Wednesday, August 27, 2014


Dreaming of distant horizons
When I was nearing college graduation, a number of friends were joining the Peace Corps or heading off to do a year of Fulbright Research. I took a job at a law firm. And, right now, as we have no plans to be going anywhere exotic for the next 3-7 years, the Peace Corps is looking pretty good. Except for the minor details of a husband and kids. Family Peace Corps?

I took a personality quiz* the other day. You know the kind that boil you down to a few letters: IPFJ or JPNE. Me? ENFP. Which means:


I told Hans that I’m an ENFP: 

“So I’m an ENFP. That means I’m and extroverted dreamer. I love social events and being with other people, but I also love getting to know someone and their emotions. Also, I don’t hide my emotions and I’m easily excited.” (Yeah. I don’t have a poker face.)

He almost spit out his beer, gathered his composure and said: 

“Well, I’d say that’s not all exactly wrong.”

[A little Swedish cultural lesson here: If a Swede likes a meal, especially a northern Swede, like Hans, they say something like: “I’ll be able to keep it down.” Or, “It’s not that bad.”]

The positive aspects of an ENFP: I’m a dreamer, an idealist, and a free spirit. I’ll take them.

I do spend a lot of time dreaming. I’m currently reading two books at once, not something I like to do but I can’t put either one down. The first is the account of a family’s sailing trip around the Bahamas and Caribbean and their travels in South America. The second is about a scientific expedition in Antarctica where the team purposely froze their boat into the ice and used the boat as their base to conduct research on penguins and ice floes in Antarctica in the winter. 

I can definitively say that I will not be sailing to Antarctica. I will, however, be sailing in the Bahamas again, hopefully soon.

My happy place: sailing in the crystal clear water of the Bahamas.
We’re at the dock for the next three years while Hans does his residency. He gets a few weeks of vacation each year and I’m already planning 10 weeks of vacation for the 3 that he actually is allotted. But I’m not content to dream about the vacation weeks. I’m dreaming about our future lifestyle. According to my test results, “ENFPs are fiercely independent, and much more than stability and security, they crave creativity and freedom.” Yes.

My free spirit is taking over my thoughts. Where will it take us? What adventures will we embark on? Will we circumnavigate? Hop from campground to campground in eastern Europe? Rent an apartment in a South American city for six months? 

Quito, Ecuador. Amazing geography, a beautiful historic city, and friendly people.
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I realize that I will only ever dream about expeditioning. It is doubtful that I will go on an adventure that will be physically demanding or uncomfortable. It’s not that I need or want the Ritz Carlton, but I’m more interested in people and culture than summiting the highest peaks or sailing to the most remote anchorages. 

So, nearly 15 years after college graduation, I realize that maybe I should have joined the Peace Corps after all. It certainly would fit my personality type. Seriously. Is there a Family Peace Corps?

*You can take the same quiz here

Friday, August 22, 2014


The daily life of a stay at home mom (SAHM) isn't all play dates at Starbucks and a long nap in the afternoon. Sure, those do happen, but more often than not I'm either cleaning, quelling temper tantrums, or rolling out playdough snakes. It's busy, and it's boring. Yes, boring.

We play games like "ring around the rosie" and sorting shells from little animals. We color with crayons and stickers are a hot commodity. 20 and 24 piece puzzles are the new challenge.

We make music,

we paint,

we wear shorts on our heads,

we have conference calls with our Aunt Angie,

and we eat. It's an action-packed life.

Sometimes I don't have time to play because I have work to do. Dishes to wash, toilets to clean, laundry to fold and put away. Sheets need to be changed. What are we having for dinner tonight?

My days are full. They're jam-packed. But I get bored. What is lacking? My job isn't what you'd call "intellectually stimulating." It's challenging, frustrating, demanding, exhausting, labor-intensive, fun, and demands an insane amount of multi-tasking, but it doesn't engage the critical thinking portion of my brain.

For awhile I thought that what I was missing was the end result you get from a professional job. I thought I needed to produce something. Something tangible, something bigger than me, something beyond the preschool crowd. I pumped a lot of energy into writing a nonfiction memoir about our sailing trip in the Caribbean.

