Category Archives: Laura Grimes

Spreading the love of pickles, one jar at a time

The raw materials: Cukes to the people. Photo: Laura Grimes

Move over, blogsters. Clear the counters. It’s pickle time!

I had planned to tear down a fence this week, in part to keep the Large Smelly Boys busy because it’s the one week all summer when THEY’RE BOTH HOME. But then I realized it was the only few days I’d be in town during pickle season.

So, please, don’t bother to call. We’re too busy with mustard seeds, canning salt and – oh yeah – cukes!

We make bread and butters, dills and sweets. Other times we make jam, apple chutney, pesto and mustard. So you might think we’re the Scatter Family, but really we’re the Condiment Family.

Why pickles? Well, we like to eat ’em, we like to make ’em, we like to give ’em away.

But there’s a deeper level, and it’s a sweet and sad little story. I first “published” it somewhere else on the internets, so forgive me if you’ve read it before. It’s slightly adapted for this audience. I originally wrote it as part of a series of stories about the author Henry James.

Why pickles make the perfect present
Changing the literary landscape, one jar of pickles at a time

As in many Henry James novels, often the smallest gesture has the biggest import, backed by layers of meaning, history, implication and nuance. It can be a short, shared experience between two people, seemingly commonplace, but it immediately accelerates to a potent moment when given just a little backstory. James knew all about backstory, the bigger picture, the stuff rich stories are made of.

1963 Heritage Press edition of "The Ambassadors" by Henry James. Photo: Laura GrimesMartha Ullman West, Art Scatter’s favorite dance correspondent, emailed me soon after my story about trying to read James appeared in the O! books section of The Oregonian on Jan. 4 of this year.

I had notified most people that I was including their comments in my story, but I didn’t say a thing to Martha. I left it all as a surprise.

She didn’t know that the fine edition of The Ambassadors that had belonged to her late husband, Frank West, would be featured so prominently.

She generously gave me that book after I told my woeful tale of my sad little copy from the library. I gave her a quart jar of my best dill pickles in return.

Soon after, Martha wrote: “Unbeknownst to you, I think the pickles were a completely appropriate gift, because Frank made pickles every summer until the last year of his life. Kosher dills were his specialty.”

My dad made pickles. Once.

It was just a few weeks after my mom had surgery to remove a large tumor from the middle of her brain when my aunt showed up at the house with a box full of pickling cukes.

Before my mom had surgery my family didn’t know how or if she would recover. We weren’t given any expectations. We didn’t know whether she’d be able to walk or talk. We were told the recovery process could take up to a year.

But only a few weeks after surgery my mom was up and about a bit. Oddly, the memory embedded most in my mind is my mom sitting on the front stoop of the house, a large bandage wrapped around her head, carefully trying to control her hand movements as she put smelly mothballs into pantyhose, tied them, and then buried them in the planters next to the stoop as a ruse to keep out the pesky squirrels that dug there all the time. It never worked. The squirrels just scratched aside the mothballs, one tied pantyhose after another, leaving the porch to smell like a nasty attic. My mom did all this while sitting rigidly straight and not bending over, because she risked her brain collapsing in and then the outside of it hemorrhaging. Which would have been bad. It could have killed her.

My dad, who was always antsy in the best of circumstances, carefully attended my mom and was determined to keep everything as normal as possible. He never stopped moving. He did all the things my mom had always done. He cooked. He cleaned. He couldn’t keep himself busy enough.

And then my aunt showed up with cucumbers. When my dad asked what he was supposed to do with them, my aunt replied that my mom always made pickles.

And so she had. Every summer. Along with canned peaches and pears.

First off the assemby line: bread and butters. Photo: Laura GrimesBread-and-butter pickles were her specialty. They’re the ones with sliced cucumbers and soft streamers of onions and a bunch of mustard seeds and peppercorns that look like confetti. Those pickles were always in our pantry and in the fridge. They were always in fancy dishes on holiday tables. I had never known them not to be there.

