Saturday, December 23, 2017

Not white? OK, as long as it's not blue!

The 'ninth' candle, mine, is around
the corner to the right
This Christmas season may well be the weirdest one of my lifetime. Weird, as in singular, irregular, unusual. Any of those adjectives would be more dignified, but weird has the right connotation.

What’s different this year is it’s the first of my (soon-to-be seventy-eight) Christmases during which I won’t be getting together with someone in my immediate family. For the first twenty-two Christmases, it was the Johnsone clan; for the next sixty-five, with at least one Glerum (with crossover years bridging both).  

Initially, thinking about being without my favorite people for my favorite holiday made me sad, blue, pity-party worthy. But as the day draws closer, I’m realizing something important. I have no Christmas stress!

I’ve intentionally not done any of the normal activities of the season, including baking, Christmas cards, and excessive decorating. The only traditional activity I’ve done is to place electric candles in the windows of my townhouse. Jay started the tradition when we were emptnesters, with four candles for our four grown children. He then added one for each grandchild. After he died, I added a candle for him—and this year, I added one for me, too! So now there are nine candles in our windows.

Baroque Putto dating back 'forever'
I did set out a few items on the mantel—a bit of seasonal décor here and there, including the baroque putto my grandfather obtained on a trip to Europe before 1900.  It’s something my mother always used (frequently on top of our Christmas tree), so it’s always been part of my life. But I left three boxes of seasonal treasures unopened, thus unused. 

Two weeks ago I gave away the beautiful artificial tree that Jay and I purchased when we moved to our townhouse. We’d always had a live tree, but the high ceilings and limited floor space in our new space prompted our purchase. It was too big to manage on my own, so through the miracle of social media, I located a stranger to give it to. She was so thrilled, she wrote me after she assembled it, yet-to-be decorated, “My son asked if we can’t leave it up all year, it’s so beautiful.” Her delight, as well as her son's, made me feel wonderful!

This angel mobile was purchased
in the Copenhagen airport in 2001,on our
way home from a December trip to Paris
I mailed packages early in the month because I had an out-of-town house guest  arriving Dec. 11. Usually I stand at the post office for an hour or longer in mid-month, bake cookies the weekend before Christmas, and wrap gifts as late Christmas Eve.  Only when the spirit moves me do I begin my holiday letter—never before December 15—then print it, address envelopes and write personal notes to the hundred-plus recipients. All this activity has made up my Christmases for years, and it makes for seasonal stress.  

Not this year! Without family to look forward to seeing, to decorate for, to travel to, to bake for, this time of year feels like any other dark, cold month. Without the reflection of my Christmas letter (I decided I just couldn't do one this year), I don’t feel compelled to take inventory of the year. That's OK because it wasn’t a great year, anyway.  I’m free to contemplate the meaning of Christmas, consider my propensity for angelic images, and binge on the latest season of a Netflix series. See? I told you it’s a weird year, but I’m going to take advantage of the absence of seasonal stress. That part’s a good thing.


Wednesday, December 20, 2017

The Daily Scraping Up of a Memory

It’s interesting, isn’t it, how one minor incident in a lifetime can trigger a perpetual memory that reappears every time the incident is repeated? Take, for instance, the daily task of squeegeeing the glass shower door. It occurred to me this morning that the minute I begin to wipe down the shower with the squeegee, I think of Chad—a man I haven’t laid eyes on for at least fifteen years. Chad came to work for me at WM Life in Seattle as a part-time clerk in the early ‘90s—he was freshman at Seattle Community  College. He was smart, trainable, a quirky and delightful addition to my staff. He proved to be loyal and hardworking—as good as anyone who ever reported to me, but that’s a topic for a different post. He worked for me on and off for a number of years—eventually leaving to attend Evergreen College in Olympia. Sometime after graduation and a full-time job, he contacted me. He had started his own window-washing business. Did I need any windows washed?

Glad to patronize his start-up, I answered “yes,” and a few days later he drove up our driveway in his old VW Van, loaded up with everything he needed to do the outside widows all around the house—some at ground level, and others needing extension pole or a ladder. Jay was delighted to delegate and pay for the service, and Chad did a splendid job (and returned for seasonal work until he found other work).

Yes, I’m getting to the point of my first sentence. It was Chad who showed me the most efficient way to use a squeegee. Until then, I had always stroked parallel lines from top to bottom of the window (I’d been washing inside windows for at least forty years by then—much more frequently than now, I must admit). Chad showed me how to swoop across the window in figure-8 motions, eliminating the constant need to wipe the drips at sill-level. Only one wipe was needed with Chad’s method.
And that’s why I think of Chad every morning, as I begin the figure-8 motion along the inside of the glass shower stall. Who would have thought . . .