I loved writing the book, but I loved the process more than the end result. The process: critical and analytical thinking. The kind you get when you work in a professional atmosphere where you have to write reports, organize a team, or do research. Teamwork, the back and forth exchange of ideas, compromising, expanding. Recognizing a problem or a need and tackling it to its solution. I miss the give and take and the thinking that takes place at work.

This, apparently, is my "thinking" look.
Listening to the commencement speaker at Hans's graduation, May 2014.
I don't, however, miss work. I love staying home with my girls. I don't want to change that, but I do need to expand my daily horizons so I'm feeling more personally challenged. How?

  • I listen to the radio, a lot. I love news and politics so I keep abreast of what's going on in the world and in my neighborhood.
  • I'm writing every day. Writing is a great way for me to organize my thoughts and expand my thoughts. Like talking with a good friend, the more I write, the more I learn about myself.
  • I'm trying to write better. I'm taking my time with blog entries and I'm thinking of each one as an article as opposed to a personal journal. Complete sentences, big words (!), humor (at least I try).
  • I'm reading non-fiction books. What are other people doing? How can I be inspired? 
  • I'm brainstorming ways to get involved in my community through volunteer work or a part-time job.
It's so easy to get stuck in the rut of cooking, feeding, cleaning, playing, cooking, feeding, huh? What day of the week is it? I don't want to end each day feeling drained. I need to refill my own pot and, as much as I love Facebook and Pinterest, it's going to take a lot more than surfing the web to keep me inspired, engaged and fulfilled.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Being frugal

Sometimes I feel like I'm still in college. I still shop at thrift stores. I still eat rice and beans. I still seek out coupons for half-price haircuts.

I was frugal in college because I didn't have very much spending money. Post-college, Hans and I drove across country with $500 in our bank account and a case of box mac & cheese in the back seat. I remember precisely the three times we ate out in six weeks of traveling. My frugality continued when we moved to Washington, DC and started to actively save for our sailing trip. Yes, there were rules: One meal out once a month. Weekly allowance of $20 per person. All furniture must be found or gifted.

Life was good when we were cruising because, well, we were in our twenties and we were sailing around the Caribbean. Our expenses were minimal so we could live high on the hog. (Translation: we could treat ourselves to a burger for lunch every now and then. Of course we never skimped on the beach bars.)

Living the good life at the Soggy Dollar Bar on Jost Van Dyke, BVI
Moving to Philadelphia and starting medical school put the brakes on spending, big time. We were back to our college budget in an expensive city. Back to the thrift stores, back to budgeting, back to frugality.

But it's easy to be frugal when you live on a boat. Our expenses are low, our rent is low. We can't buy much stuff because we have nowhere to put it. Our vice is eating out. We love to eat out. Luckily for us, but not our bank account, Freja loves to eat out too. Bubbla vatten (club soda) and french fries. Oh yeah!

Baby Freja at a waterfront restaurant in Sarasota, FL,
patiently waiting for her club soda and french fries.

Besides eating out, we manage to live comfortably without shelling out a lot of cash. What does living frugally look like on a boat? Probably not that different from living frugally on land.

Phones. Hans has an iPhone because he needs it for work. I am home a lot so I get my internet fix on my computer while the girls are sleeping (via free wifi from the marina). I have no need for a smartphone so make do with a "burner." A tiny little phone that makes texting difficult but works fine as simply a phone and has cheap monthly bill.

Clothes. Hans chose a profession that allows him to wear pajamas to work. Not literally pajamas, but have you ever worn a pair of scrubs? Pretty comfy. How convenient that I, too, have chosen a profession that allows me to wear pajamas to work. "Mamma, can I wear my pajamas all day today?" "Yeah, sure. Why not?" ('Cause that's what I'll be wearing.)

no shirt and tie needed!
Car. Hans drives our car to work, a 2003 Volvo S60 that we bought 4 years ago for $6k and still runs beautifully. I tow the girls around in a bike trailer that cost $125 used and has no insurance premiums or maintenance costs.

our car, buried in snow in VT
Furniture. Add ten points in the liveaboard lifestyle: all furniture except the couch is built-in. We just purchased a new mattress for our bed, replacing the original which is 25 years old. $200.

