Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Selling Your Writing to Sailing Magazines: A Review

If there is one overwhelmingly popular way that would-be cruisers dream of filling the cruising kitty while underway, it is by writing. And why not? Ample time and a daily cocktail of equal parts adventure and inspiration provide plenty of fodder for stories. Not to mention the fact that the sea will often bring out the desire to wax poetic in a person. Sadly, writing doesn't always pay the bills...or, any bills for that matter. Not only is writing a famously meager way to make a living, but the cruising world is small and the publications that cater to us - and the audiences that read them - are limited.

BUT...all is not lost! There are many cruisers selling words and making decent money with their writing, and you can be one of them. The new book "Selling Your Writing to the Boating Magazines (and other niche mags)" is a step by step guide on how to, well... sell your writing to boating magazines. Turns out, there are tricks to successfully writing for niche publications and industry-proved ways to ensure your piece stands out in the crowd. While it is difficult to make a bonafide living by writing articles, published stories can be a fantastic way to drop coins (and sometimes many!) into the cruising kitty. You just need to know how.

"Selling Your Writing to the Boating Magazines (and other niche mags)" is your book. Author Micheal Robertson is not only a fellow live-aboard cruiser, but one of the people making a decent chunk of change with his writing, and has been for years. You might recognize his name among the authors of the fantastic book, >>>"Voyaging with Kids"<<< and he is regularly featured in the most popular sailing publications, so he knows what he is talking about when it comes to pitching magazines. His book is not only for sailors either, the tips and tricks can be applied to any niche publication. While his examples, contacts and anecdotes will be almost exclusively related to the sailing industry, they will be helpful to any writer try to break into the industry.

I obviously have a vested interest in this subject because, in time, I have big plans to ramp up my writing and (hopefully) make more money with it - so when he reached out to me for a review, I jumped at the chance...

The book is short, sweet and to the point. I read it in three days, so it is by no means overwhelming, which I loved. It assumes you know nothing about publishing, which makes it very easy for a layman to read. It's laid out in a very organized "step by step" way - from pitch to payment - any really demystifies the world of publication. "Selling Your Writing to the Boating Magazines (and other niche mags)" takes you through each and every step of the publishing process, he offers tips on how to make your piece stand out and how to forge good relationships with editors. In short, Michael lays out everything for you in a clean, easy to understand format. The only thing he doesn't do is write your piece for you.

Not convinced? Some other review snippets from very prominent cruisers and industry insiders:
“From now on when I get queries from sailors wanting to know how to get started as writers for the sailing press, I’ll recommend this book. It’s not just the book editors have been waiting for, it’s the book long awaited by every sailor who hopes to make a buck while pursuing his sailing dream.” —Karen Larson, Publisher of Good Old Boat
“Concise, useful and encouraging for any aspiring magazine writer, not just those in the sailing field.”—Lin Pardey, author of more than 400 magazine articles 
"Michael Robertson has done a great job composing a primer of practicalities for freelance writers. His clear advice is reinforced by having been widely published himself, allowing him to cite numerous useful examples from his own efforts."
—Tim Queeney, Editor of Ocean Navigator 
"If you’ve ever thought about sharing your passion by writing about what you love, you need this book. Michael Robertson has put together the ultimate toolkit for launching your freelancing dream." —Beth A. Leonard, freelancer, speaker, and author who supported herself for two decades writing from her boat
If you have dreams to sail off into the sunset and want to pen "freelance writer" in the occupation box on your customs forms, you need this book.

Who knows? You might even become the next >>>Fatty Goodlander<<<....

Happy writing!

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book free of charge in return for my honest review. The thoughts and opinions expressed in this article are my own.

Monday, August 22, 2016

From Cruiser to Expat: On Fernweh and Putting Down Roots Abroad

The incredible experience that lead to this photo would never had happened if I wasn't a local.
There was an internet meme going around a while back that defined the word "fernweh" (n) which is the German word for "farsickness". According to Wikipedia it means: wanderlust, a desire for travel, a longing for far-off places.  I, along with many of my cruising comrades, have this. I cannot say exactly where this "fernweh" in me came from, but I know I had it from a very young age and I suspect it had something to do with being born to pretty adventurous parents. Throw in a well cultivated love of reading (the very best way to travel if you can't actually do so), a thirst for all things "different", and - POOF! - there I was, a child who wanted to see the world and would stop at nothing to do so.

From comparatively exotic family vacations to places like Belize, and fairly regular trips to England to visit my British family - my youth was peppered with the excitement of travel. I was privileged and lucky to experience these things and my parents were sure to remind me of this. As I got older, I literally worked for no other reason that to save money for travel. At eighteen I backpacked around Europe for five weeks, and as I entered my twenties I spent a semester abroad in Rome, Italy. I traveled, solo, around Southeast Asia and South America and while my shoe-string journeys were full of all the adjectives one could use to describe travel (amazing, beautiful, awe-inspiring, eye opening...etc. etc.), I always left wanting more... Not more stamps on my passport or patches for my pack, but...more...something intangible and out of reach. I wanted to feel like I belonged in those places I visited. To sit at the cafe and laugh at the jokes the locals were laughing at. To know the intricacies, the stories, the histories and the true color of a place. I wanted to know about the widowed lady who ran the bakery and the grumpy man who sold the papers outside the flower shop. I didn't want to be a person merely passing through. I wanted to be a local. And a few days to a few weeks in a place just doesn't get you there.

Enter...Africa.

No place in this world has held so much allure to me as East Africa. Growing up, I had read several books that were directly responsible for this blind love affair that began as an early teen, and in college (after reading several more books) I made up my mind that I was going to live there one day. I graduated from University and lived the boozed-up post collegiate city life and loved it. But Africa was always on my mind. After a few party-packed years of care-free fun and not much to show on my resume, I knew I needed a change. A nasty break up with a not so-great-(for me)-boyfriend seemed as good a catalyst as any, and I quit my lucrative yet dead-end waitressing job in the city and signed up for a three month volunteer stint in Tanzania.

