Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Still adjusting??? Summer in Florida

We try to go to the beach every week, reminds us how
lucky we still are.

It’s been awhile since we posted.  Lots of things have happened and lots of stuff still happening…  I’ve changed jobs, Jake has started school, and Andy has started his job search after being a much needed stay at home dad all summer.

Lots of stuff has been wonderful…we see my family relatively often.  I have an iPhone and can text my best friend whenever I want.  I can even push that stupid handset button and hear her voice every once in a while!  I can order a pizza with nothing but an emoji, and believe it or not, I know what an emoji is! 

Blowing out his candles on the specially requested (and
very delicious, strawberry cake made my mother.
Jake just celebrated his 10th birthday.  I cannot believe he is 10 years old.  We left San Diego when he was 4 ½  and now I have a double digit kid.  Wow.  I don’t know how much of it is because of us, his experience traveling with us, genetics, or just plain luck, but Andy and I have the best kid ever.  As many changes as we’ve gone through in the last six months, that little guy just rolls with the punches.   We try to take his lead even when not all in the 1st world is what we had hoped for…

Savannah hasn’t sold yet, so there’s that.  We now have bills and lots of “stuff.”  Anyone who’s been to our house will laugh at that as we have one room that is completely empty and with the exception of Jake’s bedroom, all the bedrooms are just that, rooms with beds in them.  Our clothes are in those big tupperware like containers on the floor.  So when I say “lots of stuff,”  that’s by cruiser standards… But repurchasing your entire house…just think that through…

 The psychological part has been harder than I thought.  I feel lost sometimes.  I sit at my desk and think, really?  My days are filled with powerpoints, project plans and conference calls.  Really?  I still get overwhelmed at the store…particularly with fashion.  I don’t know if the fashion trends these days are just really bad or if I was off the grid so long, I just can’t get back in.  I used to like shopping for clothes…now I just get overwhelmed.  I work from home now so I don’t feel quite as lost as I wear my “boat” clothes all day and don’t have to fix my hair or wear makeup.  In that way, my tension is released…I don’t have to figure out what to wear or if I look “cute” today.  Andy doesn’t care and truth be told, is still hanging on to a few of those short/t-shirt combos that probably should have stayed in Malaysia! 

Jake has taken up father, like son

I find myself trying not to judge people on their choices, which is very hard.  The things people complain about blow my mind, but at the same time, I find myself falling into old habit as well, always in a rush and trying to do everything myself (The bagel place down the street from us is THE slowest business in the US, and why can’t I just leave the towels folded the way Andy does them?  Nevermind they don’t look pretty in the cabinet and its different with every load.).  Andy’s missing the diving, the boat driving, all the critters and truth be told, all that whining about boats breaking down and pressure with being totally responsible for us… he misses all that and more.   He likes being Captain. Some days I think if we could figure it out, we would be back on the boat quicker than American Airlines could get us there….

I'm not sure how long I'll keep updating the but do know I'm not ready to stop just yet.  If you're still reading, I'll still write...

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Continuing our re-integration into "Normal" life

Jake, engaged in his "required" summer reading while
camping with Andy.
So what happens after we buy cars, rent homes and find jobs?  Jake goes to school of course!

That was a question I got quite often..."Will you keep homeschooling Jake or will he go to school?"  While I would truly love to continue homeschooling, I think given our circumstances, it's in everyone's best interest for us to give the public school system here in Florida a shot.  That process has been a real eye-opener for me.

In talking to other cruising families that have made the transition back to land, I was under the impression that it would be a fairly easy process.  I don't know if FL is just different or what, but it has been a royal pain in our butts to get things started.

Our first step was to get Jake registered.  Sounds easy enough...fill out some forms, get some shots, well visit, etc.  (Incidentally, all those shots Jake got before we left have left him so vaccinated that 6 years later, he's still good).  There's one thing that put a kink in things.  Jake's birthday is in September.  He's that 9 year old that can either go in the fourth grade and be the oldest kid in class, or go in the fifth grade and be the youngest kid in the class.  Andy and I have spent many hours discussing this and feel that the fourth grade is where he needs to be.  He's never been in a formal school and doesn't know the ins and outs of that whole routine.  While he's ahead in many areas and would probably do well in the fifth grade, there are some key areas where I feel he would just get frustrated and needs further instruction (anyone that went to school with me will find it no surprise that writing is not my kid's favorite subject).  And while I hate to even imply that he's not been "socialized" (indeed he's one of the most social kids I know), the fact is, he has way more experience with adults than kids and I think it will take him some time to get used to the types of interactions he'll have with kids his age.

