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Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Cause for Celebration

I was going to celebrate when I reached 365 posts, and I’m only at 302.

But…

I have news.

“Our Third Thirds” has received a First Place Award from the National Federation of Press Women. And because I won that, I get to put this on my website.


Now I just have to figure out where it should go and how to get it in there.

A Third Third technological challenge. Stay tuned.

And because good news comes in batches, I have more. My one children’s story – Hanukkah in Alaskathe story that lives a charmed life and provides me with continuing good news out of the blue – has done it again: PJ Library has picked it up AGAIN for distribution to children as their November book-of-the-month!
For a whopping 31,300 copies for both the U.S. and the U.K.!

This came with an interesting request: I had to make some changes to include the U.K. audience. For some little cross-cultural tidbits, here they are:
  • shoveled driveways and paths,” had to be changed to “cleared driveways and paths.” A friend said that’s because in England, they use spades, not shovels.

  • The little girl’s “thick, baggy pants and a sweatshirt” had to become her “thick, baggy sweatpants and a sweatshirt.” That one stumped me until another friend said that “pants” in England are “underpants.”

  • “Mom” became “my mother” because English mothers are “Mums.”

  • And, of course, “color” wouldn’t work in a “colourful” world, so it’s just gone.
But you can still color me pleased!

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

A Truly Scary Story

You can be in your Third Third and stupid at the same time. All the accumulated wisdom of age is no protection against the occasional lapse in judgment. Then you have to re-learn something by lessons, by research, by observation, even by osmosis. But sometimes, you need a 2x4 to the head to get the message.

My 2x4 to the head came in the form of logs.
This is how I go kayaking in Prince William Sound: I examine my maps. I talk to people who’ve gone out there. I talk to the charter boat captain. I pack my supplies in a dry bag. The important supplies go in what we call the sealed Immediately Accessible Bag. We bring repair tools, a first aid kit. We check the weather. I don’t do anything foolish because Nature is serious business and vigilance is required.

But when the sun is shining in Anchorage for an amazingly long time and temperatures are at 70 degrees – in September! – and Tim suggests a little 2-hour canoe ride, well, then, my brain takes a vacation.

Mentally, I think I was imagining riding across a lake, reclining with a parasol over my head. I think I was in a Victorian romance for a sunny 2-hour cruise.

Yes, I know what happened to Gilligan.

So this is how I prepare: I put my camera in a Ziploc bag. I stick some extra clothes in the car. I put on my rubber boots and life jacket. And that’s it.

So, off we go. Right off, we encounter the shallow start. Later, I find out it’s called a “boulder garden.” This is how a 2-person canoe works: the person in front sees the obstacles. The person in back steers away from the obstacles. The person in front must communicate effectively to the person in back, and the person in back must receive those messages and act on them.

Even if they’re married.

“I said left, your OTHER left.” “Go around the rock counter-clockwise, COUNTER-clockwise!” “When you say 1:00, do you mean the boulder is at 1:00 or I should steer to 1:00???” F***! F***! “Paddle HARD!” F***! “Right or left? Which way?” F***! F***! “It’s better to the right.” “I think there’s more water over there.” F***! F***!

Years back, Tim and I were in a raft. He said, “You might want to paddle.” We hit a sweeper (tree over the river) and got tossed about.

“Why didn’t you warn me?!?!?”

“I did.”

A marriage is made of Midwesterners who quietly suggest things and New Yorkers who understand warnings shouted with great urgency.

Back to our boulder garden. We make it through and the current picks up. Things are starting to get delightful. I should have packed a lunch for a picnic. We round a corner … and face a right angle turn. Slammed into a logjam, the canoe turns over, pinning me against the logs. I can’t move. I try to climb over the logs, but the branches just keep breaking off, and besides, I’m pinned.



This is the terror moment. This is every story you’ve ever heard of people who die on a river because they can’t get out. This is visceral thoughts of that horrible movie, Deliverance. This is you with cold water rushing around you, relentless rushing water. And you’re stuck.

