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family

Acquiescence

Fetoko YogaTonga time is a really interesting thing. (I even wrote about it the last time we were here, three years ago.) I don’t know if it’s the way the dateline snakes around this part of the ocean or that it’s so hot and muggy this time of year or that the people of Tonga truly epitomize what “island time” means. Whatever it is, time seems to stop here. And yet it seems like the march of days will never end. Weeks streeeeeeeetch out and it feels like our buckets are overflowing with empty hours.

Two months on a tiny tropical island is a really, really, really long time. It’s sort of like being at sea, except we’re already there. We watch the sky and the sea change, just like on our boat. We do have a small skiff and explore neighboring islands and run into town for food once a week. Our friends aboard Del Viento came by and there were bonfires and slumber parties and giggling girls running all over the place. We swing in the hammocks, squirt each other with the water pistols Santa brought. Books and books have been read. A novel draft completed. Games played. Bread baked. Stuff fixed. Movies watched. Meals cooked with mystery meat and cabbage (again). The cat is nearly bald from the amount of pets he’s been getting.

And thinking. Oh yes, I’ve been doing a whole lot of that. Trying to make sense of our lives, of the general upheaval of the past three years. I think about what didn’t work for us (a mortgage, Auckland, Common Core, shopping) and what is (living small, traveling light, cultivating real-life friendships, pursuing our interests, writing, minimalism). The problem with all this time to think is that I can imagine so many futures, so many lives worth living. But I’ve already lived a lot of them and some times I just want to go back: to our home in the woods, to our cozy little boat sailing on the sea, to the cute Seattle apartment I was living in when I met Michael at 23. But there comes a time when you have to accept that the only one you really have is this one.

2016 will be our year of acquiescence. True acceptance of who we are, what we need, what’s important to us. Right now. Some of this is practical (i.e. money to eat is up there on the list of immediate needs). Many more are intangible: more stability in friendships for the girls, more focus on my diabetes health (which travel is not so kind to). We want to live in a city again, where ideas and people collide in so many interesting ways. We’ll keep living small (the girls comment daily how they miss the coziness we had aboard Wing’n it). We want to plant some roots for a bit; this shy, introverted family needs time to cultivate deeper friendships. And we love New Zealand, despite all the challenges of living on a small island nation thousands of miles from our loved ones.

It is a lot like being at sea here, the more I think of it. Just like being on passage, I love all these hours with nothing else to do but simply be. Having spent weeks at a time at sea I know you can’t keep looking forward to the destination. You will drive yourself crazy with the desire for a cheeseburger, and a cold beer, and perfectly salted chips. No, you have to take each day, each hour, each minute at a time, focus on what’s directly in front of you before it slips by. I don’t know if we’ll ever get such a vast spread of empty days again so I don’t want to forget it, this time.

Santa brought water pistols for Christmas. Isn't he clever? (That's our lighted Christmas palm behind them.) They only each got one thing on their Santa wish lists (ebooks) but later said they got everything they wanted.

Santa brought water pistols for Christmas. Isn’t he clever? (That’s our lighted Christmas palm behind them.) They only each got one thing on their Santa wish lists (ebooks) but later said they got everything they wanted.

There's a bit of Christmas here, too. We miss the coziness of a northern hemisphere holiday, but not the crowds, shopping, traffic...I think it's just right here.

There’s a bit of Christmas in Tonga, too. We miss the coziness of a northern hemisphere holiday, but not the crowds, shopping, traffic…I think it’s just right here.

The Neiafu market. It's tomato salad for dinner. And pasta with tomato sauce.

The Neiafu market. It’s tomato salad for dinner. And pasta with tomato sauce.

They have no trouble keeping busy (as long as I ignore the "I'm bored" complaints)

They have no trouble keeping busy (as long as I ignore the “I’m bored” complaints)

Sand Cay

The Voyaging With Kids cover girls reunite aboard Del Viento, four years after the original was taken. They've grown a tad.

The Voyaging With Kids cover girls reunite aboard Del Viento, four years after the original was taken. They’ve grown a tad.

Exploring Swallow's Cave, courtesy of Del Viento (photo by Michael Robertson)

Exploring Swallow’s Cave, courtesy of Del Viento (photo by Michael Robertson)

The girls love taking care of the Fetoko animals. They know what to do as the temperatures have started soaring lately.