I came back three years later.

This experience, way too rich and bohemian to describe in a single blog post, was my first experience as an expat.  It was the most incredible, storied, and adventuresome period of my life thus far and there is no way I would have had even a sliver of the experiences I had if I'd only visited for a few weeks.

***

Which brings us to now. We are expats. We've >>>put down roots here in the British Virgin Islands<<<. And while being an island-dwelling (live-aboard) expat and being a cruiser have quite a few similarities, this is a significant deviation from the suspected plot-line of our well documented story in which we had cast ourselves as roving sea gypsies.

While there are certainly aspects of cruising that I miss; the countless nights at anchor, the freedom of coming and going, seeing the sun rise on the ocean and the excitement of a new landfall - for me, being an expat is, in many ways, more fulfilling.

While we were cruising, we would only scratch the surface of a place. We'd visit a few beaches and towns near the anchorage. We'd visit a restaurant or two and maybe get friendly with a market vendor during our time, but knowing that we'd be leaving in a few day's or a few week's time meant our understanding of a place was always limited. Don't get me wrong, you can (and will!) have incredible cross-cultural experiences as a cruiser but they will be different to those you have as an expat. As an expat, we are certainly not acquiring as many passport stamps, but the experiences we are living have that much more depth.

So what do I love most about expatriate living?

Getting to Know A Place

For one, we have a car at our disposal which means getting off the beaten path and exploring farther afield is that much more feasible. We've lived here for about a year in total and we've only just begun to see what this place has to offer. Part of this slow learning curve is due to the fact that a busy work schedule and a gaggle of girls limits us significantly, but it's also due to the fact that it takes a long time to really get to know a place. We are now getting to know customs (for example, here you always say, "Good Morning" or "Good afternoon" when walking into a place of business or a store, not doing so is considered rude) and the inner-workings of island life (like how to deal with island time, the 'powers that be' and general island bureaucracy.) We still have a lot to learn, but time is an expats greatest teacher. In my experience, it takes at least six months to really sink your teeth into a place...

Cultural Diversity

While the "melting pot" of America is certainly diverse, where I grew up you would need to go to great lengths to not only see that diversity, but interact with it on a daily basis. If Isla was living in my hometown (which, I might add, is a wonderful place!), odds are she'd be in pre-school with no children of color, and seeing a rainbow of ethnicities would be reserved for trips to the city. Here, she is the minority. We interact every day with children and adults from all over the world, and - as a parent - this is very important to me, and a huge bonus of expatriate life.  We certainly got this perk from cruising as well, but instead of playing for a single afternoon, or sharing one single conversation or sundowner on the beach, we are forging more consistent relationships with people from all over the globe. Our girls have a steady group of little friends, which I think is important for them at this age.

Like Minded People

Expatriates, I learned first in my experience in Tanzania and am learning again here, are a different breed of folk. As with cruising, it takes a certain type of person to up and move from their homeland to somewhere foreign. Forming friendships with other expats is usually pretty easy - people who want to live abroad tend to be more open-minded, accepting, and cut from a similar cloth. We are all a dose of hedonist mixed with a pinch of crazy. While the expatriate community is transient, the coming and going of so many interesting people in your life can be very stimulating and inspiring. While the relationships you make might not be as longstanding as, say, a childhood friend, they carry a different kind of depth and connection that is equally fulfilling in a whole new way. Stronger relationships are forged in a shorter amount of time, which is the same with cruising, except with our fellow expat friends we're not saying "goodbye" nearly as much, which is a nice change.

Adaptability

As with cruising, living as an expat requires a good amount of adaptability. Things don't work like they do back home and island life takes more effort in general. You learn to get by with what's available or improvise. Because of the comparative lack of resources you will, in general, be much more inventive with what you do have. Furthermore, making an effort to integrate yourself into another culture, and not simply acting as an observer, will force you out of your comfort zone and show you the importance of being flexible, open-minded, and accepting.

Adventure Every Day

I've already written about the fact that >>>island life is not for everyone<<< and is by no means utopia. But if you are the kind of person who can find beauty in the mundane, laugh at the absurd, and stop and smell the roses, this life is full of excitement - it's all about your perspective. For example, one quick run into town as a family turned into a full morning out when we decided to take our car to the pop-up car wash. Sure, they took over an hour and a half to get our car cleaned, but instead of being annoyed, I chose to find the beauty in it. The car wash was basically a street party; loud speakers blasting music, friends washing cars while shaking their hips to the beat, and a giant water truck providing the means to clean...it was an event! I ended up doing a little photo shoot and it was so fun to embrace this experience as something we'd never have back home. Perspective.

Stability

While there was a time in my life I would scoff at the notion of stability, as a mom of three little ones, I embrace it. I love that our girls have a little consistency in their lives.  They love our "neighborhood" of Nanny Cay and the community we live in is a HUGE reason why we chose Tortola as home. We have wonderful friends and neighbors and a few days before we left a taxi driver told my mom, 'We love those kids. That family is very good to us and we watch after those girls. All of us here love them and look out for them." He then told her he was going to taxi us to the airport, for free, as a gift (turns out Scott got off work so he could take us, but still...) I nearly cried when I heard that. Aside from the sense of community, being in one place means we have some nice land-lubbing liberties that were not available to us when cruising... Very soon the girls will be going to a little preschool a couple days a week to give mommy a break and to give them a chance to experience a slice of life away from my hip (which, for the record, they've never been away from their entire lives!) I'm excited about this for all of us.

