hudson, can also be considered local and organic.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Peas and Thank You

Nothing new to reveal, but I love creating original notecards . . . when I'm inspired. I also love buying notecards and stationery, and probably have more than a lifetime supply of each onhand. There're lots of reasons to choose the quicker communication, e-mail, however, and sometimes it's the perfect delivery method.

Case in point: Recently a neighbor brought me a gift of fresh picked sugar snap peas she'd grown on her community garden plot. The peas had been harvested an hour--maybe two--before they were delivered to my door in their perfect one-person helping. I began to wash them and popped one into my mouth where it exploded into a vine fresh goodness. Another one met its fate the same way. I can't remember ever tasting such fresh peas, even from the Farmers Market!

I looked at the little pile of peas in my colander and was inspired. Here is the e-mail I sent to my neighbor. If I'd had eaten any more before e-mailing, I would have needed to spell THNX instead.

This picture is the only thing left of the peas. Yum!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Reflections on Spoleto Festival USA

Looking for something to test my readiness to be "on my own in a group," I screwed my courage to the sticking place (thanks, Lady MacBeth and Mr. Shakespeare, for that GREAT metaphor) and signed up for a Road Scholar flex-program to the festival. I paid my money, booked my flight, ordered some extra tickets, packed my bag, and did it!  I’ve dreamed about attending the Spoleto Festival USA in Charleston, SC, since it first began forty years ago.

From June 1 through June 6, 2015, I immersed myself in the music and performance opportunities available at the mainstream festival with its international artists and specially assembled festival musicians— and its shadow festival, Piccolo Spoleto, with its hundreds of performances offered by mostly Charleston-area performing artists.

June 1 – 6 doesn’t sound like much of a time period. But I saw/heard fifteen programs in that time. Other than daily breakfasts, attending several lectures about Charleston and the festival itself, taking two walking tours and riding on a mule-pulled wagon through the historic section of Charleston, I was either at a performance, walking to a performance, or grabbing a meal to sustain energy for the next performance. Oh, sure . . . I slept. But I wish I hadn’t needed to.
Geoff Nuttall hosts the chamber
music series with the finesse
of a professor and the
lightness of a comedian
(see NYT link)

I attended a small but stunning Australian circus, a Vietnamese water puppet show, “Romeo and Juliet” performed by The Globe Theatre, a new work commissioned by the festival for the Shen Wei Dance Arts, a festival performance of Bach’s “Passion According to St. Matthew” (the link takes you to a review that does it justice), a cabaret sampler of historic music, and four separate and glorious chamber music programs hosted by Geoff Nuttall with inspired and varied offerings. 

As part of Piccolo Spoleto, I saw and heard all of Bach’s cello suites played in the French Huguenot church by Natalia Khoma, Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” presented in conjunction with Piazzolla’s “Four Seasons of Buenos Aires” and more . . . more . . . more.

Natalia Khoma played all six
cello suites (two concerts)
with her eyes closed
(see review link)
I didn’t for one minute yawn. I didn’t for one minute wonder why I’d bought a ticket for this or that particular performance. I didn’t cough and sometimes I barely breathed. The festival was fabulous, with an energy and life to it that I haven’t experienced since I was an adolescent discovering the breadth and depth of music. I don’t know if it was because I was internalizing it more than usual because I was alone, or because the performances were truly amazing. A little of both, I suspect. Regardless, I haven’t felt that moved by musical performances for decades. The chemistry of passionate and gifted musicians coming together in non-routine constellations had something to do with it, too. The audience could feel the energy rippling and flowing over the edge of the stage.

Yes, I’m old . . . and my memory can be challenged annoyingly, but I hope to cling to the memories of Spoleto and the thrill of my audience participation for the rest of my life. 

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Half a BLT

 Recently, I had an isolated but attitude-changing encounter with a man I’d never seen before and never will see again.  I was visiting Charleston for the Spoleto USA Festival, and he—having just been seated at the next table at the restaurant where I’d stopped for lunch before my afternoon concert (my first at the festival)—was glancing at his menu. When my BLT (the tomatoes, fried green) was delivered, I said something like, “Oh, wow,” to the waitperson as he set my plate down in front me. It was the most impressive sandwich I’d seen in a long time.

“That sure looks delicious, ma’am. May I ask what it is?” the man asked me, the way we all might do when we’re trying to decide what to order from a varied menu. His lunch companion arrived just then. They began to converse, and I began to eat.

I couldn’t help but overhear snippets of their conversation as I ate. When the waiter took their order, his companion ordered breakfast. The man who had been chatting with me ordered only coffee. As their conversation continued, it became clear these men knew each other only slightly (through connection with a distant cousin who’d recently died), and the breakfast-eater had fallen on hard times. The host for the meal was the man I’d talked to.

