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!

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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.”

A Very Maritime Christmas

ChristmasSailThis holiday season was a perfect mixture of family celebrations, winter adventures, and preparations for what’s to come.

This was almost assuredly our last Christmas at our condo in Oak Park. It’s crazy to think that I have no idea where we will be a year from now. But exciting, too.

Our families are unbelievably supportive of our plans, and gave the most thoughtful gifts that will make our transition to boating life even more comfortable. Turkish towels for the bath/beach and the galley. (They are a most-coveted item for cruisers: Learn more about Turkish towels here in a great post from another boating family.) Appropriately sized pans for a boat grill. Squigz and other toys that will fair well on a less-than-stable “work surface,” oceanography books and a pocket microscope for our little adventurist, and a cozy owl sleeping bag for starry slumber parties on the bow. And so much more – even a moisture-resistant to-go bag for all of my knitting materials! Yes, my hobby has become an obsession.

In the interest of saving as much as possible for our next chapter, Aaron and I decided to stick to a $10 limit for our gifts to each other. I made him a homemade bag of boat rags (you can never have too many!), and he put together a trivia game for me to learn more about the Bahamian Islands. Each answer gave me the next port of call, and as I “mapped out” our course, a gift awaited me at each place (a hand massage, a few hours to myself, and some essentials I’ll need during our time on the water, like a quality pair of polarized sunglasses). That Aaron guy – he’s a keeper.

Snowwatching

A day after we arrived in Michigan, there was finally a decent snowfall! Claire was mesmerized.

After celebrating with my family in a cornucopia of delicious dinners, we spent the week of New Year’s in Michigan with Aaron’s. Well aware of our impending lack of childcare, we reveled in being able to leave Claire with Aaron’s mom in Grand Rapids for a few days and head north to Boyne for skiing and card game debauchery with his brother and his family. Then it was back to Grand Rapids to ring in the New Year with full bellies and full hearts.

Throughout the holiday season, I tried to be as present in the moment as possible. The beauty of thick snow hugging the trees, having family just a short car ride away, the simple pleasure of cozying up to the fireplace after a day spent burning as many calories laughing as skiing … I’m going to miss all of it.

Now begins the real work. We will be meeting with our realtor this week and should have the condo listed shortly thereafter. We continue to toss around whether or not to list Clarity with a broker, though time is proving to be a strong ally to brokering.

In the meantime, more and more “stuff” needs sorting, selling, storing… The tasks seem to keep breeding.

“Let’s sit down tonight and write down a list of to-do lists that need doing.” Sigh…

It’s all worth it, though, with the end game in mind. White sandy beaches, warm afternoon breezes, we’re coming for you. 2016, however you play out, you’re already rocking our world.

On The Hard

Throwback

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.

 

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…

One More Before We Go

As far as long weekends go, this last one was pretty epic. Over the course of four days, we managed to pack in the definition of Chicago summer on the water. Gusty afternoon sails and kites dancing off the docks. Burying each other at the beach, cannonballs in the pool and unending ice cream rivers running down our chins.

Brats barbecued off the stern of Clarity, brunch on the bow of the club ship, and cocktails by candlelight. The soothing sound of water lapping against the paddle boards, and the deafening pound down below of a passing hail storm.

Warm morning breezes, sunny, sticky afternoons, and awe-inspiring sunsets…

This was our last full weekend in Chicago for awhile, as we leave this Saturday or Sunday to point north. First to Racine, then Milwaukee, then Port Washington, and then who knows? We’ll keep you posted along the way :).

“How do you do this?!”

Twice in the past two weeks, we’ve had the pleasure of introducing Clarity to friends who are not boaters and who had never been aboard before. And they both respectfully and understandably asked, “How do you do this?!”

They were referring to the space down below. Sure, we have the aft cabin, the v-berth, the head, the galley, the salon. They are rooms, for lack of a better word, since they’re separated by doors. But the boat is 36-and-a-half feet long from stem to stern and 12-feet wide at its largest point. The entirety of the space is a little bigger than a decent walk-in closet.

The first summer that we had the boat, and Aaron told me he’d like to spend half-time (or more) aboard for the season, if I’m being honest, I had the exact same thought. How the heck am I going to do this?! And with a kid?!

But the more seasons we spend on Clarity, the bigger it seems down below, and also cozier. It just feels like home.

With this lifestyle, our living quarters aren’t limited to down below. We have meals in the cockpit. We run around on the bow and climb the topsides. We set up our wooden table, chairs and candles and create a living room on the dock.

And after awhile, quietly, I started to realize it. Lake Michigan is our backyard. Everywhere is our backyard.

We are a five-minute walk from a pool, a playground, a splash pad, a beach and the ice cream cooler in the ship’s store, to Claire’s delight. We hunt for caterpillars along the lakefront path and greet the ducks that pass by our slip.

We start up the engine and Claire’s big blue eyes light up as she says, “Are we going for a ride?!” We fill the sails with a course headed in no particular direction and spend an entire morning floating while Claire dunks herself in a bucket of lake water in the cockpit.

Every evening, Claire yells, “Mommy and Daddy: I found the sunset!” Along the lakefront, away from the concrete jungle, they are never the same, and they never disappoint.

Somewhere along the way, too, the question changes from how we do it, to why we do it.

We do it for the freedom. We do it because we can take off – just leave – toss lines- escape – whenever we want, and take our home with us.

And Aaron and I both work from the boat. We spread out our computers at the salon table, sometimes side by side. Aaron will head to the airport from Clarity for business trips and I’ll do calls with clients while walking the dock.

I do laundry, make meals, play hide-and-seek with Claire. We do life, but we do it on our terms, in a setting that speaks to our souls.

“How do you do this?” is a hard question to answer. I hope I’ve scratched the surface.