Seattle

More than a calendar: A tradition

In 2005, we traveled thousands of miles, aboard sailboats, ferries, buses, trains, canoes, and bicycles to reach the site of the claim that kicked of the 1897 Gold Rush. That Christmas, we compiled the breathtaking photos into our first calendar.

The following year, our travels were more mundane, but there were still enough incredible pictures for a calendar. Some family members began to treat these Meps’n’Barry calendars as collectors’ items.

We haven’t been able to distribute as many copies to our friends as we used to, but this will be my tenth year of designing a custom calendar with our photos. Here, for the first time, is a gallery of the images that make up the 2015 calendar.

If you’d like to purchase a calendar, drop me a note. I know it’s already late, but the year still has 11-1/2 months to enjoy!

UUCG on Gloucester Street

Shelter

Most of my phone conversations begin with, “Where are you?” Today, a good friend specifically asked, “What state are you in?”

I know she meant “Georgia.” But my answer was, “Contented.”

Last winter, I struggled in a remote boatyard without a car. When I finally left in April, I was constantly on the move, and I lived out of my suitcase. I stayed in dozens of places in 12 different states, and I never ceased rummaging.

I was perpetually wrinkled, except when Libby insisted on helping me with ironing. I had too many unmatched items, so I took them to a thrift store, where I replaced everything with black. But all suitcases have black interiors! I would unroll every shirt and jacket looking for one pair of pants.

I was terrified to unpack for two reasons. One was the fear of leaving something important behind. The other was the fear of offending my hosts by placing something of mine in their space.

On January 1, I spent the night on the boat with Barry, but it was too cramped for the three of us: Me, Barry, and Barry’s projects. On Saturday morning, I drove out of the boatyard with the intention of finding a short-term rental. Vacation rentals were super-expensive. Craigslist had some ads that were downright scary: “Free rent for female. Send photo.”

I sat in my car, wondering if a women’s shelter could refer me to a safe place. I didn’t know where to find a women’s shelter, so I went to an old, sad motel in on US17. Every car door and flushing toilet woke me, all night long.

I needed a little help from my friends, and I knew where to find most of them on a Sunday morning: At church.

If you know me, you probably just spit out your coffee in shock. Meps? In church?

My favorite church in the world is a tiny Unitarian Universalist congregation in Brunswick, Georgia, where we moored Flutterby for a month in 2012. Walking into the vestibule is like walking into a Happy Spot. I get lots of hugs and exuberant greetings. Sally keeps my old nametag, so I don’t feel like a visitor.

I made an announcement that I was looking for a place to stay, and by early afternoon, I had secured a peaceful room in an elegant townhouse. My housemates were a purring cat named Nell and a brilliant, funny Philadelphia native named Joanne.

That’s when I finally unpacked, setting my suitcase on the top shelf of the closet. I stood back and looked at the sparsely-filled closet and the empty bag with tears in my eyes. Even if it was only for a month or two, this was going to be my home. I could hear Joanne’s music from the living room; we had the same taste in blues and show tunes.

Joanne’s a fabulous cook and has an incredible art collection. We can talk about anything. Soon after I arrived, she told me she’d received an email from a local minister about an emergency homeless shelter that needed volunteers. “It’s supposed to be below freezing on Wednesday night,” she explained. “Count me in,” I told her.

The weather seemed too mild to warrant an emergency shelter when we drove downtown at 10 pm. In a room provided by the Methodist church, all but one of the homeless guests were asleep. There was a mountain of donated food and a huge pot of coffee.

To our surprise, a friend we hadn’t seen in a long time arrived for the same middle-of-the-night shift. We sat in the kitchen, catching up on each others’ news. The hours flew by.

Our conversation was accompanied by gusts of wind that literally shook the tiny building and rattled the windows. When it was time to leave, I stepped out into winter. The temperature had plummeted, and the wind chill made my eyes water. I cranked up the heat in the car.

In a state of gratitude, I crawled into my warm bed with my teddy bears and the purring cat. I was not just grateful for my circumstances, I was grateful for the chance to serve those ten cold and hungry men, whose sparse belongings were piled beneath their cots. I understand their plight all too well.

Barry, Grandma, Meps

Long-Lived Loraine

Grandma at 100
Grandma at 100

Barry’s grandmother, Loraine Gaspeny, passed away this week in Saginaw, Michigan. She has been a huge influence in our lives, and she was well-known to our friends, readers, and Margaret’s family. We’ve written a joint blog post to share a few memories and stories.
~
Barry: My grandmother, Loraine, lived 101 years on this planet. With so much life, I don’t know where to start remembering her. She lived over half her life before I was even born.

