Posted in Mental Health, Travel

Gypsying (OR: A Borderline Personality Working on Borders)

hand of cardsIf you’re not familiar with poker, the thing to understand is that you start a hand with some cards of your own, and you don’t yet know what other cards will be available to you to use in that hand. You have to “sign up” to play that hand by putting some money in the pot before the other cards are revealed, and there’s a minimum amount (the Blind) that’s essentially the baseline price of admission to play. Sometimes people will bid higher than the Blind (if the cards they CAN see bode well for play, or if they want their opponents to THINK that), but sometimes a player will hope to see the next few cards without investing a great deal up front. Calling the Blind, or going in for the minimum amount, is called Gypsying, or Limping in.

RV fifth wheel Grand Design
I literally do live on wheels. Here’s HOME cruising by my workplace one day…

The other day my counselor told me several times that the word “Gypsy” describes me. (I don’t think he even knows that I literally do live on wheels, in an RV!) In that same day, reading a book about Borderline Personality Disorder*, I got forehead-smacked by chapter-headings titled “Playing the Dealt Hand,” and “Learning to How to Limp.”

With the word “Gypsy” on my mind, and the poker-connection of Gypsying or Limping, those headings felt significant, so I read mindfully; I believe in Messages rather than Coincidence. (“As my first Sponsor always said, “Coincidence is God’s way of staying anonymous!”)

The chapter in question talked about practicing change, which can be “a monumental struggle” for a Borderline Personality. Okay, that sounded odd to me at first, given my own very-varied past performances in Life… On the surface, you wouldn’t tag me as a person who struggles with change.

Borderline Personality Disorder job changeIn fact, if you look at my behavioral patterns over recent years, you’d probably say that I don’t Limp In or Gypsy (at least not in the poker sense) in most decision-making moments.  I throw myself headlong into whatever I’ve decided to do, nothing half-assed about it. Continue reading “Gypsying (OR: A Borderline Personality Working on Borders)”

Posted in Family, Travel

Full Circle: At the Wheel

leaning on my original "Scubaru" by Lake Pend Orielle in northern Idaho,1993
leaning on my original “Scubaru”—at northern Idaho’s Lake Pend Orielle,1993

Dad took me car-shopping my Senior year of high school, explaining that although he’d drive the new car for a while, it was intended eventually for my use. I pictured myself in a Jeep Cherokee: four-wheel-drive, room in the back for dive gear and camping kit, a rack on top for my parents’ old orange canoe, and plenty of under-carriage clearance for the treacherous Forest-Service roads I enjoyed exploring. Instead of a Jeep, though, we drove away in a 1990 Subaru Loyale wagon—less expensive (even new), and with the same 4WD, clearance, and room in the back for all the stuff I imagined packing for my upcoming Life Adventures.

As planned, my dad drove the wagon for a couple years, periodically taking me to an empty lot at the edge of town for lessons in driving the stick-shift.  And eventually—once I’d learned not to lurch around the lot or assassinate the engine—he turned over the keys.

Subaru canoe
Set for Adventure, 1996

I’d thought myself clever to come up with “SCUBARU” as a personalized plate—but someone else had beat me to it! With sailing, scuba-diving, and canoeing in mind, I settled on WTRLOGD for the plates… Still, I come from a family that names cars, and this one would always be “Scubaru” to me.

I loaded her up at various times with Forest Service maps, tent and camp-stove, hiking boots, canoe paddles, picnic blanket, books and camera and journal… And over the years my trusty vehicle & I ventured forth to “fill in” the Idaho atlas with tracks of where-we’d-been. A five-foot map of the state hung on my wall, with all my roaming & rambles marked in highlighter pen—and at every opportunity I interspersed those outings with forays to the Pacific coast.

Scubaru proved her worth over and over again. In a blinding snowstorm atop Washington’s Snoqualmie pass, when most of the cars on the road were either pulled over or slid onto the shoulders, I put on my chains and kept right on going. An ice storm in Oregon’s Colombia Gorge encased trees, signs, and roadway in inches of solid ice, but Scubaru crept cautiously all the way to Portland, accompanied by the explosive acoustics of bursting trees alongside the road.

Subaru Sawtooth camping
Camping “off-road” in the Sawtooth National Forest, 1998

After one particularly hairy drive in the Sawtooths (a pot-holed and washed-out dirt road, no wider than the car and without turn-outs for passing—just a sheer drop, inches from the passenger tires) I spotted a warning sign: “NO passenger vehicles.” (Oops. If there were a companion sign at the other end of the road where I started, I’d missed it!) I had to peel my fingers off the steering wheel to pat Scubaru’s dashboard and congratulate her with a heartfelt “Good girl!”

