A balanced meal

There once was a lady named Doeri,
Who wanted to eat cacciatore,
She broke her routine,
By eating poutine,
And posted the pic and the story.

This was inspired by a friend’s photograph on Facebook. Barry and I ate poutine with Kris a number of times, because it was the cheapest food item in the Lunenburg pub. “It has carbohydrate, protein, and fat,” I said. “A balanced meal!”

Poutine

Classic Poutine

 

Amazon’s Powers That Be

At Amazon, some geek must say,
“We’ll publish her book on this day,”
But til then, I wait,
In a trembling state,
To unveil before first of May.

Strangers Have the Best Candy by Margaret Meps Schulte

Here, Amazon…don’t you want this candy?

I was ready to publish Strangers Have the Best Candy this morning, so I hit the big, scary “APPROVE” button on CreateSpace. Much to my surprise, the book doesn’t get populated to Amazon’s servers immediately! Argh!

The waiting is agony, but it should only be a couple of days at most.

Learning Curves

“OK, I admit it,” said Barry, one morning. “I’m loving the hell out of this.”

Barry with the dodger under construction

Barry peeks out around the dodger in a moment of whimsy.

I was so shocked by his statement, I would have fallen out of bed had that been possible. Fortunately, it’s not possible to fall out of the v-berth aboard Flutterby.

We were discussing his progress on our winter project, building a hard dodger and arch on which to mount our solar panels. Unlike most boat projects, it was not taking twice as long as he expected. It was taking Barry ten times as long as he expected, and when he made the statement in the v-berth, in early March, I saw no end in sight.

I was not enjoying the hell out of it. Five months of freezing my butt off, in a boat on land, with no car, six miles from the dying town of St. Marys, Georgia, had a completely different effect on me. I had slowly sunk into the depths of despair.

I asked Barry to explain to me what it was that he was loving so much, when all I saw was head-scratching, frustration, and outright failure. “Learning curves,” he said.

I laughed at his unintentional double entendre. The reason the dodger has taken ten times longer than expected is because instead of building a simple, squared-off shape out of marine plywood, we decided we wanted it curved, to match the shape of Flutterby. Most builders would have used fiberglass, which is what the boat is made of. Barry prefers working with wood, though. He opted to build it out of what he calls “tortured plywood.”

The bending jig for the dodger roof

The bending jig for the dodger roof

Becoming increasingly more animated, he explained how the process of learning how to bend and laminate plywood into complex three-dimensional shapes, how to fit them onto the deck of a boat, how to get maximum strength with the lightest materials, was forcing him to use his brain to learn amazing new things.

While I thought he was sitting at his computer, reading LOLCats and surfing Facebook, he was actually using his time to do high-level research and calculations.

“I was spending way too long doing trigonometry and numerical solutions to figure out bending curves and camber and calculating how much the plywood’s going to spring back after you torture it,” he explained. He went on to tell me what he really meant when he said “learning curves.”

“There’s this initial part of a learning curve where you really suck at it. It’s not very fun,” he told me. “It’s slow as hell, because I’m still learning this shit and I’m cracking plywood when I try to bend it…”

Sides of the dodger

What’s wrong with this picture? (hint: when you cut it in half, you don’t get two symmetrical pieces)

I remember the saddest day, in December. He’d spent weeks designing the sides and figuring out how to build them, and together, we spent a day laminating them together. When the epoxy kicked and he took his jig apart, he was almost in tears. We’d made two port sides and zero starboard sides. When he realized that neither of the port sides fit, I think he really was in tears.

Weeks later, we tried again. That time, the plywood cracked and the two sides ended up asymmetrical. He decided to use them anyway.
It was after he attached the asymmetrical sides to the front that he went bananas with trigonometry, trying to figure out how to build a curved top that looked symmetrical. Perfection was impossible, and he studied it for weeks, trying to figure out a compromise solution. He turned to websites about how to bend wood for ukeleles and guitars for answers.

“I have new respect for people who build musical instruments. If I played them, I could digress and waste years on this.” He admitted that his screen time had not all been productive; he’d spend some of it reading and dreaming about the wonderful woodworking tools he would like to have. He shook his head, saying, “I don’t need to have all those toys now. I just need to get this dodger done.”

“I’ve spent more time on this learning curve than I’ve spent fretting on the fact that the dodger is not quite perfect. I don’t know any way I could have gone about this without learning this stuff … but when I started it, I didn’t realize how much I had to learn.”

Measuring steam-bent plywood

Meps helps bend plywood using boiling water (boots and gloves left over from our 2005 trip to Alaska protected us from the boiling water)

House on Harbor Island

I Survived St. Patrick’s Day

This past Monday, on St. Patrick’s Day, I forgot all about wearing green. When I got ready for bed, I discovered that I’d been wearing lime-green ankle socks all day. Whew.