She lived independently, all the way through her last day in her apartment. If you asked me how I would want to spend my last day, doing my laundry would not be the first thing out of my mouth. I doubt she would have said so either. That she did her own laundry speaks of her strength and independence. I can only hope to have as much.

My sister and I called our grandfather by an interesting merger of Italian and American titles that he chose for us, “Grandnono.” But I always called my grandmother “Grandma.”

Meps: When I met Barry, 26 years ago, I didn’t have grandparents. Three had died before I could remember them, and one lived just long enough to give me an impression of grumpiness. Barry’s grandparents were more fun and spontaneous than any I’d ever known. I first met them when they drove all the way from Florida to Ohio to surprise Barry’s Mom on her 50th birthday.

Barry: I remember their beach house in Au Gres, Michigan, on Lake Huron. I just thought of it as my grandparent’s house at the time. I didn’t think of it as their retirement dream home. The whole family went fishing in their boat, and we’d all catch lake perch. At the end of the day, Grandma fried a huge mess of it for dinner. I didn’t have to clean the fish; I just caught the fish and ate the fish.

I rode on their snowmobile, but not in the snow. Mostly on the sand in the summer, loving the excitement of going fast on a noisy machine, complete with the smell of two-cycle exhaust.

Meps: When I met her as an adult, Grandma told me and Barry stories about the snowmobile club, how they would ride from party to party on the frozen lake, drinking and having a great time. After Christmas, they would put their trees on the frozen surface of the lake as navigational markers. She loved to reminisce about the good times with family and friends.

Barry: I didn’t understand at the time, but the beach house became too much work as they aged. So they sold it, got an apartment, and started spending winters in Florida. My first Christmas with a swimming pool was with them. One time, my sister and I got our faces painted at an amusement park, and came back to surprise my grandparents looking like clowns.

The six of us spent many evenings around their kitchen table, playing Uno or rummy. Some of those times, there were just four of us — my parents left to enjoy some much-treasured kid-free time. I appreciated playing with special toys they had, ones I didn’t have at home; eating treats that Grandma cooked; and generally being doted on.

Meps: Grandma showed her love with food, and I collected some of her recipes for The Foodie Gazette. Just last year, I asked for a Grasshopper Pie for my birthday. For Christmas this year, we’re going to have Loraine’s Dip and a Snowball.

When Barry and I first got together, I was amazed by the incredible boxes of cookies she mailed to his parents. When Barry and I received one at our first apartment, I was in cookie-heaven! Every single item — Cherry Bites, Icebox Cookies, Dream Bars, homemade fudge — was perfect, and individually wrapped in plastic wrap.

Barry: She never had a computer or used the internet. But Margaret has been writing about Grandma for almost as long as we’ve had a blog, so her memory will live on for a long time.

Meps: I’d never been doted on by a Grandma, so I celebrated her special place in my life. She took time to send a get-well card when she heard through the grapevine that I was sick, and she never missed a birthday or Christmas. I received three or four cards this year; I’m sure each one took much effort to write.

I know it was time for Grandma to go, but I’ll miss her terribly. One of the most interesting activities we shared in her later years (besides drinking champagne!) was reading tea leaves. I’ll be looking for messages of love from her in every cup.

This 2011 blog about Grandma really captures her spirit:
The Life of the Party
Here’s another gem, a limerick from her 100th birthday:
Vintage 1913: Here’s to Loraine! We are still toasting to her!
She can stop reading the obituaries now:
Obituary for Grandma

Barry, Grandma, Meps
Grandma’s first “selfie” with a digital camera, October 2004
Fire trucks at the Columbus Colony

Silent Night

The night before I left my brother’s apartment in Columbus, I was packing my bags. “Are you going to carry those out to the car tonight?” Hank asked. I sat back on my heels and looked at the heap of stuff I’d dragged into his apartment during my nine-day visit.

It was dark and cold outside. “Nah, I think I’ll wait ’til morning,” I replied. “OK, can I turn this light out?” he asked me. He’s always turning out lights behind me; his vision is so poor that he’s content in the dark.

I went to bed early, to get a good night’s rest before driving to North Carolina.

“WHAT THE?!?!” I woke in the middle of the night to the loudest alarm I’d ever heard and a strobe light going off in the living room. A fire alarm! Was it real? I waited in hopes that it was a false alarm, but the hideous noise continued.

I got up, bouncing off the furniture by the pulsing light of the strobe.

I threw on a pair of jeans under my pajamas and a coat on the top and stuffed my feet into untied shoes. Hank didn’t show any signs of getting up for Armageddon, so I banged on his door.