When we think about it, it’s not any different from the memories popping up as we set out our beloved Christmas decorations. It’s the association with a person or event that causes such sentimentality. But who would have thought a window-washing tip could become a daily trigger of recall, one of great affection.  Chad, by the way, is now a successful chiropractor—and, by my rough calculation—is in his mid-forties by now. When I think of him, though, it’s as a young man  whose honesty, truthfulness, loyalty and hard work endeared himself to his boss.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Musings of a Grateful Woman

Remember how your mother explained the meaning of the word “reciprocity”? If someone gave you a birthday present, you would give them a present on their birthday. As you got older, you probably learned the nuances of the concept, such as keeping gifts suitable and not trying to outdo the other person with a wildly disparate gift. As we grow in age, wisdom, and grace, we continue to master the art of reciprocation, understanding that generosity from the heart enhances and solidifies relationships. Not only does a gift endear us to the recipient, but giving strengthens the bond we, ourselves, feel toward the recipient—be it a person or entity.

When November rolls up to December, I begin to make the list of organizations and groups that have enriched my year, given me such pleasure or brightened my life so much that reciprocity is in order. But what am I going to do? Play an out-of-tune scale on my violin for the symphony? Perform a skit for an entire theatre troupe?  No. That’s where a monetary gift can be a stand-in for reciprocity.  


I have greatly enjoyed a number of performances this year, and also follow the work of several human services organizations. One such organization is the YMCA. Yes, I belong and pay a monthly fee. But the YMCA is so much more than a gym, or exercise club. It serves the entire community with scholarships and subsidies that allow youngsters to attend camps in the summer, to eat healthily on weekends and summertime, to learn team sports, and to swim. It also serves anyone in the community who wants help with chronic disease management and/or prevention, weight loss programs, and it hosts Livestrong programs for people with cancer. It offers exceptional daycare for preschoolers, and tends children whose parents are at the Y to pursue fitness goals . . . and on and on.

We all make donations when we are able—to churches, bootstrap organizations, meal programs, favorite hospitals, cultural groups, and national groups like the Red Cross and organizations assisting any number of needs for people without means to pay for them. Many of those gifts are pure altruistic: “Here—take this—you do great work.” But some gifts are reciprocal—a way to show thankfulness for acts of generosity benefiting us!

When I look back over the past eleven months, I realize I’ve much to be grateful for from various cultural groups, enjoying many memorable theatrical productions, breathtaking symphony concerts, mind-boggling art exhibits. I am immensely grateful for my healthcare providers (cutting out the cancer in January, just for starters), not to mention the loving support and companionship of family and friends, help from neighbors, inspiration from community volunteers, and energy from an always-welcoming staff at the Y. The list goes on. I am blessed with gifts from all kinds of places—from across the street to across the water, from as close as my neighborhood to the neighboring country (home to one of my granddaughters and her parents). My body and soul are all replenished through these gifts. To some I will show my appreciation by making a monetary donation; to others I can only do it with these words: Thank you.



Wednesday, November 8, 2017

ANOTHER BEFORE & AFTER VIEW


 What a difference a day makes . . . 
well, maybe ten days.  




     Welcome to November. 

A Polished Post

Polished stick on the left
In the 'good old days' (ha ha), my mother kept everything polished--the hardwood floors, her sterling flatware and plated trays, our mahogany and cherrywood furniture. Once in awhile, she'd pay a dollar or two to one of her daughters if we'd polish the brass doorknob on the front door.   I learned early how to turn tarnish into dazzle.

My mother inherited these old Belgian brass candlesticks belonging to my her mother-in-law, so they've always been housed by matriarchs who like things polished! I like shiny things, too, but in the last couple of decades, I've only reluctantly taken the time to spiff things up.

Recently I realized how dull and tarnished the candlesticks looked. Although they're sitting on a prominent side-table in my house, and I change out the candles for color once in awhile, I probably haven't really looked at them for seven years. I certainly haven't polished them since we moved in 2010.

Just another view
Left to right: "after & before"
So . . . I dragged out the dredges of a half-century old bottle of brass polish and began working. Yowie, what an ordeal. I stopped halfway to photograph the 'before and after' effects of one polished and one still tarnished. Notice its darkened, dull patina.

After continuing the ordeal, now both are shiny. Maybe that's the last time I'll polish them, particularly since I all but drained the last drop of polish from the very old container.

What's the point of the blog? To remind us how dazzled we should feel when someone compliments our polished speech or our polished home. And we should smile a lot after the hygienist polishes our teeth.

Friday, October 13, 2017

CHEAP FUN, pt. 2: Unforgettable Dining Experience

Are you nostalgic for the old days when you had parties or patronized varied restaurants?  Even if you find yourself regularly eating dinner with the TV blaring and a dearth of scintillating conversation, you can host a daring dinner party. You don't even need to invite anyone over, although, by all means, include your partner or spouse, if applicable.

This party is sans silverware. Forkless in Fresno, fingers in Fargo! Feed yourself without utensils. Choose a menu item like spaghetti or stew, so it’s really messy. Set out extra napkins (or adult bibs--they really do make such a thing) and enjoy. Be radical by intentionally exhibiting bad manners. Slurp, slop, smack. Turn your meal into a contest. How loudly can you smack your lips and gulp your soup?  If you have a six-year-old granddaughter eating with you, this is a dinner they will never forget (trust me, I know), but it's even more memorable when your guests are six-or-more decades old.)