My 1:00 o’clock concert was coming up, and I was getting full. I looked at the huge half-sandwich remaining and the mounds of fries I couldn’t possibly eat and was inspired to ask a question I’ve never asked of any stranger before. His answer was affirmative.

“Why ma’am, since you asked . . . I don’t want to be rude . . . why, yes, I would love to have it.”  By the time the waitperson brought it to him in a box, we’d struck up a real conversation.

“What brings you to Charleston?”

“The festival.”

“Oh, ma’am, you have a treat in store! Will you hear “Paradise Interrupted” [a new opera by Huang Ruo commissioned by the festival]?

“No, I’m too late for it—I just got here last night, and its last performance was yesterday.”

“I got to hear it rehearsing and it was wonderful!”

He went on to explain . . . and this accounts for my knowing anything about him, “I’m the sexton the church where they rehearse and I’ve never heard anything like that music in my life. And. . . in Mandarin! It was so beautiful, and I met the man who sang high, like a lady.”

“Yes, he’d be what’s known as a countertenor. There are only a handful of men in the world who sing those operatic roles.”

“I had never heard such a perfect voice before. That opera was beautiful. And the other one, too . . . in Italian ["Veremonda, L'Amazzone di Arogona"]. I’ll never forget it.”

His comment almost made me cry. I thought of how many people go through life without ever having a chance to experience the arts at their most sublime—and how salvific that experience can be. We continued to talk—the Seahawks, the people of Charleston, the tourists to come for the festival—and I don’t think I’ve ever heard, “Bless you, ma’am, thank you, bless you,” so many times—over and over from both gentlemen.

As I left the restaurant I realized the tide in my heart had turned. When I was first seated in the restaurant and handed a menu, I was wondering why I thought I this week in Charleston had been a good idea. . . why I thought traveling on a weeklong vacation-trip by myself was doable this soon into my widowhood. I was feeling mightily sorry for myself. I’d been walking through the city to get my bearings, locating venues for the many performances I had tickets for. I was hot and tired and lonely.

Then “the incident.” That little conversation took me out of myself and put me into another’s shoes—just for a couple of minutes. But that’s what happened, and no longer was I feeling down. I was feeling extraordinarily happy, thinking about the extraordinary ability of the arts to touch us all because of that serendipitous sharing of food and conversation.

As I settled into the Dock Street Theatre, about to hear the program of chamber music played by the gifted musicians at Spoleto USA, I had no inkling as to how rapturous the next hour-plus was going to be. But I was ready for it. I’d stopped thinking about myself and my heart was open. 


Sunday, June 14, 2015

Reader, can you spare a . . .

This beautiful creation by Stan Clark of 
AstroBotanical was recently on display 
at Artiszen Gallery in Vallejo, California. .
 During the time I was active on the Seattle Fringe Festival Board (almost fifteen years ago, now), the Columbine shootings took place. As you probably recall, that hellacious act was a topic of horrified conversation for many weeks. A few months later (when everyone shuddered at just hearing the word “Columbine”), I gave a fund-raising speech for the Festival.

While I don’t recall my actual words, I do remember their gist: “Being involved in fringe theatre may not be a career path for the actors and directors, may not meet audience standard, may ultimately fail on an artistic level, but one thing is for sure: People who have the freedom and opportunity to express themselves through creating any form of art seen by others are generally not people who express themselves through violent acts. The arts, as a creative outlet, can be salvific to people who may feel they have no voice.”

I meant that statement from the bottom of my heart, because I knew firsthand how self-expression in any medium that has an audience—whether it be performance or graphic—how essential it is for a healthy self-image, which—in turn—is a critical part of managing interior rage, anger, and discontent.  

Now . . . what does the now defunct Seattle Fringe Festival  have to do with Artiszen Gallery in Vallejo, California?  

Vallejo’s population until fairly recently has been notoriously underserved in the arts. As the first city in the country to declare bankruptcy, it does not have funds to grant for the Arts. In fact, it doesn’t have the funds to grant for meal or shelter programs. Its government is barebones. When Artiszen Gallery opened a few years ago in an especially depressed part of Vallejo, it was hailed as one-of-a-kind.

Freely opening its doors to the townspeople who lived in the neighborhood, it has gradually become a stunning showcase for local artists who may have no other voice in the community. Some of the artists are out of work; some are youth who may or may not be in school; some are managing addictions and suffer deprivation that I can hardly imagine. BUT THEY ARE ALL WELCOME inside the gallery, and—as a result—the quality of creative work is ASTONISHING. Artiszen is credited with changing the neighborhood it serves and has become a local icon for the personal turnaround that comes from aspiration.

