Friday, November 14, 2014

Living Legends: 10 Questions with John and Amanda Neal

John and Amanda Neal are not your average sailing couple. At first glance, they look like any other pair of cruisers you'd see at a dockside pot luck; good looks, sun-kissed skin, Hawaiian shirts and easy smiles. You'd never guess that they are bonafide modern-day adventurers and incredibly accomplished sailors who have literally sailed circles around the vast majority of us. I met them last January and they are as unassuming as could be. But don't be fooled, they are anything but "normal". Having logged over 600,000 miles between them, it's hard to tell based on numbers and stats alone who is the 'saltier' of the two. At the tender age of 22, John took the helm of his 27 foot sloop and singlehanded from the Marquesas to Samoa (4000 miles) and wrote a best selling book about it. As a teen, Amanda sailed from New Zealand to Vancouver with her parents and in 1990 she completed The Whitbread Around the World Race (now The Volvo Race) as rigger aboard s/v Maiden, the first all-women Whitbread boat. Individually, their resumes are impressive and together they complete the dynamic duo behind Mahina Expeditions; the hard-core, hands-on, live-aboard sail training school that takes place in waters that most sailors only dream of.

I have been a huge fan of their website, which hosts a wealth of information on all things voyaging, since the beginning of this blog (check out their "boats to consider for offshore cruising" page for starters) and I still find myself referencing their site from time to time. These two are the real deal and it's my honor to present to you my interview with them:

1.  They say the #1 rule of cruising is to not have a schedule, yet you run a successful offshore sailing school that requires one which I imagine must be stressful at times. How hard is it to plan your itineraries and stick to them?  

It isn’t hard at all. I spend a lot of time researching the routes plus I’ve sailed most of them several times over the past 40 years and have a fairly good idea of what to expect, weather wise. I also crank 30-50% extra time in to the plan, so if we need to wait for better conditions we can drop some places we would normally have stopped to explore.

2.  You have done your fair share of sailing in both the big and little latitudes. Do you prefer one over the other? What stands out in your mind as the biggest difference between the two and what do you find the most challenging about high latitude sailing? 

We find the high latitudes more challenging, more difficult and more rewarding. Tropical sailing is lovely, and when we’re in Patagonia or the Arctic getting knocked around and cold and wet, we sometimes say, “What are we, crazy? Remind me why we left the tropics for this abuse?” We don’t prefer one over the other. We’ve just left the South Pacific after five incredible, over-the-top years. It was quite sad leaving several countries, but we’re already looking forward to return, although probably not for several years. (The biggest difference is:) The stronger winds, substantially larger seas and faster speed of movement of the weather systems. For instance, nearly each of the 15 or so times we’ve made the 2700 mile passage from Auckland, New Zealand to Tahiti on the northern edge of the Roaring Forties we’ve seen 50-60 kts and very large seas. On this passage we find professional weather routing very valuable.

3.  You do a lot of sailing instruction with people who are dreaming of taking the plunge into the live-aboard life. What would you say is the most common mistake or misconception your clients make/have when it comes to sailing/cruising? 


We frequently hear that folks find ocean passagemaking more physically demanding than expected and that their boats require substantially more time and money to maintain than anticipated. Another common mistake is waiting too long to reduce sail – which frequently results in damage to sails or rig.

4.  Similarly, you do a lot of consulting with people to help them find the perfect cruising boat. What is the one piece of advice you would give to people shopping for a boat? 

Give yourself plenty of time to find, repair and outfit your boat. Currently, the selection in North America for good offshore-capable boats in the under $100K and under $200K categories is quite slim. Unless the seller has just spent a substantial amount of time and money upgrading and preparing their boat for offshore, the purchaser can easily spend 100% of purchase price and 1-2 years in repairing and outfitting for passage making. The older you are, the newer the boat you should purchase, even if it is smaller, if you really want to go cruising.

5.  You and Amanda are both very skilled sailors with impressive resumes. What is one skill each of you possess that you found the most useful in regards to the cruising lifestyle? On the flip side, what is something you wish you were better at that would be helpful with life aboard? 

Amanda has an amazing situational awareness – when something breaks or there is a critical time, she can instantly figure out exactly what needs to be done and make repairs. I think this is partly a result of her extensive offshore racing background including completing the Whitbread Around the World Race as rigger aboard Maiden and surviving two hellacious Sydney-Hobart races in boats that slowly disintegrated. She wishes she had more interest in following the weather. I’ve found the ability to keep the big picture and plan ahead for everything helpful. Although we can both speak and understand basic French, I wish we had better language skills, particularly Spanish and Portuguese.


6.  Amanda is a very accomplished racer turned cruiser. Many women who cruise are following their husband's dreams and a rare few are as competent on a voyaging boat as Amanda. What is a piece of advice she would give to other women who are looking to boost their confidence and/or sailing skills?

  • Discover your learning style. Most women learn differently then men. Cruising World magazine commissioned me to write this four-part series of articles on women cruising.
  • Take the learning at your own pace and keep it fun and enjoyable. Don’t beat yourself up if something goes wrong.
  • Don’t forget to take time out for yourself and your own passions/interest, whether sewing, bird watching, dancing, reading, yoga, fitness or whatever. I often find the most interesting and happy cruising women are ones who take time to incorporate their own interests.

7.  If you could give one piece of advice to people who are starting out cruising, what would it be? 

Get off your boat and explore every chance possible. Don’t let your boat become all-consuming. Follow your personal interests and passions while cruising. Use your skills and ingenuity to make a positive impact on the places you visit and people you meet.

8.  You have made your life's passion (sailing/voyaging) your work. How do you not get "burned out"? 

We are never on the boat 12 months a year, and find most people who are, get burned out with cruising. We always plan ahead and find a safe place ashore to leave our boat during hurricane or winter storm season. As much as we love being on the boat, we’ve found it very healthy to have 4-5 month breaks each year. In the beginning it was because I’d always run out of money and need to head home to work for a few months. Now, even if we didn’t need to come back to work, we still would as we really appreciate the change of focus and pace. It’s a joy to catch up with friends and family and mentally stimulating to work, but by the time we head back to the boat, we are both really looking forward to it. 

9.  You sail on a Hallberg Rassy 46 (coincidentally our *dream* boat) - why did you choose her and if you could change one thing, what would it be? 


We looked worldwide for several years before ordering a Hallberg-Rassy 46. Some of our criteria: great sailing performance, protected helm position (the factory option of a permanent hard dodger is brilliant), substantial build quality as we sail in some fairly extreme weather conditions, extensive tankage (265 gallons water, 1400 mi range under power), simple and sturdy rig, moderate draft (6’1”) and tons of storage space. We’ve now sailed Mahina Tiare III 181,000 miles, the equivalent of seven times around the world and she is still in excellent condition. (For more, read John's review of the HR 46). The one thing we would change would be no teak decks. We tried to get HR to skip the teak decks, but as they’ve never built a boat over 34’ without teak decks, they have no non-skid pattern in the deck mold and wouldn’t do that.