Of course, even four-wheel-drive isn’t foolproof. (Though Dad also taught me not to BE a fool; specifically, not to drive into tricky conditions with the 4WD already engaged—because if you get stuck when you’re in 4WD, you’re really stuck!) Nevertheless, I had to dig her out of a couple spots. I used a snowshoe to scoop a back tire out of a snowbank in the Boise National Forest, and in the Salmon-Challis Forest put my grandpa’s collapsible Army shovel to use, extracting her from a mire of mud where a beaver dam had flooded the road…

Subaru Washington beach
Washington Coast “beach highway,” 1997

When a downpour threatened a planned picnic along the Snake River, I popped open the tailgate and happily set my spread in the back of the car.  Sheltered by the overhanging door, I savored my strawberries & brie to the soundtrack of raindrops pelting the roof. On a couple occasions, with lightning storms too close for comfort in an exposed tent, I folded down the back seats and stretched out to sleep.

On the shore of Big Trinity Lake, I woke one morning to drifts of snow piled against my tent-corners, and had to chip my solid-frozen bacon from the cooler with a hatchet… but Scubaru scooted me safely back down the mountain, heater blasting.

Along the Washington Coast where stretches of beach serve as legally designated “highway,” I misjudged the incoming tide and dashed the last leg with waves licking the tires and wipers warding off wads of sea-foam blowing against the glass. Scubaru served staunchly through many a scrape and adventure.

With a little love and care, a Subaru will run forEVER. I drove that one for close to twenty years, and I might still be driving her… But when I departed my first marriage, I didn’t stop to quibble about any of the community-property stuff. Not long after I moved out, the wagon was also absent from her accustomed spot in front of my ex’s house… I never inquired about her fate.

2014: “Kana Girl’s Hawai’ian BBQ” license-plate holder on the NEW (old) Scubaru

Fast forward a few years… My husband started making noises this summer about the red 1989 Subaru Loyale parked in front of our neighbor’s house: I wonder if they’d consider selling it. I countered with “practical” negatives—we work together and don’t need a second car, they’d have posted a sign if they wanted to sell… But Keoni recognized what I hadn’t acknowledged even to myself: my affectionate nostalgia for that whacky wandering wagon.  In no time at all he had negotiated a sale-price, payable primarily in the form of a sizable certificate to our restaurant.

Subaru Scubaru
20-odd years later: the SCUBARU plates!

Next thing I knew, I was slipping into the driver’s seat of a car that felt as familiar and comfortable as a favorite old pair of jeans.

Keoni and our son Kapena are plotting “improvements” to the engine and paint and upholstery… Fixing her up will be a fun family project, but I’m content already. I’m “back” in my very first car, and behind her wheel I’ve come full circle. This time with the SCUBARU plates!


Posted in Travel, Writing

A Lesson on Letting Go

The tat that helped land a new client…

Here’s my GRIN for the day: I have a new client for my freelance writing, and the “job application” I sent him consisted of (1) a link to this blog, as a “writing sample,” and (2) a photo of my motorcycle tattoo.

I regularly refer to my tats as Stories, but had never considered this particular Ink in the role of Resumé or Credential… Here we are, though—I’ve just chalked up another regular client thanks (in part) to a tattoo, and for the foreseeable future I’ll be writing a daily blog about Biker Life over at the spanking-new BikerCraze site.

I won’t usually be “crossing over” with my posts there and here, but today I thought I’d post my inaugural biking-post in both places…

The First Ride: Letting Go

I’ve been anticipating the full launch of BikerCraze for a little while now, so I’m thrilled to see the site up and at ‘em! I was just browsing the online catalog, and have already mentally bookmarked the blue dragon decal, which would pretty perfectly match the blue dragon twining up my right leg…

The tat has a story behind it, of course—as does the motorcycle inked across my chest—and as I contemplate the birth of a biking community here, I’m also led to reflect on the story of my own beginning with regard to bikes. It seems like a fitting story to start with here.

My husband of four years has a long history with bikes (he had his motorcycle endorsement well before I was born), but when we met I’d never so much as sat on one. I’d hardly so much as looked at them, to be honest—it didn’t occur to me that I might be a Bike kinda girl.

But then… It also hadn’t occurred to me before that I might be an alcoholic kinda girl (we met in Rehab!), or an unemployed kinda girl (I’d made close to six figures as a school administrator before my crash-and-burn with alcoholism), or a married-to-an-awesome-Old-Guy kinda girl, or…

Well, in short… Life turned out to have a lot of intriguing opportunities open—once I Let Go and acknowledged that it was NOT going to look like what I used to plan for myself. It was my husband’s A.A. Sponsor who facilitated my first bike ride. He had an electric-blue Harley that nobody ever touched but himself—but for reasons unknown, he handed my husband the keys one sunny afternoon and told us to have it back to him by dark.

My husband was ecstatic. I was apprehensive.

I perched uncertainly on the back, unsure how the balance should feel, and suppressed a squeak on every corner he took. If it’s possible to strangle someone’s stomach, I was probably doing that to him as well, and he finally pulled over and told me to take a few breaths.

The First Bike Ride: I was hooked!

I realized that I’d been so worried about the bike that I’d been unconsciously trying to steer it with my butt! And everyone who has ever had a rookie passenger behind them knows just how helpful THAT is.

So… I Let Go. Consciously let go of my worry, and relaxed into the turns… As soon as I did, my husband could tell the difference in his ability to handle the bike. And oh my God, what a joyful ride! From that afternoon, I’ve been hooked.

