The Decision

Birthday Aboard

Graysen wakes up early on his birthday, excited about his special day. The sunrise is gorgeous, as if announcing that this is indeed an important day. He wears his birthday crown and have his favorite breakfast, french toast.

 

Graysen wants seafood for his birthday dinner, but it is Sunday and the fisherman’s co-op in Placencia is closed. It was closed when we tried to go yesterday as well. Graysen and Matt wander around town trying to find something. A guy fishing from shore tells them he just stubbed his toe on a conch, and he fishes it out of the water for them and gives it to them. Could it really be that easy?

They go back to the co-op and ask some guys hanging around there if it will open later. “It’s my son’s birthday and he really wants some seafood.”

“Your birthday! Then you should have some seafood!” One of them goes into the coop and comes back with a bag of crab. Giving it to Grayen, he says, “Happy Birthday!”

 

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The conch is a bit leathery, but the crab is delicious, served with butter and mushroom rice and a salad. I bring out some candles for the table and Matt and I share a bottle of wine. After dinner we have the chocolate coconut cake that Rylan and I made, complete with an S for superman on top. Then he opens his few presents, some that my mom sent to us in Cleveland as well as a new toy bow and arrow that Matt found in town and a small multi-tool.

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Birthdays on the boat are simple because they have to be, but I have to say I prefer them that way. I imagine a normal 5-year-old’s birthday in the States. Cute invitations must be sent ahead of time, snacks purchased, and place decorated. Then you have a bunch of kids running around the house hyped up on sugar. A huge cake, a bunch of presents that aren’t needed, and this new custom of sending all the guests home with a bag of trinkets.

A friend of mine told me once that she went all out on her kid’s birthdays in the beginning and couldn’t really scale back. Each birthday had to be at least as good as the last. I know that her kid’s birthday parties were really cool, but I’m not sure if Im up for orchestrating such a production.

I love our simple, family centered birthdays. To me, they focus on what is really important, celebrating the birthday boy.

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Margi

She told us she might come, between Thanksgiving with her family on the East Coast and her yoga retreat in Nicaragua. But you just never know about these things. We certainly didn’t want to get the kids’ hopes up too much.

At first we were going to try to meet in the Bay Islands because it is easiest to get to. Then we weren’t sure we were going to get out of the river because of the weather so we thought she might meet us in Guatemala. But it is a 7 hour bus ride from the city and that is too much for a short trip. Someone told us Placencia was an easier place to check into in Belize, so we decided that it was feasible for her to meet us here.

While we are sailing through a storm, Margi buys her ticket. When we are finally able to get internet in Placencia, we find out she is arriving the next day, Monday.

The boys are ecstatic. They have a very deep bond with Margi and really miss having friends around. We spend Monday cleaning the boat and clearing space for Margi in Graysen’s room. She won’t arrive until after 7pm, which seems like an eternity.

Matt goes to the dock to get her while I begin the slow process of putting the boys to bed. They are too excited to sleep, however, and are still awake when she finally gets back to the boat. She goes in to give them kisses and they can finally rest.

It is wonderful to see her again. I really miss having friends around as well. We stay up way too late, catching up.

After a morning trip to town, we pull up the anchor and head for the cays. Belize’s long barrier reef protects the many islands and makes sailing smooth and snorkeling superb. The sun is shining bright and the wind is light. There is no trace of the storms we were in just a few days ago.

We anchor up at Long Cocoa Cay, between a reef and a point that is supposed to have good fishing. The next day we load up in the dingy to go explore the island. The boys are not quite ready for snorkeling, but the adults take turns getting out. We see rays, bright reef fish, and a 5-foot barracuda.

Graysen and Rylan collect snails for dinner. We had some at a French restaurant for my birthday and they loved them. I’m a little skeptical, but somehow Matt makes butter and garlic infused snails that taste exactly like the restaurant.

 

Before we know it, it is time to head back. There is no wind so we have to motor. After lunch we decide to kill the motor and go swimming in the calm water. It is wild to be floating out in the middle of the ocean, next to our boat.