Toys. Another ten points for living aboard: the girls have very few toys (no space). I am tempted to buy them new toys all the time. There is always something new they would love, but we have no space. Freja and I rotate the toys every week or so which keeps it interesting for them and the stuff in our main cabin sort of under control. A (relatively) large cubby hole by the galley table is dedicated to art supplies.

What do the girls do instead of playing with the latest and greatest toy? Art, crayons, stickers, playdough. And we go outside. A lot.

A homemade pirate. No need to buy a store-made costume. Add some face paint and a scarf, thrift store vest and, voila!
"Arrrgh matey!"
Bathroom sundries. Even though Hans is a doctor, our first aid kit and supplies are relegated to two small tupperware boxes, smaller than shoeboxes. One for the girls, one for us. I don't wear a lot of makeup or jewelry; Hans is a toothbrush/paste and deodorant kind of guy. We share the same shampoo and don't buy OTC medications for each ache and pain and cough. Ibuprofen works!

Food. I try to make menus for a few days in a row, finding that if I stick to a menu then we eat the food I buy and I buy less. For the environment and for our health, with a trickle-down affect on our bank account, I try to alternate meat days with vegetarian days. Of course, we are such suckers for eating out. We love to eat out. So I may not have fancy clothes or fine jewelry, but we certainly support the local food economy!

On the other hand, living on a boat, being a boat owner, also can be pricey. Let's not forget our starboard engine that needs a rebuild that will cost anywhere from $3 to $5k. Or the new fridge we had to buy that cost $1300. Or the new air conditioner that recently set us back another $1300. Silicone, duct tape, electrical fittings, new tools to replace the ones that fell in the bilge or in the drink: these are all maintenance costs that add up quickly on a boat. Homeowners are familiar with these types of numbers, I'm sure. But when a pipe springs a leak on a boat, or when a bilge pump stops working on a boat, it has to be fixed immediately. Our home could sink! Procrastinating maintenance, repairs, and the associated equipment isn't an option on a boat.

If something's broken, we've got to fix it. DIY as much as possible.
I live frugally out of necessity (income and space limitations), but since it's been part of my lifestyle for so long, it isn't hard and I don't really think about it. Of course I do have a wish list of things I want: Toys for the girls, kitchen gadgets, shoes, clothes, books. But, then, where would I put it? And do I want the kind of lifestyle that makes space (both literal and figurative) for all that stuff? What would I be trading in to go from living small and minimally to having more creature comforts and luxuries?

Friday, August 15, 2014

Choosing a life afloat

Why do I liveaboard? Why do I choose to live on a boat that is 36’ long and 14’ wide with my husband and two small children? 

I can easily tell you why someone wouldn’t want to choose this life. The lack of space, lack of privacy, lack of a yard or garden, lack of appliances, lack of lack of lack of.

It's pretty small. Main cabin (living room) looking forward.


Yes, our floating home is lacking a lot of comforts and stuff that has become standard in the modern world. But we make up for it ten-fold with the things we have that we wouldn’t necessarily get if we lived on land.

Economies. Economy of scale and and fiscal economy.

Our space is small so we only have exactly what we need. 

Shoes and clothes
I have a few pairs of shoes, each of which matches a number of different outfits and occasions. I wear my shoes until they wear out and then I carefully consider the replacement pair. The same goes for clothes. I rummage through the racks at thrift stores for higher quality brands in similar styles and complementary colors so I can mix and match. 

The galley (kitchen)
We have four pots and pans: a 9” cast iron skillet with high sides, a 9” cast iron pancake pan (pankakor pan), a 3 quart stainless steel pot, and a very small 1 quart pot. Plus a tea kettle. We have one wooden spoon, one spatula, one whisk, one cutting board, etc. The exception: we have quite a number of knives on a wall-mounted magnetic rack, because you can’t cook without good knives.

And it is possible to make amazing birthday cakes, like Freja's pankakor torte for her 3rd birthday.

We have one sheet set for the vee-berth bunks, one cotton and one flannel sheet set for our bed, one towel per person, a few hand towels, and many, many washcloths (to wipe little faces after meals).

I’ll stop inventorying our boat otherwise I’ll be tempted to stop writing and start filling some bags to bring to Goodwill. Of course I do have to mention the absolute lack of stuff  needed to raise kids on board. And this can only be considered a good thing. No crib. No big high chair. No changing table/dresser combo. And the lack of toys. Oh joy, the lack of toys!

