Thursday, March 03, 2016

Big Coincidences on a Little Island: A "Small World" Story and Beach Bum Dream

The other night, I was sitting at the beach bar with one of my girlfriends having an interesting discussion about books we're reading and such (I recently just binged on all of Francesca Marciano's books, if you are curious), when I spied another girl across the bar. I had seen her before and knew she lived on-island. There was something familiar about her, but I couldn't quite put my finger on it. I chalked it up to small-island life and left it at that.

I continued chatting with my friend and casually mentioned something about Chicago when all of a sudden the girl across the bar perks up and says, "Did you go to Loyola University and live in Mertz Hall?" Astonished at the mention of these far off places from my past, I looked up. With a mix of shock, confusion and anticipation I replied, "I did!" She busted out laughing and with a huge smile said, "I knew it was you!!!" banging her fist on the bar to punctuate being spot-on. Her smile showed her pride in finally solving the mystery of vague familiarity that we both had been pondering. "I lived in Mertz Hall too! We went to college together!" I immediately went over to her side of the bar and mentioned how she had looked so familiar to me each time I saw her. Of course, we laughed and hugged. When you make such an odd connection in such an unlikely place, there is really nothing else to do.

We got to chatting. While we didn't hang out together in college, we met once at a house party and she said she never forgot that I told her I always wanted to live on a beach and be a beach bum (which at the time she thought was very strange and impractical, and I must admit - seems highly unambitious for a college student). What's even more strangely coincidental (and pretty incredible!) is that we both lived in Africa for three years after college during the exact same period. What are the odds of that? She in West Africa (Ghana), me in East Africa (Tanzania). And now, we both live on the amazing little island of Tortola. It's come full circle. Wild.

So...Here's to small-world connections and collegiate dreams of being a beach bum in the islands coming to fruition! 
It's a small world, but we run in big circles.
- Sasha Azevedo
(I previously shared this story on our Facebook Page and it got such a great response, I thought I'd transpose it here as well. Hope you enjoyed!)

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

I Smell a Rat, Part Two: The Capture

(To read the beginning of this story whereby we discovered we had a rat, read Part One)

I had just drifted off to a slumber at the wee hour of 3am when I heard a sort of frantic scrambling sound coming from our walk-thru area. I opened my eyes and laid still. All was quiet except for the babbling brook and chirping birds of the "rainforest" setting on Isla's sound machine. Then, a few seconds later, more frantic scrambling. "What the..?" I thought to myself. And then, no sooner did I have that thought when I realized with a genuine mix of panic, horror and excitement that: WE GOT THE RAT! I sprung up in bed. "Scott!!" I exclaimed in a loud whisper, shaking him by the arm a little more aggressively than one enjoys while still deep in sleep. The sound of more frantic flailing punctuated my urgency. "Oh my god!! Get up now!!" I shook him a little more. And finally, I spelled it out for him, "We. got. the. rat!!"

Scott is not one to wake up instantly (that sort of "at alert" type of waking is reserved for us mother's I think) and after some grumbling and mumbling, he sat up. "Listen...." I said, indicating to lay still and pay attention. We did. Quiet. And then...the unmistakable sound of a captured critter trying to break free. GAH!!! Scott looked at me with saucer-wide eyes and then got down from our bunk. There are a couple things to note about the flailing we were hearing: The first was that the rat was clearly still alive which we hadn't really bargained for. The second, was that - judging from the thumps and thuds caused by his body weight - we were dealing with a rat of substance. But that was neither here nor there at this point, the important thing was that we had him. But now what?

"Oh my god.." I whispered to Scott, careful not to wake Isla who was sleeping not five feet away from us, and not two feet away from the trapped rat. "What if we've only got his tail or his foot in the trap?" My eyes grew wide, "What if he get's away!?! For the love of God we CANNOT LET HIM GET AWAY!" Scott got up and slowly tiptoed into the walk thru area. I was crouched on our bed in the aft cabin, with a clear view into the hall, watching with eager anticipation. "What should I do?" Scott whispered back at me. "I don't want to open this door, scare him and have him break free from the trap..." he trailed off and went to get his head torch in the nav station. More frantic fish-out-of-water-style flailing ensued. Isla, somehow, was still out cold during this ordeal. I prayed that she didn't wake up. No amount of therapy could erase what was about to go down from an impressionable three year old mind.

Scott returned to the walk thru with his head torch glowing red, wielding a small frying pan. "What the hell is that for?" I whispered. He quickly motioned for me to be quiet, and then slowly opened the garbage locker. The bin was clearly blocking the view, and I saw him contort a few ways to try and get a good look. He then tenderly closed the door, and disappeared back into the galley area, taking the red glow with him. More thrashing and suddenly, a new sound...A sort of wheezing whine that *almost* sounded like a faint baby cry. I was disturbed.

