Thursday, December 31, 2009

Savoring The New Year

I was going to sit at the keyboard and write of something everyday... like our new settee cushions... when the calendar hanging on the wall screamed at me -- it's New Year's Eve! Holy cow, where did the time go?

Maybe it's from having an only child, or perhaps from being smack in the middle of that cosmic tide dance, or maybe it's just my sentimental nature, but I always have a keen sense of passing time. I feel it, I watch it, I taste it, I float above and observe it in slow motion. I am always aware of it.

That's why I want to stay home and learn from my boy while he learns from me. That's why I choose to live this life where the heater has to be turned off to use the toaster. That's why our family slumbers together in a puppy pile of breathy oneness. That's why we spend each hour of each day without a TV in our home. It's because I want to savor every moment, inhale the now, embrace the here. I am so grateful for each minute in this big, amazing, diverse, ever changing world that the idea of a whole new year fills me with excitement.

Here's to new horizons, uncharted waters, unexplored islands, curious minds, open hearts, endless sunshine, cozy candlelight, dancing feet, starry nights, joyful squeals, little hands, big smiles, backwards handwriting, fart jokes, mismatching shoes, big dreams, little pleasures, luminescent wakes, dark chocolate, friends old and new, funky socks, following seas, secluded anchorages, wind in our sails, love in our hearts, and this great big beautiful planet we get another year to explore.


p.s. I may be absent for a handful of days, we're heading to the beach with Miss T.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Highs & Lows

Before we moved on to a boat, a friend gave me this piece of advice to chew on, "The highs are very, very high and the lows are very, very low." Little did I know she was also referring to the tidal range. The Chesapeake Bay is not known for its tides, a just few inches up and down. Unless you live on the water like we do and observe the change each day, you probably wouldn't even notice it.

But once in a while the magic combination happens and we're living at the extremes. A nearly full moon + 24 inches of snow rapidly melting with a sudden warming + a steady 24 hour rain + a southerly wind pushing the Atlantic waters up into the Chesapeake Bay = flooding and insanely high tides.

This is what we woke up to.

Yeah, that's a long way down. And the stinger was that a wheel from our boarding ladder fell into the briny deep the day before, so getting on and off the boat was a wobbly endeavor at best.

With the water lapping over the planks, the marina turned off our shore side dock electricity for the day for safety. Normally no big deal as we run primarily on solar power. But we were socked in with fog ALL day (and it was a short day at that) and trying to run our winter heaters, without success. In other words, a long, cold, dark day counting the minutes until low tide.

The funny thing is, these extreme high tides usually happen in summer (when we don't care if we lose power and the sunshine goes on forever.) This time of year we have the opposite... with north winds emptying the Bay and we often wake up down low looking UP at the dock.

I love being able to feel the music of the tides as the sun and moon and earth do their cosmic dance. Perfectly in step, the earth eternally steadfast in holding tight to all things terrestrial. But ocean has a mind of her own, lured in every time, twice a day, reaching, swelling, yearning for the moon.  They tease and flirt. And we mere specks of flesh and blood can do nothing to change that. We just watch in awe of what the power of pure attraction can do. It's true this life has a lot of highs and lows. But if you can feel that universal rhythm, you realize that you just need to adjust the lines, check on your loved ones, and carry on.

Weeks like this always have me humming that Bob Marley song (so sweetly covered by Jack Johnson and Ben Harper)

In high seas or in low seas
I'm gonna be your friend,
I'm gonna be your friend.
In high tide or in low tide,
I'll be by your side,
I'll be by your side.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Oh No You Didn't

Oh yes we did. Kind of. Sort of. He's 8 weeks old. He's a Boykin Spaniel. And he's a timeshare dock puppy.

You see, Zach's buddy M is only here at the marina weekends to be with her daddy C (who is our good friend and neighbor just a few boats down). C wanted to get a pup, but was worried about taking care of one during the week when he's working and M is at her mom's and at school. We have longed for a dog since our dear Schooner left this world, but we knew we wouldn't want to sail away with one in a couple of years (been there, done that, no thanks, too crazy). And we weren't too sure about getting tied down again as far as travel goes. But we so miss the company of a dog.