I didn’t forget the day completely. I never do. It was 25 years ago, on St. Patrick’s Day, that I took my Dad a t-shirt that said, “I survived St. Patrick’s Day – Savannah, Georgia.”

At the time, he wasn’t aware of the shirt. He wasn’t even aware of me. While the tourists in Savannah were making drunken fools of themselves at the second-largest St. Patrick’s Day celebration in the USA, Dad was having a sextuple heart bypass at a Savannah hospital.

Dave, Dad, Hank, Meps, and Barry

Dad loves being surrounded by his kids at Christmas

I called him this past Monday, to reminisce and tell him I’m glad his heart has kept him going all these years. He’s in his late 80′s, enjoying his retired life in sunny Very Beach, Florida. This past week, he’s been busy, judging a set of newspaper articles for a contest, preparing for a Civil War symposium, and brainstorming with me about my forthcoming book.

In our conversation, Dad told me what he remembered about his heart trouble. He and Mom had just moved into their dream house on the Atlantic Ocean, and he loved walking out his front door onto the beach at sunrise.

House on Harbor Island

Mom and Dad’s house on the beach

“I urped right on the beach,” he told me.

My Mom was disturbed, because he didn’t throw up very often. She packed him off to his doctor, who told him it was a lesser-known symptom of angina — a condition where the heart is not getting enough oxygen, due to blocked blood vessels. The next thing Dad knew, he was on a treadmill, and his heart failed what’s called a “stress test.” Within two weeks, he was in the hospital for open-heart surgery.

In those pre-internet days, I flew to Savannah with a bag full of library books about how hearts work and how to recover from open-heart surgery. I read up on angina, coronary artery disease, and heart attacks.

That’s why, for the past three days, I have been crying so much. I knew all that information, but when I saw it firsthand, I didn’t recognize it.

For the past couple of years, I spent a lot of time with someone who had all the symptoms. But when Philip downplayed his symptoms, I believed him.

“I ate an old chicken salad sandwich,” he told me and Barry, when he suddenly threw up one morning. “How embarrassing.” Another time, after a stressful phone call regarding his mother, he said he just “felt weird.” His brother and I joked that every time he got into the car with us, he fell asleep and started snoring. I realized that was probably because of a lack of oxygen. It also explains why his mind was not sharp, why he was “fuzzy-headed.”

Philip

Walking to the Celestial Seasonings factory with Philip, the day before he died

The most chilling symptom was when he told me, “I must have pulled a muscle in my shoulder.” The back of his left shoulder was hurting, for no reason that he could think of. We’d been hiking and walking almost every day for a couple of weeks, so I didn’t question it.

He died of an apparent heart attack two days later.

If I had put all the pieces together, the pieces I had back in 1989, could I have helped to save Philip from the “silent killer?” The information in the library books that helped to save my Dad is more easily available now. I could have reviewed the symptoms of heart trouble on my computer or even my phone.

Philip was only 60 when his heart stopped working, and it broke my heart. I wish I had known better than to let the silent killer take someone that close to me.

Original meps'n'barry header

Yikes! Did you think we were serious?

mepsnbarry

Yikes! Did you think we were serious? Time to say goodbye to the old header and subtitle.

Barry and I once knew a couple on a sailboat who set off cruising with a table saw chained to their mizzen mast. The boat was not complete, but after many years of building, it was seaworthy. They would finish their projects along the way.

That couple gave us a valuable word for our vocabulary: “Fernow.”  As in, “It’s good enough for now.” Fernows explain why we make do with things that are pinned instead of sewn, cardboard instead of wood, funky instead of nice. They are the temporary installations that we never intended to use for the next decade.

That’s the case for mepsnbarry.com. In 2003, Barry and I created a website for our friend Brian, and I wrote my very first blog post:

There once was a sailor named Brian
Fell in love with a vessel named Cayenne
From his home way up north
He boldly went forth
Now he’s bitchin’ and moanin’ and cryin’!

Barry and Brian and I chronicled our adventures aboard Cayenne in New Orleans and our cruise to Baltimore, much of it in limerick form. Fourteen months later, Limericks #48 and #49 tell the end of the story:

We’re tanned and our feet are like leather
We’ve seen lots of glorious weather
After 2000 miles
We’ve run out of smiles
We can sail, but we can’t live together.

So Margaret and Barry are blue
And Brian is looking for crew
When we reach our next port
Its time to abort
And figure out what else to do.

Tacky animated under construction image

Remember when fernow websites were full of these?

Suddenly, our writing was homeless, so we quickly launched Adventures With Meps ‘n’ Barry, using a cute but temporary design. The stylesheet had bugs. The layout was funky. The navigation was kludgy. It was a fernow.

Despite that, Adventures with Meps ‘n’ Barry is thriving. In a world where millions of blogs have been started and abandoned, where people have nothing better to blog about than blogging itself, Barry and I have something very, very special: Content. Eleven years of valuable, original content.

