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!