I have a blogging problem

I’m going on vacation today, and one of the things I’m most excited about is that I’ll have free time over the next few days to write, and to play with my blog(s). Before heading out of town, I opened my laptop to add my other sites to the menu here on Butterfly Mind, and as I added them, I realized I have five blogs. Five.

If you’re interested in sailing, gardening, words, or American literature, I’ve got blogs for you! While Butterfly Mind is the place where I share whatever thoughts alight on my screen or notebook pages, these other blogs chronicle journeys on the water, on the land, and in books:

Andrea Sails: these are the logs of our adventures on the water. The entries help me keep track of what I’m learning as I venture into this new-to-me world of wind- and human-powered boating.

Andrea’s Gardening Blog: this site is often the result of me blogging with dirt on my hands, from my phone, in the garden, right after I’ve put plants in the ground. I love having a searchable record as each month comes around where I can take a look to see what the garden was doing this time last year: what was blooming? How has everything grown since then? When did I sow those seeds?

Andrea’s Lexicon: these are words I collect that I think are cool. Sometimes I hear them in conversation, sometimes I find them in books. Most of them appeal to me because they’re fun to say. Haberdasher! See what I mean?

Andrea Reads America: this is the chronicle of my journey through the US in literature in three books per state. The three books must be set in the state and be written by an author who is from the state or who has lived in the state. For each state I am reading men, women, and non-Caucasian authors. I’m going in alphabetical order. I’m reading Michigan now, though I still need to write up my Massachusetts reads.

Alright, time for me to hit the road. I’m going to have a hard time deciding which one(s) of these to write for while I’m gone.

What do you eat when you live aboard?

When our record club sent us the March record-of-the-month, Yours Conditionally by Tennis (duo Alaina Moore and Patrick Riley), my husband put the disc on the turntable, started it spinning, placed the needle on the pink vinyl, and sat down on the couch with a cocktail and the liner notes. Later, he told me, “You should read the booklet that came with this album. Something about the writing, and the woman who wrote it — you would really love it.”

Last night I put the disc on the turntable, started it spinning, placed the needle on the vinyl, and sat down on the couch with a cocktail and the liner notes. And my husband was right: I loved the writing, the woman, the story. I was crying by the end, after she’d told of her time at sea, living aboard a 35 foot sailboat with her husband, doing things that terrified her — like sailing away from land and watching mountains flatten on the horizon until her world was nothing but the blue of the sky and the blue of the sea — and spending their time together on the boat making the music that became this album.

My craving for the ocean has been fierce the past several months. I leave for Mexico tomorrow for a work trip, and I am thrilled to see the aqua water, to feel warm sand, to smell the salt and feel it’s thin crust on my skin after swimming in the Caribbean Sea. I want that experience with my family, too. I want to strap masks and snorkels on the kids; I want to watch sunsets with Brian. I want to do a whole lot of nothing while I listen to the sound of water lapping.

As much as sailing scares me, I can’t stop thinking about what it would be like to sleep on a boat, to anchor under the big sky. To dive off the bow, to read on the warm deck, to smell the air and feel the wind. To write under the sun. To live under the stars. To spend that time alone with my husband.

In the Tennis liner notes, Alaina Moore writes that while under sail, she and her husband live entirely in the present moment and the moment that will immediately follow. That sounds amazing.

I wonder about the rest of the time, though, for the days and weeks when not under sail, when resting, when at anchor. What would true isolation feel like? No restaurants, no towns. No wifi. No socializing, no blogging, no phone. What would it be like to be so disconnected from humans? I like being alone. I like quiet. But people are always a few keystrokes away. What would it be like to be cut off? Would I get bored?

I want to try it and see. For right now, I am equally disconnected from the natural world. I am equally cut off from the sea.

But what I really wonder about, is what would we eat, and how would we cook it? I look around our dining area at home and the cookware is abundant. I see a 1.5 qt pot, a 2qt pot, a 3 qt pot, a 4qt pot, a 10qt pot. I see a heavy cast iron Dutch oven, 3 cast iron frying pans, a 5qt enameled iron braiser; multiple colanders, box graters, baking sheets, pie plates. We have dinner plates, salad plates, cereal bowls; coffee mugs, tumblers, Collins glasses; spatulas, silverware, ladles, tongs, wooden spoons; a charcoal grill. On a small boat we might have a pot, a pan, two dishes, two cups, two forks, two knives. Maybe more, but not by much. And our pantry would be tiny compared to the storage we have in our kitchen.

