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The Meaning of Space: Thoughts From a Former Tiny Home Mom

The Meaning of Space: Thoughts From a Former Tiny Home Mom

Since leaving our home in the country to live and travel on our 47 foot sailboat, I realized I had left behind something in that 1200 square foot house that I didn’t know had a purpose in my life: empty space.

It was obvious we were giving up empty space when we moved out of our house and onto our boat. We were trading our open floor plan home for a boat just big enough for five people to eat, sleep, cook, play, and travel in. We were forced to drastically simplify, and as overwhelming as it often was, we loved it. Every item given, sold or tossed was like a window opening allowing fresh air to flood our life. After months of sorting through every item in our home, every paper, every cluttered drawer and corner, we finally drove off that early morning in November to begin life on our boat with all of our belongings in the back of our Chevy Suburban. It was liberating. We turned our attention from building a house to building faith and from gathering things to gathering memories. We drove off with hope, energy, a countryside before us and a sea calling us.

In our house on land, I thought the empty spaces that filled the hallways, the doorways, and the corners of the rooms were just holes that attracted the gathering of miscellaneous clutter. These holes I thought were useless, I filled with things that weren’t part of my daily life but somehow still could not give up. I could easily hide a stack of papers in the corner to be sorted later, a box of knick-knacks to put somewhere, someday. I could place them aside and not have to face them right away. I could let them sit in a dark corner, and I could live my life right beside them, while the empty space between me and it gave me room to process their importance, their place in my life. I thought the empty spaces were hindering my ability to live a peaceful life, and downsizing my belongings would reveal the life I desired. I didn’t realize that the material things that filled the spaces of my home were simply a tangible picture of my inner life. I didn’t realize that clearing the clutter was only the beginning of the real work that would begin in the soul.

Our days were busier than ever as we settled into the cabins of our boat. Eventually, the dust settled and we began to feel at home within those wooden walls. The slap of the line on the halyard during a storm, the creak of the line from the mooring ball rubbing against the hull, the rocking on a windy day. The sounds, the smells, the feel quickly became familiar, but the feel of the tiny space was harder to grow into, like a shoe that didn’t quite fit. It seemed we were always stubbing our toes on the ladder to the cockpit, bumping into each other in the hall and tripping over the winches on the deck. Even more painful was bumping into each other’s hurt feelings when emotions were running high.

Eight months have passed living life as a wife and mom inside a tiny space and traveling to unfamiliar places. In the last eight months I have tasted days on the salty sea where the sun was shining and the sapphire depths overwhelmed me with its beauty. I have tasted bitter tears on hard days when exhaustion reigned supreme and my strength to find good in the journey faltered. I have been near quiet shores where my spirit was renewed and I have been in the midst of storms that made me tremble. I have lived shoulder to shoulder with my husband, sharing every mundane moment and every high with him. We have brought our children in close and revealed a little bit more of the world to them. Through everything, I learned something. I learned what the empty space was for.

I learned the empty space around us cushions us from the emotional bumps and bruises we face in life. Big emotions take up space just like a couch or bed. They can be felt and touched. The empty space between bedrooms, in hallways, in closets and corners of the living room give us room, air to process the big emotions that tumble and flow throughout our days. Emotions like disappointment, grief, doubt, fear. The space around us provides places of retreat when emotions are hot, for the members of a family to be alone when the work of the soul requires solitude.

Living in a smaller family home is much more than living in fewer square feet. It is even more than relinquishing the material things in our life that hold no purpose or value. That is a crucial step, but not the most important. Living in a tiny home is challenging and rewarding not only because of the smaller space, but because at its core, it is an invitation to embark on the work of decluttering the soul, of laying bare the inner self. Living in a tiny home is an invitation to walk deeper into the emotional lives of our family.

That can be hard. It has been one of the most significant challenges for me on our journey. In the hallways and corners of my soul I stacked emotions, wounds and memories that took time and solitude for me to process. In the hallways of my heart I stored practices that I kept just for myself like journaling and listening to music alone. Living in a tiny space, the empty spaces I didn’t know I craved were gone. It often felt like my emotional skin was being rubbed raw against the people I loved the most, and unfortunately I too often took it out on them. As a hardcore introvert I needed solitude, but in a small space there were few places where I could be alone, where no little eyes could see me, ask me for a snack or to play. There wasn’t a consistent place where I could process, in solitude, the many emotions I encountered traveling, to let myself feel them, breathe them out, let the tears roll, or bask in a happy memory. Instead they piled up like derailed train cars creating emotional messes that eventually caused family tension. It often felt like I was putting out my emotional fires instead of having the space to naturally let them flow through me.

Now we’re transitioning to life on land and trading a transient lifestyle for one with roots. We’ve come back for many reasons, but not because living in a small family home was impossible. It was challenging, rewarding, liberating and sometimes exhausting. But I learned that living in a small space requires the work of daily inventory of the self. It requires that you ask for what you need and for what you want. It begs that the work of the soul, the spiritual life, be taken seriously. I learned that we actually do need space, but that that space doesn’t have to come in the form of a large spacious home. The space we need can be in the form of a plot of untouched land, or hiking trails, a place to walk and breathe and ponder. The space can be in the form of a barn, a lake, or even a closet. It can be unglamorous and empty, as long as it is a place where we are allowed to feel freely.

I wouldn’t trade anything for the eight months I spent living and traveling on a sailboat with my family. Living in a small space was worth every challenge, and even though we will soon be living in a not-so-small home, the education I received in those 47 feet will stay with me for a lifetime.

This post was written for inclusion in the June collection of the Small Family Homes Blog Community. Read below for more writings on the truth about living small from our community of writers. Check back next month for a new topic and posts in the series and follow our community board on Pinterest for the latest small homes and family minimalism pins!

Minimalist Meg– “The Truth About Living SMALL” : What does living in a small space look like for a family of 4? Probably not a whole lot different from you.

