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Back to School

First Day of School

While it seems like summer is finally getting underway here, it’s already back-to-school time. Yesterday, both girls started their new classes at their Auckland primary school. It was Holly’s first full-day of school, ever.

I was so looking forward to it. All of us were. We were all a bit tired of bumping into each other on the boat and looking forward to this week, when we could each head out into the city on our own to learn and explore. I was anxious to get started on writing down some of the stories that have been bouncing inside my head. Both girls were excited to see the friends we hadn’t been able to see over break again.

Today, after dropping them off at their new classrooms for the second morning in a row I came back to our empty, silent boat. I made myself a latte and sat down, the whole settee to myself. And felt the unease that had been looming settle in.

Yesterday after school I tried to coax the girls into telling me how their first day back at school was. “Oh, it was good,” Holly answered. “Fine,” was Leah’s response. They both had had fun at recess and were glad to be able to play together this year. After a little downtime with a snack and an audiobook, the girls threw on some ratty shorts and t-shirts. They grabbed their life jackets and jumped down to the dock and peered down into the water, their small fishing net poised to snatch any unsuspecting fishes that would soon swim by. I had dinner on the table before I was able to coax them back on the boat, each girl talking at such a rapid pace I could barely follow them: they’d seen tiny jellyfish with bright red middles, spent some time scraping invasive fanworms off the dock, caught some more shrimp, were certain they’d seen a nudibranch (“but it was dead”).

The memory of this wants to break me apart today.

Day 1 agenda

Year 1, day 1 agenda

I remember all that we experienced over the school break: hiking out at Great Barrier, Leah’s fascination with carnivorous plants (resulting in a pile of books from the library and our very own Venus Fly Trap that we miraculously haven’t killed yet), afternoons at the swimming pool, Holly singing along to friends jamming on ukeleles late into the summer’s night. It seems cruel to stuff them into these classrooms that seem boring even to me: a few books on a shelf, a couple buckets of blocks, a table of computers and some ipads stuck in the corner. Teachers that seem rushed and busy and overwhelmed, already. The days of dressups, sand boxes, fingerpaints at school gone for good. I can’t help but wonder: what are they actually learning? How to get along with others? How to sit quietly and wait your turn? How to sit in your cubicle and get your work done as told? The cynic in me sees what the end goal really is.

Leah’s hope for school this year is that there is more science this year than last. In my heart I know she’s got years before they move on to the type of knowledge she regularly seeks out on her own, before they move on from the basics of reading, writing, and maths. I just tell her, “I hope so too. But we can learn about science on our own too.”

At the age of 8, I watch Leah invent projects for herself, get interested in subjects and want to research them to death. There’s a pile of notebooks in her bed that is filling with notes and drawings. She plans outings for us, museums she wants to go visit. She asks for certain books from the library and spends hours reading in bed to herself. Maybe this is all that learning is about. After years of feeling overwhelmed by the idea of homeschooling, I think I finally understand that my main job would be to just get out of the way.

Then again, it’s been eight looooong years since I’ve had this many hours all to myself so maybe it’s just something to get used to. It’s always difficult sending your last baby off to school. But now I’m writing this at 1 in the afternoon, not at 11 pm. The girls’ primary has allowed us to immerse ourselves in the community and culture here in ways that keeping them to myself wouldn’t. Everything comes with frustration, at some level. We’ll settle in. And then it will be time again for something new.

The Worst Thing About Cruising

WarmA few months ago, there was a thread on a Facebook women’s sailing group that was something along the lines of “what do you dislike most about cruising?” Common complaints were rolly anchorages, the necessity of doing laundry by hand, the lack of hairdryers and bathtubs in which to properly shave one’s salty legs. Here I was, after eight months or so of fighting honking traffic, liveaboard regulations, the high price of New Zealand cheese, school donations, car WoFing, $8/gallon petrol, $7 lattes, “free” healthcare that doesn’t cover any modern-ish medical devices, lack of vacation time to actually tour this land, missing family and friends, and absurd moorage rates and I just wanted to shake them and scream:

The worst thing about cruising is not cruising!

The worst thing about cruising is when it’s over and you look back through all the photos and videos and wonder how it went by so fast. The worst thing is when you are so ready to head back up to the islands but you are so broke and the longer you live in a first-world society the more money gets sucked from you and the broker you get. The worst thing is when you can’t shake the feeling that all this city stuff is just fabricated bullshit with all these abstract rules and costs and regulations and the only thing that seems real anymore is what actually is: the sand between your toes, the sun on your body, the feeling of diving in to saltwater so warm it’s like returning to the womb. You can close your eyes and feel the movement of your boat, her gentle rocking as the ocean breathes underneath her and the wind pulls her across the planet and you want to feel that feeling again so bad right now that it’s almost painful.

