Thursday, November 12, 2015

Choosing optimism

 The Facebook un-reality

My Facebook posts tend to revolve around cute picture of the girls, funny stories of things they did, and personal achievements. My life looks pretty awesome on Facebook. Is it true? Yes. But not 100%. Of course I don’t live in a world that is all sunshine and unicorns. I rarely share the times when Matilda doesn’t nap or the challenges we currently have with her hitting and scratching and pulling hair. I don’t post about the times when Hans and the girls don’t see each other for days in a row because of his work schedule and their sleep schedule. I share the good parts of my life with the world. My social media presence is not an accurate portrayal of my day-to-day. It’s biased, it’s selective, and, yes, it looks like a brag board. But it’s not. At least that’s not my intent.

Choosing optimism

How I portray my life on social media is intentional. I’m intentionally choosing to portray the good stuff, hoping that I can create a top-down trickle-down optimism policy in my daily life. Life is hard. Life can be miserable, lonely, exhausting. And I can choose to focus on the tough times, or, as I tell the girls when they fall: I can get up, brush the dirt off, and go back to playing. I choose optimism as my public presence and I hope that rubs off into my daily life and attitude.

I share pictures like this one, taken at the fort in St. Augustine. Because I want to remember my girls having fun in the towers, spending some great quality time with their Meme (my mom), rather than remembering dragging a screaming Matilda out of a store and a whiney, tired Freja.

It’s a fine line. It’s important to get stuff off my chest before it mushrooms into a bigger problem. Constructive criticism and feedback from peers is invaluable. If I don’t share my struggles with friends and family, I’ll be bogged down with them in my own head. It’s important to analyze our failures and our difficulties in order to learn from them and improve on the future. But if I talk about them too much, if I dwell on them, I won’t be choosing optimism. I’ll be choosing to focus on the hard stuff in life instead of enjoying the good times.

And, really. I'll be glad if in 10 years I don't remember how crappy our NEW fridge/freezer. The one I have to defrost every couple weeks and can't get a repair person out to the boat to fix even though it's under warranty.

Trickle down optimism

There are lots of studies of gratitude. If you keep a gratitude journal, if you verbalize or write down what you are grateful for once a day, you will be happier. Parents that want to encourage empathy and kindness in their kids are advised to help them develop a gratitude practice by sharing something they are grateful for at dinner every night. By actively acknowledging your gratitude, you bring it to the forefront of your thoughts and you feel better about life.

The same can be said for optimism. By actively recognizing and sharing the good things in my life, I’m bringing positivity and happiness to the center of my thinking. Instead of dwelling on my challenges, I’m celebrating what I love about my life. I’m choosing optimism over pessimism.

I promise you, my life is not any more fantastic or miserable than anyone else’s. I struggle, I laugh, I celebrate, I cry, I get in funks, I get frustrated. But I’m working to live in a happy place. And an easy way to do that is to share my triumphs and my joys - to broadcast them to the world, which, at the same time, reminds me that through the hard stuff, there is a lot to celebrate.

And, of course, some days are just really really good. No need to filter my memory.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Why travel is good for kids

It should come as no surprise that I will endorse the viewpoint that travel is good for children. Infants, toddlers, school-age, and teenagers. At the same time, for the parents of said children, travel is a whole new ball game. Goodbye long road trips with stops for Little Debbie snacks and goodbye spontaneous karaoke parties that last well into the night. Nope. Travel with small children involves planning, healthy snacks, singing annoying kid songs in the car, and a secret stash of not-so-healthy snacks.

But since I love to travel so much - really it's my major passion in life - I'm willing to compromise to share my love and excitement for the unexplored horizon with my kids. The experience may be different (relaxing doesn't really fit into the equation), but my reasons for travel stay the same, with or without kids.

It's important to travel (with kids) because:

  • we meet new people. We see how different people live; what type of structure they live in; who they live with. For the kids, they hear different languages; they see different skin colors and different types of clothing. We learn tolerance, acceptance, and develop an attitude of openness and understanding toward the other.
  • the food. This is a big one for me. I love to eat and I love to try new, local food. Since we've moved to Florida our girls have developed quite a taste for oysters (Freja) and shrimp (both of them). They love fish, cooked any way. Fish is plentiful, fresh, and local around here so we eat a lot of it so while most kids would run away when they see a raw oyster, Freja has learned to tip her head back and slurp it out of the half shell. 
  • the discomfort. Don't get me wrong. I love to stay in a comfortable hotel room with crisp white sheets and fluffy white towels. I love comfort. But I also love being comfortable with the idea of staying in a one star hotel or camping in a tent or bunking in a youth hostel. When kids travel frequently, they learn to sleep in different places with different sounds. That's pricesless for parents! While I like comfort just as much as the next person, I love that my various travel experiences have toughened me up so I know where my baseline is (an army of ants crawling up a wall next to the head of my bed). I always want my girls to feel safe and secure, but I want them to be flexible enough to adapt to various places and be open to the experience they may find there.
  • the family time. Traveling as a family gets pretty intense. You end up spending hours cramped together in the car singing inane songs and counting license plates; you all sleep in the same room; privacy is a joke. And, thus, forced intimacy is intimacy, regardless. You learn who snores and who doesn't, and who remembers to flush the toilet and who leaves the seat up. So much intense family time forces siblings to play together since there may be no other kids around, and it forces the entire family to be kind to each other. When you're on a joint quest, the family has to work as a unit, thus strengthening that unit.
  • the learning curve. Kids, and adults, learn so much in new environments. We see more, we're more aware of our surroundings, and we're open to learning. On our last trip, just a short one, our girls learned what a hermit crab is and how to track them in knee deep water. They saw the sun set over water for the first time (well, a first for Matilda), and we saw so many stars after the sunset that we started talking about the universe. Freja learned that the sun is a star and that all stars are suns. 
So a lot of people say: what's the point in traveling with small kids? They won't remember any of it anyway?

