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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

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.

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.

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.

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

Missing Pieces

20130520_piha

My eldest daughter cried herself to sleep a few nights ago. She’d been acting up all day, you know, just generally being snotty and dramatic and teasing her younger sister to no end. After we finally tucked her in with a sigh she read to herself for a while. Michael went in to give her one last hug and that’s when the tears simply bubbled over.

He tried to soothe her, asked her gentle questions, trying to garner a clue about what it was she was feeling so emotional about. She was sad about all the toys we gave away when we moved onto the boat she said. She never wanted to give away Teddy. She loved Teddy with all her heart, squeezing him to her chest tightly. She missed her friend B. She missed all the people we’ve left behind. There was that My Little Pony toy that didn’t make the cut onto the boat and was passed on. No, she didn’t remember what it looked like. But she wished we had kept it.

A lot of what she blubbered out didn’t make a whit of sense but we understood perfectly.

There’s been an unrelenting hum of questions aboard the boat for months as Michael and I try to make plans amidst the uncertainty of our lives in New Zealand. Do we really want to stay here, so far away from the rest of our families and old friends, or should we sail back to Washington? But we really do like it here on this peaceful little life raft of a land in the South Pacific. Will they let us stay for longer than the two years of our work visas? If we do stay, and they let us do we want to do more sailing, say a little trip up to Tonga and Fiji and back before really getting serious about saving for retirement? And then what? Nursing school for me? Finishing that novel I’ve always wanted to write? Perhaps a screenplay for my neighbor Peter Jackson? A boat business for IT-weary Michael? Where? Opua? Auckland? Wellington? Invercargill? (The only place we could ever dream of moving off the boat into a house here in NZ. Forget Auckland.) Maybe we should just resign ourselves (again) to a forever liveaboard life, pick up a bigger boat for cheap in Mexico and sail it right back across the Pacific?

The adults onboard try to keep these questions hushed but little girls have keen ears. I imagine that Leah is already worried about having to say goodbye to her new best friend at school, as she has had to do with all the other friends she’s made on this journey. I watch her and S. together, two giggling 7-year-olds lost in their own private world of whispered secrets and notes written in code, imaginary stories told above the earth in the branches of trees. I clean out Leah’s school backpack and find little cards and drawings with “I love you” and “Best Friends Forever” written on them, with lots of hearts and smiling cartoon girls. I give them to Leah to tuck away under her bunk with her other “special things.”

Friendships at this age are formed so quickly but they go deep. They are the truest kind there is: face to face, hand in hand, simultaneous smiles. Leah makes (or has learned to make, perhaps) friends fast and the leap to “best friend” status happens in days. These friendships aren’t the type that most adults have nowadays – nurtured though the joy and annoyance of Facebook, emails, texts, sometimes an actual phone call. But when Leah’s friends are gone, they are really gone for a good long time. Might as well be forever, to a 7-year-old’s scale of time.

Our daughter’s tears reminds us that traipsing around on the big blue all footloose and fancy free is not really. Every place we’ve been we have made friends, set down ties. Then just when we get comfortable we promptly leave all of it behind. Including part of ourselves.

I’ve been thinking about my daughter’s sadness ever since. Wondering if it’s really fair to her to know such difficulty because of a dream of her parents. Sure, it’s true that she has loved and benefited greatly from our months of sailing together. The time we’ve spent as a family together has been priceless and we are closer than we ever dreamed. She’s experienced the wonder of nature first hand, the beauty of untouched places. She’s seen how our fellow humans really are the same as us, even with different languages, foods, cultures. She values experiences and friendships far above material “things.” But I have to wonder, isn’t it possible, though, to find these things without leaving so much behind?

All the uncertainly of our chosen lives makes us want to bubble over too, at times. Maybe saying goodbye is just a life lesson that everyone learns at Leah’s age. Friends come and go, even if you don’t move anywhere yourself. Some of our life questions will resolve themselves whether or not we are patient. Maybe it’s time to put down some roots again, to show the girls that staying put is full of it’s own special joys. Maybe the islands will hold more mystery and intrigue if we sail over to them every now and then. I don’t know.

This is but one example of Holly's "house art" series. Nearly all her drawings include a cozy cabin of some sort. In the corner you can see a postcard we recently received from our friend Frances all the way up in Canada. "I can't wait to see Frances again," is what Leah said upon finding it in our mailbox. I agree.

This is but one example of Holly’s “house art” series. Nearly all her drawings include a cozy cabin of some sort. In the corner you can see a postcard we recently received from our friend Frances all the way up in Canada. “I can’t wait to see Frances again,” is what Leah said upon finding it in our mailbox. I agree.

