January 27, 2012

Gung Haggis Fat Australia Day

The cockroach that won the race was accused of being on steroids: An accusation that didn’t seem to go against any of the event’s rules. Flying is a no-no (and as anyone who lives on a boat can tell you, these buggers can really get some air) but steroids, apparently, are cool.
pipers piping in the roaches
random Aussie teaching us the rules
  After two cockroach races, a go at dunking a random Aussie in the dunk tank, and leaving a few dollars at the bar it was time to head back to Totem and continue with our day’s events. For Australians—it was Australia Day. But for our wandering band of nomads it was Gung Haggis Fat Australia Day—a combination of Australia Day, the Chinese Lunar New Year and Robbie Burns Day (Lord Selkirk entertained Robbie Burns at his mansion back in the day and when Burns was asked to say grace before a meal, he composed the Selkirk Grace, which is recited to this day at Burns suppers. This, for us, has always been reason enough to celebrate. Well that and Scotch.)

So the kids decorated, and Behan and I cooked, and Jamie and Evan kept our glasses filled. And our makeshift holiday of poetry reading, fortune cookies and steroid-pumped cockroaches began to feel like something meaningful and real. Instead of Haggis we had Kanga Bangers. And rather than a Tipsy Laird for dessert (trifle) we opted for Pavlova. And we made plans to celebrate again next year—yes, next year. Evan has accepted a job and it seems Australia will be home for a while.

Jamie and Emanuelle from Merlin
 As we dinghied home from Totem--rounding Kangaroo point and then watching the necklace of lights on the Story Bridge give way to the cityscape--I realized this will be the forth country the three of us have lived in.

I’m not sure when you make the transition from visitor to living in a place—especially in a foreign country, where every time you feel like you start to understand it, something weird happens—like cockroach races. But as we made our way up the river toward our boat, the realization that I live here sort of snuck up on me. 

I’m coming to see the idea of home as a mosaic—a montage of inspiration, and people you love, and celebrations you adopt that goes beyond place. It’s the life you create when the sum of its parts are greater than the place you are. Home is also everything you bring with you and all you’ve ever been—except cockroaches.

Happy Gung Haggis Fat Australia Day.

January 20, 2012

Safety at City

“So you’re giving it up.” The comment came from someone we know and seemed to be heavily laden with relief.
The topic was cruising.
I explained that no—we’re not quitting, but if the chance came for us to stay in Oz and work for a while we’d take it.
“But you’ll move ashore and Maia will go to school?”
Not exactly.

I can tell many people are sceptical about our ability to childproof our chosen lifestyle. Hurricanes, tidal waves, mosquito borne viruses, stinging jellyfish, third world sanitation, uncertain medical care and horror of horrors, home schooling. The list of perils seems endless and, the inference is, it’s irresponsible to expose an innocent child to them.

I pretty sure it’s not really that dangerous to cruise, it’s simply the exotic nature of the risks that accentuates them. Hurricanes, for example, are pretty predictable and sailors have a far better chance of avoiding them than a Floridian homeowner does. We protect against jellyfish stings by wearing a rash guard. And by not eating unwashed fruit and veggies, practicing good hygiene and drinking our own water we can avoid a whole range of ills.

And then there are benefits of life aboard. Nothing can beat the education that comes from in depth exposure to different cultures, or match the level of self-confidence that Maia has developed by working beside us to accomplish various tasks. And I’ve tried to explain the connection that Maia has to the natural world; that she understands the role she plays in the greater ecosystem and can also identify a whole bunch of weird creatures.

But each point can be countered. Endless travel through new cultures could leave her unrooted and friendless. Too much time with her parents might make her weird. Too many hours outside will leave her unprepared to navigate the wilds of a mall. And she could fall overboard during a storm.

Occasionally, I do try to describe the beauty of it all: Slipping into a foreign country at first light; Arriving as ancient seafarers did, the land slowly revealing her secrets as the boat ghosts unnoticed into a silent harbour. Will children rush down to the beach and welcome us warmly? Will a stroll through the village market expose us to foods we’ve never seen before? Will hiking the trails in the hills behind town lead to hidden ruins, friendly locals, or awesome vistas?

