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Thursday, December 29, 2016

Visits from a Newly-adult Daughter

You know you’re in your Third Third when your daughter says she’d like to come for visits … and she buys the plane tickets!

You know your daughter’s still in her First Third when her visits are for Thanksgiving and Hanukkah; she still hasn’t created traditions and commitments of her own for those holidays.

But this is a visit from a newly-adult daughter, and it’s fraught with transition. One friend described her planned visit to her daughter. The daughter told Mom that the visit would be too long; Mom would have to move on after several days. Mom knew this was true – guests and fish go bad after three days – but Mom had held out hope that she wasn’t one of those “other mothers,” the ones who have to leave. (sigh) So do we all.

So when we go to the movies, and I lean over to ask something of the adult daughter, and she glowers at me because “You don’t talk in movies!” I wonder if she never lets peers talk to her in movies. It’s not like I’m chatting; I just have a question. And I know that very particular form of mother-daughter irritation, and it shatters the visions of the wonderful, mutually-approving, adult mother-daughter interaction I’ve been hoping for.

But I really admire this newly-adult daughter. She makes New Year’s resolutions that she keeps. She’d decided to read 52 books, to travel monthly, to do more daytime social activities (which I learned was meant to pose an alternative to night clubbing). And she’d done them all … but still had four books to read over vacation.

I had heard about the new book Feminist Fight Club which might shed light on some issues in office politics the newly-adult daughter was confronting. I borrowed it from the library for her. First trip, she tossed it aside. Another mother dud. Second trip, I renewed it and prodded a little more. (By my Third Third, I know how to prod.)
Victory! I went up MANY notches on the Big Mother Scale. Not only did I give her a book that spoke to her issues, but she completed her 52-book resolution with it! I had done something right!

It colored the whole rest of our trip and our conversations. Somehow I was now a person who’d learned something worth sharing. I’d grappled with professional life, faced my own workplace trials in my Second Third. In my Third Third, I had perspective.

Meanwhile, she taught me about making New Year’s resolutions. I told her I’d given up, that when I set a goal of working out three times a week, I’d miss one week and then have to catch up, and I never knew how I was doing. And she said I had to do it differently; that if I said I’d run 500 miles in 2017, it was cumulative. I could see my progress, not the times I missed.

Brilliant! I’ll do it.

I think coming home for the newly-adult daughter is a time to decompress, to give herself the space to cocoon. We save up some interesting things to share, we play lots of 5 Crowns, do a jig saw puzzle. We make sure we do winter; she sees old friends. The rhythm of my Third Third makes all this easier.

And of course, she helps me put Find My Mac on my laptop and create a master password and look for a blouse at Nordstrom.

I invite her into the kitchen to make a simple avocado dish I’ve discovered. She loves it, asks for the recipe. I just glow and glow.

This is the first time she’s been here for Hanukkah in a long time. She pulls out the menorah – her favorite – and is  in charge of lighting the candles all week. The candles just glow and glow, too, and we are a family.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

A Kink in the Universe

Look at all of us who know what a Fraud Bomb is! My friend Connie says “Me, too” is a powerful affirmation of belonging to the human race. Thank you all for sharing.

Quite a while ago, I witnessed an astonishing example of how the universe can annihilate someone’s day. It was so supernatural, I’m repeating it here, and I bet you’ll laugh.

Years back, when I was a manager for Federal Express, part of my job involved going out on check rides with the couriers. The couriers would tell me about their regulars, about wild things that had happened, about life-or-death “saves” with speedy deliveries. They took a lot of pride in doing their jobs, and we had a good time.

One day, it was time to ride with Rick, so off we went on the airport delivery route.

As we pulled into the airport terminal, Rick unloaded his packages and headed inside. The airport was deserted – that midmorning, uninhabited wasteland kind of feel to it – and Rick strode over to an airline counter. As he approached, the agent disappeared into the back room, so Rick chose to stop at a different airline first. Pretty flexible, I thought, chooses the most efficient option.  He delivered the one package and turned back to the first counter. Eight people were now on line! Where had they come from? How did they get there so fast? Rick waited it out, obviously frustrated.

Afterwards, we got in the van and headed to the international terminal. Inexplicably, Rick’s ID card wouldn’t work in the electronic scanner; we had to wait for security to clear us. It was a big delivery – was that when the wheel on the hand truck rolled off? Rick had to haul the packages in separately. Two deliveries and his deliveries-per-hour had bitten the dust.

Finally, finished with the airport, we headed out. The road was pretty clear, not too many cars. Out of nowhere, a renegade car cut right in front of us and signaled for a left turn. Rick stopped quickly and then waited. (There was no room to go around.) Suddenly, cars FILLED the other lane; it could have been a funeral train. It went on forever. Finally, there was an opening...and the car in front stalled.
Rick turned to me and said, “Can you see it?”

Astonished, eyes gaping, I whispered, “Yes, what is it?”

“This,” he said, matter-of-factly, “is a kink in the universe. Things are not flowing, and there’s nothing that can be done about it. We’d do better just to stop for a while and wait it out.”

Now I had expected to observe a courier doing his rounds, not catch an eyewitness view of a cosmic phenomenon. But it couldn’t be denied: Coincidence couldn’t have been as devastating as this kink was. Any minute, someone was going to drop dead as they reached to sign for a package or an earthquake was going to swallow the van in a crack. Instead, customers and drivers just kept doing bizarre, unpredictable, incredibly inconvenient things right in front of us.

You can get up on the wrong side of the bed, you can imagine that things are simply not going your way; but Rick and I had witnessed something truly profound: The whole universe had ALIGNED to screw up Rick’s day. I was there; he had a witness. Nothing was catastrophic, and I’m inclined to think it wasn’t INTENTIONAL, but the events of the day were uniformly annoying to a scientifically astounding degree.

