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.


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! 

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Blogging from A to Z: Red Red Wine ... Is Absolutely Fine!

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.

(source: I found this image all over the internet, including here and here)

Nothing I like better than sitting in the cockpit drinking a glass of wine to celebrate the sunset. Unless it's drinking two glasses of wine, with friends.  Scary stories have been circulating recently about arsenic in inexpensive California wine.   The whole "crisis" encapsulates all my frustrations about working in application of science to public policy a decade ago.

Please don't buy into this wine scare silliness. This is such junk science.  There's so many things wrong with the story, I'm not sure where to start.  So I'll start with the most basic.

First, they are using the wrong standard.  The levels of arsenic that they are reporting as potentially problematic are based on drinking water standards. Those standards are calculated based on drinking the recommended 8 glasses of water per day, every day of your life, for 70 years. But that's water. It makes no sense to worry about arsenic at that level in wine, because we'd be talking about someone who drinks 3 bottles of wine (13 glasses!) Every.Single.Day. That's how much wine you'd have to drink for arsenic at the drinking water level to potentially hurt you. But of course if you're drinking 3 bottles of wine per day, you've got much bigger problems.  You'd die of cirrhosis of the liver long before you had problems from the arsenic!  Canada understands this; their standard for arsenic in wine is ten times the US drinking water  standard.  The concentration of arsenic in highest wine noted in the lawsuit is well below the Canadian standard.  In fact, it's only about half the Canadian.  The European standard for wine is even higher, twice the Canadian.  (source)

Second, there are other scientific problems. There are different forms of arsenic and their toxicity varies greatly.  "...most simple organic arsenic compounds (such as methyl and dimethyl compounds) are less toxic than the inorganic forms and that some complex organic arsenic compounds are virtually non-toxic..." (source) The articles about the lawsuit don't say which variety they have tested for, or whether they separated them at all.

"A large source of total arsenic comes from the food we eat. However, most of the arsenic in food is in an organic (carbon containing) form which is much less harmful than the inorganic arsenic found primarily in groundwater. Some foods also contain inorganic arsenic but the main exposure to inorganic arsenic is normally from consuming water." (source
I'm pretty sure grapes are a food, so presumably they have the less-dangerous organic form of arsenic in their juice, while the drinking water standard is set to protect against the more-dangerous inorganic form.  (edited to add: This article at least mentions the organic/inorganic distinction, but they don't quantify how much is inorganic except to say "unacceptable."  What does unacceptable mean? Unacceptable to who?  What is the actual concentration?  They should state it.  Unless they can't, because the number isn't scary enough.)

Third, another scientific problem is that there are many things we don't understand about arsenic metabolism.  We know that some populations are more sensitive than others. People in Bangladesh, and high in the Andes, drink water with arsenic concentrations one hundred times the US limit with no apparent ill effect. (source) This may be because of genetic predisposition on the part of these people, or a kind of adaptation as their bodies learned to deal with the arsenic, but either way it hints that it will be complicated to develop a single number for a standard to protect everyone.

Fourth, wine gets its flavors from the complex terrior, the climate and the chemistry of the soil the grapes grow in.  Which means if you plant the same grapes in a different place, you get a different wine. Arsenic occurs naturally in soil and water, more in some geologies than others.  (source) Then it gets taken up in the plants grown in that soil and watered with that water.  It's unjust to imply that the companies' sloppy (or nefarious!) practices are to blame for its presence in their product.  But it does make good media sales, to point to a villain.

Fifth, the guy filing the lawsuit is far from a disinterested party here.  He could gain financially by fomenting this scare...a lot.  He owns a food-testing company, so there's a major problem with conflict of interest there; my favorite article summing up the problem explains.  (source) One of my contacts in the wine industry stated that this guy who brought the suit has done this kind of thing before.  In fact I'm surprised he was even judged to have legal standing to file a suit, since neither he nor anyone else has ever proved, or even claimed, that they were actually harmed by arsenic in wine. (source)

And with all that, a lot of politics went into setting the US and state drinking water standards at the level they are. I was the person supervising the scientists who were doing to research to develop those standards back around 1998-2002, so I've got the inside scoop.  Bottom line: pour yourself a glass of (nice California red) wine and relax about this issue. Unless you've got some unusual sensitivity or underlying condition, this is not a problem, ever.

Blogging from A to Z: Q is for the Hardest Question

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.

Someday, we'll have to reenter settled society.  But where?

What's next?

