The Value of Sailing – The Undercurrents

After ten years of being immersed in the nonprofit SF Bay Area sailing community, I’ve developed a lot of opinions about the scene. Maybe a few questions, too.

The Bay Area sailing scene is one driven purely by passion. It’s a niche community even if the sailing waters are surrounded by a large population of people in urban centers who have never sailed or even think about it except to view boats on The Bay like one would view a painting on a wall. One year after the America’s Cup I  still wonder if Larry really change it up, inspiring more people to sail, or is it possible America’s Cup alienated them further by fostering the illusion that sailing is a rich man’s sport?

Okay, I’ll confess, I was not too excited about the races coming to the SF Bay early on. Let’s face it, the big kids started playing in our local sandbox- even if they are pretty attractive big kids. But, I was there watching those races from shore with a drinking cup rigged as a loudspeaker to blast Gary Jobson’s narrative from my VHF radio so the masses surrounding could hear what was happening. I was shouting and feeling the warm and fuzzies when Spithill pulled his magic. And, if I were ever asked to sail one of those 72s, crew for Spithill or even serve him a drink, you know I’d be in my best dressed foulies!

But, I digress, this is not about the big kids. I want to reflect on some of the local sailors who share their passion for the pure intentions of sharing what they love, because it’s more than that. They are teaching others a way of life by giving their time, sharing their skill and cultivating a culture that is not only part of our maritime history but speaks at a time when our mainstream culture runs counter to the values – the value of time, sharing good intentions and respecting something bigger than ourselves.

Friday Sunset Sail Group Photo

John Paul Watts, member of Sailing Education Adventures, was one who did more for me than most others in this world.  He taught me to stand watch confidently alone in the dark night surrounded by glowing eyeballs and turbulent waters. They did look like eyeballs, really, that  bioluminescence that drifted by as we sailed downwind fifty miles offshore from San Francisco to Morro Bay. It was a gift. I felt the heartbeat of this planet. I connected to that “something” which is far bigger than myself. I became humbled. But, I also learned that I can steer a ship, not only one of fiberglass but that proverbial ship that we navigate when we set a meaningful course in life, despite squalls and adverse currents. The noise from our civilized world became abstract and meaningless, reinforcing the  important challenges – ensuring actions have good intentional purposes and respecting my mates and the ocean wonder around us.

This gift wasn’t a package I could ever pick up in a store or even knowledge gained while watching someone else make it happen. It came from a mentor, someone who decided to trust me and be generous with his own time, patience and knowledge. And, this is what’s most interesting. John Paul was a simple guy living a salty dog’s  life on his boat. He had shunned a privileged life long ago to follow his first passion for the Shakespeare theater. And, when he found sailing, he shared that love with no hidden agenda, except for maybe a requested dark chocolate bar from time to time.  He had woven a circle of loyal followers from around the world. And, he changed lives for the better, teaching the power of what it means to give and to share.

There’s also Captain Richard Gillette of Spirit of the Sea. I’ve seen him work with young kids most people try to avoid – those tough inner city kids with an attitude. These are the kids most everyone decides to give up on, believing a system will take care of them. I’ve seen with my own eyes hardened young teenagers with the look of hate and suspicion melt into laughing, happy children once they are on a boat with Captain Gillette. They join the singing of historic sea shanties, ask questions about the birds and life around them and become curious and inquisitive. Captain Gillette, who also lives on his boat, is not getting rich doing what he does or even talks about making money except to get by. His talk is about empowering people, changing people, and how we can bring more awareness and responsibility to our oceans. Why aren’t more journalists writing about him? More importantly, why aren’t schools getting more involved with this method of teaching?

There are other extraordinary people like Captain Heather Richards, a single mom, living on a boat , who volunteers many hours to create a community sailing program, honoring the tradition of the local wooden boat culture, to her town in Sausalito, making it happen for others, purely for the reason sailing has brought so much value to her own life. Or, Jane Piereth, who as a single mother years ago, put time in to create a sailing organization that has served thousands of people over the last thirty years. At age 67 she is still working hard, spending her own money at times, which she does not have much of, to ensure the organization remains strong.

There are other Bay Area nonprofits run completely by volunteers, giving their time and energy, changing the lives of young people. The Pegasus Project, Blue Water Foundation, Call of the Sea, as well as community programs in Alameda, Lake Tahoe, Berkeley and Marin all are striving to share the values that come with the power of sailing. And yet these programs are like a current running under the surface, the media surface, often not being recognized for the power they bring. These are the sailors who drive our maritime history and cultivate some of life’s riches values, even if they’re not all sailing fancy boats.

As my dear friend Cathy Steirhoff once said, ” You can have as much fun on a $2,000 boat as you can on a $100,000 boat. It all depends on who you’re sailing with.” That speaks of life, too, doesn’t it?

1017439_10151730349413524_1631735441_nIf America’s Cup returns to The Bay Area, I would love to see more unity between the big kids and our nonprofits. And,  though winning that big trophy might be one important objective, another one is unifying the people, empowering them, our community, to be a part of the story.

It would set a tone for the world, wouldn’t it?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Wild Heartbeats – Keeping our Marine Mammals Free

Our boat bobbed on a sheet of grey silk fifty miles offshore of California in the Pacific Ocean. It’s a place where all that inconsequential noise of life is muted and pure quiet surrounds. We even whispered to one another the simple truths we were feeling that moment, being part of something bigger than ourselves.

