Sunday, December 31, 2017

Contentment Lurks

Let me introduce myself. A therapist once told me I was an Enneagram 4. She said 4s look at a room and say it would be beautiful with a chair over in that corner, and that’s absolutely true as 4s add creativity, but 4s tend to focus on what’s missing. That’s all I know about enneagrams and 4s. I also know I’m a Pisces/Aries cusp, for whatever that’s worth. I also know I’m bipolar. And it’s dark outside.

So mostly, I live in a world of lots of unlimited possibilities that feel impossible. I collide with things and events, try inadequately, do them wrong, and mostly don’t fit. I can find my way into a profound depression at the drop of a hat and spend most of my time working my way out of one. With tiny bursts of elation in between. My glass is often half empty … unless it’s overflowing.

But every now and then,

once in a while,

just occasionally,

simple contentment settles in me.

Sophie, the adult daughter, was in town. She’d raved about a book, and I put a hold on it at the library. When it came in, she said, “Let’s go to the library, get the book. Now.” We did. It’s a 700-page book! (Who reads a 700 page book?!? Oh, no. Another insurmountable chore...)

We came home. She went into the living room.

I did laundry.

“Where are you?”

“I’m putting things away.”

“Where are you now?”

“Just washing up.”

“Where are you NOW??? Come into the living room and read with me.”

I did.

“What page are you on? Don’t you like it?”

I did! We sat in the living room and read.

The next day we had friends over. We had LOTS of friends over. (4ish Barbara said, “Oh, no, there won’t be enough food.” Judith, my role model who looks at life through the prism of abundance, said, “There’ll be enough food. Friends will bring.” Judith is a miracle of non-4.)

Long after our friends left and Tim and I were putting away LOTS of food, the twenty-somethings were still playing and laughing in the living room. Laughter rocked the house. Sophie turned to us and said, “This was a great party!” It was. I am part of a community, and that community was in our house (even though I wasn’t a very good hostess because I was distracted a lot of the time).

That night, I couldn’t sleep. Sophie had gone out and hadn’t come home. I worried. I thought of that nightmare that always peeks around the corner.
In the morning, she said she’d gotten in earlier. I hadn’t heard her.

Tim and I took her to the airport. She’s off to her own New Year’s Eve party. We’ll see her in March.

I lay down on the couch. The couch that Deena had noticed at the party and said it must be heaven to lie on that couch and read. It is my spot. I pulled out the book. (I’m on page 300 now.)

I looked around at the living room and didn’t see the plants that need trimming, the old videos that need culling, the pillow that needs repair. I didn’t fret that I should be exercising or out in the air, that I hadn’t written or painted in a while.

I looked at my living room, and it looked like home. A home with scraggly plants, old videos, and a torn pillow. (And although I thought about all the refugees without homes, I didn’t WORRY about them right then and there.)

I let contentment in.

I lay there – with that book – in the right place for me in that moment. The universe was good, I was in it, and I fit.

Tomorrow I won’t fit, but today, I remember that I did.

Happy New Year.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Adventures in Guy-land

It all started with a broken rivet for the strap on my Crocs.

Apparently, Croc used to mail out replacement rivets for free, but not any more. Maybe I’d just have to glue the strap in place. But then I found this nice guy on YouTube.

He said I just had “to go down to my home improvement center and buy a bag of … Chicago bolts.” I asked Tim (the holder of countless little plastic boxes of nuts and bolts and screws) if he had Chicago bolts. He looked it up on Google and said, “Oh, sex bolts.” Well, I guess so. One end does screw into the other end. No, he didn’t have them.
So off I went to Home Depot. Where I confronted the hardware aisle with its zillion little bags and drawers of nuts and bolts and screws (Oh, my!). [Aside: when Eagle Hardware first came to Anchorage, Tim walked in, spotted the hardware zone, and dubbed the place “Doodad Heaven.”] I had no idea where to begin searching this Doodad Heaven.

One guy looked like he knew his nuts and bolts and screws. I asked, and he pointed me to some drawers. When that proved fruitless, he recommended Fire and Fastener. Another guy, down the aisle, called out, “Yeah, Fire and Fastener.” So did a third, a Home Depot employee. I didn’t even understand what they were saying: Did I have to fire something? Did he say First or Near? They were in the hardware aisle; they mumbled.