My friend Krysty Anne recently asked me if Dan and I ever talk about settling in the Caribbean or St. Augustine or Annapolis for good. "You make it sound like such a great place . . would that be a viable idea though?" she wondered.  She didn't realize it, but that was the hardest question she could have asked.

Moving off the boat, and settling in a house? Someday of course when we're old and feeble we will have to decrease our range, move ashore, but...  Even if it was a waterfront property with a spectacular view -- not that that is likely on our incomes -- and even though the idea of unlimited hot water and electricity, and no longer worrying about storms and weather is appealing, and even though having a car again would be convenient, and even though there are lots of opportunities that occur only because we've been in one place long enough to make the enabling connections, still the idea of picking just one place to live gives me chills.

You say "stability," I hear "confinement." You say "continuity," I hear "boredom." You say, "putting down roots," I hear "lockdown" and "chains."

We both love it here, but settling permanently anywhere, "swallowing the anchor" as we say, is just too scary a commitment.  We've found lots of good places, that we enjoy ... but no one place that we're sure is the best place.  We both feel way too young to settle!  Anywhere we are for an extended period, we look at each other and imagine being there long term, and watching the slow change of the seasons, and say, hmm, we're happy here, maybe this could be it.  But then, we start to wonder if there's something even better, just over the horizon, and new things to learn and see, new ways to be.

So, is that unwillingness to settle down a great bold character trait; or does it mask a restless failure to make a decision and commit to anything, and in the end we'd have nothing?  We've talked about getting a van or RV in addition to the boat, and as we get older being able to take some vacations inland.  Or house-sitting for people all over the world, traveling with just what fits in our backpacks? I joke that when we get too old and feeble to sail this boat, we'll be looking to move to an assisted-living marina.  Someday, I might event want to a garden.  And a cat.  And a house with a white picket fence. I might want to go to the same grocery store every week, so I know where to find the mustard.  Routine.  And predictability.  Someday.  But that "someday" isn't something in our immediate future.  And for that, I'm glad.

Blogging from A to Z: Playing Pirate

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.

"Bring me that horizon!"
At the helm of the H.M.S. Bounty, a few months before she sank off Cape Hatteras
I can't exactly explain how we ended up with these lockers full of period-accurate clothing, except to say my friend Grace was the first instigator.  From the first, we insisted on clothing that was historically plausible for "ordinary sailors" instead of flashy.  The cost to go that route, especially for the battle-ready swords, still makes me cringe.  At the same time, that extra investment yielded an appearance that has certainly opened doors to many unusual adventures for us.

We've talked about real historical pirates, men and women, and sixteenth-century navigation techniques, to schools and libraries.  We've posed for countless photos with tourists.  We've had opportunities as tour guides on historic tall ships, first an unexpected few days on the H.M.S. Bounty in Annapolis, and most recently the magnificent El Galeon docked here in St Augustine.  Most of all, we've met people we never would have met otherwise: crew members from the ships, new friends, and other historical and pirate reenactors.

Meeting namesake friend Jaye in Beaufort after we'd been facebook friends for years

I don’t really have a lot of qualms about being perceived as glorifying the bad guys. I learned from other historical-reenactor friends, you meet the kids where they are. Do what it takes to get their attention, get them hooked on history, and then use that as a springboard for the messages you really want to deliver. (at Croakerfest, Oriental, NC)

We even took our friends Mike and Lori to get their first pirate garb when they visited St Augustine

At the St Augustine pirate gathering, just a day after we arrived last November

More from the St Augustine gathering

Dressing two of our El Galeon friends in our garb for some fun times (photo by Teaira Marque) 
Photographer Teaira Marque looks better in my "lady" garb than I do.  Doesn't she look like she's eagerly anticipating some plunder?

My friend Grace started it all

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Blogging from A to Z: O is for Open Ocean, Of Course

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.

Our friends James and Ellen, crossing the Gulf Stream with us in 2009

When we moved away from Colorado to start on the path to living aboard a boat, I knew I'd miss the Rocky Mountains, and their changing moods, hourly it seemed, and the seasons.  I've written before about running out of words to describe the many shades of blue, and especially that blue, clear and pure in the Gulf Stream.  My collected pictures show greens and grays as well as blues, oranges of sunrise and sunset, dolphins and sea turtles.  Limited by the camera's inability to take night photos, I have no pictures except in my memories of shooting stars or phosphorescence.  Then again, I also have no pictures of rough seas or lightning storms; generally I was just too busy hanging on in those times to take photos! Do I still miss the mountains?  Absolutely!  But now I realize that if we left here, I'd miss the ocean more.