P1010573Staring off into the distance, that expanse, I saw it emerge, unlike any gift I’ve ever received. An Orca breached, full body. The splash broke the silence. My heart beat wildly with excitement, like an epiphany, connecting with the power of being wild and free.

Last week I tell my friend, a well educated and successful mom friend, the story, and she tells me her own story about a great dolphin performance she took her kids to recently. I try to contain the rush of my heartbeat and words of admonishment that rise with it . . . how do you convince a friend that these performances with marine mammals are no better than cheap circus acts after you yourself had the privilege to experience the real deal?

DSCN9514My friend calls the shows educational. I try to share my view that if one wants education, then the Marine Mammal Center is the place to go, where injured animals are cared for and released. Or visit a tidepool where the wonders of the small creatures can be explored. Children will be excited and you can show them the delight of discovery – you are their teacher! Supporting marine parks, means supporting an industry where animals get ripped from the ocean, entire pods, at times, with their juveniles, to supply a world wide business enterprise of dolphinariums and marine parks. Some people are getting very rich.

She admitted that she had a hint of sadness seeing the dolphins in the small tank, but she excused it by explaining how much her children liked the show. That gave her satisfaction. I stopped talking. My friend grew uneasy and I did too, seeing that she was becoming defensive.

I’ve had a number of friends become defensive when I challenge them with the back story of dolphin hunts. We live just 40 miles away from a large Marine Park that has well marketed its latest circus act – quite literally, a sort of Cirque de Soleil style. You would think more thoughtful parents would be talking about the values of the back story, since the “family friendly” park relies mostly on family business. Could it be true we have become accustomed to buying what is available to us, the here and now, and we will do everything to ensure our children get it all without question? Or, this – have we been just as manipulated and trained by the entertainment industry as these trained marine mammals have been to perform? We’ve forgotten the value of what it means to be free, and we confine our children to this same level of expectation.

It’s no secret our system has been built on this idea that money buys freedom. It allows us to get what we want and when we want it. And, though we can argue that this is true to a degree (sure, it’s no fun being poor) have we forgotten what it’s like to be part of something bigger than ourselves? That’s something money can’t buy.

Maybe our heads are stuck in a fish tank, too.

You can read what Ric O’Barry is doing in Japan. He’s trying to get us all out of the tank.

 

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House Concerts – Giving Breath to Independent Music

By Barbara McVeigh -

In 1986 I was ordered to eliminate my most favorite music, which was suddenly deemed “unworthy,” from store shelves. I was in high school working at The Record Factory in Fremont, a music store which had long been part of the Bay Area scene. If you needed music to feed your soul, that  was the place to shop. It was my teenage sanctuary. We employees  fought over which LPs to play during store hours, and we dug deep into all the genres, world, jazz and classical.  We quietly eschewed the big names – Madonna or Bon Jovi. We coveted the secret treasures, musicians who were just emerging, not well known and had promise – Peter Case, Let’s Active and The Smithereens, were a few. Some albums were of local musicians playing at clubs, trying to gain a following. Other artists from Spain, England or Brazil offered exotic nourishment  - this was before the Internet age and imports were not very accessible.  I remember judging customers, deciding whether or not they were worthy to be in on our favorites. You had to show respect for the music.

But, when Wherehouse Records, a huge national chain, bought out the business, we employees were forced to remove from inventory any album not at the top of the Billboard charts. It was my first hard lesson how the commercial industry can kill creativity and inspiration.

Last night this memory from 25 years ago played in my mind while I attended one of KC Turner Presents House Parties in San Francisco. The paradigm is not new, but KC is doing a fantastic job promoting and supporting emerging artists (and some big hitters – such as Matt Nathanson) as they he books them to play in private homes to an audience, those on KC’s email list, who are passionate music lovers, creating an environment that has the allure of a secret society  - like you’re part of that inner circle. The model not only helps promote the artist but it provides a tighter relationship between the audience and the musicians.

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Jeff Campbell and his band. Photo by Christinna Guzman.

That relationship was about two feet apart last night when I watched Jeff Campbell and his band play and sing his heart out in a living room packed with about 70 people. I could feel the vibration of Jeff’s  foot as he kept time. I wasn’t distracted by conversation which often happens at clubs or bars. Along with the audience, I was fully present for the music. My friend Mireya Quirie, a strong supporter of the independent music scene in Fairfax, said “Musicians love this. People are listening to them while they play. “ 

Jeff Campbell‘s show was sold out. And, it’s no surprise. Five years ago he decided to embrace music full time. Success is beginning to flow. He and his band performed on the Jimmy Kimmel Live! last month and he won the  Guitar Center’s National Singer Songwriter 2 Competition out of over 13,000 entrants. He also released a 5 song EP with 6 time Grammy Winning Producer John Shanks. He’s on fire. 

Julian Muller opened for him and was supported by Quiles and Cloud. I wrote about these musicians in the last blog entry. Julian once again sold out of his much coveted CDs with handcrafted covers with pasted artwork and his own handwriting  - back to the basics!

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Julian Müller with Quiles and Cloud and KC Turner. Photo by Christinna Guzman.

