Wednesday, August 22, 2012


Roswell, NM

"You know, Lynn next door? She and I have lived in the same neighborhood three different times in our lives. Now we're right next door to each other here," Mom says of her neighbor in assisted living.

Every day, Mom tells me that story about Lynn next door. Every day we laugh just the same.

Every morning Lynn and Mom discover anew that they have the exact same shoes.

Mom, at 81, is one of the youngest of the 15 residents at her facility. She was diagnosed last year with Lewy Body Dementia, a form of dementia with characteristics of both Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. So far, Mom's symptoms have been mild. She has some short-term memory loss and her hands shake, especially if she's tired or upset.

Lunchtime parking.
Last year, staying with Mom in her townhouse, I watched every morning as she relearned where everything was in her own kitchen. (Unfortunately, at the end of the day, she would put all the dishes away in new places, allowing me to play along as well.)

With Mom living alone, it was hard to find any sweetness to counterbalance the sad reality of memory loss. We worried constantly that she would try to cook and forget the stove was on, that she would go for a walk and lose her way home, or fall and break her hip, which is exactly what happened in June.

Now with Mom safe here in assisted living with others to cook, do laundry and administer meds, I see dementia with different eyes. Mom, who used to fret about the past and worry about the future, now lives fully in the moment, the weight of the last one gone, forgotten. She has no concerns about a future that doesn't exist, because she can't remember to envision it and then worry about it.

For now, memory loss is a sweet gift wrapped in bitter paper. For now, I'll toss aside the paper and treasure the gift. And, if possible, follow Mom's lead and just let the future be.

And tomorrow, we'll laugh about the news that Mom and Lynn, yet again, live next door to each other.

The visiting minstrel at Mom's home. He was annoyed at me, 
because he thought I meant to take a photo and never did.

Saturday, August 18, 2012


Roswell, NM

*NOTE TO MY READERS: I'm in Roswell, New Mexico, my hometown, visiting with my mother for three weeks. She fell and broke her hip the day before Chip and I flew to Paris in June. She spent several weeks in rehab and now lives, quite happily, in an assisted living home just down the street from my sister. This was written the first day I visited her.


"Oh Sixty-Seven," I called out loudly.

"BINGO!" Arlene shouted, her eyes alight with the thrill of victory.

Ten of us sat around a large family dining table at the assisted-living home where Mom lives now in our hometown, Roswell, New Mexico. Today was my first day to visit since Mom moved in two weeks ago, and I had volunteered to lead the afternoon activity.

"Great job, Arlene," I told one of Mom's new companions, genuinely sharing her joy. "But let's keep going. We're playing Blackout, so we want to cover the whole card." Arlene nodded happily.

"I 32," I called.

"BINGO!" Arlene shouted, and we all clapped for her and her new Bingo or maybe the previous one.

It didn't matter. Here, where the fire of dementia burns white hot, we were all in the present moment, deleriously happy with victory, whether it was a new one or an old one was irrelevant.

That fire consuming their memories burns the newest, freshest memories first, like the memory of what was said one sentence ago, but leaving intact old, old remembrances from childhood, like what the letter 'B' looks like and an 'I' and a '32.'

At lunch Arlene had told me, "I have two children, but they never come to visit me."

I was plummeting into the tragic sadness of this news when I remembered that Mom told me her sister had never visited this new home. I knew this wasn't true, that the memory of Hazel's visits had been consumed by the fire. Well, to clarify, Mom's statement wasn't factual, but, for Mom, it was and is utter truth.

And then I came back around to join Arlene in her utter truth that, even if the seat beside her is still warm from her daughter's visit, this moment's truth is that her children never come to visit.

"I'll come visit you, Arlene," I said.

"I like you," she said smiling brightly, and moved, carefree, on to her next moment, taking innocent pleasure in a small bowl of Neopolitan ice cream, completely liberated of all that had gone before. I staggered into my next moment dragging the weight of the last one and the heavy burden of liking Arlene too, even though I was now alone, no longer liked by Arlene, consumed by the fire.

Later that day at the lunch-table-turned-Bingo parlor, the youngest resident sat to my right. Nadine is tiny and spry, impeccably dressed with an alert demeanor that made me think surely she was a visitor. She enthusiastically worked two cards and helped 97-year-old Gracie next to her.

"I never win at Bingo," Nadine declared.

Without thinking, I blurted, "But Nadine, you just won two games in a row!"

"Oh, really?" she said, shock and then joy filling her face. "Oh, good!"

We soldiered on. I turned the crank on the cranky metal lottery wheel, and Bingo balls dropped sometimes into the metal slide as they were supposed to and sometimes went flying across the table and onto the floor.

