There's a theory about value called the "IKEA Effect," whereby people over-estimate the value of something they have themselves made.
We got to test it out this spring at the Would-Be Farm.
From Estonia by way of New Jersey, thank you BZB Cabins for a pallet's worth of parts, 24 pages of instructions, and a very helpful expert only a phone-call away.
I grant you, we poured quite a bit of effort into this longer-than-any-danged-weekend project.
If the value increases as a result of how long it took, and how many new neural pathways it encouraged, and what fresh language it encouraged (is that hangy-downy part of the roofing shingles called a "fang" or a "bump"?), well, all to the good.
And the refresher on metric measurement? Nigh on priceless.
But regardless the IKEA effect. Fer reals –– this thing is hella neat-o.
And so toasty!
Meanwhile, in the Back 40...
The suspense builds as we hike the big loop around the Would-Be Farm –– which trees are down? Which bulbs are up? Are the beavers still damming around? What happened while we were gone?
As we hike, marveling at the frost-heaved rocks, the exquisite timing of the grouse that explodes from underfoot at the exact moment we are least prepared, the wide expanse of northern sky, the tracks left by deer, coyotes, skunk, mystery beasties.
This year, on the first 500 yards, we spotted hoof prints. "That's a big deer," Jeff said. "That's an enormous deer," I said, then, hope springing eternal, "Oooh, maybe it's a moose!"
Moose used to roam these woods. They, like the bobcat and the bear and what-not might also return. One can hope –– seriously, the biggest cervid, back again?! Goofy and majestic creatures, sporting dingle-berries and draped with stringy green plant material, near-sighted and not suffering of fools –– that's a great wild life.
We followed the tracks until the next game camera, where we got distracted checking batteries and removing the memory card.
We have a bunch of game-cameras. They are back-up security, entertainment, and animal-spotting tool all in one.
Admittedly, there's always one that we misplace. Sometimes it appears, just where we left it, after we've passed it dozens of times. Ocassionally, it gets dragged away by varmints.
Anyhow, on this first circuit, we go from camera to camera, pulling batteries and collecting memory.
Back at the cabin, I fire up the trusty card reader and begin the uphill slog: 8000 images on this disk. 5300 on this one. Oooh, only 1430 on this one! 6000 on this one. 7600 on this one. I do not exaggerate on this issue, there are thousands of images, some triggered by actual animals, others by the whim of the camera, and not a few by the movement of branches in the wind.
So I am approximately 12,000 images into the winter's story when I discover –– Eureka! –– the large-hoofed maker of the tracks that we hoped might be moose.
Cows on the run. Oh, I have questions.
Will I get answers? We'll see, once the great dumpster debate (oh! neighbors!) of 2023 is settled. (Two neighbors, one actively squalid, the other just trying to raise a few cows. Add dumpster full of trash, stir until state cops arrive...)
Meanwhile, here's a few of the winter's highlights. Understand that I have selected these from a pool of zillions, and I DO find it amusing that so many are butt shots.
Quick novel update: things are moving along. I've been gathering publishing intel while the manuscript spent time at the editor. Details will follow on this page here.
Another EC in the Record Book.
The tarpon shot out of the water like a fleshy javelin, intent on gobbling a bait fish. Four shiny feet of muscle and eyeball, it landed all willy-nilly in the water a scant boat-length from Spawn. Then another silverking leaped and belly-flopped. Then another. And another.
"Whoa," commented one of our weary sailors.
"Yeah," replied the other.
Just another day off Cape Sable.
TwoBeers and Moresailesaid brought their 22-foot boat, Spawn, safely to harbor in Key Largo on Monday, March 6 at around 6 pm –– after a 300-mile, 50-hour Everglades Challenge.
They were first to finish, having worked through a pack of boats that started ahead on the course. The event is unique in many aspects, including the sometimes-fluid starting line. This year, for instance, the weather on Friday before the start was fairly gnarly, with an on-shore gale and a big surf pounding.
