with a little help from my kids

As we get closer to our departure date, I am becoming increasingly excited for the time I will have with my kids in the natural world.  The boat is small, but the air will be warm and the beaches are vast.  I have always needed to spend time in the outdoors.  This need has become even more pronounced with children in my daily life.

With children though, the quality and focus of time spend outdoors has shifted a bit. I no longer try to see how far I can make it on a trail.  I cannot be attached to preparing a garden bed AND getting it planted in the same morning.  Instead, I have learned acceptance.  I have been given an opportunity to learn how to be more present and aware in the here and now.  As we walk in the woods, we stop to play hide and seek, finding special spots to be still and quiet.  We marvel at millipeds and search endlessly for owls.  In the rivers, we look at rocks and fill our pockets with treasures.  In the garden, we search for worms and beetles.  We take frequent snacks on garlic chives and kale, all the while singing songs and listening to birds.

Aldo Leopold said that “when we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.”  Perhaps to build this sense of community with nature, we must start by thinking like children.  How rich we may become, if we can all spend time each day outside, thinking like a kid, and experiencing the beauty of the present moment.

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How do you put your kid hat on?  How do you develop and foster a connection with the natural world?  We love comments.


And we have a Bristol…almost

It looks as though we have a boat, although nothing feels absolute until the paperwork is in hand.  We negotiated a realistic price for us dependent on an engine survey, which luckily checked out just fine.  The check goes in the mail tomorrow.  The name will have to be changed. Lazy Faire just won’t do. 

We also have a great family renting our house, a huge relief.  We push-off from Bellingham at the end of January.  Currently, our path will take us through Colorado, down to San Antonio, and then to the Carolinas.  We never have been good at traveling in a straight line.  Hopefully, we will set sail out of Charleston harbor come early March.  Fingers crossed for fair winds.

What to Say?

We get mail from almost every conservation group in the country.  I often question the efficiency of these mailings, but that could be the subject of a whole other post.  Today we got a map of the country from the Sierra Club.  I’ve been meaning to take a look at potential routes across the country for our upcoming road trip.  Luckily, this one had all of the major highways and cities labeled.  I eagerly called Pearl in to take a look with me.  She quickly become bored as I verbally weighed the options of spending the night in Albuquerque versus Santa Fe.  She wanted to see the map on the other side with pictures of beautiful endangered animals in their native regions.  She started asking questions, the likes of which I can’t fully remember because I was honestly thinking about skiing in Colorado.  All of a sudden I heard myself respond that “they” were worried about these animals.  Well, really I heard her ask, “Why are they worried about the polar bear?”  And there it was, what for me is a really big topic.

Before working with young children and having my own, I thought all knowledge to be good knowlegde.  I always wanted to learn as much as possible, especially about the natural world.  As I switched gears from being an environmental educator for high school and college kids to working with young children,  I realized that some things are better left unsaid.  Young kids need the warm and fuzzy.  They need to feel safe and good about the world.  They need reassurance that bad guys don’t win.  Sadly,  today’s environmental issues, such as hyper-rapid climate change, food security, and wildlife habitat loss, don’t really fit that bill.

With my kids, I try to foster an intimate relationship with the natural world.  We spend time outside every day.  We find beauty in the swirling clouds, the caw of the crow, the sharp scent of rubbed sage, the softness of moss, a newly germinated pea plant emerging from the soil, and the sweet taste of a perfectly ripened strawberry.  Our list for all things beautiful in nature is infintite.  At their young age, I do not burden them with the knowledge that our climate is changing at such an accelerated rate that habitat loss is inevitable and the polar bear is likely doomed.  Where is the beauty in that?  Their lives are long.  There will be lots of time for them to worry, ponder, and hopefully find solutions for these harsh realities.  So, I was a little shocked to be on the edge of such a big conversation.  I sat down and took a deep breath and remembered that keeping it simple works best, always.

“They are worried that there are not as many polar bears as there used to be,” I say.  “They want people to help the polar bears.”  She proceeded to ask how people can help polar bears.  “By riding bikes,” I tell her.  She giggled and giggled and giggled some more.  Finally she calmed down enough to ask about ways of helping the other animals on the poster-  keeping trees by streams for the salmon,  buying food from local farmers to help the whooping crane, taking your own shopping bags to the grocery store for the Kirtland’s Warbler, and keeping hotels off the beach for the Hawaiian Monk Seal.  She’d heard enough.  She walked away giggling to herself that she could help polar bears by riding her bike.  It seemed for her silly, fun, exciting, and BEAUTIFUL.


