Tuesday, December 11, 2018

After the Aftershocks

I’m ready to write about the earthquake.

7.0 at 8:29 a.m. on November 30 in Anchorage. I had been up at 6, so at 8, I went back to bed for a nap. I knew it was a big one by the sound, but it was dark, so I couldn’t see the disarray. I knew things were flying. It took me four tries to punch in the numbers on the phone to call Tim. I have never seen my hands, my body, my whole self shake that much. I was an internal 7.0.

At least we had power. Only afterwards did I find out that many people didn’t. How did they vacuum up all that glass?

Supposedly, I was ready: years of conducting Great Alaska ShakeOut drills. Landing at the airport in the midst of a 7.1 in 2016, I was relieved that I wasn’t in hurricane, tornado, or fire country. I felt prepared.

Ha, ha, ha.

It is more than a week now, and I’m still not normal. Thousands of aftershocks don’t help.

This is my new normal: That painting on the wall? It could come down and shatter glass everywhere. The metal sculpture of ravens? Guillotines. Lighting fixtures? Bombs from above. Beverages in glass? Future clean-up nightmares. My world is a world of hazards, and I’m not prepared.

I thought I was. I knew to get under the dining room table and hold on. But I didn’t count on glass on the floor. I knew to have supplies, but I’d have to collect them. I knew to brace the bookshelves … but not the items on them.

And this was not the Big One. That one – 1964 earthquake variety – will be 1,000 times stronger. Moving to a safe place will be hard because we’ll be on hands and knees, doors will be stuck, stairs will collapse. Power will be out for a long time.

Facebook was full of photos of downed shelves, broken glass, demolished pantries. But everyone was Safe. Safe. One-word messages: Safe. Calls from all over the country to hear “Safe.” Things down and broken, but Safe. No fatalities: Safe. So-and-so reported in: Safe.

And in our house, the heavier seder plate fell off the mantel and crushed Sophie’s Noah’s Ark menorah and decapitated the little animals, leaving Walrus in pieces. On the eve of Hanukkah.

The next day, while Tim was bracing shelves from multiple directions to handle future shakes, I glued Walrus back together. And then I just put my head down and cried.

Did I cry because all the clean-up was stressful? Did I cry because with all the aftershocks, I hadn’t gotten any sleep? Did I cry for Walrus? Did I cry for Sophie’s childhood? For Hanukkahs past? Hanukkahs future?

No, I cried because Safe is an illusion.

Safe is always an illusion, but when Not Safe arrives with a roar and throws everything all over the place, it’s hard to ignore. When all the evidence around you – and all your friends and neighbors – are dealing with Not Safe, it’s an epidemic of Not Safe.

For a while, Anchorage was ecstatic about how it could have been worse: an amazing story of an intersection collapsed and no one hurt. But then the reports came in: two schools are Not Safe and won’t be reopened. Houses came off foundations and are Not Safe. Gas lines broke, roofs caved in.

We all have to walk around every day believing that we won’t be murdered or knifed or kidnapped, but it’s hard to believe your house won’t fall on you when some houses did. It’s hard when the earth keeps shaking. And shaking. And then you remember: life is precarious. Life is always precarious.

Pretty quickly, yes, humor appeared: my friend Connie lost a whole china cabinet and called the pile of glass “Chihuly-esque.” I looked at the bookshelves and saw new opportunities for de-cluttering and donating: why keep books to potentially fall on our heads? Kitty made a mosaic of her broken vases. And we sought each other out: spending a day cleaning up the library, gathering to tell stories, finding out who needed help.

Noah’s animals made it through another Hanukkah. They propped each other up, held candles tipping in every direction, and did what they could despite cracks, missing pieces, and rubble all around. They’re hurting, but they didn’t sink. Just like us.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

A New Old Thing

A pencil.

I learned to draw with Jon Gnagy. I’d wake up Sunday mornings, turn on the television, and draw along with Jon Gnagy. He’d pull out his chalks and charcoal sticks and pencils, and I’d pull out my pencil. He had a kneaded eraser, but I just had the eraser on the tip of the pencil.

But I drew.

Jon Gnagy taught me perspective. He taught me shading. He taught me shapes. All in blacks and grays (but I only had black because I only had a pencil).