I communicate all of this to the registrar.   They didn't want to take my word for it.  They were worried he might be bored.  OK, so that' s new one...I thought sure recommending he go in the lower grade would get me out of any extensive process.  Not so....She informed me that I needed to create a "portfolio" for Jake.  She explained that I needed to provide samples of his work, a summary of his situation, details about what he knows, what he doesn't know, his learning style and numerous other items.  I stressed a bit about this, but did think it was a good idea and if they insisted on assessing him for the fifth grade, this would be a good way to do it.

Imagine my surprise when I get an email from the assistant principal asking me what day is good for Jake to come take his "tests."  Huh?  Tests?  Who said anything about tests?  It turns out they wanted to test him in reading, writing, math, science and language arts.  In one week.  Have I mentioned that Jake has NEVER sat for a standardized test before?

The next week was a huge stress fest...Long story short, after a few tests and a little boy in tears, they decided I was right and he should go into the fourth grade (For the record - Jake would want me to tell you this - he did REALLY well in reading....proud, proud mama).  I tried hard not to get Jake stressed out because of my feelings but I don't think I was very successful.  But if you get right down to it, it was a test for me...did I do him justice?  Did I do my best so that he can do his best?  Should I have been more strict?  Less "field trips,"  more "structure?"  I hate to fail on my own...but I really hate to fail my kid.  In the end, I still feel confident of our decisions and I think the result is exactly what we hoped just could have been easier to get there.

I'm only sharing this to help prepare any others for the whole re-entry process...I know he's smart, I know why they wanted to test him, I get it...I just didn't think it was a good idea.

But now he's all ready to go.  We have new school clothes, lunch box, supplies, etc.  He's excited (sort of) about making new friends and learning from someone besides his dad and me.  And I'm excited for him.  I loved elementary school.  I loved riding the bus.  I loved playing with my friends.  And I loved my teachers.  I hope it's the same for him.

Here are some pics from a camping trip Andy and Jake went on recently....

We traded our crocs for alligators.

Catching tadpoles

They brought a whole cooler of these home to release in our
pond out back.  They thought we needed bullfrogs.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Our Favorite Places

Jake and all the local kids on Savannah.
Raroia, Tuamotus, 2011
Everywhere we go, the top question is "What was your favorite place?"  What a hard question!  Sixteen countries, more islands than we can count, beaches, caves, desert, sharks, crocs.  I say again, what a hard question!

But we have an answer...we have three answers.  For the most part Andy and I both agree that the Tuamotus, Micronesia, and Borneo were our favorites.  It's the order in which we would rank them that we differ.  A brief description of why we think they're our favorites.  If you want to relive it with us, just click on the links to go to our previous blogs (don't forget to click on 'older posts' if you want to see the full experience).

Very hard to get to and extremely isolated, this is the place for lonely loners who love the water (i.e. Andy McKaskle)!  The diving was great, the people were friendly and for us, the weather was gorgeous.  The Tuamotus is a group of 90something atolls in the middle of the South Pacific ocean, technically part of French Polynesia.  We spent six weeks exploring only four atolls and had we not been running out of basic provisions like flour, rice, milk and beer (yes, beer was considered a basic provision), the captain would have stayed much longer (well, that whole visa thing would have been tricky, but you get the point).  Jake got to participate in the French Polynesian games at a local school in Raroia and Andy got some of the best shark pictures of his career in South Fakarava and Tahanea.  This was pretty early in our trip so I have to say I was still adjusting to the life.  While I thoroughly enjoyed myself, I had yet to be inducted into the hermit club, so I was desperately seeking girl time, grocery stores and civilization.

Most people we talked to outside of our little cruising life had no idea where Micronesia was.  I often described it as "half way between Hawaii and Japan."  Micronesia is what people think of when they think of the South Pacific (although it's not in the South Pacific at all).  Small islands, clear water, beautiful reefs, and locals who still fish for their food, pound out their taro and collect their own water.  I wrote several blog posts on our experiences there, so I won't repeat it all, but our time in Micronesia changed our outlook on life forever (we're still wondering why we didn't accept that plot of land in Yap).  And by this time, I was a full fledged member of the hermit club and was thoroughly enjoying the isolation provided by the remoteness of these beautiful islands.

