Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Lubbing Land: Staving off "Boat Fever"

Coming home for a couple months during hurricane season has it's merits. Just as islanders oft refer to what is widely know as "island (or "rock") fever", so too do some of us boaters. Let's call it "boat fever." You see, living on a sailboat - while incredible, beautiful, adventurous and exciting - does have it's downsides. Like living on a "rock" (a.k.a. "island paradise" to a landlubber), living on a boat becomes a sort of island unto itself, and islands can be...isolating. Just as people on land need to head to a beach to "get away" for some R&R; sometimes we, too, need a little break from our daily lives. Instead of flying to an all inclusive hotel on St. Somewhere, however, we head for hustle and bustle and "vacation" (dun, dun, dun) in the suburbs of Chicago.

And it is bliss.

I know I am sort of beating a dead horse when I say that living on a boat in the tropics is hard work. But it is. The extremely close quarters, the eternal race to stay ahead of the ever-growing project list, the mind-numbing frustration that can result from dealing with government agencies, the fact that our neighbors are never the same for very long, the sometimes-oppressive heat, the constant attention to the weather, the rough passages, the periodic loneliness and - (gulp) - the bouts of tedium that can sometimes punctuate a life afloat can all build up and lead to a case of boat fever.

Yep, people can actually get a little burned out from living aboard in paradise.

There it is.
[Ducks the virtual tomatoes being thrown at head].

Don't get me wrong; the beaches, the water, the sunsets, the bars, the community, the camaraderie, the pace, the "vibe" and island life, in general, are all incredible. I mean, we wouldn't have signed up for this life if it wasn't - but no matter where you live, be it the beach or the 'burbs, sometimes change is good. Especially if you are like us and "cruise" very slowly, and predominately in one area, for an entire season at a time. Just because we live in what many would consider a vacation-worthy paradise, doesn't mean that we, too, don't need little breaks and a change of scenery from time to time.

Land breaks, for us, mean a time to soak up the beauty that is friends and family. Having three small children makes this even more of a priority to us. We want our girls to have relationships with their cousins, to have visceral memories of playing with them and growing with them. We want our daughters to know and love their aunts and uncles, and we want them to adore their grandparents just as we adored ours. We, too, want to see our nieces, nephews, brothers', sisters, parents and friends. These relationships with friends and family are very important to us. The pursuit of a life less ordinary doesn't mean we don't value these things, and this is the very reason why we are setting up our life in such a way that we can return a few months every summer. Coming home and spending quality time with the people we love most is the most refreshing kind of re-charge.

Shore leave also gives us a little time to indulge in all the modern day conveniences that we do without on the boat; laundry machines (though I do love doing laundry by hand), dishwashers, large refrigerator/freezer combos, great restaurants, customer service with a smile, amazingly stocked grocery stores, sidewalks, super fast internet (yay!), television (love/hate here), movies, play parks up the whazoo, and no shortage of fun places to take our girls, from splash water parks to children's museums (to name a few). We also have the luxury of a three bedroom guest house at our disposal and the use of a (borrowed) car. We're catching up with friends, indulging in new restaurants, taking in a few movies (we've not watched a single film in 6 months!) and enjoying the presence of babysitters. It's a nice change of pace.

For a spell.

Because as much as I appreciate the land breaks that we are fortunate enough to take, I always miss the boat and island life. Living in a house with all the extra space is fantastic, but it means more to clean, more areas for the kids to get into, more places for things to get lost and more stuff in general. In some ways, living in a house is harder than living on our (relatively) tiny boat where our girls are never more than ten feet from us. Furthermore, land life truly is more hectic and busy; there's so much to do, people to see and places to go. We get pulled in so many directions and end up feeling more frenzied than we do on the boat. It's exciting for now, but long-term I think we'd want to slow down. The simple fact of the matter is that the pace of life on the boat is rather unhurried, and while that aspect of boat life (aka "island time") certainly wouldn't appeal to everyone, it works for us.

For now, however, we are relishing in all things land-lubber. It's giving us the factory reset that we so badly needed. Our batteries are getting recharged, we're topping up our "love" tanks with friends and family, and we'll go back to the boat - and our 'rock' in the BVI's - appreciating them more than ever.