True. They won't remember playing in the sand at the beach with short-time vacation friends. They won't remember trying escargot for the first time, or seeing a shrimp boat for the first time.

Well, in that case, might as well lock them up in a padded room with a toilet and some food until they're old enough to make memories. 

Extreme? Yes. But so is saying that the only reason to travel with kids is so they'll remember the trip. Does it matter if they remember the trip or not?


Sometimes eating chips is more important than watching the sun set over the water.

This sunset...that apparently wasn't that impressive to our little ones.
The chips were way more exciting (and fulfilling).
What matters is that travel instills some pretty vital fundamentals in young minds - fundamentals like openness, adventure, flexibility, different - that will carry them through life and help them become world citizens in our ever-flattening world.

entering a lock and learning how we make water go up and down

Travel does not need to be far-reaching or a privilege of those that can afford plane tickets and vacation time from work. Travel can be to the next town. Travel can be a short train ride to the next town (with some car shuttling figured out). Travel can be to a different school, or a different library, or a different part of town. Travel does not need to be exotic or far-flung. Travel is simply seeing a different part of the world (which can be five miles up the street), meeting new people, seeing new things. The most important part of travel is being open to the experience and that, I believe, is one of the most important things we can pass on to our kids.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Use(less?)(ful?) information abounds

The other day my mom and I were sitting side by side on the couch, each with our own computer in our lap, pinning. I know, real quality time. I chortled and showed her a pin that popped up on my page: how to chop up a cauliflower. Her response: who goes to the effort to take photos and write a blog post on how to chop up a cauliflower? Just get out your knife and start chopping!

That got me to thinking about how much totally useless information abounds on the internet. We're filling our heads with junk. Factoids, fake factoids, rumors, urban legends, inconsequential stuff. We over-parent, over-share, over-think. Yet, at the same time... how exactly do I chop up a cauliflower? How do I shred cabbage without a food processor? I'd better do a quick check online before I make the same coleslaw that I've made for years, because maybe someone has a better way.

And maybe someone does have a better way. That's when the internet gets good. Push past all the crap, all the distractions, and we get something amazing: information and community. Real, actual, legitimate information abounds on the internet, and the community that writes it, reads it, and shares it is awesome.

I read a lot of blogs and I often think about how well documented our world is now. We take thousands of pictures of our kids, teenagers take thousands of themselves, and how many cute cat videos are there online? We're constantly snapping away and sharing the big and little details of our lives. What will this look like in 100 years? Will we look at them in 100 years? Will we still be documenting in 100 years? Here's an opinion piece where the author asks us to stop using the internet. Heck no!

But here's the thing, no matter uselessness of all the information out there, I love my online communities. I'm in a local mom's group where we trade info on daycares and pediatricians; I'm in a global mom's group where we find and give support and advice; I'm in group for women sailors where we can ask boating questions and give advice in a judgment-free zone (turns out that the sailing world is pretty macho and there are a lot of know-it-alls out there); I'm in a sewing on boats group where we share our projects and get ideas about, yes, sewing for our boats. Etc.

The world is wide open and the internet gives us the space to find people with common interests and share and learn from each other. So, yeah, there is a whole bunch of crap online. And, yeah, I spend way too much time reading the junk when I could be reading an actual book (although I try my hardest to stay away from those online quizzes). But my love affair with the internet is wide and deep and I am not embarrassed about the amount of time I spend tapping away on Facebook and other websites. I love my online community!

(Although I'd be negligent to forget to add that the internet is a fabulous vehicle for my own procrastination.)
image courtesy of ChurchMag

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Breaking out of the mold

Compelling street art from Philadelphia
image courtesy of The
I think it can be safely said that I've never really fit into any mold. Quitting a lucrative and challenging career to live as a sailing bum in the Caribbean, living on a boat, raising kids on a boat, no 401k or life insurance to speak of - I've done it a little differently than my peers.

Yet, at the same time, it's so similar. My husband works full-time, I stay at home with the girls. We have kids. We go grocery shopping. Two cars. Bedtime at 7:30 (for the kids, not us!...although, some evenings...). On a day to day basis, my life veers more toward the hum drum than the unconventional lifestyle that it looks on the surface.

In brief
I want: an unconventional, nontraditional, exciting, adventurous, travel-filled, challenging life that pushes me out of my comfort zone and gives us lots of family time.
I currently have: a pretty staid suburban life. (Albeit aboard a boat, but, still. The boat doesn't go anywhere.)
What we're working toward: a nomadic life, based on family time and free time. 

To further complicate, I was raised and schooled to be a feminist. I struggle on a daily basis against this 1950s lifestyle that we've created for our kids. If I lived in a bubble, in a vacuum, where I wasn't influenced by societal norms and expectations, I'd be totally fine to sit back and say: this is what's working for our family, right now. It will change, it will evolve, but, right now, it's working for us.

But we don't live in a bubble. And I know our kids are happy and living a good life, and, generally, I'm happy and living a good life. But then I come across a study that says that kids of working moms are more successful later in life; that kids that are raised in families where household work is split evenly are more likely to be engaged fathers and men (moot point, I guess, for us since we have two girls, but, still).

The pressure
So I sit here, knowing that, like it has been for the past six years, our current set-up is transitory. We'll be doing something different, and then doing something different again. So I settle in to today, knowing that today is good. I'm looking big picture. Think 5-10 years big picture...then I get excited. The minute I can release myself from the pressures of the mold; once I know that, yes, I will be able to break out of that mold, my mind is at ease and I am so excited for that future to come.

It's amazing to me how much influence our peers and society has on our fundamental beliefs. I feel like I am pretty strong and certain in how I feel and what I am doing, but, yikes, the minute I get too settled in our (floating) suburban lifestyle, I start freaking out. Must set goals, must make plans, must do more. 