Freja finding a cozy spot next to her tiny kitchen we found in Sweden.

And the kitchen strainer is always a fun toy.

No big bathtub but two tubs that can be brought out to play in on the back deck.

Matilda, summer 2014.
Wearing the exact same clothes and hat Freja was wearing during summer 2012.
Reduce, reuse, recycle.
My point is that we have exactly what we need and we aren’t trapped in the endless cycle of consumerism and waste. It is nice to buy shiny new things at the store, but, in the long run, shopping isn’t fulfilling and doesn’t make me happy in the same way as spending a day at the beach or eating a nice dinner does. 

Economy of scale directly translates to fiscal economy. It’s cheap to live on a boat. Not only do we not spend money on stuff, marina fees are much much lower than rent and things like parking, internet, laundry, trash, water, and a community pool are included in our monthly slip fee. We’ll gradually pay off our student loans and gradually work our way back to the kind of economic freedom we enjoyed when we were cruising in the Caribbean. 

In the meantime, a liveaboard life isn’t a static one. Even if we are living at the same marina for years, just by virtue of living on a floating home that has the ability to take us places (say from Philadelphia to Jacksonville!), we live with the possibility of the dream. Open horizons. Adventure. Sure, we’re not going anywhere anytime soon. We’re tied up with work and the care of two small children, but at least we can sit on our back deck with cold beers and dream about going somewhere, knowing that the dream can be a reality. We can chat with active cruisers and live vicariously through them. The proximity to the dream makes it seem more real.

dreaming of this ...

and this ...

and this.


and this.

A boater’s proximity to nature is another compelling reason that keeps me living aboard. I know when it’s raining, I know when the temperature changes a couple degrees, I know when the sun rises and sets. I’m conscious of how much plastic and packaging I bring aboard and how much trash I make, because I have to bring it all off again. We wear clothes multiple times before washing because we have to haul everything up to the marina laundry. Alternatively, I do tons of small loads in our mini onboard washing machine. So the choice is daily laundry or hauling heavy bags to and fro. It’s easy to wear clothes 2, 3, or 4 times before washing. I use eco-friendly cleaners like vinegar because all of our gray water goes overboard. One-ply toilet paper because our septic system is sensitive. What am I lacking? Compost. Oh don’t get me wrong, I make a lot of compost, but sadly it all goes in the trash because I don’t have the space nor need for a compost bin.*

Hello beautiful sunset, Philadelphia, summer 2013.

And hello intense storm, near Savannah Georgia, summer 2014.

Of course, the main reason that I liveaboard is happenstance. We first moved aboard with the goal of cruising the Caribbean. We did that and when we moved back to the States we just never moved back onto land. This boat is my home. Why go anywhere else? I can wax poetic about the sunrises and the wildlife and the simple life, all of which make living aboard pleasant, but, the bottom line, when I’m on my boat, I’m home. I’m comfortable, I’m happy, I’m safe. I have what I need and what I want. (Again, see*.) Why live anywhere else?

Yet, yet … the majority of the world lives on land, so what kind of person has chosen this floating life? If you want to meet an oddball or two take a walk down the nearest dock. Liveaboards tend to be an eccentric breed. Liveaboards fit in all different boxes: young people, hippies, retirees, early retirees, families, religious missionaries, tax evaders, bachelors, part-time cruisers. You name it and you’ll probably find it. 

I think I’m a pretty run-of-the-mill, upper-middle class white American. What is it about my personality that makes me a successful liveaboard? I’m pretty low maintenance. Makeup? Eh. Clothes? Eh. Shoes? Eh. Fancy electronics? Eh. I love the internet but I see the value in unplugging. I’m a bit of a DIY-er, though I hate to do blue jobs. I get tremendous satisfaction from the self-sufficiency that living aboard demands. I like the simple life, but I also like to eat out. I like being on my own floating island, but I also need a large circle of friends and daily social interaction.

There is no specific personality that guarantees a successful liveboard, just a willingness to be different, learn, live with less, live simply, be open, and, perhaps most importantly, not be prone to seasickness.