And that ride has become an analogy for our life: when we try to steer with our butts, things just aren’t going to go smoothly! These days we Let Go… and enjoy the Journey, whatever it may be.

Posted in Family, Travel

Can’t Stand the Heatstroke: Getting Out of the Kitchen!

When my sister and I were kids, we spent a good chunk of every summer with our grandparents in Colorado. We both remember fondly the traditions and rituals of those summers—the daily swimming lessons at their pool, the picnic pool-lunches (fingers coated orange by Cheetohs, and purple tongues from grape soda), the yellow slip-n-slide on their grassy back hill, the plays we acted out in their stage-like front hall, weekly visits to the enormous library with its statue of Eeyore standing on his head, and the sewing projects in Grandma’s cool basement…

Elena Grace & Mila the cat, peering into the lilies at Boboo’s garden-bunny

Some of the rituals are different, but the tradition of summer-visiting has carried on to the next generation, with our kids spending a couple summer weeks each year with my parents (known to them as “Grandy” and “Boboo”). Their memories will include picking raspberries  in the back yard, eating meals at Grandy’s breakfast counter,watching the bunnies that hang out in Boboo’s garden (and the cat-on-a-leash, also on bunny-watch), river-rafting trips, week-long games of “Axis & Allies,” visits to the library and used-book stores, afternoons at the swimming pool…

This week is one of those visiting-weeks (the second, with a rafting-trip planned, will be next month), and unlike some previous summers when jobs tied me to home, the “portability” of my current work means I get to visit too. In fact, we planned to make a whole-family trip of it, with Keoni asking for a few days off work and Kapena joining us for the first time. (Package deal—he got a bonus set of grandparents along with his Wicked Stepma…)

Backseat gang, ready to roll!

This weekend we wanted to arrive at Grandy and Boboo’s house (six hours’ drive from us in northern Idaho) early enough in the weekend to catch my sister Kadi and her husband Scott, who had also planned a visit, and who would have to leave this afternoon to get back to work. Keoni asked for Saturday off—the first day-off he’s requested since returning from his December surgery, but… No Go.  When he got the (disappointing) week’s schedule, we decided to “bite the bullet,” so to speak, and make the drive at night, leaving town when he got off work around eleven p.m. on Saturday.  I should add that nobody in the family was particularly wild about this itinerary, given the winding miles of mountain roads with unguarded drop-offs into rivers… But if we wanted any time with Kadi and Scott, night-driving would have to be the plan. Nor did we know when we’d have to return, because Keoni’s workplace posts a schedule on Sunday evening for the week starting the next morning. Combined with declined time-off requests, that makes it tough to schedule even a doctor appointment, let alone a family activity or road trip.

Perhaps you’ll remember the picture I posted the other day—Keoni had texted a photo from his phone in the middle of his work-shift, of his kitchen thermometer registering 118F at his work-station… He came home that night (after seven hours of fast-paced physical work in that temperature) shaky and exhausted, clammy and dehydrated with his sweat smelling like vinegar. We tried to rehydrate him and restore electrolytes, but he was up half that night with his legs seizing up in monster cramps—and then right back to the kitchen the next noon. Same drill, except he started in worse shape, so it’s no surprise that he ended in worse shape. He called me about an hour before his shift was scheduled to end Friday, and I could hear the strain and shake in his voice. He couldn’t stop throwing up, and he was trying to cool down and stabilize enough to drive home safely.

Magnetic chess in the back seat… Elena Grace is VERY proud of a win during this trip!

We both knew he didn’t have another night of that in him. We’d been intending that he would continue at that job for whatever time it takes to process his application at the prison where he used to work, but this just isn’t sustainable.  He called in sick due to severe heat exhaustion—a call we knew wouldn’t be received well on a day he’d already been denied time off—but we also knew already that he’d be writing a resignation letter next.  And in the meantime, we took advantage of the changed schedule (after he’d rested thoroughly) to leave mid-afternoon instead of midnight for our drive north.

About an hour into the drive, Christian commented from the back seat, “The best thing about living in Idaho—for road-trips, I mean—is being able to watch the scenery.” I couldn’t agree more! Our rural state has just a single highway between its northern and southern halves, and it’s an absolutely gorgeous drive (when you get to do it in daylight)—mountains and rivers and green valleys and something new every few minutes.

Having grown up in this state and made this same drive dozens upon dozens upon dozens of times, driving this road feels to me like reconnecting to where I’m rooted, to Idaho itself. The whole highway is a string of “this-is-wheres“… This is where my university biology class had nets spread across the river, all of us wading in up to our chests… This is where I stopped with a girlfriend to pick wild sunflowers, and take silly pictures of ourselves poking up through her car’s sun-roof. This is where a cop pulled me over for speeding and he turned out to be wrong about the posted speed limit… This is where the tire blew out on our way back from a camping trip… This is where I bought that bracelet at a road-side flea market… This is where Christian used to try to “skip” pinecones like rocks on the lake…  This is where I was snowed in at the Catholic monastery for a weekend, with the bread-baking nuns…  And (as we neared my old hometown) this is where the bus used to drop us cross-country runners and leave us to run the rest of the way back to town.