The pressure to do more; the pressure to compete; the pressure to measure up and reach certain goals = it's not just adolescents that feel peer pressure.

I read a great article by Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat, Pray, Love and Committed to name two of her books), that urged women to just "lighten up." You're good enough, you're doing enough, just chill out and enjoy life. I really struggle with that and I can spin myself in circles and wrap myself up in endless arguments about what I want to be doing, what I am doing, what I should be doing. When, really, I should just lighten up.

Sunrise, at anchor off Amelia Island.

(And the truth that I know: when I am out on the water, on a sailboat. I am happy. Satisfied. Content. Fulfilled Some fundamentals never change. I've known it for 12 years: all I need is a sailboat.)

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Living in a tiny space

This article appeared in my Facebook newsfeed yesterday:

Dear People who live in tiny houses

In a witty, tongue in cheek kind of way, the author asks a slew of semi-rhetorical questions to tiny house dwellers. She adds a footnote stating that while the article is half in jest, she truly does wonder "if it’s all peaches and cream like the swanky design magazines suggest." 

I get asked similar questions all the time:
What about guests?
What about privacy?
What about laundry?

I thought I'd take a few minutes to answer her questions.

Since we've made a commitment/plan to continue living aboard for another two years (which will bring our total time as liveaboards to over ten years), I've been thinking a lot recently about why I like living aboard and why it works for us. I watched an episode of House Hunters on Netflix/HGTV last night and the featured couple were on the market for a new home because their two bedroom condo was just too small for them and their toddler. Yet we live, happily, on a boat with two adults and two kids. So why does it work for us and other people need more space?

Is there something fundamentally different about us that makes this small lifestyle possible? Is it because I live in a permanent state of wanderlust and living on a boat gives me the illusion of travel? Is it because we can't commit to one place? Are we gluttons for punishment? Are we too lazy to change?

No, yes, yes, no, no.

But I have come up with my ultimate answer:

We liveaboard because it works for us. Financially and in a lifestyle kind of way. It forces us to be minimalists, to not consume. It kicks us outside where the kids have space to run and we can meet other people (build community). It encourages us to be conscious about what we eat because we have little storage space for food.

But the answer: because it works for us, still leaves people wondering: could I ever live on a boat, in that tiny space? No way, I have way too much stuff. How do you cook? What about laundry? The bathroom is smaller than a closet.

So the follow-up answer, to anyone wondering: Could I do it?, is: Yes! Anyone can live on a boat. But what you can't do is transfer your land-based life to a liveaboard life or a tiny home. They are fundamentally different and can't be swapped out 1 for 1. 

Hans and I knew we wanted to move on a boat when we were in college. We never created the landlubbing lifestyle for ourselves. Yes, we lived in apartments for four years but we never bought nice stuff. When we moved aboard our sailboat we had a yard sale and then donated the rest to Goodwill. We've never gotten used to using a dishwasher or having a washing machine in our living space. We've gotten very good at getting rid of extra stuff that creeps onto the boat and we generally don't spend a lot of time (or money) shopping for stuff.

I have significantly less clothes than other women I know, less dishes, fewer books, the kids have fewer toys, etc. etc. We have less stuff. And sometimes that is hard. I don't want stuff per se, but it would be nice to not be so limited. And don't get me started on having to lug my laundry to the marina 2 times a week. But then I move on. I watch the sunset or swim in the marina pool and I move on. Because I've chosen this life and the benefits far outweigh the inconveniences and the "gee it would be nice if..."

Yes, it is a totally different lifestyle, but I don't think that we are unique individuals, per se. We've just organized our lives a little differently than dirt dwellers and it makes boat living easy(ish).

Choosing a liveaboard lifestyle over a landlubbing lifestyle would just require an acknowledgement of the differences and knowing that life will be different. In good ways and bad ways. Just like a landlubber could come on board and have difficulty with our never-perfect, a little stinky at times, finicky toilets, I walk into a house and think: it would take me forever to clean this place! 

It's different, that's all. Choosing a liveaboard lifestyle would require a mind shift and the understanding that the systems are different (sometimes easier, sometimes harder), but, at the end of the day, my life is rather similar to my peers.

We have two bedrooms, two bathrooms, an eat-in kitchen, a living room with TV, a shower, hot water (!), a outside area, heat and air conditioning, and internet. And we have a dinghy and we can watch the sunrise and sunset every day!

With impeccable timing, my friend Charlotte posted this illustration on her blog recently. The illustration, by Sarah Steenland, is a fellow liveaboard, cruiser, boat mom. Her sense of humor is awesome and she so perfectly captures why we liveaboard:

And the reasons why not? 100% spot on:

Back to the original article that (finally) got me writing again (at least on my blog, I've been doing a lot of tapping away on the keyboard, just not publishing it).

Ms. Modery, 

I hear your questions. I get them. I understand them. And I appreciate your sense of humor too. It's not always pretty (we currently have the pieces of a 48 piece jigsaw puzzle scattered over the floor of the main cabin and I stepped on a Lego in the middle of the night and I'm dreading lugging the big blue Ikea bag up to the marina laundry this afternoon), but, quite often, it's so pretty that it's worth it. Cramped space, lack of privacy, and all.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

6 ways to get out of a rut (none of which involve a tow truck)

It's mud season in my home state of Vermont, and the term getting out of rut is taken pretty literally right now. Especially after this winter.

image courtesy of
 To most people, however, that rut isn't a muddy dirt road, it's the feeling we get when life gets boring. "Same ol', same ol'," "Daily grind," etc. It happens to the best of us. (Well I can't speak for the whole world, but I'd say it happens to all of us.) How do we get out of the rut? What do we do when life is boring? When it's the same thing day in and day out?

