Friday, May 22, 2015

There But For Fortune ...


Disaster at sea reminds us of how fragile we are, and that sometimes, it just comes down to luck.



It's been an interesting, wonderful time living at a cruising crossroads and popular stopover harbor.  Lots of our old friends from Annapolis, and new-friends-just-met, and Facebook friends met IRL for the first time, all have passed through and we've shared sea stories and drinks (and in many cases, tours of El Galeon) before they continued on their way. We love the chance to socialize and play host and keep in touch with friends' news.

The first friend to come through had a wonderful visit, and we had a wonderful time hosting him, and a few weeks later posted that his trip was complete and he was back at the dock in Annapolis.  Two other friends came through, less than a week apart; we had drinks and dinner and tours and saw them sail away ... and then we got the news that both had lost their boats.  One had run aground when they lost their steering in a storm and was evacuated by the Coast Guard, and that the other woke to the smell of smoke and escaped in his dinghy while his boat burned to the waterline and sank.  (To protect their privacy I'm not giving details or links to stories; both sets of friends are still working things out with the insurance companies -- and with their own emotions, although they are physically uninjured.) A week later we learned that a third friend's spouse lost their job. The couple and their kids, no longer able to pay the rent on their home and on the verge of homelessness, are now moving in with the parents.  These friends are in their 40s, what should be their prime career money-earning years.  Another friend who is working full-time but still can't make ends meet, has to put off some medical tests because there's just no money for even the co-pay.  

(Seeming non sequitur, bear with me please) Some time ago we had agreed to be interviewed and photoed for an upcoming book; the interview was last night in our cockpit.  There was a question about the best and worst aspects of our life aboard. The worst, per Dan, was fixing the head, the best was how many places we could explore when we're not tied to any one spot.  From me, the best is that the tiny size of the boat makes it impossible for us to collect "things," so we've discovered the delight of collecting intangibles: experiences, friends, memories. And our most memorable story? I thought of lightning strikes, and phosphorescence lighting the edge of the waves like a necklace of sapphires on the beach, and shooting stars and a tiny bird hitching a ride with us far offshore, and settled on the dolphins' sunset celebration and green flash in the midst of an otherwise dreadfully uncomfortable overnight passage last autumn. The interviewer said it gave her chills as we described the perfection of those few minutes.

Reviewing our best times for the interview, juxtaposed with our friends' recent disasters, I'm reminded anew of how terribly fragile we -- and our good luck to be living this life afloat -- are. 



Monday, May 4, 2015

Blogging from A to Z: Looking Back, and Looking Ahead

During April, I participated in the Blogging from A to Z challenge -- one alphabet-themed post per day, starting with A is for Aruba Aftermath and ending with Z is for ... I didn't know what Z was going to be for, until I got there, because part of the challenge for me was writing on the fly.  I learned two interesting things about my own writing from the experience.



Wow.  I've never blogged so intensely before, or quite so consistently, as I did during the April challenge.  Quite the learning experience!

Especially when I was writing for the Capital (newspaper) I liked to spend quite a bit of time on each post before it was published.  I'd make a rough draft, then let the thought percolate in the back of my mind for a few days while I tweaked the wording and considered other angles and aspects.  I was permitted, even encouraged, to comment on local political issues relevant to the boating community, and controversial ones.  I was given absolutely free rein, and I took the responsibility very very seriously.  Between that newspaper experience, and my scientific career, where every word of everything I published was reviewed by no less than 6 fellow scientists, I'm very used to agonizing over individual words as well as concepts.

But a blog is not a scientific report or a newspaper article.  In addition to being controversial, one of the other pieces of guidance I was given when I started blogging was that blog posts could be casual, informal, and fresh, in your personal voice ... the exact opposite of the many layers of review and sterile, formal language I was trained to write in as a scientist.  Having the freedom to be casual with my writing was both inspiring and daunting.

For this crazy A to Z blog challenge, being casual was also necessary.  I learned about the challenge after it started, from a post on a friend's blog. So I was always one day behind, writing on the fly.  I thought that was the challenge; can you write a blog post every day?  I had a total of 24 hours for each. No planning, except that the evening of April 1 I tried to make a list of nautical words, one for each letter of the alphabet, that could serve as the inspiration for my posts.  That list guided me all the way to the letter "B," when I abandoned my planned topic (big boats? barnacles? I don't remember) in favor of eulogizing a liveaboard friend who died that day.  Even if I had had preplanned posts, that planning would have been thrown out the window early.  I later learned that some of the bloggers had been planning their posts since January.  Leave it to me to make things even harder than they are supposed to be.