In fairness, it was not awful by tee-time the next day, but as Moresailesaid has said, "To finish first, first you must finish."
Of the 80 or so boats competing, only about 20 (including Spawn) chose to start traditionally, pushing off the beach at Fort DeSoto park in St. Petersburg. Others drove down the coast and put in where they felt comfortable.
At checkpoint 3, a spot deep in the Everglades National Park notable for poor cell coverage and a resident salt-water croc who likes to keep an eye on the boat-ramp, Spawn had unwelcome congress with a manatee.
Tethered to the dock, with the sail up while Moresailesaid went to check in, Spawn suddenly began moving to windward. Then there was a bit of gentle gyration until a quick-thinking TwoBeers raised the centerboard.
The manatee mating frenzy continued apace, but without the non-consensual participation of the boat.
Without a "yes," o manatee, it's "NO."
Departing Flamingo, our sailing heroes used their wiles and ways to get past their last forward competitor by splitting tacks around Joe Kemp Key. Instead of using the usual channel, the boys went east.
Skittering along in the very skinny water, says TwoBeers, "Is not for the faint-hearted. There are lots of wading birds. You have to ask yourself, are they seagulls or are they herons? If it's herons, cool."
Among the spectators on shore, eagle-eyed Rappin Rodney Koch called it: "No risk-it –– no biscuit."
For around three miles, the team navigated by appropriate sea-birds. Perfectly innocent sharks minding their own sharky business were startled out of their wits, half-climbing, half-swimming to get out of the way of the boat as it whistled over the shallows.
But the route cut off enough distance to put Spawn in the overall lead.
Says TwoBeers of navigating that section of Florida Bay, "My socks were dry the whole way until the end of Twisty Mile. We had to get out and push the boat for the last 100 feet to get to the deep water toward Russell Key."
How much sleep did they get?
A princely three hours a night! The conditions were favorable for the odd daytime nap and even a rough watch-system.
Did they run out of food?
No! They enjoyed fried chicken dinner twice, plus plenty of granola bars and other snacks. At the dock, there was ample water and ––ahem–– two beers left in the cooler.
Why does their track have long time-gaps?
Mostly because their SPOT tracker is not very good at its job, but also because the entire SPOT system (so we hear) went down briefly on Sunday night. And yes, FULLY AGREE, a Garmin Inreach is the better option.
How much rowing did they do?
More than a few hours, TwoBeers admits.
But it made the difference between first and fourth place when they were able to navigate in no wind and foul current, especially in the passes around Choko and Flamingo
How long did it take?
50 hours. Saturday at 10 through Monday afternoon. Two full nights's sailing.
It's not their longest trip (60 hours), nor their shortest (33 hours). On the eye-of-the-beholder scale, I give it about a four out of ten: They looked tired, but not wrung-out; raspy but not death-defying; creaky but not gimpy. Neither fell asleep in his dinner.
Amy's favorite anecdote so far?
Typically, I don't hear all the most "exciting" details for a day or two. My favorite skipper is a considerate husband and doesn't like to alarm me all at once.
Still, I liked this, overheard over breakfast at Mrs. Mack's: "Yeah, I was glad to be going out Gasparilla in the dark. We could hear the waves breaking, but we didn't have to see what we were getting into."
What's it like at the finish line?
The finish line is a pocket beach at a little 1950's style resort on Buttonwood Sound (the inside of Key Largo); the welcoming committee included Paula Paddledancer, the Chief, our dear Flying Scot friend Jim Signor, some extra WaterTribe shore crew, and a sprinkling of hotel guests who get a surprise floor show as the boats arrive amidst cheers and a random conch moo.
Evidently, one of the liveaboards in the Sound has a conch and he's not afraid to use it.
And the big question, of course, is Will they do it again?
We shall see.
Meanwhile, it's not a joke that Spawn is available for purchase.