What I loved most about the house concerts is the intimacy and honesty is cultivates, connecting people to the real artist. We live in a world where big names become God-like. Their commercial  images portray perfection, which , as we all know, is so not human at all, as we’re all vulnerable in one way or another. It’s no secret albums are too often designed to sell using formulas and other marketing methods. They don’t always truly reflect who an artist is and wants to say.

Last night when Jeff Campbell played his final  piece, a song he had not performed before – a sad one, about heartbreak, it dug deep, deeper than the happier ones that apparently sell better and which producers tend to push. It wasn’t the sad song that got me, although it was damn good. It was the freedom Jeff demonstrated to perform what he wanted, bringing to life his true creative intent and sharing it.

And we were all listening. 

 

Thanks to Photographer Christinna Guzman for the photos. Her son Nick Guzman will be performing at the  KC Turner Presents: Acoustic Bistro on February 24. For more details, go to KC Turner Presents website.  

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Artists, Musicians and Spirit – A Night at Dan and Julie’s

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Dan Fontes with one of his murals behind him.

- December 28, 2013

Dan Fontes and Julie Lucchesi have a special flair, a style, the way they make things happen. As true artists, they create the most unique experience for anyone looking for pure quality and originality, and they share it. Last night I finally got to sample it full tilt.

Dan and Julie have been hosting music house parties with emerging musicians since the early days at their Sausalito house boat years ago. People reminisce about those events in the same tone as if they once saw Janis Joplin perform or experienced some other  legacy. And, it’s not surprising. Dan and Julie have helped support many well recognized musicians including names like Peppino D’Agostino. Now Dan and Julie live along the San Rafael Canal in a bigger space, exposing their full spectrum of colorful, creative abundance, housing an element of surprise and secrecy with no signage nor public advertising. 

Julie, a full fledged yogi, runs weekly classes and has developed a loyal following, especially with sailing women as she hosts speaker events, empowering women with words, before the yoga warrior poses take shape. Dan, a highly recognized and respected Bay Area muralist has his vibrant work lining the walls, along with his varied vintage collections of items ranging from Raggedy Ann dolls, street signs, antique paintings to any other odd or unusual item that sparks curiosity, humor or intrigue. But, that’s not all. Dan is also a hardcore pinball arcade enthusiast, and his personal collection of pinball machines could rival those found at the nonprofit Alameda’s Pacific Pinball Arcade, of which he is also a board member. Add a few antique jukeboxes playing 45 LPs  of the Everly brothers or The Bee Gees, and you’ll have a rough sketch of  their creative space.

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Barbara with Julie Lucchesi and her ubiquitous smile!

Now add the spiritual realm which is generous and heartfelt. And, maybe that spirit surfaces in the way Julie sang the deep soul moving chants before Quiles and Cloud performed last night. Or, was it how Dan answered when I asked him why he’s been holding house concerts over the years, rallying an audience and giving the entire donation bucket to the musicians who are trying to achieve their dreams? “You have to make choices.  You have to give back,” Dan says.

Dan and Julie had invited Quiles and Cloud, a young two person band, to play in earlier December when they learned the band needed a new car to get to their upcoming gigs. That performance was sold out and so the band came back for an encore, and so did the audience.

Ed Sutherland introduced the band and pegged it when he said, “I like getting konked on the head when I hear a great new band play. And with the band Quiles & Cloud it doesn’t come directly, but it creeps up on you before you know it.”

After just a couple of years together, Quiles and Cloud are playing their folksy/Americana tunes across the country as they get booked at clubs, restaurants and wineries. And, it’s no wonder. Maria’s voice is soft but with edge and depth and Rory’s guitar playing . . . well, first I’ll confess I’m a sucker for the acoustic guitar. I feel I can’t be objective. But, as Rory played I looked around the room to the gathering of folks, all of whom had eyes closed and kept nodding heads as each note got plucked and played, so I knew I wasn’t the only one getting konked over the head with the clean, crisp notes that lingered for a sharp second then hit you someplace deep.

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Quiles and Cloud with guest musician Julian Muller

With an upcoming CD release, Quiles and Cloud talked about their set, asking for feedback from the audience, a process that actually engages people to feel a part of the creative makings. Their friend Julian Muller from Dublin joined them with his original songs and told me “There is something so special about playing with these two. You can take whatever you’re doing and they just notch it up, making you feel you’re doing something right.”

I bought a two song CD from Julian – the case was a folded 8 1/2 x 11 sheet of paper, with a carefully pasted section of an old map and  words handwritten with a black sharpie “Travel Sketches” – a testament of pure intentions of making something out of nothing, using what you got and sharing your soul.

Quiles and Cloud‘s last piece, a Tom Waites cover “Come on Up To The House” surely  summarized the night with Dan and Julie.

“Come on up to the house
Come on up to the house
The world is not my home
I’m just a passin thru
Come on up to the house”

You can listen to Quiles and Cloud’s other sample tunes here.

And, if you can help the band with that new car so they can spread their music as they are “passing thru”, I’m sure they’d appreciate that too.

 

 

 

 

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The One-Legged Frog and Other Childhood Tragedies

DSCN9413The small frog spun around, like on a merry-go-round, dizzily, on the 45 LP Staying Alive until it flew off, crashed into the wall and lost a leg. I don’t remember crying. 

It took years for that guilt to sink in. Maybe it happened when I watched my own daughter, at about that same age, preadolescence, carefully hold a small tree frog in the palm of her hand. I coveted her childlike questioning. I also recognized her body changing and the dangers that lurked ahead. It’s hard to let it go.