The girls love taking care of the Fetoko animals. They know what to do as the temperatures have started soaring lately.

Dad and daughter make bread. We don't have an oven aboard Wing'n it and are sure making up for lost baking time here.

Dad and daughter make bread. We don’t have an oven aboard Wing’n it and are sure making up for lost baking time here.

Wondertime Family, Tonga 2015

Wondertime Family, Tonga 2015 (photo by Michael Robertson)

Journey to the Far East

East Cape Lighthouse

“This is what they are talking about, when they talk about New Zealand roads,” Michael shouts back to me over the whine of the Canter’s diesel engine. He’s in the driver’s seat, hands clenched on the steering wheel.

I’m sitting behind him, right hand gripped onto the metal bar behind his seat that doubles as the ladder to the girls’ bunk above. My feet are wedged against the settee opposite, to keep myself from sliding off my own seat. I’m being bounced and jolted around violently with the motorhome’s rough motion. It kind of feels like sailing.

We aren’t going fast, maybe 30 km/hour. But to me it feels like we’re about to hurtle off the cliff below any second, especially when I lean over and look out the front window, to see what Michael’s talking about. We’re traveling down a one-lane gravel road. To the left of us is the southern ocean, a narrow band of beach and rocks, a cliff, and a good part of the road missing, gone to join the sea below. Someone has put some rickety wooden guardrails around these AWOL bits of road, which was thoughtful.

At the start of the East Cape road, 20 km of rough travel out to the most eastern lighthouse in the world (at 178 degrees east), there is a sign which reads: “Extreme Caution/Reduce Speed”. They were not kidding when they had that one made up.

When the road widens again a short time later to a full single lane, we can breathe evenly again. Eventually it turns inland a bit, winding through acre after acre of green pastures chock full of sheep and cows, eating and shitting all over 100% pure New Zealand. Finally we reach The End of the road and park next to an old outhouse. When we look up up up we see the lighthouse, nestled atop a hill of native bush.

There is another motorhome there, an older couple from England we’d spoken to the day before. They’ve just gotten back from their climb up and back. “It doesn’t take long, 20 minutes or so. Only 750 steps up. Have fun!” they say cheerily and jauntily hop in their sleek and modern rented motorhome and start back down the road.

“I don’t WANT to go up there!” Upon hearing that our plans are the same, Leah stands with her feet apart, hands on her hips.

“We’re doing it,” I say. “We came all this way and we’re going up.” Not in the mood to negotiate, I hand the pack to Michael that’s got our passports, laptop, water, and snacks in it and sling the camera around my own neck and start walking.

“Come on Leah, let’s gooooooo!” Holly calls out, running up ahead.

Leah sighs and starts stomping. We find the trail head and begin making our way up the hill. It’s not long before the girls, followed by Michael, are out of sight up ahead of me.

Step after wooden step winds up through the nikau palms and silver tree ferns. “150” is carved into one; here I start to wonder if this was such a good idea myself. By “450” I’m cursing whoever had the stupid idea we should climb up to this lighthouse in the middle of nowhere. My feet and legs feel like they are plodding along in concrete. My thighs are starting to quiver. I can’t hear the birds anymore due to the blood pounding in my ears. It starts to rain. The damp, spicy smell of the earth is almost overpowering. Up and up and up. I slow down but I don’t stop. I realize how much I am enjoying this.

Step. Step. Step. The rough wooden treads twist and turn up the steep hillside. Suddenly a thought occurs to me: how much this is like life, plodding along even when you don’t want to. When stopping sounds like such a good idea. I think about all the steps I have taken, all the turns and decisions that have led me to this very day, right to this very staircase. A great many of them unpleasant, some exhilarating, a few regretful, but each vital to the path that has led me here.

Finally, I round one last bend in the staircase and the bright green hilltop opens up before me. The tidy white lighthouse towers in the middle of it. My girls come running towards me, smiles and eyes wide, eager to show me around.

I walk over to Michael and take his proffered hand. Together we turn and look around at the sapphire-blue sea below, tossing itself against towering cliffs and beyond, rolling green fields. Our little motorhome is down there, a tiny white dot at the end of the winding road. The girls run around us, around the lighthouse, in circles, in joy. It’s perfect moment, a miracle in fact.

