Merry Shortbread and Blessings all ’round

Well, hello on a snow day from a warm boat!
Some years ago we discovered kerosene heat. I like it a lot. I may well die of carbon monoxide poisoning, but it’ll be with a smile on my kisser, like Sam McGee. We started our boat life with a diesel oven that stank abominably and belched and leered at me. It was an ugly lump of metal, so I whined until John Darling pulled it out, and we froze for the next 10 years until we stumbled across a kerosene heater in Canadian Tire. The first year I sat in front of that heater and inhaled the fumes and enjoyed every single minute! All those years in the Arctic, and I never did get to like being cold.
I woke up this morning at 5:00 (don’t ask. It has to do with old age) and when I poked my head out the hatch, there was snow drifting down with silent and deadly intent. Naturally, I was very excited because it meant a day off, so to celebrate I plugged in the coffee pot and planned my activities for the day, which have been extremely basic. I shovelled, I danced to Richard Simmon’s ‘Sweating to the Oldies’, I knit part of a sock, and I baked 50 shortbread cookies. I passed the cookies on to the neighbours, some of whom were also out shovelling.
John Darling is resistant to joining in when I sweat to the oldies. “Go Richard!” I yelled. “Sweat it to me baby!” I shrilled. John has a lot to put up with.
Tonight I shall re-read Antonia Fraser’s ‘Lives of the Kings and Queens of England’. I shall knit socks. I shall plan next year’s Christmas. I shall bake more shortbread.
Sometimes, life is best when you do the least. My toes are curling with happiness.
May God bless you this sacred season and always.

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Merry Christmas in Advance!

I sit here, comfortable in my dressing-gown, listening to ‘A Cowichan Christmas’ and surrounded by Christmas debris, sated and happy and full of coffee and Christmas cheer. John Darling has fled to drink coffee with the boys. Christmas drives him mad. I start about Hallowe’en, hit my stride just before Remembrance Day and maintain a fever pitch of craziness until Christmas day. There have been years I’ve started planning the next Christmas before the Christmas that year. There have been Christmas mornings I’ve served Christmas dinner before lunch, having completely miscalculated the thawing of the turkey on the deck and arisen at 4:00 to start cooking, panicked that this is the year I’d kill all the people I love with Salmonella poisoning. This has never happened, but I remain vigilant.
Women in John Darling’s former life also used to celebrate Christmas, but differently – hence his aversion to the season, poor dear. I try to compensate with presents. He likes presents.
“Why isn’t the Christmas chocolate on display?” I asked John yesterday. “Why can’t we buy any wrapping paper?” John closed his lips and didn’t reply. A wise man knows when to remain silent.
But his expression spoke volumes. Even the merchants aren’t as Christmas-mad as I am.
It’s his fault. If he hadn’t had so many children and grandchildren and Dook in-laws, I wouldn’t have so much to do.
So there.
During the week I busy myself with substitute teaching (nearly every day, recently), and tutoring. If I get an hour walk in during lunch and recess and gym, and get to talk to my son Paul in the evenings, I count it a successful day. Weekends I reserve for Christmas. yay!
We’ve had inclement weather, full of rain, and a flooded Cowichan Bay Road (always), but the workers who have been trying to shore up the falling bank with the four houses on top of it seem to be done. That job cost SOMEONE a lot of money. I hope they’ve salvaged the situation. Someone walking their dog under that bank one day was in danger of having four houses fall on top of them.
Someone not very nice stole a bunch of my knitting from the storage common area under the bakery. I was quite fussed at first, then I took inventory of my completed articles and with a little juggling I managed to find enough for everyone anyway. Gone are about 20 Cowichan hats, a pair of fancy mohair mittens I knit for Mom and 6-7 pairs of men’s socks. I hope whoever stole the socks has big feet. I have grandsons who take shoe sizes in the double-digits. It comes of too much bannock.
Some CVRD inspectors (we can tell them by their suits) came by to see how many float homes there are in Cowichan Bay, so they can issue ‘sewage units’. Since when, if I may pontificate for a moment, do we all need permission to perform bodily functions? Apparantly we do, even though the entire city of Duncan spews their sewage into the Cowichan River and then out into the bay, where we get to enjoy it. Dilute, but still. . . . and the crabs taste all the sweeter because of it.
Without admitting any liability whatsoever, the powers that be have decided to spew the sewage further out into the ocean, where OTHER liveaboards and boaters can enjoy it.
Sorry – I’ve gone from the joy of Christmas to the realities of sewage. Alas, most liveaboards end up by discussing their heads, or the landlubber perception of us all as polluters, even though many of us (us included) own composting toilets and could theoretically grow African violets with our leavings.
The Breakwater boys, the stellar sea-lions, are back, barking and farting and throwing fish in the air. We look forward to their arrival every year with mixed feelings, like relations who borrow money. How they smell! How they fight! How shiny they are with water and fish-oil and good-humour!
Yesterday John Darling found a book about cruising on the ‘Wall of Shame’, which is the local low wall by the dumpster where people put things too good to throw out. John Darling, unfortunately, is an avid shopper at the Wall of Shame, and WHERE are we going to put this book? I already have a collection of several hundred.
Speaking of books, my next book should be out in January. I have a sketch for a cover, the book is proofed and formatted, and I expect my wonderful cover-designer Pat McCallum will have his magic done in a couple of weeks.
Christmas is coming, and that is a reason for Joy. Joy, and lots of it.
Much love to you all, and Merry Christmas