So that's the first thing I learned from the challenge -- that I can write faster than I had believed.  And I don't know that these quick posts are better, on the whole, or worse, than my carefully massaged ones, just different.  What do you think? Let me know in the comments.

The second thing I learned related to a different piece of blogging guidance: People don't want to read what happened as much as they want to read about how you felt about what happened.  "Don't let your blog become a chronicle of 'what we did,'" I was advised.  Next thing you know, you will be blogging that today I went to the mall, and walked the dog -- bor-ing! It's all too easy, especially with sailing/travel blogs, to fall into the trap about writing about the chronology of the trip, but what is really interesting is the stories, the people, along the way.  Going A to Z gave me a very obvious way to step out of telling stories in chronological order, and reflecting on the bigger aspects of life on a boat that are unrelated to things in time, and that was the biggest benefit of all.

Will this experience permanently change the way I write? I don't know.  Will I try it again next year? Most likely.  Will I slow down a bit for May? Yes!

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Blogging from A to Z: Zooming from Zero to Sixty in Fifteen Seconds

During April, I'm participating in the Blogging from A to Z challenge -- one alphabet-themed post per day, starting with A is for Aruba Aftermath and ending with Z is for ... I don't know yet what Z is for, I'll figure it out when I get there.



Zoom!


For all that I was a cautious, thoughtful kid, I was also an enthusiastic one, jumping into each new opportunity with both feet first.  Everything I tried was all-consuming, more obsession than exploration.  And I seem to have a preference for the deep end of the pool.

I mentioned before that Dan and I "met cute" at the water cooler (same office building, different employers).  What I didn't mention was how quickly things progressed from there.  Although we might have seen each other in the hall in passing, we really first started talking in August.  By September we were spending more nights together than apart; by October we said the "L" word; by November we were engaged, and before the year was out we were married.  The wedding was actually intended for December 31, but due to paperwork issues we were married by a judge 2 weeks earlier.  Fast?  Um, yeah.  Reckless, perhaps not -- in fairness, we were both a bit older (I was 28, he was 34) and we both had had enough bad relationships that we knew what a good one looked like. Still, the speed was head-turning.  Zero to married in 4-1/2 months.

Moving onto a boat was almost the same speed.  Dan's first-ever exposure to sailing came from a client back when he had his kitchen design/remodel business in Colorado.  The guy took us for an afternoon sail on his Catalina 24 on Lake Granby in the Rocky Mountains, and Dan was hooked.  A few months later, by pure spontaneity, we were at a candle party hosted by my office mate.  Her best friend, also in attendance, was a travel consultant specializing in charter yachts in the Caribbean.  Our next vacation was a one-week liveaboard learn-to-sail adventure in the Virgin Islands.  When we came back we started shopping for job opportunities on the coast.  We ended up in Michigan, and three weeks after moving, we bought our first boat.  Zero to sailors in just a couple of years.

It started easily enough, now I can't believe this is happening.  We're friends with the cook on El Galeon, and we started doing some creative cooking together, just experimenting with each other's ingredients.  We taught him about tofu, for example, and he showed us how to make pico de gallo. Then I offered to assist a bit, so I could learn.  The first day, we made an awesome soup.  We made plenty, but then miscounted the number of bowls to fill so the last guy to the table got nothing.  (The chef quickly made an alternate meal for him.  Now I know why the portions of soup seemed so hearty. Oops, bigtime.) Next thing I know, I'm cooking lunch today.  Okaaay, but it's only been two days.  What does a vegetarian who generally makes spicy meals know about feeding a crew, especially one used to eating complex meaty meals made by a trained professional chef?  Oh, my, this is going to be interesting.  Zero to cook in 48 hours????

Serving lunch, Day 2.  This time we had leftovers!

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Blogging from A to Z: You've GOT to be Kidding Me!

During April, I'm participating in the Blogging from A to Z challenge -- one alphabet-themed post per day, starting with A is for Aruba Aftermath and ending with Z is for ... I don't know yet what Z is for, I'll figure it out when I get there.



