Friday, October 12, 2012

Raft-Up: Counting Heads

Who Me?
Who Me?
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
"I feel like I'm forgetting something," I muse, staring at the skyline as if miles of ocean horizon can reveal the secrets of my forgetfulness. It is calm, cloudless, and unfortunately almost still as we crawl slowly off the Mexican coastline heading south and west for the equator.

Aeron helpfully peeks into the dodger locker, "Cat is here."

DrC grumbles something about fuel from the galley where he is preparing dinner.

Jaime more or less completely unhelpfully notes that she remembered to check her Facebook account before we left the marina three hours ago.

And then there is silence.

In case you haven't been following along, I have three children. Aeron, Jaime, and Mera. We all wait for a few breathless, still moments, the only sound the flapping of the main as it luffs in the gentle swells and off shore breeze. Almost as one, we turn to look at the smudge on the distant horizon.

"I'll look," says Aeron, jumping down off the cockpit seat and scrambling into the port hull.
Jaime, Dean and I don't move. We are all sharing the same, miserable thought. Oh shit. We left Mera behind.

It's not like we haven't done this before. In fact, it is something of a habit, leaving Mera behind. Mera is our quiet, studious, bookish middle child. For years as we learned to drive the boat, we would take Don Quixote out every Thursday night for the Elliot Bay Marina races. Roughly half the time, we'd leave her on the dock and for many of the remaining evenings we could honestly state after sailing for an hour that we didn't actually know whether or not Mera was on board. It got so bad that DrC insisted we put a check list on the helm: dock lines and fenders stowed, instruments on, electrical unplugged, radio on, Mera on board.

Fortunately, the silent miserable tableaux of the three senior crew of Don Quixote is broken mere moments later by a relieved, high soprano voice shouting up, "She's here! She's HERE!"

Maybe we are just rotten parents. If so, we're probably bad pet owners, too. Twice we more or less accidentally left Dulcinea behind. Once we left the dinghy behind. And on one memorable occasion, we kinda sorta accidentally snuck out of an anchorage in the wee hours of the morning abandoning a pair of particularly obnoxious 'buddy boats.'

Yet I must confess that my biggest fear cruising has never been that I would stupidly head off shore for a 2000 nautical mile trip one head short of a full deck. My children are clever, capable souls and can handle being alone for a few hours. At age 5, Aeron proved the point when we drove to the grocery store one day and left her at the marina. As an aside, this was also Mera's fault, as Mera's seat in the van was next to Aeron's. How she could get all the way to the store and into the produce section failing to notice something as loud and noisy as her sister was missing baffles me to this day. A panicky 15 minutes later, we arrived back at the marina and found Aeron eating donuts and entertaining the staff in the office where she had -- quite correctly -- immediately tromped after discovering that her bonehead family had driven off without her.

No, my fear is almost exclusively the loss of one of my beautiful family overboard in the night.

The odds of finding someone -- even someone wearing a life jacket -- in the middle of the ocean at night are astronomically low. If everyone else is asleep when you fall over, the phrase 'zero chance of survival' is not hyperbole. Beacons, personal EPIRBs, and proximity crew alarms all improve your odds, of course. These options were simply not priced in the affordable range a mere five years go, so the Conger family travelled from Seattle to Auckland without them. If we could have, we would have. If you can, do. If you can't...

Well even with all the fancy shmancy gear in the world, surviving a midnight fall off an ocean going yacht is mostly a matter of not doing it. Doctor, it hurts when I do this! Don't do that. My fear of falling informs our boat rules and gear. A simple but well-cared for system of jacklines, harnesses, clips, and life jackets tie the helmsman to the boat no matter what the weather. On passage, no one is allowed to step so much as a toe on the deck without this gear from the time the sunlight turns to burnished gold on the horizon to the moment in the morning where the coffee is steaming and its possible to read a book in the salon without additional light.

Misty Beaches
Misty Beaches
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
And still I am afraid. I still experience panicky moments when I come up at 2 AM for my watch and die a little when I can't instantly track Jaime's movements. Nights when I leap out of my cabin at 10 during DrC's watch, heart pounding, sure he's gone forever. I have tended the boat through 90 knot hurricane winds, managed sails while balanced precariously on the bimini  as we pitched in a heaving sea, leaped overboard at midnight to clear a prop with my feet when we were moments from being driven ashore, and watched my children leap like billy goats along a traverse in Zion with a 1000 foot drop on either side. Yet nothing -- absolutely nothing -- scares me like these moments in the night when I know with a certainty that leaves me cold that one of my loved ones is gone.

Our fears can not define the boundary of our existence or the limit of our reach. To watch my girls swim with whales, I have to let them stand watch in the night. To love them -- to let them live -- I have to trust them not to die. It's hard. It's so hard to count heads and come up one short. And yet every night, we do it anyway.

I keep counting and counting and counting until the number is five plus a cat, and every time the moment of relief is pure and fresh and profound.

 * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

October's Raft-Up Writers

The topic this month is fear. We all have different fears and different strategies. If you haven't already subscribed to these authors, I encourage you to explore the excellent writing my fellows in Raft-Up:
2 Behan
3 Steph
4 Stacey
5 Tammy
6 Ean
7 Lynn
8 Diane
10 Jaye
11 Verena
12 Toast
15 Dana

Monday, September 24, 2012

Juicy News

Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
Jaime wants to reboot. Actually, I think she just desperately wants to look amazing for The Ball in two weeks. I can't see how eating nothing but pulverized produce for a week is going to help attain that objective, but I m not 16. At 16 literally anything is possible. The real question isn't why Jaime is juicing, but why DrC and I plan to join her.

I confess that we come late to this fashionable new trend. As soon as I started researching the subject, it became clear that as far as health fads go, we are probably the last people in the world to the table. Maybe this was super hot while we were on Mexico or in the middle of the Pacific with no bandwidth. Regardless, we are complete novices to the notion of the Juice Reboot. Babes in the vegan woods.

Of course, normally we don't do stuff like this. DrC is both a qualified doctor of Western style medicine and a skeptic... Some would say a cynic,actually. We dont go much for hokkum, snake oil, or homeopathy. We are more the ibuprofen, fish oil, and water types. We never went Atkins and my South Beach phase never made it past the third day. DrC's first considered medical action regarding my health nearly 25 years ago was to force-feed me beef to address my anemia. And when I say force fed, I mean it, complete with two inch thick fillets, crumbled bleu, Ceasar salad with fresh garlic croutons, and a really fine Cabernet. He is a truly horrible beast.

So why a more than a little bit trendy fad diet? Maybe just because.

Because we want to eat less meat for health, environmental, and economic reasons.
Because we need to cut down on the caffeine and wine.
Because we have been eating way too much bread and processed food during the last year.
Because Jaime wants to and we are just that awesome at parenting.

Or maybe because DrC had trouble buttoning his top jeans button this weekend for the first time in his entire life.

So this week we embark on a 5 day Reboot. Actually, this week we prep. We need to scope our local, fresh produce, get a decent juicer, make meal plans, go shopping. We pinky promised to start reducing the processed, the white, and the booze. Jaime is pulling down recipes, DrC nutritional info, and me the meal plan recommendations.

