Documenting Adventures

Documenting Adventures

I’m all about the preservation of memories. I love to take pictures and to write about the things we do. Bit of a problem here, though. I’m not very good at taking pictures. Normally I’m okay with this. My subjects most of the time are the kids, and their cuteness totally eclipses the dismal quality of my photography. Sailing is providing me more motivation to learn more, though. The gap between what I see with my eyes and what I capture on the screen seems so much greater.

On one of our trips this summer, we wanted to get down to Point Lookout. We stopped for a late dinner near Solomon’s Island and thought it would be a good idea to head down towards our destination into the evening. We could be there when the kids woke up and they could have a whole day at the beach. Unfortunately, we completely lost the wind when we got out into the Bay and our motor started overheating, leaving us bobbing in the waves, making no progress any which way. It turned into quite a late, exhausting night making our way slowly back toward Solomon’s for a place to anchor. On the upside, it was absolutely beautiful. The moon was full and bright, and the scattered clouds shifted from shape to shape, as if telling stories in the sky. Since there wasn’t much to do, I played with my camera quite a bit, but couldn’t come anywhere close to capturing the a decent impression of the moment.

I basically got two types of pictures. Ones that are blurry and appear much brighter than it actually was, or utter blackness with the larger than life moon appearing as a mere bright dot.

I think my next undertaking needs to be learning a bit about my camera. I know it’s capable of doing more than I’m capable of doing with it, so that would be a start. I really want to learn some basics about outdoor photography, as well, especially in low light. The scenes at dawn and dusk are especially beautiful and even my better pictures never get the colors as they actually appear.

Does anyone have any recommendations for a good place to start? Good books for total amateurs or perhaps a good online tutorial? I’d appreciate suggestions!

Deo Gratias

Deo Gratias

I’ve loved seeing the trend on Facebook of people listing something they are grateful for each day in November. Just seeing the things my loved ones are giving thanks for gives me a smile. Blessings truly abound.

Early this year I read One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp, in which she relates how literally listing blessings or gifts was in itself, the ultimate blessing, totally transforming her life, her attitude, her outlook. Just saying thanks, it changes everything.

The part of the book that stuck with me more than anything else was the observation that in the Gospels, when Jesus performs a miracle, he always gives thanks first.  The miracle follows the gratitude, not the other way around. What an amazing truth. It’s easy be grateful after a miracle, but to have enough grace to be thankful when you’re in need of one? That’s a hard lesson.

The benefits of gratitude are many. A grateful heart can work miracles indeed. The miracle of peace, right where you are. The miracle that joy is always possible, in any moment, because there is always, always something to be thankful for.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Improving the Staycation

Improving the Staycation

I stumbled upon this the other day:

Nice, right? It made me realize, however, that I’ve never been to Ford’s Theatre! It has now been added to the seemingly ever-growing list of places in and around Washington, D.C. that I’ve somehow missed my whole life and now think I simply must visit. (Along with the Basilica, the National Cathedral, Theodore Roosevelt Island, The Newseum, and probably a few other places I’m forgetting now.) Having grown up in the suburbs of DC and still living within commuting distance makes it easy to take all the resources there for granted. It’s always there, right?

I think it’s an easy thing to do no matter where you are. When you go on vacation, you make an effort to find out what unique things your destination offers and to take advantage of them. When you live in a place, there’s no hurry to get to those special places. Sometimes, you don’t even know they’re there because you don’t make that initial effort to find out. I loved my trip to the Hans Herr house, here in Lancaster County, but I didn’t even know it was here until I was recruited to go along in my capacity as the graduate assistant for the history department at Millersville University.

I’m discovering that one of the nicest things about the boat is that it’s giving us an impetus to explore some of the places that we hadn’t yet, even though they’ve always been within reach.  Early this summer when we were visiting the National Zoo,  we’d discussed the possibility of sailing up to DC. Although I still want to do Jamestown first, I still think that would be a wonderful trip. After a long trek up to the city, we could spend several days anchored there exploring just some of the most kid friendly bits of all the city has to offer: the Smithsonians, the monuments, and of course visiting Alan’s firehouse is very exciting for the kids. Perhaps I could even check some of the places off my lists of must-see and must-see-again.

I know the idea of the “staycation” has taken off as an alternative when vacations aren’t possible, but you’re already there. It’s lovely if you can take off a week to explore local treasures, but if it’s not possible or you’re using that time for a traditional vacation, it’s still totally possible to make time to enjoy those nearby places.

Lancaster County is a far cry from our Nation’s capital in terms of tourist attractions, but it certainly has its own share of lovely and interesting things to see and do that I am making a point of experiencing, bit by bit.

What about you? What have you put off visiting in your own backyard? Let’s make a point of enjoying to the fullest the places we already are.

Lessons from a Year of Knitting

Lessons from a Year of Knitting

I started learning to knit on squares of a sampler afghan. It taught me the basics, but truthfully didn’t inspire any love of the craft. I don’t know if I’ll ever finish enough squares to put together an afghan. Perhaps one day I’ll finish off my squares enough to give them to the girls for doll blankets. Around Christmastime last year, I completed my first “real” project: a grey Mistake Rib scarf in a so-soft baby alpaca yarn.

