Tuesday, March 24, 2009

More Sailing Voyeurism

I no sooner post my story about Ann Vanderhoof’s Caribbean sailing adventure than I get an email from my friend Lisa. She knows boaters in Roatan, 18 months into a Caribbean sail, and thinks I may be interested in their bloglink.

And it is interesting. I had a little crush on Roatan, so I’m enjoying the reminiscence. Then I notice that this isn’t just any blog—it’s one of dozens, maybe millions! of sailing-trip-journal blogs on a site called Sail Blogs.

It’s as if a big bag of M&Ms has just spilled out onto my keyboard. Which one to pick? How many can I get a taste of before bedtime??

I can report that there were more than a few orange in the bag (substitute “orange” for your least favorite M&M and that’ll make sense). But there were plenty of those new blue ones (Snazzy! Fresh!), and a lot of dependable old reds sharing latitude, longitude, galley renovation details, rainfall totals, dental floss technique.

Something for everybody.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Sailing Away

Winter is a killer. That's a sad, sad fact. Obese people wrapped in Snuggies, rolling off the couch as they reach for the remote, tragically smothering in piles of Pizza Hut boxes. Happens all the time. Or maybe just to me and Rick.

But, really. Winter? Why??

There are three perfectly good, totally sweet seasons…why do we need that nasty fourth? Shuffling into our basements in its shabby gray rags, coughing, sneezing (without covering its mouth), whining about the heat and dimming the lights every time we leave the room.

Ann Vanderhoof is from Toronto, so you can imagine the mess her winters dragged in. Her partner, Steve, made the first move. She chronicled it in An Embarrassment of Mangoes: A Caribbean Interlude

His solution was thrown out casually—just another sensible suggestion, like telling me I should crank up the thermostat when I complained about the cold. “So let’s take a break and sail south to the Caribbean for a couple of years,” he said.

And so began their Five Year Plan, which had morphed into the Seven Year Plan by the time they weighed anchor in Lake Ontario, heading east to the Hudson, leaving winter behind.

That Ann was not a sailor thrills me. (Me neither!) That she was not independently wealthy comforts me ( Me! Poor!). And that she was kind of afraid, but still game, well, I find that very encouraging. (Afraid? I LIVE in fear!)

She tells of waiting, stalled by weather, in the harbor at Key Biscayne, Florida for eleven days, watching for a window. Finally, on a Friday, despite the infamous Superstition of Friday, they left port.

“Perhaps that’s why Receta snags a lobster trap on the way into Alicetown, Bimini. Of course, we don’t know for sure that’s what it is – just that we are entering a strange harbor, on a falling tide, in an unfavorable wind, with the current against us, a shallow sandbar on one side and rocks on the other, and suddenly it has become almost impossible to turn Receta’s wheel.”

Now that is gripping literature! Two years of that sort of drama? Count me in!

Is sailing away for years at a time part of our getaway plan? Who the heck knows? The image of Rick screaming “Hoist the boom!” (or whatever) while I bail heroically on the big, snarling ocean fills me with terror. But man-o-man, it sure is fun to contemplate.

And leaving that fourth season behind? Where do I sign up?

Like the other getaway resources I’ve featured (The Grown Up’s Guide to Running Away, HomeExchange.com, ExpatWomen.com), Ann’s book starts my tummy rumbling with anticipation for our own “So let’s take a break and…” story.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Alive Like Bruce

Did you catch Springsteen’s Superbowl halftime show? Remember how comfortable he seemed? How present? Now there was a guy living in the moment, and loving every minute of it.

So what a surprise to find this – a peek into Bruce’s brain just before the band walked onto the country’s biggest stage:

I was worried that I would find myself 'out' of myself and not in the moment. My old friend Peter Wolf once said 'the strangest thing you can do on stage is think about what you're doing." This is true. To observe oneself from afar while struggling to bring the moment to life is an unpleasant experience. I've had it more than once. It's an existential problem. Unfortunately, right in my wheel house. It doesn't mean it's going to be a bad show. It may be a great one. It just means it might take time, something we don't have much of tonight. When that happens, I do anything to break it. Tear up the set list, call an audible, make a mistake, anything to get "IN." That's what you get paid for, TO BE HERE NOW! The power, potential and volume of your present-ness is a basic rock and roll promise. It's the essential element that holds the attention of your audience, that gives force, shape and authority to the evening's events. And however you get there on any given night, that's the road you take.

I am embarrassingly familiar with that whole out-of-body meltdown. In my consulting work, I do the occasional group facilitation or public speaking gig. Fair-skinned folks – you feel my pain? There’s no brighter purple than the blushing top-half of a blue-eyed blonde slowly grinding to a halt in front of 100 people.

Um, heh heh. Ack.