10.  Of all the places you have sailed, is there one that keeps calling you back? I know it's almost impossible to ask "what is your favorite" - but...do you have a favorite destination? 

Amanda: The Azores – they are so fresh, small and romantic. We really love and are drawn to isolated, small offshore islands and the very interesting people we find there. Some examples: the Aran Islands off the west coast of Ireland, Norway’s Lofoten Islands, the Shetlands, Chiloe Island in Patagonia and the tiny, isolated islands of the South Pacific like Mopelia. 

John: I would add Vanuatu and Fiji for the islanders infectious zest for life and crazy sense of humor and Antarctica and Spitsbergen for the 24 hours of daylight mid-summer and how everything seems like it is in 3D and larger than life.

Want more of the Neals?

John and Amanda will be presenting at the upcoming Chicago, Seattle and Vancouver boat shows.
Sign up for their in-depth full-day seminar on Offshore Cruising (which covers 18 topics and includes their 260 page cruising companion) or check out their smaller free seminars on everything from storm tactics to outfitting.

Check out John's book Log of the Mahina - A Tale of the South Pacific about his journey to the South Pacific.

Aside from being an accomplished sailor, Amanda is a talented cook as well. Check out her book: The Essential Galley Companion - Recipes and Provisioning Advice for your Boating Adventures
All photos used in this post are by Tor Johnson and used with permission.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

What's the Top Sailing Destination?


"What is your favorite destination?" is probably the second most common question that cruisers get asked by landlubbers (after "How can you afford this?") It's a hard one to answer because it's kind of like asking a parent, "Who's your favorite child?" Each place is so unique with it's own special appeal and when it's all said and done, most islands and destinations end up balancing out based on their features, attractions and -yes- minor detractions. Some islands are known for their inland adventures, some are better known for their sea life. Some locals are friendly, some more aggressive. Some offer fun social activities whereas others are uninhabited. Cheap vs. expensive, beach bars vs. beach combing ....yadda yadda... All of the above work in a yin/yang sort of way depending on the destination, so to say what's the "best" is not only totally subjective but really hard because there are so many variables to consider.

So when LOOK Insurance Services ran their own list on the "Top 5 Most Exotic Sailing Destinations" and invited us to chime in, I decided to use their criteria of: 'climate', 'scenery' and 'clearness of the water' to come up with our "top destination".

So, based on those three things, the winner is (drum roll please)....The Bahamas. Hands down.

Granted, we've only covered a tiny sliver of the planet by boat but for us - based on our travels thus far - it doesn't get much better than the Bahamas.

Why?

To say they are "awesome" really does them no justice. But they. are. awesome.

When we were first planning our trip five years ago, we were going to skip this island chain and sail right for the British Virgin Islands. Our (embarrassing) mentality was, "If they are so close to the USA, then they can't be that cool". I know, what an incredibly ignorant way to think. More planning and the desire to take "baby steps" finally put this incredible island chain on our sailing itinerary and for that I am very, very grateful. We've cruised the Exumas twice and plan to spend a full season in the Bahamas in the near future. So what's the deal? I'll break it down for you:

The Climate:
Sharing the same latitude with much of Florida means the Bahamas are almost a temperate -yet still tropical - climate. We cruised there between the months of February and April and we never felt uncomfortably hot. Daytime it was bathing suits, shorts and tanks and evenings almost always required a light sweatshirt or long pants. After having spent two summers in Grenada (out of the hurricane zone) where it is hotter than Hades, I really enjoy/appreciate a place where you don't stew in your own sweat 24/7.

The Scenery:
When I scan through the sixteen thousand photos I have from the past four years (note to self: must organize photos) - the best are, bar none, the ones from the Bahamas. They are almost cliche in their "tropical island-ness" and each one looks like a photoshopped postcard. Except they are not. Low lying sun-bleached islands surrounded by water that covers every shade of blue and green from cobalt to topaz, from teal to hunter with endless vistas of sea and sky for as far as the eye can see. It's spectacular.

The Water:
Sigh. It's all about the water. The average depth of the Bahama banks is something ridiculous like ten feet. It's also as clear as the day is long. Literally. You can drop your anchor in twenty-four feet of water and watch it dig in to the pillowy, white sand (added bonus: anchoring in twelve to fifteen feet of clear water is so much nicer/easier than anchoring in thirty feet of dark water). When you are sailing, you can look over the rail and see red starfish thirty feet down. We have yet to go anywhere with water as beautiful as the water in the Bahamas (the Tobago Cays in the Grenadines come close, as do the Turks and Caicos). The windwards and leewards don't even come close to the kind of water clarity that the Bahamas dishes up each and every day.

....and I just can't stop there....

Other bonuses of the Bahamas:

The Safety:
This is a biggie. The only place we ever locked our dinghy up was in Nassau (which is the capitol and where something like 75% of Bahamians live, leaving many many islands completely uninhabited) and never needed to raise it or lock it at night (not the case just about everywhere else we've travelled). We never worried when we left our boat and we never felt threatened or harassed by the locals. Tourism is the countries "bread and butter" and they work hard to maintain a great reputation. Furthermore, because most of the islands in the Exumas can only be accessed by boat or small charter plane, locals in these very small communities really respect and love the visitors they do get. There is a peacefulness and serenity that is unique to the Bahamas and to experience it is something quite wonderful.

The Variety:
The Bahamas offer over 700 islands, cays and islets to explore. There are so many places to see that you can cruise the Bahamas for ten years and still discover new and interesting spots that you've never seen before. It's no wonder so many folks return year after year. Within the Bahamas are a slew of "distinct" island chains that all have their own 'feel' and offer up something a little different. From the Abacos to the Berrys, from the Exumas to the Raggads there is truly something for everyone.

The Solitude:
There are not too many places in this world where you can feel like you have your own private place. The Bahamas are one such place. We could travel with the "herd" and be among other cruisers when we wanted, but if we were craving some solitude - it was only a short sail away. With so many islands and so many anchorages, you are never too far from your very own paradise.

The Sailing:
Because of the way the Bahamas are situated, you can access most islands without ever having to sail in the open ocean.  The Islands of the Bahamas act as a natural wave barrier so if you stay "inside" the banks, you get all the wind but almost none of the waves making many passages in decent weather true pleasure sails. Also, because there are so many islands you can almost always sail where the wind takes you and end up in a great little anchorage. Furthermore, because the islands are so close together, you almost never have to do a passage longer than a few hours (aside from crossing the gulf stream) which is also nice for those just starting out or traveling with small children.

