The magic of the MagicJack

Juventino Villeda plays his accordion. Photo by Barbara Corbellini Duarte.

Juventino Villeda plays his accordion. Photo by Barbara Corbellini Duarte.

The magic of the MagicJack was not in how much money it saved me, but in how it connected me to another human being.  I put the phone equipment for sale on Craigslist,  with an asking price a fraction of the original cost, just to be rid of this unused thing, to get something for it. After a few days, I received an inquiry from a man named Juventino. We emailed back and forth, and finally met at a local thrift store on a bitterly cold morning.

Juventino was more than an hour later than he had initially indicated he would be. I had gone grocery shopping, looked around the thrift store, and had begun to feel some annoyance at his lateness, but decided I would rather cultivate patience, because I could not know what was the delay, and because it is more important to stay calm than to carry on.

With the aid of our cell phones, my customer and I met at the front of the thrift store. Juven asked me if I speak Spanish. “Un poquito,” I said, “a little,” and he smiled. “E muy mal,” I added, “and very badly,” which gave the man a laugh. He explained that he reads English well, but hearing and speaking it are more difficult. I told him that I understand, as it is the same for me with Spanish.

We braved the wind and cold, hurrying to my car, making our exchange in the parking lot. Juven handed me $1 bills, explaining that, “I pay with singles because I play the accordion.” As the sharp wind cut into our faces and hands, the man went on to tell how he had started playing the accordion at age five, and began as a street musician at about 5-1/2 years-old. He confessed to having told his mother that he needed to take the instrument to school, in order to practice for a Mother’s Day concert. However, that day he skipped school and went instead to a festival at the Catholic church, playing his accordion and accepting donations from passers-by.

Juventino informed me that he used that money to buy his second accordion, though he gave the coins to his young friends, as well as purchasing ice cream for “too many” other children, he said.  The 65-year-old’s enthusiasm for his music was clear, as was his kindness. He asked me why I had not used the MagicJack, I said that I had not figured out how to use it with my computer, and he offered to come over and help me. I told him that the computer was on its way out, but that I appreciated his offer.

The extreme cold and wind bit us repeatedly as we stood in the parking lot after making our exchange. Juven told me to email him and then he would send some MP3 files of his music. I thanked him for his kindness, told him I would email him, and went home. I wished him well and hoped that his new MagicJack would serve him well. I found that through the day, I kept smiling in gratitude for having met such a nice, unusual, and interesting person. It was a morning well spent.

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Spinning in the Gulf of Mexico

Flying the spinnaker on a port tack.

Flying the spinnaker on a port tack.

When you have wanted to learn how to fly a spinnaker since you were a kid, and you finally have the chance in mid-life, you do whatever is necessary to take that opportunity. That is how I ended up sailing a Colgate 26 in the Gulf of Mexico in early December.  This happened thanks in large part to my friend, Deb, who offered me a class at Offshore Sailing School. Deb had won the course gift certificate at a Leukemia Cup Regatta silent auction, but her busy schedule had prevented her from using it. Given my lack of income, financing the trip was a challenge, but I could not let this chance pass me by, so I made it happen, $37 motel room and all, and am very pleased that I did.

Offshore Sailing School has a facility at the South Seas Island Resort, which is at the northern tip of Captiva Island, on Florida’s Gulf Coast, just south of Fort Myers. The resort is a great place to spend a few days in December. The Colgate 26 sailboats are of an ideal design for students, and for racing. Among other features, the boats point amazingly high, and crew can handle just about everything from inside the exceptionally roomy cockpit. That is, everything but setting and jibing the spinnaker (a large, usually colorful sail, which flies something like a kite, and is often seen floating like a balloon in front of a sailboat).

Three other students attended the three-day Performance Sailing course: a retired woman from Tidewater, a woman who works for a Boston area manufacturing company, and a businessman who came all the way from Bogota, Columbia. Rosemary, Susan, and Tony are also experienced sailors, making us a well matched crew, including that we were highly interested in learning the spinnaker.