Until now all I’ve been able to do is tell those who ask that this life is the best gift I know to give my daughter. And try not to absorb their doubts and fears.
But then we rejoined civilization.
 Charlie the Cat fell overboard within 48 hours of being back aboard.
We don’t know what he was doing or how he did it—he just startled Evan by coming through the hatch sopping wet late one night. Lucky for him (and us) he made his discovery that the boat has a moat around it while the current was near slack. If it had been running at it peak (upward of 4 knots), his swim may have been a much bigger adventure…

Charlie falling in made me think what could happen if Maia fell in.
swinging over the river is a favourite activity
 She’s a strong swimmer but living on pile moorings on a fast moving, murky river that has loads of traffic, and more than a few underwater hazards means we have a few new safety considerations to take into account.

And it’s not just the river. Somehow two and a half years of sailing have turned my urban child into one of those clueless kids who is oblivious to cars. And when she does think to look, it’s inevitable that she looks the wrong way. Then there are the bike paths, where--like cars on the street--the bikes go the wrong direction and Maia is forever darting in front of them. And cars—do you know how unsafe those things are to ride in?

It’s now occurred to me that sailing across an ocean might actually have been the safest part of this trip. And as we settle into Brisbane, and have to make an active effort to keep our kid from doing herself in, I realize it’s this civilization that thing comes with the biggest risks…

January 19, 2012

Gung Hay Fat Choy—Aussie Style

I’m not sure when it happened, but somewhere along the way the Chinese New Year supplanted the regular New Year in terms of significance for Maia. Obviously we’re not an Asian family, but life in Vancouver exposed our daughter to bubble tea, Buddhist Temples and lion dances with the same frequency she experienced the Easter Bunny and Valentines.

By the time she was in school she had learned many different Lunar New Year traditions, and it never occurred to her not to adopt them as her own. When her friends were getting new brocade Cheongsam dresses for New Years Maia wanted one too. When the red envelopes were handed out she accepted them with joy.

And because I live with her, I was the recipient of many detailed directions on how to properly celebrate. I learned to clean my house before New Years (to sweep away bad luck), and to plan a big dinner (although we have been known to throw in a bit of Robbie Burns poetry with our egg rolls…), and to give out Lai See--red envelopes with chocolate to the children of friends.

The Year of the Dragon starts on Monday. And while the Year of the Rabbit went quite nicely for us—it’s intriguing to contemplate heading into a powerful year that is marked by excitement, exhilaration and intensity, while being unpredictable and having a strong water focus.
To celebrate the start of the two week festival of Spring (well at least it'll be Spring somewhere) we headed to Brisbane’s Chinatown Mall--which really did turn out to be just an outdoor mall with a few Asian restaurants and a couple of discount shops. We did find a tasty Dim Sum/ Yum Cha and a lion dance though, and stocked up on a few necessities for our upcoming Gung Haggis Fat Choy dinner.
 So bring on the Dragon.

January 18, 2012

Under 30 Cruising Club Reunion

We were right there. I point out to sea for Maia—showing her where our boat sailed down the coast just six weeks ago. Do you remember what a nice spinnaker run that was
Evan looked at me oddly—waxing nostalgically for a sail that was less than two months ago was odd—even for me.

 But we were walking on the beach with friends from a boat called Mangoe who we hadn’t seen in 15-years. The last time we saw them was… Well that was the thing. None of us could exactly recall the last time we were together. Maybe La Cruz, maybe Barra, maybe somewhere else. And as we reminisced over our escapades we realized we couldn’t really come up with any shared memories.

“We formed the under 30 cruising club—I remember that one night, it was on your boat,” Stephanie said. And we had. The handful of us that were under 30 on under 30’ boats formed a club—we had to stay up past midnight at least twice a month, couldn’t play dominos and I’m guessing we might have imbibed in alcohol—thus the fuzzy dream-like memories.

 But they are good fuzzy. Stephanie, who is a vet, helped save our cat Travis’s life—twice. And Todd played the guitar—or maybe it was drums. And I remember beach bonfires, and potlucks, and bus trips, and dinners—or maybe I just recall looking at the photos of those activities in the years that followed.