“I smell smoke,” I told him. “We’d better go.”

While he put on his bathrobe, I grabbed my purse, my laptop, and two irreplaceable teddy bears. I threw a bulky blanket and two coats on top of my pile, then helped Hank with his slippers. I took one last deep breath and opened the door to the hallway.

It’s terrifying to have a fire in a big building and not know where it is. The hall was full of awful-smelling smoke, but there were no people. I dragged Hank towards the stairwell, hoping we were going away from the danger.

By the time we made it to the first floor, the only evidence of the fire was the alarm. Hank’s apartment was right near the source. I sighed, thinking of all my worldly possessions up there. I should have packed the car, then everything would be fine.

Meps and Frankie waiting for the firemen
Meps and Frankie waiting for the firemen

Fire trucks were just arriving. There were clusters of people in the lobby, some with walkers and wheelchairs, but nobody seemed freaked out. I sat on a sofa, embarrassed by my heap of coats and teddy bears.

The firemen charged through the front door, and then stopped. They didn’t know where to go. There was obviously an emergency — alarms were screaming, strobe lights were flashing — but the residents just stared at them without speaking. The firemen milled around, puzzled by the reception.

Most of the people who live in the building are completely deaf.

Finally, I stood up, teddy bears and all, and showed them the door to the stairs. “I think it’s on the third floor, down that wing,” I said, pointing. They pounded up the stairs in their boots, axes at the ready.

I sat back down to enjoy my late-night people-watching and wishing I could eavesdrop. Around me were small circles of people, talking excitedly in American Sign Language. ASL-speakers use much more than their hands. They use their whole bodies, like dancers, to convey complex meaning. I put my fingers in my ears to block the alarms, but the people around me were completely unfazed.

Hank waits for the firemen
Cheerful Hank waits for the firemen to give the all-clear

The fire was quickly out, and the firemen brought giant fans to blow out the smoke. They sounded like jet engines! Hank’s neighbors simply continued their silent conversations.

The whole catastrophe was over in about an hour, but I couldn’t sleep after that. I tossed and turned, my ears ringing. They would still be ringing the next day.

I’ve always said that Hank and his neighbors are not disabled; they are differently-abled. For those who cannot see, darkness is no problem. For those who cannot hear, every night is a silent night. And for those like Hank, who do not worry, every night is a peaceful one.

 

Thanks to North Carolina

Some people get excited about five star hotels or other fancy lodgings. I’m not usually one of them. I was about half-way between Columbus, Ohio and St. Marys, Georgia, on the last leg of a 2000 mile Thanksgiving road trip. I just needed a quick stop for the night.

I got the last room in a cheap motel, just into North Carolina, in Mt. Airy. They claimed it was clean. They said it wasn’t fancy. Apologetically they mentioned that if I’d called earlier I wouldn’t have got a room on the side for long-term rentals. They told me how to connect to the internet, with two networks, one that probably wouldn’t reach, and the other which sometimes needs to be reset.

I read somewhere that more vacations are “ruined” by dirty motel rooms than anything else. Fortunately I’m tolerant. The lights were dim. A lamp shade didn’t stay on. To my nose, there was only a hint of stale smoke. The space heater wasn’t quite up to the job, with temperatures below freezing this night. The blanket was thin. I tried to connect to the internet. Half-way there, but no luck. The staff was about and tried to reboot it. It didn’t help, and I didn’t ask again. I even tried to break into their access point (EASY!) and see if I could somehow fix something. (NOPE!) While I worked on this, with a warm laptop in my lap, the room heated up a little bit. I then dressed in enough clothes to sleep peacefully in the cool room overnight.

In the morning, I took a shower. The hot water was fantastic. The shower…well…In boatyards and marinas, I normally shower in my crocs, just in case. They dry easily, and my shoes are clean when I’m done! This was my first motel shower this way. No problem, I’m used to it. A long hot shower on a cold day is one of my absolute favorite things in the world!

I hit the road looking for breakfast. The motel hadn’t even had coffee I wanted to drink. My standards are higher for food than lodging. At least a little. I avoid fast food, especially for breakfast. I figured that a Denny’s would do, if that was the best I could find at a freeway exit. An hour down the road, I saw a sign for Toast Cafe at the Davidson, North Carolina exit. The name was promising. I got a little lost, pulled over, and tried to find a decent breakfast diner with Yelp. I re-found Toast, a mile away, and drove there.

I walk in to see the Saturday morning brunch crowd filling all the tables. I was glad to be eating alone—I got a seat at the bar instead of waiting. I saw a sign for the 2013 “Best Breakfast in Charlotte” posted on a mirror.