And I had never known my dad to command the mottled black enamel canner until that summer. He made batch after batch of bread-and-butter pickles. The jars started lining up on the counter and they started to pop as they sealed. My dad would say, “Did you hear that? They go ‘pop, pop, pop.'” I would laugh and say, “How was that again?” He would repeat it: “They go ‘pop, pop, pop!‘”

After a day or two he had stacks of jars, each labeled with his tidy uppercase printing.

After a few months he started to have headaches. When he finally went to the doctor, he was immediately given prescriptions and an appointment with a neurosurgeon. He had a brain tumor.

We could tell the rhythm was completely different this time from when my mom had surgery. With her, doctors weren’t hurried about setting dates, taking plenty of time to carefully map her brain to figure out the least invasive path. They knew her tumor was most likely benign and slow-growing. With my dad, appointments were scheduled right away.

His surgery, just days after his diagnosis, confirmed what we had suspected: The tumor was malignant. He had one of the most aggressive types of brain cancer. We were told he would probably have a year.

My dad, who had so attentively taken care of my mom, not just after her surgery but for all the months and years before it when her behavior was so goofy and we didn’t know why, now had to be taken care of. And my mom, just months out of surgery and still recovering herself, suddenly had to take care of my dad.

By the time pickling cukes were in their prime again my dad was wobbly and sleeping more. He never made pickles again.

So you see, Martha, pickles were a perfectly appropriate gift. Unbeknownst to you, my dad made pickles. Just once. Near the last year of his life. Bread-and-butters were his specialty.

Don't sweat it, just heat it. Photo: Bob Hicks

Why did the Scatter family hit the road? Alvin and the Chipmunks (Car Game, Act 2)

Oregon Trail reenactment, 1961. South Bluff National Monument, Nebraska. National Park Service/Wikimedia Commons.

The Scatter family embarks on a trail fraught with singing rodents.


While Mr. and Mrs. Scatter pack the Conestoga wagon and nurse our nonexistent hangovers, the Large Smelly Boys have taken over blogging duty.

In the spirit of reading sayings from fortune cookies and adding the words “in bed” at the end, we come up with questions that can always be answered with “Alvin and the Chipmunks.” The Large Smelly Boys themselves typed many of these very words (and I’m impressed at what a careful job they did).

To wit:

What’s for lunch?
What is Victoria’s Secret?
Who’s got veto power?

What’s that smell?
Who signed the Declaration of Independence?
6abc Boscov's Thanksgiving Parade. Wikimedia CommonsWhere have all the flowers gone?

Where does all the helium go?
Who were your foster parents?
Who’s doing your heart transplant?

Who shot JFK?
Who killed Roger Rabbit?
Who was Hitler’s right-hand man?

Who really wrote Shakespeare’s plays?
Who discovered E=MC2?
What’s the soup of the day?

What’s your favorite ice cream flavor?
Who’s going to star in the next James Bond film?
Who’s going to be the bad guy in the next Indiana Jones movie?

What scent is your candle?
What’s your sign?
Who’s your anger management counselor?

What’s the meaning of life?
How do you brush your teeth?
What stuffed animal do you sleep with?

What’s really behind the economic crisis?
Who’s in charge?
What kind of cereal do you like?

Who does your hair?
Why are newspapers going to sleep?
What’s really in a Dirty Little Secret Martini?

Who are the people in your neighborhood?
How are babies made?
Do these pants make me look fat?

Who are Santa’s little helpers?
Who canceled Christmas?
What’s your middle name?

Who did Lassie save from the well?
Can you recommend a good tax consultant?
What’s in YOUR wallet?

Who took all our toaster waffles?
Who stole the cookie from the cookie jar?
Who’s that monster in the closet?

Who walks on the wild side?
What’s growing in the fridge?
What kind of milk do you drink?

Cloudy with a chance of what?
Who’s your daddy?
Who were the three wise men?

Who were the three Stooges?
What makes your roses grow?
What are the real identities of the Large Smelly Boys?

Feel free to add to the list.


— Laura Grimes and the Large Smelly Boys (that’s a band name, right?)