You know that trope about guys never reading the directions?  Um, this time, that would be me.  So, I just read in Ellen's blog that one of the tips for participating in this blogging from A to Z challenge was to plan your posts out in advance.  Huh? You mean you're supposed to have planning time? I had just found out about the challenge on Day 1 from her blog, which is why I've always been one day behind.  But I've been writing these on the fly. In real time.  24 hours max, each.  I thought the challenge was to write to a deadline! It certainly was that, for me.  But it really was just about inspiration and consistency; you were supposed to have time to plan and write in a more relaxed way.  No wonder I've been feeling like my posts for this series have been a little rough around the edges!  Leave it to me to take something very easy, and make it very hard!

Blogging from A to Z: "X"-ing Items Off My Bucket List

During April, I'm participating in the Blogging from A to Z challenge -- one alphabet-themed post per day, starting with A is for Aruba Aftermath and ending with Z is for ... I don't know yet what Z is for, I'll figure it out when I get there.


So far, I've had a rich, full life.  The term "bucket list" didn't really exist when I was in grad school, but if I were to have made one back then, it would have looked pretty much like my life so far has turned out.  I've seen the Northern Lights, and the tropical "green flash" at sunset.  I've rafted down the Grand Canyon and hiked across the continental divide in the Rockies.  I've touched the ancient stones in Jerusalem and Stonehenge, and viewed the modern launch of the space shuttle.  I've lived in big cities and remote rural areas, at different times alone and together with my family and in a group. I've been up in a small plane and down, if not to the bottom of the ocean, at least to 100 feet.  I've seen quiet dawns and storms at sea and shooting stars and arcing dolphins. I've loved, and lost, and celebrated joyously and railed against death, as every has who's been fortunate enough to have friends and family they care deeply about. I've been lucky enough that I haven't experienced long-term poverty or serious illness. But basically, with the exception of travel to a few places I still want to experience (Amsterdam, Australia, the Antarctic, Alaska, and Scotland), I've pretty much completed my bucket list.

I recently read an article that said that because life expectancies are getting longer, that 60 is the new 40 because you still have a good number of healthy years left.  And though I don't feel as agile as I did when I was 40, I also don't have the financial pressures I did then, so all-in-all it's been a good trade for me.

But remember my New Year's resolution to Have More Adventures? Looks like I'm gonna need a longer bucket list!

Blogging from A to Z: W is for Wheel

During April, I'm participating in the Blogging from A to Z challenge -- one alphabet-themed post per day, starting with A is for Aruba Aftermath and ending with Z is for ... I don't know yet what Z is for, I'll figure it out when I get there.


This drool-worthy custom wheel, made by South Shore Boatworks, is what I'd do if money were no object (but of course money is an object...) 

In an age of diesel motors and GPS, traveling by sail is primarily for the romantics.  And if we're traveling by sail in an homage to romance and history, we might as well have a spectacular traditional ship's wheel.  Except for one teeny, tiny problem ... our teeny tiny bank account.

Our boat has a budget-basic modern stainless steel wheel.  Totally functional, but the aesthetic is, well, minimal.  I've been looking for a classic replacement for years. One I found was too big.  Another was too small. Another was too cheaply-made-looking, more appropriate for hanging on a basement rec room wall than on a boat.  I thought I had found The One, then it turned out that the guy who was advertising it didn't exactly own it. I'm just sayin', it was a jungle out there.

There's just something about being at the wheel.  Every visitor to the ship wants a photo there.   Here, a crappy cellphone photo of Dan dressed for his "work day" at the helm of El Galeon. We want a beautiful signature wheel too!


One day we were walking home from the computer repair shop -- again, ugh -- and stopped for a break into a nautical antiques store.  And that's where we found it ... a gorgeous, absolutely unique solid brass wheel, the exact right size for our boat, with a price tag on it that was well within our reach. SOLD!

Well, if, we explained to the owner. If it fits.  We took careful measurements and thought it would work, but needed to get it to the boat to make sure of the fit.  We measured it in the shop, then agreed that we'd go home to check out the numbers and then come back to buy it the following Monday if we thought it would fit, but she'd allow us to return it for a full refund if we brought it back because the shaft was the wrong diameter.