Sailing in the fresh air, under the sun, would be hungry work. What do people eat when they are two on a boat? Do they catch fish, clean it, and cook it? Do they bring canned foods? Dry foods? What’s the quality of the food? Backpacking food is tolerable for a few days, but what if this were your whole life? What about fresh foods? What about snacks? I’d love to learn some simple, filling meals we could prepare on a boat at sea. Is that a thing — simple cooking? Minimalized food? It should be. I have simplified my purse, I’d like to simplify my food as well. I have some research to do. I want to bring this into our lives, whether we’re living aboard or not.


The butt cleat

Originally published on Butterfly Mind.

Sailors have a reputation for colorful language, usually in relation to swearing and storytelling. I admit, this is one of the aspects of sailing that tickles me most: the vocabulary. The terminology is filled with unfamiliar words that I’m slowly learning — words that sound old and nautical, like shroud and sheet, halyard and cleat.

In our two-day course, we learned both official language and unofficial, equally colorful, language. Like the chicken jibe.

Jibing can be dangerous. It happens when the  wind is at your back, and the stern of the boat turns through the wind. If uncontrolled, jibing can bring the boom hurtling across the cockpit with great power, knocking unprepared crew in the skull and potentially breaking the boat.

If a skipper judges conditions or their skills unsafe for jibing, they can opt to chicken jibe: to chicken out of a jibe and instead take the safer route of putting the bow through the wind and tacking through 260° (rather than jibing through 90°). Our captain indicated no bravado about choosing a true jibe over a chicken jibe; the chicken jibe is totally acceptable if a skipper judges it to be necessary or smart. But it’s still called the chicken jibe.

At one point, Captain Sara went through the different cleats on the boat.

“You’ve got the jam cleat, the cam cleat, the clam cleat, and — ” she looked at the dock cleat, hoping for a rhyme. “And the dock cleat — the damn cleat — the one you’re always stubbing your toe on.”

She glanced at the bench where the crew sits with the lines that control the jib. The jib sheets end up on the seat where the crew sit when tacking, and on the floor of the cockpit.

“Then there’s the foot cleat.” She pointed at our feet. We had deployed the foot cleat on accident through at least one tack, when we tried to release the jib and one of us was stepping on the line.

She gestured at the seat itself, where a jib sheet lay. We both knew what the final cleat was going to be. We had been warned against this one several times the day before. It is easy to deploy on accident; without care and intention, the lines end up right where the sailor sits.

“And a’ course,” she said, “there’s the butt cleat.”

As I did through every tack yesterday, when Captain Bill said, “Watch for the butt cleat!”, I giggled. Butt cleat is my new favorite sailing term.

Studying to sail

Originally published on Butterfly Mind.

The week after Christmas, the four of us are traveling south to visit grandparents, aunts and uncles, and cousins down in Florida. While we are there, my husband and I are taking a two-day sailing course.

To use my favorite new word from my friend Krista Stevens, I’m terricited about the course. Our packets of books arrived yesterday, and by great good luck, I happen to be taking a flex day today. Time to dig in and nerd out, learning how to sail from books until we can get back out on the water.

Because one boat wasn't enough

Originally published on Butterfly Mind.

In the beginning of the summer, we bought a little wooden yawl. We knew when we bought it that it wouldn’t hold our family of four. So the most practical thing to do, since we can’t all fit in the first boat, is to build a second boat, right? So that the two people who aren’t in the sailboat have their own little boat to play in?

Yep, that’s what we thought, too. The kids love canoeing, my husband loves wooden boats, and with wooden boat kits from Chesapeake Light Craft, we thought it would be fun for the kids to help build our second boat.

They are having the time of their lives. Every weekend, our daughter asks, “Dad, are you working on the canoe?” She pouts when he works on it without her.

The kids have stitched wood, glued, clamped, sanded, applied fiberglass, and epoxied. I’ve even received text messages with videos of our daughter using power tools.

I’m not sure when the boat will be ready for launch, but it’s sure going to be a pretty canoe. I can’t wait for the kids to take me out in it.


Swirly sail

Originally published on Butterfly Mind.

Our daughter gave up her seat in the sailboat this past weekend, and I took it. It was likely to be our last chance to sail before it gets too cold. Already it was chilly for a small, wet boat: sweatshirt and long pants weather rather than sweatshirts and swimsuits.

“I don’t know,” my husband said. “There’s a wind advisory. Gusts to 20 knots.” He looked out the window at the brilliant autumn sky. I sipped coffee and was happy for my slippers.

He looked down at his phone, at the forecast again. “It ends at 6pm though, I think we’ll be okay to go out this afternoon.”

When we arrived at the lake, the sun glittered on its surface, which was free of boats.

Beautiful day for a sail. Or so we thought.


After rowing a short distance from the dock, the wind blew us steadily into the middle of the lake while we hoisted the sails, and then zipped us fast across the dimpled surface.