We hit happy hour in town and go out for a wonderful dinner. Somehow, the boys convince us to hit the gelato shop. We are making the most of every minute we have left with Margi. Eventually we have to head back to the boat and get the kids to bed, but the adults stay up late.

We hear manatees or dolphins swim by the boat, but we can’t see them in the dark. They are saying hello and goodbye to Margi. Thanks for a sweet visit, great conversation, and bringing a fresh perspective to our trip!

In the Pitch Dark Night

I climb into bed at 9pm, exhausted and ready for a good night’s sleep after a couple of stormy nights. But Matt comes down 3 minutes later. “Put your clothes back on, we need to reset the anchor. I go up into the cockpit and he hands me a flashlight. “Check this out.” The trees are just off the stern.  The wind is blowing fiercely from the north. This was supposed to be such a great, protected anchorage.

Matt goes forward to pull the anchor up while I man the helm. It is really hard to see what is going on, and as soon as the anchor is up a little bit, we get pushed further into the trees. “Go forward!” Matt yells. We are in the mud. We are grounded. He comes back and gives it some juice and we break free.

We pull away from the trees. It is another moonless night as black as black can be and the rain is coming down steadily. The wind is pushing the bow around making it difficult to figure out where we are going. The bay is shallow so we don’t have much space to work with. We keep going away from the trees, only to have the wind bring us right back to them when we try to set the anchor.

After three tries, we finally get it. I can’t see the trees anymore through the rain with my flashlight, but the GPS says we are somewhere in the bay and we have 10 feet of water under us. I head back to bed, even more exhausted but totally wired. Matt comes down after a bit and lays down as well. “It seems to be holding.” He says.

Sometime later, Matt wakes me up. “Get up, I think we are grounded and there is a norther blowing in. I can hear the wind howling and pushing us fiercely. Some loose straps are making a racket. I quickly pull my pants on inside out. This doesn’t sound good at all.

I go up to the cockpit and look at the depth finder. It is reading 0.4 meters, then 3.5, then 1.6. It is all over the place. What the heck? The wind and the rain are hammering us, and the boat is pitching and rolling and pushing us over to one side. I shine the light out but I don’t see anything. No trees. That is a good sign.

Suddenly, the depth finder goes back to 3.6 and stays there. Huh. Maybe a school of fish or some manatees like the ones we saw earlier? Matt checks the anchor and it seems to be holding after all. The squall dies down and it is just the regular steady wind. Just to be safe, he throws a second anchor. I wait up for him, storm gear ready, just in case. Then we head back to bed, again.

At Sea

We are pitching and rolling, heeled over to the port side. Waves are crashing over the bow and the rain is making a steady advance into our cockpit. The sea is dark and gray as we roll from one wave crest to another. Matt and I look at each other. This isn’t quite what I was thinking for our first day out at sea.

Just 24 hours earlier we were anchored outside of Livingston, waiting for the tide to rise so we could cross over the shallows. We were so excited and anxious to finally make it out to sea from the Rio Dulce. We had been working for this moment for over 6 months and it was finally coming to fruition. Never-mind that it had taken an extra day to line out all our paperwork in Livingston. Never-mind that our single-side-band radio, our main source of weather stopped working. Never-mind that our anchor had drug the night before, narrowly missing a concrete pier that the river somehow guided us around.

First we had to cross the bar outside of Livingston. It is generally only 5.5 feet deep but our boat drafts 6.5 feet. So we have to wait for high tide. Only the high tides in the Caribbean aren’t all that high. We had a two-day window in this month and this was the second day. So we went for it. We bumped the bottom a little bit but we made it out.

The wind was at our side which made for perfect sailing weather over to the closest spot to anchor which was on the other side of the bay. We ate coconut bread and carrot soup out of mugs for dinner. By the time we got there it was pitch dark. There was not even a moon and the darkness ate up our flashlights like they were nothing. I hoped that there were no boats anchored in our way.

We set our anchor but the wind was blowing from a different direction than normal and the anchorage was not very protected. We tossed and rolled as I read the boys books. Matt stayed up and watched to make sure the anchor was not dragging. Eventually he got a few hours of restless sleep.