I grew up playing in a creek bed. It was locked up behind a chain linked fence and forgotten. That’s because others thought it was a ditch. A run off ditch, where water from the streets would pour in during storms, or it’d trickle in with bubbles and grime when cars got washed in driveways.

Long ago the creek had meandered through the Fremont meadows where oak trees and wild grasses grew. Settlers came and then it flowed through cattle ranches and apricot trees. Sometime in the 1950s when progress came rolling in full steam, suburban homes were perfectly erected like computer chip grids. A high embankment got piled up around the creek which got rechanneled to fit the preferred modern pattern. The creek was considered a danger, requiring a “Do Not Enter” sign to be hung up.  A community center was built further down the street, complete with a swimming pool, safety rules, proper insurance papers. People celebrated the new bedroom community, hailing it as  “Glenmore Gardens.”

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Good bye nursery. Thank you, Gianna Marino!

The pool made my eyes tear. Too much chlorine. But, the creek. That’s where I could climb the fence when no one was watching and sink down below street level where the pollywogs swam in muddy puddles between patches of grasses. You’d hear a frog croak, making you squeal with delight until a car above rumbled by and you’d hunch down, silent, hoping you wouldn’t get caught. There I’d be part of a different world, discovering and watching legs emerge on small black dots. I’d bring the collection home to grow in a bucket of water in the backyard. Most died, but I remember at least one pollywog growing legs, losing its tail and transforming into a beautiful creature, healthy. The size of a small heart, you could feel it alive in your hand, wet skin, pulsating. I must have let it go.

I don’t recall exactly when it happened when someone came along and surprised me, like a prince. I stopped looking and paying attention to the creek. And at some point between that first kiss and the tragic tears, the entire creek bed got buried in concrete. The pollywogs disappeared. And it became a real ditch. Nobody was there to cry with me.

I drive down the freeway with my daughter. We’re singing with the radio at the top of our lungs Miley Cyrus’s Wrecking Ball:

“I came in like a wrecking ball
I never hit so hard in love
All I wanted was to break your walls
All you ever did was wreck me.”

The tune catches you, without your knowing it. I turn back to look at her and see her long legs stretching up onto the seat. She’s looking out the window, at the passing meadows and creeks.

I feel dizzy. And I have to decide when to stop looking at her before I risk crashing.

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Thoughts on Mandela and The Rest of Us

Joining the rest of the world, I’ve been giving lots of thoughts about Nelson Mandela and what he, as a single person, was able to accomplish, bringing people together, cultivating good, despite the fact he was imprisoned one third of his life. His death comes at a time when many begin that seasonal festive frenzy, perhaps deep introspection or sometimes depression. His death also comes at a time when, more and more, our lives have become busier and busier. “We just don’t have time.” I hear the words all too often.

Last month I read to a young group of girls I teach in the forest a book called Nelson Mandela’s Favorite African Folktales. One story, “The Great Thirst,” is about how the first animals found grazing and water, the basic needs of life. The story is simple and all very human – animals fight with one another and they are always complaining. But, one and then another sacrifice themselves for the good of others, so all will be content. It just takes “somebody” to manifest change, a maxim we’ve heard before, but why aren’t more people willing to be that one?

Last April I went to a powerful gathering, a primitive arts gathering on Native American land in Northern California with about 800 people. The idea was to reconstruct a village based on the paradigm of our earliest ancestral ways – one that all primitive cultures shared and the foundation of who we are today. People from all over came and shared fire making and wildcrafting skills, how to harvest clay from rivers for pottery, or how to make flutes from willows, among many other primitive skill teachings. One could sit by the local river by day and stargaze at night, reconnecting with the natural world we all share. But, the most important aspect of the week was how a community can live with good intentions by sharing without having expectations of getting something back, other than knowing that others were sharing their good intentions, too. It was easy to become inspired, bringing out the best of one another.

One morning an organizer of the event spoke. He said: “Last night I saw a man smoking by the fire. When he was done he flicked his cigarette into the fire. So, I ask, was his intention one to throw his cigarette away or was he offering the sacred fire tobacco? Was he satisfying merely his own need or was it one to benefit another?” With every action we make, there in an underlying intention.

The exercise of that one week event went deep, and yet it was so simple: sharing good intentions, recognizing good intentions and supporting good intentions. And, these are skills every one of possesses and has the capacity to do. And, before we begin to complain or fight about something, we have the power to stop. And instead of looking for “somebody” else to bring that good intention forward for us to follow, we could ask ourselves, what can “I” do? What can I offer to make that burning ember of life a little brighter for all of us?

We each have the power to be that “somebody,” no matter what the season.

Peace.

BarbaraBuckeye.

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Brushing Up – Hua Wenyun’s Landscapes and Meditation

“Breathe deep, Barbara. The bamboo is strong, but flexible. Think you are the bamboo when you make the strokes,” Hua Wenyun, my art teacher soothingly said while I stood tall and brushed black ink onto the white paper.

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Symphony of Black and White by Hua Wen Yun

In 1994 I was teaching at the University of Nanjing in China where I first met Wenyun who, like many, was trying to emigrate to the west. But, unlike most, in 1997 Wenyun had luck, and as a single, young woman, she was granted a visa and chose Toronto as her new home. She didn’t know a single person and her English was not so good.

