Saturday, June 27, 2009

Spelling Test

Geology Notes
Geology Notes
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
I start with the new words from the List of Frequently Misspelled Words found inexplicably at the back of the 5 materias cuaderno (5 subject notebook) we recently purchased. “Accumulate. The boat is going to sink from the sheer volume of crap we managed to accumulate this year. Accumulate.”

Mera nods agreement as she spells her word, “A C C U M U L A T E.”

“Excellent,” I reply. “Accommodate. I would like to accommodate your desire to fill the forward lockers with crap, but I must stand firm. Accommodate.”

A grin, “A C C O M M O D A T E.”

“Okay, next word.” I browse the list, “Achievement. It would be quite an achievement if we could dispose of nearly 2000 pounds of gear in the next 3 weeks. Achievement.”

“A C H E I V E M E N T.”

“Uh... wait. Um... no no. That's wrong.” I correct the word, Mera dutifully writes it out five times while I ponder the vagaries of the English language. The next one is going to knock her flat too. She's had it on her list for three weeks and for some reason it forever befuddles. “Criticize. I don't mean to criticize you, darling, but your feet were disgustingly filthy. Criticize.”

Mera looks serious as she writes out the word. She erases it once, chews her pencil, and then spells it without the S for the first time.

“Woot! Okay! That's great. Accidentally. I accidentally threw away all of Dad's extra wood yesterday.” I'm back on topic.

“You so did not,” Mera charges as she writes the word. “You did that on purpose. That's not an accident, a c c i d e n t a l l y.”

“Abundance. Your father has an abundance of alternatives to the wood pile he'd gathered under the bimini covers. He'll survive. Abundance.”

“A b u n d a n c e, he's still not going to like it. And it wasn't an accident.” Mera can be pretty stubborn too.

Hmm. “Destruction. The destruction of Daddy's wood is nothing compared to the devastation I plan to wreck on your sisters' shelves. Destruction.”

“D e s t r u c t i o n. Just don't destruction my cabin or I'll destruction you,” she warns.

“It's. It's not like you can stop me, small stuff. It's.” I challenge her.

“I t apostrophe s possible I'll sneak into your room and steal your icing if you do,” she warns.

I'm quick, “Hah! Its. That's assuming you know its location. Its.”

She's quicker, “I t s next to the bed hidden under your sewing work.”

“Premonition. I have a premonition that this argument is not going to end well. Premonition.”

“P r e m o n i t i o n.” Mera is all business now as we near the end of the list.

It's not as fun this way when Mera isn't arguing with me. “Produce. Are you going to produce a finished essay this afternoon? Produce.”

“Not unless you p r o d u c e a big lunch to fuel me,” she quips, smiling.

I nod in agreement. “Okay Mera. Will do. Counterfeit. I can't counterfeit my strong positive feelings for the idea of lunch right now. Counterfeit.”

“Oh Mom....” Mera complains. “E I or I E?”

“That's cheating,” I peer over the table at her paper, “Counter Fee It... remember what we talked about with the money thing?”

Mera's brow furrows and she ponders the word and then writes it out correctly when comprehension dawns, “Right! Fee It.”

Driver's Ed
Driver's Ed
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
“Okay, schedule. Our schedule says you need to write the misspelled words five times and use them correctly in a sentence then we can blow this joint! Schedule.” I clap the notebook shut with an enthusiastic bang.

“S c h e d u l e !” Mera is equally enthusiastic as she challenges me, “Schedule! Does our schedule include ice cream this morning? Schedule.”

Laughing, I grin in agreement. “I have a premonition we can accidentally overrule your Dad's schedule and accumulate an abundance of ice cream. It's quite an achievement to accommodate helado AND produce in our afternoon destruction. School's out for the day!"

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Summer Schedule -- Kinda Sorta

Hiker Shrine on Coyote
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
A quick note to bring everyone up to speed on the Where and the When for the crew of s/v Don Quixote.

June 15 - We pulled into Santa Rosalia and put the boat on the dock. This was hard. This requires an entire post to discuss complete with angst-filled and poignant pictures. I haven't the pictures yet, but I'm sure the emotive climate will appear any moment now. The boat is now in Santa Rosalia until mid-October. All adventures between now and then are going to be non-boat-based.