This woman is incredible. She is my grandma. She had 12 children, has 30-something grandchildren, and 23 GREAT-grandchildren. A visit with her is always a top priority. 91 and still going strong.
Dr. Haven checking x-rays in the natal until of the Children's Museum. 
We don't take many long walks in the islands, but in the burbs is a major activity. Here is Isla at the neighborhood "fairy house" where kids can come and take a small treasure one time every day. It's a highlight of our walk and is maintained by the parents of one of my best girlfriends.  
We have this awesome swing. In our backyard!! Our little adrenaline junkies LOVE it. 
Grandpa doesn't much care for rules, and took Isla on a spin round the block so she could "drive". 
Pony Rides! 
My beautiful nieces (the middle girls) and our awesome neighbors (outer girls) LOVE Isla. They wanted to make a fort and asked if I could help, so I did. Apparently, knowing knots and such is very helpful. "You just solidified your place as the coolest aunt EVER" they told me. The fort was cool, if I do say so myself.
Lucky for us, we are never far from Lake Michigan and beaches. Our girls will always be at home on a beach near the water!
Beach babies back in action. They were happy campers.
Three Generations. I love it.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Five Years

Five years ago today we said "I do" and set this whole journey into motion. It was an incredible weekend, and it marked the official beginning of our life together, although one could argue the twisty turvy path to this place started long before we ever met.

Two boats, three kids, fifteen countries and over 10K nautical miles later, here we are. It's not always been easy or pretty or perfect. Just like any married couple, we are learning as we go; sometimes soaring, sometimes stumbling. Our path is our own and one thing is for certain, it's been an endless adventure every step of the way. We are blessed beyond belief and I thank the Universe every single day for our girls, our life, our health, and everything in between. The good, the bad, the ugly...it's all been...amazing. Quite the evolution.

I wouldn't change a thing.
“A life of adventure is ours for the taking, whether we're seven or seventy. Life for the most part is what me make it. We have been given a responsibility to live it fully, joyfully, completely, and richly, in whatever span of time God grants us on this earth.”  
- Luci Swindoll, I Married Adventure

Happy Anniversary Scott, cheers to us babe. xo

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

An Interview, A Collaboration and an Update

We recently did an interview with Zizoo boats (it only took me two - or was it three? months to complete). Earlier in the year they included us on their list of Top 10 Sailing Blogs (flattered!) and they asked us for a follow-up. If you are interested in how we got into cruising, what we love about this lifestyle and some of our favorite places to sail and why, check it out here.

My best friend and I also collaborated on a pictorial article for Bored Panda. It was so fun to go through pictures and select a few to represent this most recent chapter our life. If you are interested in reading that piece, check out, "Extreme Parenting: Raising Three Under Three...On a Sailboat in the Caribbean". It's a simple, brief summation of our journey thus far - littered with photos. Our good friends on s/v Necess wrote a similar - and very beautiful - piece showcasing the magic of kids on boats as well, check their article out here. Both our families are big advocates of the lifestyle.

Meanwhile, back on land things are good. Great, even. We celebrated Scott's birthday this last week with some of our very best friends, enjoyed quality family time with both my brother's (and respective families) in town, and - in general - have been enjoying all things landlubber: hot showers, large fridge/freezer combos, the use of a car, fast internet (yay! Pandora!), dishwashers, fast food, and play parks aplenty. It took a while for the girls to find their footing after our travel day from hell, but we're back on track, and enjoying being stateside for this brief hiatus.

There are many exciting professional and personal developments in the works that we hope to share with you soon (no, I am not pregnant), but all in good time.

We'll keep you posted!

Much love xo

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

"Goodbye Sun, Thanks for a Great Day"

Every night at anchor we say goodbye to the sun as it sinks down the horizon. It's one of the largest perks of living on a boat; the ability to catch amazing sunsets almost anywhere. I can't recall when this tradition began (probably some time back around this amazing sunset), but it's pretty adorable if I do say so myself. Luckily, Scott caught it on video one night so you can get a little glimpse into this sweet ritual. Sorry if you've already seen this on our Facebook Page, but I made a few small edits and added music. I hope you enjoy!