The red glow and Scott, returned again. This time with an even bigger frying pan and a giant workman's glove. "Jesus Christ, Scott!" I spat. "What the hell!?! How big is this thing?" He turned to me with a comical smirk and with an uneasy chuckle replied, "It's not a field mouse." I could not stop muttering "ohmygod.ohmygod.ohmygod" on repeat, hugging my legs in the fetal position out of sheer disgust. Scott told me to give it a rest and turned back to the cupboard. More thrashing. More wheezing. Surely this thing would die soon?! And why the hell was he alive anyway!?! Weren't traps meant to kill rodents?!?!

Scott opened the cubby again, looked around some more. And paused. He shut the cubby and returned to the aft cabin. He took the head lamp of like a soldier would take off his helmet from a recon mission. He paused. "The rat is substantial" he started, "My worry is that he's going to get free if I scare him too much. He's thrashing around pretty good in there. I'm not sure what to do." If there is one thing that I am famous for in our duo it is the fact that, more often than not, I think very fast on my feet and come up with great solutions in a pinch. "Grab the glue trap in the shoe cubby" I told him. "Slide it next to the rat. Next time he thrashes, he'll land on that and then we'll know we've got him by at least two ways. Surely he won't get free then." "Good thinking," he replied. He replaced his head lamp, grabbed the trap and went back to ground zero.

The cubby was opened, yet again. More scrambling. More eerie crying. Scott slid the glue trap into the bottom of the locker like it was infected with ebola, recoiled and shut the door. Visible sighs all around. More thrashing and then, quiet. Scott grabbed our little Olympus tough camera from the nav station, opened the door again, stuck his arm in, took a few pics, checked them and, once again, shut the door. He started back toward me again with a smile. "He's on the glue trap. Wanna see?" He wore a twisted smirk. Of course I didn't want to see, but just as one must gawk at an accident on the highway, so must I look at the rat that has been our roommate for God knows how long. "Ugh. Okay" I replied. Scott handed me the camera but not before warning, "He's....substantial." I looked at the pictures and, yes, he was bigger than we thought (but not city alley style) and utterly disgusting and all of that, but I actually felt sorry for the damn thing all helpless, scared and probably hurting in there. I closed my eyes and shook my head in an attempt to erase the images from my mind and get back to business. Pity or no pity, I wanted him dead and gone as quickly as possible.

"Now what do we do?" Scott looked at me hopefully. I was on again. I pondered our next steps for  a moment. "We need to drown him. We can't let him suffer like this." I said, my rat sympathy shining through. "Okay," Scott started. "But how do we do that?" I thought some more. "What if we just throw all that crap into the ocean?" Scott considered this for a second. "It'll probably float with the clamp and especially the glue trap..." he trailed off. He was right. And, anyway, as desperate of a time as this was - it certainly didn't warrant us littering in the ocean. My eyes squinted as I thought some more and then, a lightbulb. "I've got it!" I said with the excitement of a child who's just solved a puzzle. "Take the garbage bag out of the trash bin, put the rat - traps and all - in there. Then we'll take it off the boat and fill the bin with water from the hose." "Good idea!" Scott was happy we finally had a solution. By the looks on our faces and tones of our voices you'd never guess we were plotting to commit murder. By now it was about 4am. This ordeal took every minute of an hour.

Scott went back to the walk thru where Isla was still sleeping soundly, but this time I followed. Scott opened the cubby and took out the garbage bin. I grabbed the garbage bag and brought it on deck. "We'll throw him away in here when he's dead" I whispered. Scott nodded in agreement as he donned the hefty work glove. With a few swift movements, Scott had the rat in the bottom of the bin and we were on deck high-fiving that ratty was officially no longer in our boat. But there was little time for celebration, we still had work to do. The poor rat was still alive, after all.  We brought the bin off the boat and over by the hose. "I feel so bad for him," I said. "Maybe we can set him free far, far away?" "Absolutely not," Scott said. "He might remember where we live and anyway, he's probably dying. Best to put him out of his misery." I agreed, but it was terrible to see an animal suffer and know we were the cause of it. Even though he was a rat and even though I hated him for eating my most favorite pair of shoes, I felt bad for the little guy.

Scott grabbed the hose. The rat had already slowed his thrashing down and I like to think he sensed the end was near. "Turn it on" Scott said firmly. I did. The night was eerie still. There was not a sound to be heard except that of the water slowly filling the plastic bin. The lights of the dock cast a yellow tinge all around us and after the tub was about 1/2 way full, Scott signaled to turn it off. I walked over to see our rat squirm a bit, take what appeared to be three deep, big gulps, and then - everything stopped. He was gone. I shuddered in the night's clammy chill when it dawned on me that I'd never use the idiom "like a drowned rat" quite the same ever again.