Tim shifts, moves, and the canoe frees me. He tells me I have to get out of the water. I know I have to swim, but I feel so constricted, so restrained. My whole body isn’t moving the way I want it to. I wonder if I should kick off my boots. But I take off and make it to a gravel bar. I am very, very cold and my hands don’t grip anymore.

Tim is on another gravel bar, and the canoe is idly resting by a third. That is an astonishing sight. Tim retrieves the canoe and then comes for me. He says we have to cross the river to get to the canoe. The river I’ve just come out of. This is my low point. I have not yet realized that the reason I feel constricted is because I’m wearing my life jacket, that I will not drown. Tim’s calm Midwestern hand holds my frazzled New York one, and I can do this (while I blather corny motivational messages as step-by-step updates).

We make it to the canoe, and I shout, “We’re home free!”

Tim says, “We have no paddles.”

Hmmm… That’s a stumper.

He points to the dense, impassable, thick forest of alders in front of us. On the other side is the road. Somewhere.

A mouse couldn’t fit through that forest. Tim calls it “alder bashing,” and I think about bears. We fight our way through … to another braid in the river we must cross. More alders. Another braid. Finally, at the very last braid in the river, we can see the guardrail and the road on the far side. This is the main channel; this is fast and deep. Chest-high.

But by now, the sun has warmed me. I realize I’m wearing my life jacket. I realize if I miss the shore, I will catch the next gravel bar. I will not die.

We didn’t die. Tim and Bob bashed more alders two days later to retrieve the canoe with new paddles. I have a truly amazing batch of bruises up and down my leg, I spent one sleepless night with continuing terror flashbacks, and my camera is failing to dry out in a bowl of rice.
This is not another amazing Alaska adventure story. This is a cautionary tale of stupidity, of complacency in the face of sunshine, of weird romantic fantasies replacing experienced reality. I re-learned something valuable in my Third Third. I won’t forget it.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Sister Reunion

I’ve shared all my Thirds with two sisters. One I shared a bedroom with; one I’ve shared regular road trips with. We’ve shared parents, homes, life stages, reunions, vacations, special events. We’ve shared secrets, memories, resentments, helpless laughter, sadness, and tears.

And now, we were going to share a car for ten days on the road.

During one family reunion in which – how does this happen?!? – all of us seemed to assume our old, tired, family roles; my sister Allison remarked, “We haven’t really grown up; we’ve just moved away.”

And now, we were going to share a car for ten days on the road.

I was a little anxious.

At one point, Allison said, “Elizabeth will drive, I’ll navigate, and Barbara will tell us what to do.”

Uh, oh. Uh, oh.

We met in Seattle. Elizabeth used her phone to navigate the rental car to the hotel to meet Allison and me. The phone lady told her to take Aloha Street. “Ollo hah,” not “ah-loh-hah.” We found this hilarious. What was even more hilarious was how many other words could be mispronounced like that. We mispronounced our way around Washington.

Until we got to a gift shop in Port Townsend. I think the item on the table had the word kahuna in it. “Kah-hoo-nah.” Doubled over in out of control hilarity, I raced to the restroom.

Because there is no one else in the world who leaves me helpless with pee-your-pants laughter like my sisters. No matter where we are, something eventually puts us totally over the top and we HURT with side-aching, bladder-weakening laughter.

And because we all grew up at suppers with my father, who quizzed us on the presidents and state capitals on the milk bottle caps, we got to spend a hilarious ride trying to come up with the four states whose capitals were named for presidents. (We did it!)

Many years ago, when Allison and I would drive cross-country to college, she insisted we had to stop for meals three times a day. I said, “We’re just sitting in a car. How do you get hungry just sitting?” But she said she could feel brain damage setting in if she didn’t eat regularly. That’s become a replaying family joke.