June 23 - July 4 - Except this one. DrC and Jaime left yesterday for La Paz. DrC will bring our new old van (old new van?) to Santa Rosalia on Monday. He's leaving Jaime down in La Paz on s/v Beach Access. Our buddy boat and Captain Uncle Glenn are bashing north over the subsequent two weeks with Jaime as a hand before the mast. Everyone please send good weather karma vibes to them. I'll try to keep a relay going on their status and location via my Twitter feed.

June 29 - DrC flies up to Seattle to work.

July 22 - Mera, Aeron and I climb in the van and start driving.

August 2 - Family all comes together in a pile to attend a wedding in New Mexico.

August and September - My mother will join s and then the crew of Don Quixote plans to road trip in the United States. I'll post -that- itinerary when we get closer to figuring out what we're doing. It's a little fuzzy at the moment. We want to see the Grand Canyon (Jaime), the Navajo National Monument (Aeron), Chico State University (Dean), the Seattle Public Library (Mera), and Merlino's Orange Freeze (Toast). That's all we know.

~October 1 - Jaime, Mera, Aeron and I are back on the boat in Santa Rosalia.

October 9 - DrC joins us in Santa Rosalia.

Mid-October -- Go to Guaymas, haul the boat, get pretty, and then start being cruisers again.

We had a Moment -- an epiphany if you will -- on a beam reach in 15 knots of stunningly beautiful weather between Isla Lorenzo and Playa Santa Teresa the gist of which was:

We're not done yet.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Boat Cat Stories

Dulcinea's Favorite Spot
Dulcinea's Favorite Spot
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
“Oh wow! Check this out!!!” Jaime calls from below. There is a burring buzz, a thump, and peals of laughter.

The cat is at it again.

This time, I'd argue that the hubbub is the girls' fault. In Mera's endless efforts to make the Spy Game more entertaining, she created spy cameras out of yarn and paper and strung them in strategic positions around the boat. The cat just discovered one dangling mid-companion way in front of Mera's door about five feet off the ground. With the boat swaying in a southwest swell, Dulcinea has decided that the camera is a target of opportunity and is repeatedly leaping to try and catch it. This continues until the cat wises up and heads for the salon. This time she dives straight down, catching the “camera” en route, landing with a victorious thud and a triumphant growl seven feet below whereupon she shreds it in vicious glee.

I fought hard to keep a pet off the boat, arguing vigorously against adding yet another problem and more work to our boat lives. Pets require food, water, places to go potty, and care. They make a mess, and they cost money. It is a true pain in the ass to get them across many international borders. We do not need more hair on the boat.

I was wrong.

Dulcinea is friend, guardian, comfort toy, entertainment, and child. She adds tremendously to our lives on Don Quixote. She is a really good boat cat, loves to be underway, and appears to have no trouble with her rather constricted living space. When the sea or anchorage are rough, she digs into a confined space. When things are hot, she flops in the coolest places on the boat.

I asked the family for anecdotes of life with Dulcinea:

The Cat Ate My Homework – Dulcinea likes paper. She likes to shred paper, specifically. You can not leave a notebook or map lying around anywhere. On more than one occasion, the girls have finished a long science or history assignment, walked off to get a juice or use the head, and come back to find their schoolwork shredded beyond recognition. When it is necessary to tear up paper so that we can heave it overboard, we put it in a box and let kitty go to town.

Crazy Cat – The cat starts running, meowing, and twitching. First, she does two laps of the salon. Without pause, she tears out the cockpit, down the port side, and up onto the salon top. There are a series of pattering thuds and then silence. We all look up... waiting expectantly. “BAM!!” Jaime says what we're all thinking, “Dulcinea's trying to climb the mast again.” DrC concurs, “Yep. Crazy ass cat.”

Cat Overboard! – We're rafted up to Endless Summer. This is the first time we've rafted since Dulcinea joined us. Her nature and inclination is that anything tied to Don Quixote is, by definition, her territory. In La Cruz, that meant the entire A dock including all the boats and cruisers. In this case, Dulcinea starts the takeover of her extended domain by jumping on Endless Summer's port bow. Within a minute, however, she's back – every hair on her body extended straight out and a wild look in her eye. Suky, a lovely Dalmatian, comes bounding over to the rail and slips onto Don Quixote enjoying the new game. With a slip and a yowl, Dulcinea sidesteps gracelessly into the gap between the boats. A half second later we hear a splash and everyone scrambles to the edge to see if she's okay. Disoriented, Dulcinea first heads towards the bows but soon realizes her error and turns around. “Wow, she's a really strong swimmer,” Steve notes. The cat is moving so fast it doesn't occur to any of us to try to get her. By the time DrC moves to the transom, Dulcinea flings herself out of the water and tears into the salon. I shudder. “Goddamnit...” I have no doubt whatsoever, Dulci is now hiding in my bed covers, the most supremely cold, wet, and pissed off cat in a 100 miles. It'll be hours before we get her rinsed in fresh water and dried out. And in the meantime, she'll manage to soak every bed and seat on the boat.

