Monday, May 18, 2015

The Grandma's Are Here!

We are back at the Nanny Cay Marina, but this time - instead of diagnosing a generator on the fritz - we are here to greet visitors. Very special visitors. That's right, the grandmas are here. Not one, but two. Do you know what that means? That means the adult to child ratio has tipped in favor of the adults!! Boo yah! Somebody get me a pitcher of painkiller 'cause I'm taking the day off!

All joking aside, my mom and Scott's mom arrived together a couple days ago and it's wonderful to have them. Our girls clearly adore their grannies and the feeling is mutual. Loving your child is one thing but to see another person love your child just as much is a beautiful gift. Grandmas. What would parents do without them? We're very lucky to have these crazy, wonderful, loving women in our lives.

While many people assume that their arrival has Scott and I taking breaks and enjoying "babysitters" that's unfortunately not the case. While the presence of our mothers' is a humongous help, we still have quite the crew and keeping up with them - believe it or not - can easily occupy four adults all day long, not to mention the fact that the second we get "help" we turn immediately to boat projects. Luckily the grandma's have rented a condo just a hop, skip and jump from our boat, and having a large (air conditioned) space for our girls to run around in has been great (minus the steep tiled stairs, keeping the kids off of those is a full time job). Then there are the daily pool trips and afternoon beach outings and all the pre-and-post excursion rigamarole that goes along with those things (dressing, packing, snacking, undressing, hosing, re-dressing, unpacking...etc.) We fill our days to the brim and by nightfall, we kick back on the porch with our wine, the day a blur of getting kids in and out of swim suits, changing diapers, slathering sunscreen, schlepping children from boat to condo and visa versa, prepping and cleaning up after meals, wiping off dirt, kissing boo-boos and chasing babies to the tune of The Sabre Dance. It's fun, exhausting, slightly repetitive and a little bit thrilling. Thank god for nap times. Seriously. The babies and the grandmas need them by mid-day!

So if things are a bit quiet over here, it's for good reason. We're enjoying having our mama's here, and they are enjoying their grand babies. It's win/win all around. We've also been incredibly busy "behind the scenes" working on another very large (aka life-changing) project that we hope to be able to share with you soon - but for now, you'll just have to wait (insert smiley face with the tongue out).

In the meantime, if you need me, I'll be lounging poolside with a painkiller.

(Well, there will be a painkiller and there might be a pool, but there will be no lounging!)


Thursday, May 14, 2015

Sundogs, Mineral Dust and Rainstorms on Cooper Island

There's this atmospheric phenomenon called a "sun dog". I'd never seen one before coming down to the Caribbean, but apparently this is the name given to the glorious halo that appears around the sun in certain conditions. When I first saw one here on Tortola, I had no idea what it was. It was so beautiful, so unusual it almost looked apocalyptic. Other worldly even. "Wow. That's crazy," I said to Scott as I pointed up to the glowing circle around the sun, then lowered my voice, "It looks kind of ominous". It goes without saying that I am the more dramatic of our pair.

"It's a sort of weather phenomenon" he said matter of factly, "I think it means it's going to rain or something. I can't remember". He shrugged and went back to his business.

I've learned a couple things since then, namely:

1) The sun dog does precede rain.
2) The sun dog does not lie.

***

We are something of a spectacle down here. We turn heads. People whisper. They stare. They smile. They laugh. Some take pictures. Almost everyone who crosses our path when we're rolling five deep makes a comment (always pleasant and kind). I mean, we have two babies and a toddler on a boat. It's not a very common thing to see, so we get it. Anyone with infant twins will tell you that their "parent of multiples" rank grants them a sort of mini-celebrity status when out and about. Put those twins into a hilarious (and super functional) little dinghy seat and head to the beach? The cameras come out. Wear one on front, one on back while the other parent wears the toddler? People stop to give us props. Take them to an offshore snorkel spot in the dinghy and then get caught, totally unprepared, in a torrential downpour? People notice.

***

Cooper Island was just what the doctor ordered last week. We'd been anchored outside of Road Town for a few days and while the proximity to town is advantageous and useful, it's not the most picturesque and swimming is a big no no unless you want water borne pathogen to enter your system.

We wanted to get back to nature, back to the turquoise water and back to the beach. Cooper Island (siiiiiggggh) proved the perfect place.

Beach excursions, shell collecting, paddle boarding, and swimming off the back of the boat are our standard activities for us in a nice anchorage. Snorkeling is tricky these days, as none of our girls are ready for that yet, and we must go one at a time while the other watches the kids in the dinghy, which is a lot easier said than done (remember when we saw that shark!?) But Cooper is known for having some fantastic underwater life at the point off the cut, and Scott wanted me to enjoy a different kind of outing on Mother's Day. Truth be told, I haven't snorkeled once this season - so I was excited.

***

Earlier in the day I'd spotted and photographed the sun dog. "Rain's finally coming!" I said to Scott excitedly. It hadn't rained for weeks here and our boat needed a good rinsing in the form of a tropical downpour. It's been so dry that the mineral dust that blows across the Atlantic from the Saharan Desert hung in the sky, creating a yellow-tinged haze every evening, clinging to everything damp. The air was thick with the stuff which was evident by the fine layer of it all over our boat. As fascinating - and photogenic - as this weather phenomenon is, we were due for some rain.

The yellow haze brought to us all the way from the Saharan Desert!
"We better get going if you want to snorkel before it starts pouring" Scott warned. The dark grey clouds were now gathering on the horizon. We packed up our clan, turning the heads of all the charter boaters around us as we passed by, and made our way to the snorkel spot. "We might need to bail," Scott said looking at the ominous sky as I tied our dinghy to the day float, "I think it's going to rain really soon." The other dinghies of snorkelers were packing up and leaving but we decided to risk it. I'd only need ten or fifteen minutes anyway since that's about how long you can entertain little ones in a stationary dinghy. I took our waterproof camera to capture some video and hopped in the water, promising to come back immediately if and when the rain started.