"B Six," I called as a loud, persistent beeper went off, indicating that one of the seven residents not playing Bingo had pushed the button that each of them have hanging around their necks on brighly colored ribbons.

"BINGO," Arlene called out in pure delight, and we all clapped.

"That's so awesome, Arlene, but we're playing Blackout, so let's keep going."

I was living so utterly in the moment, concentrating on the most important and fulfilling job I'd ever had, so free of my sardonic self, that I completely missed the tragic irony of playing Blackout with eight women caught in an ultimate game of Blackout.

"What was the last number?" Cora asked me in her gravelly, expressionless voice.

Our eyes met. "I have no idea," I said.

Cora was fine with that.

At the end of the Blackout round, there were only six balls left in my metal cage, so I took them out and placed them in the master Bingo tray to see if we were playing with a full set. As I feared, we were not. One ball was missing. G 50. G 50 had gone missing.

With much fanfare, all the extra-large, Easy-Read cards were cleared of their poker chips. I scooped up all the balls but G 50 and put them back in the cage. Everyone who could remember reminded everyone who couldn't to put a chip on the FREE spot in the middle of the cards.

"G 50" I called out in a heartfelt effort to make up for all that had gone missing.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012


Corte Madera, CA

My life, as a story, is a disorganized mess, words and chapters strung together with no preplanned narrative arc, a writing disaster with a nut but no nut graf divulging the real heart of my story.

The news peg (timely relevance) here is the Book Passage Travel Writers and Photographers Conference in Corte Madera, California, where famous, accomplished travel writers pretend they are regular people with regular shoes and sit around tables with credentialed regular people (like me) to discuss narrative arc, news pegs and story pitches.

It's lonely now, writing down here below that last weighty paragraph where you stopped reading about a banal writing conference in, where was that again? If you'd pressed your nose up to the plate glass window at Book Passage, you'd have observed that same paragraph (oh no, not again!) in 3D, and you would have thought it looked scratch-my-eyes-out boring. That's because magic doesn't travel through glass.

My life underway on a sailboat, even with another person, is inherently solitary, disconnected from land and, unfortunately, its people. Writing about traveling by sailboat is more solitary still. I'm a lonely, nomadic writer without a tribe. I thought.

I so love being wrong.

Robert Louis Stevenson said, "For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move."

No, Robert Louis Stevenson was not at the conference, which, quite frankly, is his loss, but he describes the soul of those who were there. Travel writers are addicted to going somewhere else, to smudging our consciousness with the fresh soil of a new place -- and then writing about it. We carry the germ of place, and we want to infect our readers.

Gathered all in one room, we carriers of place incubated our germ into a raging epidemic that fed and consumed us by turns. It was an enchanted inspiration frenzy in the feverish way that, after the fever has broken, you crash into a dark, healing slumber, and upon waking, wonder which part was real and which part merely delirium. Did I get all weepy at the end? Did everyone?

We did.

I think.

We reached out from our solitary worlds as travelers and found a connection made of passion, passion for place and words and being transported. We exchanged shards of paper with @s and .coms, yearning to maintain the arc of extraordinary connection made in a room with ordinary blue carpet and ordinary blue chairs.

As a reader of my own messy story, it isn't clear yet if this conference is a significant plot point in the narrative arc of my life. Like the shocking discovery that you have a tribe and then melting into a feverish, 4-day, whirling Dervish-ish inspiration dance with them wouldn't be? (It would be if I were writing this. I'm not.)

So, reluctantly leaving behind the clarity of Book Passage and my newfound tribe, I drive south onto the Golden Gate bridge bathed in too bright, post stupor sunlight, disappearing, me and the bridge, into a chilly shroud of fog -- and a new place.

To be continued...

Linda Watanabe McFerrin introducing Andrew McCarthy,
 who is about to interview me at Book Passage.*

*Sincere apology to the magnificent Don George for this gag.**

**Sincere apology to Linda and Andrew as well, as if they'll ever read this. Carry on.

Sunday, August 12, 2012


Menlo Park, CA

Is impostor a career path? If so, I think I've got a solid resume.

Journalist Pretender :: Washington, D.C. :: 1996-2005
Across the room from where I sat hung the NIXON RESIGNS print plate of The Washington Post, which actually reads SNGISER NOXIN, because, of course, it's a print plate. It's backwards. At 36, I had flipped my own life around and signed up for Journalism 101. Nine months later, thanks to a boost from my professors, I had launched my new career posing as weekend editor of in a tiny conference room with the top editors at The Washington friggin' Post.

