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Tonga continues to charm us right up to departure.

Tonga continued to charm us right up to departure.

One of the joys–so I’ve always heard–of being an author is connecting in person with readers of your book. But since myself, as well as the other two authors of Voyaging With Kids (Behan and Michael), are in traveling mode, most of our reader interactions have been virtual (which is pretty fun too).

But then again we never know where readers will pop up…even in Tonga. In early December we were sitting around in the shade on Fetoko Island. The tradewinds were way up and we happened to have the VHF radio on, just in case something exciting happened.

And then it did: a scratchy distant call came in and the boat’s name and distinct Kiwi-Californian accent of our friend Daniel caught our attention. Evangeline, Evangeline…this is Wondertime…over!

It turned out that friends we met on our Pacific crossing in 2012 were just arriving in Tonga direct from the Marquesas, making swift time to New Zealand to welcome their new crew member. A week later we were sitting in their cockpit catching up in person, and making promises to meet in New Zealand when we returned ourselves in a few months.

So we did. We picked up Wing’n it at the Auckland airport where she’d been left for us after Ben & Lisa finished their New Zealand travels aboard her. We zipped up to the Bay of Islands where Dan and Michelle had landed weeks earlier.

And boy did they ever need a copy of Voyaging with Kids:

Baby on board...literally!

Baby on board!

I don’t think I’ve ever met a writer whose goal hasn’t been touching a reader in some way, whether it’s practical advice or just putting a smile on someone’s face. I can tell you that seeing the joy on our friends’ faces, holding the proof in their hands that they really aren’t crazy for looking forward to bringing up their new child on their boat made all work we put into this book well worth it. With family members already questioning their decision to raise a family afloat, they couldn’t wait to show them that yes! the world is indeed full of floating, traveling families. I can’t wait to meet their precious work-in-progress.

Sweetheart VWK Deal!

If you’ve not been able to get your hands on a hard copy of Voyaging with Kids (and it IS such a beautiful book that I hope you have) our publisher Lin Pardey has put the ebook on sale for only US$9.99 at Amazon.com, Google Books, and NOOK only through the month of February. Even if you do have the print version, now’s your chance to grab a digital copy to take with you everywhere. Since the ebooks are in full color and image-rich just like the print version, it’s a great way to gift a copy to a family member who might be, let’s just say, curious about the whole idea of taking kids to sea.

And if you have read the book, please please leave a review on Amazon.com or Goodreads!

 

Summer's still full-on here in New Zealand...but the water's a bit more chilly than in Tonga.

Summer’s still full-on here in New Zealand…but the water’s a bit more chilly than in Tonga.

 

Dinner for eight aboard Wing'n it...thank goodness for cruising friends!

Dinner for eight aboard Wing’n it…thank goodness for cruising friends!

 

Auckland now has a Ben & Jerry's. We'll make any sacrifice to make our new 10-year-old's birthday complete.

Auckland now has a Ben & Jerry’s. Our brand-new-to-10 Leah requested we stop in for her birthday. Well, Ok.

 

My happy place: just Wing'n it

My happy place: just Wing’n it

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.)

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

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.

99.9% Lucky

Girls in paradise

Recently, I’ve seen a few cruising-related internet memes something along the lines of this: “It’s not luck, that I’m out sailing my yacht around in paradise. It’s 100% pure hard work.” This kind of rubs me the wrong way and I can’t stop thinking about it.

I mean, it is sort of true really: we could just be armchair sailors reading sea stories by the fireplace wondering what it’s really like out there. We could be living in a comfy cozy house with all our loved ones an hour or three drive or flight away, wondering what it would be like to be on the other side of the world, never having made the sacrifices to actually get here. It does take a whole shitload of work to set sail; read some of my entries from June 2011 for a trip down crazy-stress-but-in-a-very-good-kind-of-way memory lane. We sold everything, spent everything, we’ve sacrificed time with beloved family members and friends back “home.” But we had to do it. There just wasn’t any other option for us.

So, I understand the hard work part. But before we could even make the “hey, let’s go cruising” decision a whole lot of other stuff happened. I can’t see how I can attribute them to anything but “luck.”

First of all, we were born in the United States of America to average middle-class families. We weren’t born in Tonga, where the average worker earns about $25 USD per day. Or Mexico, where the average monthly wage is under USD$1000/month and typically far less. Very very few people in either place own yachts. You are very lucky if your family owns a small skiff. Not everyone in the U.S. is as lucky as us of course: an obscene amount of the American population are homeless and/or lives in poverty.

