Thursday, August 17, 2017

Procrastination is our friend.

The clutter that defies my attempts at de-cluttering is usually the result of either of three things:
  • being in-the-middle of a project or idea, or
  • being completely stumped as to how to disperse the particular object, or
  • pure procrastination
In the second category, I had a few problems I’d mentioned before: my cacao bean roaster, my mother’s samovar, and my audio cassettes. The cacao bean roaster ended up on my friend Judith’s mantle, where she’s trying to figure out what to do with it. The samovar and audio cassettes are still my problems, still taking up space while I … procrastinate.

BUT, every now and then, procrastination is our friend! Every now and then, failure to de-clutter means you still have the thing you were considering giving away, and you need it!

No, I still don’t need a samovar or audio cassettes. Does anyone?

Way back on June 5, 2012 was the last Transit of Venus. This is when Venus passes between the Earth and the Sun and you can see the little black dot of Venus moving across the face of the Sun. If you missed it, sorry: the next one isn’t until 2117. It’s a very big deal if you’re trying to measure the distance from the Earth to the Sun, and history is full of expeditions to observe it around the world.

So there was no way I’d miss it on June 5, 2012, when the University of Alaska Anchorage Planetarium set up telescopes and had us all watching the skies. They gave out special solar sunglasses.

Desk space is the most valuable real estate in my office. Papers and articles, mail and bills need that space. Desk space is the space where items of immediate concern – items of current necessity – fight for attention. Desk space is the place where urgent items are at risk of missed deadlines if they get covered over. Desk space is my High Priority Zone.

The cardboard solar sunglasses have been sitting on my desk since June 5, 2012.

Every time I’d pick them up or shift them around because they were in the way, I’d know they really needed to be relocated elsewhere. But then I’d ask myself: Where do cardboard solar sunglasses go so I’d be able to find them when I need them?

I couldn’t come up with a single obvious and apparent location.

Without an obvious and apparent location, you run the risk of not being able to find things when you need them. I just barely stumbled across the TSA luggage locks when I needed them, but where-oh-where is the large-size label I was saving for the cover of that notebook? Or the short extension cord? If something doesn’t come as a whole family of objects – if it travels solo – it can go astray.
But Monday is the Total Eclipse of the Sun, and I am ready! Sunglasses are apparently sold out all over Anchorage, and FAKE ones are being offered for sale online, but I just had to shift a few papers aside, and there mine are! They spark a lot of joy! For now, the joy of de-cluttering has been replaced by the joy of NOT de-cluttering.

Yes, this sets back the de-cluttering cause significantly, and I know those sunglasses really do need a permanent home, but that can wait till after 10:14 a.m. on August 21.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Not all hands on deck

We built a deck.

Let me correct that: we had a deck built. I had nothing to do with any hammering or digging or measuring. My job was to say what I wanted and pick out colors. My job was actually to decide to go ahead and build a deck at all. After that, I was pretty useless. Tim is the hero of this story.

We’ve lived in our house for 28 years. The concrete patio has been crumbly and broken for a while, but we’ve gotten by. Mostly, we don’t use it. Tim would say, “The stairs need work. I keep repairing them, but they need more work. We have to decide what to do about the patio.” I’d look but couldn’t decide where I’d want a deck, where there’d be the most sun, what about over there, and it always got too complicated.

But this summer, after visiting a friend’s deck, I said, “I’m ready for us to build a deck.” In Barbara language, that might have meant next year (and the us is definitely an inaccurate pronoun). In Tim language, it means decide on a design tomorrow, pick out materials, hire a contractor – can he start Monday?

He’s my husband – you can’t have him!

First off, he rented a jackhammer to break up the old, crumbly patio. He and Dillon, our friend’s son, banged away and hauled the rubble to the front of the house.

Tim loaded the truck. When it was all carted off to the dump, it was 16,000 POUNDS of concrete.
I’m keeping him!

When Lance, our marvelous, master-craftsman, deck builder, dug out the Sonotubes, he unearthed giant boulders. My job was to put them on Craig’s List and wait for everyone to fight over our free rocks. They did.
The deck is mostly finished. It’s spectacular. Friends say it will change my life. My Third Third life is going to involve spending a lot of time on that deck. It’s so sturdy that I figure in an earthquake, the deck will keep the house standing.

The lawn is littered with lumber that I wouldn’t let Lance or Tim haul away because it can be recycled. My friend Connie said it would be a crime not to recycle it, but Connie and I can be a bad influence on each other that way, and it’s not lying around on her lawn. If worse comes to worst, I’ll go back on Craig’s List.
Tim sorted the lumber for me, but I’m waiting for it to dry so it won’t get my car wet. Yesterday, he said, “I’ve ordered a load of topsoil to fill in the patio hole. They’ll be here in the morning.”

“Now?!” I panicked. “What’s the rush? We’ll have a pile of dirt that’ll turn into mud. I still have to dig up the baby tree that I’m donating. Why do you have to rush things?”

“Because I have to get seeding started to put the lawn back together. I’ve already found a kid to help me move the dirt.”

Just now, I looked out the window. The topsoil is raked and spread over the torn up spots. It’s done.

I can hear my friends yelling, “Yay! We’re on Team Tim!”

Now I have my big job: planning the deck warming party. It’s a little problematic because of the forecast for rain. I’m trying to dawdle a little to see what the weather does. Eventually, I’ll have to get around to finding some deck furniture. That’ll take some research.

How odd this is! I usually think of myself as a get-it-done, make-it-happen mover (who often has to prod her husband), but I’ve clearly been just watching from the peanut gallery while Tim handles, hauls, sweats, and gets dirty. It’s good to have our identities messed with a little, to reevaluate ourselves, to let a marriage shift around and rebalance itself. A little disconcerting, but interesting. I have to hope all my laziness is just premature deck lounging, but I’m thinking each of us just has different speeds depending on our different talents. (I wonder if Tim would accept this generous analysis.)

