Tuesday, May 31, 2011

By Michael

Breaking bread in the cockpit with Mexican fishermen,
Islas San Benitos, 1997
Today was the last day of my IT consulting career. Over the years, I came to appreciate that the company I work for truly celebrates diversity. At the start of my tenure, I rolled my eyes at this seemingly obligitory nod to political correctness. But I soon learned that promoting diversity is not lip service, it is a dedication to peer reviews and consideration of other points of view--all in the interest of delivering the best results for a client, and winning more work in the long run. It is a strong culture of celebrating (and promoting) the most effective staff. From my first day in 2003, I felt I could take my career as far as I wanted and I never felt that my efforts--even if unsuccessful--were overlooked.
Accordingly, I enjoyed the opportunity to work alongside my colleagues from all over the world. I was personally enriched by my professional and personal relationships with nationals from Brazil, China, Egypt, Ethiopia, India, Iran, Iraq, Kenya, Lebanon, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Romania, Russia, and Sri Lanka. Growing up in suburban Southern California during the 1970s and 80s, I didn't have the opportunity to play and learn with classmates or neighbors who spoke, thought, and ate very differently than I. My world was characterized by light-skinned people who shared similar backgrounds and life experiences.
It's been especially interesting this past couple weeks, describing our cruising plans to everyone at my office. A few got it, instantly. They may have been surprised I am doing this, but they were familiar with the cruising concept and their questions centered around where the boat is now, where we are planning to go, and for how long. But for many others it was completely foreign. Completely foreign. After I explained everything, many of those folks remained incredulous. I was always happy to explain and answer any questions. It struck me that growing up in the U.S., phrases like, "sail off into the sunset" are a part of the lexicon and the "dream" to sell everything and take off on a sailboat is not so unique in our popular culture.
This speaks to one of the primary reasons we're leaving now to do this: our girls. In our cruising lifestyle we aim to immerse ourselves in many cultures, across continents. I'm pleased to anticipate my girls enriched--and to a far greater extent than I have been to date--in ways that shape them as curious, compassionate people who celebrate and promote diversity.
Two days of packing and then comes departure day. We can't wait.

Life underway in 1997, flying a 130 in light airs
somewhere off the coast of Guatemala

Thursday, May 26, 2011

What If...
By Michael

What if the cruising life doesn't suit our family?
Windy aboard the first Del Viento, arriving Acapulco, 1997
With a For Sale sign in front of the house and having given notice at work, I am sharing our cruising plans with strangers, acquaintances, or friends for the first time, more than ever before. At least half of these folks respond with some variation of, "You're so brave." I always dismiss the comment, usually offering that we've done this before, so we know what we're getting into, et cetera. And I think this is true, for the most part.

But in many very significant ways, this radical lifestyle change we've put into motion is completely new and foreign to us. We were unmarried, childless twenty-somethings the last time we did this. How relevant can that experience be? We are pretty far removed from the couple who sailed the first Del Viento.
I don't think we are brave as much as we are willfully ignorant, willing to accept the unknown. There are a hundred valid concerns that could be used as arguments for not up-ending our stable, middle-aged lives. They all stem from questions like the following.

  • Will we spend a lot more than we anticipate, running out of savings?
  • Will I really be able to earn enough writing to make a difference?
  • Will we be forced to return to "land life" for financial reasons, deeply regretting the financial toll this whole radical "experiment" will have taken?
  • Will our old boat require more money to maintain than we are budgeting?
  • Will health care be as inexpensive as we have budgeted?
  • Will living together in tight quarters adversely affect our relationship with each other and with our kids?
  • Will the girls lack or miss the strong social connections they have today?
  • Will the girls really get an education sufficient to give them the choices and opportunities we want for them later on?
  • Will the girls fail to appreciate the lifestyle we anticipate and pine for the DC life they remember?
  • Will our families not visit as often as we anticipate and connections weaken?
  • Have we forgotten or underestimated the hardships associated with the cruising life and instead allowed the years to exaggerate the highlights?
  • Will it get "old" quickly?
  • Will we feel the urge to constantly move on to the next port, missing the opportunity to make the kinds of friendships that would enrich the journey?

