Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Halloween Happiness

Ahava, Samuel and Ziva
Halloween 2011
It has been one week since Halloween and now that the hubbub surrounding the 2012 Presidential Election is dying down, I can finally finish up the blog post I wrote last week. Apologies for the delay, but here's my long, rambling post about why I love Halloween:

Halloween 2012 - Albuquerque, NM
That's it. I have made a major life decision and I'm ready to make it public:

Halloween is my favorite holiday!

On this, the morning after, I have visions of costumed kids dancing in my head. Despite the low-level, post-sugar-high headache, and the frenzied dash to the bus this morning (on what should certainly be a national holiday) I am happy.
Halloween 2011 - McCall's Pumpkin Patch - Moriarty, NM

Halloween 2012 - Moriarty, NM
I thought about this Halloween high late last night after I tucked three tuckered out Trick-or-Treaters into their snuggly beds. I suppose there are plenty of reasons people don't like Halloween. One need only look on Facebook to hear about those; kids not saying "Thank you" or even "Trick or Treat", teenagers showing up with a grocery store plastic bag and no costume, asking for free candy, and the general over-the-top gore factor of some houses (yes, my kids and I steered clear of the house with 3 "zombies" walking around out front with axes and knives in hand). But in my mind those are the exceptions and not what Halloween is about to me.

What Halloween IS about is creativity and community. How could anyone not like that?

Halloween 2006  - Tijeras, NM

Halloween 2012 - Albuquerque, NM

Now, when I say "creativity," I'll admit that in years past, when I was feeling particularly overwhelmed with new babies and an over-worked, traveling husband, I was grateful to have second-hand costumes to throw on my kids. Back then it was a miracle that we even knew it was Halloween. And, it really didn't matter anyway. When they are that little, say between newborn and four, you could put them in a paper sack and they would get oohs and aahs from everyone you meet. Plus, those store-bought pumpkin/lady bug/giraffe/bumble bee/chicken/tiger baby costumes are so deliciously adorable, safer for babies and generally awesome that no new mom should feel bad about not creating some personalized, homemade masterpiece. Especially those of us who aren't, shall we say, "Domestically Gifted," anyway.

Ahava - Halloween 2008
Ziva - Halloween 2011

Ahava - Halloween 2011
But now that my kids are getting a little older I am starting to understand why my own Mom bent over backward to create fabulous costumes for us (Thanks Mom!). Because it's as much fun for the adult making them as it for the kid wearing them! That is especially true for me right now since, at 5 and 7 years old, Ziva and Ahava are in that sweet stage where you can make crazy costumes and actually convince them to wear them.

Her Lady Ahava
Ziva The Island

That is why I found myself on Halloween eve sewing shells, sea stars and Beanie Babies onto my daughter's tropical island costume. And, unlike with so many other holiday-related preparations, particularly of the December variety, I found myself totally enjoying it. I kept chuckling to myself as I envisioned little Ziva heading to her Kindergarten class, with her palm tree planted firmly on her head. And I smiled to think of my Renaissance princess, Ahava, proudly gliding down the school hallways for the annual costume parade, looking regal. And, also unlike so many other built-up, commercialized holidays (which shall remain nameless), when Halloween rolled around there was no big let down because the reality didn't meet the expectations. In fact, when you finally pull all the pieces together and the kids go around town showing off their costumes, it always seems to be even better than I had imagined. The love tossed their way with compliments like "Great costume!" and "Don't you look adorable!" and "Wow that's a creative costume!" leaves us all with a happy glow that comes from feeling seen and special. Ironic, perhaps since they are wearing disguises, but sometimes you have to shed your daily expectation-laden persona and let your creative side shine through for others to really see you.
Our Nanny, Miss Lirio
and Samuel
Halloween 2012

Toreador Rosa Linda and Samuel the Chicken
Halloween 2012
Which brings me to another reason why I really love Halloween; because it isn't just for the kids. I was just as excited as I stitched the ribbon along the seam of my black workout pants as part of my personal transformation to a Spanish bull fighter, or "Toreador." And when I arrived for the pre-Trick-or-Treating get-together and got lots of compliments on my awesome costume, I was pretty proud of what I managed to create out of things I had lying around the house.

Hula Girl Nathan and Ziva the Island
Halloween 2012
Of course, sometimes the best costumes don't even take much forethought or effort. Just take the hula girl outfit my husband, Nathan, wore on Halloween night. He was the "Belle of the Ball" using only things found in our daughters' dress-up clothes; a blonde wig, a hula skirt, some leis and a Hawaiian flower barrette.

Halloween 2011 - Albuquerque, NM
Halloween 2010 - Alamogordo, NM
And as I write this I realize that is the real reason I love Halloween. Because while Nathan will work every Christmas so that someone else can enjoy that special time with their families, and while I can count on one hand the number of Memorial or Labor Day weekends he has actually been off, I can't remember a Halloween when we weren't together. Together, being playful wherever we happened to be.

Our costumed crew on Hakuna Matata - Halloween 2009

Halloween on Hakuna Matata - 2009
And where we happened to be one Halloween, was living on our sailing catamaran, Hakuna Matata, in the middle of nowhere. More accurately, we were anchored off of an uninhabited island in the Bahamas called "Powell Cay." If ever there were a year to skip Halloween, this would've been it.