“I was so scared,” she said.

Coincidently my husband knew a Romanian who had emigrated one year before and had a couch to offer. So, Wenyun moved in with him until she could find work and get settled.

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Hua Wen Yun and Barbara in Toronto – 1997

 

Shortly after she moved to Toronto we visited them and got to know the city with her. We made jaozi (Chinese dumplings) together on the floor. There was no other furniture besides the sofa!

Fast forward to 2014. With the support of students and grants from the Ontario Arts Council, as well as her own determination, Wenyun is thriving in Toronto living independently. She is painting again after many years when she just needed to work to survive. She’s been written up in many publications, and, she continues to teach , introducing many to the traditional landscape painting using ink wash. Some of her art classes include meditation which provides much inspiration for other artists and writers. She’s had a number of exhibits in Toronto.

Wenyun also made a three month trip to Germany in 1996 where she visited galleries and was inspired by many German artists. She says in her artist statement: “To me, it has never been important whether a painting is classic or modern, eastern or western. I rather pay attention to what is common in those different cultures, and this is primarily the human creature and its states of existence.”

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#118 of The Mandolin Series by Hua Wen Yun

I caught up with her on Skype:

Q. What does painting mean to you today?

A. Working on art becomes part of my soul. It is beyond the techniques and styles. It’s a spiritual way to understand nature. Many think the image is from the outside. But, landscape painting comes from the inside, an expression of self.

When I first came to Toronto, nobody knew or understood Chinese black and white wash painting. It wasn’t offered anywhere, not even in universities. Many thought it was watercolors. That is changing now.

Q. How do you describe your art?

A. It’s rooted deeply in Chinese philosophy which is united with heaven, earth and humankind. Art is another kind of life than my own. It extends from the real world to the imaginary world. It is a way to keep myself balanced. The landscape art is the humanized nature. As long as the art goes through my hand, it becomes a dialogue between my soul and nature.

All Chinese art supplies are made with natural materials – rice paper, animal hair brushes and pigments. The character of the materials is just like a part of my body, the feeling of expression flows between myself, the medium and themes.

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Northern Series by Hua Wen Yun

Q. You are teaching Art Meditation. What does that mean and what are your students learning from this method?

A. Art Meditation helps students uncover themselves by using the natural art materials, applying a natural flow of expression without complicated art techniques and subjects. Zen is the way to go. When students understand themselves, they have cleared the cloud in their heart, returned to the original of self and then they can start a new discovery with self confidence and happiness.

 See Hua Wenyun’s Website:  www.huawenyun.com

I still have my paints and brushes and often I’ll bring them out for my young students. Though, I paint, I don’t regard myself a Chinese landscape painter (my rocks are always too soft, something I continue to work on). But I do know Wenyun’s teachings helped me realize the details in nature with greater profundity and those constant revelations help keep me balanced.

I am hoping to find sponsors to bring Hua Wen Yun to California so she can share her techniques and inspiration and maybe provide a gallery show of her incredible work.  If you can help, please let me know!

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Intellectual Pursuits of a Housewife

I have an interview with a head honcho from The New York Times. He wears framed glasses and has a salt and pepper goatee – a real intellectual type. I squeeze into the chair at the little bistro table, trying to maintain a professional composure, as we meet in a very hip French restaurant. He’s busy scanning important articles the world will read tomorrow.

I open my sleek black portfolio . . . a dirty diaper falls out. He seems surprised and furrows his brow. A bead of sweat drips from my forehead. I look down and see striped baby pajamas with avocado stains hanging out from my Coach bag. I put the diaper and pajamas to the side and lick my lips nervously. Where is my resume? I begin to panic. I sift recklessly through papers in my portfolio, but I can’t seem to find a clean, laser printed, bond paper resume. But, oh, here it is. I hand it to him. Damn, it’s not my resume. It’s the first coveted crayon scribble my daughter made!

I wake up . . .

. . . and breathing softly at my side is my baby daughter. I sigh relief.Maia Home.072

I’m a stay-at-home mom and proud of it. Don’t get me wrong, I believe women should have choices, and by no means do I hope to hurt the struggle feminists have made in the last century to achieve equality. But, in that progress I question if society has shunned the importance of one of the most natural, biological acts, that of serving as the primary caregiver to one’s own child. I often sense I’m at the bottom of the professional food chain – “just a housewife”.

I hear it all the time – on television, I read it in the paper and when I meet old colleagues. “So, what are you doing these days, Barbara”, they ask. “I’m taking care of my child”, I answer proudly. “But, what else are you doing?” “Well, I’m using cloth diapers, to help with the environment, so I do a load of laundry every other day. I also make her food, organic, of course, I try not to use that store bought stuff, so that takes time. I’m involved with a local mother’s group, so I volunteer for fundraisers and community events and get to know other mothers. It’s a great way to learn about the nursery school scene. Oh, also, I try to give her enough playtime with other kids and downtime, too, to wander the garden and dig in the mud.  I read books about child development. Ever hear of Diane Provo? She’s got a great disciplinary approach. Also, I read to my daughter and breast feed and clean up after she eats in the kitchen. My floor just gets so dirty these days.”

They smile, but I see they think I sold out. Sold out to what, I wonder?

Okay, maybe I do go to bed at night wondering what meaningful act I contributed to the world that day. Then again, I really don’t do that too often, because sleep has become so precious I wouldn’t dare jeopardize it with too much intellectual pondering.

