Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Back to the Boat, Back on Island Time: On Adaptation and Change

It never ceases to amaze me just how adaptable children are. After two months back in the US at my mom's house, I was certain we'd have a little "adjustment" period back at the boat. The girls, after all, are getting bigger, older, and can most certainly grasp the difference between a boat and a house, not to mention the concept of personal space. They loved being back at Grandma's. They have friends back there, we fell into a nice little routine, and - most concerning for me - they became pretty accustomed to life in a three bedroom ranch. They played tag every morning, hid under beds and behind drapery...they enjoyed their own rooms and had plenty of drawers each for their clothes (on the boat they have the equivalent of one small drawer each and only the twins have their own dedicated 'room'). They played in the back yard on the tire swing, pushed baby doll strollers down hallways, and rode bikes and trikes a plenty...Bringing them back to the boat meant a lot of this stuff was going to come to an abrupt halt.

So you can imagine my surprise when, after over a week of being back, I have yet to hear of a single complaint about anything we left back home (minus grandma, of course). I haven't heard any lamentations over the lack of a backyard or whining that they miss the library, nor have the girls put in requests for anything that I thought they might miss - from food to toys - from their time up north. They haven't even asked for television (which was something we admittedly watched significantly more of back in the house). I was, at the very least, prepared for a few sleepless nights as they re-acclimated with their old beds, but, no. In fact, they fell back into napping and night sleeping better than they did these last two months on land! I have to say I was shocked. Each time we have a transition like this I brace myself for a fallout, for tantrums and wonky adjustment periods - and yet - they never happen.  It's incredible and once again our girls show me that mama needs to take a chill pill. "I have no idea why this still surprises me" I told my mom on the phone the other day. "They just fall back into step." To which she replied with her motherly wisdom, "Kids are very adaptable."

And they are. And it's pretty amazing.


The days leading up to our departure were super busy on both ends; I was busy packing up and prepping for the flights (remember, I prepare for these things like a ninja!), Scott was up to his eyeballs in work while simultaneously launching and readying Asante for our return (she was on the hard the last three months). I'm glossing over a ton of details but suffice it to say we were frenetic on both ends. The girls and I enjoyed an uneventful day of travel and landed on Tortola just as the sun was beginning to set and the tree frogs start singing their nightly tunes. Our favorite taxi driver, Larry, picked us up with a big smile and huge hugs, and soon we were en-route back to the boat.

The girls were *so* excited to be back. The boat was a flurry of energy; snuggles with daddy, finding "new" toys, running amok (as children who have been cooped up in planes for a whole day are wont to do) and preparing dinner. Meanwhile, I unpacked all our bags.

The next morning we went out to breakfast with daddy and - oh my gosh! - the girls were greeted with so many hugs and fist bumps and smiles from every direction. "Who are you people and where were you?" one fellow breakfast patron asked with a laugh, "I've never seen so many people so excited to see four girls!" It gave us the warm fuzzies to know we were missed since, truth be told, sometimes I think the presence of three very active, loud and exuberant toddlers might cramp our marina's style. It's hard to keep a low profile around here with our crew. Not everyone loves little children and I can respect that - but according to the various workers, wait staff and crew members around us who repeatedly told the girls, "Nanny Cay just wasn't the same without you!" we were missed. And I believe wholeheartedly that Nanny Cay wasn't the same, if for no other reason than it was a lot more quiet!