Monday, July 20, 2015

Flying with Three Kids Three and Under is Not Fun

Shocker, right? But for the 1% of you who are surprised by this revelation; air travel and toddlers pair about as well as socks and sandals. You can do it, but it doesn't look pretty. My recent travel stint from Tortola, BVI to Chicago, IL might be the most exhausting day of my life. And, for the record, I have toddling twins who, for the first four months of their precious lives, slept on my person and nursed every two hours. So I know a thing or two about exhaustion.

Granted, two out of three of our girls were complete angels the entire twelve hour day. But - as they say - one bad apple can spoil the bunch. And one screaming toddler on a plane is all it takes to make you look like a jack-ass parent. Who cares if the other two are wonderful and quiet and good? The "bad" one will ensure you don't get the "What good children you have!" compliment down at baggage claim. Ho-hum.

Turns out, Haven and airplane-style containment don't mix.

The day started off okay, I was packed and prepped. Traveling with kids is sort of our "thing" so I was organized and had all the necessary gear (umbrella strollers, Ergo carriers, an arsenal of snacks and a few select toys being the most important) to make the trip as smooth as possible without being overburdened with clutter. I felt pretty good about it, but was wary... Our twins are sixteen months old which, in my opinion, falls smack dab in the center of the age range when travel with children should be avoided at all costs. These children are old enough to stave off sleep and throw tantrums of epic proportions, yet too young to actually entertain themselves (read: sit still) for any significant length of time....Yep, the toddler is your travel nemesis.

The first sign of the hell that would follow came in the cab ride to the airport. Haven, our twin who is often described as "wild" ("You can just see it in her eyes!" they say) and affectionately referred to as "hell on wheels" came undone in the cab. Carseats are not required in the Caribbean and we don't have room for that sort of thing on our boat so we sat the kids in the second row and buckled them in. Isla (our three year old) and Mira sat quietly and peacefully but Haven decided she wanted to explore. In the cab. While it was moving. Imagine traveling in a car with a spider monkey on meth. It was like that for the entire thirty minute drive.

Then, things started looking up. The first airport was fine. The first forty-five minute flight was fine. Heck, even the second airport (complete with three hour layover) was fine. I had done well in my preparation and the girls were fed, entertained, and we had the right mix of gear to get them through security (aka: the portal to hell for families traveling with small children) and to the gate with nary a meltdown or fuss. I was proud of my planning and I mistakenly gave myself a silent pat on the back as we began to board our second, and final, flight.

A flight, mind you, that was over four hours.

That is a very long time for a very active lap baby.

We took off and all three girls fell asleep, the twins in the ergo carriers (Mira on my mom, Haven on me) and Isla in her own seat at my side. It was bliss and I was feeling very 'boss mom'. When the flight attended came over and asked if I'd like anything, I quietly requested wine and peanuts. She brought them and no sooner had I taken a first nibble of peanut and sip of wine when Haven started stirring. Shit. Turns out, when a baby is sleeping on your chest very close to your neck, they can hear you chew and gulp. I held my breath, said a quick prayer to all things Holy that she would zonk back out while simultaneously cursing my wine "habit", but it was all for naught; she began to thrash further in the carrier and wanted OUT. I handed the flight attendant my wine (after taking a healthy gulp), stood up and did the desperate "mom bounce" in the aisle. Cue the seatbelt light.

Greeeaaat.

Haven would have none of it. With wide eyes, kicking legs, and clawing arms she started screaming in protest. And if there is one thing I can tell you about this child, it's that she is LOUD. Louder than you can possibly imagine.

I looked at my mom across the aisle who's face was a mask of sheer horror. She knows Haven. She's endured the wrath of the pterodactyl cry. She was afraid - for the other passengers, for me - we had three solid hours of flying to go. This was not looking good.

