Sunday, February 22, 2015

Is it worth it?

“I miss Elizabeth, Mom.”  

She’d only been gone for one day and one night, yet her little brother was feeling the immense void.  We all were.  But I think he was missing her the most, and I couldn’t have been more thrilled.  I don’t like to see my kids sad, no parent does, but this sadness, this loneliness, this unrest told me a lot about my kids.  Just a few days ago, I wondered where I’d gone wrong as a parent as I found myself continuously wearing my police officer hat.  It was one of the many mornings when they couldn’t even walk past each other without poking or antagonizing the other.  As the annoyances escalated, the reactions escalated, and I was ready to throw them both overboard.  (Mom and Dad, I know, this is all payback for those never ending car trips during which my siblings and I drove you both absolutely bananas and caused Dad to pull the car over more than once.  I can’t apologize enough, really.  We were monsters.)

My dad's last name could have easily been
 Griswold or Clampett in a former life!
When I was a kid, we didn’t live on a boat, but we were road trippers.  Family vacations weren’t  often spent on beaches or at destination vacation spots, but at extended families’ homes piled up in sleeping bags on their living room floor.  We couldn’t afford resorts or plane tickets, but that didn’t deter my parents.  Family time was made a priority, and as I look back on those hours and hours of road time jammed in a backseat with my brother and sister, I really admire my parents for making it happen.  

Mom and Dad would wake us up before the sun was up, drag us all to the car in our pjs, and drive…forever.  Our station wagon would be loaded to the brim with all of our “stuff”, and on occasion was even known to have a storage box mounted on top of the roof, forcing the back fender to sink only inches from the pavement.  

My siblings and I would start squabbling even before the engine was started as we jockeyed for space in the back seat.  Poor Lisa, the youngest, was always forced to sit in the middle with the “hump” between her feet and nowhere to lie down.  Satisfied with our territorial claims, my brother and I would cunningly grin and prop our pillows up on the windows to fall back to sleep, all the while shoving our sister’s bobbing head off of our shoulders, lest she dare feel inclined to lean our way.  (Yes, we were monsters.)

But somewhere between the “Mom, he’s touching me.  Dad, how much longer?  I’m bored.  He’s  in my space.  I’m hungry.” and the license plate ABC hunt or family sing-a-long, something magical happened.  Memories were made.  Bonds formed.  Sibling rivalry turned into camaraderie.

When Mark and I were planning this live-aboard lifestyle three years ago (well, back then it was deemed an adventure, but has evolved into more of a lifestyle) one of the main motivators was time together.  Back then, we were living on a full schedule with dozens of agendas, events, opportunities, and just things that needed our time and attention.  Sure, we had family time - camping trips a few times each summer, car time going from A to B, and even dates every now and then. We did our best to make family time a priority.  Somehow, though, life has a way of pushing its way into those good intentions. Its shoulders shoving things like balance, rest, quality, and relationships out of the way to make room for progress and expectations and norms. 

Was moving aboard a boat and sailing away the answer to this struggle, though?  For us, it was.  I haven’t always felt that way, the initial transitions to smaller space and life together full time was hard.  Where Mark and I had been absolutely independent of each other, we found our every decision effecting the other.  Suddenly, my domain (the home front) was no longer my own and he had to figure out how to become part of home life without defaulting to his CEO tendencies! :)  

Our kids went through much of the same thing.  Up until we moved aboard, they lived much of their lives apart - different classes, different activities, different bedrooms.  Then, Mom and Dad woke them up and essentially plopped them into the backseat of a crowded ‘station wagon’ all in the name of family time.  

They’ve had to figure it out.  They’ve fought and cried and struggled for their own space.  But the bond that has formed in the midst of all of it is beautiful.  It is worth it.  It has brought me to a place of wonder and relief to see them know each other so deeply.  We haven’t ruined them.  We aren’t completely crazy.  

It was right for us to take the leap and give up what we knew for the sake of what could be.   

While Elizabeth was away at camp last week, there were so many times when Michael would find something cool or want to show someone something he’d learned, and his knee-jerk reaction would be, “Hey, Elizabeth, come here!”  