Being back has been amazing and totally rejuvenating. And, okay, it's not all been smooth sailing; my car got a flat on the first day I drove it and I also discovered I can no longer get out of the driver's side door without rolling down the window and opening it from the outside (#islandcars). Other than those minor nuisances, life is good. Scott is busier than ever at the moment, we are down pretty much all our captains this month so he is pulling double duty and burning the midnight oil every night to stay on top of everything. I am so incredibly proud of him and how he's managing because it is not easy. Meanwhile, the girls and I have fallen right back into swing. We have our little routine of breakfast on the boat followed by some morning outing/activity/playdate, then lunch and nap time around noon, then our afternoon outing/activity/playdate followed by dinner, bath and bedtime between 7 and 7:30pm. Of course there are variations and special occasions, but that's the gist of it. Lots of fresh air, playtime with other children, and glorious sunshine. The pool and beach are regulars in our days and then there's the beach bar, which in the afternoon is a hub of activity and where I can let the girls run free with their little friends to climb trees, swing from ropes, build with the beach jenga blocks or hold scooter races. It's simple, no fluff, fun. And mommy can have her afternoon spritzer or two (wink).

Speaking of scooters, our Micro Scooters have now become the preferred method of travel for the girls. These days, instead of me pushing a double stroller to and fro most of the time, you will find our little gang ripping around the marina like little skater girls. It's pretty hilarious to watch because they are so small and so fast, that it's rare for anyone who passes not to smile or giggle because they look so damn cute all in a row squealing and laughing. Yet another reminder of how fast time flies and how with every month a new milestone is reached when kids are little. There is no way I would have trusted them to fly around here a few months ago, but now - it's how they roll and they love the independence. Of course they are wearing their life jackets while doing so - they get ahead of me so quickly now and the threat of falling in is more imminent - the life jackets put my mind and heart at ease. "If they fall in, they'll float" I tell onlookers. Bumps, bruises and scrapes don't phase me. In fact I encourage those things with our girls. But water safety is no joke. Even though the girls know our "rules" and have excellent control over their rides, it's better to be safe than sorry. That PSA aside...we love our "scooter boards" (as Mira likes to call them, oh yeah - the twins are full on talking now!) and if you are looking for a great scooter for your child, you seriously need to check Micro Scooters out.

So that is where we are at. It's been a pretty great re-entry to boat life and we have been welcomed back to our adopted island with open arms. Life is simple and we are happy. The fact that our girls have made this transition easy makes me very proud of them and I sure hope that this flexibility continues into adulthood for them (it's a trait that doesn't come as naturally to their mother *coughcough*). Change is not always easy and rarely is it effortless, but it is good. And adaptability is what can make it great. Being back on island, back to our floating home? It's exactly what we needed.

Now...how they will handle pre-school three half-days out of the week? That adjustment might prove a little more difficult, for all of us!

Tiny space? No big deal to these kids. In fact, I think they prefer close quarters!
Always a great option for a morning activity
Scooter races are the afternoon activity of choice on many days
This is what I call the "Meyers Mimosa" - soda water and orange juice. 
Swinging from trees is always fun!
We spend a lot of time crafting and coloring as well, but these mess free Water Wow's are my fave!
"How old is that little girl?" is a question I get all the time about our fearless little Haven.
This is our backyard. I mean...what a view to take in every day. I love it.
Back to the baby pool bath on the aft deck - and we've now discovered that Joy dish soap makes the BEST bubbles. Score!
Beaching it in our SwimZip Swimwear SPF rash guards. Love our little beach babies.
Good bye sun, thanks for a great day! So happy to be able to catch the sunset every night again.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

A Foot in Both Worlds

As our time back on land comes to a close (how did two months go by that fast?) I am constantly asked the question, "Aren't you *so* glad to leave and go back?" It's hard to answer that because - for the last four years or so - Scott and I have remained, more or less, tethered to land. After a year and a half of solo cruising, we came home to have Isla and moved to Florida for six months after that to refit our boat. We then set sail only to return home a little over a year later to give birth to our (surprise!) twins. Two infants at once, as you can probably imagine, was a real game changer and we lived with my parents for a year while we adjusted to live as an insta-family of five. We were, for all intents and purposes, land-lubbers and, for us, it was the only way to be during that (incredibly difficult) season of our lives. We then began the process of buying a business on Tortola which dictated that we move off island for six months while the deal went through, and from now forward, as official "expats", we plan to come back for visits at least once a year to see family and friends and "get off the rock", as it were.