This deck is a gift for our Third Third, and I hope it means more enjoyment, socializing, and relaxation. I hope that every time I sit on it, eat on it, or lounge on it; I’ll remember whose sweat made it possible.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

In or Out?

Does it always just come down to being outside?

When I am away from home camping, breathing air that hasn’t been inside walls, I can say, “Today I just want to sit in the sun and read” and birds sing. I can look up and watch the clouds, doze off because the sun is warm, forget where I was on the page, notice some plants I didn’t notice before. Listen to the birds, feel the sun, stretch my legs.

If I were home, I’d remember that the Visa bill was due, the health insurance form had to be filed, the garden weeded and why haven’t I managed that with my “free” time? These thoughts crowd my brain; they drown out the “still, small voice.”

I don’t think it’s just about being away from home. When Sophie was little, I would take her to the playground or on a walk, and everything would become about doing nothing but being with her. No thoughts of extraneous to-do’s because I was being a Good Mother, and that eclipsed all.

Somehow, just plain peace of mind doesn’t have the same momentum in the face of all those to-do’s.

Richard Louv coined the expression “Nature-Deficit Disorder” to originally describe what happens to children separated from the outdoors. Then he extended the conversation to include adults. What if, he asks, we were as immersed in nature as we are in technology?

I don’t have a dog. Friends with dogs have to walk them. I’d returned from London biking everywhere, but when my knee went, so did most of my outdoors. Now my knee is better, but I’m still indoors-heavy and outdoors-light. I’m indoors writing about being indoors-heavy after all. It’s so easy to get out of whack.

What if I had to earn indoor time with outdoor hours?

What if what’s essential isn’t just passing-through-outdoors, but being-in-the-outdoors? Because I’m not sure it’s movement as much as it is fresh air. And I’m not sure it’s fresh air as much as it is paying attention and looking around. Can it happen in the backyard or does it require wildness or greenery or landscape? Do people who own cabins feel the weight of to-do’s even though they’re in their outdoors?

Would I even notice any of this if the weather weren’t particularly lovely right now?

Does it always just come down to the weather? Do happiness and contentment and freedom and peace of mind always just come down to the weather?

I don’t know. Right now, I’m off to reduce my deficit. Quick, while the sun shines.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Getting Comfortable

Do you sleep on the ground?

Did you used to sleep on the ground? Like, in a tent?

I remember when camping in a tent meant the old, closed-cell foam camping pad. You could feel every rock in your back. When we discovered self-inflating Therm-a-Rests, life changed – we had cushion! A whole inch of cushion! I still remember our first camping trip with baby Sophie; she turned the tent into a bouncy house. We found her in the morning by the door of the tent, having bounced there after Tim and I fell asleep.

Funny, that old Therm-a-Rest just doesn’t bounce anymore. Or rather, I don’t bounce. I thump and rattle and groan.

One friend said it’s not even just the sleeping on the ground that gets her; it’s the getting up.

When I backpack, I sit on the ground. Many years ago, my mother-in-law gave me a fold-up-able chair that basically held my butt on the ground. It felt so extravagant. When we all had little kids, I took it on our first car camping trip with friends. I was a little embarrassed to bring it out around the campfire.

But then, everyone else unloaded real chairs from their cars! At first, it was just chairs. Then the chairs got arms. Then the arms got cup holders. Now the chairs have cushions.

It happened with stoves, too. Camping used to mean fiddling with stoves, relentlessly fiddling with little stoves that held a single pot and that always seemed to clog. The first time someone pulled out a two-burner Coleman stove, I almost flipped. Now we own one. We even put it in a kayak.

Now our friends camp with cots and air mattresses, even RVs. Last weekend, I spotted a car going into their tent site with a giant air mattress on the roof. The guy was riding the back bumper, holding the air mattress on the roof with his hands. She was driving really slowly, but how did they get there?!? I figured they must have gone to the electricity at the RV site to blow up the mattress and were now delivering it to their tent.
My friend Rob once had his well-used camping gear described as “prehistoric.” When I buy mine, it’s usually with the assumption that it will last a lifetime. (I buy a lot of things that way.) It’s my stubborn fight against planned obsolescence – not to mention the emotional attachment to my gear – but this curmudgeon side is now getting in the way of … progress. Yeah, I used to walk to school in the snow, too, but I’m pretty sure dinosaurs were uncomfortable before they went extinct.

When I hiked the Chilkoot Trail last summer, my friend Mary loaned me her blow-up NeoAir Therm-a-Rest. Wow! It was a sleeping transformation! It was thick and cushy and still lightweight; oh, the miracles of technology! But last weekend, Tim and I still pulled out our old, one-inch-thick Therm-a-Rests … and groaned and tossed and turned.

No more! If the world is building better mousetraps, I’m getting with the program. I love camping. I love sleeping in a tent, all contained and cozy. I love breathing air that hasn’t been inside walls. I’m ready to update!

Stodginess lurks in secret places, and it’s so liberating to cast it off.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Parable of the Pressure Cooker -- the Sequel

The pot’s still black. My beloved pressure cooker (sob!).

It started with a gift of a hunk of moose meat. I eat meat, but I don’t cook it. I’m a vegetarian + fish cook, so while meat-eaters would probably call it a roast, to me it was a big ole hunk of meat. I had to check Google to see what to do with it. There I discovered “Pressure Cooker Pot Roast,” which was exciting because I could get to use my pressure cooker. My basically-beans pressure cooker could experiment with meat. This would be a New Thing.
The recipe – for umami pot roast – called for fish sauce, which would also be a New Thing. I went to the Asian grocery, and there were LOTS of fish sauces, which it turns out, is anchovy juice. It was my kind of recipe; it came with instructions like “pressure cook for 36 minutes” and “add 1 tablespoon.” I’m a chemistry lab cook; I need very explicit instructions. It even had a video.
First step: get my pressure cooker “as hot as it can be,” then add oil and my roast to “promote Maillard reaction and prevent excessive moisture loss.” I had to look that up, but it had to do with browning my meat to kick in flavor and aroma. I could do that. The recipe said to do it “for exactly 10 minutes on each side.”

