A poop talk

We volunteered at the island school this week, first doing a very introductory presentation on how it took us a LONG time to accomplish our goal of sailing to the Bahamas. We started planning for this thirty one years ago. We learned how to sail (I never even sat in a sailboat until I was 26 years old), and then borrowed boats, owned our first boat together, and then we got our second boat together. We’ve been working on our beloved “Magus,” a 37 foot Banjer pilot house ketch, since 2008, and now finally this year we were able to sail her to the Bahamas. It feels like such an incredible accomplishment to be here! It was a lot of work, but it was worth it!

We’ve had to solve a lot of problems over all these years  and so we shared a little bit about how we coped with and resolved some our our big problems just one little piece at a time.

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One of the problems we have to solve when living on a boat is poop. Not just our own poop, but  dog poop. Nobody likes to talk about poop, but it’s  not a great idea to overlook it either.

My idea of a happy day is any day where I can just jump off the boat and swim around it. So, I don’t dump shit in the water, because I would never want to shit up the water quality around my boat. We use a urine separating composting toilet for human poop. You  don’t “have to”dump shit into the water. You really don’t. And, honestly, I wish you wouldn’t.

So, I feel the same way about dog shit. I don’t toss it into the harbor because I don’t want it to get into my hair  if at some point I jump in to swim.

So, we made a mini composting kit special for our dogs’ poopies! It works great!img_4131

This is a two quart container 1/4 filled with peat moss. The dogs poop on deck, I pick it up with the “kit bag” and drop it into the peat. I roll the kit around a bit to mix the poop with the peat moss and I leave the kit open and exposed to air for the few minutes I am collecting and depositing poop. The poop molds over and disappears into the peat (very!) rapidly. This is our forth day of using this kit, and it is amazingly unstinky. I did add a little scoop more of peat moss today.

Why encase feces in plastic bags? Truly  the right thing to do with compostable organic matter is to compost it, especially if your only other option is open air burning.  Do you know how smokey, toxic and gross it is when you try to burn a pile of dog shit that is in little plastic bags?  Shit in plastic bags doesn’t burn that well.

Elliot Colman shared some research once about how composting helps neutralize so many toxins, including chemicals like DDT. We take our compost out into the woods and dig a hole, bury it, and cover it with more compostable materials. Making a mini compost pile, and then burying that in the woods to be further digested by soil microbes is a better option than bagging the poop in plastic.img_4133

Not to sound poop “holier than thou,” because we do sometimes dump pee into the harbor. We have pee collection jugs that we can cap and store when full, to dump on an outgoing tide at least, or preferably while at sea. But when the dogs pee on the deck, as they do daily, we just scoop up sea water, and rinse off the deck. Although pee is not always “sterile” as some claim, it does not pose the same risks that feces pose to human health.

What’s worse than pee and poop? As much as people don’t like to talk about poop, it’s even harder to talk about all the waste that is not compostable.

Plastic waste is a big huge problem. It can feel overwhelming. So we start just start by solving a piece of the problem, and then we can build on that.

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I’ll (try to) be there for you

The weather was not perfectly still. A big Northwest gale had  passed, still the ocean surface scalloped energetically. The tide was going out. Albert found an island, Gumelemi Cay, that looked like it could have great snorkeling.  We inched off the channel and anchored in an idyllic, though bumpy cove off a teeny island. Albert brought his underwater camera.

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We put on snorkels and fins and fell into the water. There was a pretty good current and it sent us whizzing over muddy clumps of grass, not coral gardens. Still I didn’t want to be a spoilsport. We were hoping this would be the best snorkeling of our lifetime.

The coral bordered a cut between a ledge island and the larger island of Guana Cay. As we headed towards it, waves were breaking on one side. Our idea was  we’d stay on other side. As we approached we could see that the coral bank must drop off on the breaking waves side. Then I saw this really big huge fish, the size of a cat, with very funny twiddling fins. I touched Albert and pointed. We willingly followed it for maybe one stroke, then we were both abruptly swept across the reef, and into a very strong current.