With much bouncing and many snacks, I managed to get her quiet and out of the carrier, but not after she'd woken up both her sisters and disturbed everyone on the plane. Luckily, we were surrounded by wonderful passengers (#thankyouUniverse) so no one gave me the stink eye or made any rude comments about me controlling my unruly child. In fact, I think most people were just happy they were not me on that flight. It was very, very clear that I had my hands full and was doing everything in my power to keep the kids (well, Haven) at bay.

Turns out, flying with Haven is not unlike giving a cat a bath. All arms and legs and grabbing and wrangling and struggling and plying with snacks and toys and "hey look, something shiny!" At one point, she was hanging off the seat in front of us and at another she managed to unscrew the overhead light. Of course she activated our flight attendant call button a half dozen times. Luckily, despite her rambunctious nature, Haven is flirtatious, outgoing and utterly adorable so our attendant (and flight neighbors) didn't seem to mind her too much. Or if they did, they weren't letting on (again, #thankyouUniverse).

When we finally landed in Chicago, over twelve hours after our day began and three hours past our kids' bedtimes sans naps, I was finished, the kids were finished and so was my mom.

"That was hell" she said to me with a dead-pan face as we reconvened at baggage claim after a much needed bathroom break, "if I were you, I wouldn't fly again until those girls are three."

I laughed. Because, really, what else can you do?

Yes, it was hard. It was exhausting and frustrating and, at times, embarrassing. But it could have been much, much worse. At least Haven is happy. Sure, she's a handful. But she's a happy handful. I'll take that over an unhappy handful any day.

Luckily, parenthood comes with a sort of amnesia that keeps us keeping on. Despite the hellish road trips, vacations gone awry, holidays gone haywire and madness-inducing flights - we move on in a "this too shall pass" fashion; knowing, hoping and - for some of us - praying that the next time will be better. And it may or may not be, but such is life. We are blessed to be on this wild ride.

It's all part of the adventure. And what an adventure it is.

I just hope that during the next flight, I can get a full glass of wine in me. It definitely takes the edge off.








Saturday, July 11, 2015

What's Next? Shore Leave!

The other day I mentioned on our Facebook Page that we were hauling our boat and heading back to land. It was quickly followed by a flurry of concerned emails and comments questioning what the heck we were doing and why. While I'm pretty sure I've written about our plans to head back stateside for hurricane season a while back, I guess I have a little explaining to do.

So...

We are heading back to the greater Chicagoland area for a few months. There are several reasons for this, namely:
  • It is hurricane season here and boats and hurricanes don't mix. While they are projecting that this will be a very 'mild' one, we are still smack dab in the middle of the "danger zone" so we're going to play it safe, haul our boat, and prep her accordingly
  • We have three babies. Grandmas, Grandpas, Aunts, Uncles and friends want to see and love up on those babies. Who are we to deny them? 
  • It's summertime in Chicago. Chicago + Summer = Awesome.
  • And finally...cruising with three very small kids is incredibly hard work. I don't know how I can adequately explain it to you if you haven't done it, but - suffice it to say - this is not easy. Don't get me wrong, we love it and we've found a great groove, but a little shore leave looks mighty good right now. We get zero breaks from 24/7 parenting and I'm tapping into energy reserves I didn't know I had on most days. Scott and I have not had a single 'date night' in six months. I've not slept more than five hours in a row in nearly two years (still nursing) and simply having an adult conversation with my husband is something that is rare. This little land break - and the promise of baby sitters - will be nice to re-charge our batteries. 
One question people have is: Why not sail to Grenada which is, technically, out of the "danger zone"? This option was discussed/considered for a solid two seconds before I gave Scott a resounding "hell no". We've done the trek to Grenada twice (once with Isla as a baby) and know enough to know that if we did it with our current baby-to-adult ratio, I would arrive in Grenada either a) divorced b) a full-blown alcoholic or c) in a straight jacket. No thank you. When they are a bit older? Sure. But right now, three to four hour day sails are our max, which is perfectly do-able and exactly why we based ourselves here in the British Virgin Islands.

And here we shall stay.

As daunting has hauling the boat, packing up kids, and flying stateside is (so.much.work) -we, thankfully, have quite the ground crew to help us out...