The official juice-only days start Monday. I think I will blog it end to end. Reboots have been blogged a million times by people all over the world, so I will add precisely nothing to the conversation. There is, however, something delightfully naughty about allowing myself for the first time to consider blogging what I had for lunch. The slow slide into rut-dom over the last year has been depressing emotionally and creatively. Maybe a steady diet of nasty tasting smoothies will inspire me.

It's also possible it will just make me gassy.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Raft-Up: What's in a Name?

That Can't Be Right
That Can't Be Right
Originally uploaded by toastfloats
It's a lovely Saturday afternoon, and I am standing on the dock at Elliott Bay Marina in Seattle Washington staring at the back of my boat. Hands on hips, head cocked at angle, I study the old style script lovelingly plasticized to the transom of our 380 Lagoon catamaran. There's no hope for it.

"Dean. It says Vancouver, BC."

He glances away from his self-satisfied perusal of the brand new, 4-foot tall reproduction of Picasso's Don Quixote sketch afixed to the bow only yesterday. He agrees, "It does."

I point out, "Dean. We're from Washington."

He returns his attention back to the loving perusal of our port bow and notes, "There is a Vancouver in Washington."

It's hard not to agree. I can read a map. I even got a ticket once in Vancouver crossing over the bridge from Portland. A real speed trap there as you cross over the Oregon border... you've been warned.

So I agree,"True." I stare at the graphic giving the problem further consideration and chew my bottom lip. "Dean, we're not even Canadian."

He finally recognizes that I face a deep moral quandry. I'm unhappy, and, good husband that he is, he walks down the finger slip, around the corner and drapes his arm around my shoulder as he pronounces cheerfully, "But we could be!" At my skeptical look, he waves an arm at the city and adds,"We might as well be!!"

I look at the sky line full of puffy clouds, sparkling waters, gorgeous mountain backdrops with tall pine trees framing a beautiful, bustling waterfront city. It does look like Vancouver. I concede, "That's also true..." But my reservations persist, and I must make the case for sanity. "I bet the U.S. Coast Guard doesn't have much of a horseshoes and hand grenades approach to port call signs."

This momentarily dims my husband's enthusiasm. The U.S. Coast Guard. Hadn't of that, had he. I start to feel a bit smug, "This has got to go Dean. We're not Canadian." It bears repeating. I like Canada. I like salmon and rockies as much as the next person, but my eh is more of a California girl uh, and I can not fathom why people watch curling. "We just can't pass."

We are different, Dean. My husband, my love, my insane captain. They are of Canada with a capital C, and we are a US flagged vessel with a capital U.S. So, "Call the graphics company and get them to fix it."

"Yes dear."

I then promptly forget about the graphic faux pas. In our flurry to cut the lines by May, I have many 100s of tasks to accomplish. Even in the simple realm of boat branding, there are boat cards to design and print, an embossing stamp to order for official paperwork (which we never in five years of cruising actually used, by the way), t-shirts to buy, and a flag to sew. We take pictures for the web site, which is a design effort in and of itself. I iron our logos on to hoodies for cold weather, and then I register the domain in addition to toastfloats, toastworks and pretty much every variation of

Which is why in May 2008, we cut the lines and sail away from Seattle on a boat proudly flying the U.S. flag and the home port esignia of our neighbors to the north.

No one noticed.

The U.S. Coast Guard didn't notice.

The Canadian Coast Guard didn't notice.

The Mexican Armada was most interested in our completion of the "Did You Have a Satisfactory Boarding at Sea Experience" card. I'm not sure they even checked if we had visas and the legal right to be in the country, let alone whether the home port emblazoned on the boat was the same as the home port specified in our boat documents.

French Polynesia never looked at our boat, let alone the back, and while the Cook Island folks were thorough, we were checked into the country at a port where every resident of the island had a vested interested in assuring our safe and happy passage through their island nation. I don't think Tonga realized we had a boat, though they did go to great lengths to discuss the proper disposal of our trash.

You know who notices our fraudulent logos?

You got it. Canadian yachties. Every single one dingies up and finds out to their great dismay that we are Seattlites. We've faked them out. We are not carrying a cache of CBC shows. We don't watch hocky. We're clueless about the latest doings of the Prime Minister. Fortunately, Canadians a generous people. And frankly, we are from Washington. Which has a Vancouver. It might as well be Canada.

And we're all a very long way from home. Pass the Molson.

More Raft-up


Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Another Self Portrait

Another Self Portrait
by toastfloats
The answer to why we stopped sailing is highly dependent on a number of factors: who you ask, when you ask, and whether or not we have had anything to drink.

The short answer most consistently proffered is that we ran out of money. It's easy to understand. Frankly, most folks can't imagine how we could afford to take off so many years anyway. Admitting that the cash is gone seems a logical barrier to further adventuring. But of course, it isn't strictly true. We didn't run out of money so much as we ran out of liquid cash. We could have stopped and worked briefly then continued (as did our good friends Totem). We could have made money en route (as do our good friends Ceildyh). We could have sold everything we still own and liquidated the rest of our savings (as have too many boats to name). The last thing I want to do is discourage people from cruising based on the mistaken notion that it can't be done on limited funds. It can.

And weirdly, the real problems with money started on landing in New Zealand. It's like Murphy -- having largely left us alone for major problems for nearly five years -- decided to move in. It started with just landing in the country: cat ($1300), medicals for immigration ($750), immigration ($1500? I can't remember… I was in a daze), Dean's medical reinstatement (a couple of thousands to various folks… and yes it was all legal), and a thousand dollar transformer so we could plug into New Zealand shore power. Then my nose decided to implode ($5000 USD deductible), the heater melted ($2700), and the batteries exploded (will be ~$2500). Self inflicted wounds include a latte'd laptop ($1000), a trip to the States (~$6000), and an iPhone ($350… yes, I got a 3GS unlocked ). The van was a few grand, school uniforms and "donations" another two, and a business wardrobe for me which probably set us back at least 50 dollars.

It's hard not to buckle. We can not can not can not get ahead which is an awful feeling. I try to console myself with the knowledge that if even half of this crap went down while we were sailing around last year, it would have bankrupted us. With money coming in, we can basically -just- keep up. But it would be nice to catch a break.

Or a job. A job would be good.

The radio silence on the blog these past months resulted from the fact that I finally did get some work. A former employee of mine moved on to bigger and better things, then revisited his past by to hire me as an editor. It was surprisingly fun work to dig into my technical writing roots. The documents were some of the most technical I've ever read, let alone edited. I learned about touch sense capacitors, oscillators, and methods to send IP packets over an electrical power line. I totally geeked out. I actually -- wait for it -- learned how to use the Equation Editor in Word. The single most important lesson from this experience was that Microsoft Word sucks. It is horrible. I will pay clients from now on to switch applications.

Aeron Peace Out
Aeron Peace Out
by toastfloats
Now, I have a new client, the IS team at Tegel Foods. For Americans, think Foster Farms with a Kiwi accent. They want to upscale the docs and training for the self-rolled software systems. I very much look forward to this. The project is in my favorite zone of work -- build awesomeness from raw materials and get paid.

Paid is good.