The next day, it will feel so comfortable to eat the "regular" way. Crank up the news and set out the utensils. You'll relish the return of your routine. Mission accomplished.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

CHEAP FUN, pt. 1: Phony Trip

A lot of us in my age bracket are fixating on how expensive our favorite activities have become. For that reason, I've decided to devise some inexpensive activities to take their places. Take, for instance, travel. Here's a way to learn about a country and have a little bit of travel-thrill without any expense. And, you don't even need to locate (or renew) your passport.

First, check out a library book on a destination you would like to visit. Next, make up your bed for sleeping on the opposite end. This will make your bed seem just as foreign as a hotel-room bed. While it may seem like a lot of trouble, it’s easier than going through airport security.

After dinner, start reading. When you begin to get sleepy, arrive at your “hotel”—your own bed with the sheets and blankets tucked in at the opposite end. You’ll feel as though you’re on the road with such an unfamiliar accommodation, and might even need a flashlight for your 2 a.m. trip to the bathroom. You won’t get much sleep, but it’ll be memorable. When you get tired of your "trip," return to the other end of the bed. You’ll feel like you’re back home. And because you pored over text and photos in the travel book, you’ll know a lot about the destination you didn’t see.

For extra fun, pack a suitcase and live out of it for a few days. You won’t have the hassle of the TSA, and when the inconvenience of rummaging around for that last clean pair of undies makes you irritable, you can arrive home that minute!

You get the idea. We’re constantly being told that changing our routines is good for our brains, too. So mix it up! All we have to do is use our imaginations to find small delights.


Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Enhance Friendships


The program is called Enhance Fitness. I've been enrolled since August of 2010, just a month after I retired from Symetra Financial (formerly known as Safeco Life Insurance Company). Offered through the Northshore Senior Center (a nationwide model for senior centers all over the country), Enhance Fitness was billed as a class offering seniors specific aerobic, strength, and stretch exercises. Interestingly, the program was developed locally by Group Health Cooperative and University of Washington Medical School. Now it is a nationwide program that keeps seniors on their toes (and heels) in fifty states.

Not very flattering
but it's how it is
When I enrolled in the class, which was held in Kenmore, a neighboring suburb of Lake Forest Park where we then lived, the class was a modest size, maybe twelve people total (if everyone was present). We worked in a circle setup in a church basement. The classes were (and are) offered three times a week, year-round. Every four months participants are tested in three simple exercises to measure if they're getting stronger or, at least, holding their own.

It was through this class that I formed several deep and lasting friendships, and I've become acquainted with wonderful people, all of whom opened doors and windows into my satisfying life. As the years have gone by, instructors replaced instructors and word of mouth caused participants to join up (sometimes as many as twenty-five exercisers on a given day). And, yes, people do stop coming for myriad reasons, too, some of them forever--you get my drift.

After Jay and I moved from Lake Forest Park to Bothell, the commute to Kenmore in morning rush hour traffic became more and more challenging, so several years ago I transferred my enrollment to an Enhance Fitness class (same curriculum) closer to my home at the Northshore YMCA. So all these years later, I still attend EF. The different locale has allowed me to meet even more wonderful people--men and women--and the quality of instruction has endeared the YMCA to me. I just hit my twelfth anniversary as an Enhance Fitness participant!  I'd like to say I'm still going strong, but . . .

Without the permission of participants, I won't publish picture in which
individuals are recognizable--but you get the drift: Music, movement, sweat!
Recently I was tested--the same three measurements as always.  When I received my results this time, the test results for the entire twelve years were included!  Not too surprisingly,  I did get stronger on the tests the first ten years, but now . . . gulp. Yup, you guessed it: I'm beginning to show a decline. That's the difference between ages 65 and 77, like it or not.

I am determined to keep at it, however. I can only imagine how decrepit I would be without this class! And I would have never met the dozens upon dozens of wonderful people I exercise with.  I deeply appreciate all the benefits that Enhance Fitness has provided me over the years.


Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Ecclesiastes' Words of Wisdom


The stump sculpture in its youth
As a result of recently walking to the deteriorating stump-sculpture (also known in our family as the "Jay tree") near downtown Bothell, I revisited one of my favorite, and (in my opinion) profound passages from Hebrew Scriptures. 

I fell in love with the Book of Ecclesiastes when I took a summer graduate class in Wisdom Literature at Marquette University in the late 1970s. The old professor (he was pushing seventy) took great pains explaining the metaphors of Qoheleth's poetry to his students. (In my late thirties, I was the oldest in the class.) We learned that almond trees become white when they blossom, grinding women represent the attrition of our teeth with age, lattices refer to cataracts, etc. Each line has metaphorical meaning that now I don't need to have anyone explain.

