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The magic of staying put

Paekakariki Escarpment track

“You are never more essentially yourself than when you are still.”

– Eckhart Tolle

The title of this post is not our motto but an aspiration. We hate staying put. We’re counting down the days until the end of the lease on our flat (177 remaining, in case you were wondering). Our feet are itchy, our bodies ache for movement across the planet. I can look out our front window at the sea and it kills me that the whole world can be reached if we just step away from this shore.

But 178 days from now, I’m pretty sure we’ll be right here, still. And–true to my aspiration of staying put and staying present–I’ll keep trying to focus on the joy of that. And there is a lot: the school Leah and Holly are attending is amazing (Holly’s gone from reading BOB books with frustration to Neil Gaiman chapter books in less than six months) and both girls are making lots of friends. Michael’s got a new ICT position, working in the public sector again. We love this beautiful, watery part of New Zealand and are really glad we landed here. And despite my occasional threats to get a job at our local pet shop, I really do enjoy tap-tap-tapping away at my keyboard every day, stringing words together.

We’re all getting older, faster every day it seems and sometimes the urgency to make the most of this time we have is overwhelming. I can’t help but gaze longingly at Google Earth, at all there is to see in the world. We’ve tended, ahem, to jump headlong into wild ideas in the past. But right now, just resting here, we’re back in the dreaming phase. Trying out ideas, letting them simmer, tossing them aside. And then just gazing out the window, remembering how incredibly lucky we are to be here.


Sunset Parade


How to Move to New Zealand coverBut another benefit of staying still is seeing a project from idea to draft to finish. And here’s the latest result of all my tap-tap-tapping: a full-length eBook based on our most popular post ever, How to Move to New Zealand in 31 Easy Steps. Ever since I published that post three years ago, I’ve gotten countless emails from readers all over the world asking for more details on the New Zealand immigration process. Now, I’m not a licensed immigration adviser, so I’m not able to give specific advice to anyone, but I have enjoyed pointing people to resources for job-hunting, work visas, and tips to moving to New Zealand. Earlier this year I got the idea of putting it all together into one volume and I’m proud to announce the eBook is officially available to purchase (with print coming soon)! I worked with my Voyaging With Kids coauthor Michael Robertson and his new publishing company, Force Four Publications for this project and I’m so excited to send it out into the world.

The eBook is now available at:




Here’s a gorgeous peek at our ‘hood. Can you tell why we love it here?

The Wing’n it has landed.

20160429_manabeachgirlsOne of the overarching goals of our extended tiki tour here in Zealandia was to decide which of our favorite corners we should settle down in for a while. Believe it or not, after nearly eight months together in an 18-foot long motorhome we are kind of ready to spread out a bit. Michael got to work on getting his CV out in the IT world again; I gaped at the 3-inch stack of paper that is my first printed draft of a novel (ok, single-sided and double spaced, but still). And the girls were literally begging to start back in school again (it worked…ha!).

But the problem was…where?? We loved boaty, beachy Tauranga, sunny Nelson, Scottish Dunedin. We still loved quirky, cool, windy Wellington and even Auckland with her wild west coast beaches and eastern islands. There is the Bay of Islands full of friends and boats. And what about somewhere completely off the map like Invercargill or New Plymouth? (Or, maybe not.)

Oriental Parade, Wellington


Welly train

In the end, our hearts pulled for Wellington so we pointed Wing’n it‘s bow south for one final time after we arrived back in Auckland from Tonga. But little did we know, back in early February, that our decision-making had only begun. Wellington’s not just a city, but a huge region; commuters flow into the city all the way from the Wairarapa and Hutt Valley to the northeast, and from Kapiti and Porirua on the southwest coast. And then there’s the plethora of funky neighborhoods in and bordering the city proper. All of which are serviced by Wellington’s world-class commuter train and bus networks. Now where do we go?!

Job hunting kinda sucks. Really thankful the girls love the library.

Job hunting kinda sucks. Really thankful the girls love the library.

Learning how to skate. A tiny adventure.

Learning how to skate. A tiny adventure.

