Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Optimism for 2020

At the top of the Douglas fir tree in this recent photo, notice the huge nest. It belongs to a pair of bald eagles, and the tree is on my street, just one block from where I live. Because my street has no outlet, I walk or drive by the tree whenever I leave home. In the nine years I've lived here, the eagles have raised quite a number of eaglets in that nest. In early summer of 2019, their lone eaglet fell to its death as it fledged. It was a sad event for everyone in our neighborhood.
Within these last several days, there are signs the eagles are fixing the nest up, an early activity of a new breeding season. Even if we don't see them flying in, we know there's activity because of 'whitewash' (birder talk for bird scat) on the pavement below, and multiple small branches and twigs cluttering the street along the eagles' flyway. 

I know it's inappropriate to anthropomorphize animal behavior, but poetically speaking . . . I'll say the eagles are exhibiting hope and optimism for the new year, and I wish that for all of us.  

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Poetry and Dopamine

Last night I went to Bothell's own monthly poetry Open Mic night, held at our local gallery, Tsuga. I love the event--one of the many things I began doing after becoming a widow. Participating in activities I'd never done before was a way to enjoy myself without associating the activity with Jay, which would have made me feel sad. I've written poems and read poetry all my life, but had never been to an Open Mic until late 2014.

Although I enjoy these evenings enormously, I attend only five or six a year because of other events I enjoy also fall on Saturdays. Sometimes I read poems; sometimes I just listen. The evening always begins with the Guest Poet, an invited poet who reads for twenty or twenty-five minutes. Then Open Mic begins, and anyone can sign up to read for up to five minutes. The audience usually averages ten or twelve participants, but last night there were five people present--three poets, me, and one audience member.  (It seems December's Open Mic Poetry night fell on the same evening as an annual wine-tasting event in downtown Bothell, so although lots of people were walking around the neighborhood, most carried wine glasses, showing off their Christmas sweaters or seasonal, silly head wear and were there for anything but poetry.)

I had printed off a few older poems quickly when I realized I could attend last night's event (my Saturday night plans had fallen through) and headed out to the gallery. I didn't anticipate reading, but 'just in case,' I wanted to be ready. When it turned out so few poets showed up (including the Guest Poet), I was glad I had something to read. But I wasn't prepared for the reaction I got to "Falling Gently," a version of which was on my blog in December 2009 as  "Sidewalk Carol."

"Why hasn't that been published?" the Guest Poet asked, then quickly added, "Astonishing that it hasn't been!"

I won't deny it--that comment made my day, maybe even my week. Audible sounds during the my reading had conveyed its resonance to me, but I wasn't ready for such a strong and explicit remark. Weird how a little bit of flattery gets the dopamine flowing. I smiled demurely at the question--immensely flattered--and thought to myself, 'Well, it's been published it on my blog,' Today I decided to publish it again, mainly because it's been slightly revised since I posted it ten years ago.

Spoiler alert: the word "dopamine" in the title of this post is only about how good it feels to hear a compliment--not how you will feel after reading the poem.

FALLING GENTLY . . . a homeless woman sings her carol to the passerby

I see snowflakes falling gently
Each one different and unique.
I hear church bells in my mind
Ringing in the night's mystique.

Once upon a time remembered
A little child was homeless born.
A baby boy without possession,
His swaddling rags inviting scorn.

I see snowflakes falling gently
Each one different and unique.
You treat homeless people badly
Consider us pathetic, weak.

A child today died on this street,
Hundreds more are huddling, cold.
You pay them no attention, withholding
Frankincense and myrrh and gold.

Mary, Joseph, Babe in arms
Bound in love and covenant
Fled to Egypt seeking haven
Left their home--itinerant.

I see snowflakes falling gently
Homeless people, young and old.
Curled up tight on bus-stop seats,
Shivering, frightened, freezing cold.

Merry Christmas to my friends--
The beggars on the street.
We can't close our doors like you
To keep it private, upbeat, sweet.

City homeless, what a shame!
Not your problem, we've no food.
You want Christmas pure and merry
With nothing ugly to intrude.

Could you gift us from your surplus?
Could you share with us your gold
Could you be both hope and harbor?
For us homeless? Hungry, cold!

Bless me, Jesus, Savior, Friend.
Help me, Jesus, Lamb and King.
Grant compassion, help them see
Your presence here in everything.

I see snowflakes falling gently
I hear church bells in my mind.
Remembering the homeless Baby,
Please resolve to be more kind.

Jesus knows not wealth or status.
Through my tears the snowflakes blur.
He was homeless just like we are.
Gold and frankincense and myrrh.

Sara J. Glerum
Copyright (c) 2019

Sunday, December 1, 2019

When an address becomes a home

For a number of years the old signs on HWY 522
were removed. A few years ago private funding
enabled a new sign with the old slogan
to be erected in a downtown park.
When Jay and I got serious about simplifying our lives by moving from our home in Lake Forest Park  to a condominium, we were open to living just about anywhere in the northern part of Seattle or its suburbs. After a prolonged hunt for a place with all the amenities we wanted, we knew almost the minute we stepped inside the condo we ended up buying that it was right for us. Only one small drawback, we thought: it was in Bothell. And why did that bother us?

