Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Cause for Celebration

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


I have news.

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

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

A Third Third technological challenge. Stay tuned.

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

A Truly Scary Story

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

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

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

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

Yes, I know what happened to Gilligan.

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

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

Even if they’re married.

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

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

“Why didn’t you warn me?!?!?”

“I did.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tim says, “We have no paddles.”

Hmmm… That’s a stumper.

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

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

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

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

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Sister Reunion

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

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

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

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

I was a little anxious.

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

Uh, oh. Uh, oh.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another pee-your-pants laughter interlude.

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

My Friend, the Car

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, August 10, 2018

New Thing: Internal Injuries

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then we sat around.

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

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

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

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

And sat.

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

Then we sat around.

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

Then we sat around.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 6, 2018

Discard Remorse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Of Decks, Dominoes, Dust, and De-cluttering

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, July 30, 2018

Tab Hunter -- the Corrected Memory

Uh, oh. My little Tab Hunter post has opened up a can of worms. I could put it all down to a memory problem, but ... it’s a bigger story than that.

It all started with Tab Hunter dying and my thinking of “My Future World,” the novel I wrote about our married life together. That reminded me of The Little White Closet, the chest of drawers that held all my stories and creative ventures when I was little. Unfortunately, when I was away at college, my stuff disappeared, replaced by my mother’s financial folders. Gone was the novel. That part of the story you’ve heard.

In order to paint The Little White Closet for the blog, I needed to remember the colors of the drawers. So I put the question out on the sibling email. My sister, Allison, and I shared the dresser. We emailed back and forth with images of the drawer layout, trying to remember, but ultimately I had to guess at the color scheme. We emailed about the bedroom layout, the stuffed animals we each had on our beds, the old, clunky TV. It was a real trip down memory lane.

And then Allison wrote this:
I was just looking for that email again so I typed in “Tab Hunter” and I just found an old email of ours from 2014 where you, Barbara, wrote about finding your novel about marrying him.
Pause for major mental readjustment. I’d found it?

Pause for major hunt through boxes in the downstairs closet and … the discovery of “My Future World.” Or the re-discovery, as the facts show: on June 8, 2014, I sent an email to the siblings announcing the discovery of the novel. It’s there, in my sent mail. I even mention my author’s note:

That was 2014. It is now 2018. Where did that memory cell go?

And where did all the false memories come from? Why, for instance, was I positive that Tab and I had 26 children, named alphabetically? The real novel: “You all know he was a bachelor but he finally married a young girl by the name of Barbara Brown. Mrs. Hunter was an actress and a very fine mother of a family of 12 boys.” 12, not 26. And it was not written on a Big Chief pad.

Especially shocking to me were the number of pets: six dogs, five cats, and a bird named Twinkles. In real life, I am not a dog person, not a cat person; I guess Barbara Hunter was. But even she had her limits. Chapter 2: Worse than an Elephant. The boys got a duck and named him Blabby. He jumped on beds, tore pants, and ate greens. He was given away to Uncle Larry and Aunt Dot, who also lived in Hollywood, along with Aunt Elizabeth and Uncle Eric.

Yes, Allison was still in New Hampshire, but in Chapter 4, the whole family visited her:

So it wasn’t exactly banishment. Even though the Hunters lived at 62 Maple Avenue, Hollywood, California, they could visit Aunt Allison on a weekend. On the way home, they stopped off in Alabama (Alabama?!?) to visit Barbara’s father.

All siblings accounted for, Dad accounted for (in Alabama?!?), but where is Mom?

Uh, oh.

In college, I discovered The Little White Closet was emptied of all my childhood writings. I blamed my mother. Despite her denials, I “mentioned” her transgression often. Maybe every trip home.

1989: I pack and mail a box of Long Island things to Anchorage. The address label is in my handwriting.
2014: I discover the box with my novel inside it.
2016: At my mother’s funeral, I again mentioned how she’d tossed my writings.
a few days ago: I wrote a blog post and clearly insinuated that my mother had thrown them out.

I absolutely, positively believed my mother had thrown out my stuff despite all the evidence to the contrary. Shit.

