I hope you spent the day surrounded by people you love. Our clan stayed put in North Carolina this year instead of making the cross-country trek to Seattle. After an insanely busy summer and fall, Conor, W, and I needed time to reconnect as a nuclear family and just slow down. While we miss our extended families up in the Pacific Northwest, we’ve actually had a vacation this week!
Now that W is almost 2, she understands Santa, presents, and patience. As parents, Conor and I were finally able to experience the excitement of Christmas morning through the eyes of our child. We had been planning on getting her a micro scooter for months, and the look on her face when she saw it was priceless.
I’ve been reflecting a lot on family tradition this month. I have so many fond memories of this season while growing up—eating kringle, putting up lights outside with my dad, lifting my sister up to put the angel up on top of the tree, my mom’s hand-sewn stockings… Funny how very little of the memories have anything to do with the gifts I received and were about family time instead. I wonder what will stick with W when she is older. So far, a love of kringle and rocking out to Trans-Siberian Orchestra have been passed down, but we are also starting some of our own traditions, some of which include a breakfast lollipop and outdoor scooter adventures.
Maybe one day our Christmas tradition will include sending actual Christmas cards out. I feel like that is still one last ‘adulthood’ threshold I need to cross. I am in awe of people who a) not only keep an up-to-date address book but b) get them out on time. Until then, at least I have this blog? If you need me, I’ll be racing my daughter’s scooter down the dock and embracing my inner child today.
Sun’s out, tools out! Almost everyone at Gottschalk Marina took advantage of a rare sunny and calm weekend to tackle some winter boat chores.
On Story Time, Conor completed a project he’s been planning since summer—installing secondary AC power! We now have two 30-amp power cords that run to the boat, which will allow us to run additional space heaters if temperatures drop too low this winter. Between this and the new batteries he installed this summer, he is quite the boat electrical expert by this point! I’m no longer scared of accidental electrocution. If you want a step-by-step guide or need some advice for your own boat, please email us through the contact page! We are happy to help.
Boaters were out in full force on B-dock. Even though it was almost perfect sailing weather, nobody left! There was a joyous camaraderie with everyone working their butts off and lending a hand to whomever needed it. There was teak scrubbing, bimini installation, deck cleaning, painting, engine repairs, and more happening on Sunday. Best of all, the new NO WAKE buoy was installed! Hooray for a safer marina!
There’s no telling when the next gorgeous weekend will be this winter, but hopefully we can take advantage of it with the sails up!
Yep, you read the title right. 130 people. I have no idea what possessed me to say yes to this crazy plan, but I’m so glad we did! Story Time volunteered to be one of the stops for the Camp Lejeune Officer Spouses Club “Tour of Homes” this holiday season.
First, I had to learn what a “Tour of Homes” actually was—I guess it isn’t a big thing where we’re from on the west coast? It happens around Christmastime and people buy tickets to walk through houses and look at all the festive decorations. In this case, everyone who offered to be a stop on the OSC tour also planned a particular theme, signature appetizer, and alcoholic drink. The 2019 tour this past weekend included a total of six homes scattered around base plus one surprise—US!
The other homes looked incredible. I was blown away at the attention to detail and unique looks with the Nightmare Before Christmas house, a mid-century modern vibe (think Mad Men!), and a Harry Potter wonderland. Amid such creativity, I was so nervous that people would be let down with our “Caribbean Christmas” theme and wayyyyyy fewer decorations than our counterparts. I was also watching the weather obsessively and praying that high winds and rain would stay away because we planned an indoor/outdoor event.
Here is the little blurb I wrote up for the brochure to introduce our lifestyle:
Permission to come aboard Story Time, our 38-foot Catalina sailboat! She has been home to our family of three (+dog) since early 2017. In order to become full-time liveaboards, we embraced a minimalist mindset and downsized 95% of our belongings. Everything we own now has a place and a purpose, which can make decorating for the holidays a bit challenging. Even with space limitations, our boat is still cozy and festive when all dressed up!
