Friday, August 26, 2011

Lessons From Abaco

Top Ten Reasons Hurricane Season is Like Christmas 10. Decorating the house (boarding up windows) 9. Dragging out boxes that haven't been used since last season (camping gear, flashlights) 8. Last minute shopping in crowded stores 7. Regular TV shows pre-empted for "specials" 6. Family coming to stay with you. 5. Family and friends from out-of-state calling. 4. Buying food you don't normally buy . . . and in large quantities 3. Days off from work. 2. Candles. And the number one reason Hurricane Season is like Christmas . . . 1. At some point you know you're going to end up with a tree in your house!


I know exactly what the people in the Abacos are doing today. They're sweeping up, fixing up, and "manning up". They sure aren't waiting for some government agency to come and help them or tell them what to do. They already know, they've done it before. On their own…with a little help from their friends.

Six years ago I was living on my sailboat in the Abacos, Bahamas when Hurricane Francis decided to pay a visit. I'd never been through a hurricane before and I'll admit this girl from Kansas where tornadoes wreak their havoc, usually in the middle of the night with little advance warning, held some disdain for a storm that announced its arrival well in advance. One of the first questions you encounter when you decide to live on a boat is "What are you going to do if you find yourself in a hurricane?" so you read everything you can get your hands on about the subject in the hopes that you'll never have to use that knowledge. But there I was with a hurricane bearing down so now it was time to put the disaster plan in action.

We were in Marsh Harbour at the time, at a little marina called the Port of Call. Hurricane Frances was still about a week out and in all probability would veer from its expected path and miss us all together. And there was a big party planned at Baker's Bay that everyone, and I mean everyone was going to. For a change, the cap'n and I decided to listen to our heads instead of our livers and decided to skip the party. You see, we weren't supposed to still be in the Abacos. We were supposed to have been long gone from that chain of islands and be clear down in Venezuela waiting out hurricane season somewhere south of latitude 12. Alas, the tides of friends and parties had kept our docklines tied firmly to the Abacos and now we found ourselves without a prearranged hurricane hole to "hole-up" in. We knew we didn't want to stay at the dock, we'd seen enough videos of marinas during a hurricane on the weather channel and we didn't trust the holding well enough to anchor in "Mushy Harbour". Luckily, we managed to score the last mooring ball available in Hope Town on Elbow Cay and instead of putting off the inevitable for one more day (or two or three depending on the severity of our hangovers) we skipped the party and started making our boat hurricane ready. We used the information we'd gleaned from years of reading about the upcoming momentous event and more importantly we listened to others that had been through hurricanes before.

We moved the boat to the safe harbor of Hope Town while all of our friends were moving theirs to Man-Of-War cay which was considered to be safer. We had waited too long to secure a place over there. We took all of the sails down and stowed everything that was possible down below. If it could move, it was tied down, if it could chafe, it was wrapped. With Francis still a couple of days out, we found ourselves sitting in our bare cockpit with nothing left to do but worry while all of our friends were still scurrying around moving their boats and making ready. We watched as self-appointed harbour masters shoo'd late-comers desperately seeking shelter from the storm back out of the harbour entrance. Only a handful of boats were allowed into Hope Town and we were lucky to be one of them. We finally accepted that there was nothing more we could do and what would happen would happen and decided to take the ferry back over to Marsh Harbour and our friend's house where we would be staying even if it was two days before Jeanne was supposed to arrive on the scene. That decision was just another lucky happenstance since the ferries which had been assuring everybody that they would be running the next day, all of a sudden had the keen insight that maybe they ought to secure their own boats, and announced the next morning that they would not be running after all.

I won't go into the details of the hurricane itself because I've already been long-winded enough and that's a whole 'nother blog about the plight of a house full of old boaters marooned in a house during a four day hurricane and the desperate measures they take when the booze runs out. Just envision "Lord of the Flies". LOL. Truthfully, we relished the luxury and good food and wonderful company provided by Patty and Bob at Blue Dolphin in our hour of need. Patty practically had to show us the door to get rid of us.