While We Are Filling the Ice Bucket, The Large Smelly Boys Take Over the World (Act 1)

Martini makin's. Wikimedia Commons

Here at Art Scatter World Headquarters we’re madly preparing for a Gathering of the Blogbreaths by stocking up on two essential ingredients:




Rose City Reader is out of the running, celebrating her dad’s 70th birthday and entertaining The Bavarians. Mead Hunter of Blogorrhea fame is busy being all important at the Willamette Writers Conference.

We boldly (BOLDLY!) admit we’ve been caught with our pants down in full frontal nudity.

What to do but pour a strong one with some of our favorite compatriots: Barry “Remember Him?” Johnson (Portland Arts Watch), Martha Ullman “Superb As Always” West (frequent Art Scatter correspondent and probably the most highly paid) and Mighty Toy “Can’t Say Enough” Cannon (nee Mamet, of Culture Shock).

In the spirit of No, We Don’t Have Jobs But Can They Be Saved Anyway? we’re planning a little cocktail party, a blog summit, a throw-an-extra-olive-in-the Dirty-Little-Secret-Martini scheme of things. We know we get but a few comments per post. We assume No One will read What the Heck We Write. And yet we labor on with blind ambition and happy thoughts. The upside? Because we know no one cares, we free ourselves of self-conscious restraints and party merrily.

Today we drink. Tomorrow we drive.

So we offer these car games that have a HIGH LSB* rating.

While we’re busy being irresponsible, we’ve given over the blog reigns to one of the Large Smelly Boys (not to be confused with the Soggy Bottom Boys).


When we’re not playing What’s That Smell?** in the car, we take letters (often ripped right from license plates) and make up words to go with ’em. Most recently, we’ve come up with words for … MTC:

Mighty Terrible Contractions
Mo’ Tasty Cornbits
Marmalade Tooth Candies
Meat Thermometer Canal
Merry Ticklish Cows
My Teeny Chickadee
My Tiny Cockatoo
Moon Truck Chocolates
Mistaken Twin Cousin
Masculine Teen Car
Massage Therapist Candles
Monster Toasty Crayons
Mr. Two Cheeks
Morbid Toe Cheese
Mighty Tasty Chipmunks

Which conveniently brings us to …

CAR GAME, ACT 2: Stay tuned for tomorrow.

What crazy words do you think MTC stands for?

— Laura Grimes and Large Large Smelly Boy


*Large Smelly Boys

**Another game the LSBs like to play in the car is to take off their shoes and see how long it takes us to notice. The longest has been 5 seconds.

Scenes from a writers’ marriage: How he got that story

Rick Bartow: Crow's Delusion (He Who Must Be Obeyed). Courtesy Froelick Gallery


Today my current first husband and I can legally drink. We’ve been married 21 years.

We can’t legally drink and celebrate together because I’m spending our special day with my mom. But it’s not the special days that make a marriage special. It’s the everyday little things. Like laughing and teasing. Like coffee together in the morning.

The first Christmas we spent together, my current first husband gave me a coffee maker. Sweet? I was pissed. But I gotta admit, that coffee maker was our loyal morning friend for 20 years, part of many a happy moment. Good memories are made of many a happy moment. Good marriages, too.

There’s one moment, though, that I will always hold dear.


My current first husband wrote a post recently and described a certain look in my eyes. Damn, but he beat me to it. Because little did he know that I have been working on a certain story that has just such a look, albeit a tad bit different and a shade bit farther … and on a certain somebody else. Actually, I’ve been tooling this story around in my head for many years. But a recent event swept through my brain like a tornado in Kansas and collected all the disparate thoughts, lifted them up, swirled them around and plunked them down again.


I met Rick Bartow a few weeks ago,
and now I understand.

I understand a story I first started hearing years ago.

Rick Bartow. Courtesy Froelick GalleryIt was early 2002. Mr. Scatter and I and the large smelly boys – who were not so large and not so smelly back then – were driving several hours north to visit family. To visit my mom, in fact. The not-so-large not-so-smelly boys must have been blessedly quiet in the backseat for a long stretch of road. We’ll just chalk that up to divinity and not ask why.