Little Bungalow– “Less Space, More Happiness” : In a small home, less space doesn’t equal more happiness. Except, of course, when it does.

600 Square Feet and a Baby– “The Truth About Living in a Small Family Home” : Living small as a family of four is sometimes uncomfortable, a bit awkward and never boring. Sharing the awkward and imperfect of living small with 4 humans that you always wanted to know (or maybe you didn’t.)

Shelley Vanderbyl– “Five Things You Don’t Need in a Small Home” : Gatekeeping is about recognizing what things you don’t need or want, and trying to keep those objects from coming into your home.

The Streamlined Life– “The Truth About Living Small: Less Possessions, Greater Value“: Just because you’re a minimalist family doesn’t mean you aren’t sentimental.

The Justice Pirate– “What Small Home Living is Like” : No matter if I lived in a cardboard box or a small home, I just like being with my family, who are my home.

Our Nest in the City– “The Truth About Living in a Small Family Home” : My post gives three challenges to living in a small home with our family of five, and counters them with three ways we “cope” and thrive despite it all 🙂

Fourth and West– “You Can’t Have it All” : Small space living requires compromise and sacrifice.

RISING*SHINING– “The Truth About Living in a Small(ish) Family Home” : A smaller home is why we’re able to live such a full life.

Family At Sea– “The Meaning of Space: Thoughts from a Former Tiny Home Mom” : After moving onto a boat, I thought the hard work of decluttering and downsizing was done, but I didn’t realize that living in a tiny space was the beginning of the real work of the soul.

Real Food Simple Life– “The Realities of Living in a Small Home with a Big Family” : A look into the benefits and challenges that a family of 6 (going on 7) experiences living together in an 800 square foot home in Scotland.

Tiny Ass Camper– “I Didn’t Know Tiny Living Was For Me” : My thoughts on the give and take of living tiny.

Family Pedals– “Location Trumps Size” : The truth is, it has been our home’s location–not size–that has determined our happiness in a given space.

Birch and Pine– “It’s Not Always Easy” : Living tiny often means defending your own life and choices: daily.

 

 

 

When One Adventure Ends and Another Begins

When One Adventure Ends and Another Begins

This week my thoughts flow toward the idea of transition. This week approaches the Biblical time of Shavuot, some may know as Pentecost or the Feast of Weeks. It is a very important time of the Biblical year. Shavuot is the fourth of the seven Biblical feasts. It is represented by the main candle in the menorah and it signifies the center of the year, all activity flowing from it. It separates the spring feasts from the fall feasts, and because of this it marks an important time of change. It stands solidly each year as our doorway from one season into the next.

It is in this time we also find ourselves transitioning from one incredible season into another. So much has happened since we began the journey back up the coast of Florida from the Bahamas preparing to leave s/v Gromit for the Summer. We knew we wanted to spend the Summer on land with family and friends, but as we traveled back North to Green Cove Springs, Florida, we felt it was time for even greater changes.

We had about two solid weeks of travel (it took longer because in reality we didn’t travel everyday) to make it to the marina by the middle of May to pack and return to Houston by the end of May. It was a long few weeks. As we made our way to our destination, preparing to be on land again, the joy we once felt in cruising together, exploring the coast line, and seeing new places slowly began to fade. Our fridge dying in the Bahamas, while seemed possible to do without at first, now seemed unbearable. I longed to go to the store and get produce that would last more than two days in the hot cabin, but we didn’t want to fix the fridge just yet, knowing we would soon be visiting land. Our seven fans throughout the boat began to malfunction intermittedly. Haven, our one year old, was blossoming from babyhood to toddlerhood, but we were constantly relegating her to her crib because she loved to climb. It seemed it was all too easy for her to get into everything we owned, even with babyproofing, and she didn’t have the space she needed to explore freely. We were hot and tired and not sure what was next for us.

We started discussing options for a new season for us. Liveaboard and stay stationary? Being in one place at a marina would at least give us some stability and familiarity. Would Mike go to school and change careers? Which school and where? Would we live on land somewhere else for a while? We discussed every option you could think of. Through an interesting chain of events, Mike began talking with his former boss and co-worker, and decided to accept a job at the company he previously worked for, a job that he had about five years ago and really enjoyed.

At first I (Brittany) was really hesitant when Mike was discussing taking the job. I was looking forward to visiting family in Houston, but return to a job and house? Give up cruising? Stop traveling? It took some time to process what this transition would mean, and unfortunately, a lot of my hesitation stemmed from what others would think. Would they think we’re giving up? We couldn’t handle this life? Weren’t strong enough? Would they think we didn’t like it, were secretly unhappy and just putting on a show? In my heart I knew none of these things was the truth. I felt stronger than ever. We had traveled down the coast and across the Gulf Stream to another country, and back! We had faced challenges of many kinds, and had not given up. We had experienced the highs and lows cruising brought us. Without worrying about what anyone else might think of us, I had peace about this transition, knowing that God was simply bringing us into another season, a new time that didn’t involve the boat we had come to call home.

So here we are. We’re buying a house in a neighborhood with a backyard and monthly bills. Mike has a job and we’ve got the family car. We’re transitioning back to land life, and we’re actually really excited about this new season, about starting over. In fact, it was one reason we decided to say “yes!” and take the crazy leap to cruise in the first place- we always knew we could start over. And now that we are, we’ve learned that life is much more flexible than we once thought. You can go and sell everything and come back and land life will be here waiting if and when you want to come back.

But there’s one thing I won’t be able to do back on land. I won’t be able to fully express how much cruising and our boat s/v Gromit has meant to us. I know my landlubber friends and family will never understand, try as they may. I think our family has deemed us “back from the dead” or like the prodigal son returning from a wayward, rebellious journey. I think others may believe that we’re glad to be back because cruising wasn’t worth the effort. Nothing could be farther from the truth. And I know that only those salty, adventure loving sea lovers, all those wonderful cruisers and liveaboards we met on our travels can understand what I mean when I say it was worth it. Gromit will always hold a special place in our hearts. She kept us cozy and protected. She steadied the swell of the sea and carried us to our destination. She was our home.