We drained the water and Scott put him into the trash bin to throw out at the dumpster. I washed out the garbage can, disinfected it with Lysol and when Scott returned, we retired back into the boat to bed. But not after excitedly recounting the details of the last hour like a couple of teens recounting a good senior prank.

We slept a little easier that night.

But now I can't help but lay awake and wonder: Was he alone?

Boat life, I tell you, never a dull moment.

* Those of you interested, our rat was trapped using the T-Rex Rat Trap with a glob of peanut butter and a chunk of cured meat (sausage) on the trigger.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Expat Troubles and Immigration Woes: Time to Flee the Country!

"The kids' visa extensions were denied," Scott texted me while I was sitting at the beach, peacefully collecting shells with the girls. "We need to leave in twenty-four hours." "Shit" I replied. This is not the kind of text that one wants to receive when living as an expatriate on a small island. The word "denied" stung like a personal affront. Had they no heart!? Didn't they realize these were *toddlers* we were talking about?! My phone pinged again: "We'll have to stay for a few days. Should we ferry to St. Thomas or do you want to take the boat?" It took me exactly .02 seconds to respond with: "Sail." Staying in a single hotel room with three kids three and under for three days on a neighboring island, to some, might sound like a nice little vacation. To me? That sounds like the tenth circle of hell. But let me back up and explain...

Scott and I are legal residents of the British Virgin Islands (for a year anyway, we must file for renewal annually which - we are told - is not *too* painful of a process). Our girls, however, have been living here on tourist visas because we were awaiting the government's approval on their status as our "dependents". This small title change would allow them to be residents as well, but not until we got that coveted approval. The confirmation that they were accepted as "dependents" came through a couple of weeks ago at which point we were granted two weeks to take them out of the county, do some medical tests and return. I can’t really explain the reasoning behind the fact that we must leave the island to do these things that could easily be done here, but it’s the rule and if there is one thing you must know about life as an expat on a small island it is this: There is very precise protocol that must be followed when it comes to any governmental procedure (immigration/work permits/residency etc.) Not following these formalities *exactly*  and *perfectly* will project you into a Groundhog Day-like loop of red-tape madness, endless immigration lines, and mind-numbing levels of frustration. So we don't ask questions. We just do what we are told. Side Note: following government protocol "exactly and perfectly" is pretty much impossible since it changes with the wind, so the aforementioned is almost a guarantee. Be warned. 

When that two weeks was up and we still hadn't left the country to get our t's crossed and i's dotted by the powers that be (mainly because Scott works every. single. day.), Scott donned his Sunday best and headed to immigration to see if they would grant us an extension. Having government do you a "favor" down here is not unheard of, but something of a crap shoot. Or Russian roulette. Okay, maybe a small miracle; like witnessing a deer give birth to twins in your back yard or something. Not impossible, but not an everyday sort of occurrence. And this time was no different. We got a big, fat: DENIED and were given 24 hours to leave the territory. Hence: Operation Flee Country.

Point for living in a home that moves and for a US island a mere four hour sail away!

The logistics of packing up three small kids, sailing to a neighboring island, and coordinating a medical test might not sound like much, but given that we run a very busy business and covering Scott's duties as well as timing medical results so that he could return to work ASAP was...tricky. As far as what needed to happen while we were gone, the twins needed simply to leave and come back, but Isla needed a medical exam to ensure she wasn't bringing diseases (typically reserved for 18th century prostitutes) into the territory. The tests were simple enough, but results would take a few days and we weren't allowed back in without them. In a desperate pinch, Scott found trusted people to fill in for him while we were away, and we were told we'd have the results we needed by Friday so he could return to work Sunday morning. The successful completion of this sequence of events was far from impossible, but certainly aggressive. Given that Murphy's Law prevails down here, combined with the "island time" phenomenon, meant the possibility of hiccups was high. The fact that we were traveling with three small children did nothing to ease the situation. Kids - while wonderful, mind-blowing and cute - complicate things.

We, along with our friends the Sunkissed Soeters, decided to leave at 4:30am with the hopes of arriving in daylight when our kids would be waking up. From there we would go ashore, clear in with customs (as one must do when they move from country to country), head to the various medical clinics we needed to visit (there were two), and call it a day. Sounds simple enough, right?

Except that when we started our engine at 4:30am, Haven woke up in a panic of epic proportions which, in turn, woke up Isla and Mira. I helped Scott get us off the dock and went below to try, unsuccessfully, to calm them all back to sleep. Have you ever tried to calm two wailing babies by yourself? It's difficult at best. Isla tried to help, but her presence only excited them. They would have none of it and were much more interested in a cuddle fest in the aft cabin. It was going to be a long day.