Our friend, AJ, who made his first appearance on the blog during our passage from the Bahamas to the BVI's, and again when we re-launched Asante earlier this season as a family of five, offered his assistance in helping Scott put the boat away, as these days I am tied up with the kiddos. We graciously accepted and having him here with us has been a huge help. We love you AJ!

Also up for sainthood is my mom, who flew down to help me fly back with the girls. When Scott and I made the decision to haul the boat, we decided that it'd be best for me and the girls to fly home first so that a) we wouldn't need to get a hotel room (3 kids + 2 adults + 1 hotel room - decent sleep = a primo spot on one of the innermost circles of hell) and b) Scott could have a few days on the boat without us aboard to get her prepped (3 kids + 1,0005 boat projects = 0 projects completed). Flying alone with two lap babies and a toddler is not allowed on airlines (at least I don't think it is?), so my mom offered to help me make that trip. There are not enough adjectives to describe how thankful I am for this. It's possible and highly likely she saved my sanity with this gesture.

It takes a village.

The girls and I fly out tomorrow and AJ and Scott fly out the 15th. As it stands right now, Scott will return in September to get the boat livable again, and the girls and I will fly back down in October to resume our life afloat. The 'adventure' will continue...

In the meantime, I have tons of blogs to write, hundreds of emails to hopefully answer, plenty to catch you up on and no shortage of photos to share - so, fear not, you will still get your healthy dose of babies, boating, and tropical sunshine from this blog during our short hiatus.

As always, thank you all for the unwavering love and support - I know I sound like a broken record, but you guys are the BEST. Having you along with us has made this cruising season that much better.

THANK YOU.

Get at it AJ!
Making our dinghy pretty again. 
The boat is a mess. Note the THREE PAGE list of things to do!
Sailed off and stowed.
All our lines cleaned and drying.
They are a handful, but boy are they fun!

Monday, July 06, 2015

What the Hell is Buried in There? Making Sense of a Top Loading Fridge

Boat life certainly has it's advantages, but refrigerator space is not one of them. You landlubbers know the scene: You're hungry. You fling open your refrigerator, standing in front of it quizzically as you take stock of all the bounty inside. Hmmm? You ponder. What to eat today? You scan the various shelves and drawers. You grab for the deli meat, and put it back. You tousle the block of cheese, but at the last minute decide on the leftover pizza from last night. You shut the door and dig in. Easy peasy.

You land folks have no idea what a luxury this little ritual is.

Most sailboats come with top-loading refrigerators (or ice boxes as they are more appropriately known) which are glorified coolers that get jam-packed with food, Tetris-style. This arrangement certainly makes the most sense of the space, but these 'boxes' quickly become trenches of despair and agony (particularly when the incredibly heavy top comes slamming down on your hand as you reach for the guacamole). Many a time I've noticed a stench only to start digging around only to find a two month old forgotten brick of cheese that had gone rogue and septic. It's not unusual to forget that I have not one, but two peppers at the bottom and only make the discovery when that second pepper is a soggy, putrid mess. Many times, the effort of digging through our "fridge" is simply not worth it and I end up noshing on a handful of almonds in lieu of an actual meal. In other words, boat fridges can be a pain in the "A" and there have been many a science experiment in ours. Not only is this gross, but it's wasteful.

Enter: The dry erase board.

This brilliantly simple "galley hack" comes from my good friend, Jody, over at Where the Coconuts Grow. I was getting a tour of her boat (we have sister ships) and she showed me the mirror that hangs above her icebox. "What's that for?" I asked curiously noting the scribbles that peppered it. And she told me. "It's the only way I know what's inside" she finished.  I was gob-smacked. BRILLIANT! The next day when Scott went into town, he picked up a cheap dry erase board from Home Depot.

Now, I not only know what fresh stuff I have inside without having to open it and rifle around (saving precious energy), but I can write down what I open and what needs to be eaten. For example, a jar of salsa was one of the things that would frequently be opened, replaced, and forgotten about - but now, I can write "1/2 jar of salsa" on the board and know that I need to eat that sooner than later. This also inadvertently helps with meal planning. When I see on the board that I have celery and a cucumber that needs to be eaten soon (I denote these items with an asterisk), I quickly decide on tuna salad sandwiches for lunch.