We pulled to the side of the road and waited.
Now, I should have thought of Rick as soon as every chore seemed to require a customer service live chat. Instead, I waded through an entire morning of cancellations, misprinted phone numbers, malfunctioning equipment, and absurd bad luck. It wasn’t until a receptionist told me the doctor was running behind and would have to reschedule my appointment that I realized what had happened. It was bigger than both of us. Calmly, courteously, and fully comprehending, I went home and took a nap.

When I woke up, the kink had passed.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

When the Fraud Bomb detonates

You might be cruising along, practically content, feeling like all might be right with the world. Just that morning, you read your picture book to a school full of little kids and they were happy and you were happy. And then a glitch hits and you face the crashing realization:
You are a fake. Not only is your output just not good, but you’re even lazy about producing it. You come up with ideas … and then they sit. Or you come up with ideas … and your execution is pathetic. What you call creativity is really an excuse for not making a living, and your volunteering is insufficient at best. Plus, you’re not very likeable. You are taking up space in the universe.
The Fraud Bomb hits with the power of nuclear Armageddon. Nothing can stand in its wake. And once it hits, it sends aftershocks. Even when you go to the bathroom, you look around and mutter, “Shit, I can’t even keep a bathroom clean.” You look in the mirror and note that the puffiness under your eyes now has dark bags in it, too. How can a puff hold a bag?
Oh, maybe you’ll reflect on a recent social occasion and decide that you’d been socially inappropriate again. Or worse, you reflect that maybe you’re not getting invited to social occasions because you’ve been socially inappropriate. There is no insecurity too insignificant to fuel a Fraud Bomb once ignited.

No, I’m not holding a pity party. I’m conducting an analysis of speed. Like how FAST the Fraud Bomb can move through one’s psyche. Wasn’t it just a few days ago I was blogging about a life of no regrets? And then bammo: last night, I realized Fraud Bombs can trigger Fear Bombs, too. Fear Bombs are thoughts like: “The man spotted in the neighborhood checking doors; what if he home invasions us?” “What if [loved one’s] health issue worsens?” “What if I have a car accident on the ice?” Aiiieee!

Where does a Fraud Bomb start? Sometimes it’s with a bit of rejection. Like a “we’re sorry, but” for a submission. Or a can’t-measure-up comparison;  a failure of willpower. Or else it’s just looking at your own list of projects and realizing that you’re getting nowhere fast.

No, I don’t think it has anything to do with the darkest day of the year and 5 measly hours and 27 minutes of grayish daylight. Fraud Bombs happen other days, too. Other days that are longer than 5 hours and 27 minutes of dusk, but who’s counting?

So what do you do with a Fraud Bomb? You put one fraudulent foot in front of the other.

You go to a potluck. One of the other volunteer teachers laughs about how rattled she can get sometimes. Another says she panics about misspelling words on the white board. You feel some camaraderie, begin to think maybe you're just like other people (except that they’re telling lighthearted stories and you’re a walking tragedy).

So you stop by on an old errand … which turns out to have passed its expiration date (Bad Barbara). Nevertheless, you remember to thank someone for a kindness and make a donation (Barely Good Enough Barbara).

You say to yourself, “Just finish one thing right now,” but you get distracted because your room is so full of started things and weren’t you once masterful at de-cluttering? At least you know to stay away from Facebook with its terribly distressing news and its terribly happy news that you’re not quite in the mood for receiving. Maybe you should just clean the bathroom.
Stop! You are in your Third Third. Surely you have learned to handle Fraud Bombs by now! Well, all you have learned is that they pass. Eventually. You do something right, and slowly it ricochets through your system and masks the fraud messages and you can get on with things. Brené Brown says sharing vulnerability is a positive thing if people can relate but a negative if it’s just a dump.

Do you have Fraud Bombs? Can you relate? Or did I just dump?

Monday, December 19, 2016

How long is eight minutes?

You too can expand Time. I did it by driving a race car.

Let me explain.

The latest in my various efforts to delay cognitive decline is researching Time. (You might think this is only evidence that cognitive decline has already begun, but I’m hoping the jury is still out.)

There’s the heavy-duty stuff of physics (Einstein and relativity and space-time and lots of things that don’t make normal sense) and there’s the less heavy stuff of psychology and the perception of time. Both are full of things that get titled “paradox” (“something that seems absurd but expresses a possible truth”).

Here’s an example about the perception of Time: Researchers say there’s a difference between how people describe the duration of time while something is still happening and how they judge it after it’s over. A boring wait may seem like it’s taking forever, but afterwards – since nothing interesting happened and you have no details in your memory – you judge it to be shorter. On the other hand, if you had an interesting experience with a lot of emotional color and time just flew, afterwards you have so many details to recount, it seems like it took longer. They call this the time paradox.
So now we’re at last weekend. Tim had a secret New Thing excursion for me: a trip to Extreme Fun Center in Wasilla. Ooh, what a discovery! This was right up my alley. I saw the sign that said “Cart Races” and I was in the building in no time (just an expression, not a paradox).

I LOVE speed and motion when there’s no chance of breaking my neck. Extreme Fun Center has whole bunches of arcade games and little kid soft areas, laser tag and birthday party rooms. But the big square footage is a racetrack with carts. The price: $20 for an 8-minute ride.

Sense of time duration before: “Yikes, that’s a lot of money for only eight minutes.  A measly eight minutes. This will be a rip-off.”

First we have to watch a 3-minute safety video. Then we put on black helmet liners and big helmets. Then we go out to our car. When we’re all buckled in, we’re activated.
Whoosh! It was amazing! I could go so fast I’d barely make the turns, then open up on the straightaway. Every turn took incredible concentration – when to speed up in the middle of it, when to keep from crashing into far walls. Zinging left, flying through a turn at maximum speed, correcting at the last second. It was so intense I think I fogged up my helmet’s visor.