We arrived in Red Hook as the sun was coming up and our kids were coming unglued. Scott and I were positively exhausted, but time was of the essence and we needed to get to "Doctors on Duty" ASAP. We dinghied ashore with the Soeters, grabbed some breakfast and some desperately-needed coffee, and after unsuccessfully trying to rent a car for nearly an hour, decided to cut our losses and hop in a taxi. One thing that is a huge pain in the butt for cruisers with small children traveling to the United States Virgin Islands is that everyone aboard must be present to clear in (as opposed to just the captain) which means we ALL had to go ashore (Note for those 'in the know': yes, we are members of the SVRS but we forgot to file a float plan. Won't forget that again!) This was going to not only be a day that began at 4:30am for our normal 7am-ers, but one in which they skipped their coveted two-plus hour midday naps. Oh joy! Wigged-out, poorly-rested, two year old twins are NOT for the faint of heart, I tell you. I prepared for battle with an impressive arsenal of toys, snacks aplenty and took a double dose of patience.

By the time we had cleared in, visited the two medical clinics we needed to visit, and return to Red Hook, it was 5pm. Over *twelve* hours after our day began. That is a lot to ask of little children! While there were some definite meltdowns, lots of deep breathing on my part and a couple of moments where I had to extricate the twins from situations due to toddler anarchy, I was - overall - so pleased with how our kids held up. The twins sat in our (amazing, life-saving) tandem umbrella stroller most of the day, and that is no fun for very active two year olds. Isla was a gem, with her only real low point being the fit she threw when a nurse came at her with a needle to give her the test shot for tuberculosis. All in all, the day was a success, albeit incredibly long. To celebrate, Scott and I took the girls to an early dinner at Molly Malones in Red Hook where they continued to run around like giggling heathens and mommy and daddy enjoyed some (well deserved) rum drinks. We ended up back to the boat around 6pm, showered everyone up on the aft deck and the girls and I were fast asleep by 7:30.

With the "business end" of our trip over, we could finally relax, get our darlings back on their normal sleep schedules and simply enjoy being on the water, at anchor (which is bliss, by the way). What had initially begun as a very hectic, stressful and forced trip turned out to be a nice little vacation where we were able to enjoy dinners out with friends new and old, meet up (and party a little too hard) with fellow cruisers who are like kindred spirits, and enjoy the vast bounty of American products and services that St. Thomas has to offer (it felt very much like Florida to us; there's McDonalds, K-Mart, Home Depot, Walgreens, Subway, surf shops galore and even a Cost-u-Less, which is a Costco equivalent!) It was like being in the land of plenty compared to where we live in the British Virgin Islands. We took advantage of the plentitude and, truth be told, it was nice.

The mission was a success, and while we thoroughly enjoyed the time away and the mini-vacation, it was a welcome treat to sail back to our adopted little island of Tortola where the roosters wake us up, where there's not a big box store or chain restaurant in site, and where our girls will finally, hopefully, no longer be tourists.

At least for a year.
Almost  in Red Hook and ready to set the anchor. Tired kiddos.
This child is a gem to travel with. Three years old and fully adaptable and ready for adventure!
Very, very tired daddy.
Sunrise from our boat, anchored in Red Hook, St. Thomas USVI
Customs
This is what two families and five kids look like in a customs office. This is where the twins were falling apart.
They have *NEVER* napped in a stroller. Mainly because they never have to, but this time - they did! I would be lost without this stroller!
Dinner time shenanigans. We eat out very early when no one else is around so our girls can run around and be kids.
"Thank God I have a job I can do from anywhere!" Minus the captain part, of course. Here's Scott taking MORE bookings.
Dinghying back home after a very, VERY long day. Red Hook, St. Thomas, USVI
Bright-eyed and bushy tailed the next morning. Isla loves waving to passing boats. Red Hook, St. Thomas, USVI
My little sweat pea, Mira. Red Hook, St. Thomas, USVI
This was our neighbor. 7am, pipe in mouth, reclined and reading a paperback as the sun warmed up. Red Hook, St. Thomas, USVI

I honestly love that our home is the best jungle gym our kids could ever want. They love nothing more than being on deck.
Mira, mastering a new move. Red Hook, St. Thomas, USVI
This child is part monkey, I tell you! Super coordinated and strong.Red Hook, St. Thomas, USVI
Putting our dingy in the water with daddy. Red Hook, St. Thomas, USVI
Lowering the dingy in the water. A little lesson in physics. Red Hook, St. Thomas, USVI
Absolutely LOVE our Sailor Bags Back Pack and our Turkish Bath TowelsRed Hook, St. Thomas, USVI
Pippy Longstocking looking on. Red Hook, St. Thomas, USVI
When we got our test results, we decided to sail over to St. John for a change and to break up the upwind sail home.
Sailing for 2-3 hours with these girls these days is a pleasure. We sit on deck and talk, sing songs, and watch the ocean.
Sunset in St. John. It was an early night for all of us. Still catching up on sleep! Maho Bay, St. John, USVI
Mommy made pancakes and sausage the next morning. We love to eat in the cockpit with the breeze in our hair! Maho Bay, St. John, USVI
Seriously, if I loved our three girls any more I might explode. For real. It's impossible to love any more. Maho Bay, St. John, USVI
I rigged up a new line from the bow to the mast for the girls to swing on. It was a big hit. Maho Bay, St. John, USVI