I was maybe six or seven, and I CRAVED a Jon Gnagy Learn to Draw set. Just before Hanukkah one year, my parents took me out to the local art store to buy one. They were all out. I was devastated.

But when the first night of Hanukkah came, I opened up my very own Jon Gnagy Learn to Draw set! Finally, I had the gray chalks, the special pencils, the blending stick, the sandpaper sharpener, and the kneaded eraser. I was delirious! The moment is frozen in my mind as the best Hanukkah ever.

Eventually, I discovered color and moved on to pastels, to watercolor, to oil paints. I moved on to clay and wood and fabric. I had other teachers. And for the last few weeks, I’ve had another class with Amanda Saxton (who taught me watercolor a few years ago). She called this class “Drawing with a Twist,” and the twist was: it was only with pencil.

Mostly, I use pencil to outline whatever I’m going to color in. Pencil is a means to an end, not an end in itself. But what an eye-opener this was! Our pencils became the way to show light and dark and texture. And not just our pencils, but the graphite they’re made of. (If you can believe this, I actually used my original Jon Gnagy sandpaper sharpener to get graphite shavings. A de-cluttering failure turned success!)

I’m a follower of the Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain school: the real talent in drawing is learning to see. And when you’re working in just pencil and black and white, and if you’re really looking, you really see a lot more. Like the white rim of reflection on the dark side of the globe.

There are things you can do with the edge of your pencil.

And then Amanda gave us white chalk and told us to draw a leaf on gray paper. So this time, we were drawing the light, not the dark.

There’s a reason why my art in this blog is more like doodling. I made a promise to myself early on that I wouldn’t sweat and fuss and re-do, so I don’t achieve mastery. But occasionally, I see on the paper what I saw in my mind, and that satisfies. And when I learn something new, see something new, light bulbs go off.

I wonder if Jon Gnagy worked with only blacks and grays because that’s all television could show? I think of him fondly; he put art in my life. Now, almost sixty years later, that endures, but I had to relearn that there’s so much color in black and gray and so much magic in a pencil.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

I won! I'm rich!

Last blog post, I told you all about the surveys and questionnaires and self-tests I take, BUT I started off with a link to the Recycle It Right Tip for the Alaska Recycles Day Sweepstakes. How many of you clicked on that link?

Well, too late … because I WON! I won a $500 gift card to Fred Meyer. Thank you ALPAR! I am rich!

My tip wasn’t what won me the prize – it just got me into the drawing – but here it is:
Anything I buy (tortilla chips, pretzels, toilet paper, tissue) that comes in a larger bag — that bag is what I put trash in. I don’t have to use separate plastic trash bags, and I use cloth bags to buy groceries. Packaging is my only source of trash bags now … and with recycling, I don’t have much trash either!
It’s true; sometimes our entire trash for the week fits in one Snyder’s of Hanover Olde Tyme pretzels bag. During the summer, with composting, the bag isn’t even full. I am a relentless recycler.
Not such a relentless contest-enterer, but my friend Judith tells me I need to enter all the contests I can because I must be on a winning streak. (Does one win constitute a “streak”?) But, as I’ve noted before – in a blog post three years ago [Wow, have I been doing this for three years?!?] – I find myself entering more contests in my Third Third. As I asked then, is it some way to bring in bonus money or yet more evidence that I can waste time in ever more creative ways?

Back then, I concluded that “It’s not a way of getting rich.” Ah, but that was before I won the Alaska Recycles Day Sweepstakes and got rich!

Now, on the eve of Thanksgiving, I reflect again that I AM rich. With love and friends and family and home. And mostly, I am hugely rich only because of the sheer luck of my birth in this time, this place, and to those parents. I am so very, very lucky. And grateful. Happy Thanksgiving.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Survey Time

I’m a sucker for surveys. Just today, I filled out the survey for my shopping trip to Fred Meyer, sent in a Recycle It Right Tip for Alaska Recycles Day, and told my credit union what I think about them. Okay, I admit, there’s a fine line between filling out a survey and entering a contest.