Finally, they clarified. Fire and Fastener was a store on International Airport Road. I’d never heard of it. They named stores it was near, but I’d never heard of them either. So off I went to … Guy-land!

Guy-land – that stretch of International Airport Road – is full of stores where most women never cross their threshold. (Of course, that’s where The Bush Company is.) I had to stop in at Young’s Gear Driveshaft Specialists (past Motion Industries and Alaska Bearing) to ask where Fire and Fastener was. Entering a Guy-land business is like entering a magical, foreign world.

Last year, I’d needed a replacement washer for my backpack. At a Guy-land little shop, the guy at the counter found one, took off my bent one, struggled to get the new one on, and said, “No charge.” This is what happens in Guy-land. Guy-land is a world of solutions! There are doodads to solve every problem and guys who know their doodads.

John in Fire and Fastener was no different. He pointed me to the exact little plastic bins with Chicago bolts (one for the screw and one for the home, the “male” and “female”): #128 and #134 (in case your Crocs have a broken rivet, too). He got a screwdriver and helped me screw it in. It was a little wobbly.
Randy, behind the counter, said, “Washer, John,” and John ran in the back room to come back with an OSP. It fit the Croc indent perfectly. They were very proud of themselves. Randy said, “Y’know, we call this a sex bolt.” “I know,” I said. “My husband taught me that.”

“How much?” I asked. “No charge,” they said. How does a place like that stay in business? These guys gave me personalized attention for a long time. John even took me on a tour of their Guy-land wonders. There was a whole wall of carabiners and springs and pulleys, spools of wires of all different colors. Multicolored plastic tubes of all sizes.
I was gushing about some of my favorite Guy-land stores – Alaska Rubber is a total treat, especially their remnants – and I wanted to mention the store that saved my backpack, but I couldn’t remember its name. I could describe the layout perfectly. I searched the Yellow Pages, went in and out of stores that might be it, but no luck. Finally, I checked my diary. Last year, on June 1, I got my washer at … Fire and Fastener.

I would worry – really worry – about my memory, but I think it was the magic of Guy-land. When you enter an alternate reality, you don’t come all the way back.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

A Food Love Story

Our kitchens are filled with stories, but some stories lurk in one special dish. It’s the dish with a whole history behind it, a history you can’t separate from preparing, tasting, eating that dish. So let me tell you about noodle kugel.

Noodle kugel is a traditional Jewish side dish. When my mother first made it, Mott’s had come out with a variety of applesauces they called Fruit Treats. So we had Mott’s Chunky Apple and Raspberry Fruit Treats, Mott’s Chunky Apple and Apricot Fruit Treats – in jars, like applesauce. They were delicious; I don’t know why Mott’s discontinued them.

My mother’s recipe calls for “1 jar Mott’s Applesauce with apricots (Fruit Treats),” but that’s impossible now, so I’ve always had to buy a can of apricots, dice them, and add them.

My mother made hers in a 9x13" aluminum pan. It was so heavy with ingredients, it was hard to lift in and out of the oven. I have that pan now. I look at the pan, even when it has lasagna in it, and I think “noodle kugel.”

My mother called it noodle pudding. Maybe it was the name on the recipe when she received it; maybe it was her generation’s way of Americanizing their food. I call it kugel … because I entered it in the San Francisco Kugel Cook-off.

It was San Francisco’s inclusive way of trying to include everyone in their urban version of a state fair. There were maybe 50 entries: 25 older Jewish women, 24 gay guys, and me. The winner was the lone potato kugel. I guess after tasting 49 noodle kugels, the judges were relieved to encounter a potato one.

It was at that cook-off that I encountered my first traditional noodle kugel, which is very cheesy, with lots of dairy. My mother’s is full of fruit: apples, apricots, raisins. I had no idea her kugel was so revolutionary! Her kugel became her go-to side dish, the surest crowd-pleaser.

My sister lives near Amherst, Massachusetts, and we’ve visited the Yiddish Book Center there. I became a member and, in 2013, heard they were asking for recipes for a national contest. I submitted my mother’s noodle kugel recipe, and it was selected as a finalist. (They renamed it noodle kugl, which goes to show how languages are changed as they’re assimilated, so I guess that’s the “original” Yiddish version in English characters.)
I’ve written here about my mother’s and my prickly relationship, but over the course of our lives together, there are a handful of things I did for her outside my “shitty daughter” box. Entering her kugel recipe is one of those things. When I think back about all the things I didn’t do for her, I try to remember her kugel moment.