Turn-key operation. Proven winner. Complete Ultimate Florida program available! No tire-kickers please.
Everglades Challenge, Day 34.
It's Day 2, but it feels like the second month of this unsupported adventure race from St. Petersburg to Key Largo.
Over the past nine years, this Sunday in March is traditionally the day when I juggle my electronic tracking stuff and hustle myself to Key Largo. Toting a boat-trailer and fresh clothes and such trappings of society as fit in the vehicle, I drive distractedly while my favorite skipper and his communications officer JT slalom down the left side of Florida aboard Spawn.
I often joke that after checking their SPOT locator from the rest area on Alligator Alley, I have to skedaddle in order to get to Key Largo ahead of my sailors.
This year? No skedaddling required.
They might, as I type this Sunday night, have another 18 hours to go.
Slowly, slowly are they making their track south.
So it's a draggy race this year, one might say.
Draggy but not without drama: what with having some Challengers start half a leg or a leg ahead because of Plan B, and the tracking a bit of a mess –– and with the extra complication of having Spawn's personal locator SPOT suffering some form of hysteria that makes her operational lights flash as if she's working... but lemme tell yah: she ain't working like she flashing.
Anywhahoodle, the Spawnsters seem to be in good spirits.
I am a bit concerned that they might run low on snacks (for once), but since they once fueled half the event on Little Debbie Snackcakes and salted peanuts in a packet, I trust they can fend for themselves.
And didn't TwoBeers pack a fishing line?
As Paula Paddledancer (organizer and all-round-Mamma Bear for the event) pointed out –– the racers are going to have a pretty night of it anyhow.
The First 8 Hours
Have I mentioned the wracking of nerves that is the Everglades Challenge Experience for Shore Crew?
No, we shore-folk aren't taking red-tide flavored breakers over the bow. No, we aren't sitting in our damp sport clothes for days at a time (I speak for myself anyhow). Neither are we watching for flotsam, marine life, and poorly-driven powerboats.
While waiting for team Spawn to reboot their malingering SPOT personal locator this afternoon, I channeled my nervous energy to good: I washed and refueled the van, I vacuumed, I pressed the reload button several dozen times. I texted and e-mailed Moresailesed and resisted the temptation to leave a frustrated voice-mail about CHECKING the dang SPOT.
I knew they had their hands full. I knew they THOUGHT the SPOT was working.
I knew they were cheerfully squeezing as much speed from the wind as they could, knowing that the conditions are liable to turn flat and light overnight.
When one of the other shoreside crews called to inquire my opinion about how many half-gallons of ice cream were recommended to help her through the week, I said, I didn't know, I only purchase pints at a time. [On reflection, it was a brace of pints today, which––Huh!––adds up to a half-gallon. Never considered that math before. Answer: one per day, I guess.]
This is not the time to keel over from starvation.
I jest only a bit.
I hope my water-bound Spawnsters have snarfed many pieces of cold fried chicken, homemade chocolate bar, and savory chunks of home-dried beef jerky.
Neither sailor is especially food-motivated, but they too have a smorgasbord of things to tempt them. Jelly beans, dried whole tiny bananas (monkey guns, baby!), jars of trail mix, banana bread, a stash of strawberry-yogurt-covered pretzels.
Of course, I cannot make those sailors of mine do anything from here on shore. Not eat, not check the dang SPOT, nothing.
We can but watch and wait and keep fingers crossed.
Here's their SPOT link, which seems to have had a revivifying nap and is back to work.
The WaterTribe website has been working for approximately 15 minutes over the course of the past 6 hours by my reckoning.
And so it goes.
In light of past years' performance, I anticipate a few cri de coeur about the failings of SPOT as a personal locator, but new year clean slate, right? The personal locator is how the tracking maps keep track of the 100+ adventurers. So, while sometimes the locater maps are slow, sometimes it's the personal locators corking the bottle.