When we lived in Lake Forest Park, we'd travel through Bothell frequently. It has much-used Washington State Highway 522 running through it, so it's a necessary pass-through for a lot of destinations. Large signs used to greet drivers on both ends of the city limits: "WELCOME TO BOTHELL FOR A DAY OR A LIFETIME." You couldn't miss the signs; you couldn't avoid them; you simply had to read them as you sped through town. We used to laugh because we never spent any time in Bothell--it was just a place on the way to somewhere else. A day? What would you do for a whole day in Bothell? We used to launch our canoe on the Sammamish River in a Bothell park, but that was the only reason we ever stopped.

One of those Sunday mornings when Jay and I were on our way somewhere, one of the welcome signs had been roughed up by mischief-makers. We couldn't help ourselves and burst out in prolonged laughter. Instead of saying Welcome to Bothell, some smart-assed kid had sprayed out the BOT so the sign read, "WELCOME TO HELL FOR A DAY OR A LIFETIME." Even as we signed the mortgage papers several years later, Jay teased, "We're gonna do this, right? for a day or a lifetime?," adding, as he snickered, "and we hope it's not 'hell'."

Now, these nine years later, I realize I love living in Bothell. Why? Because with its population of 44,000, it's the just right size to be involved in as a citizen. There're plenty of ways an ordinary person can step up, help the city, and have a say in what's happening. In this era of feeling like we're being rolled over in so many ways, it's great to feel heard and seen as a citizen. I have friends in nearby cities who don't even know the name of their mayor, let alone recognize him if he were in the same grocery line. But by just occasionally attending city council meetings and participating in city feedback sessions, I recognize (and am recognized by) the city manager, council reps, and various members of city staff when I see them 'out and about.' It's empowering to feel visible and heard. I've had helpful conversations with city police and even sat down with the fire chief last year to help write a statement for a new fire station proposition in a voters' pamphlet.Yes,I try to be a good citizen, but my small gestures of help come back tenfold as a gift to me.

After telling the City Manager one afternoon in a community 'talk-back' session about a confusing left-turn lane by the library, it was fixed the next time I drove to the library! Thinking it was a happy coincidence, I mentioned it to her the next time I saw her. "Oh, Sara, we're so glad someone told us! We never would have known about it if you hadn't said something." And why am I writing about this today? Because Bothell made it on my 'gratitude list' this weekend--something I often overlook doing until our trusty Thanksgiving holiday brings it to my attention. Thank you, Bothell.

Monday, November 18, 2019

Seeds Cede a Memory

"Poor Persephone!" Whoever would think that to herself, as she dips into a breakfast treat? Maybe some old woman ruminating to herself at her kitchen table? Yes--that's exactly what I was thinking as I began eating this delicious bowl of fruit. 

In a rare moment, because I'm really bad at determining when a pomegranate is ripe, I decided to put one in my grocery cart. I was  delighted to find it juicy and tasty when I peeled it. Munching on the elusively flavored, crunchy, bitter-sweet seeds brought back a flood of memories from childhood about  Persephone whose ingestion of a mere six pomegranate seeds forever assured the barren growth period we call winter. 

Note the dried up pomegranate at the bottom
of the illustration in the 1930s edition
of Hawthorne's Tanglewood Tales
When my father read aloud Nathaniel Hawthorne's Tanglewood Tales to me in early grade school, the Greek myths  were told with Roman names for the gods and heroes. And the stories were definitely simplified and prettified. So Hawthorne's telling of the story involves Proserpina (aka Prosperpine) who's kidnapped into the underworld by its king, Pluto (Hades in Greek myth) because he yearns for a pretty, young companion. Of course, since the story was adapted for children, 
Hawthorne entirely skips what most of us know of the myth--that Hades kidnapped Persephone, raped her, and kept her imprisoned in his kingdom, the underworld, until she was rescued by her mother Demeter (aka Ceres in the Roman version) and the god, Mercury (aka Quicksilver in Rome).

But because she'd eaten a mere six pomegranate seeds, she'd be required to return yearly to Hades, and Demeter, goddess of the earth's fertility, would grieve until she returned. I loved this story as a child and considered Persephone truly amazing for holding out half a year before she ate the tiny seeds. 

A simplistic summary of a complex myth isn't my point, however. I'll digress enough to mention I was lucky enough to study Greek mythology in college and thereby learned the harsh version of this and many other stories that minced no words for misdeeds and demons. But I've never forgotten the my first exposure to the story as a child in the 1940s, hearing it from the perspective of what was OK for children to hear almost 100 years earlier when Hawthorne re-imagined it.

What's interesting to me is how seventy years after hearing the story, it came back to me with every crunchy pomegranate seed I ate from that bowl recently. This post is just a long way of saying that stories remain in our heads a long time--sometimes forever. So much of what we retain is connected to storytelling in some form or other. In fact, stories reign!   

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Good Grief, Friendship!

Five years ago in late October, I was just a couple of weeks into an eight-week grief support group affiliated with my husband's home-hospice provider. I'd enrolled in the support group at the suggestion of my one-and-only second cousin, Allene. I have to confess, I was dubious that I could find much consolation in sharing my grief with a group of strangers, but based on Allene's gentle urging, I tried it.