Having just visited the Philippines, we were acclimated somewhat to the SE Asian way of life, but our visit to Borneo was our first introduction in to the melting pot of cultures that exist in this part of the world.  Malaysians, Indians, and Chinese... Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, and Hindus, all living in harmony (somewhat).  And the food.... wow, the food.  But most of all, we enjoyed all of the eco-type activities available up and down the west coast.  Our favorite inland trip was visiting the Deer Caves but our favorite excursion was our 60 mile trip up the Rajang river.  The only downside to Borneo was the lack of clear, swimmable water (crocodiles were pretty much everywhere due to all the rivers).  But the beautiful landscape and people more than made up for that.

So there you have it...our favorite places.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Life after Savannah

We’ve officially been on land almost six weeks now (Andy only 3) and I have to say it’s been a whirlwind.  Things that were supposed to be hard have turned out to be easy and things that were supposed to be easy have turned out to be more difficult than I expected.  Let me explain…
One of the things I looked forward to most was having whatever I wanted at my fingertips.  Would you like to have some blueberries this morning?  Why of course, no problem.  Would you like ice in your tea?  Duh… no problem.  Oh, you need to run to the store real quick? Sure hop in my car.  Laundry?  Just push a button.  What I did not anticipate is the anxiety I would get with all of these things so readily available.   Mom sent me to the store to get her some olive oil and some Tide pods.  There were no less than 10 brands of olive oil and 5 different types of Tide pods.  Now I knew there would be variety, but I didn’t know I wouldn’t be able to make a decision.  These situations happened several times a day…literally.  One time, I just walked out of the store empty handed…couldn’t pull it off.  Catching up with friends and family has been harder than I expected as well.  Everyone is so darn busy….slow down people!

Now the big stuff…buying a car, getting a job, finding a home….piece of cake.  We applied for a loan online, picked up a big honkin’ check at the bank two hours later,  stopped at a dealership, test drove the first car we looked at, and another two hours later we drove off with it.  And I’m still happy with that decision.  I don’t want to make light of the big decisions and appear like I haven’t done any work here, but getting a job was even a bit too easy.  I have a great friend who was looking out for me and as soon as I checked my email after landing from our 36 hour marathon trip home, I had a job lead.  Three weeks later, I had a job.  And a good one!  I like to think I earned that one, but boy did I throw some big “thank you’s” upstairs!  With a car and a job, the only thing left to do was find a place to live.  In true Andy and Monica style (don’t think too hard about anything or you might get stuck…remember the olive oil?), we hopped in the car, drove to Jacksonville and rented a house.  And that’s how we find ourselves, six weeks after landing back on American soil, sitting in Saint Augustine, Florida staring at each other with big eyes saying “what the….?  How did we get here?”

For all of those cruisers out there who worry about your exit plan, drop the worry…it’ll all work out.  The only thing we did that I am truly thankful for is we made the decision to come home BEFORE we were actually completely out of money.  That allowed us some freedom in buying the things we needed to get re-started (furniture, plates, towels, can openers…whatever) without being a burden on anyone else.

How are we adjusting mentally?  Pretty good, I think.  The quickness of it all has kept us from having time to dwell on everything too much.  We’ve been in Florida 3 days and Jake has already played kickball in the street with the neighborhood kids, caught his first freshwater fish in the pond behind our house and had a playdate across the street with some random kids he introduced himself to.  Andy has discovered that ice comes right out of the refrigerator door on demand and doesn’t really need to think about anything else.  I have re-discovered malls and all that goes with them.  We’re adjusting just fine.
As for Savannah…she’s in good hands with our broker in Langkawi and is officially on the market.  For anyone interested, here is the link to Yachtworld with all the information and details.  

We did get a chance to have some fun in Atlanta the short time we were there and I have some great pictures on my fancy dancy new iPhone (another really stressful purchase) but I can’t get them off…so I’ll keep trying and post them later.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Packing up and Coming home.

I had a follower not too long ago ask me to continue blogging as long as we were more or less closing things out, as not many people do that and the information as to how to "quit" just isn't out there.  I thought that was a good idea so here first post on the details of packing up and going home.

There are so many things that need to be done and so many emotions that goes with each one.  I tried/am trying to tackle the whole thing like a job.  Make a list, cross them off one by one.  No tears, no emotions, just get it done.  Yeah, right.