Mr. Scatter had recently visited Rick at his home and studio in Newport, Ore., for research to write a story. He had been typing away on it for a few days. But he was at loose ends. I could tell. Because he was talking about it incessantly, as much to figure out a throughway for the story as he was just plum excited.

He was trying to get his arms around a giant octopus and he hadn’t quite figured out how to land it.


After meeting Rick and seeing him perform, now I know why. Rick and two of his musician buddies did a show with Portland Taiko on July 2. Mr. Scatter is on the board of Portland Taiko, so even though I was looking forward to finally hearing Rick, I figured it would be an evening of smiling and shaking hands. I fretted about taking the right handbag.

It had been a blistering hot day and the event was taking place on the roof of the DeSoto Building in the Pearl, above Froelick Gallery. Frying came to mind. But by evening, the temperature had cooled to balmy, a slight breeze had kicked in and the sky was an uncanny even blue, deepening darker as the night wore on and lending a crisper backdrop for a half moon that lifted and slowly shifted through the show. It was magic.

Rick was even better. He was immediately open and generous, a magnetic guy who took a blues song and elevatored it down to deep dark basements faster than you can push a button. His songs were earthy and mystical and wrapped in rich, complex storytelling. He didn’t hold back.

What a gift. He talked of his past substance abuse, Vietnam, friends who have died, the beginnings of songs, the ends of songs. He wasn’t afraid of ugly. And he wasn’t afraid of sweet.

His stories unspooled for anyone lucky enough to have a seat. Friends. Strangers. He opened up for everyone. It was the gift he gave.

Afterward, Mr. Scatter and I chatted with him. I asked if he ever played at the Blues Festival, which was happening at the same time at Tom McCall Waterfront Park. He said no, he just can’t take the crowds. His nerves get to him.

I understand that, too. He seemingly wears all of his nerves on the outside. He takes in everything, absorbs it, feels it, and gives it back. For someone to perform like that, he must be perceptive to the slightest vibrations. And when you’re that sensitive, when all your pores are open to everything that comes in, crowds can be overwhelming. It’s too much all at once. There’s a lot of good in there, but the bad comes with it.

I want to say that Rick is a big man, but that doesn’t sound right. He’s a big spirit. At once gentle and rough.

Continue reading Scenes from a writers’ marriage: How he got that story

Scorching temperature: The long and the shorts of it

Desperate times call for desperate measures.Here in the Art Scatter sauna we wouldn’t stoop to wearing a muu muu, but we have fantasized about it.

Are we the only ones to pitch all decorum in this stifling heat? One of the large smelly boys* walks around in boxer shorts and the cat sleeps on the dining table.

I know. Gross. But I don’t have the heart to discourage it. The cat knows where to find the best air flow.

But back to the boxer shorts. They remind me of the mom who once told me that they have a rule in their house.

“If the blinds are up then everyone has to wear at least underwear.”


“And that goes for everyone.”

— Laura Grimes


*Identity has been blurred to protect the guilty.

The Write Brain Initiative: Wrong words stir up a storm

Oklahoma! -- Photo: Wikimedia Commons/National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration


The worst thing about Writer Brain is that it’s silent but deadly.

It wildly carries on in my head without anyone knowing it and then embarrassingly erupts at odd moments when I least expect it. The real problem? It’s not always quiet.

“I’m sorry,” I’ll murmur. But it’s too late. It’s out. And everyone heard it.

This happened to me at a very civilized dinner party of eight. This wasn’t during the unruly cocktail time when I could cough and hide in the folds of a curtain and hope the errant noise was covered by polite chatter and crunchy hors d’oeuvres. This happened while everyone was sitting thigh to elbow around the table and pleasantly eating salad and halibut.

I had been working for weeks on a gangly and lengthy poem that stretched well beyond the reaches of my imagination. It had started in a flash of brilliant clarity that was so pinpoint-exact that of course I could never find it again. Trying to describe it led me on an epic search from which I might never return. I wrote verse after sprawling verse.