The SPOT is a hockey-puck sized piece of kit that promises to ping a satellite every 20 minutes or so. It also has a couple of buttons for specific messages ("We're OK!" "We're in trouble, but we're safe," and of course the panic button that calls the Coast Guard). It's proven finicky.
Yes, we have heard that GARMIN makes a superior product with far nicer interfaces and reliability. Had we the option ten years ago, we would have chosen differently.
The SPOT hasn't failed, really, but it's disappointed me by not performing as I hope. We weren't ready to invest in yet another piece of expensive electronica for Spawn, so we'll be SPOTTING again this year.
Here's a link to that website. It follows Spawn only.
How long will the adventure last?
I have an entire country-western song bemoaning that exact question. It's already playing in my head.
The short answer: we hope the gang starts arriving in Key Largo on Sunday evening, but the awards ceremony and official end of the time limit is the following Saturday. It's really anyone's guess.
Weather 'tis Nobler
With less than a week until the WaterTribe is set to push off the beach for the Everglades Challenge, it's now all about the weather.
Every year, it's the same backing-and-forthing with my favorite skipper and his gang. What will the future hold? Will there be a cold front and a line of disturbed weather, or will a high pressure stall over us. Will it be the dreaded easterly? Or more exactly: WHEN will the cold front roar through, and WHEN will the dreaded easterly kick up.
Each sailor seems to have a personal preference: Sailflow. Predict Wind. Windy or Wunderground. NOAA avionic or the local weather.
My opinion, and soothsayers will confirm, predictions are only as good as the memory holding them...because que sera, baby, sera.
A Challenging Time
Not so much challenging as Challenging. The Everglades Challenge to be precise.
Each first Saturday in March, a swarm of small and eccentric craft takes to the water and head south from Fort De Soto Beach toward Key Largo. This year, on March 4 (casual National Military Day, let's say), the starting conch will moan at 10:00 am, a few hours later than usual.
Among the WaterTribe's many members will be my own beloved skipper TwoBeers aboard Spawn with his doughty partner-in-adventure Moresailesed (Jahn JT Tihansky). Again.
NO they will not be racing around the entire state of Florida this year. That event is held in alternate years.
YES, there is serious talk about bidding a fond adieu to both Spawn and the speedy canoe Miss Patsie.
Anyone in the market for a battle-tested and record-breaking sail-and-canoe platform for adventure races? You can be the next owner!
Step right up!
Because of the success of last year's Ultimate Florida Challenge –– longing to recall those times? Here's a link to past blogs –– Spawn has required little to no modifications for 2023.
Spawn went to the spa at the Morgan's place and came home looking all fresh and Mediterranean bluey.
As usual, the WaterTribe concors d'elegance will be open on Friday afternoon, March 3 at the beach at Fort DeSoto, for those who want to check out all the dreamers' machines.
The variety and diversity of ideas in action on the beach boggles the imagination. People approach the challenge from such different places and with such novel solutions!
I recommend taking the afternoon to soak in the enthusiasm.
Meanwhile, between 2.4Meter races, Flying Scot events, Merlin, Moth Midwinters, AND the upcoming Challenge, our house is humming with activity.
It's command central for the annual big pile-up of survival gear. Checklists and girthy blue Ikea bags full of waterproof duffles have begun multiplying. Floorspace is starting to close in.
Perhaps because Spawn is more or less turnkey at this point, (aside from some tidying and refreshing), my sweet skipper has been able to sail with fellow WaterTribesfolk.
He and Andy "Andyman" Hayward sea-trialed the Dovekie, a generously-beamed creature that was first sailed by a cheerful Kiwi team a few Challenges back.
Andyman will again hit the beach with Nate "Natedog" Vilardebo; spousal hopes are high that this will be a less dramatic year for team Dovekie.
Mr. Linton came back considerably wind-blown after a morning with Dave "DeSea" Clement on the Prindle 19. A catamaran will do that to a person.