Instructor Bart Lowden demonstrates the correct stance for safely setting the spinnaker pole: feet wide, leaning against the mast.

Instructor Bart Lowden demonstrates the correct stance for safely setting the spinnaker pole: feet wide, leaning against the mast.

The first morning, we spent three-and-a-half hours in the classroom, with instructor Bart Lowden leading discussions, showing us Powerpoint presentations, and reviewing knots with us—including the difference between a bowline and a “dirty” bowline. It turned out that I was the only one who had read any of the highly technical textbook, having made it only about a third of the way through. My classmates and I were anxious to put all this theory to work in real life, so we were pleased when we headed to the dock at noon, to rig the Colgate 26 and then motor out to Pine Island Sound. As we exited the harbor, we were greeted by a curious dolphin, while a flock of pelicans and cormorants looked on from their row of perches. Once through the channel and into a deeper part of the sound, we raised sails and cut the outboard.

The wind had fallen, so we went out to the Gulf of Mexico, but stayed close to Captiva, practicing smooth tacking and jibing, as well as experimenting with the sail trim we learned about in class. After coming in for an hour lunch break, the five of us went back aboard, and rigged the boat with the spinnaker, using the seven steps we learned in the classroom. Out in the gulf breeze, my classmates and I rotated through crew positions and flew the spinney, grinning widely.

Saturday’s morning sail was cut short due to lack of wind, excessive heat, a swarm of hungry flying ants attacked our boat, and we learned that the Cutter insect repellent wipes in my kit did not ward off ant bites. After a long lunch break, we went back out for a nice sea breeze sail with lots of kite flying and a lovely run back to the harbor.

Sunshine, warm temperatures, and a reliable afternoon sea breeze make Captiva a great place to sail.

Sunshine, warm temperatures, and a reliable afternoon sea breeze make Captiva a great place to sail.

Sunday morning brought our final classroom work, another couple hours of instruction on the water, and, finally, our “free sail,” in which our team of three students went out without the instructor.  Our fourth student, Tony, had to forego the free sail due to time constraints with his travel.

The main lesson for me in the free sail was this: if the crew informally nominates you as skipper of the sail, accept the honor formally, and take full charge of the boat. Meaning, primarily, check your crew’s work on rigging the spinnaker before leaving the dock. Otherwise, you may find that most of your spin time is used up with resolving the twists in the rig, by a crew member bouncing on the foredeck in a choppy sea.

Once the issue was resolved, we raised the spinney, flew it, and doused it well. Unfortunately, in order to beat our way back to the dock on time, we had to limit our kite flying to about 15 minutes. On the way back, Rose, Susan and I agreed that what happened on the boat stays on the boat, and we would tell Bart that “everything was fine.” I joked that our instructor may have had a hidden camera or recorder on the boat.

As we came from the gulf into Pine Island Sound via Redfish Pass, Susan spotted our instructor on the seawall. I knew then that he had been watching us the whole time, and that our shame was his to enjoy. Sure enough, when we reached the dock, Bart asked how it went. Sticking to our plan, we all said it was fiiiine! Then he asked, “And how was the spinnaker?” We told him there was a small issue, but we resolved it, and Bart noted that he had “a hidden camera on the boat.” I turned to my mates, asking “See? What did I tell you about that guy?” and all had a laugh.

Although Tony left early, all four of us had passed the written and practical exams, received certificates on the spot, and agreed that we had learned a great deal that we looked forward to putting to use in the next sailing season.


Offshore Sailing School produced these helpful YouTube videos that explain and demonstrate spinnaker set and use. They happen to be filmed at the South Seas Island Resort facility.

How to Set Your Spinnaker

How to Jibe a Symmetric Spinnaker

Spinnaker Leeward Douse

Spinnaker Windward Douse

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A simple bowl of soup for Thanksgiving

Soup fit for a friendship.

Soup fit for a friendship.

The intention, rather than the food, can make a meal enjoyable and memorable. So it was this Thanksgiving, when the one course was leftover split pea soup, without even bread as an accompaniment.

