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A tour of our wonder wheels

How could we possibly pass up a campervan adorned with knitting?

How could we possibly pass up a campervan adorned with knitting?

We’re currently parked next to our most favourite beach in the world, Piha, just an hour’s drive from Auckland city. We set off just yesterday, after finding the perfect motor caravan for us our second day in Auckland (considering ourselves very lucky to have grabbed it just minutes after it was posted on Trademe!) Good, clean, reasonably-priced caravans go fast apparently, even in “winter” (put in quotes as the girls are off running on the beach barefoot and with short sleeves. But it’s early still in the season….). One thing is certain: we’ve never taken off on a boat five days after purchasing it.

Tonight, we’ll camp over by Kitekite falls just outside of town, but right now we’re in front of the Piha Surf Lifesaving Club and burger & chip shack which has free wifi so I thought I’d give you a little tour of our new teeny, tiny home. Firstly, I don’t miss my writing desk in the woods–here’s what I’m looking at now:

Writing desk

That’s the beach right outside, with a view of Lion rock. And more knitting (not done by me, but maybe I’ll find the time to knit again….). And that’s our cat, Chi, in the window keeping a lookout. Below is a view of our living area. The benches are very long, about 7 feet each. The table drops down to make an “emperor” sized bed–it’s huge! The girls share the double bed above the cab (right now it’s full of the bags of clothes I’m still figuring out where to store).

View forwardHere’s our little fridge. It runs on propane, 12-volts or 240-volts. Pretty neat.

Fridge

Here’s our front door, with what I suspect is a permanent pile of sandy shoes.

Door

The galley is across the aft end of the van. There is even instant hot water! Seriously, this thing is luxury like we’ve never had underway.

Galley

A tiny head (also with perpetual Ikea bag of laundry).

The head

Plenty of storage for the essentials.

View aft

In Piha

The girls sit up front, where there are three seat belts. I sit in the back, and hang onto the knitting with white knuckles.

The girls sit up front, where there are three seat belts. I sit in the back, and hang onto the knitting with white knuckles.

3 comments

How to Move Back to New Zealand in 59 Easy Steps

Back in NZ!Despite all our years of writing about sailing, the most popular post on our blog ever remains How to Move to New Zealand in 31 Easy Steps. We’ve gotten hundreds (okay, maybe 99 or so) emails from people all over the world asking for more details on how we did it and how do they get started in their own immigration process. We’re not immigration consultants, so we can’t give any advice other than just do it, you won’t regret it. Which is but one of many, many reasons we decided to follow our own advice, again.

I’m typing this from the friends’ couch we’ve been surfing on for the past few days in Auckland, New Zealand. We arrived, bleary-eyed from our 14 hours of flying, two days ago and I can report with definity that it is SO good to be back in this beautiful, happy, peaceful country.

But it’s been a busy, busy, six weeks.

1. Decide to finally listen to the voice in my head that’s been screaming the past year this is not right! you were where you were supposed to be! sure the woods are beautiful and the house comfortable…but there is so much more out there….

2. Drink a wee dram or two of scotch on a late-April Friday night with Michael.

3. Fantasize about giving it all up and moving back to New Zealand to continue our residency.

4. Start planning to give it all up and move back to New Zealand to continue our residency.

5. Look up plane tickets online.

6. Find one-way tickets at a great price.

7. Decide to sleep on it.

8. Wake up.

9. Realize that we weren’t that drunk after all.

10. Buy plane tickets.

11. Decide to rent out house.

12. Realize there’s no way in hell we’d be able to rent house for enough to cover mortgage even if we worked day and night for six weeks to finish the basement doubling the size of the house.

13. Put house on the market.

14. Give stuff away.

15. Sell stuff on Craigslist.

16. Clean house.

17. Give our dog to the family who’d fostered her from the shelter originally and were over the moon to have her cuteness back.

18. Give our kitties to my sister-in-law’s mom who now adores them (thank you Lisa!!!).

19. Give stuff away.

20. Sell stuff on Craigslist.

21. Reopen our NZ bank account.

22. Wire some money over.

23. Michael quits job.

24. Get storage unit.

25. Start filling it with stuff.

26. Pack stuff.

27. Give stuff away.

28. Start making piles of stuff to bring, trying to stick to the essentials (clothes, shoes, toiletries, electronics, 4 stuffies per each kid, basic drawing supplies, journals, Legos, coats, books, sleeping bags, Kindles, Aeropress).

Packing for a year or more for a family of four? Not my most favorite step.

Packing for a year or more for a family of four? Not my most favorite step.

29. Make arrangements to stay with friends our first few nights.

30. Start researching motorhome market on trademe.

31. Sell our family car.

32. Cancel gymnastics & dance classes.

33. Cancel cell phones, internet, garbage service, car insurance.

34. Keep house clean between showings.

We made the last bubble bath in the house a good one.

We made sure the last bubble bath in the house was a good one.