Raft-UP: Staying Sane in a Floating Closet

Best friends, 99% of the time.

I’ve just joined in with the Raft-UP writing group; each month a group of sailing bloggers muses about a specified topic which is a great way for readers to get a whole bunch of different perspectives on aspects of the sailing life. This month we’re writing about maintaining relationships onboard our boats, which amounts to getting along in a space the size of a large walk-in closet, oftentimes with nothing around but miles-deep water.

This is not easy.

I’m not going to lie to you and say things like “we love living so close together each and every day” and “our girls never fight, they are always the best of friends.” That is just silly. We all fight on certain days, we all need our space at times. Michael and I have lived aboard sailboats together for the better part of the past 14 years and have become pretty adept at giving each other space (whether that means physical or mental) for a few hours when either of us needs it. Even though we need a break from each other at times, after only a few hours apart we miss each other terribly and reunite with a freshness that causes us each to spill over with all the news that the other has missed out on.

But sailing with two young kids has added a whole other complexity to the “getting along in tight quarters” conundrum. The problem is that kids need their space too and coordinating the needs of four separate people’s space and time to recharge has proven to be the most challenging aspect of sailing as a family.

Like any family ashore, it can be difficult to find the balance, as well as the timing, of having family time together as well as personal space and time for our own interests. We recognize that we are a family of introverts (although time is proving that Holly might be the first extrovert in generations!) and it is essential that each of us takes the alone time necessary to recharge our spirits.

Unlike a lot of families ashore we find that we have ample time together as a family but have trouble getting the necessary time in to ourselves. The biggest difficulty is proving to be the actual timing of each of us getting some recharging time. Just because I really need a few hours to myself doesn’t mean that the rest of the family does (more often than not it seems these are the times they need my attention the most!) The girls might be working happily on a project or reading on their own but sometimes that has to be interrupted to make an appointment or get to a shop or office before it closes. What happens is the time we need by ourselves gets pushed into the future until it gets to a critical point and tempers explode.

Leah and Michael spend a memorable day hiking together (Kitekite Falls, Waitakere Ranges, NZ)

Leah and Michael spend a memorable day hiking together (Kitekite Falls, Waitakere Ranges, NZ)

Over the past 18 months, here’s what we’ve been working on to make sure our family/alone time is balanced:

We take the time to recharge on our own rather than putting it off. As I mentioned before, it’s all too easy to put off alone time when there are so many amazing things to do and see together as a family while cruising. But we’ve learned that you can’t do it all; I hate missing out on beach explorations or snorkeling expeditions with the girls but find that I’m a much happier mom if every now and then I let Michael take them exploring for a few hours while I read or write or just putter around the boat on my own for a bit. We even have code words for this now: I tell everyone I need to “clean” and Michael says he needs to do “engine maintenance” and the rest of the family is happy to get out of the way for the afternoon.

Ditto with dates. Michael and I usually get out on a “date” about once a year and frankly, this is just not good enough. We need time with just the two of us to connect to each other and recharge our relationship as a couple, not only as parents. It’s difficult though to find people we trust with the kids since our neighbors are always changing as we travel. We’ve found that if we are presented with the opportunity to leave the girls with trusted friends for an evening to jump on it as we may not have the chance next week. As the girls get older too they are having more opportunities for slumber parties away and time with their own friends. Ahhhh!

Michael and I each need to spend time with Holly/Leah on their own. Recently we’ve been seeing the value of spending “alone time together” which means that Michael spends time with just Leah and I spend time with Holly and vice versa. The girls (and their parents) truly treasure this time to connect individually without the rambunctiousness that can happen when the four of us are all together. The girls don’t have to compete for anyone’s attention – she gets it 100% for a few hours and we all treasure these special times.

Helping the girls respect that her sister needs time on her own. With the girls getting older, this seems to be coming up more and more. For example, Leah is now an avid reader and enjoys spending quiet time in her bunk looking at books. Of course, Holly loves to hang out with Leah in her bed and look at books too but we’ve had to explain to her that Leah just needs some quiet time on her own. The corollary of this is that the girls have learned to state “I need some alone time!” which usually is only a few minutes in which to recharge while we respect her wishes.

Acknowledging that we are all going to have disagreements/tempers/heated emotions, but we need to deal with these respectfully. When we don’t get the time we need to recharge/connect/relax/be heard tempers can get pretty ugly around here. All four of us are working on respectful signals to use whether it’s time by ourselves we need, time with a parent or just pure-fun time with all four of us.

Of course, now that we are back in working/school mode we are finding plenty of time for ourselves and have joined the rest of society in missing our time together as a family.