We set sail for Tortola after breakfast. Sir Francis Drake Channel, BVI
This child. Sigh. She is a force. A delightful and joyful one though! Sir Francis Drake Channel, BVI
My little mermaids. Adore them. Sir Francis Drake Channel, BVI
Mira and daddy, enjoying the sail home. Sir Francis Drake Channel, BVI
Home, sweet home. Back at our beloved home port of Nanny Cay, Tortola BVI. 

Saturday, February 06, 2016

I Smell a Rat: Rodents and Boats Don't Mix

We have a rat on our boat. At least we think it's just one, I guess we can't really be sure. We've been told it's a "small" one, a "juvenile" to be exact. Not that this minor detail makes me sleep any better at night, because it does not. A rat is a rat in my book (I mean, the word itself is disgusting enough to make me gag), and in my boat - they are not only not welcome, but really, really bad news.

The first sign of trouble was when our lovely neighbor was packing up his boat to go home . "Hey there..." he seemed apprehensive and I got the sense bad news was coming. "I feel like I need to tell you..." he paused. "We have a rat or a mouse on board." He made a "sorry to be the bearer of bad news" face and I thanked him for the warning and bid him adieu. Rats are not an issue at this marina, there are marina cats everywhere and if a rat is found on a boat here - it's often brought from another place. Call me naive, but armed with this knowledge and a little of the "it won't happen to me" mentality, I didn't really consider his rat might become our rat. Unfortunately for us, that is precisely what happened.

***

For the record, I keep a very clean boat. All food is double bagged or in airtight containers. I wipe all counters with antibacterial surface spray multiple times a day. Floors are cleaned every couple days. I hand vacuum after every meal. I diffuse essential oil like a boss. Dishes are done immediately. No food is left out on counter. I have been told by more than a few people that I have OCD tendencies...Having three toddlers, however, means that no matter how hard I try to keep messes at bay, there's always a little morsel or two left up in the cockpit after any given outing. A nibble of cracker here, a piece of popcorn there... No doubt these little snacks are what lured our neighboring rat aboard, thus turning him into a resident. This is very, very bad for a plethora of reasons.

Not only do rats carry disease and are, in general, the physical manifestations of all things disgusting - they wreak a tremendous amount of havoc where they reside. They can destroy an astounding amount of property in a very short time. They have been known to critically damage infrastructure (by eating their way through integral pieces), sink boats (by chewing through essential hoses), and even start fires (by gnawing on wires, causing them to short). Yep. Despite what most people (who haven't had the pleasure of dealing with rats) think, a rodent's greatest weapon is not their significant 'ick factor', but their teeth. You see, one fun factoid about rats is that their beveled incisors, open-rooted and highly specialized for 'gnawing', never stop growing and in order to prevent themselves from getting 'long in the tooth' (literally), they must continuously chew and brux in order to keep their length at bay. What do they chew on you ask? Well, anything. Plastic hose, wire, and leather are all fair game. Just take a look at what our resident rat did to my favorite pair of (discontinued, formerly Grecian-style) sandals in a single evening:

This was literally my favorite pair of "fancy" sandals. Gone. This means war!
***

"I hear something," I whispered in a hushed tone to Scott. It was three a.m. and I was reading in bed, waving the white flat to my insomnia when I heard the distinct clicking sound of something chewing. "It's the ****ing rat!" I gasped as I grabbed his arm and finally shook him awake. "He's in our shoe cubby!" I said, laying completely still and horrified. This was the very first we'd heard of our rat. Sure, we'd seen signs. A few droppings under floorboards, a roll of paper towel with nibble marks and, the most peculiar, a half-eaten Mr. Clean magic eraser. All of these items lived at the bottom of the cupboard where we keep our garbage and it was, up until this moment, the only place we'd seen any real signs of a rat or mouse aboard. No indication whatsoever in our main living area, upper cabinetry or where we keep our food... a small relief for sure. After consideration, however, it's most unsettling because our rat resides out of sight in the under belly of our boat where pretty much all the important systems, hoses and wires that keep our boat working and floating *also* live. Suuuuper.

The next morning Scott emptied out our shoe cubby and we discovered that our rat does indeed love shoes. He ruined no fewer than four pairs. We cleaned out the locker, disinfected and Scott reconfigured our array of mouse traps because, prior to the shoe incident, we were pretty sure it was a mouse (which now seems so much less disgusting) and not a rat. I posted the shoe pic to our Facebook Page (to temper all the beautiful pictures of paradise I post!) and not only did our fans pretty much confirm the work was that of a rat, but that the traps we had set were not going to get him. Awesome.