***

Do we miss cruising? Of course. It's an incredible lifestyle and one that we have plans to return to one day. But I love expat life just as much and in a different way. Luckily for us, we chose to live in one of the >>>most popular cruising destinations in the world<<<, so there are many similarities between the lifestyles and elements that still remain the same. Do I still suffer from fernweh? Yep. Do I long to travel freely and experience new and different places? For sure. Will we do everything in our power to show our girls as much of the world as we can? You betcha. But this period of our lives, the one where one day we will be able too look back and talk about the time we lived in the British Virgin Islands? It's pretty incredible too.
“What makes expat life so addictive is that every boring or mundane activity you experience at home (like grocery shopping, commuting to work or picking up the dry cleaning) is, when you move to a foreign country, suddenly transformed into an exciting adventure. Try finding peanut butter in a Japanese grocery story or explaining in broken Spanish to the Guatemalan pharmacy that you need cough drops and you’ll understand. When abroad, boredom, routine and ‘normal’ cease to exist. And all that’s left is the thrill and challenge of uncertainty.” 
 – Reannon Muth

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Flying Solo with Three Kids Under Four or: That time I felt Like a #BossMom

It's difficult to know the potential for utter mayhem and chaos that three small people (two of them being twins) can bring unless you have/had three small children and/or twins. We can go from zero to pandemonium in .02 seconds flat, I have three relationship dynamics to manage at any given time, and did I mention my twins are two? So when it was decided for me through the workings of fate that I would be flying, solo, with my three tots age four and under to my mom's for our annual visit, I began having heart palpitations.

Many people offered words of wisdom and travel suggestions to me via >>Facebook<<, but almost all advice from other parents with a similar adult-to-child scenario replied with, "WHAT!?! ARE YOU INSANE?" because, like I said, these people get it. They know. They have tasted defeat by way of child terrorists and know how physically, spiritually and mentally crushing it can be.

But I thrive on a good challenge and despite the fact that there was chance I could have sent my eldest home with my mom so I would only fly with the twins, I decided that - nope - I was going full Monty. It was all or nothing. Once I'd gotten it in my head that I was doing it, my commitment to the challenge of a full day traveling with my three girls took on an almost Olympic quality. One puddle-jumper plus one layover plus one Boeing 737 and over ten hours of travel door to door would equal the ultimate mom test. I went into it with the attitude of "GAME ON".


***

We've flown a lot with our girls, and had both >>good<< and >>traumatic<< experiences, so I knew - in a way - what to expect on both ends of the spectrum. The only difference was this time, I would not have an extra set of hands to help me from losing a child and/or my sanity. No biggie, right? (insert emoticon with wide eyes). "Deep breaths, stay cool, and think like a ninja" - this was the mantra playing in my head as I mentally prepared for the day.  And prepare I did.

I spent almost a week of sleepless nights visualizing the task at hand, chatting with my trusted advisors (my fellow mamma tribe) and making lists. The night before the flight I was up from 1am till dawn running through scenarios (and worrying my ass off) to be sure I had everything in line. This might seem like overkill and possibly a little dramatic, but it's how I gear up (cue: Rocky Music). Preparation is key to successful travel with young children and I know too well that all it takes is one epic diaper blow out, one kicking and screaming tantrum, or one projectile vomit to really ruin a day. As much as I wish I was kind of person who flies by the seat of her pants by slapping on some lipstick, throwing a few things into a bag and strutting out in the world with her head held high, I am not. I err toward "Type A", make an insane amount of lists and am anything but haphazard when in travel mode with kids in tow. I've learned the hard way that being unprepared does you no favors when your kids are as young and as close in age as mine are.


***

Yes, I was prepared for it all. Blowouts (extra diapers, wipes), tantrums (lollipops, gummy bears), puke spillage (extra clothes for kids, layers for me), boo-boos (bandaids, antiseptic wipes) and sleeplessness (hello, dramamine!). My carryon was loaded with entertainment, food, drink and meds. I was a modern day Mary Poppins and my bag was packed to provide. While I had absolutely envisioned the day going smoothly in several versions of my mental trial runs ("hope for the best, expect the worst", right?), I wasn't prepared for the day to go...well, almost perfectly.

Okay, "perfectly" is a stretch. Our two hour layover turned into a five hour layover (thank God for the $32 sky lounge!! Best. Money. Ever. Spent.) and there was that moment going through security where I was on the verge of a very unfortunate/desperate potty mishap that came dangerously close to disaster (tmi??) and although I dosed my kids with dramamine, none of them slept a wink until the final two hours of our travel day meaning I was ping ponging between defense and offense all. day. long...but despite these minor glitches, the day went as good as I could have possibly wished for.

There were many moments when things could have taken a turn for the worse, but we managed to stave them off with lollipops (thank God for the lollipops!), new toys, and straight-up bribery.  I did whatever I could to keep my little sleep deprived babes at bay and all 'rules' went out the window. Sure, they ate pure junk all day (high fructose corn syrup and sodium, anyone?). Yes, I was utterly exhausted by the end of it (fourteen hours of travel door to door and running on almost zero sleep, yeah!) And, yep, we were a full blown spectacle to anyone who paid any attention to us, particularly in the (very long) security line ("Are you traveling alone with those three little girls?!")...but, we made it. We were grimy, sticky and punch-drunk at the finish line, but we made it. I even got few high fives and some kudos along the way.


We've been incredibly lucky with our travel karma (thank you Universe!) and our girls always seem to win over some strategic people during our journeys. During this day, our karma presented itself as an airport security woman who let the girls and I leave the security line (and come back to our same spot) so I could do the afore-mentioned desperate run to the bathroom. It manifested itself in an extra seat for Isla (who was across the aisle), and provided us with two Puerto Rican teens who entertained the twins for over an hour during our four and a half hour flight. The icing on the cake was a sweet flight attendant who was so impressed with the girls that she comped me not one, but two mini bottles white wine. Catching a slight buzz at 35,000 feet never felt so good.

***

By hour three of our final flight my girls were sound asleep around me, their angelic faces softened by the dim sepia-toned lights of the plane, their little bodies sprawled along the seats...We were on the home stretch and I thought to myself "we made it." Gazing at my girls nestled around me, my heart bursting with love for them I could not have been more proud of their behavior. And as this combination of love and pride swelled up in my solar plexus somewhere over Georgia, I started crying. The pressure in me released and I silently cried tears of joy and thanks. We had made it, and while a lot of luck was on our side, the girls and I were an awesome team and at that moment, I thought I could tackle just about anything. I took a sip of my wine, adjusted myself in my seat, and lifted my head to the screen to enjoy the end of the in-flight film.