Continue reading The Write Brain Initiative: Wrong words stir up a storm

Splendor in the glass: Life, death, love, and crab shells

Part of the collection. Photo: Laura Grimes


Funny how inspiration can be found in the form of dead crabs.

While walking along the beach I found one crab shell after another and imagined stacking them up in a glass jar. I imagined crab shells all the same size stacked one atop the other, up up up, and enclosed in clear glass. So many. So fragile. So safe. And so dead.


  • I was taken with the pure imagery of it. Crabs and glass in one clean vertical line.
  • The delicate shells displayed so simply yet they have so much texture and immediately evoke a briny musky sense and a deep connection with the vast ocean.
  • Death and the way we stare at it, a fascination we can’t avoid … uneasy, perilous, precarious.
  • A glass jar that’s oddly both fragile and safe-keeping.

I love filling glass jars — an odd passion, I know. I buy them at Goodwill and wash them and then fill them with shells and rocks and sea glass and fossils and wasps’ nests and pinecones and bones and dead bugs and feathers and flower pods and leaf skeletons.

I fill glass jars now the way I filled my pockets with all these things when I was a kid.

When I was very pregnant with my first son I opened a package in front of a room full of people. Inside were three small jars and a note. When I read the note, I had to discreetly turn my face to hide my tears. I’d like to think it was the hormones. My mom had written that she had received the jars when my sister, 11 years older, was born. My mom had filled them with cotton balls and Q-tips and safety pins. The Q-tips were the old wooden kind. My mom was surprised to hear this. She didn’t remember the Q-tips being the old wooden kind. I saved them.

The small jars are now full of agates, lava rocks and old broken tile and are displayed in the old soldered windows of the dining room. The sunlight shines through them.

Continue reading Splendor in the glass: Life, death, love, and crab shells

The Write Brain Initiative: How to refuse the muse without really trying


I’m reluctant to write this.

Gregor Reisch, 1512. Margarita philosophica nova cui insunt sequentiaBut I’ve been fingered by Mighty Toy Cannon, one of my favorite blogforthers (sorry, I have others, too, though I don’t have so many that on ethical grounds I would be obligated to disclose them to my primary care doctor). The jig’s up. MTC said in a recent comment that he had just been wondering where I’d disappeared to.

I’ve been mostly out of town and handicapped by a dodgy internet connection. Which is just fine with me because I fully admit I had planned to disappear for a while. Until at least September. And my little off-the-grid plan would have worked if it hadn’t been for Writer Brain. I have distinctly told it to SHUT THE HELL UP, but it refuses to listen, which entirely ticks me off.

Writer Brain kicks off voices in my head. I know there’s medication for this sort of thing, but the only remedy for my particular syndrome is a full dose of typing fingers.

Fortunately, it has only taunted me lately with goofy, farfetched and absolutely true accounts about plunging and bras (though, unfortunately, not at the same time).

I knew I needed quiet time and summertime, balm time and … fermenting time.

But then words dance in my head and realign and won’t SHUT THE HELL UP.

Sure, they make me laugh. Sure, they make me want to sleep with my computer (I’m not confessing that to my primary care doctor any time soon, either). But – I know this is pathetic – I don’t want to be responsible for them.

I’ve said this before: I have as much discipline as a red balloon on a breezy day. And I want to keep it that way. I want to play on the beach and read and rediscover the fact that I have children.

My small large smelly boy recognizes the affliction when it comes on.

He says, “I’m hungry,” and I steadfastly continue typing, my eyes fixed and glowing as one with the screen. He says, “Mommy, it’s time to get out of bed.” He says, “Mommy, what are you mumbling?” He says, “Mommy, there’s a pedestrian.”


Sure, I’ve done the type-when-I-have-to thing. But this isn’t one of those times. I don’t need to muscle my way to any deadline. So what is it, then?

Could it be a … muse? Aren’t those suppose to be women frolicking in Grecian gowns? Let me make this absolutely clear: the bad noise in my head is not wearing a toga!

Why are muses always considered to be women, anyway? Is that sort of like boats? Why are boats female? Is it because old-timey sailors were always men and they needed a bit of estrogen along to complete the family picture?