I won’t do Facebook surveys or quizzes. I don’t care what my stripper stage name might be or which children’s book character I am. Well, actually, I do care, but the shame of caring outweighs the impetus to actually find out. I like my surveys to come from universities. I like to be part of Research.

Years ago, I discovered the University of Pennsylvania’s “Authentic Happiness” Questionnaire Center while conducting workshops to help younger people clarify their direction, but how can anyone resist a Survey of Character Strengths with 240 questions? Especially when they conclude your character strengths are love of learning, curiosity, and creativity?
Then I took the Grit Survey (also at the Authentic Happiness Questionnaire Center), developed by Angela Duckworth, who defines grit as “perseverance and passion for long-term goals.” Since I equate “long-term” with “interminable” and the quest for New Things as a prime directive, I didn’t expect to excel. Turns out I have less grit than my age group but more grit than my occupation group (which, at that time, was “artist”).

I’ve also tested myself for hidden, unconscious bias with “Project Implicit” (for Implicit Association Tests). And yes, I have compelled my husband to do “The 36 Questions That Lead to Love” from the New York Times.

I’ve mentioned here that I was researching Time-with-a-capital-T. That took me to the book Time Warped: Unlocking the Mysteries of Time Perception by Claudia Hammond. She has an entire chapter called “Why Time Speeds Up As You Get Older,” right up my Third Third alley.

It’s not just that one year is only 1/65th of my life but was once 1/25th or 1/30th of it, and that 1/65th seems to fly a whole lot faster than 1/25th. It’s that the bulk of our lifetime memories take place between the ages of 15 and 25; psychologists call this the “reminiscence bump,” and “the key to the reminiscence bump is novelty.” With all the novel experiences of young adulthood, our memories are chock full, and all that fullness had to take time. With less novelty as we grow older, the blank spots in our memories don’t take up much time. All the more reason to explore New Things!

Also lurking within Time Warped was Prof. Philip Zimbardo’s Time Perspective Inventory. I like him; I’ve quoted him before. And now he’s identified Time Perspective Types, depending on how much we’re oriented to the future or the past. The Present-Oriented Person is “focused on what is rather than what might be or used to be,” but you can be Present-Hedonistic or Present-Fatalistic. Then there’s the Future-Oriented Person and the Past-Oriented Person.

Apparently, “the greatest chance of happiness … comes from a combination of past-positive and future perspectives, with just the right amount of present-hedonistic, living-in-the-moment thrown in.” Uh, oh. Turns out I’d better add a lot more hedonism to my days and a lot more perseverance to my future. (Personally, I just think his idea of having a fun day is different from my idea of a fun time, but then there is my grit problem….)

Now for the big question that Hammond poses as the essential difference in how we view time. Answer the question before reading on! 

[Wasted space to scroll down]

If you think “the meeting is on Monday, then it is time that is moving, like a constant conveyor belt where the future comes toward you [time-moving metaphor]. If you believe the meeting to be on Friday, then you have a sense that you are actively moving along a time-line towards the future – the ego-moving metaphor.”

So are we fast approaching Thanksgiving, or is Thanksgiving coming up fast?

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Dare to Spell

You can tell it’s October because eventually I start focusing on words and their spelling. Not the usual focusing, but FOCUSING. It’s the BizBee, the annual adult spelling bee to benefit the Alaska Literacy Program, and I’ve been doing it for 28 years.

This is one tradition that enriches and delights my Third Third. I will never get tired of it.

This is the fun of the evening: spelling teams wait for me to give them “their” word. They confer for 20 seconds and then one of them has to stand up and spell the word before the buzzer sounds. If the word stumps them, they can pass that word to the rival team of their choice … if they donate $100 to the Literacy Program.

All the teams made it through the first round. But then things went haywire: the ALP Board of “Direcktors” lost the rhythm of synchronous, and the MENSA “ComMENSAlists” (Yes, I had to look it up.) failed the Olympic pentathlon. What?!? The 2016 champions were out in Round 2? No worries: they produced their TeamSaver, the secret, one-of-a-kind, Get-Out-of-Jail-Free card for having sold the most raffle tickets.
The ACLU team of Lady Liberty and her bodyguards passed isinglass to the Arctic Entries team, and they burst into song. Apparently, in Oklahoma!, the “Surrey with the Fringe on Top” has “isinglass curtains y’ can roll right down/In case there’s a change in the weather.”