Goofy Glam… with my Sis!

Knowing as we drove yesterday that we had made a Decision—that Keoni does need to get out of that kitchen—opens up the horizons of the immediate future in unexpected ways. Perhaps we should feel nervous (his was the “steady” income), but we don’t. We quietly tallied the immediately upcoming bills balanced against the writing-jobs I already have underway, we embraced the idea that the whole family can enjoy this week’s visit before we head back (all of us together!) for him to job-hunt, and he feels an unspeakable relief in the lifted dread that he had been feeling about his hours in that kitchen. God hasn’t dropped us on our asses so far, and we have faith.

Elena Grace declined to join us for the “hat photo-shoot”…

In the meantime… Today we enjoyed some time with my sister and her husband—not enough time, and I didn’t ask the million questions I’d meant to ask about their trip to Europe last month… But it was truly great to see them, even for the space of an evening and a  partial day. Kapena (who drove up separately today with some friends who are moving here for school) has just joined us, and Grandy has just fed him. Keoni is still not feeling well—shaky and tired and easily dizzy—but he’s in a place where he can relax and rest. We’re with FAMILY. And God’s got our back.

lunch with the family
Posted in Family, Travel

A Pilgrimage of Perspective

map & passport
my 1984 passport, age 9

Tricia Mitchell just posted a lovely blog about the castle in Heidelberg, Germany–accompanied by some of her own photos and memories of this castle over the years, and posing the question of whether her readers had memories to share. I wrote to her that although it’s been almost three decades since I’ve been there (and although I was only nine at the time) the details stick with me–like the memorable remains of the exploded powder-magazine tower.

Actually (here’s a bit of synchronicity), the inaugural entry in my 1984 European travel-diary was dated twenty-eight years ago today, as we headed across-country from Idaho to Chicago O’Hare, visiting family members along the way.  Less than a week later we were flashing past the blue lights of the runway and out over the blackness of Lake Superior–hours past our usual bedtime–launching our first-ever off-the-continent adventure.  My father the Planner detailed a six-month itinerary, looping and wandering through eighteen countries, some of which no longer exist on today’s maps. And our mother customized our  rented bright green V.W. bus–which would serve as “home base” for half a year–with drawers under the seats, hanging-rods across the back, multi-pocket organizers hanging from the seats, and other “homey” touches.

Kodak Instamatic
My sister was six and I was nine when we set out, and our parents gave each of us a little Kodak camera, a bag full of 126 film, and a cloth-bound journal for the trip. One of the most interesting things, in looking back on the whole adventure, is the unique KID-perspective on our travels…
While the grownups took postcard-shots of cathedral towers, my sister gave us a running account of what was in the garbage cans we passed… We bought lace gloves at an outdoor market and donned them to pretend we were princesses when we explored castles…
photo album page
“Tony Explores England”–from my
’84 album

When we stayed with dairy-farming friends near Stratford, we sneaked up and down the servant staircase in the century-old stone farmhouse, and took a whole roll of film posing my sister’s teddy bear, Tony, around the farmyard. When we stayed in an apartment converted from the basement servants’ quarters of a London townhouse, my sister came bolting out of the bathroom in excitement to tell us, “There’s a special bathtub just the right size for Tony!” Neither of us had yet been introduced to the concept of the bidet…

My mother has often said that if she ever wrote a book about the trip, its title would come from a now-family-famous quote from my sister… After months of encountering every imaginable method of flushing a toilet–from push-buttons and pull-chains to levers and foot pedals–my sister emerged from a Yugoslavian bathroom looking very self-satisfied, and announced, “I can flush in ANY language!
Tower of LondonWhen we descended into the underground areas of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, three of us didn’t think twice about the folding chairs set up for a recent ceremony. My sister, however, stopped in her tracks and cried out (to the amusement of every tour-group in the crypt), “There are DEAD people under this floor, and someone has gone and put CHAIRS on them!!”
Some of my parents’ friends wondered aloud what on earth would possess them to take such an extensive trip with such young children in tow, but we’re SO glad they did! (I think they are as well… At least, now that they’ve had a few decades to recover!) It’s a trip that couldn’t be duplicated by our adult-selves, even if we were to retrace our steps exactly–our imaginations ran rampant, and we found places-to-play everywhere.
Scottish Isle
sure, there’s a castle–but WE found an island to play on!

We visited Anne Frank’s hidden attic in Amsterdam, and I began to read her diary that night, able to picture precisely the little suite of attic rooms. After Auschwitz, we talked late into the night about the horrors of the Holocaust. We read Classics of literature while visiting the locales where they were set. We visited tombs and birthplaces of historical figures, and sat in the bench of Anne Hathaway’s cottage where Shakespeare is said to have sat when courting her.

