Sunday, September 1, 2013

Sabbatical

A year and a half ago I had this fantastic idea that when I went on Maternity Leave, I would get to enjoy a sabbatical of sorts.  By then I would have been working for 10 years + straight, with no real break, aside from holidays and vacation days and such and during my sabbatical I would organize my house, organize the storage in my house, visit all the museums and stuff I wanted to do but never had the time to do because I was working, have a baby, write thank-you notes for all the baby gifts, take care of that baby, recover from a C-section, and plant my spring garden while making home cooked dinners for three months. 

Then reality set in. 

The first two months of maternity leave were just spent understanding the whole newborn thing and being glad to have brushed your teeth and put on clean clothes by 2 PM.  I did get to do a few things that I typically wouldn't do while working but none of that involved taking the newborn to the abundance of cultural exhibits in the First Borough, in fact, it was more along the lines of meeting my mom or my aunt for lunch and going to Starbucks for a coffee and drinking it there, instead of getting it to go.  Yes, that was the extent of my 'sabbatical'. 

Nowadays, it's possible, though rare, to get a break to do something entirely for yourself, and enriching, all the while minimizing the guilt you feel for not spending a Saturday with said newborn and newborn's daddy.  I'm not talking about doing one's CPE on 325-page study guides on Variable Purpose Entities.  This will get jammed into 2013 somehow.  Last weekend I was able to be a part of a sailing crew on my co-worker, Kristine, and her husband John's boat, Liberty, as part of the Luekemia and Lymphoma Society's regatta for the cure. 

I love boats.  I love water, I love swimming, I love the beach, I love scuba, I theoretically love sailing, though I don't really have any first hand experience at it.  In 2012, during said sabbatical, while Rob was away for business in (sadly, landlocked) Pittsburgh, I got into watching these Coast Guard rescue shows on the Weather Channel and decided I missed my calling to service as a member of the Coast Guard.  Had I been employed by USCG, I'm sure I would never have to work in a place like the desert and be subjected to 50 Shades of Brown.  The experience of my youth, growing up in Bay Ridge near the mouth of the Hudson clearly qualified me as a maritime expert, if not also an expert on suspension-span bridge engineering and thus bridge toll calculating.  ($15 WTF?)

Kristine and John, along with their sailing mentor, Margot, were plotting a sail on their 30 foot Catalina (this is a brand of sailboat) Liberty for the late August Leukemia Regatta.  Margot was recovering (in remission) from Leukemia and this race had a special meaning for them.  They also enlisted another couple, who, during a practice run proved to be quite the seasick crew, and had to be replaced.  Kristine asked me if I was interested (you bet I was), and I just needed to make sure that leaving baby and baby daddy home without a car for a day would be a workable situation.  Rob and I sailed around for a day two years ago with Kristine and John when I was 4 months pregnant.  This was not a race.  That was a nice calm sailing day and I got to 'man the helm' (steer the boat) most of the day.  Without an inkling of seasickness at 4 months of pregnancy, I had earned my slot on the regatta team.  Margot enlisted her oldest and best first mate, Shaunie.  Shaunie and Margot grew up on the south shore of Connecticut, and Margo was Shaunie's sailing instructor at sail camp in Essex some 45 years earlier.  These two ladies, now in their late 50's, spoke to each other about sailing in a code only the oldest and best of friends would understand.  I was fairly clueless, but I was not seasick.  And that's all that mattered.  So I thought.

I had been studying sailing for about 7 years now, and by studying, I mean I found a very thorough text book, bought it and read it.  I had never taken a sailing lesson.  Location, timing and cost of instruction was never making it real easy to just sign up.  Even my growing up next to the Narrows was not a sufficient nautical education, nor was watching Coast Guard Rescue on The Weather Channel for a few days.  True sailing skills seemed like something learned only by sailing as a child or teenager.  Or buying a boat as an adult and paying outright for instruction.  I had none of this.  But I had Kristine and John who were willing to invite me to sailing world here and there and I appreciated that. 