Looking back, I could not be more grateful. Those eight weeks of meeting with other people also suffering from the loss of a loved one, and facilitated by a social worker, were immensely helpful. Instead of putting on the 'stiff upper lip' that we imagine our family and friends want to see, we could "let it all hang out" with people we didn't know who, likewise, were members of 'the club no one wants to belong to," widowhood.

Good Grief, Potluck! meets regularly at the home
 of Evelyn (in pink). Also shown: April, Bill, Maureen,
Sallie, Sherri, Lorraine, Jerri. Missing: Lynnette and Mike.
The first session of eight weeks would eventually come to be called Grief 101 by its participants. Why? After moving through the eight week program of thoughtfully planned agendas, attendees had the option of moving into a continuation of support that met monthly (also facilitated by a social worker), but more loosely structured. Some Grief 101 attendees chose to go their separate ways; I chose to continue with the monthly group,.affectionately known as Grief 201.

That group of widows and widowers, most of whom had then been alone for six months to a year, had developed a real coherence. I immediately sensed their comfort with each other and basked in such collegial support . . . discovering how freeing it was not to have to explain loneliness, desolation, or anger. They'd also learned how laughter among grieving people can feel downright redemptive when commentary or a shared anecdote triggered giggles and guffaws  Not only can everyone in the room resonate with shared pain and tribulation, but we could share a burst of silliness--often on a topic an outsider might frown over. Grief 201 proved to be a lifeline that continued through my second year of widowhood.

But with any support endeavor, a time comes when participation doesn't feel as essential as it once did. Other interests and agendas begin to surge ahead of the need to share bereavement experiences. The individuals participating in Grief 201 collectively became emboldened by several years of support and with the blessings of our facilitating social worker, disbanded. Yet the friendships that had developed between us were deep and lasting. So, with the inspiration of humor and good will, the members of Grief 201 formed a potluck group affectionately known as Good Grief, Potluck!

Initially, the potluck group met frequently. Now we've morphed into getting together just a few times a year. There is still a lot of laughter and deep camaraderie. Several members have found new significant others, but there is still a thick rope that connects us, so we never have a problem finding topics to talk about over the yummy midday feast. Sometimes we might not even say the word 'death.' Other times, we dwell on it and the conversation churns up recollections of feelings and anecdotes. Whatever we talk about, shared experience is at the heart of it.

I will always be grateful to my cousin for her suggestion and the gratifying friendships formed on the basis of a devastating event. Good Grief, Potluck! might also be called, Good Grief, Friendship! 

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Dashing through the rain

I generally don't look straight down when I'm walking to my car after a class for Active Older Adults at my local YMCA. I'm much more apt to be chatting with a fellow exerciser as we depart to continue our days engaged in myriad endeavors.

Yesterday, however, as I headed out, the skies darkened and opened up--a dramatic cloudburst drenched the parking lot. I held my jacket over my head in a feeble attempt to keep my glasses dry, and dashed through the parking lot trying to avoid the biggest puddles. Then what to my wondering eyes did I see . . .  

ONE PAPERCLIP. Who takes paperwork to the Y? Maybe some business person who had spent lunch hour exercising was sorting out a briefcase to cram for "the big meeting" after lunch. Or maybe someone interviewing for a volunteer coaching position is organizing her resume. 

ONE SOCK. How did it get there? Probably it was inside a shoe that was being hastily stuffed into a backpack. Or possibly it's a real runaway, not the kind that just hides out in the dryer.

ONE GRAPE.  Why just one on the tarmac? It's probable that it was part of the promised snack a mom offered to her child for being such a good girl/boy in the supervised play zone (while she worked out). As the single grape drops, the mom admonishes, "Leave it!," and there it sits.

Yes, I couldn't help myself. I reached for my phone in the pouring down rain to snap these pictures. Yes, my glasses got wet, but in a weird way, these three items sum up why I like going to the Y: All ages, all reasons, and something for everyone.

Monday, September 30, 2019

Only three more weeks

I've written a lot over the years about how much I love the farmers market in Lake Forest Park. Just twelve minutes away on a Sunday morning, it's my chronic Sunday destination regardless of other activities I've scheduled. This year I've only missed two Sundays since it opened on Mothers' Day--both absences were days I was out of town.

Regular readers of this blog know my penchant for the typewriter poet, but I have lots of favorite vendors with always-dependable produce. Every week for years I've purchased fresh flowers from the same stand, rarely spending more than $10 and always being delighted. Now I'm just looking at some of the photos I've taken over the past few months, thinking about how much I'll miss having locally grown color on my coffee table when the market closes for the season on October 20--just three more weeks. There is nothing like the spectacular variety of bountiful nature, and a gifted grower to bring joy to this old woman. Yeah, I'll start buying color-spots from the grocery store, but it's not the same.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Does Art Imitate Life? Or vice versa?

Janitor by Duane Hanson
photo taken in 2019
One of my all-time favorite works of art owned by the Milwaukee  Art Museum is a lifelike sculpture called Janitor by Duane Hanson (1925-1996). Janitor was a favorite work of everyone in our family, especially our children. Acquired in 1973 by MAM, we always made sure we looked for the piece whenever we visited the museum during the fourteen years we lived in Wisconsin. 