East Cape Lighthouse, NZ

Going down (East Cape Lighthouse, NZ)

East Cape road, NZ

Thoughts after two months on the road

No TV

As of this writing, we’ve officially been Wing’n It for 61 days and 7 hours. With our little Mitsubishi Canter diesel puttering away, we’ve explored around the Bay of Islands, Whangarei, Auckland and the Waitakere, the Coromandel peninsula, Tauranga and the Bay of Plenty. We have camped by marina boatyards, bridges, city streets, driveways, parks, forests, and beach after beach after beach. Right now, we’re freedom camping at a small reserve in Rotorua (the home of geysers, boiling mud, and steaming, sulfur-emitting hot pools). Earlier today, our family went on a walk together here along a small but thundering river, water-falling and pouring down a small gorge into a series of peaceful-looking pools that look perfect for swimming.

Except for that it’s still winter here (a fact that doesn’t deter local surfers any). And while our friends back home are enjoying the hottest summer on record, New Zealand is having one of their coldest winters ever. Temperatures are supposed to drop to nearly 0°C tonight which is a wee chilly in a tiny motorhome with no heater. But this is when the camper’s small size most comes in handy: four bodies sharing 100 square feet keeps the temperature inside….tolerable. It at least keeps ice from forming on the windscreen. Michael and I still sleep with our sub-zero mummy bags zipped together with two blankets on top. And flannel pants, a fleece shirt, and wool socks. It appears a year of central heating has made me a bit soft.

But spring will be here in less than three weeks and the sky tells me that’s true; the sun has warmth again and the bluish white sunlight I remember of New Zealand is growing in intensity. Truth be told, we’ve had feelers out ever since we arrived for jobs, a place to stay for a little while. We even got a P.O. box up in Paihia. But life in this old, small van has been growing on us. It is the simplest we’ve ever lived: the most basic clothing for all, a truly minimalist galley, a few drawing supplies, games, Legos, and Kindles for the girls. Our routine is down pat: every three days we find a dumping station and empty the graywater tank and Porta-Potti and fill up our tiny 60L water tank. I go to the store and stock up on meat, vegetables, dark chocolate, and Pinot Noir. Then we open up the road atlas I got used at an Auckland library for NZ$0.75 and we decide where to drive next.

It’s not a bad gig, not at all. Because while some things are scarce, such as the aforementioned heat, along with internet (it took me 4 days just to find a cell signal strong enough to actually upload this post), interior (and–cough–personal) space, and good hoppy beer, we are rich once again in the things that truly matter: the wonder that is exploring a stunning island at the bottom of the South Pacific Ocean and the time to do it together as a family. I think we’ll keep going.

Camping near the Whangarei bridge.

Camping near the Whangarei bridge.

Auckland: our most favorite waterfront in the world. Except maybe Wellington. Or Pahia. Or Mt. Maunganui...

Auckland: our most favorite waterfront in the world. Except maybe Wellington. Or Pahia. Or Mt. Maunganui…

Breakfast with a view (Firth of Thames)

Breakfast with a view (Firth of Thames)

With a negative outflow of cash, we stop to pan for gold in the Coromandel (no dice however).

With a negative outflow of cash, we stop to pan for gold in the Coromandel (no dice however).

Lego night

Lego night

Million dollar view...for free. (Mercury Bay)

Million dollar view…for free. (Mercury Bay)

We had stunning Cathedral Cove nearly to ourselves. One of the prime benefits of wintertime roadtripping.

We had stunning Cathedral Cove nearly to ourselves. One of the prime benefits of wintertime roadtripping.

Winter will not deter the surf sisters.

Winter will not deter the surf sisters.

Now that we're officially permanent residents of New Zealand, off go the shoes.

Now that we’re officially permanent residents of New Zealand, off go the shoes.

18 days until spring...and we're counting down each one.

18 days until spring…and we’re counting down each one.

We explored amazing Karangahake gorge, complete with old gold mining tunnels and ruins. Amazing!

We explored amazing Karangahake gorge, complete with old gold mining tunnels and ruins. Amazing!