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But, I can say this. When my baby daughter first sat up all by herself, she looked at me with surprised big eyes. When she learned to swing, I shared her laughter. When she sat in her sandbox last week and our black cat curled up beside her and purred, she giggled unlike anything. Yesterday when she figured out the remote control has power, she whooped. I know these days are numbered, and she’ll soon be a toddler, a teen and then be off to college. My god, she’s already ten months old.

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I used to enjoy the big things in life – travel to exotic places, schmoozing with people and talking politics and world affairs, as well as being in-the-know of the hippest restaurants. But, how wonderful it is to stop and share the simplest things in life with a new little person who can marvel at a duck quacking or spot the tiniest flower on a scraggly bush or experience glee squishing red grapes and green peas between fingers and toes.

Yesterday she said “mama”.

I do manage to pick up The New York Times, though after ten months I have yet to get through an entire article. Quite frankly these days, the first paragraphs say enough, and I hold my daughter tightly wondering what the world will be like for her. It’s enough to remind you that each day is a blessing, if you can live safely, with enough food, shelter and good friends. I hug her even more tightly when I learn of the losses other mothers have endured over the last year, whether American, Afghani, Israeli or Iraqi. And, though fear begins to grip, an elevated anger of injustice also grows. And, I wonder why we mothers have not united. Surely mothers abroad share my feelings too.

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Maybe I’m not involved in any important professional endeavors these days. I missed the presidential television address the other night because my daughter was sick. My portfolio bag is covered with crusty spit up stains and I haven’t had a hair cut in about year.

But, something very deep inside tells me I’m helping to shape the future each day when we’re at a playground or I sing her Itsy Bitsy Spider. And, one day, I hope, I can see her experience the broader world, and she’ll still remember the tiny flowers on the scraggly bush. And, if she forgets, I will remind her of them, because she taught me to open my eyes to what’s really important. Much of which, it feels,  the world has forgotten.

Oops, she just woke up from her nap. I’ll finish later. Gotta run now!

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Sailing Magic – A Voyage of Discovery and Reconciliation

The life of the wood-built boat is an extension of the life of a tree . . . A wooden yacht, built, not manufactured, serves no purpose useful to society or the state but requires art and skill. Therefore; have a care that you can take care of it . . . . such may be the last refuge of the individual . . .
By Donald Gerome Keleher (aka Great Uncle Don)

Twenty years ago I said “no thank you” to my Late Great Uncle Robert Keleher, Uncle Bob, when he offered to pay for sailing lessons at a high end sailing school. It was a regret I’ve been trying to reconcile for the last ten years of my life. In August, the year of The America’s Cup 34 in San Francisco, I took the helm of my Late Great Uncle’s 55 year old wooden Bear Boat Magic and crossed The San Francisco Bay through a fleet of young Red Bull Youth sailors. It was that moment I realized my uncle had indeed given me a valuable gift, one that inspired me to find my own path with values I didn’t even know I had.

Uncle Bob had passion and the highest of principles. He was primarily a self taught Naval Architect and made a great career for himself, mostly living a bachelor’s life. He loved boats, and he favored single-handing and racing. I still hear old acquaintances of his tell me “no one could beat a Keleher” which referred to both him and his brother, my Great Uncle Don. Uncle Bob and I spent many afternoons together hanging in his kitchen talking about life, politics, music, relationships and everything else. I’d bring homemade chocolate chip cookies, and he’d make tuna fish sandwiches, with a traditional highball. That was our thing.

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Robert Keleher with his Bristol 29 – Skylark

I enjoyed sailing the few times we voyaged on his Bristol 29 Skylark (It’s still sailing!) from Alameda to San Francisco. It was an activity my parents didn’t encourage. My mom gets terrible motion sickness. By the time my uncle got me on a boat, I was the poorest of poor college students, working my way through school, more worried about holes in my shoes than burning holes into an already empty wallet – I figured sailing was a high end sport. Lessons were expensive and so I politely declined when he offered to pay for them. I was more intent on paying bills and getting a good job one day. Uncle Bob was getting old, and soon he sold his boat.

A few years later when he died, I didn’t go to the funeral nor to the burial at sea. I was pregnant, for one thing, but, more than that, I was not ready to accept that he died. We had squabbled at my last hospital visit. It was no secret that he was fiercely independent and had become an ornery Old Salt. He hated the nurses caring for him and he made sure that they hated taking care of him. I sternly told him to be nice in not such a nice way. He didn’t like my words at first, but then, like he found peace, he smiled and said “maybe you’re right.” He died the next day.

P1010580After my daughter was born and my financial situation improved, I discovered how much I hated my “good job”. Feeling the urge to escape the mundane, I found some affordable sailing lessons at a local community sailing school. I got hooked fast. And, I met people like my great uncle who had passion, too. Before I knew it, I was teaching sailing and racing. I learned quickly that the racing blood is not necessarily inherited. I always lost. But, the sailing spirit runs deep, and I learned that on a voyage down the coast of California. At night alone at the helm, fifty miles off shore, charging into the darkness, I connected with what feels like the universal heartbeat, that rhythmic pulse of waves. It’s where inconsequential noise and unnecessary complexities in one’s life disappears. Some call it spiritual.