This great galley hack also caught the eye of my friend and bonafide 'Galley Guru' Carolyn of The Boat Galley. Check out what she had to say about it here, and be sure to look for some other tips in the comment section! Jody also wrote about this tip, among all other things "boat fridge" (from insulation to stowing), so be sure to check out her post here.

What great galley hacks have you learned? How would you perfect this system? Share in the comments!

Thursday, July 02, 2015

Adventures in Boating (Note: Kids Complicate Things)

Do not be fooled, these cutie pies can take a situation from bad to worse in no time.
We'd just had a teary farewell with the crew of s/v Necesse in Christmas Cove, USVI and made our way to Soper's Hole, Tortola. The small craft advisory, heavy winds and sporadic squalls that pushed back our departure date the previous day could hold us back no longer. We had business to tend to in Road Town, and time was of the essence. We headed out. Despite the strong winds (20-27 knots) the sail was uneventful, if not a little wet, and the girls happily slumbered in their berths the entire 2.5 hour trip, which made the passage that much easier.

Soper's Hole is not an ideal place to anchor. It's relatively deep (30+ feet) and very crowded. Despite this, we've found a "secret spot". We dropped anchor in our usual place tucked up in the bay near a marina, and Scott and I did the ole "divide and conquer" routine to get what we needed done as efficiently as possible. It was decided that Isla and I would head into Road Town (a 30 minute trip by car) and Scott would take the twins on a hike. He dropped off Isla and I on shore, and we began the process of hitchhiking. Within minutes we had a ride-share that, for $20, promised to take us where we were going as well as pick us up at 5pm.

With Isla strapped to me in her Tula Toddler Carrier , I zipped around Road Town from agency to agency, getting what we needed to get and delivering what we needed to deliver, finishing up by 4:30 pm. With a half hour to kill, Isla and I ventured to one of our favorite take-out places, Roti Queen, and got three vegetarian rotis ($5 a piece) to bring back to the boat for dinner. We also sprang for a small slice of carrot cake to nibble on while we watched Bollywood music videos on the screen above the counter and waited for our ride.

5:00pm came and went. We waited. And waited. And waited.

When it became clear our ride was not coming, I headed to the main road and flagged down a taxi. A minor snafu in the plan, but no big deal, as these types of hiccups are par for the course down here. We're used to it.

Scott and I had been communicating via text throughout the afternoon. He was returning to the boat to start the babies' dinner and would pick up Isla and I at the ferry dock in ten or fifteen minutes. All was well.

When Isla and I arrived at the dock, I looked over at our boat across the way. It appeared to be swooping in half moons. It was gusty, for sure. But something didn't look right at all...My stomach sank. Wait a minute...was it...could it be...moving!?! I tried to focus on Asante as I quickly handed the driver her fare and got Isla out of the car. Yes, the boat was definitely moving. Dragging? No. Moving. The engine was on, the tell tale spurt of water from the stern told me that. But...why? I could vaguely make out Scott at the helm as the boat continued to swinging widely, making swift movements and turns with the engine in full gear.

My heart began to race. Armed with the knowledge that a) Scott was alone with the babies b) it was well past their dinnertime and c) he was clearly struggling - I knew the situation on board was not ideal. Not by a long shot.

I watched nervously as I fumbled for our hand held VHF.

"Asante, Asante...this is Asante mobile" I called.
"This is Asante, go 09" Scott replied, quickly.
"Zero Nine" I repeated as I changed channels.
"What's happening Scott?" I asked, helplessly.
"Need to move" he snapped. I could hear the babies screaming loudly in the background.
"Yes, but why" I asked.
"Big Catamaran" he replied, as if in code "way too close" he finished with a snap.

Clearly, he couldn't elaborate but taking stock of the area I could see that a very large catamaran on the end of a t-dock had arrived while we were all out and we were clearly too close to it.

I held Isla on my lap and sat down on the dock. We helplessly watched and waited.