I got up early with the boys and the boat was still rocking and rolling.  The Aeropress exploded, burning my fingers with hot coffee and then I realized the refrigerator was not working. I couldn’t do much about it with the boat rolling around so the boys and I hung out in the cockpit. After a bit Matt got up and we got on our way. Breakfast dishes still in the sink, we motored out toward the open sea, to get over to Belize.

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It was drizzly at first, but we had no idea it would turn into this. The boys are wide eyed as the boat heels over impossibly far. Unsecured items come crashing down below. Cushions and cantaloupes are rolling. My few potted herbs crash into Matt who is trying to steer us. Rambutans, our midmorning snack, are now rolling everywhere, and Rylan’s half-eaten coconut bread with cream cheese manages to get smashed into the portable speaker that we had been listening to stories on just a little while ago.

When the seas get too rough, we bring in the foresail. The roller furling is stuck around something and Matt had to go free it. The safety lines are not set up yet and I am acutely aware at how unprepared we are. What will I do if Matt goes overboard?

Somehow, when it seems like it can’t get any worse, it does. I wish we could just pull over and get a break for a bit like we could when we were driving the trailer. I wonder what we have gotten ourselves into. And yet, the boat handles fine. It is made for this. We might be uncomfortable, but we are not in danger.

Matt goes forward once again to bring in the main sail. I hold my breath. Rylan is sleeping now in my arms, lulled to sleep by the wind, the waves, and the diesel engine. How lucky he is to be able to sleep through this! As we near the keys the wind backs off a bit. The sky lightens and the swell is less. We anchor close to West Snake Caye, but the swell is still rolling. Rylan wakes up and we have some lunch, suddenly starved by our treacherous morning.

When I try to put the boys down for a nap, the sand fleas come out to the boat and I convince Matt we have to go. He pulls anchor and we are on our way again. We head over to New Haven, a protected bay on the mainland. The weather calms and as we pull in to the mangrove-lined bay, we are so relieved to be in a safe spot.

Did I mention that it is Thanksgiving? Normally we would be getting ready to eat a huge meal with family and friends in a cozy home. I am tired and homesick as I try to pull something together for a special meal. Rylan helps me make an apple and starfruit galette and I pan-fry some chicken and whip up mashed potatoes.  The oven goes out several times so the roasted veggies never quite get done.

At least the water is calm and the sun even comes out for a bit, brightening the afternoon. But the real treasure is that we are all here safe. We give thanks for our our sturdy boat, Beatrice, and our capable captain Papa. And we say thanks that we are finally out at sea, having the adventure of our lives.

 

Back to Beatrice

It’s 1am and we are driving through San Pedro Sula in a pickup truck, all our bags full of things for the boat are in the back. Frank, our driver and owner of the hostel where we are going, suddenly tenses and says, “OK guys, I’m going to run this red light because there is a car behind me without its lights on.” It takes me a minute to register what he’s said and by the time I look back, the car is gone. Graysen, ever observant, pipes in, “What are you looking at, mama?”

Oh nothing, we are just driving through the most dangerous city in the western hemisphere in the middle of the night. Thankfully we had the foresight to arrange for Frank to pick us up. I remind myself that the next time I book tickets to look closer at arrival times.

This Spirit Airlines airfare was not as cheap as it appeared anyway with all the extra fees for our bags. Somehow we managed to pack 4 bags that were exactly 40 pounds each, the maximum allowable weight. This is a far cry from when Matt and I traveled with tiny backpacks, but we just needed so many things for the boat.

We make it to the hostel just fine and are shown to our “family room” with a double bed and a bunch of bunk beds all around it. We finally get the kids settled into bed and collapse into a travel-induced stupor.

Unfortunately, Rylan got plenty of sleep on the airport and plane and gets up at 5am. We don’t really have any breakfast food so I give him animal crackers and plantain chips. Breakfast of champions. I try to keep him quiet and finally take him out to the common area to play with his trucks. It seems like hours later that Matt and Graysen finally wake up.