We debated over the weekend with normally-impulsive me being reluctant to spend the money and normally-practical Dan being enthusiastic, then decided to go for it.  Unfortunately, Monday the shop was closed due to an emergency, and when we passed by on Thursday, our next day off, it was closed again.  We suspected that once again we'd have to give up on this particular antique wheel and continue our search elsewhere.  We gave it one last try the following Monday and ... connection happened! When we showed up, the wheel was even more beautiful (and even heavier!) than we remembered.  Money changed hands.  We told her about our multi-year search, and she said, "Maybe it'll be like Cinderella's slipper -- and you'll be the only one in the kingdom where it fits just right," she hypothesized.

"Um, funny you should mention that," I said, "because our boat came with the name Cinderella."

"Oooh, I just got goosebumps," she said.  "It's got to be an omen!"

In place aboard, the new wheel was gorgeous.  We excitedly pulled off the stainless steel modern wheel ... only to find that the new-old replacement was microscopically too tight to fit on the shaft.  But also, once we got it roughly in place, it was too beautifully right to return. The modifications were minor, something any competent machine shop could do for us.

Our friends on El Galeon offered to help us in their metal shop.  That's when we learned, our new wheel was metric, while our pedestal shaft was English units.  Oops, and our friends, being from Spain, had metric tools, so they couldn't help us do the modifications.  'Sokay, we'll work it out.  The more time that passes, the less willing we are to let this chance go.

Our new old wheel is on the left, the one we hope to replace is on the right.  A nautical optical illusion here -- the brass one is only about an inch (or 3 centimeters, since we're metric) smaller than the steel one, but looks so much more delicate and elegant.  

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Blogging from A to Z: V is for Vegetarian

During April, I'm participating in the Blogging from A to Z challenge -- one alphabet-themed post per day, starting with A is for Aruba Aftermath and ending with Z is for ... I don't know yet what Z is for, I'll figure it out when I get there.

"Portrait" of Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II, painted by artist Giuseppe Arcimboldo, in 1590 (image from here)
Dan and I were both vegetarian when we met almost 32 years ago.  We had both grown up in meat-and-potatoes families -- his dad was a Kansas wheat farmer/stockman and they raised their own -- but shortly after college, we both chose a different diet path.  Dan said that the quality of meat for sale in the stores was so disappointing compared to what he was used to that he simply gave up, and then realized he was doing just fine living on humbler food (and beer!). Growing up in a big city, I didn't have the quality angle (I had nothing to compare store-bought meat with), so my motivations were purely spiritual: if I didn't have to kill my fellow creatures to live well, why would I? Our shared dietary preferences as we fumbled along to define our relationship with food led to some funny stories about our early dating. Ironically, he (a vegetarian) prepared a meal of duck steamed over beer for me (another vegetarian) the night he proposed, because neither of us could figure out how to make a celebratory meal without a meat centerpiece.  And before you get snarky, remember that this was in the early 1980s in the red-blooded midwest, okay?

What does this have to do with living on a boat?  Well, nothing directly, but I think it does remove one complexity from our lives onboard.  We vacuum-seal our dried beans and rice, etc, and are ready to go. No refrigeration required, and no worries about expiration dates.  On the other side, I have noticed a disproportionate amount of space on boating foodie sites and blogs spent discussing the best ways of obtaining and storing meats. Or maybe it just seems disproportionate to me, since it's irrelevant to me. To be fair, though, the meat-eaters would probably say we're probably more worried than most about where we're going to find and keep our fresh greens and veggies. We still do have a fridge, though, for eggs and dairy and veggies.  (And beer. Of course, beer. Some things never change.)  We get menu inspirations from poorer cultures worldwide, that could never afford to make meat the centerpiece.

As we travel, though, I begin to wonder if we're missing out, just a teeny bit.  Not so much on the tastes themselves; soy-based meat substitutes have gotten much better over the years.  Many thanks to friend Phil, who encouraged us to try several. We've been able to use these to re-create approximations of some popular dishes at home.  It's the social aspect of sharing food that I think we may be slighting ourselves on.  Not that we've ever met anyone, anywhere, who has not been respectful of our preference, as well as accommodating up to the level of their ability. Still, we stand slightly apart at many parties, and certainly at barbeques.  Tremendously first-world problem, in both the literal and figurative sense, and not one I'm looking to fix. Just an observation, something to ... ruminate on.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Blogging from A to Z: Up

During April, I'm participating in the Blogging from A to Z challenge -- one alphabet-themed post per day, starting with A is for Aruba Aftermath and ending with Z is for ... I don't know yet what Z is for, I'll figure it out when I get there.