But that's the thing about Caribbean rain. Rarely is it gradual with a pitter patter that slowly leads to a crescendo. When it hits, the skies open up and heavy, substantial drops batter down relentlessly. It's torrential. No sooner had I snorkeled to the reef and gotten a little video of a blue tang for Isla (she watched her first movie a couple weeks ago, Finding Nemo, and is a big fan Dory) when I surfaced and felt the strange sensation of rain on my back (strange because to get wet while in the water feels...odd). I popped my head up, gasped at the sheer white out of rain around me, heard our babies crying and hauled it back to the dinghy.

Breathless from my speed swim, I found Isla crouched underneath Scott's legs using his wide brimmed hat for cover. As I lobbed into the dingy Scott was struggling to keep the wailing twins calm, as this sudden and very extreme rain storm scared the crap out of them. I fumbled for a sarong from our backpack and covered their heads, smiling and talking to them in a happy, calm voice to soothe them. The sarong was useless. Instantly it was soaked. We were safe, of course. It was only rain, after all. But we must have looked like quite the freak show sitting there under a handkerchief of a sarong during a white-out downpour with two screaming babies and a cowering toddler. It was not our finest parental hour, trumped only by the time we picnicked, hobo-style, outside of the government building here in Road Town while we waited for our passport extensions.

***

The rain didn't last more than seven or eight minutes, but we were all soaking wet by the time it passed and the sun hadn't made it's return which meant we were all chattering cold. The dinghy ride back with our water-logged, crying children was the parental equivalent of the "walk of shame" but by the time we got to our boat, the sun was shining, the babies were happy and Isla was asking to go back to the beach to collect treasures.

So we made a u-turn and back to the beach we went. It was only water, after all.

But we'll heed those sun dogs a little closer next time.
Mother's day was wonderful. I am blessed and honored to be the one for these three! 
Our little island girl

Friday, May 08, 2015

You Can Shake the Hand of the Coconut Man

It’s not every day that you’re walking along and suddenly hear a voice from high up in the treetops.

“You like coconuts?” we heard from above as we walked by.

Isla stopped in her tracks, looked at me, and then looked up in the palm trees, thoroughly confused.

That's when I saw him, an elderly local man with a fluffy white beard in cramp-ons and jeans smiling down at us from up in a coconut tree.

Always one to take the opportunity to show our girls the beautiful and unique moments that our lifestyle presents (and being something of a child at heart) I pointed up excitedly: 

“Look Isla,” I exclaimed with a big smile, "It’s the coconut man way up in the palm tree! He climbed up there to bring some coconuts down.” She craned her neck way back, brought her hand over her eyes to shade from the sun and squinted.

There was a pause as she focused on him in the shadows of the fronds, and yelled:

“Can I have one?”

Kids are nothing if not direct.

“Isla, that’s not polite,” I reminded her in a hushed tone. “He’s working for those coconuts. And that is not how we ask for things.”

She looked at me, and then back up at the palm top.

“Can I have a coconut please?” she corrected, louder.

“Sure,” he said with a smile as he started down the tree, his climbing gear clanking and banging like a Caribbean Jacob Marley. He was old, with a kind face, deep wrinkles and full beard bleached white from age and sun. His voice had a sweet hiss indicating, perhaps, that he was missing a few teeth. His body, despite being covered in a tee-shirt and jeans, was strong and wiry. 

"I’m going to climb up that big tree over there and get some more, come back in ten minutes and I’ll be up there, then I will give you a coconut," he said with a smile.

We agreed that we’d come back, and continued on our stroll.

When we returned he was where he promised he’d be.

“Stay clear down below. Gimme lots of room,” he warned waving his arm at the ground beneath him. Getting hit by a three pound falling coconut from twenty-five feet up would really put a damper on our day. We gave him a wide berth and watched him work with his lines and machete; cutting, tying off the stalk and then gently lowering the coconuts to the ground in a bundle. He moved swiftly, like the pro that he was.

“You’re cheating!” another local fellow walked by and chided looking up referring to coconut mans use of heavily spiked climbing shoes and rope. Both men laughed heartily as a bundle of coconuts were lowered gently to the ground.  The girls were mesmerized.  Our new friend soon followed, machete in hand, beckoning Isla over to watch him.

With samurai precision he cut off the top of the water nut in three swift hacks, exposing a small hole at the top. He then reached into his pocket, produced a straw and handed the coconut over to Isla. He told us his name was Shalom.

I have had a very long love affair with coconut water (not to be confused with coconut milk) and it could be said that my girls were literally swimming in it in utero, I drank that much. It’s full of nutrients, incredibly hydrating, and islanders claim it to have tremendous health benefits.  As a result, all three of our girls love the stuff - particularly Isla - so she made no haste in accepting Shalom's offer for a drink.

“Do you do harvest coconuts all over Tortola?” I asked. 

“Yes,” he replied, “There are only a few of us who do it this way.” I got the impression that climbing trees for coconuts was perhaps a dying art, kind of like scrimshaw, but I couldn’t be sure. “I do hundreds of trees on de island.”

“I need to come every six months to get dem down,” he continued, “Or else de residents get upset. Falling coconuts are no good. Kids play here.”

Isla and I finished off the water from our young coconut. Shalom took it from us and with another swift hack, cut it in half, and then pulled off a piece of the husk, handing it to Isla. “A spoon,” he said, “To get out the jelly.”

