Finding the way in the darkness

Often times I write of how our trawler is a metaphor for our lives. In these dark days of the Coronavirus I find myself once again referring back to the comfort of the cruising trawler. We do not know what is ahead of us right now. We do not know when our stores can open up, our towns can open up, our arms can open up. We wait. We wait. And we wait.

I am reminded daily of the nights we have spent cruising on the Pascagoula River. Maybe we stayed too long with friends in the swimming hole. Or perhaps a late afternoon squall kept us hunkered on the beach at Horn Island. Either way we find ourselves in the dark gliding slowly up the river to our homeport. My skipper is a master at night navigation. He has taught me the need for extreme care and patience. The sky, the trees, and the water each bear a shade of dark grey to pitch black once the sun has slipped over the horizon. There is no way to know which way the water will lead unless you wait. At each bend in the river as the sky sends its soft grey glow to the surface of the water the way slowly comes into view. The reflection of the trees frame the banks of the river and the way opens up. It never fails. Navigate one curve this way and wait for the way to open ahead of you and follow it that way.

Some nights we became anxious. Perhaps clouds are brewing or fatigue setting in but the purr of the engines in the dark night assures us we will arrive safely at the dock if we hold steady the wheel, and keep our eyes on the sky. Ironically, before we learned the gift of the revealing night sky we used a huge bright beam to attempt to see the way only to have its white light blind us more as it reflected off of the bow. The process can’t be hurried. We can not shine a light into the darkness and not be blinded by its beam.

I feel blessed to have spent my time on this trawler. A swift vessel might have made me less confident about what lies ahead. It’s all about the journey in the trawler cruising world. Nothing happens quickly. There is only one way to navigate this uncertain path we are on. Just as the river will open up ahead of our boat so too will the path of life that awaits us in the post-Covid landscape. When? Only God knows that answer right now. So we wait. Knowing we will arrive safely at the dock if we hold steady at the helm, keep our eyes focused on the varying shades of darkness and believe that the way will reveal itself at exactly the right time.

Be still and know that I am God

I can’t find words. I have all this time on my hands, but I can’t find words. This virus. This thing that has decended on our world and robbed us of so much. It is truly paralyzing. The world has sort of just stopped spinning. So for days on end I have sat and stared at a blank screen with no words. Today I thought I’d give this a try.

Just weeks ago we rang in a new decade with our close friends. We stood on the beach looking out at a sunset, glasses raised and shouted our mantra “While Ya Can!” Who knew? Now we can’t! Now I am reading post after post of cruisers stuck on their journeys, holed up indefinitely. Many marinas closed. Access to the Keys closed. Borders closed. It makes me so sad for those who thought 2020 was going to be their year. They have dreamed it, planned it, packed it, stowed it and fueled it but now they are finding they may not be able to cast off the lines and go. It makes me so grateful to look back on our Day One.

This time of year under normal circumstances the northbound boats are on the move up this eastern ICW. Not so right now. The Waterway Guide, AGLCA and Dockwa are all monitoring and collaborating to keep would-be cruisers informed as to the numerous closures of marinas. Particularly the municipal facilities are posting closures as the virus sets new barriers in place. The prudent captain needs to stay put unless he knows the next marina he might need is still operating. This is a real-time chart which is changing by the hour!

As for Mac and I, we are blessed to be in one of the finest marinas on the east coast. Shelter Cove Marina on Hilton Head is truly a shelter. It is still open and operating as I write this post. We are on the I dock. The Disney Vacation Club of HHI is just up the ramp off of our stern. They are closed. It’s eerie. But several still move about the area since this is the live-aboard side of the marina.

Boaters are naturals at sheltering in place. A squally week or northern blow often keeps us holed up inside not moving, changing hoses, shining brass, reading, writing in our blog or purging holds. We’ve got this. Our space is our own. No one has been there and we are used to daily sanitizing and wipe-downs. We are used to hanging over the edge of the flybridge to chat up the neighbor down the dock. We just never knew it was called social distancing!

I am so grateful for a lot of things as we face these isolation days. Blues skies, sunshine and fresh air. We took the dinghy out Saturday and putted about. Since the beaches on the island are closed we found hundreds of others who had taken to the water in anything that would float. Kayaks to cruisers. They were out there. Nosed up to the oyster beds in kayaks and on paddle boards (with six feet of distance between them) the spring break stragglers found a way to get outside and have fun. In nearby Savannah our son tells me he observed lines at his local boat ramp longer than those on the Fourth of July!