We have over 600 entries, with stories, photographs, videos, and hundreds of limericks. We have useful information about how to build a junk rig and how to write a birthday limerick. We have guest poems. We have so many recipes, we had to spin them off into their own website (FoodieGazette.com) in 2006.

These are not personal diary entries or trip reports. These are thought-provoking stories with meaning, stories about the people we met along the way. Some are touching, many are funny. Some are both. This is the material that inspired my book, Strangers Have the Best Candy.

I am reminded of a story about a woman who always wanted to play the violin, but at 60, she thought she was too old. When she turned 90, she expressed her regret, saying, “I would have played the violin for 30 years by now.”

I am deeply glad that I started writing like this when I did. In eleven years, I have refined my voice and found some wisdom along the way. Figuratively, I have been playing the violin.

Today, Barry and I have finally launched a redesigned mepsnbarry.com. Now it’s easier to find the wonderful wealth of material that is published here. Now it’s easier to comment, to share, to join the conversation. Now it’s easier to read it on your phone, something we never even imagined when we launched the site!

Round tuit

The best thing to replace a fernow

Fortunately, I never let the fernow stop me from writing, from compiling my limericks, stories, photos, and videos on a “blog.” They are all here. Today, you and your friends — heck, the whole world! — can enjoy them, because we finally got something to replace the fernow: A “round tuit.”

(By the way, you may notice something a little different about Barry in the cartoon at the top. He cut his long hair in 2005, the night before we set off on our epic Alaska-Yukon adventure.)

Dangerous Critter

Meps With the Dangerous Critter

Meps With the Dangerous Critter

What is this in the road? It’s a critter,
And although I slow down, I still hit her,
As she crumples in pain,
“She’s a bag!” cries my brain,
So I snatch her and then ride off wit’ her.

Strong winds were carrying all sorts of rubbish across the North River Causeway today, and from a distance, I mistook a trio of low-flying grocery bags for a herd of small animals. The first two got away, but I managed to catch the third one with my bike.

If you have not seen this short “mockumentary,” it is one of my all-time favorite videos on the internet, documenting the life cycle and habitat of plastic bags:

Sun boots

“Do I have to?” I whine and I cry,
As I stand under blue, cloudless sky,
But we’ve boiled every pot,
And the water’s so hot,
That my rain boots must keep my feet dry.

Barry buttonholed me today and asked me to to help him pour many gallons of boiling water over plywood (to bend it). This limerick is a fib — you can see from the photo that I love my rain boots. They’re cute and blue, like something Paddington Bear would wear.

The other photo is for my Washington and Colorado friends. It proves we have potheads here in Georgia, too.

Meps in her blue boots and gloves

Paddington Bear helps bend plywood

Meps with a cooking pot on her head

Meps, a two-quart pothead

Donating to a better institution

I was feeling a bit of frustration,
And in search of a blood bank location.
But then yesterday saw,
At the town Mardi Gras,
The big bus for my tribute donation.

The Bloodmobile drove past us, behind a marching band and in front of a bunch of pirates with a cannon, in the St. Marys Mardi Gras parade. I didn’t think twice about it until I saw them parked at the end of the parade, between the children’s rides and the car show. Just about then, a hoard of biting gnats descended upon us, and Barry and I decided that it was better to donate the blood to a good cause — especially since it’s that time of year when we like to donate blood in memory of Becky Johns.

“Gnats are not a cause, they are an institution,” says Barry.

Meps with Strangers Have the Best Candy t-shirt and matching orange coband

Showing off the orange coband that matches the infamous Strangers Have the Best Candy t-shirt

Drawing of fruits and vegetables

Still Life With Fruit

There are critical foods that I lack,
So I pedal with trailer and pack,
To buy berries and greens,
And some snappy fresh beans,
And it’s only 12 miles, out and back.

I admit, I ate a few of the strawberries while I was making the drawing below. I bet Cezanne and Caraveggio were sometimes tempted to eat the stuff they were painting, too. You can find thousands of beautiful fruit still-lifes on Google Images.

Drawing of fruits and vegetables

Fresh local food

Diagram of boatyard

You need more directions?

After my last post, Come Monday, Jayne asked “So where is St. Marys?? :-)” She was writing from Seattle. Then Steve, writing from Paradise Village, outside Puerto Vallarta, said, “We need more directions about St. Marys. Just wondering where you are.”

So I decided, instead of trying to answer in words, I’d draw a couple of maps. The first one shows where St. Marys, Georgia is. The second one shows what you will find if you make it all the way here.

These are not to scale. But of course, you knew that.

Map of the US and southern states showing St. Marys, Georgia

Map of the US and southern states showing St. Marys, Georgia

Diagram of boatyard

St. Marys Boat Services “Features”