I should have watched the video again.

Their video shows a happily sizzling roast in the pan. I set my timer for 10 minutes. After about 5 minutes, the dining room was filling with smoke. At 8 minutes, I opened the windows. At 10 minutes, the bottom of my pot was black. I was following the recipe; I thought this was what meat did!

I added all my onions and garlic and mushrooms. I was then up to “deglazing,” which (after further Google research) means “scrape up all the good stuff stuck to the bottom.” I was supposed to do this with a wooden spoon. Which is pretty much impossible when the bottom is thick, black, and impenetrable. When the bottom looks like hardened lava from a volcanic eruption. Something was not right here….

Nevertheless, I persisted.

Even now, I can’t figure out what I did wrong. Was I supposed to go less than exactly 10 minutes or have my pressure cooker not as hot as it could be?

In the end, the meat was cooked just right, the potatoes and carrots done to perfection. Flavor good … for meat. Tim liked it.

But the bottom of the pot was totally, unrelentingly black. I, of course, returned to the Internet.

This is like the time I checked Google for what to put on burns. I sunk down the rabbit hole of blackened pot remedies. Since then, my pot has experienced:
  • Boiling with dish soap in it
  • Boiling water and equal parts vinegar (with and without the addition of baking soda)
  • Baking soda paste
  • Coca-Cola
  • Massive doses of elbow grease
  • Steel wool, which some YouTube videos promote and some decry because it scratches the steel – hey, we are well beyond worrying about scratches….
Tim offered to put a steel brush on his drill and have a go at it, but I have yet to add the OxiClean or the dishwasher powder or the tomato sauce. My friend Riki suggested Mr. Clean’s Magic Eraser, whose miracles I have chronicled here, so he’s next on the list. The YouTube people try their remedies and show off newly sparkling pots, but I have also followed poor Peter’s efforts, who – with the help of loyal commenters – seems to have run the gamut of tips on his pot, too.

One loyal commenter told Peter to just accept his pot as “seasoned.”

And so the pressure cooker teaches me yet another lesson for life in The Parable of the Pressure Cooker: What can’t be shiny and new is … seasoned.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

OLÉ! Hooray!

I took a job!

Why this should not be such shocking news:
  • I have always said I was unemployed, not retired
  • It’s not a job as in “regular job” which would confine me in the box of hours and location and desk. It’s a “gig,” but a long-term one.
But it’s not a gig, either. I’ve had contracts. Contracts are work you do and then move on. On a contract, you don’t say you’re with an organization. You don’t identify with it; you’re not paid – or authorized – to think beyond the job you’ve been asked to do. And finish. And move on.

I’ve written about my usual (previous Thirds) happy process of finding something that captures my interest and then a job emerges and then I fill it. But how in my Third Third, job-like things didn’t spark that interest and didn’t emerge. Art and travel and community efforts did. Jobs felt confining and limiting and would interfere with all the other interesting things I wanted to do. I gave up looking. I couldn’t face the box.
But I am not a good unemployed person, either:
  • Pretty sure I have some personal difficulty with an overdeveloped work ethic
  • Certain my sense of work ethic is still stuck on the equation of personal value with getting paid
  • Still suffer from identity crises which equate that work ethic with my role in the world
Obviously, just occupying my Third Third has not solved those thorny psychological issues: I am not a poster child for Just Have Fun. But every now and then I re-learn an important lesson: Patience, Things Work Out.

Which is why I am happily now in the perfect job for me!

I am the new staffperson for OLÉ, Opportunities for Lifelong Education in Anchorage. An all-volunteer group that has already grown to 383 members and will celebrate ten years on October 2, OLÉ provides courses, field trips, and engagement for the over-50 set. I have both taken and taught courses over the years and thoroughly appreciate the people who have made all this happen.

I’ll get to use my skills – part-time – in outreach and building partnerships, in supporting volunteers and ensuring sustainable operations, and in adding diversity to an organization. I like what they do, and they like what I can offer. Most of the hours in my days and days in my calendar are still my own. I can still do art and blog, still teach at the Literacy Program, still play.

But I also get to say, “I’m with OLÉ. Let me tell you more about it.”

It’s a perfect match!

Thursday, July 20, 2017

A Library for ALL my Thirds

I’ve been suffering withdrawal the last couple of weeks. Library withdrawal. Our main library, Loussac Library, was closed for the big remodel, and for a library-aholic, this has been rough.

As I thought about it, I realize the library is the one institution that figures significantly in all my Thirds. From my first introduction to the little old library in New Jersey that smelled of books, to the library I inhabited through high school, to the Youth Services section Sophie and I practically lived in, the library is where you might find me if I’m not home. Even now, I’m an every-other-day-er.

I’ve had an office way in the bowels of the San Francisco Public Library, did the public information and promotion for Anchorage Public Library, and got my library cards as soon as I arrived in Manhattan and London for my months. I’m not part of a community till I’m a Friend of the Library.

The library took me through the First Third of preparing for adulthood. At midnight, when the library closed on campus, hundreds of bicycles took to the street. The library was the place where I read the reserved reading for my Human Sexuality course. When I perceived that the guy on the opposite side of the carrel was masturbating, and I was reading that I wasn’t supposed to give him the thrill of my fear, I got up and calmly walked to the desk … until a friend reached out for me and I screamed bloody murder. (Bet you didn’t expect that last little bit of history to hide in this paragraph!)

Then in my Second Third, when Sophie expressed an interest in anything, we’d race to the library to get a book on it. Amusement parks! Rocks! Gems! The discovery of very old editions of Flower Fairies of the Garden sparked years of poetry, fairies, and gardening. When there was a parenting issue (me-first-itis, big bed fears, honesty), the librarians would help me find a picture book that dealt with that issue. As the Storytime Lady in the Alaska Botanical Garden, I spent years reading every picture book on flowers, bugs, trees, gardens, vegetables, seeds, and forest animals.