We decided on a Caribbean Christmas theme to represent our cruising dreams. This time next year, we will cast off and head south to island-hop for the foreseeable future. For now, we want everyone to relax during the flurry of the holiday season and remind you that “every little thing is gonna be all right”.
So, kick off your shoes, let down your hair, and drink some rum. For us, the Christmas spirit is about being surrounded by people you love. The USMC holds a special place in our hearts, and we hope yours opens to our way of life!
I hoped it set the tone for the evening to come, but I was freaking out at the thought of hosting 130 people on board over the course of 3 hours. Thankfully, they arrived in groups of about 20 and stayed for 20 min before moving on to the next house. It was enough time to send everyone down for a look belowdecks with my amazing docent and fellow liveaboard, Corri. Conor was also a great sport and cooked 40 lbs of jerk chicken to make the chilled jerk chicken and pineapple skewers while keeping everyone boozed up with a delicious rum punch.
The Gottschalk Marina family was supportive throughout the event and didn’t mind one bit that 130 strangers marched through their backyard. I had so many helpers lend us decorations, tables, tents, lights, serving trays, custom crafts, and recipes. We begged, borrowed, and stole 😉 our way through the event and in true minimalist fashion, only really spent money on food and drink. It would not have been possible without them! True boater love.
I think we were a hit. Dozens of people were intrigued by our tiny living, travel capabilities, and close-knit lifestyle. Many walked away with my business card directing them to this blog to answer further questions, so if you’re new here and learned about us from the tour, welcome! If you’re looking for downsizing tips, check out this link. If you’re looking for information on how to buy a boat and live aboard, check out this post!
Here’s a look at our tour setup:
During the season of consumerism, it was a great way to show how much you can do with so little!
Fun fact: It’s been just me, W, and Scout on the boat since Hurricane Dorian. During the evacuation, Conor had to leave to attend a military school for two months on the west coast. HE JUST CAME HOME!
Let me tell you, it has not been easy. Major props to single parents out there. I’ve been going going going for weeks with no break. Also, I’ve had to do all the dirty boat chores AND handle an increasingly opinionated toddler. In the past two months, I’ve done 3 pump outs, fixed the central air twice, hauled laundry/groceries/garbage up the docks more times than I can count, shuttled W to swim EVERY DAY+ story time, gymnastics, tot time, and park visits. Itsy bitsy spider and baby shark haunted my dreams. There was either a child clinging to me or a dog in my lap 24/7. My autonomy disappeared.
And I really, really, really missed my adventure partner in all of this.
I know I’ve been sparse with updates recently, but I’ll get back to posting more frequently instead of collapsing on the couch at the end of each day. Thankfully, this was the last major hurdle before the reserves next year. Now that it’s done (and he kicked butt at the school!) we can focus on sailing, cruising prep, and time as a family again. The Marine Corps ball is next week, and we are taking the boat down to Wilmington for 5 nights. Stay tuned for trip updates and see if these boat people can get fancy.
Stroller. Life jacket. Sailing harness. Elephant leash. Lillebaby backpack.
W does not leave the boat without one of these devices. People make jokes when they see my toddler on a leash but Scout running free on the docks. My response? “I trust my dog more than I trust my kid not to fall into the water.” Also, Scout can swim. Little kids are complete egoists with no semblance of self-preservation. Their curiosity knows no bounds. They also like to do the exact opposite of what you tell them.
I encourage W to test her limits daily. She climbs, falls, runs, swings, and plays harder than any kid I’ve met. She makes mistakes and learns from them. Part of this ‘run wild, my child’ mindset is fostering a way and an environment where she can do that independently—but not around water just yet. That’s why I signed W up for ISR.
ISR is a swim program that teaches survival swimming to infants and toddlers. It is an intensive course that runs Monday through Friday for 6-8 weeks straight. Lessons are only 10 minutes per day, but at the end of this program W will be able to fall face-first and fully clothed into the pool, flip herself over, and float on her back. She will learn how to save herself. Here is a link to the website for more information. Be aware, some of the stories are tear-jerkers!
Of course, ISR training is NOT a substitute for child supervision around water. It will just add extra piece of mind in case, God forbid, she ends up in the river. As scary as it is to consider this happening, I need to give my child all the tools I can to support her, especially considering our lifestyle.