Michael and I were each born to parents that were university educated and had well-paying jobs. They taught us the love of reading at very early ages, encouraged us to do our best and study hard both in and out of school. We were expected to continue learning after high school graduation. Most of all, we were encouraged to follow our dreams and made to believe that we could do anything we wanted. Our parents taught us that the world was our oyster. Not everyone is so lucky to be born into supportive families like ours.

Michael was lucky that his parents took him cruising at 13 and sparked a dream to cruise with his own family.

I was lucky to log on to webpersonals.com in 1998 and spark up an “instant” message conversation with an interesting boy, which led to lunch at Dad Watsons in Fremont and 14 years of marriage.

It was our good fortune to land jobs in the IT field as the Seattle tech boom was exploding. This allowed us to buy our first yacht before either of us were 25.

We were lucky to be blessed with two perfectly healthy and delightful daughters.

I am lucky to still have my good health, despite almost 28 years of T1 diabetes.

We were lucky to sell our house in a downward-trending market. We’d put a lot of elbow grease into the property over the three years it was ours and were able to land enough profit to pay for a floating home and a trip across the Pacific.

In New Zealand, we feel outrageously lucky to be residents here now. We are friends with a family from Pakistan. Their daughter is the same age as Holly. They arrived here within days of us. The dad works with Michael at his IT company. It took them six years for New Zealand to approve their application for residency, the same process that took us six months. It’s hard to feel lucky, though, at something so unfair.

Things continue to happen, at a rather alarming pace, that are hurling us towards things that we’d envisioned but are now becoming real. It’s clear that we are exactly where we need to be. Maybe “luck” is not really the right word, but “fate.” Whichever it is, I am 100% grateful for all that the universe has given us, which is allowing us the chance to work to make our dreams real.

Bliss

Giving Thanks, New Zealand 2013

Sailing into the Hauraki GultIt has been three long years since we’ve had a proper Thanksgiving feast with our dear families. We both, Michael and I, come from families who gather each year and give thanks around a table sagging with roast turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, sweet potatoes…the works. It’s not the food we miss, obviously, but the closeness of treasured grandparents, siblings, parents, cousins and the special feeling that a gathering of generations brings.

Perhaps it’s the time of year or maybe it’s that we’ve just passed the one-year mark since we first sailed into New Zealand waters. Whichever it is, we’ve been feeling so homesick lately. Painfully so. The other night I was a blubbering bawling mess, I wanted to be back home in Olympia so bad that the next morning I got online to get quotes to put our little ship on a big ship back home [I also learned that I’d have to start selling my organs to be able to afford that.]

We are getting pretty used to life here but I still crave the familiar so much it hurts sometimes. I want to hug my Grandma. I want my Dad to see how much his granddaughters grew last month and hear Holly’s latest “joke” live. Silly things too: I want to go to Costco and buy a tub of those salty smoked almonds I love so, I want to pop down the street and fill my growler with ice-cold Fish Tale organic pale ale. I want to drive down the street to Starbucks to have a coffee with my dear friend Stacy and talk about all the cute and annoying things our kids have been doing over vanilla lattes.

Bigger things too: sometimes, we admit, we look at Windermere.com and sigh at all the affordable houses and dream of having a little cabin of our own just a short walk to the beach. I look at Lincoln Elementary’s lunch menu and weep (our Auckland primary offers Subway on Fridays). Sometimes we just tire of the questions: “You’re not from here are you?” “You are American? What are you doing here?” “How long do you plan to stay here?” “You live on a boat?!?” Sometimes it’s fun to tell our story, but sometimes we just want to blend in. Sometimes we just feel exhausted with it all.

Now the Holidays loom which doesn’t make it any easier. I will say that the fact that it’s pretty much summertime and the sun is shining warm and bright and I’m living in jandals again does make this a bit more tolerable. And then we got a special invitation for a true American Thanksgiving up at Kawau Island. We tidied up our home and set sail just like old times.

We dropped our hook in North Cove, in front of Mickey Mouse Marine, the shop and home that Lin and Larry Pardey made over the past 30 years after they’d sailed their little boat into that bay once upon a time. There was another boat there, Ganesh, the new home of another well-salted pair, Carolyn and her husband Captain Fatty. At the dinner Saturday night, we learned Brion Toss was in town as well, along with the crew of Galactic, another cruising family from the NW. And a whole bunch of other interesting local characters.

