Saturday, October 28, 2017

Can you spell it?

When it’s October, it’s BizBee time, so that means I get to pronounce the words in the Alaska Literacy Program’s annual adult spelling bee. Friday was an exciting night of tragic misspellings, surprise saves, and astounding turns in the action. Teams of spellers took over Anchorage’s social scene and made it a night to remember. What? You don’t believe this? Well, then you weren’t there.

It started off tame enough; all teams made it through the first round. But very, very quickly, things went very, very wrong. In Round 2, the ALP Board’s “ALPabets” forgot their innate abilities and lost their innate direction. Suffering from proximity, the very next team, Advance Supply Chain “Spellerifics” – Leaders in Literacy and a rookie team – debated mootable but lost their voice. (Unlike the Arctic Entries “Spellephants,” who continued to shriek like elephants throughout the night.)

But the contagion of Round 2 did not stop there. Providence Health & Services – the “Health Literacy Heroes” – must have eaten some bad quiche; no super powers could save them. Not even being a Distinguished Leader in Literacy.

Disaster continued into Round 3 as the “Dewey Decimators” of Anchorage Public Library hung themselves with lariat. The UAA Center for Human Development – the “Incred-Abilities” decked out in hero disguise – just couldn’t dance their way out of odori.; and First National Bank Alaska, a Distinguished Leader in Literacy, suffered from an extravaganza of syllables and “A’s.”

Round 3 and already six teams down! Would this be a 45-minute BizBee?

Things started to get interesting in Round 4 as the Unitarian Universalists “In Fred’s Name” (honoring long-time ALP volunteer Fred Hillman) passed the snowstorm of purga to the ALP Volunteers. (BizBee rules: you can do that with a $100 donation to literacy.) The Volunteers in turn passed it on to the ACLU’s “Ye Olde Autocorreck.”

The ACLU team, sensing defeat, appealed to their supporters in the audience for $100 to help them buy a Word Pass … to no avail. Resigned to their fate, they accepted purga and faced the storm in Round 5. Wait, was there time for a last-minute reprieve? With donations of $200 now in hand, could they still pass the word? Our three judges, the Killer Bees of Walt Featherly, Sharon Richards, and Gretchen Bersch, ruled that out, and “Ye Olde Autocorreck” was lost in the snowstorm.

Things hummed along until Round 7, when the Werd Nerd pronouncer decided to spice things up by jumping ahead to word #267. “Oh, no! Not 267!” wailed the Mensa team of supporters in the audience (a joke the Werd Nerd continues to love). As it turned out, the Russians were responsible for word #267; they sent in the commissar to silence the “Spellephants” of Arctic Entries. (And by the end of the night, the Mensa crew would win the Team Spirit Award.)
The rookie team from Holistic Hands, the “We Can Spell It” Rosie the Riveters, were served schnecke, and the audience held their breath as they spelled it … correctly. As spellers and officials marveled, a Rosie told us – in German! – that her family eats schnecke for Thanksgiving! It was a magnificent BizBee moment.
Unfortunately, the wild hartebeest gored the ALP Volunteers – sponsored by ConocoPhillips as Distinguished Leaders in Literacy – and they fell down in Round 7.

Heroes were still dropping. In Round 8, the sheriff arrested last year’s champions, the Mensa “ComMENSAlists, with shrieval.

In Round 9, the “SpellMASTERs” of ServiceMASTER diverted the mudflow of lahar to the Rosies, but the dogs got them with Weimaraner in Round 10.

It was now a spell-off between “Fred’s” Unitarian Universalists and the Rosies. The Rosies had the knowledge of jnana, but the Fred’s had the uitlander’s help. It was neck and neck near the finish. But finally – in Round 14, the orichalcum pipe fell on the head of the Unitarians.

Wait, wait, wait! They’re still alive! They produced the TeamSaver – the secret, one-of-a-kind, Get-out-of-Jail-free card for having sold the most raffle tickets. The Unitarians were back in the game!

…only to be blinded in the very next round with periphacitis. The “We Can Spell It” Rosies had one chance to spell the championship word before mushroom poisoning might claim them: mycetismus … and the 2017 champions were decided! Rookies to champions in one night!

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Boobs in Boob Land

It takes a lot to leave me speechless and startled, sort of stumbling through the Looking Glass. It started with the hospital gown hanging outside on the front door, but it was ALL THE PINK that proved overwhelming. I had entered Boob Land. No, I had entered Boob Land!

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and many of us are very, very aware of breasts because we’re very, very aware of cancer. In our Third Thirds, the numbers in “the club” just seem to be growing every month, October or not. This time, cancer visited my friend, Barb. Hopefully, it was just a visit and the unwelcome guest won’t be returning.

More than a month ago, Barb sent out “save the date” invitations for her end-of-radiation party. I put it on my calendar. I thought all the women would come, we’d eat, drink wine, talk.

