Tuesday, June 30, 2009

On The List of Things I Don’t Understand

Everyday I take my lunch break at the local boat ramp. When it’s a nice day I walk out to the end of the dock and sit with my laptop where I work on my book, or I read somebody else’s book. It’s a lovely spot that overlooks Greenwich Cove, where Sabine is moored. I look at Sabine, rocking gently with the waves and wish that I could be out there casting off her lines in preparation for another sailing adventure. But instead I have to return to work in an hour. But that’s a blog post for another day.

On the days that the weather isn’t cooperating, like the last I don’t know how many weeks, I remain in my car. I roll down the windows and write or read in the driver’s seat. Other people have the same idea I as do, and they park there for their lunch breaks as well.

Today I fought the urge to walk up and introduce myself to three of the other people in their cars. These three people left their cars running the entire time I was there. They sat there idling and pumping exhaust into the air for an hour. It took all my strength to stay in my car and not walk up to them, call them an ignorant prick, reach into their windows and turn the key in the ignition off.

I felt the familiar impatient irritation rise up inside of me. I get this feeling when I see people litter, or spit on a sidewalk in front of other people, or completely blow through a stop sign without even tapping the brake pedal (another thing I encountered on my lunch break today) or nearly run me off the highway at 70 mph (another thing that happened to me on the way to work one day). It’s the kind of impatient irritation that makes me want to get in the face of the person who offended me and scream “What the hell is the matter with you?!”

I saw in my car, reading a copy of Writer’s Digest, and tried not to get out of my car and storm over to these other people and do just that. And then on my way back from lunch break I stewed at my propriety. I mean, change doesn’t happen unless somebody stands up and does something to effect change right? Could I have accomplished something if I went up to these people idling in their cars and say “You know, you are polluting our air by running your car like that. I happen to enjoy breathing clean air, will you please turn your car off.”

Of all the things we know about climate change, pollution, and wasting gas, I just do not understand who in their right mind can sit there for an hour and idle their car like that. If these people don’t care about pollution, at the very least don’t they care about their wallet? If only they realized that they are pumping their money out of their tail pipe with this nasty habit.

It’s such a fine line to walk when wanting to go up to a stranger to ask them to stop doing something that makes me crazy—and to do it in such a way that I don’t come off all holier-than-thou. And the more I think about it, the more frustrated I am with myself that I didn’t do anything about it.

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Monday, June 29, 2009

Counting to Seven


And then a sigh of relief that I reached seven. Had I only reached six, or heaven forbid only five, then surely one of my siblings would have skinned me alive and poured acid on my corpse for good measure.

Over the weekend my brother Kaz and my sister C trusted their children in our care. Kaz has 3 kids, age 8, 13 and 14, while C has 4—age 4, 11, 13 and 15. This is quite possibly the greatest compliment I have received from either of them. By doing this they are basically saying, “I trust you with my most precious of irreplaceable possessions.” It’s tremendously flattering and terrifying at the same time.

And boy did we have a blast.

The rules at Aunt Beej and Uncle Todd’s house are different than they are at home:

Rule 1. The only choices for breakfast are things like Trix, Fruity Pebbles, or Cinnamon Toast Crunch. Aunt Beej will also make a fruit salad for you, but only because she knows you like it.

Rule 2. Aunt Beej and Uncle Todd will take you to have an ice cream before dinner. It’s how we roll.

Rule 3. The dogs require a great deal of Frisbee throwing and chasing. They also require a great deal of cuddling and treats. This is your job.

Rule 4. The most important thing to Aunt Beej and Uncle Todd is that you are smiling, laughing and having fun.

I am pleased to report that all seven of the nieces and nephews who visited over the weekend followed these rules to the letter. Saturday we went to the Rhode Island Air Show at Quonset Point where I practiced counting to seven over and over as we made our way through the crowds. But the kids had fun watching the planes and playing in the inflatable amusement park section. (The zip line obstacle course was particularly cool.) We were most impressed with the Oracle bi-plane and the Canadian Snowbirds’ sequences. I got a good chuckle from the older kids as I yelled out, “Yay Canada! And I love your geese too!” after the Snowbirds concluded their routine.