So if Murphy will just park his ass someplace else for a few months, maybe we can finally start saving for Jaime's college education. Gotta start somewhere.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Raft-Up: Laundry Day on Don Quixote

by toastfloats
White Trash Boating
by toastfloats

"It's not that I don't love them," I muse while shifting roughly a million pounds of stinking, moldy, food encrusted clothing from the hulls into the cockpit. "It's that I would love them more if they did the laundry."

My husband apparently agrees, "They're old enough. Make them."

I am properly incredulous, "Make them." Make them. Wow. That's simple. Make three girls aged 9, 12, and 14, do something smelly, tedious, and hard. Okay. 

"You make them."

Proving that my daughters are not the only children on the boat, "No, you make them." 

I glare at my husband, hands on hip. "I cooked, I cleaned out the refrigerator, AND…" and here is the triumphal feather in my cap, "I rebuilt the starboard head." Firmly and without any hesitation, I consign DrC to hell, "You Make Them." And with that, I metaphorically wash my hands of the dish towels, panties, and shorts and head below to play World of Goo. 

The problem with laundry on a boat is that it's hard. It's laundry without a net. Actually, it's laundry without a washing machine, a dryer, or good quality, environmentally friendly soap. In fact, it's laundry without water since we start with nothing but salt water, a cranky water maker, and an attitude. The problem with laundry on our boat is that we have a lot of it.

I know people who put washing machines on their cruising sail boats. We call them weekenders. Real cruisers use their washing machines to store foulies or mangos or a replacement halyard. The chandleries sell little jokes called washing tumblers which are both too small and waste far too much water to provide a practical solution to the mountains of filthy clothing produced by three active girls and a pirate. 

I, of course, am laundry-less. While cruising, I live in an pair of hi-tech REI shorts (panties built in) and a sports bra, both of which I can wash with a bit of dish soap in a coffee mug and dry by waving them at my husband in a tauntingly sexy fashion. I don't believe there is such a thing as a boat under 100 feet  with a clothes drier. This is, of course, why safety lines were invented. It sure as hell wasn't to prevent you or your expensive boat gear from falling off the boat as we have repeatedly proven.

So. Washing on Don Quixote is an all day affair… at least. Sometimes several days. We pull out several gargantuan plastic buckets. Normal folk in the Real World buy these at WalMart to store things that they don't want but are afraid to throw away. They accumulate like drier lint in the back of closets and in garages and in attics. We fill the buckets about half full of water and a toxic Mexican laundry soap, then jam in every item of clothing we own, an indeterminant number of towels and several pillow cases. 

Then we wait. There is a theory amongst the DQ clan that if we wait long enough, the laundry will wash itself. Sometimes, this works… as in the time that the laundry was taken over by a desperate colony of thirsty bees who sucked the water out. Then there was the time it sat long enough that the smell made us dump the entire lot into the ocean rather than touch it to retrieve our belongings. 

However, mostly, the wait is for an hour or two and then the hard slogging work begins. Using a toilet bowl plunger or bare feet, we stomp the dirt out. It's like making wine the old fashioned way but without the production of palatable beverages. Then in three-man teams, we wring the sludge out using our hand crank Dynajet wringer. Load up some fresh water, repeat the stomp, repeat the wring. And again. And sometimes again because let's face it… we're filthy. 

Drying involves clipping a carabiner to each and every item of clothing. We used to use clothes pins but a 25 knot breeze one evening reduced our underwear stock by roughly 70% and took out my only push-up bra so now we clip everything to the lines in a fashion that would withstand a hurricane. Several hours later, we pull the fresh, hand-washed, line-dried linens off the halyards and sheets, completely faded of all color and with the elastic blown to hell but with the bright smell of chemical lavender.

Laundry Girls
by toastfloats
Only a short while passes while I take on the challenge of moving little balls of electronic, physics challenged goo from one location to another on my laptop, but no sounds of war upstairs is promising. DrC pops his head down into the cabin, and says, "Let's move the boat. We'll go to Bahia El Coyote."

My eyebrows go up, "What about the laundry?"

The pirate smile starts to creep through his beard, eyes dancing he says, "I had an idea." 

Twenty minutes later, we are steaming very slowly south to a new bay. Behind us, the dinghy is full of water, laundry, soap, and children, the mix gently agitating in our steady, bouncy wake. Sitting at the helm while my grinning husband drinks a beer at my side as the girls scream with laughter, I admit, "You're brilliant, you know."

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

On Their Own

It's Not That Far, Honey
It's Not That Far Honey
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
I have a few cardinal rules for parenting...

Wait. No... I have several cardinal rules for parenting...

Hrm. Okay, actually I have bazillions of cardinal rules for parenting.

One of our hard and fast parenting rules pertains to 'helicoptering' or the avoidance thereof. DrC and I try so hard not to hover that we have achieved a state of zen subterraneanism. The manner in which our children venture forth into the world completely unguarded from the various slings and arrows of outraged Other Folk can and has been described as neglect. I prefer to think of it as creative unobstructionism.

While cruising, it is easy to forget how unusual we are because we literally swim in a sea of corner-case people. It is also true that the cruising community might well be the most supportive place in the world to raise children. In the absence of winged parents, the girls have spent years with cruisers in all shapes and sizes who want nothing more than to see them to a better place physically, emotionally, and educationally. Maybe small towns are like this, maybe communes. Hard to say. I just know that DrC and I -- never mind our daughters -- owe an exceptional debt of gratitude to the amazing people who raised the girls with us and who continue to support them.

Which is all to provide context for the oddly Rut Roh! quality of the week. The first hint that we're not the average North Shore family came in the form of an email from one of the girls' deans.

"Your child missed a day of class without a note and was late for two more. She says she has trouble catching the bus in the morning. Would you please write said child a note and help her get on the bus?"



"No really. Her problem. What's your policy for such things?"

"Um.... detention?"

"Great. Go for it."

"No note?"


"No help for the bus?"

"Absolutely not."


The child in question immediately stepped up to the plate. "Yeah, I screwed up. Yeah, I'll do detention. Yeah, I'm sorry. No, I won't do it again." She's now talking about staying every day after school for an hour in a self-imposed detention since it appears to be the best way to force herself to sit down and master physics. I don't know how much of that I believe, but I do know that she wasn't surprised that we wouldn't defend and protect her. We're not Uncle Sam. Her mistakes, her responsibility, and her job to fix it. And honestly? This child isn't a child any more. She's a very smart young woman who is making her own choices. Some of those appear in the short run to be surprisingly bone-headed while others are so smart they make my eyes water. Ultimately, I am positive she is going to be just fine, assuming we don't all kill each other before we get her off on her own. And if she's making decisions now that mean life will be tougher in the future, she gives every appearance of understanding the trade-off.

Another befuddling problem is the fact that every single person who interacts with the girls appears to think DrC and I give a damn about their scheduling commitments. I really don't care if they have a meeting, netball practice, rehearsal, or spray tan appointment. The sole service I am willing to provide is to add the events to the family calendar and print it once a week. As soon as the home network gets set up (please let those pay checks start to roll in!), I won't even do that. If paid, I will taxi them around town. You think I'm joking. Every month the girls get a bus allowance. If they want me to drive them because the skies are falling -- and in Auckland this is actually a literal weather condition "Skies Falling" -- then they pay me $1.10/person. I'm just about ready to route all the school notification spam to /dev/null.