A Tribute to Big Boss

Big Boss and friends flocking around our sleeping Pearl, June 2006

Big Boss, our oldest chicken, died on Christmas Day.  Quite frankly, I am surprised she made it as long as she did.  She came to us old and worn.  We used to call her Shitballs, as she frequently sported an untidy bum.  She was never the prettiest and she always seemed a little off.  But she had spunk and enjoyed attention.  The rest of her initial tribe died years ago.  As new chicks were added to the flock, she set her ground and was always the first to get the scraps and the first to roost in the evening.  As our children learned to speak, her name evolved but her status and character remained constant.  And so she chose a special day to die.  The morning weather on Christmas day was gray and windy.  At the moment that we buried Big Boss, everything picked up- the clouds dropped buckets of water and the wind whipped it around in all directions.  Even with chickens, mother nature gathers all of her forces to celebrate letting go. 

Big Boss poses with 3 day old Pearl, May 2006

Love and Laughter

From one journey to the next, there is always beauty and learning.  Right as our lives had become unexpectedly absorbed with boat logistics, we set out for Breitenbush, a retreat to hot springs and mindfulness for body, mind, and soul.   At a moment when we most needed to unite as a family, we had luckily organized a visit to a place where it is impossible to feel anything but love for one another.  It was everything we needed- rest, time to simply BE together, nourishing meals prepared for us, warmth in fresh air, and a practice run for our upcoming road trip across America.

And then it was back to the frantic pace of the modern American Christmas.  “How can this be?” I wondered.  I try to keep it simple.  Yet, somehow, I also want everything to be just right.

Grandma arrived the day after we returned, Winter Solstice.  I spent the morning making everything ready for an evening celebration to pay tribute to the longest night of the year.  We brought in our four year old live Christmas tree, small and majestic.  We decorated her and enjoyed the best of holiday carols.

The next morning we took Joey to the train and settled into our new rhythm.  As I hurried to play Santa and finish my gifts,  the last of the packages arrived, and the girls eagerly found the anticipated candy tucked into the tissue paper by Uncle Ron.

Finally, at 1am on Christmas Eve, I threw in the towel and accepted that  I would not completely finish the art totes for the girls.  I had to find solace in simply enjoying their covers, the Crow and the Owl.

Once Christmas morning came, my whole body could finally relax and go with the flow.  It was incredibly fulfilling to see that my girls found their greatest joy in marbles, books, and modeling wax.  And then they spent the rest of the day wrapping and sharing presents with each other.  Their whole beings were immersed in the pleasure of giving with love.  Our hearts were overflowing.

And at the end of the day, we were most thankful for cooking together, sharing meals in mindfulness, being silly with laughter, and walking in the great outdoors with Grandma (and April, Jeff, Greysen, and Olive).

And now we prepare for the new beginning.

We are hoping that love and laughter are blessing all of your days!

Where One Door Closes….

Things seem to always have a way of happening differently than expected. I arrived in Beaufort, SC, fresh with three hours of airplane sleep (on a twelve hour trip, door to door) and an hour and half drive. The broker took me to the boat, a 27′ Albin Vega named “Isis”. Walking up to her, I was not immediately excited. Down below, I was even less excited. Her cabins were in disarray. Nothing was stowed properly, just stored in big plastic bags. There was mildew on the bulkheads and aluminum foil was used for part of the heat shield by the heater. I couldn’t figure out where we could possibly stow all of our stuff. It was small. On a brighter note, the sails were crisp, the engine started right up and sounded great, the anchors were in good order, the running gear was fine, and the electronics were more than sufficient. I tried to think rationally, keeping in mind our limited budget and the reality that less money in a boat means more money for cruising. I could clean and organize the boat. The major systems were in place and functioning. The only problems, aside from lack of space, were cosmetic. So, I gave the guy an offer, and then felt like I needed to vomit.

“You just got a boat. You should be happy.” the guy said. “Congratulations!” said the people in the boatyard. I did not feel happy. I did not feel congratulatory. In fact, the only solace I found was knowing that I could recoup my deposit anytime during the two week acceptance period. I did need to consider, however, that the surveyor would be there at 9am the next morning. I was not interested in paying for a survey on a boat that I did not want. It was 1pm. I needed to make a decision within the next four hours. I felt rushed. So, I went for a run through the Spanish moss lined streets of downtown Beaufort. Running somehow makes everything better and clear.

