Sunday, November 11, 2018

Survey Time

I’m a sucker for surveys. Just today, I filled out the survey for my shopping trip to Fred Meyer, sent in a Recycle It Right Tip for Alaska Recycles Day, and told my credit union what I think about them. Okay, I admit, there’s a fine line between filling out a survey and entering a contest.

I won’t do Facebook surveys or quizzes. I don’t care what my stripper stage name might be or which children’s book character I am. Well, actually, I do care, but the shame of caring outweighs the impetus to actually find out. I like my surveys to come from universities. I like to be part of Research.

Years ago, I discovered the University of Pennsylvania’s “Authentic Happiness” Questionnaire Center while conducting workshops to help younger people clarify their direction, but how can anyone resist a Survey of Character Strengths with 240 questions? Especially when they conclude your character strengths are love of learning, curiosity, and creativity?
Then I took the Grit Survey (also at the Authentic Happiness Questionnaire Center), developed by Angela Duckworth, who defines grit as “perseverance and passion for long-term goals.” Since I equate “long-term” with “interminable” and the quest for New Things as a prime directive, I didn’t expect to excel. Turns out I have less grit than my age group but more grit than my occupation group (which, at that time, was “artist”).

I’ve also tested myself for hidden, unconscious bias with “Project Implicit” (for Implicit Association Tests). And yes, I have compelled my husband to do “The 36 Questions That Lead to Love” from the New York Times.

I’ve mentioned here that I was researching Time-with-a-capital-T. That took me to the book Time Warped: Unlocking the Mysteries of Time Perception by Claudia Hammond. She has an entire chapter called “Why Time Speeds Up As You Get Older,” right up my Third Third alley.

It’s not just that one year is only 1/65th of my life but was once 1/25th or 1/30th of it, and that 1/65th seems to fly a whole lot faster than 1/25th. It’s that the bulk of our lifetime memories take place between the ages of 15 and 25; psychologists call this the “reminiscence bump,” and “the key to the reminiscence bump is novelty.” With all the novel experiences of young adulthood, our memories are chock full, and all that fullness had to take time. With less novelty as we grow older, the blank spots in our memories don’t take up much time. All the more reason to explore New Things!

Also lurking within Time Warped was Prof. Philip Zimbardo’s Time Perspective Inventory. I like him; I’ve quoted him before. And now he’s identified Time Perspective Types, depending on how much we’re oriented to the future or the past. The Present-Oriented Person is “focused on what is rather than what might be or used to be,” but you can be Present-Hedonistic or Present-Fatalistic. Then there’s the Future-Oriented Person and the Past-Oriented Person.

Apparently, “the greatest chance of happiness … comes from a combination of past-positive and future perspectives, with just the right amount of present-hedonistic, living-in-the-moment thrown in.” Uh, oh. Turns out I’d better add a lot more hedonism to my days and a lot more perseverance to my future. (Personally, I just think his idea of having a fun day is different from my idea of a fun time, but then there is my grit problem….)

Now for the big question that Hammond poses as the essential difference in how we view time. Answer the question before reading on! 

[Wasted space to scroll down]

If you think “the meeting is on Monday, then it is time that is moving, like a constant conveyor belt where the future comes toward you [time-moving metaphor]. If you believe the meeting to be on Friday, then you have a sense that you are actively moving along a time-line towards the future – the ego-moving metaphor.”

So are we fast approaching Thanksgiving, or is Thanksgiving coming up fast?

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Dare to Spell

You can tell it’s October because eventually I start focusing on words and their spelling. Not the usual focusing, but FOCUSING. It’s the BizBee, the annual adult spelling bee to benefit the Alaska Literacy Program, and I’ve been doing it for 28 years.

This is one tradition that enriches and delights my Third Third. I will never get tired of it.

This is the fun of the evening: spelling teams wait for me to give them “their” word. They confer for 20 seconds and then one of them has to stand up and spell the word before the buzzer sounds. If the word stumps them, they can pass that word to the rival team of their choice … if they donate $100 to the Literacy Program.