The first glimpse of Janitor is startling. The sight of a museum (or any) employee standing around, obviously doing nothing, makes a person uncomfortable--or maybe even giggle. Does that man's boss know he's slacking off? Only when you get close do you realize this is an exceptionally realistic sculpture and not a real person. You also realize Janitor depicts a man who is not liking his day very much, most likely fatigued--maybe even depressed--wondering how long until he can punch-out on the time clock. Over the years we lived in the Milwaukee area, we had many visits to the museum and inevitably one of us would sidle up (as close as the guards would allow) to Janitor for doing nothing, or maybe pretend to be just as tired as he seems to be.

When Jay and I last visited Milwaukee together in 2013, a visit to the MAM was a priority for both of us because it has a fantastic collection of modern works, among them Kandinsky (one of Jay's favorites), my favorite 19th century angel painting (by Abbott Handerson Thayer), and an amazing collection of modern and German Expressionist works. When we saw Janitor, Jay couldn't resist; he imitated the statue's pose. I know I have more than one photo of Jay similarly imitating Janitor, but I could only easily locate this one.

 Janitor and Jay Glerum photo taken in 2013
Last week I visited Milwaukee alone--my first time since becoming a widow in 2014--and headed to the museum for an afternoon of luxuriating in front of some of my favorite artworks. When I rounded a corner at the museum, I had to cover my mouth so as not to sob aloud. There he was--Janitor--leaning against the wall. Of course, there was no way to know Jay would never be at this museum with me again when I took his photo in 2013, but the realization that Janitor was still holding up his wall, and Jay wasn't holding up anything anymore, nearly undid me for a few minutes. 
It's good we don't know when the last time for any activity is, or we'd be so frozen in our own angst. Maybe we'd feel exactly how Duane Hanson's Janitor looks. 

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Debt Retired; Legs Working

I pride myself in keeping my bills current. I'm generally successful in not to incurring ordinary expenses I can't pay off within thirty days. Imagine my horror when I discovered I'd been carrying a balance at the library for eight months! I've never clicked on the 'account' section of my check-out page online, but when I did I was shocked. I had owed a dime for eight months! Oh, how I love King County Library. No interest charges on my ten-cent debt! Where else does THAT happen!    
Today I walked to the library (it's a little less than a mile from my home) to return another book, which was due today, and put a dime in my pocket to pay it off.  However, that triumph dims in comparison to what happened on my journey there. As I crossed a main drag in Bothell--actually, a state highway with a well-marked pedestrian cross-walk and controlled by a WALK signal (with a robot intoning "WAIT . . . WAIT . . . WAIT" when there's a red light and WALK . . . WALK . . . WALK when the light changes)--I was almost struck by a car whose driver was turning left and apparently didn't realize the crosswalk was occupied. 

I didn't know I could move so fast until this experience today, and my heart pounded the rest of the way to the library. I try to find things to be grateful for every day instead of feeling sorry for myself (it's way to easy for me to fall into a daily pity pot), but today's gratitude becomes GRATITUDE for legs that moved fast enough to get out of the way of the turning car. Amen.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Everything is better with a poem

In response to several readers' requests, I asked the poet busker and the butter merchant for permission to publish the poem written by the poet for the merchant at the Farmers Market. (See post from July 28. ) I don't have to tell you his answer:


Distill from that life giving
substance, the essence of all
things flavorful and wholesome

Bring forth the force of other
fields and weave a tapestry
for the palate, eyes one can
only see with from inside

To each dish a special form,
to each viewer a special meaning
this is, of course, the
foundation of art, the spice
of life in food

C. Stavney

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Echos of the Past

Written July 28, 2019 
This won't be news to anyone who's read my blog for a couple years: I am enamored of a particular busker who sits at his portable typewriter and composes poems on the spot, on the whim of the requester, based on any idea, word, or concept offered. In addition to being enamored, I am awed, inspired, impressed and just plain grateful to be acquainted with such a talented person.

This past Sunday, much to my delight and surprise, I ran into C. Stavney, the "busker-poet"at the Lake Forest Park Farmers Market. I hadn't seen Mr. Stavney for more than a year, but I've thought about him consistently when visiting the market. I'd pretty much given up any hope he'd return to the market since he was last there over a year ago. After all, he had finished up his English Degree from the University of Washington, had a full time job in Bellevue and, presumably, a 'life,' as well.

After smiles of delight and general chit-chat, I asked for a poem. Topic?  Two acquaintances encounter each other unexpectedly after more than a year

When he is done tapping out the poem, he pulls the paper out of the typewriter, signs it, snaps a photo of it, then folds it in half and hands it over.  I usually wait to read the poem until I'm home, or--at least--in my car, because my hands are full with purchased produce and flowers. As I walked away from Mr. Stavney's perch, situated between a honey table and a produce grower and across from a merchant who sells flavored butters, the butter merchant beckoned to me.

"Hey, how much do you pay that guy for a poem?" he asked. 