Young coconuts (often called "water nuts") are very different from the “old” ones that most of us are used to. For one, they are green and not brown. Instead of the tough, dense, white meat (the stuff that we usually eat in chunks or grated), the inside of a "water nut" is gelatinous and slimy, almost like a thin filet of fish. There are hints of the coconut flavor that we are all used to, but the consistency takes some getting used to and is something of an acquired taste.

Isla is not a fan, and immediately upon putting it in her mouth, she spit it out.

Shalom laughed and produced another coconut which he opened for us to drink from. 

Knowing that coconuts were this kind man’s livelihood made me feel guilty for taking from his stash “Oh, thank you,” I started. “Here, let me give you some money for these…” I fumbled for my wallet.

He put up his hand and shook his head emphatically.

“No no no, you need to drink this. Stay strong and healthy!” he started laughing and indicated our three girls seated before him, “You are a busy woman, you need the strength.”

I smiled and thanked him as we finished off the water. We shook hands as we parted.

“See you in six months," he waved with a smile. And with that, he began to summit his next tree.




Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Our Boat Interior: A Photo Tour


I love taking a look inside other people’s boats given the opportunity. Each one is so unique and I love to see the different ways people make their boat's their home. I think this desire to “look behind the curtain” is pretty common among boaters, as most sailors love a good peek 'down below'; there is always a new boat hack to be learned, interesting gadget to check out, and, lets face it, there’s something intriguing about seeing how folks make the most out of a tiny space. I always enjoy how people express themselves in the decor (or lack thereof) of their boat, and the stories their boats tell.

And so now I want to show you ours.

As our boat is not only a cruising boat, but our homeI have done my best to make it first and foremost, functional, but also comfortable and welcoming. I have written about the art of making a boat a home before, but times - and decor - have changed since then, so I thought I’d revisit. It's been a work in progress and I really love how she looks and works down below. As comfy as she is, her decor is also super functional...when we are sailing, everything stays put and we don't have to worry about projectiles and general mayhem down below. Living in this boat's belly is cozy and, despite being a pretty tight space for a family of five, enjoyable.

For more technical information about our boat like what make she is and why we bought her, please visit this page. But for the grand photo tour of how she looks today, stick with me.

Ready? Let's go...

We’ll start at the pointy end and work our way back...
Starting from up front, this is called the "v-berth" and is where the twins, Haven and Mira (Meer-ah) sleep. You can read more about how I designed our girls' sleeping arrangements here, but the twins really enjoy sleeping and playing up here. I wrote about decorating their room, specifically, here. I really, really love how it turned out. They seem to like it, too.
Here are some more pictures of their sleeping space. To the left (port side) is where both girls sleep, together. They have a few stuffed animals (including their beloved lovies) and snuggling blankets in there. It's roomy and cozy. On the right (starboard side), is a small gear hammock for their books and a few stuffed toys. The mirrored cabinets above this are where all of their clothes are stored. I have a portable changing pad that I put down in this space to change diapers as well. Who says you need a changing table?! 
Connected to the v-berth is an ensuite bathroom, or "head" as we boaters like to call it - which can be accessed from both the v-berth or the salon (there are two doors to it). It's small and simple, but it works and has plenty of storage for most of our medicines and spare toiletries. It is also where my most favorite quote in the world lives. If you don't know this quote, you should definitely read Desiderata

Moving aft of the v-berth is our main living space, often called the "salon" or "main cabin". I love how bright and airy it feels, something that's not always easy with a monohull where you are technically living "below ground". To the left are all our physical books which are mostly reference guides and children's books since Scott and I have e-readers. Underneath and behind all those white cushions you see is storage. Tons of storage. We keep food, beverages, spare parts and all sorts of stuff in those compartments. Also worth noting (because everyone who sees pics of our boat asks "How do you keep those cushions white with small kids!?!), the cushions are made of vinyl (starboard) and ultra-leather (port), meaning anything that gets on them - from markers to spaghetti sauce - wipes right off, piece of cake. Pretty clutch if you have small kids aboard. (Note: They are different materials because when we reconfigured the salon seating, ultra-suede was too expensive so we opted for vinyl).
Here are some more pictures of our salon. The picture on the left is looking aft (back) from the v-berth, the others show the salon from other angles. "A place for everything and everything in it's place" - that's my motto down below. Keeps life tidy and simple.
This is our kitchen or galley. The two rectangles you see are our fridge (left) and freezer (right). Since we eat vegetarian on our boat we don't use our freezer and it, too, has become more coveted storage space. The open cupboard to the right of the stove is a new pantry area we made by removing our old microwave that we used exactly never. So nice. Our boat does not lack storage, and we love her for that. Can you spot my trusty copy of The Boat Galley Cookbook? (wink)
Here are some other views of our galley. As much as I really hate cooking and everything related to it (provisioning, grocery shopping, food prep, meal planning, etc.) I do really love our galley. For being the size of a small hall closet, it's very functional and has a great layout with plenty of counter space.
This are is directly across from our galley and is our navigation station, "nav station" for short. Our SSB radio, VHF radio, FM radio, modem, inverter controls and battery monitor live here. As do all of the children's toys. What you see there is just about all of them, minus the craft stuff which lives in a cupboard. We keep the boat tidy and organized by keeping a policy of cleaning up after ourselves before moving on to the next toy. It works. Sometimes. Either way, the kids can keep themselves pretty well entertained for chunks of time in this area. The drawers to the left are huge and deep and we keep electronics in the top two, and the bottom is a huge file-like cabinet where we store our onions and potatoes. All our cupboards drawers and cabinets latch shut so the boat is more or less baby proof in this way, which is nice.
Moving aft beyond our companionway stairs is the walk-thru to the aft cabin. This is also where Isla sleeps, but each day we break down her bunk and stow it because this is also a high-traffic and very functional area as this is where Scott stores pretty much all his tools. You can see the mast steps Scott installed so Isla can climb up to her bunk in the picture on the right. The counter top of this area flips up to expose what has become our sort of "junk drawer". We store all sorts of things from battery chargers to simple everyday tools to charts in this area so we need access to it daily. The large opening doors you see on the port side are our engine room access. Plenty of space to do oil changes and work on our generator and engine. Big bonus.
Here's what the walk-thru looks like when it's all set up as Isla's little bunk bed. She loves it up there and the set up and break down takes all of three minutes.