Writer Brain is such a cad, sifting and sorting through several story threads at once. What might catch its fancy?

And yet, I’m relieved. It’s landed only on funny lately, teasing along choice bits until they’re good and ripe and pack just the right punchline.

But there’s something else there, too, something bubbling up from the yeasty depths, well below the frothy head.

What is that? I don’t want to know yet. I need more fermenting time.

So forgive me if I don’t blogforth for a while. I have a headache.

— Laura Grimes

How to not buy bras with large smelly boys


Buying bras comes with major tenets that are never violated:

Trust the truss./Wikimedia Commons— If you like a bra it will not come in your size.

— Cute little bras will not come in your size.

— Anything with the name “Wonder Bra” will not come in your size.

— Sexy numbers that come with slogans like “Amazing Lift” will not come in your size.

— You will secretly hope that a bra in your size does not come with a slogan like “Amazing Fork Lift.”

— Any bra that does not come in your size will have every size right up to the size that you wear.

— The bras you like will be displayed prominently in the big picture windows in the front of the store.

— Large hairy men in tank tops will walk past the big picture windows.

— You will think that some large hairy men in tank tops should shop for bras.

— Once you find a bra in your size it will look like giant clam shells stuck together with duct tape.

— Once you find a bra in your size it will come only in lavender.

— Once you find a bra in your size it will come only in a paisley design.

— Once you find a bra in your size it will come with weird inlay leaf designs that look like groping fingers.

— Bra-buying will be traumatic enough without receiving a text message from a large smelly teenage boy that says, “What’s taking you so long?”

— Once you find a bra you sort of like it will say something like “No Poke Wire.”

— Once you find a bra you sort of like AND in your size it will say something like “Concealing Petals.”

— “Concealing Petals” are something to conceal things called nipples because apparently they’re unacceptable.

— You will be horrified to realize that you were born with not one but two nipples.

— You will be horrified to realize that you nursed not one but two boys (not at the same time) with not one but two nipples (not at the same time).
Continue reading How to not buy bras with large smelly boys

Toilet plungers really do suck: They stick to faces


Call the health department. Plumbing disease is contagious.

We left town and all our drain problems behind and headed to the coast. I lugged everything into our tidy little place and made a bee-line to the bathroom when a guest* large smelly boy said, “Oh, that toilet is weird.”

I flushed it. It burbled back at me.

We have lugged everything to this tidy little place** for nearly 18 years. It has two toilets, two tubs and four sinks. Never, in all that time, have I had to plunge a large clump of goo.

The Mini Pro Sink and Drain Plunger: like a joystick.  Monument ToolsAs I realized I was having another plumbing panic — my third in a week — part of me was in a suspended state of disbelief while the other looked for a plunger. In vain.

Here I had a lovely view of the Pacific Ocean, but I was roughing it. I did not have my impressive array of drain-cleaning implements.

I rummaged under sinks and in closets until I found one pathetic-looking plunger. It wasn’t a designer model. No sucky lips. No caddy.

I was embarrassed for its nakedness so I searched through the cupboards for a proper caddy. But remember, we’re roughing it. I didn’t find even a cheap Tupperware container.

I pushed the plunger up and down to no avail. It had a big problem. It didn’t suck. That’s when I did what any sensible amateur plumber would do. I went to dinner.

On the way home we stopped by a one-stop shopping store (yes, the very chain where the flashy, brazen garden nozzles are lined up in a red light district). My grocery list? Milk. Eggs. Juice. Plunger.

And cookie dough. We have a tradition at the beach of baking cookies each night. But remember, we’re roughing it. So we don’t actually make the dough. We just bake it. After we buy it.

One of the large smelly boys and I were picking out what kind of cookie dough to buy in a package when we both said, “Look, it comes in a tub!”

I compared prices. Sure enough. The tub was cheaper by volume. Then I realized we’d gain a bonus. We’d gain a plunger caddy. But we’d have to bake a lot of cookies.***

Continue reading Toilet plungers really do suck: They stick to faces