I love to swim, I am a strong experienced swimmer, and we have snorkeled together many times, but as I got swept over, water filled my snorkel and I couldn’t  seem to recover from it. I found myself guzzling seawater. Gasping I hollered “I’m heading back!” With relief, I registered that he  was  also heading back.

img_4323I had another few seconds of getting really pooped by waves before I could come up for air and look around for Albert. He was pretty near, clearly going through a similar experience.  I got off the snorkel and got on my back, and I saw Albert was doing the same. I said, “I’m not sure if I can make it.” I tried to see the boat. “Oh my God!” I couldn’t see the boat right away and  thought maybe we were really being swept away faster than we were swimming back.  Then I saw the boat. I didn’t really have any energy for fixing the gear on my head, and the snorkel was useless in this chop, so I just flipped it up and gasped on my back,  the snorkel getting wacked against my head by the waves.

“That’s good, do the back stroke.” Adrenaline helped. “We’re halfway there,” Albert said. It was such a relief to see we were getting closer rather than further away.

sunp0021When I got to the boat, my energy was so depleted my arms and legs were like rubber. Somehow I pulled myself up the ladder and Albert followed.

“My knees are knocking. I don’t know if it’s because I’m scared or because my muscles are totally drained.”

“Yeah, that was pretty intense.”

In the days since, we’ve talked over what could have happened. If we had gone just a little further, what if we’d been swept out to sea.

As it was happening, I could see that he needed to save himself and I needed to save myself. We couldn’t really help each other. It took us thirty minutes to get back to the dinghy.

The day before it had been my birthday. I am never my best self on my birthday. Albert gave me a birthday card that reads “Jenny- Happy 58th trip! Like the moon and the stars seem to revolve around the Earth, I revolve around you. Thank you for being you, my partner and help-mate. I will always be here for you.” Love Albert.

And on my birthday, I didn’t like the card. “But you won’t always be there for me!” I am not a person who takes our mortality lightly.  And yes sure, he revolves around me but what does that mean, anyway? And as though I was still menstruating, I wept. “You didn’t get me a birthday present?”  The card was it.

But now, I’ve got these pictures. sunp0055

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For What It’s Worth

IMG_4258.JPGNow that Albert is retired he’s able to join me at these little school gigs  with the dogs. Last week I did a short unit on “incremental problem solving” with the help of Albert and Tigerlily, and ever since we’ve been running into the kids around the island. “Mr. Albert! Miss Jenny!” And if we don’t have the dogs with us, “Where’s Tigerlily? Where’s Bee?”

Today we  helped again with a different school project, where kids measured shifting sands, pulled invasive plants, picked up and tallied trash, counted piping plovers. When we arrived, some of the kids greeted me by singing one of my songs (that I taught them last time) back at me. “I’m gonna plant a tree!”img_4236

My songs aren’t on the radio. I’m not famous. But the kids made me feel that way when told me they want to grow up to be a songwriter and a dog trainer and a volunteer just like me.

Walking back from the beach, we met up with a loose dog.  One child asked,”do you need to hit dogs sometimes?”  Another child answered for me, having discerned the answer from our performance last week. “No! If you want to teach it first you need to know what the dog likes!”

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As we walked, I pointed out the way organic matter decomposes and turns to dirt. One little girl asked me, “Do you have trees where you live too? Do those leaves become dirt? Do all leaves become dirt?”

It’s so easy to be helpful. Together our group of parents and kids bagged up trash. We gathered some data. We comforted each other. The kids probably don’t realize how all the little things they said were worth so much to us.

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Bite Me!

In another post I wrote about my fears of Zika, dengue and chikungunya, and how I planned to protect myself from mosquitos. But  we have seen exactly one mosquito since we arrived in the Bahamas and we killed it! (You’re welcome!) The no see ums, however, have a bigger bite.

It makes you crazy at first because you can’t see um! Although they are only a bother when there is no wind, no see um bites make some people itch like craaazzy! That’s me! Albert is not bothered in the slightest.