Del Viento departing Cabo San Lucas anchorage, 1997
Of course, as I wrote each of these questions, I affirmed my own feeling that none of the negative things they allude to are likely to come to pass. Windy surely feels the same. But I acknowledge that none of these questions can be answered now, not a single one. Some we will not be able to answer until we have been out there for a good while. And this is okay, with us.

But why is it okay?

I don't know. I think part of it is who we are, together and individually. I think a bigger part of it is that we feel we've mitigated our risks so that they are not as large as they may otherwise seem. We certainly have a better sense of the cruising reality than the average couple or family heading out for the first time. We have read enough about the successful experiences of the other families out there now, and who have been out there before, that our unanswered questions surrounding the girls do not keep us up at night. And finally, we are confident that we've saved enough in our retirement accounts that after 20 more years of growth we will be in good shape. This is a big factor and means that we have only to provide for ourselves and the girls for the next 20 years, day by day, without regard for the longer term.

Some folks don't call us brave. They instead offer encouragment, usually along the lines of, "Do it while you're young," or, "You only live once," or, "You're so lucky." I agree wholeheartedly with these sentiments, but they leave me feeling like I have to counter the reckless connotation of these phrases. I didn't have a bad day at work and decide to chuck it all. We are not impulsive in that way. Our decision to do this, while reliant on our willful ignorance and nurtured by the, "you only live once" sentiment, was deliberate and is coming to pass only after years of careful planning and focused saving.

So if the cruising life doesn't suit our family, all of our family, despite our massive bet that it will, we may return to the types of lives we left, or try something altogether different. You do only live once.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

My Biker Girl
By Michael

Go Frances, go!
A cruising boat is no place to learn to ride a bike.

This was Windy's epiphany smack in the middle of the increasing and urgent chaos that characterized our lives these past 4-6 months. After much encouragement and several practice runs on the park field and on the sidewalk, Frances--the last of the Robertsons to abandon the training wheels--finally reached the point this evening where she can claim confidently and legitimately: "I know how to ride a bike!"

Now if only the girls were strong swimmers...


Sunday, May 22, 2011

Free Books for a Dreamer
By Michael

NOTE: The books are long gone, thank you.
Good Ole Books
As we're packing up and getting ready to ship out (literally), I came across four books that we really loved, that we are not taking with us, and that would be perfect for the would-be cruiser out there reading this blog:
  • Beth Leonard, Following Seas
  • Jim Trefethen, The Cruising Life
  • Dave & Jaja Martin, Into the Light
  • Tom Neale, All in the Same Boat
If you are that person, and you are the first to to send us an email (see the Contact Us tab), I will be happy to send these to you, free. You may send us $10 to cover shipping, but that's not necessary; I will be happy to have these read by someone who will enjoy reading them.

These are especially good for the would-be cruiser with a family, as two of the books are so oriented. The Trefethen book is just awesome for anyone who understands the life, but wants a common-sense guide to transitioning, and with answers to all of the questions you could possibly have. The Leonard book, Following Seas, is an essayist's look back at her cruising adventures. I profiled almost all of these on our The Library tab too.

So, I look forward to getting your email and sending these out. But hurry, they've got to get out of here soon.


Friday, May 20, 2011

Goodbye Good Cats
By Michael

Over the years, Mit never lost her cool

Georgia's not fierce,
just yawning

About the only non-positive thing that's happened lately is having to resettle the cats this past weekend. These two have been with us for nearly the 10 years we've lived in this house. We got Mit and Georgia before we had kids.
I'm comforted knowing they are going to our neighbors and good friends (they took our chickens late last year), that neither would enjoy boat life or the car trip that precedes it, and that the little hard drives in their brains will be wiped clean after about 10 days and they will be happy in their new home. But it's been strange without Georgia cozied up at the foot of our bed these past few nights, without Mit's little mew as the girls lug their playmate from one part of the house to another, and without a grateful little feline face at the back door waiting to be let in. Gonna miss these two.