Now, my pitch: Artiszen is in the midst of raising funds to provide classes and gallery space for aspiring youth and adult citizens of Vallejo to show their work by means of a Kickstarter fundraiser. Do you know how a Kickstarter Campaign works? A dollar goal is set with a timeline. People make pledges. If the dollar goal is filled,  pledges immediately come due (on donors’ pre-registered credit cards). If the entire amount isn’t pledged, no one pays anything.  They are out nothing. Zip. Zero. And—unfortunately, so is the recipient of the Kickstarter. In this case, the gallery. It gets nothing. Zip. Zero.

I’m asking my readers to look at this link and ask yourselves—can I spare $25? With less than two weeks remaining in the campaign, your small donation could be redemptive for someone with the desire to express him or herself creatively. It could make the difference between a life as a respected citizen and life as a disenfranchised person, even a criminal. That sounds melodramatic, but it’s true. You're giving the gift of hope.  

Please . . . help Artiszen.  Click here to read more.  

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Chief Pencil Sharpener & Other Important Activities

After five- and-a-half
years of writing my blog, I just realized that May is almost over and I have posted nothing! That might be a record gap, and not one I'm keen to achieve. Well, I've been busy . . . and that's a good thing.

What have I been doing? Some really important, high-profile activities, such as sharpening pencils (look, here is a pile I just sharpened at a granddaughter's home), wrapping a nearly-nine-year old's hair in a dancer's bun (successful enough, I might boast, to last nearly twelve hours for two performances on the same afternoon), admiring peonies in the neighbor's yard, and staring at clouds.

Whew! Exhausting, I'm sure you'll agree. In fact, there have been a few challenges in my daily world, also a good thing (except for the nasty scrape & dent I put into my driver's side door when the concrete pillar in the parking garage entered my blind spot). My favorite activity is the writing and editing I am privileged to do for the organization, OneBothell.org, which has been the subject of this blog on several occasions. Progress is amazing on that front, and soon I hope to have triumphant news to share.

Meanwhile, today's post is merely to inform my readers that I am well, very much alive, and headed for a lively June, which I hope to narrate in JUNE!

Wednesday, April 29, 2015


 It's easy to become oblivious to other living things, when the primary creature in the world, ME, takes so much of my focus.

Then . . . blink . . . and perspective returns. Need comes in all sizes, shapes, and degrees of visibility. Although I might be focused on my own life, something very close by could be silently screaming, "Help!" Will I notice in time?

And here's a visual. In case anyone is thinking water doesn't make a difference, here's pictures of before and after. Same plant, one hour apart. It pays off to look up and out.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Saturday Night Griever--NOT

Bach and the cello
As I continue to reinvent my life as a single person, Saturday nights remain one of the most challenging times. Sure, I can always find a movie, a concert, a play, or other event to attend, but sometimes I want to stay home. I like home. The problem is that Aloneness (a good thing) can easily become Loneliness (not a good thing). Keeping my mind occupied, so it doesn't slip into a pity party, is a big challenge.

Hayden and the string quartet
This weekend I had an idea. I dragged out the watercolors, pens, and paper--then put on a CD. As I listened to Pablo Casals play Bach's Cello Suites, I let my paintbrush move to the music. The result was a handful of notecards useful for any number of occasions. Several hours flew by and I had something to show for them. It was fun and totally preoccupied me in a creative way. It was a great Saturday night.

Sunday I tried again because it was so much fun. I listened to a Hayden string quartet (Opus 2, No. 5 in D major) with colored pencils in hand, and if my son hadn't called me and mentioned the time of day, I would have missed my dinner engagement.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

For the love of lunch . . . and a friend

Chip Purchase & Jay Glerum at lunch
in Milwaukee at USITT 2013
In the past nine months, I've received many beautiful notes about Jay. I've treasured them all and have kept them, both for me and posterity. Knowing there's a pile of letters I can go back to and read is comforting. Memory blurs, but those heartfelt words written in the moment can bring everything into focus.

Today, with the permission of its originator, I'm posting a tribute written just a few days ago by a client of Jay's who became his very good friend. Chip Purchase attended the March 20 USITT Session "Remembering Jay Glerum," in Cincinnati, but didn't get a chance to share his thoughts in the time allotted. So, he jotted down what he wanted to say and sent it to me afterwards. It's a wonderful tale of how a professional relationship turns into deep friendship.

Jay Glerum

I listened to all the testimonials during the event at USITT and it struck me how many people had a professional and personal relationship with Jay and that he had a profound influence on their lives. My relationship with Jay and with Sallie seemed to revolve around food.    