Learning continues even though we're still officially on summer break (Holly reads her Bob Books to Michael)

Learning continues even though we’re still officially on summer break (Holly reads her Bob Books to Michael)

We woke up on Papamoa beach near Tauranga to a beautiful sunny day...and so did this NZ fur seal

We woke up on Papamoa beach near Tauranga to a beautiful sunny day…and so did this NZ fur seal

Wing'n It girls at the summit of Mt. Maunganui near Tauranga

Wing’n It girls at the summit of Mt. Maunganui near Tauranga

We love steamy, smelly Rotovegas

We love steamy, smelly Rotovegas

You can spend a fortune in Rotorua, or just go to the park in the middle of town and enjoy the free sights and mineral foot baths.

You can spend a fortune in Rotorua, or just go to the park in the middle of town and enjoy the free sights and mineral foot baths.

Oh how we love libraries. Books, wifi, HEAT.

Oh how we love libraries. Books, wifi, HEAT.

Wintertime beauty, Lake Rotorua

Wintertime beauty, Lake Rotorua

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?”

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.

Our Family Adventure Podcast

Wondertime family at Cape Reinga, NZ

The team at Family Adventure Podcast recently contacted us to talk about our sailing journey and we are thrilled that the podcast is up! Listen to us muse aloud about why we left to go sailing when our youngest was still in Pull-ups, how we paid for it all, what living in New Zealand was like, why we left, and what we’ve been up to for the past few months and what’s next.

You can download the podcast from iTunes or directly here. And a HUGE thanks to our new friend-on-the-wrong-oops-I-mean-other-coast, Erik Hemingway for including us in his family’s project of inspiration. Do head over and listen to the other podcasts too but beware the wanderlust they will cause! Enjoy!

A Good Voyage

last night at sea

Two years ago today we were sailing across the Pacific Ocean. Three adults, two kids on our 38-foot boat. We were almost there, in fact: the equatorial doldrums were behind us and the lush island of Hiva Oa was only four more sleeps away. The air was soft and warm. Our trusted ketch was charging along towards her landfall with the wind positioned perfectly on her side. The beam reach to paradise every sailor dreams of.

It still feels like a dream, even now. The kind you wake up from, disappointed to have been shaken out of it. You close your eyes and want to slide back into the land of dreams, back into the billows of sweetness that filled your sleep. But it’s slipped through your fingers and you’re suddenly wide awake and the dream is gone. But not really; the memory of it is vivid and it makes you smile as you lay there, remembering. The memory of it is enough.

It’s taken us two years to digest the enormity of the voyage we undertook when we departed Olympia in 2011. In a way, the past year and a half of sitting still has provided us more time for introspection than all the nights at sea put together. Truth be told, when we slipped into the dark Bay of Island waters, engineless, that night we arrived in New Zealand I knew the voyage was done. The four of us had succeeded, together, and made it safely to our destination with a million memories made along the way. Our dream had become real.

The satisfaction hasn’t waned since then. Sometimes I close my eyes and the memories are so vivid and real it’s like I’m right back there: snuggling in our bunk, reading to the girls as the boat rolls along with the swells, laughing late into the night with friends newly-met, Leah and Holly’s incredible sisterly bond, Holly dancing the hula in Bora Bora at 3, watching piglets scurry along a Tongan road, burying each other in beach sand because it’s the only thing we need to do that day.

I’ve wondered what our young daughters will remember of the journey, but now I know that’s not what’s important. They might not remember the details, but they each have gained a deep sense of possibility. They understand that you push onward through the challenges to get whatever it is you want. They are old enough to see the ones I plow through on a daily basis. They know there is so much more to see of the world, that it is a huge, fascinating place and we’re already dreaming up new adventures together, even if not aboard the deck of Wondertime. Leah wants to travel to India, Antarctica, and scuba dive in Fiji and I don’t doubt she will. Holly wants to be a singer and a dancer and we will help her make that real.

A few things have come to the forefront of the many hours of rumination Michael and I have shared together, and alone. What’s truly important is the lessons that we’ll all bring along with us in all our future endeavors. It’s not a long list, but it’s the only one we need:

The most important thing is the people who love us.

Life is everything.

This is true everywhere.

The open sea is not calling me as it once was. Just knowing she’s out there is enough. It’s time to go home. And give back.

landfall

Landfall, Hiva Oa. April 12, 2012.

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.