It was as amazing as it would seem, to be in the company of such revered, friendly, funny and well-travelled writing sailors. A lot of the talk wasn’t about sailing at all it turned out. But I did pinch myself listening in to Larry and Brion banter about the merits of three-strand rope. Our daughters were playing with Lin’s slinky and got it all tangled up of course. Someone suggested “give it to Brion!” so we did. That kept him busy for a while. Lin whipped up a Thanksgiving feast of epic proportions in her small galley kitchen and when it started to rain we moved all the tables inside their cozy tidy home. We called all the kids up who had been running around somewhere playing in delight then all 35 of us stuffed ourselves around the tables sagging with roast turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, sweet potatoes…and gave thanks that we were together here nearly at the end of the world. We realized we were with family this year after all: our family of sailors, a gathering of generations.

Later, after the dishes were cleared and our bellies were stuffed yet again with pumpkin pie and apple pie and zucchini bread and chocolates and more wine we sat back and listened to Captain Fatty play his guitar and sing with his sweet wife Carolyn’s voice filling in.

Our view of our world shifted a bit then in that beautiful wooden room Larry built with his weathered hands now filled with music played by legends. How lucky we are to be in this place, far from home. Experiencing things that we’d once dreamed of, things we’d never even been able to imagine. The feeling that things are unfolding as they should, that we just need to be open to them and not afraid.

Thankful for the fortune that our lives are filled with the wonder we craved when we set off into the world.

Aotearoa Trick or Treat

Auckland Trick or TreatAs we haven’t had a good trick or treating since we were in San Diego in 2011, the girls were on pins and needles for days leading up to this years All Hallows’ Eve in Auckland. They had their costumes planned out for weeks (Potato Bug Leah and Holly the Fairy, again). We invited one of Leah’s best girlfriends from school and her mum along with us for company (and to show us the best local spots for free candy). After a dinner of bloodied boiled brains (i.e. spaghetti) we set out into the bright evening springtime streets of Freeman’s Bay.

We wandered down the street and eventually ended up near an apartment complex. We were the only trick or treaters around. In fact, the street was so empty we wondered if we had the date wrong at first. Finally we spotted something — a picture of a pumpkin on the door of a nearby apartment. It was kind of difficult to see through the flower blossoms.

The three girls ran up to the door and knocked. They jumped back a bit when it opened and a nice looking woman poked her head out. Then they remembered to say “Trick or treat!” She smiled at them and tossed a handful of candy into each of their bags. Success!

Wandering around a bit more we came across a few other decorated doors. Eventually we passed another small group of trick or treaters, kids the girls’ recognized from school. They’d just come from Anglesea street, and told us that was the street to hit so we continued on that way.

Springtime All Hallows' Eve

Springtime All Hallows’ Eve

The first few houses were dark and the little white picket fence gates were closed so we continued on. Above us clouds were starting to spit out rain so we tried to hustle the girls along in case they decided to open up (which can happen at any moment in Auckland). We came to a little house that had a group of young chaps hanging out on the front porch, sipping glasses of white wine. One of them was dressed like a zombie so we figured they might be game. Our trick or treaters were rewarded with a bit more candy in their bags.

A little bit farther up the street we found a house with the gate open and a note tacked to the door: “Only knock IF you can answer a riddle…have you got what it takes to claim a reward?” The girls hesitated, unsure, but then knocked. The door was opened by a fellow wearing a bright yellow character suit. He grinned at them and asked if they knew which Pokemon he was. He was answered by blank stares, from all of us. We waited. Finally, he announced that he’d make an exception due to age (too young on the girls’ part, too old for ours, apparently) and candy was dished out.

By this time, it was raining full force and we hid under a carport for a few minutes while we waited for the cloud to pass. We looked into the window near us and watched a little Halloween party happening with everyone cozily sipping drinks and plates of treats on the tables. We were thinking those people had the right idea.

As we knew it would, the rain eased after 10 minutes or so and we continued on. More dark houses. Then we were thrilled to come across one that was decorated in the good old American style with huge fake spiders and cobwebs, a bloody “KEEP OUT” sign strung across the tall solid white gate. Which was locked. Hmm. We kept walking.

