30 September 2015

Weird Eggs, Difficult Decisions & Kittens

For those of you who follow our blog and Facebook page, you'll know that I'm currently in Portland, Oregon visiting family. Leaving our boat all alone in Florida during the height of hurricane season is a bit nerve-wracking, especially now that there's a named hurricane in the Atlantic (hello Joaquin), so I'm glad that we've been doing little outings each day. It helps keep my mind off the weather back East.

Yesterday, we went to the Lan Su Chinese Garden, which is a lovely oasis in the middle of the city. My mom has an annual membership so she, my sister and my nieces can pop  in whenever they need a dose of tranquility. Plus they have a gift shop. My family loves a good gift shop, especially when its stocked with adorable things, like cups with pandas on them. You can never have too many panda cups.

We went on a guided tour of the gardens, which was quite interesting. But then we got hungry so we ditched the tour to go in search of food at the tea house.

My mom got her usual (noodles and a mango nectar drink), I ordered dumplings and my sister opted for a really weird egg. Don't get me wrong, it was a pretty egg. If there was a prize for most aesthetically pleasing egg, this egg would be wearing some sort of beauty pageant sash right now. But I thought it tasted downright weird. Thankfully, a few sips of oolong tea got rid of that horrible taste in my mouth.

After the weird egg, we had a wander through the garden and came across the fortune telling sticks.

You shake the container until your stick falls out. Then you read the number on your stick, find the drawer in the cabinet with your number on it, open up the drawer and take your fortune out. It's a lot more work than cracking open a fortune cookie, so I was expecting a really good fortune. Instead I got #22.
"Tricky number 'twenty-two' is unusually good. A matter of considerable importance soon must be decided."
Personally, I don't think having to make an important decision is all that good. What if I pick the wrong thing? What if I can't make a decision? Should I drink 2% milk or non-fat in my coffee? Are oatmeal cookies better with raisins or chocolate chips? Do I really need panda cups for the boat?

After one last stop at the gift shop, we headed off to the Oregon Humane Society to look for a kitten for my sister. That's when I realized that my sister traded fortunes with me when I wasn't looking. Tricky number twenty-two was definitely her fortune because she couldn't decide which kitten to get.

First there was Dimitri, an adorable black kitten with incredibly sleek fur. He's super mellow and is content to just be cuddled. Then there was Kit, a feisty little tortoiseshell who loves to play with anything and everything, but still happily sits in your arms to be petted.

My sister finally made a decision and we're picking up her new kitten today. If you want to know which one she ended up choosing, check out our Facebook page later today. I should probably apologize in advance for all of the cute kitten photos I'm going to post up there.

By the way, I like my new fortune, which I finally got back from my sister.
"Good old number 'eighteen' for today. If you have a wish, your luck is good and it will soon be realized."
My wish is to not have allergies anymore. Cats make me sneeze. But they're cute, so it's worth it.

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28 September 2015

Serendiptiy, The Elusive Bigfoot & The Art Of Being Thirteen

I went out in search of Bigfoot with my mom, sister and 13-year old nieces yesterday. If you haven't heard about Bigfoot before, then I'm guessing you've led a pretty sheltered life. You might want to ask yourself what other secrets your parents and teachers kept from you growing up.

Bigfoot is a large, hairy bipedal human-ape like creature that lives in the forests of the Pacific Northwest. You might know Bigfoot by its other name - Sasquatch. They're very shy creatures and aren't spotted too often. Unlike the Kardashians, you won't find them on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, but trust me, they're out there.

And I should know. I saw one last year when we went on an expedition up to Mt St Helens National Volcanic Monument in Washington State. There are two ways to get to Mt St Helens from Portland. There's the way we went last year which takes you up to the visitor's center at Johnson Ridge where you can check out the exhibits, see a film about the eruption of Mt St Helens in 1980 and get some great views of the mountain. As you make your way to Johnson Ridge, you might just see Bigfoot along the way. If Bigfoot proves to be elusive, you can always find a t-shirt or coffee cup with Bigfoot on it.

This year, we went the other way. Some might say the wrong way. The way that people go when they have no navigational skills whatsoever and don't even have a Washington map in their car. That's the way we went. At one point my mom said, "I don't remember any of this." We pooh-poohed her. That was a mistake. Never doubt your mother. At least that's what our mother told us.

Eventually, we stumbled across a ranger station. I think the only reason they staff this station is to hand people who went the wrong way a map. We had two choices - drive three hours to get to Johnson Ridge or carry on the we way we were driving and get even better views of Mt St Helens. After driving for two hours, the thought of driving another three hours just wasn't going to happen. So we carried on.