I had received two warm invitations to dine with friends and their families. As grateful as I was for those, something told me to hold off, because another friend, who is going through a tough time, had earlier in the week made mention in passing of wanting to come to my house for soup.

Not hearing more from Marina*,  I had not prepared in advance, and being budget minded, had not gone shopping. However, I had been craving Turkish delight, so I made a reasonable substitute, using ingredients I had on hand: plain gelatin, rose water, agave nectar, and stevia.

Marina let me know she was on her way, she asked if I thought the state run liquor stores would be open and I assured her they would not be, but not to worry, because I had a bottle of Sailor Jerry rum, a recent gift from a friend. She said she could bring orange juice, and I told her not to worry, because I had enough fresh oranges to squeeze.

Then concerned about what to serve, I cast about my kitchen and what is left in my pantry, sure I could come up with something decent enough. I determined that the pineapple on the counter was perfectly ripe, and had cut away the skin and began slicing it when Marina arrived. Before long, I poured us each a frothy drink of rum mixed with fresh squeezed orange juice and chunks of pineapple whipped together in the Vitamix. It was delicious!

As Marina and I sipped our drinks and talked, I coarsely chopped an onion and caramelized it in the big soup pot, adding a scattering of cumin seed for the delightful aroma and flavor. With the onion nicely browned, I added to it the split pea soup left over from the previous day. It had congealed, so I also added some water, stirring long, to mix the ingredients well and make the soup smooth. Finally, I added a long dash of Sriracha chili sauce, and a few pinches of the black truffle sea salt I had purchased in Charleston earlier this year.

The soup turned out better than I had expected. Marina and I enjoyed it while sipping our delightfully clashing drink, as we caught each other up on where things were in our lives and what we hoped and dreamed. As the soup warmed our tummies and the rum loosened our tongues, we began to joke and laugh about our silly Thanksgiving feast.

“Oh, and I even have dessert!” I exclaimed, bringing out the substitute Turkish delight as I described how I made it. “It is kind of like rose water Jell-O Jigglers,” I told my guest, which made her laugh.

Wanting to share the best of what I had, I offered coffee to Marina, with a splash of rum. And, finally, I suggested that I make some hot cocoa from scratch, which brought an enthusiastic agreement from my friend.  “We shall drink like queens,” I said, as I served the warm chocolatey drink, flavored with a touch of cinnamon and yet another splash of rum.

My friend and I marveled at our peculiar and strangely good meal, and spoke of what each of us meant to the other, about how she had inspired me, and vice versa. We shared much more laughter, and then Marina decided to post a status update to Facebook, “Rum and rose water jello jigglers with Shay Seaborne!! Happy Thanksgiving bitchezze!!” That made me laugh, and wish that I had put rum in the Turkish delight. “Ah, a better idea for next time!” I noted.

Too soon the evening grew late and my friend had to depart. Marina thanked me for my hospitality, and we agreed to see each other again soon. After she left, I turned to my kitchen, to clean up and wash dishes. I was glad that I had been able to share the evening with a good friend, especially since she had needed cheering. Also, I felt pleased that my meager pantry had offered up enough to make a strange but tasty and memorable “feast.” Finally, I felt gratitude that Marina knew where she was always welcome to share the comfort of friendship and homemade soup.

 *Name changed for her privacy.
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Dancing with strangers

Sacred Circle Dancing in the St. Joseph's chapel at Washington National Cathedral

Sacred Circle Dancing in the St. Joseph’s chapel at Washington National Cathedral

Recently I danced with 27 strangers in one night. All at the same time.

This was a special Sacred Circle Dance event in the St. Joseph’s Chapel of the Washington National Cathedral, to which I was invited by my dear friend, Jean.

To my pleasure, one of the two dance leaders was Evelyn Torton Beck, or Evi, as we call her. Evi is an accomplished leader in many areas, and is one of the regular leaders in the smaller and more local circle dance group that I have attended for several years.