Sense of time during: “Every muscle in my neck and shoulders is so tense and my heart is beating so rapidly, will I be able to last eight minutes? This is way more than eight minutes.”
When you’re physically excited and your heart rate picks up, time seems to slow down. This is the experience of slow motion during a car accident. While in the middle of the action, you’re sure it’s all taking a very long time even if you’re not experiencing slow motion.

Eventually, the checkered flag signaled the end of the race and we had to drive our cars back into the pit. I took off my helmet and became a babbling fool recapping every turn, spin, pass, and lap.
Sense of time after: “I got a great ride for eight minutes. Way cool!”

My continuing quest for New Things? It’s not just fun, not just anti-boring; it expands Time!
“Experiences that are exciting and new expand time. … The greater the store of lived experience—that is, the more emotional coloration and variety one’s life has—the longer one’s lifetime seems, subjectively.” – from Felt Time: The Psychology of How We Perceive Time
Bring on the race cars!


Thursday, December 15, 2016

Roads Taken and Not

Do you have regrets? By the time we’ve reached our Third Thirds, are there things you regret?

And what is a regret anyway?

This was today’s rambling café conversation. I was describing a lunch of many years ago. An older woman at that table had said she regretted not putting money in her IRA when she was younger and adding to it every year. All the older people at lunch had repeated that same regret, and today’s café table shook their heads in agreement, too.

But then we got to talking about roads not taken. Or wrong roads taken. Yes, I spent a horrible year at Cornell in graduate school, but I came away with some friends-for-life, an awareness of how I really wanted to spend my life, and some inner resources about making things happen.

Basically, then, I tend to believe that if you like where you are, you have to appreciate the bumps and detours that got you there. We don’t have to like them, but we do have to recognize their role in forging our lives to get where we are now in our Third Thirds. Yes, there were probably easier ways to get here, but they didn’t emerge or they wouldn’t have provided all those Valuable Life Lessons.
Is regret something you only feel if you’re inherently constructed that way, some pessimistic orientation? Why do we all know the expression “mired in regret,” usually preceded by “hopelessly”?

Yet I can imagine big, giant regrets that can color a whole life with a sense of “what if.” I think of them as Before and After moments, how your life can change on a dime and your Before life ends, never to be retrieved again. Teenage recklessness figures big here: a car accident, a stupid prank that goes bad, a burst of mischief with terrible consequences. To think of these is to shudder at the thought, at the narrowness of escape and the sheer luck of it all.

What if the guy who picked me up hitchhiking wasn’t a nice guy after all? What if I hadn’t blown out the candle before I left the house one night? So those are Big Regrets that I don’t have … luckily. Parallel universes that never happened … but could have.

Little regrets? They’re more like lost opportunities, unrealized fantasies. I wish I hadn’t dropped out of the Venceremos Brigade to Cuba when I was accepted in 1977. I wish I hadn’t canceled that boat trip down the Seine in France in 1985. But they’re idle wishes, adventures not taken, and other adventures took their place.

We realized we were all talking about regrets from the distant past, as if that’s where regret originated. We couldn’t do anything about them any more. But what about that bag of potato chips we finish in one sitting? Those things we immediately regret? And then we got off on willpower, on delays of gratification. We could have moved on to beating up on ourselves – with regret – but Colleen said, “We’ve learned we do the best we can.”

Nevertheless, I do regret moments of missed kindnesses; times I could have been nicer, more empathetic, more caring. We all do. Is regret guilt? Remorse?

I’m thinking regret is a signal. It’s a sign saying, “Learn from this. Make amends. Do better next time.” Are we motivated by regret? By regret avoidance?

And then I just happened to come across this in a book I’m reading on another topic: “…research has also shown that the regrets about exercising restraint prove much stronger—and can also last much longer—than regrets about yielding to temptation.” Hmmm, what’s to learn from this?

Monday, December 12, 2016

Is enough enough?

Way back when, I told boyfriend #1 I didn’t know if I loved him enough. He said, “So do you wait till five minutes before you die to know this was what you were going to get so it had better have been enough?” He was that kind of guy, and I’m sure he’d be flabbergasted to know this is what I remember.

By now, all of us have seen that commercial where the spokesperson asks people, “Have you saved enough for retirement?” and they all look at him quizzically and ask, “How do I know what’s enough?”

How do we know what’s enough?

While I’ve been thinking about enough, I keep coming across this word: “tireless.” As in, “She worked tirelessly for human rights” or “She was tireless in her passion for making art.”

So if I were making a scale, this is what it would look like:

In my mind, it’s a scale measuring laziness, commitment, and passion. I’ve written a lot here about feeling like I waste time, that I’m not very productive in my Third Third. But recently, I realized that constant self-criticism had given way to a Third Third rhythm: I liked the rhythm of my days, of my creative activity, of my social/adventurous/New Thing pursuits. I liked the balance I’d struck between being useful and being still. I stopped feeling lazy and occasionally just felt … still.

And then my book club read Founding Brothers about the creation of our country and a friend reminded me of what Ben Franklin had said after the Constitutional Convention.  A woman asked what kind of government we were going to have, and Franklin answered, “A republic, if you can keep it.”

Can we keep it?

Do you read the newspapers?!?

So I feel tremendous responsibility to not let our country down, to keep a republic. I write many letters to my Congressional delegation, I teach English to new immigrants, I go to vigils and marches and make sure I’m standing with the now-marginalized-more-than-ever-before. I donate to rights-preserving organizations.

But I’m not doing this tirelessly. I’m still kind of lazy about it. I’ll spend a whole day caught up in a new novel or my nights finishing Orphan Black season 4. I’m beginning to think that tireless is not an operative adjective for my Third Third.

I’ve been tireless in my life. I’ve fought for political access, for affordable housing, for public transit, for women’s equality. I’ve burned my candle at both ends. I’ve felt part of something bigger. I’ve liked living “notched up,” fueling the energy that flowed and flowed. But now, I only operate at lukewarm.
Is this aging? Am I tired?

