Dear Friends, I hope you are well and coping with modern life. Whether you are among family or not I hope you are not too lonely. I have heard that some of my Christmas cards haven’t made it to their destinations–the world’s post offices are under more pressure than usual. Somehow these things surprise me even though they shouldn’t. I nurture my innocence.

Here is a Christmas poem I felt I should get out; it will have a short shelf life.

Best wishes for 2021. May the New Year see you safely to the other side of this crisis.

Best Gift of 2020

Mom says this December won’t go as planned,

What with contagion rolling over the land,

How I’d like to believe that everything is just fine,

Dad’s got a Christmas tree and he’s mulling red wine.

But my friend Sammy who has texted through lockdown,

Says Santa’s health may not be too sound,

He can’t ho-ho-ho; he’s not at his best,

Sam says the jolly fat man’s had a covid test.

So now what to think? What could be worse?

Will the reindeer be dragging a holiday hearse?

I hope St. Nick gets better, he has to because,

I want a PlayStation Five from Santa Claus.

My sister Sarah sits watching Fox News,

Where four angry people are shouting their views,

One lady cries out: “Your Santa’s all done!

Long ago I predicted this Christmas wouldn’t come!”

I shudder and ask: “Could this be true?

Could Santa’s Noel flights really be through?

Where will we get presents for under the tree?

Who will take care of little kids like me?”

Sarah says: “Tut-tut, don’t be naïve,

Stories on this channel often deceive.

I learn most things that I need to know,

From National Public Radio.”

“Alexa,” I say, “Alexa tune in!

I need to hear news without any spin!”

Will old Kris Kringle be in condition,

To fly out the reindeer on his holiday mission?”

I sit by the set while I wait for Santa’s story,

And I text all my friends while I fidget with worry,

I picture St. Nick feverish, shivering with cold,

Wondering what brought him to live at the North Pole.

Or is he surrounded by a bunch of groveling elves,

Sitting amid long rows of over-packed shelves,

All stacked to the rafters with toy trucks and dolls,

And iPads and iPhones for making fancy calls.

Perhaps there are skates and bikes, like you’ve never seen,

And great bins of candy canes, striped red, white and green,

Christmas cheer on standby, ready to go,

But we’ll all get zip if Santa doesn’t show.

Hark! The radio begins to sing,

The story of Santa on a downswing,

A lady interprets from a Russian translator,

The rumor that St. Nick is on a ventilator.

Next she brings on two other journalists,

For something she calls news analysis.

One says: “It’s high time that the whole world moved on,

Santa’s long been outdone by Amazon.”

The next says: “Government should save the situation,

By spending tax money on gifts and education,

And tapping into the wealth of our treasury,

To ensure the future of Christmas equity.”

My father walks in and begins to scoff,

“Alexa,” he says, “Alexa turn it off!”

To me he says: “Don’t listen during the day,

Experts flap their lips but have nothing to say.”

My confusion runs on, all the way to Christmas Eve,

And I go to bed not knowing what to believe,

Covid has changed life in every way I can name,

But somehow I thought that Christmas would stay the same.

It won’t be much fun to look at the Christmas hoard,

If it has been all drop-shipped, wrapped up in cardboard,

And who wants the same gifts, all across the nation,

As everyone else at any level of taxation?

What can I expect? Whom can I trust?

Will this be the first time that Christmas goes bust?

I lay awake and think about all the opinions,

Some sweet, some stinky, like a mixed bag of onions.

I nod off then awake to some sound on the roof,

A tap-tapping of feet and the clump of a hoof,

What I see out my dormer gives me a start:

Eight reindeer in line, harnessed six feet apart.

I wonder if this could be the very first instance,

Of reindeer flying while observing social distance.

And then from downstairs there comes a muffled thump,

Maybe I’ll see Santa! Out of bed I jump.

I creep down the steps and what do I see?

Jolly St. Nicholas next to the tree,

Tucking in gifts as quick as can be,

Wearing a white mask and other P.P.E.

He spots me and laughs; he’s such a jolly fellow!

And his belly shakes like a big bowl of Jell-O,

With his twinkling eye he gives me a wink,

And rises up the chimney before I can think.

I open the window to watch the reindeer take flight,

Hauling Santa’s sleigh in a blue bath of moonlight,

And then carried to me over the cold, crisp air,

I hear: “Good night and Merry Christmas back there.”

And so now alone my mind quickly switches,

To the presents inside and my Christmas wishes,

I know if I open gifts Mom and Dad will freak,

I won’t go all the way; I’ll just sneak a peek.

