Rest Station

I am learning that there is just no free ride in sailing. After a glorious start to our overnight sail into Charlston, we woke to steep short chop, bashing waves breaking on the bow. Our bilge alarm went off in the morning, and after much exploring, lifting floorboards, we decided the source of all the water in the bilge was the breaking waves. Enough water ran over the bow into the anchor chain locker, to set off the alarm. So the good news was  we didn’t have a freshwater or salt water leak, we had a problem with the bilge pump.  We also have to close off the anchor chain opening when we are out on the ocean.

Albert was able to find some loose wires to tighten and fix our bilge pumps and then we were ready for a few days of sleep. I was exhausted.  I promised I would not complain again about the constant motoring on the intracoastal waterway, as that was a lot more appealing after a night of bashing in the ocean! In sailing as in life, when it’s good, it’s great. When it’s not so good, it’s not so good.

We pushed through the miserable stretch of steep waves, crabbing through to arrive in Charleston.

The air was sooty smokey from wild fires. I’m not keen on Cities anyway so we decided to just keep going. We headed to the Crab Shack, where we knew we could probably tie up for the night if we ate lunch and dinner there.

The Crab Shack is under Wappoo Bridge, which has got to be the loudest bridge in the world. But the people there just accepted the noise as normal. This nighttime post, make it as loud as you can stand to imagine how loud it was! Unreal loud, Albert days it was the metal decking on the bridge. Even if just one car passed it made an ungodly noise. Here is the bridge sound with a river party boat going under  and it  the last thing I heard before I fell into a deep sleep in Albert’s arms with exhausted dogs serving as additional blankets.

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When the bilge pump alarm goes off, it is LOUD. If adrenaline is helpful, then loud bilge alarms work great! I had just laid down to close my eyes, Albert was taking over the helm. In this video we were 12 miles out to sea, well off Charlston SC

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In 3.3 knots, sailing fromWrightville Beach to Charlston

The sail started out beatiful, peaceful. I sang to relieve post election stress.

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We’re not kids anymore

When I was a kid, I  never could have imagined life aboard our 37 foot Banjer motorsailer. I leave tomorrow from this dock we’ve enjoyed for the past few nights  in North Carolina, with the best husband I ever had ( my brief teenage marriage  might come up  at some point), as well as my other habits: guitar, computer, books, two dogs. Tigerlily, my french waterdog, is now 12 years old, and Bee, a mixed breed sweetheart, is  6 . Nothing like living on a boat and traveling thousands of miles with two dogs and a husband to develop a better understanding of  behavior science.img_2050 As a kid, I remember thinking, “in the year 2000, I will be 41 years old!” but I didn’t picture the realities of my  now. I didn’t know I would have developed a series of mini careers, as a sing-songwriter, herbalist, dog trainer, writer. Even in high school, I thought I was going to be an actress!  I thought maybe someday, we’d be able to see faces when we spoke on the phone, but I thought for sure the screen would be screwed into the wall. It never crossed my mind to imagine FaceTime and emoji conversations with kids and grandchildren, mastering skills as a co-captain of this wonderful old boat. We worried then about nuclear attack, not climate change. We really can’t predict the future.

I never would have guessed that I would become a sailor. My family raised goats and rabbits, we were the grandchildren of immigrants, not yacht owners. Although my mother’s father Captained a submarine in WW2, and my other grandfather came to America on a ship, the boat and water stories we were told were nightmares, not fun, of confinement, disorientation, seasickness and near drownings. Maybe predictably  as a kid, I started with carsickness, after marriage I graduated to seasickness, and I was even  afraid of deep water. But people change.