***

Traveling with kids is hard. Parenting is hard. Like Olympians, sometimes our work pays off, sometimes it falls short, and sometimes we simply get unlucky. We don't always get the gold, but when we do - we owe it to ourselves to celebrate. On this day I got the gold. I was a boss mom. My babies were boss babies. And I was grateful.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

So You Want to Live on an Island? Thirteen Things to Consider Before You Move to Paradise

We live in paradise. It's true. This place we call home, the >>>British Virgin Islands<<<, are frequently touted in glossy magazines as a primo world travel destination and regularly featured on "top ten" lists for one or all of the "three B's" (beaches, bars and beauty). Our pictures make you swoon, our tans make you jealous, and the fact that you are shoveling snow while we are lounging poolside kind of makes you want to kill us. Yes, our lives appear pretty idyllic from our >>>Instagram photo feeds<<< ... but are they? Well, yes and no. While island life ab-so-lutely has it's merits (duh!), it is definitely not for everyone. Might living on a rock be for you? Well, after five years of living on and around islands, here are some things I've observed that you might want to consider:
  1. Everyone will know your name. If you love small town living, island life might be for you. Everyone knows everyone here, and if you don't know everyone, chances are they've heard about you or you've heard about them before you even met. While this "small town" nature of island life comes with a comforting sense of community and accessibility, it also comes with the not so awesome side effect of gossip. And holy crap, scandal and drama - real or finely tuned through the "coconut telegraph" - is everywhere
  2. Power and water run out, regularly. Infrastructure is often lacking on islands. We happen to live at a marina with it's own reverse osmosis water system and a hefty back up generator so we are very lucky to not suffer from this common island affliction. But most folks who live here are very regularly lamenting about power outages which seem to happen a lot. And water? You know, the stuff that pours out of your faucets whenever you want it? Yeah, that runs out too. It is not unusual for entire areas of the island to be waterless for several days at a time. I have one friend who's water went dry mid-shower. And don't even get me started on fast internet or conditions of the roads... 
  3. It's harder to get stuff. Second hand shopping is common here regardless of social class or wealth.  Our beautiful island lacks big box stores of any kind and while I absolutely love the absence of blatant American consumerism and the eyesore of it all, it also means many of the things we are used to buying back home are not available here or are very expensive. My hunt for three car seats turned up with zilch (literally could. not. find. three carseats to buy on this rock) that I eventually had to suck it up, buy them online, and have them shipped down from the US (making them the most expensive carseats on the island, possibly in the entire Caribbean, maybe in the world...) From furniture to cars, kids toys to water toys, a lot of your stuff will be second hand. Anything that's not might have to be purchased off island and sent down via traveling friend or shipping company. How much you miss the amenities of the mainland will depend on your ability to be patient and/or flexible (or how many off island visitors you get!), but most people will feel some sort of consumer pang quite regularly whether it be because you can't get something or the exorbitant cost of it.
    We've been known to ship everything from boat parts to kids' toys down.
  4. You will be behind on a lot. When people talk about a movie or show, I often ask if it came out after 2010 when Scott and I left to go cruising, because we have absolutely no clue about anything that came out after that. Game of Thrones? Breaking Bad? OITNB? These mean nothing to me. Then again, this is largely due to the fact that we don't have television and don't have a good/comfortable place to watch our computer after the kids go to bed but still...living on an island usually means you will be a step behind when it comes to trends, news, pop culture, fashion, and giving a crap about any of it. If you *do* care about the latest and greatest in x,y or z, island life might not be for you.
  5. Garbage, trash and litter is up close and personal. The pictures we post of our island are often from the best beaches and the best views, but what you do not see are the not so pretty sides of life on a rock. The side that shows you how serious the issue of pollution, particularly in the ocean that surrounds our home, is. Remember that time our family >>>cleaned up the trash at the park in town<<<? We've been to beaches in the windward islands that are covered in plastic, trash and debris. It's sad to imagine that some people have that little respect for the environment but it's something we've seen on just about every island we've visited. Tortola, however, is very clean compared to others and it's one of the many reasons we love it here. Even still, you will see an impressive amount of trash if you get off the beaten path.
    A garbage bag full of trash we collected at a park one day.
  6. Goodbyes are a regular occurrence. Aside from the fact that most of us are away from our families and have to say "bye" to our visitors, island communities are often very transient. While some people come here and stay forever, most do not. They are here on contract, for a few years, or as part of a temporary adventure. Add in the fact that we are host to vibrant yachting and cruising communities and"...people come and go so quickly!" Maybe for this reason or because of it, it can be hard to find friends and some people can find island life very isolating. If you are single, finding a mate can prove very challenging as well.
  7. "Island time"is legit. In the day and age of "instant gratification", this is a tricky one for many to handle. However "island time", while not a scientific measure, is 100% real. Urgency is not a thing here (unless your are on the road where it is very much a "thing".) Life is definitely s-l-o-w-e-r and while that might sound appealing at first, the reality of it is often a shock to the system. Island time varies from task to task, but is - on average -  two to three times longer than you would expect to do/accomplish/finish said task. It can be as simple as a painfully slow clerk at the grocery store who takes no fewer than 10 minutes to scan your not-in-the-system-for-some-reason strawberries or as severe as your husband dropping off a small poster to be framed the week before your birthday, for your birthday (April 27th) and getting said birthday present/poster in the middle of July. Yes, 'island time' is real and if you are a task-master used to fast-paced city life, you will have some serious adjusting to do.
  8. Bureaucracy is no joke.  I like to call it bureauCRAZY down here. From immigration to labor to customs, the name of the game is waiting. Waiting in line. Waiting to get a ticket in order to wait in line. Waiting for someone to call your name to tell you to wait some more. Waiting for approval. Waiting for a stamp from another department. Waiting for an official to come back from vacation. So. Much. Waiting. God forbid you try to run a business down here because no matter how many people you hire to get all your legal ducks in a row and no matter how many officials you speak with to clarify things, you will definitely get it wrong. Mark my words. And then you will have to deal with even more bureaucrazy. And then you will have to wait some more. Before you are a legal resident you will have waited no fewer than 262 hours in various departments and will have filled out your body weight in forms. 
    Just one of the approximately 1,436 forms I had to read and/or fill out.
  9. Weather can be brutal. I will never forget the summer we spent in Grenada while I was pregnant with the twins without air conditioning. It was >>>so. effing. hot<<<. My uncle was just here last month and he walked around with a towel on his person that had one purpose alone: to wipe away/absorb his sweat. It was profuse. I'm pretty sure he lost half his body weight in perspiration and I doubt he will be coming back any time soon. It was very uncomfortable for him. NEWSFLASH: THE HEAT CAN BE AS LIMITING AND OPPRESSIVE AS THE COLD. While our winter's kick your winter's ass in terms of we are drinking rum drinks on the beach while you shovel snow, our summers are brutal and can be ungodly hot. As if the mind-bending heat wasn't enough, we also have the threat of hurricanes five months of the year. This is unnerving and potentially catastrophic, particularly if you live on a boat and own three others as your livelihood (insert emoticon with wide eyes and teeth)
    He showered 3x a day. Still no relief. The heat is for real.
  10. You might get bored. I know this sounds insane because when you came here on vacation you filled every day and still didn't see it all, but islands are islands and their very nature means they are limited. There are only so many beaches, bars, and activities to occupy your time. We don't have the museums, theaters, art houses, libraries and music venues to explore. There are only so many shops, clubs and restaurants to frequent and if you are someone who doesn't like to do the same thing twice or needs to be doing "something" all day every day, well, you should probably reconsider island living. While there is much to do for the water enthusiast, people who don't embrace the simple pleasures island life allows (and there are many!) can be somewhat disenchanted and limited by choices. It is, I think, for this reason that drinking becomes an olympic sport here. Day drinking at 3pm on a Monday? Why not!
  11. You will inevitably come down with "Island Fever."According to Maui Goodness, "Island Fever is the phenomena of feeling claustrophobic from the close proximity of each shoreline, and feeling disconnected from the outside world. This is a pretty common thing on the islands... Most people move away after a few months to a few years because of a lack of family and the necessity of having all the amenities of the mainland at their disposal." We have never lived on one island long enough to come down with this very real affliction, but have heard many a story about it. For this reason many seasoned islanders recommend getting "off the rock" at least once a year.
  12. You will be an outsider. Here on my island you are either a belonger or...not.  As in "You belong" or "You do not belong." I am not joking. "Belonger" is the actual term and if you are one, you have a card in your wallet that says so. To become a "belonger" is only slightly easier than becoming a saint in the Roman Catholic Church. To be honest, I'm not entirely sure what it entails but I know it's just about impossible for me to ever become one so I don't really sweat it. Being a belonger has many, many perks that an non-belonger does not enjoy (having to deal with less bureaucracy is a big one) but it is how it should be and I get it. Regardless, I will never "belong" here.   And finally...
  13. Living with that feeling that everyone thinks your life is perfect because you live here when in reality you are living with items 1-12 on a daily basis! It's true, once you relocate to paradise you simply are >>>no longer allowed to complain<<< because, obviously, our life is one giant vacation and we should just shut up and be grateful.  (thanks to my friend >>Claudia<<, for this one!)
    It's not all sunshine and rainbows, but it's pretty damn awesome if 1-13 aren't problems for you.
All said, I absolutely *love* living as an expat on an island (more in-depth post on this subject coming soon). I find this lifestyle vibrant, inspiring and I truly love my experience here. It's not all sunshine and rainbows (there are a lot of those, of course), and I've never met Jimmy Buffett or Kenny Chesney, but it *is* unique and if you have a flair for dichotomy and embrace the fact that adventure (and not always the thrilling kind you chose) awaits you each day, it just might be for you.