The first one we tackled was finding a broker.  I started the process months ago and had decided on one, then we went with another, then we changed our minds again...blah blah.  The point being, making the decision to sell your boat (home) and leave it in the hands of a total stranger, trusting that they will do what you've agreed to do is a very hard thing.  It's a bit different than selling a house, at least it is for us.  We'll be half way around the world with no one to turn to if things go awry.  It's not just the usual price, commission and marketing questions to worry about.  It's location of where you leave your boat; do you trust the locals, will it be more likely to be shown in one place vs. the other, what's the cost of the marina/yard, do you  haul out or leave it in the water.  The answer is different for everyone of course, but the decision process and the emotions tied to it are probably pretty similar.  We've finally landed in Rebak marina and feel pretty comfortable with the final decision.  We'll see what happens.  We may be eating crow in a few months.

The next item on our list was packing up.  Where does one find packing materials?  Do you ship by air or sea?  Who ships it for you?  What's that gonna cost us?  Luckily for me, we had a friend who unfortunately had to sell their boat in Malaysia a few years ago and they were kind enough to share their information, which allowed us to skip a few research steps in the shipping department.  Every person that came by would look at all of our boxes and ask us why we had so much stuff.  The cruising community prides itself in being minimalists and never being tied down, owning too much, etc.  In reality, about half the boats out there are just like us (probably more if I took a formal poll).  They have a lot of STUFF.  Not nearly what we had on land, but my goodness, how in the world we fit all those things in that little boat, I'll never know.  I think it might be a new skill to put on my resume.  Our water line went up well over a foot.  We ended up with 20 boxes and a table top (not the tabletop we were attached to, the one we tried to replace it with but couldn't ever quite get it finished.  In the end, I kind of like it too so I decided to ship it home).  We had to pull up to the dock (we were in the anchorage) and offload the boxes for the shipping company to pick up.  All I can say about that is yuck, yuck, yuck.  What could have been a pretty emotional process though turned out to be not so bad. It was hot, a few things were comical, and all in all, it was nice to get the ball rolling finally.

Our motto that day was "There's no turning back now, it's all over but the crying."  It's funny, the whole crying thing.  It hits you out of nowhere.  I'm not a huge crier (Andy might laugh at that, but that's because he's a man and once a year is too much), but my eyes would well up out of the blue when I thought about leaving.  When I would look around the boat and it was empty, I would be relieved one minute and the next I was grabbing a tissue.  I thought I had it all together until we put our suitcases in the dinghy and started pulling away.  What did me in was watching Jake.  He was trying so hard to suck it up and just deal with it, but he couldn't take his eyes off Savannah.  "It's the last time we're going to see her,"  yep.  He stood up in the dinghy and tried to watch her as far as he could before we got out of sight.  My heart broke for him.

Coming out from customs in Atlanta's International Airport.
That's my dad to the left. 
It's amazing what 10,000 miles can do for one's mood.  Once we landed in the good ole US of A, Jake started looking forward and with the exception of one little moment, he hasn't looked back.  I'm taking his lead and just pretending it's not happening and living our life one day at a time (if it happens on the other side of the world, did it really happen?).  The obvious positive of it all is that we're back with our family here in the states.  Chick-fil-a is just as I remember it, as is Target.  The Bass Pro Shop here in GA is a bit smaller than the ones Jake was used to in OK and VA, but they had what he wanted all the same.  Dishwashers and washing machines are just as magical as I had imagined.  All is going well.

I think that's probably enough throwing up on everyone for now (I don't even have cute pics to make my rambling easier to handle).  More to come...buying our first smart phone, finding a job (you mean I can't wear flip flops to the office?), Andy comes home (he's still with the boat), buying a car (I need a car?), etc.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

And we're back in the water!

I never thought this day would come but for the love of Pete (and some understanding immigration officials in Malaysia) we are finally back in Telaga.  After an uneventful launch from G&T we discovered our anchor windlass (with the new $800 motor) needed replacing.  We discovered this when it decided to quit working at 10:30 at night with the moon not yet risen.  Anywhoo…nothing a well placed mooring ball and a reliable credit card won’t fix (can you get a credit line increase without a job????).  Our trip was uneventful except for the strange emotions passing throughout the boat.  Knowing this was our last “cruise” together was bittersweet.  Thailand, not being our favorite place in the world, was a weird way to end it.  But I think we did our best and thanks to some McKaskle style provisioning and a goofy kid on board, we pushed through just fine.