Tuna, Tuna! – “27 seconds!” Aeron calls out. It's a new Don Quixote record. That's 27 seconds from the time I crack open the can of tuna to the moment Dulcinea runs into the salon and meows for her portion. Dulcinea is not crazy about beef or chicken. She's a mad cat for sea food. Boat cat.

Kitty Headlights – “Shine the light to the left,” DrC asks Mera who is sitting on the bow. We have several ways to find our boat at night in a dark anchorage. The corners of the boat have solar sidewalk lights which glow a faint orange. We use a kludgy, very bright 12 volt incandescent bulb which we clip to the boom every night. In addition, DrC put strips of reflective tape on the edges of the deck and at key places up the mast. The tape shines a bright silver when you point a flashlight anywhere towards our boat. Finally, we have Dulcinea.

Shredder Cat
Shredder Cat
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
As we approach the back of the boat, Dulcinea runs down the transom to greet us. “Kitty kitty kitty!” everyone starts to call. Mera exclaims, “Kitty headlights!” And there they are. We know it's Don Quixote, because there are two stripes of silver and then on the right, shining back at us a diamond white light, are the twin beams of the flashlight reflecting in Dulcinea's eyes.

We hear a plaintive mrrreeow as our boat cat starts bitching about the reduced state of her food dish. A cat makes a home, and we're home.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Interview: Mera at One Year

Title: Interview: Mera At the End of the First Year
Tags: cruising, children, Mera

Sunset with Mera
Sunset with Mera
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
Roughly a year ago, Keet asked me to interview the girls about their experience as boating kids and their thoughts on the future. The time has come to update their answers and ask a few new questions.

* * *

Q: What do you think about our plans for the coming year?
Very hazy. I don't really know the big idea of what we are going to do. I probably didn't know what we were going to do last year either. I'm sure whatever it is will be fun because it always seems fun.

Q: What was your favorite place to go or thing to do during our first year?
Can I have more than one? Yes.Mostly the outdoor sports. The place I liked to go best was probably Fake Mexico after a long trip by ourselves, 'cause Fake Mexico has pools, it has people, it has escape from the solitary life and it is fake so you can laugh about that. My favorite thing to do is always read.

Q: What was your worst time during the first year?
Moving into Jaime's room. Jaime's reaction and she wouldn't talk to me for a week after that... maybe even more than a week. Daddy: Was that a good thing or a bad thing? Daaaadd... *snort*

Q: What is your favorite thing to do as a boat kid?
Play with my spy kit and swing around on the mast. You definitely can't do that because you don't have a mast on shore. My favorite thing to do is watch the cat, she's an endless source of fascination, particularly since she decided to climb the mast is her goal. One day, I swear that cat is going to run off the end of the boat.

Q: What is the thing you hate most as a boat kid?
I hate jellyfish. I had a very scary incident with a jellyfish. I hate seasickness. I've been on this boat for a long time and I still can't stop from getting queasy when we go on a long passage. It's even harder when Aeron starts reading in the cabin in the dark when the boats swinging up and down and around and around. She's got a stomach as hard as a rock.

Q: Are there any places you want to go or see during the coming year? Where would you insist that we go again?
In the coming year, I insist we go to all the national parks that we can. The place that I want to visit again that we've already been would probably be … San Simeon. That was probably one of the most beautiful anchorages we've ever been in.

Q: Can you tell us one thing that makes boating families special?
Well, we are a lot more honest with each other because we have to be. We trust each other with certain things more than other families do and we can speak about what we think except for Dad and Jaime. Though, Dad has started to talk a little bit more.

Q: Would you like to shout out to any boat buddies or boat kids who might be following this blog?
It's going to be a list: Sunbreak, Bay Wolf, Windfall, Third Day, Sirius Star, Beach Access, Noey, HB... though maybe he would get less messed up if we called him Hbunny. Are Max and Kat following the blog? I think so...Max and Kat. Profligate, Victory Cat, and Totem. Excellent Adventure and Rubber Duckies. And Endless Summer. And Sea Level.