Land life is simply part of our life, and we are grateful for it.

So am I glad to leave? No. This visit has been amazing. Scott and I got away - alone, together - for the first time in four years to attend one of my best friend's weddings in Santa Barbara where (cough cough) Gweneth Paltrow (among others!!) was a fellow guest (my friend is a very successful Hollywood writer and, no, I did not meet her but could have touched her a couple times!), Scott got to spend some quality time with his brother on a motorcycle trip riding "the tail of the dragon" in Tennessee, we spent a positively beautiful week in Northern Michigan with most of Scott's family, the girls and I had countless playdates with wonderful neighborhood kids and kindred spirit mom friends, we got to see all of my immediate family and their families'...there were bonfires, play parks, museum visits and sleepovers...dinners out, talks over wine and spirit-lifting hang-outs with old friends...the list goes on. It was wonderful and went by too fast, and it's precisely why we keep coming back - because there is so very much here for us.

So, no, I'm not "glad" to leave ( though I am happy to be escaping winter!) - it is, in fact, a bit sad. We have a wonderful life up here filled with family, friends and - oh man - the general convenience of the 'burbs cannot be beat. But are we happy to go back to our little boat and little island? You betcha.


You see, by having one foot in both worlds, we are offered a unique perspective and one that helps us to appreciate the other world. I've always been one to caution the notion that there is any one single way to live that is better than another (i.e. land life vs. island life vs. cruising) because the fact of the matter is this: it's completely subjective and while many people love the above lifestyles, just as many do not. My best friend in the whole wide world came to visit us last season and one night, as we were sipping rum cocktails gazing out as the sun set over the water she said, "Britt...I totally get why you live here. This place is amazing and it is so totally you. You are clearly in your element. But me? No. This wouldn't work for me." It was not an insult and I was in no way offended.  I completely agreed with her because a) I know her better than I know anybody and, no, it is definitely not her jam and b) I know that our slightly alternative lifestyle is not a one size fits all kind of existence.

On the flip side, how she feels about island/live-aboard life is precisely how I feel about a more traditional, suburban/city life. I appreciate the convenience, the plethora of things to do, the accessibility to great restaurants and shows and of course the proximity to friends and family...but for now, it's just not for us.

And yet, we have an amazing thing up here. We have my family here and Scott's family just day's drive over in Michigan (seriously, the most underrated state in the lower 50 in my opinion. So. Damn. Beautiful.) and we get to spend time with them when we visit, exploring the woods, the shores of fresh water lakes, and - in general - living our days outside in the fresh air. Our girls have a slew of aunts and uncles who adore them and cousins on both sides whom they consider their best friends - these kinds of bonds are the very reason we keep a tether to shore. I have an incredible group of friends - some of whom I have known since I was five - who, despite our distance and once-a-year visits, are truly some of the most incredible people in the world and fill my life, heart and soul with love and joy...My girls adore their grandparents, they love our neighbors, and the relationships they have with these people are important to us. It's a pleasure to be here, not a burden.

We have the same level of appreciation, however, for our little island life. While the roots we have planted are new, we have begun to develop a great and very fulfilling existence. Our business is thriving and exciting to us. We absolutely love our "neighborhood" and cross-cultural community at Nanny Cay, the seeds for great friendships have been planted and are being sowed, the girls thrive like the wild little (often naked) bush children they are and I really love the slower and simpler pace of day to day living. Everything feels a little less rushed, everyone has a little more time and I like that. Our choices for everything from what to do to what to eat are most definitely limited compared to what is available up here, but what we do get is constant and close access to jaw-dropping, awe-inspiring natural beauty day in and day out and that, to me, is priceless. The water, specifically, is truly a salve to my soul and, man, I'm excited to get back and dip my toes into it. I need it..