I've found that a boat is a lot like life. If you take care and protect it, it will return the favor. Some of life's lessons are hard to learn and there were lessons which that bitch Frances taught me that have helped me weather other storms whether they be storms that Mother Nature bestowed on me or storms I have brewed up on my own. Here they are in no particular order:

1. Find a safe harbour. One where the holding is good and you are protected from the brunt of the storm. No matter how rough that safe harbour gets, no matter how much it tosses you around and leaves you sick and feeling like you might die, don't sail back into the storm. Ride it out. The storm will eventually pass over your harbour but if you cast your lot with the storm you can't know how far she will carry you from safety or to what depths she will drive you.

2. Surround yourself with people that are concerned for your safety and will help do whatever is required to help you get secure because they know that if you are not secure, you could break loose in the storm and drag into them, doing damage that could cause them to sink or lose their own safe holding causing both of you and whoever is in your path to end up broke and battered on the rocks. Don't let other boats that could be a threat to you in your safe harbour.

3. Listen to the advice of the people that have weathered storms before. You may receive different and even conflicting advice but listen and discern which advice is applicable to your situation and your "boat" and then apply it. It's great to read and listen but it only works if you do the work. All of it. No skimping and no half measures allowed, because the storm will find any weakness you have left unprotected and that's where she'll take her opportunity to destroy everything you've tried so hard to fortify.

4. Use every lifeline you have, even if it's a little frayed.

5. Stow or get rid of anything that could become a missile and cause a hole or do damage to your "boat".

6. The friends that stick with you through the storm will be there afterwards to help you clean up and will be there to guide you away from or see you through future storms.

7. When the storm has passed, stick your head out and assess what damage it has wrought and then get off your ass and start cleaning up and rebuilding. Find the weak spots and make them stronger so they can withstand the next storm, if it comes. Don't wait for someone to do the work for you, your friends are there to help but it's your boat and it's up to you to make it seaworthy again.

Our boat made it through the storm with no damage and was as dry as a bone inside. Although it did look like someone had picked her up and shook her real good and not everything I though was stowed securely was. Several of the boats that crowded into Man-O-War dragged and damaged each other. A couple of weeks later, Hurricane Frances was hovering on the scene and while the weather forecasters said she was not going to be a threat, we were skeptical so we kept everything stowed and tied and sure enough she swept in. Once again the boat did fine but I learned another lesson.

8. There are always more storms on the horizons, you have to watch out for them and keep your defenses in place.

So today I'm out there doing my best to check my defenses for signs of fatigue and sending out my karmic lifelines to my friends in the Abacos even if some of them are a little frayed.



Sunday, July 24, 2011

Sunday Morning Dreaming

We'll see the sun come up on sunday mornin'

And watch it fade the moon away

I guess you know I'm givin' you a warnin'

'Cause me and moon are itchin' to play

I'll take you on a trip beside the ocean

And drop the top at Chesapeake Bay

Ain't nothing like the sky to dose a potion

The moon'll send you on your way

Moonlight feels right, moonlight feels right


From the song Moonlight Feels Right by Starbuck


I've long dreamed of a parade of convertibles with their tops down winding their way down a southern east coast interstate. We're the only cars on this lonely stretch. It's 2 am and the full moon is lighting our way. I'm in the lead car and my friends are following behind. A cool southern rock station is playing on the radio, the cap'n is at the wheel and I've got my feet up on the dash and my head layed back, counting the stars and singing along with the radio in the sultry night air. At about 4:30 am we pull into some all-night greasy spoon for some "joe" and red-eye gravy and grits then hit the road again. As the dawn is starting to lighten the sky we pull off to the nearest beach. Hatteras, Outer Banks, Wrightsville, Folly…we'll hit them all. We pull old blankets and picnic baskets out of our trunks and head over the dunes. The seabirds are awake and wheeling out to sea and there are still some stubborn stars and the waning moon hanging around when the first sunrays start to turn the lingering indigo of the night sky to lavender and pink. The lights on the shrimp boats are winking on the waves. When the sun peeks over the horizon my friends pour wine and toast a new day while I watch with my arms wrapped around my drawn up knees. Perfectly happy. The morning show is over too soon and we jump back in our convertibles, tired and no longer alone on the lonely road. Before long we pull into an old 60's style motor inn and sleep the heat of the day away in the blissful arctic air of our window air conditioning units. Later, as the sun is bidding adieu we venture out of our cocoons and head for Shem Creek in search of a crab shack where we'll wash our crabs down with ice cold beer and dance barefoot on its rickety docks until the clock strikes midnight. Then we'll hit the road again. Wanna come?