  1. Start a gratitude journal. Or, if that is too touchy-feely for you, every night before you turn the light out, jot down on a scrap of paper three good things that happened. The idea is to make an effort to recognize the good things that are happening in life, even if life doesn't feel so great.
  2. Take one thing that you do every day and do it differently, perhaps even better. The easiest way for me to make my day a little better is through food. I cook a special dinner, bake a loaf of bread, or make a dessert. It makes a regular Tuesday a little more interesting.
  3. Get some loving. From a simple hug to something a little more x-rated. Get some love into your life. Human touch has proven health benefits like releasing oxytocin and dopamine.
  4. Move! But make it fun. If you love the gym and it makes you happy, go there. But if "working out" is a chore, do something different. Put on some music and dance. Go for a bike ride. Find a kid and play tag. Find a dog and toss the frisbee with it. A little bit of exercise and movement and, most importantly, play will lift spirits.
    I don't know what this "sport" is called, but these adults were having a blast playing on a Saturday afternoon.
  5. Be spontaneous. Instead of driving straight home from work or from picking the kids up at school, go somewhere. Go out for pizza. Stop at the deli and pick up sandwiches and have an impromptu picnic dinner. Call a friend you haven't seen for weeks, or days, and meet for a drink or a walk.
    An impromptu trip to a beachside hotel let this boat kid jump on the bed. Something she's only had the chance to do a few times in her life and which she thoroughly loved. The joy that resulted from our spontaneity!
  6. Think of a more sustaining way to keep from slipping into "same ol', same ol'." Brainstorm a list of things you like to do, or things you wish you could do more often and make an effort to do them. (Practical things. I love snorkeling over coral reefs, but since I don't live near any crystal clear, tropical water, that's not possible. I'll keep that off the list.) 
I feel like getting stuck in a rut is such an easy thing to do. We go through the daily motions of life - doing what is necessary (eating, working, cleaning, sleeping) and what is easy (Facebook, TV) and we forget to take a break from the necessary and the easy to do what we like. There is a little effort involved, but by acknowledging that the rut exists, and that, yes, life can be boring sometimes, will help you get out of that rut, wipe the mud off, and start making daily and weekly life more interesting, more fun, and more inspiring.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

small living challenges

Years and years ago, before I even considered living on a boat, I read about Jay Shafer's Tumbleweed Houses. His houses are extreme. The initial concept used a flatbed trailer as their foundation and built up from there - a tiny living room, kitchen, with a loft sleeping area. The toilet was of the composting variety and they look more like elaborate RVs than permanent homes. But the market was there and since I first started checking out Tumbleweed Homes, the movement has exploded.

Then I moved onto a 27' sailboat - a closet compared to a "tiny house."

And now we've moved up in the world, onto a 36' powerboat with an aft cabin. Two bedrooms! Two bathrooms! A back deck! We're living large!'s still tiny for 2 adults and 2 growing children. When we first moved to our current marina we thought we'd put the boat up for sale and buy or rent a house. But, nearly one year later, we're still here. Floating through life. There are so many compelling reasons to keep us living aboard in our tiny space. But there are also so many challenges.

What makes it hard?
  • We constantly struggle with too much stuff. Too much stuff for us extra throw pillow or blanket on the couch. A new toy. A stack of magazines. In a house these extra things could just get pushed aside into a hidden corner, but on the boat everything is front and center. We have to be conscious all the time of what we buy or are given - we only bring things onto the boat that we have thoughtfully considered and already found a place for. Which means no yard sales or flea markets or thrift stores.
  • Tidiness. For peace of mind, it is imperative that we keep the boat tidy. The space is just too small to have cluttered shelves or piles of things on the floor. Since we use all our floor space, and every shelf space is visible, everything needs to be put away, or at least relatively tidy. So picking up, tidying, putting away happens a lot. And this is a foreign concept to me. I've always been VERY messy.
  • Everything is micro. The sink. The bathtub. The closet. We can't take a bath in the "bathtub" because it is just too small. It's perfect for the girls, but no dice for us. And try washing dishes in a toy-sized sink. It's a challenge. 
    me and a regular sized mug, to try to show the relative size of the sink
  • The lack of privacy. I do not exaggerate when I say that the only place I can get any privacy is in the bathroom. I'm sure that's true for most parents, but the bathroom is the only place I can shut the door and be alone. It's about 2' x 3'. And I can still hear every single noise on the boat while I'm having some alone time.
  • Sound carries. When the girls nap, all activity on the boat stops. They are very good sleepers, but their v-berth bedroom is only separated from the main cabin by a thin door. They're not upstairs or down the hall. I can't vacuum, wash dishes, or clean the outside of the boat while they're sleeping. Darn. I have to nap or read a book.
  • Food storage. This is a hard one. Our fridge is an apartment-sized fridge which is fine in the cooler months, but in the summer when it is HOT outside and in, I have to keep everything in the fridge. All fruit, veggies, bread, etc. And since we eat all our meals at home and we eat a lot of whole foods and produce, we have to go shopping a couple times a week. A gallon of milk takes up a large portion of the fridge and we go through one every 3-4 days. 
    that's the fridge on the left. This is an old picture...on the right we now have a 4 burner propane stove top and a small convection oven (which landlubbers would call a toaster oven!) above that.
  • Laundry. Yeah. That's up at the marina. Which means I can't do laundry when the girls are napping or after they've gone to bed at night because I can't leave them alone on the boat. I can't throw a load of laundry in the wash and switch it to the dryer when I get around to it, because it's basically a laundromat. I'm sharing with my neighbors so I need to be punctual.
  • Temperature control. We basically live in a greenhouse. That's fantastic in the winter, but it gets very hot in the summer. We don't have any big shade trees covering the boat so we live under full sun every day. We do, on the other hand, get great breezes off the water, so that helps. But in the dead of the summer when the a/c is jacked up, it's still 80-85 degrees inside. 
So, with all these challenges, why do we stay aboard? Here are a few reasons:

  • the other day at the park, Freja (age 4) correctly pointed out barnacles to her friend who had no idea what she was talking about. 
  • Freja doesn't know her left from her right, but she's getting consistently better at identifying port and starboard
  • we have a couple crab pots hanging off our dock and we get a few crabs a week. not enough for a meal, but a tasty appetizer.
  • We're outdoors almost more often than we're inside.
  • We have great neighbors that we see and socialize with on a near daily basis
  • We own our boat. The marina pays for water, trash, recycling, internet, laundry. Our bills are low.
  • We don't have a lot of stuff.
  • We've lived on this boat for almost 6 years...(knock on wood) almost everything works and *currently* our maintenance is low. When Hans has a day off, we can do something fun. No grass to mow, no hedges to prune, no walls to paint.
And this:

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Island Time video

Here's a fun promo video I made for my book:


Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Basking in the sun

A blustery day at the beach.

There was a flurry of activity and then it stopped. I haven't been writing recently and I've stopped obsessively checking my book sale stats on Amazon and Create Space. I guess I'm following my own advice. I'm starting to live more in the here and now, in the actual real present. Instead of writing about what I'm doing and researching things to do on Pinterest, I'm just doing stuff. It helps that the weather is awesome and I'm outside for hours every day. When it's in the upper 70s and low 80s every day and not too humid, it's hard to stay inside and sit in front of the computer.

We took a day trip to Savannah, GA and enjoyed the gorgeous spring flowers.
Instead I'm working on boat projects like renewing the varnish, brainstorming a massive canvas job, and scrubbing the pollen off the decks. We're going to the playground and the pool; and the girls are learning to ride their balance bikes. Best of all, our dock neighbors are doing the same and our end of the marina has become quite a social place.

I've let go of my need (assumed or real) to write every day and I'm enjoying the spring weather and my time with my girls. I have 101 different things to write about but, for now, my writing is seasonal in nature. I'm sure that I'm just out of practice and I'd truly enjoy sitting down every day and typing at my computer, but, honestly, it's pretty nice to read a book on the back deck or do something productive on the boat. It's just too nice outside! I've gotten my book off my computer and out into the real world, I've assessed my options for my life (work full-time in an office or stay at home with the girls) and I've realized that the status quo is rather good.

So for now I'm giving myself a sabbatical from writing and I'm enjoying each day as it comes. This is entirely new for me as I'm always looking toward the horizon and the next harbor, so we'll see how long it lasts.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Speeding through time zones

at the Hoover Dam, circa 2002

Crossing America at 65mph

 When I was 23 I stood at the edge of Old Faithful with throngs of other tourists waiting for the big geyser to erupt. After ten minutes of waiting I got fed up and we left. I went to Yellowstone National Park, I stood next to the geyser, and I left without seeing it erupt because I was impatient. That is just embarrassing.

Hans and I were driving across country, from Montana to Connecticut. We had done the trip the previous year and we had made a real vacation out of it. Six weeks: Graceland, the Texas panhandle, White Sands National Monument, The Grand Canyon, Vegas, California. Our return trip was more of a trip than an adventure, but we tried to hit some big sites on the way. Like Yellowstone. We were speeding across country; we were speeding through the time zones. How much did we miss by sticking to the interstates as opposed to the Blue Highways?

Intentional travel. Slow down, see the sights

In his book Along the Edge of America, Peter Jenkins runs a boat along the Gulf Coast shoreline from the Florida Keys to the Texas-Mexico border. He writes "I could not have done this particular boat trip when I was twenty-two. I had to . . . learn to slow down, to be vulnerable, to understand both how different and how alike people can be." (p. 274) I hear you Peter Jenkins. I can say, without a doubt, that if I were at Yellowstone today, I would wait for that geyser to erupt.

How long does it take to get to know a place and its people? The argument for "forever" can be made. Or, "you'll never know a place till you live there." Back in my college years, Swedes told me that you never break the ice with Swedes until you get drunk together. (And Swedes can get rip-roaring drunk.) In a place with four seasons, like my home state of Vermont, you can say that you never really know it till you've lived through the grips of winter in January, mud season in March, and leaf-peeping season in October.

But what about the traveler? If you have a two-week vacation, is it even feasible to think that you might get to know a place, or its people? Or should you just scrap the idea of finding cultural and social connections and just book a room at an all-inclusive?

Don't even.

Create memories, make friends, find a sense of place

I have some fantastic memories from my travels, from places we only stopped for one night, or spent one afternoon or three days.
  • There was the family on the west coast of Puerto Rico who were our personal tour guides for a day. They wanted to get into the tourism business, we were their guinea pigs. Win win.  The next day they invited us to their house for Thanksgiving, and the day after they came sailing with us. We spent three days together but those days were so rich and so full.
  • I'll never forget the night in Bequia when we watched the returns roll in for the 2008 Presidential election. We were the only Americans, the only tourists in a bar/fried chicken shack and we celebrated raucously with the island's residents.
  • And, most recently, there was the mechanic in South Carolina who, after diagnosing our engine as dead in the water, invited us to his boat to show the girls his shark tooth collection. It was a glimpse into a different life - a cigarette-smoking, soap opera-watching life - that reminded me that we're all unique, but still the same. I shudder at the damage to the girls' lungs in those 10 minutes we were aboard the boat, but the mechanic and his wife were so sweet with the girls and they loved boats. As Freja likes to say: same-same.
Of course, while a week spent lounging on a beach chair at an all-inclusive would be infinitely relaxing, it's just not for me. When I travel I crave social connection, human interaction, newfound cultural insights. Being away from home and outside of my comfort zone does not stress me out or make me anxious. Quite the contrary. Stepping outside of my daily life is precisely what relaxes me.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015


Freja diligently worked on Valentine's cards all day. (That's face paint.)

