las palmas

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Grow a starter. Increase its strength. Feed, feed, feed. Build a levian. Wait. Add and stir. Wait. Mix. Wait. Stretch and fold; stretch and fold; stretch and fold. Wait; wait; wait. Rest. Bake. Hope.

I don’t have a job to go to these days or a schedule to keep. I don’t have to get up for a conference call, commute to work, juggle meetings, and find time to meet friends for drinks. I don’t speed to yoga so I can hurry up and relax. Errands aren’t stacked for Saturday. I have empty days and time to bake. I’m not the busiest person in the room. And don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining. But I’m not going to lie about the difficulty. Some days the struggle to find something to hang on to when I’m so wholly untethered is too much. I can’t hold; I tear. Chains do give you freedom, even if it’s perceived and sometimes tyrannical. Choice without stipulation is more intricate than snow.

But some days the lake of grace surrounding me is seemingly bottomless. Jack rabbits in the garden; the opportunity (and TIME!) to experiment with making unleavened bread; learning how to turn my bbq into an oven; warm, sweaterless nights; the sound of really, really big surf; every sunset; sailing on the Sea of Cortez; learning Spanish; the smell of salted air coming through the kitchen windows; bright orange orioles; avocado on everything; a gin and tonic with too much (is there such a thing?) fresh lime and those genius, over-sized ice cubes; watching our timid, PTSD-addled cat find his courage in a jarringly unfamiliar place with all new smells and wind that howls through the house like a freight train.

There’s a beach down here where wild horses roam free. It’s quiet, off the beaten path, and a good twenty minutes from the more popular swimming and surfing beach where pretty much everyone–tourists and locals alike–go. There are no signs on the highway, and it’s not an easy approach. To get there, you have to know the kilometer marker, turn off the highway into what seems like wild desert oblivion, drive down a very hard-to-find, and even bumpier dirt road, park at a gate, and then walk about a quarter of a mile through a palm grove. I’ve seen it on travel sites and guide books referred to as a “hidden gem.” It’s true; it is. And it’s worth every single bit of effort it takes to get there.

It’s a long, wide beach, flanked on both the north and the south by tall outcroppings of black rock. The waves are big but not too big, and it’s seldom crowded. The water is somehow always the perfect temperature, even for me, the woman who can get cold in eighty degrees. If you have a nibble of carrot or apple, the horses will eat right out of your hands. And being in the presence of those majestic creatures is profoundly exhilarating, yet calming at the same time. We don’t see the horses every time, but the possibility, along with the promise of an hour or two of sometimes absolute solitude, keeps us going back.

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I want to keep going back. Back to the horse beach; back to the words that ground and center me; back to the kitchen where a mistake can almost always dupe yet blissfully please a crowd after dinner; back to pushing myself to the brink of my mental and physical abilities to reap the rewards of the ocean in kind. I want to keep baking bread. Performing windowpane tests on my soul. I want to keep going to these places because for now at least, they’re enough to hold on to. They don’t free me with shackles, but link rings of solace, that, when set against an abyss, release me into the storm of possibility.

a minor detail, withheld

Hi guys! Just when you think it’s been a long time, I take it just a liiiiiitle bit further. Like the writers on Family Guy. Here’s me: I’m gonna write every day! Here’s reality: Move to Mexico and have eleventy and a half million things to do every second of every day and then finally get there and go to sleep for a month. But whatever. We’re here! Yay us! And we’re off the boat for a while, save shortish trips, so I’m turning my energies, when not towards making decisions about the house–cuz oh yeah, we’re building a house (!) In Mexico(!)–to learning how to bake in a bbq.

I know. Why? Why in the name of a glistening crust and an open, airy crumb would anyone bake on a bbq? I mean besides all those people who are like, I ONLY use my bbq. I HATE ovens. It’s TOO HOT to cook in the house. I LIKE cooking outside! To which I say, Pizza? Absolutely. Ribs? Sure. Steak? Of course! Chicken? Oh hell yes, as long as you’re not a monster who ALWAYS overcooks chicken on the bbq (You know who you are. Get help!). But bread? Pastries? Brownies? Sob.

Here’s why, though. Cuz we rented a house, unbeknownst to us, that is sans oven. You heard me. Someone made this choice (to NOT install an oven in her kitchen, not to rent a house with no oven. Don’t judge!). Number five thousand, sixty-three on why it’s hard to move to Mexico: you have to rent a house over the Internet. Shit gets lost in translation, yo. Or gets omitted. Either way, like so many, many things I’m learning to adjust to, I’m a-cookin’ on the bbq, friends.

At first I didn’t think too much about the ramifications of a no-oven house, which is funny if you know me. Or not funny if you know me because this is typical. I spend pretty much every waking hour I can squeeze out of my day in the kitchen. So naturally, when we finally get here, and we settle all the outliers (lots!) with our landlord, and we get the long-anticipated, for-real, in-person-for-the-first-time house tour, I’m all like, oh, no oven? Whatever. It’s fine. Great cooktop; fine bbq; no problem here. It’s fine. Really. Just get out. And then two days later, I’m like, waaaaaiiiit a second. How I’m gonna bake with no oven?!