 As a person in my late seventies, I more fully appreciate the professor's passionate approach to this particular section. I also realize how timeless it is, as so many of my peer group enjoy reminding anyone who'll listen how they "find no pleasure" in their myriad exposure to life's current culture and experiences. This translation is by R.B.Y. Scott and published by Doubleday & Company in 1965. 

Ecclesiastes  XII 1-8

[1]  In the days of your youth, remember your grave,
We loved it when
Jay posed for photos by it--
similar eyes and mustache!
When days of trouble have not come yet,
Nor have the years approached when you will say,
"I find no pleasure in them";

[2]  Before the sunshine turns to darkness,
The light fails from moon and stars
And the clouds return, bringing rains.

[3]  When that day comes, the palace guardians will tremble 
And the powerful men will stoop,
The grinding women will case work because they are few,
And they will find it dark who look out from the lattices.

[4]  The doors to the street will be shut
As the sound of the mill becomes low,
The voice of the birds will be silenced,
And all who sing songs will be hushed.

[5]  Then will men grow afraid of a height,
And terrors will lurk on the road;

The almond tree will blossom, the locust be weighted down,
And the caper berry be impotent.
For a man is on the way to his long-lasting home
And the mourners gather in the street, [waiting]--

[6]  Until the silver cord be cut, and the golden bowl be broken,
The pitcher shattered at the spring
And the water wheel broken at the cistern.

[7]  So dust will return to the earth where it was before,
And the breath of life will return to God who gave it.

[8]  Breath of a breath! says Qoheleth--All is a breath!

Today the sculpture is clearly in the throes
of returning to earth. It is still magnificent.


Saturday, September 2, 2017

Fidget Sketcher


The rage (maybe it's dying back a little, by now) is Fidget Spinners, the little gizmos that can be twirled to amuse and assuage the perpetual fidgeter. I bought one, but couldn't make it work very well--so I passed it along to my eleven-year-old granddaughter.  

Besides, it didn't take the place of my favorite fidget-management tool, the tiny sketchbook that's always tucked inside my purse.

Even reading the spell-binding novel brought along from home doesn't do it for me when I'm waiting for something--whether it's a doctor's appointment, a plane trip, or a play or concert. I can't focus on a book when there's something 'about to happen,' something I'm waiting for. 


That's where my sketchbook comes in handy. All I have to do is look around, pick someone, and start to draw. Most people change their position within two or three minutes, so my drawings are all what might be called "time studies." 


None lasts longer than just a few minutes, like a classic life-drawing class where the teacher calls for warm-up exercises by timing models for one-, three-, five-minute poses at the beginning of class.    
Even feet fidget.
I'll just get started drawing
 them,and they move!
I commuted to downtown Seattle by bus (1986 - 1997) and my sketchbook was a great sanity provider then (pre-cellphone), although the commute was plenty long enough to get engrossed in a book. However, sometimes I didn't have a good book, so I began drawing my fellow commuters as they slept for the entire trip. It was a perfect set-up: my subjects didn't know I was drawing them (when a subject does know, I always stop--pretending that I'm making a grocery list) and a sleeping subject is an artist's dream-model: physically static. 


These are a few very fast sketches from my current purse sketchbook (4"x 6"), now almost full and ready to be stashed in a shoe box with all the others. Not great art, but considering none is more than five minutes (most are considerably less), it's a fun (and challenging) way for me to fidget while I wait. 

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Agog over the blog

When I first set up my blog in 2009, struggling through the design tutorial of the hosting Web site, little did I imagine the pleasures I would derive from it. Not only has it given me a forum to express my opinions, it’s provided much fulfillment as I write about a meaningful moment or a happy encounter. Likewise, it helps reduce frustration to write about something annoying or disturbing.

Initially I thought it would be a great means of publishing the bevy of personal essays I’d written over several decades, and, yes, it’s been useful for that, too. These days, though, I’m more likely to muse spontaneously about whatever is currently happening in my life.

My blog cannot be considered a huge success by objective standards. In the eight-plus years I’ve been writing it, there have been only 100,332 views (as of today at 4:30 p.m.). On the 364 individual posts, a total of 288 comments have been received. It’s hardly one of those Web sites that goes viral. Many topics I’ve written have generated zero response. It was just one old woman rattling on--"let her rip." I hope my kids will read it, but sometimes it's too convoluted or time consuming, even for them. The outpouring of multiple loving and heartfelt comments when I wrote about Jay's death on the blog are still a treasure for me.

Once in a great while, Beats Talking To Myself provides a thrill for me. Not just a happy moment, but a feeling that transcends whatever rough spots or unpleasantness the week may have held. A feeling that makes my old woman's heart leap with joy. Today I’m going to recount the two most recent thrilling episodes springing from comments left by readers. These two most recent occurrences still make me so-o-o happy—just thinking about them—that I can barely contain myself in this narrative.