I eat breakfast – very happy if the hotel has make-your-own waffles – and then food doesn’t really occur to me until dinner. My sisters require “snacks.” For Allison, “snacks” is an art form: it includes supplies of chocolates, fruit, cheese, crackers, candies, beverages. She carries little plastic containers to hold all her snacks and a bag to hold all her containers. At one point, Elizabeth and I turned around to see Allison carrying her bag of snacks as if she was terrified we might deny her food when she needed it.

Another pee-your-pants laughter interlude.

My sisters have compact, convenient wheelie luggage. I have a duffel bag, which they didn’t like. They thought it was unwieldy, they told me I could at least get a duffel with wheels. I thought its shapelessness meant it could fit in places, but at our last stop, I decided I’d put it on the hotel luggage cart when we went to our room. I put it crossways on the cart, which had a stiff wheel, and tried to negotiate it into the elevator. I managed that, but getting out of the elevator proved problematic. The wheels of the cart only turned in the direction the duffel couldn’t fit. Trapped!

Another pee-your-pants laughter interlude. With consequences.

I don’t take any issue with their stopping for snacks because they let me stop at restrooms whenever I need to.

We hiked many beautiful trails in Olympic National Park, browsed a craft fair in Port Townsend, rode ferries and a monorail, went to the Kitsap County Fair, examined amazing quilts up close, saw an outdoor play. We also had our tiffs over snoring, interrupting, planning, expectations, and paying attention. We had tears, irritation, and resentments.

But what I remember – what I hold dear and mentally revisit over and over again – is all that helpless laughter. The universe was kind enough to give me sisters.




Wednesday, August 15, 2018

My Friend, the Car

My beloved Subaru reached its Third Third, too. Twenty years – what’s that in car years? In Barbara-car-years, we still had miles to go.

My previous Subaru was called the Flintstone Car. You know, where Fred’s feet stuck out the bottom and powered the car? Well, the bottom was so rusted on my car, you could see pavement. That was fine by me.

Until one day, after a storm, Tudor Road was full of puddles and standing water. I hit one while driving and next thing I knew, I was covered in mud. Sophie, in the back seat, was shouting, “You’re all dirty! You’re filthy! What’s happening?” It was absolutely shocking; I was positive the windshield had disappeared. How could I be so totally spattered in mud? Mud was dripping from the ceiling. I should have put something over the holes in the floor.

Okay, so that car finally got replaced. I bought this Subaru in 2002 in Massachusetts. Sophie and I were beginning the National Waterpark Tour, ultimately traveling 10,000 miles in 2½ months back to Alaska – via 24 waterparks. We bonded with that car.


It had its trials. It bumped into a 4-hour old Dodge truck once, a stationary boulder another time. It had dents on the side, and it had a glued-together rear view mirror from a too-tight back into the garage. I still can’t figure out why I ended up with pieces of leftover black plastic after I glued it all together. I had enough for a mirror and a quarter.

But it reached the point where I couldn’t put gas in it. I knew there was a rusted fuel pipe problem, but it had been going on for years and was supposed to go on for more. When I put the gas nozzle in, I had to wiggle it around and then I was never sure whether I was poking a hole in the pipe or not. So I’d start pumping.

And gas would slowly pool out from under the car. In a panic, I’d shut off the pump, but the spill response guys were already on it, spreading barriers.

So I thought, “You just have to get the nozzle in tight. Don’t let it dangle.” So I went to another gas station … and the same thing happened. I was hugely embarrassed. Somehow, I managed to fill the tank. Whew!

Next time – by now, filling my car with gas was a trauma – I managed to get it to fill without incident. And then when it reached half a tank, the gasoline pooled out again. I started to worry the spill response guys would recognize me and turn me in.

And then, a few weeks ago, I was out doing a ton of errands. I was running on vapor, and the car wouldn’t fill with gas. I mean, gas flowed, but it didn’t linger in the car; it just ran out all over the place. Now I was in a panic: I had a car with no gas and no way to put gas in it.

I ran home, got on Craig’s List and had a new used car in four hours.