When our parents set aside half a day for the Louvre in Paris (thinking that’s all the art we’d be up for) we dragged THEM back for a second full day. We weren’t wild about the Impressionists, but we were fascinated by the rest. I bought a stack of postcards-of-paintings, tucked them into my sketch-kit, and tried to draw my own versions. (Though I do remember my mother suggesting I add underwear to some of the naked people I was drawing after dinner in a fancy French restaurant…)

Swiss Alps
Toots & Tony (my teddy bear & my sister’s) in my hiking day-pack

And even in places where the “Ugly American” tourist-stereotype preceded us and affected local attitudes, our parents found that having young kids in tow often gained them a warmer reception. (I’m reminded of my son’s response when his second-grade teacher complimented his consistently kind manners: “She doesn’t realize that Manners aren’t optional when someone has you for a Mom.” OUR mom is like that too.) We learned to say “please” and “thank you” in the appropriate language for every border we crossed–and my dad also figured out how to say “Can you please suck the Diesel out of our bus?” in French…

We stayed with family friends in England, Scotland, West Germany, Poland, and Holland; we stayed in bed-and-breakfasts and pensiones and inns; we spent one week in a Tuscan villa, and we a camped in England’s Lake Country and in the Loire Valley of France (where we could hear the bells of the four cathedrals from the song our mom used to sing to us). The French campground also had peacocks wandering about–charming, no?  Well, nonot charming when we discovered they roosted on the restrooms at night and screeched at anyone making a middle-of-the-night trip to the toilet…
Our Chalet, Girl Scout and Girl Guide international centre
My sister had her Girl Scout Investiture and got her Brownie pin on the steps of “Our Chalet,” a Girl Scout/Girl Guide international center in Switzerland

I still marvel at my mother’s packing-job for this trip. She had sewed a mix-and-match wardrobe of red-white-and-blue for my sister and me (with matching outfits for our two dolls) and joked that if she lost one of us, she could point to the other and indicate “one just like that.” Failing that, she could use one of the dolls. She sent ahead caches of English-language books for us to pick up along the way, but other than the reading material, the four of us lived for six months out of five suitcases–one each for clothing, and the fifth with camping gear.

We each celebrated a birthday–I turned ten on Germany’s Rhine River, and my sister turned seven in Versaille, near Paris. We met up there for a double-celebration with our Great-Uncle Clarke, whose birthday the day after hers (he joked) made him a day younger. By this time my sister had gone through her own reading-material and started in on mine, so she surprised Uncle Clarke by inquiring, as they traversed a Paris street hand-in-hand, if this weren’t one of the locations in A Tale of Two Cities.
Portofino Italy
my snapshot (and poem) of Portofino–and a REAL photo courtesy of

My sister lost five or six teeth during the trip, and the Tooth Fairy had to keep paying off in different currencies. We hiked in the Swiss Alps; we donned white coveralls and slid down wooden bannisters into a Polish salt mine where the miners had carved fantastical statues out of salt; we played “Queen of Idaho” in the extravagant Bavarian castles of “Crazy Ludwig”; we bought tulips at a Dutch flower auction; we rented paddle boats on a Hungarian lake; we hired a gondola in Venice (from a gondolier who said he couldn’t sing–so we sang Rounds to him instead); we made brass-rubbings of tombs; we collected charms for a memory-bracelet; we attended performances of yodelers and bagpipers and ethnic dancers; we rode trains and ferries and subways and carriages and double-decker buses; we went with a Dutch friend to be fitted for wooden shoes (not touristy, painted ones, but the type she wears in her garden); we tucked messages into a bottle for a Scottish friend of our dad’s to build into the tumbled-down bit of a 400-year-old dry stone wall he was re-assembling along his field. Maybe another farmer will find our notes a few centuries from now when the wall needs repair again.

My favorite stop of the entire journey was Portofino, Italy, with its steep cobblestone streets, its colorful buildings lining the Mediterranean harbor, and the gorgeous two-masted sailboat at anchor among the fishing boats. We ordered our first “authentic” Italian pizza here, selecting the menu option that offered “Olive, Pepper, and Mushroom.” When it arrived, the pizza had one olive, one pepper-ring, and one mushroom. (And in reviewing the menu, we ruefully realized they hadn’t promised plurals…)  “Portofino” was the first poem I ever got published.
Heidelberg Germany
And here, for Tricia Mitchell (with thanks for the Memory-Lane stroll!) is my page of Heidelberg pictures–including the exploded powder magazine!

We traveled behind the Iron Curtain, and watched at the border between the Germanies while Soviet soldiers spent hours removing absolutely everything out of our bus, reading my mother’s diary, and unwrapping our Christmas presents. At the Polish mine, a hard-used miner my grandfather’s age approached us, removed an enameled shield from his jacket, and pinned it onto mine. Our Polish friend translated his quiet, almost shy explanation: it was an award for saving a life in the mines, and he wanted me to have it because he liked my smile.

We had a National Geographic map of Europe with us, and every evening during those six months we would open it up to trace the day’s adventures with a highlighter. The more permanent paths, however, were being highlighted in our minds. We may have been raised in an Idaho potato-farming town of a just few hundred people, but our parents gave us the gift of understanding–early on–that we’re citizens of the World.