A little more than two months ago the director of the MacArthur Memorial in Virginia, James Zobel, left a comment on the June 29, 2013, post, “Along the Way—My Great-uncle’s Memoir." James already was aware of Col. William Neill Hughes, Jr.'s  relationship with Douglas MacArthur during WWI and became eager to obtain a copy of the memoir. His inquiry made through the blog resulted in two wonderful events: a copy of  Uncle Billy's memoir being made available for the MacArthur archives, and a closer connection between me and my second-cousin, Allene. She is Great-uncle Billy’s granddaughter and beneficiary of the original memoir. We have enjoyed a Christmas-card relationship for years, and regularly e-mail. Lately, because of the request for the memoir, we have had reason to chat on the phone. Both of us agree this re-connection through phone conversations has been a lovely gift.   

And then . . . last week I heard from the man who helped a group of curious (and somewhat apprehensive) readers tackle James Joyce’s Ulysses. That triumphant feat began in 1999 (just think, last century!) and the group, led by the recent college grad, Barry Devine, met every other week for almost nine months. Five years ago, on July 16, 2012, I wrote a piece about this man and my literary life-time achievement he had facilitated. By the time I wrote the blog post, it was more than a dozen years after the fact, and I had completely lost track of him. Barry somehow found the essay on Beats Talking To Myself and left a comment on it, identifying himself and promising follow-up offline, which proved easier said than done. He persevered and found a way to contact me—literally making my day this morning when I opened email. We have begun a detailed exchange of what’s occurred in the intervening years, and I'm not surprised to learn that he's become a James Joyce scholar with a PhD and university appointment to prove it.

It’s moments like this that make me determined to continue blogging. That word—blogging(or "blog" in any verb form) may not yet be in the dictionary, but it has lots of meaning for me.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Lesson of the Stuffed Bear

Postcard rendering
from early '00s
Once upon a time (OK, it was Christmas of 1984), the oldest son in a family of four siblings was Christmas shopping in Minneapolis. As a sophomore at the University of Minnesota, he was headed home to Milwaukee for the holiday, and hoped to impress his family with gifts purchased at a store unavailable to them in Wisconsin. While at Hudson's Department store, he spied an adorable teddy bear dressed in a bow tie, tweed trousers, and a knitted blue cardigan. No question about it. He snapped it up for his mother who had a teddy bear collection.

The mother's collection had started just a few years earlier when the youngest son in the family purchased a trendy 'pot-bellied' bear in a desperate attempt to buy a memorable gift for his mom, notorious for her "I'd love some note cards" answer to the question of what she wanted for Christmas. When the mother opened the package with the bear, she hugged it immediately, effusing over its cuteness, and named her Deedee. "How do you know it's a girl? asked the giver of the gift. "I just do!" replied the mother.

Jules always sat still
when being painted
There was no doubt about the gender of this newest bear, Jules, on account of his being dressed as a boy. Because he was so smartly attired, she promptly dubbed him Jules, because she had just seen Francois Truffaut's 1962 film classic, Jules and Jim, for the first time. Jules remained a kingpin in the collection.

Fast forward several decades, and the bear collection was overtaking needed space. So . . . the mother sadly weeded all but ten, keeping her favorite bears, the ones with strong sentimental value. Jules was one of the ten (yes, of course, Deedee was too), and eventually made his way into the now-deceased Father's office, a room so empty without its thriving business being operated from its confines that the Mother began calling it the Bare Den. When it occurred to the Mother to set out the remains of her bear collection on the empty shelves in the Bare Den, the name of the room morphed into the Bare Bear Den.

Now it's January 2017 and the Mother has just had surgery. She needs a little pillow to put under her arm to remind her not to fully turn over on that side until healing has taken place. Searching for the right-sized pillow, she enters the Bare Bear Den and picks up Jules. "Ah, maybe you could help me, Jules," she says. She then strips him of his clothing . . . and tucks him under her armpit. Jules turns out to be the perfect size and softness-quotient for the task at hand. Before too many days go by, she begins thinking of Jules as "Baby Bear," a gender-free name reassignment.

As the months of 2017 tick by, the Mother decides that Baby Bear has a place in her life, filling the need of Listener from time to time (and Baby Bear never talks back, a good thing.) She realizes that she doesn't think of Jules as a male anymore. Without clothing, there is no profiling of gender . . . a Jules could be a Julie and, in fact, is known now simply as "Baby Bear."  And this gives her pause. She doesn't want to be flippant about this matter (a stuffed animal most accurately would be described as gender neutral) because she is deeply understanding and compassionate about issues surrounding transgender people. But she realizes how much of our expectation about behavior and propriety has to do with clothing and its encompassing assumptions. Absence of male clothing has completely negated the assignment of a male name.

Underneath that surface judgement we all make is what doesn't meet the eye--the essence of each being, which really has nothing to do with assignment of sex. Even this dear stuffed animal, now a steady bedtime companion for the Mother (who almost never goes to sleep without tucking it under her arm, even though not required for medicinal healing) can teach us that lesson.She wonders what she would have named the bear if it had arrived without it's handsome outfit. Of course, she'll never know, but she loves Baby Bear for this insight.