And now, the library accommodates my Third Third self. I get to do the pleasure reading I want; I get to reserve and watch too many DVDs. Even the Guerrilla Knitters meet there and decorated trees there. The library is there whenever my flexible schedule puts me there.

And then it wasn’t.

The remodel has been going on for a year. Things moved around. DVDs changed floors. Elevators opened on strange territory. Visqueen and plastic decorated the walls. Nothing looked like it used to. It was so disconcerting that I gave up on hanging out there. I put holds on my requests, picked them up on the ground floor, and went home grumpy. I felt like a curmudgeon who couldn’t happily adapt to change, and the only thing worse was when the library closed totally for two weeks.

Grump, grump, grump.

But then Wednesday happened, grand re-opening day! I took my shift as a helpful volunteer, opening the main door and greeting people coming and going. What a happy day! What a happy task!

“Welcome to the new Loussac Library!”

It was rainy and gray, but Anchorage came out for the big re-opening. People were curious, happy, and just eager to get back in. The library is the place where all of Anchorage shows up: the preschoolers, the elderly, the high-schoolers, the families. The professionals, the loungers, the get-in-get-a-book-and-get-out folks. The clusters of friends, the quiet and solitary.

“Welcome to the new Loussac Library!” I was meant for this job! What a great way to spend my time. I felt like I was opening a golden door, a welcome to heaven, to a new shiny place with new spaces and new places to sit. It will take some getting used to, but that should be easy: I’ll be spending a lot of time there.
“Welcome to the new Loussac Library!” See you there.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

I was there.

So if we’re going to talk about music, I have to tell you about Woodstock.

I was there. That is my big claim to membership in our generation, my major 1969 merit badge. My big attention-getting, conversation enhancer for Third Thirders. I was at Woodstock.
I was 16, naïve to the nth degree, and had no idea what I was getting myself into. I didn’t really follow music except folk: Peter, Paul, and Mary; Arlo Guthrie; Joan Baez. Music was not my big motivator, even though it was called “3 Days of Peace & Music.” Peace was motivating, BUT the tiny little ad in the Sunday newspaper also said there would be art in the woods. There’d be potter’s wheels in the woods.

I went to Woodstock to throw pots in the woods.

I paid my $18 and bought my tickets in advance by mail.
We went up in two cars driven by parents. Kevin’s car went up earlier with the tent. Debra’s car – with me in it – sat in traffic for hours. We were going to find each other at the entrance gate … which ceased to exist when the 100,000th person entered, I guess. We arrived to utter chaos, and Debra’s father was having none of this … until I spotted Kevin over thousands of people. I waved, “Hi, Kevin, we’re over here!”

That was only the first proof of Woodstock magic.

We moved our stuff into the tent and then went in search of music, which lasted till 2 in the morning. As we trooped back to the tent through the mobs of people, something was wrong. The tent was gone! Kevin’s mother, freaked out by news reports, had come up to retrieve everyone and bring everyone back home.

Hey, I’d paid my $18 and I was not leaving! Fortunately, three boys nearby from Penn State heard all this and said I could stay with them.

So I did.
One of them was named Jack. Jack was my second bit of magic because every time I got lost, I’d call out “Jack!” and he’d always find me.

There was a lot of getting lost. The sea of people between me and the porta-cans didn’t mean I could give up needing the bathroom. I went to the truck that distributed peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, turned for half a second, and got lost again. Getting lost in a crowd of half a million mud-covered people and tents is a scary proposition. The odds were you would NEVER find your tent or your stuff.

And then, of course, I just had to go into the woods to throw pots.

Except that everyone in the woods throwing pots was naked. Everyone in the woods was naked. The woods must have been the center of clothing optional land. I ran out of there so fast I couldn’t remember what direction I’d entered from.

The trucks that gave out peanut butter and jelly sandwiches also gave out Spam sandwiches. I’d never heard of Spam. Spam was very weird. I would try to swallow it, and it would float back up. Spam can’t go down me. It refuses.

In the end, it was time to go home. I remember wandering around and then shouting, “Oh, there’s Debra!” She’d stayed behind and her father would meet her somewhere. I have no idea how this happened. I have no idea how I found that ride back home. Magic, I think.

We had to take trains and buses. For days, whenever you traveled and came across a starry-eyed, grubby, our-age person, you’d say, “Were you there?” and they’d understand … in our shared starry-eyed, magical way.

Only years later did my two younger sisters explain what it was like at home, with my parents watching the news and freaking out. I came home starry-eyed (it was epidemic) and dirty and told my father nothing was wrong with marijuana – which I hadn’t tried but those Penn State guys did, and look how helpful and friendly they were! (My bold adventure was taking my bra off.)

A few weeks later, on a family vacation to Montreal where Expo 67 was still continuing, my father deposited me in the P.O.T. Pavilion. After eight hours of truly scary films about the dangers of drugs – displays of babies born with their skeletons outside their bodies and people “flying” out of windows to their death – I was cured of any curiosity about marijuana.

And then, in the 1980s, while I was chairing a political meeting after-hours in a San Francisco bookstore, a man came in shooting a gun. He told us to throw our wallets into his bag. I actually asked if I could keep some bits – my Woodstock tickets – but he waved his gun, and there they went.

End of an era.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Musical Memory

If you’re in your Third Third, Carole King’s Tapestry album was the soundtrack to your emotional life. Released in 1971, each song tracked with the phases of our lives. Maybe you’d met someone new and weren’t sure where the relationship was going, and then Carole King sang “Will You Love Me Tomorrow?” so you learned the words and sang along.

Stop right now! Sing it! You know the words:
Tonight you’re mine, completely
You give your love so sweetly

Tonight the light of love is in your eyes

But will you love me tomorrow?
Confirmed in new love and positive no one else had ever felt like that before? Did you feel the earth move? Was that when you felt like “A Natural Woman”?

Yes, you know that one! Belt it out. Even just the chorus counts.

