Living Like Gypsies

Traveling is tiring! The elusive nap has returned :).

Traveling is tiring! The elusive nap has returned :).

We bought a boat today.

I say that with a period, not an exclamation point, because it’s been an absolutely chaotic process. And I say that because even though we made the decision to buy the boat a month ago (or more), we weren’t able to sign the final documents for the closing until today. It’s for a number of reasons – just a few of which are the fact that the boat was previously registered in Austria, which requires another layer of documentation, and also because both sides are executing the sale from out of state, so powers of attorney abound.

It’s fitting, too, because this morning, we also signed over our other car. We officially have no (land) home and no cars.

We will get excited – I know we will! But right now, we are just plain exhausted.

We have lived the nomad lifestyle as a family of three before, when we sailed Clarity on Lake Michigan each summer for a little more than a month at a time. Truthfully, we were at our best as a family then, which is why we are pursuing this crazy adventure. BUT – taking your home with you is drastically different than living out of a suitcase, and with no home, so to speak, that you’ll be returning to.

The reality has hit Aaron and I in different ways as we’ve spent the last week visiting family in Michigan. There was the time that I panicked because I couldn’t find my house keys. The times that I thought, “We can just handle that when we get ho… , wait, nope.” The times that I watched Tink settling in at my mother-in-law’s house, which she has beautifully, and thought with tears, we are no longer housemates. Aaron and I have both broken down at one point or another – luckily not at the same time.

Everywhere we’ve gone, family has been so welcoming and encouraging, and such great memories have been made that we’ll take with us down south and use to refuel us for months. But as much as I anticipated some tiredness from road-tripping back and forth between family and friends, I did not foresee the feeling of being unsettled that creeps in when the day’s immediate needs and activities ease up. Undoubtedly, the prolonged process to close on the new boat has been a big factor for both of us.

Now that we’ve dotted the last I, though – we’re done, IT’S OURS! – I’m feeling some of the pressure lift. I hope Aaron is, too.

We’ve spent the last week or so visiting Aaron’s family in Michigan, and today, we jump in a rental to visit my brother and his family in Indiana. Then, it’s back to Chicago to see my parents before trading in the rental car for a rental truck and packing it up for the trip south.

At times, our end goal has seemed a million miles away, rather than the hundreds it actually is, sitting quietly in a slip in West Palm Beach, just waiting for us. We’re coming – I promise, we’re coming!

Message Received!

Ready to Throw!Our Message in a Bottle was found!

As some of you may remember, during our sail back from Door County during our cruise this summer, Claire, Aaron and I spent a few days putting together a message in a bottle. (Read the original blog post here.) We drew pictures and wrote a note, Claire made a special bead necklace, we corked it, and Claire tossed it overboard on a chilly and overcast afternoon, somewhere offshore between Kewaunee and Sheboygan, Wisc.

Knowing that it would likely never be found, I viewed it more as a fun exercise with Claire and an offering to the mighty Lake Michigan that had taken such good care of us.

But yesterday morning, just shy of six months later, I booted up my computer to check my email and was greeted with a wonderful note from Pat, from Belgium, Wisc. It seems that he and his wife took advantage of an exceptionally warm late-February weekend to take a stroll along the beach for the first time in months, and lo and behold, his wife spotted our repurposed Door County wine bottle sitting on the beach.

What are the chances?! I tried to do some research on this. A quick Google search for these time capsules found in the Great Lakes yielded quite a few results, and some captivating stories of artifacts preserved for more than 75 years. But 10, even 15 accounts (at least, covered in newspaper articles) in the grand scheme of things is almost nothing. The truth, also, is that fewer people are doing this, for two reasons. First, writing actual letters with pen and paper is a forgotten art. Second, throwing anything into the water is considered littering and a non-starter, both in and out of the boating community. It’s definitely something we take very seriously on Clarity, though I was willing to make this one exception.

In all accounts, though, finding a message in a bottle was a momentous and fascinating occasion.

Our bottle’s journey was determined by a combination of waves, winds, weather and current. We also never ventured more than 10 nautical miles offshore during those sails back south to Chicago, and in Lake Michigan, it’s not as though tides or the gulf stream can further influence the trajectory.

