So what’s on your agenda for today?

Do any of you have a recurring sensation of falling further behind in what you’re hoping to accomplish in a given day?

Is it one of the curses of being a “responsible adult”?

The mere thought of being seen as lazy or unproductive stirs up feelings of guilt and shame within me.

I can’t even imagine setting out without a to-do list. How about you?

And here I am, supposedly retired.

Not that I’m complaining. Now please excuse me while I move on to the next item.


When you see someplace you’ve known now in the news

The train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, has me mentally revisiting a part of my landscape from forty years ago.

At the time, I lived two counties to the north but was a member of one of three old-style Quaker Meetings in Columbiana County, where the accident took place. So I was down there at least once a week most of the year. The county was a mix of industrial and suburban, especially where it bordered Rust Belt Youngstown, and rural Appalachia along with touches of New England. One corner abutted the Ohio River and West Virginia.

The rail line in the headlines was like those running through a small city where I had worked in another corner of the state, a place I call Prairie Depot in my fiction. And East Palestine itself could be adjacent to the city at the core of my novel, Hometown News.

Churches included Mennonite and Brethren, in the peace tradition, as well as Evangelical Friends at the other end of the Quaker spectrum.

Retracing the terrain via satellite maps, I was struck by how much I’ve forgotten, even parts I had known fondly. Others were pretty gritty, even back then.

From a distance now, it’s like encountering a ghost in a haunted house I thought I’d left behind.

How to lose customers, chapter something or other

Perhaps you’ve called your auto dealer for a service appointment and been surprised to face a two- to three-week wait in the schedule. Yeah, yeah, blame it on the supply chain issues and the worker shortage.

Our nearest franchise has responded by limiting appointments to cars purchased there. Everyone else can be put on a waiting list, should a cancelation create an opening. Never mind that I’ve been a loyal customer for two years since moving from New Hampshire.

What miffs me is that when I bought my car before the opportunity for our relocation developed, my choice of the American-made brand was based on an awareness that it was the core of the only new-car dealer in Washington County. Its nearest competition is 2½ hours away or somewhere over in Canada.

I’ve been happy with the service department, even if it is a haul up the highway and back. Frankly, though, the car itself has left me wishing I’d stayed with Toyota.

Adding fuel to the fire is the coupons for discounts that show up in my inbox, sent from Detroit but applying only to the brand’s service departments.

Instead of encouraging me to buy my next vehicle there, I’m feeling ill will. In today’s business world, that’s not a good thing. You spend a lot on advertising to get a new customer. Maintaining an ongoing relationship is much cheaper.

As for those annoying “How are we doing” surveys that show up after an appointment, I do wish I’d get one now so I could say just how peeved I am.

Cold reality

In an effort to keep the fuel oil bill down, the family decided to set the furnace thermostat no higher than 57 degrees.

But I’m freezing.

I’m threatening to turn the air conditioner on, hoping for 65.


Am I turning into a gnome these days? You don’t even see the finger-free gloves I’m also wearing when I’m inside the house.

At first, I thought the ‘Mariner’ was a redundancy

 Capt. Mariner S. Crosby. Given his Christian name, it was inevitable that he would take to the sea. That’s what struck me the first time I wandered through Hillside Cemetery.

The second time I went to the graveyard, I was looking for that marker but couldn’t find it. Back home and at my computer, Find-a-Grave led me to the rest of the inscription, which is admittedly rather worn away, as well as some additional facts.

What I found was this:

“Lost at sea with his family and the Brig Sarah B. Crosby,” named for his wife. She and the four children, one of them an unnamed infant, are then listed on the white memorial – Jacob W., Mary B., and Lucy B.

The date of their demise is uncertain, “around Oct. 25, 1867” – in season for a hurricane or some other vicious storm, although a fire in a wooden ship can’t be ruled out.

I trotted back to the cemetery for a closer look. Here it is:

The broken column symbolizes the loss of an upstanding citizen in his prime.