The Solution: dog share. Truly it's C's dog. But we get aunty-uncle privileges to play with him all day and pupnap him to our place when M isn't around, and then bring him home to C's boat when we have other things going on. It's truly an ideal arrangement and working smoothly so far.

His name is Bowline (bo-lin, it's a nautical knot). And he's proving to be a very well mannered, sweet, smart little pup. And very curious about our guinea pig Mookie (who is about the same size and completely unafraid of this new little critter).

And the best part is the end of the day, even cooped up indoors in cruddy weather, when boy and pup are both pooped just from the pleasure of each others company.

That's A Wrap

It's a phrase I used all too often when I was working full time before Zach was born, but now I often just think it in my head. (the boy already says "cut", I need to draw the line somewhere) But the other kind of wrapping gives me a secret thrill. I LOVE to wrap gifts. I don't know why. There is something meditative about it for me. When I was a little girl, I loved wrapping so much that my mom would let me wrap all of the holiday gifts - including MY OWN. She trusted me not to peek (and I didn't either) and she knew that the wrapping gave me as much joy as the gift inside.

The only bad thing about wrapping it the wasteful pile that grows next to the tree as the family tears open gift after gift. So over the past several years I've tried to be creative about how we wrap so that I still get my fix without being wasteful.

(1) Cloth Bags. I've collected mine over the years from but you crafty mamas who sew can whip up a drawstring bag in no time. You can also get them on etsy. We have them in all shapes and colors and use them for in-family gift giving so that we have them year after year for birthdays, winter holidays, etc. To me they are even more festive than paper wrap.

(2) Festive Recycling. Of course wrapping a gift in the Sunday comics is nothing new. But around the holidays, I seek out the really pretty stuff. Our local grocery store has a TON of free local newspapers and magazines. And around November and December they all have nice cover shots and nice inside spread of snowmen and trees with lights and santas and the like. These papers are already printed and get tossed into the trash or recycling bin anyhow, so we look through and pick the ones that have good pages to use and bring them home to wrap.

Also, the catalogs we get in the mail. Chinaberry had some beautiful catalogs this holiday season. Music For Little People had a Jan Brett illustration on the cover - score!

Speaking of books -- we usually don't use dust covers on our books because on a boat they just get torn and mildewy and rumpled anyhow - so these get saved for wrapping too. Also, I found a couple of literally falling apart kids Christmas books at Goodwill for 10cents and since they were missing too many pages to be read, we wrapped with them!

(3) Simple Yet Classic. Plain brown paper. Once in a while I have been known to forget my cloth grocery bags at home. And so we have a small collection of paper grocery bags. Plus the craft paper that was used to pad the boxes of some larger items that were shipped to us this year (our new heater, etc). Wrapped up with a beautiful ribbon and something to decorate (like a bell, beeswax ornament, some fresh holly) and it looks gorgeous! (you can see the cloth bags in the pile as well)

Aside from having a colorful little pile of gifts for the family, this was the sum total of our trash and it just went straight in to the recycling bin. (this box is only about as tall as a loaf of bread). Of course we only have one child and we buy small anyhow, but it still felt great!

As much as I love the holidays, I am happy to say for this year, "That's A Wrap."

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Critter Christmas

Blankets usually cover things, conceal them, hide them away. But our unusual, thick blanket of snow uncovered some amazing insights to our local critters. The crisscross of tracks around the marina in all shapes and sizes have been such fun to decipher. It's like a secret decoder ring, revealing what's been wandering around at night. Secrets told in soft, white crystals.

And of course it takes the heart of a child to think what these tracks are looking for. "They're hungry," he worried. "It's so cold and dark and all of the plants are dead. We need to feed them." We started with the classic, cranberry and popcorn strings.

Then a friend offered a recipe for "bird seed glue" - a way of binding the seed together in a safe, edible way.