Calculating the distance from where we likely tossed the bottle, to the shoreline just east of Belgium, our little care package traveled 40-50 nautical miles. The true miracle is that the bottle happened to wash ashore and be preserved (albeit a short time) long enough to be found, and in a location that just happened to be visited by a couple on a random afternoon walk.

Pat and I exchanged a lovely email correspondence, and it warms my heart to know that he and his wife treasured receiving our bottle as much as we treasured making it those cloudy, foggy days back in September. All the best to you, Pat! I hope the beaded necklace is just your size :).

Welcome To Limbo

It’s been a loop of “Hurry Up and Wait” over here, and right now, we’re waiting.

At the Strictly Sail boat show in January, Aaron and I bought new Henry Lloyd foul-weather coats. We were tired of them sitting in the closet, so we suited up accordingly for our Valentine's Day date. Somehow, I don't think Chicago's blizzard conditions that day were what they had in mind as foul weather...

At the Strictly Sail boat show in January, Aaron and I bought new Henri Lloyd foul-weather coats. We were tired of them sitting in the closet, so we suited up accordingly for our Valentine’s Day date. Somehow, I don’t think Chicago’s blizzard conditions were what they had in mind as foul weather.

Our house is for sale, our boat is for sale, Aaron’s job is for sale. Our life is for sale. Anyone interested? We’ll negotiate!

The good news is that we’ve had recent interest on all fronts, and it feels like there’s hope that one of these chess pieces will move in the near future. But until then, we wait. And waiting for your house or boat to sell is like…well…waiting for your house to sell.

One of the things that has come to light in this recent chapter is how the process to this point has affected Aaron and me differently, and at different times. For me, the entire month of January was awful: all of the work to get our place on the market in a timely manner (and the unexpected hurdles it unearthed) pushed me to my breaking point. But the day we took the photos for the condo listing, the weight was lifted. Now, it’s just a matter of maintaining. And after that chaos, I don’t mind a bit of waiting.

For Aaron, though, this part is much harder. As the mental space of just executing tasks has been freed up, it’s been filled with the reality of the mental shift he’s making – from being entrenched in his career for more than 18 years, to taking his family to sea.

An important nuance is that he’s not quitting his work altogether, and that’s for two reasons. First, though we’ve been financially preparing for this chapter for years, he’s still the primary breadwinner for our family, and will continue to support us afloat. Second, he loves what he does and is still inspired in his professions. But he (we) have gotten the calling to take to the sea, and in the work-life balance, he’s ready for the pendulum to swing to life for awhile.

To help provide serenity these days, I've taken to knitting sea creatures. Some see this as a wonderful hobbies, while others see this as a sign that I may have passed the point of no return.

As a therapeutic activity, I’ve taken to knitting sea creatures. Some see this as a wonderful hobby, while others see this as a sign that I may have passed the point of no return.

In a way, I’ve already experienced a similar transition. When I had Claire, I went from working full-time for eight years through the day before she was born, to becoming a stay-at-home mom overnight. It was a decision Aaron and I were both in agreement on and happy about, and one that we’d made long before she came. But I didn’t realize how much of my self-worth I had tied to my job until I passed maternity leave – the point of no return – and I struggled for quite awhile with figuring out who I was all over again.

It’s funny: Aaron and I have followed so many blogs of cruising families, read the books, watched the videos, etc. There is a library of content on planning, saving, budgeting, provisioning, and training for this adventure we’re about to embark on. But there’s little or nothing that we’ve found on how to mentally prepare – or at least, the importance of acknowledging that this shift in thinking is a huge part of it.

The unknown, too, of how and when this is all going to play out for us, makes it that much more intangible. One of the things I’m trying to work through right now is preparing myself to not panic as soon as we get the call that our condo has sold, or our boat has sold. I know that seems a bit strange, given that we’re (excitedly) taking this leap of our own volition. But the truth is that I’m still very much entrenched in our place, our routine – how can I not be? Claire is still off to preschool in the morning, Aaron off to the office. I’m still on deadline, with client calls and deliverables due.

We are planning planning planning for this and things are happening – but IT hasn’t HAPPENED yet.