On Sunday morning Kaz and Melissa grudgingly returned from their freedom fest overnight trip to Providence, and three of the seven went home. By five in the afternoon my sister C and her boyfriend returned from their jaunt to Mansfield, Massachusetts to see Jimmy Buffet, and an afternoon side trip to Newport. We gathered for a beer can chicken dinner punctuated by a few margaritas.

This morning I kissed my sleeping nieces good-bye as Griffen tried to scam a second breakfast off of my nephew. I feel a bit empty knowing that they won’t be there when I get home from work.


Friday, June 26, 2009

Ideas at Supersonic Speed

This weekend we will have seven kids in our house.


Like, more than 6.

A few months back my sister called me up and said “Hey, I am going to Jimmy Buffet. Without my four children. They’re staying with you. Mmmmkay?”

Then a few weeks back we said to my brother, “Hey, we’re going to have C’s kids that weekend. Your kids don’t get to hang with them that much. Drop ‘em off and we’ll have a big slumber party.” Before I knew it my brother had booked an overnight on Cape Cod, and he’ll drop his three off at our house on the way. And then I’ll have to put out the fire left in his driveway from his tires peeling out.

I am ridiculously looking forward to having all of them in the house this weekend. Seven kids aged 5-15. What to do? What to do?

No, seriously, what am I going to do with seven kids for the weekend?

Then the idea came to me yesterday. It screeched across the sky in the airspace above my office in East Greenwich, RI in a blur of shiny navy blue. The Blue Angels have been rehearsing their near supersonic speed air ballet for the air show at the Air Force base in Quonset this weekend. Forget about light bulbs going on over my head. My ideas tend to come to me powered by jet engines.

Perhaps we’ll drag seven kids, in two cars, to the show tomorrow. Or we’ll force them to clean our house and wash our cars. Either way, it’s all good.


Friday, June 19, 2009

Petty Vandalism was my MO

I was in high school in the early 90’s, back when MC Hammer was telling us that it was Hammer Time. I was a goody goody in high school, ever drank (except for once), got good grades, participated in school activities, and all that two shoes stuff. But I had a weakness. I was a petty vandal.

I carried a sharpie around with me, and scrawled occasional random bits of graffiti. Most of it didn’t make much sense. I didn’t care to tell anyone when I had visited that particular bathroom stall. Instead my contributions of the graffiti world consisted of things like song lyrics, stick figures in a “Walk like an Egyptian” pose and the like.

I was driving home from school one day, and stopped at a stop sign somewhere in Enfield, Connecticut. I cracked up as I read the sign. First it said STOP, but then somebody scrawled underneath it “Hammer Time.” Brilliant! I had just stumbled upon a new vehicle for my writings. I was thrilled at the prospect of my obscure scribbles being exposed to more people than those who used the bathrooms at school. I grew excited at both genders getting to view my artistic contributions.

I raced home and called my friends, “Guys! This is it! We need to come up with some phrases incorporating the word ‘stop’.” The next night, armed with a fresh sharpie and friends packed into my 85 Olds Calais. We cruised down Newbury Road in East Windsor, an isolated road in the middle of nowhere which would serve as the perfect place to test out an installation of my art. I pulled up to the stop sign, leapt out of the car, and dashed to the stop sign on the side of the road. I scrawled “Polka time” under the word “Stop” on the sign—an homage to my roots.

Soon I became more brazen. Dozens of stop signs in East Windsor were defaced with the words “Polka time.” Worn out sharpies littered the floor of my car. The buzz about the weird “Polka Time” stop signs grew at school, and all fingers pointed at me. My classmates shook their heads and said “I am not at all surprised it was you.”

Tonight I was picking up pizza from Wicked Good Pizza. I stopped at the stop sign before leaving the parking lot and saw that someone else created their own stop sign art installation. The words “Don’t” and “Believing” were written in black sharpie on the sign, so that it read “Don’t Stop Believing.” I applaud this stop sign graffiti artist for taking it to the next level, and actually saying something a more hopeful and meaningful than my asinine “Stop! Polka time!”