The People:
Bahamians are among the most generous people we have come across in our travels. We've been invited into their homes, their businesses and their churches with open arms. They have not been embittered by mass tourism and are just plain good. Considering that a large part of the enjoyment of travel is connecting with the locals, this is a biggie for us.

The convenience:
Being so close to Florida and the good ole' US of A has its perks and many cruisers sail to and from the states in a single season to either store their boat, do repairs or re-provision. Also - because the many islands of the Bahamas are all united under a single flag, you can travel between them without having to clear in and out of customs (which can be a royal pain in the butt), not to mention the fact that you can use a single SIM card to stay connected while you are there (as opposed to the windwards/leewards where you must check in and out and where you might need a new cell provider from island to island). The Bahamas truly are, "So close, yet so far away."

So there you have it. Just a few of the reasons we love the Bahamas.  So what do you think? Do you have a favorite sailing destination?  I also did an additional Q&A I did on the Bahamas for our good friends on s/v Necesse if you want to learn more!











Wednesday, November 05, 2014

The Tale of the Naked Sailors or "The Elephant in the Anchorage"

As many stories are told on this blog, there are countless more that go untold. Sometimes its due to a lack of time, sometimes it's because I don't find what happened particularly interesting, and sometimes it's because the situation is so awkward and the cruising world so small, that I need a little distance from the occurrence in order to feel okay writing about it. Alright, maybe that's only this one story. While that awkward feeling I felt so many months ago still manifests itself in a visibly pained expression on my face every time I think of it, my psyche has healed and the vision of random male genitalia that was once emblazoned into my mind has (finally) fogged and crazed like aged eisenglass. Thank God.

And so I bring you the tale of the Naked Sailors, or "The Elephant in the Anchorage":
(All details - like boat names [even though I couldn't remember them if I had a gun to my head] and islands - will be omitted to protect the nude)

Nudity is simply part of living on a boat in tropical climates. It's hot. Really hot. Air conditioning is a luxury very few cruising boats can afford so staying cool becomes a sort of obsession at times. Wearing actual clothes becomes burdensome and, unless we go ashore, underwear or bathing suits became the standard uniform for no other reason than to avoid adding more sweaty clothes to the laundry pile. It is not unusual in the slightest to catch a glimpse of your neighbor tactfully bathing naked off the back of their boat or to see a pair of boobs sunning themselves on the deck of a passing boat. Let the record show I have no problem with this type of nudity and I fancy myself significantly less "Puritan" and a little more "Hedonist" than my American roots might suggest. I mean, there was group skinny dipping each night of mine and Scott's wedding weekend and I've been to a healthy number of full moon parties in my day that could only be described as "bohemian".  That said, when the spirit of nudity borders on intimidating, well...that's something else entirely.

But I am getting ahead of myself...

We, along with our buddy boat, were pulling into a new anchorage that promised an uninhabited island, good holding and little to no swell. Neither we nor our friends had been to this anchorage before, and we were excited at the prospect of a new place. As we approached we noted that two other boats had lay anchor before us. No big deal. We readied our boat for our arrival by dropping sails, securing Isla and prepping the anchor. Scott took his position at the helm, I took mine on the bow. As we approached, I grabbed our binoculars to scope out a good spot.  Imagine what happened next like a scene in a movie:
(Fade in)
Scene: Caribbean Island. High noon.
{Wide shot: Girl on bow of boat approaching beautiful uninhabited island with binoculars around her neck}. 
Girl brings binoculars to her head.
{Cut to: Shot from the vantage point from the binoculars}
Girl begins scanning the horizon from left to right slowly. First, the view is of the ocean - and then, slowly, the edge of the anchorage and finally, the land with the anchorage in the fore-shot. A seagull flies into and out of view. Another anchored boat enters the shot as the camera continues to pan. Slowly, we see the stern and then a naked man standing on the starboard rail with his hands on his hips looking directly at binoculars, appearing thoroughly displeased} Cue sound: RECORD SCRATCHING. 
I repeat: Hands on hips. Staring at us. Completely naked.

At this point, we were approaching pretty closely - close enough for a good arm to throw a baseball from one boat to the other - and, as close as we were, most boats would give a passing wave, a friendly "hello" to the neighbor boat.  This is also the last acceptable point where most people in their birthday suits might take cover in the form of a towel or sarong, or perhaps a bold few might just turn around or hop into the cockpit so as not to show the "full monty". But not this guy. Nope. He kept his body perfectly square with our bow, hands firmly planted on his hips to almost accentuate his nakedness. Needless to say, I did not wave hello. I just awkwardly pretended not to see the 45 foot boat right in front of me whose captain was in the buff, staring me down. Being the more easily intimidated of our duo, I made a quick visit to Scott at the helm and hurriedly whispered, "Um...this guy up here is totally naked and does not look thrilled at the prospect of our anchoring near him".  Scott's feathers do not ruffle easily and his matter-of-fact reply was, "I don't care if he's naked. He doesn't own this place. We're going to anchor where we anchor and he's just going to have to deal with that". I groaned and walked back up to the bow: "Oh hi. Ohmygosh, where did you come from?!...Oh, hey! You're naked? I hadn't noticed". Riiiight.

By now we were close enough to have a conversation over the water and he was still standing in all his full-frontal glory seemingly trying to make eye contact with me. I pretended not to notice, tried not to meet his eyes with mine but there was no denying the fact that this man was aggressively displaying his birthday suit with (as far as I can surmise) the intention to intimidate us out of the anchorage or, at the very least, prevent us from anchoring near him. Unfortunately, the anchorage was only so big so this was kind of impossible. We were gonna be neighbors for the night. Oh joy.

While I lowered our anchor and Scott began backing down, the man - we'll call him "Buff", made a move - still completely naked, mind you - into his dinghy. I remained on the bow of our boat as we settled into place (as one does when they anchor) and saw out of the corner of my eye Buff approach the stern of boat #2 which was about six boat lengths to our starboard.  "What's he doing?" I wondered to myself when out of the second boat ambled another man also naked. WHAT the HELL!?!? From my periphery, I could see the two were having a conversation - probably bemoaning our arrival - completely naked.

And *this* is where this whole scenario got super weird interesting to me.

I mean, sure, the aggressive "in your face" nudity by "Buff" was a tad unnerving, but the communal nudity between two presumably married men (each boat did have a woman on board)...Now that raised some questions...

Questions like: how do two boats get to the point where they can be so comfortable to be naked together? And in front of others, no less? Did they meet on a secret "cruise naked" website? Were they swingers? Nudists? Did they all drink too much one night and decide to hell with their clothes? Was it some sort of tactic to ensure privacy in what can otherwise be crowded waters? Had they entered into some sort of bizarre "who can have the fewest tan lines" contest? Furthermore, did the group nudity ever come up between them all - like at dinner? "Isn't it great that we can all sit around naked together! Clothed folks don't know what they're missing!" or "You guys, I'm so glad we all decided to go nude - those bathing suits were so dang itchy!" or "Hey, would you all mind if I wear some boxers tomorrow, I got a little too much sun yesterday." I mean, what are the events that lead up to nude buddy-boating?! Inquiring minds wanted to know.