Today, I have an announcement: My mother did not throw my stories away. Tab Hunter died without seeing my novel, and my mother died before I could ever acknowledge she hadn’t thrown it away.

Did my mother feel as wronged as I had?

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

My First Crush: Tab Hunter

Tab Hunter died. Proof that I’m in my Third Third … and that Tab Hunter was in his Eighth Eight. (My husband says I have to provide a link so people will know who on earth Tab Hunter is.)

Tab Hunter was my first crush. Sunday nights were Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color, followed by Shirley Temple’s Storybook, followed by The Tab Hunter Show. I remember nothing of the show except that I fell in love with Tab Hunter. I must have remembered that it took place in California because …

I wrote a novel about growing up, marrying Tab Hunter, and living in California. It was called My Future World. It was very long – it filled an entire Big Chief tablet of ruled paper. I showed it to my favorite teacher, Miss MacNally. She was young and fashionable, and she followed on Miss Crisswell and Miss Strangmeyer, who were old and fuddy-duddyish and had eyeglasses on chains around their necks.

Only yesterday did I realize that if I showed it to Miss MacNally, I was in third grade and I was seven years old! I remember that because Miss MacNally divulged my secret: she showed my novel to the school psychologists. I came home from school and there were two men in suits talking with my mother in the living room (the room NO ONE ever occupied). They wanted to put me in fourth grade. They wanted to take me away from my beautiful, attentive, wonderful Miss MacNally. I refused. It worked; I was a pretty adamant seven-year-old.

Do you ever look back on things you did when you were younger and you simply cannot believe you could do them? In cleaning out the family attic, my siblings and I were constantly flabbergasted over science projects and term papers we’d come across. Who did this?!? I did?!? And not only because I can’t remember, but because I can’t remember being that capable.

Anyhow, Tab Hunter and I had 26 children, all named alphabetically. I got their names from the big, fat, red book on the bookshelf. It had something to do with parenting, but the back was an appendix of baby names and their meanings. That’s where I found out that Barbara meant “pirate, barbarian.” That must be where the adamant seven-year-old came from.

The only other thing I remember is that I lived in California with Tab. So did my brother and baby sister. My middle sister, Allison, lived in New Hampshire.

Notice that, did you? Allison, with whom I shared a bedroom and slept not three feet away from every night for 15 years (well, since I was seven, that would have been only five years by then) was exiled across the country. I know I specifically picked New Hampshire because it was FAR AWAY.
I love Allison. I miss that she now lives so far away in Berlin. But I guess in addition to tormenting her when we were little, I also exiled her. I was the older sister after all.

I remember coming across another story I’d written. A non-fiction one. Mom asks me to do the dishes. I say, “It’s not my turn. I did them last night. Why don’t you ask Allison to do it?” “Oh, you know,” my mother answers. “She washes them in cold water.”

So for that crime, she was banished to New Hampshire.

I have a few of the stories I’d written. I called them “Golden Books” and made them into booklets.

But the novels? They’re gone. I kept them in the chest of drawers; our mother had painted each drawer a different color. The right side was a cabinet, The Little White Closet. That’s where my stories sat even when the dresser was moved to the basement.

One day, my mother, who was a witty and wonderful and unpublished writer, shared that she had kept her stories hidden under a cushion on a sofa in her parents’ basement. She came home from school one day to discover that her parents had sold the sofa. She couldn’t get them back. Hearing that, I was devastated for her. Devastated.

Years later, I came back from college to discover that The Little White Closet had been emptied and was now filled with folders labeled, “Financial Papers.” My mother insisted, “I never throw anything away!” but my life with Tab Hunter vaporized. I never even told him about our future life together.

And now Tab Hunter is dead.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Time -- Lots of Time -- for Shoes

Walking through an airport, I spotted a zillion people on line. No, not at the security line, not at the gate. They were waiting for coffee. This is a phenomenon of our Third Thirds: people waiting on long lines for coffee concoctions. They didn’t used to do that. And it’s not just airports; it’s everywhere.

I don’t drink coffee, never even tasted it. My parents drank coffee and smoked cigarettes, so somehow those two behaviors got linked in my mind.