Word to the wise: if you still think that living on an island is for you, read Don't Stop the Carnival: A Novel by Herman Wouk. It is, so far, the best book about living and working in the islands I have ever read. It's a classic and will prepare you for living and working on a rock better than anything. We considered it "required reading" for our crew.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Getting Safer with Smarter Cord Connections: Why We Chose Smart Plug

This is, literally and figuratively, *not* cool.
I'll never forget the boat fire that happened on our dock back in Chicago just before we left in 2010. We arrived at the marina to do some work in preparation for our departure just as we did every other day that summer, but this time things were different. Walking down the dock there was a distinct smell of burnt plastic, and as we made our way to our boat, we saw the carnage of the blaze that happened the night before. The ordeal was over and the crowds dispersed, but what was left was a power boat half submerged (thanks to floats that were keeping it from the bottom) - a total loss- and about four other neighboring boats seriously damaged by it's fiery wrath. Apparently a candle had been left burning and a gust of wind blew some canvas on top of it. Within minutes, we were told, the entire boat was aflame. Thankfully, the two people aboard escaped out of the front hatch and no one was hurt, but Scott and I walked away from that experience with two lessons seared into our brains: 1) candles have no place on a boat and 2) fiberglass boats burn hard and fast

Yes, we'd do everything we could to prevent a fire on our boat

Fast forward to five years and over ten thousand nautical miles later, we are living on the dock in beautiful Tortola, BVI. Ever since permanently relocating here (and being permanently plugged into shore power to run our boat's AC systems like refrigerator, freezer and air conditioning) I've been markedly more worried about the prospect of fire. That's a lot of load on a single cord and AC power freaks me out. Voltage irregularities, moisture intrusion, aging systems, shoddy wiring, and a damaged cord are all things that - in the perfect-storm scenario - can combine to cause a fire. One week I had such strong premonitions about our boat burning down and the fear weighed so heavily on my mind that I started Googling "how to prevent a boat fire at the dock" in earnest. Three days after this rather baseless (yet very driven) search we unplugged our shore power cord to find it charred and burnt. The connection to the boat was also deep-fried. Not cool. 
After talking to my seasoned marina-dwelling friends and professional boat workers about our issue, I learned that a) chord charring is not as dire as it seemed (most likely it would just fry the cord and that'd be the end of it) and b) fried and burnt shore power cords are far more common than I thought. "We replace our cords at least once a year" one fellow live-aboard friend told me, with several others agreeing. Even armed with this  knowledge, however, I felt uneasy. We have very precious cargo in the form of three adorably squishy little bodies on our boat and I want to ensure they are as safe as can be.