35. Invite friends over for a final Bon Voyage Bonfire.

36. Give stuff away.

37. Return shitty mattress to Costco.

38. Pack everything into six large bags to check and four small backpacks to carry on plane.

...but I did it!!

…but I did it!!

39. Give food to neighbors.

40. Lots of teary goodbyes.

41. Load up our little old pickup and drive to Grandpa’s house.

42. Enjoy a last weekend with family.

43. Give pickup to Grandpa in exchange for a ride to the airport.

44. Pile in Grandpa’s car and head to airport which includes a ferry ride to Seattle.

45. Another teary goodbye.

46. Unload all 14 bags.

47. Check 6 of them.

48. Wait to board flight. Enjoy the first hours with nothing to do in weeks.

The secret to travelling long distances with kids? ELECTRONIC DEVICES.

The secret to traveling long distances with kids? ELECTRONIC DEVICES.

49. Enjoy the last free and fast Wifi we’ll see in a very long time.

50. First flight to Los Angeles (2 hours).

51. Second flight to Auckland (12 hours).

We flew on Air NZ's brand new Boeing 777. The economy seats are as small and agonizing as ever, but the entertainment can't be beat.

We flew on Air NZ’s brand new Boeing 777. The economy seats are as small and agonizing as ever, but the entertainment and free wine can’t be beat.

52. Arrive Auckland at 6:30 am.

53. Try not to jump up and down with giddiness when immigration officer stamps our passports and says “welcome back!”

54. Enjoy amazingly delicious flat white coffees.

55. Grab new sim cards right at the airport.

56. Shuttle to Jucy rental car facility to pick up our El Cheapo.

57. Upgrade car to next larger since can’t fit all bags in the super compact.

58. Drive to bank to see if debit card is there waiting for us as promised.

59. Disappointed that it’s not. But who cares? We’re back in New Zealand.

Best friends, reunited. Traveling has always been about the connections we make with people along the way and we are so grateful to be on this path again.

Best friends, reunited. Traveling has always been about the connections we make with people along the way and we are so grateful to be on this path again.

10 comments

Packing for life

Books

When Robert and I decided to take Bobs, our daughter of nine, and spend a summer cruising the intricate coastline of British Columbia, the procedure appeared to be comparatively simple. We’d buy a boat, stow supplies aboard and depart. Bobs had never been on shipboard, and Robert and I had never navigated or lived in a cruiser, but freshness would add zest to the adventure.

Having made our decision, we put it into execution in our usual forthright fashion, for we get on faster by trying out a scheme than thinking about it.

-Kathrene Pinkerton, Three’s a Crew (1940)

One of the things I miss the most while living on a boat is my books, or more accurately having my books where I can actually see them. Wondertime only had a single tiny bookshelf in the forward cabin. That didn’t stop us from having books aboard, of course. The girls had fabric bins at the base of their beds filled with them; they were also stuffed into their lockers and stacked next to their pillows. There were three plastic crates of books in the pilot[storage] berth in the hallway and baskets of library books in our aft “family room.” When we moved all of those books off the boat, the waterline went up three inches and we gained at least a knot and a half in boatspeed.

We left a great many behind in New Zealand, but shipped (too many) back to Washington. And it was a glorious day when those books met up with the ones I’d left behind in our storage unit in Olympia upon the shelves of an old china cabinet I found secondhand. I could stand and gaze at them all lined up there neatly, so happy, on those shelves for hours. I’ve actually read a lot of them. Our used cruising guides are all there, as are the first books that introduced me to the idea of voyaging under sail. But many just sit there, waiting, filled with promise of stories yet to read.

So it was with great sadness last week that I took each one down off their temporary shelves, held it in my hands for a moment, then tucked it back into a plastic storage crate. Another pile destined for the Goodwill grew, but not one of those was from the four shelves of travel/sailing books. (It only takes a glace at our bookshelves to see where my heart lies.)

One of those books was one I’d not yet read, but that I had found on a marina book exchange shelf years ago. It was a paperback reprint of a book written in the 1930s, before The Curve of Time even, of a small family that ups and moves from San Francisco onto a small power cruiser they’d just purchased in Seattle. They had suddenly got the crazy idea (“going foreign” Gasp!) to explore the B.C. and Alaska coasts for the summer. They didn’t stop for seven years. Kathrene Pinkerton wrote about her family’s adventures in the 1920s, in what is likely the first book ever to describe family adventuring on the sea.

On page 18, of Three’s a Crew, Kathrene writes:

For the first time I wondered if we had been sane on that day when we had so abruptly decided to cruise along the British Columbia and Alaska coasts. Twenty-two months of steady writing had entitled Robert to a vacation, and those months had completed five years in one locality. Almost unconsciously we had been relinquishing our foot-loose instincts and accepting the creed that a family should “stay put.” We deserved no credit for this attitude. By the time we had followed the usual parental routine of proper schools, dancing classes, the inevitable orthodentia for a growing child and a decent neighborhood in which to bring up a daughter, had added a few outlets for ourselves in golf, theaters, concerts and dinner parties, there were no funds with which to do anything but “stay put.” And after we had bought these routine requirements with our writing, there was no energy to expend in wandering.