DeSea will be competing as a trio this year, with teammates Chris "CCock" Growcock and Ed "SailEd" Ruark. They are also hoping for low drama/high fun.
Crossing fingers and knocking wood.
If past performance is any kind of predictor, this month will slip under our keel like the tidal surge at Fundy.
Why have I made more than one petticoat this autumn?
Is it texture? Volume? Swishy-swirly goodness?
A latent Miss Kitty* crush?
An elaborate plan to avoid writing?
*Oh Lawsie, do NOT –– as you value and respect the variety of human experience and preference –– DO NOT google "Miss Kitty" + "crush" or "fetish" or "kink."
True story: I was once a 21-year-old editorial assistant in Manhattan. I worked 70 hours a week for a pittance (the word derives from people given money from pity -- which is not actually a stretch for independent book publishers at the time).
I was in the office with William Dang Golding, Susan Freakin Sontag, Roald BFG Dahl, Holy Moly Madeleine L'Engle, Czeslaw Eyechart Milsovic, Polly Amazing Horvath, Maurice Himself Sendak, and Rapmaster Seamus Heaney, to drop but a few of the lifetime's worth of literary rockstars I met.
I loved that time of my life.
My coworkers included people who were famous in literary circles in their own right, as well as actual Guggenheims, a genuine English Lady Somebody–– the kind of folks who habitually went not just to the Hamptons for the weekend, but to Morocco.
A country church-mouse, I was just that tiny bit too poor to afford the subway for trips less than 40 blocks (my rule so I'd hoof it between Penn Station and Union Square daily).
Fancy-schmancy college had exposed me to the other, very wealthy side of the tracks, but still––!
Bonus side-benefit of scholarshipping my way through school: the crippling flush of envy had pretty well burned all the way through me.
And as for blending in to the trés chic Manhattan publishing scene?
Errrm, even a minty-fresh Sears chargecard wasn't gonna godmother me to that ball.
I embraced vintage.
There was a gorgeous Pendleton plaid suit, an old Chanel number from a garage sale, a handful of thrifted cashmere sweaters. I wore my riding boots with skirts, sported stacks of fake pearls from my grandmother, and sometimes I put together outfits that swooped past the line of "costume or not?" with joyous abandon.
Today, fashion historian Morgan Donner might call my choices "history bounding." Or as the cool kiddies put it: #Historybounding
Still and all, fallible me at 21 or 22 saw a tourist descending the escalator to the tracks in Grand Central Station on sultry August day and was struck DOWN with want. She was wearing exactly the item of clothing I coveted. Of all of the many MANY desirable commodities available in the big city, I wanted what she had.
A full, pale, ankle-length skirt with an antique, Edwardian vibe.
That skirt! Lacking that kooky booty seen with late Victorian bustles, this item of mere clothing managed to be curvy but straight, with a sensible, workable air. I thought it made the wearer look interesting and self-confident. It was perfection.
I looked high and low for that skirt. For actual decades. Chasing an ideal.
And even after I had been sewing stuff for ages ——I'm on my third sewing machine, for the love of Captain Pete Obvious! —— it only came me to this year: "Yo! Self! Why not make that skirt yer own dang self?"
And so, dear Reader, I am.
After a rush of creative energy, snipping of threads and hacking my way through historical methods of pattern-drafting, I have what I have longed for: a long skirt with pockets deep enough to double for a handbag.
A few of my YouTube mentors: Bernadette Banner, Morgan Donner, Rebecca at Pocket Full of Poseys, Ora Lin, and Marika at Enchanted Rose Costumes.
I made one walking skirt from denim. I'm making another from a single thrifted yard of pretty plaid wool and the remains of –– as God is my witness –– velvet curtain panels from Ikea.
And under the skirts, a wealth of swirly, swishy petticoats in flannel and cotton lawn.
Really, Planters Peanuts? This is the new packaging.
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