***

According to Boat US data about 17% of boat fires are due to the AC system and many of those are due to cord damage. Seaworthy Magazine has an exceptional article on the intricacies of shore power and cord care in "When Your Shore Power Looses it's Cool" and this article does a far better job at explaining the issues than I ever could. Long story short: cord damage happens, it's dangerous, and it's up to you to be diligent and monitor it. Check yourself before you wreck yourself.

After some research and a whole bunch of suggestions from friends who have converted, I decided we'd upgrade to the SmartPlug*. I purchased two SmartPlug 30-Amp Inlet Connector Combo Kits to retrofit our two 30-Amp connection ports. This conversion is not cheap (at the time we spend $175 on each) but, to us, anything that will keep our family safe and (possibly) save our boat and all our worldly possessions, is worth it.

Why SmartPlug? Well, first and foremost it's simply a huge improvement on the old-style cords. The Smart Plug's design prevents overheating and provides "greater protection against loose connections and corrosion - the leading cause of shore power failure and fires." How do they do this?
  • Spring loaded multi-point push lock (much stronger connection to boat)
  • Weatherproof sealing (much better at keeping moisture out than older style cords)
  • Straight blades that offer much more surface contact (better connection which protects from overheating and arching)
  • Ease of installation and use (uses existing holes, easy conversion and no awkward "did it really connect?" twisting involved once in)

We converted two outlets and cords because we also figured that perhaps the reason for our charring might be that our single 30-Amp cord was overburdened by our systems and we decided (since we had the real-estate) to put our refrigerator and freezer on one cord, and our air conditioning on another. These measures, plus our new SmartPlugs mean we sleep a little better at the dock.

*We have no affiliation with SmartPlug

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Living Afloat with Littles: Is Raising Toddlers Harder on a Boat?

When people find out that we live on a boat with our four year old and two year old twins, the overwhelming reaction is one of shock quickly followed by disbelief and then wonder. "You live on a boat with those girls? There is NO way I would be able to do that!" they say. "But, wow... Good for you!" Then they think for a second and an inquisitive look crosses their face as they finish with, "What's it like?" I am here to say that, yes, living on a boat is certainly different than raising kids on land, but it's not necessarily as demanding as you might imagine. In many ways it *is* harder, in some ways it's easier and in others it's exactly the same (i.e we still deal with tantrums and meltdowns, we are constantly operating at a base line of exhaustion, and the conundrum of what in the h*ll to cook for dinner is a daily struggle, to name a few.) Scott and I have lived aboard since 2010 and taken several substantial "land breaks" in the states during that time, so we have experienced each lifestyle with our family. Just like everything, there is a yin and yang balance of plusses and minuses to both so the answer to the title question isn't a simple "yes" or "no"...

***
WHAT'S HARDER?

The real differences lie not in the fact that we live on a sailboat, per se, but are a family of five living in a >>"tiny" home<<. There are definite challenges to this arrangement...

Lack of Space: Captain Obvious here! We live in a two "bedroom" boat that is slightly larger than an average sized RV. At forty-four feet, >>our boat<< is by no means "small" for a cruising monohull (in fact it is pretty average), but a) most cruisers are couples and not families and b) our livable square footage is actually less than an average home's living room. It's...cozy. Our twins share a room (and to call it a 'room' is laughable) and Isla sleeps in >>a make-shift bunk bed we created in our walk-thru<< to the aft cabin. We have almost zero privacy and no doors except for those on the twins' room and our bathrooms. Our communal living space is halved when we raise up our (folding) dining table and if we are all aboard, we are - quite literally - tripping over each other. Hosting out of town guests? Forget about it, we simply do not have the space.

This is where they play most of the time. Note that if I need to go to the bathroom, galley, nav station or cockpit I must step over children.
Fewer Amenities: We don't have a microwave, a dishwasher, or a washer/dryer. We have no television. Storage space is hugely truncated as well; we don't have a large pantry, closets or spacious cupboards to store food and gear and instead rely on awkward spaces behind cushions and under floorboards to squirrel things away. Our refrigerator is a glamorized cooler and the act of packing and unpacking it requires a zen level of patience and serious Tetris skills (neither of which I possess). We have no adequate indoor bathtub or shower, and thus must bathe and shower outside on deck or walk to the marina showers a few docks down (not always realistic or convenient with three little kids in tow!) All of these things make day to day living just a little bit harder.