Jaime at the Lakes
Jaime at the Lakes 
 Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
So the question becomes at what point are we failing to provide the supportive and loving environment deemed necessary for kids to thrive? What I believe what might ultimately redeem us is that we will do just about anything the girls ask us to do. Dad, can you please chaperone the intermediate school disco? Yes. Mom, can you put my hair in pin curls every morning for the play? Of course. Dad, can you read my essay? Yep. What makes people mean? Can you find me an alternative to going to college straight out of high school? Can you help me find white knee high socks? Why is my body doing this? What is the square root of 7? Can you stay up with me while I try to make the national level in this math game? Did you download Glee? How do I calculate the volume of a bottle of mustard? Where's the cat? Can you help me build a shelf? Why are people homophobic? Clearly, we are not completely disengaged, though it's hard to say if the pull method of parenting rather than push notifications is any superior.

So no, Dean Good Guy, we're not going to rescue her. No Director Great Show, we're not going to hold her hand and make her little sandwiches. No Coach Energetic, we don't plan on driving her to morning practice. We suck. Fortunately, the girls don't, so don't worry about it too much. They'll get there.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Do It Yourself - Science

Hands Across Takapuna
Originally uploaded by toastfloats
I am not impressed with our global, political leadership. Actually, I am not particularly impressed with their economic leadership, their intellectual capacity, or really any important aspect of their personalities, politics, choices, or methods. In fact, I am becoming That Guy when it comes to politics. Cranky.

Basically, every single one of them appears to spend their day figuring out new ways to make me cranky.

Fortunately, my good friends in the computer world introduced me to ways of thinking that I find sufficiently utopian and anarchist to salve my bruised spirits. The open source movement gives me a nice tingly feeling every time I prowl around and download software or read a well-written blog. When I hear bits of news about progress driven by an X prize, learn of software bazillionaires funding private expeditions to mine asteroids, or monitor the progress of Diaspora, a wee bit of optimism returns.

Kickstarter rocks my world.

Now I have another in my list of reasons to not despair: the #SciFund Challenge. From their web site:

The #SciFund Challenge brings scientists together on RocketHub to raise money directly from people like you. The goal: To fund research in new ways and to connect everyone to the excitement of doing science.

Yeah! You want science to move forward, and you don't think your pet interest is getting enough love and attention in the form of public funding? Fine. Pay for it yourself. I like this idea at so many levels. As a serious skeptic, I'd like to see a lot of nonsense debunked with nice, double-blind, ultra-well constructed tests. While there will always be those who choose to ignore the results, having them in hand to argue with is certainly a starting point. Or maybe I would just like to see more SETI research or help some high school students do serious science or help someone design a better hospital gown.

See, it really doesn't matter, right? I can throw my $10, $20, $100 at whatever toots my horn, yanks my chain, drives my curiosity.

Actually, it's all a bit nepotistic on Don Quixote since I confess that we chose this year to fund a friend doing evolution research. One of those things that routinely has us banging heads on the desk is political leaders who think the world is only 6000 years old. Or 3000. Or ending in 2012. Anything that supports evolution science is yummy tasty to both DrC and myself. Siouxsie's project is a nicely blended mix of "support evolution science" and "figure out how to deal with the super bugs evolving to kill us" dripped liberally with flossies. I'm a cruiser. Small bits that float around and phoesforesce is near and dear. For our pledge, she says she will draw a few words of our choice in glowing bacteria. Be still my beating heart. DrC would like her to write "Fiat Lux" while I am rather partial to the completely self-aggrandizing Toast Floats.

Your opinion matters! Tell me... what should we have Siouxsie write in bug lights?

And PS, go fund science. Now.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Their Adventures

Could Be Mars
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
I need to talk about my children for a few minutes. This is going to be a fatuous, fluttery, overly sweet and sentimental in-your-face-my-children-are-awesome post. Either move on or brace yourself.

Jaime is climbing mountains. I think I might have mentioned that before. Briefly. I don't mean she is climbing mountains metaphorically. No, I mean that she took her hard earned work money to pay for a trip to Taupo so that she could do the very challenging Tongoriro day hike. This warms the cockles of my heart for several reasons. First, she's spending money on experiences... an expenditure at this age of which I wholeheartedly approve. Second -- and a corollary to the first -- she spent all her money and can now not afford to buy a car, which is another situation of which I wholeheartedly approve since her driving terrifies me. Third, she's hiking across mountains. That is just so awesome! She went without us, which is probably four because it indicates a certain independence of thought and spirit, but... I want to hike across mountains. I might be jealous.

Okay, I'm jealous.

Mera is a star. Well, actually she is "Unnamed Young Shark Girl #3." We're okay with that. She is one of the only year 10s in her high school production of West Side Story, and she is thriving. I enjoy watching her grow more confident, learn about the theater, and become an increasingly better vocalist and dancer. She's pulling that A+ student plus extracurricullar thing with a vengence. Probably more important is she has Friends. Lots of them. She is starting to have a rather busy social calendar. Go Mera!

You Can Do It Mom...
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
Number 3 is playing netball. Despite our initial groan of comically American dismay, DrC and I are attempting to step up to the parental plate and learn the rules. All thoughts of this not being a contact sport are evaporating in the face of several team injuries, including Aeron's rather nasty jammed finger and an elbow to the eye. I still find some of the rules bizarre (and do not even get me STARTED on the uniform skirts), but there is no question those girls run for 45 solid minutes per game. She is starting to look like a lean, poorly fed, fiendishly blonde animal. Apparently, a steady diet of fresh veg and fruits, good quality breads and meats, and a glass of warm milk in the morning are insufficient for her current metabolic rate which runs at roughly the same pace as a squirrel on Ritalin. I might break down and start stuffing sausage pies and Pop Tarts into her lunch.

My husband is a musician. Now would somebody please just give us a call and agree to play with him periodically. It is time he got out of my bedroom and started playing in front of someone other than his sleepy wife. He's better than half the buskers you hear out there. Actually, maybe that's the solution to our money problems too... I could just send him out to busk every night. Hmm.

I am sort of employed. I should start work next week in fact. Maybe hopefully probably. Before anyone asks, no details forthcoming until the final paperwork gets through the byzantine adminsitrative system of my employer. I don't want to jinx anything. So while the family set the bar pretty high, I'm limping along behind them waving the weekly calendar and chore chart and trying to get them take their fish oil. Sadly, only the cat is impressed.

Monday, April 30, 2012

A Walk in the City

Auckland - The City of Sails
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
I love cites in the morning. Marching through the brisk air with a spring in my step and head buzzing with ideas for what I want to accomplish, it is finally time to admit that I missed this. I still pine for the people we left behind in the States, but most of the life we precipitously abandoned causes me no pain of loss. But this... these cool mornings in a city just waking up, the air fresh from sea breezes, the sky almost painfully blue, the commuters all around pushing through the crowds with feet on auto-pilot while they check email on their phones, the busses rumbling by and the cars getting jammed up at the corners. This city is so familiar, and this walk is reminiscent of hundreds of similar mornings in That Life. The one part of that life I unequivocally loved was going to work downtown with people I absolutely adored, respected, savored.