The Chamber of Commerce website reveals more:

“Mariner Crosby was the master of the brig ‘Maria White’ in 1852 and the schooner ‘Mary Jane’ in 1855. From 1861-1863 Mariner was the master of the barque ‘Charles Heddle,’ also built by C.S. Huston,” in Eastport. Around the corner from me, actually. “Mariner’s last command was the brig ‘Sarah B. Crosby,’ named for his wife, which was built in Pembroke. He commanded this vessel from 1863 to 1867 when the vessel was reported overdue. Mariner, his wife Sarah and four children, as well as the crew and passengers, were lost at sea without a trace.”

The pillar is a broken mast, as the three rings of rope emphasize. And there’s a carving of a brig going down, all but one of its square sails blown away.

We’re not even told where the ship was bound, much less about its cargo, passengers, or crew. And a brig did require significant manpower to manage the massive square sails.

The two-masted 316-ton “Sarah B. Crosby” was built in Pembroke by George Russell in 1863 and then based out of Portland, bound for ports such as New York and St. John, New Brunswick.

I started to investigate and found a bit more.

She knew the travails of the sea, having wrecked at treacherous Sandy Hook, New Jersey, on March 1, 1865, with the passengers and crew safely removed. And then, after being abandoned, she was reclaimed and repaired, with shipments of coal from Halifax, Nova Scotia, later in the year.

On March 19, 1867, the New York Herald carried this notice: “Brig Sarah B Crosby (of Portland), Crosby, Measina, Jan 27, with fruit to Lawrence, Giles & Co, passed Gibraltar Feb 16; has had heavy westerly gales, with snow and hail, and split sails. Mar 13, latitude 41 30, longitude 65, spoke ship Michigan, from Liverpool for London.” (Measina, a mystery unto himself, was first mate. They would have been just off England at the time this information was relayed.)

I would like to know more in general about wives and children traveling with captains. It turns out to have been common, with a significant number of the children being born at sea or spending a large part of their childhood there. Wives were partners with shares in the business, whether they went abroad or stayed ashore. They even learned navigation, but did not interfere with the cook aboard ship. There were strict lines of authority. Beyond that, what were Sarah’s views and experiences? Was she even related to the 1841 Robert Bates house a few doors up the street from me? She was only 33 or so at the end; there’s no age for Jacob, though Mary would have been around 11 and Lucy, only seven.

While Mariner grew up in Eastport, the son of a Nova Scotia immigrant, Sarah was the daughter of a hotelier in Calais, Maine, best I can tell. Her father came from Massachusetts; her mother, New Hampshire. Mariner Crosby and Sarah E. Bates were married in Eastport February 12, 1855, by the Baptist minister Nathaniel Butler, of note himself. We have no idea how they met.

Mariner came to the sea naturally. At least two of his four brothers were also sea captains. Not just sailors or first masters but skippers.

Capt. Jerry died in Havana in 1879.

And Christopher Crosby led the racing yacht “Coronet” that defeated the “Dauntless” in a famed trans-Atlantic race in 1897. He went to sea at age 17 and was skipper by the time he turned 19. Yes, born to the sea.

And that’s as much of their story as I’m able to find, all prompted by one name in stone.

New phone, just as my old camera was dying

Just putting those two items in the same line sends me spinning, as if it’s natural they should ever be synonymous.

Let me proclaim I’m a true conservative, unlike those pretenders using that label. Not that I’m ever confined to tradition.

Take gift-giving in our household, for example, it doesn’t always happen on the intended date, whether Christmas or birthday. And I should point out (again), that it’s often a conspiratorial effort.

One example I’ll give is my new cell phone, which they’d been threatening to impose on me for several years now. They’d given me the previous one maybe a dozen years earlier, replacing the flip phone I had accepted only in case of a midnight emergency somewhere in the wilds of New Hampshire on my commute home from the newsroom.