It broke my heart and filled my heart all at the same time.  Does that even make sense?  

Then, the first night Elizabeth was gone, Michael really wanted to sleep in her bed because he “missed her being there at night.”  When I asked Elizabeth the next day if he could sleep in her bed and told her why he wanted to, she smiled the sweetest smile.  She was missed and she missed him, too.  

“Of course,” she said, “it must be quiet in there at night without me to talk to.”

Seriously, were these the same siblings who had been poking and prodding each other just the week before?  Do they realize how close they’ve become?  I feel so privileged to see them forming a special sibling bond that I remember from when I was a kid - like a secret club, with secret looks and language that emerge with time together in a crowded backseat.  

My brother, sister and I used to delight in having a world all our own that we thought Mom and Dad weren’t even aware existed.  But now, as I watch my own children swapping secret glances at dinner or giggling uncontrollably at who-knows-what, I realize that my parents were aware all along.  I imagine them, like Mark and I do now, swapping secret glances or giggling uncontrollably once the kids have gone to bed, delighting in the relationships that were growing and the bonds that were forming between their kids through the family time together that they’d fought to create.  

It’s worth the fight, the struggle, the sacrifice, the uncertainty.  It is.  

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Dive-Bombers, Giants, and Reeking Cisterns - NZ Learning Continues...

Who knew we'd become bird watchers??

From the graceful Bermuda Longtails to the clumsy Blue-footed Boobies of the Galapagos, we have been fascinated by the varied and unique bird life we’ve encountered.  I never thought I’d be a birdwatcher, but the moment I hear a clear, lilting call or see a shadow swooping across the sails, I scurry up on deck to get a better view and holler to one of the kids to grab the bird book and binoculars.  We’ve learned to look for certain characteristics that help to classify birds - tail shape, wing design, prominent coloring or marking, beak shape, and even the way that they fly through the air.  We’re not great at identifying a bird from it’s call yet, although some are hard to miss - like the Tui’s long melodic song here in New Zealand or the loud squawk of the greedy seagulls fighting over a crust of bread outside our galley window.


Striking markings on head, lining wings,
and around the eyes and beak
The birds we’ve seen in New Zealand don’t disappoint - colorful Rosellas, a Quail trailed by its puffy chicks, curious Kea, the red-beaked Pūkeko, the elusive Kiwi, and the robust Wood Pigeon.  Check out these and many other New Zealand birds by clicking here.  But none is as mesmerizing to us as the glorious Gannet.  Recently, we took a trip to the west coast of the North Island to observe a bustling Gannet colony

Gannet colony on New Zealand's western shoreline

The flat tops of the shoreline cliffs were covered with nesting birds spaced apart like their nest areas were assigned by a zoning committee.  A closer look revealed fluffy white chicks, barely able to hobble around, juveniles with black, speckled feathers that contrasted their parent’s bright white plumage, and territorial adults nipping at any neighbor who dared get too close to their plot.  

Territorial squabbles - this guy landed in the wrong place! 

Younger Gannet chick (bottom left) and Juvenile chick (top right) with their mothers

With a wing span of 5-6 feet, a few Gannets soared gracefully over the bustling community to look for trouble or to find a place they could land without upsetting the neighbors.  Others would scan the water, spot a fish, and dive straight into the water like a rocket, reminiscent of the Boobies we saw in the Galapagos (turns out they are closely related to one another).

Such grace and beauty soaring on the updrafts from the cliffs.  They provide
the perfect lift for young birds taking their first flights.

Gannets are beautiful flyers and impressive divers, but the minute they put down their landing gear, they turn into absolute klutzes, fumbling and flopping all over the place before finally balancing to stand upright.  

Yes, I'm talking about you.
The viewing area was well marked with signage about the birds’ migration to Australia and how they communicate with one another.  No textbook needed for this lesson!  But a quick look online when we got back to the boat helped us to find even more interesting facts about these giants of the sky.  They have many unusual characteristics which help them survive - like bubble wrap and binoculars!  Read more about them here (and make sure you check out the photo in the bottom right of the webpage - that’s where we were!) Learning surrounded us as we observed this feathered community.