It was also about this time that I looked down at my bag and realized that I had left our rotis in the cab. Overwhelmed with the situation on what had already begun as a pretty crappy day, I started to cry. How the hell did I forget our dinner in the cab? "What a waste!" I cursed out loud.

"Mama, what's wrong" Isla asked, touching my face with her hand.
"Oh honey, it's okay," I wiped my eyes, "Mommy just left our roti's in the taxi and now we won't be able to have them for dinner". Realizing how ridiculous an example it was for her to see me cry over a few rotis, I gathered my emotions and smiled, "It's no big deal, honey, we can always get some more".

"Yeah" she echoed, "...we can always get some more".

We both went silent and looked back at the boat which by now had the anchor up and seemed to be doing a touch and go a the nearby dock. A blonde hopped aboard.

"Oh, good", I thought out loud, "I think Emily hopped on to help him".

"I like Emily" Isla chimed in.

Point for having friends all over the place in these islands. Emily is our age and lives here in Soper's Hole on her boat with her husband. She'd just arrived from a day charter when they noticed a boat struggling and realized it was ours. Right place, right time.

I could hear the babies screams from across the bay. A mama hearing her babies cry and being unable to get to them is a certain type of torture. I could only imagine the scene in the cockpit. Babies wailing in unison do absolutely nothing to help stressful boat situations, FYI.

"Scott, how's it going" I called on the radio when it appeared that he and Emily had the situation under control.

His voice was much more relaxed now, which instantly eased my worry, "We're fine. Emily's here, we're going to grab a private mooring that no one is on right now." The sense of accomplishment was clear in his voice. Everything was okay.

I sighed and felt all the tension escape my shoulders.

They secured the boat and Emily watched the girls while Scott picked up Isla and I. All was back to normal, the evening proceeded as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened.

Because if there is one thing that babies and boats will do for you, it's teach you to decompress super quickly after the s*** hits the fan. It's just another day, another spike in blood pressure, and another crisis averted.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Top Ten Tuesdays: Ten Great (Toddler) Toys for Space Conscious Parents

I'm going to be captain obvious here when I say that raising small kids on a sailboat takes a bit more effort than on land. It's not necessarily 'harder' (different, yes) but it does take a little more forethought, planning and innovation. Storage, particularly toy storage, is one amenity most boats lack. We don't have basements, closets or toy rooms which means we boat parents need to be very thoughtful about what sort of toys will give us the most "bang for our buck" while simultaneously taking up very little space.