There will come a point, sometime in the near future, where what’s left of our things will all be in boxes and we will have nowhere to live (if only for a few weeks). I’m reminding myself, starting now, to be okay with some of those pangs I know I’m going to feel, and to not let them get the better of me. We have to remember what the next chapter is going to look like when we get there.

Look how happy Claire is! Maybe the boat will be too big for her...

Look how happy Claire is! Maybe the boat will be too big for her.

So, for now, we wait. While we wait, Aaron and I are working on our shortlist of boats we’d consider buying when Clarity sells. We’re packing up and selling a few more things here and there, and continuing to research all avenues of cruising life.

We’re also taking this opportunity to spend as much quality time with friends and family as possible, and enjoy the luxury of being able to drive anywhere we want, whenever we want.

And I’m taking really, really, really long baths.

One bitterly cold afternoon, Claire and I made baking soda dough and molded it into sand dollars and stars that she painted the next day. Somehow, I doubt the sand dollars that we will be spotting along the beaches in the islands will be quite this vibrant - but then again, they just might be!

One bitterly cold afternoon, Claire and I made baking soda dough and molded it into sand dollars and stars that she painted the next day. Somehow, I doubt the sand dollars that we will be spotting along the beaches in the islands will be quite this vibrant – but then again, who knows!

The beach is out of reach these days, so kinetic sand will have to suffice.

The beach is out of reach these days, so kinetic sand will have to suffice.

I’m Crying Uncle

Pirate Claire, our Ambassador of Fun on these crazy days.

Pirate Claire, our Ambassador of Fun on these crazy days.

This past week was a hard one. Tears were shed, arguments had, curveballs thrown.

Here we are, a few months into this process, and now I really, truly understand why a lot of people don’t do this. The entire upheaval of a life. It’s exhausting, mentally and physically. It’s more than a full-time job. And it’s a mirror, I’ve realized, of who you are and what’s important to you.

As we’re in the final stage of getting this condo ready to sell, we’ve lost count of how many bags we’ve donated, filled to the point of overflowing. How many times Aaron has emptied the shredder from scanning and getting rid of more than 10 years of paper files. How many boxes we’ve packed of things to store, because of simple space restrictions on a boat, and because we won’t be using the same stuff anyway.

STUFF. SO MUCH STUFF. I am drowning in stuff.

And yes, in a lot of ways, it’s extremely liberating, to realize that you don’t need all of it. Which is not to say that it wasn’t important, or valued. It is gratifying, though, to free yourself for a more simpler life. But that doesn’t just come with the mental shift of deciding to live simpler. That comes with a lot of labor that truthfully isn’t that much fun – at least, not for me. Not all the time, anyway.
MissingTheBoatAnd you start to wonder, when you’re exhausted and you feel like you haven’t made any real headway – why am I doing this again? What was so unsatisfying? Is this really worth it? It would be so much easier to just stick with the same.

We have to keep reminding ourselves of the end goal. When we’ve put in a full day of work, or a full day caring for Claire, and then have to put in another full day at the end of the day to get work done on the condo. When our weekends become marathons of how much we can box up. When our to-do lists just keep getting longer.

“Sailing off to the Caribbean – that sounds amazing!” It does. It will be. But it’s also so. much. work. Just to get to the beginning.

The next 10 days will hopefully be a game changer for us. The boat will be listed with a broker and the condo will finally be put on the market. Then, we will truly be in limbo, which is not something either of us is particularly good at. House, boat, work, all in flux. Is there another spinning plate we can add to the mix?

But in the “Hurry Up and Wait” method of all of this, we will be past the “Hurry Up” part and into the “Waiting.” We’ll still be working, but on planning the specifics of our adventure. What’s our short list for boats? Our healthcare options? Do we need homeschooling materials for preschool for Claire? If we don’t buy a new boat, what route do we use to get Clarity out to the East Coast, and what’s the timing? Fun work. Work that will renew my excitement in this whole process.

What makes me smile, even right now as I type this, is the idea that six or eight months from now, I’ll be sitting on the bow of the boat (Clarity or otherwise), on the East Coast headed south, or maybe already in the Caribbean, reading through some of my posts just for fun, and I’ll come to this one. And I’ll laugh, and I’ll call Aaron over to read it with me.