Later that morning, I was walking down the dock with the girls, reeling from our morning of shoe destruction, when I noticed a man in dark shades walking down the dock with what appeared to be a rat trap in his had. Of course I stopped him. "Hi," I started, awkwardly. "Is that a rat trap you have?" I asked, hopeful. He looked at me, "Are you from the boat Asante?" He had the cool confidence of someone who eradicates vermin for a living. Confused, I replied that I was. "These are for you then, I hear you have a rat aboard. Bring me to the boat and let's see what we're dealing with."

I walked him down the dock, still confused at how he knew about our issue. "Did my husband call you?" I asked. "No, Brendan called me and told me to come down." Later that day I would see Brendan, the awesome marina manager here, and he would confirm that he saw my Facebook post and immediately called his guy to come help. I thanked him profusely, "It's what we do" he said with a smile (have I mentioned how much I love it here?) Anyway, I digress...

He came aboard, and after looking under a few floorboards and at some droppings gave his diagnosis: "You have a rat. But it's a small rat. A juvenile. And it's just one. Not a big problem..." he replaced a floorboard and started unwrapping the giant glue traps, "We will get him. We just need to be patient." I replied that I wasn't so sure how patient I could be, I mean - were my kids going to get diseased from this thing? "Only about one in a few hundred rats are actually diseased. If you get bit, that's bad - but as long as he's not in your food and contaminating what you eat...you're fine." He placed the glue traps strategically in a few areas we knew our rat had been, placed a glob of peanut butter in the big snap trap and stuck it in the bottom of garbage locker, aka "ground zero". He showed me how to work it, reminded me that it could break my finger, and said he'd check back in a few days.

That was a few days ago.

***

We still have not caught our rat. I've now moved from peanut butter to hard salami, which he appears to enjoy because he's been GETTING IT OUT OF THE TRAP. So I know he's still here despite the fact that I have not heard him or seen any signs of him since the shoe incident. But knowing he's here, living underneath us, and being all-too-aware of the damage that he is no doubt causing horrifies me. What if he chews through a thru-hull hose? What if he gnaws a hole in our propane line? So much about this keeps me awake at night. All the disinfecting of our bilge that has to happen, the fear of actually seeing him during my nightly bathroom break, the fact that we will probably be discovering his destruction for weeks and months to come...it. is. awful. The mind reels, and it's no fun.

But we'll get him, of that I am sure. If we could deal with (and successfully eradicate) cockroaches, we can deal with this stowaway. There's simply no other option.

Any ideas, tips and tricks are welcome! Stay tuned....

EDITOR'S NOTE: We caught him the night this posted. Blog post to come. Long story short: He is no longer of this world.
The kids thoroughly enjoy checking the traps.
The grab a flashlight and demand, "Mouse! Mouse!" because they want see it. #parentsoftheyear

Monday, February 01, 2016

When You Don't Feel Like Enough: Pitfalls in Parenting

"My wife was so impressed with you and your kids, she wondered if maybe we yell too much at ours. Yours were so well behaved and you were so relaxed." I had just grabbed a beer at the beach bar and didn't know whether to laugh or cry at the comment from our new (temporary) boat neighbor who had witnessed my bathtime/dinnertime/bedtime routine a couple hours earlier with his wife. "THANK YOU." I exclaimed as I thew my arms around him in an over-zealous burst of gratitude. "You have NO idea how much that means to me!" I took a swig of my beer. "I assure you," I continued. "If you would have been aboard last week, your wife would have been saying exactly the opposite." We all had a good chuckle over this and they continued admonishing me with praise for my calm demeanor, our well-behaved girls, our quiet boat... The kudos felt great of course, but what made me feel like singing from the mountaintops while slow-spinning was the fact that there was a moment in time when another mother (of four, no less!) looked at me and thought that I. Had it. Together. 

Because - for the record - I do not. (Have we forgotten the time the cops were called on me?)

I have been that mom before. The mom silently watching another; wondering why her kids are so well behaved when mine are crazy, or how it's possible she looks so put together when I can barely manage to brush my teeth, or how she disciplines without ever seeming to yell when I feel very much 'on the verge', or how she cooks great meals with wholesome ingredients when my kids live off mac-n-cheese and chicken nuggets... I've been that mom who has quietly measured myself against another and feels that I am, for sure, falling short. Don't get me wrong, I have my good days too - lots of them in fact - but I have three toddlers under four and roll solo most of the time which means I am often pushed to my limits of sleep, tolerance, patience, energy, time... So when it became clear that I was the mom being watched and that my kids were the ones being admired for good behavior, well, it made me want to do a 'happy dance' because that's a sort of unicorn moment in parenting right there. It also made me think, though, that maybe the moms I have admired before: the ones who's kids are angels, the one who looks like she stepped off a movie set at 10am, and/or the mother who feeds her kids organic home-cooked everything - maybe she, too, shines in some moments and tarnishes in others. Maybe we're all more similar than I thought. Maybe it just depends on when, where, and how you catch us.