Today, swimming is maybe my favorite thing to do in the world. I swam the Peaks  Island to Portland Maine race and  after three miles of ocean swimming, all I wanted to do was turn around and swim back. I can’t get enough swimming. Swimming to me is  full body- brain-spirit intercourse, it’s sex with the Universe, it’s sensuous suspense in a dangerous perfect  all encompassing fluid of love and life force.  So, my love of swimming helped me get onboard with boating. I liked the idea of being able to swim right off the house. Unfortunately, we need to endure probably 12 weeks of almost no swimming  to get to the Bahamas. I didn’t quite expect that. There are limitations, wherever we are. I’m learning how to deal with them.

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We’ve been working our way from Maine to the Bahamas, getting into the Intracoastal Waterway not long after Hurricane Matthew came through. We left Sept. 1 and now it’s Nov. 3, 2016. Yes, that’s right, the most terrifying electoral season of my lifetime and I can’t blow off steam through swimming. The water has had an untrustworthy opaque coffee color  and tannic acid scent from about Cape May (the southern tip of New Jersey) to where we are now in Oriental NC. The slide show above gives you a brief idea of the environment we have traveled through. In future blog posts I’ll share more details about our boat, Magus, as well the places we are passing through.

I’d like to share about people we’ve visited along the way, about our few spectacular swims, and many discoveries about the coast of the United States of America, and the spirit of our country. I want to share some of the tricks regarding how we’ve managed to do what we do with our life together, for example, how we keep our costs down and our quality of life up.  I want to share what is apparently “normal” in a long term marriage. How it’s scary. How being scared is normal, and how it’s probably a good idea to be scared, because you need to be scared first if you want to learn how to be brave.  Too much for this one post, but for the record, I did this little selfie interview with us regarding “where we are now,” 8 weeks into our first retirement year.


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What’s it all about?

We finally did it. We rented out our house, loaded up our boat and headed south.  That makes it sound easier than it really was. Truth is it took us at least 30 years and several near disasters to get here.

Albert was a sailor before me. I started sailing when I fell in love with Albert, in 1985. It took me a lot longer to fall in love with sailing than it took to fall in love with Albert. I’m more of a dog trainer, herbalist, back to the lander type. Over our 31 years of marriage We’ve nursed two babies to adulthood, built one home on an island, and renovated three others as we struggled to downsize debts and financially prepare ourselves to grow old. Albert grew more like me, and I’ve grown more like him. We’re merging, kind of. And if that sounds natural and easy then I’m not being honest.

But now we’re grandparents. Albert retired this past June. We found the home we plan to grow old in, on the mainland, and planted gardens that will be there for us when we come back.  I’m not retired because I’m still trying to decide what I will be when I grow up.

But for now, this is what I’m doing: I’m giving my husband a chance to fulfill a dream he’s had since childhood. I’m sure his original dream did not include me and the dogs, just as my dreams did not include him and this boat. But I’m 57 now, and he is 62.  As I write this entry (on my cell phone) we’ve been sailing slowly south for almost two months. We left Maine  September 1, 2016 and this is October 28. We’re about halfway through the intracoastal waterway, on the alligator River. And this blog will partly be about how we got here, but mostly about where we go from here.

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How I deal with Zika

Our retirement plan when we got married was someday, after retirement, we would sail through the Caribbean. As our luck would have it, just as our dream is getting ready to come true, mosquitos have become more dangerous.

A similar story plays out for couples who have yearned for a baby, and just as the day approaches when their dream can be realized, they have to worry about Zika.

Sometimes we just have to cope with new dangers. Here is what I am doing to cope with Zika and keep our plan alive.

Our plan does not involve having babies, but zika is dangerous for adults too. It can cross the blood brain barrier, invade nerve tissue, cause stroke or paralysis.

I’m not familiar with Zika, but I am familiar with mosquitos. I’ve been bitten a lot over the years, so I know how it usually happens. I think I never have gotten bitten through my clothing. I’ve never been bitten in a grocery store. I get bitten when I am uncovered, outside. So, all I have to do is cover my body in those situations where I would otherwise get bitten by mosquitos. To bolster basic clothing, I decided to treat our most-used, favorite clothing with pyrethrins.