So maybe, in the midst of all the stillness there is a spirit that keeps us itching to go. A spirit that will find the opening in the midst of the closings. A place where we can still be safe but also be sane. The water has always been that place for me. It’s where the Lord can whisper His message in the lap of the waves on the hull, the majesty of the sunset or the puff of the dolphin breaking the surface off the bow. He’s telling us without media coverage or social technology to “Be Still and know that I am God”.

Play hard. Pray harder.

Here we are at the end of the season of Mardi Gras and the beginning of Lent. It’s been a season of galas and gatherings. A season of sparkle and shine. But now it is time to put away the outward shine and work on the inside, shining up our souls.

The past few weeks have been bittersweet with all the gatherings we have attended. It was great to attend our ball. To see old friends and make some new. Fun to walk and ride parade routes filled with the smiling faces of neighbors.

There were also farewells to dear ones who went on to be in heaven. Mike lost a hunting buddy to cancer and Father Mike lost his battle with the disease as well. A reminder that life is fleeting. As quickly as the parade passes by so does a life. So make it well lived. These men did. I don’t know a lot about Mike’s buddy from the country life in Neely but as for Father Mike he left a huge impression on many. He gave my children and grandchildren their first Communion and first Sacrament of Penance. Gave our kids the tools of their faith to navigate their teenage years. Gave us parents the calm reinforcement we needed for those years as well.

As Lent unfolds before us I’m drawn to a reading shared by Dr Randy Roth at Father Mike’s funeral. Randy shared many thoughts and memories of time spent with Father and assured us that his legacy is living on in the Resurrection School community that he loved so much. Inclusion is the word he used to describe Father Mike, because include he did. Always. This Lent I will focus on attempting to follow the guidelines Randy spoke of in his eulogy for Father Mike.

Pray, don’t gossip.

Lead, don’t follow.

Smile, don’t frown.

Invite, don’t refuse.

Talk, don’t text.

Hold hands, don’t point fingers.

Include, don’t exclude.

Take a chance. Don’t be afraid.

Open the door. Don’t close one.

Play hard. Pray harder.

Be constructive. Don’t criticize.

Love don’t hate.

The one story Randy shared that brought us all to tears was when he knew he had to tell the football team about Father’s illness regressing. The football team was Father’s huge focus and he was their number one fan. In season, Mass lasted a few minutes longer because he had to brag on his boy’s accomplishments. When Randy had to tell the team that Father was really sick he relayed the Padres message. Play HARD pray HARDER. Let’s all apply that to our Lenten journey this year. I love to “play”. I’m sure you do too. Let’s just pray as hard as we play and see if Father Mike won’t make some amazing things happen as a result!

35 Minutes with Jesus

I am blessed to have four grandsons. The youngest one is Ben and he is quite precocious. He is seven. He has the gift of gab much like many who come before him in this family. I love conversing with him. Maybe because his scope of life is so narrow since his years are so few, thus he sees things around him in a very simple way. Simple by our grown up standards but quite deep when you consider this little guy is seven.

Anyway back in early December I had a weekend with Ben and his two brothers. Their parents were stealing a weekend with friends, a group of grownups, at a time when the chaos of fall sports had ended and the chaos of the holidays had not yet begun. A weekend of no parenting. Mac and I used to do the same. It’s a special stolen moment.

Ben loves to “swim” in our oversized tub in our Destin condo. Having filled the tub and added his bubbles I poured myself a wine and settled onto the “throne” to watch him swim and soak. Our conversation turned to Jesus. Now Ben is in first grade and rides the bus to school. He begins by telling me about his friend Mathew. “We’ve been knowing each other since we were about one years old”, he tells me. He doesn’t ride the same bus. Mathew rides number 722 and Ben rides number 704. After sharing a few more tidbits about buses that come late and buses that come early Ben tell me he spends 35 minutes on his bus ride. He has decided this is a good time to say his prayers. “I just like to talk to Jesus at this time since I dont have distractions.” When I ask him what he and Jesus talk about he tells me he asks Jesus to help him to get all his math right and remember how to spell “chase”. A particularly tough spelling word that is heavy on his mind today. Ben tells me that sometimes his friends distract him from his prayers. Sometimes they say “Ben! Ben!” And that annoys him and makes him lose his place in his prayers.