There are also some very exciting changes on the horizon that if you follow our >>Facebook Page<< you already know... Scott was only back for a short while during this trip (we kept our business running year round this year) but his visit allowed us a quick trip to the East Coast to do some boat shopping. Yep, you read that correctly: boat shopping. Scott and I had a sort of "come to Jesus" type talk and decided that we needed a bigger boat sooner than later. Long story short: I am more than excited to announce that we are under contract with a 48 foot three cabin cutter-rigged monohull (more details soon, I promise!) and the boat goes to survey the day after the girls and I return to Tortola. To say we are excited about this new development is a massive understatement, but - like I said - the hows and why's of all this require a whole separate blog post and, until the boat passes survey (which it should) we aren't counting any chickens. Patience, please.

Another amazing change we will be coming back to is the fact that all three girls will attend a little pre-school three half-days a week. While I have been home with all of them as their major care-taker 24/7 for the last four and a half years, the time has come to give myself a little break - not to mention the fact the girls are literally begging me to send them to school. Again, there is a whole post here and I'll delve more into why we made this decision a little later. Suffice it to say, we did a lot of research, talked to a lot of people and decided that at this juncture of our lives - this will be best for everybody. We are all super stoked.

This trip home has been a fantastic "factory reset" - and while we are sad to say "goodbye" - there is so much to look forward to. While having a "foot in both worlds" might, to some, seem non-committal or even limiting, to us it feels like a huge gift and makes life a little sweeter.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have packing to do and lists to make! We are island bound in t-minus three days!

(and here is where I barrage you with a completely random assortment of photos of our visit! I tried as best I could to cut down from the 2K I took, but it was not easy!)

To all our friends and family who made this visit so great, we thank you! To those of you who we adore with all our hearts yet could not see this time around, we are sorry and we'll catch you next time! xoxo

Friday, September 16, 2016

Hello from the Other Side...My Musings On Truth Telling



It's me...

I've been wondering if after all this time you'd like to meet?


My gosh, I have been dying to write for weeks and weeks (how many has it been, exactly? Ugh) and as you may or may not know, writing (or, more specifically sharing) is almost compulsive for me and as essential as water or food to my mental well-being. 

In short, sharing is a salve to my soul.

So, while I have nothing particular to say, enough was enough and I decided, "Well, I will just write what I am thinking at the moment..."

So here I am.


When I am not chasing our very cute, very loud, and very exuberant brood or wasting exorbitant amounts of time on Facebook (Don't judge! Sometimes I want to just veg-out, chat with my girlfriends, look at pictures depicting impossibly perfect lives and read articles that either support or negate what a great mom I am...etc etc), I read...books. If there is one thing that inspires me, it is a really good writer. I read every night before bed (unless I hit the wine too hard, which - let's be honest - has been known to happen) and I polish off about two books a month this way.  I just finished most of the the works of Pat Conroy (wow), and have since delved into The Nest but, two nights ago, in a last ditch effort to find inspiration and creativity in what has become something of a slump, I started "Big Magic" by Elizabeth Gilbert. Sigh. The Queen of the truth tellers. These people, another of which is the equally inspiring Glennon Doyle (of Momestary fame), are the ones who speak scary truths with incredible bravery and transparency about life, love and the pursuit of happiness. These are the kind of people who I like to associate with, the kinds who inspire me to no end. The kind of person I want to be.

I've been thinking a lot about truth-telling for a number of reasons (it seems to be all around me in some way, shape or form) and how amazing it is; not only is it incredibly freeing it's the very thing most people want. Truth-telling breeds connections which grow deep friendships. Raw honesty is what sows the seeds which feed communities. An open heart is what allows for metamorphosis. And yet, truth-telling and being completely honest with ourselves and others is often the hardest thing to do. Believe me, I know.

But I digress...