I play a game as I walk, people watching and trying to match the outfits with their job description. The women are easy, the young ones in tight little outfits with costume jewelry say new to the business world, probably working as assistants, clerks, receptionists. While the wiser, older women in the same outfit are much sleeker, the gold and gemstones real, the shoes fine tooled leather and the overall look so much more polished in a way that says management or executive. Males in New Zealand are either white colar in blue, black or grey suits, open dress shirt of a light color and faint pin stripe, no tie, leather shoes, or they are blue colar and sport some form of flourescent vest. Sprinkled throughout are the geeks -- the IT professionals are an entire gender-less class in expensive jeans, software branded t-shirts, ear buds firmly lodged under hair cuts that are inevitably at least a month past their prime. There are a few students either young enough for school uniforms or scruffly shlepping their way to University. They are hard to distinguish from an entire subdivision of the service sector on their way to retail shops. The baristas are, of course, already in place as are all the many newly arrived entrepreneurs who have opened Korean, Thai, sushi, curry, and Chinese food shops all over the city.

It amuses me to wonder what I am saying to the world with the look I sport this morning. The rough, tattered backpack says tourist or college student, but the iPhone says money and the expensive leather boots say management. The wash and wear haircut, no jewelry, no makeup put me squarely in the old-school feminist camp but the gawdy tanzanite and diamond ring DrC likes me to wear is so girly it messes with my dyke groove. But the strongest signal I send this morning is probably the jeans and t-shirt look.

A confession... During those dot-com boom and bust days when I was a pregnant, tech writing matron, it's true that I found it delightful to watch the eye candy of Hbunny, Noey and Greg parading around in their artfully aged, insanely expensive jeans. The boys (and they were boys at the time even if now they are quite clearly attractive men who would balk at the diminutive) were appealing in a way that a mother, wife and manager should not ever admit. So yes, they are the inspiration for my current outfit. Because it's 10 years later, and I can't resist painting these pants on to my newly sleek legs. Every time I pull on a size 10, I chortle and preen. I strut through the city with the slight bell sliding over my black, pointed boot toe and like to think that I am even half as sexy as my lovely young friends were in the same styles. Of course, the very fact that I am hiking up Queen Street in jeans that cost roughly the same as a smartphone screams tech.

Aquarium - The Toast Mermaid

Aquarium - The Toast Mermaid
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
A casual people watcher might be confused about the mixed signals I send with my basic tech mixed with executive and college student look. That's okay. Frankly, I'm confused, too. I don't know what I want to be when I grow up. Part of me wants to stay scruffy, barely off the boat and picking up the occasional contract to plump the cruising kitty. Another part wants to dive hell-bent into the management career track I left in Seattle. I love telling other people what to do. As with my clothes, the only clear signal my heart is sending my head is tech tech tech. I want to stay in software and hardware development if I can. I love the gadgets and the newness and the constant change and the insane schedules. I like the sexy young engineers who don't know they are sexy because they are so frickin' smart and so incredibly dorky. I want the bleeding edge crap that breaks every time I work with it and sales teams who straddle some strange line between engineer and carnival barker. I love the feeling that I know what's going on in a world that most people find necessary to their very lives but completely incomprehensible. I want to crawl back into the black box.

My pack weighs heavily on my back, chock full of a Windowsian brick, power cords, and a newly emptied to-go mug as I turn the corner on the last stretch to my client. Today, I get to restructure a single-source database for a software company in the business of electronic medical records. It's a start in the right direction. Passers-by can attribute my little smile as amusement at the podcast feed trickling into my ears, but I know it's because I'm exactly where I want to be.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Kidz These Days

It probably comes as no surprise that I am a big fan of Dan Savage, the Seattle-based sex advise columnist whose philosophy could largely be summarized as play nice with friends, lovers, and strangers. I'd say it was the Golden Rule except he does advocate "Do unto others what they ask you to do to them even if you wouldn't ever in a million years want to have that done to yourself." Which, you have to admit, is a rather significant variation.

How Dan enters this blog is that he routinely fields questions from people who have been prowling around in someone else's online space and found stuff that terrifies/horrifies/saddens/maddens/freaks them out. To which Savage points out, you wouldn't have known about this if you hadn't been a slimy, spying twink hacking into something you had no right to poke into.Then at the same time, I keep reading links, posts, articles for parents and about parents where the story is identical, just change the players. Parents hack the computers and online accounts of their off spring and find things that just twist their knickers into hysterical bunches.

Turns out our teenagers are really horrific people with crude sensabilities, miserable grammar, no ability to spell whatsoever, and about the same sexual mores as minx in heat. They are not like us. Kids these days just do not know how to behave. They listen to awful music, dress in ways that encourage licentious behaviour, and eat poorly. They drink when they shouldn't, make bad choices regarding companions, and *gasp* talk about sex drugs and rock and roll all the fing time.

Surprise surprise! The generation gap isn't different or more extreme than in any prior generation. It's just gone digital! Technology enables the snoop parent to actually walk in the shoes of their spawn, dive into the sticky morasse of teenage lives. It's icky. It's a bit scary. It's oft times stupid, and it's sometimes dangerous. However, there is really nothing new here.

So just keep moving. Do not hack your child's account. Do not try to log into their Facebook page. Resist the tempation to look over their virtual shoulders. Just because you can does not mean you should. You are not helping your child become a good citizen of the networked world by becoming yourself a twink and a spy. In fact, you suck. You are modelling the worst kind of trollish behaviour.

We teach our kids to be safe and healthy online the same way we teach them everything else. Model smart, supportive, safe behaviour online. Participate in discussions for which you have passion and knowledge. Lurk in those for which you have an interest but are as yet a n00b. Friend people you know, ignore people you don't, follow people who interest you, but don't stalk them. Only put online information and photos which you do not mind sharing with absolutely everyone in the world including the government, your mother, and the creepy guy that stands at the bus-stop breathing heavy as the nubiles parade past. Block people who send you spam, ask you for money, or solicit you for sexual acts (unless you actually want to deliver them). Stop being a monkey and clicking everything! Avoid flame wars, do not feed trolls, avoid breaking Godwin's law, make a regular habit of doing a vanity search on the major search engines to make sure your name isn't being taken in vain. Own your own domain.

Can you do all that? If you can't, get your own house in order before you start trying to tell your teenager how to behave online. If you can and do, then make sure your kids know it. It doesn't hurt to market your blog feed, web site, Twitter handle, and Facebook profile to your kids. Link up with them when they let you (it goes in phases), follow them, read and comment in meaningful ways on what they post. It's okay to friend their friends IF you consider them friends in the Real World. Same with the parents of their friends. When your kid drops you like a hot potato or puts you into a ghetto circle where nothing is visible, be patient. They get over it and start talking to you again eventually.

Will your children do something stupid online? Of course they will. Will it be a part of their permanent record? Yep. Welcome to the 21st century. Are the college admittance officers and employers of the future going to take all this drunken photography, illiterate rambling, and questionable linking seriously? Not if they want to keep their own youthful puffing-without-inhaling on the downlow.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Little Obstacles

Small changes can really bollux the day. Today, the problem is a kayak. The floating tennis court next door (otherwise known as s/v Pzazz) has always been a large white shadow next to Don Quixote. She's absolutely enormous. Her engines are incredibly loud, and she's embarassingly clean. We really like the owners, of course, but let's face it. Pzazz makes us look bad.