So while I don’t stand in long coffee lines, I do waste time. I waste lots of time. I waste time wondering what to do, I waste time procrastinating about doing it. I waste time all by myself, I waste time staring at things. In my oomph-less, sluggish state, I can waste away hours and hours, occasionally enjoying it, mostly beating my immobile, do-nothing self up about it.
But when I finally gather enough oomph to DO something, I don’t like anyone else wasting my time. And I CERTAINLY do not like the Internet wasting my time. For example….

I wear a Nike Air Pegasus running shoe. I have worn it my whole lifetime of running. (The running I have not been able to do because of the knee injury a year ago, but the shoes – like me – were still deteriorating.) I used to go into Sports Authority, pick out the Nike Air Pegasus size 7.5, buy two-for-one, and be set for a couple years. But then Sports Authority went out of business, and online shopping reared its ugly head.

But now that I’m running again – short distances, doctor! – and feeling my psyche lift, I needed new shoes. The first hurdle was with Nike because there are two Air Pegasuses for sale: 35 and 34. Uh, oh. You know what that means. That means Research and Reader Reviews. 35 is the newer version and it costs $120; 34 is last year’s, and it costs $80.

In our previous Thirds, didn’t we just walk into a store and ask for “sneakers”?

Now I have to research whether 35 is a significant improvement over 34. Why did they have to mess with my favorite Air Pegasus anyway?!? So I wander down the rabbit hole of 35s and 34s (just like the rabbit hole of Rummikub versions), and finally decide: go with cheaper.

The millennial daughter – who is not fazed by any of this – tells me to check out Zappos, which I do. I pick my color (Barely Grey/Deep Jungle/Light Pumice), I look at it frontwards and backwards and I listen to Nellie show me about the shoe on a video. Then I place my order. Uh, oh. They don’t have my size.

Next up is Dick’s Sporting Goods. He has a special deal today for $10 off, so I have to speed up my investigations. Dick has different colors than Zappos did, so after looking at all my choices, I pick white/purple. I fill out my billing address, my shipping address, I create an account, I am ready! But Dick says “Only one delivery method is available for this product: Expedited at $24.99.” Oh, I know what that’s about. That’s about living in Alaska. So much for my $10 saving. I ditch Dick.

Then it’s Foot Locker. They have even more different colors. And while “Store pickup not available at any Anchorage locations,” Ship to Home has an asterisk: “*Ships to the 48 contiguous United States.” So it’s clear Foot Locker doesn’t want my business AT ALL.

Two hours later, I’m back with Dick. But this time, Dick is shipping to my friend Sharon’s address in Seattle … for free! I’ll see Sharon in a month, and she’ll have my shoes waiting for me.

As you know, I’m just emerging from a long-enduring state of depression, so you might have thought this might put me over the edge. But despite all this wasting of my time, all this rerun of we-don’t-count-Alaska-as-the-U.S., all this confusion over colors and shoes and 35s or 34s and decisions, decisions, decisions; for a few hours, I had a respite. Instead of inexplicable sadness, I had a REASON. I had righteous frustration. I had FURY. I had faced the shoe lords, and I had taken a stand.

Now let’s see if I end up with shoes.

Monday, July 16, 2018

To Begin

I think I’m getting better.

One day, I woke up and physically felt my depression LIFT. Yes, grand pianos came up, off my shoulders, and floated away. I was going to write about my cure.

But that was an illusion.

Facebook kept telling me “People haven’t heard from Our Third Thirds in a while. Add a post.” Only today did I look at the blog and realize I’ve been “gone” for months.

During that time, I’ve struggled through Ginger Bugs and conquered them. I now have ginger beer! That is a victory. I have planted a garden. That is a victory. Tim and I took a trip, saw Shakespeare, redwoods, and the daughter. That was a victory. Nevertheless, I watch Tim as he industriously builds and plasters and sands and paints and rakes topsoil and seeds and waters and mows. I occasionally do a really good job cleaning the bathroom. That is a victory.