But we don’t have that luxury now. If we slack off, we can’t keep our republic! (My sense of urgency would insert LOTS of exclamation points there!) We have to do more than enough. We have to be vigilant and positive and proactive and resourceful.

So I’m back to beating myself up. I’m no longer still; I’m just lazy.

But this weekend, at the Human Rights Day vigil, I spotted a man carrying a sign:
I’ll think more about tired and tireless, lazy and still, enough and not; but for now, I just have to make sure I do. And keep doing. And do a little more.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Mammograms, gravity, and The Breast

I am really, really lucky to have my boobs. Not because they require very expensive bras, not because they make it difficult to buy clothes that don’t separate tops from bottoms, and certainly not because they must add ten pounds to my body weight.

I am really, really lucky because I still have them. I have made it to my Third Third with boobs intact.

So I never miss a mammogram. Except that I have switched to biennial ones after the Great Mammogram Controversy over annual or biennial, false positives vs early findings, anxiety vs reassurance. If the experts can’t agree, I took the minimalist option.

Today was the day.

Little-boobed women tell me of the pain of stretching themselves over the table, grabbing skin from their sides to put more skin in the game. Not my problem. I just fling my cantaloupes onto the table and wait for the squish.
When I was growing up on Long Island, my mother took her big-boobed daughters to Dora Meyers Corsetry to buy our bras. I HATED Dora Meyers: all those fitting ladies touching us to make sure the bras fit. What self-respecting First Thirder would go to a “corsetry” anyway? Thank heavens Dora Meyers went out of business.

But my mother found a replacement, and nearly every trip I make to New York includes a stop at the “Bra Ladies.” Mary Corsetieres is a phenomenon: women make appointments and wait on line. Bras are personally altered at the bank of sewing machines, and Mary keeps a file on exactly what alterations are made to my bras. My sisters and I wouldn’t buy a bra anywhere else. Mary saved me from having to wear two sports bras at the same time. Funny how a couple of Thirds changes your viewpoint.

Nevertheless, at the end of a day, the bra comes off with a sigh of relief. And often, the end of a day comes earlier than the end of the day, if you know what I mean. If I’m not going back out, the bra is history. I used to feel that way about pantyhose, but they’re ancient history.

Bra-less big boobs may be comfortable lounging around, but the effects of gravity only worsen with age. There I was, going through security for a recent red-eye flight. If I’m going to be miserable on a red-eye flight, I’m at least not going to be miserable in a bra. So I stash the bra in my backpack and go through security in a bulky sweatshirt. This time, however, I had scored “TSA pre-check,” so I could just wear my jacket.

“Empty your pockets, please, Miss,” said the TSA agent.

“There’s nothing in them,” I replied.

“No, you missed something,” he said. “I can see there’s something in your pockets.”

I poked around. “They’re empty.” I looked down. Uh, oh.

“Those are my boobs.”
(sob) Third Third boobs no longer leave the house without a bra.


Sunday, December 4, 2016

Fun with Ears

This is not a New Thing. This is the story of a Once New Thing Rediscovered. It’s what happens when six women get together in a cabin for three days and an idea happens and it begins snowballing, and next thing you know: six women are lying on the floor with ear candles in their ears.

Human birthday cakes.

Somehow the subject of ear candles came up. Who knows how these things happen. One minute you’re discussing recipes and the next minute you’re on to ear candles. Some of us had prior experience and some of us hadn’t. Sarah wasn’t at the cabin yet so after Googling “ear candle store,” she got the message: “Stop at All About Herbs and get enough ear candles for all of us.” It could have been more bizarre. The text could have said, “Stop at hardware store and get enough WD-40 for all of us.” Or “Stop at pharmacy and get enough Q-tips for all of us.” The imagination runs wild.

No, an ear candle is not a fancy candle shaped like an ear, nor is it a regular old candle you stick in your ear. It’s a hollow candle about a foot long, tapered at the end (the stick-it-in-your-ear end). The candle is put through a hole in a paper plate for safety reasons. Ditto for the bowl of water kept nearby. Then the subject lies on her side, the candle is stuck in her ear, and the health care non-professional lights the end.
A roaring flame shoots up. The human birthday cake subject (hereinafter referred to as H.B.C.) lies there for about 15 minutes listening to the gurgling, hissing, and crackling noises in her ear. A long black ash forms as the candle burns down. Ultimately, the health care non-professional will remove the candle, cut off the burning tip and ash, and aim it to fall into the bowl of water.

Then the excitement builds as the H.B.C. slowly unravels the candle to expose the gloppy, crusty, mustard-colored crud that has accumulated at the tip. Everyone gathers around to marvel at the quantity, texture, and volume; comparing notes; exclaiming over the variation in secretions from their friends’ orifices.

I kid you not. I think it was part of the general derangement.

We think the candle works because the flame creates negative pressure which draws the wax out of the ear. But some skepticism remained: was this really earwax or was it candle wax? One of us is buying another candle to burn ear-lessly to test the question. But the testimonies of improved hearing, eradicated tinnitus, and general head-clearing kept everyone enthralled. We were so excited, four of us had to listen to one iPhone podcast talking us down 20 steps of cotton balls so we could peacefully slide off to sleep. (Not exactly sure of the 20 steps since accounts differ depending on sleep onset and extent of derangement. There was some concern that the ear candles had drained some brains out with the earwax.)

Now, of course, the weekend is over, and one of us has an earache. This is not really a complaint, she’s not in excruciating pain and she can hear really well; she can hear her clock ticking from across the room!