But as I said, the problem today is actually the kayak. First, it doesn't match the rest of Pzazz. Kayaks are inevitably made of some highly visible shade of orange, red or yellow. This kayak somehow manages to be all three simultaneously. So the big white building in the dock next us is now a big white building with a toothpaste toob of fluorescent flame. Worse, the kayak is somehow ideally positioned to completely block our view of the rest of the marina, including the brand new Lagoon 400 which moved in last week on Dock E.

So on second thought, maybe the kayak is a good thing. If there is one thing worse than being an old, abused family catamaran toddling next to an elegant modern mega yacht, it's being an old, abused boat across the aisle from a brand new boat of the same model. The neighborhood keeps getting nicer. This is going to be a problem when we go to sell the old girl.

The whole thing reminds me forcibly and metaphorically that I too am an abused, old family boat surrounded in beautiful younger models. I thought it was distressing when the girls started to outgrow the sobriquet 'little girls' as they became teenagers. This recent phase of becoming young women, however, is so much worse. As is often the case, the newer models fix many of the deficiencies of the earlier iterations. The new ones are prettier, smarter, faster, and all around nicer than their increasingly canterkous, much-patched mother. The metaphor breaks down only when we start talking storage space and bilges. Let's be honest. I've got them beat all over when it comes to places to store extra calories.

While I could itemize the many broken bits on the good ship Toast, it seems a pointless waste of bytes. I'm more interested in this damn kayak blocking my view. The owners are good people. As soon as I bring it to their attention, they will move the kayak. As I am given to lyrical metaphor and infected with GTD goodness (having committed to rereading the complete David Allen oeuvre as penance for not getting a job fast enough), I wonder what this kayak really means to me. What other obstacles are there between me and what I want. What flaming walls of smelly new plastic stand between me and my hopes and dreams?

Six months ago, my horizons were literal. I am mean literal in the most literal possible sense of the word. The horizon was the HORIZON. It doesn't get any more horizon-ish than staring out across the big blue Pacific 500 miles from anything. Now it feels like there are stoppages and blockages between me and absolutely everything. In only months, the family has accumulated so much cruft it feels like we are already due for a good colonic. We are literally trapped in this slip by weather, broken engine, and inertia. Even if we could get out, we can't get together as every time I try to schedule something, one or more of the crew have a prior committment. It's exciting to see everyone engaged in off boat activities -- plays, climbing mountains, netball, friends, boyfriends (okay that's just weird), music lessons, jobs. However, the family that spent so long living with only each other, now appears to be have burst apart like an overfull water balloon on hot concrete.

It's hard to go from unlimited outlook to a kayak in the face. Even if all I have to do is go over and ask them to move it, it's still there. Getting it out of the way takes time and effort. Getting the kids mustered out for a weekend up in Russell took time and herculean effort. Unfortunately, what stands between me and my children is my children who are not children any more but sexy new models ready for boat shows and yacht races and all sorts of new adventures. And no amount of bitching about it is going to move them out of the way to restore my view of our future as a place where we all bobbed along side by side, linked by a network of docks, lines, and shared goals.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

How Do You Eat a Boat?

Obviously, one bite at a time... and invite absolutely everyone you know.
Time to Go by toastfloats
Our trip is over. As with any great life passage, we punctuated our journey with a big party at the beginning and end: opening and closing ceremonies at the Olympics, baby shower and wake, bridal shower and girls' recovery night out, bon voyage and fin du voyage. Our Bon Voyage party was in May 2008. We invited our neighbors, our friends, our family. It was a stunningly beautiful day as only Seattle can be when the weather is perfect. In fact, the mountain was out... a statement meaningful to anyone who has lived in the Puget Sound for any length of time. We were happy and scared, excited and absolutely ready to embark on completely new lives.

Our Fin du Voyage is a bit diferent. We are bringing to a close an amazing phase of our lives. We aren't quite moving forward into something utterly new and strange. Yet, we aren't really doing anything we've ever done before. Living aboard a boat, going to public schools, working... it's been a long time. Morever, when we did these things last, we were very different people with utterly different priorities. It's possible that our emotional roller coaster could be described using almost the same adjective: happy, scared, excited, ready for a new way of life.We broke our Fin du Voyage party into several separate gatherings. If we've learned anything over the intervening years, it is that there are a finite number of people you can host on Don Quixote at any given time. A few too many and she starts to sink. Her waterline way back when with all those people on her was a bit terrifying in retrospect. So we broke the party into bits hoping that the fickle weather gods of this Lousy Summer from Hell would cut us a break and at least one of our parties would be pleasant. Give those fickle gods credit for consistency. The weather sucked each and every time. As a rule, the weather was perfect either the day before or the day after each gathering. On the day of the BBQ, cruise, or gathering, however, it was either a) super windy, b) overcast and drizzly, c) colder than Idaho caves, or d) all of the above.

As a result, we had a far fewer guests joining us during our Fin du Voyage do's than we had hoped. It's also fair to say that we just don't know all that many people yet. We know a few amazingly cool people, mind you, but it's not like we spent our first year in New Zealand becoming the social life of the Auckland party. DrC and I are not all that good about getting out of the house as it is. Give us the mistaken notion that we're only going to be in New Zealand for "a few months", and we basically failed to extend our reach beyond a very tight, close circle in Pukekohe.It is probably time to change that approach, however. First, Pukekohe is 30km and 45 minutes south of here. We can't simply pop over for a glass of wine of an evening when we are in the mood. So as a start, we are making a concious effort to reach out to our marina neighbors. The summer (that really an inappropriate word for it but for lack of a better one...) is winding down. The fair weather sailors and the owners of stunning dock jewelry are gradually abandoning the liveaboards for the duration. The nights are chilly, the parking lots emptying out, and our sense of the marina as belonging only to the live aboards increases weekly. Time to dig in for the winter.

So to speak.

To kick off this spirit of neighborliness, I've been pushing for bi-weekly liveaboard dinners. I have read countless accounts of liveaboards who talk about their marinas as the best neighborhood possible. Liveaboards in good marinas take care of one another. They take care of the boats around them. So, we kicked off dinner this month at the lounge with a feast of boat cake.

The boat cake was the best idea ever. The genesis -- as with so many good things -- was over a glass or two or three of wine while we visited with a friend before leaving for Mexico. Peter's vocation is computer geekery. His avocation, however, is cake making. He crafts the most amazing cakes. We thumbed through pictures of his many creations ooo'ing and ahh'ing. Somewhere it just popped out, "You should make US a cake! When we get back!"

"What do you want?" asks Peter."I don't know... the sea, the Toast Floats logo, our navigation path..." my voice trails off.

Aeron pipes up, "Don Quixote! You should make Don Quixote."

I think DrC and I laughed. Whoever heard of a cake boat. Or a boat cake. Far too fancy. Far too much time and trouble. Never mind. The Don Quixote cake was stunning.