It’s hard to believe that was written over 75 years ago, but it’s true. What’s even more true is that we feel the same way, 75 years later. Our money is finite. Our days are finite. The only thing that really makes sense is take full advantage of each and every one.

(As a side note: it never seems to fail that no matter if my books are on a shelf, or in boxes, or on my Kindle: just the right one always seems to land in front of me.)

And so I pack the books away. We sell the furniture. Give outgrown toys and clothes away. We tearily pass our cats and dog onto friends and relatives. We sell the cars and the house. There is a tiny pile in my closet of things to bring with us: we each get to check a 50 lb. bag on our Air New Zealand flight, along with a small carry-on.

It’s stressful, but we’re all tingly with excitement. All four of us. It’s invigorating to pare down to the truest essentials of living, what is all we need. I suppose we’ve finally accepted our wandering blues. It feels so good to shed the stuff that I thought we needed to make a home. The girls ask each and every day how much longer until they get to go back to New Zealand. They think they are going home. I think they may have been right all along.

All that matters in the world: our family and our tickets to freedom.

All that matters in the world: our little family and our tickets to freedom.

We are bringing thousands of books with us.

I always thought the birthmark on Holly's calf looked a little bit like a map of New Zealand. So I thought to compare it to an actual map. Am I crazy or...? (Wait. Don't answer that.)

I always thought the birthmark on Holly’s calf looked a little bit like a map of New Zealand. So I thought to compare it to an actual map of the South Island. Am I crazy or…? (Wait. Don’t answer that.)

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The book that changed our lives

Wondertime Girls at Cape Reinga

There are pivotal moments in a child’s life when a single hug is worth more than a dozen Hope Diamonds. Will you be there? Will you know? Will you be able to sense that moment and realize its importance? Will you have the wisdom to stop whatever mundane thing you are doing, embrace your child, and say, “I love you”?

—Gary “Cap’n Fatty” Goodlander, from the foreword to Voyaging With Kids

 

Voyaging With Kids Cover

Nearly a year has passed since we’ve returned to the U.S. from New Zealand.

It has been a busy and wonderful year. But it has not been an easy year.

We’ve manifested the idyllic home life we envisioned while afloat: cats and a dog and kids running around in the woods. Getting to spend time with our extended families again. A comfortable couch to put our feet up at the end of the day to watch Game of Thrones. All my books freed from their storage boxes and lined up neatly on shelves. Time to write, thanks to our local school district’s “school for homeschoolers.”

I have also spent most of the past year writing Voyaging With Kids with my two co-authors, Behan and Michael. Sometimes this was the most difficult thing of all, and for reasons completely unexpected. Sure there were the hours and hours of rewrites, sorting photos, interviewing other cruising families. The carpel tunnel in my right wrist flared up. My eyeballs bugged out, dry and gritty, from so many hours staring at my laptop screen. But this was not the difficult part: at the end of a long writing or editing day I’d fall asleep exhausted, but exhilarated, at what we were creating. It’s a really, really good book and anyone contemplating longer-term family travel–not just via boat–will find value in it.

No, the difficult part was writing about the time in our lives when we had…time. It seemed so simple, living and sailing aboard Wondertime. I know that many days were anything but that, and some days I wanted to jump overboard just to get a few moments to myself. But as our girls have grown, I see now that was due mostly to their ages. Now at 6 and 9 they entertain themselves for hours (they are doing just that right now as I type this). Which is what makes my heart hurt, the fact that they are growing up so, so fast and our time together just keeps speeding on. The weeks fly by with all our scheduled activities. Michael is at work 10 hours a day, what is required to pay for our new, idyllic life, and misses out on even more.

The difficult part was missing being a cruising family: slow meals together, hours to read aloud, playing games together, meandering down a warm, deserted beach, impromptu get-to-togethers with new friends. Watching our girls grow into fascinating, inquisitive people.

The difficult part is that the dreams won’t stop. Places we want to see, things we want to do… just keep coming. I felt like a fraud at times, writing about how amazing it is to travel as a family, how showing our girls the world and how other people live–and how much they are the same–was the best education we could possibly give them. How experiences are far more important than things. How time with people is more important than anything. All the while struggling to find these things in our new land life.

So a funny thing happened while writing a book that we hope will help many other families to let go of all that’s unimportant, take a chance, and go out and slowly explore the world.

It convinced me to do the same.

And then there’s something else. Another type of clock has been ticking, and as mid-June is approaching it’s been getting louder and louder. It’s the date our New Zealand residency will expire if we’re not back on NZ soil by then. When we flew back to the States last year we’d accepted that we were giving that up. Or so we thought.