So, a little common sense (a bbq is a just hot box, same as an oven, right?), a little trial and error (sure, a hot box is a hot box, but an oven has racks; pans don’t sit RIGHT ON the flame in an oven (Sorry, scorched galettes!)), and a trip to home depot (clay pot drainage plates make great space-makers between pans and grates, and they’re only a dollar thirty-nine!), and huzzah! I’m baking in my “outdoor oven.”

P.S. Now I want a for reals outdoor oven. #ofcourseido #ontheohsoridiculouslylonglist

Gluten free apple galette

Notes:

  1. I did not set out to make this. I set out to make a slab pie, which if you haven’t had one, is basically a giant Pop-Tart for grown ups. Also known as the perfect food, due to its ideal fruit:crust ratio. But I didn’t make enough pie crust (so, hi, make enough for three pies, or one and a half double-crust pies), and I did something wrong, which made the crust particularly hard to roll out. (Let’s not pretend it’s a big mystery. I left the dough in the fridge too long (overnight) and then didn’t have the patience to bring it up to temp, so naturally I tried to roll it out in its rock hard state, which, no big surprise = failure. So, don’t do that.) Also, this is a gluten free pie crust, so I’m not gonna lie. The struggle is real; suck it up and soldier on. So all of this is to say, if you want a delicious apple (or whatever fruit or berry you love and is in season) slab pie, and you don’t have Celiac disease, just go find a recipe for one and make it and do something fun with your extra time and lack of mind-numbing frustration. Like go put your feet up, and enjoy a slice of slab pie with a glass of rosé.
  2. More a tip than a note, but let’s not get all semantic. If you ever find yourself with some kind of pastry or pie dough that isn’t really working for whatever you’re trying to make (cough ::slab pie::), and you feel that urge well up inside of you to gather it all up into a ball and throw it at someone’s big fat stupid face (Hi. Goop, 45, or Kanye, for example), make a galette. Often referred to as a “rustic galette,” it’s “supposed to look that way,” tastes just as good as whatever you actually intended to make, and is always a crowd pleaser. It’s basically the foolproof solution to This Shit’s Not Rolling Out And I Want Me Some Pie Right Now situation.
  3. I’ve tried trillions of gf flour mixtures and pre-mixes, and it kind of depends on what you’re making, what you have on hand, and what you like, but in general, success usually comes from a mix of whole grain flours (e.g., oat, brown rice, millet, sorghum, teff, buckwheat, etc.), white flours/starches (white rice, sweet white rice, tapioca starch, potato starch, etc.), and some kind of binder (xanthum gum, psyllium husk, etc.). If you wanna get fancy, you can add some milk powder, which supposedly boosts the airiness, but I’m not convinced it makes much difference. If you don’t want to get fancy, experiment with just using one (oat, sorghum, and almond are my favorites). If you don’t wanna get fancy, you’re not super picky, and you have a fat bank account, use Cup4Cup. I’m currently using as my base 170g brown rice flour, 205g white rice flour, 120g tapioca flour, 165g sweet rice flour, and 2-ish tsp xanthum gum. But I improvise all the time, so don’t worry about it a whole lot.

All that said, if you’re still with me, here’s what.

Crust

325 grams GF flour (see #3 above or use whatever blend you’re currently enjoying)

3 tsp sugar

1/4 tsp salt

2 sticks of butter (8 oz; 230 grams), very cold. (I keep mine in the freezer and then use the box grater to grate it over the flour mixture. If you keep yours in the fridge, cut it into little squares, about 1/4 of an inch, and work fast when cutting into your flour.)

1 tbsp cider vinegar

3 or 4 tbsp (or more, if needed) cold water

 

Filling

4 or 5 of your favorite apples (I use granny smith and pink lady, but use what you like), peeled, cored, and cut into half-inch chunks or thin slices

1/3 to 3/4 cup sugar, depending on how sweet you like your pie-type things

A squeeze of lemon

3 tbsp of corn or tapioca starch

1 tsp of cinnamon

1/4 tsp of fresh nutmeg*

1/4 tsp allspice*

Pinch of salt

*Optional. Despite the current backlash en vogue, I like all kinda apple pie, fall-type spices (don’t be a hater!), so I add a bit more than listed, plus Chinese 5-spice, but do what you want here. You’re the boss.

To finish

1 egg, slightly beaten

A little extra sugar and cinnamon and few extra chunks of butter*

*Optional

Make the crust

Heat the oven to 400 F

Line a 10x15x1 jelly roll pan with parchment paper

Whisk the flour, sugar, and salt in a large bowl. If your butter is frozen, use a box grater to grate it over the flour mixture. If your butter is cold, sprinkle the pieces over the flour. Use your hands to cut the butter into the flour, squeezing the butter pieces between your fingers as you mix with the flour, until you have a bowl of what looks like wet sand with pea and small-marble sized chunks.

Add the vinegar and work into the mixture. Add the water a teaspoon at a time, working into the mixture just until you can pull it all together into a ball that holds. Don’t add too much water. You don’t want wet dough. Wet dough is dense and tough. Dry dough is airy and flaky and buttery.

Shape the dough into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap, and place  in the fridge while you prepare the filling, no more than twenty minutes.