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Happy Thanksgiving!

What a wonderful season!  The leaves have turned brown and golden and have scattered underfoot, and the fetch from Sidney has gained strength until. . . . we’ve spent an uncomfortable night or two being rocked to sleep.  Uncomfortable, but not as scary as years ago when we lived on the end of the dock and the boat thunked and thrashed and otherwise misbehaved and the hull rocked so viciously we had to sleep in the main saloon.

So I am thankful.

And like many boatowners, we didn’t go far this summer on account of because first our boat broke, and then we became broke.  We began with a transmission problem too horrible to talk about, and segued into an electrolysis problem too horrible to talk about, and finished up with a hydraulic problem too horrible to talk about.  We made it as far as Montague Harbour, and then we sat in the dark that evening wondering why our house batteries didn’t work and if we’d be able to start the engine in the morning with the starting battery. We DID start the engine with our one working battery (one out of five ain’t bad), and we hot-footed it for Cowichan Bay as quickly as we could, tied up at the dock and phoned an electrician.  Before the electrician got here, John Darling and George-of-the-Snowy-Beard spent a day thrashing around the engine room looking at wires and making important decisions.  “Is this connected to anything?” and “Whoops – light went out.  This might be a bad sign.”  After a day of eliminating the usual suspects (thank you, George!), the boys found a cable running from the batteries to the electrical system that was horrible in its rottenness and undoubtedly part of the problem.  George gave us a cable we could use.  He didn’t want it – it had been salvaged off his boat that sank a couple of years ago. George is very generous. Also smart. He said he didn’t want to be paid.  He said he’d take it out in hand-knit socks.

It fell to the electrician to tell us, pronouncing on our 110 volt system, that it’s lucky we’re still alive.  A couple of thousand dollars later, and we have a working electrical system.

So I am thankful.

Then Jim the Welder took time from his own boat repairs to fiddle with our hydraulics.  He finished just as the rains of September fell upon us, saying he wanted to be paid in applesauce, and that the lemon in my recipe kicks it up a notch.  We gave him a bagful. The domestic arts rule.

So I am thankful.

So here I sit, in a cosy main saloon, having missed the boating season entirely, knitting socks and planning another batch of applesauce, and reading a history of Eleanor of Aquataine, who unlike me was badass as well as skilled with her needle.  Or was it William the Bastard’s little mousy wife who was skilled with her needle – the one who embroidered the Bayreux Tapestry with the help of about 100 nuns?

May the blessings of God be with you this season and forever.




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We have a Transmission!

“So what colour do you want me to paint it?” the marine mechanic asked us.