Who ever you are, thank you for making my day. Oh and don’t STOP making people smile.

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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Australian Nutella

Last week I brought home a jar of Nutella. In case you haven’t had it, it’s quite possibly the most decedent thing ever to arrive in a jar. It’s a chocolate hazelnut spread, and is amazing with peanut butter, or on a banana, or scooped with a giant serving spoon directly from the jar and rapidly globbed into one’s mouth.

Last night Todd baked some blondies (chocolate chip cookies that are in brownie form) and swirled some of the wonder drug, Nutella, on top. We each ate one, and today I brought in the rest to share with my co-workers and to keep them from lodging themselves onto my hips as these blondies can only be described as a party in the mouth.

Having a jar of Nutella in the house brings back an Australian memory. I was one of two full year American students in my dorm, Dunmore Lang College. There was a dining hall in the dorm that served food that can only be described as shockingly bad. An Aussie friend once shoved her plate away in disgust and said “This ought to be banned by the Geneva Convention.” The kitchen at DLC only served one choice for meals, and a vegetarian option as well. To give you an idea of how bad the food was, the vegetarian option was often something called “Not Meat.” It looked like dog food. It smelled like dog food. It tasted like dog food. It consisted of unidentifiable lumps of something not made of meat, and was served with gravy. So, it actually wasn’t vegetarian at all with the meat gravy on it. As a result of the horrible cuisine at Dunmore Lang, I was forced to get creative at meal times and basically spread peanut butter on anything set in front of me for ever meal.

On every table in the dining hall there were unmarked jars. One contained peanut butter, another contained jam. The third contained a brown substance that I had thought was Nutella. On my first day at Dunmore Lang I sat down to lunch and opened the jar of brown stuff and smelled it. Repulsed, I closed it. It smelled like vitamin pills and burning rubber, not at all like Nutella. I learned later on that it contained Vegemite, and is served in a thin layer on buttered toast. I tasted it twice over the year I was there and didn’t care for it. At all. It tasted like salty vitamin pills.

Half way through my year there the first batch of six month stay Americans had gone home and the next batch had come in. I had already been there for half a year and was quite popular among the new Americans, as I knew where the cool places to go were and I knew were everything was in town.

I sat with the new batch of Americans for their first meal, when one of them piped up and said, “No way! They have Nutella on the table!” He grabbed a banana, cut it into pieces and spread a generous amount of the brown goo on each piece. I watched, smirking silently. With an expectant look in his eye, he bit into the piece of banana, howled in disgust and spat it out onto his tray.

“Ugh! What the hell was that stuff? That’s gross!” He dabbed at his tongue with a napkin to eliminate his taste buds from any further exposure to any remaining Vegemite and banana molecules.

“Oh, that’s Vegemite. An Australian delicacy,” I replied sagely. “You put it on buttered toast, not bananas.”


Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Let the Record Show

Scene: Podunk, RI, 8 something PM June 9, 2009

Ring ring went the phone. I glanced at the caller ID, it said "Cell Phone CT." One of my siblings was calling me. "Hello?" I answered.

"Hey, it's me," my brother Walter said. "I am at the high school because Janina has a dance recital rehearsal here tonight. Check this out, I am looking the board for the track records and I see 'Shot put, BJ Smith, 35' 3 3/4 1991' and 'High Jump, BJ Smith 5'1" 1991.' So you can sleep easy tonight, your records haven't been broken."

"Hey, that is cool. I set those records 18 years ago. It's nice to know that I haven't been beaten yet."

"You think that's cool? There's a dude on here who threw the discus 140 feet in 1972."

"1972? I wasn't even alive then! When was that record set? When our high school was in ancient Greece?" I laughed.

"My name is still up too," he added. Walter had graduated from our high school in 1984, eight years before me. He wasn't an athelete, he was more involved in student government.

"For what?" I asked.

"Good Citizenship award," he said.

"Oh my God, you were such a nerd!"