Do you see why I love this event?

From there, the rookie team from Ravens’ Roost Cohousing was uprooted by poinsettia, which unleashed a cacophony of caws and wildly flapping ravens around the room. Quoth the raven: Nevermore. (So relentless were the ravens, they went home with the Outstanding Spirit Award.)

And then it was the United Way’s turn to don the lederhosen. Except that shock must have overtaken the speller because she rose to spell and … didn’t. The buzzer went off; confusion reigned. Other teams shouted, “Let her spell!” Even some of the Killer Bee judges joined in. Soon the whole audience was stamping and shouting, “Let her spell!” In the interest of quelling an insurrection, the Pronouncer agreed to let her spell.

This had never happened before! There are rules! But like spelling itself, rules are broken.

But who could spell after that whole uproar? The lederhosen were doffed … just in time for the babka wars. First National Bank Alaska sent the sweet bread to MENSA, whose speller did not like babka but could spell it. The definition referred to babka’s raisins, but – as pointed out to the Pronouncer – good babka is chocolate. Seinfeld knows that.

Round 2 ended with the deflation of Providence’s Health Literacy Heroes’ pneumatic tire. Not with a whimper, but a bang.

Round 3 promised improvement with ameliorate going to DOWL, but it was tough getting through the pronunciation: alemiorate? armiliolate? lemirorate? It was all up for grabs. I don’t think I’ll ever hear the word again without laughing. Next, the kovsh ladle was passed from team to team, leaving 1st National Bank Alaska to go out in a very non-blasé way. Right after that, Alaska Airlines and their ALP volunteers heard the music of the spinet and ConocoPhillips died quietly, in a very innocuous way.

Three rounds and eight teams out! Spelled-out teams littered the risers.

The ACLU couldn’t persuade themselves to hold out past hoomalimali, but then the Dutch man – mynheer – visited the Arctic Entries team. BizBee fans will remember the hilarity of last year’s event when the Rosie the Riveters spelled the German schnecke and elaborated in German. I retold this story as Arctic Entries sent mynheer on his way, and one of their team answered in Dutch. (Who are these spellers?!?)

The ServiceMaster SpellMASTERS couldn’t float on the nenuphar, and meanwhile someone let the dogs out on the Anchorage Daily News team. It started with the schipperke, then the keeshond, and they were still standing. It was the barukhzy that finally bit.

The Arctic Entries wizards (“exSPELLiarmus”) took great pleasure in schadenfreude. It isn’t just Oklahoma! They said there’s a song called “Schadenfreude” in Avenue Q: “And when I see how sad you are/ it sort of makes me...happy!” Broadway musicals for spelling lessons!

The herb of gilia was passed from team to team, ultimately landing in oblivion as there were no more teams left to pass it. And then the cataclysm began: The Unitarian Universalists went belly up with the scalare, MENSA played out on the clavecin, Arctic Entries couldn’t see through their hyaloid word, and Holistic Hands’ Rosie the Riveters sat the vigil at the agrypnia. But when everyone dies, everyone comes back in the game.

Alas, even the chocolate babka lovers of the MENSA team couldn’t protect them from forastero, and the Rosie the Riveters – last year’s champions – drowned in the epilimnion.

It was down to two: the Unitarians and Arctic Entries. The Unitarians smelled out on propiophenone, and Arctic Entries danced out to allemande. But again, when everyone dies, everyone comes back in the game.

The jury went out for the Unitarians with venire, but the singing Arctic Entries team sang a cappella and faced their championship word: could they survive on pignolias? Yes, new champions for 2018!

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Pee in the Public Interest

My New Thing is pee. Well, not actually a new thing. If you’ve been reading this blog, you’ll know it comes up … frequently. But never in quite this pee-as-a-public-service way.

It all started with a camping trip to the new K’esugi Ken Campground in Denali State Park. The individual campsites are so luxurious, the tent sites are carpeted in beautiful grass. Imagine sleeping on grass instead of pebbles and gravel!

Our friend Bruce came by, looked at the grass, and muttered, “Great outhouses, and they couldn’t go there to pee.” I didn’t understand until he pointed out the greener circles of grass, polka dots of bright green.