And so it happened that by wing’n it, we ended up right where we needed to be. Wellington’s got some choice freedom camping spots and while Michael hunted for work we spent time at nearly all of them. We spent many nights at Evan’s Bay Marina just minutes from downtown and at parks on the south coast watching the sun set over the Cook Strait. But as much as we thought we wanted to live right in the bustling city, after a few days in town we always found ourselves aching for a quiet spot by the sea.

Freedom camping in the city (Evans Bay Marina, Wellington)

Freedom camping in the city (Evans Bay Marina, Wellington).

Ngatitoa Domain with our new 'hood in the distance

Ngatitoa Domain with our new ‘hood in the distance.

Just to the north of Wellington is Porirua Harbour. The city of the same name lies at the southern end but scattered around it are small neighborhoods and parks. We found ourselves coming back to the domain in Mana again and again. With Wing’n it parked right on the edge of the quiet turquoise sea, we most enjoyed unwinding after the busyness of the city. We’d park our camping chairs on the grass and watch: seagulls, families picnicking, kite boarders, sailboats, windsurfers, brave swimmers, fishing-folk. We’d chat with our rotating NZMCA neighbors, walk to the dairy for an ice-cream, stroll over the marina and look at boats. Eventually we stayed so long we wondered if we should register to vote there.

Then, one morning Michael came back from his morning run, all abuzz. “I just found the coolest little neighborhood…cafes, cottages right on the beach, people everywhere chatting and happy. You’ve got to come see this place!” The next day we drove the Wing’n it over for our second coffee and it was exactly as he said: a great coffee shop on the corner, a fish & chip shop, a dairy, Indian and Thai and Polish restaurants, a boating club, a beautiful primary school right there…all with kids and dogs and families milling about everywhere. It is quintessentially Kiwi. Best of all, there is a train station: hop on and it takes you to the center of Wellington city in 25 minutes.

Everything, as it seems to do, fell into place after that. We found a funky old bach to rent right across from the beach, Michael got not one but two job offers, we enrolled the girls in school, and even found the most adorable kitten ever at the local SPCA. We parked the Wing’n it in front of our little garage and moved out. It took about 30 minutes.

That was a month ago and we’re still so in love with where we’ve landed. The girls’ new school is warm and welcoming, shoes optional, and learning is fun, no pressure required. We can walk around the corner to the village for a coffee and ice-cream and hello to a neighbor. Or head the other direction, out to the coastal tracks. Michael takes the train into the city to work, and is home by 6 to watch the sun set past Mana Island, across the Cook Strait, dipping behind the Marlborough Sounds.

A lovely place to just be.

Our new wheels are a little more fun to drive. Sorry, Wing'n it.

Our new wheels are a little more fun to drive. Sorry, Wing’n it.

Just another weekday morning. We will miss this.

Just another weekday morning. We will miss this.

Moving day. Our new little place is the add-on on top of the original bach below. I'm standing on the beach, taking this photo.

Moving day. Our new little place is the add-on on top of the original bach below. I’m standing on the beach, taking this photo.

We went a bit crazy with our brand-new library card.

We went a bit crazy with our brand-new library card.

The hardest thing about coming back to NZ was leaving our beloved cats behind. We fulfilled our promise to get another as soon as possible. Then this guy showed up. Mr. Mouse. The coolest cat ever.

The hardest thing about coming back to NZ was leaving our beloved cats behind. We fulfilled our promise to get another as soon as possible. And just in time, we met Mr. Mouse. The coolest cat ever.

Sunset Parade

The walk to school really can't be beat.

The walk to school really can’t be beat.

Last days, unemployed

Sunset over Mana

Bach'n it

Bach’n it


World Class Wellington

Wing'n It family in Welly

For the past three weeks aboard Wing’n It, we’ve been meandering our way southward, trying to move fast enough to see all there is to see, but slow enough so we don’t catch up with the frost that’s still popping up now and then south of us. We really enjoyed our visit to Napier on Hawke’s Bay (freedom camping right on the beach in town, walking distance to the library, swimming pool, grocery stores, laundromat, shopping). We’d planned the perfect field trip: taking the girls to a winery that had an education center but sadly found this one, and most, wineries closed for the rest of winter. After that, we were all kind of anxious to get to the big city and zipped through the Wairarapa region (more farms and closed wineries) to get southward, frost be damned.