Can you imagine the rings on this tree stump?
Michael tried to count, but finally just hopped inside!

"Father of the Forest"


Another giant of which New Zealand can boast are the massive kauri trees.  It is these mammoth trees (some over 2,000 years old) that were used by the Māori to construct the sturdy war canoes, called wakas.  At the Treaty Grounds on our previous field trip, Michael had sat in the center of the stump which was salvaged after the felling of the Kauri tree used to build the waka on display.  We wanted to see these trees up close and personal in order to really get an idea of just how giant they actually are.  So, we drove west once again, to see a living kauri tree in the Waipoua Forest.  

"Lord of the Forest"

A short hike through the forest brought us to ‘The Lord of the Forest’, a tree whose first branches grow nearly 18 meters from the ground and whose diameter is 4.4 meters (that's over 14 feet wide!).  A short drive and another trail led us up to ‘The Father of the Forest’, a tree estimated to be over 2,500 years old.  Along the same path, we encountered ‘The Four Sisters’, four trees that are thought to have grown from four seeds of the same tree.  They seem to stand in defense, huddled with their backs together and all of their branches facing outward.  The roots of the kauri trees are susceptible to kauri dieback disease, a disease caused by spores carried in soil.  To protect and preserve these trees, conservation groups have set up shoe-cleaning stations at the beginning of many trails and the Department of Conservation maintain raised wooden walking paths.  The kauri forest field trip offered lessons in botany, conservation, measurements, and even a bit of Maori mythology.  

Legs like tree trunks.  Kauri features in a northern version of the creation story of Ranginui, the sky father, and Papatūānuku, the earth mother. At the beginning of time Rangi and Papa clung together, trapping their children in the darkness between them. The strongest child, Tāne Mahuta (the god of the forest), pressed his shoulders against his mother and pushed upwards with his powerful legs, separating his parents and allowing light to enter and bring life to the world. Some northern Māori tribes say that his legs were the trunks of giant kauri trees. 

"The Four Sisters"

Reeking Rest

"The Doctor" to cure what ails you.
All this sightseeing led us to seek out some rest in this next outing, the Waiariki Pools in Ngawha Springs .  A very rugged collection of hot mineral pools of varying temperatures to soothe the body and soul.  For less than $10, all four of us enjoyed the bubbly mineral-rich baths.  The kids were intrigued by the colors of the water in the different pools - cloudy blue, muddy gray, and a few looked like they were filled with oil!  The cause of the varied colors connected perfectly to our recent science unit about rocks and minerals.  Fancy that!  The minerals and elements found underground determine the color, clarity, and even smell of the water-  sulfur, ammonia, bicarbonate, boron and mercury create bubbly concoctions to relieve muscle tension and skin irritations.  

This place was nothing like the spas I’ve been to before.  There were no tiles lining the pools, no showers with fancy-smelling shampoos, no fluffy robes or massaging slippers, no lounge areas with cucumber infused ice water, but this place had character and charm.  I felt like we were literally in someone’s backyard who’d just been digging a hole one day and suddenly, up bubbled some hot, stinky water.  And in true entrepreneurial spirit, he called his mates over, handed them shovels, hauled in some railroad ties, and up bubbled a business!  The look of the place didn’t phase us, though.  We simmered and soaked till we were well done.  For the rest of the day, we all smelled like rotten eggs, but, ahh, we were relaxed.

Boat-schooling is tough!  But this is my kind of field trip!
Or... isn't it time for a teacher inservice day???
Doesn't it make you want to slip right in??

This month, the kids will be enrolled as guests in the local primary school in order to get a peer/classroom experience.  Uniforms are pressed and school supplies are packed!  Field Trip will be cozying up to a dock and taking a breather, while Mark and I focus on getting her cleaned up and hunker down on some things we’ve been working on.  That means there won’t be much cruising or too many field trips going on around here, but the journey continues…


Thursday, February 5, 2015

Let's Go Learn!

Our Field Trip class of International Boatschoolers! English, Kiwi, and American students.  