Sunday, July 16, 2017

Choosing Sides

The phrase, “choose your side” has many meanings and ramifications. When I learned yesterday, as an audience member at the outdoor production of Romeo and Juliet staged by Off-Road Shakespeare, that I would be choosing whose family I was rooting for— whose ‘side I was on’— I was surprised and even a little taken aback. Not only have I seen several full blown productions of this classic Shakespeare, but I acted in a University of Washington production of it (more than fifty years ago). When the director passed a hat with folded papers in it, I hoped I’d be a Capulet—biased, of course, by having played the part of Juliet’s nurse. But I pulled a piece of paper with MONTAGUE written on it and was told to gather with other Montague supporters in the wide circle of audience surrounding the players. So I did . . . and I will never regret it. Instead of seeing the world from Juliet's perspective, I got to see it from Romeo's.
Romeo and friends hanging out and bored

During the show, all the scenes at the Capulet household not having Romeo in them were played in another part of Red Square from where the Montague scenes were playing out. That meant I was seeing the play unfold from a bias. Of course, when there were scenes with family and/or friends of both families—we all came together. I didn’t hear a lot of the dialogue most familiar to me, but it made me pay attention in an entirely different way to the play. I’m not sure the hatred between the two families has ever struck me as this pervasive before. The hatred isn’t just about idle teenagers in Verona with raging hormones—it's a hatred rooted in generations of animosity.

What an amazing production it was! The sky was blue; the sun was bright; and the actors had the enormous Red Square at University of Washington for their stage. When Romeo was banished to Mantua, the audience supporting the Montagues followed Romeo along the brick walkway all the way to the picturesque Quadrangle at UW—the equivalent of several blocks—all the while being accompanied by melancholy and haunting guitar music as a guitarist and a box-beating-drummer walked with us.

The Balcony Scene setting
Guiding the audience was carefully and expertly carried out by banner carriers—crew members of the Off-Road Shakespeare Company—as efficiently as if they were tour guides leading disparate travelers to interesting sights in a city. Various parts of Red Square lent themselves beautifully to the narrative requirements, such as Friar Lawrence’s cell, which was a cranny below a stairway wall. It allowed both Capulet and Montague audience members to lean over to see and hear the conversations between Romeo and the Friar. And the balcony? It was fabulous!

Not only could I hear every word spoken by the competent actors, I was wowed by their dexterity. Most have learned several parts and don’t know which one they’ll play until character parts are drawn from a hat just before the show starts. Gender doesn’t matter; race doesn’t matter; yes, blind casting works! I was utterly enchanted by this amazing and free production.

Mourning of the four needless deaths
Of course, being in a public square, lots of people wandered by . . . some stopping, some staying, some asking what was happening. In the latter case, a business card announcing the endeavor was handed by a crew member (usually the family-banner carrier) without breaking character or talking.

At one point a Campus Police van skirted the players . . . and squealing seagulls occasionally did their best to obliterate the Bard’s words . . . but they didn’t. I heard it all and cried at the end. The pitiful tally of corpses at the conclusion of the play had a more devastating effect on me because of where they were--out in the open under a blue sky, additional testimony to the horrific loss of young life all because of hatred and misunderstanding. Choosing sides can be deadly.

But I am glad I chose to go to this particular play, pulled "Montague" from the hat, and had the opportunity to think about a well-worn play differently. 

Sunday, June 18, 2017

And the Best Musical 2017 TONY AWARD goes to . . . (my take)

Why do I think the natasha, pierre, and the great comet of 1812 should have won a TONY for the best Musical OF 2017?  I can sum it up in two words: DAVE MALLOY.

OK, I only saw three musicals in May when I was in NYC. But one stood out as a unique and breathtaking production for these reasons:
  • Imaginative adaptation of a tiny section War and Peace conceived of by Dave Malloy
  • Entertaining, touching, and quirky script written by Dave Malloy
  • Lilting music that gets the adrenaline flowing and makes you want to get up and move (or cry) by Dave Malloy
  • Delightful and anachronistic lyrics by Dave Malloy
  • Quirky and haunting orchestrations by Dave Malloy

plus
  • Phenomenal and sometimes breathtaking lighting designed by Bradley King
  • Innovative staging involving the audience by director Rachel Chavkin.

As I told someone the next day, I could have sat in the Imperial Theatre for twelve hours if the production had lasted that long. I felt like I was inside the most exciting world I could imagine—better than being in the middle of a Cirque de Soleil performance, because the story was so ingratiating.

As an audience member, I (and all the rest of the 1400 ticket holders) saw it from the inside out— the immersive experience put performers all around me in the mezzanine—and with wonderfully costumed precision, they played their instruments, danced, and sang. Sometimes they interacted with the audience, but never in a squirmy kind of way—a way that was fresh but not embarrassing.