I ordered an avocado bacon and tomato omelet, and ordered grits for my side dish, after a reassuring answer my vague question “Oh yeah, I’m in the South again. I bet you do grits right.” When the waitress asked me later about the grits, I said that they were wonderful, and mentioned my unfounded fears of the grits put in little packets by Quaker. I think I saw her shudder as she said something sympathetic about instant grits. After two cups of coffee I was plenty caffeinated already, so the staff sent me on the road with a travel cup of decaf.

In honor of Thanksgiving, I’m going to express my gratitude: To North Carolina for a night’s rest, a wonderful hot shower, and a fantastic breakfast. And to myself for low expectations!

Peaceful Thanksgiving powerboat in Beaufort

Turkey with strangers

You can’t argue with this: Thanksgiving is not really about food. If it was, we’d be perfectly happy to eat turkey in a restaurant. There’s an entire episode of Mr. Ed about how horrible that would be.

In 2008, Barry and I planned to spend Thanksgiving with my brother, Stevie. He didn’t call, and he didn’t arrive, and by noon, I realized our plan had fallen apart. Barry and I were in a boatyard, hauled out, with no invitations to a big family meal. There wasn’t even anything appropriate to eat on the boat. I shed a few tears of frustration and loneliness over my sorry plight.

I’d heard a rumor that the God-fearing Baptists in town would be serving dinner for nomads and wandering sailors. I’m no Baptist: You could call me a Baptist-fearing Goddess! But I was willing to face my fears for some turkey and cranberries.

We drove the Squid Wagon into Beaufort at 1:30. “We’re not serving until 3 pm,” said the nice man in front of the Baptist church. “You should go over to the Methodists.”

We headed over there, about a block away. When we walked into the Methodist church, we found that we’d missed their dinner, but they were eager to load us up with leftovers. We staggered out to the Squid Wagon with to-go boxes of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and about a dozen desserts.

Then we climbed back into the front seat of the van and had a debate: Where should we eat our dinner? “I don’t want to eat Thanksgiving dinner on a park bench in town,” said Barry.

We decided to take a one-hour walk and then go back to the Baptist church, where they welcomed us with open arms. Their food was simpler than the Methodists, but we found the camaraderie we were looking for. We were treated as honored guests, not strangers.

Over dinner, we discovered that many of our new Baptist friends were in a hurry to eat and get going; they were going home to share a second Thanksgiving dinner with their families! That explained why the Methodists served so early, why there were so many leftovers.

At the end of our meal, we were urged to take even more leftovers! We were chuckling as we drove back to the boatyard with plenty to share with my brother, who arrived a day later. I pray the God of the Methodists and Baptists forgives us for double-dipping. We gave thanks for every bite, but it was not about the food.

Peaceful Thanksgiving powerboat in Beaufort
Peaceful Thanksgiving in Beaufort

18 degrees of freedom, Four nailed down

I’m not sure I’m counting right when I say 18 degrees of freedom. Really counting it and figuring out which ones are independent of each other would probably give me a headache. Either that or make a good problem for a college mechanical engineering class, which I’m not qualified to teach.

I’ve got an arch to build. I’ve built two legs and a curved top. I want to attach it to Flutterby so that it is properly aligned with the back of my hard dodger to support three big solar panels. I had built all three pieces by the time I left this boatyard last summer. I had started trying to figure out how to fit them together then, but left before I finished.

When I returned, I was dreading this complicated set of decisions, so I decided to make easier progress on the hard dodger, as all the complicated decisions like this were already made. having done some good work there, I’m back at it again.

The saying goes “measure twice, cut once.” If you know how long a piece you want, you only have one measurement. Double-check it and then cut it! That isn’t my problem.

I put the three parts temporarily over the cockpit, about where they will go. Then I started measuring. Two measurements doesn’t even get me started. I’ve got two plumb bobs to check if each leg is at the same angle fore-and-aft. and also inboard/outboard. I’ve got two more to check the height and position of the arch. I’ve got marks where the outside edges of the solar panels will go on both the arch and the back of the dodger. I’ve got rails balanced between the two of them so I can check both that the arch and the back of the dodger are parallel, and that the solar panel edges are at a right angle to both arches. I can check the angle of the dodger, the arch, and the connecting rails with a level. To tweak things right, I’ve got six strings tied to the legs and tugging them in various opposing directions.

Last week, I did something big. I decided to drill four holes. The day before yesterday, I actually drilled two holes in the base of each leg. Doing it took a bit of creative work with a drill press, and it was while an amazing front was blowing through, complete with a tornado warning on my phone and the lights flickering a couple times.