This simple little conversion hasn’t left my mind. I cherish its message. We all have 35 minutes at some point in our day. driving, working out, walking, tossing on a sleepless night…all good times to have a chat with Jesus. It’s a new year and we all have our personal resolutions lined up. Wouldn’t it be great if everyone put on the mind and heart of this seven year old and added 35 minutes with Jesus to their “bus ride”? It just might change the world.

‘‘Tis the season

Well here we are a few days from Christmas and coming to the end of another year. I have had the opportunity to be in my stores this season and I have so enjoyed the time with customers and our fabulous team members. My role has been mostly “elfing” at the wrap station. I love this role. It’s peaceful and hectic all at the same time. The hum of the business is all around with numerous conversations floating about, some between our associates and the customers, some the casual interactions among the groups of shoppers. The pace can be crazy at times. Wrap this, tag that, make more bows, clean up the wrapping station, chat up the customers, fold some more boxes …repeat! I love it!

I find in the crazy a peaceful satisfaction and overwhelming sense of gratitude that comes from being privileged to serve these loyal folks year after year. Knowing that a gift from Lee Tracy, the business we have spent forty plus years building, means so much to so many is both humbling and rewarding. Once again the same friends come in our doors trusting our team to guide them to the perfect gift purchase or dressing them for the important occasions the holiday season presents.

On Christmas Eve and Christmas Day I often pause in the midst of the buzz around me and picture scenes in other homes around other trees and hope and pray that our wrapping brings a smile and our selections delight. Because my Christmas is richer because you trusted us to bring yours. We are ever so grateful as we come to the end of another year for the people that believe in shopping with us, your neighbors. Small business is a roller coaster and Christmas week is the end of the wild ride when we hop off and run to the gates to jump back on and look up at that massive hill and winding turns as we scream “ Let’s do it again!!

I close by sharing our family’s annual video Christmas card. Click the link below to view. Merry Christmas everyone and may all of your dreams come true in the new decade ahead.

The McLaughlin Family Christmas Card


Ok, I admit it. I expected to come to Arkansas and be surrounded by toothless crazy rednecks. Not! Eureka Springs is positively charming. Filled with fascinating history and beautiful scenery, fall foliage, victorian homes, shops and pubs, and bavarian chalets. Best of all Yurts!

The top of the yurt. Skylight is retractable for fresh air to flow.

Carla and I took a road trip this week being hosted by her cousin in his wonderful cozy Yurt. Every board, every railing, every countertop has been crafted with loving care by Blake’s hands. It’s truly a work of art. The structure is round with windows stretching the entire back of the Yurt overlooking a wooded ridge. Its peaceful here. Uncomplicated. There is a respect for the surrounding land, lakes and wildlife. Birds lite on the railings just long enough to let you admire their amazing individuality. Belle and Bear, Blake and Melissa’s beautiful great pyrenees pups greet you in eager anticipation of a belly rub.

Our first night we venture to the Crescent Hotel. Built in 1886 this hotel boasts the most paranormal activity ever recorded on one site and uses that claim to fame to attract many for their Ghost Tours. As we entered the elevator one such guide joined us complete with black period attire and dead eyes! Being Halloween week they were amped up and were bustling with creepiness. Much like Hotel California it seems back in the 1880’s there was a doctor who lured patients to the hotel with the promise of a cure but they could check out but they would never leave. The huge incinerator on the grounds is rumored to have been mighty active. Anyway we sat on the balcony where the pizza was great, the craft beer enjoyable and the view amazing!

The largest outdoor passion play is staged here. The massive Jesus can be seen for miles.

Monday found us exploring the Downtown shopping scene where one can wander for hours and find anything from fudge to footstools. Very friendly folks greeted us at every turn. Shopping can bring on hunger and thirst so another fine old hotel was recommended. From the balcony of the Basin Park Hotel we watch the world go by on the winding streets below again sipping on the local suds and feasting on great grub. An evening drive found us counting deer and enjoying panoramic views of the lengthening shadows over Lake Leatherwood.

Antique shopping was Tuesday’s adventure. Plenty of sprawling shops dot the roadsides all around Eureka Springs. Can’t even count how many times we exclaimed, “I remember so-and-so used to have one of these.”! Again more amazing food and local brews await us at The Rockin Pig Saloon where we enjoyed a late lunch as the rain began to fall. Back to our cozy accommodations at Eureka Yurts!