The star draw of  the great comet was Josh Groban. The night I saw it, he was off—but in his place as Pierre was Dave Malloy, himself! Some audience-goers complained bitterly; they wanted to see Groban! It’s written into the script that Pierre plays the piano in some of the numbers, so we saw Malloy—the man who totally conceived of the work—not just acting and singing, but also playing the piano! I loved seeing the creator of this extraordinary work take on a role and perform it with the ensemble. It was as if I got to see Wolfgang Mozart singing the part of Figaro in “The Marriage of Figaro,” while playing the cello! And, by the way, I have no doubt that Denée Benton’s Natasha would have won Best Actress in a Musical if she hadn’t been up against Bette Middler for the award.

The 2017 Best Musical TONY went to dear evan hansen. Don’t get me wrong; I loved dear evan hansen, and if anyone else had won the top award for best actor in a musical, I never would have watched the TONYs again, ever! Ben Platt was phenomenal in the role of Evan Hansen, and the work itself is exquisite. But in this woman’s opinion, natasha, pierre, and the great comet of 1812 represented the best of the best in 2017.


Saturday, June 3, 2017

Model Citizen

 At the risk to tooting my own horn (what's new?), I'd like to announce that I am a model citizen! I have the passport to prove it.

When I was in New York a few weeks ago, I treated myself to a visit to the newly opened Gulliver's Gate Museum in the theater district. It was every bit as fun as I'd hoped, and I succumbed to the lure of ordering a souvenir of the visit--a model of me, based on a 360 degree photo and created by a 3-D printer! The result arrived yesterday, to my delight. I promptly placed the likeness of myself on the top of furniture and snapped photos to send to my granddaughters. Of course, the pictures received immediate reactions. No one else (they know, anyway) has a grandma who can daintily stand atop her own mantel.

This little reminder of my trip to NYC wouldn't have come about if I hadn't told Rebecca, a neighbor friend, all about Gulliver's Gate, which I was hoping to visit on the last day of my visit. (It seemed like the perfect way to fill the two hours between checking out of the hotel and leaving for the airport.) As she heard me describe the museum, which I'd read about a few weeks earlier, Rebecca became even more enthusiastic than I about the prospect of seeing some of the world's greatest buildings and monuments miniaturized. When I explained how visitors could purchase a tiny-scale model of themselves to be placed in an exhibit and even bring home a model of themselves, she  shrieked. "You HAVE to do that, Sallie! It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity!"

Later, as I thought about it, I had to agree. I might never be back to New York, and certainly there will never be a statue of me in a city park. However, I could be a six-or-seven-inch figurine on my own dresser top. By the time I was halfway through the museum, I'd decided to go for it. I chose where the tiny replica of me would be standing in the museum exhibits, as well. The 1:87 model of Sara Glerum will be found at Stonehenge.

Gulliver's Gate had been open for "preview" for several weeks prior to its official opening May 9. My visit there on May 10, was a highlight of my week in New York, and is memorialized in the passport I received along with my mini-me.


Saturday, May 20, 2017

Middle Schoolers Who Mock

That term doesn't mean what you might think. If you’re imagining middle-school aged students making fun of each other, their teachers, or their curricula—you’re wrong! 

When a young teenage living in Greater Minneapolis says to her mother, “I’m going mocking with friends,” the mother is probably going to smile. She might ask, “Where,” but she doesn’t have to know more.

Mock is short for hammock, and probably should be spelled ‘mock. Take a look at friends of one of my granddaughters in a park near the home of my son and his family. Doesn’t this look fun?  Mentally, just contemplating this scene, I’m settling in for breeze as I snuggle down comfortably—breeze, as in ‘shooting the . . .’ and what happens when gently rocking between trees. 


I understand that the thrill of mocking fades once the mocker is obtains a driver’s license. But when you’re fourteen, that’s a long way off and mocking is NOW.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Curtain Call