But then you had to head home for the summer from college and the love of your life was “So Far Away.” Heartbreak and the end of a relationship because “It’s Too Late”? And then, as we all consoled each other, it was “You’ve Got a Friend.”

Do you know the words? Do you picture where you were, how your heart was throbbing or breaking? Join the club.

I’ve just seen Carole King in a live concert in Hyde Park, London. Or rather, I saw it at the movies, but I was there. 65,000 other people (plus the ones in the theater) and me. As the cameras panned the audience, their lips were moving. They knew all the words, too (and many of them weren’t even born yet in 1971).

No, I take that back: I wasn’t there. I was back in 1971 with a first boyfriend, in 1972, in ’73, in ’74 with long-distance separations, break-ups (several), good friends (several), and new loves (a few). Listening to that concert touched all those old, sensitive places. All those places where Feelings were just so big and new and raw, and then later on, when the Feelings were familiar and recognizable and still big.

And on the stage was Carole King. She was beautiful and energetic and … radiant! Behind her, the very young Carole King was projected on a screen, and that Carole was so very, very young, with smooth, smooth skin. The camera pulled in for close-ups of Carole on stage, and she had wrinkles and a sagging chin and deep lines. Her hair was unruly, her stomach and sides came with flab and bulges, and her upper arms had a life of their own. She was so BEAUTIFUL! She said, “This is what 74 looks like.”

It was an epiphany moment for me: she was beautiful! I abandoned the painting I made; I can’t do justice to her. She shone and glowed and radiated brightness. I was so enthralled, I turned to my friend Robin and said, “Look at her. All you see is her life force. She has lines and aging, but all you see is her life force.”

And Robin said, “Don’t you know that’s what people see of you, too?”

Is that true? Yes, it’s what I see in everyone else. But here we are, looking at ourselves up real close in the mirror, noticing every new hair or spot or line; and no one else sees that! What a miracle!

I thought then that our life force is what makes us beautiful, and I felt … hopeful. Suddenly I could see a life past bad knees, sagging eyelids, flabby upper arms. I could see that I just had to hold on to my life force. Oh, that’s right; she told us that, too: “You’re beautiful as you feel.”

Carole’s daughter, Louise, came out and they sang “Where You Lead” together. Carole just beamed at her. I thought, No one gets to have an adult daughter and still look 25. She looks like a mother, and she loves being that mother, that singer, that 74-year-old.

I’d love to hear the song she writes about that.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Limping into our Third Third

Last week, as I arrived at my book club, I limped out of the car. Coming from her car was Chris, limping. Robin met us at the door, limping. If Riki were with us, she’d be limping, too.

None of this had been planned in advance. We weren’t reading a book with a limping character. No Hunchback of Notre Dame, no Treasure Island. No game of charades, no funny ha-ha mimicry.

Our bodies are just crapping out on us.

I even cringe writing that because I harbor the desperate hope that my currently bad knee is just a temporary aberration and has nothing to do with long-term degeneration.

But, of course, it does.

One day, I was biking and running and walking, and the next day, I was in terrible pain. No fall, no twist, nothing catastrophic. It just happened. It was going to go away in a couple days. That’s why I hobbled, iced, and Aleved my way across the Badlands and South Dakota. That’s why I foolishly thought the 422 stairs of the Presidential Trail at Mount Rushmore wouldn’t be a problem. That’s why they’re probably still talking about that crazy hopping redhead.

So, of course, I was at the orthopedist the day I returned. (Yes, the same orthopedist. I trust him. He gave me my knee back before.) That’s why I was in an MRI machine the next day and physical therapy the following week.
Sample thoughts while limping and freaking out: What if I don’t have my knee back?!? How can I run? How can I go up and down stairs? What do I do when my mental health requires movement? How will I not get fat????

And on the Fourth of July, I went to two parties where people enthusiastically discussed ailments. Or, as Our Third Third readers have put it, “organ recitals.” Then the New York Times did an article on knee interventions, which everyone shared. And shared. My doctor said that as we get older, we can injure ourselves sliding a shoe box with our foot. We are all degenerating.

My physical therapist has pointed out that my right knee doesn’t line up with my right foot when I walk. I have pointed out to her that I can’t even balance on one foot, period. Basically, I have to re-do my whole skeleton. My friend Irene has to re-learn how to sit. We should have done this when we were three years old, but if we can fix it now, we’ll have mobility.
The looming Third Third question is: what do we have to give up? I used to play soccer and tennis, but I had no trouble giving them up. They weren’t worth the injuries. The doctor and the physical therapist feel the same way about running. They call it pounding, and they wince when they say it.

I’m not a devoted runner. I don’t train with intervals; I don’t go fast. I don’t like races. Very often, I try to find excuses not to run (rain, wind, laziness, other things). But running is outside, tires me out, maintains my weight, keeps me healthy, and wards off depression. It’s cheap, easy, and accessible anywhere. I just haven’t found anything else that works on all those levels.

So a bum knee starts a cavalcade of reactions in me beyond the initial five-months-of-crutches freak-out. Beyond the “Oh, no, we have stairs now!” It starts all sorts of “beginning of the end” scenarios in my mind, visions of restrictions and incapacities. Of no outlet for all the parts of me that need an outlet. Of limitation.

This is my first encounter with Aging-with-a-capital-A. (Well, not really: there is that issue of my face sagging….) But this could mark the transition from getting-older-means-you-get-to-do-more to getting-older-means-you-get-to-do-less. That’s going to take some mental readjustment. If this is a first step, no wonder I’m limping.

I know I’ve been lucky. There’s a woman in physical therapy who’s trying to walk at all. When my mother’s memory went, she had to give up the reading that she loved, and that would be HARD. Maybe you’ve already had to cross this bridge; what was it, and how’d you do?