*I wish I had the need for a compost bin. I love so many things about my life aboard; I’ve learned to live with so many idiosyncrasies about life aboard; I don’t sit around pining for such-and-such landlubbing amenity. Except a garden. I would LOVE to have a yard and a garden. Yes, I have seriously considered finding some undeveloped waterfront land where we can park the boat and grow veggies.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

How to build community

Our marina community at a recent pirate party.

Community: one of those big words that can mean a lot depending on your vantage point. Tag a few words to it and it gets even bigger.

Community supported agriculture
Community Development Corporation
Community Network Center
Community Room
Facebook community
Church community
Neighborhood community group
Marina community
Boating community


Community changes over the years.

  • Babies: They like their moms and dads.
  • Preschoolers: They still like their moms and dads but are also figuring out that other kids are fun too.
  • Grade-schoolers: Moms and dads, friends too.
  • Teenager: Mo- and who? Friends.
  • College: Friends and teary calls home asking for a bank deposit.
  • Twenties: Friends, and now colleagues.
  • Thirties: Friends with kids. Colleagues. Parents and siblings.
  • Forties: Ditto.
  • Fifties: Friends and colleague.
  • Sixties to ??: Friends, siblings, and kids.

The basic: community is people getting together. We all need it. Almost all of us want it. But how do we build it? How do we find community that matters and how do we build that community into a lasting network of people, resources, and support?  Hint: Facebook helps, but you've got to get up off the couch and get out there.

Figure out what you like to do, or what you spend the most time doing, and then find people with similar interests and schedules. And then, here's the key, put yourself out there. Make phone calls. Send emails. Send texts. Invite people over for dinner. Meet at the bar. Meet for lunch. Organize a picnic in the park. Keep inviting,  (but don't turn into a crazy stalker), keep organizing, keep planning. Set up a weekly potluck or drinks hour. A circle of friends will develop around similar interests and before you know it, bam! You'll have community.

Proximity. Spontaneity. Repeat, frequent meetings. These are three elements to making friends, and to making a community.

Social media, like Facebook and Meetup, is awesome for community building. It's easy to create a group: Shuffleboarders of the Greater Boise Area, for example. People can go online, find others with similar interests, "meet" in a non-threatening space (online), and organize activities for anyone to join. Fear of rejection is minimal because you've already been accepted, per se, by virtue of joining the group. Activities are easy to organize and contacts are quickly made.

Get online, then get out there. Make new friends, find new things to do. We all need a tight circle of friends, but then we all need that bigger group of friends and acquaintances to inspire us, encourage us, entertain us, and support us.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Take the stairs!

Two side-by-side stories on NPR yesterday caught my ear.  

The first: Americans’ waistlines haven’t expanded over the past twenty years because of what we eat or how much we eat, but, rather, because of how sedentary we have become. Weight gain, loss, or stability is a simple matter of calories in - calories out. So does this mean I can subsist off a diet of ice cream alone as long as I make sure to put the spoon down for long enough to burn off an equal amount of the calories? Could I live on a diet of Big Macs? Pizza? Chips? And still weigh the same as I do now on my whole foods diet?

I’m starting to feel sick already. Let’s not begin to think about what all that fat would do to a body’s organs, circulation, or brain cells. Not to mention the environmental consequences of an all-McDonald’s diet. 

But, at least according to some experts, it doesn’t really matter what you eat as long as you expend those calories. Calories in - calories out. Move over Atkins, Paleo, Weight Watchers and pass me the chips.

Eat less, move more.

NPR then logically segued to a discussion of exercise. The second story: Using the stairs as a public health initiative. If Americans have gotten fatter over the years because of lack of exercise, then how can we start moving more? Use the stairs. Don’t push the up button for the elevator, but take the stairs instead.

Where are the stairs? I know that in my old office in Washington, DC, the stairs were hidden away and were more like an emergency exit than a useable staircase. That is the design in the majority of public buildings that I’ve been in. It’s hard to take the stairs if you don’t know where they are. Check out this staircase from the TV series Mad Men? Have you ever been in a building where it was that easy and central to walk up one flight of stairs?