I bought a Sawyer Pyrethrins product, and sprayed our favorite lightest weight pants, socks, long sleeve shirts, hats, scarfs and house dress. I sprayed our most-likely-to-be-worn hot weather clothing, but didn’t spray heavier clothing. I know from experience that mosquitoes don’t bite through my coat or sweatshirt. I do spray shoes and socks with the pyrethrins, and that leaves exposed skin on hands and wrists and face, and possibly neck to worry about.

I don’t think I have ever been bit in the face with a mosquito, so for us, think our hats and scarves will protect out necks and heads so mostly need Deet just on hands and cuffs. I bought the DEET type that is slow release, and less toxic to humans.

My greatest historical risk is getting bitten while sleeping, probably because mosquitos love to suck the blood of naked sleeping people. So we have some excellent screens, on our boat and treated mosquito netting to sleep under. The treated net means any mosquitos that land on it will die, thus helping protect our entire boat environment.

We do have a yard lantern and “repellent” made by Thermacell. I didn’t realize when I bought it that it emits poison, not just repellent, so I don’t think we’ll need that, but its nice to have it on hand in case we feel that our situation calls for drastic measures.

I already know, from experience, that I can protect myself from mosquito bites. Covering up and not hanging out in clouds of mosquitos is key. We can monitor our environment, and add additional layers of clothing and spray in accord with how many mosquitos we see in the environment.

I am also treating my two dogs with topical pesticide that kills ticks and fleas and repels mosquitos. Treating out clothes and dogs is the less toxic way to treat our environment. I don’t want to spray everywhere for mosquitos, because that could harm the ocean around us, and pesticides can do damage to the nervous system themselves, so it makes no sense to over-use nerve toxins while trying to protect yourself from nerve toxins!

I promised Albert years ago that we would sail to someplace warm. Now he has promised me that he will take Zika seriously and stay covered. I don’t want either one of us to risk Zika, so we’re doing our trip with added precautions! As we wait for our pet permit to arrive, we’re putting the final few bottles of wine, dog food, and engine oil on board. Adventures always involve danger. As one friend pointed out, we have the risk of tick borne or mosquito born disease already in Maine. A man in New Hampshire died of West Nile Virus just a few years ago. Into our life, fears and diseases may fall. The fear is the most disabling part of the illness. We can look to our experience to realize, we can do this. It’s not what we expected, but we can hang onto our dream. Keep calm and carry on.

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“Luring” versus “Clicker training”

If you want to teach your dog a language, with many cues and behaviors, it is a bad idea to teach foundation behaviors with a lure.  You are much better off using a clicker (or other marker signal) to teach sit.

Why? Because when you teach sit with a marker signal you’re not just teaching “sit.” Puppies already know how to sit.  What you are teaching is a language. You teaching them how to use your language to collect information! Sit is such an easy behavior to mark, reinforce, release and put on cue, why don’t  trainers start off  using a marker signal for putting foundation behaviors on cue?Smokey&Bee

If we use a marker signal to teach foundations, later on,  it is much easier to teach behaviors that can’t be lured (such as backing up, right/left, paw movements, retrieve and delivery, stops and distant behaviors).  If you are teaching the dog to follow food in your hand,  it will confuse the dog when you want the dog to ignore food in your hand.

I do use a lure sometimes, especially with adult troubled dogs (but not to teach sit) and it’s actually not that easy to use a lure correctly. I’ve seen problems that arise when a lure is used incorrectly.

For example, some dogs are so focused on the lure they barely know they are going over a jump (crash!). Many dogs become overly focused on the food and they seem to “stop thinking.” And what happens if a dog doesn’t sit when a pet owner sticks food in his face? They take away the food? That’s not fun. That’s (technically speaking) a form of punishment for participating. Or if they keep sticking the food in his face? They are rewarding him for not sitting? So often people feed their lures regardless of what the dog is doing.  It is hard to control or even understand the behavior science of what you are doing with reinforcement and punishment when you are using a lure.