Emerging through the walk-thru is our aft cabin, or the master suite where Scott and I sleep. Our bed is more or less king size and the fact that all sides but one are contained mean morning pile-ons with all the girls happen here...a lot. The large top drawer you see in the center is where all of Isla's clothes are. The bottom one is where our air conditioning unit lives. The mirrored side cabinets are more clothing storage.
More shots of our aft cabin.  The picture on the upper right is looking back to the walk thru from our bed, and the two bottom pictures show where Scott and I keep the bulk of our clothes (mine are kept in the cabinets pictured left, his in those pictured center - yes, I have more storage space than he does - but only slightly so!)
This is our aft head or "bathroom". It's pretty small and cramped and if I am to be honest it's my least favorite room on our boat, but it works. And, hey, it's a bathroom so big deal. We have a separate sit-down shower stall which we hardly ever use (we chose to shower off the back of our boat unless we are at a marina) and it works well enough when we need it. Not much more to say about this room. Lots more storage, blah blah blah.
And here is our cockpit where we spend a huge amount of our time. It's our front porch, back porch and living room all in one. Ours is pretty spacious, super comfortable and kind of perfect for little ones. We love it. The views are great. 

So there you have it, our boat from front to back. Hope you enjoyed this glimpse into our home!

Monday, May 04, 2015

Park Clean Up: Paying it Forward

Playgrounds are few and far between in these parts, and our girls love them. So when we find one with nice equipment it's kind of like the play-time jackpot. While beaches and the ocean are lovely and standard fun for our girls, going to a park is a nice break from the sandy mess that always ensues after a beach day. And when beaches aren't an option, getting off the boat at least once a day is a must for the ever-important "energy burn".

Last week in Road Town we headed to a park that we've been to before. It's got a nice variety of gear, soft astro-turf covering the ground and we can generally let the girls loose to climb, swing and slide at their leisure. We made our way through the bustling downtown area, wearing all the girls - winding our way through the narrow roads, past the colorful shop windows and finally to our destination.

But this time, the park looked a little different than the last time we were here. This time it was covered - and I mean covered - in trash.

"What the heck?" I muttered to Scott as we walked through the park entrance, my face puckered in disgust.

It literally looked as if someone took a huge garbage bag of cups, straws, plastic cutlery, chicken bones, soda cans, take out containers and bottles and literally emptied it out all over the park. On purpose.

It was disgusting.

"This is so bad it almost looks like a joke" I said to Scott in disbelief. I have seen a lot of trash in these islands because, sadly, environmental education has a long way to come down here, but the sheer amount of condensed litter in this one little park really took the cake. I couldn't believe my eyes.

Garbage was literally everywhere. Everywhere. And no dice throwing it all away in the existing garbage cans (points for having them!) because they were completely overflowing.

"I wish we had a garbage bag" I said to Scott, shaking my head. He wholeheartedly agreed. But we didn't, so we did our best to ignore the filth and tried to make the best of it, making sure none of it found it's way into the mouths of the twins as they explored. The icing on the cake came when I had to dress the wound of a local boy who sliced his bare foot open on a shard of glass.

I mean, come on.

The next day we returned to the park and while we were hopeful that maybe just maybe someone came back and cleaned up the mess, we brought with us a garbage bag.

No one had cleaned up the mess.

So we did.

Forty-five minutes later the park was more or less litter-less and our girls were free to play in a clean environment. I knew that tidying up the park would make me feel better (for better or worse, I am a bit of a neat freak in case you hadn't picked up on that), but I was shocked at how totally gratified I felt. Looking at our giant garbage bag full of trash and then looking at the beautiful, clean playground, gave me a tremendous feeling of accomplishment.

Because, duh, doing good things for no other reason than to do good things feels...well...good.

There is truly something wonderful about taking a little ownership of something and making it beautiful again. Because (and sorry to get all Pollyanna here), we are kind of all in this together.

It was also a fantastic teachable moment for our girls.

Of course our efforts did little to dent what is clearly a much bigger, underlying issue. Our clean up was a temporary fix and we knew it. We returned to the park the next day only to find more trash strewn about. I can't say I was surprised, but it was a bummer.

"Who trashes this park like this?" I asked the old man who runs the little snack shack on the premises.

"You are the ones who cleaned it up yesterday?" he asked lifting his chin inquisitively. We replied that, yes, it was us. "It's the school children," he started with a solemn shake of his head, "...they come here for lunch and then just leave it a mess." He continued sweeping his stoop and shaking his head. I asked for another garbage bag and he gave me one. I collected some more trash, futile as it was. Because the fact of the matter was that no matter how many times we cleaned up this park, it was going to get trashed over and over again.

But...

BUT...

We returned again the next day and (in the words of those catchy internet articles)...you won't believe what happened next...

When I let Haven out of her carrier to stretch her legs and run around, she walked right over to an empty plastic water bottle and picked up. She looked at us, looked at the bottle, smiled her Haven-bright smile and waddled right over to the garbage can and threw it in. I swear to God. Right into the trash bin. Scott and I could not believe our eyes. Then, she strutted over to a paper bag, picked it up and threw it in the garbage. Then a bottle cap. Then another soda can. Each time she came across a stray piece of garbage, she picked it up and threw it away.