P1010573I continued sailing with the organization learning more than just sailing. I started taking on leadership roles. Some sailors say you learn leadership on a boat. I’ll up the ante and say you learn brutal lessons while running a volunteer community driven, nonprofit sailing organization. I was experiencing it all meeting Good Samaritans, those who generously give, and pirate-like individuals, who want and expect everything. I also met people who came to find something to fill their lives. Perhaps they were dealing with a divorce or lacked purpose. An ocean sailing instructor claimed he “gives people back their souls.” And, I believe there is truth in that.

John Paul Watts, one of my mentors, was one who demonstrated this act. He spent many years passionately sharing his boat with anyone interested in taking the helm. He’d give them opportunity to learn from their own mistakes. He lived on his boat, it was his home, despite the fact he had grown up with privilege. He cultivated and inspired an incredible community of people all looking to find that same driven passion that was clearly filling his life. There was also Captain Richard Gillette who changed his life after a car accident that nearly killed him. He began dedicating enormous amounts of time taking thousands of inner city kids sailing, those hardened by life but who would melt with laughter back into happy children, while demonstrating high levels of responsibility and leadership with that proper time and guidance.

I was meeting the movers in the maritime community, those who inspire by simply sharing time, skill and conversation together without expecting much in return. I got more involved in spearheading efforts myself to get underserved kids sailing, and I learned the great reward is simply watching others get inspired.

Magic_Beeston_photo2I kept a trophy on my desk, a silver platter my mother gave me from Uncle Bob’s estate. Engraved, it read “Magic, First Place, Bear Boat Regatta 1967.” There was also a photo of my uncle sailing Magic that had been published in Diane Beeston’s 1972 Book Of Wind Fog Sail: Sailing San Francisco Bay. I knew very little about the boat, until one day when I was teaching a dinghy class on Richardson Bay and a small boat with a bear emblem on the sail came up close. I shouted “Do you know anything about a Bear boat named Magic?”

They replied “We ARE Magic!”

I got so excited, that I lost control of the dinghy, nearly lobbing the heads off my students.  I swear I could see my uncle’s spirit in those sails. I know it sounds a little out there, but it’s true. I met the owners of the boat, The Maloney Family, and I’d get to know them better a few years later.

I had to share this news with somebody, so I gave my 70 year old second cousin Donald James Keleher in Alameda a ring. He grew up sailing with his father, my Great Uncle Don. I really didn’t know Donald well, but I figured he’d enjoy the call. We talked. We started talking a lot. He invited me to his house and introduced me to his daughter Stacey, now in her 30s, who also sailed with the great uncles. He showed me magazine articles on yacht designs my uncle authored back in the 60s, poetry and wooden boat essays his dad wrote and a collection of trophies galore. I started to feel connected to a family that’s been a big part of the San Francisco Bay. The Aeolian Yacht Club in Alameda where my uncles belonged was filled with more trophies and photos. It was a connection I never even knew about, despite the fact I grew up only twenty miles away.

The Sausalito Yacht Club Women’s Regatta was coming up, and I asked Donald and Stacey to crew for me, figuring they were the link to the Keleher master sailing skills. On the day we prepped for the race. Stacey said, “Barbara, don’t romanticize racing with Uncle Bob and Don. They’d scream and shout at one another, and blame anyone on board for anything.” It was hard for me to believe that. We practiced tacking and jibing. I’d give polite commands or ask for advice. Donald shouted at me first, “Take command of the damn boat if you’re the skipper.”  I didn’t feel I was as qualified as they were, but he told me to do it. So, I did.

Stacey and Don Discuss the loss at the SYC Women's Regatta - "how did we lose so bad?"

Stacey and Don discuss the loss at the SYC Women’s Regatta – “how did we lose so bad?”

I wish I could glorify the story and say we won that race. We didn’t, despite my dramatic Hollywood-like call to the wind at the start line, ”This one is for you, Uncle Bob!” But, one tradition we did keep and that was shouting and yelling at each other throughout the entire race “Sheet in faster!” I commanded with full zeal. “What the hell do you think I’m doing!” Donald snapped back. Clearly we were becoming comfortable with one another sharing expletives and family tradition.

Last year, Tim Maloney contacted me that the Bear Boats were sailing to the SF Maritime Museum, and Magic would be there for the annual event. I rallied my cousins and kids. Donald hadn’t seen the boat since he was a child. We arrived at the docks just as Magic was sailing in. Stacey and I stood back and watched Donald help handle the lines as if one were carrying for an old friend. We understood Donald was connecting with something more than a wooden boat. It was his childhood, his late father  and his late uncle. We didn’t need formal introductions with The Maloney Family. They felt like an extension of our family tree. And, here we were, simply connected by an old wooden boat. It can do that. Donny, Stacey, my kids and  I, representing four generations, piled into the cockpit of Magic as we sailed away into memories, feelings and dreams. Uncle Bob was there too.

This year, August 2013, Tim Maloney invited me to sail Magic back to the SF Maritime Museum again for the annual Bear Boat sail-in. We’d have to time it right to get through America’s Cup race course, as part of The SF Bay would be shut down. I didn’t rally my cousins this time. I needed this one for myself. My own life was getting more complicated and, even after 10 years, I was missing those afternoon lunches with my Great Uncle more than ever. This was all I had left of him.