I understand why people use a lure to teach sit. Typically, they are afraid the clicker won’t work. They  haven’t practiced with or  conditioned the clicker and so they stick with the experience that, for better but usually for worse, a dog will go after food in the environment. Teacher/trainers dread  embarrassing dead air time, where a puppy is standing there doing nothing but thinking.  Some trainers and students are coming from a history of pushing dogs into a sit, and while they have gotten beyond force they still can’t stand waiting for the dog to sit on its own.

But waiting pays off . Once the dog “gets it” the whole room gets excited. Using a click, everyone can see that dogs are not stupid! They do think! We CAN “talk” to our dogs!

Pet owners who lure too easily wind up with a diminished sense of canine intelligence, and of their own training abilities.  They may go home thinking that the only thing that matters to their dog is hotdogs!

And really, you have accomplished very little when you use a lure to teach sit.  Any time “saved” with luring a sit is going to be spent in tearing your hair out  down the road.  You can’t lure a dog into sit from a distance.

When food, real or imaginary, is part of your cue, you’ve got a problem.  Dogs can figure out that trick/trap and I’ve worked with dogs who see a treat and run to escape it! “You are not going to truck me with that hotdog!”

And some dogs see a lure as a tease. “Either give it to me or don’t give it to me, but  it’s stressing me out when you keep waving it in my face but then it seems like you don’t want me to take it!!” Dogs can become uninspired and unmotivated when people make mistakes with lures.

A clicker (I use a tongue click) brings clarity to the conversations we have with our pets.  It teaches my dogs to focus on me, rather than on food. It’s the first word  of our shared language, and it means “you just win a prize!” Dogs can easily understand that there are many types of prizes, not just food, that they are willing to work to earn.

The perfect place to start learning this dog-language is with sit/down/stand. When you’ve taught  foundation behaviors using marker signals, dogs are less frustrated, and you are positioned to develop a richer understanding of how animals really think.


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Six Ways to Prevent “Surprise Aggression” with your dog.


Six ways to prevent “surprise aggression” with your dog.

  1. Give your dog lots of opportunities to blow off steam with physical exertion. Fenced in yard, dog park, on dragged long line, dog daycare
  2. Give your dog plenty of time alone to rest and recover from social interactions, don’t allow social opportunities to go on and on for hours. Put the dog away. He can chew on his bone while you party.
  3. Use positive reinforcement, rather than punishment, to teach your dog to walk nicely on a head halter or flat collar and to relax in a crate, on a mat, in a kennel or on a tether.  That’s so you CAN put the dog away, and so your dog won’t hate you.
  4. Choose natural food with 20% protein, not super high protein crazy-making formulas. Dogs evolved on human garbage. They are a lot more relaxed on lower-protein diets.
  5. Be aware of the times your dog gets “frustrated” and focus your training and management plans on reducing frustration and increase your rate of reinforcement for calm, relaxed, self-controlled behaviors.
  6. Evaluate your expectations of your dog and yourself. Why do you have a dog? What do you want from your dog? Are your expectations reasonable?
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Singing Rocks

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Stand up comedy

Jenny2If you think midlife is funny you should come and hear Jenny. After thirty of years marriage, motherhood and other adventures, Jenny is still the youngest spirit in any room. Joyful, uninhibited, sexy and honest to a fault, this rising comedy star puts together a world of adult adventures into a night that will Jennypromo1leave you feeling braver. Jenny applies her funny feelings onto such serious situations such as popularity contests, and why people hate you when you’re popular.  A dog trainer by trade, Jenny is into behavior science and can explain why, biologically,  it’s good to be bad. She’s performed at fundraisers, clubs and Maine summer camps such as Wassamkee Springs,Funny Fridays at Andy’s Old Port Pub, and various benefits for Comedy Denizens.

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