Sacred Circle Dancing is most often performed with a particular intention. On this night, a few days before Thanksgiving, we gathered to dance for gratitude, performing dances from various cultures, chosen by our leaders. Evi and her co-leader, Judith, took turns leading the dances, each taking time to give a little history and explain the steps so we could rehearse a few times before dancing to the music.

It had been years since I danced in a large group, or with so many strangers, and I found myself taking delight in the special energy of the group as we held hands to dance in unison and with intention. I recalled learning that dancing together like this causes participants’ breath and heartbeat to synchronize with each other, and that helps build a sense of community.

As a seasoned circle dancer, I sensed that some of the participants were regular dancers at the Unitarian Universalist  Church of Silver Spring, while others seemed to be completely new to circle dancing, perhaps even just stumbling upon the activity while walking the cathedral.

These strangers, who had come together from places unknown and for reasons undeclared, spent about an hour in a shared experience, welcoming each other, being kind to each other, and feeling kindred with each other. Through their smiles, gestures, hand holds, and demeanor, the dancers indicated they were giving and receiving these things. This was expressed loudest at the end, when Evi closed the circle, and the group broke into spontaneous and reverent applause. Whether seasoned dancer or new, each person took home with them the warm and peaceful feeling that is generated by an evening spent in the special fellowship created by dancing with strangers.


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The magic of asking

The salad with lettuce and carrots from Carol's garden and beet greens and tomato from my garden.

The salad with lettuce, spinach, and carrots from Carol’s garden and beet greens and tomato from my garden.

I took a chance when a friend on Facebook noted that the upcoming heavy frost would kill the lettuce growing in her garden. Being “temporarily retired” and conscious of budgeting, I noted in my comment that if Carol had an overabundance, I know someone who would be glad to have some, and who would be sure to use all of it. This began a happy chain of events, a kind of magic.

Carol kindly invited me to help harvest some of the goods in her garden, and we agreed to meet at her house when I was in the area the next afternoon. I had not seen Carol in perhaps 10 years, but she greeted me warmly, welcomed me into her comfortable house, and introduced me to her three sweet dogs. Carol’s son, Ebin, was home, and shook my hand on meeting. Last I had seen him, Ebin was a teenager, and now he is a man in his 20’s, a professional actor, a costumed interpreter at a nearby historic site, and, as he demonstrated while we visited, a knitter.

The three of us chatted while I petted the dogs in turn as they required. We caught up on the past decade, reminisced a little, and talked about present and future plans. Carol’s husband, Bob, arrived home, greeted me, and joined in the conversation. He offered to use his network to find me some assistance for a current major project, and I gladly accepted.

The sun was fading fast, and the air was turning colder, so Carol and I headed out to the community garden a few minutes from her home. There, I admired her beautiful plot, full of raised beds lush with growing vegetables. Carol bade me harvest plenty of leaf and Romaine lettuce, some red ribbed spinach, and gorgeous leaves of kale. On top of that, she gave me some lovely little round carrots, and a small turnip–the latter so I could try it.

My bag full, the dark was settling low, and the cold biting sharper, so Carol and I hugged good-bye and talked about meeting again soon.

That night, I made a beautiful salad for my dinner, enjoying the blend of produce from Carol’s garden, my garden, and the local farmer’s market. The following day, I made another salad, which I took to my yacht club’s monthly meeting and social hour. Once word got around that this salad was exceedingly fresh and local, the bowl was quickly emptied by hungry club members. Even the Powerboater Who Eats No Green Things had to break his rule and taste some of Carol’s beautiful, fresh, and tender leaf lettuce.

The day after that, I washed, ribbed and cut the kale, then tossed it in oil,  roasted (275F for 20 min) and salted it to a perfect crispy and delicious snack. I put the lone turnip in a green smoothie, which actually tasted good.

By then, all that was left of Carol’s gift was the Romaine lettuce. This I took to a friend’s house and made into a third salad, which we had for dinner, along side the rice and chicken korma curry I cooked. I left the remaining dinner food with my friend, knowing that she would be sure to appreciate and enjoy it.

