Monday, May 26, 2014

Getting in the groove

 We’re slowly getting in the groove. After five days motoring south down the Chesapeake Bay, today is Day 1 on the Intracoastal Waterway. We’ve had fantastic weather so far, fantastic for us, that is. Flat calm with no wind. I feel bad for all the sailboats slowly motoring through the calm. But for us and our gas guzzling engines, we love the flat calm. Even when the Chesapeake Bay is calm, however, it’s still a little rough and rolly with little kids, especially a little one that is just barely learning how to walk. So it is a welcome relief to pass through Deep Creek Lock and enter the Dismal Swamp Canal and the ICW.
Going through our first bridge opening: Gwynn's Island near Deltaville, Va.

The generally very protected waters of the ICW mean a couple things for us: 1) it will be easier to move around on the boat for us and for the girls; and 2) we’re running only one engine today in an attempt to get better gas mileage. The gas mileage is a little embarrassing (about 1 mile per gallon), but we’ve set the money aside and are combining relocation expenses with a great three-week vacation.

We did this trip twice before: south on our sailboat in 2006 and then north again in 2009. As is the case in our relationship in general, we worked as a team. We took turns steering, navigating, talking on the radio with bridges and boats, anchoring, etc. We’re working as a team again, but in a different way. Hans is the definitive captain of Rhumb Line and I’m the first mate. We’re both insanely busy; it would be great to have a third crew member. Hans is constantly at work steering and navigating; I am constantly at work taking care of the girls, keeping the boat ship shape, and preparing and serving food. At the end of the day we’re both tired and thirstily gulp down our sundowners. 

Entering Deep Creek Lock, just south of Norfolk.
Here we go...down the Dismal Swamp Canal

I’m striving for more taking turns instead of division of labor. I need to drive the boat more and get more comfortable with more than just steering in a straight line. It’ll definitely be easier now that we’re in more protected waters--winding creeks and rivers and canals, with a few stretches of sounds and bays to cross. The motion of the boat is minimal and the engines are quieter.
Matilda kissing the baby doll.
Happy, face painted Freja

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Cruising with kids

Day 3: Rhode River to Little Wicomico Creek, Chesapeake Bay

We've been traveling slowly, around 8 mph, until we saw this on the horizon.
Hans put the throttle down so we could get to the anchorage before the skies opened up. 

Instead the storm blew north and south of us and we got a great sunset.

You know those internet/facebook cartoons: “what my parents think I do all day, what my boss thinks I do all do...what I really do all day…”? Here’s the cruising with kids one:

What I thought cruising with kids would be like:
  • Hanging out on the bridge/in the cockpit as we motor/sail along; the kids are happily fishing or reading or otherwise entertained.
  • Reading a book underway while the kids play in the vee-berth.
  • Playing down below for a couple hours then the kids nap while we read books underway or simply watch the horizon.
  • Anchoring early and relaxing on the back deck while the kids swim off the back of the boat.
A peaceful moment, which lasted all of 3 minutes.

An iconic image of cruising with kids.
(And our boat docked in front of our friends' house)

What cruising with kids is really like:
  • Both girls need 100% attention all the time. The boat also needs 100% attention. Hans gives the boat his attention, I give the girls my attention. But there are two kids and only one me, so invariably one of them is whining and crying while the other one demands x,y, or z.
  • So far the time they have been happily entertained alone, aka that elusive activity called “independent play,” has totaled about 10 minutes.
  • The one time I put both the girls in the vee-berth so we could anchor without them underfoot, I peeked in through the hatch and saw Freja first pulling on Matilda and then kicking her.
  • Even though we’re traveling with our home, we’re still traveling. Their schedules and natural clocks are off and we’ve rarely been able to coordinate their naps...meaning that, inevitably, one kid is always awake.
  • We have yet to anchor early. Partly our own fault for being eager, excited, and motivated to get miles under the keel, also because the weather has been great for motoring so we’re taking advantage of calm days.
One cool boat kid.
And her big sister in the dinghy.

All the boat kids we met when we were cruising on Whisper were awesome. Well-spoken, smart, mature, capable. I never gave the parents enough credit. I always thought that it was the environment that produced such great kids. But, a mere four days after leaving Philadelphia, now I know. It’s the parents. It’s the parents for taking their kids out of the easy world of houses, apartments, condos, grocery stores, schools, and neighbors. It’s the parents for turning their family’s world upside down and then providing the space for the kids to thrive. 

Parenting aboard a moving boat is much, much harder than I ever imagined it would be. Partly because I have a preconceived notion of what cruising is all about - those carefree, pre-kid days when our bank account was flush with cash and we were only responsible to ourselves - but partly because we have changed our girls’ “normal” and they don’t get what we are doing. Freja knows that we are slowly, ever so slowly, moving our boat to Jacksonville, but who knows if she really understands what that means. Poor Matilda, she just learned to walk and now her walking platform is literally moving underneath her. She is easily frustrated and injured and, as a result, I’ve pulled the ring sling out from the back of a closet and have started holding her in that more often.