3/4 C flour
1/2 C water
1 pkg knox gelatin
3 T corn syrup
mix in 4 C of bird seed

We smooshed the mixture into everything from silicon molds to plastic cookie cutters. Pack it in hard, layer some twine in the middle, and then set them out to air dry for a day.

Trudging out in the thigh deep snow (on me!) and following the tracks, we picked a tree that seemed to be in the heart of the animal highway. We left our offerings...

... hoping the shadowy friends who tread so lightly through our whitened world will stop and take their fill.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Winter Solstice

Winter Solstice is our favorite time of the winter holiday season. Over the past 5 years we've slowly developed some family traditions to mark this time.
(reading sun/ light themed books)

(Zach & Daddy making sun bread)

(eating the warm, fresh sun bread with honey comb and other sun fruits. Zach loves the honey comb more than words can say and spends days and days asking if it's honey comb night yet)

(loads of beeswax candles both home made and collected throughout the year. i love the way the smell of beeswax fills the boat)

(suns everywhere!)

(including this beeswax one we made and hung over our winter nature table)

(a new shadow puppet gifted to the family for this darkest night celebration)

(let the shadow puppet show begin! i love seeing how Zach comes up with crazy story lines. this is our friend and neighbor "diver mike" offering to change a zinc on the fox's Nile River ship.)

(Zach and Daddy deep in shadow puppet land)

(and of course Zach had to make a shadow puppet of his own for the show -- a lovable Yeti)

(a fabulous rock that I've been waiting practically all year to give to Zach. I forgot what kind of crystal this is, anyone know? It has a magical way of catching and shining out the light. perfect for winter solstice.)

And signing off with my favorite clip celebrating the light we all seek. Wishing you all light and love! Happy Solstice!

Monday, December 21, 2009

A Winter Day

I am not sure what the snow totals were in our area in exact inches. All I know is it set some records for this neck of the woods. The boy is blissed out. I, frankly, am hoping if I click my heels three times I'll wake up on a tropical island. Here's the problem. Boat life is not a life of convenience. But it's the life we choose and we love it, so I usually don't go in to how cumbersome everyday things can be for us. Like laundry and showers and such. But in the snow, forget it.

We wake up and spend the first hour or so checking everything. What's leaking? What shifted? What froze? (in this case, the port side water filter which I fixed while Doug did dishes).

Then we start getting everything warm and habitable. Crank the heaters, start cooking something, anything. Get everyone into their slippers. Breakfast done, it's time to get clean. Clean is not something we get to do everyday, especially in winter. And here's why. We can't shower aboard the boat because we can't heat the far corners of the boat and that's where the shower/ tub is. Also, the marina shuts off the water in the winter, so we ration water even more than normal, making bathing aboard an absolute no-no until spring. We've been known to keep our shampoo and towels in the trunk of our car in the hopes of catching a shower or bath when over at a play date. So this morning, we decide we NEED to bathe if you know what I mean.
(there is a winch theresomewhere, under Zach's gloved hand. He's sitting on deck which has about 2 feet of snow)

I start packing for the shower. Towels for everyone. Clean clothes for everyone. Our shower caddy with all the required soaps and scrubs. A few little toys for the boy. Next, packing for doing laundry. The laundry rooms are right near the showers, so we can get it all done in one outing. I dump out the coin jar and ask Zach to sort out and count all of the quarters. Decisions are made. We have enough quarters for 2 loads, that means daddy's work clothes and Zach's footy pajamas make the cut, our blanket does not. Oh well, maybe next time. Now the detergent. It's normally stored in the cockpit lockers. Uh-oh. Nobody brought it in last night. I put on a fleece and my boots to check the locker and sure enough, the liquid detergent is now a slushie. No worries, we'll bring it in the shower with us and let us thaw a bit. Ok, laundry bag is packed, shower bags are packed. Now it's time to dress the boy. Fleece everything, warm socks, snow pants, winter coat, hat, gloves (oh when will someone make little gloves that actually fit little hands?!), and boots. Same wardrobe minus the snow pants for mom and dad. And we're off.