Another brightly lit house a few houses down. The girls walked up the path and knocked eagerly on the stained glass door, no longer nervous. An older fellow answered. We had hung back and overheard him saying things like “Oh dear, let me check,” and saw him go into the house. He came back a minute later. “I don’t seem to have anything. I’m so sorry. Oh wait a minute.” He was gone again for a minute and returned. “I have some money, but I only seem to have $50 notes…” Behind him a woman was wrapped in a towel, having just gotten out of the shower. We finally realized what was going on and waved to him, telling him not to worry about it. He appeared relieved.

It was dark by this time and the last few houses we’d visited while walking back on the other side of the street appeared to have emptied their candy bowls into the girls’ treat bags. Or as happened a number of times, the person who answered disappeared into the house for a bit and returned with a small bag of candy they must have retrieved from the pantry. Much of the candy in the girls bags were unwrapped chocolate pieces, marshmallows, gummy bits, pineapple lumps. We all ate some along the way.

We decided to try one last lit house on our way back to our flat. After the girls proudly declared “Trick or treat!” we could hear the woman who answered the door apologize profusely, saying that she’d just gotten home from work and didn’t have any candy. The girls didn’t mind; with their treat bags bulging and their feet and legs tired we continued on up the dark and empty street to bed.

It certainly wasn’t the San Diego Halloween of 2011, a thronging street party with houses decorated like Hollywood sets and people handing out full-sized Snickers bars and bags of M&Ms. Auckland Halloween 2013 was just as fun though, to experience people trying out this holiday that is a bit new to New Zealand and watching them see how fun a night of silliness with neighbors can be.

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.

Cup Fever

Watching the America's Cup in NZ

Up early to watch the America’s Cup in New Zealand. Late to school, again. (No, that’s not aboard Wondertime. More on that soon, I promise.)

I think I might get it now, this little country of New Zealand. Or at least a little bit more than I did a few months ago. I thought to myself earlier this week: “Man, if we’d left to go south from Washington just two years later not only would the girls have been older, out of diapers, and actually remember the trip [Holly has no recollection of sailing across the Pacific, yet alone California, Mexico….] but we would have been in San Francisco for the America’s Cup.”

“Scratch that,” I replied to myself.

New Zealand is the best place to be watching the America’s Cup action from. It’s absolutely everywhere. Cup talk is on every TV station, every radio station. It’s been the cover of the NZ Herald for weeks. There are live viewings of the races on the Auckland waterfront with hundreds attending, lining up at 6am to get into the shed. I’ve talked about it with pretty much every Kiwi I know, even the other mums and teachers at the girls’ schools. They are showing the later second races at Holly’s kindy in the mornings and Leah tells me it’s on in her year 3 class too. Everyone is talking about sailing. Everyone wants ETNZ to bring the cup home. So. Bad.

The desire to win is thick here, so palpable. People care so much. New Zealand boat builders and sailors are the best and everyone wants the world to know. I sense this little country – which barely makes it onto nearly every map I come across – feels like they are up against big bossy America and is determined to show that the little guy can win with pure skill on their side. The problem is the big guy has a whole lot more money and can afford to improve his boat each day (with Kiwi builders, ahem) and that might be the trick. It’s not been looking good these past few days for the Kiwi team and I worry what will happen when everyone’s clenched fists collectively release tomorrow. I seriously see a spike in Prozac scripts happening if the cup stays in San Fran. Major national pride is on the line. It’s that serious here.

What they don’t know here is that your average American couldn’t care less about this little sailing race on the bay. At least there hasn’t been a peep about it on The Daily Show, or even Colbert Report, which is about all the news from the U.S. we can take these days. Maybe I’m wrong and there’s more a buzz in the U.S. about the Cup this year outside of sailing aficionados but judging by all the posts about football on my facebook feed I’m doubting it. I certainly remember absolutely nothing about the America’s Cups from years past, except maybe shrugging it off as a bunch of rich guy’s toys.

Clearly, it’s still a bunch of rich guy’s toys. But after experiencing the Cup from the other side of the ocean, I can see that it’s much, much more than that to this proud island nation. My fists are clenched too.

Kia kaha Aotearoa.