Make the filling

Put the apple chunks or slices in a bowl. Add the lemon juice and stir to coat. Add the rest of the ingredients and stir well. Set aside.

Roll out the dough

Remove the dough from the fridge. Dust a work surface with tapioca starch (or cornstarch or rice flour), remove the disc from the plastic wrap, and roll out with a rolling pin until you have a large rectangle, just over 10×15, so you can slide the dough onto your jelly roll pan and have enough hanging over each side to drape over the filling. Alternatively, you can roll out the dough between two pieces of plastic wrap. If you like this method, the upside is it’s a lot easier to get your dough onto the pan. (The downside is it makes me feel like an eco-terrorist.) Just lift it up by the saran wrap on one side, flip it over onto the pan, and then peel off the saran.

Scoop out the filling onto the prepared dough in the pan and spread around, so it’s evenly distributed in the center of the dough, leaving a couple of inches around the borders.

Gather up the dough around the edges and fold up and over the apples to cover about an inch to an inch and a half.

Brush the dough with the egg wash.

*If you’re feeling spicy, sprinkle the whole affair with a little more sugar and cinnamon, and drop a few chunks of butter into the filling. Just cuz. It won’t suffer without it, but who lives twice? No one!

Bake for 45 minutes to an hour, rotating halfway through. Start checking in on it at around 40 minutes or so if you have OCD and/or aren’t totally trusting of your oven thermometer. Serve hot or warm with ice cream or not for dessert and/or with coffee for breakfast.

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useful bits

On the off chance that anyone who wants *actual* information about what it’s like to sail from Seattle to San Diego stumbles upon this, I thought I’d give writing a useful post a shot.

My gut: Hahahahahahahaha. No way, stupid!

My heart: We’ll see.

#lifegoals.

ANYWAY.

Scheduling. We were out a total of 14 days, 12 of which were at sea, under “power” (please note here I’m using “power” to mean sailing, power sailing, or motoring). I didn’t keep track of that breakout, but I should have. Because I thought I was going to do a lot of things that I wasn’t able to (like write, and also eat), at lot of the details (like journaling) got lost. So, that’s another thing to note, I guess: be prepared for pretty much everything to be the opposite of  Pacific NW cruising. If you’re anything like me, you will spend your hours attempting to stay warm and calm, not writing (read: keeping track of sailing vs. motoring hours), cooking, or doing anything creative or useful. Basically, if we were doing five knots or better, we sailed; if we dropped below that, we motor sailed; and if there wasn’t a lick of wind, we motored. If i had to make a rough guess, I would say we spent the better of part of six days sailing, three motor sailing, and three motoring.

Sailing around the clock. Before we left I thought, sailing at night? Why would you ever? We had never done it, and it seemed like the stuff of crazy people who don’t understand happy hour. But here’s the thing. Math! You can make unbelievable time in a sailboat when you don’t stop. And when you’re used to sailing from whenever you want (when you’re us, is anywhere between 8:00 a.m., and noon) to whenever you want (which, again, for us is between 3:00 and 7:00 p.m.), you gain considerable ground in upping those hours on the water from five-ish to 24. So, we sailed around the clock, and we averaged ~140 nm a day. That is a LOT. Also, it seems kind of weird and scary the first night, but after that, you get used to it, you learn to rely on your instruments, radar, and AIS, and it gets to being even be kind of peaceful and beautiful. When the weather is intense–heavy fog, high waves and swell, and 25-30 knots of wind–it isn’t super peaceful; but when the wind and seas are calm-ish, it’s fine, and you can actually lose time. I saw some pretty moons, and one night, a fire.

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Weather. The Washington and Oregon coast are windy, swelly, bumpy, freezing, wet, and miserable. Pack one billion percent more warm clothes than you think you’ll need. Also, hand warmers. The end.

p.s, if you get seasick, find something better than over-the-counter Dramamine because once you make the turn at Neah Bay, you’ll be sick (I mean the INSTANT you make the turn you’ll want to barf and then die), and taking something that’s going to flatten you doesn’t work when you have a watch to make.

Food. If you’re like me and you love two things in life–eating and cooking–heed this: make food ahead of time that you can heat up in one pot and be done, like chili verde or beef stew. Cans of soup work too, but unless you’re seasick, blech. Boring and tasteless. You will be thankful to dump the contents of a Ziploc into a pot on the stove and be eating something hot 20 minutes later. There will be very little sandwich making or complicated-meal-preparation (although having the bread and the meat and cheese on board are great for grabbing and eating while holding on and trying not to die). Many a meal for us was a handful of nuts or jerky and a cold tortilla, simply because it was too rough to cook (or stand).

Spares. When doing the research for the trip, we read and heard from every possible source that we would most likely be stopping in San Francisco, if not sooner, to make repairs. “Oh, don’t worry about where. You’ll have to stop for parts and repairs at least once, if not more often,” was not an uncommon refrain. While hopeful it wouldn’t happen, we had to be prepared for that, so we just assumed something would break or go wrong. We were very lucky, however, in that EV was a champ. I’m talking CH to the AMP. Literally almost nothing went south. We had a minor hiccup with the auto pilot, which turned out to be a programming problem, so for about a day we switched to the manual, old skool Autohelm. But other than that, seriously, she effing rocked it. Nevertheless, be prepared. Besides the obvious (tools, duct tape, oil, coolant, and zip ties), we carried spare straps for the AutoHelm, an impeller, fuel and gas filters, and sail mending equipment.