On the morning of the regatta, I was up at the crack of dawn, no, before the crack of dawn, drove out to the marina in Westbrook, CT and on Liberty by 8 AM.  I got to meet the sailing legend that is Margot shortly there after, and then Shaunie.  Both ladies asked me about my sailing experience.  I felt like I was on an interview  for which I was grossly underqualified.  Then they asked me about my racing experience.  That was a flat out nil.  Margot then asked me my surname, for which I was surprised by, and also figured she was fishing for some kind of sailing bloodline, which I also did not have.  Was my surname WASPy enough to sail in a regatta off the coast of Connecticut?  I gave her both my maiden name and my married name and let her pick which one she liked better.  I don't know the root of that question but it kind of died there. 

We were a crew of 5.  John was technically the captain but Margot was really calling the shots.  Kristine and Shaunie were in charge of tacking, which means to bring the jib (front) sail from one side of the boat to the other.  I was in charge of moving the main sail, but we didn't really do much of that so I became the weight and the lookout at the front of the boat (really the sides) and as we tacked from side to side, I moved my position from sitting off one side to the other.  This was a real physical work out as I had to get up from the edge of the boat, across the deck, over the cabin, under the boom (holds the main sail in place) all while wearing a hat and a life jacket.  On one tack my leg got stuck between two lines (ropes) and I lost a bit of skin there.  This was a grunt job but I guess that's what you get when you are the least skilled, least knowlegable, and perhaps have an insufficient surname for sailing a boat. 

Skinned calves and a few black and blues later, I got some reprieve to just hang out on the side of the boat while we made good time.  I cannot explain to you the start of the race but according to Margot and Shaunie, it went badly.  We then headed south into the Long Island Sound and had to arrive at and turn port-side (to the left) around a fixed buoy.  It was a big red buoy with bells, and as we approached, it looked as though the tides switched and the wind just died.  It took us about a half hour just to turn around a thing no more than six feet in diameter.  My job was still to tack myself left to right, as requested.  But the gong, gong, gong of the buoy bells were like a sad reminder, with no wind, that we were going no where fast.  At this point Margot and Shaunie were yelling commands and observances to each other in a sail-talk I had never heard before, not in my sailing textbook, not on my last-minute YouTube crash courses in sailing, the two skippers got us around the buoy in regulation direction with no wind.  That's a skill you can't pick up on the Weather Channel.

As we made our way to the finish line, I sat off the edge of the boat, as directed watching the man-of-war sized jellyfish of late summer skim the surface of the Long Island Sound.  Shaunie came over and sat with me and we chatted about sailing and water and such.  She was familiar with the Verrazano-Narrows and my little slice of the Hudson River.  Shaunie was a landscape architect and worked on a project at Poly Prep, a private school not far from where I grew up in the Second Borough.  I later found out she was a Capen House Smith Alum ('77) and our paths had a lot more in common than we first thought.  It was like an instantaneous connection between the big sister and the little sister, or the skipper and the indentured servant working her way for sea passage. 

We came upon the finish line, just before 1600, when the race time would expire.  We started at 1100 and I thought five hours was a ridiculous amount of time to finish a race but we needed every second.  Again, just as we needed speed and steering ability, the wind died down on us, just a few feet away from the finish line.  We were so close I thought I'd have a better chance of jumping off the boat and swimming to the mark.  At least I knew how to do that.  Again, Shaunie and Margot jumped into their long-term sailing mate code-speak, not wasting any over- or under-steer to preserve every little bit of wind speed to get us over that line and ahead of our two competitors who were just on our heels.  Margot and Shaunie got Liberty across the line at 15:58, with just moments to spare. 

Apparantly sailing has a very thoroughly calculated handicap system, and this vaulted us from next to last place to third to last place, or out of seven boats, we came in 4th.  Liberty's heavily handicapped due to its hull being built for recreation and not for speed.  It became very evident to me that sailing is the kind of sport where you do your best, but you can also keep an eye on your competitors, and there is no shortage of sh1t you can talk about them/their boats amongst your own crew. 

Team Liberty went to the after-regatta barbeque, had some more chit-chat  and some beers.  Margot's boat had been dry docked since she had become ill and she had full expectation to back-seat drive (sail) John and Kristine until she could get her boat and her self back to full speed.  I made my way home on the 75 mile drive from Westbrook to the Seventh Borough.  Tired, bruised, a little sunburnt, and thoroughly educated. 