I should have been born a bird, because I love being up in the air.  I like skyscrapers and mountain hikes, and in any boat situation, I'm usually the one volunteering to climb the mast.  On our own boat, we have a TopClimber, which allows either of us to go up unaided, although the other one often helps manage the secondary safety line.  Back in Annapolis we'd climb just for the fun of it.

Here's what "going up the mast" looks like on an ordinary sailboat in a marina

And the view from the top, from our marina in Annapolis

Now that we're hanging out with El Galeon, though, the scale of everything is magnified.  The Galeon is about 5 times the length of our boat, and the mast is more than twice as tall.  I had hoped to have pix from the crow's nest to include in this post, but I haven't made it to climb the rigging yet, my back is being funky. So instead I give you pix of my friends aboard.

This ship is huge!

Climbing up the rigging

There's a person in the crow's nest, can you see her? This is on my list for my next adventure as soon as my body permits.


Friday, April 24, 2015

Blogging from A to Z: Too Many "Things"

During April, I'm participating in the Blogging from A to Z challenge -- one alphabet-themed post per day, starting with A is for Aruba Aftermath and ending with Z is for ... I don't know yet what Z is for, I'll figure it out when I get there.

Waaaaay too many grooming products! This is what I removed; enough to fill an entire liquor carton.


Dan's working on carpentry on El Galeon today, leaving me alone on the boat to write.  Or rather, to procrastinate doing any actual writing.  Remember I said before, when I was writing on the letter "D" that it was time to declutter and downsize again?  Well, I was so desperate to not write that instead, I decided to start that project by cleaning out the bathroom ("head").

We have, by boat standards, a great deal of storage space there in the head: one drawer the size of a shoebox, two narrow shelves, and a locker that could probably hold a case of wine.  I realize that by land standards, this doesn't sound like very much for two people.  But then, part of the benefit to me of living afloat is that our focus is turned away from the huge obsession with appearances that seemed so prevalent in our land lives.  We don't have complex grooming routines; in fact, we're almost obsessed with the opposite, with plainness, as I discovered when I realized I was becoming my historical alter-ego Seaspray. Thankfully we don't have medical issues requiring a lot of lotions, pills, or potions, either.  A toothbrush, a bar of soap, and a bottle of sunscreen ... what else could we possibly need? Yet somehow, those lockers are full.  How could we possibly have filled those lockers to capacity?  No, beyond capacity, all the way to stuffocation.

I boldly decided to find out, so I started by completely emptying the lockers.  There were a few things that were simply out of place -- I found a pair of earplugs, spare lead for a mechanical pencil, a wine bottle opener.  In a bathroom the size of a telephone booth?  How did that happen?  There were also some things that appeared excessive on the surface, but were legitimate back-stock.  Dan loves a particular sunscreen that we can only get on Aruba, so we bought a year's supply (4 bottles).

But then I got to "the rest of the story."  Seven half-used bottles of different kinds of hair products, including some that were specific to my long, chemically-straightened hair. Which I cut off and went short and natural, oh, in around 2013.  A dried-up tube of lipstick that I got when my friend Jenn was selling Mary Kay.  That was when we both lived in Michigan.  But we moved away in 2002, which means that lipstick is probably 15 years old! Numerous brands of bug spray, each with a different kind of active ingredient, from chemical DEET to organic lavendar oil and everything in between. Okay, that made a kind of sense, since as we travel there are different types of critters in different regions, but still -- enough is enough! Lots of toothbrushes.  We get new ones every time we go to the dentist, and apparently we haven't been changing them out as regularly as we should.

One thing I realized that was holding me back, was that with each item I was considering getting rid of, I was debating how to deal with it.  Was it really trash, or was it donation-worthy, or was it something we should put in storage for now, because we'd need it again in a different season or location?  You know all those organizing sites that tell you to approach a project like this with a bunch of labeled boxes -- keep, not sure, donate, mend, trash, etc?  That approach didn't work for me.  So I decoupled "do I still want this in the head now?" from "what should I do with it?" The first question has a simple yes/no answer, the second had many more options.  Indeed, once I had that insight, the work flew by.  Or maybe it was just that I really really didn't want to write?