 

Mom's Night Out, Carnaval de La Paz, Mexico (OK, the kids were around somewhere; the dads were in charge)

Mom’s Night Out with Windy of Del Viento, Carnaval de La Paz, Mexico (OK, to be truthful the kids were running around somewhere nearby on the dark & crowded streets; the dads were in charge)

 

Check out what other Raft-UP writers have to say this month:


Blood Draw

In the cloudsThe phlebotomist tightened the strap on my right arm. She was getting ready to draw three tubes of my blood, the last step of my immigration medical exam. She double checked my passport which lay on the desk in front of her. Then suddenly she asked me what seemed like a simple question: “Do you like the United States or New Zealand better?”

The young woman’s slight accent hinted that she had learned English at a very young age, her golden skin and dark hair told that her family was from another sunny island in the Pacific. Her belly was huge, she clearly was due to have a child of her own any day now. I found I didn’t know how to answer her so I stalled. “Have you ever been to the United States?”

“No, but I would like to someday,” she replied.

“It’s very big,” I stated randomly and wracked my brain for the answer to her question, when all I could think of was how surprised I was that I suddenly couldn’t answer such a simple thing. “Everyone in New Zealand has health care. That’s really nice,” I finally blurted out.

“Just look at the poster on the wall. I’m going to draw your blood now,” she suggested.

I looked up at the poster. It was a government notice that all children going into school at age 5 were eligible for a free health checkup. It reminded me how thankful I was that since Michael has a two-year work visa that he and the girls are in New Zealand’s public health system now. It’s the first health care we’ve had in nearly two years.

“They actually seem quite similar to me,” I finally said. “They are beautiful countries.”

“I think Americans are so friendly,” she pondered aloud. I wasn’t sure if she was suggesting that New Zealanders were otherwise so I just agreed, “Yes, I think they are too. Kiwis can be a bit more, um, reserved.” I could relate to most Kiwis in this regard though, being one of the shyer Americans myself.

The poster in front of me blurred as she silently filled the tubes of blood. All the reasons I love America came flooding in suddenly but I didn’t think it was the type of answer she was looking for: my Dad, my step-mom, my brothers and their wives, my cousins, my aunts and uncles, my grandparents, Michael’s family, our friends, the girls’ friends they’ve known since they were infants. This was all I could feel that America had that New Zealand didn’t.

The woman withdrew the needle and placed a cotton ball on the wound. “Hold this for a moment,” she said and got a piece of tape ready. “That’s it! You’re done,” she declared. “Best of luck with your visa.”

“Thank you,” I replied, “Good luck with your new baby!” She smiled as I walked out the door back into the lobby, then out the glass sliding doors into the bluish glare of the Aotearoa sunlight.

Edible memories

Ruby's Granola Recipe
Like I’m sure you have at home or on your boat, there is a small three-ring notebook in my galley that is filled with our favorite recipes. At least half of these we’ve collected over our nearly 15 years of wandering over the water from other cruising friends. The fact is that cruisers just love to share – books, movies, music and of course recipes. My recipe binder is almost better than a photo album; I can flip through the various pages with mostly handwritten recipes and instantly recall the evenings we spent sharing pastas and desserts, breakfasts and brunches munching on scones and salads with our friends. Remembering the tastes of the delicious food we’ve shared brings me right back to all the cockpits, salons, sunsets and smiles of friends along the way.

Here are a few of our favorites:

Ruby’s Granola

In French Polynesia last year, Leah came home from a sleepover with Ruby on Convivia and raved about the granola Ruby had helped cook for breakfast. At a loss for quick and delicious breakfasts (that everyone likes and doesn’t start with the letter “P”) aboard Wondertime, I asked Leah if she wanted to get the recipe from Ruby. A few days later Leah brought back the hand-written recipe and it has been our favorite breakfast ever since. We especially like it on top of homemade yogurt (simple to make in something like the Easiyo made in NZ).

  • 1 giant spoonful of peanut butter
  • 2 scoops brown sugar
  • fresh or dried fruit [and nuts, seeds, etc.]
  • 2 cups of oats (or more)
  • some maple syrup [we use honey as maple syrup is like gold in the South Pacific]

Stir over low heat for 3-5 minutes in a cast iron pan. Serve warm.

Kula’s Spicy Peanut Sauce

On our first trip down the US Pacific coast in 2002, we had dinner aboard another boat from Seattle, Kula, at Angel Island in the San Francisco Bay area. I’ll never forget how giddy all of us were to have arrived safely in S.F., the most difficult part of our journey to Mexico behind us. Christine had cooked up an amazing peanut sauce served over broccoli, chicken and brown rice. We traveled with Kula off and on towards Mexico but parted ways in Cabo as they were heading to Zihuatanejo for Christmas and we were heading towards Puerto Vallarta. As it happens far too often, we never got the chance to say goodbye in person but came back to our boat one evening to find a farewell note. And a copy of their amazing peanut sauce recipe.