Monday, July 3, 2017

No Leg to Stand On

This is a Second Third story, but I’m going to tell it here because you need it for my next post, the Third Third version. Sometimes it’s a hilarious story that I tell when I’m in stand-up comic mode, and sometimes it’s a lesson-learned story that I need to re-tell myself. Feel free to take it either way, but it does sort of occupy an epic place in my life experience.

Thirty years ago, Tim invited me on one of our first dates. We were going to cross-country ski with his friends in the back country. His circle of friends skied better than I, a fact I discovered right away when I blinked at the trailhead and they disappeared. So I shuffled along by myself – muttering all the while this would be the last date with That Guy.

It was the kind of ski outing where you catch up with everyone else as they’re finishing lunch, and they stand up and say, “Okay, time to get going.” But there’s a mountain, and then they’re all laughing and falling, falling and laughing, which seems do-able to me. I could certainly laugh and fall. Except that my fall was accompanied by a very clear twang as something in my knee gave way.
So Tim and the rest raced back to the car to plan my rescue, and eventually I ended up at the emergency room in a temporary cast. The next day, I was fired.

I know, that seems out-of-the-blue and maybe even un-related. It was. A new mayor had been elected and, since I served “at the pleasure of the mayor” managing the transit system, I was fired. It’s political. I get that.

The day after, I went to an orthopedist. In his office, the receptionist had some forms for me to sign. As she slid the window to hand me the forms; in a freak accident, the window, the frame, and the molding fell out of the wall, landed on my good foot, and fractured it.
You read that right. I went into the doctor’s office with one broken leg and left with two. Or, as the doctor put it, the knee meant I couldn’t stand on that leg and now the fractured foot meant I couldn’t stand on that leg.

“But can I still swim?” I asked, panicking.

“Uh, you’re not going to be able to sleep in a bed,” he admitted. “You’ll be on the floor for a while.”

All this ended up translating into five months of crutches, braces, and limited mobility. My doctor made a case for conservative, non-surgical treatment so I’d have my knee for the rest of my life. In the meantime, I learned a lot:
  • You cannot collect unemployment if you are physically unable to take a job. If, as a healthy 30-something, I had not magically checked the box for “short-term disability” when I took the job; I’d be broke fast. This is how people end up homeless.

  • I felt helpless and weak, totally un-strong. I felt ugly, pathetic, and worthless. Eventually, a new definition of strength had to emerge: it had nothing to do with lifting things; it had to do with keeping my spirits up.

  • I was part of a community of friends that rose to my aid: doing my shopping, making my house a social center, installing bathroom hardware, driving me to physical therapy, checking in on me. I needed help, and they were there. “There-ness” made all the difference.

  • I was totally unproductive. When it takes 40 minutes to get to the bathroom, you quickly run out of time in your day. All I could do was Be. Amazingly, I got very, very happy. I think the universe had been telling me to slow down. When I wasn’t listening, it broke the first leg. When that didn’t work, out went the job. Still focused on too much Doing and not enough Being? There went the second leg.

  • I learned what it’s like to be disabled. I suffered through office buildings that had ramps outside yet no elevators inside, people parking illegally in the parking space I needed to get into a building, power doors that opened out and knocked over my crutches. Happily, I lived in a ranch house all on one level.

  • I had a good story. No, a great story. People loved hearing this story. Telling it helped me be cheerful rather than pathetic. There were the side stories, too: the one about the taxi driver who got lost and I, thinking he was taking me to some dark alley, extracted the crampons on my crutches and prepared to attack him from the back seat.

  • During all this, I was in new-love, and love conquers all.

As I fought my way back to mobility – passing through the stage Tim described as “might be called walking … in a prehistoric kind of way” – I set a goal for myself: I would run the Alaska Women’s Run, 6.2 miles. That would be my sign that this episode was over.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Did you Duck and Cover?

If you’re in your Third Third, you know what “Duck and Cover” means. Maybe you hid under your desk at school during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Maybe you thought your father should build a bomb shelter in the backyard. And you certainly know what “Cold War” means.

Our trip through South Dakota included a thought-provoking counterpoint to all the natural beauty – the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site – with the potential to destroy it all. The wonderful visitor center took us through the Cold War and the arms race, mutually assured destruction, and ultimately, arms reduction.

You can see the visitor center; it’s above ground. Delta-01 Launch Control Facility and Delta-09 missile silo are mostly underground. Delta-01 is where the two missileers worked on 24-hour alert duty shifts, ready to launch ICBMs (intercontinental ballistic missiles) in the event of nuclear attack.

I thought of that word missileer. It sounded like Disney’s imagineer so at first I just didn’t feel the heaviness of it. It seemed creative, musical even. But the exhibit took us through the psychological pressures, about what it would take to be trained to “press the button.”

There were photos of little kids under their desks at school. Little kids wearing the dresses and hairstyles we wore in the early ’60s. They looked just like us. I still remember my Weekly Reader emphasizing that Florida was just 90 miles away from Cuba. My friend Denise grew up in North Dakota knowing they were a big X on the USSR missile map.

At the height of the Cold War, both the Soviet Union and the U.S. had more than 10,000 nuclear warheads. The exhibit takes us through the build-up and the reduction. Acronyms like SALT (Strategic Arms Limitation Talks) and START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) suddenly make sense on a timeline.

And then we get to the last room, the one describing “the man who saved the world,” Stanislav Petrov. Petrov was the duty officer in the USSR on September 26, 1983 when alerts went off that five missiles were headed to the Soviet Union. He made the crucial decision not to alert his superiors, guessing that if the strike were real, the U.S. would have sent more than five missiles.

The tension he endured was immense. He guessed; we all won.
Apparently, a movie was made about this in 2015. I’m trying to get it on interlibrary loan. September 26 is Petrov Day: “Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, take a minute to not destroy the world.”

That last panel goes on to describe other false alarms: one where a training tape of a Soviet invasion was mistakenly inserted into the early-warning computer, another where a Norwegian rocket on a scientific mission to study the aurora was mistaken for a missile.