Week-long holidays

When I was in my twenties (free and untethered), I used to love to celebrate my birthday week. I've always loved my birthday, but an entire birthday week was a great excuse to go out to eat multiple times in the same week. Cake? Yes, please.

I'm noticing that more and more holidays are jumping on the long-term bandwagon. Christmas is popping up among the Halloween decorations and Thanksgiving starts on Wednesday and extends through Sunday. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for taking time off work and spending it with family and friends, but it's getting kind of confusing for the young-uns.

Valentine's day week

Freja is just getting the grasp of holidays but take Thanksgiving, for example. First of all, she kept calling it Halloween. My explanation of the holiday was a simple: "we remember what life was like a long time ago by eating special food and being together with our friends and family. It's on a Thursday, so you won't go to school." Except we went to church on the Sunday prior to Turkey day and had our Thanksgiving feast there. And the next day one of Hans's colleagues hosted a pre-Thanksgiving dinner for people that may have to work on the actual day. And, finally, we celebrated (and ate) with friends on the actual day. At that point, Freja was done with Thanksgiving. Next.

A pink week

Now we're up to Valentine's day. Again, I keep the explanation simple: "it's one day a year, February 14, when we tell everyone we love how special they are to us and that we love them. We can give people cards to show them how much we care." February 14. Every year. Well, it will be a 3-day, 4-party celebration for us. It rained all day yesterday so Freja spent the day gluing together doilies and glittery hearts for her classmates. Tomorrow there is a party at her school; in the afternoon we're going to a cookie decorating party. There's a potluck at the marina on Friday night. And then, of course, there is the actual day that needs celebrating. 

Don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining, at least not too much. But it can get overwhelming. Head over to Pinterest to take a look at all the Valentine's crafts you can do or the cake you can make or the mini-tartlets you can bake. Schools throw parties for all the tiny holidays. Everything must be recognized! The crunchy earth mom side of me feels very guilty for not celebrating the solstices and surely I must have some Irish in me around St. Patty's day.

Anyway, just my observation on the escalation of holidays. Is it consumerism? Is it competition? Or is it just an excuse to party with friends, (be them little kids at an Easter egg hunt or adults waking up with Bloody Mary's on Valentine's Day)? Maybe it's as simple as the that: celebrating the random holidays with vigor as an excuse to be with friends and family. I'll subscribe to that rationale.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Island time, defined.

 Island time

I'd never heard of the term "island time" until I spent some time in the Caribbean, in the islands. When I first heard the term, it was often spoken with Western values...fellow boat owners or ex-pats who were trying to get something done, on Western time, and it just wasn't happening. Long lunches, siestas, red tape, power outages, spontaneous national holidays, etc. From a Western point of view, residents of the Caribbean islands operate at a totally different pace than residents of, say, Washington DC or New York City. (Heck, doesn't everyone operate at a different pace than New Yorkers?!) I get it. Born, raised, and having spent the majority of my life stateside, being impatient is almost like an inherited character trait.

Definitely not on island time. Image courtesy of
You should have seen me in line at Starbucks the other day. (Yes, that was me. Loudly sighing, tapping my foot, checking my phone, sighing again.) By the time I got to the car and gave the girls their promised cake pops, I was ranting up and down about indecisive people and bad customer service. Then I laughed. The girls were happy and my husband was taking a minute to check facebook. The only person who was upset was me. Hang on, didn't I just write and publish a book all about how to live on island time in the rat race?

Island time, as a state of mind

So what does island time mean? It certainly doesn't mean getting all huffy while I wait in line at Starbucks. If I type "island time" into my Pinterest account, I get flooded with images of turquoise water, hammocks, and white sand beaches. Yeah. That's island time. But, to me, it's so much more than that. It's a state of mind. And if it's a state of mind, it can be independent of geography. Of course lounging in a hammock and sipping a rum punch are very conducive to island time, that's not necessary. How do you feel when you're lying in that hammock?

Connected to nature.

Easier said than done

I type this as one of my girls is napping on the living room floor after screaming for half an hour that she wasn't going to sleep and the other one is on and off fussing in her bed. Typical toddler: deliriously happy, no, wait, furiously angry. I have a lot of background chatter that pulls at my heartstrings and makes it very difficult to achieve that kind of hammock relaxation.

Relaxing in a hammock, figuratively

Hanging out with my girls. Not on a tropical beach, but definitely relaxed and happy.
But I also know what relaxing like that feels like, and I try to order my priorities and my to-do list to be more conducive to internal island time. I cross things off without doing them. If it needs to get done, it'll get done. I go outside, a lot. I meet with friends, a lot, and create and embrace my community. I do things that make me happy - I cook, I bake, I write. I embrace the concept of mañana, mañana. And I still get stressed. There is always a million things to do and places to be and people to see. But I try to prioritize the here and now with the goal of living the good life today. Being happy, today.

How about you? What does your island time look like?

Sunday, February 1, 2015

A new year's resolutions, +31 days

(Let me preface this by saying that I am a Type A person in many aspects. I love lists. I love writing things down and coming up with plans. I love being organized. If you don't, then this kind of intentional life improvement, for lack of a more sexy term, may not be for you.)

Image courtesy of Stephen Halpin

New Year's resolutions - the February 1 update

31 days ago was the big day for dreaming up and writing down resolutions. Today is February 1st, seems like a good day to check in. Did you write resolutions? Are you on track to sticking to them? Every year on January 1 when the new year rolls, we have the tendency to feel refreshed and inspired. Some people set forth minor goals like recycling more, while others tend toward the more grandiose like losing weight or quitting smoking. My goals are...unwritten (at least on pen and paper. I typed a little about this a couple weeks ago). We have a little red book where I like to write down our favorite memories from the previous year and resolutions and goals for the upcoming year. It's February 1st and we just haven't gotten to it. (I also haven't gotten around to sending out thank you cards for Christmas presents, but that's a whole 'nother story. I have a pipe dream of sending out Valentine's cards, but, at the rate I'm going, those may not arrive in people's mailboxes till April.) But let's pretend that my goals are written down. And let's pretend yours are too. It's so easy to let that new year excitement dwindle away till you forget the commitments you made for the new year. So, in the spirit of resolutions, let's resolve to check in on the first of every month. Pull out that red book or the sticky note where you scribbled down your goal. Are you on track?

