Shirley

Note: this page has also been hit by our disappearing photo mystery…. we’re working on it. In the meantime, you can use your imagination to fill in the gaps. 😉

IMG_4073HI.  How to summarize myself in a page or so? A challenging task for most people, and certainly for anyone with my tendencies. “Hardcore” is an adjective my kids often applied to me when they were teens, usually accentuated with a dramatic eye roll. Work colleagues patiently tolerated plowing through the Shirley-120-page-report when 20 would have likely been sufficient. Softening my edges, though, as I move into a new life stage, and focusing on what’s really important is part of what’s motivated me to step out of my usual routine and head off cruising with Tim. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Sharing a little about me without overloading detail could be a helpful exercise toward that intention. Let’s see how I do. (You may want to take a moment to get comfortable and pour yourself a glass of your favourite refreshment before you get started!)

EARLY YEARS. I was born in the early 60’s, which situates my formative years squarely in the macramé era – a great foundation for sailing knots! I grew up in the north-eastern Ontario mining town of Timmins, in a traditional middle-class family. My two older brothers tolerated their little sister hanging out with them now and then, but generally, I was left with much time to entertain myself. I remember engaging for hours imagining travel to far off lands. I would trace maps from the coffee table atlas, and carefully colour in far-off lands, paying special attention to framing the coastal shores in a blue fringe. I still find a map seductive, and can loose myself in envisioning the promises of each cove when looking over a new chart.

Sailing fun figures prominently in my childhood memories. My neighbourhood friend, Linda, had a Bluejay aptly christened Mosquito in honour of the insects that tormented her father as he lovingly crafted the dinghy for her. She needed a crew and I happily accepted the role. Canadian Yachting Association White Sail courses on tiny Porcupine Lake prepared us. I vividly recall holding the boat stationary in waist-deep water, while Linda affixed the rudder, dropped the centreboard, and raised the main. I’d fight off the weeds that had by that time wrapped around my legs threatening to anchor us – or at least me – in place, to then crawl over the gunnels, hoist the jib and we would be off.

IMG_1595_2Some of my best childhood reminiscing flows from time spent at our family cottage on Kenogamissi Lake. Summers were marked by night-time bonfires, adventures in the bush with friends, beach play, and, of course, releasing Mosquito from its mooring to a stout piece of driftwood (away from any weeds) to sail to far shores.

TEEN YEARS. As I was entering secondary school, we moved to the small agricultural community of New Liskeard, on the shores of Lake Temiskaming. What points of relevance to pull from my teen years? Sailing was pretty much absent, although my good friend Breeda and I did have a great time taking a week-long course one summer. Friends dominated life, and for a few years, each Friday evening brought the challenge of how to get out of the house despite being grounded for not adhering to the previous weekend’s curfew – and doing so without getting caught. I’ve always enjoyed learning, and customary academic approaches were a good fit for me so I did well in school, but participating on almost every available sports team was still a welcome diversion.

CAREER CHOICES. I left home vowing to never, never return to the north, and well, if I did happen to return, to most certainly never, never return to the New Liskeard area. I felt suffocated by its small town-ness. I had seized the plan to become an occupational therapist (OT) as a young teen, so upon completion of high school, eagerly headed off to the industrial southern Ontario city of Hamilton to complete my Bachelor of Health Science in OT. Being able to be a part of the socially endorsed health care world was a factor in my career choice, but more so, the profession’s focus on meaning and satisfaction in life being derived from what we do in our lives (our occupations), really resonated with my forming adult self and continues to influence me to this day. It was an incredibly difficult decision I made just a few months ago to resign from the profession. OT has been so central to my identity and now I’ve shifted from 30 years of self –identifying as “I am an OT”, to the unfamiliar past tense of “I was an OT”. Anyways, I am getting ahead of myself again. Perhaps I’ll share a little more about that decision in an upcoming blog.

MARRIAGE & TRAVEL. A high school relationship morphed into marriage at what seems now like a too-young age of 21. At that time, I was on the cusp of graduating from university and felt more mature and ready to take on that kind of commitment than I feel today! We settled in Hamilton. An early career break took the form of a 10-month backpacking adventure through Hawaii, New Zealand, Australia, and Fiji. After we emerged from months in the outback, we successfully hitched a ride with Andrew, a friendly live-aboard Aussie, on his steel boat in Cairns. We were crew and company for during a couple weeks off-shore passage along the Great Barrier Reef. The soil that had been tilled in my childhood was now planted with a seed. Childhood fantasy became an adult goal. We vowed to have a boat someday and to set sail.