As we neared the marina in Green Cove Springs, Florida, Mike pulled our dinghy up on the davits for the last time. We both felt that little painful stab of sadness when something life changing and amazing is coming to a close. We’ll never pile the kids in that dinghy again, see their smiles as the waves playfully splash over the bow. We’ll never pull up to a new port ready to taste land and see what adventure awaits. At least, not for now and maybe not in that boat again. We’re not ruling out cruising forever, but we’re committed to following God wherever His Spirit leads. It may lead us back to the sea one day, it may not. But for right now, we’re looking forward to all God has for us here.

For there is always a new adventure with God.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Preparing + Provisioning for 3 Months in the Bahamas

Preparing + Provisioning for 3 Months in the Bahamas

Just a fraction of our total provisions

It’s crunch time! We’re making lists and checking them twice, and no we’re not getting ready for the Christmas holiday. We’re getting ready for our first jaunt out of the country and into Bahamian waters! That means for this family of five, we’re shopping and storing all kinds of food and other items to use while we are there. But why? Don’t they eat in the Bahamas? Don’t they have grocery stores? Yes!

It will take two days to arrive at our proposed first destination, Nassau, Bahamas. It’s always a good idea to have extra food on board for a passage, since it takes time to get where you are going and get acquainted with the nearby stores. But what we have heard and read about the Bahamas is that their food is expensive! We’ve heard cruiser horror stories of a single bell pepper costing $8.00, and a few meager vegetables costing as much as a entire cart full back home.

Friends of ours, a family of three cruising the Bahamas currently on their sailboat, s/v Sandflea, gave us some interesting advice. He said,

“Go to the store and don’t come out until you’ve spent $1,000.”

He warned us of small jars of peanut butter costing $9.00, a simple loaf of bread for $6.00 and a package of Oreos for $12.00! We’ve read especially that snack foods can be very expensive so we were told to be sure to bring your own with you. (Check out all the adventures of s/v Sandflea here!)

We’re planning on exploring the breathtaking islands in the far Bahamas first then possibly making our way back to the Abacos. We don’t want to rush, so we’re expecting to use up the remaining months of cruising season in the Bahamas (2-3 month trip) before finding a protected nook to wait out hurricane season, most likely on the east coast. So our food buying has been based around this number- at least 8 weeks of provisions.

We were able to make one trip to Sam’s with the help of a friend’s car
Getting it on board is not the easiest!

So what are we storing and where do we store it? Besides the non-food items like sunscreen, bug spray, motion sickness medicine (as well as a medical kit with bandages and other medicines), toilet paper, paper towels, and cleaners, we are storing mostly non-perishable items plus some cold items in our freezer. Our freezer doesn’t truly freeze so we’re not stocking up on fresh meats. Our freezer is currently stocked with a ridiculous amount of cheese in all forms(shredded, bar, sliced), a little turkey sausage and butter (with a bag of ice on top). Our fridge holds the rest of the butter, lots of eggs, fresh vegetables and a little meat, as well as condiments.

For those who wants more detail, here are some amounts of things we have stowed:

Non-perishable:

  • 15 boxes of cereal (variety)
  • 3 boxes of pancake mix
  • 4 canisters quick oats
  • 2 bottles of honey
  • Peanut butter, 6 jars of crunchy and 5 of creamy
  • 3 packages of semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 16 Tetra paks of Almond milk
  • 29 cans of fruit (variety)
  • 5 large jars of unsweetened applesauce
  • 5 packages of raisins
  • 1 large bag of almonds
  • 2 large family size boxes of Ritz crackers plus a box of saltines
  • 9 cans of chicken breast in water
  • 19 cans of black beans
  • 16 cans of corn
  • 7 cans of baked beans

This doesn’t include staples like flour, sugar, rice, juice, other canned meats and vegetables, plus a few packages of cookies, graham crackers, dried fruit, chips, and granola bars.

Plus perishable items like:

 

  • 5 dozen eggs
  • 9 boxes of butter (4 sticks in each box)
  • 2 half gallon containers of cold Almond milk

We also have a large gear hammock stocked with fresh produce: a bag of apples, oranges, bananas, kiwi, plus avocados, onions, sweet potatoes, white potatoes and spaghetti squash. In the fridge we keep carrots, sliced cantaloupe and broccoli.

You can quickly tell what is important to us! Peanut butter, butter, beans, fruit and cereal! Every family will have their own things that they like and want to have while cruising.

Counting, sorting…
I have the best helper!
Moving the rice into zip lock bags

So where do we store all this food? We have a good amount of storage on our boat, but it’s an art to learning where and how to store things safely and easy to get to.

Under the cushions on our settees, there are lids that open to deep lockers where we store almost all of our non-perishables. We have storage under both our settees on either side of our table.

One of our settees
The lockers where we store our food

We also have a tall locker in the “hallway” before entering the girl’s v-berth, where we store some food items, white vinegar and the many diapers and wipes we keep on board.

We are the rarer breed of cruiser in that we have two small children and an infant on board. That means a lot of diapers. We keep diapers for Haven (1 year old) Hannah (3 years old) for night and nap time and even for our oldest (6 years old) occasionally for nighttime.

On board we have stocked over 1,500 wipes, over 250 infant diapers and almost 60 pull-ups! I’m hoping this is enough!

 

 

It’s a lot of work: shopping, carrying bags back in the dinghy, wiping all cans clean of salt water and removing labels, stowing and keeping track of what’s on the boat. But it’s fun too! We’re gearing up for an experience, an adventure that we will remember forever!