Boat living certainly has me running up and down the stairs a lot. Three steps and then a three rung ladder to get up on the boat. Five stairs down to get inside. Two stairs down to get in the galley or the aft cabin. Hauling groceries up and down those stairs every third day. Laundry. Trash. Toys. Etc.  Now I know that the stairs aren’t my main caloric expender; I have made choices in my life that promote health: I travel via bike with the girls, towing them behind me in the bike trailer. We walk to the park. We swim in the pool. They both beg to be carried and held. It’s easy for me to get exercise without even thinking about it - it’s nearly impossible to be sedentary when I’m chasing after two small children every day. 

Other lifestyles, however, aren't as amenable to movement. Living in the suburbs and commuting to an office job via car makes it challenging to find time to exercise every day. But small changes, like taking the stairs, can make a big change to health outcomes across the board.

Friday, August 1, 2014


Our happy liveaboard boat family.
(Looks like Freja's practicing her pirate "arrrgh" while Matilda is sporting a pirate-worthy black eye.)

Sometimes a change in perspective is all I need. It’s amazing how seeing the world from a new place completely changes my mood, my plans, my status quo. Remember that scene from Dead Poets Society when Robin Williams has all the students stand on their desks to see the classroom from a new vantage point? That’s how I feel right now.

For the past few months I’ve been itching to move off the boat and onto land. I had 101 different reasons, but space was always #1. We were tripping over each other, literally. Also, I was fed up with our marina in Philadelphia where the docks threatened to split apart and float us down the Delaware River a la Huck Finn. I was fed up with packing a bag full of snacks and diapers and a change of clothes just to take the girls off the boat for an hour or two. I was fed up with showering at the dirty marina showers. I was fed up with not having enough space to keep clothes or shoes or food or playdough. Fed up.

No matter how few toys (clothes, shoes, diapers, non-perhisables) we have, they still take up all available space.
The main cabin (living room) is basically a playroom for the girls. Every shelf and cubby has a kids' book or toy.

Then we cast off the dock lines and motored our floating home south to Jacksonville, Florida. The trip was fun and challenging. There were moments when we were on vacation: dinghying ashore for a seafood dinner and cold beers or finding a deserted beach. There were moments that I swore up and down that the minute we landed in Jacksonville I was going to find an apartment: when the girls were constantly whiney and unhappy and demanding or when the food kept going bad in the fridge because our batteries are not equipped for living aboard at anchor. 

Our first marina in Jacksonville - close to the beach but also located on a busy three-lane road lined with strip malls - was nice. It was a real marina with concrete docks and concrete pilings and clean bathrooms. But it also had a large dry dock facility and the atmosphere was tinged with the constant sound of forklifts moving boats and people who seemed more interested in cleaning and buffing and polishing their boats than actually using their boats. So after clocking in my time on Facebook and Pinterest, I was still spending a fair amount of time on Zillow, dreaming of landlubbing.

Sunrise and sunset over the tidal marshes is pretty awesome.
But the no-see-ums and mosquitos? Yeah, they were also marina residents.
Now we’re at a new marina in a new neighborhood with new neighbors and Zillow is a thing of the past. For the first time in years, boat living is really good. The marina is clean, professional, and safe (gated, key card entry at each dock). It has a pool and clubhouse area that is downright spa-esque. Our neighbors are all active boaters - cruisers, some liveaboards, or people who are storing their boats here for hurricane season. The neighborhood has nice bungalows on tree-lined streets, parks, and a shopping center with a grocery store and West Marine a mere four blocks away. I can’t ask for much more in terms of a marina and its location. Oh and did I forget to mention the internet? Free, fiber optic wifi. Phenomenal. And free parking right at the end of our dock. Seriously, why would we live anywhere else?

The pool, hot tub, and marina as seen from the clubhouse porch.
A nice spot to catch the evening breeze - the clubhouse deck.
And a great place to grill our dinner.

Another big change, and it’s a big one, is Hans’s paycheck. Yup. His paycheck! For the first time in over four years, we’re seeing money come in instead of bleeding money out in the form of student loans. That makes it a little easier to make some livability upgrades on the boat: new air conditioning, a new mattress, proper marine shade curtains, etc. We have a long list and we’ll tackle it little by little, but with our new location and the fiscal ability to improve life aboard, we have a renewed commitment to living aboard. It feels good.