Tuesday, June 09, 2009


On Sunday we installed a brand new hydraulic steering pump. The pump sits behind the steering wheel, and has hoses connected to it. When the wheel is turned, the pump squirts hydraulic steering fluid into the appropriate hose. The fluid runs down the hose and applies pressure to the hydraulic steering ram, which then directs the rudder to point in the appropriate direction.

We installed brand new hoses on Sunday as well. The hoses start at the pump, and run down the steering column through the floor of the cockpit and into the pantry below. We secured the hoses to the ceiling of the pantry, and then ran them down the aft wall into the engine room. The hoses were secured to that wall, and then were run beneath it, just above the propeller shaft, and then curved upward under our bed in the master stateroom. Just aft of our bed is the hydraulic ram which controls the rudder on the outside of the boat.

We handled the hoses as if they were constructed out of radioactive material. Over the course of pulling them though all those twists and turns they could chafe on any sharp edges and eventually rupture and leak—just like the old ones had. We hooked them up to the autopilot mechanism, which is located under Todd’s side of the bed, where his torso lies when he’s sleeping. We secured the hoses into place, attached them to the pump, the ram and the autopilot.

Then we attached the steering wheel to the pump. The hub of the steering wheel does not fit the new pump. The wheel now too loosely hangs on the pump, and the wheel jiggles as if to say “If you try to steer with me I am going to fall off and you’ll be left holding a steering wheel attached to nothing. And then you’ll hit something.”

In my experience, with boat restoration, when we solve one problem we’re often faced with another. But this time the problem is a bit larger. How the heck are we going to steer this boat?


Monday, June 08, 2009

Selfish? Really?

On Friday afternoon at work some co-workers and I were stuffing envelopes for a mailing that we had to get out the door that afternoon. We put some music on, set up an assembly line and ended up laughing and joking to beat the monotony of the stuffing, sealing, labeling and stamping. We talked about our plans for the weekend. Eventually the discussion turned to kids. One of my co-workers had a baby girl 6 months ago, and I was asked if I would have kids.

I think Todd and I are back on the “No” side of the fence. We had been teetering on the fence for a long time, and right now we’re firmly living in “No” land.

“Really?” D asked me. “You guys are in such a good position for kids now, I am surprised.”

“Actually, I like the way our life is right now, and so does he. I am pretty set in my ways and really don’t want to add a baby to that right now.”

“You know,” another co-worker at the end of the table chimed in, “It’s perfectly OK to be selfish like that.”

Selfish? Really? Because I have not procreated and do not currently plan on doing so you’re going to use the word “Selfish”? I bit my tongue and concentrated on sealing the envelopes in front of me. I am sure he meant nothing malicious by saying that. But the more I think about it, the more annoyed I am at his using the word “selfish” to describe my way of life. I am also a bit annoyed that he felt the need to tell me it was perfectly OK. Of course it’s perfectly OK. Why wouldn’t it be? It’s my life, and my choice. While my path is different than his, isn’t mine still just as good because it suits me?

Why do people feel the need to use the word “selfish” when referring to a childless couple? Why can’t they say “active” as in “They’re active in other parts of their lives that they never got around to having kids.” Why can’t they say “hard-working” about a childless couple, as in “They are both focused on their careers right now that they haven’t gotten around to having kids.” Why can’t they say “adventurous” about a childless couple, as in “They are busy having adventures. They’re avid divers, sailors, hikers, and paddlers that they haven’t gotten around to having kids.”

No, the impression is that childless people are selfish. I take such an issue with that word because I am not a selfish person. This co-worker of mine has watched me change the water bottle on the water cooler even when I wasn’t the one to empty it. I am one of the few people at work who can lift and carry the full bottle, so I help out my peeps by keeping them hydrated. This co-worker has also observed me wiping up a spill on the hardwood floor that someone else had left behind because I was afraid that someone would slip on it and get hurt. Yet, I was called selfish for not having a child.