Motoring on a foggy autumn morning on the ICW

Anticipating a stormy night on the Atlantic off the coast of Delaware

Catching a photo of dolphins accompanying a sailboat in Florida

Quiet sunset in the Caribbean

A single sailboat heading out at dawn

Sunset at sea on my very first offshore overnight passage

Blogging from A to Z: November

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.

November has always been my favorite month.  After the activity of summer and autumn, November for me is a time of snuggling down, quiet and reflective and cozy.  There's winter to look forward to, going slow and turning focus inward. There's the post-harvest celebration of Thanksgiving and family and friends, mugs of soup or stew.  And, okay, I'll admit it, anticipation of presents to come in December. ;)

Since we've started cruising, though, November just hasn't given me the same snuggly feeling.  Since we're always traveling in a bubble of 70 degree weather, moving north in the summer and south in the winter, we don't feel the rhythm of the seasons.  My bio-clock has seriously lost its calibration.  An unexpected -- although admittedly minor -- downside of being a snowbird.

What my Novembers look like now; stormy sky above and anchorage in Georgia

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Blogging from A to Z: M Is Also For Money

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.

Well, if you're gonna dream, dream BIG! (image from here)
I've written before about our cost of living afloat.  We live pretty well on $2500 per month, not that that is a very challenging budget for two adults. But a few times, even with that seemingly generous budget, we've also put some big chunks on credit cards.  We're smart enough to know better, really! Surprisingly, smart people are even more likely than people of ordinary intelligence to fall into this trap, according to a recent article in the BBC.

It's not like we built that debt on high living.  Ever since getting out of grad school with $30K in credit card debt, we've had policies for what we're willing to go into debt for, and there are only 3 categories.

Health and Safety: Whether the car needs new snow tires, or Dan needs brain surgery, some things won't wait.  And we tended to interpret that definition broadly; new anchor chain and physical therapy both qualified.

Things that will increase in value: Our educations, and real estate, both fit in this category.

Truly once-in-a-lifetime experiences: In other words, things that couldn't be postponed. We flew to the Virgin Islands for the turn of the millenium, and flew to Aruba to see a total eclipse of the sun, the last of the 20th century.  When my mom was dying of cancer, I ran up insane phone bills talking to her every morning that I couldn't be there in person, as well as lots of frequent flyer miles between Denver and New York.  Weddings?  Grandchildren or godchildren being born?  Like the Mastercard commercial says, some memories are priceless.

Still, somehow, those not-paid-off balances have trickled up in the last year.  Combination of an unexpected huge expense to replace the whole-house air conditioning system in our rental house (In Phoenix, Arizona. At the beginning of summer.), and the extensive boat work we did in Oriental, NC, put us into the red.  Yesterday, April 15, when the rest of the US was lamenting income tax day, we saw our refund arrive electronically in our checking account.  Today, it went out again, along with a small debt-consolidation loan.  Looks like we're going to keep a low profile for a while until we're back in balance.  Um, unless some other once-in-a-lifetime opportunity comes up?  That seems to happen often with the spontaneity of our life afloat!

Blogging from A to Z: Micro-Decisions

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.

Too many choices, about things that aren't really important, are exhausting. (image from here)

Yesterday, in doing a roundup of my favorite posts from my first couple of years writing Life Afloat, I was reminded about the topic of wasting energy on decisions that ultimately make no difference in the grand scheme of things.  I called these "micro-decisions," and my examples were about too many varieties of mustard, and too many different coffee mugs in the cabinet, are detailed in a post called Plenty.*  Decisions take work and sap mental energy.

Now the concept of saving mental energy by limiting choices seems to be sweeping the Internet. It's the consistent theme of the Project333 clothing challenge, and of course armies have been telling their soldiers exactly what to wear for hundreds of years.  My own experiment with restricting myself to 33 items of clothing for 3 months was fun and insight-producing, but several recent articles have detailed people who have chosen to restrict their sartorial range is even more drastically.  My favorite of these is The Science of Simplicity: Why Successful People Wear the Same Thing Every Day; similar takes on the idea are here and here.  A less successful experiment, by a woman who wore the same outfit every day, serves as a way to fine-tune the uniform thesis.  Instead of a forgettable fade into the background look such as blue jeans and a black tee shirt, her outfit was beautiful, and memorable, which is what led to her problems.  The same would be true of mustard -- if you're only going to have one, make it a pleasant and subtle, not overly dramatic, flavor.  (The same idea -- that if you're only going to have one "x," make it unremarkable so it fits as many situations as possible -- is not, however, true of coffee mugs.  If I'm only going to have one ... I want it to be the biggest and best insulated thing I can wrap my hand around!)

