Friday, May 25, 2018

"Small World" Coincidences


Our friends are a bit ... different ... and I love that about them all!

In a neighborhood of gray and beige and off-white houses, our friends are the kind of quirky people who will paint their house a brilliant Florida shade of turquoise. I've written about our friends J and J before, and this was our first chance to see them at home. The directions included letting us know that the house is easy to find because we were looking for the only blue house on their street. I just hate when someone says, "you can't miss it" when giving me references, because invariably, I can miss it. But this time, they were right. I didn't miss it. In contrast to the outside, the neutral colored, calm, interior is beautifully on-trend and magazine worthy, but I was in love with the statement the blue exterior made. But seeing the house that J and J are remodeling was only one part of a jam-packed two-day trip to southwest Florida.

I had been grumbling about our leaky inflatable dinghy and commented that I wanted a hard-sided dinghy again, preferably one that folded for storage. (Yes, such things exist and are totally cool. But a tad out of our price range at the moment.) Then my friend Charles pointed us to a used one that was for sale cheap, and only about 1/2 hour's drive from J and J's house. Lots of things aligned and fell into place, like the rental car company asked if we'd "mind" driving a mini van instead of the small economy car we had rented at no extra charge. (How convenient! No, I don't mind at all!) Anyway, I was in the mood for a road trip.

A bit of back-and-forth messaging with the seller and the deal happened. He even had most of the parts of a sail kit for it, not mentioned in his ad, that he threw in for free. So after the money changed hands and we loaded the dinghy into the minivan, we had time to share a glass of rum with the seller, and trade a few sea stories.   That's when we found out that not only was he a fellow pirate, but he was also a tall ship sailor who had been the helmsman on the Pride of Baltimore. I told him the story of having done crew tours aboard Pride 3 years ago, and how we almost lost our cook to them because Pride had a much nicer galley. As we continued to chat we learned that the seller had visited the Galeon while we were in Maine a couple of years ago. Which almost inevitably meant that we had met before, although neither of us remembered the other. So now not only have we got a cool new dinghy, but more excitingly, a new friend as well. Although we cruisers are geographically spread far and wide, we really are a very small group.

The new dinghy with the sail (photo from Porta Bote's website). Now our challenge is to come up with a good name. In keeping with the Cinderella theme, our present plump inflatable dinghy is named "Pumpkin" and our clear-bottomed kayak is "Glass Slipper." We're thinking the new one will be "Magic Wand." It's kind of magical that it folds down to the size of a surfboard, and anyway, any sail on a mast moving a boat by the power of the wind alone is magical. 


Friday, May 11, 2018

Bridgetender Tales


Bridge of Lions (public domain photo by Dennis Adams from here)
Fun evening last night with the St Augustine Cruisers' Net folks. Our guest speaker was Steve Deakins, one of the six bridgetenders from our local Bridge of Lions. He gave some great bridge statistics and history, like that the present bridge crossing replaced a wooden bridge that was there from about 1890-1925. Before that the only way to get across the Matanzas River was by ferry.

Its type is defined as a double-leaf bascule bridge, which comes from the French word for seesaw. It is 1545 feet long and has the unfortunate distinction of being the bridge most hit by barges in the State of Florida. The largest barge he remembers was 600 (!) feet long and needed four tugs to maneuver it. For some reason, this bridge cost almost 10 times more, per foot, than a "normal" bridge. In 1999 FDOT decided to recondition the bridge; work started in 2006. Weirdly, while I was working for the Enviromental Affairs Program in Washington DC and before I had ever set foot or keel in St Augustine, I reviewed the planning documents for the bridge reconstruction. On our very first cruise in 2009 we sailed through the temporary bridge structure that was built as part of the reconstruction -- that I recognized from the review documents.