Blake and Melissa are wonderful hosts! They clearly love the area and the town of Eureka Springs. I was pleasantly surprised at the culture, art, and fare of the area, not to mention the people and the views! Put this one on your bucket list. You won’t be sorry.

It’s a wrap! Reflections on Cruizin the Coast 2019

The shiny classic machines are now rolling north east or west. The beer tubs are being stowed and the bandstands taken down. But the memory of the greatest festival the south has to offer will remain in the hearts and on the minds of all who attended. Cruisin the Coast is an incredible event that takes place from state line to state line across the Mississippi Gulf Coast every year during the first week in October. Every town puts on their best face and rolls out the red carpet of southern hospitality as folks come in from nearly all 50 states and beyond. Every year we have the privilege of being front and center at LEE TRACY on the corner of Washington and Government Streets in fabulous Ocean Springs. It’s been called The World’s Largest Block Party. If you were there you know why. Everyone is in the party mood. The cars are the focus but the people are the best crowd anyone could ask to grace their streets and shop their shops. We have so many loyal repeat customers who stop in every year. There are hugs exchanged and news to catch up on. It’ s truly our favorite week! We are exhausted, but feeling blessed to have shared in another great event.

Katie, Chris and Dana spend the week greeting cruisers.

Visitors tell me they love this festival because there is no completion for best of show, no prize or trophy to collect, no pressure, just car talk, live music, fun friendly folks who have a common love and respect for the old classics. I have often wondered, and many times discussed, my concern that in not-too-many years there may be no one to love and appreciate these beautiful machines. What will happen to these cars? Who will love them? There are no computers in them. Nothing interactive or social. No bluetooth handsfree synching. They are simple and require a knowledge few possess to tinker with them. Just as Pelican’s engines require lots of time and TLC to keep them purring the cars of yesterday require the same. The young people of today may not have the patience for such machines. Friday, after just discussing this with one gentleman I was delighted to meet a 10 year old girl who showed me a picture of her dream car and told me she would have that 1976 blue VW beetle as soon as she could drive. So! There may be hope!

Most of our cruisers tend to be in the SaltyatSixty age bracket. Some of our pals who visit every year are actually much older and I get a little twinge as we say farewell every year and hope that they are well enough to return again next year. One addition I noticed this year were the number of bag chairs lining the streets that are actually rocking chairs! Now that might tell you our car buffs are aging! Some told me they no longer drive their prized car down to the coast. Some don’t bother with trailering. But still, car or no car, they come. “We never miss it!” is heard time and time again in conversations that drift down the streets. In the case of the newbies we served this year they assure us as they wave goodbye “We will be back!”

This post is dedicated to Bill Darnell. He never missed spending time with Mac at Cruisin! Sadly he isn’t with us this year as he has cruised on to Heaven. We felt his presence everywhere.

A Small town could be all towns

Living in a small southern town shows a slice of life that is fresh, fun, and uncomplicated. It involves families living, loving, shifting and sharing. It’s really so simple. Nothing has really changed since we raised our kids here. Parents swell with pride over football heroes, homecoming maids, cheerleaders and water boys. They watch out for each other’s children and administer discipline and hugs as needed. Parents navigate their own relationships while they encourage their kids to do the same. Us older souls offer unwanted advice hoping some attentive young ears will pick up on a small morsel of our “wisdom”.

It’s been a lot of years since I have sat through a Friday night show under the lights in a high school stadium. I forgot about it’s magic! Parents, neighbors, grandparents, babysitters, politicians, mechanics and friends set aside everything else when the lights come up on Friday night. The guy you bought tires from on Tuesday sits shoulder to shoulder with the woman who closed your recent real estate deal. This is America! My American anyway. Why does everything have to be so complicated out there in the land of constant media? Chunk it down and every town looks very much like this. Kids are kids. They want to belong. Want to matter. Want to participate Want to be loved. Parents want to succeed. Want to do it right. Want to fit in. Want to be loved. How simple can it get. Let’s all just turn off the media, whether in our faces or in our hands, and look into the eyes of the ones we love, or hope to love. It’s pretty simple. Jesus sort of had it figured out when he instructed us to “Love one another as I have loved you and Love your neighbor as yourself.” Crazy as it sounds; a high school football stadium on a Friday night might be where this shows its purest and truest side here in American. Think about it…

If you agree, share.