And we’ll say with a grateful smile, “Yep, I remember that. I remember exactly where we were then. But you know what, we came out the other end. And now we’re here.”

On The Hard


My cutie, a throwback from our summer cruise. I can’t count the ways I’m going to miss these days.

A few weekends ago, Aaron and I had a dream of a ride as we delivered the boat to the yard on a sunny 65-degree fall day. And this past weekend, we put on Clarity‘s winter cover, hauling the metal frame up the ladder piece by piece and lacing the canvas under the hull like a giant shoe.

I couldn’t help but think how much it resembled a tent. And maybe it was the unusually warm fall weather, but how fun would it be to camp on the bow! Claire would love it, and knowing Aaron, we’d probably seriously consider it, if the boat weren’t resting in its cradle about 15 feet off the ground. Yard work is not for the faint of height.

I remember last year, in mid-October, the harbors had already turned off the water hookup at the slips, as the lines were freezing in 30-degree night temps. Getting the boat out by the 31st, when the harbors officially close, wasn’t even a question then. But the 70-degree November this year has been an unbelievable blessing, and a bit of a tease. If only we could have sailed her just a few more times.

We have Clarity listed on the popular sailing websites, but even just a few weeks into the “winter” boating season, we’re already getting anxious.

Yes, a bigger boat would be wonderful, and yes, there are a lot of things that Clarity would need for us to comfortably start the next chapter.  But what if she doesn’t sell this winter or spring? What if we lose momentum? If we can make changes now, on Clarity, and leave in the spring (and with a more flush cruising kitty to start), why wouldn’t we?

It’s amazing to me how time can expand and compress in light of life-altering crossroads.

No decisions have been made, though, and in the meantime, Aaron’s winterized all of the systems on board. There are just a few more things to be done before Clarity is ready for hibernation.

As for us, the family is definitely not ready for our impending hibernation. The other day, Claire woke up, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, and asked me, “Mommy, are we going to the boat today?” I wish, sweetheart. I wish.

Final Days

Pirate Princess Claire

Last night was our last night on Clarity as a family – definitely for the season, and possibly for forever – as Aaron and I will deliver her to the yard this weekend for winter storage.

On the face of it, it was not a particularly eventful day. We took advantage of the random 75-degree day to dig around at the beach one last time, have Claire run around up top wielding her feisty octopus kite, snuggle up for dinner down below as the sun was setting, and stretch out in the salon with pillows and blankets to watch a show together while Claire snoozed.

It was like any other day at the boat. It was perfect.

Though we still have one voyage left, it’s just not the same when it’s not the three of us. And with Claire’s toys moved off and no laundry waiting for me and the fridge nearly empty and the cubbies wiped down, well, now it’s just a boat. It seems like such an injustice to her, leaving her empty and alone in the cold. I hate this time of year.

As we continue to move forward with our “plan,” we will still push to sell Clarity this winter. But I can’t help but smile at the thought being able to splash her again come April. If she doesn’t find another owner, what an honor it would be, to fill her once again with laughter and love.

She’s Officially For Sale!

Threenager!I found this while I was clicking through our cruise photos the other day, and it made me laugh! At the time, that day seemed so hard. Certainly, not every day in cruising life is paradise :).

The past few weeks have been filled with time at the boat, but not much “boat time,” as we’ve been preparing Clarity for selling. Hauling off extra gear we put on board for the long cruise, then hauling off more gear to take pictures, and then packing the rest for either a winter on the hard or (hopefully) a new adventure.

Oh, and did I mention the cleaning? I’ve found Cheerios, beads and Legos in nooks and crannies that I didn’t even know were there.

Throughout this process, I’ve been thinking back, not just on our cruise this summer, but on last year, and the year before. Our first summer aboard, Claire had just learned to walk. Aaron and I had never truly spent a month of uninterrupted time together. I’d never driven a boat, let alone captained one in gusty winds and three-foot waves while Aaron troubleshot our failing engine down below.

In so many ways, we became a family on this boat.

And as we put those final details in the online listing, and sorted through the pictures one more time to narrow the batch down to just those that truly show how special Clarity is, I couldn’t help but feel the pangs that have held us back when we’ve previously tried to move forward:

Do we really want to sell her? Is there anyone who will love this boat as much as we have?