Because, the truth be told, after all the soul-searching we’ve done the past year it’s become crystal clear: we’d rather live as paupers in a tiny RV in New Zealand, traveling around and getting some part-time work (or working part of the year) and having the rest to explore as a family. Time together again.

We left part of our hearts in that beautiful, friendly, socially-advanced country, but we thought we could let it go in favor of a “better” life. We didn’t get a better life, we got a different one. Some things are more difficult down there, some here. But one thing is for sure: we can’t let the dream, and the hope for the future, of our adoptive home of New Zealand go.

So we won’t. It’s time to let the wind blow us around again, for a little bit longer.

We spent our final week in NZ traveling in a small motorhome. The one will buy will not be even close to this luxurious. But no matter. We know what true luxury means: time together.

We spent our final week in NZ traveling in a small motorhome. The one we’ll buy when we’re back in early June will not be even close to this luxurious. But no matter. We know what true luxury means: time together.

Driving in New Zealand doesn't have all the drama of voyaging under sail...but it's close.

Driving in New Zealand doesn’t have all the drama of voyaging under sail…but it’s close.

Where else can you wake up to find miniature ponies outside your front door?

Where else can you wake up to find miniature ponies outside your front door?

There is so much cool shit to see.

There is so much cool shit to see.

"Mom, can we go back to Piha when we go back to New Zealand?" Yes, yes we can, Holly.

“Mom, can we go back to Piha when we go back to New Zealand?”

22 comments

Will they remember?

South Pacific Departure - March 17, 2012

The photo above was taken by a friend of ours three years ago, on March 17th, 2012. We had just untied Wondertime’s docklines and were motoring towards the San Jose del Cabo marina entrance, towards we-had-no-idea what lay ahead for us in the Pacific Ocean. We were trying not to think about the 2600 miles left to go but focusing instead on all the stories that we were about to encounter. My hands probably shook as I coiled the docklines and stowed them deep in a locker. We wouldn’t be needing those again for months. I remember being mostly excited and a little bit terrified, what would become my usual state before a passage. The girls were probably below, looking at books or magazines, completely unaware of what their crazy parents were about to put them through.

As the days at sea wore on and the miles passed quickly under our overladen keel our family and crew fell into our own comfortable routine. The girls were groggy that first day but by day 2 they were climbing the walls, rolling around in our double bunk laughing as the waves tossed them from side to side. I remember watching the stars go out one by one at dawn as I sipped from a steaming cup of Good Earth tea. I remember the streaks of phosphorescent light shooting around our boat in the pitch black night as nocturnal dolphins came by to say hello. I remember the hours and hours of cuddling with my two girls in our bunk reading aloud. We snuggled under a light blanket at the start. Two weeks later we were sweating under a rattling fan in our underwear. Those were the weeks we read the first five (or was it six?) in the “Series of Unfortunate Events.” I’ll never forget the most beautiful color in the world, of the deep deep South Pacific sea.

South Pacific blues

But what do our girls remember, now that all this time has passed since then, an eternity in a kid’s life? Holly is now 6, twice the age she was during our time in the Pacific. When the media was all abuzz last year with the tragic ending of our friends’ voyage aboard Rebel Heart, I couldn’t help noticing that among all the ignorant rancor was the oft-repeated sentiment “Why take your little kids across an ocean when they won’t even remember it?”

I have asked myself that same question, many times. Leah, who was 6, has rather random memories, but the ones she does have are deep and vivid. She remembers the giant napoleon wrasse we snorkeled with at Fakarava, and the sharks. She remembers dancing late at night under a full moon on Fetoko Island in Tonga and playing in the Corn Hole tournament. Most of her memories are from our time in New Zealand: Piha beach, the 100-year old bach we loved to stay in, her school and friends, the Auckland Museum, riding scooters to the computer lounge at our marina.

Holly remembers these things, too. She’s always begging to go back to New Zealand “where it’s sunny.” Her memories of our time getting there, however, are pretty dim. She says she remembers snorkeling with the infamous napoleon wrasse. She remembers being seasick (even though I’ve assured her it was really only the one time). She remembers burying her body in soft “cozy sand.” She remembers Wondertime, since we only said goodbye to her last year. But when I ask her what else she recalls about her trip through the South Pacific, her face draws a blank. It all happened when she was so young.

Shellback sisters

But even though Holly can’t articulate it with words, her soul remembers the wandering years of her babyhood. Last November, a few weeks before her 6th birthday, we were wandering boredly through the aisles of Target. Suddenly she spotted something, and rushed over to inspect it. It was a bright pink Hello Kitty rolling suitcase. She caressed it, then grabbed it off the shelf to try it out. We pulled out the extending handle then she rolled the obnoxious suitcase up and down the travel gear isle.

“Mom, I really, really, really want this suitcase,” she said.

“But we don’t have any trips planned soon, honey,” I replied.

“We need to plan one then.”

I told her that we couldn’t buy it that day, but we’d put it on her birthday wish list.