So, this whole idea of living better by having fewer choices about unimportant stuff? It's a natural and mandatory side-effect of living on a boat.  We just don't have the space to make it otherwise!

* "Plenty" was first written for the newspaper April 12, 2010, and copied to this blog as an archive almost a year later when the newspaper changed their web format and old stories would otherwise be lost.  So, hey!  I had the idea first and I can prove it!* (Insert silly face icon here; I'm not really the first to have had this idea.)

Blogging from A to Z: L is for "Life Afloat"

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.

(image from here)

I've been writing for so long about life afloat (the concept and the practicalities of the lifestyle), but I've never written about the process of writing a blog and how it has affected me.  This blog started as a way to maintain backup copies of posts I wrote for lifestyle blog for the Annapolis Capital newspaper, back in 2008, then continued in its own right in 2012 when I no longer lived in Annapolis.  I've accumulated over 300 posts here, about various aspects of living on a boat, living small, the aquatic environment, boating politics, Annapolis-specific items, and whatever else, relevant or not, struck my fancy.

At first I was awkward and clumsy and self-conscious.  I've seriously considered hiding or deleting some of those early posts, as I found my way.  I was conscious of my mission for the paper, and simultaneously conscious that I was brand new at this, and except for a single email including blogging guidelines and the newspaper's policies, untrained.    I knew that in order to be interesting, I had to be able to tell personal stories and be vulnerable, the exact opposite of my training in scientific, government, and contract writing.  At the same time, I couldn't really let people too far into my life; anything I wrote was going into a very public forum with very little safety net. It seemed incredibly arrogant to believe anyone would care about my ramblings or so-called "insights."  It was freakin' scary.

Now, though, I wouldn't trade it for anything.  The structure of writing regularly is good for me.  And looking back, I find that writing really does help me remember things that happened in our travels that were important to me, and helped (forced?) me to process my thoughts about them.  Most of all, though, is the connections the writing has helped me make and maintain.  The first time fellow cruisers bought me lunch just because they had been reading my stories in the paper and wanted to thank me for the entertainment was incredibly special (thank you, T.W.).  So was learning that my dental hygienist was an avid follower.  Most of all, the fellow cruisers who have become friends, even if we've never met other than as streams of electrons.

This seems like a logical place to link my top 10 favorite posts of the blog from those first few years.
(in no particular order)

Electric Tools, Antique Tools
Sail the Wind You Have (and other life lessons from our trip)
Mayday, Mayday, Mayday
Wind! (Gimme Shelter!)
Two Cays at the Park
Galley Musings
Life Lessons Learned from the Weather Report
What Was THAT??!!!
and my very first post, Getting Started

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Blogging from A to Z: Keys

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.

What's on your keyring? (image from here)

Remember the old cocktail party icebreaker game where you'd go through the keys on your keychain one by one and tell everyone what they were for?  If you didn't have the corresponding key on your own keychain, you had to give the speaker a point.  Keys that most people had, ("This is the key to my office," or "front door," or "car"), were not worth many points; keys that only a few people had ("This is the key to my summer cottage on the lake") got more points; and keys that only one person at the party had ("This is the key to the room where the rainbow glitter is kept"), got a lot of points.

We always did pretty well at that game, as few people had keys to a dinghy or dock box.

Now?  Now that we live aboard full time, I can't even play that game.  We don't often lock the boat, and when we do, we use a combination lock. I carry no keys at all.  No house, no car.  It was startling, while we were in Aruba, to have keys again.  Although I was always worried I'd get seawater in the electronic fob for the car and ruin it, having keys made me feel like a grownup again.  Not sure if that was a good thing or not!  Do I miss having a car?  Yes, sometimes.  But I sure don't miss the hassle.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Blogging from A to Z: Jobs

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.

How it feels to be working 5 days a week again (image from here)
I'm not exactly sure how we got to this state of affairs, but suddenly we looked around and realized that in addition to our mornings running the VHF net for boaters here, our volunteer historic tourguide time had increased to 5 days per week -- Tuesdays and Wednesdays as Spanish soldados (soldiers) at the Castillo, and Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays as pirates or sailors on the tall ship El Galeon Andalucia here at the marina.  And we absolutely love what we do, time flies while we're helping interested people understand day-to-day life for ordinary soldiers and sailors in the late 1600s or early 1700s, and our respective supervisors have indicated that we're pretty good at it.  It's incredibly rewarding to have this platform to help folks understand how we got to be the society we are today, to help them "connect the dots," as a recent visitor described it, even explaining how some of our modern phrases have a military or maritime origin.  Although our voices and feet are tired at the end of the day, our brains are energized after chatting with people all day.  And of course there's no "commute" except a pleasant 15-minute walk.  And yet ...

