Monday, May 29, 2017

The Purpose of Laundry

My friend, Judith, walked the Camino last summer, and she’s doing it again this summer. One Friday morning, Judith said she had a favor to ask me.

I perked up. Being asked to do a favor is a gift. Suddenly you feel of use, connected, capable. Someone feels secure enough in your friendship to ask something of you and you can DO SOMETHING for them.

“My Camino shirt – the one I wore every day – has a stain. I want to wear it again this time, but I can’t with that stain,” she said.
“I can do this! Laundry, a stain – I am a master launderer! I get out stains! I can rescue your shirt!” I practically leaped over the table in eagerness.

Indescribable joy flooded me. Just that morning, I’d been struggling through my Third Third search for Purpose, my relentless but unsuccessful quest for the Overarching Theme that would leave me feeling satisfied with my contribution to the world.

Now I had a Mission: clean Judith’s shirt!

My mother taught me how to do laundry in a very specific way. When I went off to college and discovered kids who just threw their whole load of laundry into the machine, I was appalled. My mother taught me to separate my load into three batches: whites; coloreds that take cold water because they’re nice; and dark coloreds that take hot water because they’re dirtier and tougher. Whites take bleach plus powdered detergent; coloreds take All plus Wisk on the collars and stains.

Over the years, I have modified somewhat. Last year, Wisk was discontinued. (Thankfully, my mother was no longer aware of this.) I added OxiClean to the stain-removal procedures, as well as Ivory bar soap. (After washing my face once with Ivory soap and having raw skin for weeks, I decided it was tough enough for laundry. It’s also the only thing that gets acrylic paint out of brushes and palettes.)

I rubbed Judith’s stain with Ivory and put it to soak in OxiClean. It looked gone, but I rubbed more Ivory soap on it, rinsed it, congratulated myself, and hung it up to dry. Oh, no! The stain was still there! This would take more work. After repeating all the steps, I used my specially-designated laundry toothbrush for the Ivory soap rubbing. I put my Wisk-replacement on it, and put it in the laundry.

Tomorrow I will worry again about my Overarching Theme and Purpose; but today I added a little bit to the world’s happiness quotient and can let satisfaction seep in.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Where have all the uncles gone?

Oh, no. They just keep aging. The parents, the aunts, the uncles – that generation ahead of us. Yes, we’re in our Third Thirds, but they’re in their Ninth Ninths or Eighth Eighths. And now Uncle Howie has just died.

Let me tell you about Uncle Howie, who came attached with Aunt Selma. They were the city part of the family when we moved out to the country, but then they upped and moved to Florida. There was an old joke that the Brown boys never traveled further than a block in Brooklyn to find a wife, so Aunt Selma was part of the family before she was actually family.

Uncle Howie was the youngest, talkative brother so he was the window into my dad, too. I still remember his telling me the story of my father and the German field telephones he brought back from World War II. Dad was in the Signal Corps, and the telephones include the printed alphabet: A is for Anton, F is for Friedrich, G is for Gustav, all the way to Z is for Zeppelin. There are two of them, and my dad strung them across the street to my mother’s window when he was courting her. My father?!? Courted my mother? Private phone calls? “Well,” Uncle Howie said, “until ConEd made him take the wires down from their poles and lines.”

Years later, my brother and sisters strung the wires between our bedrooms to “secretly” talk. (Except that they caused static on the TV and my father would yell, “Go to sleep!”) Many years later, I wanted the telephones so we could string them between our house and Sophie’s playhouse in the backyard. They were too heavy for my mother to dig out of the garage, and she didn’t know if they still worked. Uncle Howie to the rescue again: the phones came to us complete with miles and miles of brand new wire.

Eventually, Uncle Howie and Aunt Selma came to visit us in Alaska, and Sophie and I were visiting with them at their room in the Capt. Cook Hotel. Sophie, barely a preschooler, was taking a very long time in the bathroom, so I got up to check. Turned out, she was enthralled with the tiny bottles of shampoo, conditioner and lotion and had stuck her head in the sink to try them out.