Today all my dreams seem like possibilities.

So today I'm out there doing my best to dream up new possibilities.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Home Sweet Home

Before we left Mexico a month ago, a friend of mine gave me an assignment. You see, she knew I was beginning to feel the pressure to move to Mexico full time. The cap'n is getting tired of working full time and would like to retire completely. I can't blame him. Thanks to him, I basically retired fourteen years ago. Unfortunately, while we could live like kings in MX on our retirement income, we can't continue to support two households (plus that freaking boat). So the time for making a choice is drawing near. I'm not ready. So my friend gave me the assignment of writing a blog of why I love my home in Colorado.

Several of the reasons are simple:

1. The ease of living in my own country. The familiar language and laws. And if you are an expat from Mexico, the cleanliness and the plethora toilet seats.

2. The music. No, not the stuff coming out of the radio, although I do miss that, too. I miss the gurgle of our stream, the chatter of the squirrels, the scolding of the blue jays and the whisper of the wind through the pines. Mexico has its own music, beautiful and exotic. It's just not my music… yet.

3. The smell. The early dawn air scented with woodsmoke after a fresh snowfall. The musty perfume of sun warmed pine needles on a summer afternoon.

But the BIGGIE, the main reason is harder to explain, but I'll try.

My Grandmother died when I was very young. Lucky for me and multitudes of cousins, we had Aunt Irene and Uncle. Aunt Irene and Uncle Paul had no children of their own but they helped raise hundreds. Their modest country home was a monument to continuity. Through all the years I visited, with the exception of new photographs of great nieces and nephews taped to the glass front of the china cabinet, it never changed. The same pictures adorned the walls, the coloring books were always in the same drawer, the toys were in the closet in the first bedroom and the cookies were in the same Dutch Girl cookie jar on top of the refrigerator. More importantly, the rituals remained the same. Mornings started in the kitchen breakfast nook with the toaster on the table amid an array of homemade jellies and jams to choose from. The day was filled with trying to catch rabbits or fish or each other as we played hide-and-seek in the cornfield. When the stars came out the grown-ups would be on the front porch watching as we chased fireflies. I'm sure I complained many times of being bored but I loved that house and the people that peopled it. There was solace in knowing there was one place in my ever changing, growing-up world that would remain the same. A place where I could expect the expected.

That's what I want for my children and grandchildren and, possibly, their children. I want my cabin in the mountains to be their haven from this frenzied world. I want them to know the comfort of coming up the drive and know that there will be a welcoming fire in the woodstove. The coloring books are in the buffet, the old favorite board games are in the closet in the first bedroom, and the fishing rods are leaning in their corner of the living room. Mornings will start with hot chocolate out on the deck. The days will be filled with trying to catch chipmunks, fish or each other as they play hide and seek among the bristlecone pines. When the stars come out the grown-ups will warm themselves by the fire in the fire pit while the young ones roast marshmallows and tell ghost stories in the night shadows of the forest.

Idealistic? Probably. But more than possible because I've already lived it . I just can't see Mexico with all of its strangeness and its distance fostering these kinds of memories. I worry that it will always seem an adventure instead of a homecoming.

But I'm greedy. I want them both. Good thing I have tonight's winning lottery tickets in hand.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Warning About Foster Dogs

They are robbers and they are thieves, these helpless pets that you take in. They steal your heart. In early March there was an urgent plea for someone to take in a dog or else she was going to go to a shelter in 3 days. This was not a no-kill shelter so you could pretty well predict what her fate was going to be. I only live in the Yucatan until May but I and another part-time resident down there, El Nido, decided that between the two of us we could extend her time until mid-June. Surely by then we would be able to find her a good home. Daisy came to live with me within a few hours of me saying yes. I hardened my heart and tried to keep my distance but Daisy would have none of that. Although at first, very timid and docile she soon began to show her playful and affectionate side. Don't think you're going to quit petting her until she is ready for you to. The vet said she was never a street or beach dog, somebody owned her. She is housebroke and spayed and has all of her vaccinations. She loves any human being of any age and she is good with other animals. She tolerated our blind bichon pestering her endlessly and recently she has been keeping house with a newborn kitten.

