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Thursday, August 31, 2017

How happy is your uterus?

I’ve said before that what I lack in artistic execution I have to make up for with imagination. So that’s why, when the rest of my Bricolage Group deals with the monthly challenge of “tea bags,” they make beautiful art out of the tea bag paper. The thinness of the paper, the way it absorbs brewed tea and various inks, and their experiments with the translucence yields gorgeous, colorful art.

I made tea.

Happy Uterus Tea, to be specific. This week’s New Thing.

It all started with the unruly Lady’s Mantle growing in the backyard and whether or not I was going to uproot it for the new deck going in. So I Googled Lady’s Mantle to see what it was good for (other than making the dew that collects in the leaves look like jewels).
Lady’s Mantle is good for Happy Uterus Tea: “Lady’s mantle is a powerful female herb for anytime during a woman’s reproductive life.” So, in our Third Thirds, that would mean it “reduces or eliminates hot flashes/night sweats, … frayed nerves, insomnia, sadness.” What’s not to like?

The recipe was pretty simple: I had the Lady’s Mantle, both leaves and flowers. I even had the raspberry leaves. On a trip to Fairbanks and the Farmers’ Market, I landed the lemon balm. I had to dry out all these cuttings, but that was pretty simple once I discovered that leaving them in a hot car on a sunny day works. Then I just occupied myself crumbling leaves into jars. And as long as I was crumbling leaves, I threw in some mint from my garden, too.
Once before I’d made tea bags out of coffee filters – that was another project for a different crazy idea – which I sewed into the right rectangular shape. But this was supposed to be Art. I needed some kind of Happy Uterus shape.

Uteruses (uteri?) are pretty unrecognizable as shapes. In fact, they look suspiciously like something else which I dare not mention after my previous scary experience of this blog becoming an Asian porn attraction.
So I tried several different shapes. Since they’d be soaking in hot water, I thought I could decorate them by sewing designs on them rather than painting.

I filled them with the dried leaves and sewed them shut. I made little tags and attached them with thread.

Is this Art? Or, the bigger question: Is my uterus happy?

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Visiting Daughters Come ... and Go

I love being the mother of an adult daughter. Well, I love being her mother; it’s just that now, we’re in this stage, and I just realized: this stage – unlike the others – is permanent!

The adult daughter interacts with us. She doesn’t hide out in her room, she doesn’t spend all her time disappearing with friends. And while she interacts, she says interesting, intelligent, compassionate things. We’re treated like human beings; we’re not embarrassments or dinosaurs or targets to vent frustrations on. (Been there, felt that.) We even get compliments. She observes us, says nice things about us.

We are all lucky I’m in my Third Third. Here’s an example: She was running a marathon, and I knew she’d be seconds away from making her hoped-for time. Tim and I met her at the bottom of the last hill, and we ran alongside, running her up the hill, pushing her pace, calling encouragement. Along the way, she shouted, “Stop running me in!”

Previous, Second Third Barbara (to herself): “Oh, no! I see other people running friends in. I was just trying to be supportive. I hate that she’s always embarrassed by me.”

Third Third Barbara (to herself): “Let it be.”

Later, the adult daughter said, “I was so worried that I’d be disqualified for having you run me in, like it was some sort of assistance.”

“But,” I said, “the guide encouraged it, said it was fine as long as we didn’t get in the chute.”

“Oh,” she said, “I didn’t know that.”

This is how adults talk with each other!

The adult daughter compliments you on all your cooking. She grabs leftovers from the refrigerator and eats them again and again. The adult daughter makes plans with you for a trip to New York. She pores over genealogy information, asks for your maternal grandmother’s maiden name so she can search out more data. She meets you for lunch, loves the little kids’ entrance door you show her at the library because you know that is right up her alley. We play many hours of 5 Crowns on rainy nights.
The adult daughter never makes her bed, throws clothes every which way. The mother of the adult daughter makes the bed because that is her thing and she is so incredibly pleased that the adult daughter is home. The adult daughter finds a hole in her favorite running pants; the mother of the adult daughter mends it because she is good at that. The adult daughter thanks her effusively!
The adult daughter stays up very late, so the mother of the adult daughter stays up very late, too. They’re not really talking; the mother is just there, on the couch, reading nearby. It’s called “just being there,” and it was her whole principle in child-rearing and it’s there to be done again, so she does.

The only problem with the adult daughter? Adult daughters leave. They return home. The mother knows this, knows she gave her daughter wings, knows she’s soaring.

But when she leaves, that mother is so very, very sad.

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.

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