And then they sailed to the South Pacific, and we went through the Canal. And letters were mailed that told about the first three of four babies born in New Zealand (theirs), and one born in Annapolis (ours) and gradually we lost touch.

Then two years ago we found each other again. And we discovered that all though we might not recall specifics we recalled the pleasure of knowing each other.
 Mangoe has always been part of the story of our first cruise. And Ceilydh stayed such a nice part of their life that there is now a little Ceilyh in their family, who is three, and who Maia adores (the older three were at camp).

 Those early adventures together may feel more like dreams than something real now, but as we sat on the beach (now part of the under 50 cruising club—thanks for that observation Todd!!) and watched the kids play I realized that maybe it’s okay when memories merge and then slip away. There is a knowing that comes from having shared something special: A sureness that is more tangible and has even more depth than a dreamy memory.

January 14, 2012

Hello, Goodbye

last, for now, dinghy ride home from our boat
It was a week of final moments: C4’s as they said goodbye to the boat that carried them safely from Turkey, ours as we squeezed in one last outing, one last dinner, one last moment with this family we’ve grown to love so much.

None of it was easy. And as I held my sad daughter tight she explained that all the goodbyes were just too hard—and I wondered again what kind of life we’ve set her up for--where friendships grow strong, and deep, and integral only to abruptly change as we all move on.

Goodbyes are hard, I whispered into her hair as I held her, searching for words of comfort. Telling her we’ll meet again, wouldn’t really help fill the gap that is left when you spend everyday, for months on end with someone. Reminding her we have memories and photos, can’t replace the voice on the other side of the radio when you call for someone to play with.

It’s okay to be sad, was all I could tell her. I’m sad too. And I’m really, really tired of saying goodbye.

On our first trip I abruptly realized something one day. We had been lucky enough to meet a couple we just knew would always be our friends. There was that sense of sureness and depth that made it clear there was no other option—but the day came when we needed to say goodbye. And we didn’t know when, or how, or where we’d see each other again. And my heart ached in a way I didn’t want to feel.

I knew then that when we stopped cruising it wouldn’t be because of money running out, or my fear running over, it would be because the pain of ‘goodbye’ had finally outweighed the excitement of ‘what’s next?’.

We’re tired of endings.
Tired of counting down days until planes fly away.
Tired of trying to fit every moment in –because that last moment is too close.
Tired of the heartbreak of goodbye.

 We needed a hello. And as C4’s plane was touching down in Adelaide and they returned to their old life, we were saying hello to Totem—and tying up their dock lines. Looking at each other in disbelief.

 22 months ago we cast Behan, Jamie, Niall, Mairen and Siobhan off from Mexico. We promised to catch up with them and meet here—so we could be neighbours again.
the last time the girls played together they were 5, 7 and 8--and they haven't missed a beat
nor have the grown-ups...
  There are friends who you just know will always be your friends. People who months or years after you say goodbye can sit in your home and pick-up a conversation like it was yesterday. Friends where it all seems easy—where they know you, and you know them, and being together feels like you’ve come home.
exploring our new home together
 We’re done with goodbyes for a while. We’re ready to build a community—with potlucks and quiet dinners, long walks and new adventures.

“Hello is a beautiful word,” Maia told me.
That it is.

January 12, 2012

Cost of Bringing a Cat to Australia

The ugly numbers are below.  If you bring the cat in by boat you have 2 choices:

(a) keep the boat at anchor or on a mooring always while in Australia. Boat is never allowed to go to a marina. Quarantine officers will regularly check out the boat to see if kitty is aboard AND boat is locked up with hatches closed if you are not aboard.. They don't say how regularly, but maybe 1 visit / week or so.  At $180/hr, it wouldn't take long for costs to mount up... And it might be nice to visit a marina or haulout sometime.

(b) put cat in quarantine upon arrival. Only East Coast quarantine station is in Sydney so you might have to make arrangements to get the cat there at hideous extra cost. If you visit some Pacific Islands (I think Cook I and Samoa are on the 'bad' country list,) quarantine time increases to 60 days.  If you are like us and left from Mexico, you have to have the cat rabies vaxed and tested in the US, a not inconsiderable hassle. They won't accept Mexican rabies test results.  Heck they wouldn't accept Canadian rabies test results. The blood went to a US lab.