“It’s not so bad!” I said.

“Yeah, I’m glad we came out,” said my husband.

“The wind is perfect, look how fast we’re going.” It blew splashes of water over the bow, into my face, and down the neck of my sweatshirt.

“The mountains are protecting us from the gusts.” The puddle from the bow splashes grew deeper.

“We’re probably going to regret saying these things.”

Then the sail whipped and snapped and we lost our momentum. We were pointed towards a bend in the lake where we don’t normally go, because there’s not usually wind enough for it. The boat tugged, tipped, took off for a second, and then stalled again.

“The wind is swirly,” said Brian as he pulled the mizzen sheet to fill the main sail to point us where he wanted to go. “Unpredictable.”

I shielded my eyes to look out over the water in the direction we were headed, toward the bend off to the right. The water was getting pretty choppy. “Wow, the wind is tunneling down that part of the lake up there, between the mountains. I see white caps.” Which we were headed towards in our tiny little boat.

My husband looked up at the mountain behind us, where tall trees not blocked by the mountain to our right were twisting and bowing in the wind.

“Coming about,” he said.

The water was not calm any more. The direction of the chop did not match the direction of the wind. My back was soaked. My bare feet were wet and numb in the puddle I sat in. And the boat continued to jerk and snap in gusty air that kept changing direction.

I’ll be honest, I was scared.

We made our way back up the lake in squirrely wind that was growing stronger and more erratic by the minute. We watched the sailing team who had come out onto the water to practice also struggle. They seemed to be having as much trouble as we were. They had jammed rudders and flapping sails, or they’d fly along with their mast at 45° and their rails almost in the water and then suddenly the mast would be straight up and down.

The further we got toward the far side of the lake, the gustier the wind — and it didn’t seem to want to let us turn back. I wanted to turn back. I thought about a crazy thunderstorm I was caught out in a boat with my dad when I was a kid, and how now that it’s over, it seems like a grand adventure.

I hoped this sail would seem like an adventure once it was over, too. At least the sky was blue and there was no risk of getting struck by lightning. Capsizing in the cold doesn’t seem quite as bad as getting struck by lightning. Maybe.

We finally cruised in close enough to roll up the sails and row to the dock.

“Well,” my husband said, “now we know. If there’s a wind advisory we should listen. That was too much for this boat.”

We’ve got soccer games and swim meets until the weather will be too cold for wet sailing, and now I’m sad we might not be able to sail our little boat until spring. Last weekend was an adventure on a glittering mountain lake under a brilliant October sky. It was gorgeous. I was glad when it was over. Now that it’s over, and we’re safe on land, I want to go out again.


Sweatshirts and swimsuits

Originally posted on Butterfly Mind.

This summer has been brutally hot. The past few times we’ve gone to Claytor Lake to sail, there has been a burning sun and no wind.

This morning, though, it was different. At 7:00 AM, my husband and I swung out of the driveway, pulling our little wooden yawl behind the car. Our coffee swirled in ceramic mugs in the cup holders. We had the windows down and the air conditioning off.

We arrived at the lake so early, there was nobody at the ranger station to collect our launch fee. In the vast parking lot that usually swarms with jet-skis, motor boats, pick-up trucks, glittery trailers to match glittery speedboats, and boaters toting towels and coolers, there was grey mist and stillness. We had the boat ramp to ourselves. In the normally buzzing lot were two empty trailers, zero people, and acres of deserted asphalt.

When we stepped out of the car, we both shivered in the morning air, then grabbed our sweatshirts and pulled them over our heads.


Sweatshirt and bare feet


I’m a sucker for autumn. It might be my favorite season. To combine autumn (the best season) with morning (the best time of day) and water (the best place to be) is pretty much heaven to me. It’s cool, it’s quiet, the sounds are gentle, the scents are fresh.

Without boats zipping back and forth, without the buzz of engines and radios, without wakes to tumble our little boat, without the summer activity that usually accompanies a trip to the lake, we were able to glide silently through the water with a light wind in our sail. We made no wake.

Claytor Lake, view off stern of sailboat
Invisible path off the stern

We sailed towards a flock of small birds — maybe swallows? — that swooped and swirled within feet of the water’s surface, ignoring us in our quiet approach. We heard the sploosh of fish jumping. We skimmed along, listening to the splish of fresh water against our wooden hull.

I’m not sure I could have asked for a better beginning to autumn, kicking it off with an early morning sail, where not only did we have a gentle breeze and comfortable, overcast skies, but we wore swimsuits, flip flops, and sweatshirts.

Swimsuits. Flip flops. Sweatshirts. 

This may be my new favorite combination of clothing.