Steve talked a bit about bridge openings, those activities you love to hate whether you are going through with a boat, or walking or driving across. This bridge is staffed 24/7/365; except in hurricane wind speeds above 72 mph. They open every half hour from 7 AM to 6 PM (except rush hours 8, 12, and 5 on work days) and on request outside of those times. He has a couple of minutes discretion in the timing of those openings, but more than that and he has to fill out paperwork! In his five years on this job, the most he has seen was 17 vessels going through a single opening (that lasted 15 minutes!), and 63 vessels during his 8-hour shift.  Those lengthy openings are problematic, he said; every 4 seconds of opening, another car is stopped. One Labor Day weekend, the bridge got stuck in the "open" position for hours.  The engineers couldn't get to the bridge to fix it because ... they were stuck in the traffic.

The real fun, though, came when he shared some behind-the-scenes insights and wild stories. There are 15 steps in the complete sequence to stop traffic and open the bridge and then close it and resume traffic. This short video from our local news station shows a bit of the operations.  (I'm thinking of the scene from Wizard of Oz where the wizard is desperately manipulating the levers and buttons behind the curtain.)

He talked of entitled sportsfishers and clueless pedestrians. He mentioned the 21 cameras along the route that on any Friday or Saturday night, can show people going across the bridge towards town sober; and then coming back again a few hours later, drunk. He told the story of a 40-ish foot sailboat coming from the south while the tide was going out (i.e., the boat was traveling with the current) in 30 or 35 knots of wind. Where/why were they trying to go, in those conditions, I wonder? Anyway, they caught their bow on something, and were swept through the bridge opening ... sideways. He had everyone in hysterics when he talked about the time when 14 Flagler college students jumped off the bridge naked during the normally quiet 4 PM to midnight shift. 

Finally he talked about the best way to hail the bridge. Hail when you are 2-3 channel markers away (he and his colleagues are pretty adept at gauging your speed and timing) give your vessel name and type, direction of travel and/or location on VHF 09. My standard is "Bridge of Lions Bridgetender, this is nouthbound sailing vessel Cinderella, approaching red marker 10, standing by for your 10:30 opening." (or, "requesting an opening" if it's after scheduled hours). Which leads to my favorite story of the evening, when Steve said he records every single vessel for every single opening. One of the audience members asked why, and he told us that once those bridge records helped solve a murder, when a transient had stolen a boat and killed the captain. The bridge records were instrumental in tracking and finding the killer.

The very attentive audience at Chatsworth Pub...

... riveted by excellent speaker Steve.


Thursday, May 3, 2018

Hip Replacement Surgery and the Lure of Suburbia


Technology is wonderful! Here's a model of an artificial hip. The piece in his left hand is implanted in the femur, and the piece on the right goes into the pelvic bone.



This is an xray of Dan's actual hip taken immediately after the surgery,with the implant in place.


One week after surgery, Dan playing with the model of the hip implant that's now inside him.



Dan's right hip was getting more and more achy and stiff after long time standing or walking last summer on the Galeon. And in January a set of x-rays and MRIs made it official: he had arthritis in that hip that was considered "severe" and no amount of rest or herbal supplements or cortisone shots was going to fix it. We're blaming too many years of bucking hay bales on the farm as a teenager but it doesn't really matter what started the problem; two different doctors advised that total replacement was the only long term solution.

So on April 24, we checked into St Vincent's. We couldn't have had a better hospital experience. They were super-attentive to infection. His prep instructions included a complete shower with surgical scrub the night before, using a freshly-washed washcloth and drying with freshly-washed towel, sleeping on freshly-washed sheets, then another shower in the morning with another bottle of scrub and washing with another freshly-washed washcloth and drying with another freshly-washed towel. Then of course they'd do the actual surgical prep which would include a third wash. Taking no chances, we like it!