Everyone likes my new Subaru Outback. The color is called Lapis Blue Pearl, and it has a key fob with buttons that beep when I lock or unlock the car. (Now you can tell how old my previous car was.) It has all sorts of things on the dashboard – a back-up camera! – but I still haven’t learned how to program the radio. The manual is two inches thick.

Did you ever watch Car 54, Where Are You? on television? There’s an episode where Molly Picon doesn’t like all the modern conveniences newfangled gadgets in her brand-new apartment building, so she harasses the developers to have it remodeled to her specs. The final image: an old tenement building, just the way she likes it.

My other car was little; this car seems swollen. It’s my car on steroids. The guy selling me the car politely said car manufacturers weren’t aiming to please me; I was at the end of my car-buying life. And yes, if I keep cars for 20 years, I guess this is my car for life, for my Third Third.

And my old Subaru? It became a donation to public radio, a fitting end for a good friend. It took us back and forth to work, school, and friends. It took us on adventures; it took us on errands. It schlepped projects and purchases, kids and groceries. It kept us safe, dry, warm, and mobile. I miss its dented, rusty, not-big self.

Now if only I can replace my bumper stickers, maybe I’ll learn to love this new car, too.


Friday, August 10, 2018

New Thing: Internal Injuries

It’s interesting how far I’ll go in my Third Third to feel fresh, to have new input, to find a New Thing. This time, it meant internal injury.

Not for real! It was the airport’s “2018 Full-scale Disaster Exercise,” and I was so excited when Debora invited me to do it with her. (Debora and I have a history of great adventures with a twist of calamity, so of course we’d do a disaster together.)

The scenario at the airport: two planes had collided and there were injuries. We waited in line to receive ours. Debora got a broken wrist (from bracing herself against the seat in front of her), and I got internal injuries after being flung forward against the lap belt.

Next, it was on to moulage (a new word for me, a whole other New Thing!): special effects make-up. These were the instructions: “Bruising is mottled discoloration using reds, burgundy and some purple.” Having a ring of purple painted around your middle calls attention to the roll of flab that lurks there, sort of a blueberry-raspberry muffin top.
Then we sat around.

Each of us were given a piece of broken luggage to carry. (Debora’s still had the flight tag attached; why hadn’t they returned it?!?) When we were taken out to the tarmac, we saw emergency vehicles and two halves of planes. We boarded ours and took our seats.

Aiiee! My seatmate was dead! He wasn’t even human anymore. He’d turned into something that looked like a guitar case with boots on (both attached and unattached to legs).

Then we sat around. Fire fighters were busy putting out a fire in a giant tin can.

All the other volunteers were very entertaining. One guy played the safety talk on his cell phone for all of us. A “dead” woman did a lot of heavy leaning on her poor seatmate. Someone hoped there were no snakes on the plane. Nope, only the comfort snake.

Then we sat around.

One woman was supposed to die if she didn’t get attention. Her moulage was pretty harrowing, but she was a nursing student so she was trying to time her death. As we waited and waited and waited, we decided we must be the budget airline; they must be working on the other half-plane.

Eventually, fire fighters came on board with colored tape. When assessed, I was supposed to breathe fast and shallow, about 30/minute. I was supposed to say my radial pulse was weak and my “capillary refill is delayed at > 4 seconds.” I learned that if you press on your fingernail, for instance, and the color doesn’t come back when you stop, that means the blood is going somewhere else. Like, internally.

So my guy wrapped a red tag on me. That means I was triaged as “immediate (Red)” Debora’s broken wrist got her a green, and she and the other greens walked off the plane.

Then the rest of us – the Reds – sat around.

And sat.

By now, the humor was getting blacker as more red tags turned black. A woman who was supposed to have been locked in the cockpit ran out screaming. My symptoms (feeling bloated, tired, weak, cold, shaky, a bit confused, dizzy, and nauseous) gave me lots of fodder for humor … which – as the day wore on – was ultimately unappreciated by the other injured parties.

Then we sat around.

Eventually, the fire fighters returned with backboards to get the dummies off the plane. They spent a lot of time on the dummies.

Then we sat around.

Until they finally took us off and left us on the tarmac.