We’ve got one full week under our belts. I say ‘we’ because the time and money commitment to this as parents is no joke. W is also understanding that sometimes we must be comfortable with being uncomfortable in order to learn new skills. I just know that it will all be worth it in the end, and she will be SO PROUD of herself for learning to swim.
A quick update for everyone—we are safe, we are back, docks are still standing, boats are still floating. Thank you to everyone who kept Story Time and all of Gottschalk Marina in their thoughts during Hurricane Dorian. We know how lucky we were to just get a small taste of Dorian before he headed out to the ocean. Hopefully this will be the only evacuation this season (knock on wood).
So happy to be back to normal life, and I can’t wait for this part of the year to be over.
There is nothing quite like the quiet that blankets a marina before a hurricane. You would expect that the days leading up to it would be all hustle and bustle, everyone on deck as they prepare their boats for the worst. You think it would be loud—halyards clanging and dock carts rumbling and people chatting. Last-minute laundry, canvas coming down, and engines rumbling.
Instead, tension tightens the air. Conversation is stilted; “Do you need help with anything? When are you evacuating?” Everyone keeps their head down trying to remember an expanding list of stuff left to do. We watch the horizon and worry about how much time we have left. The humidity weighs us down and fills our lungs. We move through water, drained mentally and physically. The list never seems to get shorter, and after our 30th trip up and down the docks, we are tired. Dinner consists of whatever we can scrounge from the fridge before we have to throw out the rest. Pump outs, fuel, water tanks… Oh! Don’t forget the sea cocks under the v-berth. Did anyone tape the propane valves shut?
One slip up and it could cost us a lot—even our boat. I will admit, we are more prepared this time than for Florence. In August, Boat Tribe came up with a checklist for hurricane season. I thought I would share it here:
Now, we watch and wait while Hurricane Dorian directs its wrath toward the North Carolina coast. Yesterday, we evacuated inland to Winston-Salem and are safe and sound. Story Time survived Florence, Gottschalk Marina endured, and I’m hoping we will be as lucky this time around. Keeping everyone affected in our hearts this week. If you’re in the path, let us know how you fare.
Well, folks, it finally happened. After 2+ years of living aboard, my phone decided to go for a swim.
W and I were playing up in the cockpit yesterday morning. She was of course wearing her life jacket, but decided to try and step off the boat by herself. I grabbed her before she succeeded, and in doing so I sacrificed my phone.
PLOP. Right into the river.
I looked at her. She looked at me. “Mama. Uh oh!”
Yep. Uh oh was right.
I think drowning a phone is right of passage for all boaters. I’m actually surprised I held out this long. A wave of acceptance washed over me as I stared into the murky depths below. Sighing, I went to procure a net. My wonderful neighbor Ron came out and used his expertise to fish for it. Apparently, this was the fourth phone he’d scooped up this year.
Five minutes later, it was back in my hands, covered in mud. It had a case on it, but the port covers were not all the way sealed when it dunked. I wiped it off as best I could, put it in a bag of rice for 24 hours, and hoped for the best.
There was nothing more to do, so why stress? Surprisingly, it ended up being an awesome 24 hours. I kind of liked not being able to talk to anyone, be “on call”, feel guilty for not responding to people right away. No hotspot, no internet, nothing but the here and now. I was completely unplugged and totally present.
W and I had a wonderful day. After my weekend trip to Nashville to celebrate my mom’s 60th, I missed our quality time together. It was quiet and sweet, just the two of us. After she went to bed, instead of procrastinating with Netflix I did some boat projects that had been on my to-do list for a while and got some editing done.
This morning, miracle of miracles, the phone worked when I turned it back on. It is a little janky—the speakerphone works but not regular audio, the center button freaks out, and I am having trouble importing pictures to my computer—but it lives. I thought for sure it was done.
I am happy and grateful that my phone works, but this past day was a great reminder to slow down. I want to make it a regular thing, maybe once per week. Turn everything off and not worry that I’m missing out on something. The cruising lifestyle requires this, so it will be good practice for next year!