No Dedicated Play Area: Most homes have a dedicated play space for their kids, it might be a basement, a child's bedroom, a playroom or a back yard. In this area toys rule the roost and kids are usually free to make a mess at their will, play safely, and - in most cases - out of their parent's way. We do not have this luxury. There is no dedicated area for the kids to play on our boat, they play in the salon which also is our dining room, living room, office and recreation room - meaning to get from point A to point B at any given time, I usually have to step over an array of play things and a child or two. There is literally no escape!
Our table which does duty as our craft area, stage, fort (underneath) and also happens to halve our salon space.
No Personal/Entertainment Space: Personal space? What's that? Pile on's aren't the exception, they are the rule on our boat! Joking aside, we are more or less a "one room" house and getting away from one another is pretty much impossible on our boat. It's very easy to get overwhelmed when the girls are fighting and there's only one place to put them - or me - in a time out, and our very close proximity (and the fact that we have two year old twins!) means things go from cool to crazy very quickly (and by "crazy" I mean bat-sh*t crazy!) We rarely host play dates because our three girls alone fill the space and any more kids just gets nuts, and having friends over for dinner is almost impossible with sleeping children around. We also run a >>very busy day charter business<< and Scott does all the admin for that...when he needs our boat to double as his 'office' during the day, the girls and I must make ourselves scarce because it's impossible, literally impossible, to work alongside three very active little girls in a small space.
Yeah, attempting to get work done with three toddlers in a communal living space is pretty futile.
Safety: Ah, the issue of safety. By nature I am not a helicopter mom, but a boat floats which means we are surrounded by potential hazard and I cannot give them the freedoms I would if we lived on land. Of course we have >>taken every precaution to keep our girls safe<<, just as any parent would, but, unlike a parent who can feel safe letting their kids run free in their fenced-in back yard, we do not have that luxury. If our girls are on deck, they must be monitored. Until >>they can all swim adequately<< this will be an ever-present issue and it just goes with the territory. And can we talk about getting all three of them on and off the boat?! Phew! It's like getting three kids in and out of carseats...but harder. Lifting three toddlers on and off a boat 3-4 times a day? That's a CrossFit workout right there!
She climbs up here by herself. She's two. Our adventurous kids keep us on our toes!
The list goes on.

The challenges are there and they are real.  There are times when an extra bedroom, an office, a comfy couch in front of a flat-screen t.v, a playroom, locking doors, a garage and a backyard would be positively lovely.

BUT...

The world is our oyster (how many homes do you know >>can up and sail to another island<<?) and the challenges of living small also bring forth many benefits....

WHAT'S AWESOME?

Family bonding: Our girls are never more than ten feet from my person, so I always know what is going on and simply being close to them means I am always there. This might not seem like a big deal, but our close proximity to each other day in and day out is fostering strong familial bonds as a direct result of this togetherness. So. Much. Snuggling! Our girls are sisters, playmates, and bunkmates and are leaning >>valuable lessons<< in side-by-side playing, personal space, cooperation, respect for another's space and conflict resolution because of this. Being so close in age means they often play with the same toys exacerbating these lessons and life skills. Of course this closeness also results in epic cat-fights, tantrums and ear-piercing meltdowns, but - hey - they are laying some pretty solid ground work and it is my belief that, in the long run, being physically close as a family will result in emotional close-ness later on (>>crosses fingers<<).

Grainy pic, but this is a pretty standard morning shot. We all pile into mommy and daddy's bed and cuddle. 
Less to Clean: It's true that messes are quick to be made in a very small space, but they are very quick to be tidied up as well. It literally takes me all of ten minutes, tops, to clean up our entire living space after a couple hours of play. Crumbs on the floor after lunch? My trusty dustbuster will clean up the whole floor in five minutes flat! The girls are learning the importance of playing with a few things at a time, putting those things away, and playing with something else. Of course they are kids and make a mess and have fun, but because every toy has a place, they know to clean up after themselves. Most of the time. ;)
This is a game they love to play. I'm not sure what it is, but they set up chairs with pillows and blankets, and sit there. 
Less stuff : The >>benefits of owning less stuff are vast<<. While we are by no means 'minimalists', the simple act of living on a forty-four foot boat means we have less than most because we simply have less room. This goes for toys as well. Having fewer toys means our girls are more imaginative with >>what they do have<<, and I believe that this has honed their self-entertainment skills and creative ability. They can quietly sit alongside each other and play - together or alone - for long stretches of time with the toys that they have and when those get old, their imaginations start to soar. Pillows, blankets and the most mundane things become forts, gowns and spaceships. Watching them play together is such a joy for me. And while we do watch the occasional movie on our computer, and I certainly see the value of utilizing the iPad from time to time, we do not have television and I strongly believe that limiting screen time has also helped foster their ability to self-entertain and be creative with play, and each other.

Their sisterly bond and friendship is something that is very important for me to help cultivate if I can.
Multicultural Experience: We live on a very small island where a multitude of nationalities reside. Every day our girls interact with Dominicans, Puerto Ricans, Jamaicans, British, French, Guyanese...the list goes on. Living at a vibrant and very popular marina means they meet new people - and hear a litany of dialects and accents - every day. They greet the lawn workers with the same respect as the general manager and every week, they share the swimming pool with local islanders with mental and physical disabilities ranging from downs syndrome to autism. Our marina is a magnet for young people - local and expat - and our girls play with kids of all ages regardless of social class or skin color. This sort of exposure is helping shape their world view and, hopefully, helping to create more worldly, tolerant and compassionate people.
Our resident coconut man, we love him! Each time we see him we get water nuts, fruit and hugs!
Safety: I mentioned the fact that being surrounded by water is a safety concern, and it is. But in many ways I feel safer on our boat with our girls than I do in most homes. Boats, by nature, are actually pretty child-proof. All cupboards on a boat are self-locking which means our girls can rarely get into places they aren't supposed to, so the fear of them getting into cleaning supplies or medicines is highly unlikely. Furthermore, our girls are bonafide monkey's who love to climb and test their limits (a skill and curiosity I fully encourage and rarely dissuade), and - on a boat - there's no chance of a television, dresser or armoire toppling over on them. And, again, the fact that they are never more than ten feet from my person means whatever trouble they can get into, is often discovered very quickly.
She is our resident Denis the Menace. Her spirit is wild and her mind fearless. She is awesome.
Outside Everyday: Living in a (relatively) small sailboat forces us outdoors a lot more than we probably would be if we lived in a house and had more space. More time outdoors means more time in nature, more vitamin D, more interacting with the natural environment, socializing with our community and neighbors, and more time swimming, running, digging and playing. >>All good stuff<<, for sure! I never feel isolated as a "stay on boat" mom because all I need to do is get off the boat and walk the dock for a moment before I can talk to a fellow mom, vacationer, cruiser or friend. What we lack in organized structures like museums, play parks, and activity centers (because there are not many of those things here!) we get in nature. We have our choice of beaches to explore, islands to visit, and water activities to indulge in and we love that. We spend our days playing and not rushing from organized activity to organized activity. Instead of constantly being entertained, our girls are learning to entertain themselves.
Trying to find indoor pictures for this post was hard because 95% of our waking hours are spent OUTSIDE!
Community: This has more to do with where we live on our boat than the fact that we live on a boat, but - still - it's worth noting. As I mentioned above, living "small" means we get out a lot more. Our girls live in a "neighborhood" (marina) where we know just about everyone, by name, and each day our kids are hugged, greeted and held by a whole slew of familiar faces from the maintenance men to taxi drivers to the restaurant waitstaff. Everyone has an eye on our girls and we all help one another out. Islanders live and understand the "village mentality" which is really refreshing, particularly for parents like us who have >>"free rage" tendencies<<. The restaurant staff will tell my kids to behave and the dock assistant will grab a child that's run too far from me and bring her back with a smile. We have neighborhood kids as babysitters and to summon them all I need to do is walk around the docks and find them. Our girls join us at happy hour where they are greeted by all our friends and every Friday we enjoy a giant beach BBQ with fellow islanders and marina guests. It's awesome.