Deet didn’t seem to work, but I found this awesome sunscreen, in a gallon size jug, which is non toxic to coral reefs, that works like sticky paper. I lather it on, I don’t burn and the no see ums get gooped up in it and can’t bite. It’s a little messy but hey, we don’t care.  img_4113Coconut oil also worked, and the husband didn’t mind me lathering myself up that at all! Long sleeve pants and shirts and socks, hats,  closing the screens carefully on windless days also worked great. On hot still nights,  I walk around and look at the windows just before sunset. Any bugs which sneek in congregate inside the screens and windows near sunset. I spray windex on them which kills them dead, and makes me feel weird about Windex.

I also brought a tube of topical Benadryl that really stopped the itching, and cortisone cream also worked. You definitely don’t want to scratch because scratching makes it worse. If you don’t itch, the bites go away in 24 hours.

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Vixen and Vino

img_4077“So what sort of accent is that?”

For the record, I don’t have an accent, you have an accent. But people have asked about my accent all my life.

When I was little I explained it saying, “My Italian Grandfather lives with us,” or “My Nana is Scottish.” Maybe it’s that I’ve taken a lot of voice classes and lessons or I just like to enunciate. And weirdly, if I am speaking with a French speaker, I suddenly get a French accent. When speaking to a religious fundamentalist, I start thanking God more than usual. It’s not an accent, it’s verbal nervousness. And this lady has been calling us “dahling,” and hugging us a little too enthusiastically for two days.

“Well dahling, I thought maybe it sounded maybe a teeny bit Scottish, or maybe voice lessons. Maybe that’s it. It’s just a curious little lilt. I couldn’t place it.”

“Oh well, you are the one who has a beautiful accent.”

“Oh yes I know dahling, my mother  said I would have a true Londoner’s accent and I truly do. This is  proper

English. I can’t help it!”

She is a beautiful skinny Pilates instructor, a few years younger than me, batting her eyes at my husband and inviting us to join her for a Pilates session the next morning. I agree, but privately express a few reservations to Albert.

“She’s awfully touchy feely. I can’t relax in a Pilates session if this woman starts touching your body all over the place.  We don’t know her.”

“She won’t be touching my body at all,”he scoffs, but  a little glow shines cheerfully, like a halo hovering just over his bald spot.  And I don’t want to be a party pooper. Many men have flirted with me over the years, I tell myself. This is his turn.

So I soldier on bravely that night, as one of several enlistees playing music around the campfire. The fire was bright, the starlit sky magic. The ocean swirled at our feet. At some point I set down my guitar and hunted the shadows for my husband. I found him seated beside the vixen and her maybe irritated husband.

“What are you doing? Come sit beside me.” I had an Aussie sitting beside me, adoringly pouring me shots. It seemed like a good idea to provide our new crowd of friends with visual evidence that Albert and I are a couple.

“Oh, you need me?” The Vixen flashed me a slightly guilty smirk. I grabbed Albert by the ass and led him back to the campfire.

“I wasn’t talking to her,” he said. “She came over and whispered something in my ear. That was a little weird. I don’t even know what she said! But I wasn’t hanging out with her.”

The next morning in our Pilates session I am doing a child’s pose, and look left under my armpit to see my husband on the mat beside me. He is being straddled by the Vixen, who has both her hands on his stomach. I focus on my breathing, but there is a little twist in my stomach.

Later, Albert and I have this conversation.

“She touched me?” He claimed he hardly  noticed it. “Didn’t she touch everyone? She was STRADDLING me?! I had my eyes closed!”

And I’m honestly not worried, and not jealous,but I get the impression that she might be. I can understand being smitten by Albert. And her smile when it illuminates her face is beautiful in spite of the way it is aimed at Albert. It feels petty of me to be bothered by it.

That afternoon, the women at the anchorage get together over tea. In our chat, the Vixen helpfully singles me out as the type of woman who needs to lose belly weight, and who might unfortunately hate my own body in spite of the way my body is not my fault.

“But I don’t hate my body,” I stammer in somehow broken English. “My husband, he loves my belly.” I turn toward the Quebecois, surprised to hear my voice now has a French accent, “And I like to eat. He likes to eat too.”