The Hello Kitty suitcase was eventually forgotten (thank god) but her travel plans have only ramped up since then. At Costco, she sits in the cart while I pick out sausage and cat food, thumbing slowly through the Costco travel brochure. Her dream destination is Hawaii (she vividly recalls swimming in the warm sea during our 24-hour layovers there two years ago on our visit home) and has spent hours watching the Hawaii travel channel via our Roku. In the meantime, she’s had to be content with the few small weekend road trips we’ve done over the past year, but she’s always the first in our family to have her backpack packed and waiting by the door.

Listening to our daughter’s travel dreams take shape (she’s going to move to Hawaii when she’s grown up, by the way, but also keep a house in Hollywood for when she’s working on movies. We’re welcome to visit anytime.) has made me see that our voyage was about much more than just racking up a pile of memories, especially for our kids. Even the youngest member of our little family has been irrevocably altered by the experience…mostly in the wanting to see more of this big beautiful world.

February 2015: Pacific Ocean, Washington, USA

February 2015: Pacific Ocean, Washington, USA

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The Things We Are Bringing Ashore

The first salmon arrived in our creek last November. They are gone now, leaving only their bones and tiny pink salmon eggs that will hatch in the spring.

The first salmon swam up our creek last November. They are gone now; only their bones and the tiny pink salmon eggs that are their future remain.

It’s no fun to think about a long cruise coming to an end. As I’ve claimed before, I still think it’s the worst part of cruising although missing family and friends back home and lightening rank right up there. Cruising changes you, and it’s incredibly difficult to figure out how to fit yourself back among the things that don’t change and those that did while you were away at sea, when you’re not even sure how you’ve changed to begin with and can’t remember what you were like before. See? Fun times.

Part of the process that’s helped for us is to consider what we want to take from our sea life to our current land life. I don’t subscribe to the theory that cruising boats hold the patent on simple, environmentally-sensitive living (in fact, maintaining a big salt-encrusted boat is anything but simple and have you smelled bottom paint lately?) But there are many, many things about our liveaboard lives that we treasure, and those are what we will bring ashore with us. Here’s a few:

Small Living

Our house is a mere 1,100 square feet. For four people living under one roof in America that nearly qualifies us as a Tiny Home family. But not quite: we have two bedrooms, two bathrooms (one with a ginormous bathtub), a kitchen, a living room, and an enclosed section of porch that is our cats’ room/my office/guest room/toy room/craft area. The people that built our house put in one of those 1980s intercom systems. We think that’s hilarious as we’re never more than 10 feet from each other, still. We can light up our living room pellet stove and the whole house is over 80F in an hour. It’s cozy in every sense of the word and we can’t imagine ever needing more space than this.

Our house is small, but the tub is big.

Our house is small, but the tub is big.

Less Stuff

I’ll admit this remains my nemesis. No matter how hard we try to resist it, stuff just keeps coming our lives and we must resist resist resist. It doesn’t help that you can buy anything and everything here in the U.S. and it’s practically all cheap. I’m a thrift shop junkie, but I have to keep reminding myself that just because that wool coat at Goodwill is only $15 doesn’t mean I need to add another to the lineup in our coat closet. The thing is, it took four months for our 26 boxes of stuff (yeah, I know) to arrive from New Zealand and I think I only missed maybe one box of it. For months we lived with what we’d carried with us on the plane and the couple of boxes of household goods we’d left in storage. One trip to the Goodwill for some plates and bowls and we were set. It was enough. More than enough, actually: the simplicity of a few loved items and pieces of clothing feels so much more liberating than having to look into overstuffed closets and wondering what to toss. Less is more. Except when it comes to books.

Energy Efficiencies

We will always love the self-sufficiency of living on a boat at anchor. We caught rain to drink, we made power from the sun. We dried our clothes on the lifelines. Now, we still catch rain to drink…technically (we have a well) and last summer I would hang our clothes out on a rack to dry in the sun. I do enjoy our dishwasher and my ancient washing machine, even though it shrieks like a banshee during the spin cycle. The house is brick, has 1-foot thick insulation on all sides, and an efficient heat pump. It’s very cozy. And we’ve been slowly replacing all the light bulbs in our house with LED versions, just like we did aboard Wondertime.

Winter Forest

Immersion in Nature

Another thing we loved about cruising was being fully immersed in nature. We felt a true part of the earth; there was no insulation against the beauty and the terror of nature. It was marvelous. While Auckland will always be our favorite city on earth, after 18 months there we knew we weren’t cut out for permanent city life. Now, we’re surrounded by acres of native forest, fresh air, wild animals (we saw a bobcat sneaking away at dusk the other night). Except: now we sleep like babies when the wind howls through the trees during these winter storms that roar through.