For a lot of us, being present is anything but natural. We hang around the fringes of a good time, doubting, judging, waiting for our engraved invitation. Sure, Clint Eastwood directed AND starred in Gran Torino, but most of us only get to choose one: Do we want to star in our life, or stand behind the camera and yell “cut” a lot?

I think of living a shore dive kinda life as a chance to grab that starring role, to step away from whatever script we've been living. And that could be uncomfortable--who wants to be present for the upset stomach that creeps in as we head to the airport, leaving the safety zone of home? But who'd want to miss getting a little wild and crazy, dancing in our seat with a $6 rum and coke at 10 in the morning while the plane heads out over open seas?

On the other side, when we reclaim our baggage and the cabbies chatter for our attention - taxi? taxi?? - I suspect we get a choice: put on the protective tourist mask and stay safely muted, or step into the moment, tear up the set list, and call an audible.

I know what Bruce would do.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Guy Lunch

Simon Cowell would say that this post is self-indulgent. And I admit, it's not about diving or expats or resources for living overseas. But it is about life - the bits of life I want more time for.

I've just settled in with my favorite weekend brunch (ham, egg and cheese on a bagel, large skim latte) at my favorite coffee shop on the lake. Two guys are sitting in silence at the next table. They begin to talk, in fits and starts. I race to open my laptop and get to typing. My really favorite thing about this coffee shop is how close the tables are.

Do you have the time? Just curious.

Seven minutes before 12.

Thank you.

My salad is really good.

It looks really good.

I’m falling behind. You already have one baby and I don’t have any.

You seeing anyone?

I wish. The last girl I went out with told me to stop calling her.

That internet…dating…

I was thinking of that.

That’s how my dad met his girlfriend. Or you could get a masters degree – college is a good place to meet girls.

Yeah, I was thinking of some kind of security thing. Homeland security. The look on your face right now is priceless.

A job for life is not a job for me. That’s like a death sentence. Being around a lot of people with nothing to prove. Kayla Heppler – remember her? Girl I dated in high school, who’s friends with Kelsy Malika.

Oh, yeah, you moved from Kelsy to her?

Something like that. She works for the CIA. I said to her, god, have you lost your mind? Okay, you have. Go ahead, go right ahead. Homeland security?

I was thinking it might be fun. My background in history might help. I have Asian history background.

What would you do?

I have no idea, it’s just an idea.

Listen, the security industry is the big bubble yet to burst. The last administration funneled trillions of dollars into private contractors. With all the stuff that they built, they couldn’t buy furniture fast enough. This is completely unsustainable. It’s not a growth thing, right? Defending the homeland from the dark skin Disney villains that are out to get us [snort]. And money…our society doesn’t have the same revulsion and indignation over profiteering that…these guys Rumsfeld and Chaney have made themselves millions of dollars through profiteering by going out and bombing cities, destroying cities, and then handing contracts to their companies to rebuild them. And they have no shame about it whatsoever – they’re proud of the war process. The fact that people are so cowed..so docile…that they tend to not speak out against it, much less rise up against it.

Yeah, rise up. You doing anything else today?

2:30, Chinese dentist.


2:30? Tooth hurty? Chinese dentist.


English humor.

I guess.

So what do you think of the chops [sideburns] here?

It’s a good look. How’s your back?

Doing great – they say it was the Bowflex. I just worked out at home, upper body, lower body. I used the rowing option –that was great.

Exactly what I did – 25 minutes a day. I’d like to gain 10 pounds.

You want to put on muscle? Body building?

No no no. I don’t want to put on bulk. I could easily put on 2 or 3 pounds just in my lats if I wanted. I don’t want to just throw it on, you know?

Well, you ready to head out?

I used to tell this guy…

Is this the same guy as last year?

No, the guy in San Diego.

Oh yeah. What did you say?

He’s really strong but, like, he doesn’t do anything.

What does he do?

He just does the weights.

I really like that – it’s more about the pain, not the challenge.

They exit. I smile.

A woman behind me says...

Osteoporosis. She's doing it to herself with her bad diet and she NEVER exercises....

Thursday, March 12, 2009

What About the Diving?

My friend Jolt told me she’d recommended my blog to several dive-fan friends.
Uh oh.

For a blog called Shore Dive Kinda Life, this series has been woefully lacking in dive.

My storyline, so far, is about expanding the view: squeezing my fingers inside our little Northern Virginia peephole and pulling the tiny opening wider, into a porthole, then pushing out with my whole hands, creating a me-sized picture window where I stand, arms wide open, ooh-ing and ahh-ing all over the page.

I dream better than I dive.

At Camel Dive in Sharm el Sheikh last fall, I handed over my NAUI certification card (aka C-card) and tried to look inconspicuous. But no, there it was… the same confused look I’d seen in Bonaire six months earlier and in St. Eustatius six months before that.