But it sent me to Wikipedia, which reported on a research study:
“…ear candling does not produce negative pressure and was ineffective in removing wax from the ear canal. Several studies have shown that ear candles produce the same residue when burnt without ear insertion and that the residue is simply candle wax and soot.
     As of 2008, there are at least two cases in which people have set their houses on fire while ear candling, one of which resulted in death.
     The inescapable conclusion is that ear candles do more harm than good.”
What a bunch of killjoys! They don’t even let on how much fun candle wax and soot can be. And I bet the ones who burnt down their houses weren’t using the safety precautions of paper plates and bowls of water. We women in our Third Thirds, we know better.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Our names are in their Third Thirds, too

There I was at the teachers meeting for the Alaska Literacy Program. All of us are volunteers, most of us are women, and three of us are named Barbara.

Tell me, do you know any young Barbaras? I thought not.

Back when we were having babies, there was a resurgence of what I call grandparent names. Suddenly, there were baby Maxes and baby Emmas, Emilys, and Sophies. But Barbara has never made its comeback.

In fact, the median age of all Barbaras alive in 2014 was 64. Ruths and Frances were 68; Carols, Freds, and Bobs, 63. Which is a whole lot more modern than Gertrude, whose median age is 80. In fact, if you’re named Gertrude, 89.4% of you are dead. Right up there with Mabel, Myrtle, and Blanche. Or Elmer, Clarence, and Chester.
This all comes from matching social security birth names with actuarial tables, and it’s kind of fun if you’re noticing that there are three Barbaras in your Literacy Program teacher cohort. It’s part of “How to Tell Someone’s Age When All You Know Is Her Name,” and you can check it out here.

Yesterday the cashier at the supermarket reminded me that it was 55+ discount day. I have to assume that’s because he saw my name come up with my rewards card sign-in. Right?

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Need any fingerless gloves?

The blogger Jesse Kornbluth wrote about something a few days ago and said, “I realized that, for the first time since That Thing happened, I was in a good mood.” Reading that, I laughed. We all know what That Thing is. Laughter is still a premium in my days.

So there I was at a goodbye party and I headed to the dessert table. On it was a tray of dozens of little snowmen wrapped around bite-size chocolate bars. If this were a picture dictionary and the word was “adorable,” those snowmen would be it.
And here’s what a tray of them looks like.
I looked closely. “How did she make the little hats?”

“She must have ordered them from the Oriental Trading catalog,” someone said.

No, I thought, I think she cut out strips of cloth and sewed the little hats. But how? So, of course I had to find the craftsperson, Sharon. I hunted her down and introduced myself.

Sharon said her sister sent her the instructions, even sent her the rubber stamp to make the faces.

“But how did you make the little hats?” I asked.

“I buy lots of little kids knit gloves and I cut the fingers off.” Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant! This is more than a light bulb; this is a blast of cleverness. When I encounter something clever and creative and … adorable, I just feel admiration flood through me. I forgot That Thing and just enjoyed this New Thing.

Sharon said she learned this from her sister. And my guess is her sister learned it from, who learned it from, who learned it from … and so on in the way of crafters. So I actually found it here, too.

“Now,” Sharon said, “I just have to find a lot of kids who want fingerless gloves.”

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

What's your definition of "scary"?

On our road trip, the furthest south my sister and I got was Baltimore. We ended up there late at night with no idea where we were headed. All we found were boarded up houses, a wasteland of urban decay. It looked like the South Bronx in the ’70s, it was dark, and it was scary. Some of you will get the literary allusion when Elizabeth groaned, “Shuhman.…”

Finally, we found a hotel. In the morning, we asked the woman at the desk for directions. We wanted to go to the Inner Harbor and we wanted to eat crab cakes at Faidley’s in the Lexington Market. She said, “You don’t want to walk there.”

Visions of boarded up houses flashed through our minds. Okay, we’ll find some other crab cakes. So I went on Trip Advisor to research Lexington Market.

What a window onto two Americas! Half the contributors were terrified of sleazy people, dirt, homeless people, nodding addicts, eating on paper plates with plastic forks, and crime. The other half loved the food, loved the environment and the hubbub, would go back again in a heartbeat. Some contributors said, “Relax, people,” and one said he’s African-American and he imagines maybe they were talking about how he feels when he goes into an all-white venue.

So Elizabeth and I walked down the street, exploring. Two blocks over, we could see the sign for Lexington Market. We could also see that the streets in between looked just fine, no boarded up buildings; people strolling, students on break, workers out. Nothing sleazy, nobody drugged up. We walked over.

Lexington Market! Oh, the thrill of it! When I lived in Costa Rica one summer, I’d go to the market practically every day. I’d talk to the vendors with their homeopathic remedies, I’d buy the fresh vegetables, I’d pick up my breads and cheeses. It was crowded and lively and fresh and so exciting.

Lexington Market is all that and more. In English! Elizabeth went nuts over all the offerings. I had to take photos of the giant birthday cakes – little girl Sophie would have died for all those princesses and castles! We tried Bergers original homemade cookies, and yes, I had my jumbo 100% lump crab cake on a paper plate with a plastic fork. We could have stayed there all day.
The Lexington Market is BLACK with a capital B and a lot more. It is exultantly Black, filled with the energy of people and culture and their specialty foods and family. No one has birthday cakes that big unless they have big birthday parties. Everyone is hard working if they’re running a stand in Lexington Market.

So why did those other people think it was so scary? Did they think it was scary like the boarded-up houses on the empty blocks that I thought were scary? For some, “scary” might mean bodily harm, for others it might mean anything that takes us outside our comfort zones. What makes for “scary”? And just like that, I was back to post-election ruminating and fretting: Scary to you isn’t scary to me (and vice versa) and that’s where America is right now.

We learn our comfort zones in our First and Second Thirds, but in our Third Thirds, we can still stretch them. In fact, they say the major way to avoid cognitive decline is to do something hard. Not crossword-puzzle-hard but learning-another-language-hard, something frustrating. Difficult.

When I was a senior in high school, the welcoming reception for university admission was held at the Harvard Club in New York City. I didn’t want to go. I didn’t want to be in a rich people’s place surrounded by rich people. I saw photos of the place and it didn’t look like a rec room, a high school gym, a family living room. It reeked of wealth, and was probably filled with stuffy people not like me.