{For those who want to know how we calculated how much food we needed, we used this spreadsheet here.}

Reflecting On Our Purpose Before We Leave the States

Reflecting On Our Purpose Before We Leave the States

 

Walking in Norfolk, Virginia

There have been a few stops along our journey cruising down the east coast of the United States, that my husband and I have paused long enough from traversing the constant challenges of this new way of being, to sit and stare at each other in amazement and ask “how did we get here?”

It was only one year ago. Only one year ago that the thought of sea, sand, salt and wind came into our hearts. The idea that God had more; more life existed just beyond the edge of our comfort zone. Just beyond the edge of the familiar. Something we couldn’t name, but only imagine. Something waiting for us to discover.

And now here we are. A family of sojourners on the sea.

Discovering the sea

Nearly five months in; just over 1,000 miles traveled and we’re still new and often clumsy, like toddlers learning how to walk. We’ve slowly made our way down Florida’s east coast, and now we’re preparing to leave the States for the first time as cruisers. Bahamas bound!

But what is our purpose here? What is the reason we call this boat home? What is the reason our sights are set on distant islands? Is it a selfish pursuit as some thought before we left? Is it dangerous as others claimed? Are we missionaries? Are we on a sabbatical? Are we running away from our responsibilities? We’ve heard it all.

The truth is, this wasn’t our dream. This wasn’t something we planned, or thought of, or dreamed about as the years of our life ticked by. I can’t explain it any other way than to say it was an idea birthed in us by God. An idea that sprouted and grew when it seemed leaving everything behind was against all common sense.

It was only 11 months from conception to reality. 11 months from hearing God whisper to unpacking boxes on a sailboat in Virginia.

Our little floating home

 

Our purpose at the beginning of this journey and our purpose now is to follow God wherever he may lead. To live our lives in reckless pursuit of the knowledge of God and to abandon our lives to what we discover in that pursuit. Living and traveling on a sailboat was the path God placed before us, and we followed. In doing so, we had to cling to our faith with each new step, and little by little, we saw evidence of God’s hand in the process. From the selling of our houses, to the finding of our boat, to the timing of our leaving, God was leading us deeper into trust in him, and expanding our vision of who he is.

Throughout the first few months planning this adventure, God spoke to me about Abraham. His story spoke loudly to me. God told him, “Go, and I will bless you.” (Genesis 12:1-3) God promised him a purpose for his going, an outcome Abraham could not fathom at the start of his journey. But he believed God and became God’s friend (James 2:23). But first he had to obey and go.

Abraham’s story is my story. It’s the story of all people who are willing to believe God. To believe God can and will do incredible things for those whose hearts will trust him.

For me (Brittany), time away from all that is familiar has forced me to draw my comfort from other places. It has forced me to look at my weaknesses and required me to accept the things that are difficult, but I cannot change. This isn’t easy. I can’t change the way some may feel about our decision. I can’t tell them when we’ll be back because I do not even know that myself. I can’t reassure them that we’ll never get hurt, either. Cruising is not always easy. But I am using this time to draw deeper into God’s word, and I know with certainty that my purpose is rooted in exactly that. The more I meditate on his truth, with the beauty of his creation all around me, I am filled with a single minded mission: to tell others the story that God is telling. His story is a story for all of us, and it is overwhelmingly good. It’s his story, his purpose that I am on a mission to discover- in his word and in this journey. And everyday he writes a little bit more: Another gorgeous sunrise. Another day when a stranger becomes a friend. Another port left, and another one reached.

A fellow sailor

It required faith to leave. It requires faith to remain. There is much ahead, but we can only take one step at a time.

So far, we have been rewarded with sunsets akin to wildfires, playful dolphins leaping right before us, friendly faces, humbling generosity from others, and moments when we knew the presence of God was with us. We are challenged and inspired to be a family that can work together better, traveling the emotional seas of raising children, being a wife or husband and maintaining our own identity and space with grace and love.

I look forward to the connections we will make with people, cruisers and locals, people who we are always on the lookout to encourage and tell God’s story to. Connections that encourage us too. Connections that could turn into life long friendships.

We are grateful to be on this path. It is one that we hope to be on for a long time. We pray often that God will direct our steps, and we are confident that he is doing just that, even when it doesn’t feel like it.

Some may be thinking, do you need to sail around the world to follow the call of God? Of course not. You must hear his voice for yourself, walking in relationship with your Creator. He could speak to you in an office cubicle, in a minivan, at school, or at your kitchen table.

But…

There is something wild about God. He lives in the deep places; the places only arrived at by faith. He isn’t far away, but he isn’t safe either. He often calls his people to follow him, where he is, to places mysterious, perhaps dangerous, but always full of wonder. That is where we want to go. To the unknown places where there is more of God to be revealed. More exquisite beauty, more people to connect with, more creatures to marvel at, and more of everything that God wants to share with us.

 

Thank you for following us on our journey! Connect with me on Instagram @familyatsea or on Facebook! Leave a comment, I’d love to hear from you!

Cost of Cruising: Our February 2017 Budget

Cost of Cruising: Our February 2017 Budget

Finally a budget I am proud to share! This is much more representative of where we’d like to settle in as far as spending money goes. We’ve also been so encouraged by YOU- your comments to us that sharing our budget with you has helped you plan for your own cruising adventure! Thank you! It can be so hard to plan for something when you have no idea what it will be like. Granted, it will be different for each family, but we’re glad we can share a little piece of what we’re doing, helping others realize that you do not have to be wealthy to go cruising.