Scott and I were totally gobsmacked. And incredibly proud.

If there was ever any doubt that kids learn directly from watching their parents and/or caretakers, this trumps it. I have never been so awed in my life. I know it doesn't sound like much, but seeing her do that - totally unprovoked and at just over one year old, mind you - (we have video to prove it, sadly internet bandwidth tells me it will take 20 hours to upload) was truly a magical parenting moment for me. One that I will never forget.

And it made that seemingly futile effort of cleaning up that park totally worth it.

Because sometimes, just sometimes, it's nice to be reminded that we as parents are doing something right every once and a while.

It also drove home a meaningful lesson for me:

While we might not be able to change current behavior, we can influence future behavior and there is tremendous power and beauty in that.

It's an important reminder.

So pick up that stray soda can and throw it out. Help that old women out of her car. Give that man the extra dime he needs to make his purchase. Assist that fellow shopper bag her groceries. Help that struggling boater tie up his dock lines. Hold the door. Say hello. Always remember "please" and "thank you". Smile.

And watch with joy as your children pay it forward.

Because no good deed goes undone, and in one way or another, it will come back to you. Karma is a beautiful thing.
The mess. The photos don't really do it justice, but you get the idea.
Our family, taking matters into our own hands!
All better! Isn't it lovely?
We didn't dare leave our garbage bag behind, took it with us to dispose of in a dumpster.
Here's Haven the following day throwing out garbage totally unprovoked and on her own volition. She is one.
And here's Isla doing the same. Proud mama right here!

Friday, May 01, 2015

A Reunion and a Birthday: The Beauty of Plans and Non-Plans Alike

About a year ago we received an email from some blog followers, Sarah and Mark. They had hatched a plan to take a sabbatical and cruise for six months with their youngest son, Jimmy, and wondered if we would be willing to consult with them about when and where to do it (Bahamas or Caribbean?) and what sort of boat to do it on (rented or owned?) Being recently inducted into multiple baby madness, we didn't feel comfortable charging them for our limited and biased "expertise" but we definitely wanted to help them out if we could. Over multiple emails, we decided a dinner would do - and they drove down from Wisconsin to meet us for a meal over which we would answer any questions they had, and guide them as best we could.

A friendship was born.

You know those people you meet and you instantly start talking like you've known each other for years? Those people where there is never an awkward lull in conversation and there is a general excitement and energy in the air when together? The kind of people who, after hanging out with them, leave you smiling and feeling better about yourself and life in general? The McGuire's are those people.

The connection was so immediate and natural that we discussed everything but boats and cruising for the bulk of our three hour meal. The conversation just flowed. They didn't really need specifics, anyway. They just needed reaffirmation that, yes, they could do this and, yes, they absolutely should do this. We gave them the little boost they were looking for. Everything else was just logistics. Before we knew it, the lights were dimming and busboys were turning up chairs. It was time to end our awesome evening. We parted ways that night as friends, and vowed to keep in touch via email to help them hash out the details of their plan.

Fast forward a few months..."We are renting a boat in Grenada and will be finishing up our trip in the British Virgin Islands in April" they wrote to tell us, "Will you be there?" they asked. We told them that we should be (at that point we had no idea how things would go with 'three under three' aboard and we were playing it by ear) and that if we were here, we'd be waiting with tropical slushy rum drinks in hand to toast their trip.

And last week, that is exactly what we did.

I love it when a plan comes together.

We were able to buddy boat with the McGuire's for almost a week and it was fantastic. I seriously cannot sing enough praise about this family, and particularly their thirteen year old son who is by far the coolest and sweetest young man I have ever met. I will be turning to Mark and Sarah for parenting advice in the years to come (they have two older daughters in college), because these folks are doing it right.

As if the company could get any better, we were then surprised by my cruising bestie, Genevieve, and the rest of the adorable crew of s/v Necesse over in Jost Van Dyke. Our three crews hit up Foxy's at Great Harbor and the bubbly pools at Diamond Cay and - after some discussion - decided to buddy boat over to Cane Garden Bay, one of my all-time favorite anchorages, to celebrate my twenty-ninth birthday in true BVI style (coughcough*I turned thirty-six*coughcough).

This was very fortuitous as I had all but forgotten about my birthday until a couple of days before (I sometimes have to be reminded what month it is, let alone date #cruiserproblems). Due to this little oversight, we had no plans whatsoever to celebrate my birthday in any special way let alone with awesome friends in one of my favorite bays. For the stars to align and create such a perfect last minute "plan"? Well, that's just serendipity at it's best.

I love it when a non-plan comes together.

Scott let me sleep in, made a delicious home-made Belgian waffle breakfast and then baked cupcakes to share with everyone for our afternoon beach gathering. The sun was shining, the kids were running amok, Painkiller's were flowing (as was a delicious lava cake baked by Sarah!) - and I was surrounded by some truly wonderful people. Really couldn't ask for more.

Since I don't get out much (ever) these days, for my (spontaneous last-minute) 'party', I had decided on a ladies' night outing to Quitos beach bar. It was a blast. My girl Genevieve, her wonderful mother in law Diane-Marie, and the lovely Sarah were my partners in crime and what a great group it was. We talked over drinks, danced our butts off and even belted out an old favorite, "Red Red Wine" (a Caribbean standard, imo) with the one man band. So. Much. Fun. Earlier in the evening I had experimented with wearing some essential oils - it was, admittedly, an "interesting" blend- and, evidently it was a hit with the local men. So much so that they wanted me to bring them some so they could wear my scent. Hmmmm (Insert emoticon face with the squiggly line mouth). I guess I should've left the patchouli back in 1997 where I left it. Either way, we had no shortage of dance partners and before we knew it, it was midnight. Not "cruisers midnight" (which is 9pm) but actual midnight. Our Cinderella posse needed to get home, stat. We were turning into pumpkins, fast.