Gear. Absolute must-haves are an autopilot and a wind vane. We have a Hydrovane, which I’ve mentioned here before, and it rules the universe. Literally can’t say enough about it. We ran ours (Henriette), almost the entire trip, and she was the winner of everything. You are going to be in rough seas and ideally sailing, so auto-steering without using any power is immeasurably critical. If you don’t have a proper boom brake, get one. They’re worth every penny. Or, if you really don’t want to spend the money, rig your own. There’s no way I would have been calm sitting watch alone in the middle of the night without a boom brake. Get one. If you have a good chart plotter that’s up to date, you’ll be fine. Update your software and ensure you have the correct charts. AIS is a bonus, but I came to love and rely on it more than almost anything else; so your call, but my advice is get it. Radar is a must if you’re going in the Fall, which I assume you are.

Miscellaneous. As scary as the passage might seem at any point, have faith in your boat, your crew, and yourself. But mainly and most importantly, trust your boat. Sail the shit out of it before you leave, test everything ten times, and do all the work yourself. I cannot emphasize enough that knowing your boat will pay untold dividends. When you know every square inch of your boat, every sound, puff of smoke, or idiosyncratic vibration, your mind will be one billion percent more at ease when you’re out at sea. If something goes wrong or weird, one, you will know if it’s actually wrong or weird; and two, if it is, chances are good you’ll know how to fix it. When our Autohelm snapped a belt at 3:00 a.m., in 25 knots and eight-foot seas, Loren fixed it in two minutes. That’s what you want.

Finally, enjoy the moments. I’m not a woo-woo type of person, and even just writing that gave me a little bit of a rash, but I don’t really know the right way to say it, and I don’t have time to try out eleventy variations right now to get just the right combination. I’m not going to say Have fun! Or, Enjoy!, although you probably will. We did. I guess, just know why you’re doing it and be mindful of that. Absorb what you can and/or set out to do. Be open to insights when they present themselves–you’ll learn more about yourself than you might want to or think you need to–and then do something useful with that information. I went into the trip excited and pretty devoid of expectation, and that served me well. I learned a LOT and I grew as a person. But that’s just me, and that might not be where you are or what you want. So, spend some time thinking about those things before you set off, and keep yourself open to everything while you’re out, and no matter what happens, at the bare minimum, you’ll gain a new part of your own story. I think Dinesen was right when he said, “The cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears, or the sea.” And I say, when you’re lucky enough to be a sailor, you get all three.

we made it

Blogging while at sea is harder than I expected. Last year we cruised the inside passage for a month, and while I’ve never gone back and counted, I probably wrote three to four times a week. This year we sailed from Seattle to San Diego in fourteen days, and I did count. I wrote nine words: blogging while at sea is harder than I expected.

Me, going in: This is going to be great! I can’t wait to write about every ocean swell, every beautiful sunrise, every goddamned gobsmacking moment of life on the Pacific!

Me, on day two: Survive.

We had our first overnight sail on day one, and we did eleven more. It was the coldest I’ve ever been, and the highest number of consecutive days I’ve been that cold. I was wet seven of the twelve days, once due to being hit by a wave, and six due to sailing in endlessly dense fog. I never got more than three hours of sleep in a row. I was sick two of the twelve days (only two thanks to some magical non-FDA-approved seasickness pills a VERY nice couple we met on the water gave me in Coos Bay, where we stayed for two days waiting out bad weather). The swells were anywhere from four to ten feet on average, the waves about the same, but variable; and we saw 30 knots in the highest wind.

We’ve been off the water almost two weeks already, and when someone asks, “How was it?” I still don’t know how to answer.

It was beautiful. I saw magnificent moon and sunrises every day we weren’t fogged in; hundreds of porpoises, four whales, otherworldly seas, and clearer skies and brighter stars than I knew existed. We had calm days that were indescribably gorgeous, and perfect wind that made us feel like we were gliding in the most serene and gentle grandma-rocking-you-sweetly-in-the-rocker lap of the ocean you can imagine.

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It was trying. When waves are going one way and swells the other, and the boat is heading through both in twenty-seven knots, it’s violent. The crashing is loud, and the ride is rough. It’s impossible to sleep because you’re being thrown out of your bunk. You tie yourself in when you need to sleep, cook, or go to the bathroom. You can’t walk from one end of the boat to the other without hanging on. When you’re seasick, you can’t keep your head up. When the wind goes from 15 to 25 knots in a matter of seconds, you have to suit up, clip in, get on the foredeck, and reef the sail quickly. When a swell picks up the entire boat, you can see for miles, and when it lowers you into a trough, you are surrounded by walls of water you can’t see over. I meditated my way through many a cold, windy night, thrashing against the wind and sea, relying only on radar and AIS to know if there were any boats in our path.