Modern technology is nothing short of amazing. This shiny titanium and ceramic replacement went into his hip in about an hour. There was no cushioning material left between the bones in his hip; they described it as "bone on bone" which was the cause of the pain, and actually had to stretch muscles a little bit to fit the new implant in -- his leg had gotten shorter because that gap was gone. The doctor met me in the waiting area afterwards holding the print of the x-ray at the top of this post, to tell me the surgery had gone well and I could meet Dan in his hospital room in about an hour.

I won't go into the details of how we ended up switching rooms, but a giant shout-out to nurse Adrian T, who got Dan placed in ... well, the "hospital room" we ended up in was nicer than a lot of hotels we've been in. Instead of standard asphalt-tile floors and pinkish-brown walls with a view of a brick wall or parking garage, this was lovely, and huge yet still very functional and able to be sterilized. He had pergo "wood" floors and granite countertops (who has granite countertops in their hospital room?) and a waterfront view of the St John's River. Such a fantastic, calming place to recover and begin healing in! And he needed it; his blood pressure went waaaay low that afternoon and night, most likely in response to the strong pain meds.

Waving "hi" to Facebook friends the afternoon after surgery


Next day they taught him useful things like how to use his new walker, and a series of strengthening exercises that he could do until his incision was healed enough to begin regular physical therapy. His blood pressure (finally) stabilized and they discharged him from the hospital and sent him home. Well, not home exactly; he was a long way from being able to negotiate the stairs and movement of the boat.

We had an invite to stay for a while at the lovely home of a sailing friend (a.k.a., the home of a lovely sailing friend). Enter glorious friend Rachel, who came to our rescue offered the guest room of her house just a few miles south of town, with no stairs, all on one level and with lots of nature, peace, and quiet during the day, and friendship and laughter in the evenings.

Rachel's back deck is much more comfortable than the hospital bed!


Lovely, restful view with lots of chirping birds. There's a family of owls hoot-hoot-hooo-ing that we hear every night also.


So for the last week, we've been living in suburban comfort. And I must say, I'm appreciating the ease and time saving conveniences that suburbia offers. Grocery shopping while cruising takes at least 1/2 day and a combination of bus and walking, returning to the boat with laden backpacks and shopping bags. Given that time commitment we generally shop for a week's worth of groceries at a time. That in turn means lots of planning ahead,  and knowing that fragile vegetables like spinach must be eaten early in the week, while sturdier sorts like peppers and onions can last till later. Beer is too heavy and bulky; rum gives a much more space- and weight-efficient buzz per ounce. And so on. But with that car parked in the driveway (no searching the downtown streets for parking either because -- driveway!), a trip to Publix can happen every day or two, and in only minutes! And laundry; ditto. Instead of hours and fistfuls of quarters in the laundromat or marina laundry room, a nice washer and dryer just off the kitchen means that I can toss in a load any time, while doing something else (like blogging, as I'm doing right now!).  Maybe I'm beginning to appreciate suburban conveniences a bit too much? I could get used to this...

And then, I went back to the boat to pick up a few more items and do some cleaning, and wham! All the serenity, and delight in being in that cozy space on the water slammed me! I did all the work I had intended and then just ... sat, drinking in the sunlight, watching a dolphin make lazy arcs, feeling the gentle rocking. No, we're not moving to suburbia yet despite in the inconveniences of boat life. The very best thing about traveling is that it gives you new eyes with which to appreciate your home when you return.

(And happy to report, after the doctor's one-week post-op assessment, he was cleared to return back to the boat, so we're home again. Hoping you never need joint replacement, but if you do, we have a rockstar surgeon to recommend in Dr Redmond!)

Friday, April 13, 2018

Admirable (Part Three)


(image modified from here)
I love numbers, and have been a math nerd since ... forever, I guess. I remember in first grade, we had an exercise where we had to write the numbers from 1 - 100 in columns on a page of paper. This happened daily over a period of several days. By about the third day, bored with the exercise, instead of writing ... 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 etc down the column in order like I "should," I inverted it and wrote  0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 1 2 3 ...., and then went back and filled in 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 2 2 2 2 2 ... in front of the digits. I had independently, at age 6, figured out the basic pattern behind how counting with place value works. (The alternative is something like Roman numerals, where 10, 100, 1000 each has a different symbol, X, C, M, etc). I went home that day and excitedly told my engineer father about my discovery. Luckily, he figured out what I was trying to say and what it meant about his (literally!) certified genius child, because I didn't have the vocabulary to really explain my discovery.