"Whatever feels right," I said and continued. "I'm such a fan, I try to be generous, but I've heard him tell people the poem is free if they can't pay, or if they don't like what he's written. Personally, I try to be generous because it's amazing to suggest a topic and watch him tap out an original poem within minutes to hand it over."  Suddenly inspired, I asked the butter-merchant, "Would you like to hear my poem?"

"Yes, sure!" he replied enthusiastically.  I opened the folded paper, explained what I'd asked the poet to write about, and then read it aloud to the two of us, noting that it was the first time hearing it for me, too.

"Wow," said the butter merchant now grinning broadly. "Do you think he'd write a poem about butter?" I nodded yes. "Then I'm going to ask him to write a poem about butter and then set it out where my customers can read it."  I refolded my poem and tucked it into my produce bag, agreeing with the merchant it was a great idea.

I can hardly wait for next Sunday to read a poem about butter!

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Farewell, my Macy's and other shops

One of Seattle's oldest shopping centers (and the first enclosed mall in the U.S.) is undergoing a redo, which involves closing most all of its inside-facing shops. Macy and J.C. Penney, along with many more stores, have already left the Northgate Shopping Center, and other personal favorites like Nordstrom, the Loft, and Gap will be gone by the end of the month. Northgate is being developed into the Pacific Northwest home of the National Hockey League, complete with a hockey rink and training facility for a team Seattle has yet to procure.

Loft Mannequins
stand around bored
Eventually some of the stores will return with a reduced footprint, small specialty shops will arrive, and housing will become incorporated into the complex. But for the past three months, stores have been disappearing like melting ice. Northgate is now a mere shadow of its illustrious past. And that makes me nostalgic.

Peeking into empty Macy
When I arrived Monday morning for a quick errand, I was startled to see that the M and Y of Macy had already been removed from the side of the building. Macy's last day was just the Sunday before! When I returned to my car less than half-an-hour later, all traces of the store's name were totally gone, as were the man and the ladder.

Eddie Bauer clerk
is also idle
The Loft was down to four racks of drastically reduced clothing, and its unclothed mannequins were tagged for sale. Eddie Bauer had two tables by the front door touting 70 percent off last sale price and one solitary clerk who looked lonely and bored to death for lack of bustle.

Looking through Macy's locked doors made me sad. Once a store I complained about--for being so jammed with inventory it was hard to pull an item off the rack--is now a totally empty of merchandise, a ghost store.

I will miss the ease of dashing through a medium-sized mall. Now I will need to visit the local "mega-mall" to shop at Penney's, Macy's and smaller favorites. Just parking there adds ten minutes to the errand. I'll need a half-day just to run little errands (like replacing socks or a colander) that I could have accomplished at Northgate in an hour. I don't mean to glorify the "olden days," but mall shopping sure was easier.  

Saturday, July 20, 2019

How to achieve an EXCEPTIONALLY worthwhile life

If, in fact, “the unexamined life is not worth living”—thank you, Socrates—then my life today must qualify as exceptionally worthwhile!

I’m re-reading letters written to friends long ago, retained by the recipients and returned to me years later.  I have two sources: ten-or-more years ago Margaret, whose acquaintance I made at my first job after college, returned letters I’d written to her in the ‘60s after she and her family moved to southwestern Washington; recently Tony, the son of my dear, deceased-friend Karen, sent me the letters I wrote his mom in the ‘70s after my family and I moved to Wisconsin. 
I also have a few taped memories: some are letters, retrieved in the ‘90s after my mother-in-law died, dictated on the then ‘newfangled’ portable tape cassette player; others are narratives made on a reel-to-reel machine and were transferred to a thumb drive (although much of the content is inaudible) in 2018. One of those reels contains Jay’s practice-session for a TV host job interview in the early 1960s and my critique of it. Both were excruciating to hear fifty-five years later.

Needless to say, I am reading and hearing things I had completely forgotten: depictions of family harmony and conflict, mother angst and worry, anecdotal joy and concern from high school through widowhood.

To this odd time-capsule comprising one-off narratives, then add a lifetime of hobby writing. Two weeks ago I had FedEx print out four hundred pages (just a start) of personal essays, poetry, and short-fiction pieces I’ve written, reaching back as far as the ‘50s. No wonder I feel bogged down in terms of my everyday, household routines. 

Reading over these pieces about both my families (one of origin and one of choice), relationships and friends, anecdotes and events, triumphs and disappointments, has created a very self-centered person for the moment. Silly things, sad things, and bad things in my life are depicted and have settled into the forefront of my thoughts. It’s all I can do to look up and look out . . .  beyond the me who has created all this.

I know—as most of us do—it’s only natural, while on a long road trip, to pull out the map to see  how far we’ve come. What started out as an unmapped journey can be traced by looking back, and it’s satisfying to see those long miles highlighted along the way—be they interstate highways or back roads. This look-back on life through memoir is like that, and it’s probably a good thing. But it feels almost incestuous to be so preoccupied with myself after thinking I was living as much for others as myself. If it weren’t for Socrates’s almost clich├ęd dictum, I might feel very guilty about the self-centered aspect of this experience. Yes, I know he was talking about philosophical examination, but I’m choosing to take the quote literally. Thus, you could say I’m just making my 'almost twenty-nine thousand days' worth living.

