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Forty boats…

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Silver dock looking north

I’ve been walking a lot lately. One day I’ll set my phone with a tracking app before I start out, and see just much distance I cover in a single continuous walk of the south docks.

In the vastness of all these docks, each region has its own unique atmosphere. Grey docks, closest to shore, is populated by the twenty and under crowd – daysailers, skiffs, and open runabouts.

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Red dock has a lively crowd of cuddy-cabins and center consoles off the south end of the main dock; to the north, an eclectic collection of 30′ and under sailboats of every age and style, from a 1916 gaff rigged sloop to colorful Cape Dories and a little black Flicka.  Green dock is the domain of the thirty foot crowd, both power and sail.

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By Blue dock the boats have reached the forty foot range and up, and the same goes for Silver, the furthest of the group. And within each dock, especially where the boats are docked stern in, cockpits serve like stoops on a city street and neighborhoods of a sort have evolved, each with their own residents and unique character.

Last weekend a few transients decided to visit – and by a few I mean forty, No, that isn’t a typo. FORTY boats…thirty-seven of them arriving within hours of each other. You see, every year a group from Staten Island comes up for the weekend, usually a handful of boats. But then another club decided it might be fun, and yet another sizable group had chosen the same weekend for their annual cruise. And each group wanted to be grouped close together (bonus points when the boats range in size.) Forty boats that all had to go into the correct assigned slips, because once one boat goes in the wrong place, the ‘someone was in my slip so I went into another’ dominoes start to fall. All it takes is one dinghy. But I verified each slip was clear long before the naval invasion began, rounding up and relocating errant dinghies, which have a habit of nesting in the vacant (transient) slips beside their mother-ships, rather than at the dinghy dock. It’s permitted, but when we need the slip they have to move. And Friday afternoon they began arriving, sometimes in clusters of three and four at a time as they were directed to their docks. The dockhands hustled, and like clockwork every single boat was tied up in the correct slip as they moved to the next. On a normal weekend the marina sees roughly a dozen visiting boats. This was not a normal weekend. The yard crew joked that it was my trial by fire, But it was also a great weekend. Everyone had a good time, and all our guests left today, tired and happy. The ‘Silver Bullet’ crowd are a fun bunch, and I look forward to seeing them all again next year. And I’ve suggested we get a group together to visit Staten Island – they certainly know how to have a good time!

A funny thing happened to me on the way to the boat…

Lots of boats, lots of docks.

Lots of boats, lots of docks.

Sometimes life can take some surprising turns, presenting the strangest opportunities and most unexpected challenges at just the right time. Sometimes it takes years for those moments to arrive, and sometimes they can completely blindside you — but I’ve had lots a practice being blindsided over the last few years, and I’ve gotten pretty good at handling just about anything you can throw at me.

I’ve always believed everything happens for a reason, even if that reason may not be apparent at the time. And while I was driving down to the boat with my canine crew for a day of writing/boat work, contently enjoying my lack of employment, I was completely unaware that major changes were happening at the marina around the corner, where I’d worked a few years back. Unknown to me, my name was the one that kept coming up for the Dock Master position. People who’d worked with me said I was the right person for the job, and anyone who knows me knows this job is perfect for me. So, when I found myself meeting with the owner and the manager of Haverstraw Marina to discuss my becoming Dock Master of the thousand slip marina complex — well, let’s just say I had a lot to consider.

Ultimately, they made me an offer I couldn’t refuse, and the last two weeks have been a blur. Last week it became official, and I’m only starting to catch my breath now.  The timing couldn’t be more ideal; a few months ago a job like that (any job, for that matter,) wouldn’t have been an option. But I feel fantastic, I’m healthier than I’ve been in years. And what a job! I’m working among many long-time friends, seeing boaters I hadn’t seen in years, and making new friends by the day. The picture at the start of the post was taken just outside the marina office — that’s the view from my desk, though much I’m spending much of my time on the docks and throughout the yard. Haverstraw is a convenient stop for Great Loopers, and we have a steady flow of visiting boats coming and going, so you never know what the next day will bring. And with roughly seven hundred customer boats spread over four dock complexes, it’s rarely dull.