My parents made me go.

Now, in our Third Thirds, we’re the ones who have to make ourselves go. On the other side? Maybe the best crab cakes in the world.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Roads Taken

I keep trying – relentlessly trying – to find lighter notes, happier news post-election. So lately I’ve been reflecting on the road trip I took with my sister during our last visit with my mom. Every year – and I intend to do this every year of my whole life forever – Elizabeth and I hop in a car and go someplace. As I’ve mentioned, the one thing about Alaska that screams “Relocate!” is the one-road-north-one-road-south problem. To get anywhere new and exciting, you have to get on an airplane.

My sister and I just get in a car, and New Things after New Things appear to us. The first year, we ended up in Corning, New York, where we made glass mobiles, saw glass art, and tootled around upstate New York.

The following year, we ended up in Burlington, Vermont where we discovered Vermont teddy bears, a little bicycle ferry, and Ben & Jerry’s factory tours.
This year, we went south. Somehow, we ended up in Wilmington, Delaware at the Hagley Museum, which is actually the site of the gunpowder works and family estate of the duPont family. Everything I knew about DuPont I learned at the New York World’s Fair: “Better living through chemistry.” But I had no idea it started with gunpowder.

As one of the guides said, you can see stately homes and gardens anywhere, but you can’t see waterworks like these anywhere else. Located on the shores of a creek, the whole mechanical operation – the machine shop, the steam engine house – is powered by water, with pulleys running into several buildings.

Gunpowder production began in 1802 and was so crucial during the Civil War that Lincoln staged troops there to protect it. The duPonts only sold to the union, and Gettysburg was only about 100 miles away. Guides and displays told the story of gunpowder production, precautions, and the inevitable explosions.
I fell in love with Hagley. The grounds are so beautiful, and the mechanics of the gears and pulleys so fascinating that I came up with a new dream for myself. Hagley houses a scholar in residence. I asked if they’d ever had an artist in residence. No, they haven’t.

So this is my Next Hope. I can imagine wandering the Hagley grounds with my pencil, sketchbook, and paints. And I know this is the longest of long shots, but even that doesn’t matter because now I have a Next Hope.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

A line connects two dots, right?

A couple in Anchorage – Meg and Zach – gave an incredible gift to the community. They bought the house across the street from theirs and turned it into Anchorage Community House. There are classes there, an art room, a tool check-out library – it’s a great idea.

My brain needed a rest from political ads, conversations, and coverage; so a couple of weeks ago, I took a class to make a plant stand. Not only would I learn how to make a plant stand, but I’d actually end up with one. It could lift the schefflera off the new carpet and be USEFUL.
Zach had the wood and tools, and my job was to cut the pieces and screw them together. We measured and marked the wood with pencil. Then I used the circular saw to cut along the lines. I learned the word kerf, which is the cut the saw makes.

The thing is, it’s hard to keep the saw exactly on target. Even harder when you have Third Third eyes and you’re not exactly sure – once you have the safety goggles on – where the line is anymore. The cut – the kerf – has its own dimension. So every now and then, Zach would say something like, “You’re missing it” when I guessed I was in the right spot. Zach compared all the post lengths and worried they weren’t exactly even. And I would tell him not to worry, that the plant stand was going to stand on carpet after all.
A couple days later, I read the book A Tenth of a Second about how measurement had to develop if science was going to develop. The author, Jimena Canales, starts with astronomy and how different astronomers got different measurements for when a star was in position in the sky. This caused lots of problems for mapmaking, even for determining the exact length of the meter (which is based on the earth’s circumference). It all comes down – among other things – to reaction time, how long it takes a person to see, process, and note a star’s transit across the sky. It was a huge international mess in the 1800s.

In 1835, an astronomer named Francis Baily showed that even normal, everyday measurements fell victim to the problem. Some people measured from the middle of a line, some from the top edge, some from the bottom. Even if you just have to connect two dots, it matters whether you’re starting from the inside edge of the dot or the outside edge, from the middle or the side.
The dictionary calls it the “personal equation,” and it affects just about everything humans try to measure.

Why am I telling you all this? Because there I was trying to escape all the election coverage: this opinion piece, that editorial; this article from one newspaper, that article from another; NPR vs Fox News; one pollster vs another … a million different viewpoints. And there’s no way Zach and I could have agreed on where a pencil line “began.”

It puts a lot of things in perspective when you realize there’s inherent bias in even using a ruler.

But even with all that, my plant stand still holds my plant up just fine.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

One foot in front of the other

I’d hoped that by my Third Third, I would have achieved some Wisdom. I thought Wisdom would be kind of mellow, that I’d feel content and solid and calm.

I spent election day happily welcoming A-->L and M-->Z voters  (A-->Ls beat M-->Zs 656 to 491, as expected). Then I heard the results. So now I’m processing this all, and it’s taking me a long time. Sometimes I cry, sometimes I am angry angry angry. Sometimes I’m vindictive; sometimes I’m passive. None of it feels like Wisdom. It’s an Elisabeth Kübler-Ross process. Bear with me.

Day One, Wednesday
Overpowering grief settled on me, overwhelming futility, despair, and sadness. A lifetime of fighting mental other-ness and I succumbed, for the first time, to not getting out of bed. I stayed there. Even my mother’s death didn’t put me there; the election put me there.
It wasn’t because my candidate lost. My candidates mostly always lose. I live in a “red” state; most people vote differently from how I do. I can handle that.

In fact, it’s precisely because I’m “very blue” that I have been saying all along that people left out of prosperity aren’t stupid. The stupid ones are the 1% that thought they could keep this up forever, that they could keep people scraping by while they lived at the top of the food chain.