And math was always there, no matter what else was happening in my life. Among my favourite toys when I was a kid were math-related games and puzzles. Danish mathematician, writer, and WWII resistance figure Piet Hein was one of my heroes.  Because it was the 1960's, I was one of only 2 girls in my advanced math class of 28 in high school, and made the math honor society in college; then, on to a math-heavy science career where I was seriously the young hot shot in my 20's.

In the 1970's I remember offering to help my then-boyfriend with a math class he was taking. This, apparently, was a dreadful threat to his masculinity. Not only did he not want my help, he actually broke up with me and told me it was because he couldn't handle me being better at math than he was!!! (We'll call him IPB, "Insecure Previous Boyfriend.") was devastated at the time, and confused, but ultimately it was all for the good, because a few years later I was in grad school in Colorado where I met Dan.

And then just a year or so later, Dan and I found ourselves taking an engineering course together. You know where this is going, don't you? Because, yep, I was doing better in the class than he was. Previous experience warned me that if I offered to help him, the relationship would be over. But I did, and it wasn't, and unlike the competitive reaction that IPB had, Dan's response was basically, "Well, it's good that someone on Team Us has a solid grasp of this stuff!" (It's not like he was a slacker, either; he ended the semester with a good solid B.)

I vacillated for a long time about even writing this post, because, well, to find it admirable, to praise someone for simply acting like a decent human when confronted with not being "the best" at something (gender expectations notwithstanding!) seems to be setting the bar distressingly low. But people I admire, ordinary heroes, don't have to be the ones doing monumental things admired the world over. They just have to be doing things that I consider admirable. And gracefully accepting reality while trying to improve, is one of those things I admire.

Just because this seems to be a great place to park it, here's a picture of Dan from about that time in our lives. We're in the Four Corners area of the southwest, and if you look closely, he's pointing at his wedding ring.


= = = =

There are follow-ons to the stories of both Dan and IPB with regards to math. In Dan's case, after the brain surgery and recovery, it turned out that he had pretty much lost the ability to do simple mathematical operations without a calculator. Dan used to be able to balance the checkbook in his head; post-surgery, that was frustratingly out of reach. "But," friend Cathy pointed out, "neither can 95% of the population! You started out with excess capacity." Higher math now would be just physically almost impossible given the location of the scar tissue, according to a neurologist we spoke with a couple of years later. He wasn't unsympathetic, but he pointed out that realistically, Dan was well within the realm of being able to function well in everyday life, which was no small thing considering that death is one of the more common outcomes of this type of cancer.  Still, for an engineer to lose the ability to do math is similar to a surgeon developing a tremor in his hands; the door to that particular career is pretty well shut. Admirable was acknowledging this without bitterness, re-learning as much as he could, and moving on to have a fun life anyway. Just, a different life than the one he'd envisioned before.

Oh, and IPB? He caught up with me about 10 years after we split, and we had a totally non-creepy lunch meeting. He told me that in many ways he realized too late that I was the one that got away.
He had finally married -- someone who looked like me, and was a math whiz and engineer like me. I think that meeting was his way of apology for having been a jerk, back when we were both so young.

(Note: In a weird coincidence, another blog I follow posted encouraging you to think about the heroes in your life, on exactly the same day that I first drafted the  post about Kristine, the first of three planned posts about people I consider admirable.)

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Admirable (Part Two)


What would it take you to go from this ... (photo credit)

... to this? (photo credit)
 Here's another story of a friend who I find admirable. I find her admirable in many ways, but especially this one, the way she's making a sacrifice in service to a greater good. (Lots of details changed here to protect the innocent.)