“I thought pee killed grass.”

“No,” Bruce said. “In the summer, it fertilizes the grass. See, they just got out of their tents and peed nearby.”

If your brain hovers in the sewer, this starts the gears turning. What about that little patch of grass that Tim says just won’t grow because of shade? What if I gave it a little boost?

So I got a paper cup, hid it in the bathroom, and (when Tim wasn’t home) secretly peed into the cup, ran outside, poured it over the unhappy patch of grass, ran back inside, rinsed the cup and hid it. I did this a lot.

I didn’t tell anyone, but I secretly watched as the grass began to turn green and thrive.

I still didn’t tell anyone. But then my friend Sarah told me about a Planet Money episode on NPR.  Apparently, fertilizer requires phosphorus, and most phosphorus comes from Morocco, and there’s concern we could run out. So in Vermont, the Rich Earth Institute launched the Urine Brigade to collect pee, pasteurize it, and take it to a hay farm – where it doubled the yield of hay!

They say we each pee about 125 gallons a year, enough to grow 325 pounds of wheat. It’s recycling!

So I told Tim. Then I moved on from his patch of grass to my phlox, which just won’t grow as extravagantly as my friend Robin’s. I poured my pee on a part of it, still a little worried I might kill it. It grew denser and puffier in that spot!

So now I’m back at it. (Are these things you’re supposed to announce in public? Yes, if it encourages people to recycle their phosphorus back into Nature!)

Anyhow, in the meantime, Tim had to repair the innards of our toilet with a new mechanism. The new parts said I couldn’t use the cleaner I usually use on the toilet. Over time, my immaculate, spic-and-span toilet began to develop limescale, and it looked totally gross in the little back areas of the bowl where my brush couldn’t reach.

I attacked it with my pumice stone. I attacked it with vinegar. I attacked it with a scouring pad, with a brush. I attacked it with Comet. With baking soda. I fought the scale, but the scale was winning.

Then I turned to Google: they recommended Coca-Cola. So I now pour Coca-Cola into my toilet bowl.

Tim turned to me and said, “You’ll pour Coca-Cola into our toilet but you won’t pee into it because you’re pouring your pee on our garden. Do you think other people live like this?”

Why wouldn’t they?

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Errands: A Love/Hate Relationship

I had a whole Third Third afternoon free to do what I wanted; I just had a couple of errands. Just a couple, but you know how this goes: the errands ate the whole afternoon. The trip to the grocery store got compounded by an out-of-stock item; the trip to pick up compost put me at the end of the line of pickups unloading at the dump; the simple birthday card wasn’t so simple (if you want just the right birthday card). One afternoon vaporized.

Yet there are Good Errands and Bad Errands.

This is a Good Errand:
  • It happens conveniently, maybe even while you’re doing something else and the errand is close by or related.
  • It may involve a bit of serendipitous good fortune: running into a friend or finding some other thing along the way.
  • It’s intrinsically good: recycling, a volunteer task or delivery, a trip to the library
  • It takes the time you thought it would take or less.
  • It’s interesting.
  • You have a good attitude.
This is a Bad Errand:
  • It’s imperative even if you don’t have the available time so you end up rushing or feeling rushed.
  • It involves cancellations, misprinted phone numbers, malfunctioning equipment, bad directions, and assorted other kinks in the universe.
  • You have a bad attitude.
There is movement between Good Errands and Bad Errands:
  • Good Errands are still Bad Errands if there are simply too many of them.
  • A Bad Errand can be recharacterized as a Good Errand if you feel cooped up in the house and the errand is a way to Get Out of the House. Or if you can do the Bad Errand on a bicycle.
  • Even a Bad Errand has the opportunity to transform itself into a Good Errand if it encounters a lot of appreciation, gratitude, and courtesy. It can even elevate itself to a Mission!
What’s a Mission? A unique self-motivating errand that launches a search for solution.

Self-motivating means that finding a dress for a particular occasion is only a Mission if you like clothes-shopping, dressing-up, and attending banquets; otherwise, it’s an errand. My missions involve crafts. The search for the perfect butter dish consumed me for a few years, as did the teapot quest.