But it’s turned out that prosperity may not have really been the issue at all. One Trump supporter told me America needed to return to the time “when men were men,” when women didn’t act like men, when there weren’t so many homosexuals around. One said, “We’ll never go back to Black again.” And the anti-Semitism has been so overt I can pick it up without a “dog whistle.”

I believe in making America great again. If we’re in our Third Third, we share the same decades, but they weren’t the same for all of us. Some of us couldn’t buy homes in certain areas or swim in their pools. We girls couldn’t take shop class and play the sports we might want to. Some of us were discouraged from applying to certain colleges because they didn’t take “our kind.” Some of us couldn’t vote.

That’s not the great America I want to return to. In fact, returning to that America would mean my America was dead. I knew my mother would die; I didn’t know my America would.

Day Two, Thursday
I feel like every single person who voted for Donald Trump is telling me I have no place in America. They’re telling me my daughter has no place here. They’re telling me my gay family and friends, my Muslim students, my Black friends, my Spanish-speaking friends have no place here. In fact, I probably have the wrong friends. Oh, maybe they’ll make an exception for me because they know me, but the world they want to return to has no place for me.

Maybe the Trump voters felt like all the changes in society meant they have no place here. Where could they go to get away from gays, from bossy women, from “Happy Holidays”? From black lives mattering, from people speaking Spanish? From people wanting to limit guns sold to mentally ill people?

But we’re just one country geographically. How are we going to share?
Day Three, Friday
But how can we share a country with people who want us not to exist? Are gay people supposed to vaporize? Non-Christians, too? People who speak other languages?

Let me try an example, a very personal one. Maybe you think America was great because there was prayer in school. But I have a different memory: I spent every morning of my elementary school years being forced to pray to Jesus – not my religion – in public school. On Fridays, when class was released at lunch time for catechism, only the Brown kids remained. Let me tell you how much our teachers liked that. Let me tell you what it was like when I was told to stand up at Christmas concerts because I was different: “Santa will never come to Barbara’s house.”

And I was in privileged America. My parents could buy a house in a white neighborhood, watch it appreciate in value, and create a nest egg for the future. Black families were denied that option.

Ask me if that’s the great America I want to return to.

I’ll tell you what I miss about America, the one I wouldn’t mind returning to. I miss common courtesy. I miss kindness. Now violence, bigotry, and meanness have been unleashed. People are saying things OUT LOUD that are appalling and threatening. Swastikas are being painted on store windows, the KKK is planning a victory parade, our new president bragged about sexual assault. He incited this and condoned this, and people voted for this.

It was here that I’d written that if someone didn’t vote, they couldn’t complain. And now I’ll say that if they voted for Trump, they have to own it. They can’t say, “I didn’t know it would be like this” or “I was just being a good Republican.” The whole campaign functioned on a racist, anti-Semitic basis at its core, and if they didn’t speak against it, they have to own it.

I’ve often wondered how the people who screamed at Black children integrating schools in the South, who were photographed with their hateful signs, felt years later when those photographs re-surfaced. Did they say, “It was different back then” or “I see I was wrong”? Did they own the damage they caused, the fear and terror they put into a young child’s life? And what about the silent people who let them do it?

It was hard to find a Nazi after World War II, and eventually, it may be hard to find a Trump supporter. People living near Auschwitz could claim they didn’t know what was going on, but I will MAKE SURE people know the damage they wreak. I am an avenging angel. I am Rage.

Day Four, Saturday
Garrison Keillor wrote that “Democrats can spend four years raising heirloom tomatoes, meditating, reading Jane Austen….” and I am outraged. How can someone tout privilege like that? How can someone dismiss the rightful concerns of so much of the population? The Democratic Party is part of the problem. They got us into this mess because they protected their inner circle, they catered to the 1%, they didn’t listen! No one in power was listening! People are being left out of prosperity, out of opportunity!

No one is listening!
Yes, I sound like a Trump supporter. Bernie supporters start at the same place, with the people who’ve been left out.

I shared a house once with a young man who told me he wasn’t into the political work I was doing. He said letting more people have “some” meant he would have “less,” whether it was money or power or even access. He was not into sharing if he could hold onto “all.”

Now I’m angry at everyone.

Day Five, Sunday
I see Arrival, the movie, and I step out of my angry present. Wisdom, I think, is always relearning empathy. Do you know my reasons? Do I know yours? I have not stood in your shoes and you have not stood in mine.
I have spent most of my professional life crossing divides, whether labor with management, political positions, social causes. I have taught, lectured, and run entire programs about “seeking first to understand.”

My Third Third is not the time to start demonizing people.

Whew.

As many of my friends have been consoling sobbing daughters over the last few days, my friend Helen told hers it wasn’t like after other elections, it was more like after her cancer diagnosis: “It wasn’t at all hard to decide what to do then – NOT run away and hide … or give up and give in to pessimistic projections of a doomed future. The only viable option for me was to fight as hard as I could and force myself to believe in an eventually positive outcome, despite the awful things I’d have to endure along the way.”

It’s going to be very, very hard if our climate is destroyed for that future; if families are broken up over papers and documentation; if more children grow up afraid. So I will stand with Standing Rock on Tuesday, I will march with a million women in January, and I will continue to teach English to refugees and immigrants. I am a brave Big Mouth – here and elsewhere – but I hope I will be a kind one. I miss kindness.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Who cooks dinner?

So let’s say you enter your Third Third earlier than your spouse: who does the cooking?

Do you:
  1. Do more of the cooking because he/she is still working (and earning income) and wouldn’t it be nice for them to come home to a hot meal? (with pleasure)
  2. Continue to share the cooking/household chores because you worked hard to establish an egalitarian household and you’re committed to that in your relationship? (with pleasure)
  3. Do more of the cooking because … (same as #1, but with resentment)
  4. Continue to share the cooking/household chores because … (same as #2, but with resentment)
I know there are some people who are delighted with their newfound time to cook and prepare meals. Those are the women who lined up at the Friends of the Library book sale in front of the cookbook shelves. Those are the folks who take photos of the meals they’ve prepared and post them on Facebook. (Yes, I do know ONE MAN who does this.)