These were equipment mistakes, technological errors; they can happen any time. But the humans staffing the machines have to be able to stay calm and process the evidence rationally. Always it comes down to the one person who might be the one who “saves the world.”

Many times in my life I’ve explored what it takes to make peace as opposed to making war. This exhibit put another layer on it: how do we train people to refrain from pushing buttons, to pause, to consider? Because so far, the only time the world was saved was when a button wasn’t pressed.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Not Made by Humans

Living in Alaska, you can get complacent about Big Nature. The mountains are always on the horizon, the giant moose are often on the trail, glaciers fill the Sound. Mostly, you can end up just seeing the space in front of the windshield, bicycle, or your own two feet.

It can take a wholesale change in scenery to knock your socks off.

Fortunately, South Dakota and Wyoming come with Big Nature, overwhelming Nature. Nature that amazes. But they also come with rolling, calming, on-and-on-and-on-and-on Nature.

I thought we’d need books on tape or something else to get us through the prairies, the grasslands, the range lands. I couldn’t imagine just sitting and looking out the window – at grass! – for hours and hours and days and days and never growing tired of it. Turned out I could look at that grass for weeks.

It wasn’t just the cows or the horses or the rolled up bales of hay. It was the lushness, the abundance of space and time and … grass. Interrupting the greenness of the grass was the reddest soil I’ve ever seen. I stopped and collected some. I’m home now, and it’s still red, so it wasn’t just imagination tinged with vacation.

You come through the grasslands all soothed and still – and then suddenly you’re in the Badlands. Erosion has made the Badlands. Erosion has dug out their layers and peaks and valleys and sharp edges, and erosion will erase them entirely in another 500,000 years. You’d better hurry and go!

I’ve drawn log splitters and apple crushers, copied Picasso and Monet, but I don’t think I can paint the Badlands or the grasslands and do them justice. The problem is scale. A little doodle does not a whole landscape make. A little doodle doesn’t fill up the earth and air and sky.

The Badlands are striped reds and golds and blacks. The Yellow Mounds are yellow. The scrub is green. The dust is tan and white. You look over one set of craggy peaks and discover another batch of different colors. But the color is only part of it: the shapes are what haunt: this is the stuff of another planet, an intimidating dreamworld. Except it’s our Earth, but it’s primal Earth. It is raw, untamed, unbuilt, sharp and pointy Earth.

And if you’re driving along westward and Devils Tower rises on the horizon, you gasp. To see Devils Tower is to know why Close Encounters was filmed there. If extraterrestrials are to land on Earth, they will land at Devils Tower. No doubt about it. Native Americans honor it as a spiritual center, and it just throbs with whatever is more-than-meets-the-eye.

I can draw Devils Tower because everyone in Close Encounters did. I bet I could even make it out of mashed potatoes.
At Wind Cave National Park, we met a couple from Florida who said Mount Rushmore had disappointed, that it was smaller than they’d expected. We went to Mount Rushmore. We went to the even larger Crazy Horse Memorial. And you know what? They’re smaller. They’re smaller because they’re not everything. They’re not the whole landscape, the whole mountain range, the whole world. They’re a piece of it. A masterful, inspirational piece – what an artist can accomplish with pure will and tenacity! – but a piece just the same.

They’re Art. Humans made them.

The Badlands, the grasslands, the sky, the clouds, the Black Hills – they’re the forces of Nature. The universe made them.

I’m glad on this trip I was reminded of the difference.

Friday, June 23, 2017


For our latest South Dakota trip, we rented an RV. A “rig,” to be exact.

Yikes, now I guess this really is a Third Third blog. (There are LOTS of retiree RV blogs.) I feel compelled to add that we haven’t given up camping or sleeping in a tent, but the RV was the latest New Thing to try.

I also feel compelled to add that my New Thing was as a passenger. Either that, or we could spend every other day at a spa, massaging my neck and shoulder muscles. Besides, I’m a great navigator, and Tim’s a great driver.

Tim did all the arranging, but we both went to the rental company to pick it up and get whisked through the orientation. This is what I remember: he showed us a minuscule blue speck on the front of the beige hood and marked it on the walk-thru sheet so we wouldn’t get blamed. I don’t think blaming had anything to do with it. I think it was designed to scare us into thinking that any speck could result in Damages. (The capital-D is not an error.) It worked.

This is what we didn’t remember: Somewhere in the RV is a button that slides the side of the RV out, giving us lots more room. We knew it was there – we’d seen it once – but we searched high and low and couldn’t find it. The manual told us how to press it, but not where it was located.

Much later, as I was opening the freezer, I discovered the door above it. Aha! The slide button!

I guess every new RV renter has to face the first trip to a gas station. The passenger person has to get out of the car and find where to put the gas nozzle. The driver person has to fit the 24-feet of RV into the gas station, which means the passenger person has to run around outside, waving her hands and shouting at the driver person. In fact, that’s her job: at gas stations, restaurants, camper sites, parking lots – waving and shouting. She’s good at it.
We blissfully negotiated Colorado and entered Wyoming. Suddenly, the radio and Tim’s iPhone went nuts: Tornado Warning! Hail storm warning! Hail the size of softballs! Right where we are! We passed a car on the road with its windshield GONE, smashed by hail. Oh, no, Oh, no! Where are we going to hide? How are we going to protect the RV???

We pulled into a restaurant to eat so if the hail returned, we could quickly race out and move the RV into the gas station to hide under the awning. The waitress was distraught: she’d canceled her insurance coverage and now her car was wrecked by the hail. Or the tossed tornado debris – the disasters  were compounding. I started thinking fondly of earthquakes back home.

Amazingly, the weather cleared, the sun came out, and we new RV-ers reflected how we didn’t have to worry about non-hail/non-tornado weather. We watched tent campers run after their tent in the blowing wind; we noticed sprinkles without any unease. Even the one night when the campground was full, the town of Hawk Springs, Wyoming (population 45) had a wonderful restaurant whose owner let us camp by the playground. In RV comfort.