But even as I tear up now, I know that we’re ready for the next chapter, wherever it takes us. And if I’m this attached to this boat, and this life, and these memories, I can’t even imagine how we will grow in the next one.

So, the listing is up. Clarity is officially for sale. As the season comes to a close, we are headed to the boat for one more family weekend before we deliver her to the yard for winter storage.

It could be the last time we ever sail her. I hope that it isn’t, and that it is.

To Sell Or Not To Sell

BreakfastWe’ve been back for only two weeks, and already, our cruise seems like ages ago. I’m always so surprised – and so disappointed – at how we just slip back into the daily routine, even if we are still splitting time between the condo and Clarity. The roots of what’s familiar, what’s expected, what’s known, grow like weeds.

I think that’s one of the reasons why we’ve decided to sell Clarity.

For something bigger and more equipped for living aboard full time, and in places other than the Great Lakes. For a boat where the list of projects to reach living aboard longer isn’t so long that we lose motivation (though ongoing projects are a reality with any boat).

We are selling Clarity so that we are one big step closer to realizing our dream, in whatever form that takes, still to be determined (staying in the Great Lakes, sailing down the East Coast to the Caribbean, etc.). It’s time to actually take action toward something we’ve been talking about for years. Otherwise, those roots of what’s comfortable and what’s expected, will strangle us.

We’ve told friends and family about wanting to live this lifestyle more permanently for awhile now, and I’ve come to expect (understandable) reactions of surprise and confusion – I myself was more prone to this reaction five, even three years ago.  How will we work and make money, is another question I get – but more on that in another post. What’s shocked me the most, though, is how much concern is expressed about Claire not being in school.

It’s not that I don’t value what organized school provides – in fact, Claire started preschool just two days after we were back in Chicago, and she attends two to three mornings a week. She absolutely loves it, and I have no doubt that she’s learning so much, even just observing the other kids there.

CupsBut though I can value the school setting, why is it so hard for others to value non-traditional settings? Why has it become the expectation for kids to sit in a classroom and learn about adventures, rather than live them? Why are the parents thought to be not putting their children’s best interests at heart, when they’re committing to both being present, teaching and learning alongside them?

And why is it more important to socialize with the same classmates every day, rather than to introduce yourself to new people, in new places, with different cultures? Claire is our social ambassador, after all. She’s never come across a person (or puppy, for that matter), that isn’t immediately informed of her name and what special treat she’s had that day.

Again, I’m not discounting proper schooling – I already see the benefits for Claire! I just struggle sometimes as to why the definition of it is so concrete. We are blessed as a family to even be able to consider this lifestyle. Why would we let it pass by? And of course, if Claire was unhappy on the boat, we wouldn’t even be considering it. But unprompted by us, she asks to go back when we’re not there, and the pure joy that makes it so hard for her to not skip or run down the dock when we get there speaks for itself.

There’s no time like the present – when Claire is still at a young enough age where we feel confident that we can teach her the milestones that are included in the curriculum. And when she isn’t yet tethered to a schedule of whatever sports or hobbies or activities she’s involved in, because we want to give her those opportunities, too. (Whether or not she develops the passion for sailing that we have.)

So, wheels are in motion, so to speak. We’re decluttering and giving Clarity a deep clean, and I’m trying to write a listing that will do her justice and convey her importance to our family in between the lines of dimensions and specifications. It could take a year for her to sell, or it could take a few months. And if she doesn’t sell in a somewhat timely manner, we will likely go back to that long list of “must-haves for long-term cruising” and just commit to executing.

There’s an old Scottish proverb, “What may be done at any time will be done at no time.” It’s time to go do.


What Cruising Does To Marriage

The Happy CoupleOn our first morning back in Oak Park, I happened to run into our neighbor, Carol, who naturally asked about our trip. “You lived on the boat for more than a month straight?” she asked. “You must have a strong marriage.”

Her comment made me smile at first. Of course we do, I thought. But it stuck with me, and I started to reaffirm for myself how unusual our situation is. How challenging, and also how rewarding. Don’t get me wrong – we got into it a few times on this trip.  But we worked out our arguments quickly and were on to the next thing. And I always think Aaron and I end these trips stronger as a couple than we began them.