There’s a BIG difference between an Errand and a Mission.

How an Errand Became a Mission: A True-Life Account
  1. You bought an oil pourer on sale at the Corning Museum of Glass and schlepped it back to Alaska because you were really proud of your purchase. It was perfect for drizzling oil over vegetables before roasting.
  2. Somehow the ridges on the pouring nozzle got smaller and the cork-thing became loose and now oil spills all over the place.
  3. The usual grocery store doesn’t sell cork-like nozzle things. The whole contraption sits on the kitchen counter for months, reminding you of the necessary Bad Errand. Every time you roast vegetables, you glare at it.
  4. Finally, one day, you’re in the mood to deal with it as an interesting Good Errand. You go to the bottling store you’d discovered once.
  5. Except that the road the bottling store is on is under construction and you are detoured all over the stupid area and besides, they don’t have it anyway, and this is now a Really Bad Errand.
  6. The bottling store directs you to a restaurant supply store. You have never been to a restaurant supply store before. Hmm, things are looking up: before you were a go-fer, now you’re an investigator … on a Mission!
  7. The restaurant supply store has nozzles; they have packs of 12 nozzles! They have lots of startling things; this is a New Thing, a new discovery. The solution is taking shape; things are looking do-able. Now you need a gadget store for one nozzle.
  8. That means a trip to Bed Bath & Beyond, the kind of store that’s good for about two visits a year to gape at the sheer variety of things that exist to buy. And there it is, a package of two!
  9. Mission accomplished!

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

You can go home again.

Yes, it is possible to go home again. It’s just littler.

I remember the first winter break I came home from college. I’d left my dormitory shower room, with its wall of sinks and room of showers and came home to my parents’ house … with its single, tiny, little sink and shower. The counter seemed made for midgets as I had to stoop over to brush my teeth. Were college counters higher because there were no children there? The whole return home experience seemed like a voyage to Lilliput.

In our last visit to New York, my sister Elizabeth and I decided to explore New Jersey. I lived there from age four to eight, and she was born there. We actually drove up to our old address. We had not been back there since 1962. 56 years.

Yet I knew the curve in the street! I knew where my friend Karen used to live! I knew this place!

Except that almost all the houses had sprouted second floors or additions. They were bigger, swollen over their lots. But not ours. Ours was the little ranch house I remembered. From the outside.

The current owner, Jen, let us in.

How could a family of six have lived in that house? Where did we eat? In the itsy-bitsy kitchen?? I do remember we couldn’t open cabinets or the refrigerator when we were all seated at supper, but how did we even walk through the kitchen? How did my mother cook in there? Did we ever have relatives over for Thanksgiving or Passover? There was no way a single other person could have sat at our kitchen table.

How did we ever fit? The dining room was our living room. That’s where the couch, TV, and Dad’s chair was. How did it all fit??? Even Jen couldn’t imagine it. I’m pretty sure I watched TV from the floor.

No wonder our main play area was outside or in the basement.

The full basement was acres and acres of interesting stuff to play with. My father’s workshop, my mother’s laundry area (with her ironing mangle!), the place where old interests died (the fish tank, for example), and my own personal area: under the stairs, with my father’s old electronics (an oscilloscope!). The basement was our domain.

If you asked me, I’d say we had to go down twenty steps to get way, way down to the basement.

At Jen’s house, there were seven steps.

I can still describe the bookshelves with the Golden Book Encyclopedias in the living room, the pink cement patio we used to chalk whole cities on (which is still there, under Jen’s deck), the Book of Knowledge bookcase behind the couch, my mother’s philodendrons climbing to the ceiling and serving as a room divider. I can close my eyes and remember Home.

So I sat on my couch, in my Anchorage living room, and looked around. I looked at the bookshelf full of books and the other full of games. At the pottery from Mexico, the painting from a silent auction, the flea market couch that’s been reupholstered twice. The lamps that fall over, the beanbag chairs and pillows I made years ago, the ivy that climbs up the fireplace wall. The three different colors I picked for the walls.

“Guess what I’m thinking,” I said to Tim.

“That our home is homey,” he said.

How did he know that? That was exactly what I was thinking.

It must have been the smile on my face.

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.

Sharing Button