If I a) know you b) like you and c) trust you (it's a gut/experience thing) - you will attest to the fact that I am 100% honest. Not in a judgey, "I'll tell you what no one else will" kind of way, but in the way that I will share with you my experiences with raw, honest, grittiness ("Oh, yeah. When my twins were born I 100% understood why and how some woman could drive a van into an ocean...") and you will feel less alone because YOU ARE NOT THE ONLY ONE WHO THOUGHT THAT. It's amazing to me how, when I am being honest with people - even strangers ("Man, I really wish I was a lesbian sometimes because today I really hate my husband...") - I can see a relief wash over them. It's like, "(Sigh) We don't need to do the pretend bullshit thing here and it is SO refreshing." It's why I know the deepest and darkest secrets of many friends (new and old), it's why a mom I meet in passing at the park becomes a dear friend, it's why my girlfriends and I are such a great tribe - we are honest and real with one another without judgement or jealousy, we shower one another in love and support. We have each other's backs in the biggest way and it's the way it should be.


It's easy for me to be a truth-teller in person among people who I trust and who share back with me (like anything, it's a two-way street). Where it get's tricky is here, on the world wide web where my audience is no longer a fellow sister who I am commiserating with, but thousands of faceless strangers who I do not know. I have been applauded before for being very open and honest about the good, bad and ugly of the cruising life and and I think more people are starting to follow suit... But there's always room for more honesty, more truth, more sharing and less judging and I am on a mission to be even more present and candid in what I write and say. I am working on living this truth myself and, believe me, it's not easy and - sometimes - really scary. None of us are perfect, in fact our flaws and struggles are what make us the most relatable, so why not expose them so that others can help us heal and so we may help another not feel so alone? It's really so simple. And yet...so hard. Because: FEAR.

Striving for truth means solidarity with the people who will make us better. The person who look at my kids in horror when they throw tantrum in a store, as opposed to the one who looks at me with eyes that say, "I FEEL YOU", is not the kind of person I want in my life anyway, so why aim to please that person? I want to seek out the fist-bumpers of the world and the people who truly understand that our greatest strength lies in true connection and togetherness. None of us can please everyone, and as hard as that can be sometimes, it is the way it is. In the infamous words of Taylor Swift, "Haters gonna hate". 


I have recently had several people meet me (via this blog) and tell me that my life (or the one I portray, anyway) looks a) pretty perfect,  b) that I look like such a great mom, c) that my marriage looks idyllic and d) our children seem so well-behaved. These things, while not lies, per-say, are not 100% accurate. Sure, we have some pretty awesome moments (and these are what are predominately shared on Facebook and on this blog) but they are only a small snippet of the picture. Please let me address these misconceptions lest you think the same:

a) On being perfect: Rest assured, if something looks "perfect" it most definitely is not. 'Nough said.
b) On being a super mom: I think I'm a pretty good to pretty great mom most of the time, but just the other night I lost my shit on my four year old so bad we both started crying. Momming is haaaaard.
c) On having an idyllic marriage: HAHAHAHAHA! (Excuse me while I wipe tears of laughter...) Oh, marriage. No. Just, no. Working on SO much here. There is love and there is good, but there is work and struggle and I have wanted to call it quits MANY times. Any marriage that calls itself perfect is either a lie or between two unicorns.
d) On our well-behaved children: Our girls are smart, adorable and the loves of our lives, no question about that. But they, too, are far from perfect. Just today I had to drag Haven out of TJ max because she was throwing a fit of such epic proportions I was afraid they were going to call the cops to intervene (you have never heard a scream until you have heard our Haven's). Spirited? Yes. Perfect? Nope. They fight, they scream, they back-talk and they melt down just like any other kid. And that is okay because it is normal.

So (wiping hands together) that is my little bit of truth for today.

And this is my goal. To become more of a truth-teller. To write more regularly. To cover more topics. To see where it takes me...


Anyway, it's naptime right now and I may or may not have had some sauvignon blanc so this could very well be a wined-up missive from the very sleep depraved hinterland of my brain, but maybe just maybe I am on to something here.

Either way, HELLO FROM THE OTHER SIDE! I have missed you. There is more to come (but, lets be honest, probably not anytime soon.)

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.


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.


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.


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.
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