New Zealand's Northland Field Trips - Part One

Between book reports, irregular plurals, and long division, we somehow managed to get off the boat for a few field trips.  In fact, New Zealand offers so many learning opportunities that we’ve found it hard to buckle down and maintain our core curriculum.  Who wants to do school inside at the salon table when we could be walking through a cave or exploring hobbit holes?  So, true to our name, we set out on a few learning expeditions.  After all, students just want to have fun, too!  (check out my previous blog post)

Kawiti Glowworm Caves

Near Kawakawa, we were lured to the Kawiti Caves , where glowworms can be seen twinkling like stars in the Milky Way on the ceiling above us.  As we were led along the wooden walkways between stalactites and stalagmites, the guide told us about the life cycle of the worms and how they dangle sticky lines to catch insects that fly into the cave, attracted by the lights they emit.  Turns out, the hungrier the worms are, the brighter their light.

At one point, with lanterns turned off, in complete darkness, the kids gazed up at the cave ceilings, dotted with green, glowing worms to play connect-the-dots.  “I see a unicorn!  Look! A wine glass!”  Of course, because it was pitch black, no one could see where anyone was pointing, but that didn’t stop the fun! Who knew we’d have a creative art class in the middle of the dark?  Can’t get that sitting at the salon table!  For this trip and the next, I did make an activity sheet for them to complete back at home.  Nothing fancy, but I wanted to ensure that we covered certain learning objectives through this experience - this is school, after all.  

Our glowworm hunters at the mouth of the Kawiti Caves
A tree integrated into the design

Hundertwasser Toilets

We’d continue our creative art learning in the town center of Kawakawa.  Our goal?  To check out the toilets.  Yes, toilets.  A German artist, Frederick Hundertwasser, visited New Zealand and decided that it needed a beautiful throne.  His reasoning was that “…a toilet is very special because you meditate in a toilet. Like a church.”  He was quite the colorful character who lived a very interesting life and died an interesting death.  This was a tourist attraction that could not be missed.  

Toilet Design presentations 

Finding a matching handprint on a mural as we walked through town.

After finding all of the up-cycled materials that were used to create the artsy loo, the kids worked together to imagine how they would design a toilet.  Michael and his buddy dreamt up a treehouse toilet. (Don’t stand under those branches for shade on a hot sunny day!)  Elizabeth and her group created a floating toilet with portholes. (What else could we possibly expect from boat kids?) There was plenty of potty humor being passed around, and we all had a good laugh.  

Waitangi Treaty Grounds

For New Zealand history, we headed just up the road from Opua to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds.  This was where a treaty was signed between the British and the Māori people to work together and compromise as the British moved in to settle on Māori land.  On their website, we found great educational resources and even links to videos on youtube produced by local schoolchildren to explain the relevance of the treaty today.  During their first day at the local primary school, the kids discussed the treaty, and today is a national holiday to commemorate this important event in New Zealand's history.  

Also on the treaty grounds, sat two impressive war canoes, called waka.  Later, we would see forests of the enormous trees that were used in their construction.  Today at the Waiting Day Celebration, these waka will be ceremoniously hauled into the water and paddled by local Māori men.     

Their canoes had from eighteen to twenty-two men in them, and were adorned with fine heads made out of a thick board, cut through like fillagree work, in spirals of very curious workmanship. At the end of this was a head with two large eyes of mother-of-pearl, and a large heart-shaped tongue. This figure went round the bottom of the board, and had feet and hands carved into it very neatly, and painted red. They had also high-peaked sterns, wrought in fillagree, and adorned with feathers, from the top of which depended two long streamers, made of feathers, which almost reached the water (Parkinson, cited in Elsdon Best, The Māori Canoe. Dominion Museum, Wellington. 1925:53)    

A favorite portion of the tour was a Maori performance of the Haka and Poi. Inside an intricately carved wooden meeting house, we sat mesmerized by echoing music, thrusting spears, warrior chants, and twirling poi.  No video was allowed in this sacred place, but here is an example of these cultural shows I found online.

A Motley Māori Crew!
Our next set of field trips will take us a bit further away from our boat - to dive-bombers on the west coast, giants in the forest, and reeking cisterns.  Stay tuned!