All the teams made it through the first round. But then things went haywire: the ALP Board of “Direcktors” lost the rhythm of synchronous, and the MENSA “ComMENSAlists” (Yes, I had to look it up.) failed the Olympic pentathlon. What?!? The 2016 champions were out in Round 2? No worries: they produced their TeamSaver, the secret, one-of-a-kind, Get-Out-of-Jail-Free card for having sold the most raffle tickets.
The ACLU team of Lady Liberty and her bodyguards passed isinglass to the Arctic Entries team, and they burst into song. Apparently, in Oklahoma!, the “Surrey with the Fringe on Top” has “isinglass curtains y’ can roll right down/In case there’s a change in the weather.”

Do you see why I love this event?

From there, the rookie team from Ravens’ Roost Cohousing was uprooted by poinsettia, which unleashed a cacophony of caws and wildly flapping ravens around the room. Quoth the raven: Nevermore. (So relentless were the ravens, they went home with the Outstanding Spirit Award.)

And then it was the United Way’s turn to don the lederhosen. Except that shock must have overtaken the speller because she rose to spell and … didn’t. The buzzer went off; confusion reigned. Other teams shouted, “Let her spell!” Even some of the Killer Bee judges joined in. Soon the whole audience was stamping and shouting, “Let her spell!” In the interest of quelling an insurrection, the Pronouncer agreed to let her spell.

This had never happened before! There are rules! But like spelling itself, rules are broken.

But who could spell after that whole uproar? The lederhosen were doffed … just in time for the babka wars. First National Bank Alaska sent the sweet bread to MENSA, whose speller did not like babka but could spell it. The definition referred to babka’s raisins, but – as pointed out to the Pronouncer – good babka is chocolate. Seinfeld knows that.

Round 2 ended with the deflation of Providence’s Health Literacy Heroes’ pneumatic tire. Not with a whimper, but a bang.

Round 3 promised improvement with ameliorate going to DOWL, but it was tough getting through the pronunciation: alemiorate? armiliolate? lemirorate? It was all up for grabs. I don’t think I’ll ever hear the word again without laughing. Next, the kovsh ladle was passed from team to team, leaving 1st National Bank Alaska to go out in a very non-blasé way. Right after that, Alaska Airlines and their ALP volunteers heard the music of the spinet and ConocoPhillips died quietly, in a very innocuous way.

Three rounds and eight teams out! Spelled-out teams littered the risers.

The ACLU couldn’t persuade themselves to hold out past hoomalimali, but then the Dutch man – mynheer – visited the Arctic Entries team. BizBee fans will remember the hilarity of last year’s event when the Rosie the Riveters spelled the German schnecke and elaborated in German. I retold this story as Arctic Entries sent mynheer on his way, and one of their team answered in Dutch. (Who are these spellers?!?)

The ServiceMaster SpellMASTERS couldn’t float on the nenuphar, and meanwhile someone let the dogs out on the Anchorage Daily News team. It started with the schipperke, then the keeshond, and they were still standing. It was the barukhzy that finally bit.

The Arctic Entries wizards (“exSPELLiarmus”) took great pleasure in schadenfreude. It isn’t just Oklahoma! They said there’s a song called “Schadenfreude” in Avenue Q: “And when I see how sad you are/ it sort of makes me...happy!” Broadway musicals for spelling lessons!

The herb of gilia was passed from team to team, ultimately landing in oblivion as there were no more teams left to pass it. And then the cataclysm began: The Unitarian Universalists went belly up with the scalare, MENSA played out on the clavecin, Arctic Entries couldn’t see through their hyaloid word, and Holistic Hands’ Rosie the Riveters sat the vigil at the agrypnia. But when everyone dies, everyone comes back in the game.

Alas, even the chocolate babka lovers of the MENSA team couldn’t protect them from forastero, and the Rosie the Riveters – last year’s champions – drowned in the epilimnion.

It was down to two: the Unitarians and Arctic Entries. The Unitarians smelled out on propiophenone, and Arctic Entries danced out to allemande. But again, when everyone dies, everyone comes back in the game.

The jury went out for the Unitarians with venire, but the singing Arctic Entries team sang a cappella and faced their championship word: could they survive on pignolias? Yes, new champions for 2018!

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Pee in the Public Interest

My New Thing is pee. Well, not actually a new thing. If you’ve been reading this blog, you’ll know it comes up … frequently. But never in quite this pee-as-a-public-service way.

It all started with a camping trip to the new K’esugi Ken Campground in Denali State Park. The individual campsites are so luxurious, the tent sites are carpeted in beautiful grass. Imagine sleeping on grass instead of pebbles and gravel!