Yesterday I did the next step. Put everything back up together, and drilled two holes into the boat, and put in screws. Boom. Now the bottom of each leg is located in two dimensions. Four degrees of freedom nailed down. 14 to go (plus or minus a few!)

Deciding how to decide can be the toughest part.

The actual decision is easier, but can be tedious. You have been warned. If your eyes glaze over a couple sentences into the next paragraph, just give up and skip to the last paragraph!

Today I went back and re-measured a couple things. Discovered that two measurements didn’t agree with each other. The two rails that should be parallel weren’t perpendicular to the same thing. Scratched my head a bit. Re-measured and found out that the marks where I was locating the outside rails were not the same distance apart on the arch that they were on the dodger. Oops. Fixed that. Noticed that my beam is twisted a bit, with one corner up about a half inch compared to the other. Found that I could clamp it flat without too much effort, and figured I’d do that when I glued it all together. Noticed that while the wheel is vertical, and that the stainless pipe on the front of the binnacle is NOT vertical. Now i know which one to look at when I’m checking the legs.

And I decided that I don’t care if the legs are exactly vertical or not. My masts aren’t at the same angle either, and the boat doesn’t float upside down from that. I still need to set that angle, and I’ve decided I’ll do it based on where it puts the front of the solar panels with respect to the front of the dodger instead. It matters more to me, and it is easier to measure. Double-win!

Another decision. In the morning I’ll re-check a bunch of measurements, and drill two more holes and put in two more screws. I’ll have the fore-and-aft angle of both legs set. Two more degrees of freedom nailed down. I’m chipping away at it. Pretty soon I’ll be epoxying the whole thing together!

Seeking the joy of Facebook

Confession time: I have a dysfunctional love-hate relationship with Facebook.

Today I’m living alone in a boatyard outside of a small town in Georgia. I don’t plan to be here much longer, which is good because I don’t have any close friends here. I am more isolated than I want to be.

Enter, Facebook. Most of my friends are on Facebook. Some of you lurk. Mostly that is what I have done. Some of you share your greatest joys, like your marriage, or moving in to start a new, joyful relationship. Some of you share your sorrows, like the loss of a pet, or your frustrations like that amazingly bad date. Some of you share lighter parts of your life, like a picture of your cat, or your amazing Halloween costume.

And even when I’m not getting that, you share all sorts of interesting things too. If it wasn’t for Facebook, I might have missed the cute catchy song and video “All about that bass (no treble)” I’m certain that if it wasn’t for Facebook, I would have missed the even cuter Star Wars parody of it “All about that base (no rebels)

Facebook gives me a chance to reach out and have a genuine connection with you, my friends and family. Even when I’m thousands of miles away, which I am today. I LOVE this!

More often I don’t. Remember “All about that base?” I look at what someone is up too…and wistfully think how I’d like to be closer. Then I distract myself by following one of you to George Takai’s page… Or that thoughtful article about current events… Or I see a shared link that looks like misinformation and take go trip over to Snopes or Google to fact check, and try to put my finger over that leak in the dike as if it will make a difference… Or get irked by the click-bait teaser links that Upworthy.com is famous for…even when I really like what they are saying.

The next thing I know, two hours have gone by. I’m still on Facebook. And I haven’t had a genuine experience with anyone. I just checked out for two hours, and cannot get those hours back. Facebook as a business model based on making me spend those hours. Facebook has spent millions on research and coding to keep me engaged. They don’t care whether I feel good or bad after I’ve spent those hours, as long as I come back.

This is my Facebook news feed dilemma. I know I’m not alone. Every week or two one of my friends announce some sort of Facebook hiatus, temporary, indefinite, or permanent. I said something about this topic to a friend on the phone. There was no need to explain it. She totally knew. Months ago, another friend chose not to put FB on her phone, only using it on her computer. (I haven’t asked if she is still resisting!)

I resisted using Facebook on my phone too. By the time I got the app, Facebook had done something interesting: Split the mobile app into two different ones: Facebook (for browsing) and Messenger (for chatting).

That inspired a plan for me!

  • Embrace Facebook Messenger. I’ll try to have it open when I’ve got my phone on to receive texts or calls. I welcome all of my Facebook friends to say “Hi” anytime.
  • Limit my use of the Facebook app. It is just a new view into my news feed complete with the same old problems.
  • Share more small parts of my life on Facebook. If it is worth writing for more than five minutes, it is worth writing on my blog instead. (like this) Then share it on Facebook.

If you are struggling with your own relationship with Facebook, or are one of my few remaining friends and family that only read this on my blog, and and aren’t on Facebook, don’t let me drag you into Facebook’s tenacious embrace. Please email, call, or text me directly!