Matt goes out to try to find food and/or money but he is unsuccessful. Our shuttle is coming at 10, so we decide we can make it with snacks until we get back to Guatemala. The shuttle comes early and the bags get piled in. 3 hours and a border crossing later, tired and hungry, we stumble into the Sundog for some pizza and cold drinks.

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When we are satiated, we pile the bags into a launch and get a ride back to the boat. When Beatrice comes into view, a strange sense of both relief and apprehension washes over me. This is our home for now but I’m not quite sure where it will take us.  We don’t have much of a plan except to go sailing for a while. I guess that is just all a part of the adventure!

New England

Matt’s not working as much so we decide to go visit some friends in New England. We load up into the trailer one morning and go. It feels strange yet familiar to be back in our bubble once again. The first night we camp by a pond at an RV park somewhere in western New York. Most of the people have left for the season except a few permanent residents. The boys explore the woods, try to catch fish with a little net, and ride their bikes. After dinner we make a campfire and roast marshmallows. It is so peaceful to be out of the city and I really actually love being back in the r-pod.

On day two we veer off the freeway and wind our way through the Adirondacks. Red and gold leaves frame views of the low mountains, rocky streams, and picture-perfect towns. Even run down barns seem staged in this setting. Making our way east, we burst through the woods into the farms and fields bordering Lake Champlain.

It is here that our friends Ben, Maeve, and their son Finn are making the foray into dairy farming. This is a bold move when dairy farms around the land are struggling, but despite the long hours and barnyard aromas, the lifestyle is intoxicating. They live in one of the most beautiful areas of the country, surrounded by nature and small farms. They have abundant free range, organic meat, raw milk, and organic vegetables, which are some of the most difficult things to find when you are traveling. Instead of big box stores, they shop at the local bakery and quaint general stores with amazing deli sandwiches.

Graysen becomes instant friends with Finn, who is the same age as him. They chase chickens and turkeys and make friends with the barn cats and calves. Finn is lucky to be growing up with his parents close at hand, experiencing the cycles of the seasons, birth and death. He knows firsthand where his food comes from and even participates in growing and harvesting it.

I take Graysen and Rylan to Finn’s school where Maeve also works. It is on a huge farm set up on a hill overlooking a valley. Golden leaves cascade down as the children knead and shape their bread in the play yard. Then the kids are off, running and laughing and playing in the fallen leaves, shedding layers as the autumn sun warms the land. After a time the teacher calls the children with a flute and they circle up, singing songs and making motions. Graysen and Rylan and I do our best to follow along.

The teacher pairs the students up and leads us out of the gate, across the road, by the barn, and through a field. We pause and the teacher hands out snacks while saying another poem. When everyone seems finished, they all get up and continue down the hill into an open forest. The kids are free to play, making forts, bridges, and fairy houses, catching frogs, and building each other into stick towers.

It strikes me that the teacher never yells or directs the children around. Instead he guides the children like the pied piper, through music and movement. He sings their names gently when he wants to get their attention, and gets down on their level when he needs to gently correct his behavior. It bears no resemblance to most modern preschools with kids hurried from one activity to the next.

We leave them in the forest and make our way back to the car. As we pull away I am filled with a sense of peacefulness and joy. What a magical place for a child to grow up. Back at the farm the kids take long naps, exhausted from their big morning. Later we share a big dinner of roast chicken, mashed potatoes, and roasted vegetables. The adults linger at the table while the kids play games in the other room until finally I can’t put bedtime off any longer and I go in and read them some books.

The next day after a relaxed morning of play and a hike, we head off to Vermont to visit another friend. Google maps takes us the “scenic” way to the top of a hill in central Vermont, where our friends Erin and Jeff live with their children Talia and Fletcher. They looked all over New England to find this beautiful spot just two months ago, and are busily making it their “forever” home. They talk excitedly about their plans for a garden, a barn, and a fire pit. I realize how much I miss having that space to call my own.

We go to a party at a new small brewery with a live band and a taco truck. The narrow country road is packed with cars and the line to get beer or food is super long, but there is such an air of community. Everyone seems to know each other. The people seem familiar and I keep thinking I know them. We make a meal out of the snacks I have in my bag and chat with people until the boys drag us onto the dance floor. When we get home, Matt puts the kids to bed while I stay up late talking to Erin, full of energy.