Obviously, we never did find out the back story. We left the next morning just as the gentleman from boat "B" was bending over, naked, tinkering/cleaning/fixing something or another on deck. It was a whole new kind of sunrise for all of us, and we opted to ignore the elephant in the anchorage and move on shortly after.

Wearing clothes.

Some people drop anchor, others drop trou. To each his own in this great world!

Monday, November 03, 2014

Thank You for Keeping it Real

I was pretty overwhelmed by the response to our last post.  It never ceases to amaze me which of my posts tend to really strike a chord with people.  They are almost never the ones about us traveling in beautiful locations or sailing to exotic places (i.e. much of this blog). Instead, they are the missives that I usually think of as rather mundane when I sit down to write them (or, of course, the ones that are the most dramatic). The posts where I find myself working out a particular conundrum or writing out the bones of a skeleton hiding in my closet.  I certainly never sit down to write something and think, "Now *this* is really going to get 'em!" Nope. These days in particular (since down time is such a precious rarity), I write when I am moved to write and I write from the heart. I don't blog for numbers and I don't blog to make a buck (though I probably should start monetizing a bit more). Sometimes my anecdotes are funny, sometimes somber, sometimes reflective - but the posts that seem to resonate the most are the ones where I am totally candid and shed light on the inner workings and struggles of a real honest-to-goodness human being.

When I say it like that I guess I really shouldn't be surprised after all.

If there is one thing that connects us as people it's the fact that - when it's all said and done - we all want the same few things. Safety, belonging and mattering.  In a world that, on the surface, seems more connected than ever, we grow more and more distant from one another. We share only our best pictures, put forth our happiest faces and create the illusions that our lives are much more interesting and satisfying than they really are. I think all of us do this at some level. I know I do. It's almost impossible not to. But it is imperitive to our health to stop perpetuating the fallacy of perfection, or at the very least, find a little place in this world where we don't feel like we have to.

So when we as humans share our struggles, pain, and weakness as I did the other week, people seem to enjoy it. They find it refreshing. Not because they revel in another's hardship, but because they realize they are not the only ones who struggle with fill in the blank. And if there is one feeling most humans do not enjoy, it's the feeling of being alone in this world (note: this is different from "alone time" which. Is. Awesome.)

It's easy to read a blog like ours and imagine our lives as perfect, when the truth is very far from that. Yes, we are blessed. Yes, we are thankful. Yes, our life has taken some interesting twists and turns that put us a little to the left of "normal". But "perfect" we are not. In the vast majority of this blog I have aimed to focus on the positive, which on one level resonated with people. But now I think I will strive to focus more on being real and honest. Obviously this is not easy, as it makes me vulnerable. But I believe I am a better writer and a better person when I can speak freely and truly (even though for the sake of my dad I will always try to swear as little as possible on the blog, despite the fact that I swear like a sailor in real life).

All this is my very roundabout (and verbose *wince*) way of saying thank you to all of you. I honestly have the best readers in the whole blogosphere as far as I am concerned. After my "limbo" post so many of you reached out to say, "Yes!! Me too!! Thank you!!" and I so appreciate that. I certainly did not see it coming. I know I am a terrible blogger who breaks the cardinal rule of blogging in that I do not respond to most comments (between email, Facebook messages and blog comments I am way behind) - but I am so thankful to have here a community of readers who are fellow human beings who (for the most part) recognize when another of their own is struggling (no matter how big or small that struggle may be) and who reach out to say: "you are not alone."

Thank you for connecting. Thank you for keeping it real. And thank you for allowing me to do the same.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

In Limbo: The Downside of a Dream on Hold

I studied Dante's Inferno in college. While I don't remember too much about the allegory, I do recall with pretty vivid detail his description of limbo.  It was a place teetering on the outskirts of hell specially reserved for people who didn't accept or deny Christ and "lacked the hope for something greater than rational minds can conceive." In other words, it was a place for people who made no commitment one way or another, an eternal hang-out for folks who failed to make conscious moral choices. It certainly wasn't heaven but it wasn't quite damnation either. Free thinkers like the poets and philosophers of antiquity (along with unbaptised babies) hung out in this limbo. Today, the term "limbo" is used more informally to describe state of being stagnant, that irksome feeling of going from nowhere to nowhere.  A period of uncertainty.

It also happens to be exactly where Scott and I find ourselves these days.
(And, no, Socrates and Homer are not here. Bummer.)

Every day I get emails from people asking questions on how to make their dream of living on a boat come true. They want to know the secret to breaking out of the rat race and find a way to fill the cruising kitty and fund their gypsy lifestyle. "How do you do it?" they want to know.

The truth is: we don't know. We have no answers. We have no magic to share. We're not living our dream. We're not making it happen. Sure, it worked for a while. But now? Not so much.

And herein lies the downside of choosing an alternative lifestyle at relatively young ages: Scott and I have no real fallback plan.

We sold our cars, left our jobs, and all our money went into our boat and our dream. We have no home. We have no significant savings. We are living with my parents for crying out loud (which we are incredibly grateful for because we'd be living in a van by the river otherwise). We have no idea where to go from here and it feels like we're starting from square one, except we're not in our twenties, but in our mid to late thirties with three small children. You can praise our lifestyle all you want, but right now we are hardly "living the dream". In fact from our vantage point (and I'm sure the vantage point of others) - we feel like utter failures.

We left in 2010 with big plans and enough money to float us along for a good while. When that ran out, Scott found work and we were, happily, living check to check while floating along. Bringing one baby into the equation didn't even phase us. It was all good and we kept plugging along. When we found out we were having twins, however, a colossal (and blessed!) monkey wrench was thrown into our life (insert sound of record scratching).

So here we are.  In limbo. Going nowhere. Stuck in a rut. And feeling pretty crappy about it. Wah, wah.

Since we've been home I have been in a fog of multiple motherhood and only now am I reaching a point with the twins that I feel like I can come up for air and take a look around.  Scott has been working really hard to try and make a decent income from various real estate outlets, but they haven't proven viable for the long term. We have no idea what to do. We're not sure where to go from here. We have no real plan (other than this one, for now) and no concrete ideas on how to support ourselves and our dreams moving forward.

I would love to be able to write more, to do freelance work and bring in some income (the blog and various affiliates do bring in a nice chunk of change, but certainly not enough to call "income") - but right now, almost all of my time is spent caring for our children which, mind you, I am very happy to do, but it's not leaving much room for anything else. Scott would love to find a gig that allows for us to live on the boat part time, and land part time but, as most of you know, that's a pretty tall order. Not to mention he has some pretty hefty gaps in his resume now and no real fall-back "career".