I think I know where I get my worrying genes from. Windy roads in the mountains with steep drop-offs and a serious lack of guardrails really isn't my mom's cup of tea. We'd point out some dramatic scenery, "Grandma, look over to the left!" but my mom would refuse to look because even though she wasn't driving, she has to keep her eyes on the road and operate her imaginary brake on the passenger side of the car. This might seem all too familiar to Scott.

Eventually, we got to Windy Ridge on the eastern side of the mountain. The rangers were right, the view was a million times more spectacular then at Johnson Ridge. "See girls," my mom said, "serendipity was at work. Getting lost was a good thing." Mothers are so wise.

I don't really have any good pictures because Scott wasn't with us, but trust me, it's gorgeous.

It's fun hanging out with my nieces. I like their fashion sense. I'm pretty sure I couldn't pull it off, but then I'm not a hip teenager from Portland. I love this alien t-shirt, perfectly paired with a flannel shirt which just screams Pacific Northwest.

And why wear just one bracelet when more is always better. So cool!

Have you ever seen Bigfoot, Yeti or the Abominable Snowman?

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25 September 2015

Birthmarks, Tattoos & Treasure Maps

Over the past week, I've been busy cleaning out our boat, moving stuff around, digging through hard to reach cubbyholes and inventorying everything. I'm not really looking at my best with all of this work - frizzy hair, sweat dripping down, cuts, bruises and dirt everywhere.

The other day I was on deck trying to sort out my musty v-berth cushions when one of my dock neighbors at the marina stopped by for a chat. He took one look at me and said, "Hey, watch out, you've got a bunch of grease on your arm." I looked down and didn't see anything. It was probably the only place on my body that wasn't covered with grime. Then I realized that he was looking at my birthmark.

When he realized his mistake, he kind of got a little embarrassed (he's such a sweetie). I'm not sure if he was embarrassed because he mistook my birthmark for grease or if he was embarrassed for pointing out my birthmark. Some folks aren't too happy about having birthmarks. Personally, I love mine. I think the one on my arm looks like a deserted island. What do you think?

I told my dock neighbor my theory. "One of these days, when Scott and I are out sailing, we're going to find the island that matches my birthmark and we're going to lay claim! The birthmark proves its mine!" He chuckled and said that what would make it even better was if we found buried treasure on our island. Then he had brilliant idea - get a tattoo for X marks the spot on my birthmark. 

I was thinking I could go for something like this.

I can only imagine the look of horror on Scott's face as he reads this blog post and worries that I'm actually going to go through with this whole tattoo thing while he's away. And he thought the fabric I've picked out for curtains and throw pillows was awful. Wait until he sees my tattoo. That'll teach him for being gone so long.

On another note, I'm heading off to Portland today to visit my family. I think we're making our way up to Washington State this weekend to look for Bigfoot. Keep an eye out on our Facebook page, I'll post a picture of Bigfoot if we spot him.

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23 September 2015

Chaos, Stinky Stuff & Mysterious Objects

Everyone who owns a boat has a long list of Very Important, But Boring Things To Do. If a boat owner tells they don't have a list, then they're either lying to you or to they're lying to themselves. Everybody has a list. Mine is so long that the last item on the list is to buy a new notebook so that I have space to write down more things on the list. 

Despite having a long list of Very Important, But Boring Things To Do, I'm also highly skilled in the art of procrastination. I'm extremely good at putting off the important stuff and ticking things off of my list of Very Unimportant, But Interesting Things to Do. If you had a choice between watching old X-Files episodes or cleaning out the bilges, which would you do? Okay, don't answer that. I'm sure all of you boat owners out there are highly responsible folk who regularly clean out your bilges. And the non-boat owners out there who don't know what a bilge is are busy cleaning out their gutters or waxing their RV. 

But you'll be glad to know (and Scott is super glad to know), I've gotten my act together and have been working on inventorying everything the previous owner left behind on our new-to-us boat. This of course involves taking everything out of the various hidey-holes, cubbys, hanging lockers, cupboards and other ridiculously hard to access spots.  

I used to call our v-berth the Room of Chaos. I'd cram things in there and quickly close the door before it all came tumbling out. Finally, I've managed to tidy things up and it is now the Room of Order and Tranquility

Doesn't it look pretty?

Only one teeny tiny problem. All the stuff that used to be in the v-berth is now in the saloon. I used to call the saloon the Room of Relaxation, but now it has transformed itself into the Room of Bruises & Stinky Stuff. There's so much crap in the saloon that I bang my legs on things trying to get through to the v-berth. Bruises, cuts and scrapes - badges of honor for boat owners. 