LIFE CONTINUED. Work, friends, a master’s degree, and family filled the subsequent years. The “never-say-never” lesson reverberated as we moved our young family north, to the town of Haileybury, neighbour to the town I vowed to never return to! Different life stages certainly do bring differing perspectives. We wanted to make it easier to offer our children the lives we wished for them: the lower cost of living allowed us to spend less time on earning and opened more time for parenting, we wanted them to benefit from cleaner air and ready access to the outdoors, extended family were nearby, the perceived security of a small town upbringing seemed appealing … it was the right decision.

MY KIDS. This is as good a time as any to take a quick tangent and gloat a little about my kids. They are amazing. Adrian, Rachelle, Marcus, from the moment they were conceived, have been central to my life. My babies evolved in a blink of an eye to toddlers, school years zipped by, and teen years, which I was told would feel like they would last forever, didn’t. All their stages brought joy. Although I filled my life with lots of rewarding activities beyond my role as Mom, as I look back, the simple days filled with everyday family routines that brought the richness I treasure. They’ve been gone from home long enough that memories of the sleepless nights and other trying times have conveniently faded in my memory. There still remains, though, an irrational inner voice scolding me for not savouring those precious times as much as I could have. There’s been a gap in my heart and my life since they’ve moved on – grief, I guess, is the flipside of love – but that void is slowly filling with this novel notion of freedom in my life. My kids are now spread across the country – Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver – and are pursuing interesting and diverse lives. Their passions inspire me, and it is humbling to be a part of this evolution into adult parent-child relationships. They have most certainly broadened my perspectives, and inspire me to grow.

LIFE CHANGES. I’ll back up again to life in Haileybury. We put our roots down and settled into a charming east-coast inspired home. It was a great place to raise our family. IMG_0225We had a golf course to the back, and a stunning view of Lake Temiskaming to the front. Needless to say I watched the sails scooting across the waters with longing.   On Mother’s Day 2002, I don’t recall what errand lead me past the wintering grounds of the local sailboats, but I do recall the jolt of possibility that ran through me when I spotted a “for sale” sign on one. By the end of that day, Scallywag, a 7.5 Tanzer was ours. Scallywag brought lots of happiness and some heartache. Day outings and overnight camp-outs and anchoring at Burnt Island are cherished memories. On the other hand, the tension arising between us as a couple with divergent perspectives grew. A desired “sail” for one of us was to motor over to a familiar cove to raft up with friends and enjoy an afternoon of beer and socializing; the other longed to fine tune our sailing skills and explore the far reaches of the lake. It became increasingly obvious that the cruising dream we had talked of many years before was not an option, at least not with one another. The dream was snuffed out.

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The tensions on board were reflective of deeper fissures in our relationship, and despite tremendous effort, they proved to be beyond repair.  I embarked on a soul searching month-long pilgrimage across northern Spain. I used the strength I found in myself and the possibilities that were awakened in me to make a heart-wrenching decision.  After 5 years of dating and 24 years of marriage – what felt like a lifetime together – we parted.

It was a relief to be able to direct new-found energy toward reconnecting with my kids and especially enjoying time with Marcus who was still at home completing secondary school. I also had plenty of energy to direct toward work. I have been fortunate to hold a variety of management roles with a great community mental health organization over the past 16 years. Working with the Cochrane Timiskaming Branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association has been a professionally stimulating roller coaster of change. I have had the privileged to have been a part of significant expansion as we have brought in much-needed mental health services to the area, and was deeply committed to the ensuing projects aimed at ensuring the Branch offered quality that those seeking services deserve. It’s been really rewarding to work with a talented team of colleagues who care.

POSSIBILITIES. Back to my personal life. A couple years after my marriage ended, upon the urging of a trusted counselor, I dipped my toes into the on-line dating world and met Tim.

IMG_4244Tim’s as much a dreamer, content to wander his lovely woods captivated by the beauty around him as I am a pragmatist, driven by plans and determining a day’s value by the amount of productivity I’ve packed in. We bring a moderating balance to one another. Tim leads a wonderfully simple, self-sufficient life, driven by his deep respect of the environment. I’ll leave it for Tim share more about himself in his “About” page. Oh, one more thing. He happened to have recently acquired a fixer-upper Cal 21. Early dating conversations lead to a growing sense of possibility. Embers of a dream that I thought was dead began to be fanned alive. Cruising adventures. Maybe, someday, we could make them happen?