If folks wanted to send a care package, what would want in it?
Books. Lots of books. Things for my spy kit. I've already got a magnifying glass, so don't worry about that. I need a good set of binoculars, microphones I could plant somewhere... could be cheap but it would look cool, well I'm sure people are creative enough to think of stuff on their own. The problem with my spy packet is that lots of the stuff that I have is broken... like a broken phone. Most of the stuff a spy kit needs is imagined stuff. But at least it's there. So I don't really need working stuff. I would like a telescope... one of those pirate telescopes that you can just fold back in? Besides my spy kit, I like candy and I like mail. I like to know what's going on in your lives. And I like origami so if any one has new sheets of paper. And directions for origami. So far I have limited directions. I can't get them down here because they are in spanish.

Q: Anything else you'd like to add?
I'm not done listing people. All right: Gruncle T, my grandparents, Gruncle Dale, Polly. Hey everbody, I'm thinking to buy a small computer. This time it's for real. No regular Santa Wish. I'm going to buy a notebook computer. Mom is going to help me put all the applications on it this summer. I want email, an ebook reader... I want WoW but Mom says it won't fit or run or something... Mom is just going to take care of it.

Afternoon Breeze
Afternoon Breeze
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Lions and Tigers and Bears! OhMY!!

Clever Girl
Clever Girl
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
Emails and the comment threads both here and on my Facebook account have recently been full of questions regarding the “bad news” flowing out of Mexico. I'd like to take this quick moment to respond to the questions, concerns, and wonderful warm messages of support and worry.

Are you worried about the flu? What are you doing about the flu?
We're paying attention to the flu news, but we've pretty much decided this is a tempest in a 24 hour news cycle tea pot. Basically, sane folk need to keep our eyes on what happens to the flu over the next six months as it heads into winter in the southern hemisphere. Flu doesn't really like warm weather, so it's not a reasonable thing to get bent right now if you're living in a 100 degree climate. We'll monitor whether the flu strengthens or mutates during the southern winter months and pay attention to where it goes and what it does in the fall.

Can you get across the border?
Who knows? Right now, we can travel without restriction. By the time DrC or the girls and I try to travel north, the flu issue could be completely gone or the federales on both sides could have their knickers in a twist. We'll go with whatever the fates hand us. At this point, we're just not going to worry about it.

What about the drug lords and murderers?
There is a drug war going on in Mexico right now, particularly up north near the border. I liken this to the mob wars that took place during Prohibition. There is a lot of money, a lot of corruption, and a lot of violence. However, the violence is largely confined to the community involved in the trade. Like mob families, these folks are killing each other and leaving the rest of the world to toodle along without interference. Occasionally, there are civilian collateral casualties, each of which is a tragedy. Again, this is not something that the crew of Don Quixote needs to worry about. We're nowhere near the areas of violence.

Now Toast.. we've heard about violence against tourists...
Heh. Maybe you have. We haven't. The cruiser community is the most gossipy group of biddies you'll find anyplace. We're like a small town smeared from Zihua to the Sea of Cortez and news travels very fast. It's reasonable to conclude that we know of every incident of theft, violence, or property damage that took place against cruisers this entire season. You can count the issues on one hand, and we haven't heard of any injuries this year. Gracias a Dios, as they say here.

Frankly, cruisers just aren't much of a target in Mexico. In fact, most coastal communities go out of their way to ensure the safety of their yachtistas who support local businesses, contribute to local charities, and encourage the positive interest of the Federales in the region in the form of Singlar and Fonatur developments. In one notable incident this season of cruisers getting stopped by a thief and taken for their pesos, the local policia had the guy arrested, tried, sentenced and incarcerated within 48 hours. Do not – I repeat DO NOT – get on the wrong side of Mexican law and community consensus on policia priorities.

But Toast...
I know it probably seems like we're being too casual, too unconcerned, oblivious, or naïve. Instead, I think what happens is that when you escape the clutch of mainstream media, you start developing a more practical understanding of the dangers which surround you. We can't read about a murder every day, so we start to worry less about getting murdered. We don't read about the swine flu every day, so when we do, a few thousand cases world-wide seems a considerably smaller danger than a coromuel with a bad anchor set. Drug lords don't hang out in marinas, cruisers are not getting attacked, boats this season have largely avoided even petty theft.