Wednesday, May 18, 2011

So Much, So Fast
By Michael

Our new trailer friend
Today I invited a good friend and her family over for a farewell dinner and margaritas on May 21. The 21st sounded so far away, too close to the end of this month to be soon, so I was surprised when I realized it's this Saturday, 72 hours away. That's kind of been the way of things. If I were given to panic attacks, I'd probably be having them now. How can I possibly do all of the things and see all the people that I want before we leave D.C.?
I gave my official notice at work this week; my last day will be May 31. All of the outstanding house sale contingencies are out of the way, so we are nearly certain to become homeless on June 3, as planned. Last night we brought home the trailer we bought for the road trip.

Oh, and I lost my battle with the DMV. The powers that be insist there is no means for entering a non-D.C. address on their driver's license. Their advice? "You're gonna have to find a friend or neighbor who will let you use their address." Okay, I have just the person in mind.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

What To Do?
By Michael

So this past week I've been working to change our mailing address with magazines, banks, credit card companies, AAA, the girls' 529 plan administrator...the list goes on and on. So far, things have gone smoothly. But when I tried to change our address with the DC DMV, they balked.
Here's the situation: The day we close on the house sale, we won’t have a DC mailing address nor any material connection to the District. The DMV says they won't put an out-of-state address on my DC driver's license (the mail forwarding company we signed up with is in Florida). We're gonna need driver’s licenses in our new life (what if we rent or borrow a car?) and I don’t know how we’re gonna get them.
My argument to the DC government is that we are going to continue to file a DC income tax return and we are not intending to set up residency nor domicile in any other state. As I understand the law, for legal purposes, our residency or domicile remains in DC until we become domiciled in another state--and using a Florida-based mail-forwarding service is not nearly enough to do so.
Regular government bureaucracy can be trying, but when you have to explain the whole idea of sailboat cruising and our particular plans to every person up the chain of command, it takes it to a whole new level. I think they're gonna have to come through and allow us to retain our DC licenses with our Florida address printed on the front, I don't see any way around it. I’m waiting now for a return call from the director’s office at the DC DMV. Stay tuned…(and any advice or input is welcome).

Friday, May 13, 2011

Interview with a [soon to be] Cruiser: Frances

Birthday #5 at Grandma's & Grandpa's house
What’s the name of your boat?
Um…um...I don’t know…Dee-em-fo…Diemfo! Del Viento!
What is your boat like?
It’s going to be white and blue.
What will your new bedroom be like?
I don’t really know. Maybe it’s gonna be yellow.
Why are moving onto a boat anyway?
I don’t know. Because my momma wants to live on it so bad.
What will you bring with you?
Bunny, Bunny, Bunny, and Bunny.
When you get on your boat, what is the first thing you are going to do?
I’m gonna look around the boat.
Once you're living on the boat, what are you going to do?
I’m going to travel to Mexico.
Is there anything you are afraid of?
Dreaming of sharks and wrecked ships...no, sunken ships.
What will your parents do to make sure you are safe?
Wear life vests.
What will school be like?
Um…I’m deciding if I’m going to school or not.
How will you keep in touch with your friends and family?
Of going on the phone.
What will you do when you are bored?
Go swimming.
What will your day be like?
Will there be other kids to play with?
What are you most excited about?
Traveling to different places and seeing different things.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

By Michael

Grinding a hole in the frame
Sometimes things just go smoothly. It rarely happens, and it isn't the way of things, but sometimes--just sometimes--if your expectations are low enough and Murphy is out to lunch, things can go unexpectedly well.
A week ago, I had no idea folks installed their own trailer hitches on their vehicles. Of course, there are exceptions, guys like my brother-in-law Shawn who keeps industrial-grade welding equipment in his garage and will build a full-blown monster truck over the weekend out of scrap metal. I would expect him to install his own trailer hitch. But normal folks?
I found etrailer.com. They sell hitches and wiring kits for what seems like every vehicle on earth, for cheap. The hitch bracket came in a giant box with sparse instructions that had me detaching the muffler, unbolting a heat shield, removing the charcoal fume canister, enlarging existing holes in the frame, and drilling new ones.
I saw so much room for disaster. If the thing was tweaked and holes didn't line up, I'd be sunk. If my bit wasn't up to drilling through the frame, I'd be sunk. Could they really have configured this thing to fit just my vehicle? (It's not an F-150--how many 1999 Ford Escort Wagons are there with trailer hitches?)
Well, total success. The Dremel I bought recently for boat use was a huge help, making it easy to enlarge existing holes in the frame as required. I started this project tonight after work and was finished in a couple hours. I still have the wiring to do, but otherwise we are ready to buy our trailer for the Big Trip.
The appraisal is scheduled for tomorrow. Damn, things are happening fast. We've got our fingers crossed.