There is one down side to this that I had to accept. It’s a simple equation of time. I only have so much. There’s no way be finishing up Evacuation Route as soon as I’d hoped, yet again. But finish I will, and I’ll move forward with future books knowing my best material  always came from working jobs like this — though not quite on THIS scale. 

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As for Annabel Lee, she’s on the fast track to launch, if only for a very short cruise to her new home and deep-water slip waiting at Haverstraw. And my car?Last I heard, it’s somewhere out west, having a whole lot of fun with the kids.

Doing just fine, actually

“How are you?”

A dear friend asked me just that the other day. And the answer, quite simply, is fantastic. Over the last two years, as my inexplicable occasional loss of consciousness, along with general decline of brain function and all the fun stuff that goes with it, went from bad to worse, people who were used to seeing me in person noticed I’d all but vanished. I wasn’t around the boat anymore, which began to look less like a restoration and more like a forgotten dream. I wasn’t working in the yard. I didn’t bump into old friends at my usual diners. No, I was locked up at home, my car indefinitely parked while I remained parked at my keyboard, doggedly trying to get from A to B with an mental engine that kept derailing and losing cars. And yes, that’s just me making light of something that was far worse than these few sentences can sum up. Every day became a battle, one it seemed I was losing. Not fun.

Happily, those days are past. Once the medical community had finally narrowed my plummeting blood pressure and all the other fun symptoms to a lack of sodium — and not for a lack of salt in my diet but the inability to absorb it — everything changed. In the first days taking Fludrocortisone it seemed a miracle; the dizziness was gone, completely, and my head had gone from foggy to sharp and clear. My head was functioning properly, and I was afraid it was too good to last. I was certain my body would eventually adjust to the medications and I’d be back where I started, or worse. But three months in, and things have only gotten better. I’m back to hiking, house maintenance, the boat’s coming together by the day, (okay, the week, but day sounds better,) and beta copies of Evacuation Route should be in a few unsuspecting hands real soon.

But back to the original question. How am I doing? As in, should I really be driving around, or climbing ladders and working on the boat? Is that safe?

Yes. Driving. Climbing on ladders. Walking on docks. Hiking with the dogs. Yes, yes, and yes. Thanks to one tiny little pill, I now absorb sodium normally. My blood pressure is not to high, not too low, but just right, and everything functions perfectly, just the way it should. No restrictions on diet, activity, or anything else. In fact, I’m pretty damned healthy, aside from that one little imbalance that’s in balance now. Of course, I gave my car permission to go cross country with the kids back when I wasn’t driving at all. And now that I’m back on the road in my daughter’s much newer (smaller, clutchless) Focus wagon, my car is currently headed somewhere towards Nebraska or thereabouts, and having much fun along the way. 

WHERE is my car?

Ohio, at last sighting, and likely back on the move.

What’s it doing in Ohio? Just passing through. Not me, though. I’m still right here in good old NJ. As of yesterday, I wrapped up another round of edits on Evacuation Route, which brings me that much closer to done, and the momentum has become non-stop. And while I’m sitting at my keyboard, my car, along with my daughter and her boyfriend, are all off on a cross-country road trip.

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They’d been planning a far shorter trip, a week or so, out to a music festival in Michigan, with a stop to visit friends along the way. But then there were a few more friends and a national park they’d been wanting to camp in, and then another festival days later and hours from there.  The trip grew, limited by how far their budget for fuel would take them in his Mazda sedan. Meanwhile, my Jetta TDI wagon, which has more space and double the MPG, wasn’t traveling much beyond the home/boat/Shoprite loop. When I offered that they instead take my car, that opened up miles of options to them, and the Great Road Trip began to take shape. You know that trip, the one everyone talks about doing at least once in their lifetime. Backpacking Europe. A grand road trip.  You get the idea. The kind of trip anyone caught on the treadmill of life warns you to take while you’re still young…like those two in the above photo. Do it while you can, and as word spread, donated camping gear, backpack frames and other items they’d been needing began to fill the car. For the most part they’ll be traveling from national park to national park, hiking and camping, and sending me back lots of pictures. So here’s what we’re looking at, approximately.

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That’s what a shoe-string budget, a whole lot of second-hand gear, and six hundred plus miles a tankful gets you. I have, however, given them one request regarding my car. I expect it returned covered in bumper stickers proudly proclaiming all the fun places it’s visited.