I met Jay when I attended one of his rigging seminars.  I had sent a note ahead asking if we could meet to discuss his doing a rigging seminar in Houston.  A short session, it would be a rigging seminar for managers because most administrators of arts groups and certainly bureaucrats don’t understand enough about rigging, and especially the dangers involved.  He, of course, thought it was a good idea and the event was well attended.  His classroom was the stage of the old Music Hall in Houston with the rail as his backdrop.  When Jay explained how rigging worked, the managers listened where as if I said the same words, they would carry less weight.  That first meeting took place over lunch.

For the next 20 years, whenever Jay and I got together, we ate.  We ate lunch, we ate dinner.  Sometimes it was just the two of us, sometimes with Sallie or with my wife Darla and sometimes with both of them.  Those were the best meals, when both wives were with us.  We had a standing lunch date for all conferences we both attended and of course, you have to take a lunch break during inspections.  Pick Jay up at the airport, take him to the hotel and then to dinner.  Lunch break during the inspection and dinner later in the evening always followed.

When Jay inspected Jones Hall’s rigging, it usually took two days as there is a lot to look at so we got to eat often.  I would always put on a large crew for those inspections, not only to pull ropes, but to help inspect and learn and make minor repairs if needed.  Jay would put one stagehand at the head block and one on each loft block and others could watch lines and listen.  Especially listen. 

A lot of hands learned a lot about rigging from Jay as he never stopped teaching, and as I heard many people say, he never stopped sharing.  Not only would he tell someone what to look or listen for, he would explain why and share a story.  And he would wait for questions and not treat the stupid ones with anything but respect.  He never told the questioner that the question was stupid.  He didn’t seem to believe there were stupid questions.  Questions were always important, especially when deciding what to have for lunch.

Chip Purchase
March 24, 2015

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

A Legacy of Lists, a Warren of Warranties, an Inheritance of Instructions

Jay was nothing if not organized, creating checklists for work and home, years before checklists became trendy. A mainstay of a rigging inspections, a checklist  insures the inspector forgets nothing! In the third edition of Stage Rigging Handbook, specific checklists and narrative about their importance comprise the last chapters.

We devised a few checklists at home, too—one for managing prolonged vacation travel (items included stopping paper and mail, notifying neighbors, watering houseplants, etc.), one for vacation packing (camera, reading material, sunscreen, maps, etc.) and one just for car trips (pillows, trash bag, CDs, windshield sunshade, etc.). These lists came about in reaction to a few trips where we had forgotten things we intended to take with us.  
Within the first year of marriage, Jay established our Warranty Box. Initially housed in a humble shoebox, it would hold a place of honor on a closet shelf in each of our homes. Into it we placed any and all warranty/instruction booklets for every purchase—watch, waffle iron, refrigerator, alarm clock. If instructions were needed, they were kept, and we always knew where to find them.
Last Friday at 3 a.m., the carbon monoxide alarm in my bedroom woke me up. Yes, I was alarmed (no pun intended), but since no number-readout appeared on the display, I was reasonably confident the beeping wasn’t about air quality. Nevertheless, my heart was pounding as I bounded out of bed, turned on the light, and contemplated what to do next. Assuming I could shush it, I unplugged it from the electrical outlet. No luck—still it beeped.

At that point I went to the warranty box—no longer a shoebox but a larger, more decorative craft box—to pull out the instructions for the CO monitor. Of course, it was there! After learning about monitor’s backup battery, then locating and removing it, the beeping silenced. I went back to sleep, immensely grateful for the warranty box.

A few days later I was cleaning out a small drawer in Jay’s office and found instruction sheets for five separate Timex watches (all but one long tossed out) acquired over a three decade period. Jay was a firm believer in wearing an “everyday watch” (read “cheap”) instead of an expensive one because it was too easy to damage a wristwatch inadvertently. He happily replaced the cheap watch every five or six years, commenting “Since it cost only $14.99, it doesn’t owe me a thing.” The Timex instruction booklets were not in the warranty box, being of a more personal nature, but I’ll bet he knew where they were! 

These little discoveries keep me loving and missing my dear, late husband. What a guy . . . what a legacy. 

Monday, March 2, 2015

Spring on the Sammamish River Trail

Some weeks pose obstacles to my intention of walking daily on one of the two urban trails that abut my house.
It has been five days since I walked along the Sammamish River Trail, and what--to my wondering eyes--did I see today?

Signs of spring everywhere, including the flora here.

Add this color display to the scents of stirring buds and blossoms, and sounds of twittering birds, to get one glorious day March day in Bothell, Washington.