So much for the history. Perhaps you remember I happen to be somewhat of a neo-Luddite, in no rush to learn yet one more new technology. I’m more interested in spending those hours doing something at hand other than retraining on a new device, like an endless loop of abuse.

Our move to the island was heightening the rationale that I really needed to upgrade. T-Mobile’s coverage here is spotty, and often nil off in the neighboring wilds, and whenever my text messages were arriving through Canada, which was often, they’d get turned into zip files that took forever to download. Photos were even worse.

Blogging, by the way, had prompted my photo shooting hobby years ago leading to the purchase of cheap Kodak point-and-shoot, which they eventually pressed me beyond by having me unwrap the Olympus that has provided many of the visuals here at the Barn. Over the past few years, my wife and elder daughter have been insisting I could do better with a good cell phone, and their many fine photos had me reluctantly agreeing. It’s just that I have a workable system going, ya know, and already have thousands of shots that need further sorting. Can’t I finish that first? Besides, shouldn’t photos be taken by cameras?

Well, no.

Last Christmas, everybody piled on the upgrade-Jnana bandwagon.

I didn’t know I needed the little LED ring to illuminate my face during Zoom meetings. OK, I finally “got” the idea that the lamp was supposed to clamp onto my laptop and glow on me, but I found that bright light in my was face annoying and visually taxing. But that lamp is rather nifty attached to the little bookshelf over my desk, and other Zoom participants have expressed their preference for the warm light setting rather than the clinically cold one. So maybe I’ve needed it.

Nor did I know I needed a short camera tripod, but there was the “lobster” in one of the next boxes I unwrapped. OK, cool, it would work for my Olympus, but what about the next two – the remote selfie button and the macro-micro lenses, both definitely cell-phone attachments?

That’s when they broke the news to me that time was up, the new phone was definitely included, or would be, as soon as they could haul me up to Calais to sign up, something that finally happened in late April.

As you might imagine, I was in no rush, but my Olympus was starting to act wonky. The zoom lens (yeah, zoom as in getting a closer look rather than pressing mute or chat) was getting stuck and failing to deploy, meaning my real, albeit digital, camera wasn’t working. Change would be inevitable, even if I am no longer pressing for a return to film, which I could never afford, anyway.

Off to the UScellular store we went, and I was instructed not to look at any of the prices. I’m still shocked by what we were paying for the family plan we were on, now that it’s been revealed to me.

OK, the new phone, a Galaxy S22 Ultra (does that impress you?), is a vast improvement over the S4 or earlier model it was replacing. The latter had no trade-in value, except maybe to a collector of obsolete technologies. The sales associate was rather kind in calling it a classic and keeping her laughter lighter than a sneering snicker.

Only after we were in the car and on the way home did my wife tell me my new phone retails for a thousand bucks. That’s enough to frighten me from touching it. Oops, a figure oil smear! And kids wear these in the pocket behind their butts? I’m never going there, I’m toting mine securely in the pocket of my messenger bag, next to my nitro pills. Keep your hands off.

Flash ahead, Slim and I are getting acquainted, gingerly, and I’m starting to play with the camera half, too. Hate to admit it, but I’m impressed.

Now, what am I supposed to do with my old phone and my old camera? I can’t just junk them, can I?

There are times it’s taking me all day to write three sentences

That’s not the way it used to be, not when I was younger and could dash things off in the flush of inspiration, but it is what I’ve encountered revising my last two books.

It’s not even Wes McNair’s advice to write 400 good words every day. Not unless one of those sentences is an over-the-top wonder of 250 to 300 words.

The turtle pace here seems to arise when I’m trying to weave some new material into an existing draft, making it connect on two sides seamlessly. It’s not just the craft of fine writing, actually, but also the thinking more deeply about the unseen significance of the subject at hand.  What, exactly, is beneath the surface before us?

Of course, as a writer, this pace also has me wondering if I’ve simply used up all the easy stuff and left the bigger challenges for my senior years.

Any suggestions?