So we opted to send Cat back to Canada to live with my parents for 11 months, and did paperwork and testing from there, and flew him to Sydney where he was in solitary for 30 days. I flew from Brisbane to Sydney at an unspeakable hour to get him.  Hope you like your cat Maia and Diane!

Fly cat PV to Vancouver 100

Vet Fees, Canada, govt vet  379
Vet Fees, Canada, private vet 339

Air Canada Cargo, Vancouver to Sydney 400

Lodgement Fee 85
Assement Fee 240
Quarantine Entry 15
Document Clearance 40
Vet Exam 80
Kennel 870


Optional Extras
Taxis, to/from Brisbane airport 100
Flight to/from Sydney 213
Cat cargo fee, Sydney to Brisbane 55
Rental car, fuel, meals 100

Grande Total 2916

January 9, 2012

Wild Life

It starts before we even wake—Kookaburras singing to us in our slumbers. A surreal mix of laughter and gum trees superimposed on sailing dreams that were brought on by our hulls rocking in the morning ferry wake. Then the cockatoos start screeching and when our rig starts shaking, “let go of the wind instrument! you! freaking! bird!” we know that morning has broken.
 We live in the city: strung between pilings in the fast moving, murky current. Part of a floating community that’s not quite wild and not quite urban but dares not swim, or fall in, because of the sharks.
 Well we’re on the edge of the city—a few hundred meters from high rises and pavement. Eleven miles upstream from the ocean. But even here we have new and fantastical creatures to amuse us. And not just the people. Though the Aussie people… That’s a future post.

The urban wildlife here is probably not unlike our wildlife at home. In Vancouver we had a family of racoons living in our porch overhang, coyotes roaming the neighbourhood, and during mating season sex-stupid skunks wandered willy-nilly until they found love or were flattened. And we had squirrels. It always made me laugh how often the tourists would photograph the squirrels.
 Here we are intrigued when the ibises try to steal lunch from us when we picnic in the park. And we were awed when the Water Dragons fight the ibises for a bite of whatever they managed to steal. And we’re captivated by the Brush Turkeys, and spiders. No, we’re scared of the spiders. 
 And as the sun sets the Flying Foxes fill the sky overhead. Improbable in their great size-and in their bat-ness. Improbable as they take roost in the trees beside the city. And when we walk—quietly on the paths that line both sides of the river and wind around the bends to the suburbs—the Brushtail Possums startle me with their cuteness.
I like the animals here. I like the way their strange names role off my tongue, conjuring up childhood songs. I like the way they shift from something that was make believe and imagined into something real.

January 1, 2012

First Day

 Several years ago we were woken early by our marina neighbours who were taking their boat out for a sail on New Years day. When we asked them what exactly about the wet, blustery day made them want to go sailing they explained that the way you ring in the new year is an indication of how your year will go. And that you should try to do the things you love best, and experience the kind of moments you want filling your life, as the year gets off to a start. “It’s better than a resolution,” they told us “It’s a promise to yourself.”
Brisbane New Year--good friends, good food, laughter...
Since then we always try to put a little thought into the First Day. Rarely are we ambitious enough to head out for a sail or do anything requiring too much mental or physical acuity (and this year was no exception…) but we do try to hit a few high points.
Rona Street Parklands--one of our neighbourhood parks
 Family time—without exception, is important: just a few hours of being a wee family of three, of giggling, and being amazed by us as a team. And then we try to strikeout with good friends on an adventure.
 Adventures don’t need to be huge, or dangerous, or even involve oceans, and this year we simply headed off in search of a park we hadn’t visited yet and meandered down the sunny paths, admiring the gardens and chatting about nothing much while the kids skated circles around us.
It was a gentle start to a new year that I hope will be filled with dear friends, adventures, good health and happy moments together.The rest really is extra.

And you? That dream you’ve been holding onto? Make this year you make steps toward living it. Use these first days to make a promise to yourself to live richly and fully.
Make it an amazing year!