My favorite bit was the dinghy on the davits at the back complete with a wee outboard motor. I think I'll just throw a bunch of pictures on this post and call it done.

The cake really speaks for itself.

Friday, March 02, 2012

A Gift for You

We are awakened in the wee hours to the sound of bells chiming like nautical reindeer past the gatehouse, down the ramp and up our transom. DrC launches himself abruptly skyward. I put out a hand to stop him, "No. Don't worry. No kill."


"No announcement, no kill."

This makes sense to my husband who, apparently not actually awake, simply flops back into somnolence and resumes snoring. It occurs to me to wonder how many patients were the beneficiary of this half-asleep wakefulness during his medical residency. In the meantime, Dulcinea rummages around the salon for a few minutes while she waits out the latest summer squall.

Dulcinea doesn't like summer in Auckland. Like the rest of us, she is waiting for weather that could be more reasonably credited with the sobriquet summer. Chill overcast mornings, frequent squalls, long days with no sun whatsoever, this is hardly summer. Dulcinea doesn't like prowling in the rain. Rain is wet. Wet is bad. Bad is not good. Not good means we must all suffer her frustration and unhappiness. There is scratching of the scratch post and nibbling at the nibble bowl and slurping at the slurp bowl. There is thumping up on to salon seats, bunks, cockpit benches and the boom. There is thumping down off seats, boom, and benches. All this activity is accompanied by the cheery sounds of Dulcinea's collar bell, only the most recent in my husband's efforts to prevent our cat from decimating New Zealand's precious wildlife. Then the squall stops, Dulcinea ventures out, peace and quiet descends, and I drop back into sleep.

Some unknown time later, bells chime and DrC repeats his leap out of bed act. This time I let him. Dulcinea is yelling about how wonderful she is, announcing to all and sundry that she is the most magnificent hunter on all the dock. I can also hear a buzzing whirr of wings. Experience compels me to tell my husband, "Beetle." In other words, don't bother getting out of bed. By the time you get up there, she will have eaten it. First, however, we must acknowledge the kill. I call out to my cat, "Good kitty. Wonderful kitty. Shut up you lovely wonderful hunter. Just eat it and shut up." This is all said in the most loving tones. It reminds me of those times when the girls were small and suckling at my breast when I would say in the most sweet, motherly tones, "Of course mommy loves you, you little shit. I can't believe you woke me up at 2am. Now just suck it up and go back to sleep, beautiful girl." A loud crunching sound from the salon affirms my conviction that it is merely the tone of voice that matters in situations like this one. Beetle wing sounds disappear, yowling stops. Quiet again.

The days when Dulcinea brought us wingless, legless crickets and laid them on our chest are long gone. I believe the night I launched her out the cabin, down the hall and halfway to La Paz was probably the end of that routine. Now she brings her catch only as far as the salon where she waits until she receives proper respect and accolades for her skill and cleverness. As soon as she catches something, she exults in her superior hunterlyness, shouting to the world about the wonder that is Dulcinea. As a rule, the yowling starts somewhere in the parking lot, then she'll trot past the gatehouse and down the ramp, across the dock and up into our boat chattering about the event all the way. The incongruity of her chirruping, shrieking merrowwing combined with the friendly tinkle of bells wakes me every time.

She is a very loud cat. She is probably the loudest cat in all of New Zealand. She is also an extremely good hunter. While we crossed the Pacific, Dulcinea focused her attentions on the squid and flying fish who inadvertently launched themselves into our orbit and from there succumbed to Dulci's voracious appetites. Here in Bayswater, she gives every domestic housecat a bad name as she brings home mice, birds, bugs, and on one memorable occasion a foot long rat. Worried that perhaps we might somehow be single-paw-ed-ly destroying a New Zealand endangered species, I verified with the harbor staff that there are no kiwis in Bayswater. In fact, there is nothing particularly precious in our neighborhood. The staff is all for Dulci eating the mice and rats, don't mind so much the occasional finch, and are rather hoping she'll take a liking to the flying roaches.
It's not as easy being the proud parent of such a voracious hunter, however. If Dulcinea were silent… if she could just eat with her feline mouth closed… it wouldn't be so bad. The nightly ritual, however, in which either DrC or I must go up, examine her kill, pet her, and then stumble back to our beds has grown stale. A few nights ago, her catch was a small bug of indeterminate species. She had it eaten before I had even turned around and started back down the companionway, upon which she started yowling again. I spin on one heel presented with the sight of that damn cat sitting next to her bowl quite clearly demanding that I feed her. "It's three o'clock in the morning and you couldn't be bothered to catch more than a half inch beetle and you want me to feed you?"

Apparently so.

Did I mention that she is loud?

Tonight, we are awakened by a third hunting alarm. Patting my husband on the shoulder, I go up, fill the dish, toss a cricket overboard, pat the cat, rub my tummy, and go back to bed. As I climb in, my husband mutters at me asking what I think I am about. "Why do you keep going up there?"

I groan as I settle back into the sheets, "I am completely pussy whipped."

Monday, February 27, 2012

Working Away

We've been in New Zealand since mid-October. The original plan -- such as we plan anything any longer -- was to get DrC settled into work, the girls into school, and then I would begin the long slow process to rebuild my consulting business. When I say rebuild, it is perhaps an exaggeration. For most of my consulting life, I have made little or no attempt to be fully employed. Usually, I use contracting as a method to work part time at things I enjoy so that I can spend the rest of the time doing tasks I truly love. Whether it is raising babies, homeschooling little girls, or sailing big girls across oceans, I realize now that contracting has been for me a gateway to spending time with my children.

However, now my children do not really need me so much any longer. They need the love and the support, sure. They don't really need me to wipe their noses or pick up their toys. Granted, I didn't really ever spend much time wiping either noses or toys. I remember wiping a lot of asses, actually. Come on. You were thinking it. Someone needs to have the courage to stand up and say, "Children are about butt wiping." They are not cute or fluffy or particularly fun, especially not in those early years when the quantity of crap flowing out the back end is truly mind boggling. Seven straight years of diapers and look where it got us… ten straight years of high school girls. I am somehow failing to see how this can be interpreted as the golden statue for Lifetime Achievement in Diaper Pinning.

Yet, there they go. Strong, independent Jaime. Beautiful, talented Mera. Charming, clever Aeron. Little people all grown up into bright young ladies with not the slightest interest in whether or not I stay home as long as there are plenty of snacks in the bin when they get back to the boat after school. The adjustment to institutional school life is going much smoother this round. I don't know if this is because the schools are better, they learned a great deal about public schooling the first go in Pukekohe, they are more mature, or some combination of the above. We are only three weeks into the year, and they have already established patterns and connections which bode fair well to ensuring I never see them.

Jaime has perhaps the hardest road this year. A combination of senior year pressure and a failure to do anything strictly educational last year means that her academic load is fierce. To this she added water polo, a job, and a boy friend. Kids these days. I have no idea how she'll handle it. She might not. Look, I know it can be done. I did at least that much my junior and senior year. I just don't know if Jaime is the one to do it. My only contribution to the decision making process is to offer my support, rides to 5:30am practice, and a lesson on GTD should she choose to go ninja on her personal productivity. After that, we'll have to see what she is made of. Smart bet is she either takes me up on learning how to get organized or she selectively reduces her work load until she has the bandwidth to do it all well. The one extremely good sign is that her eyes are wide open, fully aware that she may have taken on too great a load.