"M" moved to Key West more than 10 years ago. She likes its quirky laid-back lifestyle, bright colors, and warm sunny climate. She met her husband there, and now they have a house and two kids together. They've got a good circle of friends there, and both have good jobs with fishing charters for tourists. Life was really pretty cool.

Then one of their kids started having problems. Not life-threatening problems, but significant, the kind of problems that might not launch this child to their most successful life. M is a very dedicated parent and pretty smart, so she looked around for solutions. And it turned out that, after research, the only two possible places in the country that could help M's kid were Cheyenne, and Chicago. Both of which are as culturally different from Key West as I could imagine. Cities, with none of that laid-back quirky vibe. And both have snow. M hasn't seen ice outside of a drink glass in many years. Both M and her husband would have to quit their jobs and sell their house, and they'd have to stay in the northland pretty much until the kids were out of high school. It's not like Cheyenne has much of a fishing fleet, either, so it wouldn't just be quitting these particular jobs, they'd be losing any opportunities to continue working in the whole industry.

Tough decision, but M is pragmatic. Last time I talked to her, she was sorting and packing. They'd already given notice at their jobs and were planning to move during the summer; at least they'd have some time to explore their new surroundings before before the school year -- and snow! -- began. Unlike my previous "Admirable" post, this one doesn't end in rainbows and happy hikers and zesty "I love my life" photos. At least not yet, and maybe not until the younger kid turns 18 and graduates. M's payoff is a little farther away. And that's exactly why I find her being willing to make this major uprooting and change so admirable.


(Note: In a weird coincidence, another blog I follow posted encouraging you to think about the heroes in your life, on exactly the same day that I first drafted the previous post about Kristine, the first of three planned posts about people I consider admirable.)

Friday, April 6, 2018

Admirable (Part One)

Embracing the awesome, and well-earned, adventure

Ironic that this post immediately follows the one about the spa-cum-ordinary-land-based-shower, but sometimes thoughts just happen when they happen. I must be subconsciously pondering the topic of physical comfort, because this is the flip side of the coin. Discomfort ... in service to a greater goal.

When we were on the Galeon, I'd sometimes get in conversations with visitors about the details of life aboard. Most people would look at me with a bit of wonder, and say, "Oh, I could never do what you do." The most common reason they'd give was a tendency to seasickness. I've only be seriously seasick once, and it was because I was hung over, so it was my own fault. But the experience gave me a lot of insight, and if I were prone to seasickness, I would never have moved aboard either.  Once past the seasickness conversation, people's reasons varied. Older women in particular (not always, but common enough to be a trend) would often announce that they would be unwilling to handle close quarters, lack of privacy, being away from their grandkids, and the comforts of home.

I explain that it's kind of a package deal. Physical comfort is nice, but ... overrated. Okay, I like being comfortable and wouldn't voluntarily be uncomfortable for the heck of it, but I'm quite willing to be uncomfortable if that's the price I pay for an astounding adventure, like spending a summer on a traveling tall ship. It wasn't the first time we traded comfort for experiences. When we lived in Colorado, we went backpacking one October to listen to the elk bugling. Not because I like being cold and sleeping on the hard ground, but because we wanted to see and hear this phenomenon for ourselves. (Turn your computer sound up when you check out the above YouTube video, it's remarkable. National Geographic also has an interesting video about it.) It was every bit as amazing as we expected, and being stiff and sore the next several days, from the long hike and bad sleeping, was a price we were happy to have paid.