I can't believe how tiring it is to devote so many waking hours to something, and how frazzling life feels when we have only 2 days in which to cram in all our errands and the ordinary tasks of lifestyle maintenance, laundry and grocery shopping and bill paying.  Boat maintenance has been a distant memory, we haven't done a drop of it recently.  The rushed feeling spilled over until I found myself less patient than I would have liked with some of the visitors, distracted during the day thinking about the tasks that awaited us in the evening, and distracted during the evening thinking about the conversations during the day that could have gone better.  How did we juggle all this while we had careers? The contrast gives me new sympathy for our working friends.

We agreed to cut back to only three half-days per week for two weeks to regroup.  Mondays were normally our day off, this one was spent catching up on errands.  In the evening we looked forward to a day of few demands except the radio net.  But that relaxed feeling was short-lived as we went to turn on the air conditioner and got ... nothing.  Looks like tomorrow will be maintenance day.  Remind me again, how did we do this while we had careers?

We love everything about our lives here ... except that there are too many cool things to do. So many that we don't kick back very often.  I know that partly it's just because enthusiasm is part of our personalities, but still. That's the whole point of having a boat and being retired, right?  To feel no rhythms but those of nature, and no time but that of the sun and moon?  Maybe we have to get underway again for a while, go sailing and maybe anchor out in a pristine location.

I'm ready to spend some time in a place like this! (Bahamas, 2009)

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Blogging from A to Z: I Never Say "I" Anymore

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, alone.

My carpool-mate James retired, and he and his wife started cruising, a few years before Dan and I did.  We arranged to fly over to Trinidad to visit them one weekend while we were staying on nearby Aruba.  I was looking forward to catching up on the kind of engrossing stories and conversation had kept James and me entertained for (literally!) several hours every day of looking at brake lights on the Washington Beltway.

Our plane was delayed by a couple of hours, everything was moving on island time.  Unfortunately, James had already left for the airport and we had no way to let him know of the delay because he didn't have a phone.  When we did finally arrive, he told us that the three hours he spent getting to the airport and then waiting at the airport terminal for us was the longest time he'd been away from his wife Ellen since his own retirement and the beginning of their cruising 8 months before.

At the time, that kind of startled me.  This was my carpoolie, the guy who spent an hour and a half driving to work every morning, then dropped me at my office and continued to his own, only to get me 7 hours later and then drive another hour and half?  Ten hours away from his wife, at least, every single workday, and now 3 hours apart were notable?  What was this cruising thing going to do to us, when we reached our retirement goal in just a couple of years?  Now I know.

I rarely talk in first-person-singular anymore (this sentence notwithstanding); everything is "we."  Like our friends, Dan and I are almost never apart.  Aboard, we're no further than an arm's length apart.  Ashore, we work our volunteer jobs together and explore town together and go grocery shopping together.  It's the image of exactly this sort of life that prompts sarcastic comments about wives complaining that their newly-retired husbands are always underfoot.  But we -- "I" -- love the togetherness.  Maybe I'm just making up for 25 years of starting every day by saying a reluctant goodbye to the person I just couldn't get enough of.  But I really think its a byproduct of living aboard.

Living in such close quarters could have resulted in a kind of marital claustrophobia, a need for "space" from each other.  Over time we evolved some rules to help us navigate those tactical challenges and keep us in balance.  And then we realized that instead of creating claustrophobia and strain, the closeness was beneficial.  How could we not be in sync with each other's moods when we're together all the time?  In our tiny space, we learned to read subtler and subtler cues from each other and our disagreements, never much to begin with, became even less frequent.  The more time we spent together, the more time we wanted to spend together.   We'll both get the same idea at the same time, or burst out with the same word simultaneously (remember when doing that got you the right to do a "pinky promise" with your best friend?), and look at each other and smile.  Have we become one of those cutesy couples who still get mistaken for newlyweds?  Maybe, although I can't think that too much love is a bad thing.  One brain in two bodies?  It's hard to explain; I still know who "I" am, we each have an independent identity.  We just like together better.