Motor sailing about 1.5 miles off shore

The amount of money we’re spending each month is going down, which is exactly what we want it to do and what we’ve been told is typical. You’ll spend a lot in the beginning (maybe even more than we have) but that it will get easier and hopefully cheaper as the months progress. Here’s the details of the month of February:

All amounts are in US dollars for a family of five

Dock fees (actually mooring fees) $195.65 – After spending a crazy amount on docks in December, we vowed never to do that again. We anchored the entire month of January, but this month we ended up being moored for a short period of time. A mooring ball is a floating ball attached by rope to something really heavy in the water. It’s not going anywhere. Then, you attach your boat to a rope on the floating ball. Moorings are cheaper than tying up to a dock, but you still get access to the marina (their showers, lounge and washers/dryers). It’s a good compromise if you don’t want to be anchored, but don’t want to spend the money on docks. And dock fees in south Florida can be really expensive! The moorings we’ve used can be anywhere from $15.00 to $40.00 a day. We also spend a little on dinghy dock fees. Basically, when you are anchored and want to go to shore or use a nearby marina, they ask you to pay a fee just to tie your dinghy up. Sometimes this fee includes access to their showers and laundry facilities, sometimes not.

Ft. Lauderdale

Groceries $813.93 – This includes about $155 worth of groceries we put away in long term storage for our planned cruise to the Bahamas. We’ve heard food is really expensive there, so we want to stock up on some essentials and foods that might be hard to find.

Eating out $148.08 – This is a little much for us on eating out. We can usually comfortably have a couple of meals out a month for less than $100.

Boat parts and projects $207.87

Cash $50.00 – $20 of this was changed into quarters and used for laundry. This amount is typical if we do some laundry by hand on the boat as well. $12.00 of this cash was also used for two different dinghy dock fees.

Cell phone $80.04 – One phone for me and my husband with unlimited data plan.

Insurance $0 – Still in the market for an affordable travel insurance.

Marlee’s Birthday $26.76 – A few party supplies and a trip to Funderdome!

An indoor playground for Marlee’s birthday

Kindle books $12.83 – Paid for one month of kindle unlimited (kind of like a digital library service) plus a couple of .99 books.

Web hosting $12.74 – for our two websites, Family at Sea and my land based blog, The Gentle Home.

EZ pass $12.00 – an EZ tag fee we needed to pay.

Total = $1,559.90

 

Marlee’s Mermaid Birthday Party

Marlee’s Mermaid Birthday Party

Monday was a big day for our oldest, Marlee. On Monday she turned 6 years old! For several weeks prior to February 27, she had told us what she wanted for her birthday: a mermaid doll. What could be more perfect than a mermaid birthday for a little girl on a boat?

Since it’s not always easy or feasible to run to a store the night before a birthday for balloons or a cake, I tend to plan our families birthdays and holidays a couple months in advance. I want to make sure that no matter where we are, I’ll have a few goodies to make a certain day extra special. I had already bought both girls a little mermaid doll (one for the birthday girl and one for Hannah, to play with her sister) a couple months in advance, but what else could go with a mermaid themed party? I didn’t want to spend a lot, but I wanted it to be special. Here’s what I came up with, with plenty of help from Pinterest and Google!

I already had sparkly mesh ribbon in my sewing supplies, so I cut a runner for our table. I laid out some shells (we have so many!) and a silver beaded necklace on top. I put the girls presents in colored paper bags with colored tissue paper. I finished setting the table with small clear glasses and purple striped party straws plus pink polka dot napkins. I hung up a small string of Christmas lights (battery powered) in the cabin and voila! A mermaid themed party all ready for her to see when she woke up!

Happy Birthday Marlee!

For her birthday breakfast, I added metallic blue and purple sprinkles to the pancake batter and cut up a carton of strawberries. Even though I keep cake mix and frosting on hand, I don’t tend to make it for our birthdays because there’s just not enough of us to eat a whole cake (even one made in an 8×8 pan). So we are creative in finding something to put a candle in. Marlee’s birthday pancakes were the perfect fit for her number 6 birthday candle.

She adored her blue mermaid doll! I also tucked in her bag a package of gum, sparkly blue and purple nail polish and the My Little Pony doll she got in the mail from her grandma.

Marlee’s birthday day was  all planned out. We needed to go to a few stores, so we took a ride to a dinghy dock attached to a restaurant. We split up to go to a couple of stores then met back at the restaurant for lunch.

The dinghy ride

Of course, their new dolls had to join us for the fun! By the time we were both done shopping, we were starving. The restaurant served fresh seafood and also burgers, hoagies, hot dogs and fries. It was a popular place.

The inside of the restaurant

We had one more surprise for Marlee before going home. Just a few minutes walk from the restaurant was Funderdome, an indoor playground for the whole family. The girls were thrilled!

 

Since it was a Monday afternoon, we practically had the place to ourselves. There was a section for older kids and a designated play area for children three and under. Perfect for little Haven! It really was a treat for the whole family!

 

We went back to the boat ready to rest, but I still had a few more surprises up my sleeve. For dinner we had “Mermaid macaroni and cheese” with tropical fruit and “ocean juice” (blue Gatorade).

Marlee just loved her mermaid birthday and goodies. We loved being able to lavish on her, our beautiful, bright and curious 6 year old!

 

Cost of Cruising: Our January 2017 Budget

Cost of Cruising: Our January 2017 Budget

It is halfway through February, but I am finally finishing this post on how our budget fared in January. In January we decidedly changed one thing about our budget: we would stop docking at marinas! We spent too much on marina fees in December, and we knew we could not keep that up. Since January 1st, we have not stayed at one marina or even a mooring field. We have been very happy with this decision and we know it has saved us money and caused us to learn how to live on a boat more sustainably.

Our beautiful view at anchor

Our month of January was mostly spent anchored in St. Augustine, Florida. It was the longest we had stayed in one place, and we also had the ability to pick up packages from a friend’s marina, so we were taking advantage of that and ordering things we needed while we were there. We were also in St. Augustine recertifying our life raft, so January was a “big” month for expenses, unfortunately. Three things to keep in mind for our budget: 1) We put aside about $10,000 to spend on major expenses, like the life raft, to get us started in this lifestyle. We finished spending that amount in January. 2) We jumped into living aboard and traveling right away instead of working and outfitting the boat while on land, as many do, so our budget reflects that, and 3) We are a family of five with growing children!