For example, just three nights prior to this man's very timely confession to me, I had Googled the following while laying awake in bed at 2am: "Am I screwing up my kids?" (Not completely) "Are my kids normal?" (Yes) "Is hitting common with three siblings close in age?" (Yes) "Why is my two year old so loud?" (She's "spirited") "How can I stop my kids screaming?" (!?!?) and, finally, "Am I a terrible parent?" (No). Suffice it to say, I was having a rough day for a host of reasons. Hot tears ran down my cheeks as I silently sobbed under the eerie spotlight of my iPhone. I was tired. I was overwhelmed. I felt like a failure. And I wanted answers. The day or two leading up to these tell-tale searches were chalk full of tantrums, fits, fights, screaming, hitting, back-talk, biting, tears, attitude, and whining. And that was just the girls. Me? I was doing an alarming amount of "clenched teeth talking", yelling, loosing my s***, and a few times, I even burst into tears right along with them. I was stressed. My kids were stressed. We were feeding off each other and it was positively monstrous. I was 100% certain I was a failure.

Luckily most days I don't feel like a "failure" but there are many days when I don't feel like enough. When I feel like I've dropped the ball and fallen short in areas. Most days my tank is empty by nightfall: I don't have enough time to do the things I love like writing and photography. I don't have the drive to answer the mountain of email in my neglected inbox. I lack the initiative (and the quiet time) to call the people I love and have meaningful conversations with them. I have zero energy to engage with my husband when he comes home from work. To cook food. To run errands. To market myself. To respond to inquires. To help with our business. To shower...the list goes on. Some days, I feel like I'm on autopilot, going through the motions, a shell of myself and who I want to be. And those days suck. BUT... the beauty (and one of the many gifts) of being a parent (because being a parent is an incredible gift, don't get me wrong) is that life goes on and each day is another to begin anew. After the "weekend from hell", the girls and I re-calibrated. I altered my routine. Avoided situations that caused me stress. We (Isla and I) talked about our issues. Apologized for mistakes. Hugged tears away. The demons that seemed to posses our boat jumped ship. Things got better. Much, much better. 

And I was lucky enough to have someone bear witness to it. 

The fact that a fellow parent got the impression that I had it "together" and that my kids were "great" and that I was doing something right, almost made my cry with joy because a lot of the time I'm all, "What the f*** is happening!?!" and that kind of recognition feels really, really good. But more importantly, their acknowledgment made me realize that the next time I look longingly at another mother who appears to have it all together, maybe just maybe, she doesn't. And that is totally okay. And very refreshing.

So next time you see a mom with her kids sitting quietly at a restaurant, or playing nicely at the park, or - hell - next time you see a mom doing anything that qualifies as being "good" or even "okay" in your book, go ahead and tell her. You might just make her week. You might just make her feel like enough.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

The Importance of Getting off the Dock and out of my Comfort Zone

I had no idea how much I missed floating free on the water. Getting "off the dock" is a phrase anyone who owns a boat is familiar with. The dock, with all it's amenities, conveniences and plusses, comes with a host of negatives - not the least of which is tethering your boat to shore. When you are "on the dock" you are, presumably, not "out there" (insert outstretched arms indicating the great wide open). So, when Scott got three day's off in a row and asked if I wanted to sail over to Norman Island and anchor out for the night, I cannot even believe I thought twice.

Turns out, I had no idea what I needed.

When you live on a boat in a marina, particularly with toddlers, sometimes anything that requires a little more of your already depleted energy (like untying dock lines, prepping the boat for sailing, and related things) seems like too much. I mean, we're so happy here. We have a little routine, the girls have fun every day...Why did we need to leave? "Umm....I don't know...." I answered lazily when Scott posed the question of a day sail. "Seems like it would be a lot of work for just one night out?" I added in a sort of question/statement. Scott is familiar with this not-so-great side of me. The side that, instead of leaping in head first with an excited, "Sure!" sits back and thinks about all the 'what if's'; making a list of reasons why 'xyz' is actually not a good idea. It's not one of my better traits. I could totally justify my line of thinking: Why rock the boat when we were so comfy and happy right where we were? No sooner had I had that thought when it dawned on me that this was precisely why we needed to go. Because - and pardon the cliche - life happens outside the comfort zone. If I've learned anything, I've learned that.

"Let's go" Scott said.

Pushing my reluctance aside once and for all I replied with a firm, "Okay."