The saloon has gotten a little stinky now that I moved the v-berth cushions in there. Thanks to my stupid hatch, they got soaked during one of southern Florida's delightful downpours. Now they have that lovely musty odor to them. Super.

I used to be able to retreat to our aft cabin to escape the chaos and work on my inventory list. Not anymore. The chaos has followed me in there. The leftover green fleece from the slipcovers I made for our settees is threatening to takeover. When I wake up in the middle of the night and see all the green everywhere, I immediately assume it's the aliens coming to take me away. Perhaps I shouldn't watch so much X-Files?

They say that it's important to constantly learn new things. Keeps the mind sharp and all that. What I've learned is that I don't have a clue what half the stuff on our boat is. Like this gray, rubber handle. I spent a good chunk of the day yesterday staring at it and trying to imagine what possible use it might have. On a whim, I asked Google what it knew about "gray plastic handle boat". Google showed me a picture of a dinghy handle and smirked at my ignorance. Once I saw a picture of it on a dinghy, then it made perfect sense. I can't believe I didn't figure this out on my own. By the way Google, thanks for making me feel stupid.

This one totally stumped me. I thought it was a some sort of child's toy. I tried spinning it like a top for a while. Finally, I asked Matt from MJ Sailing what it was. He knew immediately - it's a fuel filter for an outboard engine. Matt is much nicer than Mr Google. He didn't make me feel stupid for not knowing what it was.

I've got a whole box of stuff that I'm clueless about. I call it the Box of Mysterious Objects. I figure it will be a nice "welcome back" present for when Scott gets back to the boat. I can't think of a better way for him to get over jet lag than to go through and identify all of the mysterious objects.

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21 September 2015

Life Lately At Indiantown Marina

Today's blog post is a glimpse into what life's been like lately at Indiantown Marina here in hot, muggy, rainy southern Florida. It's been a while since I've done one of these "Life Lately" posts - bits and bobs about about what I've been getting up to and what's been on my mind.

1 - Tree Frog Poo

I spent hours on Saturday scrubbing the decks - cleaning off the mildew, getting rid of dead bugs and ridding Tickety Boo of all of the poo the tree frogs leave behind. I never really thought too much about tree frogs until we came to Florida. My first up close and personal kind of encounter was when one got stuck in the fan in our Scamp travel trailer. Scott got him out and set him free. One of his legs looked a little mangled so I'm not sure how long his freedom lasted before an alligator got him.

We also had a tree frog get into our air conditioning unit on our boat. We had no idea he was in there until we started noticing an incredibly foul stench. Scott's such a trooper - he opened up the air conditioning unit and got the frog out. Dealing with dead frogs isn't really my thing. Scott put screening around the air conditioner to keep the frogs out. Unfortunately, it doesn't stop them from hopping around your boat at night and leaving their calling cards everywhere.

Did you know rat poo and tree frog poo looks pretty much identical? There you go, something to work into your next cocktail party conversation.

2 - Thanksgiving in September

A couple of times a month I run into Okeechobee with a friend of mine to get groceries at Walmart. When we were last there, he decided that what was missing from his life was turkey. He got all the fixings for a proper Thanksgiving dinner and had me over for lunch yesterday. Turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn etc. You name it, he made it. Kind of a strange experience to have Thanksgiving in September, but a nice treat.

3 - Who's Your Favorite James Bond?

I just finished reading Thunderball by Ian Fleming as part of the Around the World in 80 Books Challenge (it takes place in the Bahamas). Having seen all of the James Bond movies, it's kind of strange to read one of the books. It wasn't until about halfway through, that Fleming describes what Bond looks like and it got me thinking about who my favorite Bond is. I'm going to go with Pierce Bronsan, followed by Daniel Craig. Who's your favorite?
"He was about six feet tall and somewhere in his middle thirties. He had dark, rather cruel good looks and very clear blue-gray eyes that were now observing her inspection sardonically. A scar down his right cheek showed pale against a tan so mild that he must have only recently come to the island."

4 - Stupid Hatches

If you follow us on Facebook, then you'll already know how much I hate our hatches. We've been having torrential rainstorms lately and our hatches just aren't holding up their end of the bargain. They're constantly misbehaving themselves. I keep telling them to shape up, but they don't listen. They just laugh, stick out their tongues and let water drip all over the place. As punishment, I made them wear these ugly plastic covers, which I taped down with silver duct tape. That will teach them to get water all over the place.

So guess what happened after I put the plastic coves on? Yep, no more torrential downpours, just the usual afternoon thunderstorms. For all you Floridians out there who were getting tired of the rain, you can thank me and my plastic sheeting for making it stop.