Ready to explore downtown St. Augustine

We are hoping that we can learn how to live off of less than what we are right now. I’ll be honest, I’m sure we’ve spent more than we sometimes needed to, just because this is all so new for us! We are learning what we need and what we don’t need, and how to get by without things that we were used to.

Here’s how we did:

All amounts are in US dollars.

Dock fees $10.00 – This was for one day to tie up our dinghy at the municipal dinghy dock in St. Augustine. This fee also allowed us access to showers and laundry facilities. (We still had to pay for the laundry machines).

The art district

Groceries $1,085.31 – We had access to a car in St. Augustine, so we made a trip and spent a few hundred dollars more on extra provisions.

Laundry $44.25 – Laundry was a little more expensive there.

Cell phone $84.72 – This is for one phone plus unlimited data.

Eating out/Entertainment $105.47 – This is slightly higher than what we normally spend, but still good in my book. We did not pay for one museum in St. Augustine (and there are many!) so we were pleased with the fun things we did that didn’t cost anything. It would have been easy to spend a lot of money there, but we are glad we didn’t.

Couldn’t pass up Cousteau’s Waffle and Milkshake Bar!

Gas/Diesel $319.09 – We have motored on the same tank of gas since North Carolina, and finally refilled our tank in Florida. The gas is for our generator and dinghy engine.

Hosting service for our websites $12.74

Medical insurance $0 – Right now we are in between and are deciding what to do for insurance coverage.

Boat parts and maintenance $516.63 – We worked on a few boat projects and maintenance issues.

Misc items $173.75 – pillows, water jugs, cleaning products, matches and lighters, extra dental care items, a couple of clothing items and a present for a friend plus a few other random items falls into this category.

Total = $2,351.96

 

*Not included in this total is the recertification of our life raft which cost about $930 (still cheaper than buying a new one). And roughly $1,000 on items we felt would be necessary and fun for our lifestyle on a boat! This includes a stand-up paddle board, stinger suits and a climbing harness for the girls, flippers, a wet suit and snorkel gear for Mike, more natural sunscreen, spare parts for the boat, and an amazing wagon for walking with the girls and carrying provisions back to the boat.

We love our wagon!

Stayed tuned for our February budget soon!

 

 

 

Boat Friends, An Octopus Fiasco and Alligators in the Oldest City in America

Boat Friends, An Octopus Fiasco and Alligators in the Oldest City in America

This spot on the water marks the place we’ve been the longest anywhere since we started our journey south. It’s a funny feeling. I was getting into the groove of daily travel. Waking in the early morning, pulling up anchor and setting out to a new place, the accomplished feeling of once again dropping that anchor in a place your eyes have never wandered, wondering what each new day will hold. Here, where our boat has bobbed and swayed for two weeks, we’re getting to know the waters, the times of the tides. We know when the current will be rushing past and when it will rest beside us. There is a comfort in this familiarity, in knowing where you’ll be that night when your head hits your pillow.

And oh, those sunsets.

sunset in St. Augustine

We decided to break from traveling with our friends on Totem when they turned to dock in Jacksonville, as we had our sights set on St. Augustine. I met a family who lived in St. Augustine, through Instagram, who also lived on a boat and had two boys, the same ages as our girls! They were kind and generous, the kind of people we’ve encountered over and over again so far, the kind of generosity you feel you could never repay. They invited us to hang out with them and allowed us to send our packages (items we ordered for our boat) to their marina. Since meeting them, we’ve been able to share several days together, letting our kids romp and run, and even sightseeing the city of St. Augustine together.

welcome!

Our new friends, Erica and Scott, raved about their home city, so we couldn’t wait to discover what this historic town had to offer. I had no idea that St. Augustine is America’s oldest city, established in 1565!

what are you looking at??
a gorgeous view on our walk

On one occasion, Mike and the girls joined our new friends on a visit to an Alligator Farm! The kids raced down the walkways, taking in the unusual animals and watching the huge alligators feed.

a playground! And look who’s caught in the web!
slightly terrifying!

The alligators were all too eager for feeding time. A little creepy if you ask me!

the view from Crave

This sweet family even watched Marlee and Hannah one day so Mike and I could enjoy St. Augustine on our own. We ate at a hip little food truck, called Crave, with superfood wraps and a view!

This city is thick with history. Walking along its streets, old impressive buildings tower over roads of modern cars whizzing past. Bronze plaques are posted often in front of houses, street corners, and buildings signifying a place of historic importance. Tour trolleys roll by, leaving bits and pieces of the tour guides voice as it trails off. On nice days, people are walking and biking throughout the city streets, and with a bike rental shop nearby, why not?

the Lightner Museum

On our family outing to historic downtown, we visited the town square, America’s oldest parish, and wandered through rows of unique shops.

the historic town square

The girls, of course wanted to visit a beach, so one day we loaded everyone in the dinghy and motored to a nearby shoreline. We quickly realized it was more shell than shore, but the girls didn’t mind, and we had a fun time soaking in the sun and letting the girls explore the natural world.

beach day!

And then we saw an octopus…

Mike first spotted it. It was lurking around the edge of shore where the marsh grass met the water. It was reddish and sleek looking, just how you might imagine one to be. Mike ran back to the dinghy to grab the camera. Knowing how shy wild animals can be, I assumed it would be gone before Mike came back with the camera, but not only was it still there, it seemed to turn in our direction and soon began swimming straight toward where we were standing!

An octopus!