Addendum: I just came across this post from a NZ blogger via the ETNZ Facebook feed and I think it says it all…

An Open Letter to Emirates Team New Zealand, from Team New Zealand

 

Watching America's Cup at kindy

Watching America’s Cup race #14 at kindy

 

Watching America's Cup at Microsoft TechEd Auckland

Watching America’s Cup at Microsoft TechEd Auckland

Time Travel

Sunset Over Washington

The sun sets as we fly over the coast of Washington. Arriving after a 24-hour layover in Hawaii from Auckland, this was our first sighting of the North American continent in over two years. It was breathtaking.

This is an actual conversation, more or less, from a month or so ago:

Michael: Sometimes I get this really funny feeling lately. Kind of a tingling sensation. My stomach feels all light. Usually I’m listening to music. Sometimes not.

Sara: Kind of like your whole body is buzzing, right?

Michael: Yeah! That’s just what I mean. And I can’t stop smiling. Everything feels right for a moment.

Sara: I think that means we’re happy here.

We decided to test that theory last month, in a way, by flying back to Seattle for a few weeks to visit with family and friends we haven’t seen in over two years.

It was, for lack of a better description, a total mindfuck.

We had no idea what to expect. Would everyone have hundreds more grey hairs just like us? Surely all the girls’ friends would be six feet tall by now? Would we weep and kiss the ground when our feet first touched American soil? Would the first pint of Ben & Jerry’s taste as good as the sixth? Would my first trip to Target feel like entering Disneyland?

No, it would not.

It would feel like we just left yesterday. It would feel like everything and everybody was exactly the same. The kids were all themselves, just a few inches taller. Everybody was just like we had remembered, only much more, somehow. We picked up right back into conversations with friends it felt like we’d started the week before. And it was absolutely wonderful to hug tight all the people we yearned to hug but couldn’t over the past two years. We hugged people that we knew we very well might never hug again and tried not to think about that too hard.

Things that we hoped would be different, weren’t.

Leah heads out on a kayaking expedition led by her uncles

Leah heads out on a kayaking expedition led by her uncles

We didn’t talk about our trip much. We were asked about how the girls’ liked their new schools, how was Michael’s job. Were we going to buy a house soon? What did we like about New Zealand? Easy questions all, except for that last one. They love it, good, no. How much time do you have?

The United States was just as we remembered too: big, beautiful, friendly, shiny, fearful, a bit surly, filled to the brim with every possible thing you could think of to buy. I fought the old overwhelming urge to fill my cart with sparkly new things I knew well I didn’t need in Target. Still, in Costco, I stood blinking, gobsmacked at the towers of stuff surrounding me. I had to take a photo with my phone. My friend at the checkout with me, possibly embarrassed, explained, “She’s from New Zealand.”

It took a stranger to really put things in perspective. When we arrived in Seattle, we took the new light-rail train from the airport to downtown. An African-American woman was sitting across from me with her teenaged son. She smiled at our girls and asked how old they were. I told her and then we started chatting about where we were from. She had lived in Seattle for nearly 30 years but was originally from North Carolina. Maybe she’ll go back there one day she said. She asked me when the girls would start the new school year. I waffled internally for a few seconds. How do I explain that they are actually on winter break in New Zealand? I finally decided that since she asked…. her eyes flew wide in shock when I told her we lived in New Zealand now but were from Seattle and they were on school break. “That’s somethin’,” was all she could say. Just then, her stop had arrived and she and her son departed the train. It had seemed like a relatively quick plane ride back to where we came from but I felt the distance then.

My favorite photo of the trip: Leah and Holly with their Great-grandparents.

My favorite photo of the trip: Leah and Holly with their Great-grandparents.

We knew our journey had changed us, but we still won’t fully know how for years I think. We’d hoped that visiting our roots, our family and friends and homewaters would shed some light on this. But mostly it just highlighted how important they are and how much we love them. And they, us.

Sailing across the Pacific, it was like we’d passed through this incredible portal of overwhelming joy, terror, exhaustion, love. We’ve connected with so many different kinds of people from all walks of life. Each one, just like us. We’d experienced all that it means to be human on planet Earth in such a short time and were looking back on our old lives through this window. But the old haze of familiarity isn’t there anymore and we saw people and places for who they really are, for the better, mostly. With fresh eyes, we treasure them more than ever. We found the connections with our loved ones far stronger not despite, but possibly because of the distance.

A few weeks later, as our plane touched down in Auckland, there it was again. The fluttering and buzzing and the feeling that all is right in our world. Our biggest question had been answered, indeed. Happy to be home, back aboard Wondertime.

Heading home