Admittedly, we don’t take full advantage of RV comfort: we never used the shower, and we never (ahem) took a dump. We had campgrounds for that, and we’re still a little cautious of that whole dump station thing.

One by one, I watched all the people ahead of us at the dump station, asking questions, observing all the details: “How come your hose is short and ours is long?” “Do you have color-coded hoses?” “When do we put the little blue de-smeller in the toilet?” I’m sure I was a real treat.
It was the same at the self-service car wash. What with pre-soak and tire-clean and wash and rinse and spot-rinse, all the options were very confusing. The rental man had told us we should wash the bugs off so we could make sure they were bugs and not scratches. Tim took over the hose while I waved and shouted to make sure he caught all the dirty spots. I am VERY good at waving and shouting.

Except that neither of us noticed that one of the windows was open till we were all done.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Do you have a Bucket List?

The only bucket lists I know are the ones mentioned in movies, and they all seem pretty extreme if not downright scary to me: skydiving, climbing Mt. Everest, surfing around the world. Sure, those are the ones in movies, but does a bucket list necessarily mean it’s far outside your comfort zone?

What’s on a non-Hollywood bucket list? Do you have one?
  • Is a bucket list just a Santa Claus list of unrealized dreams?

  • Are they things you wish you’d do, but your regular life doesn’t leave room for it, so it implies some sort of major shake-up? Does being on a bucket list mean it’s over and above regular old life?

  • Are bucket lists experiences or accomplishments?

I know many people who have “visit Alaska” on their bucket list. It wasn’t on mine. It’s just something I did. Same with living in Costa Rica for a summer. I wanted to refresh my Spanish; one thing followed another. Spending my month in Manhattan, however, qualified as a Big Dream. It hovered for a long time and I had to engineer its happening. So maybe that’s what a bucket list item is; it starts with “some day....”

The first time I rode a water slide in a water park, I was hooked. Every time I discovered another water park, I’d say, “Some day, I want to cross the U.S. by water park.” In 2002, Sophie and I did: 2½ months, 25 water parks. If I hadn’t already done it, it would still be #1 on my bucket list. It was the Bucket List Item to Top All Bucket List Items.

My friend Connie said rafting the Grand Canyon was on her bucket list. When I bailed out on the trip, it’s because it was never on mine.

So why am I wondering about this now?


Because I’m headed to the Badlands with Tim, and Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Memorial are on my bucket list. Right now, I think they’re the only things on it. I tend to do my dreams one at a time: dream up one, plan it. Dream up the next one, plan it. Or maybe it has to be already possible to even get on my list.
My life may not come in manageable bites, but it seems my bucket list does. And now I’m about to check one off!

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Lessons of a Third Third Garden

I know many people who relish their Third Third because it gives them more time in their gardens … and their gardens reflect that. I love their gardens. I go on tours of their gardens. I marvel and compliment and ooh and envy. I write down names of plants. I buy them.

Then I go home to my dirt.

I was going to wax funny about my garden difficulties, my scrawny plants, my fight against invasives, my slugs. This was going to be a ha-ha-ha-woe-is-me kind of blog post. But as I thought about my garden, my perspective shifted in a very Third Third way. My garden was echoing some of the lessons and gifts my Third Third has given me. See if you know what I mean:
  • When I water a plant, I feel it drink. If you don’t know this feeling, I can’t describe it. I am nourishing something and enabling it to live.

  • Every flower has its moment of glory. Yes, mostly my flowers have only moments, but they’re still glorious. The Oriental poppy is big and bright till it isn’t. The peony is spectacular till it droops. The daisies are a sea of white till they’re scraggly. But they all have their moments.

  • Every now and then, there’s a surprise: the daffodils that have come up for 25 years and never bloomed produced one bloom this year! I don’t know why. Maybe it just needed more time.

  • For years, on tours at the Alaska Botanical Garden, I’d taste the sorrel and want to add it to salads. Last year, I finally found a plant for sale and bought it. This year, I noticed it’s back! I am getting this gift again! I didn’t know it would come back, but it did.

  • Years ago, after Sophie and I read Miss Rumphius, Louise and Richard called to say they were digging up their lupine, would Sophie want to come by and get some plants. Miss Rumphius committed to making the world more beautiful, so she planted lupine everywhere. Every time Sophie’s lupine grows, blossoms, and spreads, the world is more beautiful.
  • The back of the house has giant white columbine. One year, one plant produced bright purple flowers. How did that happen? Some years, there are yellow columbine, some times purple again. It is a mystery.

  • My flowers are scrawny. They just aren’t … exuberant. Except one area where a flock of pansies somehow got happy and come back every year. Again, it’s a total mystery how that happens. I don’t know how to repeat it, but it just repeats itself. My happy flock of pansies.

  • I let mint grow wherever it wants (within reason). It fills in my blank spaces and gives me fresh mint for salads. It is pure reward for no effort.

  • One parsley plant solves the problem of needing a bit of parsley for a recipe but not having to buy a whole bunch at the store (which will only go bad).

  • When the lilac is in bloom, every step outside is filled with fragrance. I remember that I have a sense of smell.
A long time ago, I took a lobelia basket class at the Alaska Botanical Garden. We lined a wire basket with black plastic and poked about 35 holes in it. We took a little lobelia start out of its little pot and rolled a piece of plastic around the plant, leaving the root ball hanging. We pushed the plastic tube through the hole in the basket from the inside and tugged till the dirt clump stopped it. (Or till you broke it; accidents happen.)

So then you end up with a basket that looks like a bunch of frightened lobelias. In the top, you plant yellow marigolds.

Eventually, they grow and get bushy and – supposedly – you end up with the giant Alaska-flag-colors, blue-and-gold hanging planters that decorate Fourth Avenue downtown.

Mine don’t ever get like that, but they do get pretty. So every year, I re-use my original baskets from years ago and make two more. They are my big effort/big reward gardening victory. They hang by my front door, and I notice them, pay attention to them, marvel at them every time I come and go. Ah, that’s what a garden does!

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