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

Shrieking at Strangers

To the man I shrieked at last April, who was waiting to use the bathroom, I apologize. I was unable to explain at the time, but here’s the whole story:

I was sitting on Flutterby, hauled out in the boatyard in Georgia, and I needed to use the bathroom. It was the middle of the day, the sun was out, and the distance was only about 50 yards. Yet I lingered on the boat, shaking and trying to get up my nerve.

Finally, I put my head down and went slowly down the stairs. I trudged across the sandy lot, looking intently at the ground. My hands were clasped tightly around my elbows to dampen the shaking. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw an alligator.

A WHAT?!?

Concrete alligator

A WHAT?!?

I looked again and realized that it was only a small statue, a piece of yard art. But it was too late: Adrenaline was already surging through my system and taking over my brain. The pure chemical reaction made me want to run for my life, screaming.

“It’s only a statue. It’s only a statue. It’s only a statue,” I repeated to myself, as I continued past it to the bathroom. Once inside, I locked the door securely.

But even after ten minutes in the bathroom, I couldn’t stop shaking with fear. I stood with my hand on the doorknob, and some prehistoric portion of my brain was screaming, “Alligator! Alligator! It’s going to eat you! You’re going to die!”

Finally, taking a deep breath, I opened the door v-e-r-y slowly.

Unfortunately, while I was having my crisis in the bathroom, I didn’t realize that a nice gentleman was now waiting to use the facilities. I was so shocked to be face-to-face with a 6-foot human being that I gave a bloodcurdling scream. Then I ran all the way back to the boat and didn’t come out for a couple of days.

At the time, I had no idea what was wrong with me. A few weeks later, I got an answer: Generalized Anxiety Disorder, or GAD.

In a given year, nearly 18% of American adults will be affected by some form of anxiety disorder, including GAD, PTSD, social anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.  As you can see from the alligator story, GAD is not a simple matter of worrying about the economy or whether the boat will go aground. Sufferers are unable to cope with excessive, irrational fear of things that are not actually very threatening, like a concrete alligator or a trip to the post office.

Puget Sound

A healing view of Puget Sound from West Seattle

My initial reading about the problem helped a lot. Then I returned to Seattle for months of medical treatment. I had ups and downs. Some days, I got dressed to go to the post office, but I never made it past the bedroom door. Other days, I seemed fine, giving public presentations and newspaper interviews and pitching my book, Strangers Have the Best Candy. All summer, I stayed close to home, never knowing when something unexpected would trigger me.

I had made incredible progress by August, when Barry and I set out on a 2,000-mile road trip in the Squid Wagon. I did fine in Eugene, Oregon, visiting with family. We continued south to see friends in California — Alameda, Oakland, Santa Clara, and Santa Cruz. By the time we reached Burning Man, I felt like myself again. Out in the middle of the desert, in the most inhospitable circumstances, I was joyful and strong.

I had arrived back to myself just in time. Five days after arriving at Burning Man, I came down with appendicitis and landed in a hospital in Reno!

Obviously, I survived. I even made it back to Burning Man, and I have some great stories to share. But I wanted to write about the alligator incident, because I’ve struggled with anxiety disorder all summer.

Please, have compassion for people who are acting strange; you have no idea what internal struggles they are facing. And if someone comes out of the bathroom, screams, and runs away, don’t take it personally. She thought you were an alligator, but she’s better now.

Gator at the front door

Thank God it’s just an alligator!

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)

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

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

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”

Come Monday

Meps and her Dad on Flutterby's new staircase

Meps and her Dad on Flutterby’s new staircase

On a Monday morning, a couple of weeks ago, there was a knock on our hull. “Yo, Flutterby!” called a voice, causing us to pop out the companionway in surprise. Nobody knocks on Flutterby’s hull here in St. Marys. They wait until we emerge to use the bathroom, or else send us an email. Seriously!

It was Rocky and Jeff, the owner and his lieutenant, at the bottom of our ladder. “We just welded up our first staircase, and we want to test it out. We’re bringing it over here.”

They were pleased with themselves for this magnanimous gift, but I looked at Barry in dismay. My Dad would be arriving from Vero Beach any minute, and I had counted on that eight-foot ladder to keep him from peeking inside the boat. It was a mess inside!

To make a long story short, the staircase — and visit — was a huge success. Dad and his sweetheart, Sharon, both climbed up to the deck to enjoy the view (Sharon might say the vertigo), but they didn’t look inside (even though I did frantically clean the interior). Instead, they took us to town for lunch and some much-needed shopping, and we enjoyed each others’ company for a precious afternoon.

Dave, with his camera

Dave, with his camera

That wasn’t our first Monday visit from a family member. On a rainy Monday in November, my brother Dave had driven from Daytona, stopping in Jacksonville to pick up a load of marine plywood. We also had lunch and some much-needed shopping, but the best part was two days of visiting and a photography expedition to historic Fort Clinch.