But, because I anticipated being away for my favorite holiday, I set sail two months earlier as the "always prepared Mommy" my kids like to brag about (which, of course is not ALWAYS true, but who am I to ruin their Super-Mommy image of me?!?). I brought pumpkins for carving, orange and black construction paper for decorating, apples and caramel for baking, costumes for wearing and bags of candy for trick or treating. (I also brought a turkey for Thanksgiving… which actually turned out to be a really big chicken... but that's a subject for a future blog post!)

Carving pumpkins island-style - 2009
So, you ask, how can there be Trick-or-Treating on a boat on a deserted island? Well, that was were the creativity came in. My husband, our liveaboard nanny Melissa Paschke and I took up positions on three of the four corners of the boat and had our little princess and fairy make the Trick-or-Treating rounds around the deck. Let me tell you, they were thrilled and we all delighted in the most unique Halloween we've ever had.
Our Magical Halloween aboard Hakuna Matata - 2009
Halloween 2009 - Spooky Spock
The funniest moment came when they got to Nathan's position on the bow and thought that a strange man had come aboard as his Spock costume looked a little too realistic. To this day, three years later, the girls still say that was their favorite Halloween ever!

Halloween 2012 - Albuquerque, NM
So I guess I'll wrap this up by saying that for me Halloween is about togetherness, creativity and seeing things through the eyes of a child.

And when you really think about it, isn't that exactly what your own favorite holidays are all about too?

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Camping Isn't Boating (But Cruising is Cruising!)

Often when I described our liveaboard life people would say "it sounds like camping." Sleeping under the stars, hearing the sounds of nature, learning to do without many luxuries. So, it seemed only natural that once we found ourselves landlocked again, we would give camping a try. After all, we had those lovely, inviting mountains surrounding us, just beckoning us to explore.

So, last summer my husband and I went down to the local sporting goods store and bought a 4 person tent. We also bought two princess air mattress-sleeping bags and a queen-size blowup mattress. Although we looked at real campers' sleeping bags, we figured it was the middle of summer and we would be better off just bringing some cozy comforters for a big family camping snuggle. Besides, we weren't planning anything like the real camping experience I had had with two of my girlfriends a few years ago where we actually CARRIED (gasp!) our gear on our backs for the 500 miles to the campsite (okay, maybe it was only 5...). That camping trip was the real deal. The "camping" we did last summer was really just glorified car camping.

After getting our gear we drove up to a lovely spot in the mountains, walked a few yards from our car, pitched a tent and lit a campfire. Then it started raining. The kids were cranky and so were we. We were cold, itchy, stinky and uncomfortable and there were no showers or toilets in sight. I think it was around 2:00am when Nathan and I looked at each other, since neither of us had slept a wink at that point, and said "Why are we doing this?"

If you've never disassembled a tent in the dead of night, in the rain, with tired and cranky little kids tugging on you then you really aren't living. Still, for my sweetheart and me it was better than spending one more minute "camping" in the great outdoors.

Fast-forward to this summer when I started itching for another adventure. "Why don't we go camping?" I said. "I thought you hated camping!" was the collective response. "Yes, but what about a camper?"

Now, for those of you that are real campers I will just go ahead and apologize up front. I do realize that camper "camping" is not REALLY camping. But I had so many fond memories of camper camping with my parents and grandparents when I was little that I decided to give it a try. We rented a tiny popup camper (Or is it a trailer? Not sure if those terms are interchangeable or not.) and the nanny and I drove from New Mexico to Wisconsin and back again with 3 little kids and a big dog. (She sure is a trooper, isn't she?!?)

Everyone said we were crazy, including my somewhat anti-camping husband who wasn't able to join us for most of the trip. But along the way something amazing happened. For the first time I understood why people compared camping to living on a boat.

I think it was somewhere in Kansas (or Oklahoma, or Texas...), late at night as we pulled into a parking spot and ushered three sleepy kids to the nearby shower and bathroom building when I realized the cruising connection. Compared to the comforts of home we certainly were "roughing it," but we had access to everything we needed. We saw the stars, we met kind strangers, we dreamed about the next day's adventures, we did some juggling to make sure everyone was comfortable and we were wholly present in the moment. Yes, issues came up (leaky window above my bed in a rainstorm, power connectors missing or broken, etc.) but each time we worked through them successfully we got the feeling of accomplishment and independence. We felt free with the open road before us and endless possibilities beyond the horizon. And that is exactly what it felt like aboard our sailing catamaran, Hakuna Matata, when the road ahead was liquid instead of pavement but the freedom of movement soothed my gypsy soul.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Fun Family 4th

There are few times our water babies miss the ocean more than when the temperatures soar into triple digits. But if ever there was a good reason to sit in a landlocked steam room, it was to be with our large, loving family in the Chicago suburbs for the 4th of July.