But now it is mid-June and Daisy has yet to find a permanent home. All of the snowbirds have gone home and the permanent residents are up to their eyeballs with foster dogs. I would have loved to have taken her home with me but the airlines are not very sympathetic and it would cost over $700.00 to fly her back and forth. El Nido and I are more than willing to time-share her and take her back under our roofs when we return next winter. We have only a week left before Daisy's fate once again will be either as a street dog or waiting out her few days left in a shelter. (All of the no-kill facilities are at capacity). Please pm me if you can help.
***Warning to those who are considering fostering dogs! You may be giving them a few months of comfort that they never would have experienced but in the end you may just be delaying their fate and returning them to a life that they are now not well equipped to live.

BREAKING NEWS! Daisy has found a home. Her other foster mother, Kay, found her a wonderful home with 3 young kids a yard and a pool. Thank God. I was making preparations to ship her here to CO and I have to admit I'm a little disappointed because I'm going to miss her but this is a much better solution. Good Luck Daisy! We love you.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

NOB (North of the Border) Brain Disorder

I've been back in Colorado for a few days now and I'm having to re-learn everything.

"Now where do I keep the toaster and which drawer is the silverware drawer? " I can't even ask myself, "Now where would Gaby, (our girl Friday in Mexico) put this?

"Oh look! I have a dishwasher!" (Clapping hands excitedly).

I've finally remembered where the button is that rolls down the window in the car but the one thing I can't seem to retrain my brain to do is turn on the hot water in the kitchen. It should be easy. It's just one of those simple faucets with a handle that swivels to the right for cold water and, of course, swivels to the left for hot water. What's the problem? This is universal, isn't it? Umm…not necessarily. You see, after I had our plumber/electrician guy (they are often one and the same in Mexico) hook up our new kitchen faucet, I found that he had hooked them up the opposite way. If you swivel the faucet to the left you get cold water. If you swivel it to the right you also get cold water… for about twenty minutes at which point the water instantly turns boiling point hot for, again, about twenty minutes then it turns cold again because you have depleted the 5 gallon hot water tank. For some reason our house has a bathtub you could almost swim laps in. I have no idea why. It would take me until the next Olympics to fill the thing. If you are asking me why I didn't just call the plumber/electrician guy and have him come back and re-plumb the faucet correctly, you've never lived in Mexico.

Monday morning:

Me: "Hola, Miguel. Como esta?"

Miguel: "Bien. Bien." (Miguel is thinking, "What does the gringa want now?")

Me: "Miguel, there seems to be a problema with the faucet. Could you come by sometime today and look at it?"

Miguel: "Si. Si. (Miguel is thinking, "Posible, I will have time on Thursday.")

Me: "What time?"

Miguel: "9:00" (Miguel is thinking, "Why do they continue to ask me this stupid question?")

Me: "This morning?" (Disbelief)

Miguel: "Si. Si. " (Miguel is thinking, "These gringos, they will believe anything.)

Same Morning, 11:00 am

Me: "Hola Miguel. Where are you?"

Miguel: "I am on my way. I will be there in 15 minutos." (Miguel is thinking, "Posible I will have time on Friday.)

Me: "Okay, because I have to be somewhere at 1:00 pm"

Miguel: "Si. Si." (Miguel is thinking, "So what?")

Same day, 3:00 pm:

Me: "Hola Miguel." (I'm not even going to ask.)

Miguel: "Lo siento, Senora. I will be there manana." (Miguel is thinking, "If she would have stopped calling me, I probably could have made it on Sabado.")

So instead of being held captive in my own home for a week, I decided that I would just wait until the next time I had to call "Miguel" for another more urgent problem and then I would corner him and not let him leave until he fixed my faucet. In the meantime I would just learn to use the faucet the way it was wired, I mean plumbed. Not! And I have the scald marks on my hands to prove it.

I swear up until the minute I left, I continued to make the same mistake so why now that I am back in the states has my mind finally decided to rewire itself and start working the way I wanted it to in Mexico?

Oh, I get it. It was waiting for manana.

"Ow!!! Damn that water's hot!"