Good days are really good. The other day we motored for nine straight hours in flat clam and we played and napped and ate and everyone was happy. But we’re still figuring it out. Not every day is flat calm and not everyone is happy all the time; parenting kids while underway requires more patience and hands-on work than I ever imagined. 

Freja petting Vuvu.

Jon teaching Freja how to squeeze limes.

Freja chasing Vuvu; Anne chasing Freja.

Getting ready for a feast: salad with local mussels and pan fried flounder.

Fun times with friends.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Portable sundowners

Back when we were cruising in our late-twenties, we would pull into an anchorage, crack open a cold beer or mix a rum tonic, kick back in the cockpit or on the foredeck and admire the scenery.

Now that we're cruising with kids, we get the hook down, throw some cold beers in a bag, pile in the dinghy and go ashore. Because the first thing Freja says when the engines turn off is: can we go for a walk?

walking on the beach off Rhode River with Mik

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Walkability, clean air, urban planning

Philadelphia is an old city, built before the car. Backyards are minimal, if at all; some of the streets still have cobblestones; there are lots of one-way streets and not a lot of wide throughways across town. It is made for walking. City living at its best.

I love where we live in Philadelphia. In a radius of two miles, we can walk to ... the Reading Terminal Market to buy fresh produce, meat, fish, bread, and dairy; we can go ice skating in the winter at Penn's Landing; we can hang out at Race St. Pier under the Ben Franklin Bridge; we can eat at any number of great outdoor cafes; we can shop at farmers' markets; we can ride public transportation; the list goes on. In terms of walkability, Philadelphia scores high. (At least our neighborhood does, and others that are located near Center City.) I am going to miss being able to walk and bike everywhere, with ease and not much sweat.
ice skating at Penn's Landing

hanging out at Race Street Pier

our favorite cafe, a short walk up the street

buying fresh produce at historic Headhouse Square

Reading Terminal Market

But I'm getting a little tired of city living. I love all the conveniences and the diversity and the activity and hub-bub, but I also loved spending time at my sister's house in Vermont where I could just push the kids out the door at 9AM and say "come back inside for lunch." By the end of the week Freja was collecting handfuls of worms and not caring if she got dirty. She didn't need a swing set or a climbing frame to entertain her. The air was clean and fresh and she was forced to use her imagination for entertainment. As for me, it was quiet. I could go for a hike in the woods or sit on the deck in silence. A flock of wild turkeys strutted through the backyard while the girls were napping.

I love the city but I love the country. Am I destined for suburbia? I hope not. But how do I marry high urban density with grass and fresh, clean air? Will I find a middle ground in Jacksonville? I hope that we can maintain some elements of our walking, or at least biking, lifestyle in Jacksonville but perhaps have a little more space to run around, go sailing, and plant a garden. I envision that getting out into nature, while perhaps not wilderness but at least nature, will be a little easier once we get out of this Wash-Phil-NYC-Boston corridor.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

nomadic vs. settled life

As we prepare to cast off our dock lines and head south to a new city, I find myself pulled in two directions: a nomadic life vs. a settled life.

Nomadic life
I love to travel. I love the anticipation of a new place and the excitement of getting there. I don't relish red-eye flights or long car rides, but I love the excited feeling I have in my stomach as I leave my known and prepare to discover the unknown.

I love to see new places, meet new people, eat different food, shop in different grocery stores, and observe different ways of relaxing, working, and childrearing.  How other people live fascinates me; different lifestyles make me reflect on my own life and ways of doing things. Can I relax more? Eat better? Exercise more?

Yet there is the pull of the settled life. While I don't long for a white picket fence or a golden retriever, I do like the idea of knowing my neighbors, having a plot of land to grow some veggies, and a box of Christmas ornaments that get dusted off every December.

The settled life
We've lived in Philadelphia for five years. That is the longest I have lived anywhere. When we arrive in Jacksonville and people ask where I am from, I will easily respond: Philadelphia. I'm settled here. I have friends. We have neighbors who look out for us. I have a routine. I know my way around town. I have favorite restaurants, bars, and parks. I belong to a church. Life is easy. Life is good.

The reward for staying in one place for so long: a sense of belonging. It is such a nice feeling to belong. I belong to a physical place and I belong to a community.

It's hard to voluntarily move from a city I really like with friends that I love, to the unknown. Philadelphia is safe. I know it. It's easy. But, at the same time, I'm chomping at the bit to get on the boat and travel south down the ICW and discover a new place and have new adventures.  Pushing, pulling.