It slithered its way up toward the sand, just a couple feet from where we stood, as we excitedly watched its every move. It’s arms curled and uncurled as it moved toward us. Mike stepped into the water to get a closer picture, and immediately sank in thick, dark black mud. You couldn’t tell it was so sludgy underneath the beautiful water. Then the octopus turned again – for Mike! It was swimming toward him! Now, we didn’t believe the octopus could seriously injure any one of us, but we certainty wanted to give it room, so Mike quickly tried to walk back on shore, which he found he couldn’t! His shoes were stuck in the soft black sandy mud under the water, and as he pulled his feet out, he cut his foot on the many, many shells that littered the area. This silly octopus! We got to see it up close and in full detail, but we’ve never met a wild animal who was so curious and got us into so much trouble!

Mike got his shoes, with difficulty, and he limped back to the dinghy, calling it a day. Later, we realized that the video camera was turned to ‘on’ and recorded the whole fiasco!

After some research at home, we learned that octopi are the smartest invertebrates on the planet. Looking back at our adventure with this little creature, I am totally convinced. Next time we see an octopus, I think we’ll just let it swim on by, knowing now how curious and intelligent they are!

 

29 Hours on the Ocean: Our First Overnight Passage!

29 Hours on the Ocean: Our First Overnight Passage!

The trip didn’t begin as planned. We got the word from our friends on s/v Totem, whom we were traveling with, that we got our window of good weather to leave at dawn for our passage from Charleston, South Carolina to Jacksonville, Florida. We were expecting to stay in Charleston for a few more days, but when planning ocean passages, good weather is everything. As our friends on Totem like to say, “misery is optional.” So on our last day docked in Charleston Harbor, we provisioned and got our boat ready to leave.

We were up just before the sun the next morning, but what we saw we didn’t like: fog. Not just a little fog, but thick dense fog, the kind that forces you to stop in your tracks. And stop we did. We decided to wait until noon to give the fog time to burn off. Since the passage was only about 29 hours, we could leave that afternoon and still make it to Jacksonville before sunset the next day. It could still work, but deep down I was hoping someone would call the whole thing off and tell us to wait a few more days for more pleasant weather. No one did.

I was nervous about our first time on the ocean. While our boat had plenty of experience out on the open sea, carrying the previous owners on a circumnavigation, I had no experience. Would it be exhausting taking watches day and night, while watching three small children? Would the children like it? What would the waves be like? Would the darkness fall around me, with nothing but water surrounding me, and would I wish I was on land? All these thoughts and more swirled in my head.

Charleston Harbor as we left

Noon came and it seemed we would be able to leave after all. The fog was slowly beginning to dissipate. It still clung to the tops of bridges and buildings, but it was lifting off the water and our visibility was increasing. We untied the dock lines and motored out of the marina. Our trip began.

s/v Totem

It wasn’t long before we realized the fog had no intention of leaving. It grew heavier and sank down again in front of us, limiting our vision and creating a gloom around us. I was already nervous, but the fog seemed to echo my fears and I couldn’t get them to lift. Getting to the ocean required us to go through an inlet, one producing choppy waves that we were not expecting. We heard the ocean would be calm and fairly flat, so we didn’t worry too much about sea sicknesses, that is, until we went through this inlet. It soon became clear that we would need to worry about it, and so I gave myself and the girls a dose of medicine. With my stomach already upset, I would pass the next few hours praying for that medicine to kick in.

We have, literally, no pictures of the rest of that day because of my battle with sea sickness which the fog only worsened (how am I supposed to look out at the horizon if I can’t see it?) and because Mike was doing everything else. At this point, I truly could not see how this trip was going to be a success. I was not able to help him with anything, the girls or the boat, and we still had more than 24 hours left to go. I really wanted to turn around, find an anchorage and wait for sunshine, but knew that might not be a possibility. Weather was forecasted to only become worse throughout the week, not better. It was then I asked him, “Can you do this by yourself?” And when he answered “yes” I knew that we were in this. Together we were committed, and whether I felt great or terrible, I was going to embrace this time and knew that whatever happened, in the end I would be ok. And so I clung to the deck of the boat, tried to imagine a horizon and prayed.

We were following behind Totem and so our job was relatively easy: stay behind them, but the fog complicated the matter. We wanted to be close enough to maintain visibility of their boat, but not too close as to pose a problem. Luckily, our girls, drowsy from the medication, slept most of the afternoon and we had little other responsibility.

Eventually, I started to feel better. The fog still stuck to the ocean and sky like an ugly blanket, but I was beginning to have hope that things were going to get better. The waves were not difficult, but the motion of the sea still required an adjustment. The girls woke up and occasionally complained of an upset tummy, so we decided to turn on a movie for them, and it worked in distracting their minds from the boat’s rocking. With my newfound energy and our day light slowly fading, we decided to begin shifts so we could get in as many naps as we could through the evening and night.

Before we left, I thought that night on the ocean would be frightening. I assumed I would feel like a little girl being tucked into bed, begging for a night light to be kept on. But when what little sunlight we had began to drift away and night settled in, I was relieved. The darkness concealed most of the fog and we could even see a bit of light emanating from the horizon. It seemed, in a strange way, that the night brought more light than the day.

The night became a comfort to me. The day was done. We had made it through our first daylight hours on the ocean. All that was left was the sunrise, and that brought me hope. And then, suddenly, Mike called out “a star!” And one by one tiny brilliant lights began to appear as the fog parted like a curtain parting before a show. Within moments the heavens displayed glorious hosts of light, stars and planets, each one a miracle. We truly were comforted by their presence, and knowing our Maker’s hand was behind them, our fears were calmed. We entered into that night with hearts full of awe.

As night fell, all we could see was Totem’s two lights ahead of us

Mike was down below, resting and I was alone on deck. I was on watch and that meant scanning the horizon to look for any other boats or structures, and to stay behind Totem. Unfortunately, our starry night was again soon shrouded by thick clouds and fears began to creep back in. I could barely see anything through the clouds. What if there was something just ahead of us that I couldn’t see? I fixed my eyes on Totem’s lights without wavering. We had charts and AIS and radar, but I knew they would also alert us if there was anything up ahead, of that I was sure.