Tim and I met in Sausalito and prepared Magic which Tim had maintained and cared for incredibly well. “You have no idea what this sail means to me,” I said to Tim. He replied with an all-knowing nod, “ I think I do.” He grew up sailing with his father, his ten (!) siblings and now his two sons. Sailing went deep for him, too.

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Tim Maloney and Barbara McVeigh on Magic Bear.

Tim was gracious and gave me the helm pretty quickly once we were out in The Bay.  It took me a while to find the groove upwind, the boat pointed very high, yet it felt like a part of me. We sailed straight through a full fleet of Red Bull Youth Racers on their downwind leg. I threaded our way through them, fully confident without having a drop of fear, even relishing the rush of their youth, determination and dreams as they passed by.

We spent the day at Hyde Street Pier, the center of San Francisco’s historical maritime community. The majestic Louis Vuitton races were the perfect backdrop, racing in the same waters as my great uncle did for forty years. I wondered what Uncle Bob would have thought of them. A practical and frugal guy, I could imagine him being critical of the cost of the event but having full respect and admiration for the designs and skill of the sailors.

Tim and I prepared to head back. We motored out of the harbor into The Bay, nose to wind. It was blowing like stink and the chop was strong. But, we thought we could raise sails anyway. I went forward to raise the main halyard but the hanks on the luff dropped off, dumping the entire main sail sloppily into the cockpit – my bad, I should have seen the sail off track. Meanwhile the jib got loose and was flapping widely out of control. I dropped to my knobby knees while the boat bounced like a bronco and became a slippery fish underneath me. My hat, a new hat Tim gave me with the Bear Boat emblem, fell off my head. There was no way in bloody hell I was going to lose that hat, so I clenched it between my teeth. Water splashed over my body, salt water blinded me, making me tear up. With one eye open, I yanked the jib harder as it flailed, rising. A line whipped me in the face. I resisted a burst of laughter thinking how fitting it’d be for me to fall off the damn boat. But, I was not going to fall. So, with every ounce of determination and strength I had, I yanked and pulled, bundling up the layers of that white jib,  wrappingand securing it tight.

Now it was time to raise sails properly after the first mistake. Tim managed to steer us into a more sheltered area. I raised the main halyard with one hand and clipped the hanks in one by one with the other, slowly and diligently, neverminding the crazy wind around me. Wiping away the salty tears, I hauled up the jib, and it rose like a spirit can fly.

Completely sodden I nodded and smiled to Tim who must be have been feeling some sense of responsibility for my antics. “Are you good?” he asked. “All good!” I proclaimed, feeling I had made peace with those sails.

I sat on the high side of Magic as we crossed The Bay for home. More splashes saturated me but I didn’t care. I even welcomed them. Bay kisses, some call them. A red brilliant sunset dropped down under the Golden Gate Bridge.

After ten years of reconciling, I realized for me there was no racing, no trophies to be won. But, I had gotten what I wanted, plus so much more that I didn’t know I needed – passion, refuge, family ties, spirituality, deep rooted community, a story, and, most importantly, the chance to give a proper goodbye to the master racer, confident and friend, my Great Uncle Robert Keleher.

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Quince, The Invisible Fruit

I drive along a country road. Autumn has come again and trees grow bare, revealing bones of twisted limbs. Black crows dip along golden hills. The smell of manure hangs thick in the air. My children in the back seat argue about something found at the pumpkin patch. I ignore them, while trying to remember what it was like to be a child when a wax disk in a marmalade jar could mesmerize me for an hour. And, I had an hour free to be mesmerized.

I’m thinking of my grandmother’s quince tree and the plucked bulbous fruit bubbling in her pot next to the crotched hot pads and clean Mason jars. Grandma would extend her hand to me, blue veins rippling along white translucent skin.  “Take this. ” A spoonful of sweet quince would enter my mouth, filling every sweet desire one could have. I’d sit with a jar filled with its rose scent, my finger poking the top hard white wax like a see saw, dipping the edges into the amber stickiness and licking my fingers clean.

That was many years ago.

My grandmother died and the tree was cut down. “Quince is too much trouble, takes too much time”, I recall my mother once saying. My sister doesn’t remember the fruit. “You’re always eating weird food,” she says to me.

Quince not only had left my life, it disappeared from everywhere, like the world could no longer be hassled with a fruit needing time and special attention. And, yet what a shame we were losing this ancient connection, a fruit the Greeks and Romans had even coveted, one that a painted Venus in Italy holds in her hand and will be appreciated forever, or as long as people care about it.

“Oh, my God!” I scream. I make a swift U turn, and come to a jarring halt, parking on rough gravel. My children become suddenly quiet, watching me.

“Look at that!” I point to a tree next to the road – an enormous tree bursting with quince as if it had been invisible to everyone passing by. Some rotten quince lay on the ground, but still beauties dangled on the branches. I climb through barbed wire, nicking my arm and tearing my sweater. I reach high and wrap my hand around, holding tight, to a golden fruit, still warm from the autumn afternoon sun.

I lose myself among the tree’s wrinkled, craggy limbs, desperately not wanting one fruit to be forgotten. And, then my children and I linger, mesmerized by the bounty of our find.

Bubbling Golden Quince

Sweet marmalade bubbles and a rose scent fills my home. A neighbor asks us what the fruit is, she’d never heard of it before. My children tell her all about our harvest of an ancient fruit plucked from on an invisible tree, one that the spirit of their Great Grandmother gave them the gift to see.

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