While I am very much of the "less is more" mindset for children's toys (our girls have more fun playing with pots and pans than almost anything!), I don't want to deprive our girls of toys completely and I put a lot of thought and research into exactly what toys I brought aboard. After five months of use, these ten really shine as fantastic toys that not only stimulate creative play and hold up to toddler (and baby) abuse, but take up little room and store very easily. Most of our toys are kept in their own sub "bins" and we bring out one "bin" at a time to keep the toy mayhem (read: mess) at a minimum and stay organized.
  1. Safari Ltd Miniature TOOB Sets - These are my favorite. We have about five different tubes of these and store them all in a small bin. The animals are small, so probably not great for babies (though we let our babies play with them), but they have entertained our girls for hours. Thanks to these toys, Isla can now easily identify various reef fish and even an armadillo. Great learning tools and great for independent play.
  2. Melissa & Doug Water Wow Paint Kit - markers are messy and Isla has never been a fan of crayons. These Water Wows are amazing. They each have five pages (or 'scenes') and come with a pen that you fill with water. Once the water touches the pages, the color shows up. Once it's dry, it's good to go again, and again, and again. Great for taking out to restaurants or road trips where crayons and markers aren't always the best option. We're actually fans of pretty much all Melissa & Doug Toys for our girls.
  3. Matchbox Cars and Airplanes - Like the zoob tube animals, these are small and fun. We have about twenty of them that stay in their own special bin and the girls love to dump them out and play. They "drive" the cars and "fly" the planes all over the boat.
  4. Large Lego Set - we were gifted a cheap set of Duplo-style legos that have their own container. Again, a simple toy that promotes thinking skills and creativity. Seriously cannot go wrong with legos in my opinion. Hours of fun. Looking forward to when the girls are older and we can get some more complex sets!
  5. Magna-Tiles - another winner in my book. These are different shaped tiles with magnets built in that you can connect together and build with. I hemmed and hawed on whether or not to get these because they are not cheap, but in the end, I did and I'm so glad for it. With a tag line like "where math, science, and creativity meet" I figured they'd be worth it. They're a little too complex for the babies (though they love to make them "stick" together) but Isla loves to build complex structures and "homes" for her mini animals (see #1). She'll sit and entertain herself for up to an hour with these tiles and we love to build different structures with her. What's best? They store practically flat in their own bin.
  6. I Can Read! Paperback Book Box Sets - there is no such thing as too many books in my opinion. As an avid reader and lover of books, I want to instill the same love of the written word  in my children.We have a bunch of these box sets which are great, as well as The 20th-Century Children's Book Treasury: Picture Books and Stories to Read Aloud which has about fifty books in one. We prefer paperback to hardcover because they are much easier to store and lighter to carry. Our girls love their books and it's not unusual for all three girls to sit and "read" for long chunks of time together (even though none of them can actually 'read' yet). We also love all books by Julia Donaldson , Kevin Henkes, and the Berenstain Bears series.
  7. Preschool Color & Activity Books - These toddler "work books" by Roger Priddy are great. Super colorful, fun, and full of stickers - what toddler wouldn't love them? When the twins are napping, Isla and I will sit together for an hour or so coloring pages, working on puzzles and putting stickers in the right places to fill out scenes. It's a great brain boosting - and bonding - activity for us. We have several on board and they provide lots of opportunity to learn.
  8. Beach Sand Toys - our girls go to the beach at least once a day (sometimes twice) and while they really can entertain themselves pretty well with the sand, surf and swimming, having some shovels, pails and cups to play with is fun. Our friends on s/v Necesse have a little plastic tea set and the girls love to make "tea" and "cupcakes" at the beach and serve it to us mama's. We keep these toys on our aft deck in a mesh beach bag so that we bring minimal sand on the boat. I suggest not spending too much on these because they don't last long with the combination of daily use and harsh UV rays.
  9. Musical Instruments Set - What child doesn't love making a good, loud ruckus?! Our girls love their "band in a box" and it's frequently the toy they are reaching for when digging through their play area. We've added a few more instruments (an egg shaker, some more maracas...etc) and they love to make "music". Don't go calling us the "Partridge Family" just yet, but we have high hopes.
  10. iPad - I'm loathe to admit it, but we really love the iPad on our boat and, let's face it, whether we like it or not it's the world we live in today (did you know they give iPad's to high schoolers now where all their classwork is?!) It's a special treat and not something Isla plays with every day, but there really are some great educational toddler apps that keep Isla happily playing (and learning) when we are having "quiet time" on the boat or if the boat needs both mine and Scott's attention. We use this protective toddler case and a few of our favorite educational apps are: Tozzle (great puzzles that entertain and teach), Endless ABC/Endless Reader (teaches letters, definitions of new words and spelling in a super fun way), Tangrams (mind puzzles where kids make interesting patterns out of simple shapes) and Phonics Farm (many games to help learn kids identify words, sounds and develop skills for early reading).
Of course we also have a hefty craft cabinet and our girls love to play "dress up" and "kitchen" with whatever is lying around on the boat. But these ten toys have earned their space on our boat. What are you favorite toys and apps for kids in small spaces? We're always interested in learning more! Share in the comments.
What parent can't sing praise about legos? They are great. 
I have a LOT of pictures of this reading scenario. Never to early to foster a love of books. Even if they are reading them upside down ;)
Cars and planes are two of her favorite things.
This is where 98% of their toys are kept. Not that big of a space!
These small animals provide a ton of entertainment, and there are plenty to go around so battles over who's is who's are less
Magna tiles are brilliant.
This is our "imgaginets" game, not on the list - but similar to the magna tiles. Lots of fun.
Water wows have provided us with HOURS of entertainment.

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