This was the project that finally made me love to knit. The pattern had just enough interest for my level of experience and it went quickly. This was also my first time knitting with bamboo needles and I’ll never go back to metal ones if I can help it. More than anything else, the quality of the yarn made it a really enjoyable experience.

Once I had that project under my belt, the next thing I managed to complete was a pair of hats and ponchos for the girls’ American Girl dolls.

These projects had more interest and challenge to them in the way of increases, decreases, and seams. My confidence soared and I felt ready to take on anything. I knew what I needed to finish next. A project I’d begun well before I was really ready for it, so it hadn’t gotten far. A hat: for a dear friend who loves hats. Before I knew it, I felt like a pretty solid knitter, ready to take on the Starghan baby blanket and a whole lot of other projects for Christmas.

I have learned so much in my year of knitting, both technically and in broader terms, so what follows is a sampling of advice I’d give to a novice knitter.

1. Don’t Be Afraid of Patterns.

I used to get really freaked out when I looked at patterns. They would scare me away if they were too long, or if I spotted a stitch I didn’t know. Once you know how to knit and purl, you can figure out the rest. Take it stitch by stitch and row by row. If you run into a stitch you don’t know, look for an instructional video online and watch it a few times.

2. A few extra items in your knitting bag will make life easier and maybe save you from a moment of panic.

A crochet hook for picking up dropped stitches, scissors and a yarn needle for finishing, and a tape measure for checking your progress are essentials you’ll want to keep nearby. You’ll learn that dropped stitches aren’t a big deal, but you don’t want to have to go searching for a crochet hook to fix it.

3. Get the good yarn.

It doesn’t have to be a yarn made from a luxury fiber, but a high quality yarn makes a huge difference in both the outcome of the project and the pleasure of knitting it. Dealing with split threads or an unpleasant texture is not good incentive to pick up that project. You’ll be so much happier with the finished product if it’s made with a good yarn, too. Support your local yarn shop instead of the chain craft stores – you’ll find better yarns there and help a local businessperson.

4. Get the good needles while you’re at it.

Wooden needles are so much more pleasurable to work with than metal ones. The feel, the sound, the way the yarn slips over them – the whole experience is improved. Especially when working on double pointed needles, I would recommend wood. It’s much easier to drop stitches off the ends of the metal double pointed needles.

5. All you need is love.

Choose projects you love, yarn that feels good in a color you enjoy, and knit for people you love. Motivation guaranteed!

6. Just keep knitting!

The hardest thing about when you first start is that you don’t know how to “read” your work. Sometimes, you’ll know you’ve made a mistake, but you don’t have a clue what you did or how to fix it. The more you knit, the more you understand how it works and you learn to read the pieces. I have a much greater understanding than I did a year ago of how to both avoid and fix various problems that occur. It’s all a matter of experience.

I would like to add to all of this the caveat that I’ve only been knitting for a year. Like Jon Snow, I probably know nothing.

Smithy and Me

Smithy and Me

One man has frequently been in my thoughts as we’ve traveled parts of the Chesapeake Bay and the surrounding rivers: Captain John Smith.

(What do you think he used to get that mustache so horizontal?)

Captain Smith, the famous explorer and leading figure in the Virginia Colony at Jamestown, was always a bit of an eye-roll inducing character in my graduate history classes. You see, in his own writings, he really plays up himself as the quite the brave hero. The lack of internal narrative consistency among his works adds credence to the assessment that he most likely exaggerated the danger of situations he found himself in as well as his own machismo that enabled him to survive them.

The most well known example is the infamous near death scene in which he was saved by Pocahontas. Most likely, something vaguely like that did occur – except it was an entirely scripted, ritual thing, a way of ceremoniously adopting Smith into the Powhatan tribe and accepting the English settlers as trading partners. Granted, scholars disagree on the extent to which Smith was aware of exactly what was going on. He may have had genuine fears at how the whole thing was going to work out, but the fact that he left the episode out entirely of his first published work on his adventures in Virginia seems to support the theory that he did understand. At any rate, what is clear from his writing is that the guy’s got a big ego and likes to tell a grand tale of daring and danger focused on himself as the hero.

It’s okay with me. I’ll read Smith’s works, perhaps with an eyebrow raised, but no eye-rolling. Captain Smith explored the whole Chesapeake area and created the first detailed maps and charts of the Chesapeake and the surrounding rivers. What an amazing achievement! (Spanish and English explorers had previously created maps of the area, but none close to the kind of detail that Smith achieved.)

It’s enough of a feat for me to keep track of where I am with charts and markers and such landmarks as lighthouses and naval bases, not to mention the help of the chart plotter. Smith not only explored the region with none of those aids, he actually charted it himself. Tell me again how scary it was, Smithy; I’ll believe every word and gasp audibly at the appropriate places. I wonder if he sailed those rivers at night, lit only by the moon and stars. How beautiful it must have been – and how frightening. I’ve already shared how all the lighted buildings on land and the lighted markers in the water don’t seem to help me a bit…. but how much worse if there were no lights at all?