Posted in Today's File

Expedition Journal #2: Fishing for a Photo Site

This is my second installment of playing with researching social networking websites and sharing the “field notes.” After my first installment (Expedition Journal #1: Prospecting on Pinterest), a couple folks posed the eminently reasonable question of why we go looking for more things to fill our time (and Inbox) when we’re already bombarded by so much social media.

Pinterest board
some of my Pinterest boards… Dragons, Celtic Designs, Pele–Volcano Goddess, Owls, Planning for our Hawai’ian B&B, Writing, At Home, Outdoor Adventures…

Part of my answer is the fact that there are some specific functions I’m looking for… Pinterest, for example, is far tidier and more efficient (not to mention more visually appealing) than my previous habit of copy-pasting stuff into a catch-all PowerPoint slide if I thought I’d want it later… Now I can “pin” an item with a single click, and pinning it saves the source website for future reference as well as the graphic itself. Works for me!

I’m actually on a mission to streamline and simplify my life, by finding the best tools for the things I want to do, selecting those few to use, and then re-evaluating and unsubscribing from any tools or networks that aren’t adding value to my day. My experience in the blogging-community has taught me to value the “social” aspect and the friends I meet online, so that’s a plus with other tools as well, though not necessarily a must-have. So that’s a little more explanation of my Expedition as a whole–but on to today’s topic…

One of the specific functions on my list-to-look-for is an online photo site. The crash-and-burn of my laptop (and its files) a few months back brought home to me the necessity of keeping precious pictures safely online. I have used Picasa (for photo editing) and the associated online Google albums for several years, but the online albums themselves have recently been “upgraded” to a new design which is decidedly user-UNfriendly, with fewer capabilities and worse navigation than the original, and I find myself needing a less frustrating option.

photographer, social network photography
Taking photos for one of my travel-magazine articles

And free. Our budget isn’t up for paid-membership sites.

So if you wondered where I’ve been the last couple days, the answer is that I’ve been “test-driving” different photography sites looking for The One that I can start using for our family photos and photographic travelogs. Oh, and I had an eBook on Vitamins to write. (And I admit it–I was playing on Pinterest as well…)

In the event that anyone else is wanting to sift through the gazillion photography websites out there, here are my impressions of the ones I tested out. Obviously I didn’t devote tons of time to all of them, though I did stay to play for a while on the few that seemed to be likely prospects. I should also add that there are literally dozens more photography social networks to choose from–so my search actually started with combing through reviews to narrow down the list of likely prospects to check out. Here’s the run-down of my impressions (or you can just skip down to the Winner)!

  •—This site targets “digital photography enthusiasts,” but it’s definitely a showcase-space.  The blog and forum entries by members are mostly brags (“My work was on TV!”) or sales pitches for their own work. Doesn’t feel to me like a community experience–more like a bunch of people jumping up and down saying “look at ME!” without looking at each other. Not interested.
  •—Almost identical layout and offerings as MyShutterSpace, except this one seems full of floundering photographic newbies. Not interested.
  •—I didn’t get to try this one out; the “validation email” never arrived to allow me to complete my login. I requested a re-send, but it still didn’t show. Negative score on customer service. Moving on.
  •—Looks like a great resource if you want to put together a professional looking video-slideshow with neat effects… But it’s limited to that one use. I’ll keep this in mind if I ever need a slide show, but it’s not what I’m looking for.
  •—Looks useful for online storage, and files can be shared, but there’s no “community” or social aspect, and it’s not specific to photos. That’s great if you’re looking for an all-purpose online storage option, but it’s lacking the specific tools for album-making and handling photos. Not interested.
  • Flickr.comThis was almost my pick! It’s a service specifically devoted to collecting and organizing your own photos, with easy drag-and-drop organizing, the ability to name and attach descriptive text or stories to each photo, and a healthy & active social  community. Flickr is also easily plugged into many other applications and websites, and it’s definitely the “big name” among photo websites. Its navigation is a little on the clunky side (moving among editing and album tools) but not so much as to put me off entirely. One thing missing from my wish-list: I could name photos, but there weren’t any “tags” that would enable me to grab a certain category of pictures (e.g. “fishing” or “Suzy-cat”) from across multiple albums.
  •—Very much like Flickr, but with a harder “sell” for purchasing prints, and is less used by other sites and apps. This one I might use, if I hadn’t already seen Flickr.

And I might use Flicker, if I didn’t go on to discover the Winner, which blew the competition out of the water.

And the Winner is…!  This is it! I can upload photos, organize them into albums, tag them with topics (yay!), title them, and add descriptive text or stories. The navigation is straightforward and intuitive, the tools easy to find.

PLUS, I can edit photos right here, as opposed to editing with a program on my Mac before uploading. Tons of editing tools and photo effects–purely awesome.

I can apply themes to the albums, and I can create slideshows, plug it directly to the iPhoto program on my Mac, and even connect it to my computer’s webcam.

I can share with Twitter, Facebook, or email, and choose whether an album should be public or private.

There’s an app I can download on my phone so I can use PhotoBucket directly from my phone, including uploading photos taken from the phone into any of my albums.

There seems to be an active and healthy social community here, and (oh dear) I can look at my statistics to see if I’m getting visitors.