For most people, either one or both spouses does the daily grind, 9 to 5 (or later), Monday through Friday. For the first three years of our marriage, Aaron and I both did this. If you have kids, the evenings are then spent having dinner together, getting the kiddo(s) to bed, and collapsing for an hour or two before sawing logs. Similarly, weekends are devoted to family time. Talking strictly in terms of hours, you’re married more to your job than you are to your spouse or your family.

During these cruises, all day is family time. Every evening is together time. Weekdays and weekends run together. We are together All. The. Time. I will admit, the first summer we did a long cruise, this took adjusting and a lot of deep breaths. I’m used to my freedom, even with Claire, and so is Aaron. But this cruise, our third, we settled into it like a familiar routine.

A big part of it is shifting our mindsets. We’re not just husband and wife – we are captain and co-captain. We simply have to work together to sail the boat from one place to another (and manage Claire to boot). The dynamics change a bit when we toss lines: To a certain extent because he’s more experienced, Aaron becomes my boss. I know my role, have settled into my own responsibilities, and he tells me what additional things need to be done. I know that whatever he asks me to do, he’s asking to help us go faster, keep us safer, etc. That, in and of itself, took some settling in for us. But it works because we respect and trust one another. And when things do get a bit heated, we try to remind ourselves to extend each other some grace.

When we are in port, I think we’re also both mindful of allowing each other some space to breathe. I’ll encourage Aaron to head to the pub in the evening to get some time away, enjoy a pint and swap sailing stories with the locals. In the same vein, he will happily take Claire for a few hours so that I can peruse the shops and find a new favorite coffee shop. We both did that a bit on this cruise, but to be honest, it always amazes me how little either of us takes advantage of this. Sometimes, just knowing that we can is enough.

Another big part of the equation, too, is that Claire is always there. She’s a smart girl and she already picks up on a lot – even if no words are being exchanged, but there’s tension wafting in the air. Having someone else there, bearing witness, naturally makes you a lot more accountable for your actions. It’s not that we never have disagreements in front of Claire – that would be unrealistic. But when we do argue, it reminds us to take a deep breath and step back. And to show her that, though it happens, we love each other and we can resolve the issue.

Every year when we get back to 31st Street, instead of heading for the car as soon as the engine is off, we spend an extra night on the boat. We have a lazy morning the next day. We talk about the trip and we always, always, wish we had more time. More time to explore. More time to spend together. And that, I think, is a true testament, to our marriage, and our family.

Land, Ho! Milwaukee!

We did it! Clarity is cruising once again!

As many cruisers know, casting the first lines of the trip is often the hardest part – so much tethers us to land. There are so many reasons that we should stay in Chicago and do the daily grind. But as soon as the skyline is in our wake, I remember why we do this.

See pics from our weekend sails here!

On Saturday, we sailed with 10-15 knots out of the northeast and were able to fly both the jib and the main for six hours out of our eight-hour run. It was overcast and a bit chilly out there. I was also reminded as the waves kicked up (unforecasted) to occasional three-footers, that yep, I do get seasick. A few seasons under my belt helped me keep it in check, though, and overall, it was a great trip up to North Point Marina in Winthrop Harbor, just south of the Wisconsin border.

Sunday morning, a lovely couple saw our Columbia Yacht Club flag and invited us to the Winthrop Harbor Yacht Club for their $5 breakfast (we get reciprocal rights with most yacht clubs). We swapped sailing tales over scrambled eggs and pancakes and they helped us cast lines late morning as we pointed north once again.

The plan was to make a quick run up to Racine; the wind was straight out of the north and on our nose, so we wouldn’t be able to sail anyway. But just before we put the blinker on to turn left into port, the wind shifted to the northeast and the fog started to lift. Claire was happy as a clam and we thought, let’s just keep going! We cut the engine, rolled out the sails, and five hours later, we tied up at Milwaukee Yacht Club.

We’ll be here for a few days, meeting up with friends and taking advantage of the high-speed Wi-Fi to knock out some work.

It’s hard to believe it was so hard to cast those lines back at 31st Street…