being present

Looking Back to Look Ahead

There are times when it's fun to read old blogs, to see what the me-of-then was thinking. This one struck a chord with me - recognize any themes? This is a post from our SVCalypso blog, from the 2009-2010 cruise we took with the kids. The more things change, the more they stay the same, right?

Shiny winch.

Shiny winch.

August 26, 2009

I’ve been thinking about this for a couple of days, and the concept gelled this morning as I shed some tears over my friend Lee's blog (last cruising entry for a while).  Her final lines are “We recommend to everyone that they take time now to fulfill that dream or vision.  There is no other time, only the present.”  Lee and her husband, Chris, took off a year ago and went to the Exumas and back, up to Martha’s Vineyard and back to Deltaville.  Reading their blog is a lesson in being PRESENT – a lesson I know I would do well to heed.

Kids, 3rd and 5th grades, first day of school.

Kids, 3rd and 5th grades, first day of school.

And that’s where I am struggling right now.  I have the hardest time being present to all that is happening.  Part of is the feeling that I have feet in a couple of different worlds, part of it is wanting time to hurry up and go by.  Part of it is, quite probably, a mourning for the stability and comfort of the routine we have shed already – with more to come in the next week, even, as I put in my final day at work on Monday.  And with that mourning is a frustration with myself – I am choosing this (we are choosing this) – why be sad about the choice?

Our transition began in the summer, really, when we moved out of our newly-renovated, much beloved house so the renters could come in with their boxes and different chaos.  We are now living in a one-bedroom apartment, all four of us, which I joke (semi-seriously) about being bigger than the boat. (It is, square footage-wise.)  The kids had to pack up their toys and books, and all they could bring with them (other than clothes) had to fit in a small plastic box*.  They are being remarkably resilient and accepting, except that Julian cannot kick a cold and Maddie is now grinding her teeth at night.  Hard, hard, hard to share with them (convince them? help them understand?) WHY it is so imperative that we do this cruising thing NOW.

School started for the kids yesterday.  They are in new classrooms, with new teachers and new friends.  But they know (as do their teachers and classmates) that they will only be there for 5 weeks.  Strange situation.  Possibly for them the hardest part (or the hardest part they can verbalize) is not riding the school bus.

I am frantically finishing up things at work (I have been the Admissions Director at a local private school for the past 5 years, and my job culminates on Monday with the orientation of the new kids the day before school starts), feeling like a bit of a ghost.  My colleagues are wonderful and supportive, but they (obviously) are caught up in the excitement of a new year while I am not involved at all with those details.

Jeremy’s replacement starts on Monday, for close to a month of overlap.  He is working hard as ever at work, trying to leave procedures and lists in place for his team – and then coming home to work on boat projects or research boat parts.

And through it all I am wondering how the reentry will be.  Lee’s blog has reminded me of my one real regret from last time – that I was too busy looking at what was coming next to appreciate where we were. (In reading the old journal from that trip, I can read 4 separate, distinct times when I wrote, “Now the cruising can really begin.”  What cruising did I miss while waiting for it to “start?”)

Stop, Nica.  Concentrate on the NOW.  Even as chaotic as it seems, it is what is going on.  If I look too far in the future I may well miss the present.

Pizza on the boat grill.

Pizza on the boat grill.

So bring it back to the present.  Yesterday was the first day of school for the kids, and they looked great (and all too tall) as I scrambled them into the car for the drive to school.  Today we made pizza on the grill for dinner – not all that exciting (for us) except that we did it on the boat grill and it WORKED!!! (We had been worried that it would burn before cooking properly)  Kids are in bed now, reading, and Jeremy and I are playing dueling computers working on different boat projects.  (This blog must count as a boat project, yes?)

There you go.  Rantings and philosophical wanderings and perhaps some self-centered whining from me.  Ah well.  At least I ate well tonight.

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When Does Cruising Really Start?

I’ve learned a lot of lessons from cruising, and some I hope I’ve learned. The importance of being present to what’s happening, even while deep in the midst of prepping to leave, is one I’m still working on.

I was 21 when Jeremy said 4 words that would forever change my life.

He waited until the waiter at the pizza place had left the menus, then leaned in.

“I’ve got something to tell you.”

I stared at my hands. At him. At the menu. It’s likely there were tears in my eyes. Was this the break up talk? At College Inn pizza, on a Friday night, surrounded by strangers? My brain raced with the what ifs. Am I the only one whose brain goes immediately to “what did I do wrong” when someone says those words? It feels like being back in the principals office.

The waiter came back. I’m pretty sure I ordered something – that is, after all, what you do when you’re out for dinner. The waiter went away and my fear rushed back in. My mouth went dry and my hands got clammy.