Friday, July 5, 2019

Jarring juxtaposition awakens a memory

Milwaukee Sentinel November 8, 1980
 Milwaukee Sentinel  
Recently I 'Googled' myself--that is to say, I put my name into a search engine just to see what would surface. About a dozen hits--mostly because of this blog and several links to my published articles online, plus some volunteer connections and donations made public by various non-profits I support. Nothing too surprising except for this: "Sara Glerum, Wauwatosa, Wis, Finds Bible Inaccurate."

Well, that got my attention!  I immediately clicked the link and rediscovered a letter I'd written published in the Milwaukee Sentinel on November 8, 1980, entitled 'The Value of Life.' The letter summary of someone else's letter was adjacent to my name, thus confusion of erroneously associating my name with that other letter (I added the big X for clarity's sake). Click on the link below the clip here:
Rereading what I had written The Sentinel in 1980 took me back to how indignant I had been at a front page story the newspaper had just published. But I'd also forgotten how thirty-two years later in 2012 I received my first-ever "Private Message" on Facebook. It was from a woman named Deanna--a total stranger to me. She explained that friend, Beth Umolac, was the woman who had been murdered in 1980, and how she, Deanna, was willing to keep on looking for the right Sara Glerum to thank, if I wasn't the  one.

I'd all but forgotten how hearing from Deanna made me feel then--sad, of course, remembering the story of a murder, but also gratified because apparently my letter had made Deanna feel a tiny bit better. I was incredibly touched that after more than thirty years, she was still wanting to thank me. That she searched me out and found me still strikes me a beautiful gesture and proves the adage, "What goes around, comes around."

I've written posts on this blog about people from my past finding me because of something I'd written on it, and it never fails to thrill me when a connection is made this way. Meanwhile, I do encourage my readers to 'Google' yourselves, and you might find yourself recalling things you'd all but forgotten. And besides, it doesn't hurt to know what's out there floating around with your name attached.  

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Color spots (and more) connect the dots

A recent road trip to Westport, Washington, with my long-time friend, Lucy, brought back memories and plenty of nostalgia. There's too much to say in a short post, so I'll start with sights and sounds and smells.

Colors: Certain colors are so specific to locale, such as the yellow of blooming Scotch broom in and about the dunes. Yes, I know it's an invasive plant and I should detest it, but I can't help loving the way it looks in contrast to the prevailing beach grass and pine.

Likewise, the purple of wild lupine scattered among the tall hay-colored grass reminds me of children peeking out from behind curtains--imagining they aren't seen by anyone. Golden and pink highlights accent rolling clouds as the sun sinks low in the sky. And then there's the biggest expanse of blue I've seen in years! Something about standing on the beach without skyscrapers (even three-story apartment buildings) or tall trees delivers a message about our human insignificance that becomes freeing. Nowhere else on earth can provide such a breathtaking glimpse of sky as an undeveloped ocean shore.

Sounds: The ocean's steady roar (maybe closer to a loud hum in summertime) is a sound I'd all but forgotten . . . until I heard it again. The foghorn (far away on buoys) is the oboe of an orchestra, periodically tuning up the instruments for the concert--gulls, other birdsong, and the steady din of waves breaking.

Smells: The sea. The salt. The seaweed. The wind (light but always there for those three days of June) makes it impossible to escape the pure ambrosia of locale-specific scents.

Only at the extreme western edge of a continent can the shadows get this long. And for me, the shadows also were mental and emotional--recollections of many visits to this beloved spot.

Lucy and I both agreed that this visit couldn't have been better, even if it had been (we wished) longer.

Friday, June 21, 2019

Word Play

If you look it up in the dictionary, the word means a number of things, all bad. 

Lately when I hear the word or say the word, I feel happy. Contented. Fulfilled. Hm-m-m. What's that about! 

It was a secret while her parents and I discussed it. Then we agreed we could make it work (school in Canada goes till the end of June).

Then it was a birthday gift announced over the long-distance phone call. The call was pretty spectacular, if I do say so.

Then there was a month of eager anticipation on both sides of the border. And, finally, it happened! 

Her mom brought her to Seattle; she and I went to the national tour of Wicked; and everything we felt afterwards was anything but the meaning of word. 

Go figure! 

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

My New Love

I just returned from a short music-and-art trip to Los Angeles with fifty other people, most of whom were seventy-plus years old and . . . tah-dah . . . I have an announcement:  

I'm in love . . .

with a performer! His name is Conrad Tao and he’s twenty-five years old. I returned from my trip last night, unpacked, ate a frozen dinner, watched a couple of pre-recorded TV shows, then fell into my own bed to sleep nine hours. When awoke, I lay there for a while, reflecting on the delicious jam-packed trip with three-full days of art and music in the company of many fascinating and nice people—led by a gracious and delightful tour leader, Norm Hollingshead. But my thoughts quickly turned to Conrad Tao, so over my morning coffee I reached for my iPad. 