We push on again, this time to Connecticut to see Scott, Amy, and their kids, Finn and Maeve (I know, weird coincidence, but they do not know each other!) They live in a beautiful old house that backs up to a big forest in a quaint little town. These hard-working parents are juggling two professional jobs on different schedules, oftentimes barely seeing each other during the week. Although this is the norm in our country, it contrasts sharply with the other families we have just come from, where Ben is a stay-at-home farmer and Jeff is a stay-at-home dad.

The boys are delighted to make another friend, and we take a lovely walk along a river and through town. We share great food, wine and conversation, sharing stories, challenges, and support.  Once again I am reminded how wonderful it is to catch up with good friends.

As we head back towards our temporary home in Ohio among the glittering leaves and beams of sunshine I am filled with happiness. It is so beautiful here in New England. I think about how people end up where they live. Whether by job, family, school, circumstance, or because they love it. I wonder if with more remote job opportunities there will be a revival in rural areas that offer affordable atmosphere and a simpler way of life.

Do you love where you live? Did you choose it or did it choose you? Does it fill you up with delight?

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The Cleveland Thing

A fellow traveler asked me recently how it was to be back in the states. “Pretty nice, actually,” I replied. The answer surprised even myself, but honestly it is very true. Our lives are SO much easier here. We live in a house with multiple bedrooms, a large kitchen, dining room, family room, sitting room, basement, front porch and a back yard. We have space to spread out, to let the kids play while we talk in the other room.  We can do things after they go to bed.

Granted, we are guests, living with Matt’s dad and his fiancé, but they are about the easiest, most wonderful people to live with. They love our children and don’t seem to mind them climbing all over them occasionally and smearing yogurt on their upholstered dining chairs.  The boys adore them and want to sit next to them at dinner rather than us.

It is truly wonderful being so close to family. Matt’s sister Katelyn lives right down the street so we watch her dog and she sometimes babysits for the boys. He has a few brothers in town, cousins, aunts and uncles, and his grandfather and great aunt.  They all love seeing and getting to know the boys.

I am addicted to the espresso machine in the kitchen which turns out gourmet coffee every morning. I love the professional 6-burner stove and huge oven and I can bake and cook whatever I like. The grill on the back deck can turn out grilled pizzas like they are nothing. I don’t even have to make the dough because they sell it at the grocery store for a dollar. If we want to eat something special, there is a gourmet grocery store 5 minutes away, numerous markets, discount organic food stores, and ethnic grocery stores.

There is a fantastic bakery/coffee shop a short walk away, a great pizza place around the corner, and plenty of excellent restaurants to try. There are tons of great parks nearby and the kids usually speak English. There are art festivals and outdoor concerts and free nature centers for the kids.

We have a washing machine and dryer in the basement that we can use whenever we need to. There are two refrigerators. We don’t have to worry about whether we can drink the water, if we will have power, or where to dump our waste. There is AC whenever it is too hot, and a central heating system when it is too cold.

Life is really quite easy compared to traveling, where we must figure out everything every day. It’s easy compared to being in a country with different language, customs, and rules that are not always easy to navigate. It’s easy compared to the boat where sometimes just getting our daily needs met was challenging.

When I drive around town, I am inspired by the history and the potential for really cool projects. I can see myself and our family living in a place like this. The houses are affordable and there are opportunities everywhere. We are craving community and people and place. I wonder if we can really be happy here, among the big box stores and consumer culture. I’m not sure, but it does feel comfortable right now.

It’s easy to see why some people never leave. It’s easy to see how some people become complacent with their lives and never think to take themselves on an adventure. It might be why we have been given strange looks when we tell people about our travels.  The look on their face says, “Why would you ever do that?” The idea is so far out of their reality that they can’t even begin to relate. So they change the subject.

I love my life of adventure and would never give it up entirely, but I have also come to really appreciate the easier things in life as well. So I’m going to enjoy the rest of my time here and soak up all the good food, culture, and family time I can. And in a few weeks when we head back down to the sailboat, I will be ready for more adventure!

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