PhotoBucket has all the stuff I was looking for–and some things I hadn’t even thought of.  I declare this expedition a success!  Here’s a page from my first PhotoBucket family album…

photo album page
here we go–a page from my family photo album!

Post-Script: A Bonus Find

I found one more gem this week–something I wasn’t looking for, but which I think I’ll use… Actually, I have to thank blogging-buddy Kathy McCullough, who posted a beautiful birthday post to her partner Sara, with a link to Sara’s photo-blog… And so (with lovely synchronicity, given the week’s search-topic) I discovered BlipFoto. Thank you, Ladies!

BlipPhoto is an entirely unique idea–it’s essentially a photo journal in which you’re allowed to upload one photo per day–and the photo has to be taken on that day. No cheating–when you submit a photo, the site checks your camera-data and rejects photos taken on earlier dates. (I actually had to correct my camera’s “date” setting after my initial submission didn’t go through…)  It’s straightforward–no themes, no widgets, no extras–simply the daily photo with your title and text (if you choose to add any). And the social aspect, with the ability to follow, comment, and rate photos just as we do with blog-posts here on WordPress.

And although this isn’t what I went looking for this week, I’m intrigued.  At the end of the day, what’s the one photo that represents your day? Or, if you don’t take pictures every day, what will move you to grab the camera with the daily post in mind? I’m giving it a go–here’s my first post earlier today:

blipfoto post
my first BlipFoto post…

Dragon Surgery. Our son Christian brought his injured dragon to my husband for surgery–his stuffing is coming out, and it catches fire when he sneezes! All prepared for surgery–and a dragon recovery-drink for afterward.”

Happy Snapping, All!

Posted in Travel

History of a Helm-Hog

jib sail
© Kana Tyler 2008

I got hooked on sailboats at a fairly young age, with some “teasers” of experiences growing up. I was nine when we visited family friends in the Netherlands, and their teenage son took us in the family’s little wooden sailboat, poling from their back-yard canal to the nearby lake where he raised the sails… (My little sister and I followed up that experience by holding a coronation ceremony for the “Queen of Idaho” in their living room, with their hand-tatted lace doilies on our heads.)

sailing rigs, tall ships sailing, sailboat cruises caribbean
© Kana Tyler 2008

I was thirteen or so when we took a sunset-cruise on a historic three masted sailing ship along the coast of Maine… I spent the evening sitting on the taffrail and leaning on the rigging, and I didn’t want to get off that ship, ever. A few years later I applied for a Girl Scout “Greater Opportunity” experience crewing another tall ship–I’d sold enough cookies to fund the trip, but only made the “alternates” list among the nationwide applicants. Our youth minister in high school was a captain who took us out on the motor yacht he was “boat-sitting” and filled my head with sailing stories.

The summer I graduated from high school, my sister and I finally got to crew a bareboat sailing charter (“bareboat” meaning you rent the boat and crew it yourself) with our uncle, who took us for a week-long sailing cruise on Lake Michigan. The Uncle takes his sailing seriously, and no one crews for him without studying up beforehand and being ready to work. Precisely what I wanted to learn, and to do. I came back from that week with a journal full of sailboat sketches, and a head full of sailing dreams.

cruising sailboats, sailing Caribbean islands
© Kana Tyler 2008

In the decade following, I went off in pursuit of other ocean-related ambitions, earning advanced certifications in Scuba diving and studying marine biology at University of Hawai’i–but I didn’t have many sailing opportunities, aside from taking the University’s little sailboat out for the occasional day-sail with my research buddies.

Then, the winter before my son was born, the Uncle invited my sister and me (and my first husband, if he’d agree to learn as well—no ride-along slackers allowed) for a Christmas charter in the Florida Keys.  Somewhere I have some video footage of myself on the beach in my maternity tent swimsuit, with a voice-over commentary about beached whales by my amused sister–but despite my seven-month stomach, it was a blissful week.

sailboat cruises Caribbean, ship masts
© Kana Tyler 2008

Snorkeling off the back of the boat (I couldn’t dive due to my pregnancy), feeding lettuce-leaves to manatees, raising a drawbridge on the radio so we could sail beneath, rocking to sleep on the waves of an anchorage, enjoying excursions to shore (most notably to visit Hemingway’s favorite bar in Key West, which is now bedecked with bras hanging from the rafters)… But more than anything, the sailing itself.

I feel alive and invigorated when I’m at the helm, responding intuitively to the wind, adjusting the trim of sails to put the wind to work for me, the finesse of gliding up to a dock with precision, the appeal of nautical charts and sail canvas and lines and rigging. I love everything about a sailboat.

sailing in Caribbean, sailboat cruises Caribbean
© Kana Tyler 2008

Three years later, the Uncle invited us for another Christmas of Caribbean sailing–this time from the U.S. Virgin Islands.  Childless himself (not to mention fastidiously O.C.D.), the Uncle had reservations about including two-year-old Christian, but he was generous enough to give it a go. But then, even at two Christian had the vocabulary and seriousness of a college professor, and was immediately as enchanted by sailing as his mom. (And even the fussy Uncle ended up pretty enchanted with Christian’s mannerly behavior).