Doing Nothing

We believe–especially after experiencing how rushed everyone seems to be on land–that it’s so important to spend time doing, well, nothing. For a while, we’d get all worked up that we didn’t have any plans for the upcoming weekend. But then we took a step back and realized: who cares?? We enjoy just sitting around watching the moss grow together. The girls come up with all sorts of imaginary games on their own still. They build forts, open up “pet shops.” Letting them have unstructured time to just be kids is one of the best gifts we can give them. We used to do this for weeks on end, after all.

Immersed in new books after a trip to our local library.

Immersed in new books after a trip to our local library.

Homeschooling

We gave school a go. We really did. A year or so of school in New Zealand, and half a year here back in the States. But we don’t think it’s for us. Not now at least. Here’s how I know:

  • When I walk into the girls’ elementary school here, it feels exactly like the one I went to 30 years ago. True, they have far less recess and time for art now, but nothing else has changed. It’s all the same: curriculums, worksheets, standardized tests, naughty chairs. We know this doesn’t work and it’s no way to prepare kids for the “just in time” way we seek out knowledge and information in our modern world—why are we still teaching kids this way?
  • Leah told me that she’s the student responsible for putting up the window shade when their school does intruder (read: shooter) drills.
  • With the exception of recess and lunch, they really don’t like school.

But they love learning. So that’s what we’re going to let them do.

A New BHAG

All our friends laughed at us when we got back. “How long is this going to last?” they asked. Who knows? We sure don’t. But we know we love the Pacific Northwest, we love living in our little house in the woods, and we love sailing. We love traveling together. We love Mexico too. We love showing our girls all the possibility that the world offers, that’s theirs for the taking. We’re working on a plan to combine all those things for the long haul, to make our next Big Hairy Audacious Goal happen.

Michael has been working on finishing our basement. It will be a 1-bedroom apartment that we'll rent out to help fund more (part-time) cruising.

Michael has been working on finishing our basement. It will be a 1-bedroom apartment that we’ll rent out to help fund more (part-time) cruising.

I hope she likes riding in the dinghy.

I hope she likes riding in the dinghy.

 

2 comments

Goodbye, Dear Friend

No Voyage

by Mary Oliver

I wake earlier, now that the birds have come
And sing in the unfailing trees.
On a cot by an open window
I lie like land used up, while spring unfolds.

Now of all voyagers I remember, who among them
Did not board ship with grief among their maps?—
Till it seemed men never go somewhere, they only leave
Wherever they are, when the dying begins.

For myself, I find my wanting life
Implores no novelty and no disguise of distance;
Where, in what country, might I put down these thoughts,
Who still am citizen of this fallen city?

On a cot by an open window, I lie and remember
While the birds in the trees sing of the circle of time.
Let the dying go on, and let me, if I can,
Inherit from disaster before I move.

O, I go to see the great ships ride from harbor,
And my wounds leap with impatience; yet I turn back
To sort the weeping ruins of my house:
Here or nowhere I will make peace with the fact.

~From New and Selected Poems, Volume One

 

120414_lastlook

5 comments

A Tour of My Writing Mind and Some News

Lulu, the ultimate writing distraction

Back when we were living in Auckland last January, I had a webpage open on my laptop. My finger was poised above my touchpad, nearly ready to click. The button the little white finger on my screen hovered over read: “Click here if you accept our offer of admission for the three years of hell that is nursing school” or something like that.

Just then, I saw a new email had arrived. I hesitated. I clicked over to my Gmail tab to read the message. It was from my friend, Michael Robertson. He had sent it to me and another cruising friend, Behan Gifford. In it, Michael wrote he had overdosed on chocolate covered espresso beans the night before during his watch. While he had since recovered, one of the delusional thoughts that had entered his brain the previous night remained when morning finally arrived. He explained his wild-haired idea to us as best he could. Did we think we could do it?

I promptly forgot about clicking that button for nursing school. I finally admitted to myself that while it will likely not bring fame, or money, but rather back spasms, tears, and frustration, this was the sign I was looking for. That I should do what I’ve always wanted, which is just to write stuff for other people to read and hopefully change something tiny about the world. Because while at the end of a full day of writing my wrists are kinked and my brain is sore, looking at those words on the page brings such personal fulfillment and joy. And then utter defeat, because they all suck and will need to be changed the next day.

Behan nominated me to answer a few questions for a writer’s blog tour that’s going around. I won’t nominate anyone else, because I don’t want to stress anyone out, but if you want to answer the questions on your own blog, do let me know and I’ll add a link.

 

What am I currently working on?

The project Michael envisioned while high on espresso beans is quickly coming to fruition: the three of us are coauthoring a book we’re calling Voyaging With Kids, a Guide to Family Life Afloat. It’s the book we all wished we’d had when we first cast off years ago. The book will be published by L&L Pardey Books when it’s completed. Our mission is to draft a guide as complete and up-to-date with as many differing viewpoints as possible with all the aspects of sail or power cruising with kids we can think of: from choosing a boat, homeschooling, laundry, health care, babies, teens, relationship issues, swallowing the anchor, and much more.