5 - Out With The Old & In With The Garishly New

I made new curtains for our head/bathroom yesterday. The old ones were in decent shape and if you like sailboats and lighthouses on your curtains, then these would be right up your alley (you can see what they look like above). But why have tasteful nautical themed curtains, when you can have something really eye-catching, some might even say garish? When I go to brush my teeth in the morning, I'm tired and I want something that will really wake me up. I'm thinking our new curtains are going to do the trick. Now, I just have to find fishing line (which is hiding somewhere in the boat) so I can hang our new curtains up. This should teach Scott to let me pick out fabric unsupervised.

So that's what's been happening lately at Indiantown Marina. What's been happening where you are?

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18 September 2015

6 Mistakes I Made Starting A Sailing Blog

When I started this blog a little over two years ago, I had no idea what I was doing. It's probably fair to say that I still don't. But, I do know that there are a few mistakes I made along the way. Few is probably an understatement - I've made a lot of mistakes. I know some of you out there might be thinking about starting your own blog, so I thought I would share the six mistakes I made. I'm not a blogging expert by any stretch of the imagination, but it might give you a little food for thought.

1 - Make sure your blog name stands the test of time. 

When Scott and I talked about starting this blog, it was all about sailing for us. We were in the midst of transitioning from being full-time worker bees to full-time cruisers. Everything we read, everything we talked about and everything we dreamed about was related to sailing and cruising. So, naturally, what we named our blog reflected that - The Cynical Sailor & His Salty Sidekick.

Many folks who have sailing blogs name it after their boat. We knew we didn't want to do that as our boat at the time was our "for now" boat, not our "forever" boat (not that there's probably any such thing as a "forever" boat). Plus, we really didn't like the name that our boat came with - Rainbow's End. We do, however, love the name of our new boat - Tickety Boo. And, in fact, that would have been a great name for our blog, not because it's our boat name, but because it's fun to say and it means "everything's all good" which can apply to a whole range of topics one could possibly blog about. (You can read more about our boat name here.)

Our blog name is fine and people have commented that it catches their attention, but it doesn't really fit with what this blog has morphed into. Turns out, our blog is about more than just sailing and cruising, it's about much more. Life takes you on all sorts of twists and turns and we ended up being a year between boats, in part due to family matters. That meant that our blog branched out into other things that we were doing at the time - like a 6-month road trip around the States in our tent and tiny camper.

With the benefit of hindsight, would we have named our blog The Cynical Sailor & His Salty Sidekick? Maybe not. We might have picked a more generic and flexible name that could span a whole range of blogging topics and niches. You can read more about my musings on our blog's niche here.

Key Takeaway - Consider making sure your blog name is flexible enough to reflect your diverse passions and interests as your blog naturally grows and evolves over time.

2 - Choose your blogging platform carefully.

There were two main free blogging platforms available when I started this blog - WordPress and Blogger - and they're still pretty much the two more popular options. (Some other blogging type platforms include Tumblr, Google+, Typepad and Squarespace.) I had done a little research on the difference between WordPress and Blogger and decided to go with Blogger because it had a reputation for being simpler to use. Simple appealed to me.

Now, with the benefit of that pesky hindsight, I might have opted for WordPress. Two reasons why - customization and plug-ins. The word on the street is that you can do so much more with WordPress than you can with Blogger. I dream of having a plug-in that will automatically scale down my image size (large image size makes for really slow downloading of blogs for some folks). What I wouldn't give for an easier way for people to comment on our blog. You can do a lot of neat things in Blogger, but you can do so much more in Wordpress.

Sure, you can migrate from Bloggger to Wordpress - tons of people do it. But there's two reasons why I'm not going to (at least not now): (1) it sounds like a pain and I'd be afraid something would go horribly wrong and I'd lose everything and (2) I'd want to make a decision first on whether we should get our own domain name...which brings us to mistake #3.

(If you want to know more about the differences between the two platforms, there are tons of folks who have articulated the Blogger vs Wordpress debate much better than I could ever hope to - like here, here and here. If you do decide to go ahead with Wordpress, check out Saving to Sail for tips on how to do it in nine steps.)

Key Takeaway - Think carefully before you leap. Blogger might be simpler to use than WordPress at the outset, but it might not be the best long-term solution.

3 - Consider whether you should get your own custom domain name.

You may have noticed that the URL for our blog is thecynicalsailor.blogspot.com. Notice that blogspot in there? That means that we're being hosted by Google, along with gazillions of other people, on the blogspot domain. What's so great about a blogspot domain? It's free! We like free. What's bad about a blogspot domain? It makes for a long name. It would be so much easier to be something like cynicalsailor.com. Search engines prefer custom domains - they're more likely to index your blog posts and pull them up in searches people do. And it just sounds that wee bit more serious to have a custom domain name, rather than a blogspot one.