     My recent trip to NYC was gratifying, to put it mildly. I’d received a flyer about the excursion in January, but because of health concerns knew I couldn’t commit to something five months out. The flyer was sent out through the auspices of ACT Theatre in Seattle and advertised four Broadway plays, several theatrically oriented tours, and visits to several tourist attractions I hadn’t seen, such as the 911 Museum and the Lower Eastside Tenement Museum. It sounded perfect, but I tossed away the brochure and told myself I’d look for a similar trip next year.
     Then in April I received an email from ACT telling me there were still a few spots available for this year. The timing was perfect—I was feeling optimistic about a healthy future and my body-parts that frequently slow me down, such as my knees and feet, were feeling pretty darn good, too. On impulse I called the number on the brochure and within the hour, I’d signed up for the trip.
     Not without some trepidation, I will admit. Age can be a stickler in a group where others are younger or more agile. I worried that I’d be exhausted by the time I’d done all the activities included. But something much more troubling lay underneath my concern—one so personal and egotistical, I was embarrassed to share it. As the widow of Jay Glerum, this would be my first trip to NYC in which I wasn’t riding on his coattails. Indeed, I had only to take my husband’s arm to be instantly an insider in the theatre district . . . the wife of a man whom stagehands revered, a man who was routinely invited backstage so stage crews could show off  their expertise to ‘the man who wrote the book.” The thought of going to Broadway shows as an ordinary audience member—not one who got to see the stuff and meet the people that made the shows so spectacular—made me sad. I’d be a nobody in the audience, when only a few years before I’d been a ‘somebody’ just because of my marriage.
     To my delight, the tour was wonderful!  I loved my six days in the city and successfully overrode sentimental memories about being there without Jay. I got up early every morning to roam the West
Unlike most productions where photos are strictly forbidden,
an announcement was made before "Natasha, Pierre, and
The Great Comet of 1812" began saying photos
BEFORE the show started were OK. Thus, this picture
of The Imperial Theatre with its fabulous, immersive set.
40s, marveling at the hustle and bustle of commuters amidst the stumbling gawkiness of tourists like me who were taking pictures, watching Good Morning America through the street-level windows, sipping Starbucks, or munching bagels, as we all walked through Times Square and its environs. 
     On the last morning before breakfast I walked back to my hotel along West 43rd  between Seventh and Eighth Avenues, passing the Lyric Theatre where I noticed its stage door was wide open. I peered in as I walked by, then paused and turned around and approached the entrance to the stage. I could see multiple stagehands loading out equipment. One hand stood by the door. “Can I just watch a minute?” I asked.
     “Yup, look all you like. But  you can’t come in.”
     “Oh, I only want to look,” I responded, feeling a surge of nostalgia. After a minute, I couldn’t resist and asked, “Does the name Jay Glerum mean anything to you? I’m his widow.”
      “Nah.”
     Immediately another stagehand appeared. "Jay Glerum? JAY O. GLERUM? Yeah, it does—it means a lot!” then chided the man standing at the door. “You do too know that name!” he scolded. “Jay O. Glerum wrote the book! He wrote Stage Rigging Handbook!”
     “Oh, yeah . . .  I shouda known . . . I have that book,” said the first stagehand seeming somewhat embarrassed, while the other one extended his hand to me for a firm and enthusiastic handshake. “Jay was great—GREAT—he taught me in two classes. I’ll never forget him!”
      We chatted for a couple of minutes, and even though I was invited inside, I declined. The spark of recognition for Jay and his work was like frosting on the cake for me. I felt immeasurably happy as I headed back to the hotel to finish packing for the trip home later that day. And I felt emancipated from what had been my crippling concern. I wasn’t in New York without Jay; he is there—backstage with stagehands who are maybe just a little more careful because of his legacy. I could almost feel him walking beside me.



Sunday, April 9, 2017

Canadian generosity toward ordinary people


My Canadian daughter-in-law, Denise Kenney, was involved in the creation of a film interviewing several Syrian Refugee families living in Kelowna, British Columbia, where she and her (also my) family live.

I found this film to be immensely interesting, as well as heartbreaking. Being able to sit vicariously in a living room with people whose lives have completely turned upside down is something most of us don't have the opportunity to do. If you have forty minutes, this is a way to discover information not just about refugees, but about yourself, too. I guarantee one thing: watching this film will have you assessing your own capacity for compassion and that of your government, as well.

 Hover over, or click on, this title to access the link:  Interviews with Syrian Refugees

Denise has given me permission to put the link on my blog and encourages anyone who wants to share it to do so.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

What the Smithsonian and I have in common

Even though I still miss my husband enormously and sometimes even get maudlin because he's gone, occasionally there is a reason to smile about his absence. Imagine me opening my e-mail this morning on my iPad and seeing this message from the Smithsonian Magazine (it's been at least five years since he stopped subscribing to it, by the way).

My response, shouted across the room, was "ME, TOO!" and then I had to smile . . . I am not alone in missing him.

During the past two (almost three) years, Jay has received periodic junk mail based on some very old lists. During the past election cycle, he was invited many times over to cast his vote for particular candidates. Of course, he didn't receive a ballot, despite some of the recent accusations about deceased people being on the voting roles. Not in my county! In fact, to King County's credit, even the very first election after his June 2014 death, which was held in August that year, no ballot was sent to him. (All Washington voting is done mail-in only.)

It's unfortunate that list-sellers get paid for providing seriously out-of-date data. I was really shocked when Jay was called for King County Jury Duty a year after his death! Obviously, King County doesn't update all of its divisions about the permanent departure of its residents. However, a quick phone call elicited an apology and assurance he would never be summoned again.

I have to keep Jay's e-mail account open because mine is a sub-account and I don't want to lose it. As a consequence, he continues to get junk mail. I have unsubscribed his account from a lot of e-mail ads and industry lists. When I have the opportunity to comment (I love the question "Tell us why you're leaving") I write "I'm dead!" or something equally bratty. It's perverse, but true; I smile about that, too.

Back to the Smithsonian Magazine. I'm glad I got the e-mail today because it was fun writing this post.