While this project is quickly hurtling towards deadline, I’ve also decided to write a novel as part of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). It’s like the marathon of the writing world. What seems to be developing before my bleary eyes is a middle grade (for 9-12s) fiction book. It involves a sailboat and a tropical island and cute boys, natch. I honestly have no idea what will come of these particular words, but I am having a hoot writing them down. I’ve also learned what it feels like to sit down and write when I swear I have nothing to say because in order to “win” NaNoWriMo (i.e. get 50K words down by November 30th) I have to average 1,667 words a day. I’ve discovered that once I sit down, fingers poised over the keyboard, a story clue will pop out of nowhere in an hour or two. I’ll start typing then and be off and away in my own invented world where I have very little control over my imaginary people for a few hours. It’s really, really fun.

 

How does my work differ from others in my genre?

Since I’m not really sure what my genre is, I have no idea. I like to keep it real, I like to tell stories, I like to make people feel like they are not alone. But that’s not all that different from other writers, is it? I’m still discovering what my genre is, but while I’m enjoying my non-fiction and various freelance writing projects, I’ve always been a lover of fiction and have a strong feeling that’s where I’m going to spend my writing time in the future. Maybe.

 

PegaLeah, age 5Why do I write what I do?

So here’s why I decided to do NaNoWriMo at the last minute this year: Leah, at nearly 9, is having a world of trouble finding books that she likes. She’s a voracious reader, but she hates books about “stupid” girls like you find in “Dork Diaries,” and “stupid pony books” [she also hates being reminded that she was a pony from the ages of 4 to 5.] Her favorite characters are Coraline from “Coraline” and Violet from “A Series of Unfortunate Events” but she really prefers humor and adventure, over the  horror-for-children genre that seems to be popular. But check out this list of the most popular middle grade books: how many of those feature strong pre-teen girl characters? After struggling to find books featuring likeable, strong girls at her 7th-grade reading level but 9-year-old maturity, I thought what the heck? I’ll write a book for Leah. I’m not sure I’m succeeding at that, but I’m definitely learning a lot about writing in the process.

Voyaging With Kids follows a similar reasoning: the cruising world needs it, it will help people, we want to write it, so off we go. I’m loving writing this book too, except it makes me want to pack my swimsuit and jandals in a bag and fly back to my lonely boat. (But I just double-checked my piggy bank. Still empty except for a few paʻanga rolling around in there.)

 

How does my writing process work?

I sit down in a chair and I type on my laptop. Sometimes I just stay in bed in my jammies, or sit on the couch with my feet up on a bean bag. It’s a hard life. I’m drinking a lot of coffee lately (but maybe that’s because it’s dark by 4:30?)

Even if I manage to cobble down some notes or an outline, what I usually write is totally different. I don’t use notebooks. I’ve tried. I’ve got stacks of empty notebooks, both pretty and plain. Instead, I use Evernote since I can access notes on my phone and any computer I’m using. For coauthoring, we are using Word and Dropbox. For my fiction projects, I’m using Scrivener; it’s an amazing program for organizing all the bits and pieces that come out of thin air and maybe even into your brain someday.

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Back to school, back to writing

The girls arrive home from school

This blog has been quiet lately. I suppose that’s normal, since Wondertime is still 7,000 miles away and we haven’t been doing much sailing here or anywhere. Both girls are back in school full-time, a kindergartener and a third grader. They ride the yellow school bus to and fro and are generally having a great time, making new friends and getting re-acquainted with old ones. They both rush home excited to complete their homework so we must have done something right as we fumbled along in our boatschooling.

Which leaves me, home alone, all by myself for seven — count ’em! — SEVEN hours a day. For the first time in nearly nine years. It’s heaven, seriously. I’m not eating bon bons on the couch and watching daytime TV (is that even on still?), although I have picked up my Kindle during the day a few times. No, I’ve been pounding this keyboard like I’m trying to put it out of commission. And couldn’t be happier.

I’m loving writing full-time, and like anything, am finding the more that I do what I love, the more opportunities pop out of seemingly nowhere. I’ve been writing about sailing of course, but also touching on topics that I don’t like to write about, and finding those stories just as important.

Pacific Yachting Cover - November 2014

I’ve also been working on a much bigger writing project that I’m very excited about. More news on that will come in a month or two, so stay tuned.

When boats stop cruising and posts dwindle away to nothing, I’m always disappointed. I want to know what’s next for the people I’ve followed along across oceans. What are they doing now? How have they changed? What have they learned? I’m still trying to figure out that myself, so I’ll keep writing, with hopes to encourage others to take a chance, whether it’s cruising or anything else.

What are you wondering about? Let me know in the comments, or send an email. I’d love to write about it.

Leah writing a report for school. It’s not due for three more weeks. Maybe she didn’t get the procrastination gene?

My little brother finally gets hitched to his junior high sweetheart. Congratulations Cam and Katelyn!