Choosing an alternative lifestyle, while it grants us some wonderful adventures and opportunities, has left us feeling a little lost and...for lack of a better word...stuck. We don't own any real land-based possessions to speak of, but we do own our boat, so do we move aboard Asante full-time? Do we look for job-opportunities in the British or US Virgin Islands and commit ourselves to a life aboard abroad? If so - what would we do? Thankfully, the door is always open with Island Windjammers, and Scott was offered a gig to be a captain and take out passengers on our boat - but then what would me and the girls do all day? Surely vacationers aren't interested in days sails with three babies on a boat and that's not really the kind of lifestyle we're looking for either.  Do we come back to land, rent a house and re-enter the working world with the hopes to save enough to take off again in a few years? We don't have the answers to any of these questions right now and that is a pretty unsettling feeling.

Has living in the "real world" gotten to us? Has our semi-reluctant re-entry into a society that values careers, home ownership and material goods tainted our dreaming minds? Have we been comparing ourselves to our land-lubbing peers and felt the sting that the life we have lead and what we have done is simply not valued here?  Perhaps. I certainly think this is a big part of it.

So when people write us asking how we do it, I am inclined to write back: I'm so sorry, but I just. don't. know. It worked for us for a while, but now that we have a family - and a substantial one at that - suddenly, everything is a little a lot more complicated. We want so much for our girls. We want them to be proud of us, to see what we have accomplished and, in turn, inspire them to work hard to achieve their dreams, whatever those might be. We want them to be happy, confident, strong and kind. We want to teach them to be citizens of the world, and the sort of people who dream big and strive to make the world a better place.

What we don't know is what that life looks like and how to get there. We've been floating along without any real direction or long-term plan for so long, that we've sort of atrophied our ability to steer.

Limbo.

Lucky for us, our "limbo" is less permanent than Dante's.  We are not eternally stuck here. We have the means to get out because our limbo is an intermediate condition, an intermission. We have no idea what lies ahead, but I guess that's what makes life beautiful, right? It's the uncertainty and the mystery of the future, and the lessons we learn along the way, that keep us moving forward toward something (hopefully) bigger and better than before...
“I wanted a perfect ending. Now I've learned, the hard way, that some poems don't rhyme, and some stories don't have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what's going to happen next. Delicious Ambiguity.”
- Gilda Radner

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Times When I am Grateful to Be Home: When We Have a Sick Baby

I guess you could argue that this never would have happened on the boat, and I would probably be inclined to agree with you (we never got sick with colds and/or flu when cruising), but when I noticed our sweet Mira's neck swelling unusually - on a Sunday afternoon no less - I was really grateful for a society with 'doctors' on call' and a state of the art hospital.

Let me back up a little...

Mira and Haven suffered their first colds two weeks ago. Sick twins who cannot breath out of their noses and have yet to master mouth-breathing is the tenth circle of hell; it's not the end of the world, not by a long shot, but it guarantees sleepless nights, super cranky babies and lots and lots of middle of the night snot sucking compliments of the Nosefrida (moms of babies - you need this thing!). Anywho... Haven's cold came and went over the course of a week or so and while Mira's seemed to do the same, her demeanor indicated otherwise. Our usually happy, mellow and chilled-out baby was fussy, cranky, and wanted nothing more than to be held. Something was up. We kept chalking it up to teething and remnants of the cold, but day after day she seemed to get worse and not better. She would wince in pain when we picked her up or put her down, and her default mood was fussy instead of happy. My instincts told me something was very wrong, and it was something I couldn't see. I took her to the pediatrician suspecting an ear infection. Nada. He gave her the once over, and even though she was wailing in pain while he examined her (which, I noted to him, was very unusual for Mira who is not a crier), he sent us home. I waited another day or two knowing something was amiss. A UTI? A broken rib? Something she ingested wreaking havoc? Knowing that something was hurting our sweet baby and not knowing what it was exactly was killing me.

This past Sunday she took a turn for the worse, I could not put her down and all she wanted to do was sleep. Typically, a baby who sleeps all day is a dream... but for Mira? This was very unusual and cause for concern. I had no sooner made the decision to take her back to the doctor on Monday when she lifted her sad little head up from my chest and I noticed that her neck, right below her ear, was significantly swollen and puffy. Knowing that's where the lymph nodes reside, I immediately called the emergency line for our pediatrician. I told the on-call doctor our history and what I saw, and she sent me to the pediatric ER here in our town.

Poor swollen baby :(
We've been here ever since. Mira had/has a sizable abscess on her lymph node and needed to have it drained in the operating room and receive a hefty dose of intravenous antibiotics. She is now on the mend and doing well, but we have to remain here for monitoring and more tests.

Lots of cuddle time
Those of you who follow our Facebook Page know all about this little ordeal (thank you so much for the outpouring of love, prayers and well-wishes, it means a lot), but I wanted to write about it here because a) that's
what I do and b) I have been in a hospital room with only one child for over seventy-two hours and I can only watch so much television. (I mean, after being a stay at home mom of three where I literally don't sit down for more than five minutes before 7pm, believe it or not, this feels more like a spa than a hospital.)

Thankfully, due to draining, antibiotics, and some great doctors and nurses Mira is (rather quickly) returning to her happy, mellow little self. She has been *such* a trooper and has hardly complained at all despite being hooked up to IV's and beeping machines and being confined either to my arms or a crib that looks more like a baby jail. She is winning hearts left and right around here with her smiley eyes and flirty grin, and - hopefully - we will be going home soon. While holding my baby while an IV was inserted into her chubby little hand, positioning her writhing body so blood could be drawn, and having her taken from me while she went into surgery will go down as a few of the hardest things I have done, I can say it is a huge relief to finally have some answers for what was wrong with her. There is nothing worse than the lack of a diagnosis for a child you just know is not right.

This whole episode - and the shockingly abundant down time that has come with it - got me thinking. Namely that a) I am very grateful we were here when this happened and that b) nothing, absolutely nothing, puts the world in perspective quite like having a sick child. Everything else is just noise and you'd give up everything and anything you possibly could to ensure your little one's health. That's a whole new level of prioritizing for me.

With challenge, comes growth.

On the mend and smiling again. Cannot tell you how happy I was to see this smile!
Sleeping angel.
Look mom! I'm in baby jail!

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

"Baby on Board" Flag: Gettysburg Flag Works (and a giveaway!)

Many months ago I was contacted by Gettysburg Flag Works offering us a boat flag. Flags and boats kind of go hand in hand (they are still used to communicate messages from vessel to vessel) and this fine company was offering us one of our choice. Unfortunately, we're already equipped with an American flag and all the signal and courtesy flags we'll ever need, so we weren't looking to add to our collection.  I was just about to send a gracious "Thanks, but no thanks" email when an idea struck me.  What about a custom flag?