I was a little fuzzy the following day (note: I have not slept a solid seven hours in over a year!) but it was so worth it to welcome the upper half of thirty with a bang and in the company of some incredible people.
Plans are nothing; planning is everything.
- Dwight D. Eisenhower
Family photo at the beautiful bubbly pool
Jimmy, delivering me the sweetest home-made birthday card ever and my birthday bottle of sauvignon blanc!

Isla made me a card too, I love the little people she made! My favorite gift ;)
Some pics from our girls night out - so much fun with these fabulous women!
I mean, look at these goofballs. What's not to love?

Thursday, April 23, 2015

The World Lost a Bright Light

Photo of Kitty, posted with permission
I don't even know how to begin this post.

Today I heard the tragic news that a fellow boat mother lost her precious little girl. Off their boat. In the water. At the dock.

They found her body this morning.

I am sobbing as I type this.

She had just celebrated her fifth birthday. She and her family were going to begin their circumnavigation in the next year. One minute she was on the boat, the next she was not.

And a bright, shining star of a child has left this world forever.

And it could have been us.

It very easily could have been us.

It could have been us. It could have been us.

OH MY GOD THIS COULD HAVE BEEN US.

Just the other night Isla went running down the dock ahead of me after dark. I lost sight of her and panicked. In a split second I imagined the horrific scenario of her falling in the water. My heart was racing. The whites of my eyes alive. All this happened in a split second. "ISLA!" I screamed in that panicked pitch that every parent gets when they fear the worst for their child. "ISLA!" I yelled again, louder, my heart thumping hard in my chest as I started down the dock, frantically looking.

And suddenly my little Isla came running into view. Curls bouncing. Eyes shining. Smile beaming.

I got LUCKY.

It could have been us. It could have been Isla.

My fellow boat mom did not get so lucky. Her little girl will not be running into her arms. And my heart is beyond broken. I grieve for this family, for the tremendous pain I can only begin to imagine they are in, for the fact that one minute the world had darling Kitty, and the next she was gone. Tragedies like this don't make sense. They make you question the laws of the Universe. They make you wonder "why". And there are no answers. Just collective grief. Sharing. Talking. Crying it out with loved ones. Community. Love.

An accident. A single, terrible, horrible and tragic accident. And every parent's worst nightmare.

It's just too close to home.

I do not know this family personally, only online through blogging and various sailing groups. But it was very obvious that Kitty was a force. Beautiful, spritely, wise beyond her years and full of spunk. All this was clear in the way her mother wrote about her and evident the pictures she posted. Her images captured a child full of vivacity with a little hint of mischief and a whole lot of sweet. Kitty was deeply, deeply loved by her family. That, too, was obvious. A beacon of light. A happy little girl who brought a hell of a lot of joy to her family.

It could have been us.

What I have learned in all this is perspective. I can hold my daughters tonight. I can wake up to their smiles. I can squeeze and hug and kiss them all over. This is all that matters. Everything else is just noise.

My friend Behan's research tells me that a typical funeral in the USA costs about $10,000. But what no Google search can tell you the many OTHER costs. Like how much wage disruption can hurt a family unable to work while mourning, which the Family and Medical Leave Act won’t do much to help. How the stress of financial strain compounded on grief takes a toll on families. How they need to keep their lives normal, while coming to terms that it will never be the same. If you feel so inclined, please help if you can by contributing to the GoFundMe Page set up for the family by a close friend. Every little bit will help.

Hold your babies close tonight. Say a prayer for Kitty and her family. Light a candle for heaven's new angel. Turn on your anchor light in her honor. Don't speculate. Don't shame. Don't talk about the should'ves, would'ves or could'ves. Show empathy. Put yourself in their shoes. Send light and love out into the Universe. Be grateful. Be kind. For Kitty.

*With love for the fellow boat mamas who grieve collectively with me: Amanda, Amy, Anne, BehanCindyDiane, Karen, LaureenLaurieNica, the Victorias, and the rest. Today we dilute our wine or coffee or water with salty tears, and hold our boat kids a little closer.*

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Parenthood and Cruising: Two of The Hardest Jobs You'll Ever Love

We got away from the marina for a solid two days. That's something.

But, alas, we find ourselves back here at Nanny Cay.  Except this time, instead of greeting visitors, we are waiting on marine mechanics to help diagnose why our generator went on the fritz.

So back to "work" we go.

"I am literally fixing something every day," Scott lamented over coffee this morning, "Every. Single. Day," he punctuated. And it's true, he is. Cruising really and truly is fixing your boat in exotic locations. Sometimes the fixes are simple and more of the preventative nature, like re-sealing a slightly leaky porthole or stitching a torn sail ... other times it's more serious, like the ceasing of a major mechanical system or breakdown of something structural. These things usually require much more time and effort (which is usually synonymous with money) like the attention of a professional, time at a marina, and/or a special part flown in. These are the issues many cruisers lament. Our current conundrum is one such issue. <sigh>

For many "self-sufficient" sailboats, a generator is something of a luxury, these boats have enough solar and/or wind power to keep their batteries topped up and usually have minimal power demands to begin with. We are not that boat. We are what I like to call "cozy cruisers." Our boat is more than a vessel made to take us places, it's also our home and, as such, we like certain amenities. We enjoy our three speed fans, we prefer our water to be pressurized (and warm if we feel so inclined!), we enjoy having ice and cold drinks, we have gadgets (both personal and boat-y) that need to be charged pretty regularly, and we LOVE fresh water. Lots of it. While we have a nice little solar set up that can usually keep our batteries topped up at anchor when the sun shines unobstructed, we will almost inevitably fall behind after two or three days.  Which is when we make water. We run our generator to make precious H2O for two or three hours after which we have full water tanks, charged up appliances, and boat batteries that are fully loaded. It's a nice system that works really well for us.