They all nod their heads doubtfully. and somehow  I  promise to bring my handsome husband, myself and a belly fattening bottle of wine to yet another awkward social gathering. We end up sharing a sunset with just the Vixen.

“Oh hello dahling!” As we arrive, she’s showered and wearing a translucent white linen blouse that floats over her dancer’s body. Her long rosy hair is freshly washed, draped over one shoulder. She looks like I imagine our own redheaded daughter might look in 25 more years.

But almost the only other thing I can remember from this evening was the way she didn’t sit still. She’d curl one leg, flex up her foot, reach her toned leg and toes up over her head, all while flooding my husband with this radiant smile.   Albert and I giggled.

Her partner arrived as the sun disappeared, scatching no-see-um bites he’d gotten while being helpful around the farm.  Quiet, his mood seemed the normal consequence of being itchy, but I wondered if he was noticing her misdirected radiance too. He kindly grabbed a flashlight and walked us down the dock to our dinghy. The Vixen was giving Albert a good bye hug. I could hear Albert making the enthusiastic noshing noises we sometimes make when hugging beloved family members.

I imagine the boats in the anchorage could hear our loud conversation as we motored out to our boat. “That noise! ugh! I didn’t come here to listen to you groaning while hugging some strange woman!”

“What do you mean? She hugged everyone. It was just a hug. I was just being polite.”

“She didn’t hug me!”

“She didn’t hug you?”

“How would you like it if I hugged her partner that way?”  I cried. “I don’t want to do this,” My voice quavered. This was not my best self.  “I want to go home!” I felt embarassed and humiliated and achingly inadequate. I laid down in the salon berth and rested my arms across my face.

After a few minutes of Albert apologizing and explaining and reassuring and asking for forgiveness and not getting it, Albert said, “Oh and now I’m feeling kinda sick.”

“Sick?”That changed everything. Oh no! He never gets sick. “How sick?”

“Yeah, to my stomach, maybe, maybe kind of dizzy. Maybe it was something I ate. Maybe I’m just upset.”

“Oh no, I’m so sorry!  Did I  make you sick! Come get under the sheet.”

We snuggled. We talked. We were both somewhat drunk. He confirmed how he loves my belly. After 31 years, he said, he is  in love with me.

The next night, Albert was swimming on the back shore and I was playing with the dogs. The Vixen walked by, headed to her cottage. Albert and I had a plan now for our interactions and so I was friendly, not worried. Albert at 62 is lithe, agile, tanned, so handsome and strong and brilliant. I love him so much. Who wouldn’t? He finished his swim, salt water cascading off his  body.

“Your turn to go swimming!” He said. Smiling,he  took the dog leash from my hand. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see the Vixen slowing her departure.

“It’s fate,” Albert laughed. “Don’t worry. Go swimming.”

The Vixen wasnt heading back to her cabin after all, but on this empty three mile stretch of pristine beach, stripping off her cover up, and charging back to visit with Albert.

But the water was perfect. I surrendered into it.  I trust him. After a few minutes, I noticed the woman standing awkwardly up to her knees in the water, looking around for someone to talk to. She doesn’t know how to swim?!

Albert was beaming  his  smile at me, wading deeper into the water, closer to me. We laughed together a little bit.  Tigerlily glided across the water like a swan on a leash.

Tiger’s paws floated above me, Albert’s toes wiggled below me in the sand, as I dove and mermaid kicked, propelling my body through the water.  No, I’m not jealous. But maybe the vixen is.

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A few things you should bring aboard that you might not think of…

I pat myself on the back a lot for my awesome provisioning job. Since we were leaving for about a year, I decided to take all the stuff we weren’t using up at home, in the hope that when we found food really expensive, we would finally actually eat the dried peas and canned beets. And yes, out here every speck of food is treasured as something that maybe you couldn’t even buy here if you tried. In later posts I will share food provisioning ideas more specifically, but let me just say dried seaweed (which I “didn’t mind too much” back home has turned into a key ingredient that has made so many of our meals truly memorable and exceptional.