What a treat, that my Florida family members would drive all this way to see me and Barry and Flutterby!

Our latest Monday visitors, however, were the most remarkable of all, and definitely appreciated the new staircase. Barry’s parents, Sharon and Dave, have been a part of our Flutterby adventure for over six years now. They had never even seen the boat.

They started out on Camano Island, Washington, and went down through California and across the southern states, with a stop in Big Bend, Texas. The apogee of their circuitous journey was in the Florida Keys, where they looked up Sharon’s cousin, Vic Gaspeny. He’s a well-known fishing guide who has caught a record 200 swordfish in his career.

Barry's Dad with Barry and Meps under Flutterby

We were super-excited about Barry’s parents’ visit

By the time they stood under the bow of Flutterby, grinning up at us, they had traveled 6000 miles. Barry and I practically fell down the staircase to deliver some long-awaited hugs.

We had wonderful dinners in town with them and did more much-needed shopping (is there a theme here?). This time, it wasn’t groceries and plywood, but a salvage yard in St. Augustine, about 50 miles away. While we were taking measurements for Flutterby’s new main yard, which is a repurposed mast from a much-smaller sailboat, they were bird-watching in the parking lot! “Is that woodpecker a ladderback?” asked Sharon, juggling a bird book and a pair of binoculars.

We don’t have any more visitors scheduled, so if you happen to be in the neighborhood, please stop by and visit us here in St. Marys. It doesn’t have to be on a Monday. We always need to go shopping.

Barry and his parents on the staircase in front of Flutterby

Barry and his parents on the infamous staircase

Brick staircase inside Fort Clinch

Inside historic Fort Clinch

The beach at Fort Clinch State Park

The beach at Fort Clinch State Park

Beauty and goodness are in the air

One man’s trash is another man’s treasure,
And one woman’s work is another one’s pleasure.

Painting Flutterby's name with a marl-stick

Painting Flutterby’s name with a marl-stick in 2010

On a warm, sunny day like last Saturday, the boatyards are full of all kinds of painters. You can tell the bottom-painters by their green or blue hair. Topsides-painters don’t usually have colorful hair, just colorful language. Every gnat who drops an infinitesimal bit of dust on their perfect mirror finish provokes a new and interesting batch of swear-words.

Less common are the traditionalists who paint the name of their boat, using a marl-stick, instead of ordering vinyl stickers. I didn’t know what a marl-stick was before I painted “Flutterby” on the side of Flutterby.

The least common painters are the women I saw last Saturday, who had colorful smocks and sweaters instead of colorful hair and language. Before they began, they walked around the yard, holding up their fingers to make little rectangular frames. Then they set up their French box easels and went to work on pristine white canvases.

They were “plein-air” painters: People who go outdoors to paint pictures. They follow in the tradition of artists like Money, Pisarro, Van Gogh, and Renoir, taking advantage of natural light to create images on location.

Average-looking fiberglass sailboat with lots of junk around it

Average-looking fiberglass sailboat with lots of junk around it

But here, in an industrial boatyard, full of heavy equipment?

I struck up a conversation with one of the painters, commenting, “Every day, I ride my bicycle five miles to the library to draw. Then you guys drive all the way out here to paint!” “Oh, you should join us,” she told me, earnestly.

I shook my head. I couldn’t take a day off just to paint a pretty picture.

I asked what brought them out to the boatyard, because she’d told me she came from Fernandina Beach, about 45 minutes away. “We love the shapes of the boats,” she said, looking over my shoulder at a row of hauled-out sailboats. I turned and took in the scene. I saw a compressor, an orange pylon, a blue plastic kayak, a small RV, and in the middle, an average-looking fiberglass boat with a lot of stuff on the deck.

Then I looked at her painting. She had simply painted the maroon and white sailboat, capturing the classic lines of the yacht and the marshes behind it. All the ugly stuff was absent.

Artist working on her painting of a sailboat

Artist with painting of sailboat

Suddenly, the whole boatyard looked different to me. “It’s about what you leave out, isn’t it?” I said, more to myself than to her.

In the days since then, I’ve looked at this place through new eyes. I’ve noticed the lines of the tugboat against a dazzling sunset. I’ve noticed the perfect reflection of a rusty crane in the water. I’ve noticed some breathtakingly colorful oil slicks.

For years, I’ve been telling Barry that living in boatyards is no fun, that these places don’t speak to my “artist’s soul.” But if artists are driving out here deliberately, in order to make art, I’d better rethink that perspective.

There’s a wonderful lesson for all of us from the plein-air painters. We see what we choose to see. No matter where we are, we can choose to see beauty and goodness with a little imagination.