“Green,” John said.

“No,” replied our marine mechanic.  “I’ll give you a red one.”

So we have a red transmission.  John Darling and I have not watched enough episodes of ‘Downton Abbey’ – we have no idea how to direct staff.  All boaters, however, know that marine mechanics fall into an entirely different category altogether.

One memorable evening our marine mechanic drunk-texted me.  The poor man must have been wasted or desperate or both.  Frankly, I haven’t been alluring in 20 years.  Should I, I thought, play the ‘former Sunday-school teacher and presently happily married card?’  Clearly not!  Marine mechanics in July are as scarce as mooring slips and many times more expensive.  So I played along as charmingly as possible without actually giving away anything more than muffins and the afternoon he insisted I join him and my husband for lunch, I brought along my foot-and-a-half long knitting needles and climbed into the truck waving them conspicuously.  He kept his hands to himself, bless his heart.

I have often been aware of the use of props in discouraging unwanted attention.  Many years ago I went to a drive-in with a swain I wanted to slow down, and I kept my seat belt on, but I digress.

The upshot is that we have a beautiful new red transmission that works like a hot darn.  Mark is a genius.  I invited some bad-girl girlfriends to come for coffee on an afternoon we expected him, but they all chickened out on me.  He really is a charmer.

So, thinking we’d blown enough money on our boat to have a successful summer, we set out for Montague Harbour, only to spend our first evening sitting in the dark in our main saloon with four flat house batteries.  “Will the engine start in the morning?” we thought.  We had a fifth battery – the starting battery.  The minute it fired up the engine, we hauled anchor and got out of Dodge as fast as we could.

Then John Darling fixed the problem.  He found a cable so rotten it boggles the mind to even think of it, and spent a day replacing it, and now we have a working boat, but I’m too exhausted to go anywhere.

So we’ve been dinghy-rowing and berry-picking, and I’ve been canning enough jam to sink the vessel.  The sun pours down like honey, and family will come to visit.

Life is good.

May the blessings of Heaven be with you always.


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More Drivelling from the Docks

Yesssss! We have met an actual marine mechanic, bless his buttons. His name is Mark. We think we love him. He looked at our transmission, and he diagnosed it immediately. “Your transmission is F****ed,” he said. I believe this is a technical term.

As a friend of ours said, “Your transmission is sexually active? Wait seven months and you’ll have a new one.”

But that’s an aside – back to the point. Mark says that for money he can fix our problem. We are ecstatic. Also, for not as much money as we had feared. Double ecstasy! We may yet be able to go sailing this summer. So, yea!

My young student’s walk-up is tonight. I can’t wait to see her graduate. She has a killer gown and great hopes for the future. May the blessings of heaven be upon her as she ventures forth into the world!

This morning, an actual day off, so I am cooking vats of rhubarb jam. The Bernardin recipes are never-fail fantastic. This one is a ginger-citrus combination that explodes in your mouth. Since I’ve been churning out jam, the scales have not been with me at my fat-lady group, but the payoff in jam has been worth it.

Our friend Screaming Liver has a new boat, but he has moved onto another nearby dock. We miss him, and so do the dock swans, who used to come caging around looking for bread. Screaming Liver foolishly fed them from his lips – he’d hold the bread in his teeth and lean sideways over the water and the swans would snatch the bread from his mouth. Don’t try this at home. He got away with a few nicks, which is more luck than he probably deserves.

That is the news from here. School is almost done, and I look forward to more days off. More jam. More boating. We live in a remarkable and beautiful part of the world.

Many blessings,


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Drivelling from the Docks

We have some good news and some bad news. With great difficulty, John and I managed to solve our water problems – the major leak, the minor leak, the fouled tanks, and the bilgepump that needed to be fixed. But our transmission lies in the engine room inert and suffering, and our transmission guy (whom we have never met) is flying about Vancouver Island sending messages of hope to us, and then not arriving. We are heart-scalded. What is it about us that discourages marine mechanics? Do our drains smell? And what is it about me that discourages magazine editors? Does my writing stink?