Freedom camping is welcomed in Napier. Many places it's not...better get down here before freedom camping is a thing of the past!

Freedom camping is welcomed in Napier. Many places it’s not…better get down here before freedom camping is a thing of the past!

Watching the daily shark feeding at National Aquarium of New Zealand (Napier)

Watching the daily shark feeding at National Aquarium of New Zealand (Napier)

You can't tell from this photo, but this random place in the seeming middle of nowhere was heaven. There are free hot unlimited showers in the building on the right and the shed next to it has couches, a TV and a VCR(!) with piles of VHS tapes. So retro.

You can’t tell from this photo, but this random place in the seemingly middle of nowhere was heaven. There are free hot unlimited showers in the building on the right and the shed next to it has couches, a TV and a VCR(!) with piles of VHS tapes. So retro.

We did stop at the Tui Brewery for a wee tour

Pit stop at the Tui Brewery for a wee tour

But first, we had to stop at Rivendell:

We only saw two elves at Rivendell. (Kaitoke Regional Park, Wellington)

We only saw two elves at Rivendell. (Kaitoke Regional Park, Wellington)

Kaitoke Regional Park, Wellington

We’ve been to Wellington before (Anzac weekend, April 2013 to be exact). But this trip was a little bit different. Our last time here was a whirlwind long weekend drive down the North Island with a stop at Lake Taupo and two nights in Windy Welly. (It wasn’t windy that weekend, but sunny, clear, and calm which we were told not to expect again). They were right.

Spring sprung upon us while we were in Wellington this time, with typical weather: sideways rain, howling wind, and enough sun breaks just to tease. But we didn’t care. We’d built Wellington up in our minds, as someplace we might like to stop and work for a while, make some friends, put the girls in school once we’re done with our Wing’n It wanderings. But we’ve done that before and sometimes the actual place fails to live up to our vision of it. But this time, Wellington did no such thing.

We spent a week in the city and loved every minute–even with the rain and wind (we figure this is why Welly has the best beer and coffee in the entire country). The city is spotless. We felt safe walking anywhere at any time of day which is definitely something I can’t say about any town in America these days. There are beautiful museums, libraries, parks, bookstores, night markets, art galleries—all free to explore.

First day of spring (Wellington)

First day of spring (Wellington)

Downtown Wellington: clean, safe, and beautiful

Downtown Wellington: clean, safe, and beautiful

Exploring our new nation's capital (Parliament buildings, Wellington)

Exploring our new nation’s capital (Parliament buildings, Wellington)

We toured Weta Cave and learned a few movie-making secrets.

We toured Weta Cave and learned a few movie-making secrets.

Wellington's AMAZING Sunday Market (and this is in late Winter!)

Wellington’s AMAZING Sunday Market (and this is in late Winter!)

New Zealand has the BEST swimming pools ever. (And we've enjoyed showering at each and every one.)

New Zealand has the BEST swimming pools ever. (And we’ve enjoyed showering at each and every one.)

Wellington's central library. We had to drag the girls out of here, literally.

Wellington’s central library. We had to drag the girls out of here, literally.

And just outside of the city, wild New Zealand remains:

A 10 minute drive to the other side of the city's peninsula finds you on wild Cook Strait with the little blue penguins and seals.

A 10 minute drive to the other side of the city’s peninsula finds you on wild Cook Strait with the little blue penguins and seals.

Yes, we can’t wait to return but first, we’ve got another island to see.

Crossing Cook Strait aboard the Bluebridge ferry to the South Island

Crossing Cook Strait aboard the Bluebridge ferry to the South Island

The Things We Are Bringing Ashore

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

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

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

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

Small Living

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

Our house is small, but the tub is big.

Our house is small, but the tub is big.

Less Stuff

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

Energy Efficiencies

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

Winter Forest

Immersion in Nature

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

Doing Nothing

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

I hope she likes riding in the dinghy.

I hope she likes riding in the dinghy.


Goodbye, Dear Friend

No Voyage

by Mary Oliver

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

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

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

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

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

~From New and Selected Poems, Volume One



Back to school, back to writing

The girls arrive home from school

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

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

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

Pacific Yachting Cover - November 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bubble girls

Bubble girls

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

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

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, 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