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The kids did give me a present before they left, though.

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That’s the bottom of the boat.  The WHOLE bottom, and they sanded it completely before they left. More pics to follow.

And now, back to work for me. I’ve got a book to wrap up.

Blame the dog…

Don’t let that angelic face deceive you. I’m back. Back on the inter webs, back at the boatyard, and back at the keyboard in full force, and it’s all her fault.

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Right now I’m so tired from days of boat work and nights of writing — so tired, in fact, that I decided WTH, just post something. Thus, this. I figured if I waited until I wasn’t, I never would. And that pretty much defines the approach I’m going to take to posting. Life’s going pretty fast these days, and so is my typing. You may encounter a typo or two. I’ve wanted to post for some time now; there’s a lot going on and things are finally moving forward. Oh, right. I never mentioned that they’d all but ground to a stop.

I guess I should bring you, whoever you may be, up to speed. I mean, look at this blog. It used to be so active, so alive. Then it all but ground to a halt. What’s the deal with that? And what about that book I was writing? (stay tuned) and what about that boat I was fixing. (ditto) Where had all the updates gone??? And what’s one little dog have to do with any of that?

Well, the blog was a perfect indicator of my existence. Something had always been a bit ‘off’ about me  – I’ll be the first to admit it, and anyone who knows me personally can attest to that. For the most part I was healthy, aside from occasional and seemingly random episodes of dizziness, lightheadedness and fainting. When I was younger they’d happen once or twice a year, but as I’ve grown older I’d been having more problems, both physically and mentally. The occasional lightheadedness became a frequent fog of muddled thoughts and confusion, and the episodes were coming more often and staying longer.  I stopped driving, stopped going anywhere. It was getting worse. Much worse. By last winter I was hitting bottom, hard. Ironically, on paper, I’m fantastically healthy. I don’t eat ANY processed foods, don’t drink soda or anything else sweetened. I do like salt, though. I put salt on everything. Not just popcorn. I’m talking toast, bagels, vegetables, fruit, lemonade (and please hold the sugar — much too sweet!)  And I’m not talking a shake or two. I’m talking LOTS of salt. Still, I was slim, had low cholesterol, low blood pressure and nice low heart rate; precisely what much of the population is striving to achieve. For years all I’d gotten from the medical community was a pat on the head and a gold star. All my numbers were nice and low — so low, in fact, that they’d recheck my vitals, and more than once medical staff tried a second cuff or recounted my pulse, certain something wasn’t reading right. But numbers like 80/55 and a heart that idled around 60 beats per minute, rarely broke 100 under load, and has occasionally dropped into the 30s, were the norm for me.  You can find plenty of info on the dangers of high numbers, but little on low readings. Everyone assumes low is good, lower is better. I can assure you, it isn’t. More than once I’d been told, “I wish all my patients were this healthy,” while I was treated with patronizing patience – clearly I was healthy, and my ‘concerns’ (concerns? I dented the sink with my skull while passing out, and lay unconscious for god knows how long,) were really a case of ‘female hormones’. Of course. Faint = emotional distress.

I know I used to be active and productive. Now, simple daily activities were a struggle, and not only from the dizziness and overwhelming exhaustion. The worst part was my mind – it was unravelling. I couldn’t concentrate, barely hold a thought, and the only thing that saved me was writing, though that was a constant uphill battle. But writing allowed me to retain some of my thoughts, though anyone who has read my books would be amused (disturbed?) to know I followed Hammon’s lead and took to writing memory cues. By last winter, things were hitting critical mass.

And then we found Emma.

This is the newest member of the crew, and the last thing I needed when I could barely take care of myself and my two older dogs. But when an episode hit days later, that ten pound bundle glued herself to my side, licking my face and softly whining. And each time after that, she knew something was happening, even though I was lying there, unable to move or speak, lingering just on the edge of consciousness. That led me to later Google “Dog knows I’m going to faint.” (start at 1:20 for a perfect example of what I’ve been dealing with.) And that led me to a whole lot of information I’d never known, as well as the right doctor and eventually, an answer and a direction for managing what’s going on. In a nutshell, I have an autonomic dysfunction (aka: Dysautonomia) brought on by what appears to be adrenal insufficiency, (Click the links for all the fun details — they’re fascinating.) and my body wasn’t properly retaining sodium. Bodies need salt to function. Without enough salt, dehydration follows. Everything from the brain on down starts shutting down, and that isn’t pretty. We’re still trying to figure out what underlying condition is causing this, but now we’re getting somewhere, including a treatment.