***

It was a perfect sailing day, as it so often is down here. The breeze was fresh, the waves gentle, and the sun beaming. I cannot adequately explain how or why it happens, but anyone who loves sailing knows the feeling: once we raised the sails and shut off the engine, I felt my heart and soul lighten. Being out on the water, sailing with my girls in this incredible paradise we are so lucky to call 'home' just about made me burst with gratitude. Isla took her spot on the bow, standing quietly and keeping watch. She has always been an old soul and sailing with her is a pleasure, she just takes it all in as she gazes at the water in silence, looking for turtles and dolphins and anything else that might catch her imagination. I took my seat next to her on the cabin top; wind ripping through my hair, sun warming up my skin and thought to myself, "this is bliss". I turned around to Scott who was driving. "Thank you," I said. "I totally needed this." He smiled, the twins seated contentedly next to him snacking on popcorn. We had a near-perfect sail with all the girls happily awake, enjoying the scenery and sitting on deck with me, giggling and waving to boats on the horizon.

We grabbed a mooring ball at the Bight at Norman Island, put the girls down for a nap, and I came back on deck to take in our surroundings. It was, literally and metaphorically, a breath of fresh air. Being surrounded by water instead of other boats and docks was bliss. Just as catching the wind in your sails does something to lighten your soul, so does simply floating peacefully at anchor. The world is quieter. The boat feels bigger. Your senses perk up. You breathe a little easier. It is instantly soothing and relaxing and creates a sort of paradigm shift in the mind where you feel incredibly free. Scott got to doing a few boat chores before laying down for a nap, while I grabbed my book and basked in the cockpit. It felt positively wonderful to be in the breeze, something that is sorely lacking on our buttoned-up boat in the marina. At the dock we spend precious little time in our beloved cockpit. For one, it's so hot and secondly, being so close to our neighbors makes relaxing in the cockpit slightly awkward. At anchor? Different story. Our cockpit is our living room and I absolutely love it. I pushed open all our hatches, unzipped our dodger window, and aired out the boat with sunshine and fresh breeze.

The girls woke up from their naps and played happily on deck. Scott and Isla inflated our Airis Paddle Boards and we loaded the kids up - me with the twins, Scott with Isla - and paddled ashore to the beautiful beach. Sadly, we don't have any photos of this excursion because I didn't want to take my good camera on the paddle board, but we rowed to the beach where the girls played happily in the sand and Scott and I enjoyed some afternoon cocktails. We met up with some blog followers and island friends that work on Norman, lingering beach side until the sun started slipping down the horizon and it was time to head home for dinner and bed.

***

The next morning, the girls were up with the sun and ready to play on deck again. Giggles, squeals of joy and belly laughs ensued and, again, I thanked Scott for pushing me outside my comfort zone. Work was calling, however, and after a morning paddle and beach excursion, we needed to set our sails for home. We sailed back in a building breeze; grateful, rested and rejuvenated from our 'mini-vacation' off the dock. I didn't know it at the time, but I needed that little time away so very badly. It would have been so easy for me to convince Scott to stay back and pass on this opportunity. And it would have been fine. We would have had a nice day. We would have had fun. But it would not have re-charged my batteries, filled me to the brim with gratitude, and inspired me quite like our trip to Norman did. Nope. Getting out of my comfort zone was imperative and refreshing. It's a lesson that I, no doubt, will have to learn over and over again, but next time I won't need nearly as much convincing. I am sure of that.

“Comfort is your biggest trap and coming out of comfort zone your biggest challenge.” 
- Manoj Arora

Isla took her spot here and sat here for the entire 1.5 hour sail over.
Luckily it was calm enough that the girls could explore on deck underway.
Me and my girls. Mira was not thrilled at this point, but you can't win em all, right?
Pouty face.
Isla and Haven sat up here most of the way.
Sailing sisters.
Sisters, sharing a secret and a giggle, as they should.
We're working a lot on sharing these days. I was happy to catch this moment.
View from the aft deck.
Mira, our little steadfast observer.

My happy little wild haired Fraggle.
Sailing = snacking.
Daddy and Mira
Always polishing. It's impossible to stay on top of. Sigh.

Paddle board time!


Mira, testing out her balance.
The girls are SO happy climbing and playing on deck.
Daddy kisses
Our little peanut.
Watching these two interact is amazing. Being a mom to twins is definitely a gift.
All three of our little treasures!! This was unposed - they just did this on their own. Love.
If you were wondering if our kids had any personality...
Happy and free.
Her favorite spot to climb up to.

Sunrise exploration.
Good morning sun!


Sailing home. Thoughtful and contemplative.
Haven, driving with daddy.
All these photos are taken with my Canon EOS Rebel T5 EF-S 18-55mm IS II Digital SLR with the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM Lens (50mm) or Canon EF-S 10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 IS STM Lens (wide angle) lenses. I hope you enjoy them as much as I enjoyed taking them!
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