Category Archives: Writing

Original meps'n'barry header

Yikes! Did you think we were serious?

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 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 ( 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 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.)

An earth-shattering Kaboom

There’s a great Looney Tunes character by the name of Marvin the Martian. He was always trying, unsuccessfully, to blow up the Earth. Usually, his equipment would act as a dud, until he walked over to it. In a little nasal, strangled voice, he’d say, “Kaboom… There was supposed to be an earth-shattering Kaboom…” Then it would blow him up.

Whenever Barry and I send out a big important e-mail, one of us will say, “Kaboom… There was supposed to be an earth-shattering Kaboom…”

A big important e-mail can be a resume for a job you really, really want. You’re praying that you didn’t misspell your own name when you hit Send. It can be a party invitation for Friday the 10th, only half your friends show up on Friday the 9th and the other half show up on Saturday the 10th. It can be a holiday letter to 50 friends that says “Had a great trip to Fart Rock this summer.”

I’ve been volunteering down at the Bahia Street office for about a month now, and I’ve had several “Kaboom” moments. One of my first projects was sending out our quarterly update e-mail, a delightful letter written by co-director Margaret Willson. That went to about 575 people, mostly by e-mail. Then I wrote a brief e-mail to our Seattle area donors and volunteers, about 400 people, asking for volunteers for an event. I got a number of friendly and positive responses.

Yesterday, I worked on my most earth-shattering project yet. Once a year, we send out a real letter in the mail, asking for donations. I was brainstorming with Margaret Willson about it, since she has always written and signed such correspondence since we started in 1998. Somehow, we came up with the idea that I, as a founding board member, should write and sign the letter. It sounded like a fun writing challenge, so I said, “Sure!”

I sat down at the computer and mentally pictured a couple of friends who are on the mailing list. Then I started typing what I would say to them. It wasn’t all that difficult, and the letter was done in an hour or two. I showed it to Margaret and Nancy and Barry, and each of them suggested some good edits. I listened to each suggestion, thinking, “Would I use those words if I was speaking? Then I made changes carefully, being sure to keep the letter in my own “voice.”

That’s where a letter is different from an article or a book. As a professional editor, I believe everything written can benefit from editing. But a letter is a special case: If it’s too polished, or if there are words the author wouldn’t normally use, it can actually lose credibility. It’s the difference between having your name at the top of the paper, and having your name (and signature) at the bottom.

I didn’t give it a lot more thought until I arrived at the office yesterday morning, ready to do the actual mailing. Nancy had done all the printing, and boxes of envelopes were stacked three and four high on the table. The letters themselves sat nearby, a pile of almost 700 pieces of paper with my name at the bottom.

Stuffing envelopes all day was not like hitting “send” on an e-mail. It was much worse. During the hours of envelope stuffing, my mind was free to really worry. Was the letter OK? Would our supporters mind that I had written it, instead of the usual Margaret? Would someone find fault with my grammar or spelling? Would anyone be offended?

I suppose that’s one reason people are often intimidated by writing. There’s a fear of putting your words on the line, such that you can’t take them back or soften them. I’m never been intimidated by that before, but then, I’ve never sent a letter to 700 people.

Was there supposed to be an earth-shattering Kaboom, or is that just the sound of my confidence cracking?

By the way, if you aren’t on the Bahia Street mailing list, and you’d like to receive my wonderful letter, let me know. You can also go to the site and sign up for the mailing list. While you’re there, please make a donation — thank you!