Smaller time frame, smaller resolutions

So maybe, like me, you haven't specifically written down your resolutions. Or maybe you feel so daunted by the prospect of sticking to one big goal all year that you simply skipped it this year. Here's another idea: monthly resolutions. Even weekly resolutions. Bite off a little at a time. Narrow your focus. It can be simple: I'll read the newspaper once a week. Or, I'll go for a run once a week. On March 1 I'll check in again. Did I work on that goal? How did it go? And then I'll make a new one.

Taking stock of the important stuff

This very tangible way of "taking stock" of what is working in our lives helps push us toward the intentional life. It's easy to swing on the pendulum. To go from day to day and then suddenly the year is, over-analyzing, basically being too introspective. So my idea is to focus on one goal per month, put it in the back of my mind and then reassess after 30 days. I'll be tuned into a specific goal but, at the same time, I'll be living my day-to-day life.

Here's to February Resolutions. I'll be back in touch on March 1.

Oh February Resolution: be more patient with my eldest kid at bedtime.

Monday, January 26, 2015

A dream come true

s/v Whisper at anchor in Salt Whistle Bay, Mayreau, The Grenadines
This photo is so much more to me than just a beautiful tropical beach photo. In the years preceding our sailing trip, we worked and worked, both at our paid jobs and on the boat. Saving money and preparing the boat for the voyage. We were in Washington, DC and my first job was as an assistant to an attorney who represented oil companies. Nope, I wasn't saving the world friends. My "office" was a partitioned cubicle in the middle of the firm's office with no windows. Just the charming gray felt board that is the ubiquitous cubicle wall. I filed documents, I reorganized all the cases and the filing system, I typed up hand written notes and briefs. I edited. I made phone calls. I answered the phone. Are you asleep yet? Because I was. What kept me going? My daily workout at the gym, a good friend who worked in the same office, and a photo. Tacked up to that gray felt board was a photo, very similar to the one I took off Whisper's bow, years later. I had ripped it out of a magazine, it was a photo off someone else's boat, someone else's bow, of a tropical island, somewhere. I knew that someday we were going to sail our own boat to that tropical island.

We did, and I have the picture to prove it.

I'm not surrounded by gray felt board anymore (thank God), but I am beginning to feel the same feelings of waiting. We're in-between. We're waiting for the next big thing. We're biding our time while Hans gets his skills and knowledge down pat. We know that something bigger and something better is around the corner, we're just not there yet. So we do what we did when we lived in DC: we make the best of the time we have now, because, yes, now is really, really good.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Motivated to write

I’ve been reading the wrong books. I want to read a lot to inspire and engage me and encourage me to write more. Learn from your peers and all that. I’ve been reading page-turners because those are relaxing and if I have a good page-turner, chances are that I’ll read a book instead of wile away my time in front of the computer. But I’m not writing. No inspiration. No motivation. A couple days ago I picked up a book about a guy who gets in a boat and cruises the US Gulf Coast - from the Texas-Mexico border to the Dry Tortugas. He cruises the entire distance. It is so engaging and so entertaining and so . . . so well written. Reading it makes me want to crumple up my manuscript (theoretically of course since I don’t have it in any kind of hard copy format) and rewrite the whole thing.

This author, Peter Jenkins, writes so naturally and so fluidly. It’s matter-of-fact and funny and fun. It’s well-written but it’s not poetic and rhythmic and pretty. It’s just words on paper, him retelling a story that he lived. That’s the kind of writing I like. I want to like the poetic style of non-fiction (it feels so literary to me, so high brow, surely I should like it!), but when I read something good, something that simply conveys the story, it’s good. Plain and simple good.

A few years ago when I first acknowledged my inclination to write, my mom, ever my champion, sent me a few books about the art of writing. They are old, but timeless. They don’t contain grammar rules or tips on how to reach your ideal audience. They contain snippets and paragraphs and anecdotes of writerly wisdom. The most important piece of advice is a common one: just sit down and write.  Write whatever comes out of your head and onto paper. I type, so when I want to write I sit down and type whatever words flow from my head and through my hands. Write plainly. Write clearly. Write without thought to style or prose. Tell your story in simple words. Don’t try to entertain, don’t try to be funny. Don't try, just write. (Is this "Nike for Writers?")

That is hard advice to put into practice. I’m a bit of a (read: major) perfectionist when it comes to grammar and sentence structure and overall theme and content of a piece. I like love (let’s be honest here) outlines and lists. It is very hard for me to type and type and type without re-reading each sentence the second after I type a period. Don't even get me started on fact-checking and substantiating my claims. But words don’t flow when you’re constantly analyzing them and thinking about your audience. Words don’t flow when you’re trying  to achieve an objective, be it humor, rhythm, fact, or style. In my writer's heart, I believe that style is innate. If you write enough, your own style will develop. And your own style is good.

I self-critique a lot. A lot. I have little idiosyncrasies in my writing that I don’t like. I write too many lists. I have my own set of comma rules (Carbonetti's comma rules, to be precise. Like an inside joke, you have to have been there. 10th grade English class.) and I put too much emphasis on transition words. I sacrifice getting words down on paper because I spend too much time worrying about nit-picking my own work instead of just writing.