It was rewarding and “fun.” These are accurate, but, you know… grains of salt. Awesome is probably the closest, but that word is so overused now (see also, amazing), it’s lost its profundity. I’m happy we did it, and I have a sense of accomplishment that is unparalleled, even weighed against all the adventuring and mountaineering I’ve done in my life. Nothing–not reaching mountain tops or deep, difficult woods, through prevailing storms or near lightning strikes–comes close to the adrenaline rush, test of self-reliance, or sense of pride that sailing on the ocean brings.

I’m grateful. I love my husband even more now than I did the day I married him, and I now have actual proof that we have quite possibly one of the best boats on the planet. She never once put us in harm’s way. And our Hydrovane, Henriette, is the MVP. She steered us through heavy seas and high winds without a whiff of a hitch.

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I’m alive. And I’ve never felt more so.

I’ve been spending the last year wondering if it’s OK that I’m changing. Have changed. That I’ve been so iterative throughout the course of my forty-nine years. V1 was fast and loose. A lot of partying and a little schooling–just enough to stay purposeful (and loan eligible). V2 was responsible. Goals, marriage, career, stability, and all the proving that I can win (also, see also, succeed). I thought that was the final launch.

So when V3 came along recently, I was broadsided, and I’ll cut right to it: No likey. V3 made me feel like a fraud. My flight tendency went into overdrive. ESC. ESC. Shut down this alpha intruder and embrace V2 (the industry standard) STAT! Industry standard is reliable. Industry standard is widely adopted. Industry standard is LOVED. let’s face it, no one hates Windows XP, amiright?

V2 worked ALL THESE YEARS to become the accepted (and lauded) version. V2 needs a small update now and again, but it’s stable. V3–the woman who uproots her life and throws everything away—job, stability, predictability, consistency, income, squirrelling away for the future—NOW (now at forty-nine, not twenty-nine), isn’t me. Specifically, isn’t the crossing-the-finish-line woman who shed the globe-trotting, wander-lusting, bohemian, restless soul in return for a husband, house, corporate job, and deep, healthy, sufficiently watered, thriving, just-enough-room-in-the-pot roots. Cuz you’re supposed to grow out of that shit. Because this is success. This. Is winning. And winning is blue, bitches. Blue. Not red or white. Those don’t count.

So, what happens when you’re working towards the life you think you’re supposed to have (and love the shit out of it when you finally get it) and then you get there, and it’s not the glittery unicorn with great dance steps and perfect teeth you thought would make you feel whole? Sure, a good, secure job with benefits, a nice house and car, and a fanfuckingtastic husband sparkle like a fucking mountain of rainbows on top of an erupting volcano. They’re spectacular. I’m grateful and lucky and try to remind myself of that every day.

But V3’s shine is subtler and more powerful. In V3, winning and success are customized (TO ME! WHAAAT?!). Demanding, sure, the way guidelines test you in a way that rules don’t, but easier to achieve because I’m not casting myself against the near-impossible almost daily, but fighting my through it anyway. This new me yearns to live life at a slower pace, in a warmer place, with the boat and the sea, and the supportive husband, and nothing but possibility. My terms. V3 isn’t stupid or reckless or booze-goggled, it’s just more content to admit that the beach and travel and simplicity are more than enough to define happiness. And V3 doesn’t have to do everything alone. And I’ll tell you, that is the Easter egg, people.

All that stuff they say about a midlife crisis is real. Only it’s not a crisis unless you make it one. What I’m hearing when I listen just right is that more than this is possible. Adventure and happiness are showing up in a path paved of simpler things, and just because I never thought I’d veer from the success = my life the way it’s looked up until now template, doesn’t mean I can’t. And that the outcome might be a better version of success than any I’ve been following by way of example.

I’m not done, but I’m accepting. I’m walking towards this light. And this is more than OK. It’s good. And for the first time, I’m shedding the lonewolfiness that I thought was a badge of honor because there is so much more to be had when my hand’s in someone else’s, and the goal isn’t a grind. V3 is good with red or white. Or none.

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Winch wench

Six months is too long between posts. Here’s an update. I have been eating all of the tacos and drinking all of the wine. That’s pretty much it. Just kidding (sort of). We’ve actually been working on a pile of things, mostly prepping the boat like crazy, so here’s a recap of the goings on.

Yesterday we went down to the mast (oh, yeah, the boat and the mast are now in two different spots. Fun squared! Also money squared times infinity! Yay!) to disconnect and coil up the old standing rigging (cuz new rigging!), install the new foredeck light and VHF antenna, and other things you do when your mast isn’t attached to your boat.

Side note, it’s very weird to see your mast lying horizontally, three feet off the ground. It looks even longer than it does when you’re staring up at it, which is kind of hard to believe cuz when you’re staring up at it–especially when you’re trying to figure out if you’ll fit under a bridge, even though you’ve checked the charts and tides sixty-eight thousand times, and you know you will, but you’re freaked out anyway until you’re on the other side–it looks REALLY long.

And it’s even weirder to see your boat in the water without a mast or rigging. Naked! Unnatural!

Anyway, in two-ish weeks, we’ll have new rigging, and other new things, like radar, a wind instrument (knowing wind speed is kiiiiiind of important), and auto pilot (with a remote control!), and be back on the sound, sailing, and learning how it all works together through the various electronic outputs. No rest for the weary. Also, I love technology. Sometimes. I’ll keep you posted.