But our willingness to endure discomfort as the price of the admission ticket for adventure pales in comparison to that of my friend Kristine. She's really one of my heroes, and her latest undertaking has inspired me. She was the bartender at our local pub, and she had a dream of backpacking around the world. Of course, money was going to be an issue, but this girl gives new meaning to the word "determination." In service to her dream, she was willing to do anything that was ethical. (Not necessarily legal; sadly, those two words are not synonymous.) She pinched every penny she had. Up to the point of deciding to live in her truck for 14 months, voluntarily homeless, to save rent money. She wrote about the decision in her blog, and one evening she told us stories of couch surfing with friends or sleeping behind the bar after close when it was too cold to stay in the truck. She posted lovely sunrise photos from the parking garage (how does one tend bar until closing time at 2 AM and still wake up in time for sunrise?) She made healthy meals from the sandwiches they served at the bar -- however repetitive and boring after a while, she used her employee discount to save money. A lot of her clothing came from thrift stores. And then she took seven months off, packed a single rucksack and a sturdy pair of boots, and planned an itinerary that included lots of buses and hostels, and would literally take her around the world, from Florida to California to New Zealand and Australia (so far), and fills my Facebook feed with spectacular photos including the ones I've included, in what she now calls her "signature pose," celebrating life to the fullest possible. She's got a YouTube channel ("Rucksack Rambler") and a blog that I'm sincerely anxious to see her update, but right now she's too busy having adventures to write about them. Admirable.



(Note: In a weird coincidence, another blog I follow posted encouraging you to think about the heroes in your life, on exactly the same day that I first drafted this post about Kristine, the first of a few planned posts about people I consider admirable.)

Livin' large!


Monday, March 12, 2018

Rebaselining (or, how to have a low-budget spa day)


We now refer to it as our "summer of if." It was the summer a large cancer tumor was discovered in Dan's brain, and all our sentences began with "if." "If" the MRI shows no issues; "if" the scan is clear; "if" it hasn't spread; "if" there are no surgical complications; "if" the radiation treatment gets it all; "if" it doesn't recur, etc etc. That first day, we literally worried about if he'd live out the next 72 hours until they could perform surgery. Then the worries shifted, to wondering if critical parts of higher brain function and personality would be impacted. The great worry of physical death was past, but we refocused on whether the parts of personality that make Dan, Dan would survive. Then when we learned they pretty much did, the worry was about how far the cancer might have spread and how much time we had left. A month or so later, when he was getting daily radiation treatments, the worries shifted. By this time we knew that the cancer had not spread and the surgery had not damaged critical areas of the brain, and he was upset about his hair falling out (in weird patches that looked like a scary punk fashion statement, no less!) How bizarre and ungrateful that seemed, to be worried about something as trivial as hair when just a few weeks earlier we were worried about survival! My friend Cathy taught me a new word, or rather a new application for an existing word,  rebaselining. In business or project management, when a significant portion of the project has been replanned or a fundamental re-orientation of project scope occurred, a whole new datum must be chosen to be used as the basis for calculation or for comparison. In ordinary life, humans adapt quickly to a "new normal." As soon as we knew the cancer wasn't terminal, we quickly adapted to that new normal, and could proceed, without hypocrisy or ingratitude, to be dismayed over hair loss.

Happily, rebaselining works in the opposite direction as well. After 15 years taking infrequent water-sparing Navy showers (sometimes without hot water!) aboard in the cramped head, that's my baseline. An ordinary land-based shower, with nearly limitless space and hot water, feels a lot like a visit to a spa. My friend Jorge was once excitedly telling me about his planned vacation. "I'm going to live aboard a catamaran in the Caribbean," he said. "And if I want to go snorkeling or diving, I just step off the back of the boat!"  "But Jorge," I explained, "You've just described my everyday life! When I go on vacation, I want the opposite; I want the traditional American everyday life, but with a beach. I want to live in an apartment on land, and have a car. Lots of space, and things stay where you put them and never roll off if hit by a wave." And I want a shower. A big one. With unlimited hot water.

I get that this may not look like a luxury spa to you, if you live on land. But to me, by my rebaselined definition, it's more than all I need! Low-buck, too, for a bonus!