What would it take to sail from northern Ontario to the Caribbean and maybe beyond? The tropical waters and breezes and the allure of living in the moment seduced us. The challenges we would face excited us. The awaiting experiences offered by new lands and people inspire us. We recognized the hurdles ahead: improving our sailing knowledge and polishing skills, securing the funds, dealing with responsibilities, finding the right boat, not to mention carving out the time. This was a someday plan.

IMG_7996MAKING IT HAPPEN. We began to align the stars. I sold my beloved home – I felt as though a piece of me had died yet appreciated the financial wiggle room I now had. I was surprised to also appreciate the unexpected emotional space that was created. I had not realized how difficult it was to look to the future when enveloped by physical space so deeply rooted in the past. At 50ish years old, I found myself living for the next year part-time in my parent’s basement and part-time 2 hours away in North Bay, with Tim in his straw bale garage. It was a great way to let my savings blossom and a welcome opportunity to reconnect with my parents.

IMG_5025In terms of responsibilities, I saw that I was well on my way to stepping aside from usual obligations. I had already weaned myself off my past volunteer commitments, my kids are carving out their own lives, and my parents are healthier and more vibrant than any octogenarians I know. Then there is my dog. My ex-husband generously agreed to care forMelo if we did head off.

IMG_2410Tim’s research pointed to the near-perfect boat for us – an Alberg 30. I needed no convincing. It is small enough to enjoy in fresh-water local lakes, and yet had proven itself to be ocean-worthy.   It’s classic lines were seductive. We’ve done a little more writing about how we found Ariose, and about Alberg 30s, in the “About our boat” pages on this blog. If you’re interested, check them out. One of our gaps in making this dream a reality was our sailing skill, or lack thereof. I enrolled in a week-long, on board course and achieved my basic and intermediate cruising qualifications, and then, more recently, coastal navigation certification. We spent every moment we could in the summer of 2015 sailing on Lake Temiskaming, figuring out the boats quirks and our own. And we’ve been reading and watching everything we can consume about all things sailing.

What about the time? Tim’s self employed and his usual pattern of seasonal work lends itself to periods of time off. My permanent full-time managerial position didn’t. I had had conversations at work about taking a leave of absence. The agency was supportive in theory, but when we discussed possible timing, it didn’t look too promising. We were in such a state of large-scale change as an organization, with me playing a pivotal role, it was understandable that my request could not be approved. A key project that I was strongly committed to had encountered hitches beyond my control and was shifting away from the original intentions. I had intended to see it through before embarking on our cruising. At the same time, I was feeling life going by too quickly and recognized that there would likely never be a good time from the organization’s perspective for me to be away for an extended time. If something is important to me, I need to take responsibility for making it happen. Tim and I agreed we would head out fall 2016.

[photo: 1st morning of sabbatical] I took a deep breath, and made the decision step beyond my comfort zone and launch the next phase of my life. I tendered my resignation from the job I loved. I left a good income with generous benefits, and left the role that I found fulfilling (marathon meetings excepted!) and gave me lots of affirmation and purpose in life. I moved in with Tim in his straw bale “garage” – a perfect transition toward a simpler, cruising lifestyle. I dipped into retirement savings to carve out a budget for preparing Ariose for cruising, and a budget for about 2 years of daily living. Frugal daily living that is! I expect to return, refreshed from this sabbatical of sorts, to my career at that time.

With each birthday, subtle and not-so-subtle signs of my aging make themselves known. Dreams can be easily dashed by unexpected illness, and I’ve been touched by so many others who have had their lives cut short. I know that I cannot count on being able to pursue this cruising dream in the years to come. I’m healthy, I have the means, and I have a partner up for joining me in this dream. I’m not prepared to look back on my life with regrets.

I wrapped up 2015 by taking the leap to seriously set things in motion, and by fall 2016, we anticipate launching Ariose and ourselves on a cruising adventure.

Looking back at what I’ve written, I see I haven’t been too successful in crafting a to-the-point brief bio for our blog. I will work on being succinct in upcoming blogs postings. I promise. I’ll wrap up with a quote. I often find inspirational quotes irritatingly clichéd, but this one attributed to Mark Twain, thoughtfully tucked into my farewell wishes from my work colleagues, resonates strongly for me, and seems a fitting way to conclude.

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.

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