As the tagline for this blog points out, ‘we are a military family sailing by the seat of our pants’. Therefore, when I saw this quote, I immediately felt it in my bones:
“A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week.” —General George Patton
We are learning as we go. We are not boat experts, or salty sailors, or even semi-experienced cruisers. Yes, it is scary. We could have waited to live this life until we felt more prepared, had better timing, weren’t raising a toddler, no longer in the military…waiting, waiting, waiting…
What we have is messy, sometimes chaotic, difficult, and time-consuming. Constant learning curves, fixing what breaks, and always getting interrupted whenever we settle into a routine. It is decidedly not perfect, but it doesn’t have to be. I would take this life a million times over rather than still be in the planning phase, too afraid to pull the trigger until I answered all the ‘what-ifs’ that kept me up at night.
Right now I’m reading Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. It is mostly about writing, but her advice for creative living beyond fear is also applicable to liveaboard life, or for anyone who yearns to live passionately.
She says: “And you have treasures hidden within you—extraordinary treasures—and so do I, and so does everyone around us. And bringing these treasures to light takes work and faith and focus and courage and hours of devotion and the clock is ticking, and the world is spinning, and we simply do not have time anymore to think so small.”
So if you have faith and focus and courage and devotion, you already have the tools you need to put your plan into action. Figure it out as you go, but don’t wait forever to make the decision. What would you do if you were not afraid?
People who find out we live on a boat: “How do you deal with a toddler in such a small space?”
Me: “How do you keep track of your toddler in such a large space?”
But really, I think no matter where you live, entertaining a toddler is hard work. This is the struggle that all parents face, the never-ending question of “What are we going to DO today?”
Pros for living on a boat with a toddler:
I’m never more than 10 feet from her at any given time
Boat-proofed is automatically baby-proofed. Everything is latched, furniture is built in, and corners are rounded.
A lot of time spent outdoors
When we are all on the boat, we are all hanging out together!
Don’t have tons of toys underfoot
Everything is spill-proof and waterproof
I’m never more than 10 feet from her at any given time
Silence is never an option
Deck time always involves a lifejacket
No space indoors to run her ragged
The last con is the biggest hurdle for us. How do I make sure my toddler burns off enough energy when she can’t run around outside due to weather? Summer here is challenging. 105 degree days with sudden thunderstorms. Here’s what we do to fill our week and get off the boat:
Early morning walks (most mornings) with an hour pit stop at the park. It is usually cool and shaded enough until 9 am. W can climb to her heart’s content while Scout and I get some exercise.
Story time at Barnes&Noble. Music, books, and socialization with kids. Plus, it is air-conditioned and there is an indoor play area at the other end of the mall. More things to climb.
Tot Time on base, or as W calls it, “T-T!” There is a 2-hour ‘free play’ for kids under 2 in one of the community center gyms on Camp Lejeune. Different toys and socialization time in the AC!
Gymnastics on Thursdays in the ‘Mommy and Me’ class. I think this one is her favorite. By the time the hour class is done, she usually falls asleep in the car.
Starbucks usually precedes a trip to the grocery store. Caffeine boost for Mom and a croissant for W! A good place to hang and people watch.
Library visits are also a favorite. We frequent two that are on base. They have separate kids rooms with puzzles and play structures, too!
Pool time is reserved for super-hot afternoons and extra-energy days. W likes the shaded kiddy pool, and 1 hr after playing in that she’s ready for bed.
Beach days are the best, but less frequent due to the absolute mess involved (read: SAND EVERYWHERE) but we usually go at least once per week. Conor loves doing this with her, so it is usually on the weekend.
Deck time will also entertain W for a while, as long as there is ice involved! Easiest entertainment ever: Get a bag of ice. Put out bowls of different sizes. Give toddler a big spoon. Have her move ice to various containers. When it melts, no cleanup needed! I don’t know why this is so amusing, but W loves it.
These are the big ones. When we are on the boat, we play games, sing songs, build block towers, read books, color, play pretend with baby doll, and try to empty various cabinets.
How do you entertain your toddler? Give me ideas below!