My cure? It’s back to that old adage: write, and write a lot. Every day. Exercise the creative muscle. I’m excited to start a new project. I don’t know what it is, but I’m sure that it will come to me through my daily writing, my daily exercise. And, maybe, just maybe, if I get used to writing every single day, I’ll stop reading my writing as I write. I’ll get so used to writing that I’ll just write. The words will flow and it will be easy. Because when it’s good (at least when I think so), it’s good. The writing is easy and fun and the words flow. They really do. When I overthink, that’s when it gets clunky. So here’s to more flow and less clunk!

Tuesday, January 20, 2015


It's a long way up, but you just need to step on!
The ideas are in my head, the words will flow. Just step on!

 Getting motivated

Recently I've been thinking a lot about motivation. What motivates us? Where do we get our drive from? What pushes someone to take a risk, take a chance, do something new? Can motivation live in a vacuum, or does it rely on external forces.

And, the most compelling question for me right now: Why am I not motivated? And, How can I change that?

New year, new you, and all that. Except I'm not feeling that rush of energy and can-do spirit that is so prevalent in January. What gives? What do I want to do, and what is preventing me from taking that step?

I want to write every day. I want to get a project out the door and off my plate. I want to move from being a passive participant in the world of ideas - merely reading and thinking - to an active participant.

Instead I . . . read articles online. I read other people's blogs. I nap. I read a book. I watch TV. I wile away hours on airbnb looking for that perfect vacation. I go through ebbs and flows. I spend months where I get into a routine and sit down and write every single day while the girls nap. I'm productive and I feel like my brain is working and I'm living outside of cooking, cleaning, and childcare. But then I stop. For a day, or two, or a week. It's so much easier to stop than it is to start again. I can justify my lack of action in 101 different ways. (I'm busy, I'm tired, why stay-at-home if I'm stuck on a schedule, I should enjoy myself, etc. etc.)

Lack of motivation to prevent cognitive dissonance?

Is my lack of motivation simply me trying to reduce the cognitive dissonance in my life? If cognitive dissonance is defined as the personal stress caused by someone's own differing beliefs and views, maybe my writing is disrupting my own easy status quo. My lack of motivation, therefore, is a form of self-defense.

Probably not. While my writing does make me think critically about my own life, it certainly isn't profound enough to make me question my fundamental values and viewpoints.

Writer's block.

Writer's block. That's an easy answer. I'm stuck and need to reboot my creative energy. Possibly. But if I simply sit down and start typing, I have 101 different things to write about. Throughout the day, while I'm pushing a kid on a swing or riding my bike, in my head I'm also composing a blog entry or an article for an online magazine.

Ok, so I'm just not motivated.

It's not writer's block and I don't need to worry about cognitive dissonance. It really is just a lack of motivation (possibly combined with awesome weather that keeps me outside as much as possible). I'm simply not feeling motivated to break out of my daily functions. And that's okay. It's really, really, nice to nap on the couch in the sun every afternoon. But I also know what it feels like when I write every day. I feel energized. I feel like I'm contributing to something bigger. I feel like my life is moving forward, and more than just chronologically.

Finding inspiration and putting pen to paper

So how do I get motivated? Where does my own personal motivation come from? How do other people get motivated to kick the internet and create something?

For me, it's two-fold. 1) Writing a to-do list hold me accountable to my goals; and 2) Sticking to a schedule carves out the time to work toward those goals.

To go beyond the basic 1-2 punch of getting something done, I need peer collaboration to encourage me, critique me, and inspire me. I'm an extrovert and I rely on other people to get the job done.

Simply writing this post is revitalizing me to get back to work. Stick with me, more posts will follow!

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

A new year; a new challenge

photo by Hans Eriksson

New year, new resolutions

As the  calender flips from December to January, we are filled with new resolutions, new plans, new goals, and new challenges. It's a new year. A time of new beginnings and (re)newed dreams. It's easy to take stock of your life and set ambitious new starts: I'll start exercising more. I'll start eating better. I'll start spending more time with people and less time with the screen.

When the calendar flipped from 2014 to 2015 I was in Sweden. So not only was I thinking about new starts for the new year, I was also out of my regular routine and rhythms. I've found that it's common to step back and look critically at your life when you're out traveling, away from home and the daily grind. It is only natural, therefore, that as I cheered in 2015 in a different country that my introspection about my life was a little more intense than usual. This is a good thing. A really good thing.

image courtesy of

Outside of my comfort zone

Sitting outside of my comfort zone, I was able to look in and get a little perspective on what is currently making me happy; what is frustrating me; and what I want to change. It turns out that my comfort zone consists of two small people and the boat that we call home. Home and kid maintenance (and the minimal husband maintenance that I provide) take up nearly all my time. Freja will be four in March, so, if we don't count the time I was pregnant with her, I've spent the last four years of my life channeling nearly all my energy into my one role as mamma.

Whoa. Back pedal. I always knew, always, that when my kids were young, I'd stay at home with them. I never planned my dream wedding or dream job, but I did plan on staying home with young kiddos. So, in the grand scheme of my life, I'm exactly where I've always wanted to be. But four years is a long time. A really long time to sing the "Wheels on the Bus" every day.

The new plan

So what's next? I want to push myself out of my comfort zone of mom-hood and challenge myself a little. Is that in the form of a job? A writing challenge? Back to school? I'm not sure, but I'm feeling the call of something different. I'm limited, of course, by time and money. Someone's gotta take care of the rug rats. But other moms inspire me to be a full-time mom and also pursue my own passions.

I tend not to make tangible resolutions - ones that can be quantified and ticked off in a box. Apparently a glutton for punishment, I tend to look to the broader resolutions, along the vague lines of "live better." This year I feel like I've gone a bit further than a simple "live better" resolution. I feel like I'm asking myself to fundamentally look at my life, at the direction it's going, and change that. My life. Not my family's life. My life.