I wish I had said, “Well, I don’t know about being too selfish to have a child. I don’t think I am a selfish person. I am devoted to my husband, my friends and my family. I have 12 nieces and nephews as well. All of these people know that I would do anything for them. I don’t need to have a kid to prove that I am not selfish.”

But I kept my mouth shut. While that was probably the better move on a professional level, on a personal level my blood boiled. And continues to.

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Saturday, June 06, 2009

If You Have To Ask, You Can't Afford It

Sabine's still in the shed getting the finishing touches put on and she'll hit the water next week. We've been working on various boat projects every night after work and on the weekends to get her ready. The paint's done, the varnish is done, and now we have to do things like repair the leaking hydraulic steering, you know, so it doesn't leak anymore.

Today we were working, when our friend Tonya came by. While Todd took off with her for a few minutes I sat in the truck resting. Some people came into the shed, and I automatically ducked out of view so I could watch them. There are tools strewn all over the place in the shed, along with other way more expensive boats. When Todd and I are working in the shed over the weekends we are always very careful about not leaving the doors unlocked because we are paranoid about something expensive that does not belong to us getting stolen. So, I ducked down and watched these people as they walked through the shed to check out our boat, and the two other boats in there with us. I figured that if their fingers got sticky I could jump out and let them know that they were not alone.

"Wow, this boat is gorgeous," one of the men said as they walked around my boat.

"I wonder if it's for sale. I wonder how much it would cost," the other replied.

"Yeah, probably couldn't afford it," the first man laughed. They left the shed, thankfully without stealing anything. But it was gratifying to hear that someone thought our boat looked so good that it was entirely unaffordable. What a nice change from hearing "Wow, you've got yourself a project, eh?" from other strangers who saw our boat.

Until now, I called Sabine a "90 mile boat" because "She looks good from 90 miles away." Not anymore.

Now, the unveiling.

First let me show you the rebuilding of the companionway hatch. This hatch is kind of like the front door to a house. It's the hatch you go through from the cockpit into the interior of the boat. You slide it open and walk down the companionway into the inside of the boat. The wood on the underside had rotted so badly that it eventually sagged and the hatch became increasingly difficult to open. Eventually I had to brace my legs against the seat in the cockpit and shove at the hatch with all of my might, summoning all the strength of my "sailor mouth" and grunting various phrases starting with "mother."

We completely disassembled the hatch, but managed to salvage the teak on the top. We fiberglassed a piece of marine plywood underneath it, then we fiberglassed the teak on top of it.

Here we're fiberglassing the trim pieces on the edges. We put down some fiberglass resin and clamped it into place so it would dry in place overnight.

Like this.

Here you can see how it would look with the teak on top.

Now you can see the paint job. Put your bibs on, because you're going to drool.

The black parts just below the dragons are our name plates. I haven't gotten a pic of it yet, but now it says "Sabine" on those name plates. We've owned the boat for seven years now, and hadn't bothered to correct the name plates.


Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Coming to Grips

Seven years ago, when Griffen was just a puppy, I clipped him into a leash and tried taking him for a jog. He clumsily bounded behind me, not quite sure what he was supposed to do. I tugged him along for maybe a half mile and returned home frustrated. I had an image in my head of my dog happily jogging along side of me, but jogging with a gangly lab puppy didn’t look like that image. At all.

But I didn’t give up on it. I took him along every day. I tugged on the leash and hollered “Left!” sternly, until he understood that when I say that he’s supposed to move over to my left and get the hell out of my way. Over the years Griffen’s logged a few thousand miles at my side. He’s come to recognize when I put on my jogging clothes and dances expectantly as I get ready to go. He lets out a Chewbacca like howl as I tie my sneakers on and paces by the door.

The last few weeks, with his allergies acting up, I haven’t been taking him along in an effort to cut down his exposure to pollen. The flare up passed, and I took him with me on a 3.3 mile walk/jog interval yesterday. He grinned as he loped along on my left, and stopped to pee on several mailboxes. He sniffed. He looked at me adoringly and wagged his tail as if to say “I am having such a great time. Thank you!” This was the image of jogging with a dog that I had in my head 7 years ago. And I enjoyed every jog with my running buddy for 7 years.