OH! We also installed our new wind vane! In case you don’t know what that is, it’s that red vane hanging off the back of the boat behind Loren, and it’s basically an auto pilot that uses wind instead of power to steer the boat. And.It.Rulz, people. Like so many things about sailing (and science and physics and life), I don’t completely understand exactly how it works, but you set your course, balance your sails, lock the wheel, and then go do whatever you want (like sit on the foredeck and drink a beer, as one example), and the boat STEERS ITSELF. It’s smooth, quiet, and elegant, and it makes sailing even more majestic than it already is. We heart our Hydrovane!

HydroLoren

So, along with completing lots of fun, rewarding projects and checklist items, like installing the Hydrovane and securing an awesome captain for our big sail south, we’ve also scaled our fair share of lesser fun mountains, like servicing winches, coiling rigging, and installing new toilets. Funny how the scales always balance.

I’m learning to push through the pain of learning how gears work (read: guess who had the winch assignment not that I’m complaining because Loren is a saint who would never work in the sun on the deck when there is crawling in tiny plumbing spaces to be done), which makes my brain bleed and my soul cry for mercy, cuz Hi, I DON’T THINK in 3D…

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But gaining along the way knowledge that turns into power and insight and experience that calms my anxious, jibbity self.

I don’t think I ever really thought life was fair, but I think I used to think that I could (read: had to) muscle my way to the “right” outcome. Physically or intellectually. That if I just reasoned more reasonably, pleaded more earnestly, wrenched tighter, hammered harder, ran faster, justice would prevail. Sailing–and all the things that come with it–have changed that in me.

Pre-sailing Dawn would never have called it a day after five hours of taking a winch apart, cleaning it, greasing it, and “putting it back together,” only to find one lonely, left out part sitting next to the tools. Pre-sailing Dawn would have worked ten more hours to re-take it all apart, replace the missing part, and re-put it all back together. But who needs all that? Well, actually we do, cuz the winch is kind of skipping, but whatever, I’ll fix it later. Not the point.

The point is, working through things–with a tight and sometimes not tight heart and hand–to find where they lead instead of where I thought they belonged with a capital B, is making me happy. Happy in a way I never saw for my force and grit. I’m not saying force and grit don’t serve me well; they do. And I love them both dearly with all my heart and will never give them up. Maybe it’s just that now they’re finding a new place to rest next to ease and delight.

Cuz going for a beer in the sun after five hours of GREASING gears is awfully damned delightful.

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What it’s worth

Ever since we got back from our trip I’ve been trying to dedicate a lot of energy to keeping my writing rhythm. On the water I hit a cadence and an ease with it that I wanted to harness and sustain. And a good way to do that (besides quitting work and sailing away), at least for me (and what Virginia Woolf and just about every other writer ever born tells us), is to read. Read and write, read and write. That’s how I did it on the boat. One flowed into the other, outside of my awareness. I didn’t think, read; and then, now you shall write. It just happened. Like the waves and the wind and the rocking, swaying, and trimming of the sails. Peak performance was a reaction to action.

Now, though, I’m back. Back to work, back to seeking solace within discipline, back to the nagging passenger in my head on the way to work, reminding me that this is not my beautiful life. And with being back I find the reading part is much easier than the writing part. The read is buttery, salty popcorn, and the write is a hummingbird. I’m also finding that I excel at justifying doing more of the former when I do less of the latter. And I’m really super CRAZY good at then rationalizing that the tilted scale is actually a healthy and productive means to an end. Like a breakfast cookie!

It’s the barter system in downtown DawnTown. No writing today? I’ll read another Medium piece. (I’m actually becoming a better writer without writing!)  Two more unsaved drafts? Another five click-porn “news stories.” (I’m building a room of my own over here, people.) Six thoughts written down on a Post It but zero actual drafts? One more time on Bird by Bird, Chapter One. (I’m Steven Kinging the shit out of this roadmap!) Then I go eat an otter pop or rake the cedar detritus out of the garden.

And then the other day–probably while raking the garden or sitting at my writing table with a pen lid in my mouth, trying to see if I could balance something on my head–I got to thinking about this perfectionist problem and confidence problem, and all the other problems, and about all my  excuses to not do. It’s not a big shocker or anything. No big ah-hahs! here. For these things I know, and have known for a long, long time, but I just don’t ever really think about what to do to break out of them.

It’s sort of like that generic non-answer most people give you when you ask them what they want: to be happy, successful, wealthy, in a good relationship, blah, blah. Meaningless because everyone wants that. But very few of us want it all badly enough to do the work required to get it. When’s the last time you worked a 60-hour week because you were passionate, not forced? Took a real risk, like tossing your life savings at your dream? When’s the last time you said what you really felt to the person you love, even though it was hard and scary and made you feel vulnerable and ripped open?

It’s the same thing with writing: what do I want? To be a good writer? My knee-jerk genero robot response is of course yes, but now I have to ask what it means to be a “good” writer.”  Who’s the judge? Who’s *my* judge? What do I want them to think? What do I care if they think I’m good or not? And what if we have completely different ideas about what’s good? And ultimately, how much am I willing to risk (read: do) in order to get whatever it is that I want back?