I poked around on the website and sure enough, they do make custom boat flags so I asked if they'd be willing to give us a 'one of a kind' in lieu of a pre-existing flag and they agreed.  Super! Awesome! But what, exactly, would our flag be? Hmm.... We don't really have a logo, and I wasn't interested in flag that boasted a phrase or a giant margarita glass when it hit me: "What about a 'baby on board' flag?"  I mean, people hang 'baby on board' signs in their cars, why not have one for a boat? I got to work designing something in my head.  I had the vision of a baby face in a porthole and I bought the vectors to do it - but I quickly realized I lacked the design skills to create something of quality. So I resorted to my trusty Facebook fan base to see if we had any graphic designers in our midst who were willing to do pro-bono work and, sure enough, we did.  Really, really talented ones too!  We had so many wonderful entrants offer up designs but unfortunately, I could only choose one.  Enter:  the incredibly talented Jamie Pullar (seriously, if you have design needs, contact her: www.jamiepullar.com) she. is. awesome.


One of the earlier designs which we tweaked.


After emailing back and forth about what I was looking for and tweaking some of her early samples, we came up with what I think is the perfect "baby on board" flag.  Jamie is the real deal and I feel so lucky to have found her as I am definitely going to be utilizing her talents for future projects.  She works fast, understands a vision, and delivers professional results. Once we decided on the design, she sent the artwork over to the folks at Gettysburg Flagworks as per their requirements, and a couple of weeks later our (awesome) flag arrived.
It turned out better than I could have ever imagined.  This flag is a high-quality item and not your run of the mill, flimsy mail-order burgee. It's double-sided, measures 12 x 18 and made of heavy-duty nylon. The material is thick and strong, definitely meant to withstand the marine environment, and stand up to the wind.  The stitching is super tough and durable.  The print is crisp, sharp and clear.  It looks fan-freaking-tastic. We love it.  Whats even better?  It's a great company.  They were friendly, responsive and professional. I worked directly with Mike, the owner and CEO, and he was great. Thank you, Mike!

If you are looking for a cool and unique gift to give that special sailor you know, a custom boat flag that sports a logo, mantra, boat name or - heck - even a margarita glass, might just fit the bill.

The coolest part?  They want to give a flag away to one of you!  Gettysburg Flag Works will giveaway an existing flag OR a credit for $50 towards a custom flag to one lucky winner (sorry, only US addresses please).

All you need to do is:
  1. Post a comment on this blog post or on our Facebook Page explaining why you are deserving of a new boat flag, and what type of flag you would love to have (if it's custom, tell us your vision!). 
  2. Make sure to leave your email address in the comment (in the abc(at)whatever.com format) so I can contact you if you win.
I will chose a winner in the next week or so.

Disclosure: I was given a flag at no cost.  All opinions are my own.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

"Wearing" Twins: My Favorite Methods of Tandem Babywearing

"You've got your hands full!" This phrase is, bar none, the most common reaction from people when they see me out and about with our three girls ("Your poor husband!" is a close second). A mom grocery shopping with three kids under three is always going to attract some attention, but a mom grocery shopping while wearing two infants and pushing a toddler in a grocery cart gets a lot of attention.  She might even get her photo taken by strangers once or twice a week (no joke).  Unlike some twin moms, I don't mind the attention that our twins bring. Instead of getting annoyed with this very common (and understandable) reaction, I always smile back, raise my arms up in the air while my babies sit all cozied up on my hips in their ring slings and say "Well, technically, I am hands-free".  Then we all have a good little chuckle.

I have written pretty frequently about my love of "wearing" our babies.  When Isla was born I was gifted a Moby Wrap by a very good friend and that single gesture literally changed my life and the way I would child-rear.  Prior to that moment, I had never even heard the term "babywearing".  Sure, I'd seen the popular "baby bjorn" (a carrier which, by the waydoes not render the same baby wearing benefits as other carriers and wraps) but other than that, I knew nothing about it.  Once I learned how to use my Moby Wrap, I was obsessed and wore Isla all snuggled up on my chest for approximately four months non-stop.  Ever since, I have been a huge advocate of "baby wearing" and all goodness that it promotes between mother and child.

The benefits of baby wearing are vast.  Babies who are worn regularly are shown to have positive "attachment" to their parents, they cry less, and are (in general) happier.  Baby wearing has been proven to help physical, cognitive and verbal development as well.  The list of "pros" goes on and it is my personal mission to help expose as many people to the beauty of baby wearing as I possibly can, because I truly see it as a gift and something that makes motherhood (particularly twin + toddler motherhood) so. much. easier. And, let's face it, I am totally down with anything that allows me to free my hands so that I can easily drink wine enjoy the park with our toddler.

When I found out we were pregnant with twins, I instantly began to research whether or not it was possible to wear two at once.  Knowing how wonderful it was to wear (and simultaneously bond with) Isla, I desperately wanted to be able to share the same experience with the twins.  I hit the world wide web looking for answers and I found it in the form of "tandem" baby wearing. I am happy to say that our twins have been held and carried almost as much as any singleton baby. This is a feat that I am super proud of but one that could not have been accomplished without the art of babywearing. Sure, I might be an inch shorter by the time our twins turn one, but it'll be an inch lost to gain a mile. Or something like that.

Anywho...

Turns out, there are lots of ways to wear twins (or two infants close in age) and I have tried many of them.  When I get "into" something I tend to go "all in" so I have accumulated no fewer than ten different carriers in which to wear our twins and Isla.  I will go through some of my favorite types of carriers and carries in this post.  Please note:  This is not a "how to" (but I will post links to articles and videos when appropriate) and you should baby wear at your own discretion, as some of these methods require some skill and if not done correctly can injure your baby.  Also, I am not a baby wearing pro and all the opinions about the carriers and best ages of them are my own. Always check with the manufacturer and do your own homework/research as well. In other words, please do not sue me. Thank you.

Okay, here goes...

The Moby (aka "stretchy") Wrap:  The Moby Wrap was the first wrap I ever owned so it
holds a very special place in my heart.  This awesome PDF illustrates the many ways to use this wrap. It is fantastic for one baby, particularly a very little baby - but it is also great for wearing newborn twins.  I tandem wore the girls in my Moby wrap using the "twin cradle carry" for the first three months and it was fantastic. Once both of them started to clock in at over ten pounds, however, I found it too much weight on my front to be comfortable and because of the stretchy nature of this wrap, after an hour or so the babies would get all slouchy and saggy.  (This is the same reason you should not use a stretchy wrap to wear twins in a front and back carry, fyi).  I also found all the fabric to be very hot in the summertime.  If you are having a winter baby, the Moby wrap is your friend!