I never expected to be throwing orange ping pong balls into bras.
It’s like Barb had completely redone her home in Breast Décor. There were pink boob-type decorations everywhere, pink boas, posters. Pink socks as party favors. Pumpkins with breasts and nipples.

I didn’t expect Barb to be greeting us in her hospital gown with boas either.
And now the pièce de résistance: the reminder to get your mammogram – squeeze those marzipan breasts between graham cracker plates. Use your imagination, that plateful was a real eye-popper.

It’s a relief to celebrate someone who discovered her cancer so early that her prognosis is good. It’s a joy to celebrate the strength, the resilience, and the courage this cancer requires of women. And it’s a total treat to spend an evening laughing with women who are funny, talented, and happy to be alive. So happy to be alive.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Who ARE you???

There’s a woman who knows Tim and me really well. Whenever we encounter her, she hugs us and asks about our daughter.

We have no idea who this woman is. She looks really familiar – almost in a tip-of-the-tongue kind of way – but now we don’t know if she looks familiar because we keep focusing on “who on earth is she?” whenever we run into her.

It’s not like she asks us about our family in a vague, generic way. She asks with details. She knows us.

So Tim decided she was a contractor at a former job he held. He told me her name. Let’s call her Hilda. (All names have been changed to protect ourselves from exposure and humiliation.) He told me what job she had. He was pretty sure, so we relaxed when we encountered her. Although not relaxed enough to call her by name.

A couple weeks ago, Tim and I were at a fund raising dinner. A woman approached us and said, “Hi, Tim. Remember me? I’m Hilda from when we worked together at X.” She was even wearing a name tag.

This was a completely different woman!
So now we’re back at square one. I spotted the mystery woman again and decided that I must know her from a former job I held. I asked another friend to secretly look over her way and whisper who she was.

“That’s Margaret.” My informant even gave me some context for Margaret – context is so helpful! – but unfortunately, the context wasn’t specific enough. I need context like “You and Margaret know each other from Sophie’s fourth grade when she took swimming lessons at East Pool.” The context provided was “She does a lot of craft things around town,” not enough to turn on my memory light bulbs.

As I secretly examined Margaret more and more, I decided she’s only a lookalike for the other woman, the mystery woman. They both have gray hair, but Margaret’s is styled more fashionably than the other woman’s. I think. Every time I see one of them, I’m never sure which one I’m actually seeing. Come to think of it, Margaret isn’t as huggy as the other woman. Margaret can’t be the huggy one.

Tim and I went to another big event, and she was there! Hugging us! The not-Margaret, not-Hilda, not-fashionably-styled-gray-haired woman. We are becoming traumatized by this. I can’t even make fake conversation because I can’t place her at all. It’s close; I just need a little hint. I need a magical friend who’ll ask her, “How do you know Barbara and Tim?”

If only we encountered her at a name tag event! Or a sign-in sheet event. Then I would move into espionage mode and track down her identity. Or even if we ran into her at a more specific location, like something you had to be a member of. Then I would memorize distinguishing features and grill other members.
Maybe Tim can secretly take a photo. Maybe I can try sketching her. Then I can secretly show it around to my friends and ask if they know her.

Yes, yes, I know what you’re thinking: just ask her! Normally, I would do that. I’d just go into my prosopagnosia/facial blindness story, pretend brazenness, and ask right out. But this woman hugs us! And we’ve faked familiarity enough times that it would look very, very goofy to suddenly have developed amnesia.

If you are a reader of this blog and you have gray hair and you hug me when we see each other and ask about my daughter, please add a comment.
Uh, oh! That might be too many of you! You’re short. I think you’re quite short. Petite. (I think I hug in a downward direction.) You’d better provide a little context; I obviously need help. (And sorry about how I’ve described your hair.)

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Curmudgeon or Sweetie-Pie? That is the question.

As we age, we face choices. Actually, we face choices every single day, every single moment. But the big one I’m focusing on right now is whether I’m going to age as a curmudgeon or as a sweetie-pie.

I’m not sure whether sweetie-pie is the right antonym for curmudgeon, but it’s all I have. Even doesn’t provide one, but there are lots of synonyms for curmudgeon: grouch, crank, sourpuss, grump, crab.

I’ve always thought I was tipping towards the curmudgeon side, mostly because I have Rules. Rules, as in:
  • Do not litter.

  • Your dog is supposed to be on a leash if he is not calmly at your side.

  • Do not contaminate the plastics recycling bins by throwing in unrecyclable, miscellaneous trash.

  • Cell phones should be off during public performances.
I have been known to enforce these Rules in public. Yes, we all discovered the heart of gold in A Man Called Ove, but I’m not sure the recipients of my Rule Awareness Lessons would speak to my heart of gold.

I fear it’s even worse than that. Recently, we had two couples over for dinner. As they were removing their shoes at the front door, some kind of issue arose. When Danny came up the stairs, he was griping about the rules in his house. “We even have a rule about synchronizing the light switches.”

What does that mean to synchronize the light switches? “It means that when one at the top of the stairs is up, you can’t turn off the light at the bottom of the stairs because then the light switch at the top is in the wrong position.”