It's about the equivalent of one block walk to the laundry/ shower rooms. In the summer, no problem. But now we're laden with baggage and trudging through 24+ inches of snow. The boy wants to stop and roll and jump in every drift while Doug and I strain under the weight of all of the bags. We finally herd him to the shower room, lights on, warm water running plentifully, we're all in our birthday suits and ready for a nice long shower.

"Mommy, I have to poopoo."

I lose the coin toss and so Doug gets to stay in the shower while I get Zach dressed all over again, get me dressed, snow clothes on, and out we go. The toilets are not in the same place as the showers. It's just a few doors down, but a few doors OUTdoors. Duty done, we shower, dress, pack, and trudge over to the laundry room. I sort and load and chat with a neighbor. It's time for the quarters, Zach's favorite job. He plinks them in one by one but the machine won't go. Huh? Return coin, try again, no luck. Upon returning the coins a second time I see the problem. One of the six coins is not a quarter. It's a Franc, old school French currency from who knows where. *sigh* Same size and shape, but the machine doesn't like it. The prospect of walking all the way back to the boat for one quarter makes me want to hibernate for 4 months. But our kind neighbor spots me and laundry proceeds. Basically, by the time we finished showers, 2 loads of laundry, and a meal the sun was getting low in the sky and it was time to think dinner.

We're just one day away from the Solstice, but it truly felt like the shortest day.

Check out this fabulous holiday giveaway at

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Snowed In!

They are calling for 22+ inches with 35+ knot winds.

 (Halloween is still standing and looking mighty festive. The handy, tarp enclosure we rigged around the cockpit is proving no match for this snow though.)

(this is the view through the tarp leading out to our deck and boarding ramp. The drift is higher than Zach)

(my view from inside this morning. dreaming of sunlight.)
The boys are out playing. I am hunkered down with my tea a good book. 

I have lots of dark chocolate and beeswax and all of your warm words and wishes from yesterday's post to keep me warm. Thank you!

Thursday, December 17, 2009


I've had the box since July. But I didn't open it. In fact, I drove back home to the boat from Chicago and immediately stored it out of sight and out of mind in my friend Captain Jeff's basement. But it wasn't out of  mind. It's been there, back there somewhere, I knew the day would come.

It was a dusty old box that had many generations of tape on it with her familiar chicken scratching handwriting cultivated from years of abuse at the hands of nuns who believed that lefties were evil. My son, dying to know what was inside as he shook it up and down and heard metal rattling, managed to decipher the letters and slowly sounded out the first word.

"C- C- OOOO. C-OOOO. K. IH. EH. Mama is that a blend?" I held my breath as I answered. "Yeah baby, I-E together at the end of a word says EEEEE." I was somewhere else. About sounding out age myself. My mind was swirling like the flour in the air as my little hands banged together with glee while she rolled out the dough.

Pull it together. "Cookie? Cookie!!", he squealed with delight. "A box of cookies, open it mama, open it!"
Not now. Not here.

I thanked Captain Jeff for keeping the box all these months and tucked it under my arm as we crunched on the carpet of brown leaves strewn across his lawn. I was ready for the box to come home. But I wasn't sure if I was ready to open it.

It sat again. Tape glistening in the sun out in the cockpit of the boat. It still didn't feel right. But then the rains came, and the box had to come in. And a small space like a boat is too cramped to share with a secret. So without much fanfare, while Zach and Doug were busy reading and I was mid-stream tidying up the boat I reached for the box and tore off the tape. The sound stopped The Amazing Adventures of Edward Tulane mid-sentence.  A little pair of hands found their way on top of mine in a nanosecond as we pulled back the soft flaps of cardboard.

The smell hit me first. Was it the smell of our old house? Or the smell of the metal? Or the smell of holidays being unpacked after an eternity in storage. It made me dizzy, not in a sick sort of way, but in a heady intoxicating way that made the room disappear as I spun through time and space through my nostrils.  The little hands brought me back, and the little voice woke me up. "Are we making cookies? Hooray!! COOKIES!"