Note: This post went out as a partial post earlier today. This is the version that I meant to share with you. Sorry for the confusion.

Three trips to Cleveland in the past ten weeks have schooled me in the art of downsizing. My sister Lynn and her husband Tim have lived for years in the five bedroom family home that my parents built over fifty years ago. An improved housing market, lower mortgage rates and paining knees and hips led them to the decision to put their big house on the market and make a move to a home they can manage into their golden years. I have observed the process from afar. Only after visiting their new digs have I realized what a massive process is really required as one makes this life decision.

My sister is a quilter. Her handiwork graces every room in her home and in the homes of some of us fortunate enough to have received one of her heirlooms. (Mine was given to me on my fiftieth birthday and travels with me on Pelican.) Lynn’s approach to downsizing has been similar to the process she employs when planning a quilt. There is the design decision, the preparation, the selecting of materials, the measuring, the cutting, and the stitching. The beautiful finished product can’t be accomplished without each calculated step. Her downsizing process has been pretty much the same.


The decision to downsize in life comes to a sixty plus couple like any other life decision I suppose. Although I wonder when ours will be clear. Lynn knew she wanted to retire and that the big house was keeping her from it. The housing market in their area has heated up as young families in the thick of their “acquiring” years crave the neighborhood we grew up in. But first comes the search for a one story ranch in a desired area, close to things like health facilities, shopping and church. With baby boomers clambering to downsize all over Cleveland, Tim and Lynn were lucky to find just-the -right house in Bay Village.

In with the new

The new house needed lots of revisions to the somewhat dated floorplan and finishes. Walls are removed, the kitchen gets a full renovation, floors are replaced, the bathrooms are renovated to accommodate aging in place, the basement becomes a fantastic retreat for kids of all ages, the screened porch becomes a three-season room with new glass and screen sliders, the overgrown landscaping gets torn out and replaced with new hardscape and beds full of seasonal color. Lynn is uber-organized, determined, creative and decisive, all qualities necessary in this massive undertaking. The results reflect this. Their new home is beautifully designed, comfortable and perfect for the years ahead.

Out with the old

The old family home now needs to be listed and the same eye for detail and determination to stay on task rules this process as well. The house needs to be prepared to list. Small repairs are completed and rooms freshly painted in a color pleasing to the prospective buyer. Staging means evaluating many personal treasures and culling. Less is more in order to show a home at it’s best. Rooms look bigger. Buyers aren’t distracted by the sellers “life” but instead can visualize their own coming alive within the walls. As the Gods would have it their efforts pay off and the house sells for asking price within 24 hours!

Executing the plan

Now here’s where the rubber meets the road! Getting rid, giving up, giving away, compromising, purging, shredding, burning, stowing, packing, scrubbing the old, cleaning the new, moving, and re-staging. I’m not saying this would be easy for any couple and I’m sure Lynn and Tim had some words throughout the process but from a distance it looked like it was moving right along. The recycle pickup man even walked up the drive to tell Lynn “Good job on the paint”. She put kitty litter in all the cans, resealed them until the paint turned solid and set them all on the tree lawn to be picked up.

The movers were also impressed by Lynn’s systematic approach to the moving day. She ordered two trucks instead of one, had them load “stern to stern” at the end of the driveway (if you will humor my boating lingo) and loaded only one layer into each truck. The process is seamless as the movers don’t need as many tie downs and there are fewer steps to cover. Unloading goes through the same logistics. She has also measured ever wall in the new home and mapped all the furnishings on a graph paper floor plan long before moving day. This way each piece comes in the door and is set into place in it’s designated room

Now the subject of downsizing comes up between couples all the time as we round the bend into the years following 6-0. Lynn and Tim’s adventure took nearly three years. Several other friends have similar stories. We have met numerous couples who are not just downsizing their homes but sold all of their dirt and moved aboard their boat. Certainly Mac and I are finding ourselves visiting the subject time and time again. Just as the decision to take the year 2018 and grab ahold of the cruising dream took planning, the decision that looms on our life’s horizon to get rid of some of our dirt needs to be addressed. Which leads me to the question once again How do you know when you know that you know? Let me know where you are in the decision to downsize. Is it still ahead or in your rear view mirror? Leave a comment. Perhaps it will help the skipper and I make our decision!

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