Sandy joy!But you can’t. We’re now 11 months in of living a “regular life” and years away from having any sort of cruising kitty and I’m marking things on Wondertime’s to-do list “not done” that were marked “done” several years ago. True, we are in New Zealand but we’re definitely not on holiday here. It feels like we’re right back to where we left from, some days: Michael’s back in the 9-5 IT world, I’m ferrying the girls back and forth to school. It’s what we know, I guess.

A little over a month ago, we moved into a lovely flat here in Auckland, just to have a break from the boat. Maybe haul her out and get some painting done we’ve been putting off (note to self: get painting quotes before signing an apartment lease). To see what a land life might be like. Unstuff ourselves from 38 crowded feet for a while. Cruising again seems so far and away — plus we really do like living in New Zealand, most of the time. Maybe we should just join the rest of the normal people and see what it’s like.

Well, five weeks have passed and it’s clearly not for us. This flat has an amazing view of the city but I think cruising ruined that too: if our view doesn’t change it gets kind of boring after a while. Half of Michael’s earnings go towards the rent, electricity, hot water, internet bills, plus Wondertime’s moorage. We saved $500 last month. I guess that’s something. But now, the city seems more absurdly routined than ever.

This may be an expensive lesson in the end but for the first time in months the future looks clearer than it has in some time. I don’t know how, or when but we will get back out there. Thankfully the worst thing about cruising is that more cruising solves that problem.

The clues are all around us.

The clues are all around us.

16 Bells

We said goodbye to one of our beloved crew members last week, our most senior ship’s cat, Precious. She lived a long, loving life of 16 years and 3 months. A beautiful black cat with striking white markings, she would often cause passersby to stop to pet and admire her beautiful soft long fur. Most of all, Precious was a dear friend to us and was most content to just sit cozy in a lap or snuggled under the covers in bed and purr endlessly.

I brought her home to my college apartment when I was a 19-year old kid. She was a tiny 6-week old ball of soft black fur and so precious, I knew that was her name. We moved around a lot together as college kids do and after Michael and I had met and moved onto our first boat with her and our other new kitten Xena, she still took it all in stride. Precious took to the sea life right away, loving all the fresh air, sleeping in the sunshine and bird-watching. She didn’t mind sailing at all, just snuggled herself in our bed and slept contentedly until it was over. She sailed with us up to Alaska, then back to Seattle, then down to Mexico including the long car trip back up to Seattle.

She welcomed, with a little trepidation, the two little girls who came into our lives later and would purr when they’d gently scratch her between the ears. She was also happy back on the sea on her final home on Wondertime, sleeping the day away on our cozy double bunk and sitting on my lap in the evenings, purring purring.

We all miss Precious, but are thankful for the many adventures and tender moments our loving friend has shared with us.

(Hover over thumbnails to view photo description, click to view full size.)

T minus 365

cratesIt’s time.

Our departure date has been set:  June 2011

We got approved to live aboard Wondertime at our marina this past week.

We gave notice to our landlords that we’ll be out of our rental house by July 31st.

Our empty storage unit lies waiting for us to fill it up.

The stack of plastic crates grows, filling up with that which is truly important to us.

There’s a permanent box sitting on the sidewalk outside our house with the words “Free Stuff” on it.

The piles for ebay, Craigslist, and the Goodwill grow every day.

By the end of next month, two parents, two little girls and two ancient cats will be living aboard Wondertime.

Originally, our plan was to stay in our rental house for two full years, then move aboard a month or two before heading down the coast to Mexico next year. But as our project list gets slowly checked off and the boat bucks flow out of our cruising fund it has become clear that the only way we’ll be able to pay for all the “needs” and even a few of the “wants” we’ll have to pare down our monthly expenses. The most obvious place to cut back being our rent, gas, water, garbage and electric bills. Since we’re paying the marina bill anyway, it only makes sense to pile everyone on board and save a whole lotta cash every month.

But maybe we just miss living aboard.

It has been nearly four years since we’ve lived afloat and we’ve missed our watery life every day. Of course, with two young children having a nice big bathtub, washer and dryer, dishwasher and well, room, has been pretty nice. But as we’ve spent more and more weekends aboard this past year it’s been hard for all of us to pack up Sunday afternoon and leave Wondertime to head back to our land life.

So, it’s time. Time to be water-dwellers again. Time to get rid of all this ridiculous clutter that has come into our lives over the past four years. Time to simplify. Time to live under the bright full sky with the horizon in view. Time to watch the sea birds and fish every day.

Time to float.