Subsequently, I’ve spent much of the morning, between loads of laundry and breakfast, sobbing in front of my iPad as I watched him perform his musical enchantment close-up.Those tears have made me feel like a thirteen-year-old again, springing from the same passion I felt in eighth grade when, for the very first time, I grasped how the performance of music, with its fusing talent, technique, intellect, and emotion, turns into something greater than the parts. Apparently when an artist touches that chord in me, that soft spot, I fall in love . . . and cry.

My love back then was Pablo Casals—an old man of eighty—triggering emotions in me that had never been tapped. It was his visceral reading of the music in which he occasionally, audibly expressed his emotions as he played his cello that got to me. I knew him only from his recordings (in the days before Internet), but he could be heard sometimes humming over the music, spontaneously joining his cello's [and his chamber-music colleagues in their] execution of Schubert, Dvorak, Schumann, and Bach. That sound—an old man’s involuntary surge of vocalization—prompted my own emotional response (yes, the same as today, sobbing through the music), and I became his lifelong fan. 

Not surprisingly, few peers back then shared my adoration. Maybe no one else reacts that way, but there's a trigger point for me in terms of emotional override. Over the years I’ve felt similarly about other cellists—Yo Yo Ma, and more recently Joshua Roman. But this is the first pianist who's generated that feeling in all my seventy-nine years!

Watch his performance filmed in a special studio by New York’s WQXR on www.conrad.tao.com. Listen to his interview, as well. Not only is he a spectacular musician (both pianist and composer), but like Casals, his body emulates the music as he executes the work. I love that he’s barely begun his career at age twenty five. Not only is he a pianist, he’s also a composer, and . . ..  I’ll stop lest I embarrass myself with too much raving. 

See and listen for yourself. Ironically, when I booked the trip with Norm Hollingshead’s Opera Plus Tours, we were going to hear Lang Lang perform Beethoven’s First Piano Concerto. But Lang Lang’s tendinitis prompted a replacement for that work and Conrad Tao was the artist chosen for the honor. What a serendipitous event!

Monday, April 29, 2019


What's fifty-seven years old, holds soup to nuts and everything in between while maintaining the versatility to become a toy, musical instrument, and even part of a costume?

When I received this set of mixing bowls at my bridal shower hosted by my mother's best friend in 1962, little did I expect they'd be a mainstay of my kitchen these sixty years later. As I chilled hard-boiled eggs before Easter this year, I realized what an amazing gift the bowls had been. At the time, I was unimpressed. Stainless mixing bowls?  Too practical to be exciting.

Within the first couple of years of my marriage and its subsequent arrival of babies, I became deeply appreciative of them, however. My toddler children played with them endlessly, inevitably discovering them in the one low kitchen cupboard that didn't have a child-proof lock on it. Stacking them was a source of endless delight--and the ringing of the steel as the bowls bounced off each other is also really fun sound when you're under two.

I've soaked beans in them and whipped up everything you could imagine from waffles, muffins, dips and granola, egg salad and jello. I've tinted frostings, cooled soups, and prepared and served endless offerings of salad and fruits in them. They've been used for water-play in the backyard, worn as hats in neighborhood parades, and been beaten with spoons for in-house celebrations. And every time I reach for one, I think of Harriette McLean, my mother's life-long friend who gave them to me so long ago. Thanks, Aunt Harriette. You sure knew how to pick a useful and lasting gift.

Friday, April 19, 2019

Walking along the local bike/foot trail, I noticed this reflection in a puddle.

The universe, or at least a teeny overhead bite, was staring back at me from the ground. Of course, I had to pull out my phone and snap a picture . . . and just to make sure I'd know what I was looking at, I intentionally included my foot.

Black and white photos are fun to take on a whim. Only a decade ago, I would have been carrying a camera with film in it. There certainly was no way to decide to take a b&w photo if colored film was loaded, and vice-versa. Ah, the modern world.

Despite the poor reproduction of these shots (not enough pixels, perhaps?) I like the idea of looking down to see what's above.

Friday, March 29, 2019

The Guaranteed Unanswerable Question

"How's everybody doing," asks my fitness instructor as she looks out over her class of twenty-five sweating participants. I can't count the number of times I've heard that asked of a group and how many times the questioner looks disappointed because of the ensuing non-response.

It's the kind of question that is all too often asked of people in any type of group activity. "How's everybody with the room temperature?" How can anybody answer that question. I don't know how everybody feels! I can only respond for myself.

 Much more answerable would be "Should I bring out the fans?" and the answer could communicated easily in the form of an audible YES or NO from individual participants. The answer to "How are you doing?" could be answered with an audible OK or thumbs up (or thumbs down, too) from most people in the group.

A lot of questions are unanswerable: Is there life after death? Are human rights intrinsic? Will the United States survive to celebrate its 300th birthday? But one unanswerable question becomes answerable with a tiny word-choice change. 

Sunday, March 24, 2019

A rose by any other name . . .

A recent anthology of essays, poems, and even a couple of short plays includes several items authored by me. As anyone who writes and submits their work knows, it can be terrifying to let someone putting a book together read previously non-critiqued work. Once the author sends off the submission, a storm of insecurity blows back hard, so it's all the more exciting when the word "acceptance" appears in the eventual response.