Our friend Bruce came by, looked at the grass, and muttered, “Great outhouses, and they couldn’t go there to pee.” I didn’t understand until he pointed out the greener circles of grass, polka dots of bright green.

“I thought pee killed grass.”

“No,” Bruce said. “In the summer, it fertilizes the grass. See, they just got out of their tents and peed nearby.”

If your brain hovers in the sewer, this starts the gears turning. What about that little patch of grass that Tim says just won’t grow because of shade? What if I gave it a little boost?

So I got a paper cup, hid it in the bathroom, and (when Tim wasn’t home) secretly peed into the cup, ran outside, poured it over the unhappy patch of grass, ran back inside, rinsed the cup and hid it. I did this a lot.

I didn’t tell anyone, but I secretly watched as the grass began to turn green and thrive.

I still didn’t tell anyone. But then my friend Sarah told me about a Planet Money episode on NPR.  Apparently, fertilizer requires phosphorus, and most phosphorus comes from Morocco, and there’s concern we could run out. So in Vermont, the Rich Earth Institute launched the Urine Brigade to collect pee, pasteurize it, and take it to a hay farm – where it doubled the yield of hay!

They say we each pee about 125 gallons a year, enough to grow 325 pounds of wheat. It’s recycling!

So I told Tim. Then I moved on from his patch of grass to my phlox, which just won’t grow as extravagantly as my friend Robin’s. I poured my pee on a part of it, still a little worried I might kill it. It grew denser and puffier in that spot!

So now I’m back at it. (Are these things you’re supposed to announce in public? Yes, if it encourages people to recycle their phosphorus back into Nature!)

Anyhow, in the meantime, Tim had to repair the innards of our toilet with a new mechanism. The new parts said I couldn’t use the cleaner I usually use on the toilet. Over time, my immaculate, spic-and-span toilet began to develop limescale, and it looked totally gross in the little back areas of the bowl where my brush couldn’t reach.

I attacked it with my pumice stone. I attacked it with vinegar. I attacked it with a scouring pad, with a brush. I attacked it with Comet. With baking soda. I fought the scale, but the scale was winning.

Then I turned to Google: they recommended Coca-Cola. So I now pour Coca-Cola into my toilet bowl.

Tim turned to me and said, “You’ll pour Coca-Cola into our toilet but you won’t pee into it because you’re pouring your pee on our garden. Do you think other people live like this?”

Why wouldn’t they?

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Errands: A Love/Hate Relationship

I had a whole Third Third afternoon free to do what I wanted; I just had a couple of errands. Just a couple, but you know how this goes: the errands ate the whole afternoon. The trip to the grocery store got compounded by an out-of-stock item; the trip to pick up compost put me at the end of the line of pickups unloading at the dump; the simple birthday card wasn’t so simple (if you want just the right birthday card). One afternoon vaporized.

Yet there are Good Errands and Bad Errands.

This is a Good Errand:
  • It happens conveniently, maybe even while you’re doing something else and the errand is close by or related.
  • It may involve a bit of serendipitous good fortune: running into a friend or finding some other thing along the way.
  • It’s intrinsically good: recycling, a volunteer task or delivery, a trip to the library
  • It takes the time you thought it would take or less.
  • It’s interesting.
  • You have a good attitude.
This is a Bad Errand:
  • It’s imperative even if you don’t have the available time so you end up rushing or feeling rushed.
  • It involves cancellations, misprinted phone numbers, malfunctioning equipment, bad directions, and assorted other kinks in the universe.
  • You have a bad attitude.
There is movement between Good Errands and Bad Errands:
  • Good Errands are still Bad Errands if there are simply too many of them.
  • A Bad Errand can be recharacterized as a Good Errand if you feel cooped up in the house and the errand is a way to Get Out of the House. Or if you can do the Bad Errand on a bicycle.
  • Even a Bad Errand has the opportunity to transform itself into a Good Errand if it encounters a lot of appreciation, gratitude, and courtesy. It can even elevate itself to a Mission!
What’s a Mission? A unique self-motivating errand that launches a search for solution.

Self-motivating means that finding a dress for a particular occasion is only a Mission if you like clothes-shopping, dressing-up, and attending banquets; otherwise, it’s an errand. My missions involve crafts. The search for the perfect butter dish consumed me for a few years, as did the teapot quest.