This all landed me right back to where I started. And here’s the thing. I’m not just afraid of not being good; I’m afraid of not being good enough. Of being so mediocre (or worse yet, bad) that my writing is embarrassing. Pedestrian and banal and fodder for eye-rolling. Of being a hack who calls herself a writer, who really just writes crap that doesn’t change anyone’s life or make them see things in a new way. Of not writing earth-shatteringly beautiful masterpiece sentences that are so goddamned moving and elegantly crafted that you read them fifty-seven times after the first and then earmark the page and go back to it every time you want to rehydrate your parched soul.

That’s my yardstick, my version of good, and that’s the kind of writer I want to be. But Jesus H, right? The pressure of that is weighting my fingers and killing my drive and eroding any shred of “greatness” that might someday make it’s way from my heart to the page. That bar is becoming the reason I’m not finding the golden crumbs that lead to the perfect-crumb loaf of bread. That’s why I rake instead of write; or when I do get words on the page, end up copping out, ending too soon, holding back, or my favorite: defaulting to funny over the raw, risky, real of my truth.

The other day my husband and I were leaving our house. It was the middle of the day on a Sunday, and we were heading out to get groceries. The street we have to pull out onto off of our quiet little side street is a main one. It’s a cross-town throughway, and there’s only one lane in either direction, with a turning lane in the middle. The two lanes, one west- and the other east-bound, get jammed, and there’s no light, so you have to wait for someone kind enough to stop and let you go halfway, and then do the same in the turning lane–either wait for an opening in the line of cars coming up behind you, or wait again for some kind, patient person to stop and let you in.

As we were waiting for the first opening, we could hear sirens. A lot of them. But we couldn’t tell where they were coming from. We kept looking around, and it seemed like they were getting louder, but we couldn’t orient the direction or whether they were anywhere really near us. At this point, a truck in the long line of cars coming at us westbound, stopped and let us in. We crossed the line of cars and turned eastbound, into the turning lane, which is about midway up a hill, with very little visibility on the other side of the hill. About a millisecond after we got there, we looked up to see the first in a line of unmarked police cars cresting the hill in front of us. They were driving in the turning lane because of the traffic in the normal lanes, and they were coming right at us at about 100 miles an hour. There was nowhere for us to go, and nowhere for them to go. What happened next was a giant, and incredibly fast blur, but I remember sort of bracing myself against my door and the center console, and involuntarily yelling, Holy Fuck.

It all happened so fast, and I wasn’t driving, but someone behind us in the eastbound lane saw what was happening and had the presence of mind and quickness of reflexes enough to pull over, and my husband was able to act similarly as quickly, and get us out of the path of that oncoming caravan of cops. And we lived. It was one of the scariest things I’ve ever experienced. The whole thing transpired in probably less than a minute, and within ten we were shopping for groceries.

But the experience has hung around for me. It pops into my head at random times and without provocation. Sirens make my heart race a little quicker than they ever used to. I’m not shell-shocked or house bound, but I haven’t driven out onto that road in that same way since; I take the other route out to the main street, which is two more turns, and a light. Maybe it’s because I’m older, or because it was so recent. Maybe it’s because it was a legitimately life-changing experience.

But having these two things intersect and move apart and cross over again in my brain every once in a while–these two very real things–the fear of failure (and let’s face it, of mediocrity), and the scary reality of facing real imminent death, is giving me some perspective. Not the motivational poster kind, or the post-heart attack kind. The it-doesn’t-matter kind. It doesn’t matter to worry about writing something that isn’t THE POINT of it at all because I don’t know what the point is yet. (And of course it doesn’t matter to put off doing it for fear of mediocrity because I might walk outside and get killed by a cop posse chasing down a carjacker, but that’s the post-heart attack kind of motivation sticking its elbow in my ribs).

The point is I’m by nature a risk-taker. I’ve moved forty times and lived in five states, the riskiest being to a state where I knew no one, had no job, no place to live, a dog, a sleeping bag, and eight hundred dollars. I sail. I ride a motorcycle. I used to rock climb. Now I want to risk my insides. I’ll write partly in order that I might find something worth sharing that might warrant being called great, but wholly to find my own way to whatever that is for me.

Sad muffins

 

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I’ve come to know these things about love: You don’t know what it is until it grabs you by the throat and knocks you to the ground; and you don’t truly believe you’re getting it back until that certain someone loves you in all the ways you are: good, bad, weird, funny, fun, neither, acceptable, unacceptable (to everyone except the one who loves you), good at baking, or not.

Today I made some really sad muffins. They’re not high or fluffy or whatever good muffins are. They’re dense and kind of squatty, and I didn’t do the batter/berries thing right cuz the berries are sticking out of the tops like trees instead of mixed in in all equal proportions and bubbling out in berry goodness. I also attempted a “strudel” topping (I know, I know… Hi, Dawn, it’s me, baking: stop it right now.), which ended up being more just little blobs of goo that careened to their deaths when I pulled the muffins from their little cocoons in the muffin pan, which really strike me as more suitable for something like eggs and cheese, cuz what is better than eggs and cheese? NOTHING.