One of my life's greatest blessings is having a big family. My siblings and I number 5 and we have about a hundred first cousins, almost all of whom are very close (in spirit, if not geographically). Sharing that tight family connection with my kids is really important to me. It is one of the biggest reasons we travel so much. With a family this size it seems someone is always having a party. (Or as one of our less-socially-inclined family members put it: "You guys have more parties than Barack Obama!")

Unlike the other events (baptisms, communions, birthdays, bat mitzvahs, weddings, Christmas, Hanukkah, Halloween, etc...) where advance preparations have to be made and people are generally a bit stressed out and super-busy, with the 4th of July we all just show up (with Puerto Rican rice or potato salad or carne asada in hand, of course)! It is the most relaxed family gathering we have (except, perhaps, for my parents who graciously host every year). As our family has grown and travel costs are ever-rising it isn't always easy to get here, but it is well worth the trip to reconnect with everyone year after year.

So, the northbound part of our New Mexico to Wisconsin trip ended with a bang; literally! It was a scorcher, with Chicago-area temperatures reaching 103 degrees. But the fireworks dazzled and the connections made and renewed were good for the soul.

Happy Birthday America! I hope everyone is surrounded by love and fun as we all try to beat the summer heat!

Monday, June 25, 2012

On The Road... Finally!

The plan was to get all packed up on Sunday, run a few last-minute errands Monday morning and then hit the road bright and early. But when Sunday night started bleeding into Monday morning and I still had hours and hours of packing left to do, I knew that plan was headed out the window. There are two reasons our departure took longer than I had hoped:

1. I can't stand traveling ill-prepared.
2. I can't stand coming home to a messy house.

So, our planned 8:00am start time ended up being 3:30pm, but I hit the road with the essentials packed (more on my travel packing system in a future post) and a house that doesn't look like a bomb hit it. Because I was pretty sleep-deprived at that point I knew I needed to do what I could to keep the stress level down to a minimum to avoid being short or cranky with my kids or our nanny (more on that in a future post too). That meant putting our favorite motto into play: Hakuna Matata!

As I understand it Hakuna Matata means "no worries" in Swahili and is generally said to remind oneself to let go of stress. And, of course, anyone who knows anything about us knows "Hakuna Matata" was the name of our boat.

On day 1 of our New Mexico to Wisconsin road trip that "Hakuna Matata" attitude led to many changes along the way. For example, instead of driving to Wichita, Kansas and having a steak dinner at a great local restaurant, we spent the night in a tiny Texas town and ate some greasy Sonic fast food. It wasn't what we had imagined as we started the trip but it got the job done and allowed us to keep smiling ... and keep on truckin' across the grand ole' U-S of A!

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Land Cruising

I'm on my way to pick up a pop-up camper I just rented. This crazy fact is because we decided to take a road trip from New Mexico to Wisconsin this summer, instead of flying like we usually do. As we looked at RVs to rent I realized the thought of driving something the size of a bus did not appeal to me. At the same time I realized we have quite a bit of experience living in tight quarters. After all, didn't I live with two children, my husband, a nanny and a large German Shepherd on a 42 foot boat? How hard could this be? As I write those words, I know I will probably eat them in the next few days.

Still I'm ready for an adventure and looking forward to cruising on the land since our true love; cruising on the ocean, is not an option for us right now. The pop-up camper could be a nightmare, but it could also be a lot of fun. Like camping, only with beds and air conditioning.

I will do my best to post some of our experiences along the way.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Bedtime Battles

Samuel does not believe sleep is a good idea. At 17 and a half months he has every member of this family more sleep-deprived than when he was a newborn. Getting him to bed each night is generally an hour-long battle. Then, around midnight he wakes up screaming and won't fall back asleep for an hour or more, screaming bloody murder all the while.

Recently we thought we had come up with a solution when we moved Samuel's bed into his sisters' room. He seemed to go to bed much more quickly and the screaming fits were much shorter in the middle of the night. We decided that he was either afraid of being alone or afraid of the dark and celebrated the fact that we were finally going to get some sleep.

But, we apparently counted our chickens before they hatched because after a few nights of delicious sleep he reverted back to the old ways. We don't know what triggered the return to the nighttime torture, but it has us all on edge a bit lately.

Then, last night I came up with another apparent solution; let Samuel sleep with the girls in their bed. For the first time in weeks we all slept for more than 5 hours straight and we woke up feeling refreshed this morning. We decided that he just didn't like his bed and looked forward to restful nights ahead.

Then today's naptime rolled around and our "solution" theory flew out the window as Samuel waged a "no-nap battle" of epic proportions. No matter what I did he would not go down for a nap in the girls' bed. (So much for my "he must not like his bed" theory!) Finally, after I couldn't take the screaming and kicking anymore I let him go. He climbed down from the bed and started wandering around the room, drunk-like in an exhausted stupor. He did this while crying for a few moments and then suddenly plopped down on the floor and fell fast asleep! I think my mother-in-law summed it up best with her reaction to the photo of Samuel sleeping on the floor:

"What a character! He is certainly expressing his ability to control things. Stinker."

And my husband's reaction was pretty spot-on too:

"At least we don't have opinionated children."

I think I will take the opportunity while he's napping to go water my plants. They are very low-maintenance and hardly ever yell at me when they don't agree with whatever I'm doing.