My adorable baby brother finally gets hitched to his junior high sweetheart. Congratulations Cam and Katelyn!

Bubble girls

Bubble girls

It's been four years since our first real winter. It's coming, and we can't wait.

It’s been four years since we’ve experienced a real winter. It’s coming, and we can’t wait.

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Home Waters

Back on the water, Olympia, WA USA

We went sailing last weekend. It was late Sunday afternoon, on a friend’s small boat. We sailed back and forth in superlight summer breeze across the head of Olympia’s Budd Inlet. After a whirlwind past four months, we felt…done.

Back in May, still in New Zealand, we bought a house in our old, affordable Olympia neighborhood next to Capitol Forest, packed and shipped our stuff back to the U.S., moved Wondertime to the sales dock in Whangarei, kissed our good ship good-bye, took a quick RV trip up to Cape Reinga, jetted back to Washington State, signed our house papers, moved our eight bags in, unloaded our storage unit, bought some patio chairs, then sat back and listened to the birds twitter in the tops of our 7 acres of trees with a proper Pacific Northwest IPA in hand.

Was it as easy as that? God no. Many times during the process of returning home did I feel like I was going to explode into a thousand pieces. But it was necessary, and knowing that kept us going. Earlier this year, we tired of the struggle and pulled the plug. It was that simple. The lack of any kind of support system was wrecking havoc on our family. Struggling to make financial ends meet in one of the most expensive cities in the world was disheartening, with Michael trudging off to a well-paying job daily. We had to sneakaboard to sleep in our home. We couldn’t afford to visit our families, and they couldn’t afford to visit us. We missed them, and were sad they had missed so much of our girls growing up already. Our simple life aboard and abroad had become anything but. We love New Zealand so, it was a terrible decision to make.

Somehow, it all came together and we were back in Olympia by late May. In June, Michael started work again and the girls and I kept ourselves busy making our new house a home (o massive thrift shops! how I missed you!), rekindled old friendships, and played in our creek. It’s been a quiet summer: catching frogs, getting to know our new/old neighbors better, carving trails, camping in the backyard, fireworks, sprinklers, s’mores over the fire, watching the weeds grow. Settling back in. Missing New Zealand profoundly, as we knew we would. Everyone does.

It’s late August now, only two more weeks until school starts up. Michael’s been helping our good friend Garth (you might remember reading about him on our way south, he was our first brave crewmember) get the engine of his little Pearson 28 running before summer’s run out. We finally got the chance to head out with him last weekend, on a perfect PNW late-summer afternoon.

Sailing our favorite waters

Of course, the engine wouldn’t start when we got out to the boat. Not a problem for Michael MacGyver Johnson who jumped below, contorted his body in impossible ways in the tiny quarter cabin and rewired that sucker. He was determined to get us out on the water.

As expected, the engine purred to life soon after and we puttered out of the marina. In 5 knots of wind we put up the sails, cut the engine, and felt the weight of our world drop away at the so familiar sound of water trickling past the hull.

Leah had been below reading her kindle (having earlier refused to go out with us because “my sailing days are over” and “sailing is stupid”). She grabbed a life jacket and joined Holly on the bow. Not far ahead was Hope Island and she suddenly begged to go there, to see the Onion Tree once again, hike our trail again. We hated to break it to her that we were only out for a few hours, and besides we hadn’t a dinghy with us and weren’t going to swim ashore. Another day, we promised.

Sailing girls, Olympia

We zig-zagged back and forth several times, then Michael handed me the tiller. It had been a long, long time since I’d held a tiller on a small boat. Such a simple and true thing. Just a titch in one direction or the other and I could feel the exact moment when the boat was satisfied. I’d hold it there for a while, and then the wind would shift a bit, or change in velocity and I’d have to make the proper adjustment. Then we’d carry on.

With the tiller in my hand, I saw that everything I wanted is right here: two beautiful, happy children, a partner in life, love, and adventure who is willing to grow and change alongside me, a loving community, a cozy home, a daily shower, a desk of my own, cats sleeping under it, paid writing gigs, memories of grand adventures and seeds of more to come, and my beloved Salish sea, once again on our doorstep.

Our house. "It's shaped like a boat!" my Dad said when I emailed him the line drawings from NZ.

Our little house. “It’s shaped like a boat!” my Dad said when I emailed him the line drawings from NZ.

 

Brand new simple pleasures

 

Our backyard. No nature deficit disorder here.

Our backyard. No nature deficit disorder here. The creek will be filled with putrefying salmon come November. They swim from the ocean into Puget Sound, down into Mud Bay, and upstream to our little creek where they leave their little ones to grow.

 

My dream come true: a writing desk with a view

My dream come true: a writing desk with a view, and the sound of ravens outside.

 

Meet cat #3 (not a typo): Lulu. We love her.

Meet cat #3 (not a typo): Lulu. We love her. She joins Penny and Tui, older siblings we adopted from our local cat rescue.

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