I re-read Allie Brosh’s Hyperbole and a Half, trying to remember her cure for depression. She discovered a kernel of corn under the refrigerator, found it hilarious, and her depression broke.

I haven’t found my kernel of corn.

A couple of days ago, I went for a run (despite the knee that isn’t supposed to run any more). I only went two miles, but I could feel my body moving through air. I’m not fast, and it was raining, but I was moving through air. That was a little piece of corn.

I got involved in the World Cup. I remembered players’ names, rooted for underdogs, marveled at physical prowess. To watch the last games at Beartooth Theatre, I had to get up at 5 a.m. That night, I had Ideas. I had to write them down. So many Ideas, I never went to sleep. I was so groggy, I ran into the guy delivering coffee to the audience and spilled coffee all over myself.

Ideas, Ideas, Ideas! Having them is one thing; putting them down on paper and drawing pictures is another. It seems that was the insurmountable hurdle. And yet, and yet….

Here I am! I could do it. Something happened. I could physically pick up a pencil and my sketchbook and … begin. I can make no predictions, draw no conclusions, guarantee no results; at most it’s a cure-ish. But I began. I’m here.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

A Ginger Beer Factory

I don’t like beer, and I don’t do alcohol, but I do like ginger beer. If I close my eyes, I can conjure an image of happily sipping ginger beer in the sun. Sort of like my images of restfully, calmly drinking tea. It’s a symbol.
So when Anchorage Community House offered a class on Natural Sodas – to include “probiotic honey lemonade and ginger beer” – I was hooked at ginger beer. Not to mention “walk away with final instructions and full bottles.”

I re-discovered my friend Laura as the teacher of the class, too. She assigned us to stations to mix up our varieties. I grabbed the ginger beer station, and my job was to boil sliced up ginger for 15 minutes. Someone else was squeezing lemons, and all of us were sterilizing old kombucha bottles.

After I added sugar, cool water, and lemon juice, Laura poured in her Ginger Bug. Ginger Bug is like sourdough starter; it has to sit and ferment. Since we were doing the make-it-in-2-hours version, we relied on Laura’s homegrown Bug to kick off our natural fermentation.

Then, proudly carrying our bottles of sodas, we went home with instructions to place them in a warm spot and keep a good eye on the pressure. Laura had several stories of bottle explosions in her garage or in someone’s backpack. As long as the soda remains warm, it will keep bubbling and bubbling. You have to get it cold to slow down the process.

This was a Sunday. We were told to check on our bottles on Tuesday, that the plastic lids might bulge a little so we’d know they were building pressure. I stuck my bottles in the laundry room, on top of the boiler.
And forgot about them on Tuesday.

Wednesday morning, the plastic lids were pretty bulgy. Wow, I had made them on Sunday and now, easy as pie, I had soda in three days! This was a miracle! This was even better than the Grand Sauerkraut Experiment. My friend Jinnie says it was the elation of feeling “I can sustain myself” when she grew her first lettuce. I had made soda!

I opened the Honey Lemonade Soda and WHOA! I had a spouting champagne bottle of Honey Lemonade! Foaming bubbles all down my elbow. I raced for the kitchen sink.
Where I tasted some pretty terrific Honey Lemonade Soda.

Fortunately, Ginger Beer wasn’t as out of control. Ginger Beer was perfect. Ginger Beer was terrific! Ginger Beer was a total and complete success!

I have to become a ginger beer factory. Visions of bottles and bottles and bottles happily – yes, happily – dance in my head.

But first, I need to make my own Ginger Bug. I need organic ginger root. I am not sure where to find it, but my friend Judith phones, “I found it at Carrs. It’s right here: organic garlic.” We both think this solves the problem. It takes us a while to realize that, even though they both begin with G, garlic is not ginger. Never mind: Costco has a big tub of organic ginger.

I grate my two tablespoons. I add my tablespoon sugar and two tablespoons water. I make two jars of this because I am an aspiring ginger beer factory. I put it on top of the boiler.