Impostor Wine & Beer Expert :: Kill Devil Hills, NC :: 2005-2010
Chip and I decided to open a wine shop, where, overnight, I stopped posing as a journalist and started impersonating a wine and beer expert. I worked across the room from a DOGFISH HEAD sign that was printed correctly and much easier to read, even if I'd been drinking. Our shop morphed into a raging success (because Chip's not an impostor).

Sailor Impersonator :: Water :: 2010-present
Two years ago, we sold the wine shop, so I could impersonate a sailor on a boat where I'm required to display a sign that tells how far out in the ocean it is legal to dump dunnage. (Don't even ask me what dunnage is. I don't know. I'm an impostor.)

Impostor Travel Writer :: Corte Madera, CA :: August 2012
This week I sit in a small room across from a sign that says, "BOOK PASSAGE" at a travel writers and photographers conference, sharing the same air with the gods of travel writing, real live people whose head shots appear on the cover flaps of my books.

Yesterday, I was honored to be scolded harshly by Georgia Hesse, the founding editor of the San Francisco Examiner, for a) writing in the vein of "what I did on my summer vacation," (just like I'm doing now. Sorry, Georgia.) and b) telling me I needed to look up the word 'enormity.' (She was correct.) (I love her.) The verbal spanking would have bothered me more if I hadn't been so mesmerized by her glasses frames, each side large enough for a yak to walk through. (That sentence ends with a preposition. I'm really sorry, Georgia.) I was also delighted to be told by Jim Benning, editor of World Hum, that my blog looked like it was a holdover from the '90s, and apparently this is not good.

At the end of four 17-hour days on a travel writing bender, I'm left with a inspiration hangover, caught between motivation and intimidation, certain to be busted when I string little letters together and unleash them out here on the worldwide web.

Masquerading is stressful but gloriously so.

Exec Editor of Afar, Travel Editor of Sunset, Author (and my mentor)
David Farley, San Francisco Chronicle Travel Editor.
Author Susan Orleans and
Don George, Contributing Editor of NatGeo Traveler, author, magic dust producer.

Friday, August 10, 2012


Corte Madera, CA

In case you're wondering where I am this week, I've flown the coop. Well, at least the cooped up boat. Living in a marina in sultry Georgia causes one to find excuses to move about the planet (like I need one) -- even if it's just down the dock to play Chicken Foot dominos with other boat refugees.

This time I've taken bigger leave, not of my senses (I hope). I've flown to beautiful Corte Madera, California, tucked between the Golden Gate Bridge and wine country (why go to ugly places?), for a travel writing conference. Not just any old conference but the Book Passage Travel Writers & Photographers Conference celebrating its 21st year.

My friend Beth forwarded me an email about this conference on July 24 and two weeks later, here I am.

You never really know what to expect at these sorts of things. Actually I feared a blah, blah, blah, break for coffee, blah, blah, blah type of thing. Instead I am completely delighted to report that day one has been rated a 9 out of a possible 10 on a scale that I just made up.

The faculty is peopled by storied folks.

You can see the whole list here. There are about 70 attendees and more than 30 faculty, including editors, writers, photographers and agents. They shamelessly beg us to talk to them -- all day and up to the midnight hour. And then, in my case, the travel editor of the San Francisco Chronicle gives you a ride home.

Stay tuned, although, I might not have time to write for a few days. Ah, the irony.

And if you're wondering where Chip has flown, he told me he was going to Delaware to visit his parents. Yesterday, I find out that all three of them took off for Manhattan. Damn. Fun times on both coasts for Cara Mia's crew.

If you need a sailing blog fix, don't forget that Raft Up continues. August's topic: Clothing and Laundry
  2nd:  Steph @
  3rd:  Diana @
  4th:  Lynn @
6th: Jessica @
  7th:  Behan @
10th:  Stacey @
11th: Verena @ (new writer)
12th: Toast @ (new writer)
13th: Dana, our host @

Thursday, August 9, 2012


Welcome to August's Raft-Up, where many cruisers blog about the same topic. This month's topic: Clothing and Laundry.

I've been agitating (ha) about this for a long time -- at least on the clothing part. In fact, I've written a draft article about crafting a cruising wardrobe to submit to a sailing magazine. This post is a condensed version. I sure wish I had read something like this when I was getting ready to cruise! 

Imagine planning a vacation to an exotic coastal city where you will meander down lovely streets, chat with the locals and eat in charming restaurants. Now imagine packing for your trip: throw in ratty, dirty shorts, beat-up Tevas, a sweat-stained floppy hat and faded t-shirts. And for six months before departure, be sure you don't cut your hair or even comb it. 

It's shocking to me how many cruisers walk around looking like Tom Hanks in Cast Away -- and are okay with that. I'm not. However, it's not so easy.