***

The bottom line, and one that I have preached many times on this blog, is that little children are completely adaptable and as long as the parents can adjust (and this here is the tricker part!), living on a boat is very do-able with kids. Some things will be easier than you expect, some will be tougher - but one thing is certain, parenting is hard work no matter where you are.  You will need to find your own groove, develop your own systems and do what works for you. This lifestyle is most certainly not for everyone and while it works very well for us and our family (most of the time...), there are just as many people who wouldn't last a week living like we do. Some people thrive living in a city, some prefer suburbs, others find peace in rural areas and we happen to live on an island. There are families that live in busses, cars, tents and yurts...Whether or not a certain lifestyle 'works' and is 'easy' really depends on the person and, pun intended, what floats their boat.

Shirtless, dirty, and swinging fearlessly from a rope on a tree. As it should be!
Me? I wouldn't change how we live for the world. If I had a dime for each time I heard, "What a fantastic way to grow up!" I'd have that three cabin monohull we've been eyeing. And I completely agree! We thrive on the living with less and I believe our unconventional lifestyle is doing incredible things for our girls in these very formative years. We have less in many ways, but in others we have so much more. Each challenge is an incubator for thought, growth, and integrity. There are many >>side effects to the way we live<<, and most of them are positive.

Is is harder? A little. Is it worth it? Totally.

* Big thank you to Facebook follower, Chris Wick, for asking this question and inspiring this post!

Friday, June 10, 2016

Island Explorers: Perks of Fast Boats and Island Hopping

We recently purchased what I like to call a "fast boat." It took more than a little convincing for me to co-sign on the deal. I mean, we did just buy and take over a day charter business that will take a few years to pay off, and - call me conservative - but the idea of taking the proceeds of this successful season and dumping almost all of it into another boat was not exactly appealing to me. After explaining all the business advantages and a well-executed cost/benefit analysis full of numbers and technical terms, Scott went for the jugular and started speaking my language: "We can use it for our family, too" he persuaded, "...think of all the places we can go when we can't take out the big boat..." He saw my facial expression change and let this idea sink in. The wheels began to turn and suddenly this boat wasn't looking so daunting. Scott had a vision and I'm an easy sell, so a week later Aristocat Charters had a power boat in it's fleet. While the boat is technically for the business, it's also turned into another family car of sorts and has opened up a world of possibility and fun for us.

One of the reasons we love the BVI's so much is the fact that there are so many islands so close together to explore. No need for rough passages or overnight sails to make another landfall - islands are simply a few hours away....unless you have a fast boat. If you have a fast boat, they are fifteen to forty minutes away. This, my friends, is a game changer. Now, when Scott has a morning or afternoon to spare, we can zip on over to a neighboring island, enjoy the beach, perhaps some lunch or dinner, and be home for naps or bedtime. Island living is largely enjoyed on and from the water, so to have another mode of water transport ups the ante on the fun factor. Don't get me wrong, there is nothing like taking "the house" (aka our sailboat) out for a weekend at anchor, but that is not always feasible for us while running a business. The fast boat is the next best thing and the fact that it will hopefully pay for itself in a year makes it a win/win.

So when our good friends and neighbors suggested a little zip over to Peter Island to do a little hike and check out some ruins, we jumped at the chance. We packed a cooler full of drinks and beer, grabbed some snacks and away we went. Twenty minutes later we were tied up in beautiful Little Harbor and started exploring...
Our view once we tied up. It's summer now, and HOT, so sometimes the cloud cover is a welcome change!
Claudia and Ted (and their two kids) are our neighbors, we love them and love that they love our girls. Yes, we "hike" in flip flops and with beer.
These ruins were so beautiful, apparently it used to be a plantation and then a hotel, but it's not very clear...
We even found a goat skull up there, the girls were fascinated. And skeptical...
Yeah, sometimes we wear our jammies all day long. 
Our three little monkeys looking at what we figure was an old dining room. Love this image.
How beautiful is this old tile work? 
My favorite pic of the day. What we all guessed was the old dining room.
So many beautiful flowers blooming right now. 
The porch area
More tile work and - what's that? A real PIRATE TREASURE! The highlight for sure. It's a Geocache ;) 
Claudia and Isla sorting through the treasures of pirates before us.
The girls loved it - and the best treasure? Bug spray!! There were SO many mosquitos up there!
An old bathroom. 
The old kitchen
These strange little bugs are EVERYWHERE. The girls love to watch them. They are usually attached to each other. 
Sometimes you just gotta tuck and run with them. Hiking with us is not efficient, but...interesting!
Thanks for a great day Little Harbor! We'll be back!
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