So what do I find? Boxes of N-ninety-five masks,

Gloves and hand sanitizer in self pumping casks.

It’s not what I expected, but that’s fine because,

At least now I can believe in Santa Claus.                                                                                                                                                              

Fresh Turtles

turtles on table

Sometimes, when trouble seems to be everywhere, one can get lucky and glimpse another, hopeful reality. Today, I was fortunate enough to come across these newly hatched turtles, making the perilous journey from their nest to a nearby creek. They sat by the roadside, their sights set on the future, but in danger of being squished; so I picked them up for a photo op, then set them near the creek. Once they realized they were close to water, they took off at an impressive speed. I saw them tumble down the bank into the drink and begin swimming. With a little help they had made it to the river. Somehow that injected a dose of hope into my day.



I don’t usually comment on current events, but the cold blooded killing of George Floyd I have found disturbing enough to do so. There is more than one horrific aspect to this incident when you consider the thoughts and experiences of the people involved. To see the life being slowly squeezed out of a man is truly awful. I could hear bystanders in the video footage asking: “Are they killing him?” Some others tried to reason with the police, saying that Floyd had had enough. It makes me wonder how can anyone intervene in a situation that is so monstrously wrong? How do you stop bad police, who are armed, possibly hostile, and have their office on their side? We’re conditioned to obey police, it seems even when they are killing somebody. A tactical person might have attacked the police cruisers and spread the cops out, but that is beyond what most people would consider.

What if there was a way to bring speedy attention to this sort of abuse of power? What if those bystanders recording in Minneapolis could have quickly broadcast their footage to police headquarters, or someone with the authority to call off Derek Chauvin and his cohorts? I don’t know anything about code or the inner workings of phones, but how about a number you could punch, say *66, that would work nationwide to instantly deliver footage of a bad situation and give the location? Perhaps it could be part of the 911 network.

Law enforcement is difficult, most cops are alright, and I don’t relish more surveillance. I’m certain my suggestion would bring new problems, but it looks like a mechanism is needed to bring out of control cops back into line when their blood is up. Some concrete action is required here. Maybe at the very least, kneeling on someone’s neck could be banned as a tactic. That would be a start.

Sink into a Song


If you are self isolating and getting little inspiration from the latest news, maybe this is a good moment to reconnect to some of your favorite music. Most people nowadays listen passively—ear buds in while washing the dishes or clicking through screens on the computer. When I can, I like to listen actively; I pick an album and take in the whole program from start to finish–no random playlist! At the same time, it’s great to look at jacket art and pictures of the band if I have a CD. I particularly enjoy reading the lyrics as a catchy tune plays; great songwriters convey mood and imagery with an enviable economy of words coupled to all the pretty notes. I’ve found reading lyrics from my favorite tunes confers a greater feeling of connection to the song and artist, and actively listening in this way allows me to carry a song, with its mood and message, around in my head for days.

So, bust loose from the news periodically. Comfort and inspiration are only a few songs away. Sink into a great album, and oh yeah, wash your hands.


Be well.

Second Efforts

Lately I have had my head down replacing rusted steel in the bottom of my boat. Twenty-five years ago I first made this sort of effort on the boat, and as I completed work I said to myself “this should last twenty years–easy”–like that day in the twentieth year would never come. Happily, I’ve just completed round two of bottom work, and can at last spend more time churning out words for my second novel. Getting back to the keyboard is like a return to the gym at first, but less traumatic than welding steel plate. I hope I’ll write a third novel, and a fourth–welding steel, however, I’m pretty sure I’ve done for the last time.

I’m pleased to have had A Dream of Steam reviewed in Publishers Weekly this week. You can see the review at:

New Steel


20190907_221523 (1)

Last night I met up with old shipmates from my earliest days of sailing, most of whom I haven’t seen in thirty years. Recognizing each other was a bit comical since some of us have changed considerably while others haven’t so much. After a short time some sort of acceptance set in and the familiar characteristics of old friends wiped away what the years had made of us all. It was a fantastic night, catching up and also reliving some of the crazy adventures and dilemmas of our formative years. We talked and sang late into the night, but at last I had to go home. After leaving I reflected that these were people I had really known, certainly among the best friends I’ve ever had. I don’t know why I haven’t seen them in so many years.