My factory will need bottles. I need lots of empty kombucha bottles with plastic lids. Note to readers: I will take your old kombucha bottles.
The next day, I add more ginger-sugar-water to my Bug. It’s called feeding, but my Bug is listless, decidedly unbubbly. I examine it. I move a chair into the laundry room so I can reach the top of the boiler and watch the pot not boil. The next day, I feed the Bug. I pepper Laura with questions.

I watch my Bug.

I go to Costco, where I notice they have cases of the right kind of kombucha-in-bottles for sale. I notice that the food ladies throw out the jars of whatever they’re offering, so now I have to figure out how to get Costco to offer samples of kombucha so I can get all the throwaway jars. I spy a woman with a case in her shopping cart. It takes all my strength to muster the correct social prohibitions so I don’t give her my phone number and ask for her used bottles.

Laura suggests I dump the Bug and start over again with organic sugar and stale water left out to de-chlorinate. Maybe that will help. Even Laura has occasional Bug flops.

It will take me a while to get the Bug going, but it will also take a while to get all the kombucha bottles I need. After that, I’ll worry about the refrigerator space. Because I am going to sip ginger beer in the sun.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

A Snag

My Third Third has hit a snag.


When I am terribly depressed, I still go to social events, fulfill my commitments, wash my hair, and do laundry. I volunteer. I get out of bed.

Unfortunately, I do that while dragging grand pianos around on my feet. Everything takes an enormous amount of energy, and I’m oomph-less. Which mostly you probably wouldn’t ever know because I am so very high-functioning and well-trained not to ever be oomph-less in public. Mostly, I look and sound energetic.

 What I can’t do is write.

I do get inspired and energized by art and theater, a good book or movie, and good conversation. My curiosity still works. But lately, that only lasts for the nanosecond in time while I’m in the theater or the conversation or the activity. Joy doesn’t linger. Mostly, it only makes rare appearances.

Writing happens at home when I’m all by myself. I don’t have to ratchet up for company, and I’m not distracted by the brief interlude of fun. I’m just sitting at my computer with just me.

And my lack of motivation.

And the whirling thoughts that come with that.

And the grand pianos.

I feel a need to explain (to you? to myself?) where I’ve gone in my head for the last six weeks as the blog went quiet. The blog went quiet; my mind went noisy. Bad noisy. This post is a fight to the light, a reach for interior quiet.

Unwritten rule: Never blog while depressed. Because then I end up with posts like this. But maybe, if I get this one out of my system, the pump will be primed and I’ll be able to write again.

The thing is, if you know me, you’d think of me as my funny stories. Well, yes, I still have lots of funny stories. But they travel with my sad heart. They’re a team.
I can’t just jump in and tell you about the probiotic soda class I took and the bottles of ginger beer and carbon dioxide waiting to explode in my pantry. It would seem so fake. So here’s this big sad thing hovering over me … and I’m going to tell a funny story?

We’ll see.

Two months ago, I took a class on “Design Your Energy (and your life).” Instead of trying to manage our time, we were asked to manage our energy. We had to list our top energy giving or energy draining activities in a week and then make a graph with energy going up or draining down.

I realized that all my things took lots of energy to make them happen so they could give energy afterwards. In order to go on a refreshing and exhilarating camping trip, for example, you have to pack, organize, plan, make arrangements. That takes energy. So my graph had activities going up and down, but they mostly went up. That was a surprise to my energy-drained self, reminding me that any energy drain yielded a reward.

Three months later, my graph looks much different. Things take a lot more energy to get above the line. Staggering and paralyzing energy. And sometimes I ruin the reward by crying. It’s those grand pianos.

Why would I ever tell you all this? Why would I subject anyone to the pathetic whining of a self-absorbed crazy lady? I think it goes back to why I even started this Third Thirds blog: to understand, to maybe connect with people going through the same passages, to gain some clarity about ups and downs and detours on my Third Third path. Sometimes there’s a restless unease, a disturbance of the spirit before creativity strikes. If I can verbalize, I can move on. Maybe if you’re in this place, too, you will feel less crazy.

Because deep in my heart, I believe that crazy is valuable. Stigmatized and painful, but valuable. Within limits.

And maybe your reward is a funny story I can tell tomorrow.

Sharing Button