The following evening, my friend called to let me know that she had eaten the remaining salad, after mixing it with other ingredients given to her by people who also love her. She reported that the combination was delicious, and made her feel very lucky to be so cared for by others.

Thus, one small request resulted in my receiving much more than a bag of garden produce. Along with it, I was given warmth, hospitality, an offer of assistance, and the ability to share the delicious bounty with friends and fellows who also felt enriched by Carol’s gift. From all of us, thank you, Carol, for your generosity and kindness.

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The first Thanksgiving, seven years later

Seven years ago, my daughters and I enjoyed our first Thanksgiving in our new home. Through the day, the kids listened to WETA’s “Classical Countdown” of listeners’ top 90 favorite symphonies. As the numbers went down, they became animated, waiting to hear if their choices made the top picks. Number 8 was a Gershwin composition, “Rhapsody in Blue.” Oh, the anguish! “GERSHWIN?!” they shouted. “I can’t believe they picked Gershwin! He doesn’t write symphonies! He has all those annoying xylophones! His music is awful!”

Laurel was in a foul mood when the fourth place symphony came on, and her demeanor changed instantly when she realized it was one of her picks, Dvorak’s Symphony No. 8.

While I had a glorious bike ride in the early afternoon, Caitlin tried her hand at her first pie crust, with no guidance. It came out pretty well, and she filled it with prepared mincemeat–our “let’s try it” dish to accompany our traditional lasagna, salad, and French bread.

We had dinner at the table given to us by my Dem buddy and fellow Merry Mischief Maker Jane and her husband Paul; sitting in chairs my former neighbors let me pluck from their trash; using plates given to us by kind Dem acquaintances Pat and Bob; using lovely, brand new flatware given to us by a fellow homeschooler and once divorced mom, Kathy; and lifted toasts of sparkling cider in the celebration cup I had commissioned from an Arlington potter several years ago. As we went around the table to say what we are thankful for, Caitlin blew me away when she raised her glass to me, thanking me for “buying this house, where we can feel what we need to feel, be what we need to be, and do what we want.” I laughed and cried concurrently.

After dinner, the three of us went into the living room to watch a movie–our first on the “new” TV. The VHS movie, “Major League,” was a gift from Dick, my supervisor at work; the TV from my longtime good friend, Jill; and the VCR from another homeschool friend, Rachel. We sat on sofas given to us by Pat and Bob, the girls propped their feet on the coffee table given to us by my good friend Barb, and we had light from the lamp contributed by my good friend, Rhonda, who, the kids often say is “The Same!” as me.

My girls thought the movie was pretty bad, with virtually no plot. I must have thought so, too, as I fell asleep part way through. But, still, we had a fine time, cozy, comfortable, and thankful in the home that so many helped us make, the one I had named My Palace of Peace.

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“Kick Ass Woman”

I recently found this old blog entry from seven years ago, when I was a newly-single mother, new home owner, and working a temp-to-hire admin position at a “beltway bandit” government contractor. That office was an awfully oppressive environment, in which the boss would spend hours berating his staff, and public shaming was one of his key operating procedures. Thankfully, I found a better position in less than six months, because this episode illustrates that, had I been there longer, things might have gone very badly.
Yesterday’s HR lunch seminar was about personal safety and home security, hosted by a guy who wanted to scare the employees into buying his pepper spray and other “safety” products. Early in the session the presenter asked questions about particular behaviors and told us why they were unsafe. One of the questions was, “Does anyone here take the stairs when coming to work in the morning?” I was the only person who raised a hand.

“Stairwells are dangerous!,” the presenter admonished. “Doors that are built to stop fire will also stop your screams if you are attacked,” he warned. “You need some of my pepper spray!” My response did not please him.

“I understand that pepper spray can be taken away and used against the victim,” I replied. Clearly annoyed by my response, the salesman tried to intimidate me with his next question, which came across almost as accusatory.

“Do you have a plan for what you would do in case you are attacked in the stairwell?” My instant reply rang with confidence.

“Yes!,” I answered, “I’ll kick his ASS!”