Cost: $40-$50
Pros: A super snug fit, baby is very securely attached to momma, baby is almost instantly put into a coma-like slumber once settled.
Cons: It's a TON of fabric and can be intimidating to learn the wraps. Not great for summer time as it can get very hot, not easy to take a sleeping baby out of it without waking, with twins you are really limited to only a front carry.
Best age: I preferred my Moby for newborns up until 3/4 months (but really babies can be worn in a Moby much longer).

The Ring Sling:  This is, right now, my numero uno preferred way to wear the girls.  I have Lite-on-Shoulder Baby Sling which are super affordable (some ring slings can cost upwards of $100) and they are, as the name suggests, light and easy.  I seriously LOVE the ease of use and convenience of them.  Most of the other methods of baby wearing I mention here usually lull the girls into a pretty deep sleep because I use the chest-facing positions which limit the view and provide closeness to mamas heart and chest (natural sleep aids), so when I don't want the girls to fall fast asleep (say, right after a two hour nap) I will pop them in the ring slings and we'll take a walk or go grocery shopping.  They get the benefit of stimulation but still have the closeness of mama.  When the babies are on me they are almost always content and hardly ever cry or make a peep.  We can go about our business happily and with no fuss and drama (as opposed to in a stroller where one or both are usually fussing at any given time).

Cost: $30-$100 depending on material, retailer and/or if you DIY
Pros: Very easy to get on and off, good for when you want babies to stay awake a bit (but they will happily fall asleep eventually if tired in these slings), these pack very small and are super easy to keep in a purse or diaper bag for when you need them. Good for summer as the material is light and breathable.
Cons: When wearing two, after an hour or two you will feel it. Not my favorite way to carry sleeping twins (I prefer the wearer-facing position on the chest for sleep).  When wearing two, you are definitely a 'wide load' (not, however, as wide and bulky as a double stroller). Sometimes it can be tricky to get the "seat" right if you are just starting out.
Best age: I prefer the ring slings when a baby has good neck strength and is a little bit more "sturdy", so from 3 or 4 months on.

The Woven (aka "not-stretchy") Wrap:  Many "hardcore" baby wearers swear by the woven wrap because they are so incredibly versatile. There are many different kinds but I have a size seven Didymos Wrap which is the size most recommended for tandem wearing. A woven wrap is similar to the Moby wrap, but it does not stretch and so it can be used for a whole host of carries that a Moby can't, like front and back carries (whereby one baby is strapped on your front and one strapped on your back) which are for sure the most comfortable way to wear twins, but also the most complicated.  If I am alone and need both babies to go to sleep and for whatever reason can't put them in their crib, I love this wrap because both zonk out after about five minutes.  The downside of using this wrap for the front and back carry is that if the baby on the back wants out, you must rouse the baby on the front as well.  The other downside is that you can't really see the baby on the back so I have been known to ask, "Hey, can you tell me if this baby is sleeping?" to the grocery store checkout clerk or a random passerby.  I have also resorted to taking awkward selfies with my iPhone in order to see the baby in the back as well.

Cost: $70-$250 depending on material, size and brand.
Pros: Most comfortable, balanced way to carry twins. Very versatile (many different types of carries can be done using these wraps)
Cons: Twin front and back carries are the most tricky and require the most skill, like the Moby, these consist of a LOT of fabric and can be very warm, not typically an "easy in/easy out" type of carrier.
Best age: Newborns to toddlers, depending on the type of carry

The Soft Structured Carrier:  I have five of these.  Two Ergo Performance Carrier, two Mei Tai Carriers and one Tula Toddler Carrier (for Isla).  These are great and super easy once your babies are sturdy enough for them. I have just started using these with the twins (one ergo on front, one ergo on back) and man, is it a breeze and SO much more comfortable for longer walkds than a tandem hip carry.  While I do prefer the closeness that the wraps and ring slings provide, as the twins get bigger these will be the standard way I wear them.  The carrier we used most with Isla on the boat was, hands down, the Ergo.

Cost: $40-$130 depending on brand/type
Pros: Super easy to get on and off, comfortable to wear, offers the most balanced way to wear twins.
Cons: Slightly bulkier than the ring slings, can get warm.
Best age: (in my opinion) 6 months to toddlers (you can wear younger babies in these using an infant insert but I prefer the snuggliness of the wraps to these for tiny babies)

The Baby K'Tan Breeze:  I am a big fan of the Baby K'tan Breeze.  I don't know of any other mom's who use these, but they are very light (great for hot climates or summer babies) and super easy to use (unlike the wraps, which take some practice) but still provide the same front cradle carry like the Moby or woven.  I have two of these carriers, one for each baby and I have tandem worn them on the front by shifting one baby to my left and the other to my right.  While this did work, it was pretty difficult to execute and very exhausting to have almost thirty pounds of baby hanging at my front so Scott and I use these carriers independently when we can each wear a baby and we want them to sleep. They are great to travel with when you want to pack light.

Cost: about $60
Pros: Light and super easy to get on and off, great for when you want baby to sleep, great for hot climates or summer months.
Cons: They don't feel as "secure" as the wraps, can't really adjust the fit, and you are pretty limited to the types of carries.  You also must make sure you get the right size which can be tricky. And while you CAN wear two smaller babies at once it is not easy nor pretty, and probably not recommended (I have just done it out of desperation).
Best age: 2-3 months and up since the fit isn't as snug.

So...if you are keeping track, that is twelve carriers for our kiddos.  Kinda crazy, I know.  But anyone who is into baby wearing will tell you it's an addiction.  Kind of like tattoos.  Or not.  Either way, once you start - you're not going to want to stop. It's healthy, convenient and a fantastic way to travel with the littles (by boat or plane or just out and about), way, way easier than carting a stroller (have you seen the size of twin strollers?!)  Wear those babies and you, too, will quickly see first hand the advantages and benefits. Happy bonding :)