Does that mean bad shit can't happen to us? Of course it can. Jaime slipped on a wet floor a few weeks ago, and knocked herself out. We spent two days monitoring her mild concussion and worrying worrying worrying. To make it more entertaining, she slipped again in Escondido requiring a trip to the hospital to get a neck X-ray. So no, we don't think we're invulnerable.

Flying Leap
Flying Leap
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
But the things we worry about are the issues that face us every day: the safety of our children and ourselves in a dangerous and challenging physical environment, falling overboard on night passages, running into rocks, getting stung by rays, slipping on hikes, eating a fish tainted with ciguerra or getting ice with a nasty intestinal bacteria. We worry constantly about dehydration and sun burn, slipping on wet tiles in our Crocs, and Mommy's back going out... again.

The swing flu, drug lords, and muggers are far far away. Let's just keep them that way.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

And Now A Word From Our Sponsor

Mera Hard At Work
Mera Hard At Work
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
I stare at the screen befuddled for a moment, trying to remember how to generate an em dash in FrameMaker. It used to be second nature. Em dash, en dash, copyright, registered and trademark are all symbols so hideously counter-intuitive to generate in FrameMaker that it is a constant source of amazement that Adobe ever succeeded in establishing the application as the preeminent tool of technical writers. More bewildering is how long the program stayed at the top of the heap. Even today, when they swear that the last update is long behind them and other tools – commercial and open source – pop up like daisies on the authorial landscape, Frame is still used by the majority of my clients.

Which actually brings us to the real problem I face this afternoon: I have clients. Clients are the companies which keep Toast afloat. Clients want stuff. Clients ask questions, set deadlines, and need things. Clients are like children with bank accounts and an attitude. Clients are simultaneously my best friends and my worst enemies.

Technically speaking – and as a technical writer I should try to speak technically, albeit more or less inaccurately – I have had clients since the day I quit my full time job. For the most part my clients come from people who worked with me in the past and then scattered to the four winds after leaving our shared employer. Former employers, employees, and coworkers find themselves in a bind with a product to get out the door and either no user guide or a really spectacularly bad user guide. While I'm a bit pricey on the technical writer pay scale, I work fast, independently, and generally leave a client with documentation in fine shape to hand over to a less senior, less experienced writer... for example, the engineers.

Since I quit my job, I can name a double handful of companies for whom I consulted on documentation, training, or simplified English. Ironically, during those years I was a documentation consultant for the largest, most complicated training development project in my career. I've done little quick start brochures and a command line interface guide. I've written help in Robo, Wiki, CHM, and a text file. I developed a database used to direct the development effort of a team of 22 content producers, and I contributed to the documentation on a number of open source projects.

However, when you get right down to it, my resume or LinkedIn profile is a white lie, a bit of true stretching, or total and unmitigated bull shit depending on your perspective. At any given time out here floating around off the coast of Mexico, I have two or three ongoing projects or active clients. String them all end to end, the number of hours I bill out each year probably only amounts to 8 man weeks. Or woman weeks. It's not enough work to keep us in limes and honey roasted peanuts, but it is enough to make the resume look really good.

Because the real reason I work is insurance. Working is a back door to the real world in case something bad happens. If the boat is destroyed, DrC injured, or family reasons force us to make a quick return to the States, I don't have to tell anyone that I've been playing footloose and fancy free for four years. I can truthfully point to these professional experiences and say that I'm still active, I know my stuff, I'm still growing. Hire me. I'll find the em dash... really
Candeleros Heading South
Candeleros Heading South
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
Which was a great theory until the market crashed and the economy went to hell and the unemployment rate in the tech industry skyrocketed and technical writers started hitting the streets in record numbers. No matter how good I look on paper, there are a hundred applicants for every full time job in my business, a hundred hungry people with children to feed and a roof to keep over their heads with whom I would rather not compete. I'll take my five hours here, my interesting project in London there, and continue to work part time, staying out of the way of the people who need that full time work for as long as I possibly can. I cross my fingers, try to keep DrC out of trouble, and keep my handful of steady, resume-padding clients happy while we wait for the world economy to sort itself out.

Ah ha! Found it. Ctrl-Q then shift-Q and you get an em dash. What idiot thought that was a good idea?