I was once again pregnant–no Scuba and no rum for me!–but thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to apprentice my little Padawan sailor. Interestingly enough, Christian (now age 11) has some sailing-memories which could only be from this trip, and which he didn’t pick up as “second-hand memories” from photos or parental story-telling…

sailing boats, boat sails
© Kana Tyler 2008

I’d been aching for ages to get my own Skipper’s papers, so the first husband and I saved up for sailing school, and spent a week on a live-aboard in the San Juan islands north of Seattle. Our instructor Gary (a gruff retired Army colonel with an impish sense of humor beneath the stern exterior) told me privately that he would have hesitated to certify my husband, except he figured we’d always sail together anyway–and my skills would make up for his lack. He didn’t want to cause a rift by hurting the husband’s pride, so we both walked away with certification….

bluewater sailing school, sailing boats
barefoot at the helm… (with a piece of rope holding up my pants!)

The Uncle’s next invitation for another Christmas of Caribbean sailing included the offer to list us as the Skippers for the bareboat sailing charter, in order to build our “sailing resume.” This time we chartered a bigger boat–our crew was growing to include my sister’s new husband and our two children.We sailed from the British Virgin Islands, with some time in Puerto Rican waters as well. We went ashore to explore some local markets (and an open-air bar with rum drinks–I wasn’t pregnant this time!) and took a local bus around the island to a postcard-perfect half-moon bay lined with a pristine white sand beach… I dusted off my rusty Spanish to order food from a beach vendor, and introduced Christian to snorkeling.

Anchored off Culebra, we met a family sailing around the world with their two young daughters–the same ages as our two–and they invited us aboard for a “play date,” since the girls didn’t have many opportunities to play with other children. The grownups sat on the deck drinking beer while the kids played dress-up below decks with the girls’ extensive wardrobe of costumes. Christian’s favorite memory of this trip is our anchorage in a bioluminescent bay, where the toilet water (pumped-in from the sea) even made the “head” glow blue.

sailing anchorage, sailing schools, sailboat cruises
© Kana Tyler 2008

Possibly my favorite-ever week sailing was our first solo charter. We invited my mom, and I absolutely loved sharing the adventure with her, as well as with the kids (then aged seven & three). My mom is the most adventurous soul I know–she’s game for anything!–which makes her the perfect person with whom to share an adventure. I’ll take credit for convincing her to learn to Scuba dive, but I can’t take any credit for how thoroughly she’s run with that–she takes dive trips every year to exotic locations, where she meets new people (and sometimes meets up with adventure-met friends in new locations the following year).

sailing instructor, sailing schools
Colonel Gary, my sailing instructor

At the time when we took this trip with her, our marriage was on the rocks, though no one besides the two of us knew it–and even we didn’t yet know that I’d be leaving six months later. But aside from the husband’s moody tempers, it was quite possibly the perfect week. Gorgeous weather, wonderful adventure-buddies in my mom & the kiddos… and lots of time at the helm. Seeing how happy I am at the wheel, my mom gave me a canvas tote that Christmas, embroidered with the words “Helm Hog.”

We hiked on the islands, soaked up sun from the deck, sailed among pods of breaching Orcas, and admired Pacific sunsets while sipping wine in the cockpit.

sailing kids
my sketch of the kids on our 2007 cruise

Christian learned some basics of charts and navigation, and squirrely Elena Grace practiced sailing-safety-rules. And I took an accidental swim, fully dressed, when I leaned too far to swab the stern of our tracked-in mud after an island hike. (The only thing Elena Grace would tell anyone about that week, in her piping little voice, was that “Mommy fell off the boat!“)

After I left my husband, I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to sail solo. I might have had the better skill-set, but I hadn’t sailed without the husband as back-up. I had the feeling that if I didn’t get back on a boat right away, I might let sailing slip away entirely–so I signed up for an advanced course and navigation certification, requesting a class from our original instructor Gary.

It was a magical week… and although I approached it with a great deal of trepidation–my first solo vacation, ever!–I was reassured to realize that I was in my element as soon as I took the helm again. I had bought myself a digital camera (the photos here are all from that week), and the experience inspired me to believe, deep-down, that I was going to be okay. Not just sailing, but navigating Life solo.

anchor tattoo
my anchor

My sobriety coin, which I now have tattooed on my back, bears this bit of wisdom: “I can’t control the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails.” It’s a nod to the topic I addressed yesterday, the need to let go and let God.  Phrased in words that this sailor understands.

And I’ve been additionally blessed by the unexpected gift of a co-navigator in Life.  I had forcefully insisted that I would never re-marry, but I recognize now what a jinx that word–“never”–carries with it. And I’m glad to be proved wrong.

I think, though, that I needed to arrive at being “okay” solo before I was truly ready for him.

My tattoo of Keoni’s name is a sailboat anchor and wheel–because he is my anchor, and my co-navigator. The kanji beside the anchor translate to “Our New Life.” A new life in which we fully intend to get back aboard some sailboats.

Here’s wishing you fair winds and a following sea!

© Kana Tyler 2011