Now this is why I love the two of them: ever after, whenever Uncle Howie and Aunt Selma traveled, Sophie would get a giant box of little shampoos, conditioners, and lotions from all the hotels they’d visited. That’s Uncle Howie and Aunt Selma.

This wasn’t the first appearance of little bottles in Uncle Howie’s life. When I was little, he was a Fuller Brush salesman. (If you remember Fuller Brush, you’re in your Third Third!) He gave us little bottles of cologne. Later, when I threw a suitcase on top of the thermos of milk in the family Volkswagen and the resulting sour milk smell lasted forever, we used to hold those tiny bottles of cologne up to our nose so we could stand to be in the car.

 We visited them and stayed with them in Florida during the National Waterpark Tour. Although my poor cousin nearly got a concussion after I dragged her to Rapids Water Park, what I still picture is Sophie sitting on the kitchen counter as Uncle Howie taught her how to make matzoh brei his way. Then, because she had an incredible knack for finding money on the ground, they gave her a metal detector. She hunted for money the rest of the trip. It’s still in the closet here. (It has nostalgia resistance to de-cluttering.)

I don’t know how to tell people who are far away that I love them. I’m far away, I don’t really call. We lose touch. I’m not there to help. But they hover in my heart and the pictures in my memory are vivid and warm. All I can do is write and try to say, “You figured in my life and the life of my family. You opened windows, showed love. You mattered to me.”

And as I searched the kitchen cabinets for the recipe for Uncle Howie’s matzoh brei, and I couldn’t find it, I thought, “Oh, no! Is it gone?” How much will be gone with this generation, and then who are we going to ask? What stories will we miss?

Monday, May 22, 2017

Buckets of Fun!

Today, I got a New Thing, an exciting New Thing. Free from Solid Waste Services, I got a bucket.

I fill up the bucket with vegetable scraps and when I drop it off, I can get a bucket of compost in exchange.

Tim says, “It doesn’t take much to make you happy.” Actually, I think I require a lot to make me happy, but this bucket is A LOT! It’s a 5-gallon bucket! It has a twist top so it will lock in smells.
I already cleaned and clipped a bunch of strawberries. I can just toss the green tops right into the bucket. It’s so big, I don’t even have to aim them.

I can hardly wait to snap the asparagus stalks for tonight’s dinner!

My friend Mollie of Valley Community for Recycling Solutions is so inspirational about moving towards a life of zero trash, but composting has always been a failure in our house. We have a big wooden box of it in the backyard, but somehow it never achieves compost status and so it became a big box of dirt and rot and we lost motivation. But I still want to move towards zero trash, and now I can – someone else will make the compost!

I already recycle everything recyclable, and after last summer’s marine recycling, I have been eliminating and/or reusing single-use plastic in my life. Now I get to subtract the vegetable scraps, too. Some weeks, our entire trash fits into one re-used pretzel bag. I am still confounded by the big plastic Costco packages for my grapes and apples because they’re only taken if you have pick-up service. There’s a limit to how much of it an art teacher will accept for “projects.”

But right now, I’m not worried about that because I am SO HAPPY with my new, giant composting bucket. If you want one, check with to see if any are still available.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Someone Else's Adventure

In your Third Third, the idea of relocation gets bandied about. Maybe you want to be nearer family, maybe nearer health care facilities, maybe you just want an exciting change. You look for good spots, but maybe you decide you really like the spot you’re in after all.

The danger of all this relocation talk is that someone else may take you up on it. Someone else may decide to relocate. And if that someone else is a good friend, suddenly your good spot at home is changed. It’s missing that good friend.

Jinnie moved to Idaho.

Jinnie and I go back to my Second Third, but that was sort of peripheral. We just cruised by each other’s lives. It wasn’t till my first venture into Third Thirdism (?) – taking a fiber arts class together – that we moved into each other’s lives. The class led to playing art in each other’s houses which led to my introduction to all sorts of new materials and ideas which led to monthly art group meetings which led to movies and double dates and playing games. She introduced me to unbelievable hot chocolate and glow-in-the-dark 3-D miniature golf.
And now she went and moved to Idaho.