So today we checked in to Malaysia (some day I’ll tell the story why that was a big deal) and tried to rent a car to do all the work horse type things we need to do, but no cars were available so we decided to be tourists instead.  We took a taxi (too much walking in Phuket made us quick to jump in the car) to the Oriental Village not too far from the anchorage and we did all the silly things we put off last time.  We rode the skycar up the hill to a beautiful view of the anchorage and marina and well, all of Langkawi.  We experienced a silly 6D film that had us riding a roller coaster through the desert.  Jake got to fulfill his dreams of running with the hamsters by zipping himself up in a plastic ball and running around a pond.  Don’t ask me the draw, but I’m glad he did it because I haven’t laughed that hard in awhile.  And finally, we rode the paciderms (aka Elephants!).

A great view of our anchorage
and the marina.  Andy tried to show where Savannah is.

I had high hopes as did the rest of the crew, but in the end, I felt sorry for the poor old elephant.  He looked run down and rode hard.  We took an extremely expensive 10 minute stroll through the “trail” and enjoyed the view from above and the whole novelty of it.  But in the end, it didn’t hold a candle to our 5 minute ($7) trot with the camels in Australia.  To be fair, we’ve been blessed with a lot of time with elephants…we used to live near and were very good friends with the elephant trainer in Norfolk, VA.  So we’re not new to the gentle giants.  But I kind of felt like I should apologize to the old guy for making him walk in circles for our enjoyment.  But we did “ride an elephant in Malaysia”  so CHECK on that box.

Speaking of boxes, tomorrow we pick up our first round (and hopefully ‘only’ round) of boxes to begin sending our stuff back to the US.  I don’t know if we’re sad or excited or anxious or just want to get the damn thing over with.  At any rate, it’s going to start tomorrow and be done in a few days.  In the meantime, Jake has met a few new friends and been enjoying the beach close by.  It’s cool being a cruising kid… a few kids come by in a dinghy, they say hi, you jump in, you tell your parents “we’ll be on channel 8” and off you go.  Andy and I actually circled the anchorage tonight wondering which boat he actually went to.  I think they’re now calling this “free range parenting” at home.   You don’t know how long I’ve been trying to fit that into a blog. 

I hope you all enjoy the pics.  We did.  More to come soon…packing out, shipping out, flying out and heading to the marina for the final listing.  Stay tuned.

Some pics of Jake for the grandparents and some updated pics of Savannah with her new lipstick on.

New Trampoline, wood, and fresh deck paint.

More new paint.

and more paint...

Shiny new transmission, the reason for all the woe.

New upholstery.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015's what's for dinner.

One of the best things about Thailand is its food.  Everywhere you go, things are fresh, spicy, and just down right delicious.  The curries are amazing, the seafood is cooked perfectly, the veggies are fresh from the market.  For cruisers, the grocery stores carry everything anyone could ever want….fresh local food, imported meats, a variety of cheeses, seafood, you name it.  Out of all these choices, guess what Jake wanted for dinner?  Grasshoppers.  To be fair, the freezer he was making his choice from had much grosser things – water bugs anyone?  Or perhaps you would like to split a giant toad with your partner (complete with head)?  If you’ve been reading this blog for very long, you know we indulge his inner Bear Grylls and buy these nasty things from time to time.  So that’s how we found ourselves having oysters and grasshopper po-boys for dinner tonight (I’m guessing folks in Louisiana aren’t cringing as much as the rest of you guys).

The oysters here in the Makro market come in the little round plastic tubs for 30 Baht per tub (about $1 USD) and they’re extremely fresh, so we eat them quite often.  The grasshoppers on the other hand were closer to 425 baht per kilo and of course you can’t get anything less than a kilo.  Jake has been asking for them every time we go to the store (although I’m not sure why…he had them fresh in OK and thought they were disgusting).  Since we were already going to have the oil hot tonight for the oysters, we relented and spent the $15 USD or so on the frozen grasshoppers (and I balk when Andy buys a ribbye at $15/pound). 

fried grasshoppers don't make a very pretty picture, but you get
the idea.

 When Andy opened the bag, we had to open the door to the little bungalow here to keep from gagging.  But he trudged on….into the oil they went.  So there was our table set…baguette, coleslaw, fried oysters, and big plate of fried grasshoppers, eyes and all.  Guess who didn’t like the grasshoppers?  Of course he didn’t!  He never likes these things…when will we learn?  Guess who cleaned their plate?  Yep…Andy and I…crunchy with a little bit of a smoky, burnt taste.  Not bad.  I hear that we can’t sustain our eating habits at the rate this world is procreating and we’ll all be eating bugs in a few years anyway.  We thought we would just get a leg up on everyone.  Cheers!