While Mera's choices appear on the surface marginally less ambitious, she is something more of a perfectionist. She is enrolled in Y10 accelerate which as near as I can tell means that functionally she is a Year 11 taking her NCEA Level 1 college qualification courses this year. The academics are a larger work load than she is accustomed to. More importantly, she goes through school with an odd combination of sublime arrogance and complete lack of confidence. I can not fathom it. One minute, she's the smartest kid in the room and not afraid to let you know it. The next she is dithering and fussing and agnsting over the micro details of a paper due on Monday, fearful of tests and worried about how her teachers will respond to her presentations. The worry causes her to spend energy and time perfecting every assignment, perhaps well beyond what is strictly necessary. For extra curricular, she was cast as a Shark girl, plays badminton on the weekends, and… much to the entire family's delighted surprise… made some friends with whom she actually *gasp* does things. Our little Mera, hanging out uselessly at the mall eating bad food and browsing shops. We're so proud. Really. Sometimes we can convince her not to take her Kindle on these excursions. We all count this as a major step forward.

Aeron is no longer the baby of the family, but she does at least have the advantage of being the youngest and with thus the lightest pressure. Her middle school is only moderately challenging academically, so she is channeling her boundless energies elsewhere. Horrifying both her father and myself, she wants to take up netball. In our opinion, netball is what you get when you take cheerleaders, put them on the basketball court, and make it impossible for them to smash into one another or do anything even moderately interesting. On the other hand, it is a huge sport down here, and I suspect Aeron will prove outstanding. She's scrappy, strong, and highly athletic. She was voted her class captain last week. No surprise, really, with her empathy and charm she's a natural leader and politician. DrC and I are thoroughly underimpressed with her course of study so we're supplementing in the evenings with math and French. We'll see how she goes.
And then there is the good doctor. I was supposed to start work in January. Instead of working and starting the family down the path of putting money into accounts, I have spent the past two months either prepping for or recovering from surgery. As a result, our finances are worse than anemic. DrC stepped into the breach. He has been picking up extra shifts at every possible opportunity. When he isn't doing doctor stuff, he is scraping away -- sometimes quite literally -- at the back log of boat maintenance chores. It would be hard to be more impressed with this work ethic, diligence, and emotional strength. He is a good life partner in so many ways. It didn't take this experience to make me recognize it, but it never hurts to be reminded that I made an outstanding choice and am lucky to have him.

So that's it. While I've enjoyed some amazing professional experiences, I haven't worked full time since 2005. On ramping isn't going to be easy. On the other hand, I look like the sole slacker in a family of over-achievers. Might be time to remind these Congers where they got that hyper-activity, more is more, I-can-do-anything-better-than-you gene.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Friends of Friends

The crew of s/v Ceilydh is here in Auckland due to a completely unreasonable and absurd requirement of Australian immigration law. With very little forewarning, Evan, Diane, and Maia showed up on our transom looking for a place to stay while they sort out the kerfuffle. Unsurprisingly, they settled into our boat with grace, ease, and little disruption to our crew. Frankly, the best guests to have on a boat are fellow yachties. They know not to bring a lot of luggage and to immediately store the luggage out of the way. They never put toilet paper down the head, immediately start helping with boat chores, and when the time comes to leave the boat for the day, they don't leave the hatches open, the lights on, or their crap lying around. In fact, Ceilydh makes betters guests than my eldest daughter to whom I should probably secure everything she owns with a spring loaded, retractable tether.

The homeschool community routinely faces the question of socialization. Boat schoolers must address this issue to an even greater extent. How can we explain to land-based folk just how well socialized our children have become? Our children learn to play with kids of all ages, become instant play mates, enjoy the presence and company of adults. They can talk with anyone, share games and ideas regardless of age, race, or country of origin. Why did it not occur to me until tonight that the same processes that make my girls so capable -- such confident, well-spoken young people -- worked their magic on DrC and I as well?

Tonight as I watch Evan and Diane slip easily and comfortably into a group of Don Quixote's New Zealand friends, I recognize another truism of cruisers: We do well with strangers. Cruisers quite literally drift in and out of each others lives. We meet each other in one anchorage, have a dinner and sundowners, maybe go on a hike, and then we depart in different directions. It is a survival skill to become amiable, to take genuine interest in the lives of people known for less than a day. We learn how to be entertaining ourselves and in turn be diverted by newness, friendly and comfortable in a crowd of people formed of varying social strata, education, political or religious ideology. This isn't the artificial amiability of the politician, but rather a sincere adaptation to a transient social environment.

Just look at my husband. I remember the night years ago in Seattle when my good friend Wyatt looked at me over a glass of red and admitted, "I've known you for a long time. It's only now I think I understand why you married Dean." It took years for my husband to open up enough to let Wyatt know him, to reveal to someone outside our family the deeply sensitive, strong, and giving person inside. DrC has a wicked sense of humor, a keen and insightful intellect, and a wide ranging interest in the world. He is articulate, well read, and very current in his understanding of politics, economics, and society. But back in the day -- in those days before we become cruisers -- I was one of the only people in the world who knew this. He was shy, quiet, extremely private. At parties, he would functionally disappear, particularly in the presence of my loud, widely gesticulating, opinionated self. It was partially my fault, as I was unfortunately the obnoxious bore who would talk way too much, way too loudly, and with rarely a pause to listen. It was partially his fault, as he was a man who listened intently but almost never participated in the conversation.

Yet, here we are. I am settled on the couch listening to Deb tell me all about her broken leg. Moreover, I genuinely am interested; I am not just waiting until she takes a breath before I start in about me-me-me. Her story is actually a bit horrifying, a nasty break with lots of fits and starts in the healing process and the plot includes a great deal of morphine. My participation consists of a skill I learned from my husband, active and engaged listening, comments injected only to spur more revelations from Deb. It is such a pleasure to sit, sip my wine and listen to her voice, take inspiration from her strength both physical and emotional. In turn, DrC is actively engaged across the room sharing ideas about some dang thing with a man I know he's known for all of a half hour. His arms are waving, and he laughs at a comment while maintaining a running stream of dialog. We haven't switched places. I'm not silent, he's not loud and overwhelming, but we are also not the same people. Evan and Mark are sitting on the couch chatting about the performance characteristics of some old schooner Mark used to crew. Diane is giving Steve ideas how to get started in the travel writing business. My cruising friends have slipped seamlessly, effortlessly into this crowd of strangers. All four of us appear to be enjoying ourselves, and perhaps just as importantly give every appearance of providing interest, pleasure and mutual entertainment to the people with whom we interact.

"What about socialization?" The They of the world always ask.

"You mean ours, don't you?" I will now respond. DrC and I have finally completed our socialization, and for damn sure we didn't learn it in school. While DrC and I were out with our daughters on quiet anchorages and busy little port towns, our girls showed us what it means to be well socialized, highly functional members of society. I finally feel like a grown up.
Don Quixote and Ceilydh
Don Quixote and Ceilydh
by Toastfloats on Flickr