Compared to Jinnie, my art is cautious. I think and think about it, grapple with how to get my ideas to take shape. While I may have interesting ideas, without experience I’m weak on execution. Jinnie throws everything she has at the paper. She has jars and bottles and tubes of things that she experiments with, tries, plays with. While she’s on layer #6, I’m still planning my first brush-to-paper. So, of course, she ends up with art while I end up with … plans.

When I learned the word bricolage in New York – “something created from a variety of available things” – we adopted it for the monthly meetings Jinnie organized. We put ideas into a jar, and we draw one out monthly. One month: things made from corks. Another month: things beginning with a poem or quote. This month: paper dolls.

And now she went and moved to Idaho.
Jinnie lived near enough I could bicycle to her house. We’re from different decades, religions, health concerns, and political awareness; but all those things were topics for discussion, not topics for dissension.

When I went to London, Jinnie thought I was brave, but I was just doing my usual quest for new-ness. She’s leaving family, home, friends for the challenge of new opportunities. She is doing a big, brave, leap into New-ness. I returned to discover her house was sold, the date set, and the airplane ticket purchased. Once the packing had overtaken her house, she was “Done!” And yes, I’m jealous of her big, bold, adventure.

The bricolage group is continuing, and Jinnie and I are starting some sort of long-distance simplicity challenge she came up with, so I know she’s not “lost.”

Alaska is a place where people move in and out, but if you’ve lived here a long time, your friends have, too. Our kids grew up here. We talk about the difficulty in relocating, in leaving lifelong friends behind. But Jinnie taught me that you can make a friend three years ago and they could become Good Friends. That the friends of our Third Thirds are special because they are the friends of our new creativity, our new interests.

I wish her only to grow where she’s now planted … but I still wish that didn’t leave a hole in my garden.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Have I read this book?

This is an all-too-common Third Third story, an interjection while I work on my other posts.

After I returned from London, my friend Carol suggested I read the Bryant and May mystery series, set in London. I checked the library website to make sure I started with the first in the series, Full Dark House, and checked out the book.

As I read, I became convinced that someone else had stolen some ideas from the novel and put them in their own. I remembered reading about a pair of detectives where one was blown up. Little by little, I was convinced someone had committed a terrible act of plagiarism. It wasn’t till about page 100 that I finally acknowledged I’d read Full Dark House before. But since I couldn’t remember who’d done it, I had to read it again. I didn’t know the answer till 4 pages before the end. I didn’t even know the clues.

The thing is, I’m not sure it was as enjoyable the second time around because I was so inflamed with the audacity – the horror – of such blatant plagiarism.

Sunnie says Amazon reminds her when she’s ordering a book she’s already purchased. I keep a list of the books I’ve read. Yup, there it is: Full Dark House, September 2010.

A month later, I’d even read the sequel….

Monday, May 15, 2017

Reflections on Return #2: Things I Loved about London

    47% of London is green space. London’s parks are flat, wide, open expanses of lawn … except when they’re little, quiet spaces tucked into corners here and there. In the middle of a busy intersection, there’d be a square with lawn, flowers, benches, and always at least one statue. Everything clean and beautifully maintained. Something in me loved the openness, the flatness, the far-as-the-eye-can-see illusion. As an antidote to the big city, it worked.

Little nooks and crannies
    Gene taught me the word flâneurie, the act of wandering into secret courtyards and tucked-away corners as you explore a city on foot. In my own neighborhood, I walked behind the church and discovered Kensington Church Walk, a little alley with shops, a school, a little garden oasis. It was like entering a storybook. I couldn’t resist an alleyway in London.