Monday, May 9, 2011

Lords of the Flies
By Michael

Frances and I hanging out at first yard sale weeks back: a calm in the storm
Yesterday, Mother’s Day, only a week after our open house, and the buyers and their inspector completed the home inspection. We’ve not heard anything yet, but what a day.
Windy spent the previous night up with Eleanor, trying to control her fever. The poor girl was miserable and began complaining of difficulty breathing. In the morning, off to Children’s Hospital they went while Frances and I stayed back to clean up and get the place ready for the afternoon inspection.
Chest x-rays revealed pneumonia. This morning, Eleanor’s not 100%, but she slept well last night and is obviously responding to the antibiotics.
I wrote before that we’ve all been sick, in turn, for the entire past 6 weeks. I was under the weather for nearly the entire time—and what a time. It’s no wonder Eleanor crashed. Like Navy Seals in Hell Week training, this was our family’s Hell Month preparation for listing the house. During that time the girls mostly raised themselves. Windy and I would both be working late into the night with paint brushes or tools in hand, suddenly realize it is way past any sensible bed time, and track down the girls only to find they’d put them themselves to bed—teeth brushed and lights out.
Nobody’s been eating healthily. We’ve ordered countless pizzas and whipped up way too many boxes of macaroni and cheese. The pantry is relatively bare. I’ve long been pleased that we are a family that takes every dinner and weekend breakfast together at the dining room table. But that table has sat unused like a museum piece for the past month. Eating happened where and when it could. We've neglected our children, allowing them to fend for themselves so as not to interrupt our frantic bid to complete home improvements. The girls can now show us tricks for navigating Netflix site and who knows what they’ve been watching the past 30 days.
Neither of us deserves a day that celebrates our parenting, so it is just as well it turned out as it did. Here’s looking forward to Father’s Day, which I will gladly share with Windy.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

It's Gone
By Michael

Under Contract
Things are moving fast in DC. Our house went under contract late last night and we have a June 3 closing scheduled. This means we could be starting our epic cross-country drive to PV in less than a month!

Just when I’d gotten used to the past 72 hours with nothing more to do than go to work and tend to minor household chores—a real respite from the past 6 months, and especially the past month—we're now feeling the sense of urgency to kick it into gear again to get ready to go.

I don’t think I’ve written about it on this blog, but I wrote “epic” to describe our cross-country drive to PV because that’s what we have planned. There are a lot of folks and things we want to see on our trip and few of them (Mike and Dar!) are in the path of a direct southern route from DC to PV, so we are heading north.

In the you-only-live-once spirit of this entire plan to upend our lives and go cruising: there is a brewery in Pennsylvania I want to visit, then Frank Lloyd Wright’s Falling Water, and then Niagara Falls. That puts us way up in Buffalo, NY.  From there, we will take either the south-of-the-Great-Lakes route to see friends in Wisconsin, or first check out Montreal and drop in from the north. From Madison, we’ll indulge Eleanor’s desire to see Mount Rushmore, and then down to see Grandma in Western Nebraska. We’ll have with us furniture to drop off with family in Missoula, Montana, before climbing the Rockies and traversing Washington state to visit friends in the Pacific Northwest. After Port Angeles, we will finally head south, seeing family and friends in Portland, Oregon and nearly every coastal area in California. I think it will have been nearly a month by the time we spend the night in San Diego in preparation for an early morning crossing into the Baja. We’ll probably spend the night halfway down the peninsula before staying with friends in La Paz, catching the ferry to Mazatlan, and driving the final stretch to Puerto Vallarta.

Epic, yeah? All in a 1999 Ford Escort wagon towing a trailer and powered only by a tired 1.9L engine. What are the odds we make it?

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