The words came as if from a far distance. “Let’s buy a boat.”

Jeremy, walking down the Lawn on graduation day.

Jeremy, walking down the Lawn on graduation day.

I can still vividly remember the almost levitating feeling of relief. “Is that all?”

 

“I want to go cruising.”

 

He’d been sailing and talking about sailing for as long as I’d known him. We met on the sailing team at the University of Virginia (we sailed on a man-made inland lake about 25 miles away), and he’d been teaching sailing on big boats in the Bahamas and the Eastern Caribbean during spring break and summers since his first year at school.

 

This wasn’t that big of a surprise. How hard could this cruising thing be, anyway? It’s like a fulltime vacation, right?

 

So we graduated, landed jobs, and moved to Texas (in 1991, there were not many options for a non-US citizen in a really awful job market) with this goal in our heads. The apartment was chosen because it had the all-important second bedroom – not for guests, or for a kid, but for the wooden dinghy he started building even before we unpacked all the boxes. Evenings were spent eating rice and beans (to save money), poring over cruising guides and boat magazines, endlessly discussing the kind of boat we should buy and where we should go. By the following spring we’d found the boat, the 28’ Bristol Channel Cutter we still own, adopted a beagle, and began the cruising prep in earnest. 

Toby the boat beagle

Toby the boat beagle

It was decided. A 2-year cruise was what we could swing, we thought, based on a pulled-from-thin air budget of $1000 a month. Our destination? The Bahamas and the Eastern Caribbean, though the idea of a Caribbean circumnavigation was entertained more than once. Every instant was spent talking about the boat, working on the boat, or discussing the cruise. Was there anything other than the future?

 

Cruising prep involves a lot of projects, a lot of lists, and a lot of learning. I remember certain moments about those 3 years, but mostly I remember worrying about what was next. A project was finished (putting the head on the boat, building the galley) and immediately the next one started. Enjoy the process? Who has time to do that, when the TO DO list was longer than I am tall. I think I took maybe 3 pictures the whole time, mostly of the mess or of the dog curled up in some corner.

 

Questions swirled. Would we be able to get the finished dinghy out of the room it was being built in? How would the dog do on the boat? What would life be like in such a small space? How could I cook aboard? Could I get tired of beaches? What actually do you do on a boat all day?

 

The next three years flew by in a blur of endless boat work and more endless driving (my commute was 70 miles each way, and we carpooled together to save money), and on September 10, 1994, we slipped under the Kemah bridge and into Galveston Bay with enough gear on board to put us down an extra 2 inches on our lines, towing that dinghy (it came out of the room!) and followed by a few friends on their own boats cheering us on as we headed off for our adventure.

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I found one of the log books we kept during that first cruise, a map-decorated hardbound journal. Here are some of the entries.

 

July. We leave in 2 months to go cruising. It’s starting to be real. We’re prepping now – we’ll really be cruising once we leave the dock.

October 10: One month in. We need to find a place to tuck the boat while we head back to Houston for an appointment. When we get back from that, we’ll really be cruising.

November 25: Thanksgiving tied to the dock at Dotty and Waldy’s, finishing up the dinghy seats. They loaned us a car for easy provisioning. Next stop, the Dry Tortugas. When we get there, we’ll really be cruising.

December 25: What a crappy Christmas. It's dumping rain and howling wind. We're all alone in the anchorage, with canned ham, canned peas, and canned potatoes for Christmas dinner. We leave for the Bahamas tomorrow. I can’t wait to really be cruising.

May 1: We leave for Rum Cay tomorrow, then on to the Turks and Caicos. I think this is where we really start cruising, when we leave the Bahamas. I wonder who we’ll see there.

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When I re-read logs from the first year, the “we’ll really be cruising when . . .” line is repeated over and over again. It almost makes me sad to go back and read it. Not for the adventures and mishaps that are chronicled, and not even for the sense of nostalgia as I read the words written by 24 year old me. But the constant looking ahead, FOMO even then. That was a lifetime ago. Have I learned anything since then?

How much cruising, how much life, did I miss wondering when it was going to start?

 

We are less than 2 years out from our next cruise, this time with a timeline of  “as long as it’s fun.” There are lots of projects. Incredible lists that now have titles like “selling the house” and “getting the kids settled in college” and “MUST DO BEFORE WE LEAVE”. The learning feels just as steep, though a few of the worries are just not there any more. There’s no dinghy being built in a spare bedroom, no concerns about “what do you do out there all day?”

 

I’m trying to be present, to focus on what’s happening now. I know that this part, the prep part, is as valuable and as valid a part of cruising as any of those perfect sunsets or incredible beach walks.

 

It’s all cruising. No waiting required.

 

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