P.S. The pic above is some of our workers not waiting for manana.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Starfish Throwers

I was walking our stretch of beach this morning and I decided to poke around a new batch of rock that was uncovered by the uncommonly low tide. The cap'n I used to do this regularly in the Bahamas and after the hurricanes we found old coins and all kinds of assorted treasure. (Don't tell the Bahamian government). My treasure hunt didn't turn up any bootie but I did find a starfish that had been marooned on the beach by the low tide. It was still alive so I picked it up and flung it back into its salty home. It reminded me of a story the priest told at my mother's funeral. He said Mom was a starfish thrower. Many of you have probably heard this story but it's a good re-read.

Once upon a time, there was a wise man, a scientist but also a poet, who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach before he began his work. One day he was walking along the shore. As he looked down the beach, he saw a human figure moving like a dancer. He smiled to himself to think of someone who would dance to the day. So he began to walk faster to catch up. As he got closer, he saw that it was a young man and the young man wasn't dancing, but instead he was reaching down to the shore, picking up something and very gently throwing it into the ocean.

As he got closer, he called out, "Good morning! What are you doing?" The young man paused, looked up and replied "Throwing starfish into the ocean."

"I guess I should have asked, Why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?"

"The sun is up and the tide is going out. And if I don't throw them in they'll die."

"But young man, don't you realize that there are miles and miles of beach and starfish all along it. You can't possibly make a difference!"

The young man listened politely. Then bent down, picked up another starfish and threw it into the sea, past the breaking waves. "It made a difference for that one!"

His response surprised the man. He was upset. He didn't know how to reply. So instead, he turned away and walked back to the cottage to begin his writings.

All day long as he wrote, the image of the young man haunted him. He tried to ignore it, but the vision persisted. Finally, late in the afternoon he realized that he the scientist, he the poet, had missed out on the essential nature of the young man's actions. Because he realized that what the young man was doing was choosing not to be an observer in the universe and make a difference. He was embarrased.

That night he went to bed troubled. When the morning came he awoke knowing that he had to do something. So he got up, put on his clothes, went to the beach and found the young man. And with him he spent the rest of the morning throwing starfish into the ocean. You see, what that young man's actions represent is something that is special in each and every one of us. We have all been gifted with the ability to make a difference. And if we can, like that young man, become aware of that gift, we gain through the strength of our vision the power to shape the future.

And that is your challenge. And that is my challenge. We must each find our starfish. And if we throw our stars wisely and well, I have no question that the 21st century is going to be a wonderful place.


I am so fortunate to know so many starfish throwers. If I tried to list them all I know I'd miss someone but you know who you are. Thank you for all you do and keep flinging those starfish no matter what.



Thursday, October 7, 2010

Chelem Christmas Dreams Toy Drive

I have a big favor to ask but it's not for myself. As some of you may know, I have become very involved in the Chelem Christmas Dreams Toy Drive. It's part of my "giving my all" to my new home. Last year we gave away 875 bags of toys. For most of the kids these were the only toys they received. Toys are very expensive and poorly made in Mexico but for us to try to ship toys down from the states is very expensive. If any of my friends would like to donate a toy and ship it to me, I will figure out how to get them down there. I will also take gently used toys. While we had several Barbie dolls donated last year, we didn't have enough to go around. It was heartbreaking to see the faces of the little girls that didn't get Barbies. Every little girl should have at least one doll. So if you have any gently used (or new)Barbies, Barbie clothes and accessories, or other dolls send them my way. Of course, we can also use boy toys (action figures)and baby toys. We also take money. We have a Paypal button on our website but, of course, Paypal has to make money too so they take a chunk out of the funds we receive. If you are kindhearted enough to send a toy please keep in mind that I will have to "mule" all the toys down in suitcases and we're weight limited. Please visit our website.
If you have a little gambler blood in you, you can check out our online raffle If you win it will give you an excuse to visit our new neck of the woods. If you're interested in giving (and I know you will be)send me a comment down below with your email address. All of these comments go to my email first and won't be published here. I will respond with my shipping address.

I apologize to my facebook friends that have already seen this. Facebook automatically publishes anything I publish to my blog, That's where all my long-ass posts on fb come from. You're welcome to visit and read my other blogs about living in Mexico, living on a sailboat, living in Colorado, and I guess just living.

P.S. Hey, I'll lower myself to begging if it's for a good cause. That or a Jack and Diet Pepsi. Thanks, all