My friends are all hyper-experienced divers: a thousand dives and nearly 100 years of dive experience between them, with enough specialty-course cards to sink their dive logs. Underwater navigation, Rescue diver, Master diver. Any one of them could slap an octopus in your mouth and drag you to the surface faster than you could slash your throat in the international scuba signal for “NO FREAKING AIR!”

And then there’s me. The sole NAUI diver in a boatful of PADI’s, certified twenty-three years ago, with only 48 dives to my name. And just one lonely little Openwater I card rattling around in my vast, empty dive log.

It’s like showing up for the Grand Prix with a learner's permit and a Big Wheel.

But it’s the only ride I’ve got, so that’s how I roll.

Photos (c) www.RickCollier.com Take a look at Rick's site for more pics of diving in Sharm.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Do We Both Want This?

I was merrily skimming through the The Grown-Up's Guide to Running Away from Home: Making a New Life Abroadwhen I stumbled over this sentence…
“If you’re married, your spouse must be on the same track as you. Do you both agree on the adventure?”

Well, whaa?

I figure that if someone is reading a book about ex-patting, they’re either a) single or b) happily conspiring with a partner of some sort. It never occurred to me that one half of a couple might be planning a getaway a deux, while the other half was dreaming of late tee-times or lifesized flat-screen tvs. (Not that one can’t dream of late tee times in Bali, but you get my drift.)

What a tragedy. Two people bumping down the road of life only to find that one zigs while the other seriously zags, just as they hit the on-ramp to the retirement Autobahn.

One fist-pumps his way through the living room, waving season tickets to the Redskins, while the other jingles keys to a new 20x20 climate-controlled Rent-a-Space.

One trudges up the driveway, doggedly hauling back all the knick knacks the other has so gleefully carried out for Goodwill.

I mean, what have you guys been talking about all these years, if not retirement and going…somewhere, anywhere?

This has been my primary (some would say only) topic of conversation since the glorious sunny day that I stopped by Rick’s with a coconut pie ten years ago. We’d been dating for maybe a week, and he said, sitting there on that stoop, drinking coffee out of a mug I’m sure I’ve already disposed of, that he wanted to own a dive shop one day.

Now, I’m not much for manual labor – and there’s nothing more laborious than running a dive shop – but I knew I’d found my man. I figured we could fine tune that vision over the next decade (and we have), but here was a guy who’d just said he wanted to live a Shore Dive Kinda Life.

We’ve had our communication challenges over the years, but co-dreaming isn’t one of them.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Expat Women

I stumbled on a website called Expat Women earlier today and now here it is after midnight, and I just…can’t… stop… clicking…

I know you know what I mean.

It started innocently enough, on a page called City Experiences. I clicked into the “Cairo” link and found a helpful (and surprisingly comprehensive) overview from an expat – where to live, household help, utilities, local employment, transportation, etc. Nice.

Well, that was easy – let’s kick it up a notch…ah, here’s Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. I learn that the typical rent in popular expat areas runs between $950 and $2000, it’s easy to own a car, gyms are expensive, and that the tap water is supposedly safe to drink, but everyone filters or buys bottled. English is widely used, and a live-in maid can make your life easier for $120 to $250/month.

I also learn that, after three C-sections, the author says she can personally vouch for the hospitals. Did I mention these profiles are comprehensive?

I'm excited - I want to read about Mozambique, Hyderabad, Sri Lanka. But this virtual tome deserves more time than I have right now, so I set a bookmark, and on the way out I spot the interviews with expat entrepreneurs.

One woman runs a touring club in Italy, with a fleet of vintage 1950’s and 1960’s Fiat 500 cars. Another started a greeting card business in Venezuela. A lady in the UK publishes a family magazine, and a very busy-sounding American in Spain runs a massive business networking group, in addition to her own PR firm. These women are not messing around.

At some point – I’m out of control now, completely lost - I enroll for the Expat Women newsletter and qualify for a free e-book called Expat Women Winning Stories. I can’t recommend something I haven’t actually tried out, so one click later I’m reading funny, interesting tales (though not necessarily top shelf literature) that deserve a shout out for their honest approach and good-humored revelations.

Several stories later, I turn around and spot a Stories & Blogs link. Blogs! How can I leave now?

There’s Desperate Hotel Wife – Life Behind the Glamour and her stories about hiding from rampaging mobs in Bali. Something called Beth, Abroad – the Nibbling Marmot Goes Expatriate, reporting from Cambodia. Pickings are slim for the Caribbean (though I’m drawn to the family of eight missionaries from Minnesota working in Haiti, where I once visited a Club Med, oh so many years ago.) There’s nothing from Tuvalu, Nauru or Kiribati, but nine women write from Saudi Arabia, and a whopping 68 find time to tell us about the weather, the food, the traffic, and the accents in the UK.

I’m signing off now – really I am. But I’ll be back. And next time I’m bringing trail mix.