So we wait. We wait all in the sunshine while birds chirp at us and crows caw and seagulls thrash about the water looking for food and our twp swans glide majestically toward us looking for handouts too, only they’re more polite than the seagulls.

I have a lovely part-time weekend job working at Pier 66, which is the local convenience store. The other day I sold a packet of condoms to a young man. This is worth noting, because most of the condoms in the store are stolen, not paid for, and when I came home to report it to my husband, he said, “Good for him. He obviously has something in mind. Maybe he’s going to fill them with water and throw them at people.”

John is creative.

Then one recess at a school where I was teaching, three lovely young Muslim girls taught me to say, “hello” in Arabic. What they taught me actually translates as ‘I am a donkey.” One of them let it slip.

My students are creative.

A tutoring student is graduating from highschool this year. She will be the first member of her entire extended family to finish highschool, she has a ticket into Vancouver Island University, and she cleaned up on the bursaries. I have helped this young lady with her studies for 10 years. At her walk-up I am going to sit in the front row and bawl my eyes out.

So we can cope with a little thing like a busted transmission because overall, life is wonderful.

Many blessings.

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Sunshine and Woe

So it’s beautiful out there. The little starlings are all reproducing under the metal hats on top of the pylons, the seagulls are circling looking for food, and the crows are sitting in the rigging and calling their friend George, who feeds them. I do not understand George’s affinity for crows, but I certainly understand the crows’ affinity for George. The year I was sweating my way through chemo there was a persistent crow who sat in our rigging and cawed his brains out every morning at first light, which was about 5:00 in the morning, and I complained to the then marina owners. “In a well-regulated marina,” I told them, “If you were any kind of marina owners at all you’d be out there at 5:00 AM shooting down that crow with a pellet gun.”

They refused, bless their hearts, and I think the same crow is still sitting in our rigging complaining. Such are the vagaries of nature. I’ve grown to like him and his grating song. It reminds me I’m alive and the boat is still floating.

Yes, floating, but not well. We have 1) a small freshwater leak, 2) a serious freshwater leak, 3) a non-functioning bilge pump and 4) a busted transmission. John Darling is moping, and so am I. Fortunately, we know smart people. We are hoping for rescue this week. I am hoping for enough work subbing that I can pay everybody.

It seems to me that OTHER women spend their salaries on manicures and lunches out. I spend mine on transmission bits.

But I get a crow out of it. I hope he comes back tomorrow morning.

May your spring be wonderful. May your blessings never end. And may God hold you in His hands.

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Happy Easter!

To celebrate spring we’ve been fixing the broken bits on our boat. “Broken bits?” you may ask. “Surely as liveaboards you do constant maintenance.” Ah, yes. We do. However, this is an old boat, and even though we keep up a frantic pace, there are times when the boat wins.

Take last week for example. John and I had both came down with a virus hideous in its discomfort. They use the same word for childbirth – ‘discomfort’, but I digress. We noticed, about the same time, that our drinking water was full of detergent bubbles and diesel. This is a bad thing that denotes backflow from the bilge. But where? We racked our aching brains. The water pressure pump was going off a lot, which meant there was a leak somewhere. We didn’t know where. The hot water was more dieselly than the cold water, so perhaps the breach in a pipe was in the engine room, where the hot water tank is. But the engine room was full of particularly disgusting bilgewater that would have to be pumped out. And before we did any of that, we had to fix the fuel transfer pump which we were going to pump the bilgewater out with, and find some buckets to put the bilgewater in.

So we found four plastic buckets in a thrift store for $2.00 each. Then we fixed the fuel transfer pump and pumped the bilge, put soaker pads on top of the bilgewater now in the buckets and covered them with plastic bags so the rainwater wouldn’t dilute the diesel and undo our good work. John crawled into the engine room to inspect the hot water tank line. No leaks. We paused to rethink what we were doing. Then we decided that detergent in the diesel denoted backflow from the bilge John had put detergent in, so we inspected the bilge in the galley and found a suspicious overflow pipe from one of our coldwater tanks that might have been the culprit. We cut it and tied it off. THEN we flushed the tanks, but not before John Darling opened a porthole and ran a garden hose into the galley sink so we’d have running water.