What's the downside of a custom domain name? It costs money. Right now, I can buy cynicalsailor.com on Go Daddy for $2.99 for the first year and $14.99 a year after that. While I'm intrigued, reality is that I'm not going to shell out the money. I think I'd much rather spend that on chocolate. At this point, it would be a hassle to change over and we're more of a casual blog, rather than a slick operation. But, you might want to buy your own domain name, especially if you're thinking about monetizing your blog at some point.

Key Takeaway - If you think you want a custom domain name, you might want to get it at the outset. Otherwise, you might find your name isn't available or it's a pain to changeover.

4 - Make sure it's you talking and not who you think everyone else wants to hear.

I don't know about you, but I love reading blogs. I love that people want to share a part of their life with me. Real people, doing real things - some things which I hope to do one day and others which are just fun to experience through someone else's words.

There are certain bloggers who really resonate with me. I'll go back to their blogs time and time again to see what they're up to. Some of them have modest followings, others are superstars of the blogging world. When I first started blogging, I found I would try to emulate my favorites. I would think to myself, "So, that's what people want to hear about. No wonder so-and-so has so many Facebook followers!" or "Wow, so-and-so has such a wonderful way with words. Why can't I assemble nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs etc. into interesting and unique ways like so-and-so does?"

It took me a while to go back to the core reason why this blog was started - fundamentally, it was a way for us to capture our experiences, and have fun doing so. If it's about us, why was I trying to write in a voice that wasn't mine? I kind of cringe when I go back and look at some of our earlier blog posts. Who wrote that crap? Oops...turns out it was me. Nowadays, I reread some of our posts and think to myself, that's definitely me talking. Might be crazy talk, but it's my voice nonetheless.

Key Takeaway - People are visiting your blog to get to know you. So, be you. You're great, by the way.

5 - Stop obsessing over your blog stats.

Goodness, I used to love to look at our blog stats. Not just once, but several times a day. This was probably helped by the fact that I was no longer a worker-bee when I started our blog and had plenty of time on my hands. But still, checking our our blog stats got to be a little obsessive.

Sure, I still look at them, but I place a whole lot less stock in them. In part because blog stats aren't always accurate (there's huge discrepancies between the various counters I use), but also because they don't always measure how engaged your blog followers are. Ours isn't a very popular blog, but I'll tell you, there are some amazing people who I've connected with as a result of blogging. I love when people comment here or on our Facebook page and I'm over the moon when I get an email. There are such neat people out there, who, for some reason, want to share in a little bit of our life. And that counts so much more than any cold, hard number.

Key Takeaway - Genuinely connecting with people is far more important than how many followers you have.

6 - Make sure your images are legit.

It turns out I was unwittingly doing some very dodgy stuff on our blog in the early days when it came to images. I would write a blog post and think to myself that a picture would liven everything up. So, I'd do a search on Google, come up with all sorts of great images, pick one and slap it into a blog post.

Turns out this was a major faux-pas, not to mention extremely dodgy. It never even occurred to me that there were copyright issues involved. In my mind, Google was "offering" me all of those wonderful images. Why would they do that if they weren't legit, if they weren't free for everyone to use? Then I read this post which describes how someone got sued for using a copyrighted image. I immediately removed all the images that didn't belong to us from our blog.

Now that we've had a blog for awhile, I think about how pissed off I would be is someone "borrowed" some of the wonderful pictures Scott takes that you see on our blog. These days, when we use other people's images, I make sure they're copyright free (like these vintage ones from the Graphics Fairy) or that I have written permission to use them and I give credit (like this picture of the donkeys on Ponui Island by Peter & Marion van Djik and this picture of the shipwreck Rewa from Peter Tasker). Often people will be happy for you to use their images if you just ask.

Key Takeaway - Make sure you own any images you use, they're copyright free or you have permission from the person they belong to.

Despite all those mistakes, we have done one or two things right.

Probably the biggest thing we've done right (and continue to do) is have fun with the blog. There really wouldn't be any point if it wasn't fun, yet I think some people blog because they think they should to keep up with the Jonses in some sort of weird, online way, or because they think they're going to make mega-bucks (sorry, but you probably aren't gonna get rich). So as long as it keeps being fun, you'll still find us here at The Cynical Sailor & His Salty Sidekick!

For those of you bloggers out there, what mistakes have you made? What tips do you have for wanna-be bloggers? For all of you wanna-be bloggers, what's holding you back from starting your own blog?

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