When I was done, I had filled an entire box with things that didn't belong in the bathroom, or at least, our bathroom.  I categorized, and came up with a microcosm of all the reasons for clutter that apply anywhere, and on a much larger scale than just the bathroom:

  • Failed experiments: Things we tried and didn't like, but couldn't figure out what to do with the rest of the bottle. Throwing it away would be wasteful, but who would we give it away to?  For that matter, why would I give a friend something that I didn't think was wonderful?  Yuck.  If I'm going to give something to a friend, it should be the best of its kind that I know of, not the leftovers.  Guess these can go away.
  • Planning for every possible contingency: Things we needed once and might use again, however unlikely.  We're keeping them "just in case."  I found some extra packaged pre-moistened wash cloths that we used after Dan's brain surgery 9 years ago.  They might be helpful if we ever go into extreme water conservation mode, I guess.  Just in case.  Except they dried up, even through the packages.  And in 13 years of living aboard, we've never been that short of water.  Guess these can go away.
  • Unrealistic expectations: Things that reflected not who I actually am, but images of who I wish I was.  I'm just not the kind of person who will do a 5-step skin care routine twice a day every day.  Even if it makes my skin feel slightly better than soap, water, and an infrequent moisturizer, I'm just not structured enough to do the other. That expensive system just sits in its basket on the counter, gathering dust and looking at me reproachfully.  Guess these also, can go away.
  • Freebies and travel sizes: Free samples of heavily-scented laundry products?  Um, no thanks, I prefer the unsmelly versions.  So the other just sits, taking up space and stinking up the locker, until I "forget" the packet in some marina laundry room somewhere.  And for the rest of the single-serving size products?  You know, I get lots of these from random hotels or welcome packages, but I'm not really going to use some weird off-brand.  If we're just going on a short trip, I'll decant off small amounts of our favorite products into travel-size bottles to use.  Guess the freebies, too, can go away.

 My next goal is to use the same logic and insights I gained on my clothing locker, on the galley, a few other categories aboard, but not on books or tools -- you can never have too many books or tools!

Simple.  Yeah, this is more my style!

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Blogging from A to Z: S is for ...

During April, I'm participating in the Blogging from A to Z challenge -- one alphabet-themed post per day, starting with A is for Aruba Aftermath and ending with Z is for ... I don't know yet what Z is for, I'll figure it out when I get there.

There are so many things in this world that I really like that start with "S."

There are sunsets

We took the dinghy to get this photo of El Galeon docked at St Augustine City Marina, 21 April 2015


and sunrises

I will be forever grateful to our dog Mandy for many things, one of which was waking me up in time to see this sunrise, Northport, Michigan (our hailing port), summer 1999


and scuba diving

Aruba, February 2013. Photo by Manon Hautman.  


and sailing

Approaching Thomas Point Lighthouse, Annapolis, Maryland, September 2009


and souffles
(image and recipe from here)


and South Carolina

Wrought-iron gate, Charleston, SC, April 2010


and snow, especially when seen from inside a cozy cabin

(Image available for download from here)


(and sex, but I'm not posting a picture for that)

I don't like excessive structure (too confining) and at the other extreme, I don't like orchestrated surprises (too contrived).  In the middle ground is spontaneity, just being able to go with the flow and respond to cool opportunities as they happen.  But my favorite things of all that starts with S is synchronicity.  Sometimes things just work out. Dan and I "met cute" at the office water cooler (same building, different employers).  The life afloat seems a particularly good breeding ground for spontaneous connections. There are so many stories of cool cruiser friendships that happened because of the simple coincidence that two boats were in the same anchorage or marina at the same time.  We got hooked up with our whole crazy history career because we met Grace in the ship's store one afternoon, and with the Spanish galleon because we happened to be getting our mail at the same time as their then-events-manager.  It's fantastic to be in a port that a lot of people visit, we have learned to always keep a good supply of snacks for impromptu happy hours because distant friends show up unexpectedly fairly frequently on good-weather days during the spring and fall migration seasons -- a literal case of learning to expect the unexpected!