The way it worked, people had to go online and vote on the finalist recipe to win. I went into action: I contacted everyone I’d ever known for years, I enlisted my siblings, I was a “Vote Tibby” machine. Friends solicited votes from friends; my sister got the Berlin Women’s Philharmonic Orchestra to vote. The Daily News even printed my request. Facebook was a sharing frenzy. Votes for Tibby’s kugl poured in.

Winners were to be announced at the Yiddish Book Center on October 20, 2013. Tim and I were to be back East, so we drove my mother up to Massachusetts for all of us to be at the awards ceremony.

Alas, the kugl came in second to Esther’s Matzo Balls.

My mother received applause and a mug, and we took her photo. She was really happy. Look at that smile!

Every now and then, when I’d visit her, I’d remind her of her award-winning noodle pudding and dig the mug out of the cabinet. She didn’t remember winning it, but it made her happy. When she moved, I wanted the mug, but I couldn’t find it.

Yesterday, I made my mother’s noodle kugel for the first time since she’d died. I boiled the noodles, diced my apricots, beat my eggs. As usual, I cut the sugar in half, added only six tablespoons butter. I put it in the oven.

Then I looked over and saw the applesauce sitting on the counter.

I’m in my Third Third. Things like this happen. I knew what to do. I dumped the kugel back in the mixing bowl, added the applesauce, and put it back in the oven. My book club loved it.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Driver Ed: Third Third Style

Driver Ed in our First Third: harrowing films of terrible car accidents, screeching brakes, bodies burnt to crisps.

Driver Ed in our Third Third: harrowing statistics like, “Seniors aged 65 and over are more than twice as likely as younger drivers to be killed when involved in a crash;” that we need 20 times more light to see at night at age 40 than at age 20; that deaths in crashes start increasing around ages 60-64.

I decided to click on all those AARP emails about saving 30% for a limited time only – with a promo code! – on the Smart Driver™ online course so I’d get an insurance discount. It looked easy enough: there were six units, and it would take about four hours. I could do it on my own schedule.
The man and the woman instructors said this was all about change: we and our bodies are changing, our cars are changing, and road conditions are changing. It became clear that I wasn’t the only one in my Third Third: my 2001 Subaru was in its Third Third. It doesn’t have half the gizmos new cars have. Gizmos may make driving safer, but gizmos apparently also add to the confusion.

Right off, the novelty impressed me. The instructors switched from video to PowerPoint-looking things, to little interactive games. I had to click on the little clouds to see how many deaths per 1,000 crashes occur at each age.

Right away, we hit my personal fear factor: vision. Older drivers have trouble with glare, with switching from looking out the windshield to looking at the dashboard, to seeing contrast. I already know dusk is the roughest time for me driving. In a car, I’ve learned it’s hard to switch from the road to the cheat sheet with my directions written on it.

I’ve written about my “Agony at the Eye Doctor,” but this course put eye doctor agony in my car. They described a vision test I’d never even had: contrast sensitivity. I’d better tell my eye doctor about that. I have a new thing to worry about.

But vision wasn’t enough: we had to move on to the big fear factor: brain health. As we age, we experience changes in “memory, processing speed, attention, and brain regulation skills – overall executive function” – Oh, no! She named the nightmares! If driving is a complex balancing act, “the idea that our mind isn’t working as well as it used to can be frightening.” You think?

Okay, a bit of First Third explanation: As a teenager, the week before my road test for a driver’s license, I was out practicing with my mother. At the top of a hill, an inattentive driver was on the wrong side of the road and rammed into me head-on. In a big old Buick, the engine sat in the front seat with us, and my face went into the steering wheel.

I decided I wasn’t going to drive. Ever. Cars were tons of weaponry on the road, and “other guys” were everywhere.

This continued for a couple years until my parents were tired of chauffeuring me everywhere. So I learned to drive. Unwillingly. Hence, a happy career in public transit and a love affair with buses and street cars.

Living in Anchorage, having a child, having to be places – driving is what I do now. It’s what my mother did, too, which worried her kids a lot. The course talks about that, about how to have The Conversation with a person who shouldn’t be driving.

Mostly, the course upped my attention, always a good thing. Meanwhile, I got to click on icons, click on highway signs, and click on talk bubbles. I got to move the car into the right garage. I wouldn’t call it a video game, but I did win dollars off on my car insurance.

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