“Oh,” I said. “That’s right. They have to match. Light on means switch up.”

The husbands looked at me. “When the light is off, the light is off. What difference does it make what position the switch is in?”

Oh, yes, this is one of those little glitches in the universe. I am married to a man who doesn’t care what position the switches are in. I run around to the back of the garage to make sure the switch there matches the switch in the front of the garage. Apparently, I am not alone. Women like me are married to men like them. The men call these things “rules.” Personally, I don’t make Tim synchronize the switches … but I do readjust them when I’m in the garage.

I was at a party. A person nearing retirement asked a retired person about the transition.

“I love it,” the retiree said. “I enjoy every day.”

“Well,” I offered, “there are a lot of ups and downs in the transition.”

“Not me,” said the first. “I love every day.”
I draw a lot of conclusions from this, many of them revolving around Barbara-as-grouch and my inevitable fate as a curmudgeon. If I were particularly generous, I might try some self-description of Barbara-as-careful-observer-of-reality, but “I love every day” will never pop out of my mouth.

Lately, however, I have been encountering individuals who take my perception of sweetie-pie to new heights. In my new job with OLÉ (Opportunities for Lifelong Education), I receive phone calls from mostly older individuals wanting to enroll, to register for classes, to sign up friends, etc. I return their calls.

“Thank you, thank you for returning my call. I really appreciate your calling me back.”

And that’s only the beginning. I am thanked for providing information, I am thanked for remembering their names, I am thanked for talking them through the computer process. I am encountering more overt kindness and gratitude than I would have imagined was possible in routine human interaction. Yes, this says even more about Barbara-the-grouch, but my eyes have been opened! I have encountered appreciation to such an overwhelming degree, it’s changing my personality.

Sweetie-pie-ness begets more sweetie-pie-ness. The glow of sweetness just reflects and magnifies. I find myself going the extra mile just because it’s so appreciated. I’m a newbie at this: I still have Rules. I’m still not good at initiating sweetie-pie-ness but only remember it when I encounter it. I have to remind myself that being a sweetie-pie is not the same as being a vacuous optimist. It means appreciating the human effort around us.

Is there such a thing as a sweet curmudgeon?

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Ready for the Big One?

In the wake of all the Nature-made disasters that have befallen the world lately – Puerto Rico, Mexico, Florida – the subject of “being ready” has come up. At one dinner, one friend went through all the supplies his neighbors have gathered: one has a year’s supply of food, another has 10,000 rounds of ammunition. His wife said, “I have craft supplies.”

I have craft supplies, too. All the women at the table had craft supplies.

Our neighbor says he’s ready because he has a Prius. My husband said that might buy him two days over the rest of us, but I’m not sure how far he’ll get … or what he’s actually ready for. His back stairs fell down so he doesn’t even have a second exit.

Are you ready?

Well, I was once. When Sophie was a baby, Tim fixed our bookcases to the wall so they couldn’t fall on her (never mind the books), and I stocked the pantry, identified the flashlights, filled water jugs. But after a while, I gave up changing the water, the batteries in the flashlights corroded, and maybe we ate some of the supplies. Then I figured we could just raid the closet with the camping gear – at least we have camping gear.

But now, as I look around me, I realize that with the new-carpet-relocation, bookshelves were moved, and they’re not anchored to the wall anymore. In fact, come the earthquake, if I’m at my computer, I’m squashed. Squashed by craft supplies.

So why am I bothering you (and me) with this issue that gives rise to a massive avoidance response? Avoiding the horrendous “to do” lists of identifying hazards, organizing emergency supplies, even gathering important papers? Just give me some sand to stick my head in.

But Thursday, October 19 is the Great Alaska ShakeOut. At 10:19 a.m., all over the U.S., millions of people will be dropping, covering, and holding on in the world’s largest earthquake drill. I do it every year. It’s a fun way to remind us – wherever we are on that date and that time – however inconvenient it is – that earthquakes are inconvenient, too.

Even if I manage to avoid the pre-drill recommendations (those readiness checklists), I still look around my 10:19 environment: What’s going to come crashing down? What protection is immediately accessible? How do I get away from windows? Call it my exercise in mindfulness….

And then, of course, there’s the theater of it. The website provides sound effects you can put over a P.A. system, but I’m kind of partial to the air horn shock to the system. Then picture everyone scurrying and climbing under tables. At the Literacy Program, there are people who have been in scarier earthquakes than I have – earthquakes in places without building codes – so our preparation will probably include some good stories, too.

So even if you haven’t stored your gallon of water per person per day for three days; met your self-sufficiency requirements for up to two weeks; or even own a crank radio – even if all you have are craft supplies – you can remember what NOT to do:
  • Do NOT get in a doorway (old myth)
  • Do NOT run outside
  • Do NOT believe the so-called “triangle of life” (new myth)
Just Drop, Cover, and Hold On with 100,000 other Alaskans. Sign up today and I’ll meet you under the table.

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