I married a creative man.

And our colds are getting better.

May your Easter be blessed, may your joys be many, and may the love in your life fill you with happiness.


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Saturday Morning

John Darling with his clever repair

John Darling with his clever repair

It’s Saturday Morning, and I’m sitting in front of my computer trying to think of something witty to say. On Saturday mornings I am short on wit.

However, I had a wonderful moment last week. On Friday at lunch I passed by a classroom where a teacher was sitting at a piano and belting out ‘House of the Rising Sun’ in a rich contralto. So help me, it made my week. “It’s Friday and the children are squirrely,” she told me later, “So why not?” Indeed. Perhaps that should be my motto – stop and sing ‘House of the Rising Sun’ when things get too exciting. If ONLY I could fit a piano on the boat. Instead I shall take my recorder with me wherever I go in case I need to stop what I’m doing and play music.

John Darling has installed a shiny new marine stove in our galley. Unlike the propane Finnish model we bought cheap off an old fishboat some 15 years ago, this one WORKS. I’ve turned it on and everything, and even nearly burned out my first pot, so steady is the flame and so persistent my inattention while cooking.

Speaking of cooking, my next book (planned for next January) will be called, “Darling, Don’t Try This at Home – Recipes from the s/v Inuksuk”

It is in its final author edits, and will go off to my wonderful Editor Anthony Dalton as soon as I warn him it’s coming.

My Chrysler LeBaron ragtop has gone cheap to a deserving home. Before I gave up on it, the gas cap flap sprang open and stayed there because the catch had disappeared into the body of the car, never to be found. So John Darling drilled a BRASS BOLT across the lip of the flap. I was heart-scalded to let that go with the car because nobody else in BC has one of those, but the new owner actually appreciated the wit and workmanship that had gone into that repair.

I am driving a new-to-me blue Kia which is buzzing along with great industry and I think happiness.

We are well, and I hope you are too.

May you enjoy many blessings.

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Back from the Vancouver International Boat Show!

Don’t pay the ransom – we escaped!  By Saturday, there was a huge empty ‘zombie’ space in the middle of my cranium, but we met a lot of really neat people, a bunch of old friends, and other writers, some of whom qualify as both!  I got to wave across the room at author Anthony Dalton, my wonderful editor, who once again outsold me, and I got to hug Anne Yeadon-Jones, who had been nice enough to write praise for the back covers of my books.  Eric and Leona Skovgaard’s book on radios was a huge hit, and Alan Boreham was back with his book ‘Beer in the Bilges’.

I sold enough books to pay for our ferry fares and a week-long stay in a two-star hotel.  Well, hey – the sheets were clean and the staff was friendly and helpful and we were within walking distance of the Boat Show. Such a pity it poured rain. . . John Darling spotted a mouse in the hallway, and the walls looked sticky, and the kitchen was pretty frightening, and also the coverlets had cigarette burns, but we had a great time and will probably go again next year, provided the health inspectors don’t get there first.

But that’s unkind – I’m sure the disinfectant they sprayed in the hallways kept things hygienic.

We stayed in two-star hotels in London, and even though the buildings were a little more appealing, with one exception, the staff was not as friendly.  So there.  I married adventure.  My friend Sandra says, “Don’t you know yet to not trust John on living arrangements?  Not enough experience????”  She may be right.

Our friend Screaming Liver has sold his boat to Iron Mike and moved onto land.  He’s presently living in a 5th wheel at the pierhead.  This is a good arrangement, because we are accustomed to Screaming Liver popping his head out of his boat and giving us a cheery hello.  Now even though he’s a dirt dweller, we get to see him all the time.

“Don’t push me!” Anthony Dalton snapped at me as we were taking down the BC Marine Author display.  I laughed like crazy.  He is so pissy and so smart, and he edits as well as he writes.

We’re glad to be home.

Many blessings to you all,


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