Debora had done this years before and said she’d been transported to the real hospital. My instructions said I was to be sent to “a treatment area for oxygen, IV fluids, and transport to the hospital.” When examined, I was supposed to “stick your belly out (distend) and keep it firm during any palpation. If pressed on your abdomen, hurts worse all over.”

I was really looking forward to my great dramatic role! All I’d done so far was breathe fast and shallow.

But alas, not to be. A bus driver took us away for a barbecue. Then we left.

So what happened? No one told us. My guess is that the EMT types didn’t show up.

Event anticipation: high as a kite
Event participation: a dud
Bottom line: I learned about moulage, got a terrific bruise drawn on my belly, had fun with a friend and made two more. I’m just going to avoid colliding with another plane over Anchorage.

Monday, August 6, 2018

Discard Remorse

Yes, my de-cluttering went too far. I went back into the recycling bin and pulled stuff out.

It was the letters. No, not just the letters – it was the memories reflected in the letters.

I’ve talked about the easy stages of de-cluttering: the broken, the junk, the never-used.  When I first started this blog, I was big into tossing. I was just off clearing out my mother’s house and fifty years of accumulation. Dealing with too much stuff has led to more tossing.

But in this latest binge, I uncovered two shoeboxes of letters from 1985 (when I moved to Alaska) till 1993 or so. (I think that’s when email took over and letter exchange diminished drastically.) I spent hours going through those letters, loving every minute of my trip down memory lane. And then I put them in the recycling bin.
I thought, “If I haven’t looked at them in 25+ years, by the next time I look at them, I’ll have dementia and won’t know who any of these people are.” I was thinking of my mother. When she was 84, she took great pleasure in letters from her cousin written when he was overseas during World War II. But by the time she was 91, things like that were distressing because she didn’t remember a lot of it.

But that night, I emailed my friend Janet and quoted a bit from a letter she’d written me. It brought back a flood of memories, and Janet replied right away to my email, saying that she’d loved it, too. We both sat, a thousand miles away, grateful for our history together. How could that happen if I’d thrown them all away?

When I was eight years old, we moved from New Jersey to Long Island. My friend Karen and I were devoted pen pals, as she moved on to Illinois. We met up again once in Colorado when we were in our 20s. I’ve tried finding her since then without luck. But spurred on by these letters, I tried again that night and found her online! We’re emailing again!


My friend Rodney died in 2008, and I loved reading every letter he’d written. But this time, I saw that I’d always appeared in his holiday letters:
“As I have for all Thanksgivings since my friend Barbara moved to Alaska (she always invited a bunch of friends over to eat and I got to make and take sweet potato pie), I went to Lake Tahoe.”
I thought of Rodney and his sweet potato pie, and I missed him. I hadn’t realized he didn’t have Thanksgiving dinners any more. I wished I could spend one more Thanksgiving with him.

I didn’t realize my friend Sharon – who I’ll see in a couple weeks – was by far my most prolific correspondent, and we shared a lot. But then I read of a disagreement we’d had, how she was upset with me, how we processed that out. I don’t even remember it, but I see how we worked it out, how our friendship continued, how it survived and thrived.

And then there are the letters from my mother. Most of my mother’s correspondence were notes, quick typing while she was at work, sending on some package or information and adding in a note. But then there was this:
“I’m reading Marilyn French’s “Her Mother’s Daughter.” If you haven’t read it yet, it’s a “must”! Explains – no, doesn’t explain, just makes me aware of all my frustrations over the years, yours, too – and how we see things so-o-o-o differently – and then just getting older makes certain realizations clearer – She’s not ‘easy’ reading – but she’s certainly thought provoking – READ IT! Particularly pg. 290-295. Interesting.”

I’m sure when I received that in 1988, I read it and put it aside while I was busy with work and life. But not in 2018. In 2018, I was blown away at this window into my mother. I immediately put the book on hold at the library and am working my way to page 290. When I get there, I’ll wish I could talk with my mother about it.
The greeting cards are still in recycling, as are the letters from acquaintances I already can’t remember. But the letters from friends, from family, they’re back in a special box.