With Captain Smith so often in my thoughts, there is one place in particular I want to visit by boat: Jamestown. We are planning a two week trip there next summer, and I couldn’t be more excited. It’s a wonderfully exciting place to go generally, as archaeologists are actively working at the original fort site and expanding our understanding of the settlement, but to sail there, just as Smith would have arrived over 400 years ago – in spite of all the great differences in circumstances – is an experience that feels very connected with the history. I can’t wait.

Preparing for Christmas in the home

Preparing for Christmas in the home

It’s November! This is generally when I declare it time to listen to Christmas music. I have a super duper love of everything Christmas, which usually leads to starting everything way too early: the planning, the shopping, the decorating, the listening to Christmas music… Yes, I’m totally one of THOSE people.

As a Catholic convert, I’ve grown to really appreciate the way the Church celebrates Advent as its own season, quietly waiting and preparing while the rest of the world is hurled headlong into Christmas celebration, largely tiring of it by the time the actual Christmas season arrives. This year, I’m going to make a point of slowing down and not rushing into the season before its time…. we will at least wait until it’s properly Advent to begin decorating and listening to the Christmas tunes. (Gifts hopefully WILL be taken care of before Advent, however, especially non-homemade gifts. It’s so much nicer if Advent is a season of preparing, not shopping. Having a few handmade gifts to finish seems more than appropriate, however.) It won’t be easy for me, but that’s what it’s all about, right? Learning to be present in the season you’re in, not always reaching for the next. (Actually, bit of a loophole discovered here after first drafting this: we will need to listen to the music for the church Christmas pageant so the girls can learn it. This does not upset me.)

Inspired by ideas gleaned from Pinterest such as this Advent calendar and this Christmas bucket, I’ve come up with a plan for an Advent calendar for our house. I’m thinking we’ll just have a box with a stack of blank-inside Christmas cards in the kitchen. I’ll make one for each day of Advent, and write a little activity for the day inside. Honestly, even after much searching for idea help, I had a whole lot of trouble coming up with activities that I thought I could for-sure follow through on. How sad is that? I work retail, which unfortunately amounts to some late nights during Christmas shopping season. I came up with a list, though, and with a little planning ahead of time, I think this will be fun for all of us. My list is here; it’s very much based on our personal schedule – the days Alan will be working and the nights I expect to be working late, but you could certainly borrow from it if you wish.

Reading will definitely be a big part of our Advent and Christmas season. We love Christmas books in this house. We love them so much that it seemed we read them all the time. With a bit of sadness I quietly packed them away after Christmas last year, lest they begin to loose some of that special feeling from being read all year long. I’ve actually had to get a couple of them out already through the year because someone was desperately searching for a specific one. I am sure when I dig the rest them out with our decorations on that first Sunday of Advent, everyone will be delighted. Although we have a lovely collection, I still like to add one or two special Christmas books each season. This post is a wonderful resource that I’ve used to choose some contenders for this year’s additions.

Where is that thing right in front of me?

Where is that thing right in front of me?

I hate to make myself an example of a certain stereotype of my sex, but I’m here to confess to having very little spacial sense. Perhaps this is why Master Packer Alan can so impress me with his packing skills. Judging distance seems to be an especially difficult thing. I can look at a piece of knitting and guess with a pretty good accuracy how many inches I have, but get into bigger sizes or units and I’m lost pretty quickly. Unless I’ve looked at my odometer to be sure, you’ll never get driving directions from me that include actual units of distance.

Out on the water, I’m lost even more quickly. You can see things that are so far away, I completely lose any normal sense of where things are. A quick Google search led me to a formula you can use to calculate the distance to the horizon, based on the height of your eye. To figure out the distance to objects at the horizon, however, you have to also know how tall the object you’re looking at is. That would require actually knowing WHAT the object you’re looking at is, for even an intelligent guess at the distance.

(Oh look, we’re close to that lighthouse! We may as well go 20 miles out of our way to get a really good look at it, right?)

For the most part, I can deal with my inability to tell where things really are. It’s not such a big deal. So it looks like we’re about to run right into that marker forever. I really will be able to tell when we’re actually close to it. My real problem is at night. Suddenly that inability to judge distance becomes really, really scary. Actually I was okay at first. It became really scary the night of our great escape from St. Clement’s Island. When Alan turned on the spotlight and shined it on that unlit marker that we really had come too close to for comfort, I got super duper spooked. I avoided steering at night as much as possible after that, and I noticed as I looked around that all the lights looked like they were the same distance away. All of them. Is that the marker that’s close to us, the marker that’s farther away? Even worse, all the lights on land looked just as close (or far away) as the other lights. That really messed with my head.

Any tips for figuring out how to get a better sense of things? That feeling of being so terribly unsure of where I fit into my surroundings as I perceive them is kinda awful.