I’m not those people. Mostly, I kind of forget about eating until I have a headache, BUT when I cook, I like it to be healthful, non-meat, and not processed. That takes time. This is the weekly cycle we’re on:

Monday: I cook delicious healthy meal with side dishes. I have to stop what I’m doing at 3:30 for this to be possible, but I am pleased with my effort, and my efforts are appreciated.
Tuesday: I cook delicious healthy meal with side dishes. I have to stop what I’m doing at 3:30 for this to be possible, but I am pleased with my effort, and my efforts are appreciated.
Wednesday: I have to make extra trips to the store for a missing ingredient that is not in stock at two stores (corn meal!?). This particular meal turns out to have a few more steps in it than I’d anticipated so my day gets eaten up with meal preparation. I decide husband is not properly appreciative. I have to stay up late to get my personal stuff done that I couldn’t get done during the day.
Thursday: I assemble a meal of delicious leftovers. I watch husband like a hawk, evaluating whether he is eating his way through the leftovers so we won’t get another meal out of them. I fill out angry survey form for grocery store that did not have corn meal in stock.
Friday: Husband is picking up on clues. He starts saying things like, “I’m making a list with some items I want to cook for a meal. Do you have anything to add?” I feel bad because he has contributed 40+ work hours to our household this week and now I am frightening him back into egalitarianism because he knows me and knows I am ready to blow. I feel very grumpy about all this, but I did not quit my job to cook dinners.

My husband and I had achieved a very nice balance during our working years. He did things; I did things. We both parented. Every now and then, I’d get miffed because my things were do-over-and-over-again things and his were big-project-achieved kind of things, but we worked out a balance of effort. I’ve never mowed the lawn; he’s never tended the garden. If something broken required glue, he fixed it; if it required sewing, I fixed it. We rotated regular meal preparation, but mostly he cooked food, and I cooked meals. Things felt even.

But now, I have more flexible, “leisure” time. And in talking to many women friends, that creates a guilty burden of “we should be” cooking dinner. And the problem with guilty burdens is that eventually resentment finds its way in. I’m sure my husband would say I shouldn’t feel this way, that I’ve earned my time, that I contribute to the household (if not at the same income level as before), but that’s because he’s nicer than I. He’d also say peanut butter is fine for dinner.

So other than giving myself a personality transplant (attempted, never successful), I’ve been trying to come up with solutions to the perceived Dinner Burden:
  1. Maybe peanut butter, yogurt, or whatever scrounging yields can be counted as a meal. Maybe dinner-as-meal is a Second Third thing. Maybe Third Third dinner needs to be re-imagined as bits-of-this-and-that, not a whole meal, but still sitting down together. Maybe a dinner meal can then be a surprise kind of thing, as in “Oh! You made dinner! What a nice surprise!”

  2. Browse my magazines and collected recipes and get enthused about cooking one of those creations?

  3. See a lot more movies at the Bear Tooth and eat dinner there?

  4. More giant soups, more salmon, sandwiches? Great volumes of leftovers? Start a recipe folder of “easy”?
Taking suggestions….

Thursday, November 3, 2016

A "New" Day

Yesterday, a friend mentioned that he’d lived in his house for ten years, a record for him. He said he’s owned more houses than cars.

I’ve lived in my house for 27 years. My friend Mark said I’ve had the same address in his address book longer than anyone else in his address book. I bought my used car in 2002 and expect to have it many more years. I won’t even tell you how old some of my clothes are.

Just adding up all those years is enough to give me a stagnation panic attack. Am I slowly petrifying? Will I become – am I already??? – so boring that I should just stay in bed? Is my Third Third just re-runs?

Well, no. On a good day, I say houses and cars are just the stable structures I include in my life so I can add chaos and change everywhere else. They are the externals that frame an unruly and curious internal life.

On other days, I just make a point of searching out New Things, my “Quest for New-ness.” In fact, if you look at the label list on the right side of this blog, “New Things” is the label with the most citations: 43. That’s led to spiralizing, sauerkraut, Zumba, apple crushing, 5 Crowns, log splitting, lots more. Forty-three blog posts about New Things – that’s a pretty good statistic. I’ll keep it. This one makes 44.
My friend Jinnie and I had a plan for Wednesday: we would go to her doctor’s office to pick up 2017 calendars. I looked forward to it for weeks because Jinnie and I have many, many reasons why the size and shape of this calendar is PERFECT and I have already described my despair when my usual supplier went out of print. Jinnie called ahead to make sure the new calendars were in, and we were set.
This is a perfect Third Third outing. We have purpose, leisure, and freedom. I really can’t describe the happiness such an outing gives me. (Yes, I know we were just getting calendars, but I already said I couldn’t describe it.)

Afterwards, calendars hot in hand, we went looking for art. Another thing we do. Then Jinnie said, “Let’s stop in Modern Dwellers and have a hot chocolate treat.” And, just like that, a New Thing popped up: hot chocolate so thick you eat with a spoon.
I was new, so I got the introductory descriptions: did I want “spicy” or “silky,” whipped cream or not?
I have searched the country for a great chocolate mousse, but I’d never had a hot chocolate mousse. I haven’t had a hot chocolate that makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up either. It was extraordinary, and it was right across the parking lot from a place I visit regularly. Here I am in “one-road-north-one-road-south,” over-explored Anchorage, and I discover a New Thing off the same parking lot.

Suddenly, my eyes were open a little wider (and it wasn’t from all that chocolate). I felt refreshed; my world was a little newer. This time, New-ness came without a Quest. I hadn’t had to sign up for a class, join some new activity, check a calendar of events, or travel to some new destination. All I’d had to do was say “yes.”

Next thing we knew –  four hours later – it was dark outside.

It was a great Third Third day.

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