Past Lives

Past Lives

For several years now my wife and I have had something of a nomadic existence, shifting from north to south with the change of season, and sailing over blue ocean. But life as a nomad isn’t always chasing the great herds across fresh prairie; quite often you return to old, familiar ground and in doing so feel a sense of punctuation in the passage of time.

Recently, after a five year absence, we returned to our house–a house that we built together with my father. What struck me about being there was how well my hands knew where the switches and knobs were, how sure my feet were of the number of stairs when walking in the dark. I would reach, repeatedly, for where a certain lamp used to be, only to find myself mildly surprised that it had been moved. It is strange to think that our physical selves carry memories that our conscious minds stow away. I have been through this before when rejoining ships I have worked on in the past, and also in a different way when meeting up with old, faraway friends.  These episodes of muscle memory feel like visits to a former version of your self; they call to mind past efforts and struggles that partly explain who you are today.

Now I’m somewhere else again, working with some pals from past jobs. It’s a sunny spring day in Maine.

Seize the Moment

After three days and nights of solid freezing temperatures, on Thursday, my wife Corinna and I decided to go skating on a nearby lake. We took due precautions; I chopped a small hole in the ice and checked the thickness. When I found it was three inches deep, I knew we would be safe going out so, off we went! Conditions were marvelous: the surface was mirror smooth for the most part, a light dusting of snow coated the ice, and hardly any wind could be felt. We skated the lake’s entire shoreline—about 4 ½ miles.

On Friday a mix up in scheduling sent Corinna home from work early. The forecast predicted snow for the weekend so we knew that this could be our last chance to have a whole lake to skate on. Despite having a long list of things to do, I played hooky as well and we skated around the lake in the opposite direction.

Seize the day is a popular maxim and this week we definitely feel we caught hold of ours. Today a light fluffy powder has fallen over the region, about 4” deep. Skating’s out, however it would be perfect for skiing, but sadly, one can’t seize the day everyday so today I’m back to routine.

My other half skating–she’s not great at figures, but it’s her only flaw.

Debut at The Moth

20181218_203411And so we have arrived at December 21st, the shortest day and longest night of the year in the northern hemisphere. I miss the daylight, but the long night hours are good for a few activities–among them storytelling. With telling and hearing good stories in mind, my wife and I have recently started attending The Moth, hosted by Michigan Radio in Ann Arbor, and on Wednesday night I made it up on stage to tell a five-minute, true story about joy–the theme for the evening.

I haven’t done much public speaking, so my heart was pumping a little stronger than normal as I took the stage. Having written down the story, I had rehearsed beforehand, but as I was given my instructions–“Stand with your feet here. Speak loudly. Don’t touch the microphone.”–all my pretty words fell out of my head. I pulled it together and began, I know I rushed a bit, but it came out okay.

I’m still not sure what I’ve learned here so far, however telling a true story from your past in front of an audience has a much more immediate feeling of danger to it than writing a novel where you have so many ways to hide. I’ll definitely try The Moth again with the hope that it will improve my craft.

I hope you have a happy holiday with friends and family, or a quiet time with your dog and a good book.



Things to Do at a Dead Book Signing

Bring the magpies
Stack of Gold

A couple of weeks ago, I set out for my first book signing full of hope. I got to the book store early, lugged in three boxes of books, set up my table, stocked my cash box with correct change, then sat down—pens at the ready—and waited. Despite my and the store’s promotional efforts, only about twenty-five people drifted through over the next three hours. Apparently there was a Michigan vs. Ohio football game on—something I had overlooked. Even so I made one sale, and if even one more person is reading your book, you’ve expanded your readership. I also learned a few things: Keep an eye on the football schedule; People generally turn right when they walk into a store unless they already know where they are going. If you are set up on the left side of the store, and the customers enter right then circle left around the floor plan, they will have made their purchases before reaching your spot. If given a choice, set up on the right side of a store; It is hard to look interesting or remotely intelligent as part of a static display, have something to do. With this in mind I have the following suggestions:

  1. Write something. People will assume you are scribbling away at your next book and it might draw them in. If you can be writing your next book then it’s time well spent.
  2. Build castles out of peanut butter cups. This will attract hungry people, tinkerers and kids. They flock to the gold wrappers like magpies, and if they eat one of your building blocks…well, then they kind of owe you; they’ll have to pick up your book for at least a glance. Have a thumb-through copy at hand that you don’t mind getting chocolate on.

Anyhow, I must extend my thanks to 2nd and Charles bookstore for hosting me, even if it was a quiet time for both of us.

A Dream of Steam releases on Monday.