But I made the sad muffins because of love. Because I met a man who accepts me in all the ways I can’t accept myself, and we got married, and he loves baked goods. Yes, there are a bunch of details in there I left out, but none of your business! Just kidding. But, really, let’s just get to the baking, and better yet, to the things we don’t do because we haven’t been throttled in one way or another by love or any other ass-kicker.

Here’s the truth. I hate doing things I’m not good at. I’m an obsessive perfectionist, and if I can’t be the best or damned near close to it at whatever the thing is, I make up some weird or not weird excuse to not do it. Cuz come on. It’s easier to just hate something violently and pretend it’s stupid than to practice and get better at it, am I right?

Anyway, baking was one of those things. Basketball is another, but let’s face it, I’m no LeBron, so if it ever comes up, you just go, “Who do I look like, LeBron?” End of conversation. Pass those olives. Baking’s harder to escape. It’s real, it’s everywhere, and it keeps coming around. Dinner parties. Work things. Holidays. Delicious treats after meals. There’s only so much putting off you can do before you’re like, OK, get your shit together. Dust off the mixer, find a few staple recipes, and stop with the hand-wringing. So I did. I found some one-pan wonders. They were good. I bought an ice cream maker, and I obsessed over that for a while. And I’m not gonna lie, it’s an easy crack that can land you right outta the park. Ice cream is a goddamned artisan crowd pleaser. But a) making ice cream isn’t baking; it’s freezing; b) it’s super easy but time consuming (i.e., no forgetting about the dessert course til 4:00 when the guests are due at 6:00); and c) I live where it’s cold nine months of the year, so there’s only so much mocha crunch your guests are gonna put up with in mid-January.

But amidst the obstacles, I hung on. I was loud and proud with my hating. I only pulled off a baked good under extreme duress, desperation, or lack of options. I pawned off the dessert part of the menu for every dinner party I could to my friend the fabulous baker, and pulled out the almond cake or fennel ice cream only when I had to. I wore my “I’m a cook, not a baker” badge with excellence and ferocity.

But then it happened. Cupid nailed me right in the ticker, and delivered unto me a tool belt-wearing, baked-goods-loving, all around great guy who deserves everything I’ve got. And just cuz, well, the universe, also… gluten free. Dear Dawn: welcome to Hell. Sincerely yours, the rest of your trying-to-bake life.

At first, before I hated baking cuz I hadn’t really tried it, I was all like, yeah, I can bake. How hard is it to make some chocolate chip cookies? Not hard. Is a chocolate cake rocket science? No, bitches, it’s like flour, sugar, eggs, and water. As a matter of fact, baking is like the menu at the Mexican restaurant. Every single thing contains the same four ingredients in different formats. Plus, I can cook. I can cook the shit out of whatever you wanna eat, so how hard can it be to transfer those skills?! Yeah, I can bake. Let’s have a bake off right now. [/glimpse into my pathology]

Fast forward to trying to bake stuff, and hahahahaha! WRONG. Baking recipes are written in code. “Don’t over mix!” “Don’t over bake.” “Cook until done.” Huh? Baking has rules you don’t and can’t know and that aren’t part of the instructions because baking is science. Not the cool fun kind of science where you shake your head and go, Yeah, the multiverse. Crazy, right?! Or, Wow, if you pour this in there, and then put it over a flame, it erupts like a volcano. Cool! I’m gonna go eat a bag of Nacho Cheese Doritos now and watch a rerun of The Jeffersons.

No. This is the kind of science where if you use the same bowl to make the meringue that you used to make the lemon filling, and you don’t wash the bowl in between (cuz why would you when it’s all going into the same PIE), the meringue doesn’t work because there’s some sort of chemical in the lemon goo that makes the meringue not do that puffy thing that makes meringue meringue. That kind of science. Fucking stupid science that makes you hate your life and feel like a failure and costs twenty-four dollars for the bakery lemon meringue pie for the fourth of July BBQ party.

So, I’ve been plugging away at baking for about a year now. I’ve got a few solid, go-to recipe books, about sixty-seven thousand bookmarked pages, and I’d say more than a few staples that are pretty damn good. I’ve even mastered a few different loaves of gluten free bread that actually taste like bread. Exhibit a = win.

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I’ve learned some of what I can and a lot of what I can’t do because I’ve tried and failed. Yes. Failed. I know when I can break the rules, and when I can’t, but I don’t yet move around the kitchen when I’m baking in the same way I do when I’m cooking. I’m not as flowy, my rhythm is choppy, and my heart pounds more than sings.

But I like it. I like the simultaneous letting go while clinging tightly. I like the learning and growing part, and I like how it’s nudging me ever so closer to learning to accept the failures part. I like all the yeasty bread and cinnamony sugar smells. This year I gave some of what I baked as holiday presents, and the gift of that giving was all mine and one of the most rewarding I’ve ever gotten.

I’m opening up my kitchen to this new world of baking in the same way I’m learning to open up my heart and accept this love that keeps holding on to me and reminding me that failing is OK. Perfection is not a requirement. Practicing is living. And hands down what I like the most is when the first thing my husband says in the morning is, “Oooooh, yay, there’s muffins!” Even when they’re sad.