There’s such a thing as premature de-cluttering. I’d written before that “while you’re still remembering and laughing, this is not the time to toss,” and Betsey commented “I think I’d keep it forever.” Forever it is.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Of Decks, Dominoes, Dust, and De-cluttering

This is another story about dominoes. Home remodeling or repair seems to do that. You think you’re just replacing carpet, but really that’s only the first domino in asbestos abatement, floor replacement, stair reconstruction, etc. etc. I’ve written about that.

No, this time it’s about a deck. For years, we hashed and re-hashed the deck idea. If we put it off the kitchen, it wouldn’t catch maximum sun. If we put it off the living room, we’d have more sun, but we’d have to schlep from the kitchen. Over and over. No deck.

Finally, last summer, we DID THE DECK. Or rather, Lance (“I’m Your Handyman”) did. We love it. It’s beautiful. So this summer, it was the second domino’s turn: turning the window from the kitchen into a sliding glass door to the deck.



Third domino: The baseboard heater is under the window. Pipes have to be moved over so the door can be put in. Tim goes downstairs to the laundry room, moves stuff into Sophie’s room, and cuts a hole in the ceiling. After the plumber moves the pipes, Tim drywalls and paints the ceiling. (Yes, I constantly think of my mother sighing at Tim and murmuring “Oh, he’s so handy!” in adoration.)

Fourth domino: The laundry room – and all the shelves, pantry, storage – are covered in a fine layer of dust. Everywhere. Dust. This is my domino. I own it. I attack it.

Interruption: I LOVE the deck and the sliding glass door. It’s my favorite New Thing. I love how it adds more light, opens out our space as if we have another living room. I even love how global warming means it’s in the perfect location because elsewhere it would be too hot. I love how “lying on the deck” somehow means more than “just vegging out” because I’m OUTSIDE. In our Third Third, we may think we should have done this in our Second, but it’s here now.

But the deck I love came with dust. Lots of dust. This amount of dust requires a major operation: removal, scouring, organizing, replacing. And de-cluttering! I am in my element: I am The Organizer! I will Clean Things and Assign Them Their Proper Places.

I proceed shelf by shelf. First to go is the Sno-Paint set. Sophie didn’t like it; the paint froze when they went out to spray it on snow. But Dawn’s grandchildren will love it. (Easy de-cluttering: not wanted, good place to give it to). They also got the box of the bazillion bubbles and wands. (De-cluttering score: 100!)
But then, realizing the punishment I inflicted on my mother for alleged de-cluttering, I started photographing the Sophie-childhood items and texting Sophie just to be sure. Have to hold onto the Build-a-Bear bear, the remote-controlled truck, the Storyblocks.


But the easel can go to the Alaska Literacy Program preschool; art work and wine glasses to their silent auction. Record albums sold or donated. The seven celebrity waiter aprons can go to the synagogue preschool, the bowls and lids to Sarah for her potlucks, the Harry & David boxes to Irene for her art kits for kids. (De-cluttering score: 100!) The bags and bags of bags have been sorted and will be recycled. (Recycling earns only a de-cluttering score of 90.) There are still too many jars and boxes – good jars and good boxes – but I think I come in at a good 95 all around.

The dust is a challenge. The steel shelves come with little curly decorations that won’t yield to a vacuum cleaner. I have to wash each curl one by one.

But the victory! I open up so much room that I can store my dozens of bottles of ginger beer. I have all the camping food supplies in a neat tray. The crafts are all together; picnic supplies are easy to reach. Things are off the floor!

I am a de-cluttering phenomenon! I am on a roll! I have reached a new level of what I’m willing to give away or recycle. I am motoring through other rooms, other closets – I am a de-cluttering fiend!

Uh, oh. Danger, danger. There’s a reason why they say all things in moderation. Next post: Discard Remorse. Or, if they’re still in the recycling bin, do I dig in and retrieve?


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