British “Schemes”
    Unlike in American English, British schemes are not just secret or dishonest ones, they’re “a plan for doing or organizing something.” My favorites:
  • the Considerate Constructors Scheme: construction sites follow the Code of Considerate Practice which governs the appearance of the site and the construction workers, respecting the community, protecting the environment, etc. Construction workers dress in full neon jumpsuits – yellows, oranges, greens.
  • the Community Toilet Scheme: Local businesses make their clean, safe, and accessible toilets available to the public. There’s a pocket map, window signs, and an interactive map online. I only discovered this after carefully creating my own restroom directory, but what a great idea.
The buses! (of course)
  • The main entrance to the bus is on a level with the street so strollers, walkers, wheelchairs board easily. Then the able-bodied walk up the stairs to the upper deck. In the U.S., why does the main entrance require going up stairs, which then requires lifts and kneeling and all sorts of workarounds?

  • The upholstery on the buses is beautiful and pristine! In the U.S., we had to give up on that because they were carved up with knives. America is reduced to hard plastic.
  • Every Tube car has a readable map and an understandable voice announcing the stops. Every bus has a digital sign and voice announcing the stops. They’re not broken, out-of-order, or garbled.
The signage
    You figure this one out:
I loved that street signs are giant-size and way up on the sides of buildings so you can see them easily. No signs on poles blocked by trees or people or missing.

  • Their signs say “Way Out” instead of “Exit.”
  • All those life-saving, easy-to-understand, ever-available “You Are Here” signs!
No goose or duck poop at the ponds!
    I don’t know how they do this, and I’ve asked everyone I can. There are swans and geese and ducks and even a heron. The ponds are encircled by paved areas, but right next to those are the wide, grassy lawns. People lie on the lawns! They have picnics and play games! I don’t see them shrieking over landing on goose poop. In all my time in the parks, I only saw maybe two goose poops. Do they wash off the pavements? Vacuum the lawns? How do they do it?!?

Museum engagement programs and tours
    Every hour, the Tate Modern holds a different tour. Every day at 4 pm, the National Gallery has a 10-minute tour of a single painting; twice a day is the regular tour of five paintings. In between is “Listen and Look,” “Talks for All,” “Talk and Draw.” While everyone is just cruising through the museums, you have the option for greater engagement and immersion.

North End Road Market, Jaffa Bake House, Aly Mir’s tours, Time Out weekly magazine
    I took three of Aly’s free tours, ones he privately researches and orchestrates. His devotees are locals who come back for the new ones he adds to the repertoire. Not only did Aly remember me from tour to tour, but this was always the place people talked with me and reached out.

My friend Lynel just told me that on her recent visit to the Jaffa Bake House, they asked if I’d gotten back to Alaska all right and when was I returning! This is the happiest news of all, casting a warm glow over my whole time there.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Reflections on Return #1

I’m back – semi-recovered from 10 hours of time zone change and 14 hours of flights – and I’m reflecting. What did this month in London do for me in my Third Third?

First off, it was harder than I’d expected. One friend says, “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone,” and I hovered at my edge for quite a while. Life may begin at the end, but self-awareness comes from the edge.

I learned I’m not a hermit.
Mostly, when you’re a writer or artist, you spend time alone. After a while, you can think you’re not very social, you’re pretty autonomous, you’re a loner. So you think you can spend time in a new city all by yourself and still thrive.


My loner life at home includes a husband who comes home every day, friends in the same time zone and on the same phone system I can call whenever. I may work quietly by myself, but it isn’t endless quiet. During my month in Manhattan, I had a mother every weekend, a daughter and sister visiting, cousins and friends sprinkled all over. I may have traveled solo, but I wasn’t living solo.

London was solo. Tim was unreachable on the Grand Canyon, and my only phone was British. The people sitting next to me in theaters and at lectures were British.

I re-learned I’m an Alaskan American with ethnic roots. Very not-British.
Yes, I cringed at the American who kept whining during a lecture, “I can’t understand what he’s saying.” I didn’t learn that I was a rude American or an insensitive one. I’m just an American who talks to strangers …

… and that is not done. This is an ad to sell newspapers:

The connections I made with strangers – the ones that were warm, engaging, sharing, and acknowledging – were made with Indians, Middle Easterners, other Jews, and a guy married to an American. So mostly, I was rebuffed until I learned to just sit there by myself.