  • 2 T. minced garlic
  • 1/3 cup cilantro, chopped
  • 1/2 cup crunchy peanut butter
  • 1/2 cup light soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 t. rice vinegar
  • 1 – 1 1/2 T. chili oil

Mix this all together in a bowl and serve over steamed veggies, rice, tofu, chicken, noodles, etc.

Diva’s Favorite Ginger Cookies

In British Columbia one summer, we found ourselves hunkered below waiting out a rain and wind storm in a cozy anchorage. New friends on a nearby boat hailed us on the VHF and invited us over for cookies. After a wet but quick dinghy ride over, we spent the afternoon laughing and playing games and gorging ourselves on the most amazing cookie dough ever – and even a few baked cookies – while the rain poured outside. These cookies are also excellent on passages!

  • 2/3 cup butter
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup molasses
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 2 cups white flour
  • 2 t. baking soda
  • 1 T. powdered ginger
  • 1 t. cloves
  • 1 t. cinnamon
  • 1 t. salt

Mix everything up, plop on cookie sheets and bake until done. You’ll definitely want to double this recipe!

Lost in the Islands of Tomorrow

Why hello there.

I’ve stepped out from underneath the palm trees we’ve been lounging under here in the Vava’u Group of the Kingdom of Tonga for a few minutes as it’s rather time to send you an update.

First off, the most exciting thing to happen on our sail here was that we got to skip Thursday and sailed straight into Friday which the girls where thrilled about (being Friday movie night after all). Somewhere along the way here we crossed the International Dateline moving us a day ahead of all of you back in the U.S. While you’ll be waking up to Friday morning it will already be Saturday here and well into the weekend.

Which means nothing here to us, of course, excepting that I have to remember to get to the amazingly fresh and gorgeous (and we’re talking California-gorgeous) produce market before it closes by noon as it does on Saturdays. Other than that, we’re living the old cruiser’s life of “every night’s a Friday night, every day’s a Saturday.”

This amazing scattered group of islands – there are 60 of them – are nestled together like puzzle pieces in an area only 16 x 18 nautical miles. You weave through them, around them, through channels and there’s a spot to anchor about every few miles. The whole group is surrounded by reefs that keep out any annoying ocean swell and it’s like sailing and anchoring in the Gulf Islands again. Only with palm trees and turquoise water and the soft warm breezes I think I’ve written about before. You can reach just about every anchorage in two hours or so. In the past two weeks, we’ve been to three of them.

This place doesn’t affect everyone the same way, but to us, it’s called us to slow down, stop for a while and just experience the life and place around us without the sense of movement we’ve become so accustomed to. Our first few days in Neiafu, the main town here, were spent catching up with boatloads of friends, some of whom we hadn’t seen for months. Just about everyone heading west passes through Tonga sooner or later and there have been grand kid-boat reunions here.

With Wondertime loaded down with delightful fresh produce from the local market, the likes we haven’t seen since La Cruz, we headed out to the islands. Or, one island in particular, that of our amazing longtime friends Ben and Lisa who we met in California while we were all on our way to Mexico in 2002 and sailed all over with that winter. They continued on to Tonga in their boat Waking Dream in 2004 and have stayed here ever since, opening up a number of businesses over the years and becoming a true part of the community. They currently have a lease on an adorable 2.5 acre island where they are busy living and building a small restaurant and eco-lodging amongst the palm trees. In their spare time they run the non-profit Regatta Vava’u coming up here in a few weeks.

We’ve been anchored off their island for the past week and have had a blast watching them get to know our new crew members as well as hearing their stories of life on a Tongan island. The girls, of course, adore Ben and Lisa as well as their island home. Countless hours have been spent just talking and pontificating and reminiscing and watching the palm trees sway. We’ve shared many meals together with Ben and Lisa, their local friends, and our cruising friends that have stopped by as well. We’ve danced under the clear light of the full moon while Ben – still the party king — spun tunes on his DJ gear. Michael has helped out with several of the countless projects underway on the island. The girls and I have napped in a hammock. We’ve read, daydreamed, had scavenger hunts. The beach has been combed for shells, many times. The girls have swung on the “hip ball.” We’ve messed around in boats. One clear night, we sat on a roof watching enormous flying foxes swoop overhead in the dark and listened to the crickets sing.

You never know what will pass by when you stop and watch and listen for a while.

The Wondertime Girls in Neiafu, Vava’u