Cruising presents so many challenges, but I have found that crafting a workable wardrobe is one of the hardest -- and one that I am still perfecting. It took me a very long time to get it close to being right and have many photos to prove it.

That's me on the right. Hey, I was freezing!
Fortunately, I have found some beautiful role models.

That is lovely Karen from Jessie Marie, the first one who told me about Rule #1 below, the formidable, always stylish Ana on Unicorn and beautiful, hip Johanna on Snowbird. (Oh, and those guys are with them.)

So here are the 9 rules I've developed for moving about the planet without looking like a bedraggled, unkempt, unshaven castaway.

Rule #1: I am a sailor. I must have sailing clothes, but they will never go ashore.

Don't try to come up with a multi-purpose wardrobe. It's impossible (without looking like a cruiser). Sailing is a rough and tumble business and demands clothing that can stand up to the work and the elements while being comfortable, flexible and quick drying.

Fortunately you don't need many of these. My sailing clothes take up a 10 x 10 inch area in my drawer. They are high-tech fibers that pack very small and dry almost instantly. 

I have a pair each of high-tech pants and capris, three pairs of board shorts, four white high-tech shirts. I have one pair of deck shoes and need to add a pair of waterproof boots. In the tropics, swimwear can be enlisted as sailing gear if you don't mind the wear and tear. 

In addition I have a base layer top and bottom that go underneath the high-tech pants and shirt, and two different weights of fleeces for those cold days if you're anywhere north of the Tropic of Cancer in the fall. These all get vaccuum sealed and stowed out of sight when it gets warm.

Rule #2: I must have boat chore clothes, not to be confused with sailing clothes.
Boat chores are perpetual and most are messy. I have one pair of shorts, an homage to all the boat chores that have gone before. They are stained with varnish, paint, glue, teak dust and probably a few tears. I keep an ancient pair of flip-flops, a short and long sleeved t-shirt and an old bathing suit top.

Rule #3: For going ashore, try to look fabulous -- or at least not dreadful.
This is the hard one. My wardrobe construction method is to use a basic color scheme. My base color is brown (cooler than black) with which I match blue, pink, white and …….. Period. When I see something I want to buy, I already know if it will correspond with my other clothes. This allows me to have lots of outfit options with very few clothes.

SHOES: I have two pairs of casual flip-flops, two pairs of nice sandals and a pair of brown wedge, high-heeled sandals that can dress up jeans (yes, you'll occasionally wear jeans) or be worn to a wedding with a nice dress. (I'm lying. I have more shoes than this. Don't tell Chip.)

Dresses are awesome. A whole outfit: DONE! I have at least five dresses.

This category can be created from your land wardrobe. Don't worry about high-tech fibers. Just make sure the clothes are cool and airy with layers for chilly days/evenings. It also helps if they don't get easily wrinkled.

Rule #4: Keep at least one elegant outfit suited for special occasions.
In two years of cruising, I have used my dressy outfit at least four times, twice for weddings and twice for swanky restaurants. Chip and I both keep two of these outfits vaccuum-packed and stowed in a deep hatch. Just take them out a day or two in advance and hang them in your boat, which is already warm and humid, making for a good wrinkle remover!

Onboard yesterday. Wedding today.
Rule #5: Accessorize!
Scarves, jewelry and belts take up precious little space and can transform plain into fabulous.

Oops, wrong section!
Behold: the scarf!
Rule #6: Grooming is not optional -- and it's free!
Okay, this isn't about clothing or laundry, but it's IMPORTANT. Grooming costs nothing and takes nothing more than time -- and if you're moving along at 5 mph, you've got time. There's no excuse. If you're going to let your hair run ragged, grow it long enough to pull it back into a sleek, timeless ponytail. Please.

#7: Never, ever dress alike.

This goes beyond wearing literally matching outfits. Many couples buy the same brand of clothing, so even though they might be wearing different colors, they end up looking like a matched set.

We've taken this to an extreme. If I buy a brand first, I own it. Chip is not allowed to buy or wear that brand and vice versa. Spread the love!

#8: Don't forget your skivvies.
High-tech bras and underwear are breathable and dry quickly. It's not helpful when your pants are dry but your undies are still wet. 

#9: Getting to and from land
Dinghy rides can present wardrobe challenges. I take precautions such as carrying a towel to sit on, wearing a slicker I then leave on the dinghy, carry my shoes in a plastic bag, etc.

Okay, there you have it. My rules for looking non-cruiserly in 9 steps. It takes some planning, but it's so worth it to see the surprise on people's faces when you tell them you live on a boat.

Be sure to read what everyone else has to say.

who are these people? me | chip | cara mia | our very long timeline