Until our generator craps out, of course. Then we are kind of screwed.

Which is why we are back at the marina where I can take the girls to the beach or on a walk so Scott can work on the boat, something that is almost impossible with three little ones aboard.

Let me tell you, chasing around three small children is exhausting. My day is a blur of diaper changes, meal preparation, nursing sessions, playtime, tear wiping, hazard removal, snack-plying, soothing and near-constant tidying up. I almost never stop moving. Like any full-time, stay at home mom I have very few precious minutes to myself. When the babies sleep, I am usually cleaning, doing laundry or running an errand. If I am lucky, I have an hour or two every few days of computer time in which to blog. Don't get me wrong, I know that I am beyond blessed. Being a mom is the greatest thing in the world to me and I love it more than anything (for real) - but holy crap, it's a lot of work.

And this is where cruising and parenting are very similar: they truly are two of the hardest "jobs" you will ever love. And despite the fact that both come with more stress and responsibility than any "paying" job ever will, you will not, in fact, get paid for raising humans or keeping a sailboat afloat. Wah wah.

So how, exactly, are cruising and parenting similar you ask?

The Daily Grind
With cruising and parenting every day is, indeed, an adventure, but both require a pretty rigorous daily grind of SOP's and routines. And, believe me, it can be a grind. Both are incredibly challenging, exhausting, frustrating and sometimes you will question what the hell you are doing. Though there are a million books, blogs, and articles on the subjects - neither come with a manual and much of the information you find out there is either bogus, a matter of personal opinion or contradictory. There is no "one size fits all" approach to cruising and parenting, and we all must do what works best for our boats, situations and families.

Lack of Control
With both cruising and parenting, there is an almost complete lack of control; kids are not robots who can be programmed despite our best efforts (oh how lovely it would be to hit the "sleep through the night", "stop tantruming", or "do as you're told" buttons!) and, as cruisers, our lives are often dictated by mother nature and/or our boats (and their finicky systems!) despite our personal wishes. For a major "type A" person like myself, this one is a hard one to deal with.

Responsibility
Raising children and living on a cruising sailboat require a tremendous amount of responsibility. As cruisers we have to be riggers, plumbers, electricians and mechanics to keep our boats running. As parents, we must be teachers, role models, disciplinarians and supporters. Our kids' health, happiness and safety falls entirely on our shoulders. We all hope to screw up as little as possible - even though screwing up is inevitable and par for the course in both parenting and cruising. The primary goals are to keep the kids alive, raise good, happy people and keep the boat afloat and working smoothly. Pretty tall orders.

The Hours
Boats and babies will demand your attention 24/7. Both will wake you up in the middle of the night on a regular basis. Children, like boats, require a tremendous amount of attention and TLC to keep in good order. If neglected, you will pay dearly in either a mini Spencer Pratt or a derelict boat - both of which have the potential to be the bane of your existence. We do everything in our power to avoid such outcomes, and to avoid these outcomes, you've got to put in the hours. These are jobs that you can never step away from. There is no break room out here.

Extremes
Like parenting, cruising is a life of extremes where a day can go from hunky-dory to "oh $*@*" in a matter of seconds. One minute you are a boss mom with three well behaved little ones at the park, the next your toddler is pitching a fit because she's mad at the wind while one twin is wandering into the street and the other is eating a cigarette butt. One minute you are a boss sailor enjoying a lovely beam reach, the next minute you blow a halyard, your autopilot craps out and all hell breaks loose. Zero to utter mayhem in the blink of an eye. For real.

The Stress
Living in tight quarters is stressful. Approaching storms are stressful. Dragging anchor in the middle of the night is stressful. Rough passages are stressful. Breaking stuff is stressful. Having sick kids is stressful. Dealing with tantrums is stressful. Three children running in different directions is stressful. Having to chose which crying infant to pick up first is stressful. You will worry incessantly about your kids getting hurt, bullied or worse. You worry regularly about your boat being holed by a floating object or catching fire. The anxiety of what could happen is ever present and must be kept at bay. This is not easy.

Risks
Taking risks and facing the unknown are regular occurrences as cruisers and parents. Sometimes you have to put trust that your boat and your kids can weather the storms thrown at them. Parenthood, like cruising, can - and will - scare the #*$& out of you daily. Both will force you to take a good, hard look at yourself. Both will show you what you are made of, and both will be glaring reminders of what you need to work on. Sometimes, you just gotta "let it go" and trust that everything will be okay. Again, not easy for someone like me.

The "Ick" Factor
Cruising and parenting are dirty jobs. Working in an engine room is messy. Changing oil is messy. Replacing a hose is messy. Dealing with snot and puke is messy. Feeding babies is messy. Injuries are messy. Changing diapers is messy. You will deal with a lot of poop, this is a fact.

Cruising, like parenthood, will test you in almost every way imaginable.

But it will be so worth it.

Because despite of all this (or possibly because of it?) there is the potential to be rewarded in ways you cannot even imagine. Cruising and parenthood will teach you about life and the world. They will make you a better, more thoughtful person. They will teach you to live in the moment and appreciate the "now". Both will enrich your life and change you forever in the most profound ways.