Painting of a boatyard in front of the boats

This artist made a dumpster look romantic and added a shipwright who didn’t exist

~

 

A chilly Georgia morning

Now that I’ve completed over 100 illustrations  for my book, I’ve decided to start adding pen-and-ink drawings to the blog, too. I hope you enjoy these new “doodles!” ~1meps

~~~

Original illustration by Margaret Meps Schulte

Lucky kingfisher

With temperatures in the low 30s, the folks of St. Marys stayed inside today. They even closed the schools, just in case there was ice on the roads (there wasn’t). So when I set off on my bicycle this morning, there were more animals than people.

A chorus of birds serenaded me from the trees as I headed north from the boatyard. Then I turned west on the North River Causeway, pedaling across a small bridge and through golden marshes at high tide. Across the river, the Spanish moss-draped trees were full of big white blobs — egrets, huddled against the cold. To the south, a single great blue heron skimmed the surface of the water.

Farther along, I heard the distinctive chattering call of a kingfisher. I looked up just as he ended with a loud “SQUAWK!” A hawk had swooped down out of the trees, intent on attacking the small, noisy kingfisher. He failed, and the kingfisher zoomed past me, announcing to the world that he would live another day. The hawk circled back into the trees, disappointed.

The rest of the animals on my route were silent; even the dogs who usually charge their fences to bark at me were affected by the cold. I hardly recognized the one who is usually the most vociferous — he just looked at me and wagged his tail in cold, silent solidarity. The rest of the canines, the lucky ones, were inside their owners’ warm homes.

Original illustration by Margaret Meps Schulte

Needy kittens

I passed a house with a sign that said, “But I am poor and needy; yet the Lord thinketh upon me,” and a few doors down, two tiny feral kittens sat on the sidewalk. They were poor and needy creatures, too cold and hungry to even run away.

By the time I arrived at the library, I was thoroughly chilled. I was glad to spend the entire day in that quiet place of refuge, writing and drawing. Silent, like the kittens, but sheltered and grateful.

Going overboard with stuff

Last month, I tried to donate a bag of stuff to the Salvation Army. When I pulled into the parking lot, one Monday morning, I found the office staff filling a dumpster. Over the weekend, someone had left an entire household’s worth of stuff on their doorstep. Rather than sort it, they just threw it all away. They looked at my tiny bag and said, “Sorry, we’d just put that in the dumpster, too.”

Frog trivet

Froggie trivet aboard Flutterby

I took it back to the boat, which is full of overflowing piles on the settee, pilot berth, centerboard trunk, and chart table. I’m not sure where it is now, maybe on the dinette table, which is buried under a pile of pure, unorganized crap that threatens to fossilize.

It’s not my fault that I have all this stuff. When we bought Flutterby, in 2006, she was completely empty. There wasn’t a single dish, piece of silverware, or tool on board; we carefully selected the trivets and toys and t-shirts and canvas bags and navigation tools we wanted and brought them to the boat.

Over the next seven years, something unexpected happened in our lives. People we knew and loved died.

Our older friends nod their heads knowingly and say, “Get used to it.” But I stomp my foot and say, “No! We are too young for this!”

Meps with one of Stevie's froggie toys

One of Stevie’s froggie toys

The problem is, every person who was close to us leaves behind items we love and have to find room for. Flutterby now has a Froggie trivet and a lot of Froggie toys — those were Stevie’s. Bill Brown left behind canvas bags from the Seattle Women’s Sailing Association that bring back happy memories. My clothing locker is overflowing with giant tie-dyed shirts from Philip’s collection. The chart table has navigation tools from Barry’s uncle Roger.

Don’t even ask about the ashes. They take up room, too.

Yesterday, I said to Barry, “This boat is full of ghosts.” He shook his head, saying, “No. Just memories.” That same day, I found out it could be worse.

Lance, who has been working on a very large Gulfstar sailboat, was gone from the yard when we returned from our Christmas trip. We heard that he’d gone north to attend a friend’s funeral.

Yesterday, Lance stopped by to talk to me and Barry. He’s a fairly quiet, thoughtful man, not someone who talks a lot.

“See that boat, there?” he pointed to a modest-sized sailboat across from his own. “I just inherited it,” he said, with a sigh.

Lance's sailboat

A boat is a lot bigger than a trivet

Lance has owned a lot of boats in his life — this one is his 17th. She’s half the size and complexity of his own boat, and she’s practically ready to go. We talked about how easy it would be to finish a couple of projects, jump on board, and go cruising.

But Lance isn’t ready to give up his boat for his friend’s. That brings me back to my original dilemma. I’m not ready to give up my clothes for Philip’s, or my canvas bags for Bill’s, or my toys for Stevie’s. I just keep cramming more and more stuff into the lockers.

Lance did give me a great idea for storing the ashes, though. He was checking out a boat for sale once, and he noticed that it had a false bulkhead. Lance started poking at it, trying to figure out what was behind it, when the woman who owned it stopped him. “Don’t mess with that! That’s Harry!”

It turned out that her deceased husband came with the boat.

“That was too much for me,” said Lance. “I didn’t buy that boat.”