I learned self-confidence is not a permanent human characteristic.
Given social isolation, unfamiliar geographic features, a different currency, and inexplicable cultural habits; and the formerly self-confident become scared little rabbits.

I became a scared little rabbit. Worries swam relentlessly in my head, unrelieved by human interaction. Worries compounded till they were just free-floating anxiety. Free-floating anxiety only stopped when it turned into outright panic. I diagnosed myself as a basket case. I worried for my mental health.
I re-learned that I get up.
Little by little, things improved. I learned my way around, connected with my three friends in London, was welcomed at a Passover seder. Tim became Skype-accessible; my sister visited. Going to a play with her meant I had someone to laugh with.
Every time I walked outside, I’d feel the flush of wellbeing as London’s spring drove out my Alaskan winter seasonal affective disorder. My runs got longer. The flowers got more colorful.

I went back to talking to strangers, but I picked them better. Besides, I had friends to spend time with now, to have real conversations with.

When I got hopelessly lost getting both in and out of the Barbican Centre, I only escaped because I saw some funny lines on a map and discovered the skywalks and ended up at the Guildhall. Weeks later, in a conversation with the director of The City Centre, he said, “Everyone gets lost in the Barbican,” there are design issues. Oh, it’s like surviving Kincaid Park here in Anchorage! I am not a total nincompoop; it’s a confusing place!

I’m still processing all this. (It’s what I do.) Learning that I get back up hasn’t overshadowed the surprise to my psyche that I crashed, but there were also so many wonderful things that intrigued and enriched me. Those are the next post.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Bye-bye, London

I didn’t realize how sad I’d feel leaving until hearing from my friend, Alyse. She’s just arrived in London from Alaska, and I shared some “must do’s.” She’s doing all of them, and I realize: she has it all in front of her.

So when I spent a lovely day in Richmond Park yesterday with Gene and Jay, we had to say goodbye. They saved me from loneliness here in London, and it was SO GOOD to have day-long conversations – and even texts! – with them. Later on today, I’ll say goodbye to Lynel, who gave me homeyness to relax in over dinner and conversation. We’ll meet at Jaffa Bake House, where I’ve already stocked up on manakeesh to bring back to Alaska.

I’ve run my last run through Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park. Yes, I still get hopelessly lost. Between diagonal paths and my innate sense of misdirection, I tend to crisscross the parks and double my mileage, but how else would I discover Reformers’ Tree (or where it used to be) or Peter Pan? And yet, there are still undiscovered corners.

I got here with exactly 50.0 pounds of luggage, and I’ve added three books. When I met the author of the Cityread London book, Prophecy, she explained that the next in the series aren’t available in the U.S., so what was I going to do? Leave behind the one she signed for me?

So now I’m trying to decide whether the Costco bags of my pumpkin flax cereal and raisins, which I brought here and consumed, equal the weight of three books (and six manakeesh). I wish I hadn’t brought the never-used heavy coat and raincoat, but maybe having them allowed for the great weather I had.
Mostly, I have to decide which of the memorabilia is crucial and which will only qualify as clutter in a couple of months.

London phone number 077 1966 1868 will expire and move on to someone new. I will not get to do Aly Mir’s free walking tour of “Suffragette City” out of Holborn on May 12. Not “Learning to Look” on May 6 at the National Gallery, either.

This is the third of my longer-term stays in other places. After Costa Rica and New York, I had the same feeling I do now: that I was leaving some life behind. I’d managed to carve a little space for myself – my bus routes, my favorite places, my running route, my less expensive grocery store – and then I let it go.

I’m going back to a special dinner, two luncheons, a workshop, and my Friday morning women. I’m going back to Transformed Treasures, the Thursday morning group, my bricolage group, and David Sedaris.

Mostly and happily, I’m going back to Tim.

I’m going back to our own bed, the couch in the living room, cars that drive on the right side of the road, and being around Alaskan Americans. I’m still reflecting on this whole experience and what I take from it for my Third Third, but I’ll write about that later.

Right now, it’s London that I’m leaving and I feel sad.

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