                                                                                     *****


One random Tuesday in May I was suited up, all dressed up for a meeting related to the Long Island City Project, plus another presentation, so I decided some time late in the day to go to another presentation after work, leaving baby and baby daddy home to fend for their own dinner. 

The Smith College club of NY was hosting Professor of Economics, Mahnaz Mahdavi, to discuss the recent financial meltdown in the Eurozone.  So I registered for the event just a few hours before it started, made my way to East 83rd street and entered the old brick townhouse-now-political-club which was hosting the event.  As with all the Smith Alum events I've been to in Manhattan, it was set up for a relatively small gathering, supplying cases upon cases of wine and very little food.  So I fixed a plate of about 3 strawberries, one piece of cheese and two crackers, and a full glass of red wine.  I remember I had been to a similar event when I was a junior or maybe a sophomore in college, and alum who lived in a full-floor doorman-elevator-straight-to-the-apartment kind of set up on Park Avenue kept feeding those of us just a hair under the legal drinking age plenty of wine, but the food portion of the event consisted of a few crackers and maybe a  handful of grapes.  Now where I'm from, no one leaves hungry, in fact I've left block parties with plates of food for the rest of my family who didn't even show up at said event.  #FirstBoroughProblems.

So as to not get wrecked at an Economics presentation, or start 'donating' randomly to the college by writing blank checks, I've learned my lesson and had a half sandwich before I showed up.  While people were milling about, I took a seat and noticed many of the alums were much older than I (they must come for the wine), though there were a few younger alums, who of course turned out to be PhD candidates and all work for the World Bank or IMF.  A much older alum ('46) struck up a conversation with me.  Her name was Ruth and she grew up in Manhattan and then moved to White Plains (Seventh Borough) after she was married.  We immediately struck a chord about adjusting to the suburbs and hating it at first, even though her transition was some 60 years before mine.  I told her it was my impetus to start a blog.  "An accountant who blogs, that should be interesting" Ruth said.  I smiled, "Well that was kind of the gist of my opening blog post", I said.  Ruth got it.  Nail on the head.  Turns out she still works as a consultant to a law firm after a long career as a political science teacher/lecturer.  She asked me if my company was giving out free tickets to Citifield.  I told her if her firm banks with us, she should talk to her relationship manager about free tickets, given the Mets record, and it was only May at this point, you know something will always be available.  She thanked me for the tip.

Professor Mahdavi got up to speak, and her Euro crisis topic was nothing new, but the level of details she went into brought a lot of clarity to the issue.  When countries joined the Eurozone, a sort of 'equalization' went into effect impacting their lending rates.  Some countries got cheap money, some used these funds well, others squandered it, and their failures brought the whole house to its knees.  Can Europe work together?  See World War I.  Not convinced.  See World War II.  Well life is a compromise boys and girls, life is a compromise.  During the lecture Ruth, now in her 80's, started to nod off.  I was surprised she was still working at her age, and she had told me her daughter had just retired, but she was not ready for retirement herself.  She told me she had another lecture to attend to at 8:30 and promptly, at 8:15, as if she were the only one to hear an alarm, jolted up, excused herself and went off to her second lecture of the evening.  I was impressed.

Even though Mahnaz was still fabulously stylish as she had been when I took her Corporate Finance class in the pre-Euro days of 1999, I was more interested in her work with the Women and Financial Independence project at Smith than the we've-already-taken-our-EURO-write-downs lecture of the night.  After the q &a I went to wait in line to speak with her and gave her my card, if there was any way I could assist with the financial independence project, I would be happy to help.  I thought that program was a fantastic idea and I wished it was up and running when I was a student.  It's a disservice to our students to give them a $200K education and put them out in the world not understanding not only the cost of a $200K education, but the value of a $200K education. 

I left that lecture in a happy mood, having had an intellectual discussion about current events, a nice chat with fellow alums, including my Seventh Borough Sister, Ruth, a catch-up with Mahnaz, and the hopes she'd call me to help with the Financial Independence project.  Like call me the next day.  I then realized it was late May and the school year was over, but it will start again.  I would be truly excited to help out with that project, maybe get a day trip to Noho, I'd have to bring my own sandwich, but I know they will supply the wine.

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