The pile of my mom's old cookie cutters stared back at me from inside the box. It was as though she were looking back at me, and I was looking back at me from age 8 or 9 or so. They were bundled all together in a heap, but I knew them. I immediately knew the shapes and curves and even the flecks of rust that were waiting for me. They were the time she and I spent together. They were our hands touching in the floury mass of dough. They were the laughter as I sang songs and liberally poured out heaps of red sprinkles. They were the burned, skinny legs of the reindeer cookies I'd break off and munch when I thought she wasn't looking. They were her way of showing love.

My mom LOVED to be in the kitchen. That woman cooked and baked constantly even while holding down a full time job. She didn't just love to feed her family, she needed to do it. She stayed up nights making soups and lasagnas and berry purees and freezing them for us to eat when she couldn't be home to make it fresh. I guess the fact that I inherited 99% of her looks flip flopped and gave me about 1% of her personality. I can't stand being in the kitchen and I do it just to keep my family going and to bring up my boy in the most well rounded way I know how. But I was spoiled by fresh, home grown, hand made food so my home grown taste constantly wreaks havoc with my loathing of the process. I want all that goodness she gave me, I just don't want to be the one to make it.

But now I'm the mama. And I have the cookie cutters. And I have a little person who needs that goodness. We start to go through the box and sort them out. Zach is busy making the cat battle with the reindeer while I quietly finger the flower, the angel, and the tree. "Mama why are you crying? Did you cut your finger?"

"Mama is just remembering," Doug says softly.

Through the tears I realized the one thing I didn't remember was the recipe. My poor mama would do flip flops in her grave if I grabbed the pre-made sugar cookie blob from the grocery store. So I emailed my step-dad and asked, hoping he had it tucked away with her things somewhere. And as I typed the email I started to wonder how she did it. You see, she never had a mother. Her mama died, right in front of her, when she was 5 years old. She was raised by the maids and sent away to boarding schools. There was no family cookie tradition, no secret recipes passed down, no mother daughter moments for her to reflect upon. She started from scratch with me and often remarked that she believed I was the mother and she was the child because apparently I popped out of her womb acting in charge. Amazing. Amazing that she could come to a new country and in a new language start a new life as a new mama with absolutely no mama memories of her own to draw upon. And she did it with such love and grace.

And some help. The email came back from my step-dad a day later:
"You must be referring to the Butter Confekt cookies that my great-grandmother used to bake...
Here is the recipe.

She could have let the American tradition of baking holiday cookies overwhelm her. She could have tossed out the idea all together as too much of a stretch. She could have fretted at the lack of a recipe or cheated with the store bought dough. But my mama reached out, asked around for help, and got her hands on the best she could. A home made, wholesome, old time recipe passed down from generation to generation - while not in her own family - the family she was making now. And she made it happen.

These cookie cutters are it. I don't have any family heirlooms. I never had any tangible things to remember my mama by at all. But now I have these cookie cutters, and with them the reminder of what I do have. I have her calm, determination to make it work even if I have no idea what I am doing. So my boy and I are going to make cookies. And I may add a dash of salty tears to the butter and flour and sugar. But then his hands will touch mine in the soft dough, and my hand will help push his on the top of the cutters. And he'll pour sprinkles all over and munch off the burned reindeer legs. And the shape of a new generation of memories will form.

5          eggs                             2-¼ C.            sugar
1 lb.     butter                           Grated rind of   lemon
¼ tsp    cream of tartar              7 to 8 C.          flour
½ tsp    salt
Ingredients should be at room temperature.  Cream butter and sugar together.  Add eggs and lemon rind.  Add two or three cups of the flour and then mix cream of tartar into the next cup.  Continue adding flour, changing to hand mixing when the dough gets stiff.  When about 7-1/2 cups have been added, collect the dough together, cover and refrigerate for at least 3 hours.  (It will keep there for several days.)
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