So we keep moving forward. We put one foot in front of the other day after day, despite the frustration, the exhaustion, the uncertainty and the seemingly never-ending task lists because we made the (very conscious) choices that brought us here. Always on the hunt for that perfect passage, that incredible beach, or that serendipitous meeting that results in a life-long friendship. Every day is a search for that deep belly baby giggle (best thing ever), the spontaneous snuggle that melts your heart (best thing ever) and the promise of being greeted by those precious, adorable smiles every morning (best thing ever) - day after day after day. It's all about the love.

And because of this, we take the good with the bad. We count our wins and learn from our losses. Because all of the cliches are true: Life is short. It goes by in an instant. Enjoy every moment. We only live once...

So we do what we can to make it count, because - at the end of the day - it's just a generator. And as frustrating as getting that damn thing working again may be, it's all part of the journey.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Grandparents, Marinas and Projects, OH MY!

My parents arrived last week which was a pretty big event around here. Isla has been excitedly telling anyone who will listen about their impeding arrival for weeks, so to have them here in the flesh made her positively bubble over with joy. Their arrival has meant a lot of things; getting spoiled by meals off the boat, extra hands to help wrangle babies, great talks over wine when the kids are asleep, and the appreciated perks of marina living.

Because our boat is pretty much maxed out on space with our family of five, we don't have room for guests to stay aboard (except for my sister, who's the best boat guest ever). As such, we have returned to our "home away from home" at the Nanny Cay Marina where my parents can enjoy their own hotel room only steps away from our boat in her slip. This beautiful marina boasts a beach, a pool, a coffee shop, two restaurants, a beach bar, a chandlery, grocery store and more - so everything we need is right here. The convenience cannot be beat, and with three small children convenience is a must. It's certainly much more pleasant than cramming four adults and three kids onto our boat at anchor, and the perks of being at a marina are wonderful: unlimited power and the ability to charge anything whenever we want (and not just while the generator is running), luxurious long, warm showers (not cold ocean showers followed by a fresh water rinse off the back of our boat), and wide, paved sidewalks on which to use our umbrella strollers (with these snappy stroller connectorswhich make two strollers one) to take the girls on walks, which they love. Of course, this all comes at a cost, $1.40 per foot per night to be exact, but for a week here and there, it's a nice change of pace.

But marina time isn't all about fun and games, it is also synonymous with work.

I have been wanting to tackle some sewing projects for a while, but nap times, bedtimes, three small children running around and inadequate space free from tiny prying hands were inhibiting my ability to get anything done. My parents' hotel room turned into the perfect work shop for me. I brought out our awesome Sailrite LZ1 sewing machine and got to work covering a cushion (1 inch foam, $42 for a 30x80 inch piece) for the twin bunk in the v-berth (with the extra I made a new mattress for Isla's bunk as well). While Haven and Mira are more than secure and happy in their cozy room, every now and then Scott and I would hear a loud thud from up there and, depending on whether or not the thud was followed by a wail, we knew it was either their legs or their heads banging.  I took care of that with a nice, fitted cushion to soften the blow. Combined with the new sheets I picked up from a local store for $10, I think their room looks bright and fun.
The sewing of the twin bunk cushion in the v-berth. The final two pics in this series show Isla's bed and her new book pouch
I then made a little book sling for Isla's bunk. While she has loads of books in the book shelf in our main salon, she didn't have any at the ready near her bed. A small pouch affixed to the wall with some industrial strength velcro (sewed onto the back of the sling and then the matching side stuck to the wall) works wonders. She now can entertain herself with books for at least 1/2 hour when she wakes up in the morning (at 6am), meaning mommy and daddy get a few more zzzzz's. That right there is a win.

I always say that boat babies don't go "out" they go "up", so in the name of baby-proofing I also sewed a simple step cover to prevent the twins from climbing up the companionway stairs into the cockpit when I'm not looking (something they are very good at!) Both are stellar climbers now so keeping their inner monkey's at bay was necessary. Simple is always better on a boat, and months ago I had the idea that a piece of canvas snapped around the bottom two steps was all we needed, and voila! It worked. Disaster: (hopefully) averted. (Note: I used my awesome Pres-N-Snap Tool for this project, if you live on a boat and plan to sew - you need this!)
No more, "Look mommy! I climbed up the stairs while you were peeing!" moments
Scott's not slacking either. We have a new thermometer to install on our engine, a leaking mast to re-seal (using Spartite), and a boat that is in desperate need of a good scrub. If there is one thing that you must know before cruising with small children, it's that the window get even the simplest projects completed is hugely reduced, if not closed entirely. Keep this nugget of information in mind if you buy a project boat thinking you can work along the way! Everything, from routine maintenance to unexpected repairs, requires much more time and planning.
Many people assume that when grandparents visit it means a big break for us - like we can kick back and just enjoy having babysitters. While the extra hands are certainly a HUGE help, it's not that easy. There is pretty much nobody we'd leave alone with all three of our kids (unless they are sleeping), but taking just one child off our hands for an hour or two is a huge relief. Often, my mom will take Isla swimming while the twins nap in the morning, leaving Scott and I a solid hour and a half to work on our respective projects. It's rare we leave anyone with the twins since to say they are a "handful" would be the understatement of the century, but yesterday I left my mom alone with Haven and Mira on the beach and when I returned thirty minutes later, she gave me the most hilarious validation ever when she said:

"Truthfully, Brittany, I don't know how you are doing this. Honest to God."

We both had a good laugh at that one and then I went straight to the bar to grab us two painkillers. If I've learned anything being a mom of three little ones, it's that a stiff afternoon cocktail really "takes the edge off." Sad, but true. Don't hate.
So, yes, it's been a busy, busy week around here and in between the general mayhem that is our daily life, we are having so much fun hitting up the beach, the pool and - yes - the bar, quite regularly. It's going to be so sad to see my mom leave (dad had to go back yesterday), but we're already looking forward to her next visit. Grandparents are the BEST.
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