This morning I pulled on my jogging clothes as Griffen watched from his bed. “Griffen, come on,” I whispered. He sat and stared. “Come on buddy, wanna go for a run?” He blinked his eyes, and continued to stare. Normally, when I say the word “run” he leaps up onto all fours and is ready to rock. Not today.

Todd woke up, “He was a bit stiff when he was coming upstairs last night. I don’t think he wants to go,” he explained. I left Griff in bed, and ran on my own. I felt the breeze flow through my left hand sans leash.

I hate to imagine a time where he won’t be able to go with me anymore. The image of the puppy with the oversized paws bounding behind me is fresh in my mind. Back then I longed for a time when he would easily jog at my side. Now I long for a time when he pounces at my heels, not yet comprehending the word “Left!” before the thousands of miles passed under his paws.

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Tuesday, June 02, 2009

It’s Just Not Right

Every year it happens, just like clockwork. The weather warms up. May becomes June. Sailboats in the distance dot the bay. Todd and I make a list of boat projects we’d like to accomplish. We scramble to complete them because we know that once Sabine’s tied to her mooring we will lose all motivation to work on any of those projects. We’re too busy having fun instead. We complete maybe half of the list and say “We’ll finish next year.”

This year the list is longer than most because of the complete refit. We haven’t had access to the interior of the boat all winter, due to the boat yard painting and varnishing the interior. We lazed around all winter, until recent weeks. Now the boat’s painted, but the leaking hydraulic steering system has been ripped out. Replacement parts have been purchased but not installed yet. All of the “stuff” that was on the deck of the boat was moved below so that the yard guys could paint. Now that “stuff” is all over the place in the interior of the boat. A fine layer of dust covers everything. There’s more junk in the cabinets from past completed or abandoned projects. It’s everywhere, spilling out of cabinets that won’t close anymore. Books with moldy pages, Christmas lights, 12,784 miles of extension cords, a broken clock… why are we keeping this crap?

The list is swelling as we think of more projects that we need to complete, faster than it could ever hope to shrink. The installation of solar panels has been pushed down toward the bottom, while installing the anchor windlass has been pushed toward the top.

We spent all day Saturday and all day Sunday working on the boat. On Saturday we painted the boot stripe (the stripe that falls right at the water line). On Sunday we cleaned out most of the cabinets in the interior, and threw out much of the crap that was in there. I scrubbed every inch of the "living room," but still have the forward stateroom, our stateroom, the bathroom, shower and galley to scrub. I took all the cushions outside, drenched them with Febreze, and let them dry in the sun. We nearly finished constructing the lid for the hatch that’s way in the back of the boat. I finished sanding the nameplates, and then we will fill them in with fiberglass and paint them black. The sign company will stick letters on them that say “Sabine” and “East Greenwich, RI” on them in a font that we will deliberate over for far too long.

The weekends are not enough anymore. Wanting to restore a great old boat and get to actually use it takes a lot of time. Work, though necessary to finance the restoration and use of a sailboat, has become inconvenient. I feel myself growing disgruntled at the concept of having to show up to work every day at 8:00 AM, and having to stay there staring at a computer screen until 5:00 PM. In my mind the list remains, with items uncrossed. The clock in the corner of the computer screen mockingly ticks away valuable minutes that could have been spent elsewhere.

Every spring something else happens too. The walls of the cubicle close in on me. I stare up at them and wonder if it is my imagination, or if they are actually slanting inward. Though I like the job, I resent that it keeps me from living the life I want to lead. I resent having to ask permission to take time off. I resent the stressful moments while I wait to be granted permission to take vacation time. I resent giving “the man” the best years of my life.

I grow irritable. I become a nightmare to live with and to work with. I plot. I ponder. I grumble. I leave the office at 5 on the dot with a trace of fire in my footprints. I clench my jaw at the surprise project dropped into my lap on a Friday afternoon. I shake my fist at the sky and say “It’s just not right!”

Yet, for some reason I’ve never bought a Powerball ticket.

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