Joey had mentioned a 32′ Bristol in Charleston that was in our price range. Off to Charleston I drove. I walked into Peter Dodd’s office at 4pm. He reminded me that I should be happy about buying a boat. If I was not happy, then I shouldn’t be buying it. And of course, he had the Bristol for me to see. The owner was desperate to sell, he informed me. It was a deal waiting to happen. The boat was a bit of a drive away and I would have to wait until the next morning to see it. After a few phone calls, my next morning was rearranged. Tommy Eve, who I am convinced is the best surveyor EVER, was super flexible. He said that he would be on call to survey whichever boat I chose. He also reminded me to like a boat before choosing to purchase it.  At that point, I sort of knew that regardless of my opinion of the Bristol, I didn’t really want the Albin Vega.

Wednesday morning I followed Peter Dodd to a marina by the old naval base on the Cooper River.  Bristols are known for being pretty and this old one still had her charm. I had to check in with myself and question my priorities- function or fashion. Why couldn’t I have function and fashion? Honestly, I want to like looking at my surroundings. The owner had gotten it ready for cruising, I was told. Upon inspection, it appeared he had gotten it comfortable and nice for living.  However, he had not prepared it for functioning as a sailboat. It needed sails and new running rigging. Where the Albin Vega needed mostly cosmetics, the Bristol needed most of its major systems reworked. What the Bristol did have though, that the Albin Vega could never have, was space. Five feet are a huge difference on a boat and I could see my family actually being comfortable on the Bristol. And the owner really needed to sell. Was this the deal we were looking for? I still felt a bit rushed. In a perfect scenario, I would live closer and not need to schedule a survey on the same day. Oh well, this was not my scenario. I had this one day, so the survey was on.

Mr. Eve met us down the Cooper River at the boatyard. He was immediately encouraging and kind. He took his time and talked me through everything. His main concern was ensuring that the boat would be safe for the kids. Having raised two girls himself, he knew what to consider and what advice to give. I felt as though we struck gold with Mr. Eve. And I could listen to his soothing Savannah accent all day. After the haul out inspection, we sailed back to the marina. The Bristol sailed nicely in the lovely 10 knot breeze. Porpoises came up for air all around us and pelicans flew overhead. Back at the dock, Mr. Eve and I worked for the rest of daylight discovering all the best and worst of this boat. Structurally she is sound, many systems need to be reworked, but she has the foundation of what we need.

I am back in Bellingham in the midst of negotiations. The owner has come down a lot on the price, but not quite as far as we need him to. We are waiting to get the written survey in hand before making any final decisions. I am reminding myself that the right thing will work out. It always does.


Last May we were visiting my brother and his family in Georgia.  My sister-in-law asked us to talk with my nieces and nephew about our upcoming sailing trip.  Specifically, she wanted us to talk about the sacrifices we had to make to fulfill this dream.  At the time, I struggled to come up with something.  Sure, I saved all of my earnings from Little Birdies Childcare for five years, and there must have been things we could have purchased with that money.  In all honesty though, this never felt like a sacrifice.  I’m not really much of a shopper, and buying most things in this modern consumer society usually has a price tag of guilt associated with it for me.  So what have I sacrificed?

This past fall, I had a bitter voice in my head reminding me that I had not gone for my annual solo hike on Baker.  It was a beautiful autumn season here in Bellingham.  Every time I saw Mount Baker rise up in a blue sky, I just knew I was missing out.  I tried reasoning with myself.  It was not as if we spent the whole summer working.  Well, at least the girls and I did not spend the whole summer working.  Joey pretty much did.  My part in that was taking the girls, so that he could get the work done.  The girls and I had fun entertaining our many visitors, and we swam and rode bikes a lot.  I also had some great moments to myself- runs on Galbraith, swimming at the park, and dancing in the late night.  Somehow though, I was still longing for a whole day of wilderness and solitude.  Luckily, snow came early this year and we got some family time up on Baker.  It wasn’t solitude, but being in such snowy mountain beauty eased my soul. I was finally able to let go of my regret, kind of.

Tomorrow I head out for a solo journey to check out this boat.  I’m excited to travel by myself, to see good friends, and mostly for the potential of it all.  It will be quick and exhausting, but I am okay with that.  My only problem now is figuring out when to go skiing again.  After all, I’m thinking I’m not really one to make too many sacrifices.

Pearl and June, December 2010