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Gnocci and seaweed: Gnocchi and seaweed: Cut dried kelp (aka kombu. We get ours from clean Maine waters, aka http://www.theseaweedman.com) , soak 15 min,rinse twice and marinate in lemon juice/garlic. Add to Sirachi or garlic chili sauce spiced up tomato sauce with whatever veg (0nion, green pepper, etc) you have. If you like add sliced sausage or canned chicken. Stir in one bag of boiled gnocchi. Add a tablespoon of squeeze tube tomato paste. You can prepare in morning, bag it and have it for a hot super while you are doing an overnight sail.

In addition to taking advantage of all your already collected supplies that at home you merely wanted “to use up,” there are also certain items  that are a lot more useful  at sea than you might realize at home.

Take for example, our beloved wonderbag, from http://www.wonderbagworld.com. At home, the WonderBag isn’t that necessary to save fuel, or to keep the cabin cool, or to speed up preparation time. At home, in cold weather maybe we like standing in front of the stove for an hour. But in the Bahamas, our Wonderbag allows us to throw legumes and veg and rice together in a pan, off the stove in about ten minutes, bag and then have it hot for supper. As we use it daily, I will share some of our delicious recipes now and again.

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Not only does our Wonderbag double at a comfy pillow, we use it as a very cool (literally) way to make yogurt, cook rice, lentils, squash, potatoes etc.

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Intimate Strangers

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Playing music on Manjack Cay.

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When a small group of traveling women gathered the other day to make yogurt, we wound up talking about passion, marriage, our crazy womens’  bodies, and sex.

It was a really fun, amazingly intimate and empowering exchange. We shared all kinds of useful tips, fears, and secrets and will hopefully never see each other again ( haha).

After that amazing gathering, I asked Albert what they were asking me: what is the secret to a happy marriage? And he said “taking the long view.” Today I asked him to elaborate and he said, “I’ve always thought that people who were married a long time seemed like they were happy, and I knew I wanted that.”

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His remarks reminded me of a newspaper clipping I keep in my inspiration file, of a couple who had been married 71 years (they were in their late 90s). The interviewer asked the man for his thoughts and he spoke about how grateful he was now, how proud, happy, and truly joyful he felt every time his wife walked into the room.

Then the interviewer asked the wife for her thoughts. She thought for a moment  and said, “The first 20 years were hell!”

Well, duh!

Early in marriage, childhood and/or previous relationship issues, parenting issues, career and life frustrations are usually still unresolved. And hormones are not always entirely helpful when you’re young!

For some couples the first 20 years of marriage also involve military service. Young love takes place in situations that have more than enough stress and responsibilities for everyone. And on top of that, marketers encourage us to compare our own imperfect lives with impossible made-for-movies ideals.

There is a boat near us now named “Poly N Easy,” and so of course everyone assumes it is a poly-amorous group. They keep to themselves mostly but otherwise seem like any typical group of friends and family. For some reason we’ve been asked by several people if they are poly or not! (Do we seem like experts? No idea!)  But whatever realities and fantasies about alternative lifestyles,  it seems that no approach to life is any less encumbered than the rest.

Many years ago, when I was 18 years old, I was in an idealistic yet exhausting “open marriage.”  I can remember waiting for my so-called husband  to get out of the shower with my so-called best friend. Not only did I want to use the bathroom (alone!) but our hotwater bill was insane! At some point, in very open-minded fashion I decided I wanted a simpler life.

Almost a decade later, I fell in love with Albert, who only took showers with me! Having been there and done all that, the golden years for me is not having to go through all that confusion again!

Today we went for a hike, swim, amazing snorkel (going again momentarily) , we cooked a nice lunch, then writing/reading. I helped some new friends train their goats.  They gave us a delectable quart of goats milk.

Thirty one years into our adventure together, cultivating our love is still a new, exciting and mysterious adventure, almost more so now than on our first date! And now, we can talk all night without worrying about an alarm clock going off in the morning. I don’t know how many of these “golden years” we will get, but so far, we are really enjoying this one. Thank you Albert!

 

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