Fludrocortisone, aka the Anti-Zombie pills! One unassuming little white pill, but with it, my body can process sodium. Blood pressure is up to a nice normal level, stable, and for the first time in longer than I can recall fresh blood is reaching the top floors. The dizziness, the fatigue, the brain-fog — they’re all gone. I’m still not outrunning any zombies, not with a heart that rarely breaks 100 beats per minute, and likes to linger in the low 50s.  Then again, zombies might not even realize I’m among the living.  But I am, once again, and oh is it great to have my brain cells back!

So now you all know where I’ve been hiding, and why. Through it all I never stopped writing; no matter how much of a struggle it became, I refused to give up.  I know some of you are wondering if that third book would ever become a reality, and for a time so was I.  And right now I need to get back to editing the second draft. A few close friends have asked, politely as possible, if the entire thing is a smoldering train-wreck, considering the frame of mind, or lack thereof,  it had been written in. Let’s just say the story’s straight out of some in-te-resting parts of my mind, and much of it delves into Hammon’s head. You know how they say the best writing comes when you shut off your inner editor. Mine wasn’t just shut, it was boarded up and abandoned.  So, plot-wise, dialog-wise, character-wise, this story is rock solid and a total blast. Editing-wise, oh do I have my work cut out for me. And on that note, it’s time to get back to work.

Emma (now 40 pounds), Loki and Rex

 

Surely a sign of a coming apocalypse…

Yup.

*Gasp!* Me, making a public appearance, doing some of that non-writing writer stuff.

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Oh hai!

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My loyal crew, taking a peek over the stern. Why are we still in the same position?

So, what have I been up to lately?

Writing. Lots and lots of writing, though obviously, very little of it here. Yes, Evacation Route WILL be completed — soon. That’s the most I’ll say at this point. Soon. I’ve learned not to project completions, as inevitably that sets some guy named Murphy into giggling fits, at which point a part can’t be found/someone gets sick/computers crash/I find a large tree in the middle of my little kitchen. But this Murphy dude, he’s a got one thing going for him — he’s one hell of a teacher, whether you want to learn or not. And the lesson of the last year (+)?  Don’t waste a second.

Time is a sneaky thing. Ignore the seconds slipping by, and they start to group together, form minutes, then hours, days, years…you get the idea. It’s like an avalanche — it all starts with one pretty, delicate, innocent little flake. So fragile and fleeting, barely worth the notice. But let them start building up, and gradually they begin to blanket every surface, silently growing in weight and force. Eventually you have something massive enough to scour a mountainside of every tree or structure in its way.

In my life, there’s plenty of dust, but it rarely settles for long, and the minute it does, the minute I sweep it up, I’m right back to making more. The boat is a perfect example.  But at some point in the dust-loop (at least that’s what I’m calling it,) it occurred to me that I don’t get this time back. I suppose that comes along with my odometer creeping up on the half-century mark. And I started to realize many of my seconds were evaporating, with little to show for them.

Not anymore. Now, I have plenty to show for my time. I just haven’t shown anyone yet. (That day is approaching, and I’ll be putting a call out for a few beta readers to give me their feedback.) Yes, there’s all the good, bad stuff. Plenty of murder and mayhem, plenty of twisted humor and twisted plot twists. My top priority for every free minute is WRITING. These days, I have more on a page by ten in the morning than a full day’s worth in the past.  A story far stronger than anything I’d ever written is taking shape by the day. And even when I’m not writing I’m still writing, jotting down notes even as I make dinner or walk the dogs.

In the past I posted here more. I’d like to hope in the future I will again, but for the time being, I’m staying right where I am, in my self-imposed interweb exile. There are only so many hours in the day, and the majority of those hours are going into chapters of writing, with occasional breaks for working on the boat, walking the dogs, eating, and sleeping.  Don’t get me wrong, we all need some downtime, and I’m giving myself that as well, catching up on some long overdue reading. And occasionally I even sleep…in moderation. Everything is good in moderation.

Except writing. And caffeine.

Caffeine is my friend.