There’s a BIG difference between an Errand and a Mission.

How an Errand Became a Mission: A True-Life Account
  1. You bought an oil pourer on sale at the Corning Museum of Glass and schlepped it back to Alaska because you were really proud of your purchase. It was perfect for drizzling oil over vegetables before roasting.
  2. Somehow the ridges on the pouring nozzle got smaller and the cork-thing became loose and now oil spills all over the place.
  3. The usual grocery store doesn’t sell cork-like nozzle things. The whole contraption sits on the kitchen counter for months, reminding you of the necessary Bad Errand. Every time you roast vegetables, you glare at it.
  4. Finally, one day, you’re in the mood to deal with it as an interesting Good Errand. You go to the bottling store you’d discovered once.
  5. Except that the road the bottling store is on is under construction and you are detoured all over the stupid area and besides, they don’t have it anyway, and this is now a Really Bad Errand.
  6. The bottling store directs you to a restaurant supply store. You have never been to a restaurant supply store before. Hmm, things are looking up: before you were a go-fer, now you’re an investigator … on a Mission!
  7. The restaurant supply store has nozzles; they have packs of 12 nozzles! They have lots of startling things; this is a New Thing, a new discovery. The solution is taking shape; things are looking do-able. Now you need a gadget store for one nozzle.
  8. That means a trip to Bed Bath & Beyond, the kind of store that’s good for about two visits a year to gape at the sheer variety of things that exist to buy. And there it is, a package of two!
  9. Mission accomplished!

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

You can go home again.

Yes, it is possible to go home again. It’s just littler.

I remember the first winter break I came home from college. I’d left my dormitory shower room, with its wall of sinks and room of showers and came home to my parents’ house … with its single, tiny, little sink and shower. The counter seemed made for midgets as I had to stoop over to brush my teeth. Were college counters higher because there were no children there? The whole return home experience seemed like a voyage to Lilliput.

In our last visit to New York, my sister Elizabeth and I decided to explore New Jersey. I lived there from age four to eight, and she was born there. We actually drove up to our old address. We had not been back there since 1962. 56 years.

Yet I knew the curve in the street! I knew where my friend Karen used to live! I knew this place!

Except that almost all the houses had sprouted second floors or additions. They were bigger, swollen over their lots. But not ours. Ours was the little ranch house I remembered. From the outside.

The current owner, Jen, let us in.

How could a family of six have lived in that house? Where did we eat? In the itsy-bitsy kitchen?? I do remember we couldn’t open cabinets or the refrigerator when we were all seated at supper, but how did we even walk through the kitchen? How did my mother cook in there? Did we ever have relatives over for Thanksgiving or Passover? There was no way a single other person could have sat at our kitchen table.

How did we ever fit? The dining room was our living room. That’s where the couch, TV, and Dad’s chair was. How did it all fit??? Even Jen couldn’t imagine it. I’m pretty sure I watched TV from the floor.

No wonder our main play area was outside or in the basement.

The full basement was acres and acres of interesting stuff to play with. My father’s workshop, my mother’s laundry area (with her ironing mangle!), the place where old interests died (the fish tank, for example), and my own personal area: under the stairs, with my father’s old electronics (an oscilloscope!). The basement was our domain.

If you asked me, I’d say we had to go down twenty steps to get way, way down to the basement.

At Jen’s house, there were seven steps.

I can still describe the bookshelves with the Golden Book Encyclopedias in the living room, the pink cement patio we used to chalk whole cities on (which is still there, under Jen’s deck), the Book of Knowledge bookcase behind the couch, my mother’s philodendrons climbing to the ceiling and serving as a room divider. I can close my eyes and remember Home.

So I sat on my couch, in my Anchorage living room, and looked around. I looked at the bookshelf full of books and the other full of games. At the pottery from Mexico, the painting from a silent auction, the flea market couch that’s been reupholstered twice. The lamps that fall over, the beanbag chairs and pillows I made years ago, the ivy that climbs up the fireplace wall. The three different colors I picked for the walls.

“Guess what I’m thinking,” I said to Tim.

“That our home is homey,” he said.

How did he know that? That was exactly what I was thinking.

It must have been the smile on my face.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Cause for Celebration

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


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.

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