Some notes on Babywearing:
  • Your baby might resist babywearing at first. This is normal. Some fussiness and crying does NOT mean you should give up and that they won't ever like it. Practice makes perfect. With all our babies, there were tears at first - but as soon as I started moving (sometimes I had to walk around the block) they settled and each time it got easier. Now, they get excited when they see me putting on the carriers they love it THAT much.
  • Many of these wraps and soft structured carriers can be used together. For example, you can wear one baby on your front in a Moby wrap and then have a baby on your back in an Ergo. There are many combinations that can be made with different carriers for tandem wearing!
  • Dad's (and others) can wear babies too! When we go out on "family walks" I often prefer to ditch the stroller and have Scott wear one of the twins on his front, Isla on his back and then I will wear the other twin. Super easy and fun - not only is it a good work out for mom and dad, but it promotes bonding and development for baby!
  • When wrapping, the tighter the better. It will feel strange and too tight at first, but remember how compact those babies were in the womb? That's the type of closeness you want. A snug fit is much better (and safer) than a loose one.
  • There are MANY more types of baby carries and carriers out there! Everyone has their favorite carries and carriers and what has worked for me may or may not work for you. Many communities have programs where you can rent baby wraps and carriers to see if you like them before you buy them so look for baby wearing groups near you.
Resources:
Babywearing 101:  Probably the best downloadable PDF illustrating MANY carries and carriers.
Babywearing Tips and Tricks:  A nice Pinterest board dedicated to all things babywearing!
Wrap Your Baby: A page dedicated to wrapping twins. Ideas and Videos included.
Babywearing International: Non-profit dedicated to promoting babywearing.
Choosing a Baby Carrier: A small explanation of the types of carriers.
Slings, Wraps and other Carriers - Where, How and Why: Article by one of my faves, Kelly mom.
Soft Structured Carrier Comparison Chart - This. Is. Awesome. And shows all the different types of soft structured carriers.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Baby on Board: First Family Cruising Vacation

As most of you know, we spent a week living aboard my dad's 47 foot sailboat last month. As much as it was a well-deserved vacation, it was also a test: could we "successfully" cruise and live on a sailboat with three children under the age of three? While I am all about throwing caution to the wind and "just going for it", I didn't want our family of five to fly down to our boat in the Caribbean without at least some idea what we were getting into. Sure, we cruised with one baby easily. But, three? Mark my words, parenting three versus parenting one is a completely different beast and it certainly doesn't take a genius to figure that moving our party of five aboard a boat might prove...challenging.

The answer is, yes. Yes we can thrive on a boat as a family of five. Granted, we only lived aboard for one week, stayed in marinas the whole time and we only sailed a measly fifty or sixty miles, but it was the litmus test as we needed. You know how they say if you can run a half marathon you can run a full?  Well, I knew that if we could do it for a week - we'd be able to do it longer. Prior to this trip, my biggest concerns were the following (brace yourself, they are not going to be what you think they were!):  a) how would the five of us manage in such a (relatively) small space b) would the babies be able to sleep in a completely new environment (i.e. not their cribs) c) would the girls be able to go down for their respective nap times without waking one another up (boats have very few, very thin 'walls' and are much noisier than houses) d) would Isla be too active and rambunctious for the boat (making sailing with her wholly unpleasant) e) would sailing with all three of them be nothing short of a cluster (insert expletive) and f) would the general mayhem of our daily life allow for any time to actually enjoy ourselves?

Answers: a) Fine b) Yes c) Yes d) No e) No and f) Yes.  A resounding yes.

While our trip was not without challenges (diaper blow outs, a couple of terrible-two style tantrums and a clogged milk duct), my major worries were put at ease after the first 24 hours.  Our sleeping arrangements were as follows:  I was up in the v-berth with the twins (to easily accommodate night nursing), Isla had the aft cabin, and Scott was in the pullman berth in the salon. It worked.

The key to the general success of our trip was to keep it simple and stick to our routine:
  • We kept our boat jaunts very conservative, only sailing a few hours from place to place, and only moving during good weather. Because of these two things, we were able to relax, enjoy some decent sailing, and never felt overwhelmed. We also remained flexible and timed our sails when the twins' went down for a nap. One two-hour passage was completed with ALL babies sleeping! That was a treat.
  • We respected our children's schedules. I know I sound like a broken record, but it's so true; well-rested babies are waaaaay happier than tired babies. The twins would nap every two hours (from their last wake-up) and we made sure that I was back at the boat to put them down within that time frame. It worked out great because it allowed for Scott and Isla to have some quality time together, and I could rest while the babies slept. Isla was always back for her noon nap and all the kids were asleep by 7pm (aka "wine time"). While sticking to this schedule definitely limited our daily activities, it was well worth it. I've said it before, and it bears repeating: one outing with happy babies is infinitely better than three with unhappy ones. We went hiking, perused a local farmer's market, hit the beach, went out for meals (yes, you read that correctly - meals, plural), and enjoyed family walks and window shopping in the quaint harbor towns of Holland, South Haven and Saugatuck.  
  • We packed light (well, "light" for a family of five). Aside from the necessities like clothes and diapers, we kept it very simple on the "entertainment" front; Isla was allowed one small tote bag of toys (which she hardly ever played with) and a nice smattering of books, and for the babies all we brought was their no-nonsense activity mat and small activity triangle.  We brought one click and go double stroller which we hardly ever used because I wore the babies almost everywhere we went, and - of course - we traveled with their carseats. And now for my personal baby PSA: While it is very hard to ignore the lure of baby-directed marketing which would have you believe your child needs a semi-truck of stuff in order to make it through the first year, if you really break it down (and/or have to be mindful of space) children need very, very little in order to thrive. For example, I was told that an infant swing was an "essential" piece of gear for twins and that I would most likely need not one but two. I opted out and, surprise! We've done just fine.
Overall we had an amazing vacation that gave us the confidence to know that we can, indeed, go forward with our conservative, yet ballsy, plan to bring our family down to the British Virgin Islands and cruise for the bulk of the 2015 season beginning this January. With there be challenges? Of course. Will it be a piece of cake? Heck no. Will it be worth it? We think so. Time will tell. BVI's or Bust! The countdown begins...
Our vessel for the week.  A beautiful custom Kanter 47.
Yep, we actually went sailing!
Daddy and Isla making castles at the beach
#wearthem
Image compliments of Paul Steinmetz who came upon us while we were out
Sundown in Saugatuck
Baby butts on the beach, we love our oversized microfiber beach blanket and baby tushes!
This little sunshine child is just at home on a beach by the water as ever.

This is what you call "extreme baby wearing"...a 45 minute hike complete with three hundred something stairs!
Big Red lighthouse
Overlooking the beautiful Lake Michigan from a dune in Saugatuck
Outdoor, casual venues with high tables, fast service and strong drinks were our restaurants of choice ;)
Daddy wears the kiddos too! I use a Tula Toddler carrier for Isla.
Who needs toys when you can have a tether and harness to chew on?
Yep, she's flying a kite all by herself!
Sunset on Lake Macatawa
We travel so light sometimes, that we even forgot her swimsuit.  Lucky for the birthday suit!
These two were a real hit around town and on the beach.  They loved feeling the sand under their bellies.
Teething, boat baby style.
Isla is so at home on a boat.  Just happy and easy. No need to hover over her, she will happily sit on deck and watch the horizon. Quite a feat for a very active 2 year old. "Once a boat baby, always a boat baby" ;)
Happiness.
Isla quickly makes friends wherever she goes. Hike!
Morning playtime in the v-berth.  A whole lot of estrogen right here! Poor Scott.
Happy on the beach.
Me and our first boat baby, the best deck swab and sailing buddy ever. My sunshine, my heart, my love.
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