The room erupted into laughter, the speaker said, “THAT’S the attitude!” and held up his hand for a high-five. He continued to address me during the talk, often asking questions like, “What is your most immediate protective equipment?” and I answered nearly all with ease, so much so that he ended up telling me to refrain from answering later in the session, and began calling me “Toughie.”

Back in the admin area after lunch, the boss had assembled some of his staff in chairs in a semi-circle in front of my desk. Seated before me were two of the three engineers, the other administrative assistant, a guy from the lab, and a guy from IT. Our boss proceeded to explain that I had said the word “ass” in the corporate board room, and it was A Very Bad Thing. In front of everyone, our boss made a veiled threat when he implied that, because of this behavior, my direct hire papers may not go through. When he went on to harangue the lab guy about the lab’s invoice system, he brought up my behavior again, asking, “what happens when they don’t pay their invoice? Do you send Shay after them?” This was my first sample of the boss’ attempt to humiliate me into compliance. But he doesn’t know that “ugly don’t scare me.”

When talking about it later with one of the engineers–who had been there 13 years–the engineer said that “It won’t go away, and I don’t think it’s such an awful thing to be branded as ‘Kick Ass Woman.'” I suppose I can live with it.


PS- The next day, one of the engineers gave me a certificate he had made up, using “Batman Forever” font and purple and black letters. “Shay Seaborne, Kick Ass Woman” it stated in large type, and in tiny letters beneath, “I’ll kick his ass!” To date, is my most valuable certificate of achievement.

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No title? No problem!


The ABC’s of Personal Happiness, as typed up by my friend’s late mother.

In my previous period of unemployment, which was a hell that lasted 14 months, I was struck by how much my identity was tied to my job/title/function. I found that “what do you do?” defined me almost entirely, to the point that it was nearly the same as “who are you and what are you made of?”

Now I am a little older and much wiser, I am also happy to just be and be who I am, rather than playing a particular role for someone else, especially one that is unsuitable.

Dovetailing with that has been the realization that my paid work has kept me from doing my true work, and has actually undermined me, as a person. I have noticed that the more I relax into being myself and stop trying to prove my worth by struggling to get by in this Engineered Austerity Economy, the more I make a difference to myself and to others.

Therefore, I am looking at largely leaving the money-based economy, and operating out of one that does not erode my self and undermine my best work, which is my calling.

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A new kind of October

Paper birch along the Occoquan RiverI love the light and colors of October. Today I rode my bike slowly, savoring the amazing colors and textures. This almost made me like fall better than spring. Amazingly, somehow, this October has not brought me sorrow. In the past two decades, my Octobers have been shadowed by the loss of two dear friends, who were victims of suicides that were nine years apart. I still dearly remember and greatly miss Alex and Eileen–and sometimes I cry a little–but it seems I have finally integrated my loss of them into a life lived more boldly than they were able.

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Resisting the deadness and coming alive

TimesheetRecently, I remembered a day in 2005, in which I was standing on a busy corner during morning rush, participating in “Morning Viz” with a local political campaign–“Morning Viz” being short for “morning visibility,” a gathering of volunteers with signs, in an effort to increase voter awareness.

The commuters rolled past, most of them grim and glazed, oblivious to the beauty of the day, resigned to their crappy commutes to their crappy jobs. One of the young volunteers noticed those resigned faces and said, “I don’t ever want to end up like one of them.”

That scenario stuck with me, and when I rejoined the paid workforce a couple of years later, I actively worked to fight becoming grim and glazed, intentionally finding ways to stay awake and alive during my commute, and, in the past few years, also fighting the deadening forces of an unsuitable job in a toxic environment.

At last, I was recently able to walk away from that job, even without other employment lined up, and move into a better lifestyle, one in which I am not bound to those who seem to only understand their own needs and not others’, or who are unwilling to work together for mutual benefit.

As the weeks of freedom from such bondage begin to stretch out behind me, each day I feel lighter, happier, more alive, and more excited about my future and wherever it may lead. Good-bye to the old way, hello to the new!

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