In December 2017 I submitted several poems and essays in response to a call by Elizabeth Coplan for short works on the topic of death and grief. In July 2018 I, along with sixty others heard good news. Acceptance! The book was rushed into print so it could be unveiled at the Reimagine End of Life week in NYC in late October, so not surprisingly, there were some typos and copy editing oversights in it. We all have experienced fallout from needing to accelerate a project too quickly.

After itemizing the small errors in my work and receiving confirmation changes had been made, I was confident in the revised first-edition, which was issued in late January. I was taken aback by the appearance of the same mistakes in the revision. But . . . I'm a big girl. I got over it.

Since 1990 I've been published in the following local outlets: Seattle Times, Prime Time, The Stranger, Eastside Journal, and University of Washington Alumni Travel Association, as well as a 2010 anthology by Nancy Worssam, In Our Prime: Empowering Essays by Women on Love, Family, Career, Aging, and Just CopingWith one exception, all that published work (multiple pieces in several of the outlets) had the correct attribution: Sara J. Glerum, my legal name. The Seattle Times published one of my travel pieces with lower-case j. as my middle initial, which annoyed me at the time. Probably no one notices but the author, but it's cringe-worthy to see myself in one volume as the following: Sarah Glerum (h and no middle initial), Sara Glerum (no middle initial), Sara J Glerum (no period after the J), as well as the 'real me,' Sara J. Glerum. 

BUT . . . even with the "h" and no middle initial, I'm still happy to be in Grief Dialogues: Stories on Love and Loss, especially when I learned the book has been nominated for a Northwest Booksellers' Award because of its purpose. As you can probably guess, it's intended to help demystify death by talking about the one event in life we are guaranteed to experience. I'm proud to be part of the movement and the anthology.

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Why the Y? Let me count the ways . . .

I'm going to tout the YMCA's good work for a moment. Yes, you've heard me before on the topic; it's a passion of mine. If you have a Y in your neighborhood or community, I'm guessing it has a fund drive going on now (and it most certainly does if you live in the Greater Seattle area). If you like the idea of helping an organization that helps people get healthier--youth, children, adults of all ages, including people my age (old), please consider making a gift.

The Y is a non-profit organization that quietly gives back to its communities. It is much broader now than it was 165 years ago when it was founded, but its generous reason for being is the same. However, you don't need to be young or Christian or male to participate. Nowadays the YMCA is as inclusive an organization as exists anywhere in the world.

Many of its programs are offered at no charge to anyone who needs them. Cancer survivors can participate in a twelve week LiveStrong program, families with children struggling with obesity referred by their physicians or school nurses can participate in a program designed to change eating and exercise habits for the whole family, also a twelve week program. Y memberships for the entire family at zero cost to them are included with both programs, and they are just two of many the healthy-living programs available to members and community.

Financial help and scholarships abound, and that's the main reason for our fund drive. Everyone knows about the Y summer camps, and many have heard of teen leadership program in which teens in grades 8-12 learn about, and engage, with the legislative process. But lots happens behind the scenes. For instance, my branch partners with the local school district to send teens who qualify for lunch subsidies home with backpacks filled with fresh produce and healthy snacks for weekends. Another generous thing my Y does is to have "women-only nights" so that women with faith-based reasons for not swimming or exercising in mixed company can utilize the Y's facilities.

A gift to my branch of the Y will actually allow almost 2,500 people to access programs, including before and after school care for kids.  If you don't want to donate to my YMCA, how about donating to yours?  It's a great organization.

But . . . if you want to help my fundraising efforts (I've committed to raising $3,000), just click the link that follows. You can make your gift here and every little bit helps. And a lot of people will join me in saying thank you. 

Friday, February 22, 2019

Deserved Customer Loyalty

The picture says it all. Yesterday I heard a funny clicking coming from my car's back right tire as I slowly drove through my 10 MPH street. As I gained speed on the  major road, I didn't hear anything, so I stopped worrying. I was running several errands on my way to my favorite local bookstore and stopped at the post office to mail an over-sized envelope. When I returned to my car, I noticed the head of a large bolt stuck in the tread of the rear-right tire. (Oh, how I wish I had taken a photo of it.) Aha! That was the source of the sound I heard. My dashboard low-tire icon was NOT lit . . . but nevertheless, Les Schwab Tires was on my way, so I pulled into its parking lot.

The service person, who had rushed out to greet me while I was just pulling in, asked me how he could help. After locating the bolt, he told me he would extract it, then check to see if the tire was losing any air. "Looks promising--it likely hasn't punctured the tire, but don't worry, M'am. We won't let you leave until we know the tire is OK or repaired."

It did lose air when the bolt was extracted, and within half-hour, at NO CHARGE to me, the tire was repaired. As a person who is consistently timid about car malfunctions, I couldn't have been more relieved or happier.

Thank you, Les Schwab Tires! If only every merchant were as smartly run--understanding that helping with something little gains fierce customer loyalty--the world would be a better place. 

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Family resemblance

Standing behind an older man in the Express Checkout lane of my local supermarket, I was relieved to see he only had few Sumo Mandarin oranges and a box of coffee filters. As I unloaded my several items, I overheard this:

Clerk: These are sure ugly with all those wrinkles, but they're sure delicious.

Customer:  Yup.

Me:  (silently)  Just like me.