All that was left to do now was to keep watch and stay awake. As I sat under the protection of the dodger, my eyes heavy, all I could think of to do was to sing praise songs to my God. I shuffled through old songs embedded in my memory, songs from childhood, from the churches I attended with my family and from my years in the youth group. I struggled to remember all the words from songs I hadn’t thought of in more than a decade, but the words and melodies came back to me, tumbling off my tongue, and I sang them out with only God as my audience.  Old songs and new songs, under that dark night sky, with nothing but water and fog, those songs meant more than they ever had. You called me out upon the waters… Now here I was, out on the waters, the great unknown, and just like the song goes, it was there I found him in the mystery, in oceans deep. That night became something beautiful and intimate, something words can’t really describe. His grace abounded in those waters, and he met me there, filling my soul and cleansing me from my fears.

Mike and I changed shifts and he spent the darkest hours of the night compelled, as I was, to worship the Creator of all things. I didn’t mean to sleep for five hours, but I did. Whether it was the medicine that made me so drowsy or the comfort of that bed after a challenging day, I don’t know, but Mike tried to wake me up sooner, without success. Finally about 5:30 in the morning I arose and relieved him of his watch. I would get to welcome the dawn.

dawn breaking

On the boat that morning I knew one thing: each sunrise is a miracle. Night is swept away, shadows rolled up like yesterday’s newspaper. The sun rose, an old day vanished, and with it the fog and challenges it held.

A miracle, a gift

Our second day on the water was just the opposite of our first. It was clear, bright and beautiful. The water was unusually flat and glassy. We were relaxed and rested, and we would be in Florida by dinnertime. We were thrilled!

Mike and Marlee on the bow gazing at the serene, flat waters
Our view of Totem on the glassy sea

The rest of the day we talked, read, took naps and I wrote in my journal. It was a perfect day. And soon we spotted land- Florida! Palm trees swayed on the shore and it was finally warm enough to put away our heavy jackets. We couldn’t believe we had made it to Florida!

Florida!

I’ll never forget our first time on the ocean, the songs in the night, the comfort of the stars, the brilliant breaking of day, the stillness that followed the turmoil. I’ll never forget how God met me there and revealed the beauty of the deep. It was there waiting for me all along.

You call me out upon the waters
The great unknown where feet may fail
And there I find You in the mystery
In oceans deep
My faith will stand

Jealous for My Children’s Hearts

Jealous for My Children’s Hearts

How do your kids like living on the boat? It’s the one question we get asked more times than not. Before we left, when we were seriously considering making this leap with our three girls, ages 5, 3 and 9 months (although the youngest wasn’t even born at the time we were considering this lifestyle) we read, with great relief, that as far as cruising goes, the younger the children were, the better. We heard from others what our common sense had already confirmed: young children adapt well to the cruising lifestyle.

However, for me it wasn’t just about if my children would adapt to living in a smaller space (not an issue) or if they would enjoy traveling (I knew they would) but for me, the choice to live and travel with my children on a boat went much deeper. The truth is, in the months before we began considering changing our lives and the lives of our girls, something was growing in me. A jealousy, born from love, for my children’s time and for their hearts began growing in my own.

Back on land, we had a rich network of neighborhood friends and a faith community for the girls to grow up around. We lived in fact, with one of those families. Friends were literally, just a few steps away. Weekends were incomplete without an evening at a friends house, sharing a meal, sharing our lives well into the night, and without these days and weekends and families we would not be who we are today, but still…there was this growing yearning to have my children, my family, all to myself.

It seemed a bit selfish of me. Why would I want my kids all to myself when they have this healthy space of friendship and activities to occupy their days? And what about “me” time? I’m not saying that any of those things are bad, not at all, but when I began to look into the Father’s heart, my longing started to make perfect sense.

You see, God, the Father, wants his children all to himself, he loves them so. He takes pleasure in them. He delights in them. He wants their affection. He wants their hearts. He wants your affection, your heart. He is jealous for you. He wants to keep you close.

And so we are made in his image.

It is so easy for our children’s affections to stray- to electronics, to friends, to other parents, to toys, to the next latest-and-greatest. There is so much in this world grabbing for their hearts, and far from innocently at that. In fact, this world is trying to pull our children just a little further away so mamas and daddies won’t be the strongest influence over their lives. So when Mike and I discussed traveling with our children, the thought of being on a boat with my family all to myself, with our time to all ourselves with little to vie for their attention, sounded like the perfect path for us.

Is it always easy? Not at all. This life is not always picture perfect. There are times they are literally bouncing off of these small walls and the space seems like it’s closing in on me. We are in each other’s lives and spaces 24/7 and that sometimes makes for short words and hurt feelings. Sometimes I need a moment to just be alone, and that isn’t always possible or easy. But we have to talk and reconcile. There is no room for pretending here, so at the very least, my children will learn what it means to be real. They will learn that mama and daddy are real, and that we love them. They will witness the ins and outs of daily life and relationships, and not be excluded from it.

Cruising with us on a boat, they will have the world at their fingertips, their sisters as their best friends, and us to be there to guide them through everything they will see, hear and experience. We will guide them through school, through the inevitable ups and downs of relationships and through every exciting milestone in their young lives; we will be their witness, their guide, teacher, cheerleader and friend.

So how do my children like living on a boat? My children are amazing. Already Marlee is stepping out and learning how to make friends fast, not being as shy as she was as a toddler. Hannah is growing up, little by little, and learning how to do all sorts of new things. They are meeting all different kinds of people. They get to see beaches, ships, boats and wildlife all around and in the water. They get to visit museums, parks and playgrounds. And they get us, all to themselves, reading, learning, talking, playing.

They love it.